I am the Fuck Back in the Netherlands … Again! I do this regularly, cyclically. Not planned, not intended but it did eventually enable me to answer one of the thornier of questions I get asked as a perma-tourist, the perpetual expat: “Which country (in your experience) is the best?”
The answer: The Netherlands.
It does tend to provoke a slight arching of the eyebrows – “The Netherlands!”, a narrowing of the eyes – “He makin’ a joke?”, sometimes a slight gurgling sound similar to a drain suddenly clearing.
I have a lot of nice clothes. Painstakingly collected. Rarely worn. In North we do not wear clothes we use equipment. So my fine collection of Energi and Gsus, the odd Desigual, Cavalli, Baltman, and bunch of no-names has been protectively wrapped up in them vacuum-bags and kept in a sealed and locked room. For years.
I am now going through them all. What to store again, what to use now and for my trip to Australia, and what to give away. Very therapeutic.
Friends are coming today. It’s a Sunday. I just wandered down to the local superamarket bought some lunch delights, a few Westmalle Tripels (The Best Beer in the World) and a bottle of Prosecco.
Note the keys terms: Sunday, beer, wine, supermarket, wandered. Yes: I wandered, as in did not need to go by car. To a supermarket open on a Sunday (itself not big thing) where I bought full strength beer and prosecco. In a supermarket, on a Sunday. Two previously incompatible terms with purchase of alcoholic drinks above 4.7% in Finland or 3.5% in Sweden.
You see what I mean: I am The Fuck Back in the Netherlands. With all of its insane over populated dedicated urban world choice. Wonderful cappuccino on a delightful terrace at a decent price. Just sit down, someone comes and asks what I want who then goes and prepares/makes it brings it out and lets me pay when I’m ready to leave. No queues, no trays, no self-service, no push-button pre-prepared cappuccino from some machine, no exorbitant cost.
For the same price or even less of a flat tasteless 400 cl of 4.6% beer often inadequately chilled and frequently placed in a warm glass I can walk into a coffee shop and buy not one but two pre-rolled high % THC joints, walk out again, light one of them up and wander my way without any fear of retribution.
I am in Den Haag in the Vogelwijk in the mansion which belongs to The Man With The Plan – formerly known as The Man Who Sold His Soul – and his wife who bought and their two delightful boys 9 & 11 (or is it 12 now?).
They are on holiday for a couple of weeks in the south of France. It’s quite hard to describe just how it feels to occupy a couple’s mansion and have access to everything whilst they are away. Humble, grateful, sensitive to the responsibility such honour requires. And more. I’ve known them 20-odd years and can hardly be described as an ‘unknown entity’. Still I am immensely grateful to their trust.
Lovely though the Family may be I am also very grateful that they are not at home.
All of my stuff … ALL OF MY STUFF … as in E V E R Y T H I N G personal I own is now spread equally from one end of their massive living room to the other. All floor space is occupied as is the large coffee table and the kitchen table and the computer table …
I simply can’t imagine what it’d have been like to go through and sort my stuff whilst a top-end professional couple with two kids try to live their daily and weekly routines. I’ve a week to sort all this out and return their space to something they recognise.
My objective is simple: fit all I want to keep into a small space deep at the south end of their huge attic. Between 1.5 and 2 cubic meters.
Three piles emerge: 1) keep & store; 2) sell, or try to, and 3) throw away.
I’m a lousy seller of stuff. For one I worry if I have the time to actually sell it all: place an advert, tweak prices to suit actual demand, be available for visits, deal with what is not sold.
Given I’ve a week to clear the deck I’m concerned there will be ‘to be sold’ stuff all over the place when they return.
I hope Bikers Best will take back the Santos MTB they sold me long ago. Otherwise …
The Man With The Plan himself takes care of the Simon & Patrick semi-acoustic guitar & Laney amplifier. Seems Bouke their cheeky and extrovert 9 year old is learning guitar. It would take him quite a while before he’d be able to deal with a full blown 6 steel-string guitar and I am happy to donate it to him for when he’s ready. A quaint of reversal of 18 years ago when The Man With The Plan gave me his acoustic and brand new Fender after realising his dream of learning guitar shall remain just that … a dream.
