Thursday, February 29, 2024

Chaos with cars

It must seem as if I'm being a bit of a drama queen these days, or at least that I invite drama (although I do everything I can to avoid it), but I have to tell you about my chaotic car catastrophes (see what I did there?), and then that's it for the trials and tribulations, I promise.

Back in January, you may remember that I had to kiss goodbye to my beloved little car, Buttons. She'd failed her APK (the Dutch version of the MOT or roadworthy certificate) and the repairs would have been too costly to be justifiable. So, there I was without a runaround, something I find essential for my way of life with boats, teaching and dogs. 

Koos has a wonderful ancient Opel Astra, affectionately known as the Blue Classic, which at 29 years old is defying all the mechanics' predictions that she won't see another year. So far, they've been wrong, but to avoid tempting fate, we nurse her a bit now, ever conscious that she might be wearing her last tyres. This year's APK could well be the deciding test, although we hope not of course. What I'm trying to say is that even without Buttons we weren't completely car-less, but living where we do often makes it awkward to have just one vehicle, especially one as old as this one. 

The Opel wears her life scars proudly, but it can be a bit embarrassing at times. For instance, the last time we were in France, a distinctly inebriated local in a very rural village mistook us for criminals coming to make mischief. Yes, really! Now when someone is that drunk, it seems that diplomacy and courtesy take a back seat (so to speak), and honesty is all they can produce. When he slurred how he thought we were 'outsiders' from the city coming to see what nefarious deeds we could commit, I was a bit shocked and not a little mortified until I saw the funny side. However, seeing yourself as others see you can be surprising to say the least.

Anyway, that's not really my story for today. The point is, I needed a new small car, so after weeks of searching online and a few trips to go and look at cars, I became the hesitantly proud owner of a bright, shiny, red Kia Picanto.

The hesitancy part came early; in fact, before I even left the garage. I got in the car to drive it away and it wouldn't start. Thinking it was me doing something wrong and inadvertently flooding the engine, I gave it a minute, turned the motor over and gave it a good pump. It started, but I needed to rev it up a lot to keep it going. 

After that, it was fine and I drove the 130 km home without a problem. However, that wasn't the end of the problem. Over the following days it happened several times and was it also prone to stalling. It made me very nervous of stopping anywhere, especially on the hill approaching our opening bridge over the canal. So at the weekend, my very auto-savvy daughter came and with the aid of a diagnostic tool, we established there was an electrical problem, possibly with the alternator.

I then got in touch with the salesman at the garage and he was full of apologies. "Take it to a local garage and we'll cover the costs," he said. So I did. I took it to the Kia dealers nearby who diagnosed a serious wiring problem. "It's a mess," they said. "We're not touching it. You should take it back." Not very helpful, but clear.

Further contact with the sales garage resulted in my returning the car to them and getting a full refund, which was fantastic of them. I was aware they didn't know much about the inner workings of the cars, so I didn't blame them at all. Still, I was surprised and grateful they were so decent about a problem that didn't fall under the guarantee. That said, the whole experience had involved six trips there and back and four of these with a second car (being our poor old Opel).

So, what then? I started my search again, this time focusing on a Fiat Panda, which is a car I liked very much, and even test drove one before buying the Kia. Sadly, that one (the Panda) had clearly not been driven for way too long. Its exhaust was seriously rusty with lumps falling off it, while the engine bay was covered in cobwebs and full of dust.

Inside, though, it was very neat and clean, but there were a few clues regarding the previous owner that had us inventing stories. There was a crucifix plus a small plastic angel hanging from the mirror and the radio was tuned to classical music. My son-in-law, Sherlock van der Holmes, concluded the car had belonged to a single older lady from Breda (a city known for being in the Netherlands' Catholic south), who had a small dog, probably a Yorkshire terrier, judging from the sprinkling of hairs on the carpets. Whatever the case, and much as I enjoyed driving the car, it hadn't been maintained for too long.

But with that experience in mind, I began looking in earnest for a suitable Panda to adopt. It felt like a long and, at times, frustrating hunt, but was actually only a week because I returned the Kia last Wednesday and it was just yesterday I found the one I could buy and drive home in. So, without further ado, let me introduce Bobby, so named after the British policemen who drive (or at least used to drive) Panda cars. 

