Thursday, December 22, 2022

Wrapping it up for the year

Here we are again. It's my Christmas post and it's time to wrap up the year as well as the gifts. I won't be sorry to see the back of 2022 (where have I heard that before? Oh yes, here, last year), but then again, the upside is that we've all seen it through and are still here to bravely go where none have gone before...into 2023.

So what has this year seen?

Well, in January, we were still enjoying the novelty of having the Vereeniging in a new location. I wrote posts about the town of Oudenbosch, where she is moored and also about our visit to Roosendaal, a nearby city with an interesting waterways development. We enjoyed our explorations despite the winter weather, although we weren't able to go by boat even though we'd really hoped to do so.

An interesting feature in the waterside
at Roosendaal

Locally, February brought us a triple whammy of dreadful storms. In quick succession, we had Dudley, Eunice and Franklin, all of which inflicted considerable damage in the flatlands and had us haring around trying to prevent damage to the Vereeniging when flooding increased the levels in the river to (rope) stretching point. I've never had to paddle to my barge before, but on that occasion, we had to wade through the water to reach her and release the over-taut ropes that were causing her to list alarmingly. On an international level, it was, as we all know, the beginning of the tragedy that is the Ukraine war. I'm sure we all believed in February that it would be over by now. As usual, our optimism that peace would prevail was misplaced. 

High water on the river

March was a most peculiar month. Not only did we have our first severe frost, but we were also plagued by dust storms from the Sahara. The year was throwing more than a few weatherly tantrums. I think everyone in Europe was complaining about the red skies and sandy dust that found its way into every nook, cranny and crack, as well as onto every surface. The Vereeniging and the Hennie H both changed colour over night. And it wasn't just a one-off incident either. We had repeat performances of the Sahara sensation over the whole week. I wrote a blog about it here.

In April, I finally managed to visit my family for the first time since Covid struck us. I hadn't been to the UK since December 2019, so it was a real joy to fly to England without being subjected to restrictions. Although I stayed with my sister, our family reunion took place at the beautiful village of Lechlade on Thames where we had lunch overlooking the river and enjoyed a glorious walk along the narrowboat-lined banks. The trip was definitely one of the highlights of my year. Later in the month, we had the Hennie H lifted out and inspected; much to our relief, she passed with flying colours.

The following month of May was one of mixed blessings, or should I say curses? On the upside, the weather was beautiful and I had the pleasure of exploring the gorgeous city of Middelburg with my daughter in hot sunshine. The city was at its best with the trees in full leaf and bloom. The downside was  our increasing awareness that we had a serious problem with the Hennie H's engine, a problem that reared its head when we came back from our inspection and that was to persist until July.



Looking back through my blogs, I notice I didn't post much in June, mainly because I was very busy with work, but the first post I wrote focused on the fun we experienced when the bridge over the canal at Sas van Gent was closed for maintenance, the fun part being that we had to take a ferry across. For more than a week, I made a point of going to Sas every day just so I could enjoy a daily boat trip while we were stuck in harbour with the engine problem. 

The ferry with cyclists boarding

During June, Koos also took a break to make a trip to Hungary, a short and much needed holiday. Then, following his return, most of July was spent testing the Hennie H's engine, which continued to give us problems until eventually, the company that sold it to us supplied us with an electric fuel pump, which, thankfully, solved the problem. However, as they say, when one door opens, another closes. We approached the end of the month full of optimism that we would be off on holiday within a week, but the fates had other ideas for us.

In the last week of July, Koos started getting pain in his arms, an alarming signal we both knew well. This meant his heart was acting up, or at least the blood wasn't circulating through his heart properly. He'd had two previous attacks like this, both of which resulted in surgery to insert stents. Sadly, this was a repeat performance, but it took some time and three ambulance calls to persuade the medics that it was serious. This was the post I wrote about it after a week of constant to'ing and fro'ing to doctors and hospitals.

Eventually, though, he and we were fit to go and go we did. We had the most wonderful month faring  through Belgium and northern France making magical memories again. I wasn't able to blog while we were away, so all my travel blogs were written in September and October. You can find them here, herehere and here.

