Fri
17 Jul

Sleep Deprivation

(The following is a story I wrote last year for a story telling night. It has never appeared on this blog until now. Since I’m away on a camping holiday this week it seemed appropriate. Enjoy).

When my daughter grows up she is going to be a scientist.

This might sound like quite a bold statement to make when considering that she is only 21 months old but I know it to be true. She will be a scientist.

Please don’t think that this is the statement of an overly proud father or a father who has already decided for himself what his children are going to do because this simply is not true. However, she will be a scientist.

She has not officially stated this intention and we’ve yet to find any scientific equipment hidden within her bedroom but it does not make it any less true.

I know that my daughter Sophie will become a scientist when she grows up because it is the only logical explanation that I can come up with for the sleep deprivation experiment that she is currently putting my wife and myself through.

Now, I know that sleepless nights are nothing unusual for young parents. I’ve become quite familiar with them and I certainly know that I’m not the only one to experience them. I’ve spoken to enough tired and blurry eyed parents to know that they are regularly denied a quiet night’s sleep too. We’ve all suffered sleep deprivation.

And I had become quite good at operating on a certain level of exhaustion too. As long as I was not required to operate heavy machinery, do anything productive or use cognitive thought I was able to manage and sort of function.

However, this is no longer the case. The sleep deprivation has become more extreme. It is as if the financial backers of Sophie’s sleep deprivation experiment have threatened to pull out unless they start to see results. As such she has doubled her efforts when it comes to keeping Mummy and Daddy awake.

This was no more apparent than on our recent weekend camping trip in the East of Holland.

We’d spent the morning packing and getting ready. My wife and I putting things into bags, Sophie taking them out again and putting them back where she thought they came from. After we recovered the car keys from the washing machine and my shoes from the kitchen cabinet we set off.

Sophie took care of the in car entertainment during the long drive to the caravan by sharing with us her latest musical creation, a post modern peace combining the familiar Sesame Street tune with elements from both the Nijntje and Bob the Builder theme songs. I’ll be honest; I don’t think it is going to be a hit. There are more than a few copyright issues.

After a two hour drive we arrived at the campsite and got settled in. Sophie was going to be sleeping in her travel bed in the caravan while my wife and I would be sleeping in the front tent attached to the caravan. At least that was the plan. Sophie, it seemed, had been working on a plan of her own.

We should have realized something was up when she happily went to bed with no objection. She had even been smiling and happily waved goodbye as we left her in bed. As we sat in the front tent, enjoying a cup of tea and a much needed moment to ourselves everything was quiet in the caravan so we naturally assumed Sophie had already fallen asleep, hugging her favourite rabbit knuffel.

It came as quite a surprised when (a short while later) the window blind of the caravan suddenly shot up to reveal a happy little face grinning at us proudly.

It seemed Sophie’s brain had been working on a particular problem for the last few days and our visit to the campsite coincided with her finding the solution to the ‘How to climb out of my bed’ conundrum.

“Mama, Papa,” we lip read through the caravan’s plastic window as she stood on the caravan seating.

Getting her to sleep again was impossible. The excitement of her successful escape from bed was too much for her (and too easy to repeat).

So we were forced to form a plan B. We took out the travel bed, set up the large family bed and (after she had worn herself out a bit) we all went to bed and let Sophie sleep between us since this usually calms her down. Unfortunately for us Sophie was already working on her own plan C.

At about two in the morning Sophie decided that she was not quite comfortable yet (despite having already been asleep for a few hours). We were suddenly woken by movement as she turned over, rolled back, sat up onto her knees, looked around, laid back down, turned, spun around a few times, sat up, stood, hopped once or twice (she’s not yet got the hang of jumping), sat on her knees, laid down on her tummy, spun around again so that she was laying sideways and rolled over on to her back. She then decided to take a small break before starting the whole process over again. This went on for quite some time despite our best attempts to settle her down. She was having too much fun to sleep. This was particularly distressing for us since it’s very hard to sleep when someone is training for the Olympic gymnastics right next to you.

Never the less, I must have dozed off at one point between workouts because the next time I open my eyes I suddenly became aware of a tiny figure looming over me in the darkness, silhouetted by the window of the caravan. Sophie had positioned herself on her knees right next to my head and was mimicking the snoring sound I’d obviously been making just a few seconds before. Realizing I was now awake she fell silent, sitting there quietly for a moment, deciding what to do next. I stared back, desperately trying to will her back to sleep with my mind… It didn’t work.

Sophie was the first to break the stand off. In the darkness I saw her tiny little hand slowly reach out towards me, with it she leaned in closer until her face just millimetres from my ear and I heard her whisper, “Tickle, tickle, tickle.” We should never have taught her that.

Neither my wife nor I were safe from the tickle attacks. Sophie alternated between the two of us as we unsuccessfully tried to convince her that it really, really, really was time to sleep. More time passed.

