Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter work

On Monday, Koos's Luxor is going on the slipway again. I can hardly believe it's more than two years since its last 'helling beurt', but it was, in fact, September 2006 when the weather was gloriously warm and sunny. This time, it will probably be sunny - well that's what the forecasters would have us believe, but I fear the temperature will leave a lot more to be desired. Today it was minus 3, tomorrow is likely to be the same and my internet weather station has bright yellow suns for every day next week with correspondingly sub zero figures. Wind chill is reckoned to be colder still at minus 8, so it will be cheerfully bright but miserably cold...ho hum. I'll keep you posted! The photo above is a pleasant reminder of the last occasion.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Our 2008 calendar in retrospect

While you read, listen to my favourite Christmas song ever - Fay Lovsky's "Christmas was a friend of mine"

2008 was an eventful year. It started off with selling my flat in Rotterdam; thankfully this was very shortly after I'd bought our little refuge in Zeeuws Vlanderen, where we'd spent new year, an event marked by going to the beach at Breskens. We never go to the beach, so it makes sense that on this occasion it was winter, and no one was about - stunning! I'm such a misanthropist.

Then in January, we had the immense pleasure of meeting MargieCM and her fabulous four in Paris. The occasion was of course celebrated by a walk along the canal near Le Marais (I think), and it was all just deliciously Parisian in the twilight. Most of our weekends in the early part of the year were spent at the little house, which overlooks the great Gent-Terneusen ship canal, and we had endless pleasure watching the huge transporters cruising past, but then the spring came and the trees began to obscure the view, so instead of watching from the house, we took to walking along the tow path. We also made forays into Belgium, exploring parts of the Schelde and the Leie with their connecting off shoots.

In May, I had a re-union meeting with two old college friends I hadn't seen since the 70's, and we marked the occasion by giving the Vereeniging its test run with its new-old engine. It was a fabulous day all round, and marvellous to meet my old buddies again.

In June, the next major highlight was acquiring the Hennie H, which ultimately proved to be something of a lowlight in terms of work. Still the trip down through Drenthe from Groningen was magical and gave rise to lots of clicking by me and shuddering by poor Sindy. Before that, though, I went to South Africa for a week to visit Mo in Postmasburg. A place further from the water you couldn't imagine, but its desert-like surroundings are a region that I truly love. Then there was Koos's 60th which was a real mid-year event, happening as it did on 30 June.

In July, I had some major work done on the Vereeniging and amidst the trials and tribulations of sorting out the Hennie H, we managed to get some nice solid steel panels inserted in the sides to ensure that my little barge would remain water and weather proof. It was as usual a much bigger job than I'd expected, and the interior still isn't finished, but it's getting there.

August saw me rushing over to London to see my brother who'd been ill, and of course I took the opportunity to walk down to the Thames at the Barrier and take some early morning photos, which have become some of my favourites.

September saw us heading off down south with the Hennie H to its mooring at Sas van Gent. Unfortunately drama struck again and just as Koos had crossed the notorious Westeschelde and turned into the Gent-Terneusen canal, the steering broke. We are still thanking everything of a heavenly nature that it only happened when he'd reached safer waters.

September also saw the arrival of Mo in the Netherlands. She and Craig had decided to leave South Africa earlier rather than later, and after my visit, they brought forward their move by more than 6 months. In the early weeks after her arrival, we took Mo to Gent where we had a gorgeous day and the most beautiful boat trip round my favourite city. She is now staying on the Luxor, Koos's barge, and it's been wonderful to have her so close, even though life here has given her quite a few challenges so far.

Over the couple of months that followed, autumn came and went with a few bright spots (such as finding the beautiful Lillo) and a few low ones too, like the numerous technical problems we've had with Mo's water system on the Luxor. We are now approaching the end of the year, and in November Sintaklaas arrived, a journey culminating in the special Dutch celebration on 5 December. We are expecting Craig, Mo's husband on Boxing Day next week, so that will be the final but definitely most important highlight of 2008.

