21. The Achilles Heel
Fortunately, I still look whole and unscathed and I haven’t experienced constant pain from my cerebral infarction. That has greatly helped me in accepting my disability in the sense it hasn’t made things any harder for me. It would have been quite something if I had also lost a leg or had a disfigured face due to a car accident or something. Ironically, my mother was always afraid something would happen to me in traffic while the infarction occurred in the safest place imaginable: in bed. When I had all those strange Valium-induced dreams I would always see three brothers with distorted, deformed faces playing the leading roles and I often had to undergo amputations. I even dreamt once my back had to be amputated. Unconsciously, I think I was very afraid. As soon as I could articulate my thoughts I asked Dr. Scholten if I should expect any amputations.
I still feel relieved when I see my own body and think to myself, “Look, there lies Dick van der Heijde”. I see my chest hair, my navel, the mole on my left arm. I recognize the shape of my pelvis. I see the scars on my thigh I got when as an eleven-year-old boy I wanted to cycle with my eyes closed for as long as possible and ended up in barbed wire. I still feel like the same person as before, although my facial expression is a bit stiff, my mouth is a little crooked and there are a few tubes near my abdomen.
It’s a good thing I’m not ashamed of anything because since that day in August ’91 about a hundred people have been professionally involved with my naked body. During the time when Diana as a nineteen-year-old student had her tonsils removed I visited her a few times. Each time I would make the remark if I ever ended up in the hospital I would never be able to sleep on my back. I always slept on my stomach. It surprised me I never had any trouble adjusting to lying on my back forever or sitting with my back against the chair’s backrest. When I’m being washed and dressed I’m turned onto my side but this only lasts for a short while.
At the rehabilitation center I was turned onto my side for an hour every night for a few months. They wanted to prevent me from developing pressure sores at all costs. I was generously covered in an anti-pressure sore cream and any suspicious red spots were reported. This was indicative of the excellent care I received there but at the same time it exemplified their sometimes exaggerated manner of doing things. It would occasionally happen the night nurse had only been out of my room for five seconds and I would already have to cough only to spend the next 59 minutes lying in bed like a piece of macaroni. Over the past six years I have usually been able to sleep uninterrupted throughout the night and the term “pressure sore“ is only used in sentences like “Wow, you never develop any” or “If you didn’t live at home, you would have had pressure sores a long time ago”. Thanks to the tube feeding I have a skin as tough as a bear’s, which can withstand a lot due to Diana’s and the assistants’ attentive care. The main reason why I never have pressure sore problems is I can still feel things with my skin. “The sensibility is still intact” as Pol puts it. I feel the warmth. I feel the cold. I feel it when Juul lies on me and when Diana holds my hand. I don’t feel it all that well, but I feel it.
If my heels, tailbone, arms or shoulders exert too much pressure on the mattress I feel it and alert Diana something doesn’t feel right. Clearly the pain serves a signaling function and I’m grateful for that. I’d rather have a little pain than a pressure sore. The pains I experience are easily resolved. It’s like when my feet are swollen and the soles of my feet hurt. Just put a pillow underneath and the pain is gone.
My bed is filled with pillows. Twelve in total. Large and small ones. For example there are two large pillows under the back of my knees because my heels can’t tolerate anything underneath them and need to be free from the mattress. I don’t have that problem in the chair because the pressure is different there.
However all the pain falls into the category of “discomfort” compared to the burning stabs I occasionally receive from my bladder. The bladder, that troublemaker, is a hollow muscle that lies like a bag at the bottom of my abdomen. Its inside is lined with mucous membranes and it’s these membranes that cause the bladder to contract at the slightest irritation. How it works is quite medical and not particularly interesting here. The bottom line is that the drainage of my urine doesn’t occur normally but via a catheter. There’s a hole in the jungle of my pubic hair that leads to the bladder and there’s a tube in it. This tube is called a suprapubic catheter. A longer tube with a bag is connected to it allowing me to empty my urine. The catheter needs to be replaced every two months because, just like in a toilet bowl, urine causes limescale buildup in the tube, which disrupts its permeability. The permeability must always be optimal. Any disruption of it (such as a kink in the tube or a full bag) triggers an irritation of the mucous membranes causing the bladder to contract. Such a cramp lasts only a few seconds, but the fading of it often takes several minutes. There are periods when the bladder remains quiet for days on end, but sometimes it makes itself known five times a day.
