The War – Week 8 of the 52 week short story challenge

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The warm weather was turning Jenny’s small square patio into an idyllic sun trap. She had everything she needed within arms’ reach; the small picnic table held a choice of reading material, a bottle of water, cool from the fridge, sunglasses and her trusty Walkman. She leaned back in the deckchair, put her earphones in and began to re-read a favourite Dickens novel to the dulcet sounds of Neil Young. A strange mix perhaps, but one that suited her mood.

She’d been out on the patio for less than an hour when it started. A loud and very unpleasant rendering of ‘You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog‘. It was coming from a garden to the rear of hers and what the singer lost in tone and accuracy, they made up for in ear-splitting noise.

Turning off the Walkman and putting down her book, she got up and risked a look up the garden to the source of the noise. The most brief of glances was sufficient to confirm that the music was not about to stop.

They had been warned about potentially troublesome neighbours by the rather snobbish estate agent when they bought the house back in November.  Their end-of-terrace house was ex-council stock and extremely solid. Most of their neighbours had lived in the area since the houses were built after World War II, and had taken up the option to buy their homes when it was offered. Jenny had been born on a council estate however, and based on her own experiences, didn’t foresee any issues with this.

It had been cold when they moved into their new house.

Quiet and cold.

They had apologised to their close neighbours for the noise made when the central heating was put in but the occupants of the house joined to theirs were out at work all day, and the neighbour on the other side had the width of two garden paths between him and the noise of the drilling, added to which he was out on his scooter visiting family for most of the day as well.

Christmas was warm and cosy once the heating was in. Their first proper home together.

When Spring came Jenny and her husband-to-be spent some time in the garden trying to shift the pile of builders’ rubble left outside the back door so that they would actually have a paved area to sit on. They dug out a pathway up the steeply sloping garden and laid paving stones in order to have a stable surface on which to walk when hanging out the washing.

The garden wasn’t large but it was enclosed by larch lap fence panels and once the rubble was removed, grass began to emerge and a couple of patches of daffodils planted by a previous owner. Jenny bought a batch of twigs that were supposed to grow into roses eventually. She planted them with optimism.

House and garden were put on hold at the end of April as they made preparations for their May wedding. Nearly everything went to plan, and the things that didn’t quite work out were manageable. Who knew that their honeymoon room in a New Forest hotel would have a radiator that wouldn’t turn off, or that the wedding taking place in the grounds would be so noisy that they couldn’t have the windows open? They were moved out of the romantic room with the four-poster bed and relocated to a quiet and more substantial suite at the back of the hotel.

It was quiet and cold.

It was good to be away  and exploring new territories on their honeymoon, but equally  wonderful to come home to their little house and the growing garden. Good to return as a married couple with life ahead of them. Jenny was looking forward to the warmer weather and being able to sit out in their garden.

Reluctantly she brought her relaxing-in-the-garden equipment indoors as the Elvis impersonators at the top of the garden completely drowned out her own music and made it impossible to read. Jenny’s husband was at work and the only way to escape from the noise was to shut herself in the front room with the kitchen door and windows shut, and the TV on loud.

She dug out her husband’s binoculars and, hiding behind the new curtains in the back bedroom, she identified the source of the noise. The occupants of the house that backed onto a house three doors down from theirs were having a karaoke party.  The hideous racket was being created by a group of only four people; three males and a female.  From the number of empty – and full – beer cans observed, the party was set to go on all day. The karaoke machine was set up on a huge TV plugged into an extension lead hanging out of a downstairs window. The garden was reminiscent of a rag and bone yard; piles of rusting metal objects, a shopping trolley with only three wheels, damp cardboard boxes sagging in heaps,  and three ancient kitchen chairs around the kitchen door step.

The lone female was perched precariously on a stool that looked as if it had  been pilfered from a pub; she was wearing a very small pair of shorts made from cut-off jeans, and a white boob tube that had lost its elasticity, neither of which did much to cover her extremely pale and substantial body. Two of the males appeared to be of a similar age to her, whilst the other seemed to be of a younger generation. They all sported tattoos but Jenny’s husband’s binoculars were not strong enough to see whether the spelling was correct or not.

