Tag Archives: house


(at home, in Dutch)

It’s taken us so many months to get to this point that sometimes I don’t believe we’re here. But we’re in our rented house in Oostzaan, with our possessions around us (many of them not even in boxes; some of them even in plausible locations).

One thing we still don’t have is internet connectivity. I’m typing this on my laptop to save on a data key and post from work. If you’re trying to email us, be mindful of this. I can read emails during the day, but my replies will be either short or composed offline. Martin has no net access at all, poor thing.

The move was an enormous effort, but what has really been hard is how much of it we have had to do separately. It started when I went off to work in Amsterdam for the month of July. Though that was pleasant in many ways, it was also profoundy disorienting for both Martin and me. We’re used to having one another as backstop in so many ways. When things went wrong last month, each of us felt so deeply isolated.

The week of the actual removal was more of the same. The schedule was as complex as a ballet:

  • I returned home on Thursday 26 July, and was (as usual for the commuter lifestyle) fried on Friday the 27th. Nonetheless, we packed our possessions into boxes all weekend.
  • Monday 30 July the kids went to their childcare places. I packed, and ran errands in town.
  • Tuesday 31 July started with Martin going to the van hire place to get a van for the move. Although he had arranged it well in advance, it took him longer than we had hoped to get it home, because the paperwork was not in order. Then he helped me with two items I couldn’t manage on my own and went to work, taking the kids for their last days at their childcare places. And I started packing boxes into the van. I had it most of the way packed when it was time to take the kids for a final farewell to Mother Goose, the nursery they’ve been at since Alex was 9 months old.
  • The morning of Wednesday 1 August, we put the last items into the van. Then Martin’s family came over and we had a last lunch together. And in the early afternoon, Martin drove the van away with all of our things in it. That night, he took the ferry across from Newcastle to Ijmuiden. In the meantime, I cleaned the house, packed our suitcases, and played that we were camping out with the kids.
  • It was very early on Thursday 2 August when I got the kids up and into a taxi to the airport. We flew to Schiphol, touching down just about when Martin arrived at the new house from his ferry. So by the time the jet set had had lunch, taken the train to Zaandam, and taken a taxi from there to Oostzaan, he’d done the checkout with house owners. The kids explored their new home, and we started unloading boxes from the van. It was a quick turnaround – three hours later, he was gone, and I was alone with the kids in a strange house, in a strange country. Not that they were discontent – I put the pedals back on Fiona’s bike, and she and Alex spent the entire afternoon playing with bike and scooter in the garden.
  • Friday 3 August was setlling in time. I unpacked many, many boxes, put lots of things away. The kids and I went out to the grocery store (on foot), then they persuaded me to go for a bike ride. We rode for about an hour all told (well, Fiona and I rode. Alex rode his scooter). In the meantime, Martin arrived in Newcastle on the ferry, drove north to Edinburgh, met up with his parents, tidied a few more things in the Scotland house, and flew across to Schiphol.
  • Saturday 4 August was much more relaxing, apart from the two hour bike and scooter ride in search of a bike shop (we were going in the wrong direction entirely!

And what details should I tell you about?

About the house, which is beautiful, but huge? The space is good, but I worry that we will become too accustomed to it; barring a lottery win we can’t afford to buy something this size next year.

I could talk about Fiona, who thinks she’s died and gone to heaven. Instead of only riding her beloved bike when (a) the weather is good, and (b) there’s a parent to keep an eye out for her so she can travel the 30 meters to the letterbox and back, she can step out into the sunshine and ride it all the time, back and forth from the front garden to the back. Alex comes out too, and the two of them play long elaborate secret agent games on their vehicles.

Alex is mostly absorbed in Pokemon Diamond version (at which he is very good, though too hard on himself), but he’s been taking time out to ride his scooter, eat Dutch cheese, and watch Sonic the Hedgehog DVDs (it’s comforting when he’s tired).