Bobby is also quite old for a new car but has far more bells and whistles than I've ever had before: electric windows, air conditioning, central locking etc., none of which I wanted or needed, but it's difficult to find a car without them now. He was born in 2006 and has 143,000 km on his clock. He's averaged 8500 km a year, which is quite modest, so it's unlikely he's been thrashed, and hopefully, I'll have some good driving time with him in the coming months and years. A compromise? Maybe, but I have a feeling I could grow to love him quite quickly as long as he behaves.

So that's the end of my car saga for now. At least I hope so. I think that all told I've seen and test driven seven cars in the last month and travelled a few hundred kilometres in the process. I need to thank my wonderful daughter and son-in-law (or son-out-law, as I call him) for all their help and support in my search. They also spent a whole day driving me around their area, for which I'm endlessly grateful.

Anyway, let's hope the chaos with cars is over for a bit.

Enjoy the weekend allemaal!

Monday, February 19, 2024

A soggy bloggy story

Well, I never got to write that extra post last week, so I'll have to try and catch up this week. However, for those of you who aren't into DIY or solving those types of problems, you might want to skip this one. Here's a pretty picture of Vereeniging seen through another beautiful barge to make up for it.

Vereeniging in the distance

So for the DIY enthusiasts, what's the soggy story? It's about a kitchen wall, you see. Once upon a time, when my crumbly cottage was a youngster, it had a front room and a back room each with its own fireplace. Later on, when it was older, one of its former residents decided to open up the wall between the two rooms and close up the fireplace and chimney in the back room.  All well and good. The cottage now had central heating, so why have more than one fireplace? 

That in itself was fine. Unfortunately, said resident knew not what he did because in sealing it, he set in motion a problem that has grown to ugly and mouldy proportions in the intervening years.

For a long time, I had no idea where the damp patches at the bottom of the kitchen wall were coming from. I thought it might be condensation as I usually kept a cupboard standing against it. Actually, I still don't really know the source of the problem but this last winter the weather has been so wet, the damp and mould have developed to unacceptable levels. After dismissing the condensation idea, I thought it was rising damp, but when yellow patches started showing high up on the wall, I started to believe it was probably water ingress through the old bricks. 

Some hours of research later, I bought some milky fluid that I sprayed on; it promised me it would prevent the type of ingress I feared. When this method didn't seem to improve things, I bought another product to paint on the wall – a type of cream that was supposed to seal the brickwork completely. That hasn't worked either.

However, after observing water dripping down the inside of the kitchen wall during one particularly violent storm, I wondered if rain was getting into the air vent for our extractor fan and seeping through a crack in the plaster. To address this possibility, Koos and I made a hood to cover the vent without closing it off. Once again, no change. 

Makeshift hood, which has surprisingly weathered
more than a few storms already

Then, I thought that maybe rain was also coming in through the lower air vent for the old, blocked off chimney, so I made another hood for that, not to mention digging a trench and installing a French drain. Anyway, to cut any further rambling short, none of it has made any difference, and following each storm, the kitchen wall has become increasingly damp and mouldy, with the problem principally sitting where the old chimney breast used to be. By this process of elimination, I was now beginning to feel quite certain the issue had something to do with blocking it up.

Hood over lower vent and French drain along
the length of the wall

So what could be next, you might ask? Well, I began a new attack from the inside last week. Taking off the now rotting plinth, I hacked off the plaster from the bottom of the wall to see what was behind it and found to my dismay that the fireplace flue had been filled with concrete. Now, I don't remember where I read it but apparently, you should never fill up an old chimney with concrete, especially in a cavity wall. It stops the wall 'breathing' and provides a nice 'bridge' for water ingress to pass from the outer skin to the inside wall. It also encourages condensation, which may be why there are other yellow patches on the rest of the wall. See what I mean about the unforeseeing previous owner?

So there we have it. Yesterday, when it was raining heavily, I could actually see water dripping off the concrete into the gap I'd created by removing the plaster. I now know what's happening, but... not how to fix it. Where the rain is coming through the wall, I haven't established, but I know it is and I know the concrete has to go. This will involve opening up the old fireplace and drilling out the offending filling, a job that will need care so as not to damage the outer brickwork. Oh joy.