I've made a slideshow of photos marking our eventful year, so for a look back to share my memories, feel free to browse through it! Have a happy festive season everyone.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The East Wind Effect

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the effect an east wind has on low tide here in the harbour. I even referred to our loopplank as something akin to the north face of the Eiger. I was using a bit of artistic licence there (others would call it plain exaggeration), but this morning, it really was the case. Yes really. I don't think I have ever seen the water as low as this, and in fact the loopplank was suspended in mid air over the deck of the Luxor because it would no longer reach down that far (despite being 5 metres in length). We could even see the bottom of the harbour emerging above the water at the wall. Getting off was more than usually challenging, especially for Sindy who really does not like anything that wobbles even slightly, but with the help of a chest dragged up the foredeck, we managed it. Well, I won't rabbit on about it any further, because I think the photos here speak for themselves.

Oh yes, and I forgot to add. It was a bit frosty too...the ice was about an inch thick in my plant pots and buckets...I must put those poor dead geraniums away somewhere...must, must!


This is what a normal high tide looks like, but prettier of course, because Momo and I put the Christmas lights on to join in with the other harbour dwellers who have done the same.

Doesn't my Mo look pleased?

Looking along the quay

And standing in front of the Luxor.

The pictures are not totally sharp as I don't have a tripod and the light was dimming fast, but all things being equal, they came out quite well.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zimbabwe...lest we forget

I don't normally do political, or even international, mostly preferring to write about stuff of a watery nature. Even so, as everyone who follows my blog knows, part of my being is still very firmly planted in South Africa, and many of my closest friends and colleagues when I lived there were Zimbabwean. I have listened to, heard and read enough accounts of the rape and destruction of that beautiful land by the madman Mugabe to make me wish for someone to put the whole country out of its misery and despatch the maniac. This article that I have just read in the Economist does nothing to soften my position. When will the suffering of these hapless people end? If economic, political and physical starvation were not enough, now they have disease too...but not according to Mugabe. Oh no, quite the reverse. In fact "“I am happy to say…that there is no cholera” he claimed, just as the World Health Organisation had reported that 783 people have so far died of the disease and that over 16,400 people have been infected. As he spoke, officials in South Africa declared a disaster area in a part of the Limpopo region on the Zimbabwean border, as a result of desperate refugees spreading cholera."
Need I say more?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

For Momo

It's 5.30 a.m. A small, well wrapped figure picks her way up the catwalks of the Luxor. She's wearing high heeled shoes. Good idea for an icy morning on board a Dutch barge. She reaches the gangplank. Hmm, low water this morning and with an east wind the barge has settled comfortably on the bottom like an old maid in a sagging armchair. The plank is like the north face of the Eiger and the angle is at least forty five degrees. No exaggeration. How on earth is she going to get up there? The high heels come in handy for once, for what else can you use as pitons to haul yourself to the top? As she scrambles onto the quay, she has to rescue the pitons and restore them to her feet as shoes. The morning dash is now on.

There's a group of them. About six in all. They all catch the same trains in the morning. It's like a Monty Python sketch, though. The first train takes them to Rotterdam Central. They have three minutes to make their connection. As one, they leap off the train and charge through the station stampeding past six platforms, trampling all in their path to catch the 6.02 to Utrecht. They arrive on platform 2 together, breathless but nodding to each other in satisfaction at another race won. The train isn't in yet. But this morning the station staff are in mischievous mood. They must be watching the team on their CCTV's. Let's make them run for it again shall we? Across the station intercom a voice booms. "Dames en Heren, the six oh two train to Utrecht will depart in two minutes from platform 14." The group all stare wildly at each other. Panic reigns. Off they set, arms and bags flailing in another mad dash to reach platform fourteen before the train arrives.

They make it just as the intercom booms out again. "Dames en Heren, the six oh two train for Utrecht departing from platform fourteen has a delay of 5 to 10 minutes." The station staff chortle delightedly as they watch the varying degrees of murderous intent on the faces of the team. Another day, another morning of entertainment over. Who will they get tomorrow?

