Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A real rural summer

As many of you know, I spend my weekends at the crumbly cottage, an escape which is particularly necessary at this time of year when the overnight noise in the Oude Haven reaches epic proportions. Summer nights bring the crowds to our terraces and with them, they bring what seems like a competitive shouting spirit. In contrast to the low pitched murmerings of the winter gatherings, the volume rises with the temperature and the balmier the evening, the barmier the revellers become.

Anyway, the flight to the country is just what I need, although in a different respect, it’s just as noisy. The main difference is that at the crumbly cottage, the sounds wake me in the morning rather than keeping me awake at night.

The weather over the weekend was hot, so we slept with all our windows open, which meant we got the full repertoire of the dawn chorus in all its glory. On Sunday, I must have been awake around 5 a.m. when the concert started warming up. I listened in awe to the birdsong. I’m not expert when it comes to birds, so whether it was thrushes or blackbirds, I don’t know, but they were singing their hearts out. The rhythm section was filled by crows, pigeons, magpies and sparrows all of which were providing the range and depth of this fabulous winged orchestra as they cried, cooed and cheeped along to the melodies. Just magical.

Then in the evening we listened with renewed pleasure to the humming of the bees in the lime tree we have in the garden. It is in full bloom and the bees love it. When I stand still and look up, I can see them dipping into the flowers like diners at a buffet. One evening also brought a performance by four swallows who gave us an aerobatic display equal to any masterclass demonstration. They swooped, soared and dived in an almost synchronised dance around the tree.  Then still later, we were delighted to see a bat circling the house, its dark form clear against the luminous brightness of the summer night sky. Noisy and crowded it might be with our flying friends, but it feels like a proper summer. This is how it should be.

There is peace too, however. On Saturday afternoon I went for a bike ride and as is my habit, I headed for the canal. The Dutch scenery around me had a beautiful calm peace, so I stopped to take a photo to capture it. Silly, really. As if I could. The breeze was making undulating waves over the surface of the green wheatfields. It whispered through the trees, ruffling the leaves and it snatched my hair from its band, but other than that, there was no sound. You cannot see the silence, but maybe you can feel the peace in this photo.

It’s a hot week in the north here, so for my friends in this part of the world, keep cool allemaal!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Things I love about living on board

I’ve been waking up early the last couple of weeks. Since I have no curtains on board, the light streams through my roof window and wakes me, but I don’t get up for a while. I love just lying in bed and listening to the sounds of life on the water.

At this time of year, there’s a lot of activity around my barge. The small gap between my neighbour and me is a perfect safe spot for the ducks to hide their babies from the predatory herons, so they tend to gather there in the mornings. I can hear the cheeping of the ducklings and the bossy commands of their mum. They scuffle and splosh around as they perform whatever morning routines they have and make a quite a noise for such tiny balls of fluff. It's a wonderfully cheerful sound to start the day with. Then there’s the systematic pecking against the hull as the adult ducks feed off the weed that grows on the water line. It should be annoying, but somehow it isn't; it's a reassuring sound that tells me nature carries on regardless of our presence.

The small gap between the boats makes an
ideal hiding place for the ducklings

Even though the harbour itself is very quiet in the mornings, the wildlife is not, but it doesn’t matter at all. I relish it. The other morning, I heard the desperate squeaking of what sounded like a bird in danger, so I got up and opened the hatch, only to see a baby coot swimming around my bows looking for its mum. Talk about yelling. This one had the voice of a town crier in the making. Mum reappeared soon, though, gathered up her offspring, and after administering an impatient nudge, off she went again with the chick in hot pursuit.

Mother coots are definitely the sharp-tongued, no-nonsense types, unlike the protective ducks. Mrs Coot will expect her babies to follow her and if they don’t, well, she’s not going to wait for them. This could be why we rarely see more than two or three coot chicks at a time. I fear they fall prey to the herons all too often.

The fish are also pretty busy these days. We have large shoals of carp in the harbour, another threat for the ducklings and possibly why the little coot was so alarmed. The carp swim around the boats looking for food and sadly, ducklings are on their menu, which is horrible, but that’s real life. I often look down and see quite massive fish circling the waters between my barge and the quay wall. This has the result of drawing the fishermen too, so it’s quite common for me to step off the boat and have to climb over fishing tackle to reach the path. I find the proximity of these fishing addicts a bit intrusive, but at least it means our harbour is alive.

And then there's the water itself. In a tidal harbour, there is a constant slapping of water against the barge and often a 'glubbing' sound of air bubbles being released when the water is low. It can be worrying at first, as I’ve mentioned before, but now I know it’s one of those morning sounds I enjoy, a part of my watery life, along with the gentle bumping of hull to hull and the creak of the gangplank on the quay as the barges shift and sway with the wind.

Evening approaching in our Zeeland the harbour

Last night, for a change, I slept on board the Henni H in our harbour in Zeeland. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but it’s the first time I’ve been here alone, and now I’m enjoying completely different morning sounds. The boat bumps against the jetty constantly making the fenders squeak each time they squish against the poles. The factory close by huffs, puffs and wheezes like an old organ. Then above all the distant noises, I can hear the birds singing in the woods next to the harbour. I love it, all of it.

