Monday, 3 November 2014

An 8 year old's birthday wish - A world where the bike is the world's primary means of transport

Leon turned 8 on Saturday, and despite his bike being locked up in a shed in Utrecht, while we were away at Eurocamp, his birthday wish was a world where the bicycle was the main form of transportation.
Not so strange, impossible or impractical - most journeys we make are short, and the main reason we reach for our car keys is more down to habit and in the UK, because if you ride, you risk someone trying to kill you and them blaming you because they didn't see you.
Living in a land where the infrastructure allows most journeys to be performed by bike and seeing that, surprise, surprise, that's what people do shows it's not just a child's unrealistic dream.
All over the developing world, the bike is already the preferred work horse, but in China and India, the emerging middle classes are being herded into cars by advertising and promises of a life that the west seems to be enjoying. They can add the heart and respiratory disease and road deaths to their new found riches. Or they could take the emerging trends in from the Netherlands and Denmark and think about where all these people are going to park their new cars (electric or otherwise) and instead provide them with the integrated transportation so that the car, a useful tool when used in context could be available when you need it. It's only down to the might of advertising that everyone needs there own to feel normal -it can be normal to share, hire or borrow one and not need to have several sitting cluttering up the streets.
Still I feel that even the Netherlands is in the grip of the auto industry - advertising in Holland is still pushing car ownership as hard as it possibly can and trying to reduce the costs making the number of cars parked all over the streets ever more a problem. They are still in conflict between local councils trying to make a place pleasant and liveable verses the ever powerful auto industry, who might be nowhere near as powerful as in the US but still pull out every trick in the book to draw people away from being rained on in return for paying an arm and a leg to pollute, make themselves less healthy and work even harder to keep a lovely shiny car.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Our first bike prang in the Netherlands

The one thing I have been frankly terrified of having happen, is that in moving to the Netherlands to enjoy their better standard of living and fantastic cycle provision, we find ourselves in an accident with a car, thus completing the irony and feeling really stupid at best and at worse loosing a loved one. I was expecting it would be the kids and I've been very careful riding with them.
Never did I imagine that it would be my 75 year old mother in law that would be the first of the Joneses to be in a prang with a car. It wasn't fun, but this rates on the feeling really stupid end of the irony. She hurt her knee but both her and the car were travelling in opposite directions at walking speed, she was trapped between the car and the wall with not enough room and the handlebar of her bike scraped the car.
They were out of the car with insurance forms before Ellen had even had time to get up, they just about managed to ask her if she was OK before saying, you've scratched our car, what's your insurance details.
Where my red back lamp is, it the spot where Ellen was squashed between the wall and the oncoming car

From the other direction - cars can travel in this direction only and it's two way for bikes.

We've filled in the forms, I made sure that Ellen's side of the story said, there wasn't enough room, they were both moving - so not just her and that she hurt her knee but it will be the insurance company who decides who pays.
In the Netherlands the cyclist is always given a bit of the benefit of the doubt and is classed as the vulnerable road user, but even in the UK, I think given the amount of space the driver had left Ellen between the edge of the road and his car, I doubt he would be able to say he'd given her enough space to pass.

What's interesting and what I've observed is that in the Netherlands generally speaking in urban areas cyclists and drivers on narrow roads are both at very low speeds.
When prangs happen it's not likely to be serious - in real terms a scratched car is far less valuable than a wounded knee, even if a scratched Audi costs much more to fix. Of course the Dutch driver in his early 20's driving an Audi in the centre of Utrecht doesn't see Ellen's 75 year old knee as being more valuable than the side of his car. This is never going to be a simple equation in the modern world - I am very interested to see how the insurance company see it, if legally and morally there is any chance that, yes indeed the driver doesn't have the right to make a 75 year old cyclist he barged past pay for the scratch because she wobbled and fell onto his car. To me, it's straight forward, but I still don't know what the outcome will be. This is my bias opinion, as I'm sure you are aware.