I wanted to build a new interior wall with damp resistant plasterboard, but I think even that won't take kindly to being almost literally rained on. The incoming rainwater has to be stopped, so any suggestions from you, my courageous readers, would be welcome.

Anyone need convincing of the joys of owning an old house yet? 

That's all for this week allemaal. Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

A day's dash up to Dordrecht

Time has flown past again and I've neglected my blog for two weeks. Shame on me! I've got quite a lot to catch up with so I'll do my best to add another post this week if I can. This week's offering is about a day's dash up to the beautiful town of Dordrecht to meet my niece. She and her husband were over here celebrating her birthday at the end of January, but since they were spending an entire week in Amsterdam, I managed to get the train up country to join up with them on 1 February.

But why Dordrecht, you might ask? Why not Rotterdam where I spent so much of my life. Well, three reasons. Firstly, my niece has been to Rotterdam before (albeit a long time ago), and secondly, Dordrecht is singularly beautiful, so I thought it would be nice to show her somewhere different. The third reason is that it is almost exactly halfway between Amsterdam and where I live in the south. Being on a direct train line as well made it easy for us to find each other.

I was so pleased it was a sunny day, although it was quite chilly. We had lunch at one of those rustic style cafés that the Dutch do so well and then we took a stroll around Dordrecht's more traditional areas. To my shame, I got a bit lost and we never reached the places I would really have loved to show them as time was running out for me to catch my train back to the wilds of southern Zeeland. I feel I can be forgiven, though. In the past, we've nearly always approached Dordrecht by water; not only on our own boats, but on the Fast Ferry, a public transport service from Rotterdam (see this old post from 2019 of a previous visit ). It's always been our preferred way of reaching the city. 

Unfortunately, I have a terrible sense of direction. This shortcoming resulted in my getting confused as to which way we should go, the upside of which was that we saw buildings and streets I'd never seen before. By the way, Dordrecht is the oldest city in Holland (the province, not the country) and it has a history worth reading about. See Wikipedia's summary here.

One example is the old Gemeente School (otherwise known as the statenschool or state school). It was the first time I'd come across it and I found it quite impressive. Apparently, a number of such schools were built to cater for all the children who needed to be educated following the compulsory education act of 1901. Dordrecht's was built in traditional Dutch style, giving it a very noble appearance. I think I'd have enjoyed going to school in such lovely environs.

The facade of the old 'statenschool' built in 1913
(Article here. Ask Google to translate)

Strolling the inner courtyard of 
Dordrecht's old school buildings

We then meandered our way through some of the town's gorgeous old streets, admiring the traditional Dutch architecture and marvelling at how so many of the houses were skew or leaning out over the streets. They are all beautifully maintained, but even so, it almost defies belief that they manage to remain standing.

Taking photos together

My nephew-in-law (if there is such a thing)
He was taking the picture of us taking pictures

I've made this photo extra large to show the delightful
wonkiness of the facades here. Nothing is straight!

Eventually, of course, we gravitated to the waterside (this is me, after all). Dordrecht has quite a similar feel to Ghent, with many city canals where the old warehouses stand with their footings in the water. I took more photos than this but they all include my niece and her husband, so publishing them here wasn't an option. However, take a look at my old post for more watery pictures if you'd like to see them

Of course, we gravitated to the waterside. This is one of
Dordrecht's many inner harbours

We only had a few hours, but it was just right. I am a very fond aunt so it was a real joy to see one of my sister's daughters here. Maybe they'll all come over one of these days... I can but hope.

To sign off, then allemaal, here's a photo I've pinched from a website about Dordrecht's harbours. I wish it were mine but it's by AC de Leeuw.

Wishing you all a great week to come, and I'll do my best to write another post during the coming days.

Monday, January 29, 2024

The grave(yard)'s a fine and quiet place

My apologies for the title of this blog in advance, but when I tell you why I was reminded of that specific line in Andrew Marvell's poem*, To His Coy Mistress, I hope you'll forgive me. 

