WHATEVER WILL BE
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.
A TRADING CITY
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.
TRAINS FAST AND SLOW
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.
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.