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.


Monday, November 14, 2022

Mastery takes many forms

Last Friday, I had the pride and pleasure (and probably a touch of positive prejudice too) of seeing my daughter graduate with her Research Master's in historical linguistics at Leiden University, the oldest seat of learning in the Netherlands.

This degree has been achieved despite the very difficult circumstances imposed on her by the pandemic as well as some intense personal challenges, so I was clapping fit to burst when she received her official certficate.

I found the ceremony itself the most interesting and enjoyable of any academic award occasions I've experienced. Firstly, the building was really such a lovely setting. Leiden university exudes that aura of ancient and hallowed academia. I imagine it's similar to the atmosphere at Cambridge or Oxford universities. I could almost smell the parchment as I sat on the old pews in the gorgeously panelled room. Wonderful.

Daughter's pitch on the fascinating
subject of old English syntax

Secondly, each recipient (there were about ten of them) had to give a one-minute speech about their research topic, an ideal length because it forced them to be concise and invited them to be engaging, a bit like giving an elevator pitch. I enjoyed all of them; they were so varied and much more exciting than I could have imagined. There were even some topics that made me wish I could go back to university and study, for instance, inter-language code switching among bi-lingual people. I have spent a few years now being a sounding board for Jo's research on a particular area of historical syntax, but now I learned of even more subjects to intrigue me. 

Anyway, after each speech, their supervisors (if present) said suitably complimentary things about them and then each new Master's graduate was handed their diploma and a single rose. Those whose supervisors weren't there had accolades heaped on them in the form of a letter instead. It was all very moving.

Happy with her Master's and her rose

After receiving their degrees, the next ritual was for the new graduates to sign their names on the 'wall of fame'. In fact, the wall is an entire room on one of the upper floors of the building and represents a tradition of long and noble practice. Every centimetre of each wall is covered in tiny autographs, some of which are protected due to the status of the scribe; Winston Churchill is one of them, along with the signatures of a number of the 'Oranje' family (the current royals). I should add that Churchill didn't study at Leiden but he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law in 1946. This link to the university's website explains more. I believe Koos’s son’s name is also there somewhere too, probably quite far up given his lofty two-metre height.

Waiting outside the room

My daughter making her mark

I snapped away as Jo signed her name, and we tried to zoom in on it....well, we know it's there, even if it's barely distinguishable from all the other scribbles. They're only allowed to write in pencil, so the pencil in the photo marks the spot

Hard to see, but her signature is there

A happy girl

Looking down into the courtyard

Celebrating with coffee

After a celebratory cup of coffee in one of the campus's wonderfully comfortable coffee bars, we took a walk through Leiden, past its historic harbour.

However, Leiden deserves its own blog post, so I'll keep the rest for next time. I have photos of graceful old boats and also the fascinating timmerwerf  (carpentry yard), which we were lured into on route. For now, suffice to say, I was a happy mum to have seen my girl achieve what she's worked so hard for, and I'll leave you with this typically Dutch bridge and windmill.

And then a walk through beautiful Leiden

 Have a good week, allemaal and watch this space for a return to boats and barges in my next post.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

When research is a togetherness thing

The last few days have been fascinating. I've been doing some research for my work-in-progress, which is a sequel to The Skipper's Child, the novel I wrote about twelve years ago. My young hero, Arie, is now 16 and has joined his father, Hendrik, as the co-skipper of their barge, Rival. 

The new adventure takes them to Germany and to the East German border, so I've been trying to find out how things were at that time, and Koos, with his skills in reading German, has been helping me. I have to admit I might have to change my plot a little given what I've now found out, but this website has provided a heap of information for me on what happened at the iron curtain border. It was pretty difficult for anyone to get through it, not least Germans, but as often happens, I've got hooked on the research itself. What Arie and the Kornets will do, I now have no idea, and my story has yet to sort itself out! But it's giving me loads of new ideas.

If you look at the site, you'll see that on the GDR side, there were look-out posts on the bridges (crows' nests) and a barrier that slid across the canal when transit stopped for the day. The translation for the site is pretty decent, so let Google do it for you if you don't speak German, like me (I've had Koos to help me). Seeing the old photos gave me quite a chilling feeling, so it was a bit of light relief when we started looking for the customs post on the West German side.

Apparently, so the site says, German skippers could leave personal possessions there before entering the east if they were prohibited items. They could then pick them up again on the way out. A nice, human touch, I think. Anyway, in 1966, the year of my story, the West German checkpoint was the white building shown below, some 2.6 kilometres from the border.  Today, it is a Greek restaurant, somewhat extended and with good mooring space in front of it. The sepia photo is quite evocative, isn't it? The screenshot from Google maps beneath it with its colour changes the whole feeling the place conveys.

A photo from 1966 showing that what is now a Greek restaurant used to be
the West German checkpoint

Here it is as seen in satellite view in 2018, complete with the bridge

At some point after 1966, though, a new customs checkpoint was built. I'm guessing that was some time in the 70s and that the photo below, which we found on the same website, was taken in the 80s but it doesn't say so.

The old West German customs house 2.7 kms from the East German border. This photo has no
date, sadly, but I'm guessing it's from the 1980s

It looks typically 70s to me: functional, flat-roofed and a little severe. Koos and I became intrigued by the building and started looking on satellite view for the images available. Germany makes it more difficult to find things as there's no street view due to their privacy rules (which I'm inclined to agree with), so it made us even more determined to keep looking. However, where people have taken photos and geotagged them, it's possible to see what's there. 

This was the view from the southern bank in 2018. The customs house is just visible
behind the trees

In studying the image above, I saw signs that the old customs building was still there in April, 2018. By August, as is shown in the image below, it had gone, demolished for reasons unknown, which is a pity, but I'm glad the original checkpoint building is still in use and thriving.

The satellite image from August 2018, showing just the outline of the old customs house.

So you can see we've been a bit side-tracked. The original checkpoint building will be the only one relevant to my 1966 story, but it's been an entertaining diversion to find out where the later one stood and when it disappeared. We're now talking about making making a road trip to go and see the border crossing. This is why I love research; it takes me to new and undiscovered places. And maybe, just maybe, I'll find the key to unlock my plot there. 

Have a good week allemaal. I hope life treats you well wherever you are.