Friday, November 13, 2015

Reflections on my watery life

I've been doing some reflecting this week as I've sat in my barge. Reflecting as in pondering on life as opposed to watching double-sided ducks on the water, that is. And the result of my pondering reflections is this:

It was fourteen years ago this month that I bought the Vereeniging as an empty shell complete with several not so optional extras, these being rust holes, a rotten axle and rather too obvious ventilation in all the wrong places. I had to forgive her though. She was a hundred and three years old and had survived serious abuse and neglect, somehow managing to stay afloat while the weeds grew out of the rust in her hull. It was a match made for the tenacious; both her and me.

The former owner had done much to try and renovate her, but he was also elderly and in truth, he was more enamoured of the engine than any other part of the barge. I wonder if he has yet forgiven me for changing it from the 1921 hot bulb Industrie engine that he so adored to the 1955 Samofa engine that I still adore. Sadly, age and his wife's ill health forced him to sell the Vereeniging as a project he was only three years into in 2001, but apart from my disgraceful insensitivity over the engine, I think it wasn't a bad idea to sell it to me as I am fairly obsessed with this old lady.

After dealing with the worst of the rusted, riveted hull, it took me two years to create a home from the empty shell of the hold. It's taken me several more years to add other improvements (plus further steel plates) and even today, I never stop working on the maintenance. There's always something that needs doing quite apart from the regular two yearly bottom inspections. The last of these was actually after just one year owing to my sleepless nights over the state of the vlak (interior hull surface) in my little back cabin (see previous post).

During the time I've had the Vereeniging, my daughters have both had spells of living on her, and at these times, I've moved off and lived with Koos. The girls have been free to make her their home and as a result things inside have been taken apart, moved or reconstructed - not always to my taste, I will admit. For the last eighteen months, though, I've had her back and I stay on her during the week when I am alone in Rotterdam for work. I am slowly making her my own again and some of you will have seen the progress of the renovation here on this blog.

If I'm honest, a different owner would probably rip out everything I've built in and start again because the interior is entirely of my rather amateur construction and so it is all rather obviously home made, but I don't care. I love every inch of my barge and spend hours inspecting details that I could revise and do better. In fact, last night I lay in bed below the foredeck gazing at the panelling and planning how to neaten it up and re-paint it all. The last time it was done was about seven years ago, and since then, the panels in front of my water tanks have been moved to different positions at least three times, leaving rather obvious scars in the process. Then this morning, I was up early giving my new storage unit / kist a second coat of paint and cutting some shelving to repair one that had got broken when last daughter moved out.

Of course, there is also the never ending challenge of the tides. When combined with a gangplank that wants to start its own life on the quay or dive into the harbour for a swim, this requires a weekly engagement with ropes, spanners and hammers to make sure it all stays in place. The next storm or extreme high or low tide will naturally reverse all my efforts and I'll start all over again.

Two lovely WOB friends


That aside, I wouldn't have it any other way, and when we played host this week to two great cyber buddies from a Facebook group I belong to, Women on Barges, I was very happy to have them on board despite my still long list of to-be-improvedments. We had never met before but it was click at first sight, as it was with all our respective men folk. It was a special and lovely evening of laughter and talk and I know we all count each other as real friends now.


WOBs and BOBs together. An excellent time was had by all

The funny thing is I'd never have come across them if it hadn't been for the Vereeniging, so I have that to thank my lovely old lady for too. She has brought me many friends in the harbour, but also cyber friends via blogging and Facebook; she has also given me the material for two books and fourteen years of something I can only describe as a feeling of warm, embracing security…the Dutch might call it gezelligheid, but it's more than that. I won't go soppy and sentimental on you now, but many people see their boats as a symbol of freedom, and the Vereeniging, now 117 years old, represents that for me too; the freedom, independence and self-reliance I gained when I decided to make my life in the Netherlands. That's quite a symbol isn't it? Is it any wonder then when I say I will never sell her...