Curiosity made her careless and as the curtain dropped back, the female in the garden caught sight of Jenny and let fly a stream of obscenities that completely drowned out the karaoke machine. Jenny left the bedroom quickly, her heart beating double-time, and retreated to the safety of the front room after making sure that all the doors were locked and the kitchen blinds were down.

This was how her husband found her some hours later when he came home; curled up on the sofa under a blanket, curtains drawn and TV tuned to a loud and particularly appalling cable channel.

Jenny cried when she told him about the nasty neighbours and they both hoped that the incident was a one-off.

It wasn’t.

As soon as Jenny settled to read and relax on the patio, the noise would start. Weekends or weekdays, it made no difference. Other neighbours asked the family to turn the noise down and were met with the customary obscene gestures and insults. The female would get very excited and pull down her boob tube, exposing a pair of pallid and pendulous breasts to anyone unfortunate  enough to be looking.

In order to regain some privacy if not peace, Jenny’s husband and a couple of friends laid some paving stones at top end of the garden and erected a garden shed which effectively blocked the view of the patio from the noisy neighbours, who screamed abuse  throughout but were unable to prevent progress.

That was when the warfare started in earnest.

First of all their car boot was broken into in the night. The offenders didn’t steal much and the insurance covered the damage and what was taken but it was another blot on the landscape of their first home together.

Then someone set fire to the front garden gate – in the middle of the night again. The fire was soon put out but the attendance of the fire brigade and the police escalated the incident to a new level. Jenny had no proof of who was behind the fire but the fact that the noisy neighbours were spotted grinning and jeering in the crowd watching the fire engine, was a possible clue.

The son of the family tried to set the garden shed alight but was caught in the act and went off for a spell of juvenile detention.

The loss of her only son inflamed the female even further; their house was next door to the local convenience store and she took to watching from her front room window and pouncing like some malevolent trapdoor spider on anyone that she felt might have reported her son to the police.

Jenny and her husband stuck to the safety of supermarket shopping.

The end of summer was welcomed as a respite from the karaoke parties and nocturnal nastiness, but the return of the prodigal son caused an unwitting end to the hostilities anyway. The police kept him under surveillance once he came home and within a very short time the house was successfully raided for drugs and stolen goods.

The neighbourhood had been under the impression that the horrendous family had bought the house years before and that was why they behaved in such a proprietorial way. Not so. They were  council tenants and the housing department were gleeful at having finally found a solid reason to evict them.

Some of the neighbours came out to watch on the day of the eviction; arms folded and grim smiles as the bailiffs changed the locks and two of the older males were arrested for assaulting a female police officer. This was before the age of ASBOs but the evicted tenants were left under no illusions about what might happen – legally or illegally – if they returned to the property.

When the summer came round again, being able to sit out in the garden was something Jenny had looked forward to but the damage had been done and she never felt that she could relax there again.

It was a relief when they had to move North for her husband’s work.

The little house was rented to a young couple with a child who treated it with a complete lack of care and respect. When their tenancy came to an end, the house was put on the market and managed by the most inept bunch of estate agents going.

Miles away, in a rented house herself, Jenny received a phone call to say that the house had been broken into. The estate agent had left the back door keys in the kitchen drawer and as a consequence the burglars had been able remove the fridge freezer and the washing machine – both of which had been wedding presents just a few years before. They tried to remove the boiler too but failed and the estate agent had to foot the repair bill.

Jenny and her husband sold the house eventually and after a few trips South to visit family, they stopped feeling the need to drive past their old home.

 

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‘Angels of Amsterdam – gracious tables and falling from grace – part 3’

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I managed to do some Tai Chi in the confines of the hotel bedroom when I woke up.

Hub was still asleep so I did my version of a silent disco – earphones in and Tai Chi music playing on my Blackberry – I can hear it but no one else can.

