Monday, June 25, 2018

Time out

I find life is so hectic these days I really need to take just a little special down time now and then; not the usual sitting on the sofa with a book down time, but getting away from everything routine and doing something indulgent just for the love of it. For me, it's 'boat watching', but of a different sort from our normal harbour comings and goings.

I took the photos below on Saturday when we were on the way from Rotterdam to the crumbly cottage, We went by way of Antwerp docks; not an unusual route for us by any means, but not one we follow as a rule. It was a beautiful bright day, which made it even more appealing, so first we stopped by the Schelde river at the start of the estuary and on the Belgian border. If you look at the first photo below, you'll see a typical Belgian border 'post'. You'll notice it has a number on it. These border markers are at intervals all along the grens as they call it and it's fun to come across them (and even stumble into them) when out walking. I believe someone has even taken a photo of every single post and published a book of them, but so far I haven't found it.

The post marking the Belgian border. Note the number!
After sitting on the bank and gazing a while, we moved on into the dockland area. At one of the huge locks into the inner harbours, we saw they were preparing for this massive container ship (below) to come in, so we decided we had to just sit and watch it. Now I don't know about you, but I find this one of the most absorbing and peaceful pastimes I can think of. To sit on the wall and just watch these giants proceed at a very gentle and smooth snail's pace is a positively meditative experience.

This one took a good ten minutes to reach the lock and then even longer to inch its way in and moor up. When it finally reached the spot where we were sitting, we noticed the tugboat behind it, guiding it in and keeping it straight. Behind these two, we saw other ships leaving other harbours along the river at what seemed like a much greater speed; they were going downstream with the tide, so comparatively, at quite a lick!

Slowly does it

Closer and closer

And finally past us into lock

....which was when we saw the tug boat guiding it from the rear

For the record

Nearly moored up

And there goes another biggy

...heading out to the tiny yacht next to about scale!

Fare forth and fare well!
We must have spent an hour sitting there just soaking up the peace of seeing these behemoths navigating their way in and out of the huge Antwerp harbours. For me, it is soul food and nothing gives me more peace and tranquillity. I love it, and it was with almost a sigh of regret that we decided it was time to move on. What a way to waste time – although for me, it was very well wasted.

What does that for you? What is your way of taking time to 'stop and smell the roses'?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Chasing my own tail

It's been pretty hectic this week in the Flatlands. Being the end of the academic year, there are exams to mark and courses to finish up before everyone knocks off, or goes down for the summer. To be truthful, I feel as if I'm racing to the finish of far too many deadlines and am in danger of overshooting all of them.

I've also been wearing my Cambridge speaking examiner hat quite intensively this week. The British Council, the largest of the organisations that runs these English as a Second Language exams, was a bit short of examiners for this round and sent out a plea to anyone examining for the other centres to see if we could help. I am attached to a centre in Rotterdam and do the job for them three times a year. They have first call on my time and I am committed to examining for them when required. However, as a freelancer, I can do sessions for other people if need be, so I offered my services to the urgently seeking British Council and found myself at a school in Goes, Zeeland bright and early on Monday morning.

The harbour in central Goes 2016

Goes is a lovely place although I didn't see much of it. I spent the whole day working at the school, which was pretty intense. It was great experience, though, and I met some other examiners who gave me some useful tips from their much longer experience. After that it was put foot to the pedal (as we used to say in South Africa) back to Rotterdam as I was adjudicating a university speaking exam on Tuesday for a group of staff. Wednesday was a normal work day, but I had more Cambridge examining on Thursday in Rotterdam and all day on Friday at a school in the suburbs. It got to the point that I couldn't remember who I'd been with, where or when, or even where I was supposed to be. Predictably, I was totally shattered by the time I arrived back at the crumbly cottage on Friday evening.

One of the classic Goes houses

Meanwhile, I still had all my academic writing assignments to mark for the Amsterdam students I teach. peace until today, when I managed to get out and paint a wall. You have no idea how therapeutic and rewarding that was! A plain, white, simple wall.

Next week, things will begin to wind down again. I still have some Cambridge work, but just for one day; otherwise, life reverts to normal and at the end of the month, it will all be over for the students...and largely speaking for me too! Maybe, just maybe, I'll have time to write again. I've been looking at the outline of my WIP longingly, so I'm keeping everything crossed. But with boat maintenance calling...well...we shall see!

On a sad note, I have lost my little Panasonic compact camera that I have taken everywhere with me for the last few years. I cannot believe I've left it somewhere, but it seems that's what I must have's just vanished. I am quite bereft because I was really fond of it. What's worse is I've lost the photos that were on it too; not that many, but there were some pictures of the poppies around here which have been quite spectacular this year. I'll just have to rootle around in my archives to see if I've got any older poppy pics to relieve the empty spaces in this post.

A few years ago, friends of ours taking poppy pics

The delicate vividness of the poppies. I've always loved them
but this year, they've been phenomenal

Well, that's me done for blogdom this week. If the WC is your bag, enjoy the games and if not, I guess there's tennis or athletics or even just enjoying summer days outside.

I'll the the one wielding a paintbrush and sander...ooh, and yes! I've got a diesel man coming to service the Vereeniging's engine this week. Woohoo! I can hardly wait!

Have a great week allemaal.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Meandering on terra firma

It's been a busy few weeks, but there's not much to write about really. I've been wrapping up courses and this coming week, I'm in for a spate of examining with my Cambridge ESL hat on. I do the speaking tests, and not all the written parts, for which I'm grateful.

