Sunday, June 09, 2019

Saving our harbour and other stories

The action and activities surrounding the closing of our yard and slipway have been mounting over the last week. Some of you will know I've been begging for signatures to support our petition to the council to invest in its renovation, and I'm immensely grateful to the many of my friends on Facebook and Twitter who have signed. Thank you all so much.

In the harbour too, there are posters and banners asking the public for support. Here's one just in front of the Vereeniging's neighbour. Essentially, it explains why the yard has closed and what action we'd like the owners (the council) to take.  

The petition states that "the future of yard and slipway is uncertain. This iconic piece of Rotterdam has a special historical value is a major attraction for tourists to the city. We need your vote to keep the Koningspoort open."

What's great is that the cafés as well as the residents of the apartments support this move, so we are all behind it and tomorrow, being a public holiday here, there'll be an event staged in the harbour with activities, workshops and live music in an effort to gain further support. So...if anyone here is reading about this for the first time, I'd be so grateful if you'd also sign our petition. It's such an important resource for us and such an attraction for the city. Everyone in the area benefits from keeping it open and alive. The link to the petition is here: Thank you!

In other news, I drove back down to the crumbly cottage for the weekend as usual, aware that we were heading for more of that inclement weather again. Well it hit hard on Friday night. The storm raged and the wind blew. I was wakened in the wee hours by the sound of rattling windows, tiles and doors, while our wheelie bins and containers scooted around the side passage on their own mission. It was quite a bad one and there was a fair bit of debris lying around yesterday when I took myself off for a walk. The sun was shining, but it was still blowing hard and I had to lean into the wind to make progress along the dyke.

What I really regret is that I didn't have my camera with me because I encountered two other rather special types of walkers as I trod my way round our nature reserve. It made me think of  one of my favourite bloggers, Beth Haslam whose life is populated by all kinds of fascinating animals and I've often envied her rural French domaine. Well, it was my turn this time. The first people I met were taking their horses for a walk. They weren't riding them; they were just meandering around the nearby lake with two horses on leads, letting them snack to their hearts content on the rich grasses and clover that line the banks. We had a brief chat (the people and I, not the horses) about what a great restaurant this was for their equine friends. Five stars no less and in the Michelin Guide for sure. We had a good chuckle about this as I stroked the noses of their connoisseur customers, who snorted gently in appreciation. They obviously liked the service too. 

Thanks to the Feed Room website for this photo

Then, as I carried on round, I met a woman walking her pot-bellied pigs. I've seen them before as she's had them since they were tiny piglets. Sadly, they're a bit shy, so tend to scatter if anyone else tries to give them attention, but it was  great to see how they've grown. They're actually quite large now. I remarked on their size to the owner, but she seemed quite at ease with it, so she must be used to them by now. Who says country walks are dull? I so enjoyed this one.

A photo I found on the Internet from ABC news
This morning broke fine and sunny, and the wind had thankfully dropped, which encouraged me to get on my bike and go to the Hennie H again. Koos was busy with other chores and I'd hoped to do some more painting. Alas, when I arrived, I found our little barge covered in dirt and debris from the storm. I wasn't best pleased given the time I'd spent on cleaning her last weekend, but needs must and I had to do it all over again, which meant no painting this week. Such is life with boats. When the weather's fine, we have no time, but when we have the time, she's covered in grime (haha). Still, I managed to do some anti-rusting in places and cleaned up inside as well, so it wasn't wasted. Here's the view from the back deck. It was wonderfully calm on the water today.

View from the back deck of the Hennie Ha
Since it was so unexpectedly pleasant, I took the long way round back to the cottage, and decided to cycle along the towpath dyke of the Gent-Terneuzen canal. I'd noticed there were several barges heading for Gent and as I crossed the bridge, the bell started ringing, which meant it was about to open. By cycling along the dyke, I could enjoy the ride and see what was coming. 

It's a lovely route as the towpath passes between the canal and a nature reserve, which is a beautifully peaceful stretch of land where water birds of all varieties congregate.

