Sunday, December 29, 2019

The last post of 2019

This month has flown by and here we are peering expectantly into 2020.

At the end of November I mentioned I needed some time out to focus on other things. Well, one of those was a trip to the UK to visit my family, most of whom I haven't seen for far too long. It was a big birthday for one of my brothers, but prior to that I'd learned that one member of the family has some serious health problems, which made it especially important for me to see them.

We met up at one of England's lovely National Trust properties, Stowe House, which also happens to be Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. It's open to the public at weekends and has beautiful gardens which the birthday boy particularly wanted to see. I was staying with my sister and since she isn't a member of the NT, we decided to forego the garden tour. It was quite pricey and not something we really relished doing on such a cold day. However, we had a great lunch together in the café and it was wonderful to catch up with them all again. There were several nieces, plus a couple of grandchildren as well as a good show of in-laws. I only wish we could have spent longer together, and it made me aware that I need to go back more often. None of us is getting any younger; in fact, I am the youngest of the four of us.

The rest of my visit was taken up with spending special time with my sister, which I loved, and also visiting her daughters in Bristol and my long-time friend from South Africa, Moira, who works in Wells. Altogether perfect.

My sister and I talked each other's legs off – all of them, not just the hind ones, which meant that no donkeys were involved. I suspect she was quite relieved when I left. Peace at last...haha. Seriously, though, it was amazing to have so much time with her and I think we both caught up on lots of events in each other's lives that we didn't know about. Much of this was achieved while walking, so here are some photos of the beautiful parks we visited in the area.

Harrold Park, north west of Bedford

Harrold Park 
A lovely place to stop a while

There were several of these beautiful benches in Harrold Park

I've no idea what caused these holes, maybe a woodpecker?
This was the bark of a tree in Ampthill Park

The same tree in Ampthill Park. It has a strangely twisted

Magnificent panoramic views in Ampthill Park

Ampthill House, privately owned, I think

Back in the Netherlands, I had work to finish off, a family dinner with my daughters, stepsons and their partners and then of course, Christmas, which was quietly spent in Zeeland with more walking and heaps of reading. Just how I like it. As you know, waterways are a huge attraction, so here are some photos of a recent walk in Belgium along the Durme river.

The house of many colours. I was fascinated by it

The Durme on its way to the Schelde (Scheldt)

What we like: boats moored in Lokeren

And a very pretty traditional tjalk

On the liveaboard side of the moorings

That's just about summed up my absence and in that sense, the year too. Wishing all my blogging friends a very enjoyable New Year and a peaceful, harmonious and lovely 2020. Till next year allemaal.

Monday, December 23, 2019

My favourite memoirs of 2019 and other great reads

Hello dear blogging friends

I'm back here again with a post to end this year so that I can start afresh with my normal blogs again in the new year. When I was thinking about what to write, I thought about what I mostly do to escape the winter blues and that is to read. I don't know about all of you, but this year end has been difficult (as if all winters aren't, I know), but I think lots of us will have wanted to wish ourselves elsewhere for all sorts of reasons, whether they be personal, health, political or other. So I thought I would do a round up of some of the books I've most enjoyed this year. I'll start with memoirs, since I read scores of them, and then I'll add a few novels that I've found especially brilliant.

Since I'm also a bit lazy, I'm not going to add cover photos, but just links to my other blog. If you click on them, you can find my review of the book, what it looks like and a link to the Amazon purchase page, so here goes in no particular order:

1. The Rhine, by Ben Coates. This is an absolutely riveting travel, historical and personal account of the author's journey on foot, by bike and sometimes by boat from the mouth of the Rhine to its source. It's one of the best books I've ever read on this area. Beautifully written and highly recommended. My review is here

2. From Australia to Germany: An adventurous journey in a 4-wheel drive by Gus Pegel. In a completely different style from The Rhine, this is an equally riveting read. It's great fun, full of youthful exuberance and quite astonishing to think such a journey was possible only fifty years ago. My review is here