The factory huffs and puffs like an industrial organ

Faring is, of course, the greatest of joys, but simply living on board brings me so much pleasure. I count my blessings with every morning I can wake to these sounds and motions.

Evening lights appear

Have a great week allemaal

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Saving our harbour and other stories

The action and activities surrounding the closing of our yard and slipway have been mounting over the last week. Some of you will know I've been begging for signatures to support our petition to the council to invest in its renovation, and I'm immensely grateful to the many of my friends on Facebook and Twitter who have signed. Thank you all so much.

In the harbour too, there are posters and banners asking the public for support. Here's one just in front of the Vereeniging's neighbour. Essentially, it explains why the yard has closed and what action we'd like the owners (the council) to take.  

The petition states that "the future of yard and slipway is uncertain. This iconic piece of Rotterdam has a special historical value is a major attraction for tourists to the city. We need your vote to keep the Koningspoort open."

What's great is that the caf├ęs as well as the residents of the apartments support this move, so we are all behind it and tomorrow, being a public holiday here, there'll be an event staged in the harbour with activities, workshops and live music in an effort to gain further support. So...if anyone here is reading about this for the first time, I'd be so grateful if you'd also sign our petition. It's such an important resource for us and such an attraction for the city. Everyone in the area benefits from keeping it open and alive. The link to the petition is here: Thank you!

In other news, I drove back down to the crumbly cottage for the weekend as usual, aware that we were heading for more of that inclement weather again. Well it hit hard on Friday night. The storm raged and the wind blew. I was wakened in the wee hours by the sound of rattling windows, tiles and doors, while our wheelie bins and containers scooted around the side passage on their own mission. It was quite a bad one and there was a fair bit of debris lying around yesterday when I took myself off for a walk. The sun was shining, but it was still blowing hard and I had to lean into the wind to make progress along the dyke.

What I really regret is that I didn't have my camera with me because I encountered two other rather special types of walkers as I trod my way round our nature reserve. It made me think of  one of my favourite bloggers, Beth Haslam whose life is populated by all kinds of fascinating animals and I've often envied her rural French domaine. Well, it was my turn this time. The first people I met were taking their horses for a walk. They weren't riding them; they were just meandering around the nearby lake with two horses on leads, letting them snack to their hearts content on the rich grasses and clover that line the banks. We had a brief chat (the people and I, not the horses) about what a great restaurant this was for their equine friends. Five stars no less and in the Michelin Guide for sure. We had a good chuckle about this as I stroked the noses of their connoisseur customers, who snorted gently in appreciation. They obviously liked the service too. 

Thanks to the Feed Room website for this photo

Then, as I carried on round, I met a woman walking her pot-bellied pigs. I've seen them before as she's had them since they were tiny piglets. Sadly, they're a bit shy, so tend to scatter if anyone else tries to give them attention, but it was  great to see how they've grown. They're actually quite large now. I remarked on their size to the owner, but she seemed quite at ease with it, so she must be used to them by now. Who says country walks are dull? I so enjoyed this one.

A photo I found on the Internet from ABC news
This morning broke fine and sunny, and the wind had thankfully dropped, which encouraged me to get on my bike and go to the Hennie H again. Koos was busy with other chores and I'd hoped to do some more painting. Alas, when I arrived, I found our little barge covered in dirt and debris from the storm. I wasn't best pleased given the time I'd spent on cleaning her last weekend, but needs must and I had to do it all over again, which meant no painting this week. Such is life with boats. When the weather's fine, we have no time, but when we have the time, she's covered in grime (haha). Still, I managed to do some anti-rusting in places and cleaned up inside as well, so it wasn't wasted. Here's the view from the back deck. It was wonderfully calm on the water today.

View from the back deck of the Hennie Ha
Since it was so unexpectedly pleasant, I took the long way round back to the cottage, and decided to cycle along the towpath dyke of the Gent-Terneuzen canal. I'd noticed there were several barges heading for Gent and as I crossed the bridge, the bell started ringing, which meant it was about to open. By cycling along the dyke, I could enjoy the ride and see what was coming. 

It's a lovely route as the towpath passes between the canal and a nature reserve, which is a beautifully peaceful stretch of land where water birds of all varieties congregate.

The nature reserve along the dyke
Then on the other side, I watched this beastie approaching. Several such ships pass every day, but I never get tired of watching them. They are so huge, yet they proceed so smoothly they rarely make a big wash and I'd rather be on the water with one of these than some of the smaller barges and boats.

The rest of my ride home took me through lovely gentle country and I was tired but relaxed when I reached the crumbly cottage again. Still an hour's weeding and ivy cutting in the garden, ably assisted by Koos, finished us both off for the day, and then it was time to get back to reality and down to marking again. 

It's all part of life's rich tapestry, isn't it?

Have a great week allemaal!

