Sunday, March 16, 2014

What I really meant to talk about at ABC in Amsterdam


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:

"Last night I dreamt there were just three people here and one of them spent the whole time talking on his mobile phone. There were also no books in the shop and no one knew where mine were either, so I'm very relieved to be here with you all in this very real shop crammed full of books!" I think you might say that was a nightmare…

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


20 comments:

  1. Hi Congratulations Val - sounds like an enjoyable informative set of talks - I bet those attending learnt lots about life on the water and off it from David.

    Love the photos .. and you do look professional .. well you are! Cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well done, Val - what a great speech. And it looks like you all had a fab time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great speech Val, and congratulations. You look very stylish and composed, and look at that pretty bouquet!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, you weren't too far off :-)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great speech Val. Love the venue and the photos :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. What a good idea to post your speech. It certainly can be easy to have it all just swept away. Maybe next time print it out and hand it out if you find the same thing happens. I do think, though, that you probably said all kinds of interesting things in person that were not in the speech.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you everyone! I've been out since I posted this, so I hadn't seen the comments. I'm glad you enjoyed my 'would've been' speech :) Jodie recorded the real thing, didn't you Jo? So when that's available, I'll be able to hear what I really said :-) I honestly don't know if I can remember a thing!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great post, Val. Well done. And cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you, Francis! So nice to see you here. Do come again :-) xx

    ReplyDelete
  10. Such a great speech. I imagine the one you actually gave was a million times better.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks Grace and Carol! If you're interested, I've posted the video in my sidebar. It's quite a departure from the original, but the essence is much the same :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Just finished Watery Ways - and loved it - especially knowing Rotterdam as I do, and after a lifetime at sea.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Congratulaions Val. Glad you got to give your speech !

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thank you, John! I'm so glad you enjoyed WW

    And thank you too, Denise. It was a fun afternoon :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Bravo! Take a bow Val after that lovely speech. I wish I had been there to here you speak.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Haha! Thank you, Anne!! *Bows* xx

    ReplyDelete
  17. Wow! Lovely speech! So wonderful Val!

    Nas

    ReplyDelete
  18. More, More (followed by loud clapping)!! Seriously it was a very good speech and I am sure that you got most of it over to your audience. Did you practice in front of the mirror? I hate giving speeches and try not too, but am quite happy to stand up in front of a class of new students xxx

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thanks, Nas!

    Fran, I'm the same! I was very nervous at the event, but have no problem addressing a new class of students either!

    ReplyDelete