3. Fat Dogs and French Estates 4 by Beth Haslam. As the title suggests, this is number 4 in a truly delightful series about Beth's life in France with her husband, Jack, and their numerous animals, both domestic and wild. I absolutely love this whole series and look forward to each new one with great anticipation. Well worth the read for learning, laughing and loving everything this couple do. My review is here

4. Passionate Travellers by Dr Trish Nicholson. Not exactly a memoir, this is a collection of biographical stories about remarkable travellers throughout history, many of whom were women with specific missions to fulfil. The hardships they endured to achieve their dreams were astonishing and as I said in my review: "this is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read."

5. South to Barcelona by Vernon Lacey: Another beautifully written travelogue, this one reminded me of Laurie Lee's wonderful As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning in its evocative style and  picturesque images of the people he met. I savoured every word and would recommend it to all lovers of travel memoirs. My review is here

6. Along The Enchanted Way by William Blacker. This account of the author's years in rural Romania in the nineties and early years of this millennium was another riveting book written with lyrical beauty. I like learning about different places and cultures and this book ticked all my boxes. Wonderful stuff. Here's my review

7. I Wish I Could Say I was Sorry by Susie Kelly. I read this from start to finish in a day. Apart from being a deeply personal account of the author's years from childhood to adulthood in Kenya, it offered a wonderful picture of Kenya, a country Susie Kelly loved with a deep and abiding passion. Very well written, very honest and sometimes jaw dropping, it is totally compelling. Here's my review

8. A Kilo of String by Rob Johnson. This book made me laugh till I cried. That might not be the best recommendation for a memoir because everyone's sense of humour is different, but I have to include it because of the sheer enjoyment I had in reading it. In essence it's about the author's life in Greece and his observations on Greek culture and customs. Read my review and see for yourself.

9. The Volcano, Montserrat and Me by Lally Brown. This one stood out as a remarkable testament to the courage and endurance of both the islanders of Montserrat and the author herself. I've read all three of her books, but this one made the deepest impression. It's history as she lived it and it is really incredible. I had no idea what it was like to live in the shadow of a volcano until I read it. My review is here

10. Mobility Matters by Amy Bovaird. As I've said, I like to learn from the memoirs I read and from Amy's heartwarming but detailed and moving account of learning how to use her blind person's cane, I gained just a glimpse of what it means to be blind. Amy Bovaird is an inspiration and I loved this book as my review hopefully shows.

I could add a dozen more to this list, but I really need to stop here. However, I'll just mention a few other terrific memoirs I've read, all of which I've reviewed on my other blog, so I'll give the titles as links:

Random by Adrian Sturrock (a collection of 'random' stories, also incredibly funny)
Boating with Buster by Alison Alderton (a gorgeous book about boating travels with the author's beagle)
The Furthest Points by Andy Hewitt (a fabulous ride around Spain on a Harley Davidson)
Summer of 77: Beaches, Bars and Boogie Nights in Ibiza by Robert Fear (a sunshiny and fun look back to the 70s)

As for novels, this is probably easier as I haven't reviewed them on my blog, so only those that remain in my memory can be included and again, they're in no particular order.

A. Lucinda E Clarke's Savage Safari: number 5 in her Amie series and the best so far. I romped through it. Such a great read, especially because Lucinda has such a fantastic way of evoking the Africa that I love. Here's my Goodreads review

B. Christina James's Gentleman Jack: to my mind the best in the series after the first one. A truly excellent crime thriller and police procedural. My Goodreads review is here

C. Lisette Brody's Hotel Obscure: a collection of themed short stories set in a run down and anonymous hotel in an unnamed city. To me, these are just brilliant and I loved them. Another Goodreads review for you.

D. Terry Tyler's Hope: a real wow of a read. I found it totally unputdownable and so real, it almost made me think it could happen. Excellent, gripping and with Terry Tyler's hallmark of a great character driven plot. This should be on everyone's TBR list. The review is here

E. Stephanie Parker McKean's Fog Buster series, all of them. I loved this madcap series of what is now known as cosy mysteries. This one involves a group of senior citizens who team up to become private investigators. Great fun and very colourful. Here's my review of one I read this year.

