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.