“Well, that wasn’t too bad”, the First Mate says, helping herself to some more salad. “Getting all those tests was a bit of a palaver, but at least it paid off once we arrived in Holland. Now it feels like we are back home again.”
We are sitting in the cockpit of Ruby Tuesday having dinner watching the sun go down behind the trees. With all the snacking we had during the day, it’s more of a light meal than dinner. I help myself to another slice of bread and some cheese. Two crested grebes and their young ones are swimming at the back of the boat, hoping for some titbits. The First Mate throws them a couple of small chunks of bread and we watch them fight over them excitedly.
She is right – it hadn’t gone too badly. We had left home in the morning for the airport armed with our vaccination certificates certifying that we had had our two vaccinations, the certificate of the PCR test we had had the day before, the quarantine declaration form, and the health declaration form. I was starting to think that we would need a separate suitcase just to hold the paperwork necessary for travelling in a covid19 world. And we still had to have the Rapid Antigen test an hour or so before boarding and get the certificate for that too.
Luckily, that too had turned out negative. Eventually we had boarded the plane and managed to get seats together, a change from the last time travelling in the opposite direction. The flight itself was uneventful, and the effects of the early start we had had caught up with me.
I am lying in the dentist’s chair staring up at the TV screen mounted on the roof. An old rerun of Neighbours is on. I am not really interested in it, but it does divert me from the pulling and pushing and twisting that is going on in my mouth.
“It’s looking really good”, says the dentist, looking down at me though his full face mask. “The implant screw has taken, and the bone and gum is looking really healthy. All I have to do now is take this little pin out and we are done for the day. Then next time you come, I’ll put in the implant itself.”
He takes a pair of tweezers and what I assume is the dental equivalent of a screwdriver, and twists it.
“Ah, there it is”, he says. “Ooops …..”.
I feel something drop on to the back of my tongue, and try to block it by pressing my tongue against the back of my throat, but it is too late. I can feel it slithering down, and cough vigorously, but it’s gone.
“I am so sorry”, says the dentist. “The little pin popped out of the tweezers, and I think it’s gone down your throat.”
“It has definitely gone down”, I say. “What does that mean?”
“It shouldn’t do any harm”, he says. “It’s made of titanium. In 99% of the cases, it will go straight through.”
“What about the other 1%?”, I ask.
“There is a small chance that it could go down in your lungs and cause inflammation and lots of mucus. So it’s probably best to get a chest x-ray just in case, and to be sure one way or another.”
I think that he is more worried than he is letting on. I hadn’t really expected this as part of my tooth implant treatment, but accidents happen, I suppose. I arrange a chest x-ray a few days later. It shows nothing in my lungs.
“It must have gone right through you”, says the First Mate. The thought makes me feel queasy, and I try not to think about it.
The dentist looks relieved the next time I see him. “That’s good news. It must have gone right through you”, he says.
“That’s what the First Mate said”, I say. He looks at me quizzically, then knowingly. I have already told him about our sailing project.
A sharp jab in the ribs from the First Mate’s elbow awakes from my reverie.
“You dozed off. What were you dreaming about?”, she says. “You had a smile on your face.”
“I was just remembering the experience over the winter with the dentist and the little pin”, I respond.
“I hope it’s not still in you”, she says. “It might set off the x-ray scanners, and they won’t let us in.”
There is an announcement by the air hostess telling the crew to take their seats and prepare for landing. We fold our tray tables away and put the rucksacks under the seats in front of us.
This was the first time that we had entered Europe since the UK had left the EU. Having heard all sorts of stories about ham sandwiches and the like being confiscated by Dutch customs, we had made sure we had were carrying no food or other contentious items. We needn’t have worried – we were waved through immigration after presentation of our test results, collected our luggage, breezed through customs, and entered Europe! Nothing seemed to have changed, and yet everything had changed – we were no longer EU citizens with the right to roam anywhere within its borders. We were foreigners now. Well, I was anyway – the First Mate still has her German passport.
And we are lucky that she does. Because of the coronavirus, entry to the Netherlands and many other European countries is still banned to non-EU and non-EEA citizens, which now includes all Brits, particularly now that the Delta variant of covid19 is spreading like wildfire through the UK. However, exemptions are made for EU citizens and their spouses, hence us being allowed to enter.
We catch the next train directly to Hoorn. On the way, we can’t help overhearing a telephone conversation of the man on the other side of the aisle. He is speaking with an English accent.
“Yes, I just arrived at Schiphol about an hour ago”, he says. “No, I didn’t have much trouble at immigration and customs – just waved me through. Yes, they did ask to see the PCR and lateral flow test results. No, they didn’t search my bags.”
His experience is similar to ours. When he has finished, I lean over and ask him where is going.
“I have a boat in Greece”, he says. “I am visiting friends in Hoorn for a few days, then heading off out there. But this whole Brexit thing has just made it so much more difficult. It must go down in history as the biggest own goal a country could score. And all for what? I ask you, what good has come out of it so far, or ever will? A couple of piffling trade deals with Norway and Australia that has our fishermen and farmers up in arms? British influence diminished, delusions of grandeur with new royal yachts being built – we are the laughing stock of the world. Pah!”
He sniffs derisively. I try to work out whether he would have voted for Leave or Remain in the referendum. It’s a tricky one.
