Friday, March 29, 2019

Cutting the ties

I've just realised I've missed a week as I didn't post a blog last week. That's pretty rare for me, but it just means I've been exceptionally busy. I can't honestly  say there's much to report, either. It's simply been a case of work overload and trying to keep up with all the marking that accompanies the courses I'm currently giving.

That said, I am slowly moving towards the final severing of the citizenship ties I've had to Britain since my birth. Last Monday, I applied for my Dutch passport at my local council offices. It was amazingly easy; in fact, it was completely hassle free, relatively inexpensive and pleasantly friendly. The process is also very quick. I shall be collecting it this coming Monday and then I'll be able to travel on it. I've already begun the process of surrendering my British passport, which I'm obliged to do under Dutch law. I just hope that with all the upheaval that's going on in the UK now, it won't be unduly delayed as I have three months in which to prove to the Dutch authorities that I've done the deed.

There's not much I can say or want to say about what's going on in the UK this evening. It's March the 29th, and Mrs May has lost the parliamentary vote over her Brexit deal. I can only keep everything crossed there won't be bad repercussions and that somehow or other, the situation will be resolved. It makes me very sad to see how divided the country has become.

Oddly enough, I had a letter from the Dutch immigration authorities today telling me about my residence rights following a no deal Brexit. I have a feeling they've got their lines crossed where I'm concerned as the letter actually stated I am a Dutch citizen. A bit puzzling, I must say, but since everything else is in a state of flux, maybe it's not that surprising.

On my own home front, spring is here, the forsythia is in full bloom and the daffodils are out. I'm itching to work outside and on the barge, but until next week, I've still got to keep my nose to the academic grindstone. It's wearing me down quite well at the moment, but I'll emerge soon, bruised but not beaten. Oh and yes, I have a book to launch as well when I finally get a moment to do a final proofread.

Here are just a couple of photos of brighter days from last year. I'm looking forward to enjoying some spring sunshine like this soon.

Have a good week allemaal, and to my UK friends and family, keep courage and keep smiling!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Citizen Val

Last Thursday was my big day. I became a Dutch citizen in Terneuzen, Zeeuws Vlaanderen, after having lived here since the beginning of this century and it felt just great! I'll admit Brexit prompted me into action, but I've been thinking about doing it for years. I'm at home here in the Netherlands, my daughters are here, Koos is here and I have my barge and a small (if crumbly) cottage here too. Why would I leave?

I took my Dutch exams back in 2010 with the possibility of becoming a citizen in mind, but to be honest the cost of applying put me off for a while. It's not a cheap business and I guess they want you to really feel committed. Still, there are undoubtedly expenses for the authorities too as they do all sorts of checks to make sure you're the kind of person they want. All the same, until Brexit came along, it wasn't such an issue that I felt impelled to spend the money and take the step.

Having finally taken the plunge last year in February, it was an exercise in patience and chewed nails to wait for the decision. Would they kick me out? What would I do if I received a negative response? My daughter applied months after me and got her citizenship last year in November. Why was it taking so long for me? What had I done wrong? "Aah," my friends nodded, smiling. "You're in Zeeland. Everything takes longer there." And with that I had to be content. Making jokes about slower country folk didn't do much to ease my anxiety (or make my nails grow) but it was a nicer thought than any of the alternatives.

When the decision finally came, I was more relieved than delighted; so were my nails. However, I was pleased to see the King himself had accepted my application. That made me stand up straight again. "Zijne majesteit, Koning Willem Alexander" had given me the stamp of approval. Phew! "I didn't get a letter like that," said my daughter. "Aah, but you're not old and potentially expensive like me," I replied, laughing. 

Well, I have no idea why the king had to give the nod to mine and not hers but it made for some entertaining speculation and it helped me feel a bit special for a while.

Anyway, that was at the beginning of February this year, just inside the 12 months they had, by law, to make the decision. Then came the wait for the naturalisation ceremony. As this was going to be local, I accepted another long wait. Thinking I might be one of a very few, we joked about having to wait until they'd collected enough of us in Zeeland to make the ceremony worthwhile. The invitation finally arrived two weeks ago, so imagine our surprise when on the day itself, we turned up to find I was one of thirty three new Nederlanders in Zeeuws Vlaanderen and one of quite a crowd.

The downside was we didn't have tea, chats and cake, which we did at the small intimate affair that my daughter's ceremony involved. The upside was that I didn't have to give a speech about myself in Dutch, which she did (with great fluency and ease, I might add).

Despite the numbers at Terneuzen, which more than doubled with all the supporting relatives, it was a friendly and very cheerful occasion. The mayor, a very tall, very Dutch local man was smiles and charm incarnate and made us all feel genuinely welcome, but I need not say more now as Koos' great photos show the atmosphere even better than I can describe it. 

"Ha," the mayor said, "Poore met een e. Welkom"

And the deed was done

And then we had to have a group photo...
But only the mayor is looking at the camera. Oh dear...
So we had to be directed by this lady here....
who told us to say cheese, although I'm not sure everyone understood!

But then we all got it. She did a great job and this was it
My next challenge will be applying for a Dutch passport, following which I will have to surrender my British passport, another major cost. I'm a bit peeved about that. I thought I could just go along to the consulate and hand it over, but no, I have to pay close to €450 for the privilege of giving it back. Since dual nationality is not permitted in the Netherlands if you aren't married into or stem from a Dutch family, it has to be done. Such is life and long may I live in my Flatlands – the home I have chosen to call my own.