Replacing the catheter is a specialized task that needs to be done well, precisely and as sterile as possible. Initially we used to go to the hospital for this but for years now Dr. Xang has been doing it himself at our home. When I know he is coming the next morning I don’t enjoy watching TV the evening before. I always dread it because I know my mucous membranes will be severely irritated. When Dr. Xang enters my room through the sliding door around a quarter past eight in the morning, the moment of truth has arrived. “You must be looking forward to seeing me,” he says. He talks with Diana and makes some preparations. Priscilla folds the duvet triple and places it in front of my face because I don’t want to see the catheter being removed from my body. The cart with the items Dr. Xang needs is brought to me and he starts with his procedures. Although I can’t see him, in my mind, I follow exactly what he is doing. How he spreads the Betadine around the catheter hole, how he places a tissue paper with an opening over the area he will be working on, how he deflates the balloon that keeps the catheter in the bladder using a syringe and how he puts on latex gloves. In my thoughts I see him holding the new catheter up in the air like an eel, how Priscilla helps him apply lubricant to its tip and how he says “Here we go.”
It’s time. The dreadful minute I have been dreading for days has become a reality. The catheter leaves my body, a wave of pain shoots through me and concentrates in my lower abdomen. I think of a violinist running his bow over the strings of his violin but instead of a beautiful tone a horrible buzzing sound emanates from the soundbox. As always a bladder cramp is accompanied by a strong spasm. “Take it easy, take it easy” Dr. Xang soothes. Once I have calmed down a bit, he continues. The bladder is located ten centimeters deep in my abdomen and I feel Dr. Xang inserting the new catheter. Suddenly I feel it popping into my bladder and despite an even greater spasm than before I burst into laughter. “Exorcist” Diana jokes. Meanwhile, Dr. Xang inflates the catheter’s balloon and positions it in place. “It’s already flowing, there’s already urine in the bag”. Priscilla puts the duvet back over me and I think ‘‘Thank goodness I’m free from it again for a while”. Many people leaving the dentist’s treatment room will recognize this feeling when they close the door behind them.
Due to the presence of the catheter there is actually something in my bladder that doesn’t belong there. As a result, there is always a bacterium residing inside. Occasionally, my urine is cloudy and unpleasant. There are flakes floating in it and I frequently experience cramps. There is antibiotic treatment available, but I’m not very keen on it. The fewer medications, the better. I prefer to drink an extra liter of water per day to flush everything out properly. After a few days my urine becomes crystal clear again.
While the cold is the biggest enemy, the bladder definitely takes second place. It is the Achilles heel of my body. Fortunately, the pain in it always lasts only for a short while. My thoughts go back to the unbearable headache I had five minutes before my cerebral infarction.
Every day on average I listen to my CDs and tapes for about six hours. I can’t get enough of it. I never get bored in fact I run out of time. I have a simple opinion about music. According to me there is only one criterion to appreciate music and that’s it should make you feel good. No genre of music is superior to another. For one person it may be background music (as long as it sounds good), for another it may be a very specific style. One person wants to rock out to wild rock while another wants to relax with a piece of classical music. Some people want to dance to the rhythm of the drums while others find the guitarist’s virtuosity very important. Luckily, there is something for everyone and there are millions of CDs, to use a few clichés.
I love symphonic rock. Lots of keyboards, long songs, intricate rhythms, emotional singing and artistic album covers. Some people consider symphonic rock to be outdated, dusty music from a distant past. I actually couldn’t care less about what others think of symphonic rock. I am fully immersed in it and enjoy it immensely. As a musician of the genre, I feel many emotions within the songs. Time and time again, I am deeply moved by them. When I hear a drummer playing triplets, I always picture Peter Heyt and when I hear a guitarist pressing down on the strings, I know exactly what they’re doing. When I first heard Alberto Ambrosi from the Italian band Asgard playing his keyboard solo in Wulfstan I was almost jumping out of my seat with delight and thought “This is it!”
