Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Skipper's Family - a bit more background

Koos's father's barge. Mother stands in the wheelhouse door

One thing I hadn't thought about when I wrote my last post about Who is The Skipper's Child? was something Anne Mackle mentioned in her review of the book, and that is that there is no bad language in it.

Some people might find this unconvincing, but in fact it is totally authentic. In the story, it is clear that Hendrik Kornet and his family are Protestants and make this quite plain to those 'heathen Catholics' in Belgium. In the Netherlands of the time, the country was quite clearly defined by its religious leanings: the north tended to be Protestant and the south Catholic (and to quite an extent, this is still the case although there is a large 'bible belt' in Zeeland that runs right through to Zeeuws Vlaanderen, close to the Belgian border).

A closeup of the wheelhouse. Koos's grown up brother still
in white shirt and tie!

Koos's parents were very much of the Protestant persuasion and quite strictly so as many skippers' families were. 'Bad' language of any kind would not have been tolerated on board and so no, there was no swearing or cursing even under duress. It is also true that their entertainment was hymn singing round the harmonium and they did not really mix with people outside their Protestant skippers' world. So my portrayal of the family as being rather innocent and isolated from the world is an accurate reflection of what their life was like (so Koos assures me). Being Protestant set you apart from the Catholics,who were regarded as being frivolous and given to excesses of drinking, eating and partying. Funny to think of now, isn't it?

But the twains did somehow meet now and then. I love this anecdote Koos tells (not in the book) about his father's meeting with a Catholic skipper one Sunday back in the day. The skipper, who I think was Belgian, was moored under a bridge and was busily cleaning his barge. Koos's father, who was quite a tease and not completely intolerant of other men's ways, ribbed the man for working on the Lord's day. The Catholic skipper was totally undaunted and quick as a flash pointed to the bridge above him and retorted that 'what the Lord couldn't see wouldn't hurt him'. Precious, isn't it? And maybe a tongue-in-cheek confirmation of the difference between the two...

So that's why my story is so more than usually 'clean'. It's not only that it's mainly targeted to young people, although that's obviously a consideration; it's just that their life was like that. It really was a different and insular world, and that's why I find it so fascinating.

The prequel is in the planning as I want to write about Arie's father's life during the war. That one will not be targeted to a YA audience but I will still focus on authenticity!



The Skipper's Child is just 99p on Amazon this week if you fancy giving it a try :)

9 comments:

  1. Hi Val - I'm sure they didn't swear that much in those days .. it wouldn't have been tolerated in certain families etc ... so it's interesting to find it's worth commenting on - as you've done. Holland-Belgium have a very interesting religious history ... we've been covering a bit in history - but obviously a lot goes out of the window as soon as class is over - still I learn and add bits to the puzzle.

    Interesting snippet - the Lord can't see - yet he can see everything .. honestly, sometimes you have to laugh at the way we react ...

    Thanks and it must be great having that history and being able to share it - Koos must be grateful ... cheers and Happy New Year - Hilary

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    1. Hilary, thank you and Happy New Year to you! I think it's because some might expect skippers to be like most people's image of naval seamen - you know, girls in every port, downing the rum and swearing like troopers, but it seems the old Calvinist influence was pretty strong among the barge skippers here in Holland until very recently. You're right - this part of the world does have an interesting history when it comes to religion. The poor 'lowlands' were subjected to terrible tyranny under the Spaniards, and they still celebrate liberation from Spain today! So that could be part of the reason for the split between the Protestants and the Catholics. Not being either, I find it one of the fascinating paradoxes about NL that in a country known for its liberalism, there are still these defined religious areas today. They tell me it's because the Dutch are so liberal that the bible belt villages can exist and be accepted along side things like legal marijuana smoking, euthanasia and the Gay Pride parade in Amsterdam. And in our (Catholic) village down south, we have Carnival every year. 10 kms away in a Protestant village, they don't :)

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  2. Val,
    Really warms my sensibilities when I see a vessel with a counter stern for immediately I am aware that the both the designer of the vessel and the owner were aware of marine aesthetics; more so than that the other benefits of having counter stern includes larger deck space in the aft and a measurable amount of reserve buoyancy is provided.
    So thank you for showing Koos's father's vessel.

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    1. I'm glad you like it, Mel! I think it was a very beautiful barge. In fact, my own feeling is that the Dutch built the most beautiful barges of all!

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  3. Yes, they probably did design some very attractive barges. I know that a lot of old yachts and sailing ships had counter sterns. I think that on an inland waterway it was quite practical.
    Not though on a sailing vessel in a severe storm with a following sea up your stern, unless of course you had plenty of sea-room to play with; just imagine having an over buoyant stern driving you forward when you needed to change course?

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    1. Yes, that's something I don't even want to imagine! But then the sailing / sea going barges had completely different sterns. This one was originally built for towing. It was hauled by tug boats to begin with and was fitted with an engine quite late in its life. I don't know if you've seen the Dutch sailing barges that were built for the Zuider Zee and open waters, but I'll post some pics in my next blog and you can tell me what you think of them. To me, they are much more attractive than the Thames Sailing barges, for instance.

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  4. A Happy New Year to you both, Val - and may whatever god is looking down on your smile all year!

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    1. Thank you, Jo....you too! I'd like to think all the gods are smiling on a certain area of Nepal where a special house is being built. Happy travels and lots more adventures for us to benefit from! Xx

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  5. Val, I never questioned the fact the language I TSC remained clean. I suppose that comes from my own Protestant rearing, where the worst one could say was "heavenly onions!" (that was my Mum's phrase) and my Dad never uttered a swear word in his life (that I was aware of). We grew up in a mix of English and French Roman Catholic, Protestant (we were United) and a good smattering of Jewish, who fled to Canada during and after WW2. The Catholics were more "religious" and their schools more closed off, so the ;ewish all attended the Protestant schools. We loved the Jewish holidays, as half the students were absent and we ended up having play days at school!
    No swearing, ever... xx

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