Ramblings from a small country

by Rick Johansen

On day three of my Dutch journey, I feel I am really getting into the swing of things. My grasp of the lingo isn’t great – I had assumed it would all come flooding back, but it hasn’t, yet – but I must look the halfway Dutchman that I am. Yesterday, a woman in full muslim regalia asked me in Dutch if she was on the right tram and at least I understood what she was saying. Unfortunately, I rather panicked when the reply just wouldn’t come and I was reduced to saying, “English, English”, as if that explained everything. Today, I reached peak Brit abroad by asking for a pint of Birra Moretti in an ‘English pub’ and of course the bar tender responded in perfect English. “Shank you, Shur!

But then, everyone here speaks perfect English. Indeed, on public transport, the robotic voice makes her/his announcement first in Dutch and then repeats it in English. But even if it didn’t, it’s still much easier to get about than it is at home.

Buying tickets is a doddle, too, and hardly anyone bothers with the ticket office at Rotterdam Centraal Station. Why? Because a trained chimp could operate the machines over here. And it’s so much easier in the Netherlands because they don’t have the idiotic pricing system we have at home. You rock up at the station and the fare you pay is the one you’d have paid three months ago.

When I talk about my Dutch journey, I mean specifically Rotterdam, the home of my mother whose family surname died with the passing of my only uncle, whenever that was. If that sounds a little cold, that’s because it is because I fell out with him after my mum, his sister, died in 1999 and he didn’t give a toss. That’s all for another day, but I have to say this back to my roots gig is not turning out how I expected.

I had expected a kind of Déjà Vu feeling every so often. Not that there is such a thing as Déjà Vu because none of us have lived previous lives, but some kind of waves of nostalgia would appear. But they haven’t. I have been back to the road where the family lived from after the war until the 1970s, twice, and although it looked much the same I didn’t feel anything. I was going to look into what happened to my dead relatives – I have the addresses – but I just couldn’t be bothered. After all, none of them bothered to contact me after my mum died or for many years before. I knew they would all be dead, but maybe it would be interesting to learn when they died and how? Except that, no it wouldn’t. Let sleeping dead relatives lie.

A mad gunman was on the lose barely two miles away from where I was yesterday. I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but I was aware of a massive police operation going on. Family and friends were kind enough to ask if I was safe and that made me sit up and think. I took the tram to Sparta’s ground today and went right by the hospital where it all kicked off and, yes, I did think ‘what if’? Not for long, to be fair, but for some reason I felt slightly alone and vulnerable, if only briefly.

When people come to the Netherlands, they usually go to Amsterdam. I get that. Amsterdam is old, full of history. Rotterdam was all but destroyed in 1940 and it’s state-of-the-art new. It bustles 24/7. There are 174 different nationalities in Rotterdam and mostly it works. Long may it stay that way.

Tomorrow is THE BIG DAY. The massive outdoor market which happens twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays followed by Feyenoord v Go Ahead Eagles. Feyenoord were the first team I ever saw, with stars like Wim van Hanegem, Wim Jansen and Rinus Israel, followed by a lazy sunday afternoon and then the flight – I’m not doing the bloody ferry again: ever – home.

Apologies for the poor quality of the blog. I’m absolutely knackered having walked something like 35km since I’ve been here and my brain is as shattered as my feet. I’ll try harder next time.

PS I have brought some cash with me, but I haven’t needed to use it. Here, they are much further ahead in the game with regards to a cashless society and, unlike many of fellow old codgers, I couldn’t be happier. Oh, and things are cheaper here than they are at home. I haven’t been abroad and said that for a very long time.

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