At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


A sunlit day over thirty years ago......

The Dutch Railway Company used to sell passes that allowed you to travel anywhere in the kingdom by train for eight days. Each summer, after we returned from Switzerland, I would purchase at least one such pass, and scoot all over the country.
Amsterdam - several times. Leeuwarden in the far north - once. Utrecht - several times. Naarden, where we stayed from my third year till my sixth - several times.

[Naarden was where the Bakker family lived, up the street from our old house. ]

I also travelled to several other places in the Netherlands. One of them being Middelburg on Walcheren in Zeeland province, a chartered city since the twelve hundreds.


Middelburg was one of the cities represented in the Dutch East-India Company (the others being Amsterdam, Delft, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, and Rotterdam), as well as the West India Company (the other cities being Amsterdam, Groningen, Hoorn, and Rotterdam).
The Middelburg Commercial Company was founded there, which would become the largest Dutch slave trading company and one of the major international concerns supplying prisoners from Africa to the New World by the middle of the eighteenth century.

[East India Company: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) 1602 - 1800. Traded with Asia, except where it was better to rob, plunder, and seize control of an area. West India Company: Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie 1621 - 1791. Involved in trade, administration and piracy in the New World, primarily along the Atlantic coast of North America, in the Caribbean, and several horrible ventures in South America. Had a monopoly on the slave trade in the Dutch colonies till 1730. Middelburg Commercial Company: Middelburgsche Commercie Compagnie (MCC) 1720 - 1889. Founded as a general mercantile venture, involved in the slave trade from 1730 to 1807, thereafter a shipbuilder and wharf service provider).]

The city used to be more important than it is today. Evenso, the Germans thought it important enough to bomb during the second world war.


The train ride from Eindhoven to Middelburg takes several hours - one has to transfer from the express train to a local in Roosendaal, if I remember correctly. As the crow flies Middelburg is not very far from the main hub at Rotterdam - but the crow flies, he does not ambulate. Walcheren is a long peninsula, formerly an island, in the heart of Zeeland province to the south; the ambulatory bird would have to make a considerable loop to get to Middelburg.
Dozing, on a train bummeling through flat wet fields, is highly recommended.
I slept.

The return trip was more exciting. The late afternoon sun gilded the seats, and golden edges limned the distant trees and buildings. There were flickering shafts of light through lines of trees, and a soft zephyr from the window vents.
A few seats over the only other people in the carriage, an English woman and her two angelic daughters, were happily singing - some songs in Dutch, but most in English. They took full advantage of the fact that in a nearly empty carriage, no one would likely understand the lyrics, or object to their cheerful noise.

Several of their songs I recognized from a record by Elsa Lancaster - 'If you peek in my gazebo', 'Lola's Saucepan', 'The Husband's Clock', 'My New York Slip' - all slightly naughty.
Then came several songs of an even more questionable nature - 'Charlotte The Harlot', 'The Ring Dang Doo', 'The Winnipeg Whore'.
They sang very well.

I did not let on that I understood any of it, maintaining a poker face while smoking my pipe and pretending to read my book. Every couple of minutes I flipped a page, then moved my head as if following the text down and across.
By the time we got to Roosendaal, I was quite lost - I had progressed several chapters without reading a single word.
Three bowls of Coopvaert tobacco finished, the fourth halfway down.

[Coopvaert tobacco was a product of the house of Douwe Egberts (founded in 1752), described on the package as 'fragrant natural pipe tobacco ('Geurige Naturel Pijp Tabak), consisting of ribbon-cut Virginias, Maryland, and Java. I doubt that it is still made. Douwe Egberts was sold in 1978, and the tobacco side of the business has been farmed out to other companies since the eighties.]

It was marvelous. Magical, almost, listening to their singing, already knowing most of the songs, and enjoying their sweet performance. A loveable combination of innocence, depravity, and high spirits. These were no humorless continental bourgeois types, but knowing and self-confident citizens of the English-speaking world.

At Roosendaal, more people entered the carriage, and I got off. As the train started moving I could hear them singing 'Que Sera Sera' - whatever will be, will be.

"..... I asked my mother, what will I be? Will I be pretty, will I be rich? Here's what she said to me - 'que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be ....."

All sounds faded into the distance. I knocked the ashes out of my pipe, and waited on the darkened platform for the last train to Eindhoven.



  • At 4:52 PM, Blogger Tzipporah said…

    Maybe the pipe smoke and fish has cured your brain, like a nice lox There's no way I could remember anything in near as much detail from last week, let alone my teen years.

  • At 5:06 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    It was, of course, a whisp of tobacco that brought back the memory. But the mind was already primed to recall that day and age, as I spent time yesterday evening on the internet reading about the boys' magazine I used to buy every week at Priem's bookstore. Revisited several of the adventure strips, and also veered into a cartoon that for many years was published daily in the Parool newspaper - Vader & Zoon ('Father and Son'), which was a satirical two or three panel strip in which a grumpy old man and his leftwing flowerpowery young-adult son disagreed with each other, usually over weltanschauung, life style, idoelogy, value system.

    Panel 1.
    Son: May I read that book?
    Dad: No!

    Panel 2.
    Son: Why on earth not?
    Dad: Well.....

    Panel 3.
    Son: Well???
    Dad: Well, because its a very NICE book!

  • At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Then came several songs of an even more questionable nature - 'Charlotte The Harlot', 'The Ring Dang Doo', 'The Winnipeg Whore'.
    They sang very well.

    I first thought, "Charlotte the Harlot"? The Iron Maiden song?

    So, I looked it up and found the older song. A few versions of it. Some rather explicit. They made the Maiden lyric seem downright tame.

  • At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Both the post and the song are evocative.
    Differently, though.
    I do not smoke.


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