"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Celebrations and Recriminations, a short story from The Netherlands.

Celebrations and Recriminations a short story from The Netherlands.

In June 2010 I arrived in The Netherlands with the notion of finally ‘settling down’. Young, in love and still just a little wet behind the ears, my girl and I had all the typical rat race dreams. Get the jobs so we could save money. Save money so we could get the house. Get the house so we could have kids. Have kids so we could be a happy family, a regular functioning cog in this big old machine we call society. What could possibly go wrong?

“Leighton… you are on de computer again, your eyes will become like squares!” said Papa S with a patronising chuckle. Looking up briefly from my CV, I shot him a polite smile through gritted teeth and tried to keep my reply as cheerful as possible. “Yes, I’m looking for a job… remember?” I knew life with Mama and Papa S was going to be challenging. I hadn’t been under any illusions. However, with no jobs, no place to live and just a modest pot of joint savings to draw from, S and I had to bite the bullet. After all, it had been kind of her parents to let us stay until we got on our feet.  

Nevertheless, I’d spectacularly underestimated just how testing life at the S house would be. I found myself chastised on a daily basis for my many failings. Mama S was into etiquette, if that’s even a thing to be into. As a result, she’d often pull me up at the dinner table for a misplaced elbow. Other times, it was an offending knife that I’d placed in the wrong position. Knives have to face towards one’s plate apparently. One time I was told to remove a tissue that I’d rested by my soup bowl, while my shoes/sweater/teacup had invariably been put in the wrong place and needed an emergency relocation.

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Celebrations and Recriminations, a short story from The Netherlands.

My crappy Dutch meanwhile was always an issue. With minimal English on offer (they could, but mostly wouldn’t), I usually misinterpreted the general flow of the conversation. Furthermore, I made such a mess of my own contributions that things soon descended into total confusion. Not that a sudden injection of linguistic ability would have made all the difference. More often than not I had no interest in what was going on with Auntie Boring. Similarly, I didn’t need any hot details on Uncle Inconsequential’s new leather sofa. Anything directed purely at me was mere small talk. It could be the weather, my static job search, household practicalities…

“More often than not I had no interest in what was going on with Auntie Boring”.

It’s not that they hadn’t been welcoming. Meal times were always a culinary treat and my hosts were forever asking me if I was ok and whether there was anything I needed. But somehow this just managed to make me more anxious. Especially as such questions were usually accompanied by a searching, narrow-eyed look from Mama S. It was clear to me that she still didn’t know what to make of this Englishman, even though I’d been with her daughter for over five years.

S Headquarters was located in a quiet, Edward Scissorhands type suburban road in the sleepy town of Goirle. With no friends in the area and little on offer in the way of entertainment, it took about a week for an acute sense of claustrophobia to set in.

Goirle Brabant Province The Netherlands.

The Dutch town of Goirle in Brabant Province.

It was a sunny June morning and I was on de computer again applying for jobs I didn’t give a shit about. Desperately trying to get something… anything that could move S and I out into a place of our own. “Leighton, can you stand up a moment please!” Papa S was hovering over me again and I could see he was in one of his restless moods. He’d been pacing up and down the living room looking for something to keep him occupied and now he’d finally found it. Scooping the laptop up into my hands, I rose as per his request. And then all I could do was look on in quiet disbelief as he proceeded to pull the armchair I’d been sitting in one inch away from the wall. “You can sit back down” he said, adjusting his spectacles, “The chair should not be against the wall”.  

“Leighton, you have changed the settings on my computer!” he huffed some time later, his cheeks rapidly reddening. I groaned to myself, wishing I’d never gone up to his study. I’d needed his scanner for one of my job applications and I knew it would cause trouble. Of course I hadn’t done anything to his computer, the poor guy just didn’t have a clue how to use it. He knew as much about IT as an eagle knows about macroeconomics. However, my proclamations of innocence just fell on deaf ears.

“Leighton, you have changed the settings on my computer!” he huffed.

A few hours later tensions reached boiling point in the kitchen. It was my turn to do the washing up and Papa S had taken it upon himself to micromanage me. “The water is not hot enough” he said, flicking the red tap as far to the right as it would go. “It’s fine,” I said, pushing it back a little, the temperature beginning to physically burn my hands. But he just swished it right again, explaining that if the water didn’t get hot enough the plates wouldn’t be clean.

Celebrations and Recriminations, a short story from The Netherlands.

I was reaching the end of my tether and suddenly found myself walking out of the kitchen with a low snigger. And then Papa S was rushing after me. “Leighton, I don’t like it that you are laughing at me! This is very rude and…” Instinctively I quickened my pace and strode through the living room into the hallway. Grabbing my coat, I headed out the front door and ducked into the garage. From there I took one of the family bicycles and pedalled off into the warm afternoon.

Short story The Netherlands

Celebrations and Recriminations, a short story from The Netherlands.

I’d been cycling without purpose for about fifteen minutes when I stumbled upon an amazing little residential street decked out in orange flags, posters and streamers. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was well into its final stages and the Dutch national football team had reached the semi-finals. With the drama of washing-up-gate still bubbling in my head, I’d completely forgotten that the big match against Uruguay was taking place that very night!  

