In July I got the overnight ferry from Harwich International with my middle son and we reached Hook of Holland early in the morning, at 7am. Luckily, Lodewijk and Wanda came to meet us. In the 90s, Lodewijk told us, he had bought his brown 1974 Ford Consul – the car he still drove – in Hook from a man who wrote ‘Darkness’ on his flat wall, so it was always good to drive it back for a visit.

We went the scenic route to Amsterdam, via The Hague, as the room in the Hotel De Looier wasn’t available till 2pm. By 12, though, we’d reached Amsterdam and I was flagging. I suggested going to the hotel anyway, on the off chance that they’d have a room earlier. It was 35 degrees centigrade that day, which didn’t help.

No, said the woman at reception in the Hotel De Looier. The room was being cleaned till 2pm.

Really? I asked. (Housekeeping presumably doesn’t clean ALL rooms at 1.55…)

I played for time, saying could we check in anyway?, making a meal of limping back and forth from reception to where we had stashed our bags to look for our passports, checking which room we were booked for, saying we could have another, whatever was available… Etc, etc. I even said could I have a nap on the armchair in reception, if she didn’t mind? It was really quite hot outside…

Eventually, after much clattering on the computer keyboard, she relented. It would be quicker just to give us a room. There was one available, she discovered! I was ready to drop and so was exaggeratedly grateful. (Though I have to say, since having the stroke, most places are ok in the end, if you keep trying and keep your temper. Though NOT Herne Hill Lido when I wanted to use the disabled loo…)

There was one catch, however. It’s always when you finally let out a deep breath and think ‘phew’ that the obstacle emerges.

I had deliberately rung the hotel from England to check there was a lift. But now – wouldn’t you know – it was being repaired. I’d have to walk up 4 flights of spiral stairs.

For some reason my son had gone up to the room in advance so I had to get the Polish housekeeper to watch me while I slowly went up, backwards because the banister was on the right and I can only use my left hand. She carried my walking stick; she was called Eva and was very smiley.

I said when I first had the stroke, I used to say: 19 steps forward, 18 back. So long as I went ONE step forward, it was better than nothing.

I suppose a lot of people they get in Amsterdam hotels are fairly offhand, so she expressed approval of my positive attitude. She said that in Poland, they had a similar attitude. I can’t say what she said in Polish but she translated for me as well for good measure:

Shit happens…


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I had a stroke on July 26th, 2013. I was a screenwriter. Don’t do that anymore. But have found another way to write.

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