It's now 16 years since I first came to the village where we have the Crumbly Cottage, and although I've often been in the church, I have, until this past week, never visited its churchyard. I'm not quite sure why; I usually like churchyards because of the local history they can reveal. I also like them for the peace they exude, so it's quite surprising that in all these years I've not ventured through the gates and wandered around.

I also don't know what prompted me to visit it this particular week, but when I was walking Zoe the other morning, I suddenly felt impelled to see it. Maybe it was as simple as wanting somewhere slightly different to walk from our usual circuit, but whatever pushed me through the gates, I'm very pleased it did.

The first surprise was a poignant memorial stone to all those from the village who'd lost their lives either during or as a result of WWII. Eight residents in a small community would have hit the local people quite hard, I imagine. Given that the Netherlands was occupied for the duration of the war, it's hard to  know how they died, but it was sobering to think that even in this quiet corner of the country, so many were lost. I can only speculate that maybe they were in the resistance, or perhaps they challenged the occupying forces in some way, or maybe they were deported. I would have to research that further, but it moved me to encounter the memorial just beyond the entrance.

The memorial and list of those who died

The second surprise was how neat and well tended the whole churchyard was. All the graves looked as if they were regularly visited and lovingly cared for. The grass was mown and the paths completely weed free. Whoever is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance does a marvellous job, as do all those whose relatives lie within its lovely grounds. Zoe and I spent some time strolling along the pathways, reading the touching messages on the headstones (well, I did, not Zoe of course) and sitting for a few minutes on one of the many benches available for those who just want to absorb the peace.

Everything is well tended

The walls of remembrance.

The churchyard is in a beautiful setting as well. Beyond it are fields backed with trees. There's no noise, no cars and no buildings in sight when looking out over the meadows, all of which adds to the tranquillity. 

A peaceful place to sit awhile

In a few months, the trees will be in leaf, which will give the
yard a fuller, more verdant appearance

On our way out

So yes, my visit brought the line in Mr Marvell's poem to mind. Our churchyard is indeed a fine and quiet place and I went home glad I'd taken that step through the gate. Now, of course, I'm also inspired to find out more about the history of the local families whose headstones I read.

It just goes to show that you don't have to travel far to find both peace and inspiration, do you? It's often remarkable how much we can overlook on our own doorsteps. Just a small diversion from my normal route resulted in this humbling and uplifting experience.

So that's it for this blog. Wishing you all a good week allemaal. Wherever you are, I hope the weather's being kind...we're counting the days till spring here.

* I read the poems of Andrew Marvell and his contemporaries in metaphysical poetry for my English Literature degree. I'm usually hopeless at remembering quotes, but that line obviously struck me as I've never forgotten it!

Monday, January 22, 2024

Frozen creeks and crumbly cottages

This last week, it has been simply too cold to spend time on board, as well as being too dangerous in our current harbour. Owing to the position of Vereeniging, I need to cross quite a gap to reach her and then walk over the top of the hatches to step down onto the decks. When the weather is freezing as it has been, the tarpaulin that covers the hatches becomes slippery, and with no handrail it's treacherous, especially with a small dog in tow. 

So, to my sadness, I have to stay away in these conditions. In fact, we haven't spent a night on board since before Christmas and I'm beginning to have withdrawal symptoms.

We have to step onto the tarpaulin-covered hatches before
walking over them to reach the deck

However, the days are lengthening now and we can but hope that the frosty nights will diminish too. I'm looking forward to spending some time de-greening the rubbing rail and just being on the water again. When I start dreaming of being on board during the night, odd though some of those dreams might be, I know the need to return to my watery lair is assuming urgent proportions.

In the meantime, the really cold days have been magical in their own way. We've had such a shortage of sunshine this winter, even the sub zero temperatures couldn't remove the delight of crunching over the crusty frost and seeing long shadows instead of huge puddles. 

The creek we can see from the back of the house was completely frozen over, something that doesn't happen all too often, although the ice wasn't thick enough for skating, nor will it be. The temperature today has soared and is a comfortable 11℃. Here, then are some of my photos of our chilly, but lovely walks. After all, who knows when we'll have such blue skies again?

