Saturday, 30 October 2010

2 poems and a less cultural performance

I’ve just realised that it’s been like over two weeks since I blogged last, apologies if I have any avid readers! I know this blog is about Holland, but I want to tell you about my recent trip to France to visit a good friend (who wishes to remain anonymous...)

Thinking that the easiest method of transport would be plane, I chose to fly there but had a minor running at the airport, which I describe below in a poem:

The 1 bag, 10kg of handluggage Ryanair iron rule:

Enough to make an underprepared, underpressure passenger cry, explete, stamp, collapse, slump, give-up, pay and give-in

But I am no fool and with my quick thinking, my hopes of a true economy flight not sinking

With buyoncy and cunning, I am still in the running for escaping the undemocratic and bloody annoying baggage charge with my systematic, loop-holing-logic repacking.

I’m 2 kilos over the allowance and must eject the extra weight or pay 35 euros (more than my quasi bargain flight!) for my 2-bags-of-sugar’s worth of extra freight.

Not feeling sweet, I recall the contents of my bag, consider what of my swag I can discard, but it occurs to me and should do to the airline too, that I haven’t packed items for which I have no regard like a packing retard – if this was the case I wouldn’t have overloaded my case, what a waste of space that would be and my intention is clearly to travel light otherwise I’d have checked in a larger bag for the flight, but this logic is out of sight to Ryanair who don’t want to play fair and should turn on the lights rather than remain aloof to the truth that I’ve packed what I need and won’t with any heed throw away thoughtfully selected paraphernalia and neither will I pay an excess fee, it is an outrage that my baggage should cost more than me, too uncanny to savour, but I refuse to exclude a single item and conclude with defiance that I won’t be done-over by the pseudo cheap way to travel and a plan I unravel...

With a little rejiggle, rewiggle, reshuffle, unshuffle, rearrange, realign, redesign, remix and redistribution of my luggage I can reduce Ryanair’s money-grabbing, back-stabbing 10kg 1 bag, not so genius iron rule to fluff and stuff my pockets! A puff of victorious triumph and out comes the ipod, the phone, the purse, the make-up bag and into the receptacles of my attire.

I reapproach but am reproached, still 800g over the allowance, but there’ll be no concedence or unquestioning obedience to their ridiculous enraging policy of folly.

I walk away and shove my gloves into another aclove in my jacket, take out my scarf and hat and 600g of biscuits, too delicious to throw I hide them in my hat which goes under my arm and wrapped in the aforesaid scarf, a secret niche and return to the dreaded scales with a lighter bag, but heavier person, pockets more affected by gravity than at the start of this mission, but a cavity in their bizarre regime means I defy the system and with no emission proceed to the gate and as quickly as I loaded my person simply return the freight of my disallowed extra weight back into my case and it weighs as before when they said, ‘Get rid of 2 kilos or pay’ and I thought


And sabbotaged Ryanair’s pathetic, frustrating, sense-abating 1 bag, 10kg iron rule which presumably aims to moderate the overall weight of baggage + people taken on board, but their rationale must be flawed and ignored in so far as although my bag now lighter, I was a blighter and reassigned my excess stuff to my clothings’ storage sollutions with a resolution not to be defied by, but instead to undermine Ryanair’s stupid rule, which on a less-cunning day might well have made me cry.

No frills = nonsense and if we’re going to be pedants then thinner people should have a larger luggage allocation on their way to vacation – seems like a deal - with less load round their middle, that would make more sense, and save the healthy expense, perhaps raising an eye-brow of the obese-people-pleasers, but then it might just be easier if we all quit the aueronautical bargain hunts, think about the planet (as well as our figure) and reduce our carbon foot prints; not making reality of our dreams of jetting off on the rainy days or we could just do it properly and fly with good honest British Airways.