I made my 6th of May appointment with Robert of Santos who gave me the Grand Tour, explaining the philosophy of Santos. And of course their wonderful bikes. I got a touch nervous when I found out it took like 5 weeks to put such a bike together.
Add 5 weeks are we are perilously close to 23rd June and departure time. And I still have to finalise the ‘chose bike’ exercise: getting measured up, colours, and literally everything that’s on the bike from the tires through the hubs, to the seat, handlebars, headstem, seatstem, baggage racks and more.
Robert reassures me they will do “everything they can” to ensure the bike is ready.
Jos and Frank are ebullient when I turn up in their tiny shop and workspace on the Noordsingel in Rotterdam. High-end bikes and stuff abound. It’s a far cry from the mega-bike stores like Hans Struik. Bikers have been supplying my non-motorised two-wheeled needs to a good decade or more.
It takes multiple sessions to nail down what Santos needs to know in order to build the bike. First though … the colour, then the frame can be built and sent for painting.
Then all the other stuff … and there is a L O T of ‘other stuff’. It takes a good number of visits to get through it all.
Then there’s the training session: who to change the oil on the Rohloff hub (yes, you read correctly: change the oil). The Rohloff has all its 14 gears fully enclosed in a hub. Everynowandthen it’s necessary to change the oil. I now know how to do that. Replace cables, brake pads, the riem (belt. Yes it’s a belt driven bike), adjust the tension of the riem, and (of course) the basics of how to de-buckle a wheel. It takes a good number of visits to get through it all.
I work pretty much all day and all night on bike stuff but mostly on sorting my shit out in the mansion of The Man With The Plan. They are returning mid May-ish. I godda be ready.
Finally their garbage bins are full, there are boxes and bags with ‘kringloop’ (2nd hand stores) written all over them, the Stora Blå Buss has absorbed some stuff (for Ram), and the rest is in the far south east end of the attic.
Although The Man With The Plan tries to reassure me I am welcome to remain in their mansion once the Family return late Saturday night, I figure a weekend in Amsterdam would suit us all better.
Mike spent a looong time searching for the “Queen of all my dreams”. He covered continents, embarked on an overland trip to China (his pet obsession for years) via Indonesia and Australia. He searched for years, growing ever more embittered and withdrawn, gaining weight and smoking cigarettes and joints drinking beers at his table long after I’d crashed on his sofa defeated by too much of it all.
His Queen, Remke, he found in Abcoude 30 minutes from the centre of Amsterdam. They’ve been married for years by now and Mike has emerged as butterfly does from its chrysalis: beautiful, wondrous and lovely.
As they search for a place suitable for their lifestyle choices: chickens, veggy and herb patch, water, land on which they can make a fire, close to but not part of the urban conurbation of Amsterdam and without (close) neighbours they live in 45 m2 apartment in the Oude West.
A stark contrast to the fast-paced lifestyle of The Man With The Plan + wife & two kids who’s living room alone is about 50 m2.
I thoroughly enjoy the magnificent and innovative food they put together, the premium beers they enjoy, even the endless circuit of cigarettes and joints they consume. I know I’ll pay quite a ‘withdraw from it all’ price, but I gave up years ago resisting. The conversation, their endless eclectic music, the absolute absence of tv, the general ambiance is welcoming warm and inclusive.
We meet the Twat of Justice in the Fietsvakantiewinkel who demeanour suggests that of a digger of graves in the rain rather than the source of information and expertise you’d expect. Horrid man.
Ram is flying in on the 19th to pick up her Stora Blå Buss, after which we go to Aachen for my presentation at the AIMS conference.
Then the idea is to chillout and enjoy a bit of NL time whilst the Santos is built and I continue to search for ‘stuff’ of which I seem to need an endless amount.
The Netherlands, again forever always …