View onto a farm barn

Just Zoe, sitting on the frosty path

The village pond, completely frozen over

The creek (prounce Krake in Dutch)

A knotty willow that will obscure the farm 
on the other side in the summer

A view I like. By the way, the white stuff is snow on the ice

Zoe doing doggy stuff

These last two photos below are of earlier in the morning as the sun was rising. I love the view we have of the creek. Even if I can't be on the water, I need to be near it and our outlook is particularly lovely.

The view from our back window early on above and below

So that's it for this week, allemaal. Hopefully, there'll be more news to share next time, but I confess we've mostly been huddled down indoors while it's been so cold. I am part of the way through efforts to stop the rising damp in our kitchen wall at the moment, but that has also had to be put on hold because of the icy conditions. One cannot work with concrete in such temperatures, so planning has moved to the inside of the wall for now. More on that when the job is done, however.

Stay warm (or cool) wherever you are. Tot ziens!

Friday, January 12, 2024

A late start to the new year

Well, here we are eleven days into the new year, and this is my first post. Shame on me! First and foremost, let me wish you all a very happy new year. I sincerely hope 2024 brings good things to you all and that we can have less of all the extreme Ws we've been suffering: less weather, less war, less worry.

My last post was well before Christmas and I fully intended to write an end of 2023 roundup as I did last year. I won't do that today, but I might still review the last year as it was a bit of an odd one in many ways. I'm also intending to revive my memoir review blog by writing a summary of all the great travel memoirs I read last year, so if you're a reader, you might like to give that a look through. I'll let you know when I've done it.

As for what we've been doing in the last month, I'll try and condense it into this post with the help of some photos.

The lead up to Christmas honestly wasn't terribly exciting for us personally, unless you count the storms, wind and rain that had us huddling indoors or watching the straining ropes on our boats anxiously. The high waters of 21st December resulting from the ferocious winds of storm Pia prompted the first ever automatic closing of the Maaslantkering, the massive flood gates that protect Rotterdam's port and the largest movable object in the world. In fact, as this article describes, all six of the Netherlands' storm surge barriers (the Delta works being its umbrella name) were closed on that day to prevent an inundation of the kind that flooded the country in 1953. However, as soon as it was safe to do so, they were opened again to release river flood waters rushing downstream from the east. 

The Netherlands, like many other countries in Europe, has experienced excessive rains and storms this last autumn, but to the credit of the amazing engineers who manage the water levels in the country, little serious flooding has occurred. That said, water is still standing in the fields, the ditches (sloten) are full and the country's pumping stations must be operating at the max to  reduce the saturation. 

Sadly for the numerous skaters, our recent cold snap wasn't long enough to freeze these instant lakes into natural ice rinks, but you can guarantee that if the colder conditions return, the skaters will be out in force. I could almost hope they do as I'd rather have the blue skies and sunshine that accompany them than the miserable, grey, wet gloom we've had far too much of.

The last time I saw skating on the ponds was February 11 2021

Anyway, enough of the weather. Where did we spend the festive season? Well, in France, of course. Being the first Christmas at my daughter's house, we all congregated there on the 26th December. It was the first day travel was really possible as the Christmas weekend was characterised by said howling winds and rain. 

We had a great drive down to the Haute Marne although it was very busy on the roads, which surprised us. The rest of the week was blissfully peaceful but also quite full. For most of the time, it was pretty cold but dry, so we all helped with various jobs in the house, ranging from clearing the never-ending junk, to fixing the flushing mechanism on the loo or trying to get doors to open and close without scraping and squeaking. Working kept us warm even if the heaters didn't.

What was a little tricky was that within a couple days the wind picked up and we had to take the Starlink dish down, meaning no internet. The phone signal in the house was also non-existent owing to its nearly metre-thick walls. When Mo was expecting a delivery of some size, I went off to the local bus shelter to make contact with the delivery company to confirm we'd be there. It was the only place out of the bitter wind where I could get a signal on my phone to use as a hotspot on my tablet. Such are the joys of life in the outback of France! I'm not complaining, though. New Year's Eve was bliss. Not a firework in sight, which was wonderful for the collection of cats and dogs we had with us.