I soon got over the annoyance of airline pedantry and was greeted by my wonderful friend. She’s living in France to learn the language and as part of her language school’s scheme is living with a family there to help her more quickly progress. I too was to be a visitor in this house for the week, a little awkard considering I couldn’t speak to any of them (if my Dutch is bad, my French is worse!) and felt at times like an intruder, but saying that they were a lovely family. My friend and I enjoyed a lovely few days together, in the morning she would go off to school and I would sit trying to learn Dutch scribbling thoughts and eating pastries – I have another poem coming up dedicated to these blissful mornings! And in the afternoons we spent time at the beach, wondering around the city and just generally catching up on all the things we’ve missed over the last 2 months of being apart. At first I felt rather sophisticated, two friends away from home, both living in foreign countries, both proud possesors of a BA from King’s College London, but then came Saturday nigh, a joust to knock me off my high horse.

Eighteen year old Nelson, one of the boys in the family we were staying with invited us to go clubbing with him, describing the three rooms of some huge club out of town: one minimal tech, one drum n’ bass and one apparently for Lady Gaga! I was stoked, Leiden knows nothing about nightlife and I’d been craving a good night out for ages - so what if the guy taking us was young enough to be my son (well not quite)! We headed into town with him, bought some beverages for pre-drinking at his friend’s house (our drink of choice: wine, because we’re so cosmopolitan) and the night began. I had been a little apprehensive about going to his friend’s house, thinking I was way beyond school-boy gatherings, but turns out there were just three other girls and a boy there, all of whom seemed very pleasant and mature, not that I understood much of what was said.

Maybe it was the comfort of being around a friend that knows me as well as anyone in the world and I let my barriers down; or maybe because I wasn’t exercising my mouth as much as I usually would in social situations, dibilitated by my lack of French mastery, that I kept sipping on my wine; refilling my emtpy glass and then sipping some more. I switched to Desparados and back to wine (I hear you scream, don’t mix the grape and the grain!). Feeling more drunk than I have been since I was like thirteen we headed out and I wondered why I didn’t do this more often – I was all floaty and confidently talking at the French guys despite their inability to understand me. My friend and I headed to the bus stop with them and I was arm in arm with Nelson, loving the reliving on my youth, as he bragged about his eighteen-year-old- bachelor lifestyle and made me promise I would return to visit him one day. Next thing we’re on the bus with hoards more energetic French school students all dolled up, drunk and ready to go. Julian a member of our little gang, thrusts a bottle of lime green vodka emulsion at me saying “drink Naomi, drink”. “No thanks Julian” thinking I transcend such teenage tomfoolery. My friend takes a swig and the bottle reappears under my nose, “drink, drink”. My resolve crumbles and I take a big swig and giggle like an idiot. I am wasted, but still happy. The bus journey goes on forever and involves bumps and corners which I may have exaggerated in my memory. My friend is swinging her head around heavily whilst holding onto the bus pole and I think, ‘Oh no, she’s going to really embarras us’. The gaggle of French youths are babbling away excitedly as we make our joint venture to the superclub on the otherside of town. Our crew, other than my friend are playing it quite cool, chatting, laughing, getting psyched up for the night with more sips of yellow stuff from the plastic bottle, whilst I am starting to feel very light-headed and dreamy, zoning out of the numerous buzz of conversations I don’t comprehend. With another glance at my friend the only one on the bus who speaks my language, and a concern that she really is about to do something stupid; I pass out slumping down the bus window and onto the floor, before vomitting everywhere. I hear shrieks, French ‘yuks’ and am aware of everyone edging away from me, as I feel my sick stickying my face and running into my hair. I am in the south of France, lying on the floor of a bus sardined full with eighteen year olds, passed-out helplessly massaged by my my own vomit: smooth. Turns out I do not condescend this teenage past-time. I don’t remember much more than flickers after this. Dragged off the bus against my will. BLANK. Lying on a curb with my friend slapping my face. BLANK. Being pulled into a seated position. BLANK. Puking. BLANK. Puking some more. BLANK ‘Naomi, Naomi are you OK?’ BLANK. ‘Naomi, can you hear me?’BLANK Puking BLANK Puking and ... you get the picture. Next thing I know Nelson has called his mum and she drives 50 minutes accross the city to rescue me. In the meantime, my friend who was as I suspected apparently also pretty past it, is sick (she blames it on the smell of mine – whatever!). Heroically Nelson’s mum manages to get a very stubborn comotozed masquerade of myself into her car before I pass out again. The long journey home is a blip in my memory and I only become conscious again as she undresses me and tucks me up in bed.

