Sunday, June 17, 2018

Chasing my own tail

It's been pretty hectic this week in the Flatlands. Being the end of the academic year, there are exams to mark and courses to finish up before everyone knocks off, or goes down for the summer. To be truthful, I feel as if I'm racing to the finish of far too many deadlines and am in danger of overshooting all of them.

I've also been wearing my Cambridge speaking examiner hat quite intensively this week. The British Council, the largest of the organisations that runs these English as a Second Language exams, was a bit short of examiners for this round and sent out a plea to anyone examining for the other centres to see if we could help. I am attached to a centre in Rotterdam and do the job for them three times a year. They have first call on my time and I am committed to examining for them when required. However, as a freelancer, I can do sessions for other people if need be, so I offered my services to the urgently seeking British Council and found myself at a school in Goes, Zeeland bright and early on Monday morning.

The harbour in central Goes 2016


Goes is a lovely place although I didn't see much of it. I spent the whole day working at the school, which was pretty intense. It was great experience, though, and I met some other examiners who gave me some useful tips from their much longer experience. After that it was put foot to the pedal (as we used to say in South Africa) back to Rotterdam as I was adjudicating a university speaking exam on Tuesday for a group of staff. Wednesday was a normal work day, but I had more Cambridge examining on Thursday in Rotterdam and all day on Friday at a school in the suburbs. It got to the point that I couldn't remember who I'd been with, where or when, or even where I was supposed to be. Predictably, I was totally shattered by the time I arrived back at the crumbly cottage on Friday evening.

One of the classic Goes houses

Meanwhile, I still had all my academic writing assignments to mark for the Amsterdam students I teach. Thus...no peace until today, when I managed to get out and paint a wall. You have no idea how therapeutic and rewarding that was! A plain, white, simple wall.

Next week, things will begin to wind down again. I still have some Cambridge work, but just for one day; otherwise, life reverts to normal and at the end of the month, it will all be over for the students...and largely speaking for me too! Maybe, just maybe, I'll have time to write again. I've been looking at the outline of my WIP longingly, so I'm keeping everything crossed. But with boat maintenance calling...well...we shall see!

On a sad note, I have lost my little Panasonic compact camera that I have taken everywhere with me for the last few years. I cannot believe I've left it somewhere, but it seems that's what I must have done...it's just vanished. I am quite bereft because I was really fond of it. What's worse is I've lost the photos that were on it too; not that many, but there were some pictures of the poppies around here which have been quite spectacular this year. I'll just have to rootle around in my archives to see if I've got any older poppy pics to relieve the empty spaces in this post.

A few years ago, friends of ours taking poppy pics

The delicate vividness of the poppies. I've always loved them
but this year, they've been phenomenal

Well, that's me done for blogdom this week. If the WC is your bag, enjoy the games and if not, I guess there's tennis or athletics or even just enjoying summer days outside.

I'll the the one wielding a paintbrush and sander...ooh, and yes! I've got a diesel man coming to service the Vereeniging's engine this week. Woohoo! I can hardly wait!

Have a great week allemaal.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Meandering on terra firma

It's been a busy few weeks, but there's not much to write about really. I've been wrapping up courses and this coming week, I'm in for a spate of examining with my Cambridge ESL hat on. I do the speaking tests, and not all the written parts, for which I'm grateful.

My course with the Syrian refugees is also over. They were a truly lovely bunch and I became very fond of many of them. The only problem was that halfway through the course, it became apparent that many of them would not be studying in English at all, so there seemed little point in their continuing. As a result, I lost a number of them in quick succession. I just hope they get to study what they want in future and all go on to do well. It was a privilege to get to know them.

On Thursday, I had a full day's painting on the Vereeniging, which was wise as it rained during the night and also on Friday. I'm very glad I've made a good start and painted all the red trim round the roef, and the engine room. I also managed to freshen up the red stripe round the whole barge. It's called the boeisel in Dutch, but I don't know what it is in English. Does anyone know?

The red strip, the boeisel in Dutch, but in English?

This weekend, though, I've been taking it a bit easier as a result of having less marking to do and being a bit tired after my activities during the week, so it's been time for some good walks. We are so lucky at the crumbly cottage; it is a beautiful area with plenty of nature reserves, so walks are easy to find and there is rarely anyone else about.

