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Heere Heeresma: Een dagje naar het strand (A Day at the Beach)

Heeresma was himself an alcoholic so this story of the day in the life of an alcoholic may well be, at least in part, autobiographical. Bernard is an alcoholic and is awake at 7.30 a.m. with a plan. He plans to visit his friend, Carl, before Carl sets off for his advertising agency. He plans to hover near his flat – he wants to avoid Carl’s wife, Melissa – and catch him as he leaves, in order to borrow some money for more alcohol. As he waits, he hatches another plan – he will offer to take Carl and Melissa’s daughter, Winnie, out for the day. He manages to catch Carl as he is leaving and Carl gives him a generous sum to take Winnie out for the day. Bernard decides that even if Melissa won’t let him take Winnie out, Carl will never see the money again. However, Melissa is eager to go out on her own and she agrees to let Bernard take Winnie out, unaware that he has been drinking. Winnie, however, notices straight away but she is happy to go out with him. At this point we learn that Winnie wears leg irons.

The rest of the novel is an account of the day Winnie and Bernard spend together. It starts badly when he is accosted by a creditor who threatens him. Bernard gives him the handful of change he has, promising the rest next week, but manages to keep the money Carl has given him hidden in his sock. The man punches Bernard but Bernard escapes with Carl’s money. He is recognised by the tram driver – they apparently met while out drinking but Bernard has no recollection of either the driver or the place where the driver says they were drinking. They go to the beach and play a bit on the beach. Bernard buys a shell for Winnie, before going to a café where Bernard resumes his drinking with the owner and her daughter. However, things do not go well and they have to leave, forgetting Winnie’s shell. Bernard refuses to return but goes to another shop, where he again manages to have a drink, and gets another shell for Winnie. After an argument with a deckchair attendant, they get pancakes and then go on the dodgems. They then meet Nicolaas, a fellow drinker, but he is with his wife, Tonie, and son. Bernard persuades Nicolaas to take him to a pub in Nicolaas’ bubble car, leaving behind Tonie with the children. They start drinking but then Nicolaas goes and fetches Tonie and the children and she starts drinking with them. Things only get worse from there and poor Winnie is forgotten.

This is, of course, a sad story. Bernard seems to have little shame and, as he gets drunker, starts behaving more aggressively (and starts forgetting Winnie, abandoning her on more than one occasion). But, as we see things getting worse, he does not. All he wants is to get the next drink, regardless of what it takes. Poor Winnie, very happy to be going out with Uncle Bernard, is all too often the victim, without fully realising it. This novel had considerable success in Netherlands, though it is very short, as its tale was so vividly and well told. It is a pity that more of his books are not available in English.

Publishing history

First published in 1962 by Contact
First published in English in 1967 by London Magazine Editions
Translated by James Brockway