At Utrecht, the team disperses and our small well-wrapped figure stands on the concourse watching the the departure board. Another tense few moments ensue. Will the train to the east leave from platform 3 or platform 10? You never can tell...and every day is different. She stands midway between the two. They have a really mean minx in the control office here. A minute before departure time, the board springs to life. Platform 10 it is. Sprinting to the other end of the station, the pitons have now been stowed for future use in our heroine's bag...trainers are required for this leg. Flinging herself between the doors of the train carriage as they start to slide shut, she's made it. Triumph again! At last, eventually, she is ensconsed in her compartment, the only test left to endure being the mobile phone terrorists, who seem determined to hi-jack every sleep deprived traveller's morning commute. Ah well, it's all in a day's work.... isn't it Mo?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A not so lovely Sunday

Today's been horrible. Cold, damp, dripping. A typical November day to freeze you inside out. I have to say this kind of weather is my worst, and even the lovely view out of my back window looked forbidding - it had the look of a stone-eyed, grey haired spinster about it. Typical then that our neighbours in the harbour here in Sas van Gent decided that they wanted to shuffle boats around again. I don't know why it is but the collection of boaters down our end of the marina cannot seem to make up their minds about where they want to lie, and the trouble is, we are always involved in their plans for a re-shuffle.

I was just looking forward to a long snoozy lie-in  this morning when Koos, fresh back from Poland, reminded me that we had to get up in time to be at the harbour at 10.00 to fling ropes around while shoving the Hennie H out of its present cosy berth into another one further along the line. Looking out of the window, it was raining, and the mist was hanging low on the trees. Then it started snowing. Not that nice dry fluffy stuff they have in Canada and more continental climates, but wet, clammy snow that slaps irritably at your face with its flakes only just a half a degree below congealing point. Not designed for snow balls this, but more for extreme discomfort as it creeps down your collar and into your neck.

Well up we got and out we went, and once at the harbour, the neighbours greeted us with a cheerful bonhomie that I certainly wasn't feeling. 10.00 on a Sunday morning in this kind of weather was not going to inspire me to exchange anything more than a few ill tempered grunts at best. The neighbours in question - those that wanted us to move again in the first place, fired up their engine from the warmth of a snug wheel house and reversed out of the berth they didn't like; this being because they were in the shadow of a much larger vessel, which was one we'd swapped places with a few weeks before because they didn't like where they were either. Back the nieghbours went and kept on going until they reached a jetty at the entrance to the harbour. They tied up there.

Koos and I pushed and pulled and nudged the Hennie H round into its new spot, by which time my hands were numb with cold through my gloves and my nose had absconded - well, I couldn't find it or feel it on my face at any rate. Still, it all went smoothly enough and we tied up and plugged the electricity in again. Back on land, I watched to see if the neighbours were going to move back into our now vacated spot, but no. They didn't move. They stayed put. We watched a while longer and took Sin for a walk along the bank, but still they stayed. Eventually, Koos said that maybe they'd decided to stop there for a while. After all they were in no hurry. I struggled with this thought. If they were in no hurry, then, why had we had to rush down there at 10.00 on this frigid Sunday morning? If they were in no hurry, in fact, why were we?

Curse it, I thought. I could have been snoozing still, or at least still snuggled up under the duvet and merely watching the snow instead of being flailed by icy needles. The next time anyone asks us to move, I'll say fine, as long as there's no hurry......and the following good weather conditions can be met.......sun, blue cloudless skies, 20 degrees and rising, a gentle breeze...shall I go on?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The lure of Barge logblogs


Over the past week, Blogdom has seen a revival, and it's been like finding all my friends at home again. Wonderful! I was afraid that the trend to write blogs had given way to Facebook, and was saddened. Don't get me wrong, Facebook is a hoot. I love it. But for me it's a place I can breeze in and out of and doesn't involve much in the way of real input. It's also been an amazing way of hooking up to old uni friends I haven't had contact with for years.

That being said, I missed the bloggers and so started looking for new contacts in my own sphere of interests. First off, I found Michelle Caffrey, who has written a book about her and her husband's maiden voyage on their barge Imagine. They are an American couple, who gave up lucrative careers in IT, a beautiful home and smart cars to buy an old Dutch barge and do Barge and Breakfast tours of the French canals. The book was gobbled up in a couple of nights, and I'd hoped to continue following their blog, but sadly, they seem to have been too busy chartering to keep it up, and so I am waiting again till they update their website.

