I know I'm a bit late in blogging about this, but as you know I've been doing some down time, and as this incident happened before I re-surfaced, this has been my first opportunity to tell the story.
Some weeks ago, you may recall that hooligans following Rotterdam's Feyenoord football club to an away match against AS Roma went on the rampage in Rome and did no small amount of damage - even taking a chunk out of one of their ancient fountains. Then at the end of February, we received the news that the Rome club would be playing in Rotterdam and that the Italian fans would be congregating in our very own Oude Haven. It was also reported that AS Roma's followers were looking for revenge… not a happy prospect for those of us living on historic barges in the harbour.
So the day before the invasion I spoke to my neighbour, Pieter, about his plans. What precautions was he going to take, I wondered. He put down the length of wood he was holding.
"Hmm," was his first answer. Laconic? Maybe, but Pieter is never unnecessarily quick on the uptake and likes to ponder on the bigger picture before speaking. He stared into the sky.
"I'll probably just pull in my loopplank," came the rest of his reply. Eventually.
"Aah," I replied, also taking time to think. Since I didn't have my gangplank set up - it being dismantled for some work to its support structure - this could have implications of the watery kind for me. How was I going to get on board without taking a dip?
Pieter saw my concern (I'd probably paled visibly) smiled, and gently assured me he'd let me get on board after work before raising the 'drawbridge'.
Much relieved, I went ashore and took myself off to the local supermarket. As I was walking back round the quayside, a dapper young man bearing a notepad and clipboard stopped me. Speaking in Dutch he asked me if I'd be prepared to answer some questions about the forthcoming threat to our peaceful life. I looked round him just to make sure there were no sneaky cameras. I'd already shied away from one request to be interviewed for the local TV station, but not seeing any lenses lurking, I agreed.
The young journalist was from a well-known local daily paper. He asked me if I was afraid of what might happen the next evening. I hedged a bit. We'd never had any problems with football fans before - well not if you don't count the ones who got hopelessly drunk and thought they should go diving after the bikes, chairs, phones and shopping trolleys that regularly get hurled into the harbour during these events. But we were a bit worried about this revenge thing, I said. Was I going to go elsewhere? he asked. To this I responded with further hedging, but mainly because I'd run out of comprehensible Dutch by then. Luckily, he was the kind of person who likes to finish sentences for people (probably goes with the job), so I just nodded and smiled. By the time he let me go, I realised I'd only said just a few words myself, and he'd managed to fill in all the gaps.
Imagine my surprise then when the next day when one of my students waved the paper at me: "You're famous," she shouted with great glee. When I looked, I saw I'd been quoted 'verbatim' in an article about the upcoming match. I read the text with some amazement. I also couldn't help but be proud of what I'd 'said' in the article. It all sounded so fluent, so complete and so Dutch. And my student seemed terribly proud of my Dutch skills too. So much so that I didn't have the heart to tell her to what extent I (hadn't) contributed to the quote.
As it happened, the night of the football match was a very quiet evening in the harbour and there was no cause for any alarm. Police swarmed the quays and all the fans were collected after having a couple of drinks and were driven to the stadium in buses. AS Roma won, fortunately, so there was no need for them to go hunt the monuments. As I said to my students with a wink the following week, it was actually more peaceful than a standard student night out in the harbour. They just smiled.