Saturday, December 4
The cat and the hailstorm
I promised yesterday the story of the cat and the herb garden and of the hailstorm, so here they are.
We have the the most beautiful cat, Monty, ( I say we, but the cat's fixated on Martin, the little suckup; my role is merely feeder and cleaner and person to be woken at 3am) who's possibly a Russian blue or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
He was previously a stray and had been hanging around Martin's parents' garden for several months and was in a bit of a state. Missing teeth, all bones, infected ears and lots of scars, and no voice due to sustained crying. He'd obviously been a well-loved cat at some point, but from his poor state it looked as though he had been a stray for a couple of winters at least. But he's such an affectionate little dear, and Martin's Mum is such a softie, it wasn't long before he was being fed and bedded down in the old rabbit hutch. (She couldn't take him inside because her own cat would've have got a snit on.)
Every time we visited he would come running up to us and be incredibly affectionate, which is always gratifying, and as winter was coming on we knew he couldn't take another harsh season outside, so we brought him home. We cleaned him and fed him, and took him to the vet, who deflea'd and wormed him, cleaned his ears and scars and took out several badly infected teeth. He's now a happy and healthy cat with shining, sleek velvet grey fur, and drapes himself around Martin's neck when he's at the PC, like an ambulatory fur tippet.
My problem with him is that he keeps digging up my herb garden and shitting in it. As he has no teeth he can only eat soft canned food (not crazy about the environmental/factory farming implications, but there's little I can do), it means that his productions are rather, umm... meaty. (Not only that, he can only eat by sticking his whole face in the food and sucking, which tends to splat chopped chicken innards all over the kitchen floor. Guess who gets to clean it.) On Tuesday he went out to the back yard as usual but this time, rather than just the usual little scratch in the dirt he decided to dig up his whole toilet area: so that when I went out I found he had managed spread at least a kilo, several months worth, of aged catshit all over the path. The smell was unbelievably rancid. I had to get gloves and a trowel and pick it all up, which I eventually managed to do with frequent vomit breaks. Why ever did I fall for his Puss in Boots bigeyes expression?
The hailstorm incident I'm still recovering from: I still have a truly impressive set of bruises and scrapes and the muscles behind my knees still ache every time I stand up. I had been to the grocery store at Banne Buiksloot on my bike, and my panniers were weighed down with at least 25 kilos of groceries, as I'd been doing the heavy stuff, potatoes, and onions, and detergent and the like. That journey involves crossing 2 main roads at traffic light junctions on the way there, and again on the way back. The weather had been very threatening all day, but I thought could probably make it back before it really hit. I was maybe 2 minutes from home, just coming up to the last junction: the lights were green, but it had got very dark and lightning had just started to flash.
As I began to cross the junction the light turned red and the heavens opened, with huge hailstones hammering down at an incredible pace: my front wheel slipped on the ice, and the guy who had, illegally, jumped the lights to make a left turn into the junction hit my back wheel at about 30mph. I, of course, went over with the weight of the bike and the laden panniers and hit the ice-covered road pretty hard with the bike on top of me. That hurt enough. However, rather than stopping, the driver drove on, over my bike and over me. Didn't stop, didn't ask if I was OK, just drove on. I'm in the middle of a busy road, can't get up quickly because of the weight of the bike and panniers, and the shock, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm with rush-hour traffic weaving around me. I was really scared: I'm not a wimp by any stretch but i was trapped withcars speeding towards me. I was lucky. A young lad of about 17 who was passing stopped the cars, helped me up and rescued my bike and panniers. I wish I'd got his name, he was great. Whowever you were, thank you. Thank you also Gazelle, who make the best bikes. If it hadn't been for the strength of the frame and wheels I'd've been seriously hurt. I love that bike - all the damge done was a snapped brake cable.
I wish also I had been able to get the name of the bastard that ran me over, and of those drivers who drove around me while I was lying in the road hurt. What kind of person does that? I'm not an untrained rider, I've done all the road safety courses and I've been rising a bike since I was 8. I'm extra careful also, because riding on the right is not what I was brought up to. Everyone rides a bike here and knows the rules. There was no excuse for this.
Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck.