Then, there is my new friend Frederic. I also found him via his website called Living Afloat . He is busy restoring and fitting out a magnificent 39 metre Luxe Motor built in 1929. Frederic is Belgian and lives in Brugge, or Bruges, which is not too far from us. We have been to visit him there and seen what a great job he is doing with his ship. His website is a treat. Full of information about barges in general and his own in particular. He was even kind enough to advertise my book on his page too, and I keep up to date with his progress through his monthly logs and photos.

Added to this, a month ago or so, I saw a strange name appear on my own blog, and at first I thought it was a spam comment, but then Dale told me she'd taken a look and thought I would like what I found. I felt quite guilty when I opened up Saltysplash's blog. How I could ever have dismissed his comment as spam, I don't know now, but I was charmed and thrilled to find a blog about Geoff and his Laura who live on a Narrowboat in England. Geoff writes lovely, whimsical posts about their travels along the English canals, and publishes some great photos as well. I await his new posts very eagerly these days. Then through him, I found several other blogs about English canal cruisers, and it opened up a whole new blogosphere for me...manna from heaven! Now, of course, I am longing to take the Vereeniging over to the UK and sample some of these beautifully intimate and rural stretches of water myself. With the winter drawing on, dreaming about it is about as far as I will get, though.


Last, but not least, there is our dear friend Philip's blog, named after his barge the Blauwe Vis. We have been following his progress since he left Rotterdam last month, and the photos he has published are stunning. I wouldn't presume to copy his own images here on my blog, but I've found a few on the web of places he's passed through on his travels, and posted them here to give you an idea of the visual wealth of his journey.



I find it eases my roving soul to read about other people's travels, but of course nothing really replaces the real experience, and as soon as the Hennie Ha is fit and whole again (that will be when Koos comes back from Poland now), I hope the weather will allow us at least a few jaunts into Belgium; along the canal to Gent perhaps, and maybe even to Brugge to see Frederic. Short though these trips will be, they will surely keep us going till the spring and summer are here again.

Mouzon, where he is
staying over at the moment

Footnote: I hope I haven't infringed any copyright with these photos here, but if they all disappear overnight, you'll know what I've done...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Harbour goes all out to welcome Sinterklaas

One of the paradoxes with which I am so intrigued about the Netherlands is the ceremony of Sinterklaas - a tradition that is enacted and enjoyed by the entire Dutch population (or so it seems) every year from some time in the middle of November until the 5th December, when this venerable old Turkish bishop finally dispenses toys and goodies to the children of the region. Phew! Long sentence huh?
The paradox is this. the Netherlands is held up to the world as socially liberal, very politically correct, and very progressive in its attitudes to its cosmopolitan society. The tradition of Sinterklaas is therefore totally contradictory to this perception. Indeed, the good bishop who is said to travel by ship from Spain (of all places! I mean historically, this was the no no nation!), is accompanied by his helper Zwartepiet, an exceptionally dark skinned young man, dressed in garish stripey clothes and looking very similar to the little toy people of similar colouring and clothing that are now banned in the UK.

Even more astonishing is the fact that in today's ceremony, not only is Sinterklaas accompanied by a dozen or so Zwartepiets, but practically all the children in the country, regardless of ethnic origin, blacken their faces, don equally garish clothing, and flock to the nearest harbour to welcome the old boy and his bevy of piets. For harbours are the thing, and Sinterklaas has to be delivered by boat to begin his progress throughout the country.
Today, he arrived in Rotterdam, and for the first time ever, the residents of the Oude Haven were invited to join a welcoming committee in the form of a small fleet. I'm sorry and a little sad to say I didn't join them for two pertinent reasons: the first being it was cold, grey and windy, and I don't do that happily; the second was that I am barely keeping up with the mountain of marking and exam preparation I have to do before the end of the semester without any such distractions, so didn't feel I could afford the time to take part. Nevertheless, Koos went off on his scooter with his camera to record the event so that I could blog about it. Wonderful man that he is. He followed the fleet and captured some lovely images of our participating neighbours, most of whom had piled on to three or four barges with all their own children. The excuse is of course that it's for the kids, but I heard that one small boy complained so bitterly about the noise the 'grown-ups' were making that he retreated inside the ship in disgust. So...the fun is not only for the kids.
The results of Koos's trail are these lovely pictures. This is Christmas Dutch style, so I hope you enjoy the novelty of it all. I've kept the images small, but you can click on them to view the full size. If you'd like to see the entire slideshow of Koos's pictures follow this link

