Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Much ado about nothing much

There's not a lot of news to share this week, unfortunately. Our lives have, as usual, been dominated by such mundane topics as the inclement weather, which hasn't been very helpful in our plans to prepare for faring. Despite it being warmer and sunnier, it has rained for at least some part of every day in the last two weeks, which makes painting impossible, however dry the rest of the time has been – more than a little frustrating. In fact, last night we thought we were going to get a humdinger of a weather event. The sky was as threatening as I've ever seen it and all the forecasters promised a severe thunderstorm. In the end, there was a flash and a bang, accompanied by a brief, not particularly heavy shower, and that was it. Definitely a big anti-climax – not that I'm sorry. I'm no fan of dramatic, extreme conditions.

What I don't understand is that we keep being told that each month this year has been the hottest on record. I mean, I just don't get it. I honestly think those doing the recording must be in some secret, protected weather bubble, because no one I know believes it. Most of northern Europe has had below average temperatures the whole of this year. Spring was cold, chronically wet and late in coming and the number of real summer days I can count since the beginning of June would barely fill one hand, let alone two. I've been wearing cardigans and a fleece almost every day.

Anyway, whatever the pundits say, I haven't been able to paint the back deck on the Hennie H until this week and even now, I'm having to do it in small sections. Maintenance is merciless and water is the worst weatherer you could imagine. If I could find some way of covering up both barges during the winter, I'd do it. Wouldn't if be great if I could wrap them both in cling film the way the airports wrap our luggage? I'd love that although I'm not sure how our harbour masters would feel about it. A plastic vacuum-packed barge that looks like a huge caterpillar cocoon wouldn't quite fit the image of a historic harbour, would it?

Moaning aside, we still hope to leave in a couple of weeks; there are just a few appointments to get out of the way first and then we can set off on a very slow and gentle meander south.

In the meantime, there's always plenty to do (apart from painting boats, that is), and I'm busy writing the story of Vereeniging's journey to her current mooring. There've also been lots of sporting events, village festivals and final work commitments going on in the background, so life is never dull.

And of course, there's always Zoe, whose little face full of expectations keeps me active. Koos took the first two photos of her below (for Rebecca), and I snapped the other when my daughter and I were out for a walk.


Zoe and her best pal, Lucy, looking at my daughter in the hopes
of a treat

These last pictures are a couple you may have already seen elsewhere on social media, but I know some of my friends here are not on Facebook or Twitter, so I hope you like them. 

View from the crumbly cottage as a bout of rain was approaching

Reflections on our nearby creek on one remarkably still day.
It's almost unheard of to have no wind in Zeeland

So that's it allemaal. As the title says, much ado about nothing much, but we're slowly getting there. Enjoy the rest of your week and I'll be back again soon.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

The great unread

Unread emails are the bane of my life. Does anyone else have this problem? I've just cleaned up nearly 500 of them from one of my email inboxes and the other one still has 498 (down from 800).

I don't think I'm alone in having several email addresses, although I admit I might have more than many. At the last count it was five that I use regularly, plus the ones that you get automatically when you have a phone contract but only use to find the company's invoices. I used to have more but now I work for fewer organisations I don't need to have a specific email for all of them. But I still have two for my teaching work, one for private and family use, one for internet use and another for my writing. And you know what? I get spammed in all of them; even the university email is full of junk. It's unbelievable. In fact, while I was clearing down my main gmail account, more spam was coming through.

The problem, I find, is that I do most of my shopping and business online, so the moment you provide businesses with your email address, they find reasons to flood you with special offers, newsletters and advertising in general. No matter that I haven't ticked any boxes saying they could do this... or maybe I have, inadvertently. Anyway, what happens is that even if I have accepted their terms, I rarely have time to read or look at the mails, so they just sit there.

I think Amazon is the worst. I'm both a customer and an author, so they send me around a dozen emails every day offering me books I don't want to read, or sending me order confirmations for those I do. Add to that all the author advice and notices, I can't see the wood for the Amazon trees (sorry 😄).