You know, I really don't want to hate Holland and the Dutch, much as it may appear I do want to - but bloody hell, they make it hard not to.
We are looking for an apartment to buy, as in a couple of weeks the socialists move out to a more central location and we either have to find somewhere else or pay double our current rental for the whole building. A few weeks ago, I saw the ideal house - in our neighbourhood, perfect for us in everyway, location, price, size, everything. It had previously been marked sold on the house board, but I noticed that it was for sale again. I looked at the agents' website and the price had been dropped because the sale had fallen through, so I rang the estate agent (makelaar). She wasn't there, could they get her to call back? I waited two days, no return call, so I called again and made an appointment to view. The earliest they could do was today, Friday, more than a week after my call. No weekend viewings, no evening viewing: "Ik kan niet doen".
My partner had to take time off work, at his most busy period, to come and look at it. So he booked the time off and worked late and early all week to make up the time. It's finally Friday afternoon and we're all set to go see it and we're quite excited and optimistic about it. So I called the makelaar to make sure she'd be there, again she can't come to the phone, can she call me back? I'm doubtful, but say OK, and miracle of miracles she calls me back an hour later.
"Are we still on for 5 o'clock?" I ask. "The house is sold." she says, "but I can keep you on the list" as though she's doing me a massive favour. "But you just told me it's sold. Did you mean sold or just under offer?" "Sold" she replies. I'm ashamed to say it but I lost my temper and shouted at her. "Then what's the bloody point in putting us on the list if it's already sold! Didn't you know this before you let me waste a week waiting? You've wasted both mine and my partner's time, aren't you even going to apologise?" No reply. I slammed the phone down on her.
Now, a house sale takes a while. There is no way she would not have known that a sale was pending when I made the original appointment to view. If we had turned up for the viewing today, would she have even been there? I doubt it. If I hadn't called would she have let us know? I doubt that too. I am utterly amazed that they are able to sell anything at all given the appalling customer service from estate agents here.
Makelaars are open only from Tuesday to Friday betwen 9 and 5, ( because of course Mondays are sacred, heaven forbid anyone should want to do business on a Monday) and absolutely, positively will not arrange a viewing outside these times. How on earth is anyone with a job supposed to find a house? When you do finally fight your way through the thicket of their obstructiveness they deliberately mess you about.
I am so angry about this. We were about to spend a *lot* of money, of which the makelaar would have taken a tidy sum in commission for which she would have done bugger all...
It's so easy and lazy to keep comparing the UK and NL unfavourably to each other, but in this instance I have to. In the UK estate agents are considered to be the lowest of the low; the only people lower in public estimation are tabloid journalists and politicians (not necessarily in that order). But UK estate agents are models of efficiency in comparison. They'll make an appointment when you can make it: their income depends on satisfying the customer and selling the damned house, so they will often bend over backwards to work around your time obligations. Many estate agents negotiators are women, who work part-time at evenings and weekends because it fits in with their commitments: thus it works out well for everyone.
Now we have to go through the whole process again: scouring all the housing publications, trying to get some sense out of the makelaar, taking time off work etc, and all in a foreign language. The trouble is it all falls on me because of my partner's work commitments and travelling time; and my Dutch is very basic and completely insufficient to deal with something this complex. Add to that the previously mentioned hostility to foreigners and you've got a clusterfuck waiting to happen. As it just did.
Thursday, December 2
Back again - now with added Nederlands snark!
Hello again, this time from Amsterdam. I let the original Take It As Red lapse: I'd like to say it was due to work stress in my incredibly important career, or that I'd been called on to lead my cephalopod comrades in the glorious revolution, but actually it was mostly that I couldn't be arsed. Leaving life, work and home and (grown) children behind to move to an odd new country can do that to a person.