The nature reserve along the dyke
Then on the other side, I watched this beastie approaching. Several such ships pass every day, but I never get tired of watching them. They are so huge, yet they proceed so smoothly they rarely make a big wash and I'd rather be on the water with one of these than some of the smaller barges and boats.

The rest of my ride home took me through lovely gentle country and I was tired but relaxed when I reached the crumbly cottage again. Still an hour's weeding and ivy cutting in the garden, ably assisted by Koos, finished us both off for the day, and then it was time to get back to reality and down to marking again. 

It's all part of life's rich tapestry, isn't it?

Have a great week allemaal!

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Country magic

Everything seems to have started a bit late this year, hasn't it? Even though we're here at the beginning of June, the scenery around us still feels like early May, and how beautiful it is. I absolutely love the spring. It always reminds me of a sort of airbag that is suddenly triggered into action. Everything explodes into life and the trees, which were still largely skeletal in April are now positively blousy with voluptuous growth. They are all gorgeously green and profuse. These two photos below are of the nature reserve near the crumbly cottage. I love wandering round there, although I really miss having a pooch to accompany us. Still, a country walk is good with or without a four-footed friend, so I still try and get out as much as possible. I took these last weekend before I headed back to Rotterdam.

And this was the view from the crumbly cottage. Even my ivy has erupted, although that's always a challenge to keep down. I'm very fond of my little garden, but it's an ongoing battle to keep the field from invading. The nettles, thistles and cow parsley share the space equally with my geraniums and begonias, not to mention the volunteer foxgloves, which I actually welcome. I never know where they'll pop up, but they're always a rich and colourful addition.

The garden at the crumbly cottage

Elderflower in all its glory

On Tuesday, I got to work hopelessly early because there was a national public transport strike in protest against the increasing pension age and the authorities were predicting chaos on the roads. In fact, I had an easier run than normal, as I think a lot of people decided the pain wasn't worth it and stayed at home. It was an absolute pleasure to drive over the islands and see the pale sun glinting on the water of the great estuaries; I hardly saw another car, so I arrived with stacks of time to spare and feeling very relaxed.

An eight hour day of back-to-back teaching PhDers on Wednesday finished me off again nicely, though, so I was very glad Thursday was a holiday here in the Netherlands. I still had work to do, but at least I could do it on board as well as a couple of jobs inside. Then I emptied my little rowing boat of the rain that had been dumped on us overnight and just as I was about to leave the sun came out again, which made my journey back to the crumbly cottage all the more pleasurable. Most of the weekend traffic had left on Wednesday, so again, I had the road to myself.

One thing I try and do is vary my route on these journeys, or I'm sure I'd nod off if I had to do the same trip every time. It's at least a two-hour drive whichever way you go and I can choose a few different options depending on whether I want to shave a few minutes off here and there. This time, though, I decided to try a new way and I headed into the farmlands without having a very clear idea of where I was going to end up. To my pleasure, it was a very pretty diversion; rather slow, because I got stuck behind a tractor for quite a stretch, but it was real Dutch scenery of the most pastoral kind. Dykes, willow trees, reed filled ditches, quaint cottages and green meadows. There were also enough cows to give real life to what looked like a still-life scene. It was absolutely not the most efficient way, but I really enjoyed it.

Friday has escaped my memory completely now and I have no recollection of doing anything except working on student assignments. The weather was overcast and we were still waiting for the promised mini heatwave, which to my relief began yesterday. We woke to brilliant sunshine, and by chance the village was celebrating its annual festive weekend street market. It's one of those opportunities for the locals to sell off the accumulated stuff they've been accumulating (sorry) over the past year. Even our neighbour was out there with his trestle table, although from his relaxed posture, I think he was just enjoying the chats to passers-by rather than really hoping to sell anything. I strolled around the stalls but resisted the temptation to add to my own store of (accumulated) stuff. Maybe I’ll be out there next year too!

