Thursday, February 29, 2024

Chaos with cars

It must seem as if I'm being a bit of a drama queen these days, or at least that I invite drama (although I do everything I can to avoid it), but I have to tell you about my chaotic car catastrophes (see what I did there?), and then that's it for the trials and tribulations, I promise.

Back in January, you may remember that I had to kiss goodbye to my beloved little car, Buttons. She'd failed her APK (the Dutch version of the MOT or roadworthy certificate) and the repairs would have been too costly to be justifiable. So, there I was without a runaround, something I find essential for my way of life with boats, teaching and dogs. 

Koos has a wonderful ancient Opel Astra, affectionately known as the Blue Classic, which at 29 years old is defying all the mechanics' predictions that she won't see another year. So far, they've been wrong, but to avoid tempting fate, we nurse her a bit now, ever conscious that she might be wearing her last tyres. This year's APK could well be the deciding test, although we hope not of course. What I'm trying to say is that even without Buttons we weren't completely car-less, but living where we do often makes it awkward to have just one vehicle, especially one as old as this one. 

The Opel wears her life scars proudly, but it can be a bit embarrassing at times. For instance, the last time we were in France, a distinctly inebriated local in a very rural village mistook us for criminals coming to make mischief. Yes, really! Now when someone is that drunk, it seems that diplomacy and courtesy take a back seat (so to speak), and honesty is all they can produce. When he slurred how he thought we were 'outsiders' from the city coming to see what nefarious deeds we could commit, I was a bit shocked and not a little mortified until I saw the funny side. However, seeing yourself as others see you can be surprising to say the least.

Anyway, that's not really my story for today. The point is, I needed a new small car, so after weeks of searching online and a few trips to go and look at cars, I became the hesitantly proud owner of a bright, shiny, red Kia Picanto.

The hesitancy part came early; in fact, before I even left the garage. I got in the car to drive it away and it wouldn't start. Thinking it was me doing something wrong and inadvertently flooding the engine, I gave it a minute, turned the motor over and gave it a good pump. It started, but I needed to rev it up a lot to keep it going. 

After that, it was fine and I drove the 130 km home without a problem. However, that wasn't the end of the problem. Over the following days it happened several times and it was also prone to stalling. It made me very nervous of stopping anywhere, especially on the hill approaching our opening bridge over the canal. So at the weekend, my very auto-savvy daughter came and with the aid of a diagnostic tool, we established there was an electrical problem, possibly with the alternator.

I then got in touch with the salesman at the garage and he was full of apologies. "Take it to a local garage and we'll cover the costs," he said. So I did. I took it to the Kia dealers nearby who diagnosed a serious wiring problem. "It's a mess," they said. "We're not touching it. You should take it back." Not very helpful, but clear.

Further contact with the sales garage resulted in my returning the car to them and getting a full refund, which was fantastic of them. I was aware they didn't know much about the inner workings of the cars, so I didn't blame them at all. Still, I was surprised and grateful they were so decent about a problem that didn't fall under the guarantee. That said, the whole experience had involved six trips there and back and four of these with a second car (being our poor old Opel).

So, what then? I started my search again, this time focusing on a Fiat Panda, which is a car I liked very much, and even test drove one before buying the Kia. Sadly, that one (the Panda) had clearly not been driven for way too long. Its exhaust was seriously rusty with lumps falling off it, while the engine bay was covered in cobwebs and full of dust.

Inside, though, it was very neat and clean, but there were a few clues regarding the previous owner that had us inventing stories. There was a crucifix plus a small plastic angel hanging from the mirror and the radio was tuned to classical music. My son-in-law, Sherlock van der Holmes, concluded the car had belonged to a single older lady from Breda (a city known for being in the Netherlands' Catholic south), who had a small dog, probably a Yorkshire terrier, judging from the sprinkling of hairs on the carpets. Whatever the case, and much as I enjoyed driving the car, it hadn't been maintained for too long.