I could mention the kindness I encountered from Dutch people throughout the difficult day’s travel to Oostzaan, from the friendly immigration officer to the forgiving train conductor (turns out you need a discount card to get a reduced fare for a child…I didn’t know) and the charming and funny taxi driver. The lady at the Albert Heijn meat counter who started giving the kids lunchmeat (which they loved), and the fellow customer who chuckled at Fiona’s earnest explanation of how “lekker” is “yummy” and “heerlijk” is “scrumptious”, and the meat was “lekker heerlijk” – yummy scrumptious.

I could talk about riding on the road with Fiona, who is remarkably brave for someone whose previous riding experience was all helmets and sidewalks. I keep myself between her and the traffic, of course, and Dutch drivers are very careful of cyclists (I also only allow her to ride on very quiet roads). But she is in transports about cycling next to me on the road, which is a layer of maturity and togetherness she can’t get over.

I could describe my trial of my commute on Saturday evening, when I discovered it takes about twenty minutes to bike to the office and about an hour to walk back with a bike with a flat tyre.

I could talk about our attempt at a Sunday drive, which ended at the side of a road with two children throwing up (carsickness and dehydration, in ascending order of age). We abandoned the trip, but went cycling and scootering instead in the afternoon, and found a little beach on the local lake. It was about 20 minutes’ ride from the house, and the kids gleefully threw off clothes and went in (Alex in his shorts, Fiona in her underwear – there were plenty of little girls there in just bikini bottoms). Then we rode home to where Martin was setting up the office space, all but glowing from the fun of it all.

Or I could describe what life is like in a country where I don’t speak the language – how much it is like being deaf, in that I am excluded from verbal communication. Indeed, I don’t always even hear when people speak to me, since I won’t be able to understand it even if I do hear it. Not everything is easy.

For good or ill, we’re in the house, and this is the new home.

Schrödinger’s House

After the bad luck of losing the place we’d rented for the next year, we had to go back onto the house hunt. Looking for rental properties from abroad is, at best, difficult, and at worst, soul-destroying. We were not looking forward to it at all.

The estate agent who found us the first place, though, was keen not to lose his commission. So he scrambled around and identified another place that might suit. Maybe. It was more expensive, though he managed to get us a break on the price. But it looked suitable, so we went out to see it (we’d been planning to visit schools on Monday, so we were going to be in the Netherlands anyway.)

The one thing that the estate agent hadn’t explicitly confirmed to us was the rental time. I had asked him to look for a house that was available for a year. He thought (or says he thought) that I meant a maximum of one year. We spoke to him about 15 minutes before the viewing, and he said that the place was only available for eight months.

Our hearts sank.

We went to the viewing anyway. It’s a very pleasant, large place, owned by a nice couple, with four kids (one, a 7 month old baby girl, was there the whole time and flirted outrageously with us). They’re going to the Netherlands Antilles for a while. We talked it over, and they said they would consider whether they could extend their trip from eight months to a year. If they could, we said, we’d take the house.

They said they had to think it over.

We left, feeling deflated. We reckoned we had, at best, a 50% chance to get the place.

So we went to open a bank account for me, which was a whole ‘nother round of trouble. (If ABN Amro treats all its potential customers like they treated me, I can see why they’re a takeover target. ING, though not able to actually give me an appointment, had a motivated and intelligent man who helped me get the paperwork I needed to physically sign. All praise (and all my business) to them.)

And I got a Dutch mobile phone. It’s a prepay phone, bottom of the line, but it’s a phone I can use to make & receive calls without paying a fortune to my British provider. I’ll dual-run the phones for a while, because I’m going to need phone capability in both cultures.

We returned home, trying to turn the few success in the day into cause for some cheer. Not easy

But this morning, I got a phone call from our estate agent. The owners of the house are willing to rent it out for 12 months, less 1 week. 51 weeks is good enough.

So, once again, we have a house. It’s in Oostzaan, close enough to my job that I may cycle on good days; the bus will take me close enough to walk the rest of the time. The school is about 4 minutes’ slow walk away, and the local nursery is another two or three minutes beyond that (though getting places may be a problem).

