OK we’re back, feeling a tad grouchy after having to deal with the cross Channel ferry . . . technically, according to the Captain, the trans North Sea ferry as we’re nowhere near the Channel travelling Hull to Rotterdam. I bow to his greater nautical knowledge.
We disembarked to glorious sunshine – a first on returning to the Netherlands from anywhere – and had a leisurely drive home. We’d only been away three days, there’d been one emergency phone call involving a bottle of coke and a wood floor and we were feeling all was well with the world.
How marvellous, we had proof we could leave the domestic front in the capable hands of Missy and Harry. Both get on like a house on fire, and had been looking forward to proving they were capable of looking after the parental home in our absence. Missy is 24 and has lived on her own since she was 19 (she is staying with us while training for her new job in Rotterdam although the position will be in Houston; she is an international buyer for a shipping company – forgive me a moment of maternal pride) there was no doubting she is to be trusted. It is Harry who is the unknown in the equation.
The weekend away was a dry run for our annual vacation starting this coming weekend, when the two siblings will be home alone for over two weeks. The Captain is very comfortable with this arrangement, me less so. As a practical person I imagine everything that can go wrong and try and preempt every conceivable disaster much to the muttering, eye rolling and deep sighs of my family.
Harry has convinced me he cannot come with us on vacation as he has mountains of school work to complete over the summer which will be best done at home. He has a point. On hearing this news the Captain gave me his ‘are you serious? he’s 17; like he’s got any intention of doing anything remotely studious’ look, but is content with the thought of the two of us vacationing san enfants especially without those of the terrible variety.
Actually that’s not fair to Harry, who is a wonderfully relaxed and laid back travelling companion; he took his first international flight age 7 weeks. He is polite, will chat away to anyone and has no qualms asking for help if he needs it. He can charm stewardesses into getting him anything when it’s too much trouble for them to acknowledge I exist. It never crosses his mind that something is not possible, mainly because no one has ever told him it might be.
Walking through the front door we were glad to be home; all was calm and peaceful. Harry had remembered to go into school, Missy to work. Ahh, nice cup tea. Except there’s no milk. The run to the store the children were happy to undertake over the weekend obviously did not materialise. Food was consumed though, as plenty of it was trampled into my pristine rugs by the sink. The ingredients for the nutella and peanut smoothies with which Harry starts the day were smeared across my usually highly polished countertops.
The Captain thought it best we leave the house immediately and drive to collect the Archster from the kennels before I tracked Harry down and throttled him. He has decided to drive with me given the highly stressed state I was reduced to, taking Archie to the kennels last week (Why Holland is the worst country for drivers).
Quite frankly I don’t think my spouse entirely believed how bad the traffic had been, so I was more than happy to have him along. En route to collect the canine Harry phoned to express his wish we divert immediately to school as he had to clear out his locker by the end of the day. He had too much stuff to carry on his bike. The fact his father and I were busy and had to go into work and attend a meeting respectively (after dog collection) did not cross his mind. Nor did he clarify why his locker was not emptied over the weekend as planned. We deal. We’ll collect his stuff and he’ll have to leave his post-exam, end-of-school, day-of-partying end go fetch us milk.
We chuntered on about the selfishness of youth for several miles until the Captain’s comments started to be aimed at traffic rather than his son. I wasn’t driving, I just took the photographs. It was as bad as previously and included two stops for two different river bridges and one train crossing and the Captain, in his Meldrewesque way, couldn’t believe it. I’m sorry, I had to mention it.
The Archster was collected, we returned home then exited our separate ways, making a mental note to sort out the place out when we got back, which I did several hours later.
It was at this point I ventured into the rest of our home. Unpacking our bags and carrying laundry to the utility room I discovered the sink already full of wet towels, underwear, tea towels, T-shirts and a leather jacket. It had been a long day; I ignored it, filed it under ‘to be discussed later’. Unwillingly I explored the rest of our home. Guitars and sheet music were found forlorn and abandoned in our formal room where they’d been since Saturday morning’s music lesson.
The fact Harry had been told not to go in there was beside the point. Before Social Services intervene on my son’s behalf, we have a family room where the children normally hang out and Harry has a bedroom as big as a normal sized Dutch apartment. He does not need more space.
Taking a deep breath I ventured into Harry’s room. It was obvious several of his friends had stayed over; in fact it looked as he’d been making some extra cash sub-letting his closet given the amount of bedding piled in there. Drawing back the curtains from the french doors to the terrace my eyes alighted on two new adornments among my flower pots – two crates of bottled beer, mostly empty. The drinking age in the Netherlands is 16 for wine and beer.
I was mad. I cannot deny it. Often in times of rage against teens I find cleaning a great and practical safety valve and decided to tackle the kitchen rugs, using a toothbrush to dislodge the hardened food detritus matted in the sisal. Plugging in the vacuum cleaner my ears were assailed by a screeching whine and the smell of rotting yeast with an undertone of electrical burning. Investigation revealed a vacuum bag sodden with beer, glass and dog hair, a motor with something jammed in it and a suction pipe with something jammed up it.
Getting up awkwardly on knees not designed for scrabbling around on the floor with vacuum cleaners my eyes were drawn to the new, dappled, decorative effect on my cream, glossy kitchen cabinets. The colour of the splattered beer toned well with the overall decor of the family room, but this fact was lost on me.
This was one step too far – bad enough to have a good time but not to clean up afterwards? That really was not playing the game. There would have to be serious words . . . .
The interesting conversation which ensued with Harry, Missy’s take on the whole weekend and who moved into the closet in Part Two