I also become very emotional when I hear Paul Wrightson singing ‘It’s only a lifetime’ in an amazing way with Arena or when Geoff Mann sings ‘I know how it feels’ for the very last time on the beautiful album “Casino” (a few months late, he died at the age of 36 from colon cancer).
It was a good move by Diana to give me a CD player when I was at BRC. I became more and more passionate and currently I am more passionate than ever. I have symphonic rock from all over the world in all shapes and sizes. In my collection I have calm Japanese bands, rugged Americans, jazzy Argentinians and sultry Brazilians. I have melodic Polish bands, enthusiastic Australians, expressive French bands, reserved Spaniards, exuberant Hungarians and of course many English bands because is the birthplace of progressive music. I am fortunate to love this music because it is enjoyable listening music. In the living room there are two beautiful speakers at ear level. They produce detailed sound. As little pleasure as I still derive from live performances, I derive so much joy from my CDs.
In my CD player I can play five CDs in a row. I received it as a gift from my parents and Marco and Silvia for my 29th birthday. Diana had arranged with Wint Hartenback, the social worker at BRC, I could go home to celebrate my birthday. She also arranged for me to come home for a weekend every two weeks. She told me this a week before my birthday and from that moment on I counted down the hours until the big day, like a student counting down to summer vacation. The girls at BRC thought it was incredible I could go home for a few days, but they were terrified the bumps in the road during the journey would give me neck pain. They had a solution for that. A colleague of Bart’s had made a special kind of headrest for me. The hockey cap. A strange futuristic helmet that was not much larger than the back of my head. Attached to the hockey cap was a strap that was not much wider than a shoelace. This strap ran across my forehead and was supposed to keep my head from coming out of the cap. Around my neck I had a gnawing band made of foam reminiscent of a skeleton from a biology classroom. A few days before I was allowed to go home, I had to try it all out for two hours to see if it caused any discomfort. There I sat, in the middle of the living room with my ridiculous accessories. “No complaining” I thought “as soon as the bus leaves the BRC grounds, I’m taking off this nonsens”.
On the day of my birthday I was woken up by Wies and Mieke. Sitting between them was my four-year-old neighbor Janine on her knees. She always ran through the hallway like a little bunny. Janine had suffered a brain injury when her mother’s bike fell over while she was still in the child seat, causing her head to hit the curb hard. I had a special bond with Janine, especially because during the day all the other children from the pavilion went to school and we always sat together with the staff in the living room. Janine always liked to lift my arms and then let go so they would smack onto the work surface of my wheelchair. “Grandpa, grandpa” she used to cry out and had the greatest fun. The three of them sang Happy Birthday and quickly Wies and Mieke helped me into my chair, which they had decorated with streamers.
When the bus arrived to take me home, I quickly put on the hockey cap and gnawing band. My mother got off the bus and introduced me to the bus driver. “This is Gilles, he will be your regular driver. Gilles, this is Dick”. I was deeply ashamed of how I looked. The hockey cap, the gnawing band, the streamers and all of it in a hideous wheelchair. Fortunately, I had something amazing to look forward to. In two and a half hours I would be home, surrounded by all my friends and family and as the icing on the cake, I would receive my new CD player. My father had already shown me the CD player in a catalog and had read out the specifications. Marco had chosen the model and ordered it. You could trust him with a task like that. I don’t think I had been in the bus for two minutes when my mother already put the regular headrest back on the seat and removed the gnawing band. Once in ‘s-Heer Arends-kerke we had to wait for my father to finish work. He had the CD player and with my guidance, he would know how to connect it. He arrived around five o’clock and gave me the wonderful gift. I was overjoyed. My father showed me the CD player carefully and tried to install it. That wasn’t an easy task, but eventually, he succeeded. I couldn’t help but think back to all the equipment we used at Ligeia. For six years now, the CD player has been playing CD after CD. It has more than paid for itself. It is showing signs of wear and tear, but it is so convenient. I am never without music because as soon as one CD ends, the next one starts. With my vinyl records I often only played a particular song or even just a specific part. I could tell from the different shades of black on the record. “Listen to this part” was a common saying of mine. A drum break, a guitar riff, a keyboard flourish. Each record had its magic moment. Nowadays, I listen to the entire CD more often. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to hear the magic moments but I have to wait a little longer for them. When I buy a new CD, I like to memorize the song titles and their respective positions as quickly as possible so I can easily find the most beautiful songs. I always want to know all the details about the CD because it interests me. Who are the band members? Who is the producer? Where was the CD recorded? What is the label? Even the acknowledgments interest me.
