Wednesday, December 22, 2021
Monday, December 13, 2021
Not that long ago, a friend of mine on Facebook was complaining about the lack of maintenance in his home state of Illinois. By maintenance, he meant things like roads, mains-water systems, electricity cables etc. At the time, I said I'd never complain about the Dutch obsession with maintenance again, but I have to say I'm backtracking on that idea.
It's true that this country is maintenance mad. I lived in Rotterdam for twenty years and it seemed as if every road, pavement or subway in the city was dug up at least once a year, sometimes twice or even thrice for maintenance of some kind. I never knew what it was, but each time it was something different. Why couldn't they coordinate these activities? I asked. Why was it that the same road had to be dug up three times in the same year for different purposes?
Buildings too. Maintenance is almost a disease here, it really is. Every few years, whole blocks are shrouded in protective netting while renovation companies revamp the facades of buildings that still look brand new to me. I often used to wonder how it was that 16th-century townhouses in the older cities all managed to look fake — like Gdansk*, only more so! But it didn't take me long to find out. It was all down to regular and (almost) obsessive smooshing.
*For those who haven't seen it, Gdansk was rebuilt after the war in its own likeness. Much of the centre that looks old is actually new.
However, the Netherlands' slightly OTT attitude to keeping things under control and in good order has tested my patience more than somewhat this year. As many of you know, we spend part of our time at what we affectionately call 'the crumbly cottage' in Zeeland. The little house sits on a traditional Dutch dyke and is part of a five-kilometre-long village with houses on each side of a narrow, mostly cobbled road. Every kilometre or so, a small parallel side road veers off the main dyke, giving access to other houses and farms below it, and then rejoins the dyke a few hundred metres further along.
Now earlier this year, the local authorities announced they would be embarking on the replacement of the water, electricity and gas lines along our part of the dyke, a major undertaking that would take several months. Done in phases, they began the project at the beginning of May and have only just finished a section of less than a kilometre. During these seven months, we have had to take a long and circuitous route around the country to even reach our local shops by car. But that's not been the main issue. Think of having the road dug up in front of your house for three of those seven months and the car access to your house closed for the whole period, especially in these pandemic times when we've relied so much on deliveries, and you begin to get the picture. The photo below is of our section of dyke.
The bizarre thing about the entire exercise is that they haven't dug the road up just once; they've done it three times for each section. And not actually for different purposes. Why? Yes, you may well ask. The first time was to lay the new pipes and cables; the second was to make the connections to each house and the third was to remove the old pipes and cables. And each time, they've filled in the road and replaced the surface cobbles before digging it all up again. I know. Incomprehensible, isn't it?
We've toyed with all the possible reasons why, but I've come to the conclusion it's just the Dutch way. This is a country built on shifting sand, so maybe it's important to keep the dykes as cohesive as possible and if that means doing one job three times, then so be it.
Oh and by the way, they haven't finished yet. Although they've now confirmed they've completed our section, they've still got the rest of the dyke to do. It'll take more than a year for sure.
What's more, we've now been told the phone company is going to be putting in fibre optic cables for internet and TV in the coming months, which will mean digging it all up again. And after that, guess what? The council will come and redo the whole surface of the road because the cable layers can't do a proper job. Perish the thought that it might be uneven or, worse, have potholes! Hey ho, away we go.
So to go back to what I was saying about our US friend's complaints, I think I'm thoroughly over maintenance now and would be quite happy with a few imperfections in our roads and houses for a while.
Hmm, a post with only one pic? That will never do. Here’s a photo of a short spuddle we took on Saturday to turn the Vereeniging around for ease of departure (see, we live in hope!)
Enjoy your week, allemaal!
Friday, December 03, 2021
I've been a bit quiet here lately owing to a number of interruptions to my blogging life; in other words, I've had other writing to do that's taken priority during November.
Suffice to say, I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo to finish a book I started four years ago, and I'm over the moon to be able to confirm that the first draft is finished. Whether it will be good enough to publish later when I've been back and revised it a few times, I don't yet know, but I'm very chuffed to have met the target of fifty thousand words in one month (the purpose of NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National November Writing Month).
Now I'll get back to the usual routines, I hope, one of which is keeping up with my blog, which is still my favourite corner of the Internet. I love writing and reading blog posts and I've missed my usual rounds during November. Normal service will shortly be resumed :)
Anyway, what is there actually to report at the end of this exceptionally wet, cold and gloomy month?
Well, at our new mooring, things are still great and we are enjoying the tranquillity of life away from the city. I have, however, discovered the downside of this beautifully green, tree-lined section: leaves. Lots of them. Our spot is right next to a beautiful willow tree, which is busily shedding and has been doing so for several weeks. Each time we come here from Zeeland, my first job is to try and wash them all off, but within an hour, there's a new layer of them covering the decks and tarpaulin.
|You've guessed! After :)|
Another consequence of the 'orrible weather is the unlikelihood that we'll be faring again any time soon. I won't say it's impossible, but neither of us enjoys standing out in the cold, wind and rain, and believe me, it's finger-freezing cold now! With this in mind, I've semi-winterised certain bits of the barge to protect them and also to stop one or two leaks that keep coming back to nag at me.