One thing we've been musing about is the difference the provision here makes when drivers are arrogant assholes - and they come up of course. For the most part, you only see them from the safety of your segregated cycle path. Where you find yourself on a shared way -

  • either in the old narrow parts of the city 
  • or an access road - most streets with houses are no through roads, so cars are rare and are generally about to park or are just starting their journey, 
  • or on a road that's been deemed a 'fietstraat' which means the whole road is red tarmac and there are signs all along it saying 'Auto te gast'  and drivers have to treat the road as if it's predominantly a cycle road and they take 2nd place 
BUT all sorts of bad behaviour can still happen.
I've been riding on a fieststraat and been practically sideswiped while riding with a kid next to me by a driver doing faster than I would have liked. I shouted at him but the man in his 50's clearly could see me and did it because he wanted to communicate that he wasn't playing the game expected of him.

But here, you see, is the difference and it's a very significant one - he saw me, he knew that it would intimidate me but that would be it, it would be irritating, but nothing more. He saw me.
The infrastructure means that whether you are on a separate cycle path or on a road shared with traffic, they can see you.
The big killer on the UK's roads is SMIDSY - sorry mate I didn't see you, and your dead.
Here, yes there are some right tools in charge of motors and there's sometimes a weird way that at 10mph cars and cycles in the city somehow can coexist millimetres apart with the odd scratch or angry exchange, but they see each other.
Access road to our flats, no through road, cars only come here to park or are leaving - example of shared space we cycle on with cars.
Example of two-way path that runs along major roads - you can see and hear crazy drivers but they can't really bother you or endanger you.
In conclusion, it was horrible that Ellen spent one day riding around Utrecht, only to have a prang and not to get back on the bike for the rest of her weeks stay once we'd ridden back to where they were staying. It was the worst thing to happen to someone on their first day riding in a foreign country. There I am trying to demonstrate how wonderful our life is here, and it seriously backfired. I'm just glad her knee was better the next day. Hopefully Ellen will still cycle in to Ely on a sunny day, but she said herself, it's been months since she'd ridden in Ely and as traffic volumes there keep going up, the whole idea is less and less attractive.
Has it put us off or the kids here in the Netherlands? Nope, I still would prefer to pay the insurance in case I scratch some twat's audi, and I prefer taking the risk of that uneasy prang at 5mph than a SMIDSY left hook in the UK any day.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Hard to admit things aren't easy

I'm not comfortable with the idea of admitting things aren't going to plan job wise, in fact, it's really hard. Nobody will pay me to do the menial stuff because I'm too expensive and all the good jobs out there require me to be someone with bits of paper rather than a capable, intelligent, experienced useful person. Somewhere along the line, the idea of a degree turned into a thing that it isn't. Just because you can do one thing, doesn't mean you can do something totally unrelated and being a practical sort, all that practical experience gives you diddly squat when put in front of some suit looking for a few specific words on a bit of paper.

I'm quite down about it, life has never been fair, it's nothing personal and there are too many people and not enough jobs to go round.
Most of the jobs out there seem so meaningless and pointless anyway, I hate that but I'm too lazy, scared or just incapable right now of finding a way to do something useful and relevant to make a living.

Toby's money will stop next July, which will mean that we will have no source of income unless we find something. It's possible that if the Pre-school at the International school goes ahead, I might have a job as a TA but that can't support us all.
Both of us are in a manner of speaking unemployable, we are too old to be messed about and really should find a way to work for ourselves. Running our own business comes with many risks and problems as well as being the only way to trully do what you can do and be rewarded for your own efforts. Money has no conscience and it will always be bankers that get bigger bonuses than nurses. I don't want to be rich, but I do want to provide for my family and make enough that there's a buffer for hard times.

I will find a way, somehow and I've been trying to have those searching conversations that turn into changing what I'm doing and trying different things until something sticks.

As much as anything else it's about working out what I want to do. The last time I had to do this was in London, with no benefits, but a few loans from my long suffering Dad, I managed to re-train and work and live in London. I started from scratch, chose a path, planned it and achieved success. Then I changed my focus, and did that and so on.

