Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bridging the years

These past few days have really got my early Vereeniging memories going. The cold spell here has had me gasping on my bike as I've pedalled across the Van Brienenoord bridge to work every day.  Yesterday, I'll swear my toes dropped off on route. I was truly amazed to find they were still attached to my feet when I arrived at the uni. Most days, I take a breather as I reach the flat part at the top of the bridge where it crosses the open water. I like to stretch my eyes over to the east and watch the light come up over the horizon and spread a pearly wash over the water. Sometimes, it's so captivating, I just want to stand there and wait till it reaches me, but work always calls so I hoist myself up on my old bone shaker and pedal on.

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.


  1. Val, I can see why the cold brings up your memories. You were a 'trooper' those early days in the Vereeniging.
    I too agree with listen to the natural sounds around me. I see people walking...or biking with their music and distraction in their ears, for other than natural, it's safer to be aware of what's happening around you.
    You impress me with your story of bearing the cold.

  2. Hi Val - that's something I'd have never have done .. so good for you for achieving your dream. Fun stories to retell .. it is cold, but not as cold as it can be ...

    I love listening to the natural sounds too and rarely have other music interrupting me ...

    Have happy memories during this pre Christmas week .. cheers Hilary

  3. Gosh - I can hardly imagine what it must have been like in those 'early' days! Good job you survived. A lovely evocative piece of writing, Val. Thanks for sharing your memories!

  4. Grace, dear friend, I'd do it all again if need be. I just loved the process of converting the Vereeniging into my home. I miss it so much now, but there are two of us these days, and it is just too small to be comfortable. Even so, I don't really know how long I'll be able to stand only being there so briefly.

    Hilary, thank you! I'm also sort of preparing myself for writing the sequel to Watery Ways. These memories are an important part of that story.

    Thank you, lovely Carol. I rather think you would have enjoyed it too had you been in my shoes :)

  5. obviously it is a place that is 'home', dear to your heart.

  6. Val, have you ever wondered at the fact you were, without a doubt, entirely roughing-it in the middle of a large urban setting?

  7. Grace, it is indeed!

    Dale, erm...not really. No, I have never actually thought of that. OMG I'll have to re-think everything in my life now! How can I bear it.....?

  8. Oops ... sorry, Val! ;)
    But hear this, it matters naught, as this is the life you chose - and love!

  9. That is serious 'alternative living'. I can cope with most things but not being cold. Mind you, these days I often end up throwing off the quilt when a hot flush takes over ;) xxx

  10. Wow. Good on you. I would not survive that cold, but I'd sure come and take some pictures

  11. I thought I had memories of freezing winters what with an outdoor toilet and ice on the inside of the bedroom windows but your shower experience beats that into the ground. I think I would have become a smelly lady quite quickly!!

  12. Fran, it took some getting used to that's for sure!

    Angelikas, thank you for your visit, and you would be welcome with your camera :)

    Ros, I also remember ice on the inside of the bedroom windows when I was a child, but yes, showers a hundred metres away did not incline me to stay all that well washed in the winter :) Thanks for making me smile!

  13. Hi Val, I wish I could write like you, you are so poetical,the way you describe things.
    You do with words wat others only can do with photo's

  14. I feel very privileged that I got to see the Vereeniging and spend a few evenings on board :)

  15. Carla, thank you so much for your kind words. From a photographer of your skill and artistry, that means a lot.

    Stu, it's going to happen again - one of these days :-)


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