I was a bit nervous about reading Valerie Poore’s account of moving into an old barge that was little more than a shell and converting it into a floating home. Not only am I not that interested in memoirs, but I have no enthusiasm for blokey conversations about re-wiring and the joys of MDF boarding. I took the risk, though, because I have become a fan of Val Poore’s blog, Rivergirl (https://rivergirlrotterdam.blogspot.com/). She makes life on a barge sound fun, which, given that it’s too hot in summer, freezing cold in winter and your whole life has to fit into 30 square metres, is impressive.
It turns out that Val’s no more a fan of DIY than I am – or she certainly wasn’t when she bought her heritage barge, the Vereeniging. It was a literal museum piece and a thing of beauty, to a historic barge enthusiast at least.
Now I’m a big fan of museums, but would you really want to live in one? Val did. She was allowed to change the inside around, so long as she kept the barge looking like it should. That meant the first step was to strip everything out and start building her accommodation pretty much from scratch.
(Actually, the first step should have been to make sure that the hull was solid and keeping the water out. Still, we all learn from our mistakes, don’t we Val?)
Building her new home meant learning carpentry and then wiring and finally plumbing. And, of course, there was the engine to maintain. The Vereeniging isn’t a twee little houseboat. It’s a real schip that can (and does) pootle around the local canals. So basically, she has all the problems of living in a beautiful but old and run-down house, combined with the doubtful pleasures of maintaining an old car except that she’s doing all this on water and she hasn’t even got anywhere to go to the loo.
It should be miserable (every so often she allows herself a good cry) but the harbour she lives in is filled with a weird collection of friendly and supportive people and she learns as she goes along until slowly (oh so slowly) the Vereeniging turns into the home she always wanted. And on the way she learns Dutch (doing all this in a language she speaks fluently would take the fun out of it) and explores Rotterdam and beyond.
Harbour Ways is a vibrant and life-affirming book that can even make the details of plumbing a toilet into a boat surprisingly interesting. I found myself anxious to know what would go wrong next and how Val would overcome her problems. It read like a thriller: I just had to turn the page. Definitely recommended.