After 4,5 hours of sleep, the buzzer rings at a quarter past 4. I usually set it half an hour early so I can enjoy the warmth of my bed. I hear the rain hitting my window and the feeling comes over me to stay in my bed...

When the clock reads a quarter to 5 I really need to get out of bed and I do get the feeling it's slightly easier because of the extra rest I took the day before. I immediately turn my phone on to see if I got a message from my transport. Around 5, the message comes in that she will try to be 10 minutes earlier. I didn't take that possibility into account, so I will try to be earlier as well.

Bad weather kept its word

I lose hope when I step outside. The roads appear to be made of frosted glass and are slippery. The strong wind, combined with ice-rain, hail and snow at the same time cuts in my face and it just feels really cold.
I slowly cycle to the citycentre's busstation, where we would meet. She offered to pick me up at home, but the north-part of Purmerend isn't very conveniently located from both exits on the motorway. While cycling, I nearly fall down a couple of times, even though I deflated my tyres a bit.

When I reach the busstation, I quickly put my bike in the rack and quickly make my way to the petrolstation where I said to be waiting. Fortunately, the roof provides shelter from the showers. Pacing back and forth and walking in circles I wait, when suddenly a car appears.
As it is close to the only car I've seen so far, it can hardly miss.

First crash in sight

The car is nice and warm and I shut the door as quickly as possible. Let's go to Amsterdam, to pick up a fellow dancer. When we take the sliproad from the citycenter, we can already see the first blue lights: a lorry has jack-knifed and then plowed through the guard-rail. It has probably happened a while ago already, as a tow-truck is already at scene.

As we travel, the snow thickens and the road-condition gets qually worse. Usually, it takes about 25 minutes to go from Purmerend to Amsterdam, it will now take at least 15 minutes longer. I text my fellow dancer to notify her of the delay, as she will be waiting near the motorway, on a spot without much shelter from anything.

I get out of the car in Amsterdam to sit in the back. I know that after a 1,5 hour driving lesson, my back starts to feel a bit sore. That's why I sat upfront on purpose for the first part, so I would get some movement in between.

When we exit the motorway for a sanitary stop at a petrol station, it shows how much snow is on the road. With a loud noise, the snow is being crushed under the wheels and between the wheels and body of the car.
At the petrolstation itself, we can see that the snow is falling thick and fast. This is something the authorities won't be able to handle with the salting trucks.

Memories of the 2012 Kilkenny Feis

When we get back on the road, I remember the 2012 Kilkenny Feis. That day featured the same circumstances and disruption, allthough I don't know how the rest of the country is doing right now. I don't think it's much better there than here. The biggest difference is that I'm now not only right in the middle of it all, but things also depend on it. Fearful I watch time go by as I check the clock, while we can't go any faster than 50 or 60 (km/h) at most places.

We notify our teacher about the delay, as she can hold the competition for a while if not everyone is there yet, but she doesn't respond.
'There goes our extra 30 minutes...' our driver says when the clock reads 8.30 AM and we are near the Belgian border, while we should have been at our destination already.
At 5 minutes past 9 we are still on the road. I now seriously begin to take into account that I will be too late for the Reel. With even more bad luck I will be late for everything and this whole journey is for nothing...

Delayed for more than an hour...

Past 9.30 AM we enter the parking, where at least 5 centimeter of snow is present: things clearly aren't as bad here as in the Netherlands.
I would almost run inside, but I consider it a very bad idea with the layer of snow on the ground. Besides, I'm rather stiff from the long drive to this place, so I would have a hard time dealing with that as well.

We go inside quickly, change in an instant and then just hear an announcement that the competitions have been postponed because of the bad weather. This really is just like the Kilkenny Feis.
Though I'm nervous, I don't have much time to feel that I am: when I have just put on my shirt when I need to go to the loo very bad. One of my classmates tries to pursue me to look for our teacher like there's no tomorrow, but I'm a bit fed up with running and flying. Let me first get changed and than handle my call of nature.

Right. How do you put a safety-pin through your number?

When I went to the loo and found my teacher to receive my number, all the hurrying and (probably) my tiresome mind make that I don't even seem to know how to put a pin through my number to attach it to my shirt. I did put holes in it with my safety-pin, but even then I stop and stare to think how to continue. Not that it helps, as I even have to stare at the dress of one of my classmates, while very slow, a kind of manual unfolds in my head: 'First put the pin through your number... than put the pin through your shirt... than back through the number...'.

I'm tired, there's probably no way around it. I sit and stare again when the same classmate says I have to get going, as contestants are already being put in line. That proves to be 'my' Reel. I approach the steward and excuse myself for being late. Fortunately, they don't really care: many have been late or are still not there yet. I'm put between some other contestants and then we enter the stage.

