Monday, February 08, 2016

Watery Ways - the story behind the book

There may be some readers here who don't know and might be wondering how I came to be living on an old Dutch barge in Rotterdam at this somewhat advanced stage in my life. Well, I suppose I wasn't so 'senior' when it all started, but I was definitely on the wrong side of forty five, so it wasn't exactly a youthful sense of adventure that drove me to this wonderful floating life.

I first left my home in South Africa at the end of 1998 to follow my husband to the Netherlands. He was working for a film company in Amsterdam at the time but was living in Rotterdam. He'd been gone for a year and decided he didn't want to go back to SA, so being ready for a new adventure myself, I agreed to shut up shop, leave my job and have a go at life in Europe again. No thoughts of boats and barges ever entered my head. I'd been living so long with SA drought and water restrictions the only boats I knew were the canoes on the  puddle-that-used-to-be-a-lake in the park. But then when I arrived in Holland, I discovered this whole new world of life on the water. I was like a child in my own wonderland.

The hold of the Hoop with Sindy as a puppy
In those early days in Rotterdam, my husband had an office in one of the city's working harbours and I was fascinated by the commercial barges that came in and out. They often moored up against the quay outside the office and I would walk along them surreptitiously peeking through the net curtains of the windows in their back cabins. I was so taken by the idea that people both lived and worked on their barges that when said husband suggested we buy one ourselves, I never hesitated - this being in spite of the fact I hated sea travel, loathed being wet, and abhorred the cold. I suppose I conveniently forgot about all that. In wonderland, you don't usually do rational stuff like pros and cons, do you?

In any event, we bought an old barge that needed renovating some time that year - I forget exactly when. It was a beautiful hull, but the built up superstructure was horrible and anyway, by that time, we'd got to know some people in the Oude Haven, a harbour designated for restoring historic barges. We'd been lurking around the yard with serious intent as we hoped to get a place there to restore our own. Anyhow, this all took some time, a great deal of stress and more money than we'd ever imagined. The strain took its toll and to cut a long story discreetly short, we as a couple didn't survive.

Rescue for me came with an invitation to go back to South Africa to work at my old company. I'd already been back for a few spells to help them out and now they wanted me for a longer period. I knew it wouldn't be permanent but it was an offer I made no effort to resist. So in the course of 2000, I found myself back in Johannesburg. I loved being in my old home town again, and I was lucky enough to travel all over the country too,  but as time went on I knew I had to make a decision about life.

I had nothing of my own in SA anymore; I was staying with friends; and the end of my contract was looming.


The Hoop as she is now. Still in Rotterdam, but
a different harbour

At the beginning of 2001, I headed back to Holland. This was, I thought, my chance to make something new for myself and of myself. I'd also found myself missing the boats and the barges, so I had this plan. It was to work, save money, buy my own boat and go to France.

A Godsend had come in the offer of a barge to rent. My dear friend, Philip, who saved my day rather often in those early years, had one I could rent. It wasn't very luxurious, he said, but it would be a roof when I had none. It was also a floating home. Since I hadn't had much chance to get a feel for life on the water before I hotfooted it back to South Africa, I wouldn't have cared if it had nothing of life's luxuries at all. As it happened, it didn't, and that's where the story of Watery Ways begins.

The wheelhouse of the Hoop - where the toilet remained
throughout my residence

The lovely Hoop on which I lived for a year and a half had no running water, no electricity, and no toilet when I moved on board. The electricity was my first challenge, the water came later, and the toilet remained where I found it for the duration of my occupancy - upside down on the seat in the wheelhouse. But that was all part of the charm - and so was Philip, and Koos, and a whole plethora of other wonderful, quirky people. This was my Watery Ways background.

And I never did get to France - although I haven't given up that dream yet...

If you'd like to read more about that first year of my watery adventure, my book is currently reduced to 99p or its equivalent on Amazon's Kindle. 


14 comments:

  1. What a great story, Val. You don’t do things by halves, do you ;-) I’ve always fancied living on a barge (as long as I didn’t have to sail far!) or one of those floating houses and I love your pup <3

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    1. Thank you, Cathy. Barge life is not for everyone, but some of them are pretty luxurious and just like a house. Mine wasn't, and still isn't, but I love it! Sadly, my pup grew up and old and is no longer with us, but most of my older photos include her, so in another way, she still is :)

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  2. An absolutely brilliant and heartwarming story. I would recommend "Watery Ways" to anyone and everyone. I often find myself on the watery ways at nights when I have trouble getting to sleep. Sleep comes so gently on a rocking barge...as long as you're as resilient as Val and can forget the cold! Lovely blog, lovely book.

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    1. Thank you, Steph. You are my champion and I would love to show you my barge one of these days! xx

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  3. Hi Val - interesting to be able to read about your background .. and see you've been back to Jhb since originally leaving. It's great you've made a new life and are happily settled in all the things you - but with your ideas out front and constantly thinking about new things. That life style would not suit me - !! Cheers Hilary

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    1. Yes, Hilary, and I still go back as often as I can, but not for work anymore. Part of me will always remain in Africa, as I'm sure that must be the same for you too!

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  4. I loved Wwtery Ways, but read it ages ago. So many thanks for a great catch-up!

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    1. Thank you, Jo. I didn't know you'd read it. I'm so very pleased you enjoyed it, I really am!

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  5. What an interesting life you have had.... I plan to download Watery Ways to take away on holiday with me. IBooks? or Kindle?

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    1. Thank you Stephanie! I think I've been pretty lucky really. A lot of what I've ended up doing has been unintentional, but I've become quite practiced at going with the flow.

      At the moment Watery Ways is at a reduced price on Kindle. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be available on iBooks. I've just looked. I don't know why that is, so it's good you've asked. I'll tell the publisher. So I suppose that leaves Kindle anyway. It's definitely the cheaper option at the moment :)

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  6. I never thought I would have read a book about a barge. It just goes to show that it's not the subject but the author who draws you to a book. I live an adventurous life through you and Jo and her travels.

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    1. Anne, Jo's adventures make mine seem very local affairs, but I it means a lot to me that you have enjoyed my barging adventures xx

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  7. You really are a 'game ol' girl' aren't you! (Sorry about the ol' bit!). Do you think your writing comes out of your life experiences or the writer in you that makes you adventurous? Xxx

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    1. Good question, Fran...actually, a great question!! And I'm not offended by the 'game ol' bit :) Nothing you write could offend me! Now I come to think of it, I would say I'm just a 'go with the flow' type, but I like adventurous people, so I tend to get caught up in their lives and flow! And well, the writer in me can't resist a good adventure either :)) xxxx

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