I sleep like a dead weight until 2pm the next day and wake up as the snippets of memory from the night come rushing into my mind. Oh no. How embarrassing. That is so not me. I can’t believe Nelson’s mum had to come and rescue me at 1am – I don’t even know her, she’s going to think I’m always like this, but I’m not. My friend is going to be so annoyed at me. We were the older ones going out with eighteen year olds, we should have known better. Not so sophisticated. Turns out thet only place your BA will get you is into the gutter. What on earth was I thinking? I touch my face and feel dried puke and try to orientate myself before taking a well-needed shower, drinking the herbal tea that Nelson’s mum has prepared and consoling with my friend our joint embarrasment.

Why do I share this with you? Well so you can all laugh at my expense, but also because I’m human and I do stupid things like the next person. Sometimes I can be so self-righteous, thinking I am beyond drunken folly, but I’m not. I’ve been in Leiden for like 2 months with people all around me getting smashed, but thinking I’m not like that! Sunday morning was truly humbling, having to face Nelson, (probably wishing he’d never volunteered to take two twenty-somethings out with him and his mates, doing more damage than good to his street cred) and his mum, but also Jesus. As I lay in bed with only my terrible hang over for comfort, I prayed, God I’m sorry for being an idiot. And I just felt Him remind me, that it’s not about my behaviour and that He knows I’m an idiot and that I’m gonna do stupid stuff from time to time, but He loves me all the same – this Christian thing is not about keeping Him sweet. It’s funny cause I’ve been reading in Judges (a book in the Bible) about God’s people messing up and Him always redeeming them. I’m glad He’s the God of the screw ups and that I don’t have to be all holy and religious. I’m also grateful that other than receiving a terrivle hangover I was reminded that the reason that I don’t normally get wasted is not because I have a duty to keep God happy, but because it sucks. Despite the brevity of feeling like I could fly, I hated not being in control, definately didn’t enjoy being humiliated infront of youngsters I thought I superseded and an achey chest from persistant vommitting for three days after wasn’t good either, not to mention missing out on a night of dancing to drum n’ bass nutrients, or the wasted mongy next day in bed ... Jesus knows what’s best for me. Can I just say for the record that I LOVE red wine in moderation - that way you enjoy its silky smoothness slipping down and not its acidic burn on the way back up!

Anyway I’d like to end on a sweeter note by sharing another poem inspired by my delicious mornings spent in French cafes:

Boulangerie, boulangerie

How that word does speak to me

Not so much the satisfying combination of syllables

But that promise which your names stands for –

Your salivatable goods within.

Your pan eux chocolat calls to me

Tickling my nostrils as I try to walk past

No chance, as I glance

You’re on my mind and I want you in my mouth

That chocolatey scent is foreplay to me

And I reason that making a transaction for you would be a euro well spent

I anticipate the warmth in my hands

As I walk with you to a bench

All the while the delicious stench

Fueling my impatience

And I can’t wait – I will bite you

And enjoy you whilst still in motion

And your texture, your flavour, your buttery flakes are a love potion to me

Putting me under your edible, erotic spell

It’s that smell that takes me to some place else

That only an invasive sewage-or-similar aroma could call me back from

You’re the little black dress of pastries

Classic, reasonably-priced and guaranteed to be tasty

Giving me everything I need and yet

Your seduction is flailing, failing, dimming

By the radiance of the macaroons beside you.

They’re exciting, inviting, sense-stimulating

Promising the sweet peak of oral pleasure

The array of colours representative of exotic flavours

An assortment like a tapas of puddings: perfect

Is it my greed that I lust for more than one taste?

