Monday, January 29, 2024

The grave(yard)'s a fine and quiet place

My apologies for the title of this blog in advance, but when I tell you why I was reminded of that specific line in Andrew Marvell's poem*, To His Coy Mistress, I hope you'll forgive me. 

It's now 16 years since I first came to the village where we have the Crumbly Cottage, and although I've often been in the church, I have, until this past week, never visited its churchyard. I'm not quite sure why; I usually like churchyards because of the local history they can reveal. I also like them for the peace they exude, so it's quite surprising that in all these years I've not ventured through the gates and wandered around.

I also don't know what prompted me to visit it this particular week, but when I was walking Zoe the other morning, I suddenly felt impelled to see it. Maybe it was as simple as wanting somewhere slightly different to walk from our usual circuit, but whatever pushed me through the gates, I'm very pleased it did.

The first surprise was a poignant memorial stone to all those from the village who'd lost their lives either during or as a result of WWII. Eight residents in a small community would have hit the local people quite hard, I imagine. Given that the Netherlands was occupied for the duration of the war, it's hard to  know how they died, but it was sobering to think that even in this quiet corner of the country, so many were lost. I can only speculate that maybe they were in the resistance, or perhaps they challenged the occupying forces in some way, or maybe they were deported. I would have to research that further, but it moved me to encounter the memorial just beyond the entrance.

The memorial and list of those who died

The second surprise was how neat and well tended the whole churchyard was. All the graves looked as if they were regularly visited and lovingly cared for. The grass was mown and the paths completely weed free. Whoever is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance does a marvellous job, as do all those whose relatives lie within its lovely grounds. Zoe and I spent some time strolling along the pathways, reading the touching messages on the headstones (well, I did, not Zoe of course) and sitting for a few minutes on one of the many benches available for those who just want to absorb the peace.

Everything is well tended

The walls of remembrance.

The churchyard is in a beautiful setting as well. Beyond it are fields backed with trees. There's no noise, no cars and no buildings in sight when looking out over the meadows, all of which adds to the tranquillity. 

A peaceful place to sit awhile

In a few months, the trees will be in leaf, which will give the
yard a fuller, more verdant appearance

On our way out

So yes, my visit brought the line in Mr Marvell's poem to mind. Our churchyard is indeed a fine and quiet place and I went home glad I'd taken that step through the gate. Now, of course, I'm also inspired to find out more about the history of the local families whose headstones I read.

It just goes to show that you don't have to travel far to find both peace and inspiration, do you? It's often remarkable how much we can overlook on our own doorsteps. Just a small diversion from my normal route resulted in this humbling and uplifting experience.

So that's it for this blog. Wishing you all a good week allemaal. Wherever you are, I hope the weather's being kind...we're counting the days till spring here.

* I read the poems of Andrew Marvell and his contemporaries in metaphysical poetry for my English Literature degree. I'm usually hopeless at remembering quotes, but that line obviously struck me as I've never forgotten it!

Monday, January 22, 2024

Frozen creeks and crumbly cottages

This last week, it has been simply too cold to spend time on board, as well as being too dangerous in our current harbour. Owing to the position of Vereeniging, I need to cross quite a gap to reach her and then walk over the top of the hatches to step down onto the decks. When the weather is freezing as it has been, the tarpaulin that covers the hatches becomes slippery, and with no handrail it's treacherous, especially with a small dog in tow. 

So, to my sadness, I have to stay away in these conditions. In fact, we haven't spent a night on board since before Christmas and I'm beginning to have withdrawal symptoms.

We have to step onto the tarpaulin-covered hatches before
walking over them to reach the deck

However, the days are lengthening now and we can but hope that the frosty nights will diminish too. I'm looking forward to spending some time de-greening the rubbing rail and just being on the water again. When I start dreaming of being on board during the night, odd though some of those dreams might be, I know the need to return to my watery lair is assuming urgent proportions.

In the meantime, the really cold days have been magical in their own way. We've had such a shortage of sunshine this winter, even the sub zero temperatures couldn't remove the delight of crunching over the crusty frost and seeing long shadows instead of huge puddles. 

The creek we can see from the back of the house was completely frozen over, something that doesn't happen all too often, although the ice wasn't thick enough for skating, nor will it be. The temperature today has soared and is a comfortable 11℃. Here, then are some of my photos of our chilly, but lovely walks. After all, who knows when we'll have such blue skies again?

View onto a farm barn

Just Zoe, sitting on the frosty path

The village pond, completely frozen over

The creek (prounce Krake in Dutch)

A knotty willow that will obscure the farm 
on the other side in the summer

A view I like. By the way, the white stuff is snow on the ice

Zoe doing doggy stuff

These last two photos below are of earlier in the morning as the sun was rising. I love the view we have of the creek. Even if I can't be on the water, I need to be near it and our outlook is particularly lovely.

The view from our back window early on above and below

So that's it for this week, allemaal. Hopefully, there'll be more news to share next time, but I confess we've mostly been huddled down indoors while it's been so cold. I am part of the way through efforts to stop the rising damp in our kitchen wall at the moment, but that has also had to be put on hold because of the icy conditions. One cannot work with concrete in such temperatures, so planning has moved to the inside of the wall for now. More on that when the job is done, however.

