This story begins way back in 1998. I had been living in Amsterdam, Netherlands for about a year, having moved there from the UK after deciding that my home country held slim pickings for me with regards to prospects and life experiences. Of course, when I left, my family were full of tearful goodbyes and promises to come over and visit me in my new home. After a year, though, no doubt forgetting that I was only on the other side of the channel as opposed to the other side of the world, no one had been over to visit me. My rather pragmatic boyfriend postulated that maybe it was the image that the name “Amsterdam” conjured up.
“They probably think it’s full of weed smoking hippies and sex shops.” he said.
A short while later, I got a call from my Auntie Joan. She wanted to know whether it would be OK if she and her daughter, Sandra, came over to visit. Naturally, I was delighted. Auntie Joan was a one-woman riot of fun, laughter, and mayhem. Her 73-years on this mortal coil had only heightened her sense of fun, and added a mischievous glint to her razor sharp wit. As for her daughter, Sandra, she had most definitely been cut from the same cloth as her mother.
Sandra and Joan landed at Schiphol Airport on a glorious spring morning. We took them to their hotel, left them to freshen up, and wind down a little from the journey.
A short while later, over coffee and a bite to eat, I asked Auntie Joan what she fancied doing during her stay.
“There’s the flower markets,” I said, “the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, not to mention the Vondelpark which is lovely at this time of year.”
Auntie Joan, however, wanted to do none of those things.
“I’d like to go round the Red Light District and go in one of the coffee shops.”
Reader, I practically choked on my koffiekoek.
“Auntie Joan, you do know that the coffee shops over here aren’t like regular cafés. You can get a coffee, of course, but they’re places where you can buy marijuana.” Obviously forgetting who I was talking to, I tried to say the word “marijuana” in a hushed tone, but ended up sounding like I was doing a somewhat tasteless impression of a deaf person.
“Yes, I do know that, child.” came the indignant reply. “I was at Woodstock, you know.” I’m pretty sure she wasn’t at Woodstock, but nevertheless, I felt suitably chastised. Sandra, meanwhile, was doing her best to hide her amusement behind the rim of her coffee cup.
Thus, later that evening, an hour or so after dinner, I found myself wandering around Amsterdam’s Red Light District in the company of my boyfriend, cousin, and my 73-year-old irrepressible aunt. It was clear Auntie Joan was having a ball. Stopping outside the window of a very attractive brunette, clad in a black lace topless basque, matching G-string, stockings and a black suspender belt accented with red bows, she said, “Do you reckon they’d let me have a go at that?”
“Have a go at what?” Sandra asked.
“You know, stand in one of these windows with my jubblies hanging out.” At that, Sandra started laughing so hard that I feared she might wet herself. I was laughing just as much as I grabged Auntie Joan’s arm and said, “Come on! Let’s get you into a coffee shop before you get us all arrested!”
Leaving the Red Light District behind, but still full of merriment, our rag-tag group entered a coffee shop where my boyfriend and I often frequented after work. At Joan’s suggestion, we ordered four coffees and four pieces of space cake. No sooner had we got seated at our table, than Joan ate her piece of space cake in one go.
“Easy,” cautioned my boyfriend, “this is good stuff.”
“What’s it supposed to do then?” asked Joan, washing the cake down with a mouthful of coffee.
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d have to ask that,” I said, “you being at Woodstock and everything.”
Joan gave a sheepish look and said, “Woodstock, Oxford. I never said the Woodstock, did I?”
“No, but the inference was there.”
“Bah! Inference schminference!”
This was a known Auntie Joan tactic. Whenever she got caught in an embellishment, she reverted to her own brand of faux Jewish ridiculousness. I rolled my eyes and said I was going to the toilet. Sandra said she’d come with me.
At this juncture, dear reader, it is worth noting that neither Sandra, my boyfriend nor I had touched our pieces of space cake.
Ten minutes later, Sandra and I returned from our sojourn to the toilet, only to find that our napkins – upon which our respective pieces of space cake had been sitting – were now empty. My boyfriend held his hands up to protest his innocence.
“Don’t look at me. I nipped out to get cigarettes and when I got back, Joan had snaffled both of them.”
We all turned to look at Auntie Joan. My 73-year-old Auntie Joan. My 73-year-old Auntie Joan who had just eaten three pieces of space cake within ten minutes. I don’t know what we expected to happen, but we were all looking at her as if she may start growing another head. For her part, Joan was the picture of innocence.
“Stop looking so worried,” she said, “this stuff isn’t as good as you think because I don’t feel a thing.” She shrugged. “I reckon we’ve all been had and this is just ordinary chocolate cake.”
At that moment, a young guy came over to our table and asked, very politely, “Excuse me, do you have the right time, please?” At which point, Auntie Joan devolved into a giggling, chuckling mess, that continued for the next two hours.
Somehow we managed to get Auntie “High As A Kite” Joan back to the hotel. She was still giggling when Sandra put her to bed, thus ending the lesson in underestimating the elderly. You do so at your peril!
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