The biggest challenge I'm facing right now, is committing to something to focus on and until I do that, I can't properly plan my energy. I keep bouncing from what I might be able to do to what I actually want to do. I need to sort out what my long game is first.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A new month

September is upon us, the weather has improved dramatically - the kids are back at school.
I'm still looking for work, it's harder than I expected, the job market has less of the types of jobs I could easily do and being that bit older, I am less employable in a job market geared towards graduates.
It's never been a breeze to find work for me anyway, I don't have a degree, which has always held me back. Plus of course, the language barrier. I got told today that even though my spoken dutch was good, it wasn't up to call centre standard - I thought that was a bit much knowing some of the calls I've had to call centre staff - the job was a call centre for a national service as oppose to an IT product, which I guess makes all the difference. In my experience, the service you offer is as much in the listening as to the speaking if you really want to offer a good service.
Today I've applied for jobs delivering post, working in a supermarket and being an assistant shop manager in a phone shop. I'd be happy with any of them, although the first is only part time.
Last week I applied for a job as a teaching assistant at the ISU (International School Utrecht) it would be right up my street. My Mum's said she will put in a good word for me too, I don't know at this stage how far into the solicitation process they are so I have no idea if my chances are real. The cat is still alive until I open the box, so to speak.

We met a mum with a baby and a boy who looked about five in the lift this morning, they live on the 7th floor. I got Reuben to repeat in Dutch "welke verdieping wonen jullie?" and "wij wonen op de 4de verdieping". His pronunciation was really good.

We dropped the boys off for their second day at their new school, they are enjoying the ride to school. I must say even during rush hour, the traffic is so much better managed, we ride along the inner ring for about 2/3 of the journey, through at least half a dozen sets of dedicated lights. It's stress free and straight forward, there are plenty of riders around us, from other kids with parents, to blokes on road bikes in Lycra who silently speed away past us once the lights change.

Both boys have been moved up a class, the teachers needed to assess which class would best suit, based on their age, size and ability. They are now up a class and we shall see how they get on. Leon looked happier, all the kids were almost exactly the same height but you can guess based on their geographical DNA, that the ages were going to vary, as each kid was at the very least from a different continent to the kid standing next to him. I'll be interested to hear today at pick up what Leon has learnt about his class mates.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

What a difference a couple of weeks makes

We arrived two weeks ago, and in that time we've done a smattering of day trips and official stuff like getting a bank account and registering that we are living here. Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, nothing went according to plan, from the appointment at the bank in the morning without the BSN number we are still waiting for for Toby to when we left in the evening, leaving our friend to babysit, Toby realised he'd lost the car key, which after much searching and my third bike ride into town, had been inside our friend's sofa for a couple of days. In the end, we ordered a pizza, played a board game with our friend and babysitter and had beer. So hardly a romantic evening but considering our luck yesterday, it ended very well.
We have been in our new apartment for almost two weeks, I'm sitting typing at our dining table from Emmaus de bilt, blogging with wifi, while the kids watch CBBCs, they have declared a pjama day and I haven't the stregnth to deny them. It's cold and windy outside, we've had a busy couple of weeks, we have plenty of food in the house and no real need to go anywhere today.
The boys have been cycling into town with us most days, and the days we haven't ridden, we've been on the bus and even got a train back from the spoorweg museum a few days ago.
Beautiful path into town, able to have a hand on R's shoulder to help him along, stop him wondering and make sure he stops at the lights!
Where we are, like every area of Utrecht, there is a dedicated cycle network and integrated public transport.
Local commuter train home, this carrage has flip up seats for bikes, pushchairs and peak standing room only.


The trains and buses have screens like this, it makes using public transport so much less stressful when you know where you are and where you are going.

This isn't the usual but having a slide at the local train station is always a bonus.

This bus was scheduled to meet the train we got and goes round the area - real integrated transport, no taxi needed.
Either we get the bikes out or we walk 30m to the end of our road and there's various bus stops going in various directions, we walk across the road and there's a shopping centre, I got the boy's haircut there yesterday. It's got a great bike shop, I've already got  my back tyre fixed, I thought it was the valve, turned out when I had the new hub fitted the spokes the fitter used are too long and they had punctured through the lining and into the tyre, the guy at the bike shop here said he shortened the spokes and replaced the lining and inner tube, so good job done by someone who knows what he's doing. I have to pick up Toby's bike today, he's having a service and having a back rest and foot rests fitted to his carrier, so Reuben can sit on the carrier. Reuben's good at cycling but his concentration is still such that you need to be one to one, that doesn't work with Leon there as well, who is fantastic but they've only been using the infra for a few days and I prefer us to be one to one with them, come the school run in September, it will be good to have the option for toby to take R on the back and Leon cycle. I'm going to do the same on my bike. It's a very simple set up - a back rest to stop him falling off the back and foot rests, it's not that comfy but it's only meant to be for short distances. In a few months I hope Reuben will be more accustomed to riding and we will feel able to ride with two kids next to us.
I've pimped our balcony. We have a lovely view of trees anyway and I've got a nice mixture of some flowers and culinary herbs. It's lovely to sit out there (although today it's rather windy) The door to the balcony has been open most of the time we've been here, it's a great design that you have the fresh air there right next to the kitchen, dining and living room, even if you are four floors up.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

