Saturday, December 29, 2018

End of the festive season

And so this was Christmas!

My daughter's Christmas tree
I didn't have all that much time to prepare for the festive season this year because of being on the helling with the Vereeniging. As I mentioned last week, we had to be towed to the slipway, and this little gem is what took us there. A very cute, but powerful little push boat, or opduwer as they call it in Dutch.

 Here we were, waiting on the pontoon for the previous week's incumbents to come down and for us to go up. I know I added photos last week, but a few more never hurts!

I like this view of the skyscrapers through the old bridge here. You can only see it like this from the water, so it's quite special.

 All the work was over by Friday as last week's post mentioned, but what I didn't say was that Koos, bless him, had fixed the problem with the engine so we could return to base under our own power. It was a remarkably good feeling to be pottering back again and had the weather been warmer, I'd have relished a quick tour round the harbours. But my feet and legs were soaking. This was due to it being unusually high water on Friday. It flooded in quite early when Koos and I had taken some time out to do other things.

When I got back to the helling, the yard was completely under water. Since we'd left some tools, ladders and other equipment on the concrete base, I put my wellies on and went wading to rescue them before they floated away, but it was already too deep and the water flooded over the tops of my boots as well. Nothing escaped, though, thanks to my trusty boat hook, and the only victim of the high tide was me, of course.

In my home berth with frost on the deck
On Saturday morning, we left Rotterdam to drive south for Christmas. We needed to go to the crumbly cottage and fetch our gifts as we were going to spend Christmas day with my daughters and Koos' son. On the way, we stopped at a village we've never visited before. Colijnsplaat was a surprising little gem, sitting behind the sea dyke that protects it from the Oosterschelde (Eastern Scheldt). We found several interesting shops as well as a small maritime art gallery where we bought some lovely books on maritime history. We also found a huge second hand furniture emporium (otherwise known as a junk shop) where we bought some other if we don't have enough to read already. Here are a couple of snaps of the village:

Sunday and Monday were spent wrapping gifts, preparing food and putting up the Christmas tree (I only ever do it on Christmas Eve), and then on Tuesday, we travelled north again for the  day itself. It was a lovely morning, sunny and bright, but pretty cold. After lunch and jollity, the whole family went for a long walk made more entertaining by using it as a mission to pick up litter. My daughter is even more obsessive about litter than we are. We nearly always come home armed with tins and plastic bottles we've picked up on our walks. Well, since there was a party of us, we filled two large carrier bags full. It really is depressing that people just drop their litter anywhere, but at least we enjoyed retrieving it.

Here's a photo of my grandpup, Charlie, waiting for his Christmas dinner. Spot the waggy tail.

Since then, we've been mixing relaxing with some de-cluttering. The rush of being out of the water before the holiday combined with having the worst cold I've had in years was pretty tiring, so I'm doing chores at a snail's pace. So far, we've taken two massive bags of books that will never be read again to the charity shops, taken a mound of old things to the dump and earmarked other things to go the same way. Meanwhile, I've been writing like crazy. My book about our years in Johannesburg is taking shape and, I hope, will be ready to read in a couple of months.

Have a fabulous New Year allemaal! I'll catch up with you all soon, but I hope 2019 will be a happy, peaceful and healthy year for you all.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The end of the year

It’s the end of the year and it’s been a very busy time on a number of counts. One has been finalising the autumn courses; another has been that I’ve had the Vereeniging on the helling again this past week, hence the tardiness of this blog.

A couple of months ago, I noticed a patch of rust on the waterline that needed to be treated before the rigours of the winter really struck, so I booked this week before remembering how cold it might be (see last post).

It’s been wet rather than freezing, but we all know how unpleasant damp cold can be. Still, the work is done! We can relax now till next year. I’m not writing more now as we have to arrange things for putting her back in the water, but there’ll be more later. Here then are a couple of photos of the yard and a Christmasy blur of the harbour. Enjoy your lead up to the festive season allemaal. I still have to do my Christmas shopping...