My course with the Syrian refugees is also over. They were a truly lovely bunch and I became very fond of many of them. The only problem was that halfway through the course, it became apparent that many of them would not be studying in English at all, so there seemed little point in their continuing. As a result, I lost a number of them in quick succession. I just hope they get to study what they want in future and all go on to do well. It was a privilege to get to know them.

On Thursday, I had a full day's painting on the Vereeniging, which was wise as it rained during the night and also on Friday. I'm very glad I've made a good start and painted all the red trim round the roef, and the engine room. I also managed to freshen up the red stripe round the whole barge. It's called the boeisel in Dutch, but I don't know what it is in English. Does anyone know?

The red strip, the boeisel in Dutch, but in English?

This weekend, though, I've been taking it a bit easier as a result of having less marking to do and being a bit tired after my activities during the week, so it's been time for some good walks. We are so lucky at the crumbly cottage; it is a beautiful area with plenty of nature reserves, so walks are easy to find and there is rarely anyone else about.

Below is a selection of a few photos I took with my phone of this weekend's rambles. Koos took the top two of the enchanting piglets we saw today when we walked through an area of forestry smallholdings just across the border in Belgium. It was such a lovely discovery I'm sure we'll go back there again.

Tiny tiny piglets, no bigger than a handful. So cute!

Mummy pigs, still pretty small, aren't they? 
Below the dyke along the great sea canal

For the birds: a nature reserve dedicated to water birds not far from
the crumbly cottage

A working harbour on the sea canal

Not such a good photo, but I loved the sunlight dappled on the road

A misty morning on another nature reserve nearby

Stark contrasts across the polders. I love this landscape
See how empty it is? In other parts of the country, the lanes would be teeming with walkers and cyclists, so we are doubly fortunate that we have so many natural areas but so few people to share them with. I'm becoming quite the misanthropist as I get older, but then maybe that's because I see so many people during the week. For me, this is bliss!!

Have a good week allemaal! Where are your favourite spots to take a walk?

Sunday, June 03, 2018

La Condition Publique: The highlight of Roubaix

It's been a couple of weeks since we came back from our week in Belgium now and I've been up to my neck in work, so I have failed dismally to keep up my promise of a third post within the week. In fact it's a week since I posted the last one and life has moved on as it does.

The last two weeks have been positively tropical. After freezing our thingies off on the boat with night temperatures of down to five or six degrees and the days only making it to twelve or thirteen degrees, we arrived home on the warmest day of the trip and the week following, it soared to nearly thirty degrees...Murphy was having fun again.

Entrance to La Condition Publique

Anyway, before I lose all track of what we did after the Vulnerable Vandal episode, I thought I must write here about La Condition Publique, a wonderful and very special exhibition space in the heart of Roubaix.

We went there the day after Koos expelled our millenial mobster from the boat. Camille, the charming lady from the canal authorities, told us about it when we said we wanted to explore Roubaix. We'd actually wanted to go to the better known Piscine, the art museum, but it was closed (isn't everything in France?). La Condition Publique, however, was open every day, said Camille, and well worth a visit.

Well, she was right. It was.

La Condition Publique proved to be an enormous old building that used to be a quality control centre for wool and textiles, the industry that made Lille and its environs wealthy in former times. The building provided space for the laboratories and testing facilities that ensured the quality of the product was maintained. It began in the early twentieth century and continued until the seventies when the demise of the textile industry made it redundant.

The interior hallway of the building

In recent years, however, it has been revived for a different purpose. It is now an Arts and sustainable lifestyle centre. It houses exhibitions for artists and a huge hall where different types of living and building are displayed. We wandered round all the rooms in a kind of amazement. It was quite outstanding and the innovation we saw as regards building techniques with straw, wood and other renewable resources was pretty inspiring. I'm afraid I didn't take any photos of these, but it was a fabulous exhibition.

an exhibition in waiting

Art exhibition in the centre

There is also a restaurant, where we had a lovely lunch, and a theatre that puts on regular performances. But what crowned it for us (literally and figuratively) was the campsite on the roof. Erected on a rooftop garden where they also grow vegetables, this permanent camping area is quite delightful. It wasn't quite open for business, probably because it was a bit cold, but I could well imagine it will be very popular with young (and maybe not so young) travellers who want something a bit alternative.

Permanent tents on the campsite

Wall art

Permanent tents

Stacked up sleeping cubicles

What you get. I think it's amazing.

The roof top veggie garden...still in development

We were almost glad the Piscine was closed as we'd probably not have found this place, and it really was quite a highlight in the trip. The following morning, it was time to start the return journey, so after a peaceful night, untroubled by vandals, millenials or even gendarmes, we set off back along the Canal de Roubaix in bright but chilly sunshine. By that evening, we were back in Oudenaarde. On Friday evening we were in Ghent where we spent the night in a marina in order to await the arrival of family who were coming to spend the day with us there.

Sunshine on the Schelde where we took a quick stop

A special and very recognisable passenger boat
unique to Ghent

Art in the dark

Party-goers having rather chilly fun on solar-powered
floating pontoons, which are available for hire

Mooring up for lunch in Ghent

A special visitor

The final morning - warm sunshine at last

We had a lovely time meandering round the waterways of Ghent with my daughters and one of my sons-in-law despite some rather dreary and cold weather. But Ghent is always beautiful and rewarding. We spent a second night in the marina on a buy one, get the second free basis since we are members of the Belgian water sports association and then on Sunday, with glorious sunshine on our backs, we headed back to our mooring in Sas.

In hindsight, it was the coldest we'd ever been on board, but what a fabulous week it was. We didn't do anything we'd planned to do: no old lifts, no new lifts, no Piscine in Roubaix, but we had a marvellous week away on the water.

Have a great week allemaal!  Next time, I'll bring us up to date again.