One near miss too many

There are many ways that being right is not a good thing. When I said the road in front of our house was potentially a lethal dose of HGV's and speeding motorists who should have gone another route and shouldn't be driving through our residential streets, I have been praying I'm not proven right. School runs and heavy traffic don't mix.
Monday morning Reuben wobbled off the pavement and into the road in front of an HGV. Fortunately the driver was looking where he was going and took evasive action which saved his life. I'm only glad I didn't see it, Toby was taking them and he watched while Reuben fell, both Toby and the Lorry driver had that horrible moment when they thought that was it.
Lot's of families saw it and multiple people called 999. At one point a helicopter was on it's way. Reuben was dropped back home by a Paramedic and luckily we were just cleaning up a few scratches and bruises. The police also dropped by. It seems they also feel that the increase in traffic is alarming but as usual the County don't see it as a problem and are prepared to leave our roads as they are unless people start getting killed.
It's a horrible feeling of helplessness and  frustration, each day we leave the house ready to keep ourselves alive in the face of a danger we have no control over other than a bit of bright clothing and a helmet that's designed to protect you for slow moving impact, hardly something that would stand much chance in a contest with a 40 tonne lorry. All you have is luck, and luck on Monday was on our side.
 I'm milking it for all it's worth and I've taken the opportunity to confront the county council on this, I really wish someone else round here would take it up too, I'm not sticking around to wait for the changes, but they are, so I don't get why they don't get together and fight this.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

A month from now we will be in Holland

I have found us a place to live from the 1st of August if it goes ahead as planned. It's 100m2 and the target price I was looking for instead of right at the top end of our budget, it makes the whole move more likely to be a success.
I'm applying for work and we are slowly but surely sorting out our house before we go. There's loads still to sell but I'm hopeful that there won't be alot left after Tobe's ebayed and Gumtree'd, boot saled and freecycled. I'm doing a yard sale when I stop childminding, I'm hoping that along with what's already been reserved, the majority will see good use with other parents and childminders.
The boys are excited, so am I, as well as slightly overwhelmed and occasionally terrified, although I try to suppress that in favour of 'hey, I've turned my life upside down several times before and eventually it turns out' I hope that this is a positive move for Toby and this is what he needs to start a fresh, so we can start a fresh together as a family and recreate what makes us happy.
The point of keeping a diary or blog is to write about what's happened and what's happening but my thoughts are always into the future at the moment. I can report that yesterday, I found all the kids art work that was spread out on walls, in old carrier bags, in drawers and on book cases is now all together in a moving box labelled 'boys memories 2006-2014 along with their first shoes, baby grows, hats and a couple of favourite t-shirts they wore as toddlers. Also a few photos, birthday cards etc. I nice little time capsule that when they get married and have kids we can open up and enjoy.
So much stuff we don't need and I want to feel lighter and less weighed down by a house full of stuff I can never seem to get on top of.
Time to get some sleep, another day with toddlers, lovely though they are, I am looking forward to going back to work that doesn't involve rainbow rice and nappies.

