Amsterdam · Family · Life

This Only Happens To Me


It’s raining, to borrow a term oft used by My Lawyer, a metric butt-tonne. I’m not talking about this very minute; although, now we come to mention it, it is currently raining. It is a type of invisible rain today; a tricksy rain that says, sure, wear your new leather gloves. What’s the worst that can happen, when the air looks so demonstrably clear? It is a rain that, once you are in the café that was your destination, says, hey, beats me why your gloves now look and smell like road-kill. I guess you must have very sweaty hands. Very sweaty, smelly hands. I don’t have anything to do with it, because I am a rain that doesn’t exist. Gas-lighting rain, friends. Only in The Netherlands.

Still, the Dutch are, famously, amongst the happiest in the world; or, perhaps, psychologically hardened following years of meteorological abuse and have settled on a “smile and wave” approach to this torment. Either way, in a culture where cycling is the norm and not reserved for “cyclists”, everyone here has at least a couple of precipitation prediction apps on their phones, waterproofs in their bag and a stoicism in their soul that shrugs at the heaviest downpour.

Well, almost everyone.

“This only happens to me,” says My Lawyer, one evening, dripping in the kitchen. His clothes are completely soaked through, as if he has immersed himself, fully-clothed, into a bath. “Have you noticed how this only happens to me?”

“It happened to us on the way home from school,” I say, “but we had our waterproofs on.”

“It started to rain when I set off,” continues My Lawyer, “and now it’s stopping! Look! Can you believe it? Can you believe my luck?”

“Did you check the app?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “I checked the sky.”

“You should check the app, not the sky,” I say. And, a shiver of joy, for here is an opportunity to use my favourite saying: “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.”

“Who would prepare to fail?” chips in the ten year old, who I have forgotten to put to bed. He has been under a blanket on the sofa, reading Philip Pullman. He has been enjoying a drink of warm oat milk and honey. Everything will be fine for him in about thirty years; until then, it’s going to be a bit of a slog.

“It means that you have inadvertently drawn up a plan to fail,” I explain.

“Who would do that?” says the ten year old, puzzled.

We both look at My Lawyer, who is picking through the sodden contents of his rucksack. He drops a ruined notepad in the bin.

“Poor Daddy,” says the ten year old, meaning it.

“Poor Daddy,” I say, meaning something else.

“This bin is full,” says My Lawyer. “Can you empty it whilst I’m getting changed?”

“But it’s raining again,” I protest.

My Lawyer shrugs. “The Politician’s Girlfriend just did the bins. I saw her outside.”

The Politician’s Girlfriend lives a few doors down. I imagine that she comments to The Politician on the comings and goings of the Blogger’s Husband in the same way.

I sigh. I am a feminist, so I have to do the bins.

Well played, sir, I think, stepping out into the rain.

The next day, the app says it’s going to be dry, and so I head out at five to three to pick up the kids without waterproofs. I shut the door and feel a few spits of water on my hand that must have come from the guttering above me, because the app says it’s dry. I unlock Steve the Bakfiets, who is without his rain-cover. We both feel a couple more drips of moisture, which must come from the trees above us, because the app says it’s dry. Steve gives me a look, but I’m a feminist who does the bins, so I ignore him and we make our way.

Thirty seconds later, I am soaked to the bone. It is the kind of rain that, if you saw it in a movie, you’d think, that is such fake rain. That is so obviously a high pressure hose. It never rains like that, you think, watching Forrest Gump wade through Vietnam or – worse – Andie MacDowell in a part of London in which no-one actually lives. Some people are sheltering in doorways, but I have to collect my kids, because I had them, and with that came more responsibility than I’d anticipated. “I want to be a feminist,” I said; “Do the bins,” they said. “I want to be a parent,” I said; “Collect your children on time,” they said.

Honestly, the whole thing is exhausting.

I arrive at school along with a couple of hundred soaking parents and a dozen or so smug bastards who “read the sky.” It stops raining as quickly as it started. I park Steve, who is positively vibrating with vindication.

Well played, sir.

On the way home, it starts to spit again. This only happens to me. We cycle past a mother who has a toddler seated in front of her on the bike. The toddler grimaces into the rain. She starts to cry. This only happens to her. A gust of wind blows the hood from another woman’s head. Godverdomme! She mutters. This only happens to her, too.

Dutch people aren’t always happy. Sometimes Dutch adults curse at the rain. Sometimes Dutch kids cry. Sometimes French kids throw their food. Sometimes Italian kids are as ugly as sin, and grow up to have quite dreadful sex.

And, sometimes, you do wear your waterproofs, plan for every eventuality, prepare to succeed, but a trickle of rain sneaks in anyhow, paving the way for more, in much the same way as ants, self-doubt and telephone calls about an accident that you had in 1998 that wasn’t your fault.

Sometimes it rains on you anyhow.

A metric butt-tonne.




4 thoughts on “This Only Happens To Me

  1. We were tourists in Amsterdam recently. One morning, while huddled under an overhang, with an actual paper map getting sodden in our hands, the door behind us opened and a woman looked at the sky then said something that sounded like ‘scheisse’. We begged to be directed to a store where we can purchase an umbrella. “Let me think,” said the woman, in perfect English, of course. Leaving her front door open, she disappeared for a few minutes, reappearing with an umbrella which she gave to us.
    Your Lawyer made a good decision IMHO. It will not rain in San Francisco or surrounds until Christmas. In the meantime, we have smoke from more fires. You could be the woman with excess umbrellas in San Francisco, but you would be lonely because all the other moms would be working to help pay the rent or the mortgage or the private school fees.
    Later that day, another helpful and very cheery woman noticed the map and asked if she could help. We related the umbrella story, then she told us she was from Texas, jumped on her bike and rode off to her Dutch lesson. If you have not yet met her, I have a feeling that you will.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Each umbrella in Amsterdam must literally go around the houses – I have lent so many out and borrowed/stolen so many others! I’ve come to love the rain here, especially now after a tumultuous decision-making summer – it’s nice to have the excuse to hibernate indoors. There’s nothing like rain on the window when you’re under a blanket on the sofa, reading, with a few candles about the place, to illustrate the famous Dutch gezelligheid.
      I hope you enjoyed your time here – and you’re right, the Texan lady sounds like my sort of person!


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