Below is a selection of a few photos I took with my phone of this weekend's rambles. Koos took the top two of the enchanting piglets we saw today when we walked through an area of forestry smallholdings just across the border in Belgium. It was such a lovely discovery I'm sure we'll go back there again.

Tiny tiny piglets, no bigger than a handful. So cute!

Mummy pigs, still pretty small, aren't they? 
Below the dyke along the great sea canal

For the birds: a nature reserve dedicated to water birds not far from
the crumbly cottage

A working harbour on the sea canal

Not such a good photo, but I loved the sunlight dappled on the road

A misty morning on another nature reserve nearby

Stark contrasts across the polders. I love this landscape
See how empty it is? In other parts of the country, the lanes would be teeming with walkers and cyclists, so we are doubly fortunate that we have so many natural areas but so few people to share them with. I'm becoming quite the misanthropist as I get older, but then maybe that's because I see so many people during the week. For me, this is bliss!!

Have a good week allemaal! Where are your favourite spots to take a walk?


Sunday, June 03, 2018

La Condition Publique: The highlight of Roubaix

It's been a couple of weeks since we came back from our week in Belgium now and I've been up to my neck in work, so I have failed dismally to keep up my promise of a third post within the week. In fact it's a week since I posted the last one and life has moved on as it does.

The last two weeks have been positively tropical. After freezing our thingies off on the boat with night temperatures of down to five or six degrees and the days only making it to twelve or thirteen degrees, we arrived home on the warmest day of the trip and the week following, it soared to nearly thirty degrees...Murphy was having fun again.

Entrance to La Condition Publique

Anyway, before I lose all track of what we did after the Vulnerable Vandal episode, I thought I must write here about La Condition Publique, a wonderful and very special exhibition space in the heart of Roubaix.

We went there the day after Koos expelled our millenial mobster from the boat. Camille, the charming lady from the canal authorities, told us about it when we said we wanted to explore Roubaix. We'd actually wanted to go to the better known Piscine, the art museum, but it was closed (isn't everything in France?). La Condition Publique, however, was open every day, said Camille, and well worth a visit.

Well, she was right. It was.

La Condition Publique proved to be an enormous old building that used to be a quality control centre for wool and textiles, the industry that made Lille and its environs wealthy in former times. The building provided space for the laboratories and testing facilities that ensured the quality of the product was maintained. It began in the early twentieth century and continued until the seventies when the demise of the textile industry made it redundant.

The interior hallway of the building

In recent years, however, it has been revived for a different purpose. It is now an Arts and sustainable lifestyle centre. It houses exhibitions for artists and a huge hall where different types of living and building are displayed. We wandered round all the rooms in a kind of amazement. It was quite outstanding and the innovation we saw as regards building techniques with straw, wood and other renewable resources was pretty inspiring. I'm afraid I didn't take any photos of these, but it was a fabulous exhibition.

an exhibition in waiting

Art exhibition in the centre

There is also a restaurant, where we had a lovely lunch, and a theatre that puts on regular performances. But what crowned it for us (literally and figuratively) was the campsite on the roof. Erected on a rooftop garden where they also grow vegetables, this permanent camping area is quite delightful. It wasn't quite open for business, probably because it was a bit cold, but I could well imagine it will be very popular with young (and maybe not so young) travellers who want something a bit alternative.

Permanent tents on the campsite

Wall art

Permanent tents

Stacked up sleeping cubicles

What you get. I think it's amazing.

The roof top veggie garden...still in development


We were almost glad the Piscine was closed as we'd probably not have found this place, and it really was quite a highlight in the trip. The following morning, it was time to start the return journey, so after a peaceful night, untroubled by vandals, millenials or even gendarmes, we set off back along the Canal de Roubaix in bright but chilly sunshine. By that evening, we were back in Oudenaarde. On Friday evening we were in Ghent where we spent the night in a marina in order to await the arrival of family who were coming to spend the day with us there.

