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.