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Canals are for cruising, rivers for watching

My Vereeniging was built as a delivery vessel for the smaller waterways of inland Holland - specifically for the Oude Rijn, which in the area of Utrecht is narrow and winding, and in fact is the original course of the Rhine in this part of the world. Its now larger and more important successor is a re-routing of that waterway, widened and deepened to accommodate the heavy traffic that it now bears across the continent from East to West and vice versa.

In the days when the Vereeniging was used for transporting goods, it pottered along the Oude Rijn and the Vecht rivers, carrying goods from one town to the next, very much as a local delivery service would do today by road. Indeed it was in use up until the 1960's, but then road transport took over as faster and more economical, and so my little barge was put aside by the family firm that owned it. It was only at the end of the 1990's that they finally agreed to sell what was now a rotting hulk to the old boy from whom I bought it. This remarkable old man set about restoring it to what it was in the days of its cargo carrying glory, and when I eventually bought it from him in 2001, the exterior had been substantially if not sufficiently restored (as I was to find out later).

Since I've had it, though, there's one thing I've learnt through harsh experience. The Vereeniging does not like faring the big waters, and as a result, neither do I. It is long and narrow with a flat bottom that causes it to roll like a porpoise on the swell, and if the waves break over it too strongly, then water gets in. I've partially cured that risk now by having steel welded under the side panels which used to be completely removable, but even now, water could still get in between the sides and the roof hatches. It has always been a canal boat, and it always will be, and for me, these smaller waterways, passing through quiet rural scenery, are what I love the most.

Nevertheless, I live in a city dominated by its river - the Nieuwe Maas - a magnificent river that I never fail to enjoy. I walk a length of it every day with Sindy, and the sight of heavily laden barges ploughing deep through the channels and massive container carriers steaming alongside hefty tugs and push barges never fails to fascinate me. The light can change in a second and you see the weather rolling in from the west or the sun breaking through towering clouds over the water. I have taken many many photos of the Nieuwe Maas myself, but none so breathtaking as this one of Koos's that I've published here. For me it sums up the drama, the magnificence and the beauty of the Maas. I maybe a canal cruiser by choice, but for sheer inspiration, it is this river that I am drawn to daily and irresistibly.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Life on a Barge - romantic or just hard work?

Thanks to friend Marcel for this great angle on the Vereeniging

I often get comments from new acquaintances about living on a barge. They see it as a mixture of extreme eccentricity and dreamlike romanticism. Quite often too, they regard me personally as some kind of oddity and question my sanity, while simultaneously being fascinated by the practical aspects of how we barge owners live. And why on earth would a woman from South Africa come to Holland and live on an ancient binnenvaartschip anyway?

It's actually quite simple really. Life on a barge is the realisation of a desire to retain an illusion of freedom. We aren't really free. Not physically at any rate. We cannot just throw off the ropes and move to any other spot we choose. We have to apply for permission to move to a new mooring, and such permission isn't always easy to come by. Still, we can moor up in other places and other towns for short periods of time without a problem, and it most definitely is very special to be able to go on holiday and take your house with you. Quite apart from this, living on a boat is like having your own island. It is 'own ground' of a special sort, and there is no troublesome noise from neighbours..on a barge, you just don't hear them. Okay, the midnight revellers in the bars and cafes are another story, not to mention being a real pain, but noisy neighbours not.

I wouldn't say life itself is all that romantic. A lot of it is plain hard work. For instance, you can't take anything for granted, even your ability to stay afloat! We have to fill water tanks every week; to fetch heating fuel and to take washing to the mini laundromat at the yard. We have to take our barges out of the water every two years to scrape the foul smelling mussels off the bottom, check for thin patches, do some welding on any deterioration and paint the bottom again with the evil smelling black goo that is now a substitute for the old tar that used to be used. Then every summer, there is the need to scrape, paint and varnish every other surface of the boat. Not that we ever manage to finish this, given the uncooperative climate in which we live.