Later on, Koos and I took ourselves to a nearby village for a coffee and apple pie treat. It's not something we do that often, but it's wonderfully sinful. I confess I have quite a passion for apple pie and am a self-proclaimed expert, which means (naturally) I need to test it in as many places as possible. Well, you would too, wouldn't you?

Then today, it was the Hennie H's turn for attention. We are determined she won't be neglected this faringless summer, so given the rising temperatures this morning, I took set off on my bike quite early to give her some TLC while Koos started work on cleaning and painting the engine.

Just in front of the boat, I found a lovely clump of poppies, so of course I had to snap them. Then I spent the next couple of hours washing our little barge and touching up some paintwork. There's still plenty more to do, but it's a start and it felt good. I'm hoping the weather will be kind enough to let me sand and paint the decks next time, but it's not looking very promising for the coming weekends, I'm afraid.

On my return along the dyke, I saw this pretty cottage with another profusion of poppies growing outside. You might need to click on the image to see them properly, but they looked quite gorgeous in the heat of the day. Apparently it went up to 31C today, although there was a brisk breeze which made it feel less and just really pleasant.

This afternoon, we sauntered into the village again to see what was going on with the festivities and found an art exhibition in the old church, some of which was really impressive. We then enjoyed a glass of beer while we watched a marvellous display of exuberance from the local brass band who made up for their lack of finesse with unfettered enthusiasm. They were pretty good really, but it sounded just slightly chaotic. I loved it.

Overall, it was such a gorgeous day I decided to finish it off by going for a longish bike ride round the lanes and down to the great sea canal and back. Sadly, I couldn't help noticing that the weather was already changing. The clouds were gathering and tomorrow, I believe it will be back to normal: 20C and rainy.

All the same, it's been a glorious long weekend, and although I'll be in Rotterdam teaching again on Tuesday, I'm well refreshed by the solid dose of sunshine we've had. Such a gift.

Have a great week allemaal!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Catching up

It's two weeks since I posted my last blog, which is unlike me. I always like to do it every week because it's still my favourite place on the Internet. I must say if I had to give up all my social media activities bar one, this would be the one I would choose to keep.

Have said that, the reason for my tardiness is simply life. It's been a busy two weeks with plenty of quite intense activity on the boat front. Last weekend, my daughters came over to see us and we took a spuddle round the harbour in my rowing boat. We'd intended to go in the Vereeniging, but daughter 2 said she'd prefer the rowing boat. Much less to do and  as the tide was coming in by the time we set off, it was probably wise anyway as we might not have cleared the bridges in the Vereeniging. We had a lovely afternoon and one of my sons-in-law joined us too.

There's nothing quite so nice as messing about on the river

And seeing barges both large and small

And of course the ship's dog had to come too
What made it even more special were the gifts my girls brought me. These gorgeous paintings of my beloved Sindy are now standing in pride of place next to my desk on the Vereeniging.

Then on Monday, Koos and I did the test run on the Vereeniging that we'd been hoping to do over the weekend. It's been an uphill struggle to sort out the issues with the fuel supply, but it seems that Koos has finally cracked it and everything's going swimmingly now. He’d spent much of the previous week working on it and we’d changed the oil and cooling water too. For the trial run, we went out for about an hour and gave it some 'welly'.

It's a shame the weather wasn't as good as it was at the weekend , but we loved being out and about and it was a super successful test flight...sorry...float.

My old girl does like to make a bit of smoke though...a regular puffing Billy she is while she's getting warmed up. A change of fuel might help, but it smokes much less when it’s up to temperature.

Then in other news, after I finished work on Thursday, we pelted down to Zeeland to sort out the collection of our new heartbeat for the Hennie H, our holiday boat that had heart failure last year. The Vereeniging is essentially my home and the Hennie H is our ‘caravan’. By the way, boats never give you any peace. Be warned! They take up more time than children and animals combined, and barge owners are rarely rich. Their boats are a regular money pit.

