Saturday, October 22, 2016

Still fair for faring

The weather is definitely becoming more autumnal now and the trees are turning such a beautiful colour, but despite a few days of very heavy rain and chill winds, we are still having some lovely sunny days. So much so that we have had yet another quick spuddle out on the canal this weekend.

But before I get to that, I wanted to add some photos here of the very special sailing barge event that we went to last Sunday the day after I wrote my last post. I'd read that the Bietentocht (as it is called here) was starting with its traditional 'warm-up' event at the town of Goes, not that far away from where we escape to at weekends. Bietentocht means Beet tour and it is just that: a tour of sugar beet loaded barges that sail from one town to another in Zeeland over a period of four days. The boats are all traditional Dutch sailing barges and the event begins when they are towed by magnificent draft horses from the lock (sas) at Goesesas to the harbour in the centre of Goes itself. The horses used for this event were Belgians, apparently. They were not quite as tall as some of the English draft horses I have seen, but still noble and beautiful.

Koos and I agreed we would like to go and see the event, so we jumped on his motor scooter and sped 50km along the highway to arrive at the start just as they were beginning to match horses to barges. In the sunshine, at the water's edge with the bright autumn light, it was a truly captivating scene, and I think the photos speak for themselves:

Horses taking up the slack lines

And then pulling the barges

Without too much effort at all - one gentle
nudge was all it took

In their Sunday best

Bargees in traditional costume

And glorious paintwork

More dressed up gee gees

Barges in the lock waiting to be released

Barges waiting to enter the lock from the
Well of course, we had to wait and see them arrive in Goes, and that was also a terrific sight. The barges were literally crammed into the harbour.

Well, having seen this and after being so inspired by it all, I decided I wanted to see the end of the tour when it reached the small town of Willemstad, which is in Zuid Holland on the south side of the Hollandsch Diep. I knew they would arrive on Thursday, so after work, I met my daughter and her family and we set off to see the barges coming in. What a difference! In contrast to the previous Sunday, it was pouring with rain, and we had to make for the safety of a café, but not before I managed to snap a few pics of the boats crowding into this small harbour.

Reversing in to the harbour was the only way

Clippers, possibly the most beautiful and elegant of the
Dutch barges

Barges like sardines in a can

Wonderful shapes and colours

The clouds started to clear just as we left
But that wasn't entirely the end of the barging week. We had a couple of days of excessively high water in Rotterdam, which is always quite exciting. Would the water wash over the side of the harbour this time? It never has and didn't this week either, but it did lap over the steps where the café puts its tables, and many's the time they have had to evacuate that part in the past.

Water lapping over the top steps of the café opposite

Getting close to the top, but not quite there.
We can relax...

Back in Zeeland again, the sun peeked through the clouds yesterday and the air was balmy and sweet. We were supposed to be cleaning the Hennie Ha, but the pull of the open water was too strong. It was still fair enough for faring! So we cast of the ropes and took to the canal. It also happened that friends were visiting in their camper van on the other side of the bridge, so we picked them up and took them for a spuddle too. It was unexpectedly lovely and a real treat. We made it back just before the heavens opened again.

Today has been a bright, clear and sunny too, but much colder and I really feel that autumn is upon us. It's dark in the mornings until eight now, which makes hauling myself out of bed even more challenging than usual. In another week, the clocks will change, which will give my body clock time to catch up a bit; the leaves will be falling hard and faring will be fully finished (or maybe not if we are brave). But what wonderful trips we've had this year to feed my soul through the winter....and as I still have a book about it to write, I can live it all over again. Aren't I the lucky one?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

From fighting to faring in a week

I expect you're wondering what I mean by the title and it's not as bad as it sounds - well, the fighting bit isn't. To you, anyway.  My fights are not against the world, or countries or even people. As anyone who has read my recent posts knows, I have taken on the task of beating the beetle, lambasting the larvae and thoroughly whacking the woodworm on the Vereeniging.  Little bugs in the greater scheme of life, I know, but boy can they cause some (brain) damage.

As I mentioned last week, I'd ripped out the floor of my small aft cabin (we call it the roef) as it was riddled with woodworm. I've now cleared everything else out of the room, only to find they have started attacking the old cupboards and seats too. Luckily, these are all varnished, so they haven't got too far, but it's awful - a nightmare in fact. I have just now managed to order a smoke bomb from the UK to get into all the nooks and crannies that I might have missed, so I hope that once I have it, it will be the end of the little blighters.