Enter the stage, and leave

There are some mishaps though. Shortly after we lined up on stage, we are asked to leave, to make it back again a few minutes later.
Then the music starts and it's all or nothing: I'm not supernervous, but all the hurrying didn't do me well. It also doesn't help I couldn't do a proper warm up. When it comes to the steps, I'm not worried: This is now engraved in my memory for the last 3 years.

Exactly when I want to step forward to be ready to dance, I'm being called to do so from behind, which puts me out of concentration slightly.
I'm counting in my head, awaiting the moment I have to start moving and my focus is in ruins when suddenly someone behind me loudly starts going '5-6-and-off-you-go!'
Darn human! Shut up! I notice I lose timing for a while when I start, but I manage to overcome it quickly.

I complete the Reel without any mistake, although I nearly mess up when I start to do different steps. I continue and after 32 bars I nearly forget to take a bow. After the first I'm in doubt for the second one. Usually the musician is greeted with a bow as well, but where is he or she? I don't bow and get back in line.

I'm not the only one struggling with that: the bow towards the musician is cut short as they also don't know where he is, or they don't do it as well and get back in line just like I did. It won't be until later that a classmate pokes me and notifies me of the musician, more or less hidden behind a part of the buildings' structural support columns. You completely miss it when you're on the floor.

A hard compliment to take from my teacher

"You did good!" is what my teacher says to me when she is suddenly in front of me, while I walk back from the stage.
I probably look surprised, as she repeats and adds 'with the reel'.
"Uhm, yes, I know." I say slightly perplexed. I'm not someone who quickly goes 'yoohoo!' and also know I did manage to finish my dance this time.

I ask a classmember of mine if she also lost focus because of the person behind us counting down, and she confirms. Other people also reply they were a bit distracted.

Here there be cramp...

After a few minutes, it's my turn for the Slip Jig. Already when I step out of line and wait in 5th position I notice it: my right upper leg is cramping up. I stand down a bit from 5th position and notice the cramp easing slightly. This way, I should be able to manage...
But it doesn't last long. When I throw my leg up in the air for the first step, I feel the cramp returning and also how the toes on my right foot try to tie a knot inside my shoe.

If I just hold back a bit, I'll be fine, is what I try to say to myself. When I switch to my left foot and try to get my right leg up, a kind of primorial scream goes through my head. I really try but my right leg is like lead and I can only raise it about 30 degrees. Everything clenches and is heavy beyond any reasonable point. After 5 steps I have to quit. I get back in line, turn around and stretch my toes. Holy hell this hurts! After a ,minute, the worst is over and I get back in line. Bad luck, this was to be expected, considering the lack of warm-up.

Shortly after, I get to do the Single Jig. Because the Slip Jig competitions on the other stage take longer to finish, I warm up a bit more by jumping up and down. One of my fellow competitors asks how my ankle is doing as he thought I had sprained it. I tell him I got huge cramps and he gives me a look of understanding.

With the Single Jig I still have to be carefull I don't dance the complete piece. In class I also tend to move as if I want to continue with the steps.
The Single Jig goes well and that's it for me today. I watch the competitions of 'our' driver and my classmember who joined us for today and when they finish, waiting for the results is all that remains.

A modest uniform for some Flemish competitors

I get into a conversation with some Flemish competitors who all dance at the same school, but the difference in their uniforms strikes me. Some of them have a rather modest dress with blue and white and some gold glittery stuff here and there, but 4 others dance in a black skirt with a white shirt.

They are there for the very first Feis, as they have only started dancing 6 months ago. When the person at the other end of the row hears that we are talking about the dresses, she interrupts: 'God! Those dresses, right!?' and then mimics an explosion with her hands, to show how extremely outrageous they can be.

When we are waiting for the results to be called a bit later, a general conversation starts. Without even noticing I usually switch to English again, also because a French dancer otherwise can't follow us talking. The rest are Dutch-speaking competitors.

One of the girls asks if she can take her shoes off before the results are called, as her ghillies start to become uncomfortable. My best guess is that it doesn't matter at our level and besides that, we already performed. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who is bothered with that question. At the European Feis last year that same question just kept running through my head. I still don't know the answer by the way.

The sales (solden in Flemish)

"Are you also going to the Meire?" one of the male dancers in the group asks. I read it was about the main shopping-street in Antwerp, but as I'm not such a shopping-just-because-you-can person and I still face a long journey back home, I didn't look into it any further.
"No, we still need to travel back for 2,5 hours."
"Ah, you know it is the last day of the big sales right?"
And here I learn that 'sale' is still a government-regulated thing in Belgium...

"But, where do you come from then?" One of the girls asks when she hears that it took me and a few others 3 hours and 45 minutes to get here.
Ashamed one of the women puts her hand in front of her mouth: 'Darn... from Brasschaat it took me 30 minutes and I already found that an early morning!'

With the results ready, one of the members of the organising school wins a first prize if I remember it right, with another dancer from the same school in second place.
"In third place, contestant number one-hundred-twenty-seven, Menno Voorloop, Redmond School.'
Just after the number being called I look down at my own number: No way! That's me! I did not expect this to say the least.