To cut a long story, we bought this workshop crane so we could lift and manoeuvre the new engine (the heart) on our own. It proved to be worth its (and our) weight in gold as there was no way we could have shifted the new (old) engine without it. Koos set it up yesterday and then today, we dragged ourselves out of bed at sparrow's whotsit, pelted off to the garage to pick up our hired trailer and then drove to Den Haag to collect the new 'organ'. 

Back in Zeeland, these photos below are of Koos lifting the engine (several hundred kilos of it) off the trailer and settling it onto the ground. There is no way on earth we could have managed without it. Mammoet eat your heart out! (In case you don't know, Mammoet is a huge crane building company in the Netherlands and their corporate colour is bright red). Isn’t it nice how the crane and the engine match? Serendipity, I think, so hopefully it also bodes well for the future of the project. We have a long road ahead before it’s installed, but this the first step!

So there we have it. The end of one very busy two weeks, and we are now both justifiably exhausted. Till next time allemaal!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Musical boats

Last week, we spent more time at 'home' in the Oude Haven than usual. Normally, I'm there alone as it's my base while I'm in Rotterdam for work, but Koos has joined me the last couple of weeks to do some jobs on the engine and also to move the Vereeniging while I was at work.

Where we started

The usual lineup
The reason we had to move was to make space for an event in the harbour last Thursday. Seven of the barges had to get out of the way to leave enough room for the games to take place. To be honest I still don't know what the games were, but they involved lots of loud music and what looked like plastic bouncing castles floating around in the water.

Where we spent Wednesday and Thursday night (access was interesting)

Anyway, I missed all the fun because I had courses to teach at the university and an exam session on Friday...both days when the moving had to be done. Luckily Koos loves playing musical boats and was only too happy to steer the Vereeniging from one side of the harbour to the other on my behalf. This is even more fortunate given that he's much better and more practised at it than I will ever be. Since I mostly don't know my left from my right, a situation compounded when trying to reverse and made even more confusing by the added effects of a strong wind, strange currents and the Vereeniging's own steering quirks, I was actually relieved I could skulk away and leave it to him.

And back 'home' again on Friday, but moored against my other neighbour
for the weekend.
But back to the reason for the change, it might seem bizarre to some that we have to disrupt our lives for a one day happening. However, it's actually good to move now and then. It reminds us of why we live on boats in the first place. I quite often move a few metres one way and another as neighbours come and go but to cross the harbour or go to one of the neighbouring harbours gives such a different perspective and I really liked it, even though getting on and off in this case was more of a challenge; we had to climb over the two big neighbouring barges to get to the pontoon, and then up a short but very steep gangplank to reach the quay–the barge version of an obstacle course with ropes, rigging, masts and other assorted up-trippers.  That aside, I even wished we could have stayed for a few days but that would have hemmed both other neighbours in, so back we had to go.

Anyway, in the course of this exercise, it gave Koos a chance to check his solution to the problem with the fuel supply to the engine. In previous tests, it ran for up to half an hour and then just stopped for no apparent reason. This happened even sooner when increasing the revs; in fact, instantly. It just died. After bleeding it and establishing all the lines were clear, it still stopped, so the last possibility was the fuel filter. 

To our amazement, when that was by-passed, the engine ran and kept on running without a hitch. Koos's conclusion: the fuel filter was too big and created too much resistance. He promptly ordered a new one which he will be fitting this week and next weekend, we hope to test it out on a short trip to celebrate my coming of age....I won't say what age as it's much too high a number already, but think in terms of Beatles' songs..."When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now...doo-bi-doo-bi-doo."

Have a good week allemaal. The sun is shining; now we just need some strength to it so I can remove some of these layers!

PS During the write-up of this blog, I have learnt that the local council have closed our slipway for good. We thought we had 18 months from last May to prove it was still viable, but they have decided to axe it now. It seems they don't want to spend the money on supporting it, despite the number of visitors it draws to the area from which all the cafés benefit. Such is the power of the profit and loss accounts. It's a very sad time for all of us who live here.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Bits and pieces

The past weeks have seen some dramatic changes in the weather in our corner of the world. Since the beautifully hot Easter weekend, the temperatures have plummeted and apart from a few days when it's been just about bearable to work outside in a jersey, we've been back to coats, scarves and hats again, this weekend being possibly the worst of the lot.

