Wat doe je? O, niks

By Harriët Freezer

Harriët Freezer is best known as the woman who translated Roald
Dahl’s books into Dutch. An impressive achievement! She was also a
well-known feminist, and worked for the Dutch feminish montly ‘Opzij’
until her death.

  • Author: Harriët Freezer
  • Title: Wat doe je? O, niks.
  • Pages: 88
  • Published: 1969 (1965)
  • Publisher: Uitgeverij de Arbeiderspers

Wat doe je? O, niks is a series of short reminiscences about Harriët’s mother, a strong and cheerful woman who had the task of bringing up her children in poverty. Her husband, an intellectual from The Hague, apparently had gotten the idea that it would be a good idea to follow Ukridge (in Love among the chickens, not yet reviewed) — and started a poultry farm.

The mortgage on the farm pressed heavily on the family, and the father appears to have been an engaging, well-read man who knew how to make thinking people out of his children. But the farm didn’t pan out, as poultry farms seldom do, and money was always as tight as a pair of stretch pants, only not so elastic.

But the mother, except for the short period when she was influenced by a sour woman friend, was always playful. The children might have had only one nighty, ragged enough that getting tangled in the holes was a serious problem, and the only way of getting something decent to eat was for father to invite a guest and have his wife dip in the mortgage kitty, there are is no sign of these people being unhappy with their lot.

One anecdote struck me especially. Being poor, and thus not having many recurring expenses except for the mortgage, it sometimes happened that there was a little money, a guilder or so, left at the end of the month. This was then immediately invested in some cakes of the most enticing kind: the iced ones with a little silver bullet on top. (My aunt (grandmother’s sister) used to buy those, too, from Schep in the Middenweg in Amsterdam.) The tendency of poor people to forego saving, and instead spend all they have when they have something is very recognizable. Having been quite impecunious for a long time, I still have the urge to go out and buy something good to drink, a few books and a piece of decent cheese, whenever I discover that I have some money left. I should save to have the house painted…