This is the place I moved to, after a temporary stay in Almere, on escaping from Weteringbrug or, as I privately called it, "Hicksville Hell". Every house/locality I've lived in since then has had its own nickname, and the house in Overschild (the "upnorth") I call "Niflheim" or, depending on my mood, "Niflhel", in reference to both the hot and cold zones of Scandinavian mythology between which the Earth was created, and the Scandinavian underworld/hell which, as opposed to the Judeo-Christian one, was cold and damp. The same can be said for my house, which has given me colds and sore throats just by spending a weekend there. "Even gold rots in Niflhel", as one book on runes states, and while I haven't the means to test that, mildew reigns in this house, which also serves as woodlouse paradise and popular spider resort.
Enough about the house. The village in which it stands is one of those backwaters with housing from the 1930s and earlier (in the "quaint" category) where contact with the natives is best avoided, and where I only come in weekends to collect mail. It belongs to the municipality of Slochteren, for which reason I have to go to the post office in the village also called Slochteren to pick up any mail that requires my signature. For this, I have to take a day off from work, as said post office is closed in weekends, and I joked to a colleague about travelling to some ghost town in the middle of nowhere to find a sign with a vulture sitting on it, saying "Post Office". This is not an accurate description, as Slochteren is quite a large village, complete with churches, graveyards and shady lanes. Overschild, on the other hand, is one of those tiny villages which, like Weteringbrug, is not marked on less detailed maps of the country. (Correction and addendum below.)
Added 2015: the following warning should be irrelevant to anyone not living in this stupid country, but as I've seen an English-speaking person look at a house for sale here (and wisely refrain from buying it), here goes:
DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES BUY A HOUSE IN OVERSCHILD OR ANY VILLAGE IN GRONINGEN unless you're a conman (then you deserve it), a gun-toting drug dealer who knows how to dispatch nosy neighbours (if you are, please move in) and/or someone with money to burn and better accommodation elsewhere. The rural population of this province is even more sociopathic and self-delusional than the average Dutchie (the city of Groningen is fairly okay, as long as you avoid the aggressive homeless bums, but they're part of any Dutch city) and that, not "lack of jobs" or "earthquakes", is the real reason why houses here are so absurdly cheap, and why anyone who can leave, does. Having said that, earthquakes caused by drilling for gas have become frequent since 2013, and while mild in themselves, are bound to get worse and destroy not only homes, but underground infrastructure such as water pipelines and electricity cables. The worst scenario is that lava will break through the punctured bedrock and cause volcanic activity. Do the rurals who advertise their houses in Groningen, make any mention of this in the ads? OF COURSE NOT. Ideally, the State should compensate them for the future loss of their homes, but instead they're offered a subsidy to polish up their place, by replacing the roof or whatever, and then sell it for a high enough price (as the new roof has "raised the house's value", never mind that it's in an earthquake area) to buy a house in a safer part of the country. So, the Dutch government is paying the Groningers to screw over anyone looking for a house, the Groningers are using the earthquake excuse to squeeze money out of the government, and NOTHING is being done to address the actual problems of living in an earthquake zone.
Oh, and if you've bought a house here, "earthquake" is the new bogeyman to make you conform. Lawn not mown? Windows not washed? Hedge or fence not completely straight? Earthquakes will bring down your house!!! And when they do, your neighbours will sue your crushed corpse for any scratch on their patio that may have resulted from your house collapsing. But don't start avoiding these heartless assholes, remember to greet them politely whenever you see them and chat with them at their leisure, or earthquakes will bring down your house!!!
More addendums have been added at the bottom of the addendum.
Inhabitants of more sparsely inhabited regions, like the province of Groningen, rely on their cars to get around, since the public transport doesn't amount to much. The "normal" public transport stops at Appingedam and Ten Boer; getting to Overschild involves something called a "buurtbus" (translates to "neighbourhood bus") driven by volunteers and certainly not riding at the times I arrive and depart, so the alternative was a 2-hour walk from the former or a 1.5-hour walk from the latter. These pictures are of the walking route from Appingedam, connected to Overschild via a concrete bicycle track running alongside a waterway called "Eemnes", that for its isolated position was worth the extra-hour walk, provided I didn't meet any locals. On this route I have walked in clear starlit nights, and braved storms so bad they almost blew my glasses off. The weather must have been dismal on the day I took these pics, as the concrete glistens with wetness.
