Monday, December 21, 2009

Our snowy world this Christmas time

Holland on the horizon

Kids doing what kids do in the snow in Westdorpe

Our Wandering Snail friends' boat, ice and snow bound in Lokeren Belgium.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Marion Aagje makes it to Rotterdam

Just a very quick post to bring you these pictures of Mo and Craig's little tjalk in its new home. There's been a story worth a saga about trying to get it in to the historic harbours here, and the ending is still unsure, but meanwhile, they have found a berth over the water from us. In fact, now I've seen it I think it's great!

Welcome to Rotterdam Marion Aagje. This is the area the little barge came from and the waterways it served. It is back home where it belongs.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Blogging down a bit

Life has become a bit hectic of late, and I'm up to my ears in marking assignments for the uni courses I'm doing at the moment. This is making it difficult for me to maintain all my blogging activities, so I've made a choice.

Sadly, it means that this blog will be a tad quiet over the next few weeks, but I promise I will be back. I am, however, trying to keep my new story blog going with at least one post a week. I need some outlet after all!

I'm not really a big Facebooker...I just drop in, scroll down the home page, leave a few comments here and there, give certain things the thumbs up and throw in a mood statement now and then and that's it. To be honest, I've always preferred my blog, but FB is the place to find people on a regular basis these days, so I go with the flow.

Still, all things pass, and that includes the bad stuff, so I will be back here before too long..I'll keep you posted.....

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Just one of those weeks

This week's been a tad gruelling.

On Wednesday I taught for 8 straight hours; on Thursday it was 13 hours without a break; on Friday I dragged myself out of bed to prepare for a long afternoon session, which finished at 5. After arriving home Friday evening, Mo called me in distress. The gangplank had fallen off the Vereeniging and was hanging straight down in the water. No access to ship possible. Three hours later (or thereabouts) we had it fixed again.

But then walking along the quay, a young gentleman approached me and said "Excuse me, but are you VallyP?"

Well, suddenly the evening improved. It was none other than the famous Invader Stu, whose blog I have been reading and loving for a few years now. As he is best known by his cartoon appearance, I won't spoil the mystery and describe him - that is not unless he fails to deliver the book the girlfriend (who shall also remain nameless), and I were urging him to write before they finally disappeared into the mists at midnight last.

I have, however, threatened to reveal his identity and appearance by gradual stages if he doesn't compile a volume of his brilliant blog stories and cartoons. May I suggest you take a look at his site and let me know if you agree?..perhaps the force of greater numbers will also persuade him - that is if the fear of having the real Stu published for all the world to see doesn't do it first!

Seriously though, it was a great pleasure to meet another great blog friend and his very charming and lovely lady. We invited them into the Luxor, which was in a state of chaos as a result of the hectic week I'd had and the panic stations following the gangplank disaster, but they took it in their stride, and I'm hoping they'll be back for a proper evening of good food and plentiful South African red before too long.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The beginning of the new tale

Sooo, I've started it. My new story has its first few hundred odd words, and I think I'm going to have some fun with this one.

The first few lines are:

The half of my car that was left looked perfectly natural propped against the wall. As if I could peer round the gate post and see the rest of it sticking out the other side. The snag was I knew this was all there was. I’d met Simon, my boyfriend, pushing the back half into the barn as I cycled into the yard.

If any of you want to follow its progress, you can find it here

Let me know what you think. I really value opinion and feedback, and by the way, this opening incident was something that really happened, although of course, I am fictionalising the people and the story in general.I haven't quite finished working out the plot, but I didn't with Arie either. A lot of it just evolved, so I'm hoping this one will too. It's great to be starting a new project!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics

How do you like that for the name of my new book?

I've just written up the list of principal characters and certain events that will be included in the story.

Now I just need a good plot to hang all the events on. I'm still working on that one, so as soon as I've started, I'll create a new blog and let you know.

This feels good.....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Plans afoot

Mo as we have got use to seeing her these days

There's been some encouraging news this weekend. Mo and Craig have finally got themselves a berth in a harbour in Rotterdam. Not in ours, for which I think they can be thankful given the political shenanigans, but in harbour across the river. It's quite a bit more expensive, but then they will just pay their money and get on with life. No restoration plans, no burdensome rules, just keep your ship neat, well painted and clean and no one will bother you. It sounds so attractive I'm even making an enquiry there myself!

