Vinnie Jones and his invisible partner

I’m beginning to think there is an expat God out there with a sense of humour. This expat God has a well-used gold sledgehammer that she (the expat God is a she) keeps smashing up our romantic dreams with. I can almost hear her tutting and sighing over our pointless mortal attempts at yet another stab at a romantic holiday. The expat God has a voice just like Whoopi Goldberg and she’s starting to get annoyed. ‘I gave you the best city in the Netherlands; found you the perfect house and you still don’t give up. When will you learn to stay put.’

Oh I’m learning. I’m definitely learning.

Last Friday as I hunched over scraping the last wedges of faecal matter from the bottom of my trainers with a twig, Mr Sunshine suggested an overnight trip to Amsterdam. ‘Come on, it’s only one night, we deserve a treat.’

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First treat

By Saturday lunch time, Alfie was reunited with his favourite doggy sitter and we were resisting the many bars and stumbling into our first  museum, Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder (17th century canal house with a church in the attic). I been walking approximately 10 minutes by this time and already regretted that last minute purchase of trainers from Lidl. Mr Sunshine commandeered the camera and I looked for anything I could sit/lean on to ease the pain in my feet.

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Bliss – a seat

Three hours later after eating twice, chatting in a cosy bar and visiting a museum of spectacles (not marvels – reading glasses) we rang the doorbell of the hotel. The best things about the Hotel Washington are its good intentions and the friendly staff who had the grace to look embarrassed. Our room was in a separate building reached by four flights of stairs, information the receptionist rather defensively pointed out was in the booking terms. I didn’t care, just so long as I could take my shoes off. I didn’t care about the state of bedroom either, but Mr Sunshine didn’t look happy. This was not the romantic hotel room of his dreams.

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We’ve stayed in rooms with better facilities

It didn’t matter we were together, on holiday in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

We decided on a steak dinner.

Nothing is guaranteed to improve Mr Sunshine humour like a big juicy steak. As we sat holding hands across the table, congratulating ourselves on a lovely restaurant another romantic couple were seated next to us. The man reminded me a little of Vinnie Jones with an Eastern European accent. His partner; however, was not so easy to describe as he was the only one able see her. That didn’t seem to prevent them from having loud conversations for the entire duration of the meal. Out of all the restaurants in Amsterdam, of course, he choose this one.

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Mr Sunshine sitting next to the invisible diner

To take away the memory of Vinnie Jones and his invisible partner we went to see Gravity. Then retired to an Irish bar that charged 12 Euros a round to discuss the film. Andy’s score: 4 out of 5; mine 1 out of 5. Andy was impressed by the way the lead, Sandra Bullock, hadn’t been sexualised. I wondered if we’d seen the same film: the long slow shots of Sandra Bullock’s perfectly toned legs or constant scenes with her emerging from space suits wearing a skimpy pair of pants and a vest were definitely necessary for the plot.

The next day we set out for the museum quarter. The Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk museum were rightly overflowing with art appreciators, but I’m not sure I was one. I crept away from the Rembrandts’ and the van Goghs’ teeming with groupies, they needed no more admiration. Instead, I fell in love with the story behind the 17th century woollen caps worn by Dutch whalers.

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Whalers

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I love holidays this much

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Rowing boat made from penises. Logically I shouldn’t have liked this.

Too soon the two pieces of flayed throbbing flesh I’d squashed in my new Lidl trainers began to demand a release and the special steak I’d eaten last night began a rather worrying downhill burn. Then just to prove her point the expat God with Whoopi Goldberg voice took away the sun and replaced it with a mini hurricane.

We went home.

How to survive your first public speaking event

Qualified to give advice? Two days ago I gave my first public reading in front of a literary crowd – I survived!

public speaking

Research showed me that most ‘How to’ guides appeared, to be written by confident, experienced speakers. This guide is not by one of those, but by someone who would rather suffer multiple root-canal extractions without anesthetic; swim the Irish Sea covered in Tesco’s duck fat, or be filmed self-administering a black coffee enema for BBC2 than stand in front of more than three people and speak.

These tips worked (for me).

Grow roots: Shifting around in front of an audience is for evangelist preachers, seasoned performers and actors. If you are none of these, stand with shoulders back, feet slightly apart, tummy and bottom tucked in. Then imagine roots growing out of your feet  to anchor you solidly in position. This may seem a tad silly; however, for the truly terrified it’s critical. When faced with a sea of expectant faces, odd desires occur: an irresistible longing to sway (to the rhythm of Lady in Red); a need to continuous rub your calf with your toes, and God forbid this ever happens to you, the overwhelming yearning to hop. None of these ticks will add gravity to your speech and the audience WILL notice.

Release your hands: Although, swaying, scratching and hopping are off the menu. The same rule doesn’t apply to your hands. Stiff white knuckles gripping your perfectly typed speech are not attractive. Limited hand movement can, not only, distract the audience from your newly acquired ruddy completion, but add (limited) interest.

Trust your own text: Make sure your written grammar is perfect (makes reading easier), then practice your speech and projecting your voice. Looking in the mirror while doing this is NOT helpful – it’s distracting. It’s your words you’re interested in not the extra few pounds you’re carrying or the dust in the corner of the frame.