The other culprit is Wordpress, the blogging platform. They seem to be convinced I need to upgrade my account to a paid platform, and I daily receive notifications of discounts, pleas for me to upgrade and newsletters listing reasons for me to do so. I only use Wordpress to post reviews for the memoirs I read (the link is here if anyone's interested), so I keep it very simple, but in truth I find WP very complicated and not user-friendly at all, and I have zero desire to use it for anything else. They're also quite restrictive as to who can comment. You have to have a WP account to interact with other people on their blogs, which is a real downside. At least with Blogger, we have the Anonymous option and if commenters use that and give their name in the comment box, all is well.

Anyway, that's what has been occupying my time this evening while I've been relaxing in the wonderful but unaccustomed heat of the last few days. Summer has arrived at last and has swept in with a flourish leaving us gasping from the contrast with last week's 13C to yesterday's 30C. Sadly, it was a bit too hot to work outside, so I wouldn't mind it being tempered just a tad so I can paint my barge. It's not much to ask, is it? Still, I'm not really complaining and I genuinely hope the coming weeks will give us more of the same. We have these plans to go faring, you see (ref last post).

Here are a few photos to make up (I hope) for such a mundane blog:

Zoe enjoying yesterday's balmy evening

Before the weather change

The wind that blew away the rain

My garden is in bloom at last

A local park; always beautiful
but especially in sunshine

Enjoy the rest of your week allemaal and I'll be back with more real news later... I hope!

Friday, June 14, 2024

Plans for the summer

The summer? Well, yes, assuming we get some summer this year, we have plans to head south again on the Hennie H and finish up in one of our favourite places, Erquelinnes, on the French/Belgian border. The thought is perhaps to leave her there for a longer stay which would give us a weekend getaway in one of our favourite areas during the autumn and winter.

Anyway, of course the route we take depends on a number of factors: the amount of water in the canals (shouldn't be a problem this year, but you never know), the speed at which we want to arrive, the number of times we get side-tracked and, somewhat obviously, the weather.

The aim is to leave early in July, although we can't make a precise date as yet. There's a lot of preparation to be done in terms of making sure we have all our paperwork in order, as well as permits, certificates and supplies.

The paperwork includes the vignette for both Flanders and France. We won't need one for Wallonia, which is another reason for loving the French Belgian area. In addition, we need to have our fire extinguishers checked, as well as our life jackets. Another necessity is to update our certificate of ownership and make sure our VHF is in order, so lots to do in the admin department.

Technically, we have to change the oil and all the filters on the HH. Koos has been having trouble draining the old oil. Even after running the engine for some time, it doesn't pump out as it should, so we're trying to figure out why that should be so. Fingers crossed it works next time we try.

As far as safety is concerned, I've got a life jacket for Zoe and we have spare floating devices on board. We also have a good lifebelt available and an anchor, so we can tick those of our list.

The Belgian Waterways

But back to the route. The one I'd like best would be to go west to Brugge (Bruges) and then south towards Dunkirk but heading to the small town of Bergues first. Bergues was where that wonderful films Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis was made and I've wanted to go there for many years (see/read recent book of our 2017 trip).  After that, we could head east until we reach the Canal de Saint Quentin and go south until it meets the Canal de la Sambre à l'Oise at La Fere. At this point we could turn north and complete the southern section of the canal as far as Vadencourt, which we didn't do in 2022. A few days travel north after that would find us in Erquellines. If we take it slowly, we could have some lovely leisurely faring.

Possible routes from Bergues: all black includes the Canal
de St Quentin. Red is the Canal de la Sambre à l'Oise

Other options would be to take a last trip south down the Canal du Nord (see southward black line in the map), which we would get to before the  Canal de Saint Quentin (northward black line). Alternatively, we could go downstream on the Schelde (Scheldt) river from Gent and take either the Dender or the canal to Brussels and then to Charleroi before reaching the Sambre at its confluence with the Brussels-Charleroi canal (not marked on either map). 

If we were to do this route, we wouldn't make it to the Canal de la Sambre à l'Oise, which would be a pity. For one reason, I would very much like to go to Ors, which is where Wilfred Owen (the war poet) is buried and that's near the canal south of Landrecies. Another reason is that we've never done this section before, which makes it all the more appealing. I'm sorry the maps aren't very clear, but they hopefully give you an idea of the possibilities.

