For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
TS Eliot, Four Quartets
Although I’ve long since given up work for the much greater purpose of being by the side of a wonderful man called M, I make a point of getting up when he does. When we were living in the chateau our shared early mornings involved me driving him to the train station at 6am so that I could have the car for the rest of the day. That sleepy early morning drive isn’t necessary now that M’s daily commute starts with a bus from outside of our building, but I still love our ritual early morning cup of tea. Being able to get up to make it has involved a conscious shift in my circadian rhythms and the training of my night owl to emulate his early bird but it’s been worth the effort. It means that we go to bed at the same time and we start the day together. It makes me happy.
But the New Year has brought a problem. A proper, lovely first world problem. The problem is that I’m so ridiculously excited about the year ahead that I just can’t sleep. I’m up in the middle of night doing silly things like writing blog posts and sorting through the hundreds of photos I’m now in the daily habit of taking, while listening to music that I’m desperate to teach myself to play.
The year started well. After a beautiful Christmas in the UK catching up with much loved friends and family, M and I drove our car onto the ferry in Harwich and headed across to Holland. Amsterdam is currently the happy host to my gorgeous sister Lientje, and Dad has also set himself up in a little apartment there for three weeks so that he can spend some time in his hometown with his firstborn. (My old man is, after all, a Dutchman.) Seeing Dad for the second time in a year and Lientje for the third was miraculous. It’s not something that happens often when you live 13,941km (give or take a metre or two) from your family.
I’d never been in Amsterdam for New Year before and hadn’t really known what to expect, though a lovely Dutch woman in my French class had promised that I was in for a treat. In the afternoon of New Year’s Eve we followed the watery trail left by thousands of tourists before us and jumped aboard a canal tour. I really had no idea of how much I’d enjoy it. Getting a different perspective on the streets we’d walked and the houseboats we’d inhabited and the bars where we’d toasted our ancestors gave us a much better understanding of the city we all love so much. Despite being a born-and-bred Amsterdammer Dad had never done a canal tour before, so plugging in the headphones and tuning in to the Dutch audio guide gave him a fantastic historical insight into the city he used to cycle around as a boy. I, of course, saw most of the 100 interesting sights on the tour through the viewfinder of Santa’s greatest ever gift, but that in itself brought me perfect joy.
The early evening saw us ticking off another experience on Dad’s Never Done Before list. When I used to go to Amsterdam every year for work I always made a point of visiting the Srikandi Indonesian restaurant for their fantastic rijsttafel, and I was surprised and delighted when we were able to get a table for dinner on New Year’s Eve. Oh my God, I can still taste the lamb in aromatic soy sauce… Divine. I was able to pit my gluttony against Dad’s restraint and between the four of us we managed to make a respectable dent in the 14 delicious dishes they brought us. What I wouldn’t do for a Srikandi doggy bag right now…
We’d already finished dinner by about nine o’clock and we weren’t sure how best to fill the hours until the promised fireworks would fill the sky, nor where best to plant ourselves to watch them. We’d been told that if you’re not interested in joining the throngs of tourists in popular places like Dam Square or Leidesplein – and we weren’t – then one of Amsterdam’s many beautiful bridges would be a good place to be. Dad had bought me a tripod for Christmas (yes, I confess, I am indeed the most spoilt woman on the planet) and I was keen to set it up and take some photos of the display. We walked and walked, however, the rain, cold and fatigue slowly filtering into the four of us, and couldn’t find the perfect place to stand. So when, at 11:30, we rubbed our eyes twice and realised that the empty, available taxi before us was not in fact a mirage, we jumped into it and requested that it first drop Leintje at her apartment and then take Dad, M and I back to Dad’s.
We poured three Dutch gins and put the television on so that a Dutch TV show could count us down to midnight, and I made sure I had Skype on my phone so Leintje could rejoin our little party at the witching hour. We shouted along with the TV countdown – …drie, twee, een! – and that’s when the city exploded. It turns out that organised fireworks displays are not the Dutch way. No, these people want to party on their own terms, so every man, woman and cycling dog lights up their little own part of the Amsterdam sky. They take this stuff seriously. With Leintje watching the fireworks both at her place and across the ether with us on Skype, Dad, M and I went outside to join the party on the canal, and watched as all that private money was blown up and spread in beautiful colours across the cold skies of the brand new year.
The next day, after M had visited a sweet shop and bought enough triple salted Dutch licorice to see me through at least the first quarter of 2014, Dad and Leintje sang a Dutch song as they waved us off for the last little leg of our latest European adventure. We drove down as far as Luxembourg and saw enough of that little duchy to make us determined to head back there some time soon, then returned to our happy new little home in Divonne.
And it’s here that, in the last five days, my insomnia has taken hold. I still go to bed at the same time as M, and after reading a few pages of the Geneva International Book Club’s latest suggestion I even fall asleep for a couple of hours. But then my eyes spring open and my mind starts to swirl in anticipation of the great things this year promises to bring. I wonder about whether I should sign up for an intensive French course in Nyon or Geneva. I think about how best to capture the theme we’re currently exploring in Photography Club. I daydream about which destinations our travels will take us to as we continue to take advantage of our central European location. I plot blog posts and wonder about whether to post my short stories here or on some other platform. I contemplate whether most of the work I do in the immediate future will be paid work or volunteer. I listen to the steady breathing of the man who makes all these things possible for me, and I lie awake with the excitement of the adventure of the four years we’ve already shared and the many (I hope) we have ahead of us.
2013 was brilliant but in many ways gruelling. But now it’s put to bed and the year ahead is pregnant with possibility. That’ll do me. I can’t sleep but 2014 is out there and it’s ours. And I’m feeling good.