Up far too early yet not early enough I sprint from the Gatwick express to the check in desk unwashed in my three piece. It was too late to check in online. 7.19. The gate close is at 7.20. I’ve never missed a flight and I don’t intend to start now. I’m off to Amsterdam and you can’t stop me. Thankfully the lovely woman at check in doesn’t. “Better hurry through security.” She says. Like anyone has any determination during that humiliating ritual of passage. “Disciples, you must remove your shoes and divest yourself of your material possessions as you cross the border. Stand to worship. We see you naked. We look into your very being. What are you concealing? Your possessions will be judged. If we find you wanting you will receive the rubber glove of Doom. Tremble before Apsec the God of Modern Borders.”
The God is merciful to me. He wants nothing of mine. This time. He’ll take his tithe in due course. We go up, we go down, and I’m in The Netherlands. I walk out of the gate hoping to see a man with a card that says my name. No such luck. I check my emails. They’ll reimburse me for a cab. Problem is I’m in a cashflow bottleneck. Sheepishly I wander onto the train with no ticket and stare fascinated out the window, ready with an “Oh so I should have got a ticket BEFORE I boarded? *blinkblink*” “oh my card isn’t working? It must have been blocked by my bank when I traveled. *winning smile* *scope out escape route with peripheral vision* ”
Thankfully nobody says anything. The barriers at Amsterdam Central are open and welcoming. I step out into the sunshine and crowds.
Bikes! Bikes everywhere. And kids on bikes. And kids playing with balls. And kids playing with balls on bikes. And adults playing with bikes and kids. And kids playing with adults and balls. And people walking, talking, running, laughing. We learn from what is normal to the adults we know. People are animatedly talking at bus stops. You get the sense that the citizenry of Amsterdam are not just slowly dissolving into sticky puddles of fat in flickering blue light. Maybe I’ve stumbled into the first day of summer. Or maybe it’s always like this here. Where are the phones? They appear to be for calling people, not for vanishing as soon as there’s no direct stimulus. The sun is hot. Strangers smile at strangers. Blossom falls from the trees.
I reckon it’s all that water. Water connects the whole world. That time when you pissed in the ocean when you were six? Molecules of that are in Australia now. Or can it be my perception shifting in a new place? I look again, seeking the phones, the closed bodies and faces, actively searching for the negative. It’s there, sure enough. But far less than in London I feel. There’s less fear here. Less avoidance. Less displacement. Or is that just me? I always feel most at home when I’m not at home. While I’m musing, a helmetless man drives a scooter the wrong way down working tram tracks. Nobody chases him with a big fine for his own safety.
I was given the choice between “communal housing” and a hotel. Obviously being me I chose communal housing, simply because I wasn’t sure what it meant and hotels can be dull. Turns out I have a lovely room for the night in a flat shared by everyone in the estate. They clubbed together and bought it. 69 of them. I’ve also got the price difference in cash between this room and a hotel room. I didn’t expect that. That means budget, which means tram and explore.
I go into town to see what happens. Maybe I’ll go to a museum. Anywhere where I can mutter facts about Heineken under my breath in a “Dickensian London accent.” Lawks a lordy me old mucker.
After hours of wandering, smiling, muttering “bottom fermented beer”, observing and wondering I sit in a tourist trap terrace bar and watch the world go by as the sun drops down. “Cheers,” says the Aussie next to me clinking a glass with his wife. “We’re in Amsterdam.” Yep. Bring it.