The Pore Ole Leg was still complaining after having to sit still during the canal cruise  the night before, but gentle exercise frees it up a bit and Hub wanted me to see the big square that he had discovered in his ramblings.

When we were talking about going to Amsterdam, we received two stock pieces of advice; ‘you must go to the red light district‘ and ‘you must try one of those cafes – you know – the ones that sell (hushed voice) drugs‘.

You can’t walk around Old Amsterdam without smelling the whiff of cannabis in the air.  The seed cafes are prolific and if we had wanted to – we could have – but Hub didn’t want to and despite reassurance from several sources that a bit of cannabis might do the POL the world of good, my liver was already working overtime trying to cope with my legitimate drug regime – so we sniffed (and occasionally inhaled) but we did not partake.

When we were checking in on the first night, our receptionist gave us a map and circled the places of interest.

One of these was the red light district.

She advised us to go in the daytime and not to take pictures because many of the girls sitting – or standing – behind the plate glass, were students earning money to supplement their grants, and their parents were not aware of what they were doing.

Another receptionist said that many of the girls were Eastern Europeans, lured by the promise of legitimate jobs, who found themselves penniless, with no jobs and nowhere to go. A hard choice – not really a choice at all.

We decided therefore to walk/limp to the big square and into the red light district (and out again).

It was very hot and I didn’t bring a hat.

By the time we got to our destination – now known as Dam Platz – I was melting.

I fully understood what Hub meant by it being the best place to people watch however.

Surrounded by hotels and cafes with outside seating, gift shops,  a huge Madame Tussauds, various monuments and structures, and densely populated by tourists, workers and people dressed as Death; it was busy and bustling and mind-boggling.

Hub hustled me into a gift shop and I bought the least ostentatious baseball cap I could find – black denim with ‘Amsterdam’ in fairly small and discrete lettering.

With my head cooled, we sat on a block of marble and watched the world whizzing past.  I rather liked the girl who was making giant bubbles that floated lazily across the platz.  I also liked the poor soul dressed as a soldier in multicoloured chain mail but both of the Deaths were far behaving in far too flippant and un-Deathlike a manner to be acceptable.

Avoiding almost certain death (and I’m not being flippant this time) under the wheels of mad moped riders, we managed to get onto the correct side of the road to enter the – deh deh dehhhhhh – red light district.  The transition was fairly gradual; fast food shops gave way to sex shops and as we moved into the heart (?) of the district, we began to see full length plate-glass windows with hot pink tinsel streamers.

Neither of us really looked that closely.

We were both thinking of starving students and homeless immigrants.

We saw nothing to titillate or excite, just sadness and exploitation.

Weak and wobbly, we found a cafe by a canal.

Most of the people sitting at the tables outside were elderly and obvious long-time residents who viewed the curious tourists like ourselves with an air of resignation.

The cafe served the world’s best non-alcoholic pina colada smoothie though.

This is the photo we took of the red light district.

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When we were on the canal cruise, we were told that the reason for these very tall, thin houses was because people were taxed on the width of their property.  So the canny people of Amsterdam built very narrow houses, often with only one room on each floor.  To compensate they went upwards and the elegant arched windows at the top were often just a facade to make the house owner look as if they had more money.

We liked the thin houses.

Drinks finished with, we made our way back into the bustle of Dam Platz and headed back to the hotel for a mega flop – and – courtesy of the hotel broadcasting Beeb 1 and 2 (as well as Chicken Noodle News) – ‘Flog It’ and ‘Pointless’.

I felt a pang of homesickness when ‘Pointless’ ended.  Scooby knows that the theme music means dinnertime.  I knew that Gap Boy wouldn’t forget to feed him but at that moment I missed Scoob’s doggy grin, over enthusiastic tail and drooling issues SO much.

It may have been the heat, it may have been the walking, it may have been the sadness of the red light district and missing Scoobs, but we both felt the need to stay indoors for dinner that night and be cossetted by the hotel staff.

