Posted April 16, 2016
A lot of people boat recreationally and many live on a boat year-round in the Netherlands but the recreational boating season is much like most northern climates. It starts in the early summer and by mid-September, the rain, work, school, and temperature all gang up on the recreational boater and its time to wrap it up.
A couple of posts ago I was telling you about my summer as a chef and babysitter during the summer of 1993. It had been a great experience and a wonderful summer up until the cruising holiday the family took and my trip to Rennes to see my grandmother and my trip to Canada.
When I made it back to Harlingen and my duties on Marc and Lottes boat, the season was winding down fast. In the last week of August, the twins were heading off to university and the girls were getting ready for school. Marc and Lotte kept me around for a couple of weekends in September when they would entertain other couples but the income from only working two days a week was getting eaten up by having to buy food, and my camping rental. I was also pretty despondent and confused flowing partially from the death of my parents but more from the overall disappointment that I hadn’t been a good friend to my old friends, a good son or grandson, had no real ongoing friends and was only a step or two above a vagrant financially.
So when Marc and Lotte said they would like to chat with me I was pretty sure it was to wrap it up but was surprised to learn a friend of theirs with a huge yacht was interested in having a liveaboard chef that would start immediately. I was thrilled and that weekend met Walter, his Captain Sven, and his thirty-meter steel trawler with an amazing kitchen. The whole intro Lotte and Marc went through was all focused on how trustworthy I had been with their kids. There were a few references to the food and my timeliness etc. but it seemed to all be about my honesty. Later I would learn this was Walters only real criteria.
It’s a bit embarrassing when someone asks you if you need a hand moving to your new digs and you realize that you can carry everything you own on your bicycle. I rolled up my tent and bedroll and my few clothes and rode my bike to my new employment and lodging which was at a nearby, very private, marina.
Walter was a quiet controlled man who measured all his actions. Everything was done with ease and with reserve. He was tall, balding and about ten years older than me it seemed so would be about fifty. I had no idea why he would need a chef but the employment was to be for a three-month trial, starting then at mid-September until close to year-end.
It was a bit of a surprise to go shopping that day and be told by Sven that we would be on the move the next day, heading down to Brussels where we would be based for the next three months. Brussels gets cold in the winter so I was pleased when after only about a week we transferred to Walters townhouse in quite an expensive area of Brussels. I was never to go back to the trawler as the next few months were all spent at the townhouse.
For about three months at the townhouse, my routine was fairly well …routine. Every day I would make breakfast for Walter, usually two soft boiled eggs on dry brown toast with fresh-squeezed orange juice and a little fruit cup and one espresso and the three papers that would arrive in the night or very early in the morning. He would be up early and work out while I was preparing breakfast, then he would eat alone while reading the papers and head out to work. Captain Sven only showed up a couple of times a week and explained that he worked for others as well. A driver picked up Walter and took him to work and after a few inquiries, I never did learn what he did for a living.
Every Tuesday evening he would have a small group to dinner and after serving the first and second courses I was to go off for a walk and return by nine when I could serve dessert and coffee. It was always the same and became clear that while the participants were different each week it was always a business meeting of some kind as at about the point I would arrive back to serve desert the conversation would turn to the personal conversations that at most dinner parties would happen much earlier in the meal.
By 9:30 or so everyone would be gone and I would be doing clean up.
Walter, for so controlled a person, seemed at times to be very forgetful or sloppy. A billfold with lots of cash was sitting on the back of the powder room toilet, a laptop left out on the terrace on rare warm September afternoon are two times I remember in particular. Each time I would pack them up and put them in Walters study for him. Later I learned that these were tests of my integrity. When I learned this later I also suspected it was another test when four of the dinner guests and Walter went to the hospital with one of the guests with an allergic reaction and one woman stayed behind who became very friendly and wanted to go into Walters bedroom and I needed to be quite clear that was not going to happen. She was very nice and it had been almost a year since I had been with a woman but Walter had some pretty strict rules about behavior in his house and I wasn’t about to let someone down who had given me a fresh start.
During the few months in the townhouse, Swen who had begun our relationship on only a cordial basis had become much more friendly.
I liked the life I had with Walter. It was very predictable and gave me the opportunity to save some money and to write to my Odie each week. Beyond those letters to Odie, I also started writing letters to my parents. Ok, a little weird with them dead and all but it was a good way to say some things that I should have said when I was a kid, when I was a teenager and when I was an adult. Some things that I was sorry for. Some things that they should have taken better control of and some things that I wished had just happened differently. I didn’t have anywhere to send the letters of course but the letters were a very good tool for me. They were also part of my time at Walters where I was rebuilding myself. I still only owned my bicycle, my kitchen knives, and my clothes but my little account from Canada was growing each month and I was putting away most of what I was making working for Walter. Each day I would grocery shop and prepare a nice meal for Walter and occasionally Sven would join me in the kitchen for a meal as well. A housekeeper would come and go periodically and sometimes I would send home some scones or muffins for her and her family.
When I had started it was made clear that by the end of the year or so the contract with Walter would end but I also had the sense when I first was hired that it had the potential to continue in some form afterward. I learned what form that would take one Tuesday night in mid-December. There were just two dinner guests that night but I had been asked to set five places and to prepare not the usual five courses but just three and to join Walter, his two guests, and Sven.
Walter had not told me ahead so I was in my whites and it seemed a bit strange at first. A proposal was laid out for Sven and me to leave Walter and join this pair who would have been a few years younger than me on their boat for an ongoing position. It became clear over dinner my whole time with Walter had been a test, and presumably, I had passed. Sven seemed to be in on the plan but I had come to trust both him and Walter so it was with this background that just over a year from being fired and left on the dock in Amsterdam I was on what was about my fifth job that year. For the second time in four months, someone was laying out my future for me. I wasn’t sure if this is how I should let my future unfold but they seemed like a nice couple, it was an ongoing position and otherwise, I would be unemployed. The next day after making Walters breakfast, Amy and Justin picked Sven and me and my bike and pack of gear up in a large van and we went to their boat. Sven it seamed had already taken his gear there.