The next move is bringing their ship down from Amsterdam, which is going to happen on the 5th of December. More about that later! What this all means in practice though, is that the prospect of moving back onto the Vereeniging is closer than expected...and I have plans....

Firstly, I want to re-do the 'roof' before moving back on. I was going to put a steel roof on, but that would mean dismantling the entire interior - again! I have therefore decided to use wood instead. Sheets of heavily sealed or painted plywood in fact - positioned under the hatch boards. This should result in making the top watertight, and give me the chance to dispense with the tarpaulin.

Then inside, I have some restructuring to do, although I'm not quite sure how it's going to work, as I need my office space back. What I have decided to do, though, is invest in an eco toilet. Everyone around me seems to be abandoning these, but there are some very sophisticated models available now. As I don't want to be restricted as to where I can go on account of having an environmentally unfriendly loo, it seems like a good time to make the investment.

So....exciting times ahead, not to mention the new book I am about to start. Which one do you think it should be? The sequel to Watery Ways or a novel based on my slightly loopy life in England's west country before I went to South Africa? The first will be easier, but the second, more challenging. I'm open to suggestions!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Just for a real hoot

The text below is the English translation of a Dutch email I sent to someone at the Administration office here in our harbour. I've left out the names for obvious reasons, but I felt I had to publish it. The translation was done through Google and is absolutely hysterical. I haven't laughed so much in weeks.

Hope you find it amusing too! The email it was in response to was already in English and mentioned that the Board of the Museum had not received enough information from Maryssa's restoration plan to determine whether she could get a place in the harbour. I should explain that the words fireplace and chimney that keep cropping up have to do with the Schouw Comissie, (real meaning = inspection committee) who are the people responsible for evaluating the ships coming into the harbour. However schouw does also mean fireplace and apparently chimney too, leading to these very strange and highly amusing suggestions that I had a rapport with my chimney.. Read on....!

My daughter, Maryssa, the email below from mnr XXX received. Rxxx I do not know who wrote this email or who is responsible but I find it surprising for the following reasons:

1. Maryssa has a very detailed restoration plan in September of service with answers to most of the questions below. Regarding the questions about "swords" and the cockpit has she sought advice from the Commission uses Schouw so these questions are very confusing.

2. When the fireplace chimney committee did, they had not seen any records of her ship and last week Martin had no hair restoration plan is to fish. How is that possible if Maryssa these documents has been in service in September? Mnr XXXXX in September confirmed that everything he "in good order" and has received documents that were "impressive". Why now, after more than two months, the fireplace committee not see everything? This is clear from the questions below. Still a very confusing time.

3. When my ship put into the Old Port, I had a real rapport with advice for my chimney restoration plan. I paid nothing. Maryssa has paid € 150 but she has no report received and chimney should seek advice from other people? I find this more confusing Rxxx and very unprofessional. She said in the original application that she is serious about the restoration of the ship with a reference year of 1932 but she has also said that she needed advice from the chimney committee. Why are they getting these questions but gets no opinion?

It was not my intention for me to Rxxx in this case, but I find it strange that after all her work and after almost three months, it is clear that no one proposal has Maryssa good read and that the chimney commission so little information had received (as before and after the chimney). Also report that they had no fireplace.

It seems to me that the handling of this matter your personal attention, Rxxx. If the Port Museum to be more professional and people have to pay € 150 for an application, they expect more than this kind of treatment. Maryssa deserves the same opportunities as other people but I hope that not all the other applicants have had this experience.

Sorry for my Dutch, Rxxx. Chose (what it made of Koos) is not here as a translator so I hope you can understand.

Best regards


Friday, November 13, 2009

Lost in translation

Well, folks, it seems com can lose all sorts of things, even the correct language. Yesterday afternoon, I picked up a copy of the Skipper's Child and proudly handed it to Jodie. She opened it, looked at me in an only Jodie-knows-how-to quizzical fashion and asked "Since when did you write in Italian Mum?"