We were well looked after at breakfast, and when we popped in for happy hour, but that was nothing compared to the gracious behaviour of the staff who waited on us during dinner.

Nothing was too much trouble. In more than impeccable English, the food was described by our waiter so enticingly, that making a choice was very difficult – we went with his recommendations and were not disappointed. The trio of sorbets I had for pudding was an absolute delight.

Amsterdam and the lovely inhabitants had already hooked us, now we were truly wrapped up in bliss  – from the food, the courtesy, the kindness and the attitude of people who made us feel very special.

We were leaving early in the morning and I had decided that although I liked the double-decker trains, a taxi to Schipol would be better.  The concierge booked the taxi and I paid the bill the night before so that we would have less to worry about in the morning – yes, yes – OCD. I don’t deny it.

Back in the room we packed all but the essentials, and full of good food and wine (Hub – not me), the day set on our last full day in Amsterdam.

I had come to the conclusion that it would be churlish to reject the kind assistance offered at the airport and was almost looking forward to being shepherded around the airport in a wheelchair – so was the POL..

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

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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.

Yes!

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.

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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.

www.henriwillig.com

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.

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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.

‘Angels of Amsterdam – part 1’

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My lovely Hub was presented with some vouchers to be used towards travel from his airport – a nice tribute for having been there for more than twenty years. We ummed and erred and decided on a short break in Amsterdam because Hub had visited Schipol Airport for work purposes and wanted to see more, and because it was somewhere I’d always wanted to go.

He bought the flights and I booked the hotel – we got good deals because we booked so far in advance.

This had its disadvantages too.

Ever since the attack of the kidney stones, my back has been causing me grief.  Lack of exercise has also made the arthritis in my knee swell up and become very tender.

I am hopping and limping with my stick in addition to seeing my wonderful osteopath, but the pain stops me from getting more than two hours sleep at a time, I should take out shares in Ibuprofen and my motivation is sadly sapped by the sleep deprivation.

Our romantic break in Whitby was severely hampered by the pore ole leg (POL), and as the trip to Amsterdam came closer, I wondered if I would be able to manage.

Hub booked seats on the plane with extra leg room for me – we were side by side on the way out and he sat behind me and held my hand over the top of the seat on the way back.  He also requested special assistance as the POL makes me go very slowly and it gets tired if I make it walk too far.

At my last physio treatment before Amsterdam, my osteopath expressed concerns about the lack of progress in freeing up my back and easing the pain in my POL.  He suggested going to see a doctor – they don’t normally do that .

I called the surgery on the way home and was amazed to find that there was a cancellation at twenty to eight that night – with the GP that I have been boycotting for the past eighteen and a half years because he was mean to me once.

Pain and panic forced my hand.  Hub came with me and promised to referee or hand me tissues depending on the GP’s attitude.

Perhaps both of us have mellowed over the years.  He was actually very kind.  Impressed by the fact that I can touch my toes (I shouldn’t be able to), stick my POL up in the air whilst lying on my back (I shouldn’t be able to) and do Tai Chi every morning (I shouldn’t be able to do that either).

He told me not to worry too much about my raised blood pressure – that could be due to the Ibuprofen,  to get as much exercise as possible, to go to Amsterdam and have a lovely time, and to come back afterwards and have a cortisone injection in my knee. Hmmmmm.

He also prescribed some amitryptiline  and explained that although it was an anti-depressant, it was used in small doses to overcome nerve pain.

I used to work for a neurologist before Uni Boy was born and I can vaguely remember this being one of his treatments too.  So Hub and I took my prescription off to the very nice pharmacist in Tesco – who was sympathetic about the POL because he had one too, and advised that one tablet would be enough and to make sure that I took it around seven pm or I’d turn into a zombie – better than a gremlin anyway.

The standard dose for adults is 75mg per day and I was on 10mg per day so I didn’t think the side effects would be too bad. Hmmmmmm. I took two tablets the first night and the second. Not a good idea.