But with that experience in mind, I began looking in earnest for a suitable Panda to adopt. It felt like a long and, at times, frustrating hunt, but was actually only a week because I returned the Kia last Wednesday and it was just yesterday I found the one I could buy and drive home in. So, without further ado, let me introduce Bobby, so named after the British policemen who drive (or at least used to drive) Panda cars. 

Bobby is also quite old for a new car but has far more bells and whistles than I've ever had before: electric windows, air conditioning, central locking etc., none of which I wanted or needed, but it's difficult to find a car without them now. He was born in 2006 and has 143,000 km on his clock. He's averaged 8500 km a year, which is quite modest, so it's unlikely he's been thrashed, and hopefully, I'll have some good driving time with him in the coming months and years. A compromise? Maybe, but I have a feeling I could grow to love him quite quickly as long as he behaves.

So that's the end of my car saga for now. At least I hope so. I think that all told I've seen and test driven seven cars in the last month and travelled a few hundred kilometres in the process. I need to thank my wonderful daughter and son-in-law (or son-out-law, as I call him) for all their help and support in my search. They also spent a whole day driving me around their area, for which I'm endlessly grateful.

Anyway, let's hope the chaos with cars is over for a bit.

Enjoy the weekend allemaal!

Monday, February 19, 2024

A soggy bloggy story

Well, I never got to write that extra post last week, so I'll have to try and catch up this week. However, for those of you who aren't into DIY or solving those types of problems, you might want to skip this one. Here's a pretty picture of Vereeniging seen through another beautiful barge to make up for it.

Vereeniging in the distance

So for the DIY enthusiasts, what's the soggy story? It's about a kitchen wall, you see. Once upon a time, when my crumbly cottage was a youngster, it had a front room and a back room each with its own fireplace. Later on, when it was older, one of its former residents decided to open up the wall between the two rooms and close up the fireplace and chimney in the back room.  All well and good. The cottage now had central heating, so why have more than one fireplace? 

That in itself was fine. Unfortunately, said resident knew not what he did because in sealing it, he set in motion a problem that has grown to ugly and mouldy proportions in the intervening years.

For a long time, I had no idea where the damp patches at the bottom of the kitchen wall were coming from. I thought it might be condensation as I usually kept a cupboard standing against it. Actually, I still don't really know the source of the problem but this last winter the weather has been so wet, the damp and mould have developed to unacceptable levels. After dismissing the condensation idea, I thought it was rising damp, but when yellow patches started showing high up on the wall, I started to believe it was probably water ingress through the old bricks. 

Some hours of research later, I bought some milky fluid that I sprayed on; it promised me it would prevent the type of ingress I feared. When this method didn't seem to improve things, I bought another product to paint on the wall – a type of cream that was supposed to seal the brickwork completely. That hasn't worked either.

However, after observing water dripping down the inside of the kitchen wall during one particularly violent storm, I wondered if rain was getting into the air vent for our extractor fan and seeping through a crack in the plaster. To address this possibility, Koos and I made a hood to cover the vent without closing it off. Once again, no change. 

Makeshift hood, which has surprisingly weathered
more than a few storms already

Then, I thought that maybe rain was also coming in through the lower air vent for the old, blocked off chimney, so I made another hood for that, not to mention digging a trench and installing a French drain. Anyway, to cut any further rambling short, none of it has made any difference, and following each storm, the kitchen wall has become increasingly damp and mouldy, with the problem principally sitting where the old chimney breast used to be. By this process of elimination, I was now beginning to feel quite certain the issue had something to do with blocking it up.

Hood over lower vent and French drain along
the length of the wall

So what could be next, you might ask? Well, I began a new attack from the inside last week. Taking off the now rotting plinth, I hacked off the plaster from the bottom of the wall to see what was behind it and found to my dismay that the fireplace flue had been filled with concrete. Now, I don't remember where I read it but apparently, you should never fill up an old chimney with concrete, especially in a cavity wall. It stops the wall 'breathing' and provides a nice 'bridge' for water ingress to pass from the outer skin to the inside wall. It also encourages condensation, which may be why there are other yellow patches on the rest of the wall. See what I mean about the unforeseeing previous owner?

