After six strange and sometimes stressful months in the Netherlands, I am now heading home again to start a new job. The new job in question is a long-term contract role based in Fife, Scotland. I will be able to get home every weekend. The money is very good, and it is a proper break into the Oil and Gas industry, which is notoriously difficult to get a foot-hold in.
I wasn’t happy in Holland. It wasn’t the place as such, although Groningen could be deadly boring on a weekend; it was the frustrations of being so close to home and only getting home once a month. I didn’t exist in a healthful way. I ate and drank to excess (what’s new?) apart from the month of January when I gave up the booze for the whole month.
One place that kept me sane was an Irish bar called O’Malley’s, which was 10 minutes’ walk from the apartment I was staying in. It did good food and had friendly staff who were only too willing to listen to my maudlin nonsense…as long as I kept ordering drinks, I guess. To be fair, it wasn’t like that. The guys seemed to be genuinely nice and interested in my life, and told me about theirs too.
Anyway, last night was my last night in Holland. On the previous night I’d had a meal and drinks with the few colleagues with whom I’d developed any kind of relationship. Such is the lot of the consultancy man; shoved in an archive room with your flatulent co-worker and left to get one with it (most of the time). Still, it was fine.
Last night I went to my regular haunt full of good intentions. I would have a couple of drinks then go back to the flat and chill. I didn’t really fancy travelling with a hangover. Even though the Wednesday open-mic night was on, I just wanted to have a couple and get home for an early night. I was actually really tired.
I eventually staggered home at 1.30am.
My first mistake was striking up a conversation with two chaps at the bar who were in town for one night. One was Dutch, the other was from Blackburn. We ended up shooting the shit for a couple of hours, and by that time I’d had more than a couple and the open-mic organiser was suddenly set up. What the hell, I thought, I’ll sing one song. My usual party piece, “One”, by U2.
The next mistake was talking to a lively Dutch girl and her Spanish friend. The Dutch girl wanted to sing something and we found a song we both liked and that I sort of knew how to play on guitar called “I Follow Rivers”, which is actually by some Polish dance act but has been covered brilliantly by a Belgian trio called Triggerfinger. We searched on our phones for chords and lyrics, hoping that we could read the tiny print. As it happened, it worked OK. Before long we were doing another song, “Valerie”, by the Zutons. The girl sang it a-la Amy Winehouse.
Then there was the Germans. A group of young, bubbly Germans arrived. One had a banjo. He started playing along with whoever was on guitar. Another Dutch girl with a stunning voice got up and sang a few Mumford and Sons numbers. The place was rocking. The man from Blackburn left and so did the Amy Winehouse girl. I stayed, enjoying myself immensely. I alternated drinks, going for an orange juice between the whiskies. It kept me from getting too drunk. I had found some reserves of energy from somewhere.
Next thing I knew I was sitting on a drum box. They have one of them every time and usually a Dutch guy sits on it and plays away. He wasn’t there this time, so I took it upon myself to provide some percussion. I think I acquitted myself quite well; using one hand to produce a bass drum beat in the middle of the front panel and the other to hit the top edge, which gave a rattling snare drum sound. I only lost the beat a few times, I think. Between songs I notice my hands were sore, and had to keep moving myself back on the box to avoid hitting my bollocks with the snare hand.
The German banjo player took charge and I shared a mic with a young, spiky-haired lad who seemed to have a similar sense of humour to me. We sang several Beatles tunes and God knows what else. My voice started to pack in. There was another rendition of the Mumford song with the good singer girl, this time I was providing the drum track. We rocked that joint. Seriously, people all around were enjoying it, not just the musicians who came together without knowing each other and produced such a great sound. I was brought drinks by a few people, including a young, permanently-smiling German who was about half my age. He seemed genuinely in awe when I told him I’d lived in Berlin when the wall was still standing.