Sleep deprivation has enhanced my dormouse-like abilities to nod off whenever the action stops – if only for a few moments. The addition of the amitriptyline turned me into the walking dead – no more playing ‘Bejewelled Blitz’ on my laptop in the early hours – my eyes wouldn’t stay open. I also got impressive dizzy spells – which go under the heading of ‘acceptable side effects’. (Acceptable to who?)

Bezzie Mate came to stay for the weekend before we went away.  I managed to limp around Tesco with him without falling over, and once Hub had woken from his post night shift slumbers, we went off to what was left of an air day at a local airfield.

How can people leave when the planes are still in the air and performing so courageously?

Love the sound of them, love the sight of them wheeling and crossing trails in the sky, even love the smell – from a distance though because close to makes me wheezy. Hub and BM had a wonderful time taking pictures and talking about planes.  I sat in my director’s chair and lapped up the sights, sounds and the evident enjoyment of my two favourite plane spotters.

BM went back Home that night and the next day was spent packing and getting ready for our seven pm flight.

We just had cabin luggage; I had been awfully efficient and researched what we were allowed to take with us.  Finding the right size resealable plastic bags was a trial – being summertime the shops were sold out and the OCD in me did not want to wait till we got to the airport to get them.  I had to leave my face cream at home because the economy size pot was too big.

My Kindles, the electric toothbrush and our cameras were put at the top of the cases but in fact Security were only interested in the Kindles.  The guard wanted to know where I got the case for my Paperwhite from.

To backtrack slightly; we called at the special assistance desk when we arrived at the airport, and I very foolishly turned down the offer of a helper and a wheelchair. We were told to go through the wheelchair section of security anyway.  It was much quicker but very painful when the guard patted down my POL and I nearly shot through the roof.

We sat at the gate and waited for assistance to arrive as promised.  Our seats were in the front row of the plane and we thought that meant we would be boarded first and exit last – so as not to hold anyone else up.

Our special assistance helper turned out to be a very small girl in an over large high vis jacket. I was glad that I hadn’t said yes to the wheelchair – so embarrassing if it had been too heavy to push.

She was very sweet and led us down to the apron via the lift.

The other passengers were already boarding and I had visions of having to wait for them all before I could make my slow and stately progress up the stairs.

Not so; this tiny girl marched forward and stopped the passengers with great authority.  She followed us up the stairs and waited until the hosties took over.  I was impressed.

I love flying.  I love the moment when the plane leaves the ground and never fail to marvel at the fact that this great lump of steel is flying gracefully through the air. With Hub beside me and room to stretch out the POL, my stress levels subsided.

Only an hour in the air and we arrived at the same time we left – technically.

If I felt well looked after at Liverpool, then Schipol assistance staff made me feel like royalty.  Declining the wheelchair again (oh foolish pride!) we were escorted to a minibus and driven (for miles it seemed) into the airport.  They handed us over to the most charming of young men who, though slightly disappointed in my wheelchair refusal, lashed said chair to a buggy and whizzed us through to passport control.

On finding that we were getting the train into Amsterdam, he then escorted us to the ticket office, told us what tickets to get and then took us down to the correct platform.  His English was impeccable and his courteous manner even better. We were sad to see him go. We had no idea however that he was only the first of our Amsterdam Angels. Curious coincidence 1 – his sister lives in London and works for King – the company responsible for Bejewelled Blitz.

The train was a revelation – it was a double-decker! We sat on the emergency seats on the mezzanine so that I didn’t have to do stairs.  It was still light and Hub, a lover of trains as well as planes, was happy as a pig in muck as he gazed out of the windows.

We knew that our hotel was near to the station so we decided to walk.  Hub had the two cases on wheels; I had me, the POL and a stick.  We stopped on a bridge over the canal and took the picture at the top of this blog. I felt relieved that we were nearly there.

I am not good at crossing big roads.

When I was ten years old I was knocked over by a green station wagon whilst crossing the road in the middle of town.  I came off quite well – a cut to my ankle and a grazed knee. Unfortunately they banged my head on the roof of the ambulance when putting me in and I had to stay in hospital overnight because of the concussion.

