Sunday afternoon, February 2, 1997. It is windy and raining. My umbrella flips over several times when I walk via the Noordeinde to the Scheveningseveer.

I enter the café of COC Haaglanden through a door that consists of only one thick wooden plank. There appears to have been a fire recently.

I report to the bar for my first shift as a volunteer at the Soos 40+. It's still not clear to me what I should do.

A friendly lady gives me coffee, asks me to wait for the coordinator who is upstairs at that moment and continues her chat with some guests.

Music plays softly. Rather old-fashioned violin music may enhance the atmosphere. I'm going to see where it's coming from.

In the back of the café I find the DJ who, surrounded by CDs with a high Mantovani and Victor-Sylsvester content, just manages to keep himself awake. After chatting for a while, I already know that if he had a replacement willing to take over his job, he would be the last one there. We arrange that on the spot. He disappears, along with his CDs, while I manage to get some more up-tempo repertoire from a box in a corner. Even before the coordinator is downstairs, contemporary pop sounds, after which I have the honorable task of informing him that a personnel change has just taken place. So, I have arrived….

My name is Bart Didden, married to Alfred and we live together with cat Moortje. Huisie, boompie beessie. I am 73 and worked for 45 years in various retail companies, of which the last 37 years at AH. In 2011 I first took early retirement and then retired. I have been working as a volunteer at COC Haaglanden for over 25 years. I started as a DJ at the Soos 40+. I soon found out that COC Haaglanden has an eatery every Wednesday. Because I wanted to volunteer at the club to get to know new people, I also went there for dinner. And the following week. And the following week. And the following week etc etc. In the meantime I got to know people and so eating in the COC on Wednesday became a regular meal. Soon I started helping behind the bar, took part in the care of the eatery and evolved into a café manager.

The coordinator of the Soos 40+ stopped and I started to shape the elderly box myself, together with a fellow volunteer. The tasks divided themselves. He took care of the activities and I facilitated by running the cafe.

That became the core of my work: helping to shape the running of the café. When I took early retirement, I accepted a request from the then board to have the café open more. Because I no longer had to work, I had the time to open the store three days a week. Plus twice a month on Sunday at the Zilveruitjes – to provide space for the current elderly care home. During all those cafe opening hours I also took care of the cafe by cooking myself.

However, eea made me realize that I'm not a real hospitality man. I can buy, sell, work procedurally and set boundaries. Example: if it has been agreed that the café will remain open until 23:00 PM, then that is also 23:00 PM. Not until 23:30 or 24:00 or even later because it's 'so cozy'. Sorry, deal is deal.

I learned that in an organization like the COC things are a bit different than in a tight-line organization like AH. However, the 'straightforwardness' still remains somewhat with me. This one belongs to me. Fortunately, I can now seamlessly integrate this into the COC corporate culture and handle the clock with a little more flexibility

In my time at the COC I saw, among other things, volunteers come and go, boards come and go, working groups arise and disappear, plans are developed and not implemented, quarrels are made and made up again and GMAs are held in both a bad and a good atmosphere. When I look back on it, it seems like a colorful whirlwind in which the less pleasant moments disappear and what remains is that I feel like a fish in water with our COC

Monday evening November 7, 2022. At the moment I am complying with Talis' request to write a piece for the COC-Haaglanden newsletter. Wednesday and Thursday next I will go to the Scheveningseveer for the umpteenth time. I reduced my working hours to two days a week because, due to - fortunately small - infirmities that come with age, this suits me better. But during those two days a week I still enjoy opening the café, receiving people there, cooking one meal after another, being part of a nice team of volunteers, drawing the terminals that suppliers of orders under I push my nose and amuse myself with meters and meters of garbage bags, because I took the garbage disposal en passant since our regular cleaner retired a few years ago.

Every Wednesday and Thursday I ask myself 'who am I to do that?' and before I leave the building in the evening I say loudly 'I wouldn't have missed it for the world!'

—Bart Didden

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