Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dutch Bitterballen

Have you ever landed up at the right place but on the wrong day and time? This occasionally happens to a jobbing actor particularly if he's working on a production where the line producer and scene scheduler couldn't find their arseholes with a GPS.

I have found myself in this predicament four or five times in my illustrious career. Three of these events occurred while I was filming with Jackie Chan in his self-financed movie called "Who am I" at the turn of the millennium.

Jackie is a man of means by no means and he throws his highly talented self into all aspects of the production. Camera, lighting, props, wardrobe and make-up are at all times under his watchful eye. As he said to me shortly after joining the cast as the leading villain, "In 'oolywood production, producer he tell me what to do. In my production, I tell 'lem!".

And that he certainly did. Shooting schedules were changed constantly, locations, were shuffled like a pack of cards. In the sixty days that I shot with him in Rotterdam, I never knew what, when, or where I was wanted till Mr Chan had decided.

One morning eating a delightful breakfast in the Rotterdam Hilton, Susie Wong, a junior production assistant scooted to to my table,  "Ha Ceas , today we shoot on you, but only lata, the scene where you watch Jackie from stleet doorway."

"Scene number?" I asked

“Ha scene not litten, Jackie he lite it. I give you later."

I knew I was in for a long Hurry-up-and-wait session.

Ms Wong told me to be ready for pick-up in the hotel lobby in thirty minutes. I went up to my to my room and prepared for all eventualities,  camping chair and table, small cadac gas burner, expresso maker, cup, plate, ingredients, book, soduko, and crossword.

 An hour later I was ensconced on the pavement at a busy centre of the town's intersection. Ms Wong departed, "We is be seeing you lata."

After making myself a delightful expresso and getting into the first book of Asimov's triolgy Foundation, I found myself surrounded by three armed members of the Dutch constabulary . Unfazed I pulled my script out of the side pocket of my camping chair. "I'm filming in Jackie Chan movie and I've been told to stay here."

"Ah, Jackie Chan, we also," replied the tallest of them, "We will be controlling the traffic.

"Have you any idea when?"

"No, we at 10 o'clock here. We told to wait. Control she tell us."

"Can't they give you an update an ETA?". I thought I was being very clever throwing in the algolirim, but the reply I got showed that their English was not too advanced.

"You can eat across the road, about 11 o'clock she come. Very good bitterballen, she make. The gouda and spinach, she sehr gut!"

Bitter Balls are a unique Dutch invention for using up the left overs of previous meals. They are either served as a crumbed log or ball with some mild mustard on the side. This delectable snack is a must if ever you're in Holland.

They are made using the leftover of previous meals, usually contain cheese, all this is wrapped in mashed potato and cover with bread crumbs then deep fried and server with a mild mustard or sauerkraut.

My in built clock told me I'd have to wait about an hour till the magical bittenballen lady arrived, so I excused  myself from my newly made friends and dived back into my Asimov.

As I was beginning to understand the nuances of Asimov's 3 rules of robotics an enticing aroma filled the air, the distinctive smell of fried potatoes and melting cheese. Mrs Bitterballs had arrived and was busy erecting the side canopy on her converted VW camper van.

My friends from the costabulary were already across the intersection and were busy chatting  up a well endowed young lady as she shook her bitterballen discsrding them of the last droplets of cooking oil.

As I arrived she scooped the bitterballen, six of them,  onto a large paper plate that already had a mountain of cole-slaw testing its flexible form. The largest policeman delicately took the plate and deposited it on one of the three portable tables next to the caravan.

"Here Dirkie." Said the voluptuous cook, handing three plastic forks to the young constable who couldn't take his eyes off her bouncing bossom.

"Hurry up!" Yelled  his mates. Dirkie spun around, dropped the three forks, tripped himself up as he turned and stumbled towards his compatriots.

"And what would you like?" Asked the bossom, "they told me you were English, " she continued.

I could fully appreciate Diirkie's dilema. My eyes too were transfixed on the largest mamary glands I had ever seen. "You should try the spinach and feta and the bacon and gouda".

My eyes finally made contact  with hers as she repeated the bacon and gouda option. Somehow I managed to utter the affirmative reply. "Ja." I croaked through my dry throat. "five minutes," she said continuing, "take a seat, I bring it. With cole-slaw?"

