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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Gone blacking

What a busy week it's been. Something I didn't mention after the fun of World Harbour Days was that last Sunday, I met a long time Facebook and Blogging buddy, Lucinda E Clarke, who came to Amsterdam for a few days' holiday. I am a great admirer of Lucinda's books and being another former 'African', we have lots in common.  I took the train to Amsterdam in the morning, arrived at midday, following which we found a cafĂ© near the station and spent more than three hours nattering non-stop. Her poor, patient husband was just that...very patient, but he was very interesting to chat to as well having lived a fairly roving life too.

Lucinda and me in amsterdam

Then on Sunday evening, we charged down to our Zeeland harbour in Sas van Gent because we had to take our Hennie Ha to the boatyard in Terneuzen early on Monday morning to be lifted out for its insurance inspection. On the way, we took a detour over the Zeeland islands on a road we haven't followed before. It took us over a huge dyke with a massive set of locks in the middle that separate sea water from fresh water - a very complicated locking process. As there was an outlook point, we took the opportunity to stop and admire the evening view. It really was rather lovely.

The Krammersluizen (Krammer locks) centre.

Dyke road

The Krammersluizen (Krammer locks)

The outlook point from below. We climbed to
the top
We left the marina on the Hennie Ha on Monday morning at eight fifteen, a bit worried that we'd be late for our ten o'clock lift out, but the brave little barge went so well, we were actually there early. It's only thirteen kilometres from harbour to harbour, but we'd counted on taking nearly two hours. Here are a couple of photos I took on the way of what I call the coal art. The whole canal is lined with loading bays for various materials, much of which is occupied by coal heaps. I find it quite beautiful, but I know not everyone might think so.

Coal mountains at the canal side

Frosted coal

A coal depot
I also enjoyed this view of a truck spraying the dust to keep it down and the ferry across the canal that carries workers from the village of Sluiskil to the industry on the other side.

Dust laying truck

Ferry across the sea canal

When we arrived at the yard, we waited a while, but then everything started moving and before long, the Hennie Ha was floating high above the ground where it was cleaned with a high pressure hose before being put on a monster trolley and shunted into a position where we could work on it. The following photo series shows the whole process.

Thoroughly sprayed with most of the old blacking off
An hour or so after we'd settled into position, a beefy Suzuki motorbike roared into the yard, off which tumbled - sorry dismounted - our dear friends, Jackie and Noel, last seen on the Canal de Roubaix in France. They were on their way back to Belgium to collect their belongings from the barge they have now sold before heading off to pastures further and newer. It was a farewell meeting but we had our usual fun and laughter with them. I shall miss these two immensely. We only met up a few times, but it was enough to cement a firm friendship.

Favourite folks - Jackie and Noel on their way.
Tuesday brought the insurance man, who tested the thickness of the hull in strategic places, pronounced it fit and barring a couple of minor details in the engine room, gave us a thumbs up for the next six years. The rest of the week has been spent scraping, sanding and painting the hull above the water line and also blacking the bottom. It's been hard work as always, and Koos did a truly sterling job of the underside of the hull, which involved lying on his back and rolling the bitumen paint on above him. I was allowed to just do the pretty bits this time, in other words the green sides and red trim. It now looks like this.

Happiness is a beautiful black bottom

Like this
Tomorrow, we will be going back in the water again and taking the Hennie Ha back to its own berth to finish off the decks and other paintwork that we don't have to hang over the side to do. That reminds me - I also have to finish off the paintwork on the Vereeniging...ho hum...a boat lover's work is never done!

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Mrs Bloggs: The Average Reader: Q&A interview with Valerie PooreI

I was recently very honoured to be a guest on this lovely blog and thoroughly enjoyed answering the questions put to me by Caryl Williams.

Mrs Bloggs: The Average Reader: Q&A interview with Valerie Poore: Q&A Interview with author Valerie Poore Author Page:

Saturday, September 03, 2016

World Harbour Days

This summer has been magical for me. We've spent more time on the barge than at any period in the past and had more fun faring than ever before. However, the summer is coming to an end and work is starting again. The students are flocking back into Rotterdam, a reminder for me that I still have a job to do and cannot drift around the canals forever.

Last weekend, we had a lovely outing on the Hennie H and discovered a canal close by our harbour in Sas van Gent we'd never been to before. This weekend, we are back in Rotterdam. It's the end of the season and with that comes World Harbour Days.

