Time for a top-to-toe stock-check: here are ten ways my body has changed after half a year in The Netherlands.
Imagine, if you will, the love child of Brian May and Ursula the Sea Witch. You now have a good idea of both my appearance and cultural influences. This time last year, I had a sophisticated pixie crop that demanded facetime with my hairdryer each and every morning. Here in the Netherlands, cycling the kids to and from school on Steve the Bakfiets, my hair faces an elemental assault of such ferocity that my hairdryer is a gnat’s fart in comparison. No other tool in the world has seen such a drop in action. Apart from, maybe, Harvey Weinstein. But that will change once he gets to prison.
Mostly (mercifully) obscured by Ursula May hair. This face has taken a beating from the Dutch elements too; life on the bike, especially in the winter, means dry skin, frown lines from squinting into freezing winds, red eyes, chapped lips. By the way, no Dutch Amsterdammers seem to look like this. It’s only me cycling around looking like Northern Europe’s modern-day answer to The Revenant.
The bags under my eyes tell a different story. Sleepless nights, thinking about the eight year old, who has been called Fucker by a classmate and doesn’t know why. The six year old, crying every night for the first two weeks of Dutch school. The three year old, who has no particular emotional complaint but likes to inform me intermittently overnight that it’s still dark. “Wrinkles are hereditary,” said Doris Day, “Parents get them from their children.” I mean, I know Leonardo Dicaprio got half-eaten by a bear but at least he wasn’t travelling with three kids.
The Dutch have this thing called borreluur, which is pronounced bororor, or borororor, or bororororor, depending on how long you’ve been Borrelurring. Borreluur means bar time – an afternoon drink, around 4ish. In other words: after school. The Dutch are known for their easy-going parenting and, whilst I’m not saying it’s all down to the booze, it’s remarkably easier to tolerate blanket criticism of your hidden-vegetable spag bol when you’re one and a half merlots in. Get scurvy, little fuckers. See if I care.
But it’s not all alcohol-related brain cell decimation. Learning Dutch has got the cogs turning again. I mean, I can’t speak Dutch, but trying to is resurrecting part of my brain that I thought had died the moment I walked out of my French Oral Exam. Ha, I know, right? Oral.
I asked the eight year old how his brain has changed since we lived in The Netherlands.
“I’ve forgotten every single word of English,” he replied. In English.
Keep walking, Mensa. Nothing to see here.
Strong as fuck, carrying kids and shopping up and down Dutch stairs. Dutch apartments have, on average, five-hundred and twenty-three narrow stairs. At number fiver-hundred and twenty-two, you’ll be making plans to move. Then, on entry into your apartment: holy shit, this place is nice! I don’t know why we didn’t live half a mile into the sky back in London. This light is way better. Am I dizzy because of altitude or borreluur?
Christ alive, that thing’s fucked. See kids, shopping and stairs, above. I don’t have time to exercise, so every two weeks I see a chiropractor who cracks me into a shape that vaguely resembles a human woman. Then my kids, the bike and the relocation stress turn me back into a hunched, neckless Ursula May. If anyone can think of a better band name than Neckless Ursula, I’m all ears. All ears and no neck.
Ten hands in this house, various sizes. all dry, sometimes even bleeding, from white-knuckle winter rides on the bike. Gloves make no difference. The children complain that Vaseline feels too slimy, so I creep into their room at night to slather grease on their tiny, cracking hands. I wonder, as they grip my fingers in their sleep, if they ever dream in Dutch. They’ll always be better than me. I don’t just mean their Dutch. There’s nothing like the sight of a sleeping child to make you call into question your own moral worth. What did I say to them, today, that will change them tomorrow?
Expanding significantly. You know when you go on a self-catering holiday abroad, and faced with alien supermarket goods, you completely lose all ability to cook anything for yourself, and so eat shit for two weeks and go home with scurvy? Well, it’s that. But instead of two weeks, it’s been six months. Last month I ate an avocado and blogged about it.
It’s not The Netherlands; it’s me. I cannot cook. Although, I have to say, in my defense, that the sausages here are not sausages. The one and only time I tried to serve them to my kids, we all cried.
So I’m not much of a self-publicist (apart from, you know, writing a blog about myself) but it’s kind of weird that no-one has made a documentary about my ass. This ass has never been so good. Stairs, biking and going without a car has chiseled me a butt that you could set your tea on. It’s a bigger, better butt. No buts. Sometimes you’ve got to kiss your own ass.
As white as they’ve ever been. Not many people know this, but The Netherlands sit on an axis of the planet that never sees the sun, because the clouds are rounded up by the Alps to the South, the Scandinavian Mountains to the North and Brexit to the West. Apparently, after March 2019, this vast, grey cloud will move permanently over to the United Kingdom, leaving The Netherlands with a constant stream of sun, free movement and unchlorinated chicken.
I do not own clogs, but I can tell you that Dutch for clog is klomp. Moving to a new country, something I never thought I’d do, slows you down for a while. You clomp around your new city, walking more than you need to because you don’t know the shortcuts. But the more you travel, the more you think you can travel. The more you stand, the more you think you can stand. At the beginning of the year, I took a trip home with the eight year old to see my grandmother. At the airport, we stood for some time at the gate, waiting to board, alongside a hundred or so other weary-footed travellers, standing astride their baggage, longing to leave, or longing to arrive.
“We can sit over there,” the eight year old said to me, pointing to the speedy boarding area. I looked over at the cordoned-off corner, which held four or five middle-aged white men in business suits, several empty chairs apart from each other, reading papers, or their laptops, or their phones.
“Oh, we can’t sit there,” I said, scrunching my toes in my boots. I am a nervous flyer.
The eight year old was quiet for a little while, staring at the speedy boarding men.
“So is that where you sit,” the eight year old eventually said, “if you are alone?”