Puzzled? Yes, so was fact, it turned out that I had someone else's book in my cover! I'm not sure what to make of it, but I'm sure there's something about copyright that comes into this, especially as if this Italian author has my book, which was not intended for distribution yet, then we could have a situation....I sent them these photos since they asked for proof (cheek of it!), and await their response....

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Autumn chills

Mo and Craig's Marion Aagje at its mooring in a nature conservation area near Amsterdam.
They can't wait to bring it to Rotterdam, where at least they'll be able to scrape and paint without worrying about noise, pollution and upsetting the old ducks (of the human variety) who watch them from their windows.

I don't really know what to write about this evening....feel I should write something as it's been a while since I updated my blog. I should be working on material for my classes too, but I'm a bit fed up with that now. In fact, i've got a real case of anti Autumn chill blues. The barge is warm and it's cosy inside, but it's really absolutely and horribly yuk outdoors. I love being outside so the rain, wind and looming dark clouds are really depressing, and I can't quite get the hang of the fact that summer's over.

Last weekend, we went down to Westdorpe, and even there I couldn't get inspired to do anything.

I know what I want to do...... I'd like to replace the other peeling panel on the Vereeniging, oil the wooden berghout or rubbing rail as I think it's called. I'd also like to do some more of the paintwork, insulate the engine room, oversee the installation of the startermotor on the engine....yes, well, you see? It all means working outside..grrrrrrr.

What I will do now is just add a couple of pics I've lifted off my phone again, and then get back to work. At least I can still do things that will help to earn the money I so want to spend on my ship....once this blessed rain has stopped!

Oh and yes, there's a thought! I could always start on my next book. the idea has been simmering for ages. Watch this space!!!

I just like these wind tubines. Sorry to all those who don't!

The big barges meet their match in thse monster transporters on the Westerschelde estuary near Antwerp.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Water taxis are wicked!

Today was Mo's birthday, so of course we stayed in Rotterdam instead of heading south as is our wont. What to do on such a day, though? We thought of taking the Vereeniging out for a spuddle about, but the weather looked so unsettled this morning, and it was pretty breezy anyway, so we decided against it.

After collecting Mo and Craig from the Marion Aagje (their own ship) in Diemen, Jodie and Baz came to join us and that was when I had a brainwave. Why not all of us go to Dordrecht on the Fast Ferry and have tea? Well, after thinking of how long that would take, it got scaled down to taking the water taxi across the river to the Hotel New York. This of course is even more fun, because these small boats toss around on the river like corks, and the ride, although short, is brilliant.

The Hotel New York is also quite special because it's where the big cruisers used to leave for America (the old Amerika Line), and it still retains much of its old world decor and charm. This, then, is what we did, and the river gave us a grand crossing. It was very choppy so the taxi plunged in and out of the waves and the bows got well sprayed. Fortunately, being inside, we didn't get wet, but it was quite exciting all the same. The tea was also good and after stuffing ourselves to the gills, we worked off the cream cakes by walking back over the bridge and home to the harbour.

The day finished with supper and a great game whose name I can't remember, but it involves firstly describing, then acting out and finally giving one word to sum up the names of famous people which are written on small pieces of paper. I'm not normally much of a one for games, but this was really good, and quite a challenge too. It was something Mo came up with, which didn't surprise me as she's always enjoyed puzzles and puns, and I remember when she was small, we used to do endless quizzes in the car on long journeys.

The photos here are just a couple I took in the Water Taxi, but this little movie really shows what fun it was, despite the oh so cool attitude of the 'driver'!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ready? Almost!

Well, this is the temporary cover for The Skipper's Child. I'm having a copy printed at just to check it through, read it again and see if I want to have a go at some publishers.

As you can see, the name hasn't changed. I had quite a bit of feedback on Facebook, and the general concensus was that the title was just fine as it was. Who am I to argue then? I'd love to have some illustrations done and a pen and ink drawing on the cover, but that will have to wait. For now, I just want to read it like a proper book.