We tried gentle persuasion, heartfelt negotiation, authoritative commands and final resorted to full on blackmail with an extra bedtime bottle.

“Thank god,” I thought as she quietly sucked on the bottle and I was finally able to lay my head back down on my pillow, “I don’t know how much more of that I would have been able to take.”

“Toot-ta, Toot-ta,” Sophie suddenly started to chant a few moments later, having finished the bottle. I groaned into my pillow.

Toot-ta is Sophie’s word for a car. She has become quite obsessed with cars lately. I am happy that my daughter is fighting the fight against pre-assigned gender roles and so-called gender appropriate interests. I just wish that she was not doing it at three in the morning. I’m fairly certain that both genders need sleep.

“Toot-ta, Toot-ta,” she continued to cry while pointing outside indicating that she really, truly, desperately, urgently wanted to go and look at the Toot-tas (I guess to make sure that they were still there).

Try as we might she could not be dis-persuaded from this early morning car inspection either. In what I can only describe as an act of desperation I took her outside to see the toot-tas. I tried to quietly explain to her that they were sleeping and we had to be very quiet so that we did not wake them up. I silently curse the toot-tas for getting more sleep then me.

But at least Sophie will now be satisfied I thought to myself. I could go back to the warm caravan and finally we might all be able to get some sleep.

And then she started pointing in the direction of the play ground. For a second I actually considered it. I didn’t have to be completely awake to push a swing, did I? It would keep her quiet too. It could work. Then I realized how creepy it would look for anyone passing by on their way to the toilets, a father and child silently playing on the swings in the dead of the night like something out of a particularly creepy horror story.

So instead I took Sophie back to the caravan, something that she was not happy about. Almost an hour and half had passed. We were about to lose our minds. In fact, I think we had lost them. Now the heartfelt negotiation had became more like desperate pleading for mercy, our authoritative commands an official surrender. We had officially ran out of ideas and so, tired and exhausted, we resorted to blackmail again and tried yet another bed time bottle.

Thank god it worked this time. Sophie slowly drifted off to sleep with a tummy full of warm milk. When a safe amount of time had passed my wife and I allowed ourselves to breathe a sigh of relief. We could finally get some sleep. We desperately needed it.

But we stayed awake for just a moment longer. We watched as Sophie fell deeper into sleep. Despite everything she looked so peaceful. I guess from her point of view she’d just had a fun late night morning playtime with Mummy and Daddy. Maybe it was the Stockholm syndrome talking but I suddenly realized that the sleep deprivation didn’t matter. I would happily forgo sleep if it meant I could have this amazing little person in my life. It might not be easy at times but it is worth it. Tired, exhausted and in desperate need of sleep I smiled and felt happy.

*sigh*

… and then she started snoring.

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Tue
31 Mar

Official Statement

Dear people of Holland,

This is not something that I normally do but I feel that it is important for me to make an official statement on something that you have all probably been wondering about.

I did not cause the power cut that affected large parts of the Netherlands last week.

Given my extremely accident prone nature it is understandable that some of you might have thought this. It is true that I have caused power cuts on several occasions in the past. However, those power cuts were always limited to my own home (as too was the fire). At the time of last week’s power cut I was not doing anything that could intentionally or unintentionally cause a large surge of electricity. I was not plugging something in, changing a light bulb, rewiring my house or performing any questionable experiments.

As for those of you who were wondering about my well being during the events of the power cut I am happy to report that I did not end up trapped in any lifts or trains (I am surprised too). In fact, I was quite unaware of what had happened until sometime later. The power cut happen moments after I stepped off the train at Amsterdam which might seem suspicious… but I’m sure I was not involved.

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Mon
26 Jan

Allow me to introduce Little Stuart, Invading Holland’s latest guest blogger (I could not name him Stuart Little for legal reasons).

Little Stu Amsterdam

As you can see he has a striking resemblance to yours truly. That is because he was made by my Mum as a Christmas present (not as voodoo doll). He is based upon my Dutch Stuart cartoon and includes a tulip shirt, red trousers with braces and even a pair of clogs. My two year old daughter has taken an instant liking to him, especially the hair.

The other day I took Little Stuart to Amsterdam and let him lose on the city with a camera while I went to work. So without farther ado, here is Little Stuarts’s Amsterdam Adventure.

Little Stu Amsterdam Canal
“Today I got to explore Amsterdam. It sure seems to have a lot of canals. I wonder if the rest of Holland is like this.”
Little Stu Amsterdam Flower Market
“Strolling through the flower market. They sell… flowers… like the name suggests.”
Little Stu Amsterdam Museum
“Checking out the local art.”
Little Stu Amsterdam Clog
“I wonder if they have a pair in my size.”
Little Stu Amsterdam Palace
“After many hours of standing outside the palace I did not get to see the Dutch King and Queen but I still had a lovely day in Amsterdam.”
—————————————–

In other news; the real Stuart (me) was interviewed last week over on AngloInfo. I talked about my accidental arrival in The Netherlands, learning the names of the Care Bears in Dutch and the best advice that I ever got about living in Amsterdam. You can read the full interview here: Expat of the Week: Stuart from The Netherlands

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Mon
6 Oct

Patat Zonder

“Patat zonder alstublieft,” I asked the girl behind the counter of the train station snack bar.

