Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Ending the year in subdued style

I've just realised this is likely to be my last real blog post this year, which leaves me in a bit of a pickle because I don't have any news to impart.

December has been conspicuous by its paucity of noteworthy events in our personal lives. Everything's been somewhat subdued here in the Flatlands. Other than having the pleasure of my eldest moving next door to us at the Crumbly Cottage, we haven't been anywhere, done anything or explored further in our new surroundings, the main reason being – sorry for being a stuck record about this – the 'orrible weather.

Added to that, we are now in lockdown again – I won't go down that road – so access to anything even remotely festive isn't possible.

So, if you put these two together, you'll appreciate that opportunities for celebrating life, either on water or land, have been limited. Most of my time on the Vereeniging has been spent clearing leaves from the willow tree, only to have one puff of wind (seemingly timed for maximum annoyance) add a fresh layer of them to the hatches and the deck (see, I told you I had no new news!)

And when not chasing leaves, I've been ducking inside out of the rain and cold. We've been nice and cosy in the Vereeniging, though; the old diesel stove has been doing a sterling job of pumping out the warmth just as we like it. It's something of a luxury, I'll admit, because the way energy prices are escalating means our warmth is coming at a massively increased cost. We have a slight respite, however. The diesel we're using at the moment for the stove comes from the Hennie H, whose tank we had to largely drain because it was showing signs of diesel bug. Luckily, it doesn't last long enough as heating fuel to get any worse. Since we bought it when diesel was a lot cheaper, we're counting those particular blessings. Sometimes, there's gold at the end of the rainbow; in the case of the photo below, two of them! 

I took this picture in November before all the leaves had fallen. What fascinated me was that I could even see where the rainbow ended in front of the trees. Did I go and look for the pot? No, because I'm a great believer in 'let the mystery be'.

On Friday, I shall get my little tree out and our neighbour-daughter is coming to help me decorate it, as per our Christmas Eve tradition. Christmas itself will be celebrated on the Vereeniging, so I hope the rain gods will also take a festive break and allow us to go for an afternoon walk with the family. It's about as much as current circumstances permit, but at least we can be together for a while.

Have a good one yourselves, allemaal, and I'll leave you with these photos of the wild horses I snapped the other day in our nearby nature reserve. I always love to see them and for once, it was a (rare), sunshiny afternoon.

Happy Christmas and New Year, my friends


Monday, December 13, 2021

Maintenance the Dutch way

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

Winterising...sort of

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!