25 comments:

  1. Two beautiful ladies together: you and the Vereeniging. And because of you, I was blessed to meet Three Beautiful Ladies this week - and their charmingly handsome men. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for the most wonderful evening. Magical, joyous and quite simply the best fun. We look forward to 'the next time' … xxxx

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    1. Oh bless you, Veronica. I'm already planning something for the next time :) It's going to happen! xxx

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  2. This is lovely, Val. We should all have homes - whatever shape they may be - that are precious to us. (My house was build in the 1830s - and I love it, in spite of the stairs and the bathroom that needs defrosting in winter!)

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  3. What a fabulous blog, enjoyed every word!

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  4. It is definitely a love match Val the amount of work and care you put into her shows that. How lovely to meet up with like minded people.

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  5. You have such an interesting life and I love the way you share it with all of us. OK, sometimes it isn't easy, and the barge must get you down when it requires so much work...but...we LOVE reading your stories!!

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  6. Val, I think that all of your time spent on keeping your boat afloat. Must also keep you active in mind and body :-) for you certainly look very fit.

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  7. Hi Val - life takes on adventures we'd have never have thought of ... so we both love our SA days and can understand each other's lives ... I'm not sure I'd be that happy on the water - and I definitely cannot make things!! So I congratulate you on the work you've put in .. and all the love and care you've given your Vereeniging of 1898 - I guess to be 117 years old. She's done well ..

    What a wonderful evening of meeting up with friends and just enjoying yourselves - looks so much fun .. as it usually is meeting up with book lovers, and blog lovers ... cheers Hilary

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  8. Thank you all so much for these kind comments. I posted this not long before I heard about the tragedies in Paris, so in a way it felt too frivolous after that, but Jo, I think you're right, we all need a home that is precious to us, and maybe the more challenges they bring us, the more we feel at home. I know I do. It's also important to cherish our own place of safety as last night's events show how tenuous that can be.

    Thank you all: to Jackie, a WOB and fellow writer I hope to meet very soon; to Anne, I'm convinced I'll meet you one day as well as Carol and Jo; to Mel for the wisdom with a twinkle (a return visit to Ireland will include you and Mrs H) and to Hilary, my fellow former South African, whom I would also love to meet too!

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  9. Val, this is such an informative and touching post. What a dear boat and it is nice to think of what you have given to each other. Lynn

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    1. Thank you, Lynn. I am touched too. Bless you

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  10. Oh, this is so lovely ~ made my eyes water! x

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  11. I loved reading this. I can only imagine the amount of work needed but so worth it to have such a fabulous home.

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  12. Thank you so much Terry and Cathy. I'm so glad you enjoyed my reflections xx

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  13. A wonderful tribute to your very special boat, Val. It is very much your home, and of course, you will never sell her! I love the idea of the WOB girls, and you all look very cosy together there. Great post.

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    1. Thank you, Patricia! You know my fondness for my barge well, having read so much about it :)

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  14. The Vereeniging is surely a cross between a pet and a wonderful friend. How lucky you are!

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    1. I like that description, Jenny. Lovely! Thank you!

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  15. What a beautiful post... Of nostalgia, homeliness and contentment.
    Your boat is beautiful, a lot of hard work, but clearly worth it. I'm not sure I could live on a boat (though I like the idea of doing so)... wouldn't mind holidaying on one though.

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    1. Thank you, Kimmie. I've only just seen this, so many apologies for the late reply.

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  16. Great success and so humble to credit all the blessings to your wonderful Vereeniging, but your success is also because of your character and courage; you are not afraid to step out on new ventures and adventures and grab for what you want. Job well done, Val.

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    1. Thank you, Steph. I do my best to take opportunities when they bump into me :) xx

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  17. What a lovely post, Val, and lovely sentiments. You're a great advert for watery living. Thank you for sharing it with us!

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    1. Thank you, Roger. I tend to get a bit sentimental about my barge, I confess, but I am sure you understand that. I expect Kantara moves you in much the same way!

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  18. No wonder this is a reader's favorite, Val. It is deeply moving and enlightening at the same time. I love your 117-year-old girl, a real symbol of freedom and making your own life your way.

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