Oostzaan, as any of my Dutch readers may already know, is notable for voting overwhelmingly either socialist or communist in national elections, and for being the founding place of Albert Heijn, the Dutch grocery chain. Having worked on the legal affairs of a supermarket, and dealt with the economics around staff pay, I find these two facts plausible.

Grrr! Argh!

The house in Wormerveer has just fallen through.

The owner is not going to Mallorca with his family next year, so he is not renting it out. We have to find another place.

This is really, really disappointing. It was a great house, light and airy and well suited to us. And the process of looking for housing is discouraging and frustrating, time-consuming and generally a drag.


Pieces falling into place

It’s been some time since I’ve blogged. Plans have been up in the air, and sometimes I can’t bring myself to write about things that aren’t yet complete. As Martin wrote in his Going Dutch entry, we are moving to the Netherlands this summer.

This is, naturally, terrifying. It’s been particularly scary for me to contemplate, because I had to find two very important things.

A job
Moving country meant moving work, and that’s a frightening thing. I joined the Royal Bank in 1997 – October would have marked ten years there, and I was thoroughly institutionalised after all that time. It was intimidating to even contemplate finding something else.
A house
Admittedly, unlike the job thing, househunting is for the benefit of entire family, and in theory I could fob some of the weight off on Martin. But I get emotional about my living situation, so it felt like it was really my worry.

So how has it gone, in the month and a half since I quit the Bank and started these searches?


Martin pointed a job ad out to me in late March, before I was even officially out of work. It was for a small company, MediaLab, which makes search software mostly used in libraries. It’s a tiny company, and a deeply cool one, writing interesting software and having fun doing it.

At his urging, I sent them a CV. When we got back from California, I had a phone interview, and made a strong connection with the people I talked to. They invited me over for a second interview in person in their offices in Amsterdam.

That went even better. I enjoyed the conversations and liked the people, and it was mutual. More importantly, from a business perspective, it was clear that my area of expertise and my approach to work will fill a need in their company.

So I got the job.

I start at the beginning of July, which sometimes seems a long way off. I find myself thinking about the work, and about sitting in that bright and friendly office while I do it. It’s been a long time since I looked forward to work.


We wanted to rent a house for a year, to give us a chance to try out the Dutch lifestyle before committing a lot of capital to it. But there aren’t a lot of spacious, affordable houses in commute radius of Amsterdam.

It’s also difficult to search for houses at a remove. (My friend who just moved to New Zealand can testify to this.) After poring over hundreds of advertisements on the internet, we finally identified one that looked nice, in a promising town. So Martin and I went across one rainy Monday to look at it.

It was awful. Cramped, grimy and grim, in the shabbiest neighbourhood. It was also not available for a year’s rental; the owners wanted to keep the option open to sell it (an endeavour in which I wish them luck). We straggled home after a discouraging day, ready to abandon the whole damned effort.

I tried to take a fresh tack on the matter the next few days, looking again at places we had eliminated, sending out emails to emails to estate agents. Then the phone rang.

It was an estate agent, calling based on a profile Martin logged on their website. He had a four-bedroom property, he said, just coming on the market for a year’s rental. In Wormerveer, a town in commute distance from my office. Large workroom as well, was I interested? I made interested noises, and he sent me pictures.

Then I was really interested. It’s a light, spacious place, converted from a schoolhouse. The owner, a painter, is taking his family to the Canary Islands for a year. I flew over on Tuesday to view it and the neighbourhood.

It was fantastic. The town charmed me, and the location of the house was particularly good (it’s right near the market plaza, two schools, shops, and some pleasant areas to walk through.) And the house itself was better than the photos conveyed, with an essential unity of light and design.

It didn’t hurt that I got on very well with the owner, the painter, who showed me round. We talked about aesthetics and the philosophy of art, bookbinding and lithography, history and philosophy (boring the estate agent senseless until he recalled another appointment). Practical matters will go easier with this channel of communication, but more importantly, I’m looking forward to future conversations.

So now I have a job and a house, and frankly, they’re both fantastic. What a good set of prospects to take into a challenging year!