I don’t just want my fill, I want the thrill of variety

The spice of life and I feel

That the macaroons will give it to me.

But then I catch a glimpse of the chocolate tart

And I know what it is to want to start my life with the one

You’re casketed with a protective pastry case

Not giving away to much too soon, chaste

An outer shell to conqueor

(You are driving me bonkers)

I will pursue you and when I’ve undone you

I know we’ll have a richness of bliss

With your warm chocolatey kiss

And a depth of indulgence that makes for a romance

That tingles right down to the core of me.

Raspberry and almond brioche, raspberry and almond brioche

I thought I had everything I desired, but it’s not enough

You didn’t appear appealing at first

But I caught a glimpse and developed a thirst

For your hidden sticky red suprise

The sweet raspberry red syrrup within

Layers of nutty wholeness

And a burst of berry boldness

Adding zing to our growing passion

You’re the plane Jane I hadn’t noticed before

I repent, once I start I always want more.

Boulangerie, boulangerie

How that word causes problems for me

You’ve thrown me into confusion

You offer so much

But it’s not that easy to choose from you

I’d hate to objectify your honest apple pie

Only to satisfy my current desire, so flippant

When tomorrow reveals my lack of commitmant

As I struggle to make up my mind.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Anecdotes and Secrets

Haha, so did I hear that you wanted a crazy Dutch anecdote? Well I've got a corker! So you know I've mentioned a few times how fond I am of this rowing malarkey, I took it one step further this Saturday... Having rowed last week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (and boy did my muscles know about it) I was asked by one of the board members as I went to fill in some forms if I was coming on Saturday. "Sorry, what's on Saturday I ignorantly replied?" to which I was told that there was an official inauguration day, which due to my ever-inadequate/non-existent Dutch, had escaped my knowledge. "You must come" they told me, "it's gonna be a lot of fun, we'll send you an email with the details". So I receive the email on Friday morning and much to my horror read:

Normally you wouldn't get this much information ... but our experience is that this day can be very confusing for non-dutch ... So let me explain a bit ... This is designed to let our members grow close to eachother, and to make people feel like they have achieved something ... There will be some screaming, and other activities that can scare you (especially when you don't understand whats happening). But keep in mind that it's all a big joke, and that its fun to do.

Flippin' great, this all sounds like it might be a bit of a laugh if you had friends to go with and people to console you/egg you on, but billy no-mates over here has to brave it alone. On Saturday morning I wake up early, wanting but a rowing-free day to catch up on washing (a habit I need to get into), tidying my room, and oh yeah, work for that MA thing I'm doing, but I drag myself out of bed and head off to the rowing club house complete with clothes that I don't mind getting dirty ...

The morning activities were physically challenging, but in no way mortifying, the worst for which I had feared. A boat race in fancy dress (my boat penciled on moustaches and wore our jumpers as capes, in a lousy attempt at being a plurality of Zoros) then some time to chill out and a rumour of a 5km run, which foolishly I doubted. Sure enough the relaxation shriveled up, when the powers that be told us, that not only was the rumour true, but that it was a race. Occasionally I go running and my stamina is not atrocious thanks to a good mate (Brov - you know who you are). Yes I can do this, I thought. So all 70 of us set out together, boys and girls, we have to run the length of the river we normally row, down to the windmill and back. Lots of people start off at a speed I know they will not endure and I plod along like a robust donkey. But can I just say people, that I not only came 5th out of all the girls (there was about 3o behind me) but I also beat at least 1/4 of the boys, finishing in just over 27 minutes and it felt goood - well it didn't actually I was a terrible red in the face and shaking for ages after, but I knew that I had worked damn hard and that felt good in a painstaking-I've-achieved-something kind of way. After a short break, we then took on our next challenge. The rowing machines were brought outside and we were split into 'boats' of four: the challenge to row 2km between us as fast as we could in a race against the other teams, 500m each. Now this, at the best of times, as I found out fresh-faced on Friday morning is tough, but imagine this after a boat race and 5km run which your body is still in recovery mode from ... glad your in the frame of mind. Well I did fall off the rowing machine at the end of my stint, but I'd worked bloody hard and didn't feel at all inadequate to the gaggle of Dutch peers. We then all get sat around for the presentation of awards from the running race. After the presentations, we unsuspectingly get hosed down and water-bombed by our superiors. A massive water fight ensues, which results in everyone jumping into the river - it's freezing and there are yucky weeds at the bottom, but jumping in hand in hand with a girl (yey! - I have a friend) along with the 70 or so others at the culmination of this epic water fight is communally liberating, even though I was now stood with wet knickers, a see-through white t-shirt and blue bra -oops! Despite exhaustion, I was actually having fun. People were talking to me and my conversations were beginning to go beyond what I studied and whether I was, like my accent suggested, from Britain. I finally even bucked up the courage to shower naked with the other beautiful girls of all different shapes and sizes - that too gave me a strange sense of relief and more feeling of achievement than my personal 5km victory. What had I been dreading?

