The something around eight kilometres to work gives me plenty of time to think. I'm not one that likes ear plugs and music as I go. I prefer to listen to the natural sounds. Okay, I live in Rotterdam, so natural has a slightly different slant on it - cars honking, brakes squealing, trucks revving to get up the rise onto the bridge. Perhaps I should rather say real sound as opposed to digital. It isn't natural at all! Now and then, though, I can hear the birds. Just occasionally.
This time to think has recently been much taken up with my first year on the Vereeniging and I believe the cold has had something to do with this resurgence of memories. Maybe it is also because it was ten years ago this year that I spent my first winter on board. I don't have many photos of those days, which is a shame, but it was before digital photography really took off, and I didn't have a camera. I can picture it in my mind, though. I have a thousand mental images of what it was like that first year.
The Vereeniging evolved. it wasn't really planned. It was an empty shell when I bought the barge, so it just grew with me. All I knew when first had it was that I wanted a proper bathroom, but it wasn't until mid 2003 that I finally got one, and in the end, I had to build it and do all the plumbing myself. That's another story though. Over the first winter, I did what I'd been doing on the Hoop (the barge I lived on for the first 18 months of my stay in NL). I used the showers in the ship yard, and I had a Porta Potti camping toilet for the necessaries. It was okay. I managed, but going up to the showers when it was freezing outside and the water was low was always an exercise in resolve. I had to climb a very icy and slippery wooden ganglank, then walk around 100 metres to the shipyard office where the showers are still. The temptation to give it a miss, just do it tomorrow, was frequently irresistible. I did, however, manage to rig myself up a sink on board even though there was no plumbing, so if it came to it, a strip wash was always possible.
I was a bit proud of my sink. Koos had donated it to me, and in fact, it is still in use on the Vereeniging although it is all fully plumbed-in these days with a cupboard beneath it and shelves for pots. When I first got it, it stood forlornly in the hold with nowhere to go. It was mounted in a homemade table unit, which consisted of a top and two sides. But it had no tap. I found a very handy electric tap-cum pump at the camping shop, which I mounted on the top next to the sink. Underneath, the pump was immersed in a large 20 litre cannister of water and it had an electric plug for the mains. The whole unit found a home against one side of the barge and I made a brightly coloured curtain to cover the front and disguise the cannister. I have to say it worked like a charm. When I turned the handle on the tap it switched the pump on and hey presto! Out came the water. I just loved it. Eventually, when I got my plumbing system in place and dispensed with my little electric tap, I missed it. I tried to find other uses for it and couldn't, which saddened me. It was just so neat.
That first winter, it was cold. Very cold. I had quite a number of strip washes. The Vereeniging was pretty basic, primitive even if you consider what normal living consists of, but I was happier than I had been for years. The Vereeniging represented my independence, my freedom. I remember this when I stop on the bridge and gaze at the ships passing beneath me.