Still, those odd days were memorable, if not memoirable (as my fingers wanted to type) and the photos that I've managed to snap are a testament that there's always something of beauty to be seen in the areas around us.

Take this parakeet in the photo below, for example. I saw it, and about four other identical birds, in some trees at the university. I was just walking towards the metro when the fluttering made me look up and there they were, several of these ring-necked beauties. I stood and watched them for about ten minutes. They seemed perfectly adjusted and were busy tucking into the new greenery on the tree. I have since heard from friends on Facebook that there are several flocks of them in northern European cities, one of the largest flocks being in Brussels. Escaped pets, maybe? Of from a zoo? Whatever the case, they are now apparently becoming quite common here. Who says animals and birds can't adapt to new conditions? I was and am still thrilled to have seen them although I'm told they make as much noise as a rookery. I grew up with rooks and loved the sound of them coming home at the end of the day and waking in the morning, but I'm guessing it's not everyone's cup of tea. This small community is right next to the residential block on the campus, so I wonder what the students think of them.

Then last weekend (I think), we went for a walk across the border into Belgium where we were pleased to find the cows out in the fields again. That's quite noteworthy these days when so many are kept in barns all year round. I won't say more about that here because it's one of my hobby horses so I can clip clop around the subject ad nauseam. And anyway, it seems not all of them were out. If you look at the bottom of the right-hand shed in the photo below, you'll see some heads sticking out. I would like to believe the poor things were in for a reason and that their turn will come. They looked a bit mournful to me, but maybe I'm just projecting.

On the same farm, these other cows looked very contented and bursting with the milk of bovine kindness (sorry)

Further along on our  walk, we saw this beautiful barn. I have quite a thing about traditional barns and this one really appealed to me with its bright white walls and red woodwork. The flowering fruit tree in front of it added to the pretty, pastoral scene.

Back on the boat in Rotterdam (I forget which day it was), we had the privilege of witnessing the most complete, bright and vivid rainbow I have ever seen. The two photos below don't really do it justice, but if you look, you can just see a second one in the first photo, which was also a complete arc. I took these snaps from the hatch on my barge so I couldn't capture the entire bow, but I hope it gives an idea of how magnificent it was. We were all gasping.

This one gives a more complete view although the contrast between the sky above the bow and that below it was much greater than my picture shows. In any case, the real image will remain in my memory as much richer, more vivid and glorious than any camera could capture. It was simply stunning.

Well, next week I'll be back with my nose to the grindstone. I've enjoyed a couple of weeks with not too much to do, teaching wise. However, as of Monday, I have three new writing groups and quite a lot of examining to do for the Cambridge speaking tests, so May will be a busy month. Have a good weekend allemaal, and I'll be back with more news and photos soon.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Springing into May

It's nearly the end of April already. It seems hard to believe, but this year is just flying by. We've had ups and downs, the latter being we still haven't made progress on getting the Hennie Ha fixed. I won't dwell on that as it's too painful a subject at the moment.

On the plus side, spring is here and we've had some beautiful weather to welcome it in. Easter was the hottest ever with temperatures in the mid to upper twenties and dawn to dusk sunshine; the blossom has been blooming and the flowers everywhere are too lovely.

But what do I really like about spring? Well, it's water baby time again. As many of you know I have a fascination for water birds and love watching their activity around the harbour. Very soon now, the mother ducks will start appearing with their little balls of darting fluff, otherwise known as ducklings. I just love watching them from the back of the boat; we all do in fact and Mum trades on our softer sides by bringing her brood around the barges, safe in the knowledge we'll feed them.

Then there's our resident swans, two of which I saw in a bit of love play in the harbour yesterday. It was an amazing pas de deux that culminated in them apparently feeding each other, which I found really touching. I've never seen a swan mating dance before, and it was quite mesmerising. At first I thought they were fighting, but the strange, rather fluid and quite graceful movements made me realise this was something else and much more intimate. I'll look forward to seeing their babies too in due course.