In the winter, the decks get frozen over, so climbing on and off board can be hazardous (and hilarious), especially if there's an east wind when the tide is out and the water in the harbour is very low. It's a bit like scrabbling clumsily up the Eiger to get onto land, quite apart from feeling like a pack animal as you cart heavy school bags laden with student assignments and books on and off the ship. I have stopped wearing skirts and heeled shoes. It's just not worth the hassle or the indignity when your spiked heels gets stuck between the mesh of the gangplank.

On the other hand, the incredible sense of liberation when you cast off the ropes and your home floats free of the harbour wall - that is indescribable. Well almost. There is also the joy of listening to the water slap against the hull as you cruise along silent canals with the sun setting behind trees already black from the dusk. Then, there is the sense of excitement as you tie up in a strange place, but go inside where everything is still home. All of this, including the drudgery, is why I still keep living on my barge, but most of all, it's because I love its charming sleek lines and its old fashioned grace, and I have put so much of my energy and my self into this century old hull that I could no more think of giving it up than of giving up life!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Not forgetting the Hennie H

Update: Saturday 1 November

As promised below, here is a pic of the Hennie H at its mooring in Sas van Gent on the Dutch/Belgium border. Well, the weather and an unexpected Belgian public holiday have put paid to Koos's hopes of fixing the steering as when he went to buy the parts at the local hardware store in Zelzate, he found the whole town closed. I suppose they are celebrating All Souls or something like that? Anyway, the weather is also horrible today and I got very cold and just a bit grumpy while we were pulling our little barge into its proper and official place. Maybe tomorrow will bring some warmth and sun....

This past week Maryssa and I have been on our own in Rotterdam, because Koos has been in Zeeland investigating the steering problem on the Hennie H that so nearly could have been a disaster when he was crossing the Westerschelde.

Having now arrived in Zeeland myself for the weekend, Koos tells me that there is a good chance it will all be fixed tomorrow after we've moved the little Snik to its new official mooring. He seems to think it won't be too difficult, which will be great as I've been looking forward to dawn raids and incursions into Belgium to spice up the colder months. The autumn colours are spectacular at the moment and it would be so lovely to view them all from the water, which is of course what we bought the HH for in the first place. I will post some pictures of the HH at its new home tomorrow, but for now, here are a few that our friend Jan took just before we left Rotterdam to bring it south. Koos and Bruce were testing the little barge in the Leuvehaven where Bruce and Jan live, so Jan snapped these from their wheelhouse. Nice, hey?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Watery Ways gets a boost

The Oude Haven when I first lived there

Last Tuesday I was invited to give another talk about my books and writing, so this time I chose to focus on Watery Ways. The talk was at ANCOR, which sounds very grand but is just the name for the American Netherlands club of Rotterdam. The funny thing is that nearly half the people there were Dutch and not American at all. In any event, thanks to Hazel, the lovely English coordinator who organised it all!

In any event, it went down very well, and my Jodie was there doing a grand job of being my 'rent a laugh'. I explained how I'd come to write the book after my first year as a water dweller had proved to be so eventful. I then read a section of the chapter in which I describe trying to make a special stairway for my arthritic dogs to assist their passages in and out of the Hoop's roef - the Hoop being the barge on which I was living at the time. Jodie, bless her, found it so amusing all over again and was crying with laughter so convincingly that the rest of the audience were laughing with her too.

I think I'll have to give her an official cheer leading job....

It was good to go back and read some of those stories again, and even better to share the whole writing and publishing experience with some other people. Being a small group, I didn't sell all that many books, as I don't think they'd been primed about that possibility, but what does seem possible is that more talks could come out of it.

The pictures I am showing here are scans of the Hoop. It was such a beautiful barge, and I still wish I could have bought it for myself, but then again, I wouldn't have bought the Vereeniging, and that was meant to be. Even more importantly I wouldn't have the material for the sequel to Watery Ways, which is churning around in my head as I write...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Happy Travels Philip!

