It was the tall evenly spoken Dutch steward (stripes on sleeve) on board Stena Line who convinced me.
‘If I was a dog, I’d prefer the air conditioned kennels.’ Adding ‘And you can keep your eye on him from your cabin. Chanel 7 on the TV’
Which is, of course, the first thing I did when I found the cabin. Pissed off, I’d say. The cat in No 3 looked quite at home.
First photo: dog in cage on the TV.
As we skimmed out of Harwich harbour (these passenger liners don’t sail), our block of flats (6 stories!) on water looked down on the old Georgian waterfront homes, appearing like dolls houses amid the great cranes and passenger liners. The boat was full of Indians, every other word being ‘Kitna hai?’ (How much?). All were from Hydrabad on a tour of Europe, for many their first time outside India. The burgeoning Indian middle class. And what did you like or find in England, I asked one.
‘Well ma’am’ he replied, ‘The sun sets at 10 in the evening’.
‘What about food?’ I asked somewhat dreading the answer
‘We travel with our own food. We are strictly veg, Ma’am’
I lost my first object on the crossing. My Osho white nightdress which must have become camouflaged in the white sheets of my comfortable cabin. Ah well, first of what is sure to be a list.
Of all the boats in all the world, it is bizarre indeed to meet Cindy from Halesworth at the coffee bar in the morning. She is on her bicycle to Amsterdam to see her son studying there.
Intimate, low rooted homes, cycle paths which make me want to cycle again. A level crossing open and unprotected by Health and Safety notifications or barriers, encompasses what this land immediately transmits to me, a feeling of expansion and freedom, but keep your senses alert for on coming trains.
We walk. The dog is overjoyed to be released and cavorts in the plentiful grassland, smells out the new smells, and I wonder about dog language. Naturally, immediately, in the landscape are remnants of the last war, two breasts of bunkers and a bronze cast of children, Jewish children, (the absence of an adult strangely marked), waiting, looking out to sea, small suitcases of that era by their feet. I wonder if Gerd came through here, as he was one of the last kinder on one of the last trains out of Nazi Germany. Ash die back looks established here, with extremities of ash branch dead.
Easy passage through Amsterdam, my first ‘what would I do without Sat Nav’ experience, as the voice guided me seamlessly and calmly around roundabouts, major thoroughfares, motorways and along dikes. I motor with no plan. I am drawn to the extremity of coast line, driving across the relatively uninteresting long dike of Afsluitjijk, when we turn the corner of the land into Friesland. We walk at a place Den Oever, a haven for boats plying to the droplets of Islands, and I think of Cindy on her cycle – this is bicycling heaven. Although the wind is relatively light today and rain at bay, the life is poetically evoked in a sculpture of Fisherfolk dragging in their net against the wind, sinews of muscles taught, the power of wind and the man encapsulated in bronze. (2005, Hans Blank).