The rest is silence #MH17

Today is a day of national mourning back in The Netherlands: the first one in 52 years, after one of our longest serving monarchs died. The crash of the MH17 has shaken the world and taken 298 lives of which 193 Dutch ones. The tragedy during summer holidays means that whole families were wiped away with one press of a button.

A few weeks ago, we united in orange watching all 23 of our best footballers compete for the World Cup. Millions of us screamed at our screens in living rooms, pubs and communal greens: we witnessed men fly, score, win and finally succumb – only rise again to bronze glory.

United as we were in expectation, hope and celebration, this has been transformed into collective grief. 193 people: in a small country such as The Netherlands, it means you know someone who knows someone on that flight.

10530886_10152178534526765_1868105408882735664_nThe reactionary outcry about politics and alliances has only been heard outside of the borders. The response from the Dutch government has been called careful and measured, with articles alluding to the country’s strong ties with Russia. Yes. True. Yet we have all seen the result of pointing guns, gung-ho sans evidence… Not that we have the guns…

Our allies with their own agendas seem keen to lend us a hand but they can’t make a move until we move. Is it surprising that The Netherlands is seemingly still?  I imagine that the country in itself feels sixteen million times over that what I try to express, unscathed and a North Sea away. For them there is no war-mongering and terrorism threat on the front-pages: just shock and silence.

Tomorrow evening I will land at the same airport that today welcomed back the first bodies of flight MH17. The timing is coincidental but at this time of national grief, I cannot think of a better place to be than home.

London Life

I’m writing this from a Starbucks, drinking tea of course, after having met up with a new-found friend whose show I am to see at the Soho theatre tonight. This morning I went to work by Tube, instead of bicycle because I had to go out after. Today was a half-day (to theoretically accommodate the writing-dream) but really is there such a thing as a half-day; by midday I had resigned myself to the workload and went for lunch (mistakenly getting an egg-noodle broth instead of rice noodles, the latter being superior, as we all know) before staying two more hours trying to get stuff done.

When I walked out of the office, I made my way to Soho. Walked past the squares with their stately homes and houses, the tea rooms, the theatres, the cinemas, the cocktail bars. I bought an ice cream, in my favourite place where they don’t use scoops but turn your flavour choices into ice cream roses. I sat outside and watched the world go by: lovers, colleagues, tourists making their way over the cobble stones. Friday afternoon, early evening giddiness in the air. Hotel terraces are packed with wine-drinking ladies in power-dresses, men with the top button of their collar undone: the relaxation and expectation of the weekend.

Called a friend to see if she was interested in joining me for the performance but she had plans but pointed me in the direction of someone else who might be interested before inviting me to a party later tonight. We agreed to stay in touch and play it by ear. One text message later and I got myself some company to see the show.

I made my way to our meeting place, an Italian coffee bar; checked Facebook on my phone and saw he was running late. Ordered an amazing coffee and sat down to write a postcard. Sipping my amazing coffee, I sat by the window by myself: once again looking at the people passing by. My new friend arrived and we moved because the music was too loud to talk.

When we sat down, we spoke about performing, about writing, about creativity and parental expectations. We talked about siblings, about travel, about feedback, about the importance of deadlines and moving on.

He has left to prepare for his show and the barrista tells me that they don’t close til 10pm. So I stay and wait, I stay and write, I stay and marvel at my London life.

The Correct Utilisation of the Bicycle Bell

After a month’s break from this blog and running ( 26.2miles really was a long run…) I break the silence as an urgent matter has exposed itself. During these lovely summerdays (yes, I am making a note of this in case I ever look back on my London years and remember them drenched in rain…) I have been taking my bike to work. I am very lucky because most of my route to the office runs in fact past the canal and is not shared with cars. It is however shared with pedestrians, kids on scooters, dog-walkers, wheelchair-riders and canal pub drinkers.

Cyclist, we have one, one!, ‘weapon’ in our arsenal: this is the Bicycle Bell. It looks like this:Bike bell 1

Or this:

Bike bell 2

The sound it makes isn’t very loud but when travelling down a quite road or say, hey crazy example canal towpath, it would be ideal. Now over the last few weeks, I have noted with great astonishment that the average Londoner does not know how to operate the bell. So here a short essay on The Correct Utilisation of the Bicycle Bell.