The video clip below is one that Koos made of our dear friend Philip last year. To me, it is the essence of this very special man who has been one of the truest, but least demanding friends I have known in my life.

This last Sunday, Philip left the harbour for an extended trip down the waterways of Holland and Belgium and into France where he intends to spend several months, if not a year or more. It has been his dream for as long as I can remember, and despite all the sceptics, he has finally embarked on his travels, along with Joop his little jack Russel-cross, and Bram, his cat with no tail. We shall all miss him. He has been so much part of the colour of our life that the harbour will seem a greyer place without him.

The boat in the clip is not the one he is travelling on! I can just imagine you all picturing him folding himself into this tiny, this is just his 'toy' albeit a useful one, and his own, rather beautiful barge is about 24 metres long and 4.5 metres wide with plenty of living space in the hold. I'm sure he will be very comfortable there with Joop and Bram, as he has recently finished the interior and it looks stunning from the photos Koos took of it.

To quote what I wrote in my book Watery Ways "Philip is distinguished by his almost ever present smile. It is wide and dominated by very white teeth. The rest of him varies from dark to black depending on how much welding he has been doing when you happen to bump into him." Well, the film clip and the photo here bear me out forcibly, don't they?

Philip has started a blog of his own, so hopefully it will keep us up to date on his adventures....but since he is known rather more for his kindness and generosity than for his good memory and reliability, we shall see, won't we?

All I would really like to say here is to wish him a wonderful journey and the fulfilment of the dream that he is finally following.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Ducks have a great view

This afternoon, Maryssa and I decided to blow the cobwebs out of our hair and take the rowing boat out for a run with the ducks and swans. We left the outboard motor on board and with a pair of paddles, ploughed our way through the harbours against the current, which was rushing in at almost obscene speed, and swirling round the piers of the bridges for all the world like white water rapids! All I can say is that I've gained a greater appreciation for our water borne feathered friends - those ducks must have really strong legs, as it was unbelievably hard work.

Still, we really enjoyed ourselves and I took some snaps of some of the barges in the harbour from a very different angle. This is pretty much how the ducks see our floating homes, and I must say, it's quite impressive. We don't often see them ourselves from this angle and they look much larger and more imposing from the bottom up so to speak...Here is a link to the full slideshow

Friday, October 17, 2008

Our neighbouring village


 I am hopelessly busy at work at the moment and have had no time to attend to my Vereeniging, which isn't a good feeling. Still, I like to keep my blog alive, so I thought I would say something about our neighbouring floating village in the Leuvehaven. 

This is the main part of the maritime museum in Rotterdam, and mostly the barges on display are empty exhibits of the country's inland waterways history. However, this is also where our friends Bruce and Jan have their beautiful Belgian spits (see last pic), along with several spitsen of a similar style. Spitsen are the Belgian and Dutch versions of the standard French peniche which determined the size of the Freynicet locks and canals in France.

The Levenhaven harbour itself is always lively, even if it is a museum, as the water taxis zoom in and out like demented flies, and commercial barges often find a place here to stop over and rest awhile. With its old style cranes and historic tug boats, it is always a pleasure to walk around the perimeter and watch the activity that goes on here. It is a major tourist attraction in the city, but my favourite time to follow my harbour 'circuit' is early in the morning when everything is waking up. Then the harbour has its own dynamic and you can almost feel the flavour of the days gone by when these were the real docks of Rotterdam, full of shipping from all over Europe. All photos courtesy of my sister and brother in law, Chris and Toots Bland

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The boats lie down at Lillo

Last Monday, on the way back from Zeeland, Koos and I stopped for a cup of coffee. Nothing strange in this, but what was unusual was where we stopped.

Surrounded by industry and dockland, and tucked inside a tiny fortified oasis, there is Lillo. A lovely gem of a village, largely populated by artists and craftsmen, it exists in its own bubble of tranquillity within the massive complex of the port of Antwerp. It isn't easy to find, despite signposts off the highway, but once you enter its environs, you are struck by its remoteness, its green lushness and its quaint and historic charm.