The first is in the teak entrance hatch to the back cabin (roef) of the barge. Being wood, it expands and contracts and tends to drip when we have heavy rain. I've sorted out a cover for it, which I hope will prevent this leakage during the winter at least. It's not very professional, but at least it works. I'd love to have a good one made one of these days, though.
As you can also see here, I've made a cover for the steering wheel as well, which helps to prevent rusting and also protects the mechanism from direct rainfall, some of which follows the shaft down and into the engine room. I have a series of buckets to receive it. Both these covers are, as you can see, a vision of cheap brown tarpaulin and duct tape. Smart? Not really, but they work. At least I hope they do. The photo above was taken before my leaf eradicating session, but I expect there are just as many on the decks again now. After all, that was at least half an hour ago.
Anyway, so that's really all the news. Or is it? Not completely. A quick dash over to the Hennie H and I can proudly say I've finally finished cupboard number 2 and am ready to embark on the next one. Here's a photo, a bit fuzzy, but you get the idea. I'm pretty happy with the way it's turned out.
So that's it allemaal. Enjoy your weekend and next time I'll be writing about something totally different. In fact, it's a bit of a gripe, but a good humoured one (I hope). I can tell you in advance it concerns maintenance of a different kind!
Friday, November 19, 2021
And here's the route we had to take, although it's not completely accurate because it doesn't show the Moerdijk mooring which is just beneath the word 'Diep' of Hollands Diep:
Anyway, imagine our surprise when we arrived in Zevenbergen and found they have dug out the canal through the town to make it look more as it did in former times. Apparently, it's only been open for about a year. Sadly, though, the crucial parts at each end are still blocked off, but a very friendly local told us it might be opened up in the future, "although that might take a year or ten," he said with a smile. Still, we live in hope!
Below are the snaps I took with my phone. Bearing in mind the steely grey of a very cold November day, you can see they're trying to make it a real waterside town with fake masts as lampposts and bridges across at regular intervals. I was charmed by it all and felt we'd made quite a discovery.
|A view into the very attractive main square, which is lined |
Above is the marina at the end of the northern section. They will have to dig under a large main road to break through into the town section.
And above is what you see looking in from the marina. At the far end, there would be a longer stretch to be dug out, and since this would involve demolishing some relatively new buildings, I can imagine that might take some time.
Monday, November 08, 2021
Back in November 2015, I wrote a post about my feelings about my barge, my watery life and how I saw the future. It became one of my most popular posts ever, so I decided to read it again and see how much of it still held true. After all, it was six years ago now, so what's changed? I'm posting it here and making comments in italics.
I've been doing some reflecting this week as I've sat in my barge. Reflecting as in pondering on life as opposed to watching double-sided ducks on the water, that is. And the result of my pondering reflections is this:
It was fourteen years ago this month that I bought the Vereeniging as an empty shell complete with several not so optional extras, these being rust holes, a rotten axle and rather too obvious ventilation in all the wrong places. I had to forgive her though. She was a hundred and three years old and had survived serious abuse and neglect, somehow managing to stay afloat while the weeds grew out of the rust in her hull. It was a match made for the tenacious; for both her and me. In 2021, this is now twenty years, rather than fourteen and my determination to keep her afloat remains strong. I can be obsessive about these things as I think most of my blog pals know by now.
|Vereeniging when she was new|
The former owner had done much to try and renovate her, but he was also elderly and in truth, he was more enamoured of the engine than any other part of the barge. I wonder if he has yet forgiven me for changing it from the 1921 hot bulb Industrie engine that he so adored to the 1955 Samofa engine that I still adore. Sadly, age and his wife's ill health forced him to sell the Vereeniging as a project he was only three years into in 2001, but apart from my disgraceful insensitivity over the engine, I think it wasn't a bad idea to sell it to me as I am seriously attached to this old lady. I'm afraid the former owner has probably now passed on to the great engineering workshop in the sky. As the Samofa has now more than proved itself on our recent trip to Oudensbosch, I remain content that I gave up on the Industrie, but I still have a photo of it on my bookcase.
After dealing with the worst of the rusted, riveted hull, it took me two years to create a home from the empty shell of the hold. It's taken me several more years to add other improvements (plus further steel plates) and even today, I never stop working on the maintenance. There's always something that needs doing quite apart from the regular two yearly bottom inspections. The last of these was actually after just one year owing to my sleepless nights over the state of the vlak (interior hull surface) in my little back cabin (see previous post). Since this post, I have had three more lift outs and have another scheduled for next year. Compulsive obsessive behaviour is not something you get over at my age!
During the time I've had the Vereeniging, my daughters have both had spells of living on her, and at these times, I've moved off and lived with Koos. The girls have been free to make her their home and as a result things inside have been taken apart, moved or reconstructed - not always to my taste, I will admit. For the last eighteen months, though, I've had her back and I stay on her during the week when I am alone in Rotterdam for work. I am slowly making her my own again and some of you will have seen the progress of the renovation here on this blog. She is still my home although I still don't live on her full time. I love the three or four days a week I spend on her, though, and always try and do something to maintain or improve her. This weekend has been particularly productive with the new steering wheel cover I've made to protect the wheel over the winter.