Sunshine on the Schelde where we took a quick stop

A special and very recognisable passenger boat
unique to Ghent

Art in the dark

Party-goers having rather chilly fun on solar-powered
floating pontoons, which are available for hire

Mooring up for lunch in Ghent

A special visitor

The final morning - warm sunshine at last

We had a lovely time meandering round the waterways of Ghent with my daughters and one of my sons-in-law despite some rather dreary and cold weather. But Ghent is always beautiful and rewarding. We spent a second night in the marina on a buy one, get the second free basis since we are members of the Belgian water sports association and then on Sunday, with glorious sunshine on our backs, we headed back to our mooring in Sas.

In hindsight, it was the coldest we'd ever been on board, but what a fabulous week it was. We didn't do anything we'd planned to do: no old lifts, no new lifts, no Piscine in Roubaix, but we had a marvellous week away on the water.

Have a great week allemaal!  Next time, I'll bring us up to date again.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Vulnerable Vandal

Approaching Roubaix

As I mentioned in the previous post, our very pleasant mooring in Roubaix last week resulted in some entertainment of the unlawful kind, but the results were slightly unexpected and ultimately very amusing.


Coming to the last lock before Roubaix

Waiting for the lock
To wet the scene (sorry, a typo, but a fitting one), we were just settling in for the evening on Tuesday when a loud thump announced the arrival of someone landing hard on our roof and attempting to pull open the hatch. Koos shot to the door, opened it with a bang and emerged like a dervish of doom full of sound and fury, which in this case, signified plenty.

He shouted fiercely (and believe me, it can be alarming – Koos is very good at projecting) at the intruder who, totally shocked to find anyone at home, was already beating a retreat and whining, "You frightened me!" In French, of course.

Well, that's a new one isn't it? What kind of vandal complains about being frightened by his victim?

Koos, not to be denied his moment of glory, bellowed a good old Anglo Saxon expletive at the top (or bottom) of his powerful bass voice, to which the vulnerable vandal complained, "And you're not even French? I didn't know you weren't French!" as he scarpered to the safety of the quay, quaking in his new Nike trainers.

I like bollards

In the lock on the way up

Well, that just did it for me. Is this a new millenial milestone? A vandal complaining that he'd been frightened into retreat and that we should have told him we weren't French. Would knowing we were foreigners have made a difference, I wonder? Are there protocols in millenial vandal world that were at stake here? Thou shalt not vandalise foreigners; 'tis bad for our business – or something.

We laughed about it for the rest of the evening. It gives a new dimension to that currently hackneyed term 'snowflake', doesn't it?

As it happened, we had something of a disturbed night altogether, but due less to the millenial méchants than to the police. At some point during the night, we heard stones being thrown onto the roof (in Rotterdam, we have bottles). Getting up to investigate, we didn't see anything, but it seems someone else did. Half an hour later, just as we were snoozing off again, another and much noisier series of thumps landed on the roof and before we knew it, torches were shining through the curtains and very French voices were demanding that we open up. 

Koos went to the door with me behind him this time. It was the police. Five of them. Overkill, I think, don't you? Bearing in mind we'd only suffered the whining of our vulnerable vandal and a few pebbles on the roof, five cops at our door was a bit extreme. If only they knew what we put up with in Rotterdam on a regular basis.

Anyway, they were suitably concerned and with their torches blazing down at us, they asked if we were all right.

"If you'd take that light out of my eyes, I would be," said Koos, in very convincing French I might add.

They didn't really get the joke, and went on to be rather serious about what a bad area it was and how dangerous it was and how we should call them etc etc. It occurred to us they might have thought we were the in-breakers, but given our rather senior appearance, I'm guessing they quickly abandoned that idea.

Anyway, Koos thanked them for their attention, said we were fine and we all said goodnight. 

In hindsight, though, I rather think they take what we understand to be standard urban behaviour more seriously than our Rotterdam police do. The latter go home to bed at 11:00 every night and leave us to it. Only the week before, I'd shooed three guys off my foredeck during the wee hours of the morning. It happens, well, not infrequently I have to say, and we're used to it. Perhaps the French police have other ideas about what is criminal and dangerous, but it didn't seem so bad to me.

Anyhow, the rest of our night passed peacefully, but as the next day we went to a fascinating arts and design centre, I'll save the rest of our trip for my next post. 

Enjoy your weekend, allemaal!