An important role in my musical life is definitely reserved for Martin Hudson, an Englishman. Together with a group of fellow music lovers, he founded the Classic Rock Society in 1991. I became a member in 1995. Every month a magazine called ‘Wondrous Stories’ is published, packed with interesting information about various bands I love. I always eagerly look forward to it, as do all the other members from around the world (including Finland, Hawaii, Chile, Cuba, New Zealand). Martin is a passionate person. His writing style is enthusiastic, sympathetic and always fair. Sometimes he can be sarcastic and cynical with that typical dry English humor. Martin has a good heart. Just before I joined the CRS, I heard through the grapevine SI (Sym Info) would cease to exist. For more than ten years SI had provided me with a lot of information. Since the day I ordered two CDs from SI at BRC, I have bought many more from them. I was devastated when SI disappeared from the scene, but currently I actually find Wondrous Stories even more enjoyable and I still know how to order my CDs. I have my sources everywhere. When Diana went on vacation to Malta, she even brought back a CD from a local band for me. I had read about it in Wondrous Stories. A few months after SI went under, an entirely unexpected new magazine arrived in the mailbox. Some of the former SI contributors had joined forces and started something new, IO Pages. Damian Wilson, the lead singer of Landmarq, graced the cover. It became a new source of information delivered to my doorstep. Unfortunately, I couldn’t order CDs through IO Pages, but oh well.
Besides Martin Hudson, Ronald van Leest is also very important in my musical life. Ronald is a mirror image of my taste, but even more extensive. Actually, let’s say much more extensive! Ronald has a massive CD collection. He buys a lot. It’s a shame he doesn’t live around the corner from me; then he could come over more often. Currently, he visits us about twice a year. He always brings a box full of cassette tapes for me. There’s a bit of everything in there. I spend days enjoying them. Music from the sixties, symphonic rock, Neil Young, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, jazz-rock, too much to mention. He regularly sends a list of his latest purchases, so I can indicate which ones he can record for me. We call it tape-sugs suggestions for recording. I have hundreds of tapes and not everything is symphonic rock.
That’s how I keep my horizons open and wide. Over the years, I have heard so much different music I now know what I like and what I don’t. Yet, I’m always open to new things. That’s because I’m too much of a musician.
A few years ago, I bought a high-quality cassette deck. My tapes sound like CDs. The previous cassette deck now serves another purpose. I gave my first CD player (the one I bought in the late ’80s) to my parents when they gave me a new one for my 29th birthday. They didn’t have one yet. The CD player I listened to for hours at BRC and Ter Bosch is now upstairs by Diana’s tanning bed. My equipment, my tapes, my CDs… they are the most valuable possessions I have in material terms.
It’s noon. Priscilla enters the room with a few sandwiches on a plate, takes a bite from one of them and sits on the couch. The room is filled with fantastic music from the American band Spock’s Beard. I feel good listening to it and see Priscilla take another bite.
23. Yellow Boxes
Whenever Diana goes to the center of Kapelle for groceries or when I have a spare hour, she always asks me if I want to listen to a book. She enjoys it when I listen to a book. At first, I wanted nothing to do with it. I thought reading was something to do by a dim lamp, but when I was sitting in the garden in ‘s-Heer Arendskerke I changed my mind and nowadays I really enjoy listening to audio books. The books arrive in yellow boxes through the postbox and it sounds like the house is being demolished when the boxes land on the linoleum. The boxes contain cassette tapes. Sometimes two, sometimes five, a maximum of eight per box. A whole book can consist of fifteen tapes or two boxes. The audio books come from the Dutch Listening and Braille Library and are sent by post. When we moved to Kapelle, Diana requested a catalog and we provided 173 titles. Over the years, we have received many additions to the catalog and we have now listed about 300 titles. The organisation has much more to offer to anyone who cannot read in the usual way. I’m not exactly sure what, but that will come someday.