Friday, 20 June 2014

A month to go

Back in Ely a week now, the reception back at Stanstead was amazing, the boys made Welcome Home cards, it was tears of joy, the best welcome home I think I've ever had.
I'd come home with two strong possibilities for accommodation
, I ended up turning them both down, partly down to cost but also size. We still have time to find something better and once I allowed the fact that Mum said we could stay at her's when we first arrive to sink in and run it by Toby, that sounds like a better start. We can get registered (I found my BSN nummer on Tuesday!) and I can find a job and start looking for places to live.
Yesterday I was back into the horrible reality that is living in a place that believes the only way to get from A to B is in a Car. I reported a couple of cars that had been parked right on the junction where the kids all cross on the way to school. The policeman said that even though it says in the highway code, you shouldn't park there, it's not a ticket-able offence and when I asked him why he couldn't just ask them to move them, he couldn't really see the other cars! He wasn't interested in all the school kids who couldn't see round the bend. It's so frustrating to even have another month in a place where the car is more important than the people who live here.
I got my CV translated and bigged up by a friend who I've most sensibily paid for her services. She's found some jobs for me to apply for, which I've done, I think they are a little out of my league, but pays to aim high, there's plenty of time to do the temp agencies in August.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Sunshine and showers

According to both my phone weather aps all the rain we've had over the past couple of days never happened. At Erik's on the bank holiday monday, we went to Bussloo Strand, a lake with a beach for a bit of a swim and after a lovely swim on a hot and sunny day, followed by a nice cup of coffee, the black clouds descended and everyone, us included calmly walked back to the cars and sat in a traffic jam to leave the park while the wind and rain lashed the cars, the lightening flashed and the rumbles took a reassuring few seconds before we heard them.
The calm before the storm.
The evening before, I caught the train up to Erik's, it went like clockwork in a crystal maze kind of fashion, I eventually found somewhere at the station to lock up my bike that didn't have a sign on it saying "don't lock your bike to this fence or it will be removed" then found a tunnel entrance under the old bus and train station that now resembles a ruin about to be building site strewn with broken concrete and plant machinery. Through the tunnel to the machines that don't let you pay with a foreign card, I found I had pretty much exactly enough change to load up the card to travel to Apeldoorn, and found an earlier train than I'd planned and got straight on a direct train to Apeldoorn. Toby texted me to see if I could skype to say night to the kids and I thought hmmm, some trains have I opened up my laptop, found a wifi called unsurprisingly "wifi op de trien" and we skyped!

Once I got to Erik's we sat out on their balcony until it had been dark for quite a while and then drunk even more rose and chatted on the sofa until the small hours. 
It was a lovely couple of days at Erik's. While I was there, I got a message from the Cambridge Raincoat company saying they are sending my raincoat to Mark's place, it's more than likely that a drout and heatwave will coincide with the arrival of said raincoat. Today both the aps on my phone that are supposed to predict the weather, didn't predict an our or so of persistent rain that fell while Jose, Martine and I shared a couple of cups of tea and coffee under a parasol outside the ledig erf. I've not seen either of them for a very long time as Jose's husband is Scotish so usually when I'm in Holland they are in Scotland. As is always the case with old friends, we chatted away as if it hadn't been 14 years since I left the whole flat Martine and I shared to her, more like a few months. We filled each other in on our lives today, and our new loves and new challenges. Again, how things change and still stay the same.
I visited two apartments today, neither really have potential, certainly not in the same way as the first one has had - one was very central but on the expensive side and only until the beginning of October. I suggested that it may be a way to dip our toes and move with no notice period to return if it didn't work. Toby didn't like the idea of having to move twice so soon, which was fair enough. The other flat was a good size, more central but the place was more expensive and nowhere near as nice as the Lamerislaan. It was really good to have had the opportunity for two more viewings, so not a waste time by any means.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Pinkster Weekend

