Instalment 44: In the stuffy arrivals hall, Axel is accosted by the woman who is the first to emerge from customs.
‘So you think bombing is very bad for the environment?’
‘Yes, setting fire to oilfields is rather damaging to the environment.’
‘So we shouldn’t have fought that Second World War, either?’
‘That’s not what I’m saying.’
The people I told looked at me as if I was going to travel into a war zone. Actually, after the Paris attacks, I travelled from London to Arnhem and, six days later, back again. Yes, that’s right, through Brussels.
Instalment 43: Every night, Axel steals a hardcover from the feminist bookshop.
Last Thursday, together with my publisher, I decided to research the local Bonfire Night customs in more detail, like an anthropologist investigating the last tribe that still wears penis sheaths.
Instalment 42: Even during his last year before retiring, once provoked, deputy head Kreuze easily explodes into anger.
Can a book make you change your mind? That’s what occupied my thoughts after reading the new Ted Hughes biography by Jonathan Bate. The publication of this English biography almost coincided with that of Jij zegt het (It’s you who says it), a Dutch novel about Ted Hughes by Connie Palmen.
Instalment 41: Because mummy’s gallbladder is being removed on Good Friday, granny Reuser, from across the road, has taken charge of her daughter’s home.
Recently, someone asked me what it is like to be a poor poet living in a very wealthy London neighbourhood. ‘I see the funny side of it,’ I replied, ‘and it’s rather nice.’
During World War II, there were ‘Engelandvaarders’, people fleeing to England, and who used small boats to cross the Channel. Alternatively, they travelled through Belgium, France and Spain to Portugal or Gibraltar, and then on to England. They were made very welcome.
Instalment 40: The next morning, he sits, nerves on edge, at the kitchen table waiting for the phone to ring.
I’ve lived in London for over a year now. ‘Dutch expats are critical of the Netherlands,’ I recently explained to some English friends. ‘And a lot of Dutch people live abroad, actually 1 in 17.’
Instalment 39: Every fourteen minutes the High lighthouse’s rotating beam hits the neatly trimmed conifer hedge which surrounds camping the Corner.
‘The number of confused Dutch people abroad is increasing’, ran the headline in one of the Dutch newspapers. Embassies are coming across it far more frequently. In Madrid, a Dutchman was spotted directing the traffic stark naked.
Here at home, the boiler is being replaced, and all of a sudden I find myself in an uncomfortable situation. This awkward state of affairs begins as soon as the workmen arrive. I’m never quite sure if I ought to offer workmen something to drink. Nonetheless, I’ve set out tea and coffee, but I don’t have any milk. ‘No problem,’ say the workmen.
Instalment 38: On Carnival’s Monday, after the children’s parade, Axel is collected by Robbie Hol to go jigging in Smeets Hall.
‘It’s all Greek to me,’ wrote William Shakespeare, as long ago as 1599, in Julius Caesar. When, on Sunday, Europe developed a breach of trust over Greece, it made me think of an expression from Virgil that has been incorporated into the English language: ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.’ (A reference to the Trojan Horse.)
Instalment 37: Because it’s spring, Axel has mustered all his year-7 courage to turn
around to face Vera Lebesque, the girl in the tight levi’s 501
Dutch MP Helma Neppérus (VVD – People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) argued for the reinstatement of tonic water and bitter lemon in the lower chamber’s restaurant. The fizzy drinks had fallen by the wayside because produce has to be organic. How much of a nanny state can a person endure?
Instalment 36: Looking up, she snaps at her grandson: ‘If you fall down, you’ll have to collect your front teeth yourself.’
Every Saturday we’re on Portobello market with the Holland Park Press market stall. We’re in the square, in front of the hairdressing salon on the corner of Tavistock Road. Many of the male hairdressers from the salon wear a beard, or to be precise a trendy beard and a moustache, aka a ‘beardstache’. The longer hipster beard (one up from ZZ Top) is dead, long live the beardstache! Well, that’s what they’re saying – I’m not really an expert.
Instalment 35: Axel has stuffed that many pieces of clothing in a brown corduroy pair of trousers and a blue, flannel shirt that he slowly begins to believe that there’s a real girl laying down on his bed.
Since living in England, I’ve been kept busy. This year, I’ve missed the Boat Race (since 1829) and the Chelsea Flower Show (since 1913), but I can still attend Ascot (since 1711), Wimbledon (since 1877), Trooping the Colour (birthday parade for the Head of State’s official birthday, first held in 1748), Glyndebourne (since 1934), the Henley Regatta (since 1839), the Last Night of the Proms (since 1895) or Cowes Week (since 1826).