I've done a fair amount of editing since I finished the story, but sometimes, you just have to read something in print to know if you're going to be happy with it. I had four or five versions of my other two books before finally letting them out into the big wide world of Amazon and Bol. By that time I was heartily sick of them both, and it's only recently that I've been able to pick up either of them again. No doubt, Arie will suffer the same fate, but I hope the first time I receive a printed copy, it will feel good!

I'll keep you posted....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Florence and Lucca

The Cathedral in Florence. Quite incrediblly ornate

The skyline of Florence from the Palazzo Pitti

Okay, so before I put Italy back in its box of sunshine and accept the fact that its autumn here in the Netherlands and distinctly chilly, I'll just post a few pics of Florence and Lucca.

I was quite overwhelmed by Florence with its phenomenal art and history. Every street seems to have some great church, museum, gallery, palazzo or historic piazza, and I spent three hours in just one of them. There is so much to see, you could spend a month there and not get round to everything. Maybe there's even too much altogether.

Two views of the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio

The day I went, there were wall-to-wall tourists because the museums and galleries were all free (for the weekend) - just my luck! It didn't help me though because I couldn't get in to the places I wanted to see at first and I ended up at the Palazzo Pitti, which is more of a walk from the centre, but worth every step. What a wealth of paintings and sculptures they had there! To see Titians, Del Sartos and Raphaels that I have only ever seen in books was quite amazing, and the Roman sculptures on display were..well..quite breathtaking.

The highlight, though, was going down a backstreet and into a beautiful church where three young musicians were practising. Maybe I've mentioned this before, but it was so lovely to listen to the organ, flute and clarinet of these three youngsters being played with so much love and joy in such heavenly (Yes, I mean it) surroundings.

The following day I went to Lucca, which is also very beautiful. Surrounded by high fortifications and with its narrow medieval streets leading to the old Roman amphitheatre, now a market place, it is a history lovers dream. The cathedral is magnificent as is the old baptistry with its archaeological ruins on display beneath the main aisles of the church. I thought of Maria when I went there!

When I arrived I had to buy a ticket to go in and see the ruins. I always head for archaeological sites when I know they are there as this was originally my career choice back in my student days. The ladies at the desk asked me where I'd come from, so I told them I'd come from Holland. Looking very crestfallen, they said they had information about the ruins, but only in German, French and English. Would English be alright for me? I answered yes, of course, with suitable seriousness and thanked them kindly before walking away chuckling. As it happened, it wasn't much use as the English was so incomprehensible, I couldn't follow the information easily at all, but it was kind of them to offer, wasn't it? Maybe they'll organise some Dutch leaflets for next year. I wonder what they'll be like...

Anyhow, I explored the rest of the town and liked it very much. It's a bit too touristy -again- for me, which is why in the end I preferred Pisa, but it's well worth a visit.

The medieval streets and Piazza's of Lucca are beautiful

One thing I should say about Italy is that the trains are fantastic - cheap, frequent and everything is in both Italian and English, including all the announcements. Given this, I'm still very surprised at how little English the Italians themselves speak.

One part of the old amphitheatre in Lucca

Well, I think I've done with the Italian blogs now...get back to reality again, VallyP. That Tuscan sun is now just a memory.

Friday, October 16, 2009


With my current taste for novels of a quirky and slightly odd flavour, I've just finished reading a great piece of nonsense fiction by New Zealand author Sarah Kate Lynch. It's called Eating with the Angels and much of it is set in Venice. It's written with tremendous flare, considerable wackiness and quite a passion for Italian food, so of course it reminded me of my own recent visit to that wonderful country.

I have just looked through the photos I published of Pisa, and see I never added the other places I visited. Seeing the sea was mandatory on this trip, so one afternoon, I took myself off to Livorno. A nice enough town, and much larger than Pisa, it exists mainly for its port, which is the third largest in Italy - so I'm told.

Its best feature is its harbour, and what is even better is that the river through the town is also used for mooring thousands of small cruisers, fishing boats and even just rowing boats. I never think of Italians as being great boaters themselves. Having romantic trips in gondolas is one thing, but steering themselves around instead of chowing scrummy delicacies on a sun drenched terrace does not seem to me to tie in with the Italian thing. I must be wrong though. There were throngs of them (boats, I mean, not Italians). I must admit, however, they (the boats again) were all in the harbours and NOT out on the water, so on this occasion, I guess the terraces won!