It left me with a fear of big roads though.

I managed to control the fear over the years until the day when, after dropping the boys off at school I tripped over crossing the big road that stood between me and the bus stop for work. Falling into the path of the fast lane, I managed to throw myself forward and land closer to the kerb.

I got up.

I didn’t cry.

I caught the bus to work although my knees ached, my hands were grazed and I wanted someone to pick me up and take me somewhere safe (preferably not bumping my head on the roof at the same time).

At my last but one workplace, there was a big road to cross in order to get to the bus stop.  I got palpitations every time I crossed it. A friend in the next office found out about my fear and made a point of calling in as he was leaving to see if I wanted to cross the road with him.

Of course I did.

Hub is aware of my fear – as is BM – and they are both very solicitous about getting me across the big roads. They both have very reassuring arms.

We had been warned about the bicycles  and scooters in Amsterdam.  I knew there were trams – and cars – and even at ten thirty at night – lots of people and noise.

The green man crossings were a welcome and familiar sight but the combination of POL, big road panic, lack of Hub’s ever protective arm, a dizzy spell, tiredness and a protruding tram line and I was down.

Like a sack of spuds.

Hub left the cases and was by my side – I was still on the tram line with a big white and blue monster bearing down on me.

From nowhere it seemed, an angel in long dark pigtails who spoke beautiful English was there at my other side.

“We must get your wife off the tram line.  It is very dangerous here. I will help you.”

And she did.  The kind words, her firm but safe hands, Hub’s arm and the good old stick got me up off the floor and to the safety of the island.

The temptation to blub and shake was very strong but it vanished as the angel admired my newly polished purple glittering nails (thank you Sarah) and then imparted the following information:

  • Think bicycle/scooter first – then tram – and always use the crossings with the green man because the trams won’t move until you are clear and the red man lights up
  • Be careful in the very touristy areas because pickpockets are rife
  • Don’t buy a one hour tram ticket – you can’t get anywhere in that time and a twenty-four hour ticket is much better value
  • Visit Smits Koffiehuis by the station. the food is good, they speak English and it is next door to the Tourist Information Bureau – the VVV.

She showed us the way to our hotel. shook hands, wished us luck and was gone – back into the night.

Our hotel was just around the corner. The receptionist was very sympathetic about my fall, also spoke excellent English, and within a few moments we were in the lift and in our peaceful air con room courtesy of another angel.

POL was sore.  Other leg took the brunt of the fall and has some very impressive bruises.

But we had arrived.  We were safe.

And Amsterdam was proving to be a place of kind angels.

‘Express Holiday’

She tried so hard to be a mum to her husband’s children.

It didn’t help that their own son Michael Junior was a handful; younger than his half-siblings and testament to his father’s wandering eye. The boy wore a jumper with ‘Rebel’ written on it for good reason.

She found her stepson Lennie easy to deal with; the poor little soul had physical disabilities and was very small for his age.  He was compliant and sat at the table without any complaint – but then he had little choice.

His older sister Miranda  was a tough nut to crack.  A blonde, beautiful seven-year old; maternal towards her own brother but openly hostile to the small, loud intruder who claimed her Daddy’s attention so efficiently and bore his name as well.  She largely ignored her new stepmother, another intruder who was younger, prettier and happier than the Mummy they had left at home for the weekend, and who would inevitably be crying because she missed them both – and her ex-husband.

Michael Senior returned to the table empty-handed.  His wife and children looked hungry and crestfallen.

“No rice crispies but they have got cocoa pops. Are they allowed to have cocoa pops? Lennie, do you want toast?  I’m having the full English. Can they have fruit juice?”

She sighed.  Eighteen months ago Michael Senior had been living in the same house as his two eldest children.  She was aware from her own experience that he was not what you would call a ‘hands-on’ Daddy but surely he knew what his children liked to eat?

“Miranda can have cocoa pops…..”

