I woke up with the day all mapped out in my head. First up, I would run to the office and collect my keys, swing by my new home and scope it out, then dash back to the hostel, check out, stash my suitcases in my new abode, then head off to IKEA to initiate the flat-pack joy that would define my coming days.
The first step went well. I collected my keys without difficulty. The sun was shining and the giant seagulls cawing happily as I made my way over to my new home. I climbed the four flights of stairs, and breathless with anticipation and unfitness, I unlocked my new front door and pushed it open with an excited flourish.
Something must have been lost in translation, because when I was told “The room is unfurnished, so it’s completely empty as the previous tenant has moved out”, I expected to find something like this:
What I got was this:
The room looked like a demolition site that a squatter had moved into. My living standards have mellowed significantly since the days of the White House in Toowong, but I still can’t abide dirt. And this room was seriously grotty. A slip of paper on the travesty that once could have been a carpet identified the previous occupant as a percussionist. Explains a lot. I guess I should be grateful it wasn’t a brass player.
Evidently, there was about as much likelihood of me proclaiming myself Queen of the Allen Key in the coming days as there was my eight-year old self receiving a reply to that letter I wrote to the Spice Girls asking for hand-me-down clothing so I could start a girl band. It was time to revise and lower my expectations. So instead of spending my day happily deciding between models of bed, and wondering whether this or that bedspread matches my personality better, I got to choose between brands of cleaning products, and wonder whether bleach was really strong enough.
By the time the DUWO inspector arrived late that afternoon, I had bleach bombed the bathroom and replaced the green light bulb that drum basher had seemed to think was a good idea, and was almost literally elbow deep in the task of disinfecting the kitchen area. Inspector man of the unpronounceable name turned out to be an absolute angel. Within minutes he was on the phone arranging someone to collect the pile of broken furniture that had been left behind.
But he was also the bearer of slightly less welcome news. Turns out that here in the Netherlands, students in regular student housing are required to organise their own flooring. WTF? Are floors not part of the house? Maybe they were taking advantage of the ignorant foreigner and are getting the room re-whatever-material-I-decided-to-go-with-ed for free, but I was not expecting that. And nor was my budget. So I had to make a choice. I could find somewhere else to stay for a while and spend the next few years living on paint splotched cement. Or I could suck it up, clean the floor, buy a sleeping bag and a cushion and let the ignominy of sleeping in a hovel be dealt with by my future self. Because I’m super hard-core, I went with the latter option. Also, all the budget hotels and hostels were fully booked.
After the unwanted furniture men arrived and threw all the stuff out the window (which looked like so much fun!), I turned to face the tasks of finding a floor, buying and building furniture and equipping the kitchen. During this time I learnt three things about cement:
1. Cement is hard.
2. Cement is cold.
3. Cement is not a mattress.
I also learnt a few things about myself. I am a cleaning machine. I am a ruthless bargain hunter. I can carry heavy boxes of electrical appliances and household goods much further than I would have ever believed. I can lay flooring. I can repair hinges. Despite my girly dresses, I am not a princess who cannot survive without a certain level of luxury. I can be cheered up in any situation by reflecting on the fact that in Holland, a shop is called een winkel.
It took exactly 21 days from moving into my apartment to being able to unpack my suitcases. Who would have thought I had three weeks of patience and good humour in me? I’m not going to lie to you, I’m pretty impressed with myself right about now. And I’m pretty impressed with my very recently refurbished room too.