Angels of Amsterdam – cheesy, watery and well-watered – part 2′


The view from our hotel window when we woke up on Tuesday morning.  A little grey and overcast maybe, but the distant towers and spires held promise for the day ahead.

Back tracking slightly; there were two worries in my head prior to flying off to Amsterdam (apart from the Pore Ole Leg that is).

My Dear Friend was past her due date for delivering the baby boy who would make her family complete.  Very obligingly she went into labour and delivered him just before lunch on the Monday we were due to fly out. He is ACE.

Phew! with Mother and Baby safe and well, and the promise of photographs soon, that was one worry out the way.

My Bezzie Mate had been called Southwards to do the waggle magic at which he excels.  He needed accommodation for the week we were away and issues with availability and price were causing him to threaten to sleep in his car.

Taking advantage of the fact that he was staying with us for the weekend and couldn’t escape my assertiveness, I found and booked a very nice apartment in Henley-on-Thames for the week.  It was cheaper than staying in a hotel, was in a very civilised area and the owner seemed like a nice bloke.

BM was driving down whilst we were in transit and it was good to receive, as I lay on my hotel bed nursing my bruised and battered knees, a text from him and from the apartment owner (the apartment was in the grounds of his house) confirming that BM had arrived and was settled in.

Worry number two dispelled.

Uni Boy was safe (if rather sunburnt) in York.

Gap Boy and the Scoobs were minding each other at home. My money was on Scoobs for being the responsible one.

All was well in the world – apart from the POL. Hey, who wants to sleep for more than two and a half hours at a time anyway?

After admiring the view from our window, Hub and I descended for breakfast, which was held in the restaurant on the ground floor – a wonderful place for people watching as the hotel was bang in the middle of Old Amsterdam and adjacent to dozens of shops – yes, yes – and seed cafes.

We went for a quiet stroll after breakfast; to get our bearings and generally suss out the environment.  One of the leaflets we picked up in the hotel foyer was advertising a number of different canal cruises. This was one thing we were both decided on – the canal cruise was a must.  Deep joy to discover that they did a two and a half hour cruise during the evening which included a three course meal cooked on the boat.


It wasn’t far to the booking office and after we had parted with our euros, we decided to find the Koffiehuis recommended by last night’s angel.

Rest assured, my progress across roads and tram lines was more than tentative but Hub’s arm and his reassuring smile got me safely to our destination.

Smits Koffiehuis was just as our angel described it.  The weather was still a little overcast but we opted for outdoors and the marvellous view of canal life.


As we walked/hobbled down the stairs to the restaurant, the first smell was of freshly squeezed orange juice – a certain way to Hub’s heart.

A charming waitress with impeccable English showed us to an outside table and brought menus.

Hub had slightly overdosed on scrambled egg at breakfast so he could only find room for a pudding.  I opted for something described as ‘Amsterdam Lunch’.  This seemed to please our waiter tremendously when he took the order.

I may have mistaken his pleasure for a ‘gullible-tourist snigger’ however.

Hub’s date and almond tarte with ice cream arrived and was pronounced excellent.

My ‘Amsterdam Lunch’ was less successful but I ate it bravely.

Apparently it is custom to eat a white roll (I am a brown bread woman) spread with margarine – or equivalent ( I am a butter-only woman) for one’s lunch.  On one half of the roll sits a limp slice of processed cheese (not Gouda or Edam but mild Cheddar) and on the other a steaming ham and cheese croquette.  Accompanied by some very nice potato salad and some not so nice coleslaw.  This was my Amsterdam Lunch.

I didn’t see anyone else eating one although it was lunchtime and we were in Amsterdam.

We walked/hobbled lunch off and got caught in a rain shower. Diving up a side street we found the most glorious cheese shop.

Half an hour later, courtesy of Henri  Willig, we came away with an impressive wheel of Gouda, some goat and cow cheese and chilli liquorice (shouldn’t work but does). The lady who served us was a mine of cheesy information and samples.  We could have stayed there longer and spent even more money but we only had cabin luggage and not much room for smelly cheeses.

Next door to the cheese shop was a restaurant displaying an eye-watering array of waffles – and as I had been strongly advised to try one dipped in Belgian chocolate by my literary and very knowledgeable cousin, we bought some.


Exhausted by our exertions, we staggered back to the hotel and flopped – well I flopped.  Hub went back out and found a cash point. He also found a huge open square  – ideal for people watching – that we scheduled for the next day.

I tried out the shower – which nearly became a wet room because I forgot to tuck the curtain inside the bath – oops – much mopping and soggy towels.

I do like a hotel that supplies complimentary toiletries – it encourages cleanliness (not necessarily godliness) because the hotel exhorts you to use them and their replacements.  I usually take the unopened ones home – well it would be rude not to – and have an array of different freebies in the upstairs bathroom.

Not any more – or at least not when travelling abroad.