I play the books on my previous cassette deck. The tapes are not of such high quality, so I reserve my high-quality cassette deck for my own music tapes and those of Ronald. Usually, I turn up the volume a bit so I can concentrate better on the narrating voice on the tape. There is a big difference between listening to an audio book and regular reading. Reading oneself goes much deeper. You can follow the thread of the story much better when you actually see the text. When listening, my thoughts easily wander off. A book has to be really captivating for me to stay engaged.
I want to mention two books I absolutely devoured despite this. The first is the tragicomic novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by the master writer John Irving. It is the story of the friendship between two boys in America before the Vietnam War. A thick volume of nineteen cassette tapes filled with hilarious scenes and touching moments. I listened to most of the tapes under the parasol with headphones on. Thanks to the headphones, I can concentrate excellently and “Owen Meany” has left a great impression on me. A completely different kind of book is “De liefste van de buis” by Wim de Bie. It’s a book of only four cassettes, but it belongs among my favorites due to De Bie’s tremendously good writing style. He describes how he lets himself be captivated by one of his TV creations, Menien Holboog.
The type of voice narrating is crucial for concentration. Some narrators truly make it fantastic and it’s pleasant to listen to them for fifteen cassette tapes. There are also voices I get tired of after just half an hour. I let Diana know it’s not for me and the tape goes back into the yellow box. It is fitting here to thank all those volunteers who record those thousands of books in their spare time. I gladly hear the noise of the boxes landing on the linoleum.
Recently during the Christmas vacation, Diana and I made a top 100 list of the best CDs I have. I sent a copy of it to Ronald. We regularly exchange letters and usually we get quite silly. We have our own inside jokes probably no one else would understand. For instance, we start each letter with ‘Brados’ instead of ‘Hello’. It doesn’t make any sense, it was just made up and has no particular meaning. I started it when I sent him two photos of Flotsam and Jetsam (the fairytale-like figures above the sliding doors in the bedroom). I included a note where they introduced themselves in a made-up language. Diana wrote some of the letters in mirror image, making it look funny. ‘Brados Ronald’ was the heading. Amidst all the silliness, we often include a lot of serious writing. Opinions about CDs, lists of new acquisitions and tape suggestions. Sometimes I spend weeks writing a letter that can be as long as nine pages. I have told Ronald in great detail about my time at BRC and he will surely recognize a few anecdotes and phrases.
While writing this, a funny incident comes to mind. I had just arrived at BRC. The Winter Olympic Games in Albertville were in full swing. Diana had put a pajama in my wardrobe because it could get quite cold at night. One Saturday morning (Diana was supposed to visit around eleven), I was being taken care of by a certain Nol who didn’t know me yet. He usually worked in a different pavilion, but since it was the weekend, he was assigned to my pavilion. Like everyone who has to take care of me for the first time, Nol was very nervous and unsure. He was all alone and doing his best. After washing me, he picked out my clothes. “Do you want to wear this sweater?” he asked, thinking I could see him. “Yes” I blinked, what could go wrong. When Nol came into my field of vision again, I saw he had taken the jacket of my pajamas. ‘Oh well’, I thought ‘I’ll just sit here looking foolish for a while’. Nol continued. He put on the pajama jacket, dressed me completely and placed me in my chair. “Dianne is coming later, I heard”, Nol said. This happened to me quite often. Strangers trying to appear familiar but not even knowing Diana’s name. He started combing my hair. How he found a comb was a mystery to me. Everyone always just ran a wet hand through my hair. That was it. Not too neat. With the precision of a hairdresser, Nol started combing my hair. I felt him make a parting and distribute the front lock over my forehead. When he was done, he wheeled me to the living room with a sense of satisfaction. It took about fifteen minutes until I heard Diana’s voice in the hallway. Then the electric sliding doors opened and Diana approached me. As soon as she saw me, she opened her mouth wide, covered it with her hand and softly said “Ooooh, you look cute, little monkey”. Laughing, she ruffled my hair and without saying anything, she grabbed my chair and wheeled me back to the bedroom.
