As some of you who've followed me here for a few years will know, I used to have a barge in Brussels. It was what I had to escape to at the weekends before the cottage on the dyke. A charming, stubby old thing rather like a comfortable matron, the Ténacité was a shortened spits,
the model of barge or péniche
mostly used on the French canals. Its original length was 39 metres, but fourteen of those had been chopped out (I know - sounds ludicrous, doesn't it?) and served a new purpose as a floating boat house for a canoeing club. I was left with the remaining 25, hence the stubby, rather matronly appearance.
So why am I reminiscing then? Well, I'm busy writing about those Brussels years in a new memoir and it's giving me cause to reminisce. My daughter also found a heap of photos of the Ténacité on a disc that she's given me and which I've been browsing through. Of course the result is I've been getting very nostalgic about that period in our lives, which is already ten years ago. It seems hardly possible.
|The Ténacité - a shortened spits|
|Lots of light and space|
|The garden was on a slope|
|Break-time for Sindy and me|
|Looking along the row of barges|
Actually, I only had the Ténacité for three years. I bought it for a song and sold it rather well, which is why I was able to invest in the cottage. But I didn't really
want to sell it. Circumstances that I won't go into here rather forced the issue. The thing was, the Ténacité had everything I could wish for: space and light inside and a garden outside. I love gardening, and I love living on the water, but the two don't often go together, so this was ideal in many respects.
The only problem was that the garden was on the dyke, so it sloped up to the road. As you can imagine, this made mowing the grass a weekly challenge. I did the whole stretch (about 30 metres of it) with a hand-mower (yes, I did - a tondeuse à main)
but I could only seem to do it in one direction for some reason. If I pushed the other way, the mower would veer off down the dyke and head with unnerving determination for the canal. I swear all that lop-sided effort is why one of my legs is more muscular than the other - really!
The canal on which the Ténacité was moored was very busy. Hour after hour, we would see huge commercial barges passing scarily close to our windows. Occasionally, there would be great excitement when two barges tried to pass our row of floating homes at the same time. There wasn't really room for more than one of the massive two thousand tonners to go through, but sometimes they tried (and eventually made it). However, life would be rather tense as we watched them squeeze through the gap battling not to get sucked into each other's water space (something that can easily happen).
About a kilometre along the tow path, there was a lock, and we often walked up there with Sindy to watch the boats passing through. There's something endlessly fascinating about the sight of a barge rising or falling in a closed lock and there are always people standing around, so it's a good place to have a chat. In this case, the chats were always in French, so tended to be accompanied by lots of gesticulating: this was partly influenced by being in a French culture on one hand but also of making my limited French understood on the other!
The reasons for selling the Ténacité were compelling at the time, but I still have regrets about it, so it's good to be re-living the experiences again as I write my new memoir. I'll add a few more reminiscences here from time to time so I can share some of these old photos with you too. I'm not quite sure where the one below was taken, but I think it's on the approach to Ruisbroek, a village along the Brussel-Charleroi canal which we passed through from time to time on our way to holidays further south. It's not a great photo, I know, but it gives you a flavour of how rural these canals are.