Something I didn't plan for is that their bank holiday not the same as the UK and they have more bank holidays. I remember Pinkster weekend of course, I went to many a Pink Pop back in the 90's. I've only missed one day to the bank holiday, which is good as this is also my holiday but next week being a four day week does make trying to get anything out of the estate agents that bit harder.
I've not seen any other places that fit the price range - as in just under the thousand euros, I hear rents are going up so that's no surprise. The one place I have looked at being practically perfect is nice of course, but it's always reassuring to look at more places to compare. I don't know at this stage if we'll be given the one in July when it becomes available, that's the other consideration.
I've been going about my holiday with my ears and eyes as open as possible, there's so many differences and similarities between home and the new home, memories, associations and how much things can change but also stay the same.
As I've cycled around the city, the sights, sounds and smells are all coming back to me. What I've always loved about cycling and especially cycling around Utrecht is how you feel so connected to the world. I feel unencumbered but privileged, life is simple but still full of excitement and wonder. The pace is relaxed but never stays still.
I have to hold my focus and keep at least some faith in the idea that this plan could come together, that in de constructing our normal life in one country and creating something the same but better in a new place is somehow possible and that it will be the 'right' thing to do - as much for me as for the boys. One minute my ego is telling me I'm crazy, the next it's an adventure, one worth at least giving it a shot. It may take another decade to settle into any actual pattern where we are able to sustain ourselves and hopefully thrive. It could be quicker, it may not happen at all. We are at the mercy of the economic gods but we also make a lot of our own luck by doing what we can to be in the right place at the right time.
I noticed when I arrived the first time I was back at the junction at the top of the Amstedamsestraatweg - this strange, unfriendly, traffic filled spot that somehow my mind's eye has made the focal point for my moving, I was moved. Why would my mind picture that spot? - each time I imagine Utrecht, it used the image of that awful intersection full of cars and traffic lights, why there? but it doesn't deter my affection for Utrecht or lessen my determination to live there, as if I've picked the worst spot I can imagine, but still I love the place.
I almost cried as I let myself get present to the fact that after nearly a year of visiting that junction in my head each day, I was actually there, waiting for the lights to change, to get across that busy junction before the lights changed again and another procession of cars goes by.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Life in the sky?

I was relieved on Friday to have booked my first viewing.  The first appointment was for a place that was right at the top of our budget, my gut feeling was not to go in at that level, there were plenty of places at that price, also this one stated it was only suitable for a couple and not for kids so I cancelled the viewing. Another agent emailed me and I rang her back, the place we were interested in had gone but another one I had looked at was available for a viewing. While I was looking a few weeks back I noticed that flats in towerblocks were offering more space for less money and although the obvious thing to do is look for a little house, Leon loves tall buildings, so why not for a period between when we move over to when we may or may not decide to buy something, try living in the sky?
I didn't know the area, and it was as far as I knew miles away from the centre and not really what would suit us. Really just out of curiosity, based on the price and size alone, I thought I'd check it out. I'm very glad I did!
I gave myself an hour or so to ride there, and even with stopping several times to get my bearings, I was just over an hour early, it took me about 20mins to get right across the city and rather than being way way out, it was an easy ride. Tuindorp (garden village) is on the outskirts of town, with lots of flats as well as houses, but it's incredibly green - you can guess that when it was built, I'm guessing the 70's and 80's it was designed in the car era, but there was an emphasis on making an urban environment as green as possible. I arrived there to see the three tower blocks, 10 stories each in a row of three, they looked bright and clean. Good start.

I spotted in the distance what might be a play park so with an hour in hand I decided to check out the area. Down past another towerblock, I was suddenly in countryside, with horses and goats, bird song, flowers and endless green. A city farm, with allotments, the like I've never seen before, more like little gardens with edibles, flowers and little sheds - places to go to contemplate and unwind as much as grow some spuds. A surprise doesn't quite cut it!

I took pictures to show the boys how just round the corner from the flats, there's horses and goats...maybe even sheep!

Then I cycled back towards where I had started and then started to look for some shops. 
I looked around and there in front of the flats, just across a road, the familiar Fish Van, you see them at every shopping centre in the country! and as I walked there, past a cafe, I saw not just a supermarket but a shopping centre with chemist, florist, hairdressers, newsagents etc

I walked right though the bright little shopping centre, maybe 50m long or so, out the other side and felt compelled to ring Toby, to share with him how lovely the area was, we chatted about all things moving.
Then I started to worry about the numbering - all the flats are even numbers and I'd written down 65 luckily I suspected correctly that indeed it was number 56 vijf en zestig or zes en vijftig? The entrance was clean and bright, straight to a lift that went up to the 8th floor and three front doors.
The flat I was looking at was already taken, and being gutted and refurbed but the one next door was also coming up next month so this was going to be the same, if not similar, depending on if they decide the place needs to be renovated too.

It was completely bare, not even a boiler or any kitchen, the rooms looked massive of course, but without any scale derived from furniture, the pictures don't tell very much. The view from the living room is spectacular, the kitchen is big enough for a table and chairs and there isn't a bath - probably the main negative point. 

