There’s nothing like the lead-up to an impromptu university friends’ reunion to make you question and examine your life choices; as if these friends, who are still Actual Friends and not just Facebook Friends, will sit me down, shine a light in my face and ask me if my masters degree in Gender and Sexuality in the Cinema is in any way relevant to my current standing as Tulse Hill’s Most Popular Blogger In Amsterdam. How, they might ask me, does your deconstruction of Katherine Hepburn’s challenge to the constructed feminine norms of fashion in the 1940s compare to your (arguably unnecessary) 2017 portrayal of purchasing Dutch worming tablets for your infested children? How do you feel about the puppetry of Lara Croft in both game and film, now that you are a Trailing Spouse; a crumpled kite on a windless day, having been dragged across the North Sea at the beck and call of your Lawyer and his male dominated profession? Oh, and of all the deadbeats, narcissists, cheaters and addicts that you got off with at university – remember them, here are some photos, oh look, you can see your arse in this one! – which boy who didn’t like you enough do you most regret? NO! I’VE GOT A BETTER ONE! LET’S PUT THEM ALL IN ORDER, MOST RETROSPECTIVELY HUMILIATING FIRST!
These are the thoughts that dip in and out of my head as I plan a weekend itinerary for the six of us; for my friends are coming to Amsterdam, in order to scrutinise me in my still-unnatural habitat, to catch me out when I make mistakes in Dutch, and to tell me that the places I have chosen for us to visit are too expensive, or too touristy, or too boring, or too loud. We will have the apartment to ourselves, as My Lawyer has planned a trip away with the kids. This is the first time he has done this, and I wonder if I should tell him now, before he leaves, that I have had a vision of one of our children, probably the four year old, falling beneath a tram on the way to the station because My Lawyer has not been holding his hand properly. If I tell My Lawyer this before he leaves, then he’ll know that I doubt his parenting capabilities; if I don’t tell him and it happens, then I will have to tear him apart with my bare hands and then, I guess, go to prison. I plump for a vague reminder that the four year old can be unpredictable, whilst in a parallel universe, my murderess self, having left My Lawyer in gory pieces, is scraping up the remains of the four year old from beneath the tram tracks with a rusty knife, putting as much of him into my pockets as I can before the Politie catch up with me.
I text my friends on our reunion whatsapp group: HIT ME WITH YOUR AMSTERDAM REQUESTS!
Probably I would need plastic food bags for the remains, I think, as I press send. Otherwise the goo would just ooze through my pockets.
In the days leading up to our reunion, old gags are resurrected, champagne GIFs are circulated, and anxieties begin to surface in six different households on either side of the North Sea. One night, I receive a message from one of the six, confessing that she is worried she might not be able to stand the anticipated level of piss-taking; another texts to say she’s not sure she can stay out all night any more, will everyone think she’s lame? I text everyone to announce that I have overwhelming hostess anxiety that frankly dwarves these more pedestrian social worries, and this completes the warm up session of our Middle Class White Lady Neuroses Workshop. You can’t just go straight in with “I think I’m in the wrong job”, or “I want another baby”, or “What will my older children do if I kill my husband in a fit of rage following the obliteration of my youngest child beneath a tram”. You’ve got to stretch first, before the real thing. Limber up.
They arrive, and, of course, I can’t tell you the important bits. My blog is not anonymous – the best blogs are anonymous, I know, but then you can’t get the credit, so what would be the point of that? Aside from whistle-blowing, truth-telling, creating safe spaces, platforms free from assumptions of gender, age and race; what have anonymous blogs ever done for us? I didn’t get to where I am today – twice Mumsnet’s Blog of the Day, owner of a celebrity bakfiets (#stevethebakfeits), seasoned de-wormer of children, fifth on the list of Amsterdam’s official (alphabetical) list of Notable Expat Blogs – by being modest.
No. I cannot tell you the important bits. All I can tell you is that we identify, early on, our various personal tragedies, in order to assign each a comedic theme over the weekend, to lighten the weight of these burdens. We are not a particularly unfortunate group, but with 232 years between us, some shit has gone down, or hit the fan, or been a dick. Successes are shared accidentally, if at all; this is real life, not Instagram. They find things funny that I have forgotten to find funny (“SLAGROOM!” When did I stop laughing at slagroom?). We do not talk about Brexit, apart from very briefly when I’m asked to translate a Dutch newspaper headline (Brexit Goudmijn! Brexit Gold Mine! Thousands of jobs coming our way!). They ask me where we keep our car, and I find it strange to even think about having a car; I haven’t driven for a year and a half, not once.
I can’t tell you the important bits. We walk a lot. They find crossing the road very confusing, and so I help them. A year ago, I was pulled over by a Dutch policeman after I crossed the road on the red man; now, I can cross the road both legally and safely! Look how far an educated woman can come! Across the North Sea, across a road! I could be in the running for one of those Brexit jobs that are coming this way in the Brexit Gold Mine. Imagine the outrage: Look at those Remoaners, leaving the country, getting our Brexit jobs! Fortunately for them, I’m qualified for nothing, so it will most likely be a Dutch person getting the job, or some other EU citizen; some things never change, eh?
I can’t tell you the important bits. Five of the six of us have children. We receive regular updates confirming their ongoing existence, often in the form of photographic evidence, which we share with the rest of the group. We keep to ourselves the various ways in which these children have died in imagined versions of this weekend. We don’t need any more ideas. We have a long conversation about whether or not we will smoke weed, which we all know will end with our not smoking weed. We briefly consider staging a weed-smoking photo for social media purposes. Any semblance of an itinerary that I had planned is replaced by an approach that can most accurately be described as Story Telling In Different Settings That Happen To Be In Amsterdam. I pitch for our next gathering to take place in a city that none of us has any responsibility for.
“What will my blog name be?” asks Friend Who Thinks She’s Low Maintenance But Is Actually High Maintenance But Not In A Bad Way As Long As You Give Her Enough Tea.
I shrug. “I’ll think of something.”
I can’t tell you the important bits. But by Sunday afternoon, our collective personal tragedies can be signified by code words and gestures; they have diminished with the wizardry of wit and wine. We can laugh at the most ghastly things in our lives, now that they are temporarily contained between the six of us. We bat them around like beach balls; we keep them all in the air, away from each others’ heads.
Oh, look at that. I did tell you the important bits after all.