Written by Bert Plomp
Until 1961, until roughly my thirteenth age, I lived on the third floor of the first block of Napoleon Square. The fact that I had to share my room with younger brother Charles wasn’t really such a disaster in the end. As I got older, my room gradually turned into a sort of discotheque. All the walls, and even the ceiling, were covered with posters of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and other famous bands. A large fishing net hung across the length of the room, and various colored lamps were lit up. The music was provided by an English-language commercial station called Radio Luxembourg. It was a very popular pop station in those days. The receiver that brought this station to my room was a large, old radio. A device that had survived the bombardments of the Second World War. It had a whole row of keys, like a piano. I had bought the radio for a few guilders at the flea market. This market took place every Saturday at Paardenveld.
Every evening, there was a competition between Theo’s room and my room. A contest to see who could make their favorite music sound the loudest in the apartment building.
Before the radio, I had a so-called crystal receiver as a music source. A device that could receive radio stations without using any power. Through a small earphone, I could listen to different stations. Crystal receivers came in various forms, ranging from a tiny radio to an airplane with an antenna on its nose. By carefully adjusting the antenna, you could pick up different stations.
During that time, I had already managed to build a network. With my friend Tonnie, who also lived on the third floor but at the other end of the building, I had established a radio connection. We connected our rooms by stretching wire across the length of the building. Through this wired connection, we exchanged music and had conversations.
One day, I even managed to establish a connection with my friend Joop’s house. Setting up that connection was much more challenging, as Joop lived in a single-family house on the other side of the street. Now a wire was stretched through the air from the third-floor flat to Joop’s house. Daily traffic passed underneath the wire. It’s hard to imagine nowadays that such a thing was possible.
In the first block, there were various shops on the ground floor. The first shop was a drugstore. The shopkeeper was called Aunt Greet. She was so popular. Her drugstore always smelled delightful of things like anise, licorice, and licorice root. This delightful mixture reached its peak in winter when it was combined with the scent of a burning oil heater. What made a visit to Greet’s store even more interesting on cold days was Greet’s sensual assistant. This beautiful, dark-haired young woman was around twenty years old. She had a sturdy bust, a slender figure, and long slim legs. In winter, she usually wore a tight black tights. Just that and a white doctor’s coat. In short, I had every reason to linger longer in the drugstore than strictly necessary. I would order something from a certain jar displayed on a high shelf. To reach that jar, Greet’s assistant had to fetch a small ladder and climb up. While I stood beneath her, admiring her movements, I would usually ask her to add a bit more.
Next to Aunt Greet was the cigar shop run by Mr. Van den Akker. Here, I bought the most exotic cigarettes. You could buy them individually. My friends and I smoked anything that would burn. Egyptian cigarettes were especially popular. Mainly because Arab cigarettes were extra long. But while smoking, you did emit a smell of singed goat hair socks. At Van den Akker’s, you could also buy various music magazines. Magazines like “Muziek Expres.” “Muziek Expres” contained a lot of information about your favorite bands. However, the most important part of the magazine was the beautiful poster it included. A large image of a currently popular band. In my room, these posters found their way onto the walls, the ceiling, and the bedroom door.
Next to the cigar shop was grocer Mr. Van de Rijst. I often helped this man clean up his cellar. His cellar was often full of empty boxes and advertising clutter. I also occasionally helped his son. I helped him get rid of his stamps.
Beside that was dairy Mr. Van Maurik’s shop. Theo was often engaged by him for delivery work. My brother worked tirelessly for a few guilders every Saturday. Up and down stairs, delivering bottles of milk, buttermilk, porridge, or other dairy products.
The last two shops were Marja and Stroes. Marja earned her living selling fabrics, and Stroes was the local greengrocer. With my friends, I always helped Stroes unload strawberries, cherries, and apples. When he returned from the auction and started unloading his cart, we did our best to help him lighten the load. As soon as the poor man rushed with a crate to his store, we mercilessly struck. He was always in a hurry unloading because he suspected what was happening behind his back. We grabbed handfuls of fruit from his cart. Before the greengrocer returned, all those goodies were consumed, and we were ready for the next attack.
TO BE CONTINUED
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