Now the autumn rain is soaking us every time we set foot outside, these photos help me to remember those golden days. I hope they bring a little sunshine to you too - if you should need it, that is.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Finally No, almost, finished

A red letter day today! I've finally finished writing the Skipper's Child story!

Now I have to print it and edit it, prune it here and flesh it out there, give it to my daughters to read and edit (my best and worse critics), and then hopefully print off a few copies before Christmas. I will also then start sending it to a few publishers to see if I can get any positive response.

There is one point I need help with, though. I want a different title. The Skipper's Child was just a working title, so if anyone would like to help me by suggesting one, I'd be very grateful indeed!

Many many thanks to String, Anne Marie, Koos and Hans, who have all been the inspiration that has kept me going with this tale. Also, to those readers who have had to leave it in its progress - probably because it's taken me so long to write it, they've all found other priorities along the way! Thanks anyway to Margie (where are you?) CM and to Mo and Jo who have given me lots of comments and great support as well.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

More about Pisa

As promised here is the link to a set of photos of Pisa.

I have to say the town was quite a surprise for me. It's much smaller than I expected, and while it has more of the atmosphere of real Italy than Florence, it also reminded me quite forcibly of Holland. This was mainly because I found myself in serious danger of being mown down by speeding students on bicycles. Amazing! They were everywhere (the bikes, that is) from packs and racks of tens and twenties to abandoned solitary frames with all but the baskets stripped off them. As often as not, these were being used as substitutes for rubbish bins as well.

The students were everywhere too, giving the town a vibrancy and life that I found lacking in Florence, Livorno and Lucca. Pisa's larger neighbours focus so much on tourism that they seem to have lost their soul. I was therefore very happy to spend some extra time in this place of the absurdly leaning tower.

It is everything I associate with Italy - a bit scruffy, a bit smelly, but so incredibly charming with its golden building, lazy old river and secret alleyways. There are small markets in tatty piazzas; nearly every street has a university faculty housed in it somewhere, and the paint seems unable to stay on the walls of the buildings. I really loved it.

My main impressions were of clattering noise, sparrows in every tree, golden light, early dusks, pigeons on every ledge (with whatever was below them suitably soiled), the smells of heat and the feeling of being somewhere very old and experienced. If I had the chance to live somewhere in Italy, Pisa would definitely be high on the wish list.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A slice of Pisa

Here's just a small taste of where I've been for the last few days, courtesy of Mo and Craig. I'll blog more about it tomorrow, but the photos below were taken yesterday morning in Pisa, a town I've fallen in love with. Since last Thursday, I've also been to Livorno, Florence and Lucca, but Pisa remains my favourite. When I've sorted out the photos and all the notes I wrote, I'll do a proper job, but as you can see, the sun shone hot and golden on this lovely town.
Piazza dei Cavaleiri. The view that most tourists don't take

They hardly have posters for rock, rave of pop concerts in Pisa. These are all about classical or choral music concerts, or cultural courses, of courso
Maybe the best of all my photos this trip, the lovely smooth and peaceful Arno river that runs through the city. No boats, no activity, just the quiet progress of an ancient waterway set against a backdrop of Tuscan mountains.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The quest is over

I've found it! At last! And of course, you are all asking what this great discovery might be. In truth it probably doesn't sound very exciting, but to me it's the answer - well almost - to a question that's been nagging at me ever since I came to the Netherlands.

The question is this: how does the Dutch word gezellig translate into English?

It's a question that many of us English imports ponder as it's such a great word, and it covers so many situations. You can be gezellig with your friends, or have a gezellig house. You can also find the atmosphere somewhere very gezellig, and gezelligheid is something to aim for when creating urban dwellings and their environs.

You've probably got the idea by now, yes? Well, no. We've tried all sorts of possible adjectives to describe the obviously pleasant feelings attached to being gezellig.

For example, there's 'cozy', but tell your corporate friends their conference is cozy...hmmm, I don't think so. On the other hand, your house can be cozy, yes, but a wild and wonderful party? Perhaps not.