Traditionally, we do a tour of the harbours on the Vereeniging, but my old girl still has engine issues, so we took the rowing boat complete with electric motor out instead. It was a lovely 'spuddle' (our word for a short sort if 'joyride' trip on a boat) and we enjoyed the usual colour and vibrancy that this occasion involves. I don't really need to say much more as most of you will have seen World Harbour Days posts from me before. It is so much a feature of Rotterdam life and I just love it. The photos we took tell their own story, so I'll leave it at that. Apologies for the odd format, though. I don't have my laptop with me and cannot get Blogger right on my iPad.

One of many serious rowing teams taking part in a mega race

And another

Always busy in the Leuvehaven

Tugboating beauty

Tugboating muscles

Shanty choirs on the quay. They're everywhere

Koos doing a little skippering

On Monday, we will off to the boat yard for an inspection. After that, I'll be back to normal life as a teacher of academic and business English. But I have some books to write too and a blog to maintain. See you soon everyone!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A dozen uses for a boat hook

While we were away faring, I had a bit of fun compiling a list of uses for my beloved boat hook or haakstok as it's called in Dutch. The boat hook is my absolute favourite piece of equipment on the barge and I always check I've got one close to me just in case.

The best boat tool
of all: boat hooks no particular order, here's my list of the uses I made of this wonderful tool while we were cruising the French and Belgian waterways this summer:

1. Putting ropes on bollards that are just out of reach. I sometimes think lock designers deliberately challenge the boater by placing bollards or cleats just out of normal arm's reach or throwing distance. A good long boat hook solves this problem nicely. Just slip the noose of your line over your hook, reach out and slide it over the offending bollard or cleat. It can sometimes be a bit tricky extracting the hook without taking your carefully positioned noose with it, but practice makes perfect!

2. Fishing the bucket you've dropped in the water out of it. Yep. I do that at least once a week. I chuck my bucket into the river, canal or harbour with gay abandon and manage to let go of its rope in the process. A handy boat hook can rescue it and stop it floating away from your barge, never to be thrown again.

3. Pushing yourself off boats you've got way too near by getting distracted. One of our stock phrases while we were away was 'keep steering!' There's always something to catch your attention on a canal meaning that the steering can go haywire as you gaze around. If you get too close to other moored-up barges, your boat hook can be a saving grace - quite literally.

4. Pushing yourself off the quay when starting up and the wind is determined to keep you on land.  This doesn't happen all too often, but it can, and with some heavy grunting as added help, shoving the boat hook hard against the wall can really get you unstuck from these close encounters with stony things.

5. Passing something like a bag of goodies to someone on another boat. As I've mentioned, you don't want to get too close to other boats, so if you do need to pass something over, then put it in a carrier bag, hang it on your boat hook and stretch out across a suitable divide.

6. Passing your rope up to a lock assistant in a deep lock with no ladders. In some of the French flights of locks, there is an assistant to take you through, but some of these locks are pretty deep, so they will use a boat hook to 'collect' your rope from you and pull it to a bollard at the top. If they don't have one (which happened to us once), use your own get it up to him or her.

7. Using the hook as a machete to hack your way through nettles and brambles on an overgrown bank-side to which you have moored. I did this when we improvised our own mooring on a Belgian canal. The hook did a grand job of breaking down nettles and flattening brambles, so we could climb up the bank with our ropes.

8. Testing the depth of the canal where you think it might be a bit shallow. If you like 'off the well-dredged track' as much as we do, you might sometimes run the risk of running aground. A boat hook is a great way to test the depth of the water in shallow parts.

9. Measuring how much fuel you have in your tank. Our fuel tank has a gauge on the side, but you can't always see the diesel in it if the light is wrong, so then we stick the shaft of the boat hook through the filler cap, then we can check how much we still have from where the wet bit stops on the wood.

10. Grabbing a cleat or ladder rung on a wall you want to tie up to when the wind is making it difficult for the skipper. The boat hook can make a great hold fast in windy locks. Once you've got the hook on a ladder rung or a cleat, you can pull the boat into a more manageable position.

11. Using the hook to hold the barge in position when pulling in and out of a 'car park' type mooring between other boats - either keeping the barge steady and preventing it from swinging out, or keeping a suitable distance when it wants to swing into another barge.

12. Fishing flags, cushions and other items out of the water that have blown overboard in a gust of strong wind, or...when we've forgotten the flag pole is higher than the rest of the barge when going under a low bridge. This has happened a few times over the years, and adopting a 'stuff overboard manoeuvre' (which is like man overboard but with more laughter), our boat hook has saved our flags and other sundry items many a time.

So there you have it, the twelve uses for this wonderful, indispensable item of boatery. I really really couldn't manage without it - for both the conventional and unconventional uses we've made of it. We have two on the Hennie H and they were very well used throughout our trips.

Have a lovely sunny Sunday one and all, and in the meantime, can you think of any other uses I might have for my haakstok?