Ronald and I write to each other every few months. I always enjoy it. It feels good when Priscilla shows me the mail and I recognize his handwriting on one of the envelopes. Besides letters to Ronald, I also like to send various short notes and orders to different bands all over the world. It’s a peculiar kind of desire for recognition. I feel acknowledged when I see my name in the letters section of Martin Hudson’s Wondrous Stories or when I wear a baseball cap from America and think, ‘I didn’t just buy this randomly in Goes.’
If I hadn’t become disabled, I would have become an incredibly enthusiastic surfer on the internet. But now I find it uninteresting. The whole internet offers so many possibilities, so much information. Just the thought of it drives me crazy. I know myself and my character. Internet is something I need to be able to actively engage with. Some time ago, Diana’s colleagues were each buying a computer with internet connection and the question was whether we wanted to join in. Diana and I discussed it extensively. On one hand, the internet is something of the future and we wanted to keep up with the times, but on the other hand, computers and the internet are completely outside Diana’s area of interest. I would absolutely not want her to be involved with it. It would be a breeding ground for a lot of problems and stress, especially since I can’t read the screen myself. Diana already does so much for me. I consider myself lucky she at least enjoys many of my CDs and to let her deal with all sorts of inside information… I really wouldn’t want that. Sometimes, when I see her busy with it, I’m overwhelmed by a great sense of guilt for depriving her of opportunities for a normal and carefree life, but at the same time, I know she would be miserable if I weren’t taken care of at home (“just the smell when you enter a nursing home”). I often have to think back to a walk with Diana, a few weeks before my stroke. We went on a week-long vacation to the city center of London with another couple of friends. We spent the whole days together, going everywhere, except on the last day when each couple went their own way. Diana and I took the underground to Waterloo Station and then spent hours aimlessly strolling along the Thames. It was beautiful. The August sun was shining on our faces. This walk symbolizes our happy, carefree life for me. I never want to lose the memories of how Diana and I walked hand in hand along the banks of the Thames. Never!
In this context, having or not having an internet connection is actually unimportant. If I come across an interesting internet item in Wondrous Stories or elsewhere, I simply share it with friends who have internet. They print it out for me and that’s how I get some information. Diana and I made the right decision back then not to buy a computer and not to go on the internet. Recently, we visited Frank and Christine for an evening of internet browsing. Frank and Christine are friends of ours and they had set up the computer downstairs on a table so I could see it well. When I saw how skillfully Frank navigated from one homepage to another it became clear once again the internet would be too much for Diana and me. Internet is something fantastic, something beautiful, but not for me. I don’t want all the information about bands and such to come to me with a few button presses. It’s much more enjoyable for me to gather information here and there. I prefer to write a letter, stick a stamp on it and wait for a response.
I always find it difficult to explain clearly how I see. Firstly, there’s the nystagmus, the moving image. My eyes can’t fixate on an image, everything seems to be moving. The hospital described it perfectly: “It’s like being in a boat floating on the sea”. They also told me they couldn’t help me with it and I had to get used to it. Nowadays, I have gotten used to it and when I’m calmly watching TV, the nystagmus is hardly noticeable. But when I get more excited, my vision can become quite erratic. Spasms clearly have a big influence on it.
The second point is I can’t move my eyes sideways. I also can’t turn my neck, so reading subtitles is almost impossible for me. I can only read about a third of them. What I can do is make a vertical movement with my eyes, but of course, I would have preferred to be able to move them horizontally.
The point that frustrates me the most is the limited field of vision, which is related to the previous point. I always want to see exactly what I can’t see. It is therefore crucial I am positioned in the right direction in front of the TV, so the screen is optimally within my field of vision. When I cough or laugh, my head always turns and that is very inconvenient because then I can only see half of the TV screen. The next point is I can’t see with great detail. Within a meter, it’s fine, but beyond that, it’s often more about recognizing than actually seeing. In the living room, we have installed a worktop on the wall where I can sit with my knees under it, so I can be very close to the TV. Even as a young child, I almost sat inside the television and that hasn’t changed in the years since, so I have no problem with that.