F. L M Krier's DI Darling series, again all of them. I am completely addicted to crime fiction and this series is one of my absolute favourites. Here's a review of the one I've read most recently, and to my mind one of the best.

G. Peter Davey's Nicole: I just love anything Peter Davey writes. To me, he's a master of craft and all his books leave me feeling I wish I'd written that. His style, his understated stories, his exploration of how people think and feel, all these rhyme with how I'd like to write fiction, but don't. This one is a novella and a very moving story that I only got when I reached the end, but then that's always the way with Peter's writing. Here's my review of Nicole.

H. Carol Hedges' Intrigue and Infamy. Once again, this is the latest of a series I absolutely love. All of them are set in Victorian London with all the atmosphere and colour of Dickens but the satire and humour of Jane Austin thrown. All this is wrapped up in Carol's own voice which brings in social comment relevant to today. Intrigue and Infamy is a must read for what's happening right now. See my review.

I. Diana J Febry's DI Hatherall police procedural series is another that I 'buy without question.' Always good value with strong and consistent characters, The Paper Boy is a very enjoyable addition to the collection. I read this in a day, and you can see my review here. Diana has also started writing a new series, the first of which is Trouble at Clenchers Mill. I enjoyed that very much as well.

There are probably more and I apologise to those excellent authors I can't bring to mind right now, but I hope this gives you some ideas of good reading material for the holidays if you are short of some suggestions.

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season, some great reading and a sparkling new year. I'll be back soon and with my usual posts on life in my watery world.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

A brief pause

Dear blogging friends,
I'm taking a brief pause in posting. There are some things going on here that need my focus and have to be sorted out. I hope to be back before too long, though, and I will still visit my regular haunts in blogland and comment on yours. For now, here are a few photos from this year to brighten the dreary days of November and to give something more to this post. In no particular order:

Oude Haven, Rotterdam

My grandpup, Charlie

Fortified church, Aisne, France

Harbour and slipway, Torun, Poland

Autumn leaves near Assenede, Belgium

Zeeuws Vlaanderend, Netherlands

Gdansk, Poland

Doglet on a roof, Olhao, Portugal

Evening over the harbour, Sas van Gent, Netherlands

Northern France, near Cambrai

Woodlands, Brabant, Netherlands

Monday, November 18, 2019

Memories of past festive seasons

I'm a bit busy at the moment, so I thought that I might republish a slightly adapted version of an old post I wrote in 2013. It's a look back to festive seasons of earlier years and seeing we're on our way to the end of the year, I thought it might be nice to revive it.


Christmas lights already on in our harbour

As we approach the festive season, I start thinking of previous years and other such seasons spent in different parts of the world. The recent cold snap has of course reminded me of how I miss South Africa, barbecuing in the sun while the Christmas tree with its fake snow twinkled inside the house. Of course it's a bit early for Christmas yet, but given the fact that Sinterklaas arrived in the Netherlands on Saturday, we are gearing up to it here in the flat lands.

A grand Sinterklaas arrival in Rotterdam some years ago

The Sinterklaas transporter: pakjesboot means parcel boat,
because it's what he brings all his gifts on
However, other Christmases I recall were those I spent as a child in London. We lived in an old Victorian house in St John's Wood. It had so much rising damp I thought it was normal that we redecorated our basement every year to disguise the mouldy patches crawling up the walls. Imagine my surprise when later I discovered that only our house seemed to need this kind of regular smooshing! It was also cold and draughty and central heating was unheard of then, but fortunately we had coal fires in most of the rooms.

At Christmas, we would have a massive tree in the hall festooned with lights and coloured balls, and the paper chains we used to make hung in every room. We always went to midnight mass in the centre of London too. There were churches where the services were just glorious with magnificent choirs and organ music. I remember loving these services, even when I was small. They were quite magical and very exciting when you were about eight and out so late.

