How many people would have the courage to leave the warmth of South Africa for the cool, damp, climate of Holland. This lady is one. Admittedly the initial move was not at her instigation however, the pull on her spirit and soul was such that she eventually and permanently, voluntarily relocated to a water bound life on Dutch canals. This is the first of Valerie Poore’s memoirs relating her subsequent experiences.
With a mixture of humour, honesty, realism, and self-deprecation the author shares the joys, difficulties, and realities of life on a barge anchored within the community of a unique Dutch harbour. Characters are introduced one at a time in a manner that enables the reader to visualise each and to also enjoy their company along with the author. Financial constraints are the driving force for many living such a life nevertheless, they all appear to be happy with their lot. There is a true sense of community, camaraderie, neighbourliness, and joint venture, which most modern societies have sadly, and to their own detriment, lost. The difficulties of living in cramped, limited, space without the modern amenities most have become accustomed to, are not overlooked. Nonetheless, everyone does what they can and willingly share ideas, advice, and resolutions with each other.
The reader is treated to depictions of historic buildings and the beauty of landscapes the author encounters as she travels the canals and waterways. Along with these are accounts of the fun and terrors of negotiating locks and the dangers from fast moving commercial water traffic: Holland is still a country where the canal systems are in constant use for commerce as well as pleasure.
In the midst of the humour and story telling there are palpable moments of revelation through which some of the author’s difficult psychological and emotional moments may be seen. However, she does not dwell on them, though it pays the reader to note they exist. Life is never a complete bowl of cherries for anyone. Along with these the reader is also treated to accounts of how friendships form with even the prospect of a loving relationship arising. Throughout, there is a sense of belonging and enjoyment of the comparative freedom such a lifestyle brings.
Beside being the author’s own tale there is considerable practical insight into what it takes to live in a barge with all the necessary maintenance. It is not a life for the feint hearted or those who prefer a laidback existence. Nevertheless, having initially rented a barge, the author determines to find her own and the reader finds themselves becoming just as excited as her when she discovers a beauty to her liking.
Due to the practical nature of much, the book may not appeal to all readers however, if anyone is contemplating such a life they would do well to read this memoir first. It does not hide the realities and challenges of such a life and will help balance any romantic notions some may have. That is not to say the life does not have its appeals but they need to be balanced with the practicalities.
The book is available in print and digital (ebook) formats.