“I hate The Drone more than lentils,” says the nine year old, after our flight is cancelled and we make our way home from Schipol airport at midnight, the Friday before Christmas.
Can you hate something that doesn’t exist? Because it’s looking unlikely, right? The confirmed drone sightings are probably, it now seems, sightings of the police drone that went after the alleged drone. So you could hate The Drone, The Original Drone, The One All Pervading Drone, but to say you hate The Drone is like when people say they hate God, that in fact they don’t even believe he exists, because if there was a God, why would he make such awful things happen, and anyway even if he did exist, they’d hate him due to the awful happenings, and yes I read Milkman during the holidays and I now feel the same way about a fully-formed thought or a full stop as the nine year old feels about lentils.
In the end, The Drone disappears, very convincingly; a common characteristic of not existing is the constant evasion of capture. We eventually arrive in London just in time for Christmas, asking each other: Was it ever thus? That lo, in the sky, a celestial light shone? “Belief creates the actual fact,” said William James, the American philosopher. Fake news, my friends. It’s not new.
Santa comes, of course, and takes the credit for my unpaid emotional labour.
“I heard a Ho!” says the seven year old, on Christmas morning.
“I missed him!” wails the four year old.
The nine year old says nothing, but monitors our reactions as he opens each stocking present.
“Wow! A balloon modelling kit!” gasps My Lawyer, convincingly. Of course, convincingly; he has no idea what the stockings contain. Say what you want about the imbalance of gendered emotional responsibilities but at least it keeps the magic of Christmas alive.
We arrive back in Amsterdam – by train – in the weird non-days before New Year.
“This bit always reminds me of the days between my dad’s death and his funeral,” I say to My Lawyer one morning.
“That’s nice,” he replies. “Shall we write our 2019 goals?”
“I had a dream last night,” says the nine year old. “I dreamt that – imagine if – it was the parents who put the presents there. Not Santa.”
“What’s not Santa?” asks the four year old.
“2019 goals!” I say. “Fantastic idea.”
We write up our new year goals much as you’d expect: allowing for the odd genuine ambition whilst also emotionally manipulating the kids to write that they’ll be nicer to each other. My own pledge is to spend every Sunday morning in the library. 52 Sundays of writing. When we have weekend plans, I will move the Sunday to a different day. I love the library; more, I love the people it contains. There is a man who just sits at the newspaper table looking into the middle distance. He doesn’t read, or talk to himself, or even close his eyes to doze. Imagine doing that! Doing nothing! For hours! Hey, what do you mean, that’s rich from a blogger?
Then there’s another man who dresses as an alternative monk, wearing a denim habit and a plaited beard. He does talk to himself, emitting sudden castigations, sharp nods, and I’ve learnt not to sit at his table because it can be a little frightening. Although the hand cream that he uses smells good, which is not something you’d expect from an unpredictable man dressed as a denim monk. When I am in the library, I look outside at people walking past, and I think, why aren’t you all in here?
Of course, pledging to spend more time in my favourite place in Amsterdam is not at all in keeping with the usual sufferance traditionally associated with resolutions. My Lawyer, ripe for self-flagellation, being, as he is, an ex-catholic in his early forties, chooses the time-honoured path of gym membership. He is not alone, of course, and the Netherlands, like the UK, starts pelting us with gym adverts whilst we’re still finding inventive ways to use up the turkey. Maybe I am older and primmer, but it seems to me that the gym adverts wallpapering Amsterdam are, more or less, adverts for sex and youth; some of these posters I assume to be showcasing fashion outlets until I read the small print. Millennials sweat prettily over each other, looking a bit Lara Croft, a bit attractive-yet-angry tattooist, a bit Milla Jovovich in Fifth Element. There is one advert that is particularly prevalent; a naked women with bouncy hair levitates, gazing out confrontationally, one hand over her breasts, the other palm up, arm outstretched, as if to say, no, this isn’t you, is it? She is stamped with text: LOOK BETTER NAKED.
The four year old and I cycle past LOOK BETTER NAKED lady one day and the four year old says, “That mummy has no clothes on.”
“No,” I agree. “She really doesn’t.”
The four year old stares at her for a few seconds and then says, “Can I have a bath with you today?”
These adverts don’t have much affect on me. I’m already thinnish. I’ve put on some weight since moving to The Netherlands, which is nice, because in the UK, I was thin without the ish. Thinner after each baby, no matter what I ate. I would take photos of myself and email them to my doctor to show her how thin I was. I was not bragging. This was not what was supposed to happen after having babies; I was meant to worry about losing the baby weight. Instead, I saw new parts of my skull. The skin between my forefinger and my thumb stretched, so thinly webbed that I could see through it. My ribcage, misshapen from carrying three babies back-to-back, lurched out on the left where tiny feet had hammered me impatiently. I wanted to know if my doctor thought my skin looked yellow. I wanted to know where, on me, this started, and where it would end. I would photograph my face when the skin sank around my cheekbones. I would look back at these photos, and see my father, in the last year of his life. I would zoom in on one eye – only the two of us had these algae green eyes, only the two of us in the whole world, and now only me – and I would see him staring back at me, wide-eyed, frightened. My doctor pointed me in the direction of eggs, nuts, avocados and bereavement counselling.
So, no: these adverts don’t work on me. I already have the right kind of outline (for that’s what is being advertised by the LOOK BETTER NAKED lady – the outline, the shape, the space around her that isn’t her body). It’s not possible to shame me by pointing out the parts of my flesh that could or should be air. I am an anxious, thinnish woman who has, fairly recently, given pelvic floor-destroying birth to three children, the oldest of whom missed out on meeting his grandfather by a couple of weeks. Show me a gym advert that promises to make me not dead by the time I’m 60 and my thinnish butt will be there. Other tag-lines for gyms to try, for my demographic:
Be less convinced you have cancer(s)
How to keep your insides inside
Back pain begone!
Imagine: Not Slightly Pissing Yourself Every Day!
IN THE GYM THERE ARE NO CHILDREN
There’s a floor. You can just sleep on it.
Or, just carry on making people hate themselves. Whatever. Advertising execs can reach me at the usual Amsterfam email address.
Happy New Year, Amsterfans. May your laughter:piss ratio be just right for your set of circumstances. And if 2019 has already started badly, don’t worry, there’s light at the end of the tunnel: It’s that beacon of possibility, The Future.
Oh fuck no, sorry; it’s a drone.