“I want muesli. I don’t like cocoa pops.  Mummy never buys cocoa pops.  Mummy says they make your teeth go rotten and then Daddy will have to pay out for us to have new teeth.  Mummy says.”

Miranda’s face was set.  Michael Senior recognised that expression.  It was the one that drove into the arms of his sweet young receptionist and led to the birth of Michael Junior, a divorce settlement that he could ill-afford and the low-key shotgun wedding that mollified his new wife’s irate and somewhat shady brothers  – but only just.

“I’ll get you some muesli darling, and some toast for Lennie and Michael Junior. Shall I bring it back before I get my breakfast?”

“Yes please Michael, and can you bring some cutlery too? Michael Junior! Sit down!”

“Daddy! I want Daddy!”

“Daddy will be back in just a moment with some nice toast.”  How she prayed that Michael Senior would have the forethought to put the toast on plates and bring butter and Marmite too.

He hadn’t.

Miranda got her muesli.

The toast was piled up on one plate; no butter or spreads, nothing to spread them with anyway and two glasses of fruit juice that Miranda appropriated for herself and Lennie, leaving Michael Junior to set up another banshee wail.

“Juiiiiiiiice!  I want juiiiiiice!”

Michael Senior had already left the table at speed after spotting that a fresh tray of bacon, sausages and scrambled eggs had just been put out.

“Miranda?  Could you please keep an eye on your brothers while I get a knife and some spreads please?  Don’t let Mikey get down off his seat?”

Miranda scowled.  Mikey was Daddy’s name when Mummy was being nice about him and remembering the happy times.  She did not and would not recognise that screaming baby as her brother.

Michael Junior got down off the chair seconds after his mother had walked the few yards to the service counter and ran towards his father.

A lady and man were sitting at the next table.  The lady caught Miranda’s eye and said “Your little brother has got down from the table.  He’s gone that way.” She smiled but Miranda didn’t.  Her face was inscrutable as her stepmother returned dragging  a screaming Michael Junior by the hand.

Toast was buttered and anointed with Marmite, cut lovingly into soldiers for Michael Junior and Lennie.  Miranda listlessly chased her muesli round the bowl, her face coming to life when her Daddy reappeared with a loaded plate of food, a serviette and a single mug of coffee.

“There’s no room at this table; I’ll sit over here.”

Michael Senior seemed oblivious to the fact that his desertion had reduced his youngest son to tears and caused quiet disappointment to the other two.

His new wife, hungry and now unable to leave the children until Michael Senior had finished his breakfast and was free to mind them, took a deep breath and forced herself to stay silent.

The couple at the next table got to their feet; the lady waved at Miranda and smiled.  Surprisingly Miranda smiled back.  So did Lennie, and Michael Junior waved his soldier with a Marmite grin. His mother blushed.

“I’m sorry about all the noise. I hope it didn’t spoil your breakfast.”

The lady smiled again.  “It didn’t.  Our children are nineteen and nearly twenty-one.  They used to wander off and kick up a hell of a racket. It will get better, I promise you.  You have lovely children.  Have a good day but don’t forget to get some food for yourself.”

The words were the first drop of  praise she had heard all weekend.  Praise from a stranger.

Michael Senior was on his feet.

“Is everything alright?  Were the children making too much noise? Do I need to go after them and apologise?”

“No, the lady just said how lovely they all were.  Can you move back to this table please Michae,l whilst I get some breakfast too?”  She got to her feet .

“Of course.  Silly me. How could I forget about you my darling?” he said as he moved his breakfast back to the children’s table.

“You won’t again.” she said to herself as she walked slowly across the hotel dining room and picked up a coffee cup.

The lady stopped by the door and turned around just before leaving the room.  Their eyes met.  With a nod and a barely perceptible wink, the strength of ages was passed over from one mother to another.

She drank hot coffee for the first time in months whilst she waited for her toast and watched Michael Senior struggle to control his children.  Perhaps it was going to be a holiday after all.