The purpose of the bell.
The classic purpose of the bicycle bell is to let other roadusers know you are there and you want to over-take them. Note: this is over-take, not under-take! If we ride on the right, you over-take on the left, if we ride on the left, over-take on the right. Road rules still apply when you are a cyclist! If you ring the bell I move further left to let you pass – if you try to undertake me, we might both end up in the canal and nobody is a winner.

The adapted purpose of the bell around the towpath is to let people know you are about to go underneath a bridge. Especially if the bridge is on a corner, it is hard to see if there is oncoming traffic and the path is narrow. Cyclists, this might surprise you but BOTH sides use this method! Which means: you don’t only ring your bell like mad while you speed around the corner, you have to listen for other bells. If it sounds ‘echoey’ – you know, like a sound made underneath a bridge – then for the love of God, WAIT before proceeding to cycle on. We might collide, both end up in the canal and nobody is a winner.

It is a little tricky but generally speaking: you anticipate. Example: you are on top of a slope, about to ride down and you see a lovely old lady walking her dog. She is walking away from the slope with her back turned to you. Do you:
A) Ring the bell when you are right behind her, so you all get in a panic and a fluster trying to coordinate dog, lead and bike.
B) Ring the bell as you spot her, so she has time to move.
C) Not ring your bell at all because you don’t want to cause a fuss, even though this mean you nearly ride over her dog and scare her into the water.

A and C are remarkably common… So in conclusion: dear London cyclists, if you feel very British and shy about using your bike-bell, try saying ‘thank you’ when someone moves over. That should balance things out.

Actions Not Money (Marathon)

Dear Reader, I need your help – not your money. Let that be the disclaimer for this post.

FxCam_1398697567878It seemed such a good idea at the time: after running three ‘halves’ to run a whole marathon this year. Yep that is right, the whole 42km or 26.2 miles. Several reasons for it, the one just mentioned, the big birthday coming up and mayhaps a drunken wager that should I finish the race (IT IS NOT A RACE) that one of my darling friend would stop smoking… Were I a cruel person, I would name and shame this person but let’s just call him “Hans vd Eertwegh”. As it happens, “Hans vd Eertwegh” is going to be a first time dad this year, just to crank the pressure up for healthy resolutions.

Anyhoot, the marathon is three weeks. As I am not a natural runner, I have been training my arse off (or on to be exact, the legs from hips to calves have never been in this condition, tell you that much.) I added weight sessions to my running so my legs would be able to carry me the distance. It has been tough, there were nights that my whole body was tired and in pain. I have experienced that state beyond ‘hangry’ (angry hunger) called desperation. When after a work-out I forgot my debit card at home and I couldn’t buy food, I nearly cried. I have gotten up at 6am to get a run in before work, I have speed changed home to get a run in between shifts, I am beyond pasta… If there is anything I can take away from this challenge it is: never again.

Taken 2min ago - with high hopes...
Taken 2min ago – with high hopes…

Two weeks ago during a long run, misfortune struck and my right knee stopped working with me.  After a virtual consultation with an old school friend turned sports-physiotherapist, I have been trying to keep training. However there is no denying, it is going to be hard as the knee is not well. The leg is not pain free after my last run (25km on Sunday) and though I am taking it easy, I am simultaneously worried about my progress. This is where you come in: I decided not to run for a charity because it is up to you to be charitable. However I need your help and support: I won’t be pain free, there are no pacers (people who set the pace and who you can blindly follow to keep on track) and according to a weird law in Scotland, I am not allowed an MP3-player… Screen shot 2014-05-01 at 16.42.52 This is going to be a mental challenge if ever there was one. So I found this website called DoNation, where I can ask for sponsorship not in money but in actions for a better environment. No tree-hugging as such either, you can choose a challenge that suit you and your life-style: recycle more, turn your computer off, take the stairs, quit smoking… My aim is to get a list of 26 challenge, one for every mile I run – I’ll pretend the person who pledged it, is running with me so I won’t run alone.

Please will you help me out? It is all fun and games now but when the bullheadedness runs out by mile 17: I will be forever grateful. You can find my page by clicking here. 

With love.

It’s a Good Friday…

For nearly a month, my friends and I have started our own take on #100happydays in a little Whatsapp group. The initial concept has its own website here but in a nutshell: find something that brings you happiness every day for 100 days. As we share our happy moment with the group every day, we become more aware of the little things in life. Even when the day heads to be disastrous, we find or create something that can turn the moment around.