Lillo also has a small harbour for pleasure craft. The interesting thing, though, is that because the harbour is on the River Scheldt (Schelde over here), it is completely tidal, so at low water, it is empty and all the boats simply sit on the mud flats - not handy if you happen to want to go out for a jolly and you haven't checked the tides! I must say I love tidal reaches like this. There is something wonderfully untamed about mud flats, and waders and great jetties standing sentry with only the rippled sands around them. Once again, the only camera I had with me was in my phone, but it served quite well on this occasion, don't you agree?

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Venice of the North

Memories of a beautiful day in Ghent. Probably my favourite city in Europe, I love it's waterways that snake though the city. I've been through here by boat, both public and private, and on each occasion, I have marvelled at its ancient splendour. A little shabby, it's true, but that just adds to its charm.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Coldplay Comfort

Up until 7.00 last night, I had given up hope of going to see Coldplay here in Rotterdam. Originally, I'd booked for the only concert they were going to do in the Netherlands at Arnhem. However, in May, the venue was changed to Rotterdam, and the ticketing company assured me that my booking had been transferred to the new venue too. At first sight, this looked great. My favourite 21st century band was playing in my home town and I wouldn't have to travel across the country to see them. However, I had some misgivings about this change, and asked for further assurance that the booking was confirmed. I got it, but even so, things went wrong.

In the week to yesterday, I spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone and on the Internet trying to find out why my tickets hadn't arrived. Eventually, the ticket company told me they were very sorry, they wouldn't be able to send them, as the suppliers had not provided them. All indications were that when the venue was changed, those who had booked for Arnhem were 'forgotten' and all the tickets re-sold. I was devastated, and made my feelings known widely around the Internet, and also on the Coldplay website's Oracle page.

Well, this was the best thing I could have done. I never expected those around a band of Coldplay's fame would be bothered about a single fan's disappointment, but I was so wrong. The Oracle not only sympathised with my situation, but actively tried to help me, and when that failed, passed my tale of woe on to the Band's liaison manager. The result was amazing!

At 7.10 last night, I received a mail telling me where to go and collect two tickets for the show, which was due to begin at 8.00. I couldn't believe it; didn't believe it in fact. I called Jodie, my daughter, straight away and screamed at her to get over to Rotterdam now now now! She was going to come with me in the first place and was equally disappointed when the tickets didn't show.

I think she must have broken all speed records to get here, but it was only by 8.15 that we were on our way. Luckily, there was a support act on first, so we didn't feel too badly about missing them as long as we were there in time for the beginning of the main event.

On arrival at the stadium, we were even more amazed to be sent to a special door, marked 'Gasten van Coldplay'. We suddenly realised we were the band's guests! Wow and even more wow! It turned out that they had put us on the guest list so that we could get the two tickets, and we had the absolute best seats. We had a moment's fear when our tickets wouldn't go through the scanning machine, and we had to wait in trepidation while the security guy went off to check them. Such relief, though, when he came back and smiled us through.

In fact, in the end, we were so close to the stage, we could practically see every bead of perspiration on Chris Martin's face. The Ahoy is a very large venue, so the risk of being too far to really see anything was quite serious. The concert was fantastic. If I had to write a list of all my Coldplay faves, they played them all, plus most of the tracks from their Viva La Vida album. They started with Clocks and finished, very fittingly, with Yellow. Their energy, charm and sense of fun infected the whole audience. Chris Martin is just such an unbelievably nice person, and he makes even a venue like the Ahoy feel warm and intimate, and that the audience are all his personal friends.

Twice, they made forays into the audience to play songs surrounded by stunned and happy fans. The second time, they turned up right at the back of the auditorium 'up in the gods' and sang two songs there. The look on the faces of the people around them was enough to show how well these guys win hearts and minds with their empathic attitude. With an awesome light show, reflected on swirling orbs above the stadium, and the eruption of the audience every time they started one of their best known songs, it was a concert I will remember as one of the best ever.

What I will remember even more, though, is the kindness and caring of Coldplay's support group. Firstly the Oracle, whose name I don't know, and secondly, the wonderful fan liaison manager, Debs. Without these two, Jodie and I would still be nursing sorry and disappointed hearts for missing this rare visit to our shores by my most favourite group of musical geniuses this side of the millenium! Thank you so very much for making it happen for us, guys. We will never forget it.