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A mini May meander on the waterways

In my last post, I was all excited that we were going to the boat lifts in Belgium, wasn't I? Well, that proved to be a no go. We set off on Sunday as planned but when we were half way there we learned from a skipper on one of the locks that a stretch we needed to go through would be closed until this week Tuesday, so that put an end to our plans for an uplifting experience (sorry).

As a result, and after dealing with my severe wobbly of disappointment, we turned off the Scheldt (Schelde here) onto one of our favourite stretches of water, the Canal de Roubaix and decided to spend a couple of days of relaxation at a mooring we haven't used before in Roubaix itself, a suburb of Lille. 

The canal starts as the Canal de L'Espierres on the Belgian side of the border and this was the first surprise. We have always loved this eight-kilometre stretch up to the French border because of the glorious, towering poplars that line the waterway. Well for the first few kilometres, we were revelling in seeing them again, but then suddenly, at the second lock, the scenery changed dramatically. The friendly (as always) lock keepers warned us we'd be seeing big changes and I can't honestly say this was a totally unexpected as I knew it was happening, but given we were in the same place only last August, it was still astonishing to see. To cut the story short, all the poplars are being felled and replaced by lime trees, and the first phase of the programme has been completed in just six months.

The first stretch of canal looks the same

Then came the surprise

The new look mooring: open and a little empty
but the trees will grow...

How the mooring at Leers looked last year


In fact, they've done an amazing job. The felling, clearing and replanting is complete along a stretch of about two kilometres. The towpaths have been resurfaced and everything is neat and tidy. But it looks open and empty compared with how it used to be. I suppose it didn't help that the weather was also cold, dreary, grey and misty, but we missed our glorious poplars. And did I just say it was cold? 

It will be many years before the lime trees reach a height that provides the lush shade and magnificent tunnel that their predecessors formed. Apparently, it was very necessary as the poplars had reached the end of their lives and were becoming dangerous. I do understand it, but yes, it was sad to see. Next year, another stretch will be done, and the year after, the final reach to the beginning of the canal. I took plenty of photos as I don't know when we will pass this way again.

All the same, it was good to moor up at Leers Nord again and cycle to the familiar village supermarket to fetch a few supplies. It's a wonderfully peaceful mooring and I am sure we will be back again in the future. It has that feeling of having arrived.

The next day (Tuesday), we travelled on under the care of the French canal authorities. The two cheerful novice lock assistants helped us through the system at something of a snail's pace. We couldn't help remarking at how last year, we'd had the A team and this year, we got the B team. That sounds unfair as they were lovely and very helpful and definitely working on their A status, but it seemed to take forever as they were both learning the ropes and spent a lot of time on the phone taking instructions. Unfortunately, as we drifted around waiting for one of the locks, a youth walking along the towpath with his mates decided it would be fun to throw stones at us, something we've never experienced before. I'm just glad they were quite small — the stones, not the boys.



Mooring in Roubaix


Anyway, eventually, we arrived at the moorings in Roubaix. The lock assistants helped us connect up to the electricity and then left us to it, promising to be back on Thursday when we wanted to make the return journey. Then the charming PR lady, Camille, from the canal administration dropped by to give us yet another folder of information about the canal (we already have two from the previous two years). She was accompanied by one of last year's A Team so we have to assume he's been promoted. It was great to find that he remembered us, another welcome we shall treasure.

After lots of laughter and convivial chat (well, more Koos than me as my French is limited to occasional interjections and an attempt to look comprehending and agréable, as one does), they departed, but with a warning not to leave anything outside that could be stolen. Roubaix is part of the greater Lille urban area and, like Rotterdam, carries the attendant problems (which we are used to) of petty crime – as we were soon to discover.

However, what we also discovered is that today's millenial petty thief has lost his edge and become what we quickly termed a Vulnerable Vandal....but perhaps I'll keep that story for next time. Suffice to say, it was très amusant.

Watch this space allemaal! To make up for a late post this week, I'll do two instead...or maybe even three!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Carol Ann Kauffman's VISION and VERSE : Interview with Author Valerie Poore

Many thanks to Carol Ann Kauffman for having me on her blog for a Q&A interview! It was great fun to do :)

 Carol Ann Kauffman's VISION and VERSE : Interview with Author Valerie Poore: Valerie Poore  (I prefer Val, but write as Valerie) City, Rotterdam Country, the Netherlands Good morning, Val, and welcome...