Twenty Years

In August 1998 I thought I would take a chance and move to Holland. Amsterdam. Spend some time in the land of my girlfriend. Good experiment for a few months, maybe a couple of years. Something no twenty-three year old in their right mind would turn down. A chance to live and work in Amsterdam! Amsterdam!

Great thing to do when you’re young. Try something. Nothing to loose. You can always head home afterwards. One of those times where a major decision was made based on a gut feeling, essentially ‘f*ck it, let’s see what happens’…..

I write this as a forty-three year old. Not living in Amsterdam but not far away. The Netherlands has been my home for twenty years this month. I am happy here, that’s clear. Settled, speaking the language, local friends, occasionally wanting the Dutch to win in sports (especially cycling). Home is here.

Of course, not all of those twenty years were easy.  At the start there was the inevitable home sickness. Britain had been home for twenty-two years with an odd year interlude in France. It was what I was used to and where my family and friends were. No matter how exciting somewhere new is there is always the comfort of somewhere ‘old’ in the back of your mind. Especially if you are on your own in a one room apartment in an area that is apparently really hip now but wasn’t then… on a cold night…. after a late shift at work…. where you did not walk so much as slip home from the metro due to the ice… in the dark… in an area that is hip now but then… certainly wasn’t….

Actually the area wasn’t that bad at all. Probably a combination of nerves and unfamiliarity. And that was the main challenge of the move, getting used to something new, different. The Netherlands is an easy country to move to, especially if you’re an English speaker and Britain was not so far away in global terms. It felt a long way away, though, especially when you start to notice the small things. I had never noticed the rolling hills near to the area I was from. They were just part of the background that I grew up in.

Then they’re gone. You notice it.

Then there is the music, television, the ridiculously small glasses of frothy beer, the different humour. The lack of pork pies. Going shopping and not knowing where to find the things you usually find.

Such lists can become endless and perhaps endlessly superficial.

You miss the music from the UK? Buy a CD! Small glass of beer a problem? Order a big one! Can’t find things in the shops? Look a little harder. With the great support of my partner (girlfriend suddenly sounded a little trivial) I could get through.

In the end, time is the big test. If the initial difficulties are still there after five years it is perhaps time to consider if you are doing the right thing. After five years, I had bought a house and had passed language certifications for Dutch.

For me, five years marked a transition. One where I knew my life was in Holland. Now when I go back to the UK it is a great visit but it doesn’t feel like home. Not in the sense that I feel uncomfortable. Just different. Still so many family and friends and so many memories which always make it worthwhile.

Perhaps important for me to say in these somewhere emotive times is that, if I look back on the last twenty years, it has been something very enriching to be able to call two countries home. I have read some disparaging comments and articles on the dread social media (or anti-social media, perhaps) about people such as me ‘turning their back on Britain’, sometimes from elected politicians.

Cr*p.

All comments like that can do is make a warm feeling about your homeland a little colder. I will not go in to politics here, wounds are easy to open in this modern world where political discussion does not seem to exist beyond childish soundbites. I see nothing wrong with having effectively two homes, both of which are important to me and which have shaped me.

And, in spite of the stupid words of a minority, I retain a warm feeling when I visit the UK. Family, friends…. so many great things. Memories. And pork pies. And Crunchies. Ale at room temperature. Going for a walk around those hills. It’s like seeing an old friend for a good catch-up. Someone you have not seen for a long time but who is still very important.

And then I go home , smiling.

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