Amsterdam Diaries - 21st Century Caveman

15th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

Late on a rainy night, the act of reheating an old takeaway dinner brings expat Malcolm Wickens face-to-face with an undeniable truth of his Amsterdam existence.

Four months here and I have settled down into the life of domestic mayhem fully expected of any reprobate let out on his own.

Just how far have we evolved, really?

I have got out of the nasty habit of leaving work, heading straight down to the red-light district to watch the Top Quality Nonsense that passes for entertainment over here and have taken to doing Dutch lessons on Monday and Wednesdays (then down to the local Irish Bar, O'Donnell's) and down to the gym, Tuesdays and Thursdays (and then down to O'Donnell's). 

A simple life

I have a large, one-bed apartment in de Pijp, a Bohemian area of town. It is like most of the old part of Amsterdam, a wooden house, built with wooden frames, rickety stairs and no fire escape. Which is why the Dutch around here are obsessed with fires.

The apartment comes fully equipped with cable TV, broadband internet, fully equipped, brand new kitchen and furniture straight out of an Ikea catalogue.

I have never used the cooker or dishwasher. The fridge is full of beer and wine (I have become sophisticated here and don't drink beer at home). I have no computer and I don't watch TV, just the occasional DVD that gets hired. The only kitchen appliance I would normally use is a microwave and the apartment does not have one. 

I exist on nightly takeaways after O'Donnell's. There is a whole wealth of takeaway options here — Moroccan, Indonesian, Turkish, Spanish, Syrian and Surinamese to name but a few.

So, getting food and drink is no problem here. Disposal of the empties is a different matter. The rubbish can go out Sunday nights and Wednesday nights and not before dark. To ensure this, the garbage police will go through any bin bags left on the pavement and post fines through the letter boxes of the offenders.

But what to do with the rubbish until the dumping time? If you keep it in the apartment, it stinks. The obvious answer is to keep it in the fridge.

So, by Sunday and Wednesday nights, my fridge is full, not just with beer and wine, but with the remnants of the previous three night's takeaways. And if I go away for a weekend, it can be up to a week's worth.

A meeting with fate

One recent Monday night it was raining, but I went to my Dutch class as per usual and then on to O'Donnell's. I stayed a little longer than normal because it had begun to really chuck it down.

About 10:30, I eventually left. I was getting soaked and most of the restaurants were closed, so I thought to myself that I would not go for the takeaway option. In the fridge from previous night's debaucheries, I had grilled salmon, Surinamese style with paella and Turkish stir-fried vegetables. I decided to christen the oven and re-heat it in there. 

Having no idea of the oven setting, I put the food directly on a plate, into the oven and put every setting on the oven up to maximum for a quick reheat. I took my wet shoes, socks, trousers and shirt off, as you do, and sat down with a glass of wine on the floor and fired up the DVD to watch Grizzly Man.

I was just beginning to get engrossed when I noticed a funny smell in the apartment. It was a bit like smoked salmon.

I rushed to the cooker, opened it up. Stinking fish smoke poured into the apartment.  The food was ruined.

There was suddenly an ear-splitting howling coming from over by the window. I did not know it, but the apartment also came equipped with a smoke alarm. It was 11pm, there was smoke billowing around my apartment and a noise that could wake the dead emanating from my flat.

A night to remember

I took action, opened all the windows and put the smoke extractor on (some might say, a bit too late). 

I tried to address the smoke detector. I could not stop it making that racket. Lights were coming on in the rooms across the street. People were looking out of their windows at me, standing on a chair by the window, in a pair of boxer shorts, sweating, in a blind panic, frantically poking at a small box in the ceiling. A 21st century Caveman, tormented by technology.

The detector had a strange button underneath. I was pressing it, but nothing happened. I unscrewed the device to take out the battery, but it was wired up to the mains. Cutting the wires was not really an option; but I was running out of them.

There was the sound of people on the stairs. They did not sound very happy. I was listening with dread for the sound of fire engines looming down the street.

Eventually, the alarm went off. It was only on for about three minutes, but could have been hours. I had managed to wake up the entire neighborhood.

I did not know this, but most houses in Amsterdam are fitted with smoke alarms. And when one goes off in an apartment, they all go off together. I do now.

November 2006

[Copyright Malcolm Wickens + Expatica 2006]

Subject: Life in Holland

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