Stay warm (or cool) wherever you are. Tot ziens!

Friday, January 12, 2024

A late start to the new year

Well, here we are eleven days into the new year, and this is my first post. Shame on me! First and foremost, let me wish you all a very happy new year. I sincerely hope 2024 brings good things to you all and that we can have less of all the extreme Ws we've been suffering: less weather, less war, less worry.

My last post was well before Christmas and I fully intended to write an end of 2023 roundup as I did last year. I won't do that today, but I might still review the last year as it was a bit of an odd one in many ways. I'm also intending to revive my memoir review blog by writing a summary of all the great travel memoirs I read last year, so if you're a reader, you might like to give that a look through. I'll let you know when I've done it.

As for what we've been doing in the last month, I'll try and condense it into this post with the help of some photos.

The lead up to Christmas honestly wasn't terribly exciting for us personally, unless you count the storms, wind and rain that had us huddling indoors or watching the straining ropes on our boats anxiously. The high waters of 21st December resulting from the ferocious winds of storm Pia prompted the first ever automatic closing of the Maaslantkering, the massive flood gates that protect Rotterdam's port and the largest movable object in the world. In fact, as this article describes, all six of the Netherlands' storm surge barriers (the Delta works being its umbrella name) were closed on that day to prevent an inundation of the kind that flooded the country in 1953. However, as soon as it was safe to do so, they were opened again to release river flood waters rushing downstream from the east. 

The Netherlands, like many other countries in Europe, has experienced excessive rains and storms this last autumn, but to the credit of the amazing engineers who manage the water levels in the country, little serious flooding has occurred. That said, water is still standing in the fields, the ditches (sloten) are full and the country's pumping stations must be operating at the max to  reduce the saturation. 

Sadly for the numerous skaters, our recent cold snap wasn't long enough to freeze these instant lakes into natural ice rinks, but you can guarantee that if the colder conditions return, the skaters will be out in force. I could almost hope they do as I'd rather have the blue skies and sunshine that accompany them than the miserable, grey, wet gloom we've had far too much of.

The last time I saw skating on the ponds was February 11 2021

Anyway, enough of the weather. Where did we spend the festive season? Well, in France, of course. Being the first Christmas at my daughter's house, we all congregated there on the 26th December. It was the first day travel was really possible as the Christmas weekend was characterised by said howling winds and rain. 

We had a great drive down to the Haute Marne although it was very busy on the roads, which surprised us. The rest of the week was blissfully peaceful but also quite full. For most of the time, it was pretty cold but dry, so we all helped with various jobs in the house, ranging from clearing the never-ending junk, to fixing the flushing mechanism on the loo or trying to get doors to open and close without scraping and squeaking. Working kept us warm even if the heaters didn't.

What was a little tricky was that within a couple days the wind picked up and we had to take the Starlink dish down, meaning no internet. The phone signal in the house was also non-existent owing to its nearly metre-thick walls. When Mo was expecting a delivery of some size, I went off to the local bus shelter to make contact with the delivery company to confirm we'd be there. It was the only place out of the bitter wind where I could get a signal on my phone to use as a hotspot on my tablet. Such are the joys of life in the outback of France! I'm not complaining, though. New Year's Eve was bliss. Not a firework in sight, which was wonderful for the collection of cats and dogs we had with us.

In the bus shelter
out of the wind and cold

Koos and I also took a couple of afternoon drives into the surrounding countryside to see how the land lay. What a scenic area it is with its deep river valleys, tree-clad hills and picturesque limestone villages. The views from the hilltops were stunning; the hair-pin bends on the steep descents were breathtaking; the swollen rivers and luscious meadows bathed in the afternoon sun were gorgeous. We both agreed it was an area we could live in, and for me, the many long, low drystone walls reminded me of my English West Country youth. Here are some snaps I took. They don't really do it justice, but perhaps they give an impression of the space and beauty.

We eventually returned home a week ago, a drive that echoed that wonderful film Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis, when the main character crosses the border of Le Nord and is deluged by the sudden downpour. The exact same thing happened to us and we arrived back in the Netherlands in pouring rain. Most of the drive north had been in glorious sunshine.

Since then, life has resumed its normal patterns and I'm gearing up to work again. I'm also looking for a new car. To my sorrow, my little Daihatsu Cuore, Buttons, failed her roadworthy test quite severely and I had to make the hard decision to take her to the scrapyard. She'd served me so very well for the last ten years, it felt like a betrayal to let her go in such a way, but without a roadworthy pass, I could no longer drive her and the repairs weren't justifiable. At 25 years old, it was time to hang up her keys and send her into retirement. There's still a part of me that hopes someone will rescue her; she was such a little trooper and I miss her sorely. I've never had such a great little car.

Bye Bye Buttons :(

So that's it allemaal. I hope you've all had a wonderful festive season and that 2024 has started well for you. I know the world is not in a great place right now, but I'm going to focus on the power of the ripple effect in the coming year. Goodwill and kindness are easy to grow, so I hope I can sow some of those seeds too. Happy New Year to you all.