#8 The Beautiful South – Rotterdam (or Anywhere)

“And all the men are gargoyles

Dipped long in Irish stout”

Half-term of October 1996 marked a momentous occasion for the Worthley family. Hitherto bound to UK vacationing due to budgetary constraints, it was announced that we would be blasting off for 3 days to stay in the exotic climes of Amsterdam. Previous holiday accommodation had tended to be heavily caravan-based. Memorably on one particular Easter when what had been pitched as a holiday in a beautiful cottage on the remote Suffolk coast transpired to be a week in a creaking mobile home cowering in the shade cast by the nuclear island of Sizewell B. Such was the reactor proximity that the lodge was probably powered by ambient radiation. Against this backdrop, the announcement of a 2-night away-break in the Netherlands was an impossibly exotic bolt from the blue.

With excitement bursting from our collective pores, we bundled into the car for the first limb of the journey; a drive to Harwich ferry port. This afforded the ideal opportunity for a spin of Some of the Best 8; hot off the press and teeming with holiday bangers such as I Am, I Feel and – this entry’s feature – the newly released Rotterdam. Tim had also recently picked up the Beautiful South’s 1990 Choke on cassette which came long for the ride. So Paul Heaton vied for attention with the various archived SOTBs that were to grace the car stereo until we reached the coast.

Pater’s holiday planning in a pre-Tripadvisor era was flawless. The execution however was hampered by a few kinks in the road. As the outbound voyage proved. Our party of five embarked on an eight-hour night ferry crossing to the Hook of Holland in a four-bed cabin. Jennie was still young enough to share a bed with one of us bigguns (my older sister Hannah having flown the coop by this time). In theory we would pitch up in the Netherlands bright-eyed and bushy tailed, well rested from our night of decadent nautical snoozing, and ready to embrace our continental adventure. In reality, unfathomably stormy conditions made for nightmarish sleepless hours down in the bowels of the ship, tortuously pitching, rolling and vigorously vomiting into the cupboard-sized en-suite bathroom toilet.

We arrived – somewhat ashen faced – at dawn.  Sleep deprivation undoubtedly contributed to our subsequent struggle to find vacant seats for the rail journey to Amsterdam before we miraculously stumbled into a completely empty train carriage. Exhausted, we slumped down into the deep maroon seats, grateful for this karmic favour from the universe. A couple of minutes into the journey, eagle-eyed Tim spotted a discreet ‘1st’ sign above the carriage doorway. What we had thought was kismet was in fact low-level international travel fraud. Moments later the ticket inspector confirmed our inadvertent criminality. Or at least, he tried to. In admirably halting English along with some kindly gesticulating, the guard attempted direct us back to bustling standard class carriages. Dad’s riposte was to keep pointing at the handful of tickets in his hand, shrugging his shoulders and repeating ‘Amsterdam?’ in his Dutchest accent with an increasingly flushed visage. Eventually, the inspector took pity on us, no doubt moved by the exhausted pale faces of three hapless children, and so sanctioned our accidental free upgrade with a friendly wave. A wonderful man.

Crisis averted, we reached the city and navigated our way to the guesthouse that would be our home for the next 2 days. A self-described ‘charming’ shabby-chic waterside terrace turned out to be heavy on the shabby and light on the chic. Our genial moustachioed host Jan showed us up to our one-star lodgings; a cavernous drafty first floor room with a sagging double bed and three narrow single cots. A single bare lightbulb hung forlornly from a pendant, illuminating the stark whitewashed walls and peeling seventies linoleum. A single clothes rail perched precariously in the corner of the room in lieu of a wardrobe. On the plus side, Jan bought up a giant steaming red pot of tea with a clattering of assorted crockery and some stroopwafels. Suitably fortified with caffeine, we ventured out on a canal cruise for a boat tour of the city and promptly fell asleep for the entire thing.

The next 48 hours flew by in a wonderful whirl of trams, canals, pancakes, Van-Gogh appreciation and strict Coffeeshop avoidance. On the final evening us three kids were waiting outside a shop whilst the parentals were buying postcards, only for 9-year old Jennie to momentarily wander off down a side alley before running back, eyes shining with excitement. “Fun House, I’ve found Fun House!’ she cried. Tim and I cautiously followed to find that Jennie had indeed discovered a ‘Fun House’. Only, Pat Sharp almost certainly wasn’t inside, and the ‘twins’ were depicted in decidedly non-family friendly provocative silhouettes. Tim calmly told Jennie that the ‘studio’ was already closed for the evening and shepherded her back to the innocent postcard stand, where she was met with eye-level postcards of jauntily padlocked labias. Happy days.

On the afternoon of our departure we returned to our guesthouse, only to find the frontage blocked by a giant delivery van and an industrial sized skip. A couple of workers were stood at the full-length windows of the first floor, hurling our decrepit old beds and mattresses out into the skip. Jan watched on beaming as gleaming new furniture was ferried through the front door. “Nice new beds!” he bellowed as we collected our bags. “These ones were very old eh?” he beamed, gesturing to the skip at our erstwhile bedding that was now, quite literally, garbage. Dad forced the ghost of a smile onto his face as he muttered his farewells.

Our return ferry journey was marked by glacially calm waters. No cabin this time, just polystyrene cups of tea in the passenger lounge and scurrying around the forlorn fruit machines checking for rogue abandoned coppers. The final limb of the return journey was a long night-drive back home serenaded by The Beautiful South, a constant and wonderful staple of SOTB’s early years. Choke brought with it an unmistakeable melancholy. By the time “Your lying lips don’t cry don’t cry, Keep telling me you’re forever” span around for yet another repeat, Dad muttered something sounding suspiciously like, “bloody depressing” and summarily ejected the cassette. In went SOTB 8. Dave Rotheray’s distinctive guitar riff filled the car followed by Dave Stead’s shuffling snare, and soon we were all singing along with Jacqui Abbott’s sultry vocals, “This could be Rotterdam, or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome, ’cause Rotterdam is anywhere, anywhere alone …”

The perfect anthem for an all-time great holiday.   

Honourable Mentions

Good Enough Dodgy

Basin Street Blues Louis Armstrong

Lining Your Pockets Ocean Colour Scene

The Collier Recruit Kate Rusby