This afternoon, I was at the Meet My Book event in Amsterdam's American Book Center. It was a very pleasant and easy going occasion and I shared the floor with Simon Woolcott, a well-known Amsterdam blogger, who has written an intriguing book about Dating the Dutch. His blog is here. The two of us were presented by professional presentation coach and author, David Beckett, a charming, relaxed host who put us all at ease immediately. I had of course prepared a speech (as you do), but as chance (or luck) would have it, I didn't say a word of it - except the first few lines, which are really true. I did have an awful dream last night about just what I've described (see below). But instead of following my speech, I just launched in with my usual aimless babble, so to give you an idea of what I actually meant to say, I've posted my 'speech' below, accompanied by some photos (and after thoughts) of the real thing:
|David Beckett - a lovely, 'put you at ease' gentleman|
"Since I've lived here in the Netherlands, I've published five books, but this afternoon, I just want to introduce you to two of them. Cheeky, I know, since I was asked to talk about just one, but I need to mention the first to make sense of the second. These two books, Watery Ways and Harbour Ways are memoirs about my initiation into living on a boat in Rotterdam, a perfectly normal thing to do if you are Dutch, but a very different way of life for someone who came here from the dry expanses of South Africa." That it was, and probably the only thing that made life bearable in a land of grey skies while I was longing for blue ones!
|Doing my thing - now I can't remember what that thing was!|
"I arrived here in December 2000 from a hot South African summer to a very cold Dutch winter, and my first move was to rent a barge with no plumbing, no heating and no electricity in the Oude Haven in Rotterdam, a harbour dedicated to the restoration of historic barges. This is where my rather different and entertaining life began and this is what I wrote about in the first of these two books, Watery Ways. The book opens with the statement "The first thing you learn when you live on a boat is that an awful lot of stuff is going to end up in the water." And it did: brass door handles, mobile phones, buckets, jerry cans, you name it!
"Watery Ways follows the first year of my liveaboard life and ends with the point at which I bought my own historic barge in December 2001, an event that brought a whole new phase of life with it.
Why did I write it? Well, as I've said, I came here after living in South Africa where there is very little surface water and no one would ever consider living on a boat. I was so impressed by this way of life, I think I probably saw it as few others did and I wanted to give my perspective on what makes it so special." I still find it impressive!
"Since I published Watery Ways, many people have asked what happened next once I got my own barge. The fact is that I spent the next two years converting it for living on. At first, I didn't think this would make much of an interesting book; everything took so long, there were so many delays and frustrations with building my bathroom (just as an example). When I bought it, I'd already spent a year with no bathroom at all, and it took me another year and a half to get one. Then I realised this was the story - because it happened with everything I did. So, the first statement in this second book is "There are two things you learn when you live on a boat: the first is that is that an awful lot of things are going to end up as sacrificial offerings to the water gods; the second is that everything you plan for your boat's maintenance takes three times longer than you think it will." Actually, I underestimated that - it takes ten times longer.
"Harbour Ways follows the first two years of my barge conversion and tells the story of how I make my own home from an old and very rusty empty hull. The process itself was full of entertainment for my family and friends (I didn't find it all so amusing at the time, but I can see the funny side now), so readers will learn about how I imagined things would go compared to how they really did go - quite often a different story altogether. This process is of course interspersed with other events, as well as a few trips and travels by barge, so it's not all about building and construction. A year in the Oude Haven has its own entertainment as well." It definitely does, when you have a Koos, a Philip, a Frits and a dog called Sindy!
|Answering a few questions|
"The main story ends with the day I learn to 'drive' my own barge during a wonderful trip through the tiny canals of the Rotterdam Ringvaart. That felt like the right place to stop the book as by that time, I'd done most of the conversion and achieved my goal of having a home I could take with me if I wanted to move somewhere else. There is an epilogue which brings the reader more or less up to the present day in a series of short mini-chapters, but the real story ends in 2004." That was a special year and a precious one.
"These two books make up the background of how and why I came to stay in the Netherlands, something I didn't really plan to do. My dream was actually to go and live in France. These days that dream is still there, but now it's about taking my liveaboard home and cruising in France for a couple of years. After that, I'll probably come back to the Netherlands and write another book about those experiences before slipping with suitable eccentricity into old age." Which I intend to do with no grace whatsoever…now, where's that bottle of red wine?
|A kind customer with one of my books|