In the bus shelter
out of the wind and cold

Koos and I also took a couple of afternoon drives into the surrounding countryside to see how the land lay. What a scenic area it is with its deep river valleys, tree-clad hills and picturesque limestone villages. The views from the hilltops were stunning; the hair-pin bends on the steep descents were breathtaking; the swollen rivers and luscious meadows bathed in the afternoon sun were gorgeous. We both agreed it was an area we could live in, and for me, the many long, low drystone walls reminded me of my English West Country youth. Here are some snaps I took. They don't really do it justice, but perhaps they give an impression of the space and beauty.

We eventually returned home a week ago, a drive that echoed that wonderful film Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis, when the main character crosses the border of Le Nord and is deluged by the sudden downpour. The exact same thing happened to us and we arrived back in the Netherlands in pouring rain. Most of the drive north had been in glorious sunshine.

Since then, life has resumed its normal patterns and I'm gearing up to work again. I'm also looking for a new car. To my sorrow, my little Daihatsu Cuore, Buttons, failed her roadworthy test quite severely and I had to make the hard decision to take her to the scrapyard. She'd served me so very well for the last ten years, it felt like a betrayal to let her go in such a way, but without a roadworthy pass, I could no longer drive her and the repairs weren't justifiable. At 25 years old, it was time to hang up her keys and send her into retirement. There's still a part of me that hopes someone will rescue her; she was such a little trooper and I miss her sorely. I've never had such a great little car.

Bye Bye Buttons :(

So that's it allemaal. I hope you've all had a wonderful festive season and that 2024 has started well for you. I know the world is not in a great place right now, but I'm going to focus on the power of the ripple effect in the coming year. Goodwill and kindness are easy to grow, so I hope I can sow some of those seeds too. Happy New Year to you all. 

Friday, December 15, 2023

High maintenance hounds

My daughters on the farm in South Africa
with Cindy 1

Being with and around dogs has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. When I was about three, my mother adopted a golden retriever puppy. Roy, as he was called, lived to the ripe old age of sixteen and was a character with a capital C. He was a terrible thief (he once ate an entire sherry and cream trifle my mother had made), he was not above raiding rubbish bins and eating the contents thereof, and he adored wallowing in the muddiest of puddles. 

Despite being a much-loved family member, Roy tended to be a bit short-fused. He bit my brother quite badly once, because Nick tried to pet him while he was asleep; he also bit me one day when I tried to pull him back from the front door when a delivery was being made. When I look back, I realise Roy was very high maintenance, but oddly enough I never paid attention to how much time and effort he consumed, probably because  he wasn't my responsibility when I was small. 

For instance, I didn't have to wash him off when he appeared black with mud from head to toe after finding a stagnant pond; I didn't have to take him to the vet when he found a chicken carcass in someone's bin and had to have his stomach pumped out to remove the bones that had got stuck –twice (the vet threatened my parents with all sorts of retribution if it happened again); nor did I have to make embarrassed excuses to the guests at their dinner party when he'd scoffed the pudding. My father, or most probably my mother, had to deal with all his sins. For us children, he was our playmate, albeit a somewhat irascible one.

Credit: Arman Werth

The photo above is not mine, but it gives an idea of what Roy looked like after he'd been for a good full-immersion wallow. It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd been black, would it? I really have no idea how we managed to get him home and cleaned up after that particular adventure, but I remember he had an amazing ability to 'wear' himself clean. This, of course, meant that he wore the mud off on other things, like the carpets, the furniture, even us.

After Roy, my mother had another golden retriever, Roy 2, but by that time we'd all grown up and moved away, either to university or to jobs elsewhere, so I don't remember how demanding he was in terms of upkeep and general skulduggery. That said, I do recall my mother saying she could knit us all jerseys from the hair she brushed off him, so he was mostly likely pretty high maintenance as well.

Then, when we went to South Africa, we had other dogs during the years we lived there. They were mostly all short haired (see first photo), so less of a nuisance when they got mucky, which was also not as often because of the generally dryer, sunnier weather. The one exception was Polly the Collie, who was high maintenance not just for her long coat but for a number of reasons, the most awkward of which was her obsession with herding. Nothing, and I mean nothing, that gathered in groups of more than two was safe. This included swans and geese. Foolish dog. Even more foolish was yours truly who plunged into a frozen lake to rescue her when she decided skating on thin ice after a pair of swans was fun. It wasn't. For her or for me. 

