THE FIRST ATTACKS
Written by Bert Plomp
My head, it’s still intact. But it has endured a lot. I’ve had my share of worries, but never to the extent of losing sleep over them. What sets my head apart from others is that it has been subjected to more than the average amount of physical violence.
Like many, I used to get the occasional smack on the head in my earlier years. I also received the occasional poorly aimed blow with a walking stick on my skull, courtesy of my dear mother. My father, too, wasn’t always restrained. While laying carpet tiles in the living room and irritated by my presence, he once smacked me with one of those tiles.
Carpet tiles from the brand Heugafelt were quite popular in the Netherlands at the time, though not necessarily as a weapon of punishment. All of that was nothing compared to the real blows.
The most severe attack on my skull occurred when I was four years old. As a preschooler, I was wandering alone in the centre of Utrecht, having once again escaped my parents’ attention as they were busy with the Salvation Army, tending to the well-being of other children.
Strolling through the centre, I found myself on Vredenburg. Curious as I was, I wanted to enter the legendary Hotel-café-restaurant ‘Smits’ through the revolving door. Unfamiliar with how a revolving door works, I confidently walked in with my head held high while the door was still turning. The door screeched to a halt with my little head stuck in between. Normally, that should have been the end of it. The fact that I wasn’t instantly dead was thanks to my already rock-solid head.
The ambulance that rushed to the scene would have taken me straight to the nearby academic hospital, the AZU on Catharijnecanal. However, before I could be placed on a stretcher, circumstances changed drastically. In Long Elisabethstreet, near Vredenburg, a man had gotten trapped under a GEVU bus. Not that it’s a very important detail, but it was a bus from line 3.
Because the man was in much worse condition than I was, I was placed in the front, next to the ambulance driver, and the injured man was put in the back, on a stretcher. Later, I wondered about the point of this exchange. The victim was as flat as a dime, and there was no way he had any trace of life left in him. In such situations, they claim: The man died on his way to the hospital.
With my head completely wrapped in bandages, I returned home at the end of the afternoon. Home at the Salvation Army headquarters in Utrecht, on Long Nieuwstreet. Although my bandaged head made quite an impression, my parents did not welcome me with much fanfare.
My head had barely grown when it happened again. I must have been around ten when my father and I went to a VELOX match at Kingsroad. We did that often, but this time we were on the VIP stand. We had covered seats instead of standing in the open air. Now we were among the dignitaries of Tolalley and its surroundings.
At VELOX, there was a player named Jopie Jochems. Jopie was a cunning midfielder, the kind of player you went to the football field to see. He was very agile and had fantastic technique. During the match, Jopie pushed his direct opponent into such a tight spot that the latter could only come up with the idea of kicking the ball forcefully into the stands.
And indeed, that wet, heavy leather ball slammed directly into my face. The result was a bloody nose, a fiery red head, and the imprint of the ball on my face. The gathered dignitaries couldn’t help but burst into uncontrollable laughter.
A few years later, as was customary, I flew down the stairs in the stairwell on my way outside. It was always a challenge to navigate the obstacles faster than the last time. Counting from the third floor of the apartment building, there were four short stairs and one long stair to overcome. Each short flight had ten steps, and I took them in one leap. However, the long staircase couldn’t be tackled in a single jump. It involved about three meters of height difference and a distance of six meters.
To crown the run downhill with a graceful descent, I grabbed a concrete edge above my head just before the end of the stairs, swung my body outstretched out of the stairwell, and finally completed the acrobatic exercise with a solid landing on the sidewalk.
When I missed a grip one time, I quickly gave up on this stunt. I fell flat on my back on the concrete stairs and hit my head against one of the steps. It took some time before I could breathe normally again and several days before I got rid of that nagging headache.