Then there were Christmases in the west country, in the large and hopelessly impractical house my parents bought on the Dorset, Devon and Somerset borders. It was even more draughty than the London house, and we rattled around in its voluminous space, but we all loved the oversized rabbit warren of rooms and wings it consisted of. Again, we had a huge Christmas tree in the hall that we ritually decked with all manner of baubles and homemade decorations every year.

The house was really much too big and the ceilings too high for paper chains, but we did our best. We used to go to midnight mass there too - at our own church but also to the carol service at the village church. Breakfast after midnight mass was baked ham with homemade bread and jam we'd also made ourselves from the blackberries in the summer months, or marmalade my mother made from Seville oranges. We had no TV then, so we would play card games and roast chestnuts in the open fireplace, huddled near it as there was no other heating either. We used to go to bed wearing socks and jerseys because the rooms were so cold. It was really lovely, though. I hated leaving London at first, but once I got used to living in the country, I was completely smitten.

The Ténacité at Anderlecht

But what about the festive season on my barge? That's been another kind of magic and in Rotterdam, there've been many memorable end of year celebrations. That said, there was another boat, the Ténacité, in another place – Belgium. This was many years ago now, but some of you already know that for three years, I had a barge at a place called Anderlecht just outside Brussels. I've mentioned it in blog posts before, and it was from there that one December we took the Ténacité to Clabecq in Wallonia. We stayed there for Christmas, a time I will always remember with fondness.

The towpath at Clabecq

There was a boating community on the canal between Brussels and Charleroi just past the lock at Lembeek and we knew a few of the people who lived there, so we slotted ourselves in between them for a few days to spend some time in the countryside. It snowed and we went for long walks in the woods or along the towpath. I painted (pictures this time and not boats) and wrote. We made our own bread, and generally lived as I've always wanted to - on the water, but in a rural environment.

We even went to a new year's party on one of the boats. There were no fireworks, there was no Wifi, there was no trite TV - there was just peace, snow, the rocking of the barge as the commercials sped past and a real feeling of a still winter's world. I sold the Ténacité in 2006 for reasons I've mentioned before, and I still regret having to part with her as she was a lovely homely barge. She gave us some wonderful times and treasured trips, but luckily the memories don't fade (in fact they probably get a bit brighter and shinier over time if I'm honest), and these are something I can always keep.

Another view of the Ténacité interior with my paintings on the wall

Well, apologies for talking about the end of the year before we've even got to December. It's the dark and shortening days that have done it, but I hope this post makes up for the lack of current news. I'll post a proper update with all the recent doings in a few days, but for now, have a good week allemaal!

Monday, November 11, 2019

A weekend of communal activity

What a difference a day makes. This last weekend, we had what is called a Klussendag in the Oude Haven in Rotterdam. 'Klus' in Dutch means something akin to an odd job and a klussendag is when lots of us get together to do a variety of odd jobs around the shipyard and slipway. We used to have them regularly at one time, but management changed, other things changed and the work days fell by the wayside.

Much to my pleasure, our director decided we needed to have one in preparation for the 'lighting up' evening, which is when all the boats who have them string Christmas lights over their masts and make the harbour look very festive. I thought it was a bit early for that, but if it provided an excuse for a clean up day and a get together, I was all for it.

Saturday morning wasn't encouraging, though. When Koos and I woke, it was pouring with rain, so I wondered how many people would actually turn out to do any klussen. Fortunately, the rain stopped at around 10:30, so off we went to the yard with a broom in my hands and a camera in Koos's as he was the photographer of the day). 

It was great fun chatting with neighbours while we swept up leaves, cleared gutters and tidied the area. I especially enjoyed the chance to talk to neighbours I only really knew by sight and to practise my ever faltering Dutch. Because I don't use it for work, and Koos and I speak our own odd mix of English and Dutch, I rarely have complete Dutch conversations with anyone so it was good experience for me. 