So all in all a pleasant surprise, getting to the park is not just opening the back door, it does mean using the lift but any self respecting young boy isn't going to object to using a lift several times a day!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Hup Holland

After an invigorating and enjoyable aqua aerobics lesson with Mum, we did the weekly shopping, I snapped a picture in the Albert Hein of a football stadium fashioned from football crates, possibly the next wonder of the world. I don't mind the Dutch obsession with football, or with the colour orange, it's one of my favourite colours in any case, it's a lovely colour, bright, honest and warm. When the boys come over, I know of plenty of friends who can nurture any interest in football they might have that might otherwise get buried by Toby and I.
I managed to get Chantal on the phone Wednesday late, I'm really glad I kept trying as it was indeed the tiredness that was preventing her from ringing me back, not something I'd said or done to upset her. I packed my stuff up and put it in Mum's car, had lunch and walked round to her place - with the arrangement with my mum that she would pick me up a couple of hours later and take me to Mark's place. Just the idea that in the past, I'd turn up at Chantal's place and loose a day there just hanging out, but for now, a couple of hours might be the most she'd have the energy for. I hope this is a phase and it improves again, but who knows? We chatted and she spent time helping me find sites on the web where we would see houses for rent. She has always enjoyed that sort of task and will always do her best to help out. We got through a pot of tea and I tried to distract her from internet searches so we could really just hang out. I think I succeeded pretty much. Just as I thought my mum was about to ring the door, Chantal's Mum and her two girls came through the front door, Gerda and I go back as far as I do with Chantal, we were 15 and 17 when we met nearly 30 years ago. Then my mum appears, so after probably a few decades there we are, both with our mums, kisses and chatter all round. Chantal's daughters are 11 and 15 or 16 now, it seems crazy that Kristie is the same age I was when I met Chantal.
Then as Mum and I left, we bumped into Rob, Chantal's Dad too, how things have changed and stayed the same.
As we drove to Marks I remembered to text him, he'd said 'text me as I might pop out' I thought to myself, so you can put some clothes on more like - one of the perks of living alone and being able to work from home! He texted me back with "shit! I better get dressed!" I know him well :)
I came with a bag of groceries, which wasn't as needed as I thought it might have been but I still managed to cook a nice chorizo pasta and communicate that my stay wouldn't be too much of a burden to him. I am lucky to have a friend in Utrecht where I can stay and complete my recon mission from.
I downloaded Much Ado About Nothing in my bid to introduce him step by step to the Whedonverse (more on that later).

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Mission: find a house

We arrived back at Mum's yesterday, Mum and I drove back on the boat having left at horrible oclock in the morning. The boys waved us off. It was funny being on the outside, I'm usually there watching them waving everybody off. I want to get this to work for them, there's alot of pressure on me, mostly from me alone, to get this bit right.
The game is to find somewhere to live so we can start our lives - them at school, me at work. The school holidays is a long time on the one hand, if we get in quick, we will have to find all manor of ways to entertain them until school starts, if it takes longer, we have at least until the 1st of September to start school.
I've made contact with a few agents, but so far, only one I've managed to actually speak to. The question of being able to qualify based on an income of 52.000 euros is one that, in theory we just about make, but we don't have the peice of paper in Dutch from Dutch employers so I'm working on the basis that expecting to pay twice as much up front should be a reasonable alternative. I don't have reassurance as such, but my gut feeling is it will be down to the landlord.
Its raining in N'gein pretty steadily, I wanted to be at Chantal's today catching up. I've tried various ways to contact her but got no response since speaking to her Mum last week. I didn't quiz her at the time as it all sounded a bit bad and thought that we all were expecting Chantal to contact me and tell me herself what was going on. When that didn't happen, I wasn't sure what to think. I've just rang her parent's house and spoke to her Dad, it seems that as the brain damage grows and changes it is zonking her out and making her sleep all the time. Sounds terrifying, I can't imagine how they cope but I know they do. Rob's going to let Chantal know I'm waiting to hear from her, I guess it's a question of if she's going to be awake for long enough to see me today. At least if I'm back in Holland I can see her more often, maybe even help her in some way with her recovery.
Mum and I are going to Aqua aerobics tomorrow morning, I managed to forget my swimming costume..again.. so, yes bought a tankini - I had one that's fallen apart so I thought at least I'm replacing that with something I do need. I am not intending to buy much else if I can avoid it, this isn't a shopping trip.
I don't have any viewings booked yet but I really hope this guy I spoke to will have something for us for tomorrow afternoon, Mum's going to bring me into Utrecht tomorrow afternoon, so we can, in theory go and look at something together, so far the Chantal plan hasn't panned out but I hope I can begin to reverse the trend.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

First big set back.

