Red Clogs

The Netherlands, 1970s.

(T)je – Diminutive ending commonly used to describe something small or little 

It’s a hot summer’s night when Mum goes into labour. Needing to get her to the local hospital and with no one to look after my older sisters, Dad shimmies up a ladder to bang on the neighbour’s bedroom window. 

‘My wife is having a baby!’ shouts my dad in his best accent. It’s one way to get to know the neighbours when you’ve just moved in. 

My parents have relocated from Germany to a town in the east of Netherlands. Anti-German sentiment remains strong when they drive over the border in the 1970s. Our car with its Deutschland number-plate is vandalised, until the locals learn an English family has moved in. 

With two daughters and now a third (me) making her way into the world, they settle on a modern house in a residential estate. Large white cabinets line the bare brick walls – a trademark of modern Dutch houses. Upstairs, the bathroom boasts matching tiles and a tub in bright orange, which marks our allegiance to the national football team. 

The family photo album records heirlooms that move with us back to England in a few years’ time. Pairs of wooden clogs. Flower patterned brown curtains. As the curtains fade, my sisters and I hope our mum won’t get any ideas from the Sound of Music. She is an excellent seamstress. 

Thanks to an English teacher at secondary school who encourages creative writing from a young age, these earliest childhood memories are documented in an ‘autobiography’ written at the age of thirteen. I recall a weekly market, which mum takes me to on her bike, selling ‘meat, biscuits, bread and fish, all much nicer than an English market.’

My sisters and I learn the tradition of putting out clogs for Sinterklass on the sixth of December – the equivalent of a stocking or pillowcase on Christmas eve. Given the downside of what you can practically fit in a clog, we are happy to carry on believing in Father Christmas as well. Mine are a cherry red with polka dot spots. Decades on, the clogs still line up on the hearth at my parents’ home.