There was a brief look of confusion that flashed across her face.

“Patat zonder,” she repeated in a way that suggested the words felt strange coming out of her mouth.

It was a reaction I had become use to. The Dutch are deeply confused by anyone who would want to order fries without mayonnaise. I think they sometimes forget that the two can exist independently of each other.

Since I didn’t do anything to correct my order (even after the rather obvious pause she had left) she turned around and started to scoop up some fries. A moment later she turned around again with them in a little cardboard container. I reached out to take them but she had already automatically moved towards the mayonnaise dispenser, either out of habit or out of the strong belief that I really did want or needed mayonnaise.

“Wilt u mayonaise?” she asked, her hand hovering just above the mayonnaise plunger.

Could she really have forgotten my mayonnaise free request already? Was she blocking it out? Was she unable to mental process it? Or was she simply waiting for me to correct my earlier mistake? It was one of the strangest Mexican stand offs I have ever been in.

“Nee dank u,” I replied quickly (and slightly too loudly) before it was too late. I was sure she had been about to push the plunger.

The girl looked deeply confused by my response. Why didn’t I want mayonnaise? Didn’t I like it? Was that kind of thing even possible? Luckily for me she managed to come to terms with my decision and slowly put my fries up on the counter.

“1.20 alstublieft.”

I handed over the money, surprised that she didn’t automatically charge me the extra 20 cents for mayonnaise in her confusion.

“Fijne avond,” she wished me as she returned my change.

“Fijne avond,” I wished her, hoping that she would recover from this traumatic experience.

As I turned around and started to walk away with my mayonnaise free fries I heard the next person in the queue step up to the counter and place their order.

“Patat met alstublieft.”

Balance was restored once again.

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Fri
29 Aug

Sailing The Dutch Sea

The following is a dramatic re-enactment of how I spent part of my holiday.

It is day two of our voyage across the Waddenzee. We are returning from a small island just off the coast of Friesland that we discovered the day before. I have decided to call this island Vlieland (because that is what it is called). We are sailing back with the many exotic and wondrous goods that we discovered on this tiny island (in the small harbour shop). Even though we only departed from its shores a short while ago land already seems like a distant memory and I wonder if I will ever see it again (within the three hours of estimated travel time).

Communicating with my fellow crew mates has proved to be a challenge. I am the only Englishmen on board and I find myself surrounded by a crew of Dutch and German men and women. However, over time we eventually found a way to understand each other (they all spoke English to me).

I am now accepted by the Germans who insist that I join them for a traditional drink of beer (at eleven in the morning). Likewise I have been accepted by the Dutch (who are all my family-in-law and already know what I am like anyway).

Through our fragmented conversations I am able to piece together that there is talk of a traitor on board, a would-be mutineer, someone who has eaten all the wine gums out of the Haribo Star Mix and left only the drop. No one on board knows who the guilty party is yet but the accusations have already started. I remain silent and nervously push the remaining wine gums deeper into my pocket in the hope that my confectionary based guilt goes un-noticed. I do not wish to walk the plank.

Luckily for me there are bigger concerns occupying the minds of the crew and our captain. We have sailed directly in to a storm, an ever present danger during the Dutch summer months. The boat lurches (slightly) from side to side as we attempt to navigate the treacherous sandbanks that lay hidden just beneath the surface of the water. No one says anything. We have all heard the stories of those poor souls unfortunate enough to run afoul of these dangerous obstacles and become stranded on them, lost forever (until they were safely towed back to open water or until high tied came along). We can all hear sand scrapping across the bottom of the hull as we get too close. No one says anything but we all fear we might be next.

Waves crash against the side of the old ship and salty sea water sprays over our waterproof jackets (which most of us have bought especially for this trip). Wearing shorts suddenly seems like a bad idea.

Even without the dangers of the storm conditions on board are harsh. We have been forced to leave behind the comforts and luxuries of life on land. Life at sea requires a tougher resolve but some of us are having trouble adapting than others. Out on the open sea we only have a 3G network connection, not the fully high speed 4G connection we are all used to. Without a fast connection to Twitter or Facebook I fear that it is only a matter of time before cabin fever sets in and we all lose our minds to the sea.

Some of the crew are already talking about areas of sea where there is no network connection at all. I pray that we do not find ourselves in such bedevilled waters.

We sail on. Towards land. Towards Friesland. Towards hope. Towards the harbour we left so long ago yesterday. With any luck we just might make it (before I run out of dry clothes).

At Sea
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