Amsterdam · Family · London · Relocating · Travel

Awful and Inhumane

img_7313Londoners get a bad press throughout the rest of the country (or maybe the world?), and, rightly or wrongly, are generally assumed to be total wankers. Most people characterised in this way may be alarmed, but your average London Wanker won’t give a toss. The clue is in the name.

The best thing about being a London Wanker (aside from not having to pretend to like Nescafé) is that you always know someone who knows someone. This neatly segways into the second marker of a true London Wanker – the sense of entitlement one feels to bypass tedious procedures simply because one has a meaty list of London Contacts. It’s true that we don’t like waiting; we want what we want and we want it yesterday. Who likes waiting? And an inability to wait can sometimes present as plain old rudeness. I realize this is not painting a pretty picture of the average Londoner, and you might think that as I dwell upon these common criticisms, I might start to feel, well, a bit shit. But don’t worry! All is saved by London Wanker Criterion Number 3: A complete lack of self-awareness.

So, jolly good. All is well as I delve into the inexhaustible mine of recommendations on offer, with the full expectation that by the end of the week we’ll have an Amsterdam flat, school and social life delivered on a plate, or, more likely here in London, roller-skated over by a tattooed young junk artist called Mole, served on a reconstructed 1930s hubcap signed by the chef in edible gold.


Ok so the flat will probably sort itself out; basically, with the money we get from letting out our 4 bedroom Victorian terrace in London, we will be able to afford a 3 bedroom flat in the ‘Dam. It may or may not have any discernable outside space. Forget about parking spaces. (Parking spaces? I learnt to drive in London; what are these parking spaces you speak of?)

Surely the social life will also be fine, for I am simply a joy, and My Lawyer needs two friends maximum. He wonders if I count as a friend, so he might already be halfway there. I tell him I’m not sure he’s on my Instagram.

But the school search is already proving tedious. We’ve been here before; London primary schools are all shockingly oversubscribed. Some rich families even rent an extra property for six months or so in order to secure their desired school. These particular London Wankers reach a level of Wankery that I’m not even sure what to call. (Well, actually I do, but the number of times I’ve written wanker here is already shockingly high for a family blog, and the inclusion of any further expletives may bring my writing to the attention of an unsolicited profanity-googling patronage who are expecting to read and see something else entirely. Best not court disappointment.)

Many of our friends-of-friends have recommended an organization called Amsterdam Mamas – a veritable hive of information about Amsterdam family life which, as these things so often are, is aimed specifically at mothers. I google Amsterdam Papas out of idle curiosity and am presented with the location of Papa John’s Pizza in Amsterdam Zuid, described by one reviewer as “grossly delicious”. My Lawyer asks me to bookmark the page.

The Amsterdam Mamas have an active Facebook community, and many of the Amsterdam Mamas recommend that I make life easier for myself by enlisting the help of a “school consultant”. Music to this Londoner’s ears. I book a Skype appointment with a nice lady called Annabet who asks us to think about what kind of school appeals to us. International school? Basisschool? Montessori? Steiner? Bi-lingual? Religious? It is bewildering. Our search for local state schools in London identified as top runners those which hadn’t had a stabbing in the last five to ten years. Ah, simpler times.

We visited an international school during our last visit to Amsterdam. It was impressive but vast; catering for children up to the completion of the International Baccalaureate, to me it felt a bit too closed-in. Did we want them in one place for the rest of their school careers? On the flip side, it had a coffee shop for parents. Christ alive. Imagine how much more cheerfully we’d all do the school run if we knew there was coffee at both ends of it. I don’t think it was licensed but maybe I could suggest it once on the parents’ committee.

I tell Annabet that we saw the international school and she agrees that it’s a nice environment. But: “…big waiting lists. Very difficult to get in.”

So basically it’s chocolate for breakfast.

Mainstream Dutch schools hold a different appeal. Universally regarded as one of the best educational settings in the world, the philosophy of Dutch primary – basisschool – contributes to the popular classification of Dutch children as the happiest in the world. There is even a book about this, which means it’s A Thing. Generally speaking, the ethos of education in the Netherlands is that children work at their own individual pace. Repeating a school year is not unusual and holds none of the stigma it would here.

Children over the age of 6 arriving from a different country attend an individually-tailored language immersion year with the idea that by the end of the 12 months, the child will be participating fully with their Dutch class. And this is all free! This is right up our seven year old’s street. He loves a project.

The five year old would go straight into a Dutch class, spending her first months at Dutch school angrily gesticulating at people, complaining that no one understands her. So, a veritable home from home.

It isn’t clear whether or not these basisschools also offer coffee. I decide it probably isn’t appropriate to ask, given that Annabet is now telling me that all these schools are both wonderful and totally, irrefutably full.

“But you might be lucky!” She adds, as she watches the colour drain from our faces over Skype.

It’s possible. In the end we struck it lucky with our current primary school here in London. Annabet gives us a comprehensive write up of the schools that would suit our situation. We send out plaintive emails, and then we attempt to transcend our London Wankery as we are forced to do something really quite unnatural. I mean it is truly awful and inhumane.

We wait.

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