Well if the sport-enthusiasts' day programme was for kittens, the evening was for the big cats. After eating some dinner and stocking up on some drained energy, we get frog-marched into the club house, which has had its windows blacked out. The girls are ordered to move all of their belongings into the boys' changing rooms and the last chance to go to the toilet is announced. After conforming to these instructions we are shut in the clubhouse, with strict instructions not to peek outside (all this is translated for me, by a guy who actually wants to talk to me). In the interim before the activities commence, he asks if we have this in the UK. I tell him that we have sports clubs and initiations and he then explains that Asopos de Vliet is not just a sports team, but a student society. That might not sound shocking to you England-dwellers, but as I've learned in Holland, their societies are allusive of American fraternities/sororities and are closed, cliquey communities. I've been fascinated by this alien concept ever since observing the ominous 'Minerva' frat flags hanging from eerie looking buildings around Leiden and here's me unknowingly joining my own! When I signed up for this I was told that we could just do it for fun, on a non-committal basis (even though it has all gone to my head a bit) yeah, whatever. The same boy doing the translating for me, asks me if I'm scared. "Yes" I nervously giggle. "It'll be alright" he says, "We're all in it together and it's not like they are going to hurt us. I just don't want to throw up!" As he says this, I'm starting to wish that I'd stuck to the initial plan and chickened out to 'go and do work' after dinner, but oh no, curiosity kills the cat. Anyway, as much as I would love to recall every last detail to you, your time will probably not allow, so let me gloss over the next few hours in little depth. We are in the clubhouse for approximately 2 hours and tension is slowly bubbling up to overflow as every 15 minutes or so, 10 people's names are read and they leave the room not to return. Whilst the rest of us nervously wonder what fate awaits them and soon enough ourselves, we have to sing a Dutch nursery rhyme repetitively and when the board grow tired of making us do this, random people are selected to share stories from the front (I deduce not really understanding what is going on) and then we are made to line dance. Finally after these tiresome and confusing activities, my name is called and I sheepishly follow the other 7 out of the room. We are the penultimate group to undergo the impending...