The fifth and final point is double vision. The image registered by one of my eyes doesn’t align well with the other. Nowadays, I don’t struggle with it as much, but in the first few months everything that should have been straight appeared crooked to me like the board with the lights at Dr. Terpstra’s office. Spasms, like with nystagmus, have a significant impact on it.
All in all, I have to conclude my vision has been significantly disrupted by the stroke. It all sounds quite heavy, but over the past few years I have become completely accustomed to it and there’s nothing I can see better than the TV. I enjoy watching it as does Diana. Every day around three or four o’clock, the TV is turned on and I watch it until I fall asleep with the TV on the rails in the bedroom. I enjoy watching all sorts of things. Well-acted series like “Pleidooi” or “Oud Geld”, the “Tour de France”, “Paul de Leeuw”, a simple quiz, the humor of “Jiskefet”, a cheap soap opera or the topics on “Jack Spijkerman’s” show. We often watch Dutch-language programs and occasionally we record a foreign film as long as I can follow it. In the afternoon, we often watch recorded programs because they either aired late or at the same time as something else. It also happens Diana wants to watch something I don’t want to see and vice versa. In that case, Diana just does something for herself.
What I always watch with interest is the news and related programs like “Nova” and “Netwerk”. I can’t read a newspaper and although there are occasional readings, it’s necessary for me to watch the news to stay informed about what’s happening in the world.
There’s something else. When I watch TV, I see the world around me. I see the mountains in Spain I will never see in real life, a desert, the jungle, the bustling nightlife in New York or the Amsterdam ArenA. Recently, I saw a street in the city center of Goes on regional television and I saw it better than I have in the past few years. Despite all the disruptions to my vision, I can see the small, ordinary things on TV better than in real life. The seeds on a cracker, the leaves on a tree, the bow in a shoelace or the threading of a screw. My favorite band, Pendragon, has a CD called ‘The Window of Life.’ That’s what I call the TV, the window of life. In that regard, I resemble Chauny, the peculiar gardener from the funny movie “Being There” with Peter Sellers in the lead role. He plays someone who hasn’t left his house in years and only knows the outside world through television. Although I do go out into the world, I see myself a bit like Chauny.
What I always enjoy watching are sports programs, especially major events like the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. I rarely miss a moment and often find myself glued to the screen.
In the past, I was just an average sports viewer. I would occasionally watch some sports, but I was much more interested in music. JB was a big football fan and through him, I started watching more and more. But it’s not just about football for me. Athletics, tennis, cycling, darts, ice skating, volleyball, I enjoy them all. While I may not always be able to read the scores on the screen very well, Diana is always amazed at what I can and can’t see. It depends on how clearly it’s presented on the screen. How big are the letters? Where are they located and how long are they shown? I have my antennas out for these details. I listen carefully to the commentator, sometimes rely on the reactions of the crowd and hope for plenty of close-ups. Because I can’t see everything perfectly, I make every effort to see as much as possible. In the Amsterdam ArenA, there was a banner hanging for a whole year I couldn’t read. It took me at least two months before I finally managed to read what was written on it. The text wasn’t particularly interesting, but I just had to know what it said.
I have less difficulty with the captions during a tennis match. I can easily recognize when it says “advantage Sampras”, just as someone who rolls a five on a dice doesn’t need to count the dots to know it’s a five. It’s a matter of insight. I used to enjoy playing games, especially Risk. I could spend hours playing it with a friend who lived a few streets away. Now I can only play Trivial Pursuit and I think that’s why I enjoy watching quizzes and game shows on TV. The level of the contestants is sometimes shockingly low. I think to myself, “Don’t you know that?” But well… it doesn’t have to be as challenging as “Twee voor Twaalf” (a Dutch quiz show).
I absolutely loved the brilliant Dutch police series Unit 13. I thought all three seasons were fantastic and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better Dutch production. Every Saturday, I would eagerly wait in front of the TV for a new episode. On Sundays, I would watch the recording and on Mondays, I would watch the rerun. I couldn’t get enough of it. Unit 13 is a wonderful serie that occasionally makes me forget I’m in a wheelchair.