Upon discovering I could shorten the walk to just over one hour by going to Ten Post, last outpost of the "normal" bus lines, I chose instead the route along the wayside, where, if I didn't travel late enough at night, cars would honk at me over daring to approach their tarmac (although I actually walked on the grass and wasn't obstructing them) or stop to offer me a ride, and on getting my reply, would repeat the offer ("Excuse me, but what part of 'no' do you not understand?"). The problem was finally solved by acquiring a bicycle and travelling over the preferred route from Appingedam in just under an hour. This route was the more visually interesting though, as it brought me past things like huge farm houses still used for the purpose of farming.
More funny sights on the way: a mailbox (or something; I don't know what its function is) in the shape of a small house, and an oval of trees throwing shadows on a wayside picnic place (again, that's what I assume it is).
The power lines running across the Appingedam route from the gas-driven power plant, here seen from a distance; and a more densely populated section of road indicating that the end of the journey is near.
The (crossroads at the) centre of Overschild; quaintness and a church tower. The neigbourhood bus stop there is aptly called "Kruisweg". The second photograph shows the beginning of the street where Niflhel lies and (gasp) modern architecture: a square house with a hole or window at the top of the pyramid-shaped roof, being constructed by people who have the money for such things.
Looking down "Kanaalweg", and a pic of the average house there, with its typical bay window.
And this is my house; yes, the squat smaller brother of the Tower of Pisa. Obviously, it's all a penniless ex-student could afford. The front garden is and will remain totally neglected to avoid exposing myself to the natives (I've had wild ideas of only going there at night wearing infrared glasses, but if I could afford such toys, I'd put the funds into finding a better house). The second picture shows a view of Overschild from the back; my house might be in there somewhere, although the buildings are too small to identify them.
First, a correction: the post office in Slochteren has shifted from a shop that isn't open in weekends, to one that is.
Second, since these photos were originally made to give prospective visitors an idea of what to expect in this country, it would not be out of place to add here what life in Overschild is like, even for the average one-day-a-week I spend there. The unreliability of the neighbourhood bus on Saturday mornings (it no longer rides on Saturdays), and the alternative of a two-hour walk, have become a moot point since I bought a bicycle and hired a safe at the station (due to declining health, both were ditched after a ride home pursued by jeering village youth while doubled up with stomach cramps). Five years of Hicksville Hell have taught me to avoid all neighbours. So I try to arrive and leave at times when there's no one outside, don't go outside the house while I'm home, and try to keep the lights off. If I'm outside and someone approaches me, I walk away. (Some locals have taken this as encouragement to pursue me.) If possible, I hide, and the hicks, unaware of my presence, say to each other what a shame it is, this empty neglected house, and something ought to be done about it. It was just as neglected when the last inhabitants were still living there, so the locals' real complaint is not being able to boss around its present owner.
Not that they haven't tried. I don't greet, or respond to greetings from, strangers or people I don't want to know. I once responded to a greeting that sounded friendly, but was followed up by "Good, I thought you were deaf", proving that, like 99% of Dutch greetings, it had been an obedience test. The Dutch will always insist on a response, sometimes on the exact formula they wish to hear, yelling in my ear or following me down the road calling out insults. They call this bullying "manners", and if they don't get their satisfaction from me, will frantically start greeting the next person they spot. Or they'll laugh in sheepish perplexity, as they do at any human who won't be played like a marionette.
When I was new here, I weeded the front garden. A group of brats in the street decided to notice me. One of them asked what I was doing. I said "gardening" and he asked again, and kept on asking in a way obviously meant to irritate, so I ignored him, and he started to threaten me, saying he would tear up my garden, at which another boy said "now, now". Such experiences have kept me out of the front garden, which is now overgrown with bindweed and where people now dig up the ground (for repairs, I'll assume) without asking because "there's no one there anyway". The more they drive me off, the more they have an excuse to drive me off. The back garden is not as exposed, but when I was planting seedlings, one neighbour's kid spotted me and started yelling "I saw the neighbour! I saw the neighbour!". Some other day I was weeding and the other neighbour told her kids to "say hi to the neighbour". They weren't bothering me, I wasn't bothering them, and like a true cloggie their mum orders them to go bother me, implicitly giving me an order also, since I'm supposed to reply. I went in and stayed in for the rest of the weekend. These days I really need to psych myself up for gardening work, picking times when no one's out. Or when no one notices me, as with the two yokels next door who were gossiping about some swearing neighbour until one of them noticed what turned out to be their subject: me. Yes, my use of four-letter words in this village of arse-scratching cloggies must have been worthy of notice! Then again, life here must be pretty boring.