Gutted. The training I've done to be a child minder in the UK is worth nothing, I have just 10 hours of official training here. To become a childminder in NL I need 2 years and 850 hours worth (mbo). If I had done two years of full time study, would I have chosen to do it in childminding? I don't have 2 years and I was hoping in 5 years to stop childminding anyway, it's a bit like marathon running, 55 hours a week with multiple children under 8 is not a walk in the park, fun though it is.
This changes a lot. On the upside, the boys don't like be childminding, want the house and me to themselves and are always asking to go to afterschool club which in NL would also accelerate their learning NL. I was planning on running a shop, it's the temp market for me, I will see what I can find in retail, learn what it takes to make a shop work in Utrecht.
This a journey that does have some itinerary but so much has to be down to how things work out. I'm absolutely gutted that I can't continue childminding there. It changes everything, what we take with us (I will have to sell all my resources) and start all over again. My job prospects are all over the place, I'm now a middle aged mother of two in need of work. I have a CV with no clear path, lots of twists and turns and it really is time I committed to something work wise. I like the shop idea, I think it has legs but I am so far away from a coherent strategy at the moment, it's nothing more than a possibility.
One things for sure, faced with the prospect of doing 2 years study to qualify as a childminder, it isn't worth me starting that now, not if I was planning on doing it for only another five years at most anyway. It's fine say, if you are a teacher or nursery worker or something and decide to so childminding for a while but I don't think many people would choose it based on what it pays just on it's own.
Back to trying to find work. The upside is the boys will get to go to afterschool club like they wanted and they won't have to share their breakfast with other kids anymore, which is what they've said they wanted.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The waiting game

A year ago, I looked at what would be best for me and my family and that involved moving us lock stock and barrel to the place that for me was the closest I've ever felt to home, Utrecht, NL. I lived there throughout the 90's, there were ups and downs, highs and lows. Throughout the time I lived there, the happiness I felt just going about my day has never left me. It's a place full of life, constantly moving, mostly on bikes. It's quieter than most cities, much less motor traffic, I miss this.
Being able to ride around rain or shine is there every day, it's like eating or sleeping, without it, life is hard and more complicated.
I started campaigning with many others in the UK to improve the cyclists lot and it may or may not be coming. The important thing is though, it won't come fast enough to be safe for my boys to have the bike as their main form of transportation. I can't turn Ely into Utrecht and it makes more sense to move to Utrecht as that's the life I want for them.
We have the beginnings of a five year plan, the completion of which will be buying a house with a shop in Utrecht where we run an import business from.
Last summer we spent a fortnight living in a friend's house in Utrecht. The idea was to try on Utrecht, see what we thought in the context of making it our home. We all fell in love with the place.
Now we are half a year on and the plan is to move this summer. It's taken this long, mainly because I wanted the kids to finish their school year, the eldest will be finishing Year 2 and changing schools anyway, so it makes a natural breaking point for them to start a new school year in a new country.
Spring is slowly emerging and the plans are forming. I am keen to get things underway, but it's not really going to happen until I'm there; finding a place to live is the first priority, both for the family and for me working from home.
I know my sources for finding a place, timing is going to play a part - I've already seen a place that would be perfect but it's much too early. I have to hope and pray that there's an even better place out there for us and that I will find it exactly when I need it.
I am chomping at the bit to get things prepared, but practically the work needs doing here where we are, paring down our belongings here, working out what will stay and what will go.
I don't know how it's going to pan out - will I be working all summer? will I have the fundamentals of the Childminding set up so I have a couple of families and a good income to start in September? The game goal one is to have a place to live and a way I can be earning and getting the boys to school everyday - that we are at least break even. Toby won't be there all the time, so my ability to get them to school and earn money is the hard part. Hopefully Toby can be in town enough through September that this is relatively smooth. Yes, that seems the best option.
I can't wait to find at least basecamp one for the Joneses, our first place in Utrecht.