Friday, November 19, 2021

Brabant's unexpected bounty

I've been a bit quiet here and didn't manage to post a blog last week. There've been various reasons for that, one of which is that I've been trying to finish writing the novel I started four years ago. I've taken up a challenge I've done before, which is to write 50k words during November. There's an official name for this challenge (NaNoWriMo), which you can also do officially. I'm not, but I am unofficially sharing the experience with a small group of Facebook friends, one of whom is my author friend Alyson Sheldrake, who is just so inspiring. She's published four books this year alone and she's way ahead of the rest of us in this endeavour already, but I don't think I'd have reached today's total of 30k words without her standard bearing. Thank you so much, Alyson! Since I was already over 40k when I dragged it out of my files and blew the proverbial dust off it, I'm well on the way to a completed novel. Whether it will be worth reading or not is another matter entirely, but we'll see. I can but hope!

Anyway, apart from that, we've been spending quite a bit of time on the Vereeniging, and on Tuesday, we went exploring again. In truth, we'd planned to take the old girl for a quick spuddle up to the end of the arm to be able to turn her around and work on the starboard side, but it was real brass-monkey weather, so we went out in the car instead.

Our venture took us along some pretty back lanes to the small town of Zevenbergen, which happens to be the local authority centre for the council district of Moerdijk. I wasn't expecting much at all but was very pleasantly surprised by what we found. I have to confess that my photos don't really do it justice and the town is prettier than it looks, but what fascinated us was the canal running up the centre of the main shopping street.

Until last year, it wasn't there. Well, that's not strictly true. Many years ago, it was a through connection from the Hollands Diep to the Dintel-Mark river, which is the commercial waterway that runs east and west from Oudenbosch. The connection was, and still is, the Roode Vaart, except that at some point, the section that crossed through Zevenbergen was filled in, closing off access to the Mark as well as the northern section to Moerdijk.

When we left Rotterdam, we stayed overnight below the lock into the Rode Vaart after crossing the Hollands Diep, and we talked then about how much time it would save us to be able to carry on through Zevenbergen if we could get to Oudenbosch that way.

Here's the map that shows you what a short cut it would have been:

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 
with caf├ęs

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.

As my title says, this really was some unexpected bounty, and I'm pretty sure we'll be back again for a visit on a sunnier warmer day next year.

Enjoy your weekend, allemaal and I'll try and post more news again next week. Wish me luck with my word count!

Monday, November 08, 2021

Revising my Reflections on My Watery Life

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.

Daughter helping with maintenance before
moving on board

If I'm honest, a different owner would probably rip out everything I've built in and start again because the interior is entirely of my rather amateur construction and so it is all rather obviously home made, but I don't care. I love every inch of my barge and spend hours inspecting details that I could revise and do better. In fact, last night I lay in bed below the foredeck gazing at the panelling and planning how to tidy it up and re-paint it all. The last time it was done was about seven years ago, and since then, the panels in front of my water tanks have been moved to different positions at least three times, leaving rather obvious scars in the process. Then this morning, I was up early giving my new storage unit / kist a second coat of paint and cutting some shelving to repair one that had got broken when last daughter moved out. Reading this shows me it's time I did some interior decorating again. The trouble with small spaces is that they get lived in more thoroughly than large houses where most rooms remain empty much of the time. In my barge, everything is used all the time. It's time to do some repainting!

One of her interior looks. It's changed a bit since then but
the basics are the same

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.

Two dear friends meeting for the first time on board

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.

Seeing this helps me dream of adventures to come