My driver (or teacher, I can't hear the difference) shouts something like 'Go Menno!' as I walk towards the podium and yes... secretly this feels good.
With a modest smile I receive my bronze medal. This totally makes up for failing last year.

4th place in the Single Jig competition is nice, although I find the medal to be a bit ridiculous. Evenso, I have been better than half of the other group of competitors and leave 4 others behind me.
The medal for the Slip Jig really feels like a shit-medal, as I had to give up so quickly. Being last (6th place in this case) and getting a medal just doesn't feel like I deserve it.

Awaiting the remaining results

I have finished now and will wait for the results of my classmembers I travel with. It takes some time before things get clear that those results still take some time to be announced, so I get changed and go outside for a while.
I think the results will be there quickly, so I only go for a short walk in the immediate surroundings of the building in the Kielpark.

When I return some 15 minutes later, the results are not yet in and we thus can't leave yet.
Unfortunately, I do not carry cash with me and therefor can't buy anything at the bar. I do ask for paying by card in English, but in basic Flemish with a strong French accent they stammer that that isn't possible.

Around 2 in the afternoon I go for another walk. I go for a far bigger circle now and up in a busy shopping street. I find an ATM and decide to take some money so I can pay my teacher. I thought about everything, except about the money for the competition.

After withdrawal, which isn't really usefull as the machine only hands out 50 Euro notes, I walk into the Kielpark. There's no sign it's called that way, but as the nearby tram-stop bears this name it must be named after it.
I pick a bench and spent an hour there. When I go back to the Zappa-building where the competition is held at half past 3, there still are no results. Pfew... I start to become fed up with it...

Couch with a surprise

I walk up and down the place and while doing so I suddenly have my teacher in front of me who tells me there's a good couch in a small room between the podia. I indeed find it and position myself at the right corner and let myself fall onto the thing, to find out there's a hole in the support and skinny as I am I'm nearly eaten by it. Right before I already saw a few parents patiently waiting gazing with anticipation, awaiting the next victim of 'The Couch' and when I'm the one, jolly laughs ensue.

I get into a short conversation with the man next to me, who is waiting and yawned just a moment ago.
"Waiting for your daughter to finish?" I ask.
"Well, my son actually." he says laughing. I'm most likely not the only one who automically assumes a daughter considering the very low amount of boys in competitions.

"You are waiting for friends?" is his question back to me.
"I'm waiting for my transport to get their results and then we can go home..."
"You dance!?" He asks, surprised as he is. He probably has the same way of thinking as I do: considering the low amount of boys and men, I'm most likely the carrier of my girlfriend or wife.

I reply that I indeed dance.
"Have you just finished than?"
"I was already done around 10 AM, but so far the Over 30 Primary results aren't completely known yet."

Shortly after, his son comes running in on his heavy shoes. The little lad greets his father, who in turn says I dance as well.
"Wow! Primary or Intermediate!?" He asks.
"Gee! I wish I was Primary or Intermediate, I'm just a beginner yet." I say, with the lad turning a confused look on his face. That's something he can't put together, considering my age.

No end to it: Irish dance music till you drop

I feel a headache coming and put 2 painkillers in my mouth. While they will do their job no doubt I also think that the bass-tones, that clearly resonate in this kind of back-stage area also start to work on my nerves. I decide to go out again and notify my transport of doing so.

When I just got out for 10 minutes, my classmates decide they will not wait any longer for results and head for home.
I miss the text-message they send me (as the rather discrete beep and three vibes are hard to notice sometimes) and so a few moments later I already get a phone call. When I receive the call I (of course) just made it to the end of the shopping area and I did not take the time how long it took me to get there and thus also don't know how long it will take me to get back.

My best guess is 15 minutes, which is received at the other end with surprise.
When I get to the road of entrance leading up to the building, the car with my classmembers already comes towards me.
With a quick board we are on our way.

Getting hungry on our way back!

Without snow, things are running smooth. My stomach starts to growl at half past 6. We want to go for a meal at Ikea, but when we get there the queue is huge and many families with young children make up for a very busy and noisy place. I'd rather go somewhere else to be honest and fortunately our driver thinks alike and we leave without ordering. That means we have to walk the whole store to exit. My classmember says she now at least saw an Ikea from the inside, something I can say as well, as I can't remember ever visiting one so far.

We drive on for a while, get to a McDrive of a McDonalds very near, have to order inside as a malfunction makers ordering there impossible, but can at least eat our meal in the car.

This strangely brings us together, eating away some fast-food with the three of us in the car on a badly lit parking.
It's a long time ago as well for me, such a McDonalds' meal, because of the gluten-intolerance of my brother.

After our meal we head for home. After dropping off our classmember in Amsterdam, home is in sight. After another 25 minutes in the car I exit, wish my driver a good evening and get on my bicycle. After 15 minutes I enter home at half past 8 in the night. I'm beat...