Amsterdam · Family · Life · parenting

Paper Five

It is Koningsdag – King’s Day – in The Netherlands. A national holiday; a day to celebrate the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, who is fifty one years old. An accessible, popular sovereign; a cycling sovereign; an expensive sovereign. King Willem-Alexander made the news last year when he revealed he secretly piloted short-haul passenger planes to maintain his license. No-one recognised his voice, because no one ever pays attention to what the captain says. He was, by all accounts, anonymous. It’s a little like motherhood then, secretly flying a plane. Only you get paid, and don’t wee when you sneeze. And I expect, sometimes, people say thank you. Those things must be nice.

It’s always tricky to celebrate the birthday of that person who has everything. The Netherlands has come up with an ingenious solution, because you know what he doesn’t have? The shit from our attics! Cheap magazine toys! Pokemon swapsies! So, every year on April 27, Dutch people get up early, gather their crap, and take it to the streets for an enormous jumble sale. A collection of miscellany with little or no relevance to the modern age. The British government, in jumble form.

Spots are reserved on the pavements days in advance 

The children have euro signs in their eyes and have collected up big bags of old costumes, books and toys. The eight year old finds this hard; he remembers who gave each item. What if they found out, after all their effort? Wouldn’t they be upset?  Don’t tell him that we all order whatever our nose hits on Amazon Prime as we pass out at the end of the day.

The seven year old, formally the six year old, is using the opportunity to shed her younger skin, and is selling most of her princess dresses. Only Elsa, Anna and Moana survive the cut.

“They are the best ones,” she explains, “and anyway, you know princess dresses are very itchy.”

“I imagine so,” I reply, thinking many other answers relating to the discomfort of feminine conformity, and the symbolism of the rejection of these dresses on a day that celebrates the Kingdom. But I keep these thoughts for the many tens of you reading, now. You get the best of me, friends.

Oh Steve. How did it come to this?

We get up very early, and load the crap into Steve the Bakfiets. Unlike us, Steve has seen many King’s Days come and go, and rather thought he was beyond this. Eight months ago, he hit the big time, closing the Great Big Bike Blog Round Up as the most famous bakfiets in the world. Yet here he still is, carting around our shit, festooned with glittery frocks, chewed baby books and smeared snot. Domestic subordination creeps up on the best of us.

We are King’s Day newbies, and the advice that we have been given is collectively thus: make sure to have lots of change, get out early to secure a good spot, and head to one of the parks for the most family-friendly action. Central Amsterdam will be standing room only; not for the faint-hearted or be-childrened.

Kelly's pic
Koningsdag in Central Amsterdam. Credit: Kelly

The eight year old, still on crutches following an altercation with My Lawyer’s bike, rides on the back of Steve, and the seven year old cycles herself. We leave the four year old with My Lawyer, who promises not to put him on a bike.

We are at the park gates for 8am, where a few people have already gathered, armed with fold-out tables, bags, and coffees. The sun is shining, everyone looks around smiling, perpetuating the carnival atmosphere, pretending that they aren’t wondering: “who can I beat, when the gates open? Can I outrun a child? That one’s on crutches; he’s toast.”

More people arrive; a man plays a piano, which is very jolly for a good while before it becomes irritating. That’s the best you can hope for when you play piano in a public space. I have arranged to meet my friends, the Cool Scandi Mums, but in a remarkably accurate statistical representation of weekend parenting, both are late; one because she is still in her pyjamas and the other because she hit her head in an alcohol-related incident. If you are a parent reading this on the weekend, you are more likely to be in pyjamas, hungover and/or injured than you are dressed and ready for the day. Don’t feel bad about yourself. It’s a matter of statistics, and gin is so good.


For every parent you see here, two more are pyjama-ed 

The children and I talk tactics. “You will have to cycle ahead,” I tell the seven year old, “to get our spot. Get a space that lots of people will see.”

“Got it,” she says, with steely determination.

At twenty to nine, the gates open suddenly, twenty minutes before schedule. The crowd surges forward and the seven year old disappears.

“We’ve lost her!” cries the eight year old. “Quick, mummy, quick!”

Steve free-wheels anonymously into the park. He could be a King, piloting a plane, or a forty year old woman; nobody recognizes him. Eventually, we spot the seven year old, who is standing next to some bright blue portaloos.

“Everyone will see us here!” she shouts proudly, hands on her hips.

A portaloo door flaps open. A crumpled tissue drifts out on the wind. Flies buzz around us. I look around. The spots are disappearing. People are running ahead as each one goes.

“You’re right,” I say. “This is…. perfect.”

We put blankets down on the ground and the kids arrange their goods. I throw some of the four year old’s old clothes down, hoping that they will sell before the four year old arrives with My Lawyer.


The princess dresses attract immediate attention.

“How much are these?” asks a Dutch granny.

“Two euros each,” says the seven year old.

“I offer five euros for three,” replies the granny.

The seven year old considers. “Is it a five paper,” she asks, “or five coins?”

The granny checks her purse. “It is a five paper.”

“I accept!” The seven year old holds her five paper aloft, as the granny scoops up a chapter of the seven year old’s glittery childhood and disappears into the crowd.

The eight year old takes his sister’s success personally, and sulks until the arrival of his good friend Cool Scandi Boy, who is selling some Pokemon cards at ambitious prices.

“How much is this one?” asks the eight year old.

“Fifty euros,” says Cool Scandi Boy.

“I have four,” says the eight year old.

“Not enough.”

Negotiations continue as the morning passes. My children buy up most of Cool Scandi Family’s stall. Their children buy most of ours. It strikes me that we could have just swapped all of our stuff at the beginning of the day and gone for brunch. My Lawyer arrives with the four year old, who immediately buys his own dressing gown and puts it on. The seven year old sells a pristine pair of My Lawyer’s shoes for 50 eurocents.

By lunchtime, we’ve been buying and selling for over four hours. We’re done. We pack up our stall, to the astonishment of some nearby Dutch sellers, who fill our space as quickly as we vacate.

We have survived our first King’s Day. People will ask us, in days to come, did you enjoy it? And we will say, yes, we did. Because if you stay vaguely where you intended to be, for approximately the amount of time you hoped to spend there, and do not raise your voice to a volume that hurts your throat, I have news for you, Parent: you just enjoyed yourself.

We go home with friends and drink gin: tomorrow’s parental statistic. We’ll be injured and/or hungover so a third of the rest of you don’t have to be. Someone’s gotta do it.



8 thoughts on “Paper Five

  1. You did it again! I really enjoyed your Konigsday experience, especially as we happened to be in the Netherlands that day (Zwolle, not Amsterdam, perhaps a tad quieter). Keep writing, I love it.


  2. Brought back fond memories of taking the kids to school with coat thrown on over pyjamas.. those were the days! You are a truly gifted writer.. move over Bill Bryson!.


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