Other than that, I've been working, as in teaching some very nice courses at the university, and also continuing with operation paint pot in my sleeping nook  on the barge. It's becoming almost smart now, so I'm really pleased about that. More photos soon, but I forgot to take any this week.

Now I'm back in Zeeland again, and there are other jobs to do. At least that was the plan. Today, we intended to go to the Hennie Ha where it is moored up and give her a good clean. But roads and good intentions have a way of getting diverted down a slippery slope. We arrived at the marina, and the sun was shining, the sky was what skies in holiday brochures look like and the canal called. What could we do? There really was no choice, so we took ourselves off for a bit of a faring fix. It was just wonderful as these photos will testify.

leaving the marina

Himself in relaxed mode as always

A regular at the Cargill plant

large commercial heading towards Terneuzen

Us steaming across the canal

to s small side branch harbour

where we watched the ships pass

Also heading for Terneuzen

Coal barges being pushed south

following the biggies

for a distance up the canal until we turned

And headed back past the regular visitor
and back to base
We managed some cleaning when we got back to the marina, but it was a half hearted affair. We were much too euphoric over our faring forth! Hoping you've all had a good week and wishing you some continued sunny weather.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Another one of those weeks

Yes, I know, it sounds as if I never stop, but I do. Not much of the time, I'll admit, but it does happen. This last week has been another one of those weeks that I had the week before. Got that? Good, because I'm not sure I have. The point is that it seems - the week that is - to have been more than usually busy (I think I said that last time too, didn't I?).

However, I can readily confess to being a very non morning person, so don't imagine for one minute I'm up with the lark. I never am and I cram everything into the day that's left after crawling out of bed at the weekend at somewhere around 10:00, sometimes later if I'm especially tired. During the week, it's earlier of course as I have to work, but I'm definitely not one of these 6a.m. risers. I'm not at all nice to know until I've had at least two cups of coffee and time to haul my brain out of the sludge that was sleep. But it was ever thus, so I'm used to it now.

Anyway, I digress. On Monday morning, we had to shoot up to Rotterdam from Zeeland horribly early to meet the man from the energy company so he could check the geyser in Koos' little flat (that he rarely visits but keeps as security), at which time we discovered the upstairs neighbour's loo was leaking into the bathroom and had ruined three towels, which were black and rotten. Not nice. In fact, fairly yuk. I'm a bit squeamish about such things, I've discovered. This unexpected crisis entailed meetings with the neighbour, phone calls to the owners' association, and attempts to make appointments with the plumber to come and assess the situation - none of which were immediately successful, but that's another story. Meanwhile off I went to work on my bike. Yes.

The autumn had sneaked in over the weekend and the temperatures had plummeted. It was simply cold. And the wind was blowing a hooley. But it was all rather deceptive because the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day and I wasn't expecting to struggle so. I battled over the Erasmus bridge this time and to give myself some breathing space, I took a few photos.

Then the next day, I had to brave the big Brienenord bridge again. Once more, it was a struggle and all the pleasure I'd had the previous week in climbing it without too much effort was over. It's the wind, see. It's a demon in this city and like to put anyone in a foul mood. One of my friends admits to swearing at the wind as she cycles. Well, I almost do too. The only solution is to stop and take some more photos; lovely isn't it?

Whatever I have to say about the wind, though I just love this city and its fabulous river. On Thursday afternoon, I was free, so I lured Koos into helping me remove the last floorboards in the back cabin of the Vereeniging. It's all gone now, and I'm just praying the woodworm have not burrowed their way into the old, varnished cupboards. I'll have to keep a close eye on them. The bare steel floor needs some cleaning and oiling before I put a new floor in, so there's quite a bit of work to be done still.

Worm-eaten floor removed

Koos manfully chopped all the wormeaten boards into small pieces. They are destined for a fiery demise.

Chopped into small pieces

A manful task
I also managed to give a second coat of paint to the ceiling above and the panels next to my bed.  I had to fill in a number of holes created by moving and removing screws at various times during the games with musical beds the various family occupants of the Vereeniging have played over the years. It'll all need another coat of paint before everything is smooth and even, but I'm pretty pleased with the result so far. And at least woodworm don't like paint...Am I getting paranoid about woodworm do you think? I probably am.

