Every other year, St Pat's goes to a foreign city with the P7s. We go with Joan's school in order to promote ecumenicalism, cross-denominational working and, more importantly, because she is a pal and we both like a few days away from our repressive domestic situations.
This year, we decided on the Anne Frank Experience and so we headed to Amsterdam, courtesy of the ferry from Rosyth. Neither of us had been in Amsterdam before, so we were looking forward to the experience. My total knowledge of the city was based on old Van Der Valk episodes and a vague recollection of the 1959 film about Anne.
As usual, the P7s had too much money with them, despite my warnings to parents. However, this time we had an absence of known bed-wetters and the visit looked promising. The first part of the journey proved relatively uneventful, thanks to Joan's worksheets, the presence of another school and my relaxed state of mind, aided by the carefully discreet mixture of gin and tonic in my bottle of Evian.
The P7s had been well-briefed on the events surrounding the occupation of Amsterdam and seemed almost interested. Our cabins were below the cargo decks, and the constant drone of the turbines, the fumes of diesel fuel and the after-effects of the much-improved and fortified "Evian" brought an early dark to proceedings.
On awakening from my dream of sipping pina coladas with Tom Cruise on his yacht moored off Tangiers, it was disappointing to hear Joan calling for Hughie and Ralph down the loo of the cabin we shared. Poor Joan. The crossing had been rougher than expected and she had been up all night recycling her evening meal for the benefit of the North Sea fishing fleet.
She had been unable to rouse me from my slumber. Apparently the kids had been fine, although most had spent the evening in the disco or the cinema.
Many had already blown a fair share of their cash in the slot machines on the second deck.
We arrived in Zeebrugge, and duly picked up the coach for Amsterdam.
Wilhelm, our driver, spoke fluent English gained from the endless watching of satellite television as a child, and a spell as a hairdresser in London.
Joan had excelled herself with the arrangements to date and, by the time we reached the outskirts of Amsterdam, I was actually beginning to enjoy the break from the daily drudgery of complaints, criticism and carping.
The coach stopped outside the rear entrance of the hotel and we unloaded the luggage. The pupils' rooms were all to the rear and had a fine view of the town. Joan and I shared a room in the front part of the hotel. It was pitch-dark when we eventually settled them down, after a fine meal and a thorough briefing for the next day's visits. Each of the P7s was given a disposable camera.
Joan and I watched a disappointing TV movie and familiarised ourselves with the delights of the mini-bar. We shared the corridor patrols at regular intervals, and there was no sign of any of the usual high jinks. We struggled to get to sleep as there was a fair bit of noise from the street below. Joan pulled open the curtains to determine the cause of the disturbance and pulled them back again in a flash. Flash is perhaps an inappropriate expression, as it betrays the root cause of our new predicament.
Resplendent in her underwear and with gin in hand, Joan had been greeted with various requests from an assembled crowd of sailors of all nations.
Despite her lack of understanding of the languages, she had an appreciation of international hand signals, and she turned to me and said: "Bridget, we have a problem!"
Joan's preparations had indeed been thorough. The brochure was accurate.
The hotel was situated "close to all the main educational attractions" and would avoid "any additional expense on travel". What it had omitted to mention was that the hotel was also in the heart of the red-light district.
We had to keep the kids away from the front of the hotel, and to avoid any opportunity for them to encounter the undesirables who frequented the environs.
The Anne Frank Experience was unforgettable, and the kids were brilliant, both in terms of attention and of appreciation. We fended off all requests for them to take pictures of the hotel front, however, explaining that it was out of bounds due to a gas leak. Everything was going well, until we "lost" Jimmy just before the bus arrived for our departure. He turned up just in time, giggling, sniggering and showing every sign of having witnessed the local window displays.
I duly took his camera from him, explaining I would get all the school films developed together - and not explaining that Jimmy's would be conveniently lost.