The most peaceful of French canals at Tupigny

Going through the Historic lifts at La Louvière

We were back in our home port of Sas van Gent on September the 10th, however. This urgency was because we had another lift out organised; this time with the Vereeniging, which was also being inspected. Again, much to our relief, she passed and we enjoyed a lovely short cruise to and from the yard. I blogged about this in October as well.

October itself saw my return to work and routine life. We cat sat for a week for my daughter and enjoyed having furry friends in the house again. I also spent time doing up some old kists (blanket chests), which is something I have always enjoyed. Both cats and kists are in this post.

So that brings me up to November, a special month that had me taking a trip to Leiden to see the older of my two daughters graduate, an event that resulted in two blog posts: one about the graduation ceremony and the other about the city of Leiden, a beautiful and ancient seat of learning.

And now, here we are in December. To even the balance, my last post was about my other daughter's achievements as a karter, a sport she has embraced since being here in the Netherlands. However, something I haven't written about this year has been the two very sad losses we've had in the family. Both girls lost their beloved dogs to sudden and fatal illnesses, neither of which can be explained. They were devastated and I too was deeply saddened about losing my beloved grandpups, Charlie and Luna. They were such important members of our family.

But now Mo has a new spaniel puppy who is doing his best to fill the space. The delightful Mack has joined their household, and last weekend, Koos and I puppy-sat for Mo and her boyfriend while they attended a previously arranged commitment. He was an absolute delight; so sweet and so affectionate. An adorable bundle of wiggling, piddling joy 😊

Needless to say, he will also be joining us this weekend at the crumbly cottage and will be very welcome. It seems fitting that the new year will begin with such a charming addition to our lives.

Welcome to little Mack

So to end this endless post, allemaal, here's wishing you all a lovely festive season, a blessed Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a peaceful and positive new year. Look after yourselves and I'll see you in 2023.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

A great track record

Apologies for my recent absence here. It's the time of year, I'm afraid, and work has kept me from my blogging, reading and writing activities just recently. However, this is a blog I've been wanting to write for a long time so since it's the festive season, this would seem to be the time to celebrate another success. Be warned, though; it's another mother's pride post. 😊

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my elder daughter's graduation for her Master's degree in Historical Linguistics. My younger daughter has also gained a title this year, but in quite a different area. I should say up front that she has academic qualifications aplenty, but I am so proud of her for what she has achieved as a kart racer.

Until she took up the sport, I really knew nothing about karting, other than taking both girls to the sandy outdoor track near Krugersdorp in SA, where karts were of the pedalling variety and bore little resemblance to the sport as it is really done. Correction, I did know that most of the current Formula 1 drivers started out as karters, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen to name two. But that was all I knew, so when Mo and her boyfriend Stephan started getting involved, I became quite interested and even did it once myself with them on an indoor track.

What I didn't anticipate was how seriously they would get into the sport and to what lengths Mo would go to set up her own kart, do all the mechanics for it herself and even outstrip many other male karters with her knowledge and technical skills. Not only that, she soon proved to be an excellent racer, giving many boys more than half her age a run for their money, as evidenced by the photo below.

Back in May, I went to an outdoor circuit to watch her race seriously for the first time and I was so impressed. To my surprise, I found it tremendous fun despite the awful weather. I'll admit to being a long-time F1 fan (since childhood when my father used to listen to the racing on the radio), but I can honestly say going in person opened my eyes to the skill needed to drive these little rockets on wheels successfully on a wet, outdoor track. Mo had been karting for several years already, but this was real racing.

The day was extremely wet, and it was quite a watery baptism for my daughter. We watched while she prepared her kart for the conditions and, with Stephan, wheeled it out to the track ready for her laps. 

Family support in place

Preparing the kart for racing

Almost ready to go

Her race was fast and exciting and she came in third place out of (around) ten participants, a couple of whom didn't finish. The track was horrendous: rain-soaked and covered in debris from the various mishaps.

Taking the inside of the bend away from 
the debris

It really was quite something to be there and to watch my girl screaming around the circuit in hot pursuit of the much more experienced male participants. The spray flew off the surface, but she held her corners and only lost a place by spinning off once. It was a thrilling experience with, for me, all the nail-biting excitement of a mini Formula 1.