Villages like this tend to have "village" activities, which are compulsory for all inhabitants. One year, on the queen's birthday, something I don't celebrate, I found some orange balloons in the mailbox, and the request to decorate my house with them, as per cloggie custom. This happened again the year after. Among the junk mail in the mailbox is the typical village "newspaper" filled with the same crap as in Hicksville Hell, except this time I toss it out without reading. Apparently it's not free: last year I received a letter that my contribution for the year before hadn't come in yet, and sorry for the late notification but would I please pay immediately. I had been a member of some community club for a year without knowing it. Simply because I live near them, cloggies think I'm part of their group and awaiting their orders. They're like that throughout the country, and despite their boasts about living in a free country, have real problems understanding the concept "free will". I replied with a vitriolic letter to scare them off - never be kind to cloggies, they take it as a sign of weakness - and haven't heard anything about contributions since, but clearly this village is not a safe place to live; who knows what the neighbourhood will think of next.
The worst thing is, I've lived among the Dutch so long that I know exactly what they'd say if they read this: "Well if you would be nice to the people here, they'd be nice to you." Translated: if I'll just suck up to a bunch of people who I don't like and who don't like me, they'll make my life hell in less obvious ways; but they'll be satisfied, and that's what matters.
The Dutch are vermin. Shoot on sight.
Feb. 2006, addendum 2:
Sneaking into the back garden on a quiet day, I found proof that someone had been there. Having made the front garden their own, the neighbourhood is now moving on to the back garden. It's a matter of time before they help themselves to the contents of the house. The Dutch also have problems with the concept "private property". But then again, they don't understand the word "private".
Somewhere in 2007/8, addendum 3:
After I moved to this address permanently due to chronic illness, the neighbours started ripping out the fence between my property and theirs to replace it with one made of chemically treated wood, the kind of fencing that causes toxic runoff whenever it rains (which it does a lot, in cloggieland). Isn't it wonderful, that Dutch drive to pollute the soil everywhere? I paid as much as I could afford for a hastily placed partial concrete fence as a barrier against their chemical crap, but didn't have enough money to surround the whole garden, so, in the back end of the garden which is now a jungle (as I no longer had the energy to psych myself up to go there), the neighbours tramped around, trashing the last plastic greenhouse that hadn't been trashed yet by storms, and taking pictures. (I'm not sure at what date the pictures were taken, but I'm pretty sure that's trespassing.)
Around 2013/2014, addendum 4:
Being too ill to look after the house, let alone the garden, I hired someone to help me sort out the messes one by one, even making a start on the weeds. This help, despite being warned against the neighbours, still thought it was a good idea to greet them, which, along with the garden activities, earned me a small mob of villagers in front of my house, talking loudly amongst themselves while pushing their noses against the garden fence, for three days running. The help thought I was very silly to be upset by this, so I told her to get lost and not come back, so she emailed me to say she was so sorry for me, then six months later she sent me a Christmas card, then a year later, a "how are you" email, then eighteen months later, another Christmas card. Because the Dutch also don't understand the words "fuck off".
2015, addendum 5:
Finding out I was ill, vulnerable and not Mowing The Lawn as per my Civic Duty, the neighbours sent me a "friendly" (arrogant, threatening, patronizing) letter with a printout of pictures they took while trespassing in my garden. I also received the village rag, as per usual, with a sheet added to say that the village community had decided there was no way anyone would NOT want to be part of the community club and pay contribution (nice try, guys, you're not getting a cent from me). So, with barely enough energy for the basics of daily survival (and without help, as the only help I ever hired turned out to be a stalkerish sociopath), I spent weeks drafting a letter telling them exactly where to stick their offer of "help", their legal threats, and their village rag. They responded by i. sending welfare workers to my door (these welfare workers look like Jehova's Witnesses and act that way, too; they love to force "help" on me, but have no interest in improving my living situation), ii. organizing "Neighbour Day" in their village. Neighbour Day is something invented by the Dutch government, so it won't have to spend money on making slums and ghettos habitable: all the neighbours in a neighbourhood have to have a big dinner together on this day, and the resulting community spirit will magically make the neighbourhood's troubles go away. Well, at least these neighbours indirectly admitted that their village is an inhabitable ghetto.
Oh, and at the end of the year I got a note in the mailbox to say that
volunteers of "Ijsclub Schildmeer" were at my door (considering the protective
weed-barrier around said door, I doubt that) to collect the yearly contribution
for their skating club, but because I wasn't at home (I've been at home all
month, I'm practically bedridden) they left this note as a friendly reminder to
transfer a sum of money to their bank account chop-chop, because they need the
money for their skating rink. Needless to say, I never became a member of this
club, didn't know it existed, and have never used nor will never use their
skating rink. But any excuse will do for the peasants of Groningen to indulge
their desire to bang on every door, going: "Gimme!!"