Part 1: With the chamber pot on the back

Written by Bert Plomp

In today’s world, you don’t really count unless you go on vacation at least three times a year. Spending your days off in the Netherlands or just across the border, rather than flying to a remote corner of the earth. It’s not surprising that such a leisure activity, originally meant for relaxation and unwinding, turns into a deadly tiring and stressful affair for many.

As a boy, I rarely ventured outside the Randstad. Even during the annual school trip, I barely crossed those boundaries. On the bus, I would join the rest of the class for a day trip to a zoo or to the port of Rotterdam for a boat tour. Especially a trip through the Rotterdam harbour area left a lasting impression on me. The gigantic sea vessels passing by, the salty air, the waves, and the splashing water hitting your face. Absolutely fantastic. Such outings were invariably interrupted around noon for an hour of frolicking in a playground until everyone was out of breath. Then everyone was treated to a couple of currant buns and a glass of squash. Upon returning to school, fathers and mothers eagerly awaited us in large numbers, huddled on the schoolyard and somewhat tense, hoping for the safe return of their little ones. It was a ritual for the children, once near the school, to duck under their seats on the bus, giving the already anxious parents the impression that the bus had returned without their darlings. A similar deception is sometimes seen nowadays at the ‘family dinner.’ When, at the peak of the TV program, the door of the large limousine is opened. When the gracious host of this dinner party realizes, to his great dismay, that none of the invited guests has taken a seat in the back.

The simple school trip has evolved over the years into a so-called ‘Workweek.’ It involves being on the road somewhere in Europe for a whole week. Sometimes even farther and longer away from home. It has never been clear to me why this week is associated with work. Based on the images and stories, such a workweek mostly boils down to partying and drinking as much as possible. In other words, an escalated bacchanal.

In addition to the annual class outing, outside the winter season, I could almost every weekend look forward to a trip to ‘Het Grote Bos’ camping site in Doorn. Weekly, along with my brothers and sister, I cycled to and from this campsite. During the camping season, my parents had a tent set up there in the fifties and sixties. The shortest distance to the campsite, calculated from the apartment in Utrecht, was about twenty-five kilometres. The cycling trip back and forth was a major undertaking every weekend. After all, for a camping weekend, you had to repeatedly lug everything from home. That, in itself, was quite a hassle. Searching for all those items again and distributing them among the cyclists. Checking for flat tires. Patching a tire at the last moment and then hoping not to get a flat on the way. In that case, you had to unload your entire bike to fix the tire. When the whole circus was finally ready to depart, it was a colourful sight with all those loaded bikes. Meanwhile, the entire neighbourhood stood at the windows, watching this exodus. My parents covered the distance on the moped and quickly disappeared from sight after departure. My older brother Theo was always annoyed that he had to tie the chamber pot to the back of his bike, among other things. This usually attracted a lot of negative attention and elicited certain crude remarks from passersby.

During these bike rides, we passed through various villages, such as Bunnik, Odijk, Rijssenburg, and Driebergen, which were still considered rural at that time. Especially on the way back home, on Sunday late in the afternoon, we often had to deal with some aggressive rural youth. These aspiring farmers tried to obstruct the free passage of us, city youngsters, through their village. The biggest obstacle to overcome was always Odijk. We really had to struggle through that hole. Local ruffians stood there across the full width of the road, waiting for us. They tried to pull you off your bike, and it turned into a fight. For some reason, the ultimate prize of the battle was always Theo’s chamber pot. This trophy had to be kept in our possession at all costs. The idea that rural ruffians would run off with our chamber pot was unbearable. After all, such a mobile private facility is a very intimate possession. You wouldn’t want to think that strangers from some village would use it with a certain disdain. These struggles took up a lot of time. As a result, we often arrived in the city only in the evening. Not without scrapes and bruises, but always in possession of the chamber pot.


For all episodes, click on: Travel perils

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