“So I guess you’re worried about what it will be like to have Dutch kids,” says someone to me, in the way people do when they feel you might not be worried enough about something.
I’m actually not worried about this, because, I reply, I am learning Dutch myself, and have just completed Common Animals. Highlights: Spin (spider); kikker (frog); eekhoorn – pronounced ACORN (squirrel! I KNOW!!!!). I’m not zoo-keeper level or anything but I know the fun ones, the Julia Donaldson ones.
“Yeah, that’s not really what I meant,” comes the reply. There’s a shock. “I meant more, your kids will be Dutch. And you are British. Are you worried about that?”
At first I think she’s asking if I’m worried that I’m British, which, under current political circumstances, wouldn’t have been an unreasonable question. It would have been a difficult one to answer though, given that I don’t really know what being British means anymore. Remember 2012, the Olympics? Being British felt pretty good then. Well, being a Londoner did. Obviously I have no notion of how it felt for anyone outside of the M25. Before that, there was Britpop, Geri Halliwell’s vest-dress. Cricket. Dad’s Army. Tea. Real Ale. Last Of The Summer Wine. Allotments. Saying sorry to people who bump into you. Sunday lunch. Orderly queuing. The Archers. Fish tanks in waiting rooms. Marmalade. Drunk old people at weddings. Bergerac.
It’s entirely possible that if you are a British person, you don’t identify with any of that, unless you are 36 years old and grew up watching a lot of shit television. But, unless you are a TV critic, it is unlikely you are offended by that random list of Things I Felt Were British Whilst I Was Growing Up. And I grew up in PLYMOUTH, so all the wankery you see before you today was but a twinkle in my artisan coffee-maker’s eye back then. I didn’t even know what an avocado was until I was 22, right around the time that my artisan coffee-maker’s mum was eating her placenta.
Now, though. SHIT! Being British is a political statement, whether you like it or not. Coming through passport control on our last trip to the Netherlands, I was pulled up by one of the Hot Dutch Passport Control Blokes because I placed my passport incorrectly on the electronic reader.
“But I followed the instructions!” I protested.
Hot Dutch Bloke shook his lovely head. “The instructions work for all passports apart from the British passport.”
“Oh. Sorry then. About, erm, this,” I replied, waving my passport up at him. He was, like many Dutch people, approximately seven foot tall.
“Hey, you’re okay,” he said, waving me through. “Apart from, you drive on the wrong side. And, you know, Brexit.”
I mean, fair enough, right. We’re going to get a lot of that shit, and fair e-fucking-nough. What are we thinking, Britain? Stepping into the unknown, with no guarantee, nay, no clue, as to how things will work out. An irreversible decision with unknowable consequences. A baseless hope that this change will bring some good. This, currently, is being British. Amsterdam, if you are reading this: IT WASN’T ME.
So having a different national identity to my kids, if and when we find ourselves settled long-term in The Netherlands, is a concern that I cheerfully bookmark for sometime in the future. It’s good to know that I can stockpile first-world problems in this way; the one identity that I can confidently embrace during the era of Article 50 will be that of the London Wanker, whether I’m in London or Amsterdam. So thanks, Brexit; I’d literally rather be a WANKER than British right now.
As if Brexit wasn’t bad enough, I go to a PTA meeting to discover that the school we are about to leave is considering plans to build a kitchen classroom on their copious grounds at some stage in the future. A kitchen that could SERVE COFFEE TO PARENTS AFTER SCHOOL. Also, a PIZZA OVEN. You couldn’t make this shit up. The school that we are about to leave is a utopia among primary state schools. In the summer, families bring picnics to hang out together after school. And now they will all be eating pizza and drinking coffee! WITHOUT ME! I try to tell myself that the coffee will be Nescafe, but who am I kidding; this is London. None of us would know where to source Nescafe.
I feel blue. I decide to make the most of my depression and engage with some estate agents, to get our house on the rental market. As you’d imagine, I meet some smashing characters. “Yes,” says one of them, looking around my home with an empty clipboard, “this is exactly what I expected. All of these houses are the same.” He is surprised when I do not sign with him.
A less rude letting agent gets the job, and comes to take some photos of our house. I have tidied up, and I think that actually I would like to rent this house. It’s nice when it’s tidy. Why don’t we ever tidy up? We are such lazy bastards. We can’t even blame the kids; I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up last year and threw most of their toys away. I threw most of everything away. We have no stuff. How is our house always a mess?
The less rude letting agent emails me a draft of the brochure that same evening, and I notice how nice our bath looks in the picture. I decide to have my first bath of 2017. It is lovely, having a bath. It’s like being wrapped in a warm duvet. Someone else will be in this bath in a couple of months, I think to myself. It doesn’t seem right, not when I’ve only just rediscovered it. It’s not fair on the bath, it’s a confusing message. I wonder if there is any way that we can keep the London house empty for when we are here during holidays. I calculate that I would need to earn approximately €2,500 a month to facilitate that. Given that I have not had a job for eight years, and am qualified for nothing, I concede that this is unlikely to happen. I sob as the bath gets cold.
I cry again, the next day, when I’m getting waxed. Partly because my body hair is being ripped out, but also because the salon is playing a truly shocking disco version of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You. Whitney’s dead, I think forlornly. In the bath, topically. God, she had a great voice. God, this version of this song is spectacularly shit. I wonder how Dolly Parton voted in the election. I wonder if Trump would have won if Whitney were still alive.
“I hope you’re living in central Amsterdam,” says my waxer. “Like, central central. Otherwise, you could be lonely. Like, very lonely.”
I do not tip her.
Regular readers of Amsterfam (Amsterfans? Too soon?) will know that my five year old daughter went through this grief-stricken separation process about a month ago. Given that I’ve known about the move for about two months longer than she has, this does not say much for my emotional constitution. In quiet moments, when I’m not being insulted by letting agents or wishing Nescafe upon my fellow school-parents, I think: I don’t want to go.
On Mother’s Day, I am handed a decorated bog roll by the five year old.
“Thanks!” I say, trying to look through it.
The five year old rolls her eyes. “It’s not a telescope. It’s a worry tube. See? It says.”
“Ah, yes, Worry Tyoob!” I read.
“You put your worries down it,” she says. “We also bought you a teapot. That doesn’t do anything though.”
“Um, it makes tea,” interjects My Lawyer.
“Oh, it makes tea,” says the five year old, unimpressed. She looks at me apologetically.
My Lawyer is making lunch, and so I head out for my actual Mothers Day present, which is a coffee without my kids. My neighbourhood is divided into two clear groups on this Mother’s Day morn: mildly panicked men running around with flowers and kids in tow, and women drinking coffee in blissful solitude. I bump into two friends who have also escaped their broods for the morning. Between the three of us, we have eight children. Moments like this, just for us, are few and far between.
I tell them: “I don’t want to go.”
“Of course you think that now,” says my friend. “You’re not there yet. You’re just here, noticing all the things you’ll miss. This is the worst part, the wait. You don’t know what it’s going to be like.”
She’s right, I don’t. None of us do. It might be shit! What were we thinking? Stepping into the unknown, with no guarantee, nay, no clue, as to how things will work out. An irreversible decision with unknowable consequences. A baseless hope that this change will bring –
Oh, shit. I guess I’m more British than I thought.
Pass the Worry Tyoob.