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Country magic

Everything seems to have started a bit late this year, hasn't it? Even though we're here at the beginning of June, the scenery around us still feels like early May, and how beautiful it is. I absolutely love the spring. It always reminds me of a sort of airbag that is suddenly triggered into action. Everything explodes into life and the trees, which were still largely skeletal in April are now positively blousy with voluptuous growth. They are all gorgeously green and profuse. These two photos below are of the nature reserve near the crumbly cottage. I love wandering round there, although I really miss having a pooch to accompany us. Still, a country walk is good with or without a four-footed friend, so I still try and get out as much as possible. I took these last weekend before I headed back to Rotterdam.

And this was the view from the crumbly cottage. Even my ivy has erupted, although that's always a challenge to keep down. I'm very fond of my little garden, but it's an ongoing battle to keep the field from invading. The nettles, thistles and cow parsley share the space equally with my geraniums and begonias, not to mention the volunteer foxgloves, which I actually welcome. I never know where they'll pop up, but they're always a rich and colourful addition.

The garden at the crumbly cottage

Elderflower in all its glory

On Tuesday, I got to work hopelessly early because there was a national public transport strike in protest against the increasing pension age and the authorities were predicting chaos on the roads. In fact, I had an easier run than normal, as I think a lot of people decided the pain wasn't worth it and stayed at home. It was an absolute pleasure to drive over the islands and see the pale sun glinting on the water of the great estuaries; I hardly saw another car, so I arrived with stacks of time to spare and feeling very relaxed.

An eight hour day of back-to-back teaching PhDers on Wednesday finished me off again nicely, though, so I was very glad Thursday was a holiday here in the Netherlands. I still had work to do, but at least I could do it on board as well as a couple of jobs inside. Then I emptied my little rowing boat of the rain that had been dumped on us overnight and just as I was about to leave the sun came out again, which made my journey back to the crumbly cottage all the more pleasurable. Most of the weekend traffic had left on Wednesday, so again, I had the road to myself.

One thing I try and do is vary my route on these journeys, or I'm sure I'd nod off if I had to do the same trip every time. It's at least a two-hour drive whichever way you go and I can choose a few different options depending on whether I want to shave a few minutes off here and there. This time, though, I decided to try a new way and I headed into the farmlands without having a very clear idea of where I was going to end up. To my pleasure, it was a very pretty diversion; rather slow, because I got stuck behind a tractor for quite a stretch, but it was real Dutch scenery of the most pastoral kind. Dykes, willow trees, reed filled ditches, quaint cottages and green meadows. There were also enough cows to give real life to what looked like a still-life scene. It was absolutely not the most efficient way, but I really enjoyed it.

Friday has escaped my memory completely now and I have no recollection of doing anything except working on student assignments. The weather was overcast and we were still waiting for the promised mini heatwave, which to my relief began yesterday. We woke to brilliant sunshine, and by chance the village was celebrating its annual festive weekend street market. It's one of those opportunities for the locals to sell off the accumulated stuff they've been accumulating (sorry) over the past year. Even our neighbour was out there with his trestle table, although from his relaxed posture, I think he was just enjoying the chats to passers-by rather than really hoping to sell anything. I strolled around the stalls but resisted the temptation to add to my own store of (accumulated) stuff. Maybe I’ll be out there next year too!

Later on, Koos and I took ourselves to a nearby village for a coffee and apple pie treat. It's not something we do that often, but it's wonderfully sinful. I confess I have quite a passion for apple pie and am a self-proclaimed expert, which means (naturally) I need to test it in as many places as possible. Well, you would too, wouldn't you?

Then today, it was the Hennie H's turn for attention. We are determined she won't be neglected this faringless summer, so given the rising temperatures this morning, I took set off on my bike quite early to give her some TLC while Koos started work on cleaning and painting the engine.

Just in front of the boat, I found a lovely clump of poppies, so of course I had to snap them. Then I spent the next couple of hours washing our little barge and touching up some paintwork. There's still plenty more to do, but it's a start and it felt good. I'm hoping the weather will be kind enough to let me sand and paint the decks next time, but it's not looking very promising for the coming weekends, I'm afraid.

On my return along the dyke, I saw this pretty cottage with another profusion of poppies growing outside. You might need to click on the image to see them properly, but they looked quite gorgeous in the heat of the day. Apparently it went up to 31C today, although there was a brisk breeze which made it feel less and just really pleasant.

This afternoon, we sauntered into the village again to see what was going on with the festivities and found an art exhibition in the old church, some of which was really impressive. We then enjoyed a glass of beer while we watched a marvellous display of exuberance from the local brass band who made up for their lack of finesse with unfettered enthusiasm. They were pretty good really, but it sounded just slightly chaotic. I loved it.

Overall, it was such a gorgeous day I decided to finish it off by going for a longish bike ride round the lanes and down to the great sea canal and back. Sadly, I couldn't help noticing that the weather was already changing. The clouds were gathering and tomorrow, I believe it will be back to normal: 20C and rainy.

All the same, it's been a glorious long weekend, and although I'll be in Rotterdam teaching again on Tuesday, I'm well refreshed by the solid dose of sunshine we've had. Such a gift.

Have a great week allemaal!