It's a lazy Sunday in Amsterdam for me. Saturday would have been lazy too; no rehearsals, for a change, and nothing pressing to do. But it didn't turn out that way. A handful of Brits, despite a free weekend on the cards, decided to stay put in town rather than cough up the ridiculous sum it now costs to pop home for a weekend. Gwynne Howell, despite his mammoth career, has never spent anything more than a few days in the city. He's 73 and his wife is joining him in a few weeks' time. He wanted to know where they should be going, what the city had to offer, and having established my credentials as the cast's longest-serving Amsterdam hack, it was only natural that he should turn to me for advice. I volunteered to take him on a little tour.
Gwynne had both his knees replaced in the last year or so, so his mobility is not what it was, and in Amsterdam this can pose a problem. But I remembered bringing my recently widowered dad here thirteen years ago, when he was much the same age, and it is possible to steer someone around who isn't as nimble as they would like to be.
When I woke up it was teeming with rain, but it often lets up mid morning so when Gwynne rang me to ask if I was still up for it I said we should go for it. I cycled to the theatre, a brolly in one hand, the other on the handlebars and we met at ten. There was hardly anyone about. The weather can't have helped. We took a number 14 tram from the stage door and headed a few stops west to the Westekerk, which is next to the Anne Frank House. I offered to take Gwynne inside, but he thought he'd leave that til Mary, his wife, got here. Though it was something of a missed opportunity as there was, extraordinarily, NO QUEUE! I haven't been inside for years, but now it is part of the Museum Card scheme and I can get in for free by waving my pass, I shall probably go again. Early on a midweek morning would be my guess as the quietest time to go.
We pottered northwards, the rain easing into a drizzle, all the way up to the Saturday organic market on Noordermarkt. We nosed around the stalls. Gwynne got some fine looking sourdough bread and I picked up some stewing goat, some minced beef, a squash and some leeks. That little lot cost me a bomb. I had planned to get a chicken but at €13 a kilo I reckoned an average chicken was going to set me back almost £20, which seems a tad too steep. I can get a free range chicken at home for half that price.
The rain started to pick up again, Gwynne needed the loo and it was mid morning, so we dived into a café and had some coffee and shared a truly awesome piece of apple pie. It seemed to be the only thing they served in there, or it was famous for its pie, because portions of it were already served up, waiting on plates for the stream of customers who were piling inside. I was offered slagroom - whipped cream - and accepted it, thinking only, hem hem, of Gwynne of course who had never experienced this Dutch delight. I asked for two forks, but hadn't noticed that the plate was already armed with two. They expect you to share a piece. It's the default. I like that.
Gwynne is full of stories and it's always fascinating to hear him talk about singing Luisa Miller with Pavarotti, about how nervous Domingo was in the wings before Aida in Barcelona... He represents a different and, dare I say it, golden age that I suspect has passed, unlikely to return.
We moved off in the direction of Central Station, ambling gently along the Brouwersgracht, which is simply lovely. I wouldn't normally go this way but we were going to rendezvous with Henry, our Lieutenant Ratcliffe who had spent his morning learning Meisteringers in the theatre, poor bugger. When he turned up, I led them into the red light district. Well you have to, and hidden amongst the garish crap are some gems. There's the ancient bar that sells wonderful jenevers, shut til the evening, but more immediately, Ons Liever Heer Op Solder (the merchant's house with a Catholic church in the attic) and the Oude Kerk. We did both of those and I got that smug feeling of sharing something that I'm sure they wouldn't have seen had I not been there to steer them. Worth it I can tell you.
From there we headed south and into De Engelbewaarder, aka the Literary Café, a great old pub just five minutes from the Muziektheater, where we had a bowl of soup and a Palm to warm our chilly bones.
After that it was all downhill. We met up with our Mr Flint, Stephen, and went on a rather silly journey out to the Ajax stadium to look in MediaMarkt, a vast electronics warehouse stuffed with boys' toys, and Decathlon, the sports shop next door. Retail wasn't on my plan. It wasn't on anybody's. Gwynne got a power cable for some gadget or other but otherwise we spent our time getting separated from each other, then wandering around trying to find the rest of the group. Over two hundred years of life among us and we were still like a bunch of small kids.
The end of the day out, for me, was so absurd I cannot find the words to describe it. But it involved making an unwanted journey to Central Station in order just to swipe my travel card to avoid paying a penalty fair of €15 for a journey I hadn't made. Sound nuts? I hope so, and it proves that for all the wizardry of the new travel card system they have here, and of which I wrote so much last year, it still isn't working sensibly.
Now the lads are standing outside my front door and we're off in search of Sunday lunch. Oh boy.