My tiny 20cm by 20cm resealable plastic bag was packed full of my life’s essentials already, and Hub had been persuaded to put toothpaste and underarm in his.  Would it be worth arousing the wrath of a nice Dutch security guard by taking extra liquids just to enhance my bathroom collection?

Nope.  Although I pinched the soap.

It occurs to me that the restrictions on liquids must therefore be saving hotels rather a lot of money on complimentary toiletries.

Not soap though.

Clean and refreshed, we ambled/hobbled down to the canal again and waited with our fellow diners for the canal boat to be ready.  We stood next to three lovely Irish ladies – two of whom were affable and friendly, and one of whom kept nipping off for a fag and a scowl.

The Captain beckoned to me and my walking stick, helping us very gently and courteously on board.  Hub and I sat opposite each other by a window, and we were joined by a young American couple. He was the strong and silent type.  She was assertive (read ‘Bossy’) and chatty – to him – not us.  A sly glance at her hand revealed an engagement ring and my nosy radar gained the opinion that this was their first trip abroad together.  Aaaah.

The food was gorgeous – no sign of anything processed, refined or packaged.

An amuse-bouche of meat wrapped in a teeny tiny tortilla, bottles of water already on the tables and a glass of Prosecco (which they kept topping up).

Warm brown bread and a choice of butter or dipping oil.

Serrano ham salad with potatoes, followed by a cappuccino of sweet red peppers (gorgeous).

Veal fillet with more potatoes and asparagus, followed by tarte tatin.

All cooked on board and all accompanied by free wine and beer. Oh, and coffee.

The cruise was brilliant.  It took in all the major landmarks of the watery side of the city; the houseboats and the raft dwellings, a constant procession of happy locals lazily moving their crafts out of each other’s way as they drank wine and talked and smiled and waved. Dutch people are so nice.

We stopped temporarily and I overheard one of the waitresses saying that a lady had to get off because she felt unwell. It couldn’t have been motion sickness – it was a very smooth ride.

The American couple had moved onto smiling and nodding at us by the time we arrived back at base. We climbed very slowly back up to street level; POL was complaining rather bitterly about having been sitting on a hard chair for two and a half hours.

Whilst we were standing, waiting for the blood flow to return to the POL, and admiring the scenery, two of the lovely Irish ladies came over to us.

They were now very jolly Irish ladies, and mid giggles, confided that they were best friends who had known each other for years. Their companion was the sister of one of them and the unscheduled stop on the cruise had to be made because they had a huge falling out with her and she voted with her feet.  Needless to say, they drank her wine as well as their own and were off in pursuit of nightlife after bidding us farewell.

Irish middle-aged angels.

It was late but not too late, and in keeping with the holiday spirit we indulged in a few drinks at the hotel bar. Another angel in the guise of a barmaid decided that it was still happy hour and doubled our drinks (I was on Diet Coke because of all the painkillers but Hub tucked into Amaretto with gusto). 10527421_10152525477889871_24506033207877107_n

Up to our room where the huge and knobbly purple pillows had been replaced by more traditional white ones.

It was a rather wonderful day full of rather wonderful people.

‘The first of the Mohicans’


I first met Shelley at playgroup.  I was new to the area, pregnant and with an energetic toddler.  Her little boy was very quiet by contrast; lost in a world of his own whilst my rumbustious boy cannoned round the room.  We exchanged smiles, identifying each other as outsiders from the rest of the chattering mothers.  I wasn’t able to work out why she was isolated from the group but was warmed by her friendliness, especially when it was time to go and it transpired that she lived just around the corner from us and was also pregnant.

We pushed our buggies down the road together and, surprisingly candid for a new acquaintance, she told me that she had a daughter from her first marriage, that the marriage had ended because her husband beat her, but that she had now married her childhood sweetheart and that he was the father of her son and the baby she was carrying.

Shelley wasn’t as well groomed as some of the other mothers; her conversation was simple and honest.  The love she had for her children was obvious from the way she spoke to them, but drawing on my past experience I could see that her little boy wasn’t just quiet.  There were definite signs that he had some kind of developmental delay, something was wrong.

We often walked to or from playgroup together.  We didn’t go to each other’s houses; she would have been very welcome at mine but her house was first on the route and as she seemed reluctant to ask me in, I didn’t want to put her in an awkward position.  We sat together at playgroup and although no one else spoke to us, it didn’t matter because, with one ear on their conversations, I knew that Shelley’s simple words were more honest and interesting anyway.

My baby boy was born first and I stayed away from playgroup for a while, learning to juggle the needs of two small children within the safety of my home.  By the time I made it back to playgroup, Shelley was absent having also given birth to a boy.

I saw her in the street about a month later and was slightly taken aback at her appearance.  The dowdy cotton shirt and leggings uniform adopted by so many of us mothers at the time had been replaced by a ripped black tee-shirt, black jeans and Doc Martens.  Shelley’s shoulder length hair was dyed black and cropped close to her head and she sported a piercing in the side of her nose and another in her chin.