Chasing the front runner

And here she is on the podium after coming third in her race

Mo and Stephan are also part of a team, all of whom are friends they have made while karting. Earlier in the year, they took part in an endurance event that involved each member of the team driving some mind-boggling number of laps over several hours. I forget how long theirs was, but endurance races can be anything between 4 and 24 hours and I think this one was closer to the upper end of the time scale.

The endurance champions

And then the moment when she came third in the Club Championship. Who says women cannot compete against men successfully? I was so chuffed for her. She started karting some years ago now, but most of the men have been doing it since they were kids. She's also said goodbye to her thirties; a terrific achievement, don't you think?

A proud and happy moment

And lastly, I'm very touched to know that her kart is called 'The flying V' after me, but also inspired by Stephan's mother, Vera, and the Dutch word vrouwen (women). 

The Flying V

Mo with Stephan (on the right) and a team mate

So, bragging aside, I hope you've enjoyed the story of Mo's speedy hobby. When I think that Max Verstappen's mother was a top karter and Susie Wolff (the wife of F1 Mercedes boss) was a karter and racing driver, I know it's not unheard of, but they both stopped before Mo even started. It just goes to show it's never to late to give it a go ;)

Enjoy the last weeks before the festive season, allemaal, and I hope I can fit in a blog or two before the end of the year.

By the way, the cover for my latest book is entered in a competition. If you like my design and feel inclined to vote for me, do feel free to click on the link below. I'd be really so grateful as I'm through to the second round now:


Monday, November 28, 2022

More of a picture post

I thought I'd catch up with a few photos I've taken lately that I haven't used in other posts. Firstly, though, I thought readers here might like to see the finished kist (blanket chest) I started working on some weeks back. It's been much more work than I anticipated and it's still not as good as I'd like it to be, but I can't afford to spend more time on it now. The scratches on the top were already there and try as I might, I cannot smooth them out, so I'm just calling it character. Here it is ready to be hauled into my bedroom.

Apart from the kist, I've also been assisting Koos with a project to enlarge our loo on the Hennie H. It's been an annoyance for years because it was so small, there wasn't even room to swing a mouse in it, let alone a cat, so Koos took the initiative, bit all sorts of bullets and started dismantling the part that needed expanding. We don't have much room on the HH as it is, but the extra thirty odd centimetres will give us significantly more standing room.

The photo above was stage one with the back and side walls removed. That was a phenomenal job in itself as the construction was fit for a load-bearing wall in a house. Seeing as this is the smallest room on a boat, it seemed a bit extreme. The back wall had not one, but three layers, two of which were on each side of a frame sturdy enough to hold the entire roof up. Luckily, it didn't or we might have had second thoughts. The tongue-and-groove ceiling also had to come out and we found two layers there as well. Rest assured, the new model will be far less complicated, and I'll post some photos of the new construction soon. It's halfway there.

In other news, I went for a real grey November walk the other day and came across this delightful sight.

It's a row of little bee and insect hotels built by the locals along the edge of a field where they're trying to encourage wild flowers to grow as well. Apologies for the dreary skies, but aren't the tiny houses delightful? Seeing them there made my day and I'm so pleased to see our village folk getting involved in projects to nurture insect life. 

Talking of insects, I saw my first giant Asian hornet the other day. It flew into the room where I was working on the kist, landed on my sander and then flew out again. It seemed very dopey, and I should probably have despatched it but I was so shocked it didn't occur to me. In truth, I didn't know what it was but when I looked it up, I realised they are definitely undesirable here. I hope we're not going to have a plague of them next year.

And then last Friday, we did a bit of a diversion on our way to spend a few days on Vereeniging. I'd been nosing around to see if there's somewhere new to take her and had read about a small historic harbour at Kamperland off the Veersemeer in Zeeland. It's probably too far off the beaten track there for practical purposes, but we enjoyed our visit very much. The barges were gorgeously graceful and the environs were lovely. It could be tempting. Some of my readers here have seen the photos below on Facebook and a couple on Twitter, but I wanted to add them here as well.

The first three are of tjalks, the most commonly seen Dutch sailing barges here in the Netherlands. The last one is of motor barge. Lovely, aren't they? I never get tired of seeing these beautiful craft.

