Monday, October 27, 2014

Musical Boats

For the last month, we've been playing musical boats in the harbour. Up until last week, it only affected me in so far as I kept seeing different barges in the Oude Haven and one or other of the other harbours in our complex was simultaneously empty.

The reason for this complicated form of boat rotation is that the Rotterdam authorities are dredging…something they need to do now and then to clear the river bed of the debris that collects there, among which are large numbers of bicycles, mobile phones, shopping trolleys and other assorted projectiles that the inhabitants decide to hurl into the waters when the spirits take them - literally and figuratively.

The dredgers started at the eastern end of our small network of harbours and worked their way up through the Haringvliet and into Wijnhaven to our west. At each stage, the barges have had to move to another harbour to allow the dredgers to work unimpeded, hence the assorted array of visitors. Then last week, the mail arrived informing those of us in the Oude Haven that it was our turn to move.

Now life needs a good deal of coordinating when it comes to shifting and finding places for twenty odd resident barges as well as quite a number who were there temporarily. The email included an extensive spreadsheet giving instructions as to who was going where, when, and by what means - some barges have no engines so had to be towed. The image below is just a portion of the table of instructions.

I was a little concerned about these arrangements since having lost my loopplank, I've been relying on my neighbours to give me access. I had visions of being stranded with the Vereeniging floating dejectedly on its own. I knew many of my fellow bargees were moving on Thursday while I couldn't move till the weekend owing to my day job.

As it happened, I decided to cancel Friday's work so I could be there, and it was just as well. On Thursday afternoon, three of the barges (in fact my immediate neighbours) had gone and the others were scheduled to leave the following day. Koos drove up from Zeeland to help and on a very soggy Friday morning, we started to get the engine running in readiness to move as the barges on each side of me were being towed.

To our dismay, the problem that caught us out when we were last moving occurred again. The engine just died. We thought we'd fixed it, but it seems there is still something wrong. The upside was that since the tug boat was on duty anyway, we could be towed too. Still, it's a worrying issue that Koos still hasn't managed to resolve despite several more hours trying to bleed the system and find out what is causing it to lose power and what's worse, to smoke badly too.

That apart, though, I am pleased with my change of scene, and looking forward to at least two weeks 'holiday' in the Haringvliet. It's only a couple of hundred metres from where I was, but it's great to have a change of outlook, so for now I'll take in my new surroundings and get a feel for it all.

The photos below are of where I am now and also of the almost empty Oude Haven.

In position

No loopplank needed here - just these small steps

A nearly empty Oude Haven - a very unusual sight

The current incumbent of our slipway - huge, isn't it?
Have a good week everyone and watch this space. No doubt there'll be more news from the watery burbs next week!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

More of the same

Now I've written my Nutty Nora posts and got those out of the way, I'm going back to my usual topic - barge stuff.

The last few weeks have been difficult on board because a little while ago, I arrived back after a weekend away and found my lovely, safe loopplank (gangplank) seriously bent, rendering it now totally un-safe for human passage.

My suspicion is that a whole troop of tourists decided to use it for a photo opportunity and pushed it so far down on one side, it then got stuck under the rope pins of a bollard and was bent even more as the tide rose. Now bearing in mind there's a very visible sticker on it that says "max 3 persons", I was not best amused.

As it really was no longer safe, we didn't put it back after my hellingbeurt (slipway week), so I've been relying on the neighbours for access until we can straighten it out and strengthen the section. These things are far too expensive to abandon and the insurance company doesn't seem to be interested in helping either. I know it doesn't look bad in this photo, but you should see how skew it really is…and very wonky indeed.

To make matters worse, my nearest neighbour has also removed her loopplank  as she is no longer living on board, so I am now doing a three barge hop to board the Vereeniging. This requires skills something akin to those of a mountain goat, which - I hope you'll agree - I'm not! Well, if I am, I'm a very clumsy one.

The overall consequence is that there's a limit to what I can do as I cannot easily get materials on and off. So...I am concentrating on painting (surprise surprise!). Slowly but surely, all the red trim is being finished (takes me an age) and my next job is to de-rust and paint the engine room windows. I can't believe this warm weather is going to go on that much longer, but while it does, I must paint…and paint….and paint some more!

Added to that I have also been been working inside and have re-painted my kitchen cupboards. When I made them back in 2002, I stained the panels with chestnut coloured varnish, which looked more red than anything, and I'd never felt like changing them. As of this last week, though, they are no longer red-pannelled but completely creamy white, and I am so enjoying their bright shiny faces.

During the course of the coming week, I'm praying the weather will give me the break I need so I can also paint the foredeck (I've been saying that for months, I know). In the last ten days or so, every time I've decided to do this very necessary job, it's rained, so keep your fingers crossed for me because next weekend, we have to move again and I don't know when I'll next get the chance. 

The reason for the move is because the council are currently dredging all the harbours so we are being turfed out of our spots in rotation to clear different sections at different times. Next week it is the Oude Haven's turn to be dredged and I don't know yet where we'll have to go. By the time I write this blog again, we'll probably be in a different harbour and mooring, so watch this space! I'll also take some photos as it's very rare that the harbour is ever empty of barges. The last time was in 2007 when the harbour wall was re-built. Koos and I were the last to leave, and I took this photo just before we cast off and pulled out.