Monday, December 10, 2018

Winter wondering

I don't know how or why it is but I always forget how debilitating I find the cold weather...until it hits me. The summer was so perfect and it went on being warm for so long my body forgot what it was like to be cold and how I react to it. Well, it has remembered. Big time.

This past weekend has been as lousy as it can get weather wise. It poured down so hard, I wondered if even the sea might overflow. The noise of the rain pounding on the roof began to make my ears hurt; it kept me awake at night and became an intrusive presence during the day. I barely went outside the entire weekend.

This morning, though, I woke to the relief of brilliant sunshine. It was time to shake off the cabin fever and get out in the fresh air. Since I needed to have the valve in one of my tyres checked at the garage, we went to Terneuzen where we decided to combine operations with a walk along the dockside. We parked the car and went bundu bashing over the railway and around a ditch full of water until we could find a way to reach the quay. It was quite adventurous but well worth the effort.

The morning was spectacularly beautiful; it really was. But the wind – now that was something else. It was absolutely bitter and I suddenly thought of what it would be like to be faring along the waterways at this time. During the summer I often dream of how great it would be to go cruising in the winter, but that's when my body is warm from the sun and I don't physically remember how wretched it is to be cold. This morning I knew I'd hate it. I'd just huddle in my coat with my nose under my scarf and be miserable. But I wish it wasn't so. To be out there in such light and with such a wider scene bare of foliage to obscure the view, that would be magical.

I would also love to be doing more on the barge; there are so many maintenance jobs I could be working on. In the summer, I imagine myself continuing well into the winter. Well, imagination is a fine thing because the reality is that I don't and can't. The temperature drops and my willingness drops with it. 

Having said that, I'm due to go on the helling next week. The deal is that if this week's incumbent has too much welding to do, I'll have to wait till February. Part of me is hoping....

Yes, well...below are some of photos I took with my archaic phone camera this morning. It just goes to show how great the light was as they aren't too bad. 

Have a great week, allemaal and weather the cold, if not the storm!

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Two in One

This post will have to cover two weeks rather than one. I'm a little tardy but I have a good reason. Last weekend I was in England visiting my sister and this weekend we have visitors from England ourselves, so I have been much occupied.

It was lovely to be with family again for a few days. My sister and I are close but we don't have much chance to see each other. She is always so busy, as am I, but I felt the time between 'sightings' had been too long so I booked myself a weekend trip to England courtesy of (Sl)easy Jet. Flying into Luton meant I wasn't too far from where my sister lives and she was able to collect me from and take me back to the airport.

We had a marvellous few days of catching up and talking ourselves into dehydration. Given the general inclemency of the weather, there wasn't much incentive to go out, but we did manage lunch at a nursery where Sister bought two fruit trees as a leaving gift for the school where she taught for more than twenty years. I thought it was a lovely idea, especially as she is having a sign engraved saying 'May the fruits of your labours be ever bountiful' (or something similar). She hopes the children will be able to watch the trees flourish, flower and fruit and that they'll be able to pick, eat and cook the produce – she taught cookery and art as two of her subjects; hence the interest in the trees' (and the children's) future development.

Here are a few photos of the lovely walk we managed to do on two afternoons. The light was particularly appealing with sunshine highlighting the warm yellow facades against a rather stormy sky. I must say England is so pretty. Driving around the country lanes up and over hills and through the numerous picturesque villages was such a treat.

A magnificent oak tree

Sunshine before the rain

And again

I love the light through the trees

I arrived back late Monday night, but had to be up early on Tuesday for work. Meanwhile, Koos had been away to Moldova on another photo mission. He came back on Wednesday evening, so we were up late again talking and comparing travels. Thursday was another busy work day, after which I was relieved to have Friday free to make our way to Zeeland to meet our Wandering Snail friends who are over in Belgium for a similar visit to friends. We said goodbye to them in Terneuzen in 2011 and I blogged about it here, but they've since been back with their narrowboat and spent another couple of years further north in Holland. Brexit permitting, they hope they'll be back yet again with the Snail for more touring in Europe. I hope so too.