So there we have it. Yesterday, when it was raining heavily, I could actually see water dripping off the concrete into the gap I'd created by removing the plaster. I now know what's happening, but... not how to fix it. Where the rain is coming through the wall, I haven't established, but I know it is and I know the concrete has to go. This will involve opening up the old fireplace and drilling out the offending filling, a job that will need care so as not to damage the outer brickwork. Oh joy.

I wanted to build a new interior wall with damp resistant plasterboard, but I think even that won't take kindly to being almost literally rained on. The incoming rainwater has to be stopped, so any suggestions from you, my courageous readers, would be welcome.

Anyone need convincing of the joys of owning an old house yet? 

That's all for this week allemaal. Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

A day's dash up to Dordrecht

Time has flown past again and I've neglected my blog for two weeks. Shame on me! I've got quite a lot to catch up with so I'll do my best to add another post this week if I can. This week's offering is about a day's dash up to the beautiful town of Dordrecht to meet my niece. She and her husband were over here celebrating her birthday at the end of January, but since they were spending an entire week in Amsterdam, I managed to get the train up country to join up with them on 1 February.

But why Dordrecht, you might ask? Why not Rotterdam where I spent so much of my life. Well, three reasons. Firstly, my niece has been to Rotterdam before (albeit a long time ago), and secondly, Dordrecht is singularly beautiful, so I thought it would be nice to show her somewhere different. The third reason is that it is almost exactly halfway between Amsterdam and where I live in the south. Being on a direct train line as well made it easy for us to find each other.

I was so pleased it was a sunny day, although it was quite chilly. We had lunch at one of those rustic style caf├ęs that the Dutch do so well and then we took a stroll around Dordrecht's more traditional areas. To my shame, I got a bit lost and we never reached the places I would really have loved to show them as time was running out for me to catch my train back to the wilds of southern Zeeland. I feel I can be forgiven, though. In the past, we've nearly always approached Dordrecht by water; not only on our own boats, but on the Fast Ferry, a public transport service from Rotterdam (see this old post from 2019 of a previous visit ). It's always been our preferred way of reaching the city. 

Unfortunately, I have a terrible sense of direction. This shortcoming resulted in my getting confused as to which way we should go, the upside of which was that we saw buildings and streets I'd never seen before. By the way, Dordrecht is the oldest city in Holland (the province, not the country) and it has a history worth reading about. See Wikipedia's summary here.

One example is the old Gemeente School (otherwise known as the statenschool or state school). It was the first time I'd come across it and I found it quite impressive. Apparently, a number of such schools were built to cater for all the children who needed to be educated following the compulsory education act of 1901. Dordrecht's was built in traditional Dutch style, giving it a very noble appearance. I think I'd have enjoyed going to school in such lovely environs.

The facade of the old 'statenschool' built in 1913
(Article here. Ask Google to translate)

Strolling the inner courtyard of 
Dordrecht's old school buildings

We then meandered our way through some of the town's gorgeous old streets, admiring the traditional Dutch architecture and marvelling at how so many of the houses were skew or leaning out over the streets. They are all beautifully maintained, but even so, it almost defies belief that they manage to remain standing.

Taking photos together

My nephew-in-law (if there is such a thing)
He was taking the picture of us taking pictures

I've made this photo extra large to show the delightful
wonkiness of the facades here. Nothing is straight!

Eventually, of course, we gravitated to the waterside (this is me, after all). Dordrecht has quite a similar feel to Ghent, with many city canals where the old warehouses stand with their footings in the water. I took more photos than this but they all include my niece and her husband, so publishing them here wasn't an option. However, take a look at my old post for more watery pictures if you'd like to see them

Of course, we gravitated to the waterside. This is one of
Dordrecht's many inner harbours

We only had a few hours, but it was just right. I am a very fond aunt so it was a real joy to see one of my sister's daughters here. Maybe they'll all come over one of these days... I can but hope.

To sign off, then allemaal, here's a photo I've pinched from a website about Dordrecht's harbours. I wish it were mine but it's by AC de Leeuw. (Photo deleted)

Wishing you all a great week to come, and I'll do my best to write another post during the coming days.