Amsterdam · Family · Life · Travel

Exposed

phone1

My Lawyer comes home with a message for me from my waxer.

“They’re confirming your appointment for tomorrow,” he says. “I think. The text was in Dutch.”

It is unusual for My Lawyer to deal with waxers. In fact, he does not normally have any interaction with waxers at all. He is lucky enough to have exactly the right amount of body hair, and he shares this good fortune with all other men on the planet. I, however, am not so lucky. It turns out I have far more body hair than a woman should have. And curiously, I share this misfortune with all other women on the planet. Isn’t that weird! Luckily, 90% of fashion photographers are male, and they are pretty fastidious in their pontification of body hair scripture, so the rest of us are unlikely to get confused. We are lucky that this 90% of photographers aren’t even momentarily distracted by their own torso tendrils as they tirelessly oversee the ripping, plucking and airbrushing of hair that isn’t supposed to be there on humans without a penis.

To clarify; My Lawyer doesn’t arrange my waxes. I’m a bad feminist, but I’m not that bad. The problem is, I still have a British phone, and so when I fill in any Dutch online form, the computer says no, so I have to use his Dutch phone number instead. I have been doing this since we arrived in Amsterdam in July. It’s not really working for either of us, because he is not used to getting phone calls and so is a terrible PA.

“Just go to the Apple store after your wax,” says My Lawyer. “Just get a new phone.”

Just get a new phone. Ha! As if it’s that easy. My Lawyer doesn’t understand that my British phone number symbolises many things. It is the number from which I texted news of my babies, filmed their first steps, desperately googled croup at 2am in the morning: “What do I do if my baby can’t breathe?” (Answer: call 999, dumbass.) My late father’s phone number is on this phone. What am I supposed to do? Delete him? Sometimes, scrolling through my contacts, I see Dad Mob, and I imagine:

“Dad,” I don’t text. “Did you watch the cricket today?”

“Yes, I did,” he doesn’t reply. “The bunch of cretins.”

I am an over-sensitive, anxious and neurotic person with tendencies to hoard and obsess, so this is all quite difficult to explain to My Lawyer, who is simply an anxious person. Imagine being simply anxious! And with the right amount of body hair too. I imagine myself hairy, self-assured and not pretending to phone my dead dad. It is difficult to picture.

My Lawyer is right though; the situation isn’t sustainable, not least because my line of imaginary communication to the dead is over three years old, and now relies on a life-support battery pack. How ironic.

phone2

The next day,I arrive at the waxing place and deliver my opening line: “Ik heb nu een afspraak.” The reply, as usual, is undecipherable, and we switch, as usual, to English. My waxer goes downstairs. That’s not a euphemism. I follow her down the stairs. She leads me into a room.

“Here you can undress,” she says.

“Thanks!” I say.

We both wait. I realize that, unlike my London waxer, she is not going to leave the room whilst I undress. Fair enough, I think, as I get ready to transform into an appropriately-haired human. Pre-wax undressing privacy is, in many ways, worse; a fleeting moment of dignity – here’s what you could have won, if you’d been born with the right amount of hair! Now, please raise your legs.

I get onto the table and my waxer goes downstairs. That is a euphemism.

“You don’t want a full brazillian?” asks my waxer.

“Not today, thanks,” I reply, basking in this brief moment of autonomy.

“Why not?”

Ah, the directness of the Dutch. Of all their stereotypical traits, this is the one I most covet; the freedom to respond honestly, without a people-pleasing filter.

How to reply? Something about time constraints? Should I pretend to have my period? Do I actually prefer a short-back-and-sides? Is this really my choice, my ideal bodily coiffure?

“It hurts,” I shrug.

She nods, and starts ripping.

 

I cycle into town straight after my wax, which is as comfortable as you might imagine. I hobble into the Apple Store, peeling clothing away from rogue flecks of wax on my skin. I perform the British ritual to summon assistance; that is, I look back and forth, as if spectating a slow-motion tennis match, whilst my face assumes a gurn that straddles both helplessness and regret.

A manchild in a beanie approaches. I inwardly sigh; I am not in the mood to be dealt with by a man who got to work, looked in the mirror and thought, “You know what? I’m keeping this on.”

“How are you today?” he asks, guessing from my opening haka of vulnerability that I’m English-speaking. He is lightly perspiring beneath his superfluous headwear.

“I’m good,” I say. “It’s pretty cold out, but warm in here, right?”

“I guess!” he says, with a flicker of confusion.

Who am I to criticize, I think, as I explain my phone situation whilst surreptitiously trying to move my legs just enough to detach my crotch from my jeans. So what if he thinks he looks more tech in a beanie? Presumably it isn’t waxed to his head. What kind of fucking idiot would do that?

“You can’t get a new contract here,” he says, a bead of sweat snaking down his neck. “Just new phones. You have to go to a network shop.”

 

What my newly-feminised body could really do without right now is another trip on the bike, but my time is limited. I need a Netherlands number, and my netherlands are getting numb-er. I arrive at the next shop, possibly bleeding, but I am told that here I can get the Dutch number I need to feel like I really live in Holland. No more +44 explanations, no more sub-standard answering service from My Lawyer. This feels like an important step; a significant moment.

But just as we are sitting down (me: tentatively) to go through the small print, there is a commotion outside the shop door. A small crowd crouches around something, and people are looking alarmed. The sales assistant and I make our way over – he runs, I limp – to see a woman in her fifties or sixties convulsing on the pavement. Her adult son is holding her, sobbing. They are not Dutch, but they are not English-speaking either, and no one can quite piece together what has happened. An ambulance is called.

“Did she smoke something?” one person asks.

The son shakes his head. “Of course no! No!”

It starts to rain. Here I can be of assistance – I have an umbrella in my bag. I pass it to one of the by-standers who has taken charge.

Suddenly, the lady on the floor stops convulsing. She is still. She looks asleep. Oh shit, I think. Together we hold our breath.

But then, just as suddenly, she opens her eyes and sits bolt upright.

“Huh?” she says.

She has no idea where she is, or why she is there. But she is alive, and her son is still sobbing as the ambulance crew move them into the shop to assess her.

“What city are you in?” they ask her. She shrugs. She wants to leave; she has things to do. They have to stop her from leaving the shop.

I catch the eye of the sales assistant, and there is an empty moment between us which begs to be filled. We have shared a glimpse into the abyss, and we are caught in a mis en scene of unanticipated intimacy as a result. For the second time today, I’m exposed.

I feel the familiar stirrings of British social anxiety, but I fight it. I have something to say, something that I feel we both need to hear. Something to validate our journeys towards the inevitable.

I embrace the candor of the Dutch that I so admire: “Can I get my phone now?”

 

Later that evening, I transfer my contacts to my new Dutch phone. I lose a few in the process – a few estate agents, random customer services numbers, one that is inexplicably titled DO NOT ANSWER – but I keep the important ones.

“I possibly mishandled a situation in a phone shop today,” I don’t text to my dad.

He doesn’t reply: “Worse things happen at sea.”

 

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3 thoughts on “Exposed

  1. I love your writing – I have speed-read the whole blog from the beginning. Just brilliant, and I’m full of admiration for your whole move, especially as I can only manage 10 words in Dutch, even with many Dutch friends. Good on you!

    Like

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