In the meantime, we are taking our opportunities for boat maintenance as they arise. I'm aware that Vereeniging will be left unvisited and unloved all the while we're away, so she needs some TLC too. Fingers crossed the skies will clear enough for some time to work on her before then. I really hate leaving her (that's an understatement) but we can only manage one boat away and our Shoe is so much more practical for faring.

Now I’ve put it all into words, it's helped to give me some focus on what needs to be done, so with that said, I'll sign off now with a few boaty photos. Until next time, allemaal!

The beauty among the beasts (as in size)

My favourite view of Vereeniging

The Hennie H in Gent

The Henie H on the Sambre

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Panels and pictures

We've had another wet, windy spell with unseasonably low temperatures. So, what's new, you ask? Sadly, I have to agree. It's getting very old news now, isn't it? The photo above shows our rain-spattered window and a new wave of clouds scudding in from the south-west. Once again, my ambitions to smarten up the boats with fresh paint are being scuppered. Since it has rained for some time almost every day since my previous post, there's simply no point. I'm seriously thinking up schemes of how to erect a huge tent over the Vereeniging and Hennie H so we can get on with things. 

That aside, I've had to release my pent-up fidgets indoors, so I embarked on the big kitchen wainscoting project (Thanks to Dale Foster for reminding me of the correct word. I'd forgotten it through lack of use). In truth, it's not such a huge project as the length of the wall is only three metres, but ideas about putting it in our living room as well have emerged, so it could well grow.

Anyway, I digress as usual. I'd ordered the wood a couple of weeks ago and it's been waiting for me to get going, so my first job was to fix battens to the wall so I could then attach the tongue-and-groove planks to them. This process took me a few days because, as usual, I didn't have the right plugs and screws for the drill bit I had. A few trips to the DIY shop in the village sorted me out, though. For some reason, the owner of the shop was convinced Koos had sent me to buy things for him and that I didn't have a clue, which floored me for a moment, but so be it. I'll show him what I've done one of these days.

The photo below is of Stage One: the battening and the tongue-and-groove planks in place. 

The next step was to finish it with a small shelf on top, a supporting length below it and a plinth (skirting board) at the bottom. Apart from a couple of screws, I used panel pins to fix them, so I hope they hold. I like panel pins because they're so discreet and you barely see them. Voilà Stage Two.

I really liked the look of the natural wood and was suddenly in doubt about painting it, which had always been my intention.  But after dithering for a few days, I decided paint was still the way to go. I need to sand and re-varnish the floor, which is warm-hued old pine and I felt the contrast between the new pine and the old wouldn't look good. So today, I bit the bullet and gave it a coat of primer. 

Next step: another visit to the DIY shop for paint to match my other cupboards. In South Africa and England, we called the colour Magnolia. Here in the Netherlands it's just cream, but the colour code is the same. I'm looking forward to finishing it now and getting on with renovating the floor, which has suffered from the work I've been doing and the leaky wall problems before that.

In other news, we had a village festival this weekend, which included an art fair. Koos was invited to display some of his photos and Jodie, my daughter, was also asked to show some of her art. Unfortunately, we failed to take photos at the exhibition, which I'm kicking myself for. There was some excellent work there of all sorts of art, including sculpture, jewellery, painting, photography and children's art. The picture below is of the photos Koos took along to display all laid out on our kitchen table. He has some beautiful sets among them, but they were a terrific weight. Now it's all over, we have to put them away again. 😅

The festival also held a vintage car rally and this beauty below was among them. It's a beautifully preserved Karmann Ghia, which is my favourite car ever. I had one back in the early eighties and in fact, I brought daughter two home from hospital in mine. It was a cabriolet and I absolutely loved it, so I was charmed to see this one today. Isn't it gorgeous?