Lots has happened since the last time I wrote, so here a handful of happy moments:

  1. A few weeks ago, I went home to the mothership and as I ran my miles via cycling lanes, it reminded me of the routes I used to cycle while still in secondary school. It made me realise how weird and wonderful my life actually is: an ambition to write in a second language and a marathon goal, when you are clearly not born to run (the guy with asthma used to overtake me in PE). Yet every draft and every mile is a mini-victory.
  2. Last Tuesday, I went to see The Weir at the Wyndham’s Theatre, on my own – just because I could. FxCam_1397585508763It was an event 10 years in the making: I once took an Irish Playwright module during my BA in Devon, where the lecturer tried to liven up the class with recording of the radio version. For an hour I sat there, in near tears, listening but not understanding a word of the Irish accents. This week watching and understanding the full performance in a London theatre was a delight.
  3. I have started to cycle to work, which also feels like a triumph. Not just because of the London traffic but I feared mostly my dire navigational skills. Same routes do stick though and guess what: if you do ride the wrong way, you can just turn back.
  4. Ah yes, so I am office based once more: the lack of paid-job shifts that scared me last month, freed me up for new opportunities and I am now learning a new skill with the same company. It so happens that there is still time left to pursue my other projects.
  5. The workshops I co-facilitated made me sign up to a showcase and present a scene of my own work. It was exciting to see my words performed on stage by a gorgeous bunch of actors, in front of an industry audience. I say ‘exciting’ but in truth, words cannot describe my emotions as I watched from the back. Another step made.

Bonus: by the time you read this, I will be on my way to Wales. Roadtripping.

Happy days, kids. Have an amazing weekend.

The Universe Calling. (Well, Ryan Gosling. Sort of.)

In the never-ending undulation of life, riding the wave upwards has been amazing but suddenly I find myself slowly losing momentum: the wonderful workshops are coming to an end, a side blog project finishes soon and the paid-job shifts seem to be becoming suspiciously quiet at the moment. Thus I find myself in the seemingly contradictory position of bathing in glorious Spring sunshine while staring at A Big Black Hole that is thundering towards me with the speed of a Pamplona bull in July.

It’s that moment, when you’re making yourself some tea in the kitchen, you tilt your head to the Universe and shout in Jeremiah-ic despair: “What do you want from me?! Send me a sign!” For your housemate to walk in, grab some cereal and enlighten you: “Listen, this is what the Universe is saying…”

This is what I imagine the Universe looks like.
Note: Not my housemate. This is what I imagine the Universe looks like.

Phenomenal Women.

Last year, I had written a piece on International Women’s Day that was later read by a man I briefly went out with. The blog ended with:

“Live life my friends, especially if you are a woman. To honour those who have gone before us, to advance those who are to follow: be courageous, be woman, be proud.”

The guy started to laugh and asked me if I was being serious. This couldn’t be serious right? This must be a joke. “Live life especially if you are a woman”, what did that even mean? A few conversations on the matter later, he revealed he believed (!) that ‘considering equal rights, women who fall pregnant shouldn’t automatically be able to ask men for maintenance’. In his view, this money was an incentive for the woman to keep the baby. They want the baby, they should pay for it. Reflecting upon this a year later, our affair – though brief – still lasted surprisingly long…

Happy International Women’s Day: the fact that these well-educated and seemingly adjusted men walk around in fairly developed countries as the UK,  is exactly why today is still needed.

Today, living life as a woman means that I appreciate that I have the choice to sleep with beautiful yet misguided men but that I thankfully don’t have to marry them; that I am able to exercise in the gym or in the park because my body is my own; that I occasionally worry about money, because it is me who earns it; that I can waste hours on the internet because I can read and my brain is constantly hungry for information; it means that I can facilitate workshops and write pieces like these, because I have a voice that I want to use to connect with others; it means that I can review plays and bars, because I have the freedom to move around by myself; it means I can momentarily panic about parking the car, because I am the one behind the wheel; it means that at 29,  I am still looking forward to have biological or non-biological children one day, because I choose them in my life.

Living life means appreciating your opportunities: being able to create your chances by using the freedom of choice and personal will, to live a life true to you and your potential. No one should be denied this – just because they’re women.