She was accompanied by her daughter, her silent son, her equally silent husband and the new baby in a buggy.  I stopped to say hello and tried not to show my curiosity at this change in her appearance.

Smiling, Shelley told me that she and her family were on their way to church.  A church I’d often seen in passing and wondered idly what denomination it was. Shelley didn’t say – and I didn’t ask – if her transformation had come before the call to church or after. She looked happy, and I felt that having experienced the small minds and sneers prevalent in many older established religious communities when faced with the unusual, that the people attending Shelley’s church must be very accepting and open by contrast.

Shelley stopped going to playgroup and attended one at her church instead.  I had a new group of friends who invited me to their houses and to other social events. Occasionally I would see Shelley in passing; we’d wave and smile but she never stopped to talk.  Her hair went through a rainbow of colours and the piercings increased, as did the tattoos.

My eldest started school and we frequently saw Shelley at the school gates.  She was pregnant again and her youngest boy displayed all the energy that his older brother lacked. The other mothers avoided Shelley, clustering in groups and turning their backs on her when she approached.  Most of the time my husband and I dropped our son off and collected him together, so I wasn’t subject to the approval or disapproval of the mummy clique in the way that Shelley was.

After the birth of her fourth child – a girl – Shelley’s appearance became even more unusual.  Talking as someone who cried when having their ears pierced at the tender age of twenty-three, the increase in piercings and tattoos confused me and I wondered why Shelley felt the need to adorn her body in this way.  Her husband did not seem perturbed by these changes, and he continued to dress in jeans, tee-shirt and a khaki parka that he never seemed to take off.  Shelley still smiled and waved when she saw us  but we had moved to a house about a mile away and no longer saw her on the journey to and from school.

My eldest was in the same class as her eldest son.  In the way that young children do, he occasionally remarked that the lad was quiet and had a special lady to help him in classes.  My boy remembered going to playgroup with Shelley and her son, and I believe that it was this early acquaintance that led him to take a protective stance  towards Shelley’s boy throughout their years at school together.

The children progressed through primary school and without fail, Shelley and her family attended the Christmas and end of term productions, sports days and the annual fair. Without fail, heads turned, elbows nudged and snide comments were made just out of Shelley’s hearing.  She seemed impervious to it all; almost serene.

With the birth of another baby, Shelley now had three girls and two boys.  They walked to school in a strange crocodile; her eldest daughter and the two boys in school uniform, the toddler and baby dressed as most other small children of their age, with Shelley – in bondage trousers and a ripped tee shirt that  showed off her mostly religious tattoos, huge wedge boots and a face covered in piercings – always at the head of the group.  Caring and attentive, she shepherded her family across the main road, ignoring the hoots and cat calls from passing motorists.

Primary school was bad but high school was worse. At primary school people were used to Shelley but the move to a large high school that took in half a dozen primary schools brought several issues for Shelley and her family.  Her eldest daughter had managed three years without other students identifying Shelley as her mother, but her younger brother had to be brought into school by Shelley and collected by her or his father.  Other children were cruel about him and to him.  They were even more cruel about Shelley’s appearance.

Towards the end of my older son’s time at high school, along with other proud parents, we attended an evening of entertainment in the school theatre.  Shelley and her family turned up at the last minute; the children were dressed conventionally but Shelley sported a foot high black mohican; the sides of her head were closely shaved and tattooed and the wedge heeled boots were at least twelve inches tall.

A silence fell as she led her flock into the crowded auditorium.  Every eye was on her.  With the exception of her eldest son – now formally diagnosed with autism – all the children hung their heads in embarrassment.There would have been room for them to sit together if other parents and their children had swapped seats but no one would.  They just stared; stares of hostility sparked by – fear? Confusion? Or envy?

Shelley’s daughter went off the rails after leaving school.  She ran away from home and ended up living with her abusive father.  He hadn’t changed.

There was no available provision for Shelley’s eldest son. Cut loose from school he became increasingly frustrated and frightened.  His fear took the form of aggression, generally directed at his mother.  They tried so hard, Shelley and her husband, but with a new diagnosis of schizophrenia, they could no longer look after him and he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and went to live in a secure facility.

My youngest son tells me that he is still in contact with Shelley’s younger son; he works with his father in the plumbing trade. Now both my boys have left school I don’t see Shelley, unless we happen to be driving past when she is taking the youngest children to school or collecting them.

The mohican is defiantly high, the tattoos and piercings have almost obliterated the Shelley that I remember.

It isn’t really my place to find reasons for Shelley’s behaviour or even to ask why.

Tattoos and piercings are very much a personal thing.

Perhaps it is linked to her early exposure to domestic abuse?

Perhaps she was testing those around her – especially the people at her church or the sniggering parents at school?

How did she feel when she heard the whispers, saw the sneering glances,was openly rejected by the other parents?

Did this rejection make her want to become more outrageous?

I don’t have the answers – just a bunch of psychological theories that may or may not apply.

Whatever.  I wish her well.