Sunday 3 November 2019

ALS: 'Lichtschip'


A man in the same train as me. Do I know that man? Of course not, I don’t know anyone when travelling. And certainly not on the journey I often make, Zutphen — Amsterdam. I mumble these place-names, I’m a place-mumbler, I use my forlorn voice: Zutphen — Amsterdam (2x). Sometimes the train goes via Zwolle, sometimes Arnhem, sometimes I have to think of Japanese, sometimes of Chinese, but as far as the time it takes, it makes little difference. Yesterday it struck me that there were frequent announcements coming from the railway personnel. Work underway, Schiphol only accessible by bus, the train waits at unknown stations, is coupled to an auxiliary locomotive, I have to alight, wait for three quarters of an hour. The world has taken over things, I sit on hard benches with incomprehensible Japanese, sometimes Chinese. I’m no good at mental arithmetic, but I give my thoughts a sum to work out. Result: this time the journey from Zutphen to Amsterdam will take four hours. People are waiting for me, I will arrive too late. The railways can’t do anything about it, it’s my own fault. This is a survival from my secondary school, we had a German teacher who always said: Whatever happens, it’s your own fault. Already back then I had the feeling that there was something wrong about this, but I couldn’t forget it even so. The unknown man in the same train sat as I did, seems to be an acquaintance. It is Mathijs Deen, a writer I admire. He talks about the lightships that in former times used to lay off our coast. They were floating lighthouses at anchor. They had a full crew, ready to sail away. But that never happened — the ships had no engines. The crew felt bored on a ship that could not move of its own accord. Mathijs Deen writes about this. He visits old sailors who at some point served on such a lightship. Once the chef had ordered a live lamb that he wanted to slaughter when the time came. But that never happened. Burly seafolk had become so attached to the little creature. We’re approaching Amsterdam.

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