Well what about atmospheric? The same applies.."I went to such an atmsopheric party last week...". Not quite hey? Then there are others, such as friendly, charming, comfortable etc but none of them works in every situation.

Then last night, I found the truth. I thought so, anyway. In a marvellous moment of sheer enlightenment. I was teaching a class of business students, and at the end of the lesson one of them said he'd heard this word used last week and wondered what it meant. Scratching through his note book, he carefully read out the word 'conviviality'. I looked at him, I thought for a moment and then I smiled the smile of one who has found the meaning of life itself.

"Willem," I said "it means gezelligheid, and when you find yourself in convivial company, that's the same as finding it gezellig."
"Aaah," he said, sharing the sweetness of the moment. "I've often wondered what word to use for gezellig."

Now, though, I'm sitting here, imagining Willem's future with his newly acquired language skill and insight. Our Willem will be going to people's houses, and looking around admiringly, he will say "hmmm, very convivial, what!"

Okay, I agree. It does sound a bit pompous doesn't it? It may well be true,of course, but not really what you'd say to your bosom buddies and life long friends, and after all, can a room itself be.....?

Maybe the quest isn't quite over yet.

Does anyone out there know the informal word for convivial?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Life giving history

Meet Roelof Lucas Mur. A handsome gent isn't he? He was born on the 21st June 1855 in Loenen aan der Vecht, a full century before my own birth. He died in 1920 aged 64 and his occupation was 'beurtschipper', in other words the skipper of a barge. In 1898 he is recorded as having bought a 'motorschuit', and the family's website state that this is now being maintained as a museum ship. There is a small picture attached, and guess what motorschuit it is? Yes, you know, don't you? It is my very own Vereeniging.

So there you have it, a face and a name to go with the old photo I also possess. This is quite an exciting development for me as although I know a lot about my ship, I didn't have this information before. I feel more connected now. It's a good face, isn't it?

On another note, the video below (apologies for the poor quality) was one I made with my little compact camera yesterday. It shows an 80 ton tugboat being lifted by crane off the slipway to be lowered onto blocks in the yeard. It was quite an event here, and quite a sight to see as well!

On top of that...if it isn't, we went with the Wandering Snail to Schiedam. It was a gorgeous day and I took a few photos of course. You can find them here or in my sidebar further up the page. Definitely the best way to close their visit to Rotterdam! Goodbye Snails...we shall miss you.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Festival magic

What a lovely weekend it's been. World Harbour Days have been and are now almost gone, and this year we stayed here in Rotterdam to welcome the Wandering Snail to our city. They couldn't have picked a better time to come as the harbours are full of life and colour with exhibitions, shanty choirs, folk music bands, lots of stalls selling boaty artefacts and books and above all, lots and lots of boats!

This is an old Humber Sloop that sailed across the North Sea a few weeks ago to be here for the festival. It's a gorgeous old tub and beautifully converted for living aboard.

No introductions required by now, but of course, the Wandering Snail has a special spot in the festivities.

Just a shot of the Leuven Harbour with a few boats pottering around.

And here is the collection of tugboats that always arrives - a bit like rent a crowd - for these festivals. They are the boating equivalent of groupies ;-)

We've had a great time with Anne and Ollie, as the pics below will testify, and we even took them on a tour of the harbours on the Vereeniging. What joy to have my lovely shippy on the move again...

In the last pic below, you can see the famous Blauwe Vis belonging to our friend Philip

All photos were taken with my phone, so apologies for the poor quality.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Clearing out my phone

I was just browsing through the photos I had on my phone today and realised there were some interesting pictures on it. So, since every picture tells a story (to quote the wonderfully husky Mr Stewart), I thought I'd share a few of them with you.

Ollie of the Wandering Snail took this for me when we were having supper with them at their mooring by the great Terneuzen to Ghent sea canal. It really shows how huge the big transporters are that pass us in Westdorpe on their way to the big docks. There's something slightly surreal about this photo too, which is why I've kept it on my phone so long.