As for the current state of life, the weather is typically autumnal at the moment: no comment. Work is typically autumnal too. That aside all the children are gearing up to Sinterklaas, that uniquely northern European celebration, while the rest of us are winding down to the end of the year.

For all my blogging friends, enjoy the lead up to the end of 2018 and I'll be back with more desultory news from this small corner of the Netherlands soon.

Have a great week, allemaal!

Monday, November 19, 2018

And so this is winter....

It's really begun now, hasn't it? I was so hoping it wouldn't really get cold, but I suppose that was just too much to wish for. After the storms, the skies cleared for a day or two, but the wind remained and the temperatures dropped to freezing overnight last week.

It was very cold on board. Yes, I admit it. Even with the heater left on over night, it was simply cold in the early hours of the morning.

The good news is that absolutely nothing went wrong last weekend. I'm always a bit nervous when I return after a weekend in Zeeland, but fortunately the gangplank was still in place and my ropes were too. It's almost a bit dull, isn't it? No dramas in Val land.

On a bright note, Koos and I went to the movies last Wednesday for the first time in what must have been years. I think the last time we went was to see the first Harry Potter film, so that's saying something, isn't it? I imagine what we went to see this time would be just as much a matter of taste as HP. That said, I was the one that wanted to go, so Koos indulged me and ended up enjoying it just as much.

It was a one day only showing of a documentary film about the band, Coldplay. We both love 'rock documentaries' and Coldplay are big favourites of mine, so since the film won't be available anywhere else (unless you're an Amazon Prime customer), I wanted to see it. In fact, it was well worth watching on the big screen because the atmosphere of their big stadium concerts was both electric and magical. There was also some unique footage from their very early days filmed by a college friend who ultimately directed the film. Mat Whitecross is perhaps better known for his part in documentaries such as The Road to Guantanamo, so this was quite different for him too. It was a great night out and definitely worth the effort.

The rest of the week was busy for me work wise. I am winding up some academic writing courses, which, while I enjoy, are a heap of work and take up a huge amount of time in preparation and marking. It's always good to see the results in the students' work, however, and some of them make tremendous progress, which is so rewarding.  Apart from this, the usual chores on the Vereeniging needed attending to. 

Another panel is off wating to be replaced

I prised off another panel to be replaced and then I wrapped up my skylight against the ravages of winter. There was cleaning to do and leaf removal too. Just the usual tasks at this time of year. On Saturday, we headed north to Leiden for a family birthday. Our gift was Koos's new book of photos, which is a real stunner. Take a look at it here. It's available for purchase if anyone is interested. The quality is fantastic and I think it would make a magnificent present for art lovers. Here are two screenshots to add interest to my blog:

Wishing you all a wonderful week allemaal. I'll be keeping my head down in the coming days, so I might not be here much, but I'll be reading and watching and will answer comments as soon as possible. The work goes on...

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Between the tide and the traffic

Last week, I wrote about the joys (or otherwise) of living in a tidal harbour. I talked about ropes coming loose and the other ups and downs (sorry), didn't I?

Well, when I arrived back after the weekend this last week, I had a new surprise. My gangplank was no longer attached to the bow of the barge and instead was sitting next to it. Fortunately, the chain I have to keep it from falling off completely when such things occur prevented it from disappearing into the depths, but I was glad I noticed it before I bounced merrily off and into the drink myself. I suspect some kind soul had stood on its quay end at low tide and had levered it off the post on which it fits...another job for me to sort out.

Anyway, I did, sort it that is, temporarily anyway. And I also managed to fit the new panel and 'winterise' my teak back entrance and steering wheel by wrapping them well in their own tarpaulins. I shall see on Monday whether my attempts have stood the test of the gale we had last night...there's always something at this time of year and it's not unusual to see harbour residents wandering round looking for bits of their barges in the water after one of our autumn hoolies.