And my last photo offerings for this week are of my beautiful old lady. We had to fill up the water tanks and turn her around, which of course was the perfect excuse for a short 'spuddle' to the end of the river arm and back.

There's only one photo left on my phone that I haven't shared, but I'll save that one for next time because it will mark a rather special event for our family. For now, though, I'll say have a great week allemaal. Keep warm if you're in the north; stay cool for all you down south :)

Monday, November 21, 2022

Lovely Leiden

Well, another week has sped by and I find it's Monday already. Where all this time goes, I have no idea, but it seems to disappear down a hole called  'the week that was'. I can't remember for the life of me what I've done, other than work, do chores and try to fit in some writing or some other creative (or at least constructive) pursuit.

Anyway, mini moan over, I promised you a blog post about our visit to Leiden for my daughter's graduation. I've been to the city a few times and on each occasion, I've been struck by what a beautiful place it is: elegant, charming, lively and as typically Dutch as you can get.  I didn't take all that many photos of it this time as we were side-tracked by our visit to the Timmerwerf  but I'll add some photos of a previous visit at the end so you can see more than the historic harbour area, which is what we focused on this time.

An overview of where we were in the historic harbour
Thanks to George Lezenby for the photo found on Flickr

As all my readers here know, I am drawn to the water wherever I go, and if there are old, traditional barges to see, all the better. Leiden has its own historic harbour, which despite being small is home to around a dozen beautiful old sailing barges. My daughter knew I'd want to see them so on our way back to the station she indulged her mum and I was able to take a few photos. The light wasn't the best, but I think you'll agree there are some lovely classic craft to be seen.

The harbour is also home to the beautiful Stadstimmerwerf building. It used to be one of a pair that enclosed a complete yard for not only carpentry (timmerwerk) but also other crafts such as a forge for steelwork. According to the guide who lured us into the remaining building with promises of history (always irresistible), the city carpenter lived in the house and worked in the yard. It looks a beautiful place to reside, but I'm guessing that in those days (the early 17th century), it probably had little in the way of luxury. What we see now as a gracious and gorgeous house in a highly desirable location would just have been an ordinary home combined with a work place for the man in that position. The other identical building that used to form the frontage of the yard was apparently used for storage purposes. However, that has long gone.

What the interior had, though, was some beautiful original tiling on the walls and floors, some of which remains to this day as can be seen in the photos below. The tiles have themes, and on the wall  in the picture below, those up at the end by the stairs were all of horses and riders in different poses. Towards this end, they are people, all in pairs, involved in various activities, such as playing games, pushing each other on swings and even just talking. I found them quite delightful and was impressed they'd survived so long.

The tiles on the wall by these old and original stairs were very sweet. They were rather primitive depictions of what looked like Cupid in numerous different poses. I couldn't help thinking 'if only the walls could talk'. What history they have seen!

Stairs to the upper floor

Steps down to the cellar, also with tiled walls 
and an apparently original floor

These days, the rooms in the building are used as exhibition space for local artists. In some ways, I found their work a little incongruous with the surroundings, but then it is also a rather special place in which to exhibit. I think most artists would love the opportunity to hang their paintings on these venerable old walls.

Anyway, as I mentioned in my last post, Leiden is a lovely, gracious city that exudes a traditional Dutch atmosphere and is very much a seat of learning. To finish, then, here are the promised pics of an earlier visit when time wasn't an issue.

Like all Dutch cities, Leiden has canals and boats

And lifting bridges too

Not to mention bikes; 
it's a university city, after all

The wedding cake church: de Hartebrugkerk

Typical Dutch high street: elegant old houses, bikes and people

The 'Burcht' in Leiden, an ancient keep, originally built in 1060

View of Leiden from the Burcht

View of the 14th century Hooglandse Kerk from the Burcht

If you'd like to know more about Leiden and its history, Wikipedia always comes to the rescue, so here is the link for the Burcht, and here is a general link for Leiden itself.

Enjoy the rest of the week allemaal. I have more DIY news to come next week, so if that doesn't float your boat (so to speak), just watch this space for further explorations of our environs.