Mating swans: photo Margaret Hoey

Later on, we'll have the coot offspring as well. I expect I'll need to share my rowing boat with them again, as Mr and Mrs Coot always seem to think it makes a good birthing place. I love the way they collect all sorts of debris from the water for building their nests ... the coot version of a stately pile ....which the father coot defends with the dedication of an Arthurian knight protecting his castle.

A baby coot, such adorable little bundles

But is there anything I don't like about spring? Well, only one thing, and that's the seed pods from the surrounding trees that fill the harbour and fly into the barge when I have the hatch open. We all have hay fever as a consequence and I spend the rest of the year finding the seed husks in corners of the barge I can scarcely believe they've reached. That said and sneezes, wheezes and coughing aside, it's a small price to pay for the rest of the pleasures of a sunny spring day, isn't it?

Have a good week allemaal and I hope you are all enjoying the changing seasons wherever you are.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

More nostalgic musings


As I've mentioned in the last few posts, I'm preparing for the release of my last South Africa memoir which covers a period of nearly twelve years in Johannesburg.

It was possibly one of the most exciting, difficult and challenging times to have been there, but I remember Joburg with great affection. We lived in a number of its suburbs and peripheral towns, five to be precise, and each one has its special memories for me. My favourite was definitely the last, Krugersdorp, but it seems I have no photos of our home there, which is something I find hard to accept.

It's not all that surprising, though, because I rarely took photos at all in those days. Before digital photography, photos were just not something we spent money on. It was actually very expensive to have films developed and printed, especially when so often they didn't come out well. I think we forget now(or at least I do) how lucky we are that digital photography makes it so easy to take hundreds of photos without thinking of cost.

Anyway, I do have a few from those days, and they're very precious to me. I've scanned some of them all, but instead of putting them in the book, I've made a link to an album so that readers can click on them if they want to have a look. The quality isn't very good, but at least they give some visual support to some of my words.

When I think back, much of life in Joburg was fairly mundane: we went to work, spent evenings doing chores and enjoyed our outdoor life at the weekends, but for all that, it was a different kind of life and Joburg was an interesting and incredibly vibrant city. There was so much going on at the time, both politically and socially, but there was no way I could write about it all. Even now I keep thinking of things I haven't included that I feel should have been there. Never mind...maybe I can write a supplement to the book, or follow it up with blog posts. Is it important? Probably not, but South Africa, like everywhere, is changing every year, so in a way, it is history, but the kind of history that might well be forgotten in time.

Here are a few of the photos of some of my favourite neighbourhoods of Johannesburg back in the day. These are some that will be in the album.

Melville, an old but charming inner suburb
Melville's main street

Shady walkways in Melville

Norwood, or Little Italy as it was known then
Norwood café, a favourite Italian restaurant where
we enjoyed both the food and the real cappuccinos

I should also say we had some terrific adventures during my years in Joburg. Three of the best were to Namibia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. I posted a couple of photos of our Namibia trip last time, but sadly I can't find any of Zimbabwe at all. However, I went to Lesotho a bit later, in 2000, right at the end of my years in South Africa, so I took one of those disposable cameras that were fairly new and quite popular then. They were great because they came complete with a roll of film installed and once you'd finished the film, you just handed the whole thing over to the photo developers and bought a new one. Hopelessly wasteful really, but I took more photos with disposable cameras than I ever did with my very nice little Olympus Trip 35.

Back to Lesotho, though, the adventure was when we went pony trekking. My friend, Moira, her partner and I did a three day trip through the Lesotho mountains with a small group of other people. We had a guide, Johannes, who was a lovely, friendly soul and we spent the night in a rural village with nothing but absolute basics. I actually wrote about it here on my friend's 50th birthday, so if you'd like to read about the fun and laughter we had, feel free to read the post.