Get mad: If you overhear someone make a less than complimentary comment even one that was said a while ago. Use it! Get mad! There is nothing like a bit of ‘I’ll show them’ to give you confidence.

peanuts

save till later

Dutch Courage doesn’t work:Drink water before you speak. Fruit juice will spill down the front of your clothes; fizzy drink will give you (very public) wind. And alcohol lies; you will not be funnier, cooler or more attractive. In the same vein, and speaking from experience: do not eat peanuts before speaking. They leave little nut droppings in your teeth, that fly like white bullets, spraying the front row with second-hand nuts

Keep clothes on:Gaze over the audience. If you make eye contact, you run the very real danger of imagining them naked. Notions of sagging apricot nipples and excess body hair don’t improve focus.

People care less that you think: Most people are mildly rooting for you, but on the whole couldn’t give a …! They’re waiting for their turn to speak; furtively checking to see if the bar is open yet, while marveling  at your ability to hop continually for fifteen minutes.

Does anyone have other tips? I’d love to read them.

The Sunshine Rants

What is it about the Dutch and closing roads? Not like the UK where you get shot in the face if your bin is overlapping the kerb, in Dutchyland half the city can be shut down overnight without the slightest provocation, resulting in gridlocks stretching back to f@*!ing Germany. Cutting a hedge? Close the road. Fancy an impromptu street party? Close the road. Walking the dog? Close the road. Importantly, don’t tell anyone, surprise them during the morning rush hour, or when they’re trying to get to the airport. Of course, if you’re on a bike in Holland, none of this matters. People on bikes ignore these inconveniences. People on bikes in Holland will cycle through the middle of roadworks through trenches, over wet concrete, down railway lines, up trees, through peoples lounges. On a bike?. Doesn’t matter. Cycle the wrong way up one way streets, four abreast on a main road, ignore road junctions. Doesn’t matter. Do anything you want. Doesn’t matter.

In a car? You might as well have a windscreen sticker reading ‘kiddie fiddler’.

f@*! This. Today I’m going to beat them at their own game. I’m going to cycle in, and on the way I’m going to kick over some f@*!ing roadworks..

Welcome to our new look blog

Our? Yes, our. Although, this is mainly my blog, Mr Sunshine will be joining me with his own weekly by-line ‘The Sunshine Rants.’ (Not for the easily offended)

We’ve been residents of the Netherlands for two years now, and I can honestly say, that despite the odd hiccup (normally bitten ballens related) they have been the best two years of my life.

  • We’ve moved into a gorgeous little house in Ginneken. Took on a mini landscaping project in the back yard. Four months and six physio appointments later my wrists are almost recovered.
  • Mr Sunshine completed his Masters in just six months and received a distinction, an achievement worth publicising (he never will). To be honest, living through those six months was not my bestest ever experience.
  • I went back to school. Despite leaving education without an O level to my name, I am midway through a degree and have my own student discount card.
  • Best of all I’m learning to think of myself as an author, writer, author, writer. I’ve had one short story published (in print and in ebooks), and another is due out later this year. Tomorrow I’m off to an award ceremony in France, where they (rather foolishly it will be discovered) want me to read my story to an audience.

With such fabulous experiences what’s not to love about becoming an ex pat in the Netherlands. Well, like I said before there’s the bitten ballens. There’s, also, the desperate attempts to find a positive experience with Dutch food shopping.  And there was the shame I felt driving back from the supermarket (Supa Jumbo) today, when I discover my joke purchase of a cornflakes stuffed chocolate bar in my mouth. Do they sell chocolate bars with cornflakes anywhere else in the world, and if they did would any other nation eat them

Mr Sunshine and I try to recreate a famous scene from Dirty Dancing

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(admittedly we missed out the bit about dancing on the log together)

The Sunshine Rants

And so I’m bored of reading about Howard Carter and the valley of the kings so I start to read a new book and it’s called ‘Great new stories’ or something, and it’s by Neil Gaiman, who has always slightly got on my tits anyway as he used to come into the comic distribution factory where I worked (note to owners of comic distribution factories who are not idiots: hiring an entire workforce who DOESN’T like comics as opposed to REALLY liking comics may be beneficial to keeping a business running) and lord it about like a twat whilst mentioning ‘Sandman’ with every second word. Anyway, so I’m reading the intro of this book, and he’s saying things like ‘I wanted a compendium of real stories’, and ‘the kind of stories where the reader asks ‘what happens next?’ and ‘stories where the writing doesn’t get place in the way of the story’ and I’m thinking ‘yes, yes’ and then ’YES!’ — this is exactly the book I’ve been waiting for, no more Howard carter examining dusty shit old pots down a shaft somewhere, REAL STORIES from REAL AUTHORS, REAL SCRIBES who slam words down on the page without a thought for fancy vague artsy fartsy shite. And so I’m scrambling through my first story, and it’s sort of about vampires but not about vampires and no, the writing isn’t getting in the way of the story, oh no, this is a REAL STORY, for REAL MEN, and so I get to the end… and… well — there isn’t really an end at all. It’s just a word, one word, that in the context of the story doesn’t really mean anything at all. And it’s then that I realize I’ve been had. 

FUCKING Neil Gaiman.