…Ladies and Gentlemen: Before we begin, a word from Mr Devin Townsend, and his “Projekt”:
AH GIMME THAT WINE!* The world spins around you: the people swarm and flow. AH GIMME THAT ACID!* You’ve walked this path before, but never to this extent. I WANNA LOSE EVERYTHING THAT’S POLICING US, THEN EVERYTHING MUST BEGIN! A road should not, under “normal” circumstances, be this difficult to cross. AND I WANNA DO HEROIN!* I seem to have lost the sensation of possessing a pair of functional arm pits. AND I WANNA DO CRACK COCAINE!* Functional? I WANNA LOSE EVERYTHING BUT RELEASE. What, pray tell, is your view of the “function” of an arm pit, dear heart? WHY DON’T YOU JUST SMOKE THAT FUCKING WEED! Do not laugh: Stop laughing; now.
That was my second visit to the ancient and glorious city of Amsterdam, as a callow youth. My next would be more than eighteen years later. Circumstances and events would be rather different.
* – Erm, not really. Weed and beer were very much the order of the day back then.
The apartment is beautiful, panelled in old wood, and decorated with a tumult of stained glass, of the city’s past. The view out of the bowed frontage is of the outer canal ring, Prinsengracht. You have never seen this side of the city before: it is old, it is charming, it is majestic. Off to one side you can see the structures which govern the Amstel itself. At night the windows light up with the evening lives of the industrious folk of this fair and beguiling city. And then the fireworks began to erupt. The night sky, low above the high buildings. Your child is entertained once more, just before bed time.
You wake up. You are not in a room you recognise. You are in a small room, with a window looking out over a central courtyard, where they bring the laundry deliveries. Collections. Both. Your head is not on a pillow, it is on a person. You remember feeling faint, and the need to rest. The others saw the funny side; not quite so much when they all passed out too. Right: time to get the day started.
OK, so you’re at the zoo, and it is wonderful. There are issues, however: there are always issues, you dimwit. One issue is that it cost a fortune to get in here, but you only have a couple of hours before the next thing you booked to do: Meh – No one cares, and it wasn’t your money. The next issue is that the child keeps running off to the next thing before you’ve even had chance to look at the first thing: Double meh – you’re here so that she can have a good time. That said, it is a bloody brilliant zoo: I know – look at the giraffes, no the zebra, ooh an elephant. Calm down, you giddy moron.
But he wants Jambalaya. That’s all well and good wanting things, but if he can’t find the restaurant we had the Jambalaya in last time, then there is no point in wanting it. I want a Chinese. So does Steve, and I think Chris would happily join in too, if it went that way. So, why don’t we just tell him? Look, are you enjoying walking around these streets, battered? Yes. Then shut your face, Richard.
So, there aren’t as many here as there were before, I’m sure. I’m sure it used to be that there was one on every canal corner. A shell-like twist of green metal in to which a constant crawl of men came and went. Or was that just the red light district? Had the other places cleaned themselves up a bit? Or had we just not ventured out of the less salubrious areas last time? I remember us going to the science museum, as high as anything, as usual. Did we venture this far in to respectability? I need the loo, and so do the others. I can use a public one, but they can’t. I remember it as a trough, but it is not: you pee against a stone in to an open drain. A gaggle of Scousers stand outside of the structure, heckling each other to follow me. They’re afraid of getting their feet wet. I can’t really blame them.
A confusion of sorts. Observation by an unknown party. The egg is too cold, the shell is too dry, the whole thing is contaminating the ham, the salami, the cheese. I couldn’t handle the fact that her outstretched form resembled a desert town, somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona. They couldn’t handle that the hotel was a nightclub. The drugs were fine, but the idea of people drinking and listening to loud music was truly obnoxious. She had been there longer than they had, so she had priority over all of them. That was bullshit, and they knew it. And that’s what confused breakfast.
As we walked through the colonnade we were stirred by the sounds of Vivaldi: out of place for a city so far North; doubly so for being played on a bouzouki and an accordion. We couldn’t tell. Our view lingered over the serried crowds and works of the Rijksmuseum. We didn’t have time, and our four year old didn’t have the patience. On we pushed. Out in to the light, and the backwards spelling of the city’s name, in red and white, across a vast piazza. A van dumped a load of ice in to the empty pond beyond, and we all ran over to kick about in it. Crowds behind us flocked in and through each and every selfie, eyes on the social media potential alone. A water feature without water; a perfect playground for a bored child, leaping and sliding and jumping and climbing. The crowd mills around.
Stoned people are easily spooked. We were students, and we only came here to get stoned. We could have saved a few hundred quid and gone through to Glasgow, where Lizzy could get her hands on any and all kinds of illicit merchandise. But logic was never the point of this kind of holiday. We took rooms near the red light district, but knew that we would never partake. We wanted to eat nice food, but we were scared of the restaurants, each of us egging the others in to opening the door, and venturing forth. Aside from a tasty Jambalaya one night, the rest was shwarma. Tasty, though.
The science museum – Nemo – was a marvel. Set on its own island, with the main northward road tunnel diving beneath it, it climbs up towards the light, a shimmering vision in green copper. The first time I had been there were far fewer things, but eighteen years allows a place to fill up somewhat. I remembered some of the interactive exhibits very well: a spinning table, full of goop, to explore the way fluids spin; huge rings, with trays of bubble mixture; a desk chair and a wheel, to show how angular momentum is conserved. Everything else was new, and that especially applied to the upper levels. I remembered space, and a door out. Now there were space exhibits, experimental zones and a look inside the mind of a rutting teenager. Fun for every age of child, and worthy of return visits.
The clogs act like a time machine, unifying the strands of the holidays. Everyone ends up in them or on them at some point: it’s ubiquitous. The corner of Nes and Damstraat, we had found waffles here years before, topped with cream. Now all we can do is avoid being jostled by an endless parade of tourists from all possible destinations. It must have been this packed in years gone by, but memory obscures those from view. Maybe it is coming back with a child, but the throng feels chaotic now. Then, it was just us, four twenty-something students, looking for the grime. Now, parenthood and a desire to protect the impressionable give the city a much different flavour. Still a great place, though.