Of course, there is also the never ending challenge of the tides. When combined with a gangplank that wants to start its own life on the quay or dive into the harbour for a swim, this requires a weekly engagement with ropes, spanners and hammers to make sure it all stays in place. The next storm or extreme high or low tide will naturally reverse all my efforts and I'll start all over again. What bliss it is not to have to worry about this anymore. The last weeks since our move to Oudenbosch have been marked by lack of anxiety about what damage I will find when I return. It's just a pleasure to return every week. The only downside is having to cross the harbour to fill up with water, but we can turn that into a small adventure, especially for Koos, who enjoys the manoeuvring.
|Getting water is an adventure in itself|
That aside, I wouldn't have it any other way, and when we played host this week to two great cyber buddies from a Facebook group I belong to, Women on Barges, I was very happy to have them on board despite my still long list of to-be-improvedments. We had never met before but it was click at first sight, as it was with all our respective men folk. It was a special and lovely evening of laughter and talk and I know we all count each other as real friends now. I feel quite nostalgic when I read this. I haven't seen those friends for several years now, although we keep in touch via Facebook. The whole Covid situation has also widened the physical divides all of us have experienced. I do so hope we'll be able to meet again before too long and look forward to raising my glass with them and my other lovely WOB friends.
The funny thing is I'd never have come across them if it hadn't been for the Vereeniging, so I have that to thank my lovely old lady for too. She has brought me many friends in the harbour, but also cyber friends via blogging and Facebook; she has also given me the material for two books and fourteen years of something I can only describe as a feeling of warm, embracing security…the Dutch might call it gezelligheid, but it's more than that. I won't go soppy and sentimental on you now, but many people see their boats as a symbol of freedom, and the Vereeniging, now 117 years old, represents that for me too; the freedom, independence and self-reliance I gained when I decided to make my life in the Netherlands. That's quite a symbol isn't it? Is it any wonder then when I say I will never sell her... Although I still tear up when I read this and think of all she has meant to me in the last twenty years, I realise that one day, I will have to part company with her. Six years on, I am beginning to realise my limitations, but I pray I can remain fit and healthy for another few years at least. I no longer say I'll never sell her, but I'm holding off the day as long as possible. After all, now we've moved, we have a whole new world of waterways to explore.
Vereeniging remains a huge part of my life and my love for everything she is endures despite the costs, which are more than just financial. I only hope that in another six years I'll still be able to say the same, but for now, I'll continue to enjoy every moment Koos and I can spend on and with her.
Sunday, October 31, 2021
|The quaint village main street|
|A beautifully maintained water tower|
|The water picnic tables|
|Very appealing visitor moorings|
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
It's already nearly a week since I posted about the start of our journey to Oudenbosch. In the meantime, we've spent several enjoyable days at our mooring, but of course I need to get all of you there before I start on what it's like in our new environs.
You may be wondering at the title, though. What and who is Leaky Lou? Well, having sung the Samofa's praises in my last blog post (fully justified, I might add), I didn't mention the engine's own special technique of 'self-lubricating'. In other words, it likes to distribute oil to parts that I'm sure aren't mentioned in the manual – and in a somewhat undisciplined fashion. Before we'd travelled many kilometres, there were traces of oil sneaking out from practically every possible joint. Not in any quantity, I should add, but enough to make a mess of my bilges and nice, clean engine room floor. So, it wasn't long before I nicknamed the Samofa 'Leaky Lou' and 'it' became a 'she' in her own right. She continued to ooze quietly throughout the trip, but since I didn't even need to add more than half a litre of precious 30 grade motor oil throughout the whole three days, we didn't find it too alarming. It's something that will need attention, though.
Anyway, getting back to the journey, Saturday morning in Moerdijk dawned misty again, but not with the heavy fog we'd had the previous day. It was much lighter and by nine o'clock the sky was a hazy, pearly hue that was clear enough for us to get going.
Once again, my stomach was doing summersaults of the high vaulting variety. I knew the next part of our journey would take us along the Hollandsch Diep for some thirteen kilometres before we reached our turn off at Drimmelen. They were kilometres of finger-crossing, nail-biting and teeth-clenching for me, even more so than the previous day. After all, to pass under the great Moerdijk Bridge, we had to move towards the middle of the estuary to comply with the rules of passage. Gulp factor ten in my ratings, while my 'what if' gauge went off the scale completely.
|Heading for the Moerdijk Bridge|
|Oh my word...it's like the sea!|
|Moving into the Maas, Koos in full skipper mode|
But we did it and Leaky Lou kept up the steady, regular beat for this two-hour stretch, a rhythm for which she's become well known. What we didn't know was that my daughter had been following our progress and took photos us as we passed the quay at Drimmelen, just before we slipped into the blissful safety of the Wilhelmina canal to Oosterhout. She then caught up with us on the towpath of the canal; it made my day to see her waving to us from the dyke, accompanied by my grandpup, Charlie.
Her photos of the Vereeniging on the water are really lovely, so I hope she doesn't mind my sharing a couple here.