It was one year ago yesterday—Thursday 2nd August 2007—that we arrived here in Oostzaan.
I had taken the overnight ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden with a van full of our stuff. I was due to meet our landlord and the rental agent at 11:00, but the boat was delayed, there were roadworks and detours around the ferry terminal, and I got lost twice on the way. It was about 11:40 by the time I got to the house, apologetic and stressed. We took the tour of the house, noted meter readings, and the landlord explained the workings of the gas fire and the digital TV receiver. They gave me the keys, and left.
Abi and the kids, who had taken the plane from Edinburgh to Amsterdam that morning, showed up a little later, around 12:30. We briefly revelled in the sheer size of the house, and then started unpacking quickly, because I had to be back on the road again later that afternoon to catch the overnight ferry back to the UK. I was returning the van in Edinburgh around mid-day on Friday, and then jumping on a plane back to Amsterdam that evening.
That final round-trip might sound like a rush, but for me it was the exact opposite. The months leading up to the move had been a frenzy of work, packing, worry, and pressure. But when I drove off again on that Thursday afternoon, we had made it. All of the timing had worked out. Even if the ferry was delayed, or if I somehow missed my flight on the Friday, it didn't matter, because I only had me to deal with—no posessions, no nappy panics, no travel sickness.
There was a cinema on board the ship, but the only films that interested me were ones I had seen before. There was no TV in the cabin. I didn't have a laptop. I was on a boat in the middle of the North Sea, with nowhere to go, and even if I had wanted to do something, I couldn't have.
I didn't fancy a meal in the ship's restaurant, so I bought myself some sweets and some drinks, and retreated to my cabin. I had a book to read: World War Z by Max Brooks. So I lay there on my bed, munched M&Ms, listened to my iPod, and just read. I grew sleepy half-way through, dozed for a while, woke up and read some more. Finished it, and lay for a while contemplating just how damn good it was.
That is my happiest memory of 2007. 2007 sucked massively.
We knew it would be tough, moving abroad. In 2006, we had reached a local maximum in our lives. On the one hand, a local maximum is great, because life is good. The flip side, however, is that almost every move you make leads away from that maximum, which is scary as hell.
But we have taken that hit now, and we're climbing the up slope again. At the end of 2007, we sold our house in Edinburgh. In January, we made the decision to buy a house here in Oostzaan, and we started viewing properties. In March we signed a deal, and in the last week of June we set foot in a house of our own again. We even have curtains!
Now, exactly one year on, the annual village events that seemed magical and strange to us then are coming around again: the cycle race, the music festival, the kermis (fair). We've made friends. Next week, Alex and Fiona will be starting school again, only this time both of them will be at the same school, and this time they both know enough Dutch to speak to the teachers and their classmates. No more day care, no more specialist language tuition. Somewhere in there, Abi and I celebrated our 15-year wedding anniversary. (Crystal. Not much fanfare.)
It was a bad year. One of the worst. No denying that. And the last few weeks, trying to get settled into the house and a new routine, have been pretty tough.
But on the good days, I can let myself hope that we're back on our way to awesome.