I'm not sure if anyone can read this, but if you enlarge it, you might make it out. It's a list of situations that fall under 'Murphy's Law' and I found it in the IT manager's office at the university. I can especially relate to the law that says 'no matter how long and hard you shop for an item, it will always be on sale somewhere cheaper'. So horribly true. There are many others with a quirky irony I like too. Enjoy!

The two photos above show the traditional game of Krulbollen played exclusively in Flemish and Zeeuws Flemish villages during the summer, mostly in the Ghent area. It is the sport of the real locals and as such tends to be supported by rather elderly gents (no women, I'm afraid). Koos and I came across this game in the village of Boekhoute, not far over the border in Flemish Flanders and we were intrigued by the degree of accuracy required for throwing these very heavy discs of wood. The idea is that they either have to hit the small post, or hit another disc that is already against the post, so as to be as close to it as possible. I think that's how it works anyway. The 'court' is simply beaten dirt, and so it can only be played when the sun shines. I like that.

I took this one today. It's a memorial that stands in the market square in Sas van Gent and commemorates the Canadian soldiers who died in the area during the 39-45 war. I thought I'd post this for our friends over there in Ontario and BC. I don't suppose anyone ever really sees how widely the sacrifices of their countrymen are valued and remembered.

I've still got a few more of these random phone camera pics, which will do for my next post, but for now, I'll leave you with these to ponder.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A grand new experience

Yesterday we went down to one of my favourite places in Belgium. It was a very hot day and the sun was fairly hammering at the car roof, so energy was flagging a little when we arrived at the first of the old boat lifts at Thieu just outside La Louvière. Koos and Sindy collapsed in the shade while I went walk about (As I don't wear a black fur coat nor am I bald, I'm not as prone as either of them to heat strikes).

I walked down to the house of my dreams, which is the old lock keepers residence next to the now disused part of the old Canal du centre. The lock itself is being used as a hang out for the local young bloods. I often wish I could own this house as it fulfils every requirement either Koos or I have of a dream home. It's beautiful and it's in the country (me); it's next to a canal and lock, albeit disused (both) and you can definitely throw a stone to the working railway on the other side of the canal (Koos). Lastly, it's in a French speaking area not far from the border with France itself and is definitely influenced by French culture (me, and probably Koos too). Still, I know it's not to be and would be totally impractical given the current state of our life and commitments.

When I got back I walked round the small marina there and noticed some additions to the permanent moorings. We tried to get a mooring here ourselves a year or so ago, but obviously didn't try hard enough as someone else has succeeded. They were clearly more actively persistent than we who faded at the first signs of apathy from the harbour master.

By now, Koos and Sindy had revived, thanks to liberal quantities of water and zeez's. We walked round to see a barge entering the lock from the new canal, which would take it up to the basin in front of the first of the old boat lifts. During the summer months, the first three are in use, and many holiday travellers go up and down them just for the experience of using these historically important, and rather impressive, pieces of machinery. The last one was broken about seven years ago and the barge that caused the breakage still lies sadly in the canal next to it.

The poeple in the barge were Dutch and Koos was busy taking photos when they called out to him and asked if he wanted to go up with them. Now Koos has done the lifts a few times, but I never have, so he sweetly asked them if I could go too while he held on to Sindy. Her only aim in life was to go back to the car (normal compulsive obsessive behaviour for Sindy), so she wouldn't have taken kindly to coming too. I agreed with alacrity!

The little film at this YouTube link will give you an idea of what it was like. I loved it although the film doesn't show more than just a fragment, but the two Dutch couples were lovely, kind folk, chatting to me and giving me a cup of tea. I can't remember all their names now, but there was Steef and his wife, Janette, who stood with me in the bows. I was particularly impressed that these four, whose average age was probably the wrong side of 65, had travelled so far on this barge without apparently having that much experience - although this can be misleading I know.

The trip was worth it just for this, but our journey home was also lovely as we went off the beaten track and explored some magical countryside at a perfect time of day. The sun was setting and the hills took on a lovely mysterious remoteness. What a country of contradictions! So many people find it dreary, messy and ugly, but as I've said before, you have to go off the main roads to find the real Belgium. People who do will find a treasure trove of stunning scenery and memorable images.