Saturday, September 27, 2014


As some of you who've followed me here for a few years will know, I used to have a barge in Brussels.  It was what I had to escape to at the weekends before the cottage on the dyke. A charming, stubby old thing rather like a comfortable matron, the Ténacité was a shortened spits, the model of barge or péniche mostly used on the French canals. Its original length was 39 metres, but fourteen of those had been chopped out (I know - sounds ludicrous, doesn't it?) and served a new purpose as a floating boat house for a canoeing club. I was left with the remaining 25, hence the stubby, rather matronly appearance.

So why am I reminiscing then? Well, I'm busy writing about those Brussels years in a new memoir and it's giving me cause to reminisce. My daughter also found a heap of photos  of the Ténacité on a disc that she's given me and which I've been browsing through. Of course the result is I've been getting very nostalgic about that period in our lives, which is already ten years ago. It seems hardly possible.

The Ténacité - a shortened spits

Lots of light and space

The garden was on a slope

Break-time for Sindy and me

Looking along the row of barges

Actually, I only had the Ténacité for three years. I bought it for a song and sold it rather well, which is why I was able to invest in the cottage. But I didn't really want to sell it. Circumstances that I won't go into here rather forced the issue. The thing was, the Ténacité had everything I could wish for: space and light inside and a garden outside. I love gardening, and I love living on the water, but the two don't often go together, so this was ideal in many respects.

The only problem was that the garden was on the dyke, so it sloped up to the road. As you can imagine, this made mowing the grass a weekly challenge. I did the whole stretch (about 30 metres of it) with a hand-mower (yes, I did - a tondeuse à main) but I could only seem to do it in one direction for some reason. If I pushed the other way, the mower would veer off down the dyke and head with unnerving determination for the canal. I swear all that lop-sided effort is why one of my legs is more muscular than the other - really!

The canal on which the Ténacité was moored was very busy. Hour after hour, we would see huge commercial barges passing scarily close to our windows. Occasionally, there would be great excitement when two barges tried to pass our row of floating homes at the same time. There wasn't really room for more than one of the massive two thousand tonners to go through, but sometimes they tried (and eventually made it). However, life would be rather tense as we watched them squeeze through the gap battling not to get sucked into each other's water space (something that can easily happen).

About a kilometre along the tow path, there was a lock, and we often walked up there with Sindy to watch the boats passing through. There's something endlessly fascinating about the sight of a barge rising or falling in a closed lock and there are always people standing around, so it's a good place to have a chat. In this case, the chats were always in French, so tended to be accompanied by lots of gesticulating: this was partly influenced by being in a French culture on one hand but also of making my limited French understood on the other!

The reasons for selling the Ténacité were compelling at the time, but I still have regrets about it, so it's good to be re-living the experiences again as I write my new memoir. I'll add a few more reminiscences here from time to time so I can share some of these old photos with you too. I'm not quite sure where the one below was taken, but I think it's on the approach to Ruisbroek, a village along the Brussel-Charleroi canal which we passed through from time to time on our way to holidays further south. It's not a great photo, I know, but it gives you a flavour of how rural these canals are.


  1. Thanks for these - they certainly give a very different picture from the Brussels I visited (years ago)!

  2. It does look idyllic, Val, and I can imagine why you feel nostalgic for that time. A garden while living on a boat - that really was the best of both worlds, though the mowing sounds quite dangerous!

  3. There used to be (still is) a lock near where we lived in Watford..and I took Hannah to watch it filling for the boats. Very interesting. You do have a fascinating life, lovely Val and I am so glad you are writing another book about it. xx

  4. Hi Val - looks amazing and I'm sorry you were forced to give Tenacite up - but all things are for a reason - good to hear you'll be writing your memoir .. Lovely to know your daughter found that photo disc ...

    Cheers Hilary

  5. Jo, Brussels is a city of many sides isn't it?

    Patricia, I am going to start looking for a bankside mooring again. It was lovely!

    CarolStar, watch locks filling and emptying is quite addictive. I think those in England are even more fun because you can help yourself, but wherever you go, you'll always find people watching xx

    Hilary, it was sad to give it up, but necessary at the time, and now I have my lovely cottage, but yes, nostalgia does strike now and then. The memoir helps!

  6. How lovely to have had a barge and spent free and comfortable on weekends there! No wonder you become nostalgic. By writing memoir, your past pleasures will full grown.

    Thank you for your visit and leaving an encouraging comment.


  7. Oooh is this a new book coming, I am on tender hooks already! How lovely to have the best of both worlds, the hustle and bustle of the city and somewhere to escape to the country. I know you have this with the cottage, but not quite the same as being on the water. Having a garden is a real bonus. I have the allotment and flowers on the barge, but I am gradually adding things to the sea wall. I have just planted a crab apple and am looking for 'natural, things. Luckily we don't have to mow it, just the occasional strim when the nettles block the path! Xxx

  8. I loved all the photos, thanks for sharing!

  9. Thank you, Yoko. I shall be back to visit you soon! Your blog is beautiful!

    Fran, I would be very happy to have even an unofficial bankside. I often think that where you live is positively idyllic. So lovely to have an allotment too!

    Nas, thank you! And what a lovely profile picture! How nice to see your face!

  10. Hi Val. Lovely to know there's another book on the way. This all sounds very romantic looking back. Time does fly, far too quickly. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos.



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