By Anita Graafland
“But what if there’s nothing to report this time?” “Well, that’s also worth telling people, that there’s nothing to report,” my fellow newsletter team members pointed out.
Before cancer, Brexit and Covid-19 conspired to screw up my life, I used to spend six weeks in Amsterdam and six weeks in Cornwall, where my husband was living with our young daughter. Most of the time I would drive, but occasionally fly or take the train. In the years after his death, I spent eight months of the year in Cornwall, as much as the Dutch government allowed me to be away without losing my rights. Many dear friends in Cornwall looked after my daughter when I was gone, making sure she was able to continue her life as much as possible. Now, after these three agents of destruction have all had their way, I’m reduced to five months of the year. I’m allowed six, of course, but I must set aside time just in case I have to make an impromptu visit if she needs me – or if something happens to my friends. Because that’s the upside of misery: the friends here in Cornwall who have pulled me through the dark times in the past five years.
And it’s those friends that I’d purchased Dutch cheese for that I was taking to the border this time – way more than I’ll be allowed under the new rules. So it was with some trepidation that I approached Dunkirk this first time I was driving in about three years: would they impound my Christmas cheese offering?
As it was, there was nothing to report. A cursory glance at my bags when I opened the boot and not even a single question as to how long I was visiting this time – and why. I was almost disappointed, I must say. All those careful preparations for naught.
Six weeks later, I made the return journey to Amsterdam. This time with a car full of stuff, from our Christmas decorations to my favourite chair, from net curtains and dirty laundry to books, and masses of clothes. Having refused to buy a second home in Cornwall out of respect for the local population years ago, we had ended up buying a static caravan six months before we returned to Holland for my husband to die. And caravans in holiday parks close for the winter, so everything needs to get packed up and shifted at the end of the season. Of course, we used to shift the stuff to our home in Cornwall initially, but now that I am no longer allowed to live in the country, it all has to come back to Amsterdam with me.
And this time the French customs officer flagged up my car for inspection in Dover. The nice UK official was almost apologetic “Are you carrying any weapons, Madam”. I couldn’t help but laugh. “Of course you wouldn’t tell me if you were, would you?” I patiently talked him through whatever was in what bag, and he got increasingly uncomfortable. He breathed a sigh of relief when he was able to let me go: talking undies with a grey 60-year-old is probably not what he signed up for when applying for the job in the first place. I was strangely pleased, though. At last all my careful planning paid off and I had a story to tell.
The saddest part of the journey both ways, though, was the small number of “regular cars” travelling. Mostly due to Covid, of course, but I was told by staff on the ferry that the company would have undoubtedly gone bust if it hadn’t been for hauliers and continued trade. Long may it continue!