Two guys shout in Dutch at us to get into line. Not understanding a word they say, I observe the others and quickly scuffle to follow suit. They proceed to bombard us with instructions at us. I giggle and say, "Excuse me, but I don't understand"
"Oh Engels" he sighs and then translates, "you don't speak unless spoken to and when spoken to, you reply 'YES SIR'"
"Thanks" I mutter.
"No you say ..."
I get it suddenly and interrupt, "YES SIR"
He nods, I comprehend and we are ready to continue. We march in a line with our hands on the person in front's shoulders. We go around obstacles and every time a car puts us in the spotlight we wave at them like idiots, part of the intended humiliation I guess. After walking backwards in unison for a while, we are taken around a corner and have to do star jumps into squats 10 times over. The whole time I am concerned that my jeans that are far too loose might expose my bottom to the unfortunate person behind me. Builders bums do not translate well in any country I assume. After this, we are instructed to get into girl-boy formation and hold hands with our partner, before we are guided round another corner. The elaborate drama is starting to invade reality. Around the corner and up to our left is a steep embankment and a huge plastic sheet. At the top are more of our Aposos de Vliet (the name of the rowing society) superiors like dark shadows and yet we are the puppets. One of them hollers down at us aggressive instructions, which our captors realise I don't understand and request that they translate for me. He summarises as follows: "We're up here and that means we're everything, you're down there and that means you're nothing. The aim is for you to get yourselves up here and to get us down there. Now, COME AND F***ING GET US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" My partner and I are shoved - a prompt that we should be the first pair and we run up the slope, which is slippery, sludgy filth from the previous groups who earlier endeavoured to succeed this challenge. We get 3/4 of the way up and I am feeling like it's not so bad, when in unison big black buckets are forcefully upturned and the contents of which projectile towards us. I am sure I have a face full of curry and God only knows what else. Mayonnaise, flour, yoghurt, ketchup. And then a whole bucket of soapy water. It's on my upper lip, in my hair, it stinks and then they physically launch on us, rugby tackling us down the sloppy slope, sending us flying off the end of the plastic sheet to toboggan through the mud to the bottom ... I am in the sort of pain that makes you feel alive and smile in relief.

The other pairs take their turn, but none of us escape our dirty baptism. Next we are ushered on, but rather than walk we must run (through sewage) and then frog hop into squats (which would be bad enough in dry clothes, without a day's physical exertion under our belts, but now my jeans are falling down more than before and my whole body is damp and sticky with yuk. We are instructed to count in unison 'een, twee, drie, vier' as we walk along. I feel silly, but giggle as we go along at the hilarity of the situation - maybe this would be scary if I was dutch, but I question what was to fear, the worst is over I am sure. Our kidnappers, catch me laughing and fiercely warn that this is just the warm up act. I doubt this and laugh more heartily, but they aren't lying...

We are forced into a room which would be pitch back were it not for a few flickering candles. The girls changing rooms have been transformed into a fictitious prison wherein reside the freshers that have undergone the torture before us (I did wonder where they had gone) and they are buzzing and quacking all at the same time - sounds comical - but is actually nerve-invoking. (Try it some time, if you should ever be with 30+ mates up for a social scare experiment!) As we enter, a guy definitely compensating for something shouts, "TEMPO, TEMPO, TEMPO, TEMPO" as we run and get down on our knees with our faces to the wall. He continues with his scare tactics for about 10 minutes and I don't know what's being said, all I know is that I must remain still and not draw attention to myself - I know it's all a drama, but I do not want to be shouted at in the dark by a man I cannot understand. He chucks some water over the guy next to me for wearing a hat and then I think demands something like "Who do you live for?" in Dutch, to which my group responds, "APOSOS SIR" and I hastily mimic. We are made to do press-ups in the dark and then released to create the whole quack, buzzing symphony for the last group to come through and the ritual begins again. Finally the lights flick on and I assume we've finished the initiation. But we haven't ...

I would love to walk you through every detail, but I simply do not have the energy to relive/write it down. In brief, two hours pass in the changing rooms. To get the general flavour - there are 70 of us sardined in, each covered in curry, mayonnaise, water, sweat, mud and other delightful liquids - there is a stench and a mist of exhaustion. We are given a 30 minute low-down on the unwritten rules of the society (which when I requested later in an email, due to incomprehensibility, and was refused). There is then an hour clinic, teaching us all the anti-every-dutch-rowing-club-bar-aposos songs. This activity would be more fun if I had the gusto, and ability to understand them. But it goes on and on and on and ... Names start to get called out and people leave the room in groups again for the next stage. In the meantime we are 'entertained' by the duo who had done the shouting in the dark, who with the lights on are less scary and unsure whether they are in a stand-up comedy or Walk the Line, like angry, cockish, dissatisfied prison-officers they occasionally scream at us and launch cups of cold water over our already damp and cold, dirty bodies. After the torture of discomfort and confusion of bombardment by a foreign angry tongue, my name is finally called out and I follow the others.