However, on my way down to Zeeland on Friday, I took a route I think I've mentioned before which takes me along the dyke between the sea canal to Antwerp and the tidal Oosterschelde (Eastern Scheldt). I really love this road. On the one side is the wide expanse of the tidal estuary with its mud flats, waves and wildness; on the other is the major shipping lane where the huge barges plough through the waters as they head south into the great locks (kreekraksluizen) leading to the Antwerp docks, or north towards Rotterdam. I see the best of both worlds and the road seems to disappear into a wilderness of tranquillity, which I love. It always lifts my spirits to travel this route, so for once, I stopped to take a couple of photos. They don't really do it justice, but I hope you get some kind of impression of what it is like.

The dyke to nowhere

Traffic on the major shipping route on the canal to Antwerp

Meanwhile, mudflats at low tide on the other side

And there in the distance on the left are the big locks

Hoping you are all enjoying whatever the season brings wherever you are! Have a good week to come allemaal and I'll catch up with you all soon.

Friday, November 02, 2018

The sighs and lows of a tidal harbour

This time last month, I was in a state of bemused dismay as to where September had gone. Now I'm feeling much the same about October, although I haven't lost it quite so completely.

It's been a busy month boat wise. Koos and I have been doing jobs on the Hennie H at weekends, we took the Vereeniging out for a revival run, and I've been working on the her during the week between teaching and sleeping. You'll notice the absence of green in one of the side panels below. That's because I'm taking them out one by one and replacing them with new panels. I've done three on each side now, although number 3 on this side is awaiting re-fitting. But aside from my seasonal disinclination (see last week's moan), the weather hasn't been helping and it's caused me some unnecessary time messing about in the little boat rescuing ropes that have gone astray; hence the sighs. Let me explain:

The pink section is where I've removed a panel for replacement.
Note small boat: the vehicle of my venturing
When I moved from being neighbours with the clipper in the pic below to my current neighbour above, I also had to move a few ropes. You'll notice in the picture below that there's a bollard set into the wall. Well I needed to transfer my front rope from there to the bollard you can just see on the quay in the top right corner.

And then I had to place another one on the bollard set in the wall to the right of the Vereeniging (see further below). Last week, then, I climbed into my little dinghy and paddled over to lift off and replace said ropes. It was all good fun and I enjoyed messing around in the water despite the rain and cold. For once I felt inclined. Wrapped up in a warm coat and feet tucked into my tartan wellies, I was ready for an adventure of Wind in the Willows proportions and while it wasn't quite in the scale of Rat and Mole's escapades, it made me feel good scooting about between the barges.

My favourite tartan wellies

But this last Tuesday, when I was teaching, we had a phenomenal storm. The wind howled, the rain thundered down and I won't even go into how long it took me to get home after work.

Anyway, along with the deluge, the tide rose much higher than normal and my carefully laid wall-side rope floated off its bollard. Meanwhile, the wind played havoc with everything else and my other ropes got stretched to the point that when I emerged in the morning, the loopplank was teetering on the edge of the quay and I needed to do quite a rescue job. So back in my little boat I climbed to spuddle up to the bows, fish my errant rope out of the water and pull it back to the wall.

You can see the normal high tide mark on the bricks, but this time it was so high I couldn't even see the bollard, so it was well above its normal mark. This photo was taken when the tide was on its way down. When I performed my scoop up job, however, I could barely reach the bollard, which goes to show what an up and down world we live in during the October storms. I made sure I put a double loop in my rope and pulled it tight, so I'm hoping that, together with the heavy cable that's lying across it, this will prevent it from floating off again. If not, I'll have to put a weight on it to keep it down.

All this takes time, though, and while I enjoy it, I'm aware there are other jobs that need my attention...such as the new pin prick of light I can see through a place in the back cabin (the roef) where I should only be seeing solid steel...oh dear. I keep reminding myself she is 120 years old; these things will happen.