Dismounting my bike, I walked down the road to take a closer look. The locals had really gone to town, with all the houses covered in orange netting. “Hup hup Holland!” cried one massive banner, while another warned the South Africans to “Watch out, the Dutch Lions are coming!”

“Hup hup Holland!”

Strolling down the street, I caught sight of a balding, middle-aged man watering his plants in the front garden. He was wearing a Dutch football shirt from the 70s with Cruyff emblazoned on the back in chunky black letters. Glancing up, he saw me passing and shot me an aggressive fist pump. He certainly wouldn’t be missing tonight’s game and I instantly decided that neither would I. In fact, a party atmosphere was just what the doctor ordered. All I had to do now was convince S to head into Tilburg with me and catch the game in Pub Street.

Orange Street The Netherlands.

Celebrations and Recriminations, a short story from The Netherlands.

S couldn’t have cared less about football. However, she was passionately patriotic and therefore happy enough to head into the city for the festivities. With England long ago knocked out and having performed so miserably, I’d decided to throw all my support behind my adopted homeland. Heck, I even bought myself a Dutch jersey!

An uncomfortable silence wedged itself between us on the bus into Tilburg. She’d heard her father’s skewed version of the day’s events. Therefore it seemed there wasn’t much I could say to shake off my appointment as the villain. “I hope tonight is gonna relax you” said S, gazing out the window.

Celebrations and Recriminations, a short story from The Netherlands.

Tilburg was an amazing sight that evening. Everyone was dressed in orange from head to toe, while you could hardly take a step without knocking into a bicycle. They were chained to fences and squashed up together against trees. Others were resting against the backs of the tables and chairs that lined the pavement. A few were even strewn across the ground, seemingly abandoned by their drunken owners.

World Cup fever Tilburg The Netherlands.

Celebrations and Recriminations, a short story from The Netherlands.

And then there was the game itself. I’ll never forget the almighty roar that penetrated the entire city as Arjen Robben’s bullet header gave the Oranje a 3-1 lead. It was an amazing moment, and one that ultimately saw The Netherlands secure a place in the World Cup Final.

Everyone around me was so jubilant… so proud… so damn drunk. There was hugging, cheering, kissing and beer glasses smashing to the floor. Loud guttural Dutch dialogue rattling through the airwaves from all directions. As much as I was enjoying myself, this unified jubilation only served to remind me how anxious I was feeling. Was I going to get a job soon? Would I be able to settle in this country? Were S and I really gonna live happily ever after? “Let’s head back” she said, tugging on my arm. And so we left the delirious masses to their celebrations, setting off back to Goirle where recriminations lay in wait.

World Cup 2010 The Netherlands.

Street celebrations in Tilburg as Holland progress to The World Cup Final.

The atmosphere over the next days was awful. Papa S wasn’t talking to me, Mama S wasn’t talking to Papa S and I’d become so withdrawn I wasn’t talking to anybody. Then, to cap it all off, Mama slipped in the garden and cut her knee. Consequently, she called an emergency family meeting where I was pretty much hung out to dry. “This happened because of you!!” she spat, the beginning of a lengthy tirade that painted me as the houseguest from hell. I was so angry I made the mistake of shouting back at her. Poor old S, completely caught in the middle, began crying on the sofa. 

Celebrations and Recriminations, a short story from The Netherlands.

Hiding away in the tiny little upstairs bedroom we shared, I knew I’d fucked up by letting my frustration get the better of me. Now I was gonna have to repair this. At a complete loss as to what I should do, I began scouring job sites for the umpteenth time that day. It had only been an hour since I’d last looked, I wasn’t expecting to see anything. And then it caught my eye… a position so ridiculously up my street I initially thought it might be a joke advert.


Writer/Editor/Voiceover needed for media production company in Amsterdam North. Applicant must speak excellent English and be passionate about movies/have strong knowledge of all things Hollywood.


Wow! I remember thinking. While on the face of it I seemed to tick all the boxes, surely this was a job I had no chance of getting. Right!? I sat there for a minute chewing it over. I mean, what exactly did I have to lose? Without even consciously making a decision, I began tinkering with my CV, digging up one of my old movie reviews, constructing a cover letter. An hour or so later I was ready, my finger hovering nervously over the mouse. Checking everything one last time for good measure, I returned to my Hotmail screen, took a deep breath and pressed send.

‘Celebrations and Recriminations’ is the first chapter of my short story collection Notes From The Netherlands.

You can also check out my bite-sized travel reports from around The Netherlands.

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  • Mary Phillips

    You did it. I can’t wait for the next installment.

    January 10, 2018 - 9:53 pm Reply
    • leightonliterature

      Thanks Mary, this collection has been long overdue!

      January 11, 2018 - 2:38 am Reply
  • Mary Phillips

    Loved the story. I’m on your side 🙂

    November 12, 2019 - 12:03 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Mary, you’re adorable, thanks for the re-read.

      November 12, 2019 - 12:08 pm Reply

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