So that has been the week that was. Tomorrow, I am off to The Hague to take part in the second of our English Writing Festivals. There are six speakers altogether, and I will be talking about my Skipper's Child as an example of a Young Adult book. Wish me luck allemaal!

Saturday, October 01, 2016

One of those weeks

I've been all over the place this last week - literally and figuratively. Following my rather close relationship with gravity and tendency to embrace concrete too warmly (see previous post), I've been nursing my bruises carefully and taking life rather cautiously. That said, I've been very busy with work so my blogging rounds have been interrupted and I see I have a whole list of them to catch up with.

Just as a round up, I had to go to Amsterdam on Monday to teach at the university there. This is something I do regularly, but not often (if you see what I mean). The courses I teach for UvA are mostly online, so I only do the first session face-to-face, meaning I only need to be there about six times a year. Anyway, as I was walking from the station, I had to follow one of the lovely grachten (canals) that the city is famous for and I thought of Jenny Woolf, who asked me about the houseboats in Amsterdam a few weeks ago. So, here are a couple of photos to give an idea of what it's like there.

Looking through a typical granny bike at the canal

One boat that doesn't move very often, I fancy

An old hull with a practical build-up
On Tuesday, I was back in Rotterdam, starting a new course at Erasmus MC, the largest hospital in the city and an important part of the university too. I am teaching a group of HR staff there who have to help people from all over the world, so English is the common language. It's fun and they are lovely, so we all have a good giggle. They liked it especially when I took out my Swiss St Bernard's rescue dog pencil case. Always an ice breaker.

Then on Wednesday and Thursday I was back at the main Erasmus campus, but this time teaching academic writing to PhDers, so as I said...all over the place.

In between these sessions, I've been prepping for lessons, but also trying to work on the Vereeniging. You may remember that earlier in the year I posted some photos of the woodworm effect in the floor of my little back cabin. 

Since then, I've been keeping the bugs at bay with regular doses of anti-woodworm spray, but I realised I'd have to remove the floor after all - it really was way too far gone. However, this was a task far easier thought about than done. I've got most of the honeycomb-that-was-a-floor out now, but there are still two planks I can't seem to budge that will take more drastic measures. Once I have them out, I'll be installing a new floor made from thick plywood. Apparently woodworm don't like it, so it's the safest option, even if not very authentic. I shall paint it, though, so hopefully no one with a critical eye will notice. I'm also doing some more renovations inside, so watch this space for the photos.

So that's been my week! I'm back in Zeeland now and have Hennie Ha jobs to do too. As they say (and I've said too) koop een boot, werk je dood. Well, there are two in our days are numbered, I think... what about you?

Friday, September 23, 2016

The dangers of resuming work

This last week has been very busy and highly risky. It's September, the academic year has begun again and not only do I have to work more or less full-time, but everyone else is doing so too.

As a result, the traffic has been a nightmare. On Tuesday morning, I drove up from Zeeland to do my usual stint in Rotterdam and got stuck in a traffic jam that meant I spent an hour and a quarter doing a distance that I usually complete in roughly seven minutes. This of course made me short of time arriving, and so I hurried to get where I was going. In my haste, I twisted my ankle and fell heavily on my left hand, hurting it quite badly...well badly enough to make it look as if I had donned a boxing glove and was a right bruiser (excuse the pun)...but yes, the swelling and bruising were considerable.

What makes it worse is this is the third time I've fallen in the space of a week - a phenomenon I put down to the pressure of having to work again after such a wonderful lazy, cruising summer. Yep, I've decided work does not suit me and is far too hazardous. For example, the first of the three falls occurred when I was busy prepping for lessons on my laptop. I got up from the sofa, caught my toe on the charger cable, stumbled and fell. This did not do said toe much good and it swelled up to the proportions and colour of a juicy vienna sausage.

The consequence of course was that I had to wear flip flops (normal shoes refused to fit) when I cycled into town later the same day to buy some printer paper for producing those lessons on which I had been working when....well, you get the picture. Anyway, getting off my bike, I caught the heel of my sloppy sandal on the pedal and down I went again, sprawling and with the bike on top of me for added effect. Talk about the Battle of Wounded Toe...given that it was now the biggest, fattest thing on my foot, it got it again and now had black and blue added to its livid red colours.