And lastly, in a modest but happy development, I've finally managed to keep the promise I made to myself when I published my book about our beloved Sindy in 2020. For some years now, I've been following a group called the Oldies Club on Facebook. They focus on finding homes for senior dogs that few people want especially if the dogs have medical issues, which is often the case as they age. I've donated to their group from time to time, as I have a special fondness for oldies, and when I released Living With My Sin, I promised that any royalties I earned from the book would go to the Oldies Club. 

Well, I'm not much good at promotion, so those royalties have been painfully slow in accumulating, but two weeks ago, I checked my Amazon account and found I'd earned enough to make a significant donation to the Oldies for the constant medicines' and vets' bills they carry. It's a meagre amount in the greater scheme of things, but I was really so pleased I could send something after all this time. The Oldies Club do such good work. If you're on Facebook, look them up!

So that's it for this first post in June, allemaal. The year is speeding by, isn't it? I'm just praying we get some warm weather and sunshine before autumn strikes again in our northern hemisphere. Have a lovely week and I'll be back soon.


Thursday, May 23, 2024

The first spuddle of the season

Last weekend, we celebrated my birthday with our first 'spuddle' of the season. For me, that was the best gift I could have and I’m very grateful to Koos for making it happen.

In case you're wondering about that word 'spuddle', I’ve recently learned that there are various dictionary definitions of 'to spuddle', but all agree it is archaic (probably why I like it) and can be used either as a verb or a noun. 

The definition I can relate to most is to 'work feebly in an aimless fashion and without achieving a great deal'. As a child, I remember my brother often used the word to mean he was busy doing nothing much. "What are you up to," I might ask him. "Oh, just spuddling about," he'd say and by that I knew he meant he was really just faffing around. 

Well, that about sums up our short boat trips. We don't go anywhere in particular, and we enjoy being a bit aimless. A spuddle might be just a few turns around the harbour (as when I had my old rowing boat), or it might be what we did on Sunday, which was to do the few kilometres from our harbour to the Belgian border town of Zelzate. In essence, we are faffing about on the water for the fun of it, and apart from enjoyment, there's no real purpose to our faring.

Anyway, it was perfect weather for said spuddle. The sun shone, it was warm and there was little wind. The Hennie H behaved perfectly as we headed out of the marina and turned right towards Belgium. 

Behind us the propellor water looked good and there was no smoke from the exhaust, always a good sign, and we passed under the first big road bridge before proceeding on to the next one at Zelzate. Zoe was as good as gold sitting quietly on deck and watching us go past her normal world.

For myself, I tried to focus on relishing the view and being on the water rather than seeing all the work that needs doing. The winter has been hard on the Hennie H, but hopefully the weather will allow us to deal with some of the worst deterioration before we go away.

Up ahead a perfect distraction appeared. A large sea ship was approaching us being towed by some of the big beefy tugs I'm so fond of. It was a fantastic sight as it slowly passed us on its way to Terneuzen and the Channel.

Isn't it magnificent?

Looking back, it was interesting to see the entrance to the harbour where Vereeniging is moored as well as the inner harbour at Sas van Gent, both of which are the remains of earlier canals. The two photos below show the history of this waterway quite clearly.

The big commercial barge (first photo above) is moored in the original course of the canal and the next opening (visible in second photo above) is the Historic Harbour with the old lock on a slightly later version of the canal. The current, much wider cutting was dug in the 1960s.

I've always loved loading quays, both old and new and the one above is appealing for its modern simplicity.

Just before the bridge at Zelzate, we'd crossed the border into Belgium, so now it was time to turn back. Our trip was quite impromptu and we didn't have all our papers for going 'abroad', so to speak. Koos did a big U-turn in front of the ship yard you might be able to spot in the photos below.

I was fascinated by this vessel. Someone on Facebook suggested it was a dredger and they're probably right, although I liked another suggestion that it might be a skateboard ramp.

And this contraption below is a clever plastic collector. Since the wash from the barges pushes plastic waste to the side, it is easy to trap it in this receptacle here. I've never seen it before, and I'm guessing it's a new invention.

Lastly, the banks of the canal were smothered in buttercups and daisies. Aren't they pretty? I do love spring so much, particularly when we have weather like this. 