However, it was when I got my Labrador/Dobermann cross, Sindy, that I really began to experience the meaning of having a high maintenance hound for whom I was 100% responsible.

As those of you who've read Living With My Sin know, Sindy (or Sin as she was aptly known) had issues, one of which was her somewhat bizarre relationship with cars. She totally wrecked the interior of our little Renault 5. I clearly remember the scrapyard dealer looking at the remains of our seats in amused amazement when we realised they, and the car, were completely beyond repair. 

"Your dog did that?" he asked, shaking his head. "Well, you'd better take it back."

"Why?" we spluttered.

"Because there are bits she hasn't finished yet," he said, grinning.

Sindy wallowing happily. Luckily, this time it was clean

Sindy with a mischievous bounce in her step

Naturally, we didn't; even so she also did some severe damage to the crate we made for her in the van we bought to replace the Renault. 

But when she wasn't being a one-dog-car-demolition expert or demonstrating her other anxieties in extreme ways, she could also enjoy normal doggy fun – such as charging through muddy puddles, sending filthy spray all over us. Now Sindy was largely black, so it didn't look too bad on her, but I can't say the same for our coats, jeans, faces and hands.

And now we have Zoe. Would you just look at that bundle of cuteness? High maintenance? Surely not! Well, think again. I don't think I've ever spent so much time brushing, snipping, cutting out knots, washing off mud, cleaning ears and generally keeping my little munchkin from looking a total ragamuffin. You see, she's just as fond of dashing through the mud, and being so close to the ground the mud seems equally fond of attaching itself to her. To make matters worse, she hates water, avoids any enticement to go swimming and resists being bathed with vigour. So once again, I end up wetter, dirtier and in even more of a mess than her when I manage to persuade her into the shower. 

A bundle of cuteness

And cute though she looks, she has some revolting predilictions. Every time she dips her nose into something awful (which is often), so do her ears...just saying it is enough, isn't it? Her eating habits would rival those of a Labrador, which is quite a statement, I know, but I'm often reminded of the website where I read that 'spaniels are always hungry'. What they didn't say was that spaniels will eat absolutely anything to assuage that hunger; there are no limits.

Of course, I always forgive her. How can I not? One pleading look from those limpid dark eyes and I'm lost.

So that's it. The story of my family life with high-maintenance hounds. The years between Sindy and Zoe were the longest I've ever lived without a dog. Reading this, you might wonder why I missed having one in my life so much, but the joy they give is so much more than the trouble they cause. Seeing Zoe scampering along the woodland paths ahead of me and feeling her constant companionship as she snuggles on the chair behind me when I'm teaching makes it all worthwhile. High maintenance our pooches might be, but they're also very high reward.

Enjoy your weekend, allemaal. There's one more week before the holiday, so I'll squeeze in a Christmas post before signing off for 2023. Till then, keep warm or cool, wherever you are!

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

The London Canal Museum

Last week, I mentioned the London Canal Museum in my post but didn't write about it then because it is really worthy of its own post. So, without further ado, here it is.

Just to recap, we were doing a day trip to London courtesy of the Eurostar, something neither Koos nor I had ever done before, so it was something of an experiment. Given that we only had six hours between arriving in London and departing again for home, we didn't want to spend too much time travelling from one place to another. As a result, we confined our wanderings to the areas around St Pancras and King's Cross.

Having feasted our eyes on our usual suspects – the Regent's canal and all the boats thereon (see last post) – as well as the gasometers,  we weren't quite sure what to do next.

"Look, the London Canal Museum is just a short walk from here." I pointed it out to Koos on Google maps. Its position was shown next to the harbour called Battlebridge Basin (also mentioned in my last post).

"Hmm," came the less than enthusiastic response. Koos, like me, doesn't really like museums, preferring to see history in the wild, so to speak. However, a canal museum appealed to me.

"Well, let's just walk to that harbour, anyway. We haven't been there before."

And so we set off, meandering through the back streets in what looked to be the general direction of the canal. I say 'looked to be' deliberately since I have zero sense of direction and it wasn't the same way we'd walked earlier in the day. What I'd forgotten was that in the morning, we'd crossed over the Regent's canal to the north side and turned west. This time, we were staying on the south side and turning a little east. 