Have a good week, allemaal! Till next time!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Stormy weather

This last week has been a seriously stormy one, weather wise. While I was in Rotterdam, I spent time on the Vereeniging after work emptying my little boat during the few dry minutes, then listening overnight to the rain pounding on the hatches and having to empty it again the next day.

The wind has been ferocious, but luckily, my spot is quite sheltered. Even so, there was plenty of rocking about and I couldn't manage to get much of an internet connection. It kept dipping on and off, which is quite tedious when I'm trying to do my online course work.

On Thursday when I drove to Steenbergen, the wind was so strong it buffeted my poor little jam jar of a car about as if it were a punch bag. I felt the wind was shoving me sideways constantly, especially on the highway, so at the first opportunity, I took the back way where it felt inexplicably safer. It probably wasn't, though. There are far more trees close to the road, so my ideas of safety were illusory. Judging by the number of fallen trees we've seen today, I'd say now that it was worse than illusory and quite possibly deluded of me, but then on Thursday we hadn't had the real storm.

I know I tend to exaggerate about the wind; I actually hate it with a passion. Ever since I was a child, I've found it gets under my skin and bothers me; makes me grumpy and unsettled. But yesterday was awful. The wind howled and I was really quite worried about the amount of damage it was doing.

As it happened we lost a roof tile at the crumbly cottage. Not much in the greater scheme of things, but it happens to be about the most expensive tile it could have been. It was one of those edging, finishing off ones that has an L shape which hooks over the side of the facia board. Where the normal flat tiles sell for around €2 a piece, this one goes for whopping €70. I was staggered. We still have to put it up, but I'm wrapping it in cotton wool tonight, nurturing it and making sure it doesn't get cold. It needs some serious TLC at that price.

Lovely Gent

But when we drove to Gent this morning we were made aware of the real scale of the storm by the large number of trees either down or snapped off mid-trunk. There were dozens of them. There's no doubt it was a baddy, and it's been blowing quite hard most of today too, so I sincerely hope we've had our share for a while.

I think Koos does as well, but not for the same reasons. I'm not particularly nice to know with this kind of wind in my hair. I prefer a peaceful life and if storms are some kind of gauge of what people like and are like, I'm definitely not one of those that appreciates drama in any form.

Looking forward to spring and a more peaceful life

I'm back in Rotterdam and on the boat again tomorrow, hoping there's no damage there, but I'll be up and down and round and round this week. Reasons include the great citizenship shift, but more on that later.

For now, keep safe and have a good week allemaal

Sunday, March 03, 2019

The first post Portugal post

Last week I promised I wouldn't post anymore about Portugal, but now I have a problem. What should I be writing about instead? I know I've been very busy, but in the past weeks, none of what I've been up to is terribly blog worthy.

Since the end of January, I've resumed my treks up and down country to various teaching locations and I've enjoyed catching up with the group of teachers to whom I'm giving exam training in Roosendaal (town about 60kms south of Rotterdam). I've also been to Amsterdam again to the first session of a new online course and to Steenbergen (another town south of Rotterdam), where I've been teaching an elderly lady and a young Afghani man on Thursday afternoons. Other than this, I've had my usual academic writing courses at Erasmus University and a couple of workshops for a company in Steenbergen, which I thoroughly enjoyed as a change from the academic English.

It was fun to set up the workshop in these pleasant surroundings

When I first started teaching, I mainly did business communication, but that's changed in recent years and the focus has shifted to academic writing. It was lovely to go back to my training roots again and work with business people on the simple art of writing a good email.

But what else has been happening? Not much to be honest. I've spent most of the time enduring the cold weather and confess I've neglected the Vereeniging by staying in Rotterdam as little as possible, but yesterday marked the beginning of spring for my barge. After I had my stint on the helling in December, I didn't put my gangplank back on the quay. It seemed safer then because we had Christmas and New Year when the harbour can get a bit lively and as I wasn't going to be there (remember said trip to Portugal) in January, I just left it off.

A winter scene just before I went on the helling
We had more of the same in January; hence
the halt to the work
For the last month, I've been clambering over my neighbour's barge to get on and off, but now I want to start working on the boat again and for that, I really need it, so yesterday, we put it back in place and now I'll be getting on with my ongoing projects again. Believe you me there's plenty to do, and the first step was to wash it down and get some of the winter greening off. I hope I'll be resuming my panel replacement work in the coming weeks, but of course today it's been raining...just to spite me.

One other and perhaps more important event that's coming up is that on 14 March, I'll finally be taking the oath at the official ceremony to become a Dutch citizen. I'm doing the deed in Terneuzen, Zeeland, which is where I'm registered as a resident (not so far from the crumbly cottage), and following that, I'll be getting my Dutch passport.

Bye bye British Passport
The downside is that I have to surrender my British passport. Unfortunately, Dutch law doesn't allow for dual nationality except in specific circumstances, none of which apply to me. Such is life, and that is how it has to be, but it will feel quite strange, I must admit.

Still, I'll be posting again before then, so maybe I'll have more to say on the lead up to the great event next week.... will I or won't I feel more Dutch? That'll be interesting to see.

One thing I promise, though...I won't be writing my blog in Dutch. For one thing, I'd lose all my readers, and for another, it would take me hours to write a post! I have my Dutch exams, but real proficiency is a long way off. You could say I'm still working on it...have a good week, allemaal. Tot volgende keer! (Till next time).