I added a few photos to that one, but as luck would have it, I found a few more, so here are some of them. Lesotho was breathtaking and I would have happily stayed there. I really loved it.

View over a Lesotho village

Roll call for the goats at our overnight village

Our accommodation for the night

Giving our bums a break on route

There aren't many rivers, but this was one we reached....

From up here. That's me at the back of the trail, clinging on for dear life.
It was a very steep descent to the river down there

Well, having immersed myself in memories of SA and Johannesburg during the writing and editing of the book, I am now hauling myself back to the present and what is now my real world, that of the waterways, which I also love. But I do miss South Africa. Very much. Writing about it so intensely has brought back so many of my feelings and impressions of the country that it's hard to let go of them and I find myself looking at properties for sale in places I know and wishing I still had the means to spend some time there every year. Still, as my mother used to say "If wishes were horses then beggars would ride." Bless her. Ever practical and grounded, she was. Not like me. My heart is always packed and poised for the next move.

Well that's it for this week, allemaal. I'll be back to boats and things soon. I've just got to shake of my nostalgic yearnings for my former home....after all, when you look at that scenery, you can't blame me, I'm sure.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Looking back in time: my past in travel documents

While I was sorting through my bits and pieces to keep safe now that my official status has changed, I came across two documents that aroused a whole heap of memories from the South African spell of my life, namely my second ever grown-up passport and my South African identity book.

Goodness, what feelings a few stamps can evoke. My old British passport was black (I don't know where they get this blue idea from) and it was issued in 1984 with both my daughters listed as my dependents. In those days, the details were hand written and my height was even recorded. That no longer seems to be the case in UK passports, as my last two had no mention of my height in them. Apparently, I was 168cm in those days. I think that was a bit hopeful even then and when I applied for my Dutch passport, I had to give my height, which I think is more realistic at 166cm. Still, I've probably shrunk a bit since my twenties...but not that much, at least I hope not. No, I think I was stretching things a bit quite literally then, especially the truth.

Anyway, enough of that, what really had me poring over these old documents were the entry and exit stamps I found in them, and much to my delight they confirmed the years we went to Namibia and Zimbabwe, which I've just written about. I was making a thumb suck when I wrote that we'd gone to Namibia in July 1990, but it seems I was right. Isn't it great when you find your memory's served you well?

Another find: Namibia photos
Sand? You're not kidding

Camping in Namibia July 1990

Our campsite in the Naukluft Park, Namibia 1990

Added to the pleasure of these finds were the stamps from when we crossed borders into what was then the Transkei and to Swaziland. Then, of course, the several stamps of visits to the UK and back to visit family. My South African residence permit was also printed into it, so for me, this old passport is like a whole slice of my life and I shall treasure it even more now than I did before. Okay, I didn't treasure it before. It was skulling around in my files, a bit mouldy and unloved, but now it's had a wipe clean and is carefully wrapped in its own plastic folder.

As for my South African ID, that too is fascinating. All in one little green book, it has my birth and marriage certificates, my driving license and a gun license in it. Yes, I know. For a very short time when we lived on the farm, we used to go shooting bottles in an old disused kraal. For that, we borrowed the farmer's 2:2 rifle, but I also used to practise target shooting now and then with a tiny handgun that belonged to me. I was a useless shot with it, and it actually scared me more than the rifle, so I didn't keep it for long. I think the difference was that the rifle wasn't mine and I wasn't responsible for it, but the baby Browning was and I was terrified of losing it. Can you imagine? Anyway, I think we sold it long before we left the farm simply because I rarely used it and didn't feel comfortable owning a gun anyway.

So there it is, all these memories evoked by a couple of old identity documents. I took a photo of them together with a recent British EU passport and now my new Dutch life wrapped up in booklets that tell their own stories. I shall now try and find more photos as I need them for the book. That'll keep me off the streets for a day or two!

Well, that's it for this week allemaal. Have a good one. Enjoy the spring if you're here in the north, and the autumn if you're down south. They are both lovely seasons!