Anyway, next week I hope I'll have some further progress to report, or at least another new panel :)
Have a great weekend allemaal and here’s a fitting song to go with this post. I’ve loved this since I first heard it as a child.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hectic doldrums

Blogging, in my world, is a bit of a micro thingy of life...thingy because I’m not quite sure what it’s a micro of, but maybe an explanation of this odd claim will help.

This whole year I’ve been blogging along, faithfully writing and publishing my weekly posts and relishing every word of it. See where the life thing comes in yet? No? Okay, I shall try a different approach. 

Since the beginning of 2018, I’ve been busy enjoying a very productive working and leisure life. I really have. I’ve taught some great courses, met some wonderful students (notably my Syrian refugees but many others too) travelled some beautiful waterways and enjoyed working on both the Hennie H and my beloved Vereeniging. A bit like my blog, which indeed is a reflection of my life...that micro thingy I was referring to.

But now, suddenly, I feel disinclined; yes. I feel disinclined about everything: disinclined to work, to make the effort, to prepare the classes, do the jobs, paint the boats, even enjoy life. 

And the same applies to my blog. I’ve had no idea what to write and no real desire to write it this week. 

So what, though! Does it matter? Why bother?

But like life, it does matter and I do bother. It’s just one of those doldrums that I have to struggle out of. I know when I have these spells — they’re like being mentally becalmed —  it’s always after the summer and it’s always during my most hectic time of year’s also always autumn (sorry, that’s obvious, isn’t it?). I call them my hectic doldrums because I am busy, should be busy and need to make myself be busy, especially when I don’t feel like it. But autumn is my doldrum time of year...I don’t know why. I suppose I should have been a badger or a squirrel because what I feel like doing hibernating. But I can’t and I won’t as the best way out of the doldrums is to write. Anything. 

And writing is doing, so it solves both problems: life and blogging.

Despite my disinclination then, I am writing this deeply philosophical treatise on a comparative analysis of life as it relates to the micro thingy that blogging other words, a load of twaddle. 

Now... do you think that’s enough for the moment? 

Okay, just to put you in the real picture, here are some more photos of our recent activities. See, I’m only kidding. Have a good weekend allemaal. I’ll be back with something sensible next week.

Replacing panels on the Vereeniging one by one

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Vereeniging fares again

My blog is a little late this week, late as in slow in arriving but maybe that's fitting this time because it had to wait for a venerable old lady to get going. No, I'm not talking about myself in this case, although I confess that by the time I manage to get going every day, I feel I'm becoming quite old myself, if not actually venerable.

The old lady in this case is the Vereeniging. She has lain dormant for several years now, victim of a viral bug that it took far too long to diagnose. Still, treatment has been applied and at 120 years old this year, she has recovered to fare another day and fare well too.

Today, because one of my neighbours is leaving this weekend for his annual sail around Zeeland in the Bietentocht (see my blog about it here), I had to move the Vereeniging from her position in the harbour to a few metres the other way. Well, this seemed too good an opportunity to miss for a spuddle of a momentous kind. After the nursing and nurturing we'd done on bringing the old dameschip back to life, a gentle rondvaart of the harbour areas seemed just the thing. Which is what we did. With great grins and purposeful pride.

It was a magic to be steering out of the harbour. The weather was sublime...


We puttered gently along the Scheepmakershaven and round the Leuvenhaven before returning back along the Wijnhaven to base.

 Rotterdam from the water is Rotterdam at its best...

Approaching the Leuvenhaven
 And there are barges as far as the eye can see and the soul can wish for...

the Leuvenhaven
The vibrancy and the colour of the inner city harbours are a sight for sore eyes... so we feasted them, as I hope these photos show ....


the Leuvenhaven

the Leuvenhaven

Turning into the Wijnhaven

Back home, but a few metres to the left or the north or....

Had I not had commitments of the paying kind to attend to, we would have gone on with great pleasure. But this was a start; we broke the spell of immobility; the Vereeniging has fared again.... and she didn't miss a beat. The dream of going to Utrecht is looking considerably brighter.

Enjoy the rest of your week allemaal.