I croaked another Ja and joined the seated constabulary.

"She carries them well, does Connie, she goes to the same gym as the boss, no wonder he's always late for role-call." Said Dirkie as he swallowed his last bite of bitterballen.

My mouth was really dry and I knew that it would be parched shut when Connie delivered my balls. I stood up, excused myself and darted back across the road to my HQ.

Two minutes later I was seated and plonked my 2 litre chateau-cardbord of dry red and 4 paper cups on the table. " Help yourselves, we won't be filming today."

I was waiting for the standard British cop's reply of, "Not while we're on duty,"  but was pleasantly surprised as the largest one, who I'd sussed out was called Willie, leant across the table and poured himself a cup of the finest Spanish Don Carlos red. He managed to turn off the plastic valve before Connie arrived with my bitterballen. Had he not I fear my Don Carlos would've flooded across the table.

Her mammeries decended to our seated eye level and four pairs of eyes were locked in Greek Chorus union, till she turned and returned to her caravan, which now had a queue of over a dozen males who wanted their daily bitterballen.

I side track to let you know that the bitterballen were superb and I was so impressed that I ordered another two each for myself and companions. I sent Dirkie to do this as I didn't want to suffer another Namib desert in my mouth.

It was close on three o'clock when Connie had closed her shutters and drove off into the Rotterdam afternoon traffic, which was quite heavy, but she was guided off the pavement by three slightly inebriated polcemen. I witness all this while sitting back in my camping chair, brewing myself an expresso coffee.

Dirkie and his mates, Willie and Herman, were standing in the designated smoking area ten metres away from the nearest supermarket's entrance. The no smoking regulations in Holland are very stringent, there is no smoking in any building or enclosed space. Individual companies have also tried to stop their employees smoking and put a no smoking area outside their main entrances.

 Walking along any pavement you are constantly coming across a yellow striped section, you can take one footstep off the yellow lines and your feet are suddenly surrounded by dog-ends, stompies and half finished cigarettes. Dirkie and his mates told me that at night the discarded dog-ends are scooped up by the druggies, the homeless drug addicts, who wander the streets in search of their next fix.

The sun was beginning to set silhouetting the high rise skyline, when Willie appeared hovering over my shoulder," You was right, no film today, we've been recalled to the station. We finish at six. And you? What you do?"

I was about to answer as my Lady Di's Mercedes cruised to a stop. "Ah Lon, we forget you, no?" Said Susie Wong  from the passenger seat, "Ah no, we no forglet you, Jackie she say silly. We do scene next week."

My new friendly constabulary helped me decamp and load my belongings into the Merc's boot.

"See you next week chaps, same time, same place." And off we cruised into the city's sun set.

It was three weeks before I regrouped with Dirkie, Willie and Herman. We shot the scene about ten in the morning and we were wrapped well before Connie's arrival.

Both myself and the three policemen were free for the rest of the day. Dirkie ran off to nearest supermarket to get an ample supply  of alcoholic beverages while the three of us ordered a full assortment of all the bitterballen Connie had on the day's menu. As she closed up she told us she was off to a “straat part” in one of the city’s outer suburbs and invited us to come along.

Within seconds we were in back kitchen section of her camper while Connie weaved through the back streets of the inner city. The constables told me we were going a the southern suburb,which was were most of the poorest immigrants settled, particularly those from the Nederlandse Antillen, the Dutch Antilles, particularly the island of Surinam. 

They were typically Caribbean, into their drugs, mainly cannabis, their reggae music, and Voodoo ceremonies which often left dismembered corpses floating in the canals, providing nourishment for the carp and eels.

I glanced at my three compatriots who still in their uniforms and quickly envisaged the four of us surrounded by an angry mob of weapon wielding Caribbeans who were stoned our of their tiny minds. I quickly asked if they had their Civies.

After a bit of Connie-assisted translation, she said she could lend them some jeans, trousers and T-shirts. She told them to search through a large plastic container packed in the cleaning cupboard.

