Our daily school run is a half hour commute. This takes into account the baffling amount of time two small kids need to get in, and out, of the various doors they have to navigate from house-to-car and car-to-school.

The Dutch are sad for us that school is too far away to cycle to. I’m not. I don’t share their love of cycling in the rain. I hated our Dutch cargo bike, and was thrilled when we replaced it with a car.

The drive to school is along a very straight road, through the flat Dutch countryside. It’s not unpleasant. It’s just highly organised and fairly dull. The farms are tidy and the fields are combed perfection.

On this journey we pass one house that stands out.

It’s kind of overgrown and a bit wonky. There are abnormally tall trees on the property and it is gloriously ramshackle. There is a kind of rebellious shabbiness to it.

In the early days of having a car, the kids had a really hard time just sitting in it. I think it was the sensation of hurtling forward, while being strapped down, that really messed with their minds. They freaked out and protested. Loudly. The eldest was also grappling with time and asked, “Are we nearly there?” & “How many more minutes?” on a frenzied loop.

I would shout out things to distract them as I drove.
“Here we go under the bridge”, I’d trill.
“Oooooh! Look at the baby horses!”
“Check out the 3 kids on that bike”
“There’s the moon!”

And then there was this house. Desperation breeds creativity in me. As we drove past I was caught off guard by its renegade disheveled appearance.

I need to give you a brief backstory to make the rest of this tale make sense. Stick with me. We get creepy. 


There is a book we read called Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake. It’s a short tale about a dude with 1 boot. We adore it. There was a stage when I had read it so many times, that I didn’t need to open the book, the 5 year old could just recite it.

That’s all the information you need to understand the next bit.

One morning, amidst all the wailing and woe from the back seat, I said with a theatrical gasp;
“Mister Magnolia lives in that house”.
In fairness, it looked like a house Mister Magnolia would have lived in. If he had been an actual person.

Then every morning it became part of my focus.

“We are nearly at Mr Magnolia’s house”.
“There it is!”
“Morning Mr Magnolia!” I would holler over the sounds of despair from the back seat… and after a few days of this, they joined in. Then we started saying goodbye to him on the way back.

This house became a talisman of a good journey. We were low key infatuated. Discussions started up at other times during the day about what Mister Magnolia might be doing. Usually these conversations were brought up as a distraction tactic by me. And wow did they work.

But the obsession powered up.

We made sure to have all the windows open so that we could really project our greetings at the house as we drove past.

The interesting thing is that, all this time. We never saw him. The curtains remained drawn and the house was essentially shut up. But it was obvious that someone lived there. I’m guessing he must have ventured out at some point. In fairness, he probably heard us and hid.

Winter came. The lights glowed through the curtains and smoke came out the chimney.
Spring rolled in and the grass didn’t grow. A diligent sheep or person was definitely keeping it trim.

The mystery added to our fascination.

I was vaguely aware that our interest was growing to unhealthy proportions, but it was such a useful tool in my arsenal of mama tactics. I fed the flames some more.

We all wore baseball caps.

It was ‘YOU’.
Without all the sex and stabbings.
Just some lighthearted stalking.

Close to the summer holidays we were driving home from school singing a song about vegetables and …

The door was open. There was an actual real life person in Mister Magnolia’s front garden. My kids screeched,
“He’s there! He’s there!!!! Mama!!!! Mister Magnolia is in his garden!!!”

Oh my goodsweetholyjaysus. I screeched to a halt just past the house and did a rapid (and only mildly dangerous) U turn. There was indeed a man walking up the path.

We slowed the car down. He was doing something to his post box. We crawled past. The kids’ heads turned at unnatural angles to get a proper look.

At the nearest field pull in, I swung the car around again, and we drove very slowly past him. We crawled to a near stop. The kids were straining in their seats trying to get a proper glimpse. The smallest yelling at the top of her voice,
“Hello, Mister Magnolia. Heeeelloooo!!!!!!!”

We did another loop.
The kids were crowing with excitement. As there were no cars behind me, we kind of came to a halt. In front of his home. 

His front garden ended in a ditch. There was a narrow cycle path and then the road. Where we were. In our car. Shrieking and waving and generally having an episode. 4 meters away from him as he fiddled around with his letter box. He completely ignored us. 

The kids wanted to get out. I nearly said yes.
And then it dawned on me exactly how downright creepy we had become. We had crossed the line into actual stalking. And our target was this poor Dutch grandad in his garden.

He didn’t look up once. He must have been fucking terrified. My adult brain switched back on. I hit the accelerator and we sped off home. On reflection this possibly made the situation worse for him.

I mentally apologised to the old Dutch Dude that we traumatised that day. In his wellies. Fixing his post box.

But we were ecstatic.

We saw him.
He actually existed.

For a brief moment, I fully believed that unlikely old dude was Mister Magnolia.

We still shout at his house every time we pass it … but we keep the windows up and don’t slow down anymore. And yes, I have had the chat with my kids and explained that stalking is not normally a healthy family activity which we can do (again).

Photo by Ben den Engelsen on Unsplash

I was born in Ireland, grew up in England and met my Cornish husband in Catalonia. We now live in the Netherlands, in Dutch suburbia with our two differently wired, small kids. I spend my days parenting, writing and being amazed at all the Dutchness around me.

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