Instalment 34: Axel hangs upside down, his feet tied to the lowest branch of the poplar standing nearest to the campfire of squinting Joep and Carlo de Clever.
Recently, I followed the coverage of King’s Day in Dordrecht on my
laptop. It featured the visit to the city of King Willem-Alexander and
Queen Maxima with their children and some minor royals, but for a moment
I thought I was watching the arrival of St Nicholas. (For English
readers, this is a Dutch children’s event on 5 December.) Partly, maybe,
because the first picture they showed was that of a steamboat.
Instalment 33: Willy Roos pushes his big belly covered in his blue dustcoat against
Axel’s right thigh, while his pair of scissors is, like a slug, grazing
the boy’s crown.
Recently, I visited Karl Marx’s grave at Highgate Cemetery in North London. It’s only an hour’s journey by bus. There was an entrance fee of four pounds per person. ‘Four pounds,’ my travel companion said to the lady behind the counter, ‘to visit a graveyard?’
Instalment 32: On the steep verge along the deserted motorway, Axel lies on the lush grass at the feet of next-door girl Manon.
I used to be the king of single-pot cooking. I had no need of a cookbook. My one-pot meals were quite simple. But since I’ve emigrated to England I have a fully fitted kitchen at my disposal and there is a new woman in my life.
Last week a couple visited us. Apparently, according to newspaper articles, they belong to a special tribe: a tribe from the West Midlands. I don’t think they knew they belonged to a tribe, but it’s in the papers, so there must be some truth in it.
Instalment 31: Today, he skips dinner. After the school bell, Axel has stayed on in the schoolyard and has played land grab with a Swiss penknife, the expensive Christmas present from his father.
I live in a strange country. From a Dutch point of view it’s across the sea. Nearby and yet quite distant. Over here, news reporting is often an odd affair.
Instalment 29: The sweaty smell stops Axel from breathing through his nose.
Recently there was a survey in the Netherlands about men’s urinating habits. It mainly covered behaviour at home. The results revealed that 56% peed standing up and 43% preferred to sit down. I was immediately curious about the missing 1%. Do they do it tied up, hanging upside down from the ceiling?
Instalment 30: While sitting on his father’s lap, Axel is being told that grandpa started as a horse driver in the mine.
Arnold Jansen op de Haar wrote Not a Declaration of Intent, a poem about writing and reading poetry, to celebrate Dutch Poetry Week 2015.
Instalment 28: During the midnight mass Axel is being told that the Word has become flesh.
Who will it be: Harry Potter, Basil Fawlty, Paddington Bear, Mr Bean, Dr Who or James Bond after all? I don’t believe there is another country with as many fictional celebrities as the United Kingdom. To select the greatest fictional celebrity is rather difficult because there is a long history.
Instalment 27: From the leatherette back seat in Roy Heijnens’s, the red-headed owner of driving school ROY, dual control Daffodil, Axel watches fearful sweat drops trickle down his mother’s neck.
My neighbourhood here in London accommodates more women wearing burkas than the whole of the Netherlands. There is even a woman in a burka living in my apartment block. She emerged giggling from the lift because she couldn’t immediately locate the front door. I found the giggling reassuring.
Instalment 26: One summer they are not holidaying at the Nolle beach in Flushing.
2014 was the year when I officially still lived in the Netherlands but actually stayed in London. Here, I have a view across a green. That’s also the place where I smoke my cigars. Cigars that are four times as expensive as in the Netherlands. That’s why I smoke four times less, so that I spend the same amount of money. Sometimes, while having a smoke, I think of the Netherlands.
‘Olievelden in brand schieten is nogal slecht voor het milieu, ja.’
‘Dus die Tweede Wereldoorlog hadden we ook niet moeten voeren?’
‘Dat zeg ik niet.’
Onlangs keek ik in Londen op mijn laptop naar de verslaggeving van
Koningsdag in Dordrecht. Het ging om het bezoek van koning
Willem-Alexander en koningin Maxima met hun kinderen en enige
aangetrouwde leden van de familie aan de stad, maar even dacht ik dat
het om de intocht van Sinterklaas ging. (Voor de Engelse lezers, een
Nederlands kinderfeest op 5 december.) Misschien kwam dat ook omdat het
eerste beeld dat ik zag een stoomboot was.
Onlangs bezocht ik het graf van Karl Marx, op Highgate Cemetery in Noord-Londen. Slechts een uurtje met de bus. Om binnen te komen moest je vier pond per persoon betalen. ‘Vier pond,’ zei mijn reisgenote tegen de mevrouw achter de balie, ‘voor een begraafplaats?’