We are blindfolded with a smelly tea-towel and thrust into the cold October night's air (it is approximately 11.30pm, although I confess I feel as if I've been in a time-vacuum). Of course the blindfold is highly disadvantageous for me, no longer able to mimic the others' behaviour; I can now neither understand the instructions audibly nor visibly. I convey this and an occasional bitty translation is given - the first of which is "On your knees". Shortly after, the dreaded words, "Open your mouth" are uttered. In goes a spoon, of what tastes remarkably like human vomit, chunky and acidic. I want to hurl and skew my hidden face in disgust. God I had no ideas the places you were gonna take me when I agreed to come to Holland. We have to do mock rowing on the concrete floor, which is not at all reminiscent of childhood play, as I awkwardly end up in the guy behind me's crotch. On the second request to open my mouth, a table spoon of flour is shoved in. I hurl and dribble it down my front, all the time getting, colder, dizzier, more exhausted and wondering what will be next. Bewildered and really on the brink of break down I continue. How bad can it be? I remember the boy's words from earlier - "they're not going to hurt us". I am grabbed and pushed along to join the rest of the group, we pubescently wander around for a bit, losing footing and momentum, with the backing track of aggressive imperatives. Someone mutters at me in dutch, not recognising that I still have no idea what he's saying to me. I feel terrible. We are once again told to kneel down and open our mouths. This time it's a pleasant surprise - some kind of cinnamon delicacy with chilli sauce - apparently prematurely, I stand back up. Someone yells with hurricane force at me and I burst into tears. He is rebuked, "She's English, you idiot"
"Sorry, he mutters, I meant you have to kneel back down". My tears flow freely and I start viciously shivering. An unidentified voice asks if I'm OK. "No" I mumble. I am ignored, but continue to shiver. I feel as though I might faint, absolutely exhausted, nauseas, freezing, exasperated and baffled by the events of the day. Eventually they realise that I am not OK and after much desperate persuasion, I am unblindfolded and permitted to go and take a warm shower. One of the coaches intercedes as I head back to resuscitate myself. "Where are you going? Are you sure you can't finish up? It's just your group are nearly finished? Only 10 minutes more and I'd hate for you to miss out on the last station. It will be really fun for you." Thankfully I convince her, that I couldn't care less. Turns out her idea of fun is (can you believe) getting pushed, blindfolded into the river. Yes that's right folks, they pushed my poor blindfolded peers into freezing water after everything their bodies had been subjected to that day. I think I actually would have passed out with the icy, wet shock of a midnight plunge.

They judge that as a hurdle enough to get over to earn one's entry into the society and the last part of the initiation, which I was able to rejoin, was going before the board, regally clad in their Aposos de Vliet uniforms, with oars criss-crossed behind them and a huge flag, like a life-sized breathing crest. We sing the club anthem, sign membership papers, are awarded with a certificate, official club scarf and shot some gym. Success. We are members...

This is all true, I kid you not. That was how I spent this Saturday. Somehow I am still alive. But I did it, I got through, initiated. I know I sound like a wimp, with the whole crying thing, I knew it wasn't real, I was just so confused, so do excuse me for that bit and concentrate on my victory would you. I have been laughing to myself ever since, like you do at an incoherent nightmare that consumed you at the time, that I took it so seriously. Since Saturday I have warn my amazingly 'ra' scarf with pride and honour and today as I cycled to uni actually got nodded at by someone in the same scarf I had never seen before. I am in some weird, close-knit community. Recently I have been mulling over prophecies (promises and picture from God for my life) that people have given me and I remembered that someone felt I would fit into Holland in ways that I would never have imagined. Let me tell you, that Aposos de Vliet is one of those ways. Hopefully the initiation day is not one of those top secrets that I will get ejected immediately for sharing with you all.