Sweeping and cleaning with the neighbours

When we'd finished, we went back to the boat while some of the others prepared for the lighting up party that started in the late afternoon. Meanwhile, my daughter and her boyfriend came to visit and a convivial time was had by all until it was time to go back to the yard. After a short speech, our director gave the signal and all the lights came on. Aren't they pretty? These are the snaps I took. Not the best quality, but they give a good idea.

I spent a short time at the party, where it was lovely to catch up with some of the other harbour residents I haven't seen for a while, but I have to admit it was much too cold for me and by 6:30 pm I was back on board leaving Koos to do the honours and talk for both of us.

The next day was a complete change. It was freezing when we woke, but the sun was shining and the day positively sparkled although it remained chilly. However, that didn't prevent the usual courageous souls from getting down to basics (in this instance, their underwear) and floating around the harbour in these marvellous hot tubs. I've shown photos of these before, but they still fascinate me, especially when the weather's so cold.

You can see here what a beautiful and cloudless day it was. Today, though, it's back to normal and raining again.

On the plus side, I took advantage of yesterday's dry weather to cover my entire engine room roof with a tarpaulin in an effort to stop the rain seeping in through my back window gutter.

To backtrack a bit, last Friday I ripped off all the paneling from the wall beneath the window and found the most dreadful mess. The leak I wrote about in my post before last has been coming through a rusty weld where the window frame joins the barge framework. I hadn't been able to see it because it was covered in wood, but everything beneath the wood was completely sodden: the insulation, the back of the panels, you name it. Some of it was black with mould too, so heaven knows how long it's been going on.

After puzzling about how to stop it getting worse, and knowing I can't really repair it until it's properly dry, I decided a total cover tarpaulin would have to serve. So far so good and I don't see any water getting onto the engine room roof, which is where the rain runs into the gutter.

Sorry for all these explanations, but I know some of you were interested. It was time to act anyway as the cost in disposable nappies was getting a bit high. I hope this will solve the problem for the time being and that once it's dried out I can get a welder in to repair it properly.

That's it for this week, allemaal. Have a good one and I'll be back with more news and views next time.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Autumn strolls

This time of year fills me with mixed emotions. I don't like autumn for many reasons. The closing in of the days, the onset of the cold, the rain. I loathe the rain. And the wind, which unsettles me and gets under my skin. But autumn is the time for gales and this year's proving to be no exception to the rule. What else is there? Oh yes. I don't like knowing we are sliding inexorably into winter either.

All of this leaves me pretty melancholic.

But there is the other side of autumn. When, or maybe I mean if, the sun shines, it is quite breathtakingly beautiful. As nature urges the trees to shed their leaves, the colours that emerge are so warm, so rich and so golden it is just glorious. Walking country lanes and scuffing through the heaped up leaves as I did when I was small help me shake off that cloak of blues brought on by the dark and gloomy days. Then there are those special autumnal scents: the whiff of woodsmoke on the breeze, the pungent smell of manure on the fields, the damp earthiness of the fallen leaves. I love them.

Funnily enough, autumn always makes me nostalgic for Belgium. I have precious memories of walking in Wallonia with Koos and Sindy when we had the barge in Brussels. I don't know why autumn evokes these memories particularly, but the two are linked, or should I say three, since Sindy  was such an important part of that life.

Anyway, what all this is leading to is that we've had two beautiful walks just this week: the first was on Monday before I went back to work, and then again today when we nipped over the border for a curative dose of Belgium. I took a few snaps to savour the moments so here they are, just for the beauty of it.

Old barges in the Nostalgic Harbour
on the Gent-Terneuzen Canal at Sas van Gent

The nostalgic harbour at Sas from a distance

For the bus to nowhere, Wachtebeke, Belgium

Cropping the last goodness from the grass

Hedges field: I took this for Carol Hedges :)

The distant sentinals

Colour and light

Whichever way you go, I'll be watching you

Scuffing leaves, or rather leaves for scuffing

How does autumn make you feel? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend allemaal.