Sunday, 6 December 2009

Psi d the point, but Z has been remembering again.

Sorry. You try finding something that starts p-si. It made me psi heavily. Psi what I mean?

Right, that's all the possible pronunciations I was given by google.

I wanted to tell you about Cobie and Joepie. They were - well, still are I suppose - sisters. They, with their younger brother and parents, lived in The Hague and a friend of my parents taught them English. Cobie, the older, passed her *GCSE equivalent* exams in English, German and French with the highest marks of anyone in Holland. The French and German governments sent congratulations, maybe an award. Britain did nothing. So the friend asked my parents if they would invite her to stay and show her something of English life in the summer holidays.

Johann speaks perfect English, but with a Dutch accent. Remarkably, Cobie, a girl who had never visited Britain, had virtually no accent at all. On the first day with us, someone knocked a glass over and it broke. "Whoops," she remarked, "that's gone for a Burton." This was the late 1950s, it was a current slang expression then and typical of her, that she knew the language through and through.

We all got on so well that she was invited to come for a year as an au pair. I was 5 when she spent her year with us. She was tall and blonde. She adjusted effortlessly to life with us and really did become part of the family. My mother used to speak of her as "my Dutch daughter". There were other Dutch girls working as au pairs and they all got to know each other - they went to evening classes at the local college. One of them, Petronella, eventually married a local farmer - Weeza and Al went to school with her children, although they were older.

It must have been a rather different life from hers at home. The atmosphere was very relaxed. Cobie's father and mother had not had an easy life when she was a child during the war. It was very tough in Holland and people were sometimes close to starvation. Her father was, with Johann, an active member of the Resistance. If caught, they would have been executed. He was a man with high and exacting standards for himself and his children. We had a lavish (seen in retrospect) lifestyle, with a gardener, three cars and regular visits to London for the shops and theatre.

At the end of the next summer, her sister Joepie came in her place. She was not so tall, with brown hair and a pretty face with a pointed chin; Cobie had a rounded chin. Her English was also fluent but more accented. She was delightful too and, shy as I was, I was as relaxed with them both as with any member of my own family. My parents went on holiday without me and Wink and we went to stay with Cobie and Joepie's family - I remember their shower, which was downstairs and a small concrete room. Although the water was not cold, I stood and shivered while I was soaped. I also remember being dressed up as a pirate and having my picture taken swigging from an empty rum bottle, walking along the pavements skipping over the lines, going to the zoo once, and falling against the french window, which broke. Scared, I ran from the room and into Cobie's arms to be comforted. I wasn't scolded by her parents though, it was an accident. Oh, and I remember coming into the room and finding Cobie wearing a white dress decorated with strawberries, a new one. "I like that," I said. "Do you? I don't, I think I'll send it back," she remarked. I was embarrassed, I so rarely expressed any opinion and it seemed I had the wrong one!

That's the extent of my memories of three weeks' stay.

Every year, we used to receive St Nicholas Day presents from them, in a big box. It was terribly exciting. I particularly loved the chocolate, in the shape of letters of the alphabet or wrapped to look like miniature Delft tiles. Then there was the gingerbread in the shape of Santa Claus (you see, I'll say it in context). It was spicy and delicious and my benchmark of the tastiest gingerbread.

Afterwards, we had a third au pair girl. My mother told me she was a Finnish girl. I took this to mean that she was the last, as we were getting too old for them, and asked what country she was from. Her name was Malle. She used to bring gifts of smoked reindeer meat, which was delicious. She gave me a pair of reindeer fur slippers with pointed toes for Christmas. I had to be careful running across our polished floors.

She was a finish girl in fact, as we didn't have another au pair. I suppose I was eight or so and my sister was entering her teens and we didn't need one any more.

By the way - it seems to be the thing at present for bloggers to look up their address on Google Images. I was quite surprised, since we're 100 yards or more from the road and there are two hedges in the way, one by the roadside, to find it. I was amused and more surprised to find it described as an "old manor house." It isn't.

They must have come on to our front field (not the cows' field, this is the one that Dave is eyeing up for a cricket pitch) as there's no possibility of getting this clear a shot through the hedge.

14 comments:

Completely Alienne said...

I love Holland, and the Dutch are lovely people. We have been there several times and the girls love it too,

Your house looks wonderful - that chimney is very impressive. I shall have to look up my house now.

Z said...

That's the original Tudor chimney. If you click on the picture, you get the later ones too. At least the house is looking tidy, the hedge and the creeper are newly trimmed!

I still love the Dutch accent. I can pick up the least hint of it.

Four Dinners said...

Alien...soz...Alienne

I am curious.

How do you look up your own house? This could, potentially, get you your own TV show...

Soz Z....very very very pissed...

x

Z said...

I lay on the ground and looked up, darling.

I also typed my address into Google Images. A range of photos came up, most of which weren't of my house. If any of them had been amusing, I'd have put it up, but that someone had climbed over a gate onto obviously private land showed impressive brazenness.

Roses said...

What a lovely memory.

And what a lovely home (and well maintained hedge). I'm surprised Google didn't pick up on the 9th wonder of the world - the Wall!

I'd keep Dave out of your field, you'll find yourself mowing the cricket pitch every flippin day during the summer.

Dave said...

Oddly, I've never actually seen that field (the hedges, you know).

It is very sad that The Wall isn't included - but that's even further from the road.

Z said...

I don't think the Wall has been photographed yet, I can't find that recent an image. It will hardly show up from above and the photographer would really have to be bold to come down the drive and take a snap.

There's not a lot to see, Dave. Just a flat field, nearly 4 acres (1 1/2 hectares if you prefer) in size.

Christopher said...

Wonderful house. How you must love it. Aren't they Dutch steps on the gable ends? There must be a story attached to them.

Still reeling from yesterday's deeply psi-chological objurgations.

lom said...

nice house Z

Z said...

It's been in the family since 1928. They are crow-stepped gables. If I knew anything about crow-stepped gables, I'd tell you. The end of the house to the left of the Tudor chimney is less than 20 years old - it was built once we discovered that the end of the house had been pulled down many years previously. The house has been altered a lot over the years - it was two cottages at the time the Sage's parents bought it, but it was originally one.

Last letter today.

Rog said...

An impressive psight indeed.

Wendy said...

How rude of Google to get so close up.

Regarding your lack of memories about that holiday, it reminded me again of how sad I find it that my boys will remember so little of their early years.

Years they spent alone with me.

All their childhood memories will be about France and living with their father and I won't feature much in them. But I suppose that at least they were happy years and that will have given them a warm and solid enough foundation even if they can't recall much. Small consolation I know but it helps.

Pat said...

Lovely photo and I was intrigued by the chimney. I have always liked the Dutch people I have met and they were renowned for their excellent English.
BTW I received your sweet comment about our 30th - but only today -along with two other late ones. It was in Dashboard which I check every day. Strange.

Z said...

That reminds me, Rog, I must reread the Psmith books of PG Wodehouse.

You may find they remember more than you expect, Wendy. My mother had only a single, specific memory of her mother, who died when she was 18 months old, but she remembered a lot about her grandparents, with whom she lived until she was seven. Then her father remarried. Those early years were very precious to her, and stayed in her memory because of the change. I remember little because I received no shocks and had no reason to know how precious memories are.

Pity the wisteria isn't in flower, Pat! Once in a while I find a comment in Dashboard, though all of them are supposed to be sent to my email inbox.