On the way back we stopped next to Vereeniging to have a cup of coffee. This last photo tickled me. Koos knows I hate gaps, so I was pleased he'd caught me being brave for once. 

 So there you have it, a lovely birthday spuddle. It was a gift of a day in so many ways. Enjoy the rest of your week, allemaal, and I'll fill you in on our other doings next time.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The tranquillity of being back on board

The only ripples are from passing barges

It's been lovely to be back on board again. Last weekend, which also happened to be the Ascension Day holiday weekend here, was glorious, meaning Koos and I were able to spend a couple of days on board Vereeniging without risking life and limb getting on and off the boat. The weather was perfect so I was very happy to be able to work outside, cleaning, sanding and varnishing. 

We also managed to start preparing the Hennie H for her first trip out, hopefully this weekend. Koos got the engine running and I started the never ending process of sweeping and cleaning. There's loads still to do, but now it's raining again, we'll have to wait until it's dry before continuing.

Here are just a few photos of the harbour. It really was quite magical.

Pearly skies reflected in the water

Evening light on the deck

Evening light over the camper park next to Vereeniging's mooring

The Hennie H basks in sunshine

The contrast between leisure pursuits and industry

At the Crumbly Cottage, too, everything is springing into life and we have a real summer view at last. I never get tired of our outlook, and the first thing I do every morning, rain or shine, is take a few moments to rest my eyes on the peaceful scenery.

Our summer view (at last) from the cottage

Willow trees coming into leaf

And lastly, Zoe has had a summer trim, thanks to my daughter who is an expert spaniel groomer. She even has the little 'skirt' that show dogs have – not that she's impressed. She's actually not very happy at losing the protective fluff under her tail, and keeps running away from herself, poor baby. I'm hoping the sensitivity will wear off soon and she'll be back to her normal self. The shorter coat will definitely keep her cooler, though.

Zoe, exhausted after her haircut

 Enjoy the rest of your week allemaal, and I'll catch up with you all soon.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

More pictures than post

The last ten days have been distinguished by their lack of interesting events. It's really quite unusual for me to feel I have nothing much to say. Apart from a visit we had from a delightful English couple we met a year ago in the camper park next to Vereeniging's mooring, there's really nothing much to report. It's been one of those 'a bit of this and a bit of that' periods. 

For a start, the sunny days have been few (about one and a half days a week, literally!) and mostly too windy to undertake any boat painting. I have, however, managed to do some sanding and varnishing on Vereeniging's teak entrance (although I think I'd already started that when I last wrote a blog). What else? Well, now the leak problem in the Crumbly Cottage has been solved (thanks to Lally Brown and her amazing husband) I've also managed to repair and paint the kitchen wall which has finally dried out. The wood has also been ordered to make insulated panelling along the lower half of the kitchen wall against which I might decide to build some cupboards. I'm thinking about that.  And then today, I painted the rendered strip along the bottom of the cottage's external facade.  

So, things are progressing; just very slowly. As I said, 'a bit of this...'. And we are at least talking about going faring this summer. If we have some nice weather soon, a few spuddles might be in order to test things out - the engine, for instance.

For now, though, I am left with not much paid work other than assessments and examining, so I'm writing a lot, reading a lot, doing my DIY projects, and walking. Which brings me to my final 'bit of that' of news. 

My daughter, Jo, and I have signed up for a challenge to complete 100 km each during May in support of Multiple Sclerosis research. I realise I would probably achieve this anyway if I recorded all the walks I do with Zoe, but I am now focusing on doing one recorded walk per day that I add to the score. I don't count the rest. It's resulted in my having achieved 35% of my aim already, so I'm sure I'll manage the whole 100 km by the end of the month.  Jo and I have formed a team, The Can Doers, so if you feel like giving us (and MS research) a bit of support, you can donate here. We'd be very grateful for anything anyone can spare:

So that's it allemaal. Enjoy the rest of your week and I'll finish with some recent photos from our world :)

Intriguing pathway

Hidden waterways

Stormy Zeeland skies

Best buddies

Zoe hiding under a curtain

Two big tugboats on the canal

And the huge sea ship they were towing

Typical Dutch dykeside lane