An almost empty harbour in 2007
It normally looks like this! Very full.
Have a good week everyone and may the sun keep shining on you wherever you are!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

In which I find I am technologically challenged

Before I leave the subject of my doffness completely, there's one other incident I've had a big chuckle about…well, more than one chuckle, to be honest. It's not about absent-mindedness, this one. No, it's about that other symptom of advancing years…the inability to keep up with modern technology.

I should say I've never been one for buying the latest and newest piece of techno-gadgetry. On principle, I will buy second-hand stuff rather than new and that extends from phones to cars. I've only ever had one new computer, and one new car in all my nearly sixty years. These days even my smart phone is not smart at all and I cannot work out how to use touch screens, tablets or pods with any semblance of dexterity; I'm just not that savvy…or maybe it's that I'm not that interested.

So when the day came that I flew to Birmingham this last August expecting to drive a hire car, imagine my consternation when they introduced me to a vehicle from out of some kind of sci-fi movie. I'm really serious. I couldn't believe what this thing did.

What happened was that I'd booked a car online (as one does these days) and I'd specified I wanted a manual gearbox. I've never driven automatics so I always tick the box to show I want a normal car with a normal gear stick.

Well when I arrived, things started out badly anyway, which set the scene for further dismay. I was already hot, bothered and frustrated because I couldn't find the car hire office but then even madder at myself because I'd put the wrong return date on the booking form and found I had to pay more than double I was expecting to bring it back a day later. As a result, by the time they took me out to my hire vehicle I was definitely not in the best frame of mind.

The receptionist showed me to the car - at least that's what it looked like. I don't remember now what it was, but on the outside at least it seemed quite normal, bar one thing. It didn't seem to have any mirrors. Never mind, I thought. Perhaps they pop out when the car starts (I really did). I knew things had changed since 1995 which was when my old Opel was built so I was prepared for some small surprises. But, as they say, this was not all...

The receptionist handed me what looked like a small credit card and told me that was the key. She showed me where to poke it in and then hurried off to deal with another customer.

I got in the car and looked around. This was when I started to get worried. Nothing looked normal. There were only two pedals; there was no proper gear stick - just a lever thingy - and there was a computer screen where the  speedo and rev counter should have been. I realised to my concern they'd given me an automatic, but then what was this screen? How did I start the car and where were the mirrors?

Still, trying (but in truth failing) to be courageous, I stuck the credit card into the slot where the receptionist had shown me. The computer screen sprang into life and filled up with numbers and blinking symbols…but the car hadn't started. At least I couldn't tell if it had or not. There was a faint sort of purring, but I couldn't find a resident cat and nothing else seemed to be moving.

Frustration set in. I tried again at least three times and still the car didn't seem to do anything except purr faintly. Was it or wasn't it running? I really couldn't tell.

So it was that eventually I marched back to the office and demanded help. The astonished assistant who was now at the desk listened to my complaint and then said, "But madam, it's a hybrid car. Don't you know about them? It's electric, so of course you can't hear it."
"But it's got no gear stick either!" I wailed.
"No, madam, it's an automatic. Look," he said patiently, "I'll come and show you how everything works."
Still deeply troubled and very suspicious, I followed him back to the now-dubbed space invader.
We got in.
"Put the card in the slot."
I did.
"Now watch the screen. As soon as it says 'ready', you can drive. Just remember never to use your left foot"
"Oh? Why not?"
"Because there's only an accelerator and a brake. You must never use your left foot, see?"
Okay… well, not really, but...
"Now watch the screen again. Put your right foot on the brake and keep it there. Now put the car into drive."
"But it's not running!" I said, confused.
"Yes it is, the screen says so."
"The screen says so…right…"
"Put the car into drive and watch the screen."
"What must I be watching for?"
"What's behind you, that's what," he said patiently.
"But why can't I use mirrors?"
"There are no mirrors, madam."
I looked at him, I looked at the alien controls of this automatic hybrid thing that I couldn't hear and couldn't feel and decided I was absolutely not going to give up control of my already iffy directional sense to a computer screen.
"Nooooo!" I exploded. "I can't do this, I'm sorry, but I'm NOT driving out into rush hour Birmingham in this thing. Find me a proper car!"
The assistant looked totally flummoxed.
"But it is a proper car, madam."
"No. It isn't!" I squeaked. "I wanted a car with everything in the normal place…and a gear stick...not this…whatever you call it!" To my shame, I burst into tears.

Well, that convinced him. After making embarrassed but soothing noises, we got all my luggage out of the space invader and I was led back to the office until they could find me something else. After about half an hour someone delivered a small manual drive Peugeot complete with standard speedo and displays (although even some of these were digital) and they hurriedly handed me the keys and sent me on my way.

When I told my family this story, we all had a good laugh at my histrionics, but it was a bit of a salutary lesson. I've now acknowledged I need to go on a course or two on how to cope with some of this 21st century technology. I dread to think what I'll do otherwise when my old and trusty car (with wind up windows and old fashioned cassette tape deck), computer and phone (no touch screens in sight) give up. Or maybe I'll just have to accept it's time for me to give them up too! What do you think?