However, since I don't know my north from my south, let alone east from west, and imagining we were already on the other side of the Regent's Canal, I was taken by surprise when we walked up a side street and saw the entrance to the museum. Yes. I know. It sounds silly, doesn't it? Well, try living in my brain for a while and see how I feel.

Anyway, after some minor discussion about whether to go or not to go, I clinched the deal by saying to Koos, "Come on. I'll pay. At least it'll be warm in there!" 

And what a treat it was.

The first item on display we noted after paying our dues was a beautifully restored towpath tractor. This one was built in 1960, and did the job horses were previously used for– towing barges along the canals.

I've always loved old tractors, and this one was a delight to see. The details of its background and purpose are just visible on the information board in the last photo (thank you, Koos). I had to wonder if the horses minded being made redundant by modern technology – as it was then. I could imagine them sighing as they hung up their harnesses for the last time, but I couldn't decide if the sigh would have been of relief or regret.

As I also mentioned last week, this museum was on the site of two ice wells, the inspiration for which came from one Carol Gatti, a Swiss Italian immigrant who came to London to make his fortune in the 1850s and did so. He was a café owner, but he realised money could be made by supplying ice to all sorts of different businesses. His story, and that of the ice wells, is detailed on the Canal Museum's website, which you can find here. In short, though, he started importing ice from Norway not only to supply local business and hotels, but also to provide clean, natural ice for Italian ice cream makers. The imported ice was stored in these wells before being distributed. Previously, ice from local ponds and lakes had been used, but I dread to think how unhygienic that natural ice might have doesn't really bear thinking of, does it?

Another aspect the museum focused on was about the children who both lived and worked on the canals. I was shocked to read that children were even employed to dig canals. In fact, I almost didn't believe it, but the photo below of the child navvies who helped dig the Manchester Ship Canal was somewhat chilling evidence of the truth.

But then children had to help the boatmen as well. The pictures below show a very young boy leading a a donkey along the towpath and a tiny girl tied to the roof of the narrowboat to prevent her from falling off. 

Another photo was of a small girl tying two boats together in readiness for loading. I believe Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, made laudable efforts to reduce child labour, but the legislation he inspired clearly didn't reach the canals. These photos are undoubtedly from the 20th century.

There were numerous other fascinating photos and information boards on canal life in the museum, but I found the two below especially interesting. The decline of the commercial canal traffic naturally began with the advent of train travel, and was further exacerbated when road transport grew. What I didn't know was that the winter of 1962/3 was the final death knell for canal boat transport. With the waterways frozen for months, barges were completely ice bound, leaving it to the trucks and trains to wrest the final slice of the commercial cake from the narrowboating community.

Nevertheless, revival was already happening in quite a different area – that of the pleasure craft industry. It's a heartwarming story of volunteering enthusiasm, but without the teams of eager canal lovers, the English network would not be half as extensive as it is today. The photo below tells the story of how the IWA (Inland Waterways Association) was founded in 1946 and how, with the help of thousands of volunteers, many of the cuts have been reopened, used now by happy cruisers across the country.

We must have spent well over an hour reading these posters, after which we stepped through the back door into the serene haven of Battlebridge Basin. It was hard to imagine such a peaceful place could exist in the heart of London's inner suburbs, but a resident we spoke to told us it really was as blissful as it looked.

"I used to gaze at this place from the café in that building on the other side," she told us, gesturing across the harbour. "I used to stop for a coffee on my way home from child care with my daughter, and I was determined that one day I'd live here."

Well, now she does. She said she'd had to wait a year to find the right boat to buy in the harbour, but when it came up, there was no stopping her. Was she happy with her decision? The smile on her cheerful face said it all. I've borrowed the photo below from a website titled Battlebridge Moorings, which gives some background to the basin. It's lovely to think these boats will still have the right to moor here for generations to come. Have a read and see its history for yourself.

Photo thanks to The museum is
on the right-hand side of the photo.

Well, that's it again allemaal. I hope you enjoyed browsing through the museum with me and learnt as much as I did. Next week, I'll catch up with more local doings. Enjoy the rest of this one, wherever you are.