I've been here off and on for getting on for 4 years now, but nothing prepared me for the culture shock. Culture shock? What? But we're all Yurpeens now, aren't we? Well, maybe so in principle, but no-one has told the Dutch yet. They talk well about tolerance and love and understanding, but really this is one of the most bigoted, closed-minded and conformist societies I have yet come across. (No wonder the Boers ran away - and then of course, all those sterling Dutch qualities were left to develop and warp to extremes in a hot, harsh landscape, and *then* look what happened, misery for most non-Boers. But I digress)
All the tolerance talk is just that, talk; an intellectual exercise for a rentier/intelligentsia class smug in their material comforts and their little bubble of a Dutch speaking media or political party. Theo Van Gogh was merely one of the most visible pimples on the great Dutch ass of complacency. The trouble is instead of treating it with antibiotics ( stick with the heavy-handed metaphor, it gets worse) someone decided cauterisation was the answer. Well yes, in a way, but it leaves a scar. No matter how noxious the pimple on your butt, if you cut it out you'll still have the butt, but it will hurt to sit on.
Van Gogh's shooting at least has forced some Dutch people into a little societal self-examination, but from the snatches of conversation and TV discussion I can understand , and conversations I have had, nothing has changed except that white Dutch people now seem to feel they have license to be openly hostile to foreigners. I'm English and white and they're hostile to me; I have had "If you don't like it here go back to your own country" said to me - how bad must it be to be visibly Moslem? I don't blame Moroccans or Turks or any other nationality for wanting to stay in their own communities at all, I would too if I could. I have found people here to be bad-mannered, ignorant and openly discourteous most of the time. If someone is polite to you it's an event. if you have a non-Dutch appearance or accent, multiply that ten-fold.
For example, we rent our flat from a socialist organisation, who also have an office in the building. The office is staffed on Mondays by two middle-aged women volunteers. Now, when they come in in the morning, they are essentially coming into my home, as we share an entrance. They see me when they go in, or when I go out. Yet not once has either of them said hello or even nodded. I've even greeted them *in Dutch* and got nothing in reply but a stony glare. It's very depressing because this is not isolated. Your next door neighbour will be all smiles one day and blank you the next. I'm used to a basic level of courtesy: you know, the usual please and thankyou and no pushing in queues. I never expected gushing friendliness, but this is a level of sustained hostility and callousness that I find every hard to explain and to bear.
Dutch men seem to be different, not so harsh or confrontational, but even the 'enlightened' ones can surprise you with the naked bigotry of their comments. One of the party members was here one day to deliver some literature: no-one was in the office and it had been a big job, so I offered him coffee. Over coffee we got to chatting, as one does, and I thought "Oh this is nice, a real conversation, perhaps I've been misjudging the Dutch. What a bad bigoted person I've been. Bad me." But then, (and you knew there would be a then) as we were discussing housing, and the dearth and expense thereof, he told me he was moving house. "Oh, why's that?" asked I. "It's them, you know, them." "Who?" I asked, a veteran of many of these type of converstions and knowing where he was going but wanting to make him say it, "Them. they block up all the ventilation and windows and there's dozens of them living in one flat". "But who?" I persisted. "Them. The Moroccans," he finally admitted. "I can't stand it any more, we're moving. The whole buurt is now Moroccan.".
Now this is supposedly a socialist, in enlightened Holland, bastion of free speech, democracy, tolerance and all that nice stuff and here he is spouting stuff I'd've expected to hear in Birmingham in the nineteen-sixties. No wonder young Moslem people turn to their religion rather than politics: if you can't even trust the socialists to be anti-racist and anti-bigot, where do you turn? I think we all know the answer to that.
I am torn over this: I want to get out on the streets and agitate, but it's not my country and every time I leave the house I'm forcibly reminded of that. So I've taken the Moroccan way out. I have BBC1 and BBC2 on television, Radio 4 on longwave, and as many British papers as I like available online. I can have British food delivered, order books from Amazon, and our language at home is English. I have created my own Little England and I'm becoming a caricature expat, despite the fact this is something I swore before I came here I would never do. I want to accept the Netherlands qua Netherlands, and not to try to force it into the mould of my preconceptions. However there's only so many times you can keep banging your head against a brick wall before you finally realise that the wall doesn't care and that now your head hurts.
Tune into our next exciting episode tomorrow, when I'll detail my fight against the cat ( who is, naturally, Dutch) shitting in my herb garden, and if you're good, I'll tell you the exciting story of the bastard that nearly ran me over in a hailstorm. Who knows, I may even find time for some politics.
11/28/2004 - 12/05/2004