Here is a strange question for you - where do you honestly feel most at home??? I suppose if you are very lucky you could be one of those people who feels at home whereever they are at that particular moment.
Unfortunately, I am not one of those lucky creatures. I can exist almost anywhere - but in order for me to feel even slightly at home I really need to be subjected to water and boats. I love water and I love boats - especially car ferries.
If you really want me to feel completely at home you really need to take me to a city where both my parents have lived and which also has a link with my date of birth. (Even though I was not technically born anywhere near the country in question I can still say I was born on the city in question - my Birthday and the international dialling code for Rotterdam are both 31 10.)
One of my friends wrote a book on the subject of relaxation which included the line "Imagine a Tropical beach with the waves lapping the shore. This is your personal 'Shakra' - visit it often". Well, my personal place of relaxation does kind of include a beach (if you include the beach at Hoek van Holland) - and water - but I wouldn't describe it as tropical (I hate warm climates).
It is funny how things can appear completely different the older you get (or even just depending on the circumstances you are in when you encounter them).
I remember when I was little I honestly didn't realise Holland was another country completely separate from England. I suppose that is what comes of being stuck in the cabin of a ferry for the duration of the sailing between the countries - as well as hearing both Dutch and English spoken at home (sometimes even in the same sentence if my Mum forgot the English word for something).
(I later found out that the nearest equivalent of what I thought Dutch was - which could be recognised by an English person - is Glaswegian. A version of English that makes no sense to me whatsoever when spoken at normal speed but which I love listening to anyway. The rhythms of spoken Dutch and spoken Glaswegian are the same. In fact, if you would like to learn Dutch properly, find a Glaswegian to listen to and try to work out what mood they are in - the Dutch sound exactly the same, only in a different language.)
When I started Secondary School Rotterdam changed into something completely different for me. In fact - it changed into three completely separate things all at the same time.
Ask me where I feel most safe and you will get a one word answer - Rotterdam. It is the one place on Earth where I honestly feel like I can be myself. The only thing which can make me feel like I stand out is the fact that I have a different native language to the inhabitants. My sight doesn't matter - in fact, I would go so far as to say that Holland has always seemed to understand sight problems better than England. I consider Rotterdam to be a truly safe haven in which happens to contain many "havens" (or the Dutch word for "Harbours").
The second thing it turned into is a portable feeling. Allow me to attempt to explain;
Remember the line about the tropical beach at the beginning of this blog post???
Well, whenever I am stressed to the point where reading and writing don't calm me down (and I get like that more often than you might think) I just go into the space in my mind where I store up all my memories of Rotterdam, and my various adventures there, and think about them. One of my favourite memories of Rotterdam (and Holland) is of a poster I saw which made someone who had just been speaking in English (me) absolutely crack up with laughter. The poster had a picture of a forlorn-looking cat along with the words "Maak geen aziel zoeker van uw kat" (in English - "Don't turn your cat into an Asylum Seeker"). I loved another poster so much that I was really pleased when I saw a t-shirt in England with almost the same slogan - yes, you can blame the Dutch Physiotherapist Brigade for my "Your head looks funny turned that way" t-shirt (the poster read (in Dutch) "Does your neck hurt??? If so, see a physiotherapist" - the question being written so you had to turn your head through 90 degrees to read it.
Last but not least - Rotterdam turned into a place of entertainment. If you are anything like me you will love just sitting (or standing) watching people going about their daily lives - usually whilst comparing them to other people in your mind. I admit that the best place to do this is in a public space - preferably a shop or cafe (although - if you pick the correct sort of Family occassion you can sit quietly watching as something better than any British Soap you care to mention unfolds before your very eyes. Warning - for this to work really well you have to understand more of the language than most of your relatives think you do and keep absolutely silent unless someone accidentally speaks to you in Dutch). Trains are another source of fun - Just wait for the shout of "Goedemorgen/Goedemiddag/Goedenavond" (Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening) from one end of a train carriage - then observe the natives scramble for their tickets as they realise the Ticket Inspector has joined them.
Yes - I exist in Leicester, I feel happier in my native Kings Lynn, but I am definitely at home in the Port city of Rotterdam.
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