It was for reasons of my poor embattled foot that I was also wearing sandals when I fell for the third time on my way to my class (see above if you've forgotten). Since this was 'proper' work and I needed to look presentable, I wore some wedge-heeled open sandals instead of my flip flops. Now I don't know about my fellow female readers, but I always thought wedge heels were somehow safer than normal high heels. As I lay spread-eagled on the pavement, where for two pins I'd have shut my eyes and had a kip (it seemed easier than getting up), I  realised I was probably wrong. And then again, ever since this incident, I've been hearing about how dangerous they are. Do you think it's true? I'm not sure.  In my case, though, I think it's work that's dangerous and I should definitely give it up for my own safety. Don't you agree? After all, now I have both a handicap and an impediment (sorry...awful puns I know).

Sunday, September 18, 2016

More boating books for boating lovers

While I was away cruising and without internet, I read an awful lot of books. I didn't manage the full twenty that I listed in an earlier blog, but I read somewhere around fifteen books in total, some of which were not on the list; the reason for this being I cannot resist books about boating, so I picked up a couple of new ones which I really enjoyed.

The first of these was Mary Cassells' On Wet Foundations, and this is what I said about it in my review: "I enjoyed this memoir very much. It was funny and entertaining, and as a fellow old barge owner, I could relate to so many of the author's experiences when she and her husband were converting their Colibri into a home - I felt a real kinship with them. The only downsides for me were some lack of continuity (just for example, what happened when the gearbox went?) and the number of errors in both punctuation and the use of French and Dutch words."

Apart from the mistakes, it was a lovely read, especially as I was doing my own faring on the French canals, so it was special to read about their travels as they cruised along the Meuse and the Canal de Bourgogne. Well recommended if you can forgive and overlook the errors.

Another book I've read and absolutely loved is Hart Massey's Travels with 'Lionel'. This is the first of a two book series and I've been wanting to read them for ages, but they're only available second hand now and for a long time, Amazon wouldn't deliver them here. However, it just so happened that Lionel, the boat in the books, is the original name for a barge that I have spent some happy times on this year in the company of our friends Jackie and Noel who owned it until very recently. Jackie came across a poster for the cover when she was cleaning out a cupboard and that inspired her (and several others, including me) to get hold of it.  

Travels with 'Lionel' was written in the '80s and is the product of a good writer whose language might be considered a little outdated now, but I enjoyed it immensely. His humour is so dry, it might be mistaken as complaining by some, but I laughed till I cried, felt every frustration and pain the brave sixty somethings encountered and developed huge admiration for Massey's wife, Melodie as well as great affection for their dalmation, Joss. The illustrations in the book are gorgeous too and the memoir takes the reader from Southern France to Groningen in the north of the Netherlands. I'm looking forward to reading the second book now, "The Leaky Iron Boat".

Then, while I'm on the subject of Jackie and Noel, I'd really like to mention her wonderful sailing memoir, This is It. Some time ago, I wrote about her first memoir, Of Foreign Build, which I adored and which was about the couple's circumnavigation of the world on Mariah II. Well, a couple of years later, after some land-time, they got the call of the gulls again, and they flew off to California to buy another boat. 

This Is It was named after Michael Jackson's song and was 'the one' they chose for sailing down firstly to Ecuador and then on to Easter Island (the most remote island in the world) before heading back across the Pacific to Australia. It's an amazing adventure, during which they trekked through Ecuador and did some teaching in Peru before enduring mind numbing fear in the storms of the south Pacific. I found it a really riveting book and well worth reading, especially if you love sailing and travel. I am no sailor and never will be, but I loved the excitement of exploring new places and the wonderful friendships they forged with people on their travels.

Lastly, and I don't know if I've mentioned this one before, is a book that is pretty much the opposite of This Is It: Roger Distill's Life With Our Feet Under Water is a charming meander through the English canal system on a narrowboat, Kantara to be precise. In the book you quite literally follow their daily diary from purchasing and moving on board, to dealing with all the teething problems of the boats mechanical issues to cruising the cut through rain, flood and (occasionally) sunshine. Roger's humour is lovely and I came to really enjoy the many and varied quotes he peppers the book with. A gentle read - not one to get your heart rate sky high like Jackie's - but it is a vivid account of life on England's very special waterways.

So there, some very diverse boat and barge books to read. If you choose to buy them, I hope you enjoy them all as much as I did.