They pulled out the container finding it full of numerous articles of men's clothing. I thought of asking Connie how she came by such a wide assortment of men's apparel. I thought better of it, as I remembered my mother's extra-curricula activities in the Old Poole pub in the latter years of the second world war.

Let sleeping penises lie, I thought as I imagined the many males of all shapes, hues and sizes, sprawled across the greasy floor grappling with Connie's over-sized mammaries.

I was pulled out of my fantasy as Connie brought the caravan to a jarring halt. "Aus!" She yelled as I and my now under-cover policemen disembarked.

They'd asked her if she would look after their uniforms. "In the plastic box, ja?"

Dirkie said one of their mates was on patrol that night for the "straat pary", and when he arrived he'd get the uniforms into the patrol car.

The festivities were in full swing, the hashish laden air shimmered in the setting sun. I wandered in the direction of the pulsating reggae music coming from a constructed stage in the middle of the large open square in which Connie had parked.

The troupe of eight musicians performing were all Caribbean apart from the lead singer, a white blonde dread-locked, quite beautiful, girl who must have been in her late-teens.

I sidled over to an pop-up bar, ordered a beer and plonked myself on one of the available stools. They played on for what seemed like a hour, but as I  was only on my second Heineken it must have only been half an hour, when they took a break. A DJ took over keeping the vibe alive. My plan was working, the lead singer was wandering  across to water her vocal chords.

 My instinct was on the ball. As she asked the barman for a Heineken I jumped in and deposited a glass and a Heineken in front of her.

"Cess Poole at your service," I said trying to make a courteous yet not abrasive introduction. 

"Quite an impressive voice," I continued.

 "Jennifer, Jenny for short, Fowler," she said in the broadest Scoucer's accent I'd heard.

"Not related to Robbie?"

She laughed, "You support them?"

"Since the days of Bill Shankly right  through to Keegan and Dalgleish." I said as we clinked glasses, "To never walking alone."

"So what brings you here?"

"I'm shooting in the Jackie Chan movie. Got another 2 weeks then back home."

"Where's that?"

"Johannesburg, South Africa."

"Quite a traveler. The Pool, Africa, and Holland."

"Yep, but not Liverpool, I was born and brought up in Blackpool, supported them in the days of Stanley Mathews, Jimmy Armfield, and onto Alan Ball, but he left for Everton in 1966, that's when I switched my allegiance to Liverpool, to spite him."

"So how did you end up here? Holland's Surinam?"

Got invited by Connie, the bitterballen lady, she's over there." I said pointing across the square.

"I know. Would you believe I share a flat with her. Her nickname is Helium."

"Helium?" I replied with a quizzical smile.

It took me a second or two before I cottoned on, "Her boobs, balloons, right?"

"Yep, she saving up to have them reduced."

"Well if the collection she's got of men's clothing stashed away in her van is anything to go by, she won't be waiting long."

"She makes more from her bitterballen than she does on the side."

"Good luck to her, they're superb," I added, "bitterballen before Jenny could grasp my unintentional double-entrendre.

“Got to go and do our second set,” said Jenny, “Are you going to stay?”

“Dunno,” I replied.

“I’m not into one night stands.” She said as she turned her back to  return to the stage.

“Neither am I,”I replied.

She smiled and walked off.

Quandry, quandary, I was in.

Should I. shouldn’t I? To stay or not to stay that was the question.

 I was about to answer myself when a heavy hand landed on my shoulder. It was Dirkie, now dressed again in his police uniform, “You want a lift back into town, to the Hilton?”

“Yep.” I said. My grey matter told me I’d spent long enough being in the right or wrong place, on the right or wrong day, at the wrong or right time. I followed Dirkie back to his police car with its flashing light.

An hour later I was dosing off to sleep wondering if in the morrow dear old Jackie would know what when and where he was going to shoot at the right time on the wrong day but in the right place?

Only time will tell.


Unknown said...

Love this, and a great film too 😊

Spindrifting said...

Brilliant. You certainly can write.

Spindrifting said...

Brilliant. You certainly can write.

Sir Cess Poole said...

Thanx Annon and Spindriting

Jill Carrott said...

Another great tale Sir Cess, keep it up!!!

Spoon & Co said...

Great story and I do love any form of Croquette!:)

Nathan Waywell said...