We reach the marina, and there is dear old Ruby Tuesday just as we left her. Our home once again for the next few months. She is in good shape, a bit grubby from the winter elements, but nothing a good scrub won’t clean up. And then! We are greeted by Rameses and Nefertiti, the two Egyptian geese we had met last year. Except there weren’t two of them, there were three, a new addition to the family since we had seen them last. They seem to have forgotten about the mat episode, or, if they haven’t, are too polite to mention it.
And on the boat itself, who should be waiting but Spencer himself! I was secretly hoping he would be still there, as I had enjoyed our conversations last year, but wasn’t sure if he would have survived the winter or not.
“It’s good to see you again”, I say. “And I have got something to tell you. But not now. When there is more time.”
We spend the next five days in quarantine. The rules are that we must quarantine for ten days, but that we can have another PCR test after five days, and if negative, we can finish our quarantine there and then. I ring up the Public Health Service (the Gemeentelijke Gezondheidsdienst, or GGD) and book a slot for us both. The COVID Testing Centre is about 20 minutes cycle ride from where we are.
On day 2, the Ministry of Health ring us to check that we are quarantining. They have received our details from the airline. We tell them that we are on a boat and will stay there until the five-day test. They are happy with that, and run through the quarantine rules with us. All very friendly.
Time flies by. We have enough food on the boat from last year – tins and dried food – to last us. The rest of the time is spent on all the boaty jobs that require doing to de-winterise. First, up goes the bimini and canopy, so that we have something to shelter in when it rains, and to sit under when the sun is too strong. Next the water tanks – flushing them though, then filling with fresh water for us to drink and wash. Then the sails – the genoa and the mainsail. Next is servicing the winches – ensuring the cogs are greased and the pawls oiled. They turn with a satisfying metallic click-click-click. That should keep them going for another year. Finally the engine – a new water impeller, checking and topping up the oil, and tightening the water pump belt.
On day 5, we jump on the bicycles and head off to the covid testing centre. It looks like an aircraft hangar plonked in the middle of a field.
Inside the shed are little tents set up with chairs outside each one. We are told to take the bikes with us and prop them up next to the tent. I am selected to go first, and sit down in one of the chairs. A nurse takes a swab and pushes it to the back of my nose, so far that I am surprised the First Mate doesn’t notice it coming out the back of my head. My eyes water. I am glad when the nurse pulls it out again. I go to get up.
“Good”, she says. “Now the other nostril.”
She either misses, or chooses to ignore, the look of terror on my face.
“That was more uncomfortable than the one back in the UK”, the First Mate says on the cycle back. “I hope it is worth it.”
We have to wait up to 48 hours for the results, so we continue with the boaty jobs.
The next day I hear a call from the First Mate. She is standing next to the bikes propped up against a tree, with an embarrassed look on her face.
“Can you come and help me? I seem to have lost my glasses. I think they fell down a hole near the tree.”
It is about five metres from where she dropped the mat into the water last year. A thought briefly crosses my mind that perhaps there is some kind of gravitational anomaly in the vicinity that targets women of a certain age and makes them drop things.
I peer down the hole next to the tree, using the torch on my phone to provide light. It is some kind of corrugated tubing that presumably is used to water the tree, making sure that the water reaches the soil layers where the roots are growing. At the bottom of the hole, a small beetle stares back at me transfixed as though he has been caught doing something he shouldn’t have been.
“Sorry, buddy”, I say. “I don’t mean to disturb you, but I am looking for a pair of glasses that might have dropped down here. I don’t suppose you have seen them?”
The beetle looks trance-like around the bottom of the hole and back to me again.
“No”, I say. “Nor can I. I suppose they must be somewhere else. Have a good day.”
“Are you sure you dropped them here?”, I ask the First Mate.
“Not really”, she says. “It might have been back there along that path that I was walking along. Or even in town. I am not sure.”
We walk along the path for a bit, but there is no sign of the glasses.
“Never mind”, says the First Mate. “I have another pair on the boat. I can wear those.”
“Here, let me guide you. Old ladies can easily bump into things without their glasses”, I say.
“Get away with you”, she says, crossly. “I am not that old yet. I’ll let you know when I need guiding.”
In the evening, we sit at one of the bars along the inner harbour quay enjoying the warmth of the evening sun, and admiring the sailing boats tied up next to us. The one in front of us has a German flag, and a woman lounging in the cockpit with a drink, speaking into her mobile phone. I get the impression that she is enjoying the admiring glances coming from the bar patrons, whether they be for her or the boat.
“Well, that’s good news”, says the First Mate, picking at the snacks.
We had received a telephone call in the afternoon from the Public Health Service informing us that the PCR tests that we had had the day before are both negative. That means that we are allowed to end our quarantine and can move freely around the Netherlands as any other European. The drinks we have ordered are a kind of celebration.
“Yes, it is”, I agree, sipping my Weizen beer. “But we still have to follow the rules of social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks, and all the other rules that we have been following for the last year. But at least we are not confined to the boat anymore.”
We sit in silence and soak in the beauty of the surroundings – the old ships in the harbour, the old merchant’s houses beyond, the old harbour office at the entrance. I try to imagine what it would have been like in the days of the Dutch East India Company.
Eventually, the sun goes down and it starts to get cold. We pay the bill and walk home.
“Oooh, look”, says the First Mate. “There are my glasses, hanging on the spokes of your bike. I knew I had dropped them somewhere around here.”
A fitting end to the day. I wonder momentarily if the beetle in the hole has got over his traumatic experience yet.