I have placed a couple of the reviews the book has had, most of which have been very positive (which makes me very happy!), and then there is an extract from one of the chapters below the reviews. I hope you enjoy this peek into my Belgian world.
1. From Anne Mackle (a top reviewer)
"This is Valerie's third book of memoirs documenting her life on a barge. This one tells the story of her life as a weekender barging in Belgium where once again Val falls in love with a barge (The Volharding) that needs work done to it. Given the terrible news about Belgium I think it's good to focus on this book and the beauty of the country and it's people.
I'm wondering why I love Valerie Poore's books so much. I have never set foot on a barge and I have never heard of Wallonia. I think I've just answered my own question. I enjoy reading about places I have never been and things I have never done. I never knew that Belgium was so beautiful or housed such an eclectic mix of people. I do know that Val Poore's words could make the reader love anywhere, she even makes me want to live on a barge,as long as I had someone else doing all the hard work for me. Val is not work shy. Her barges have called for her to be a plumber, joiner, boat painter, fixer upper and everything else it takes to make an old barge pretty as well as livable. The Volharding is no different. Of course Val's trusty sidekick and partner Koos is always on hand to steer Valerie through the problems one can find living on the water. Koos spent his childhood living on a working barge so there's no one better than him to have by your side. We are taken on Val's week end journeys through Belgium. My favourite has to be Ghent the Venice of the north with it's waterways and bridges, I would love to visit one day. Val is an unconscious comedienne and her books are full of her mishaps. One morning she awoke to the barge lying at an angle and found out that the water had drained through the lock and they were on a boat sitting on muddy land. Her description of trying to get herself and Sindi her slightly mad dog down a wobbly gangplank was hysterical. Val eventually had to throw a hysterical (large) dog to Koos to get her off the barge.
This book is a delight to read. I learnt about the people, the customs and about somewhere I would never have thought of visiting. I know that a boot is a barge, helling is a slipway and a ligger is a harbour resident. I had a laugh and a cry and a lovely journey around Belgium and it cost me less than a fancy coffee. Who can say better than that."
2. From Amazon Customer
"I really enjoyed reading this book for two reasons: it brought back happy memories of sailing on a Dutch barge in France and it gave me an insight into rural Belgium which I can't claim to know well. The book is well written and moves at a gentle pace and is well worth reading by anyone who loves sailing on a barge or similar boat or does not know the backwaters of Belgium well. I shall now look for the author's other books which I guess I will also enjoy reading."
Extract from Chapter 2:
Extract from Chapter 2:
A barge in Belgium : the dream becomes reality
The way the story went was that six months after the journey to Lille, I was busy working on the Vereeniging in Rotterdam when I learnt that Philip, the owner of my rented barge and a good friend, had a boat in Brussels. I'd been curious about his recent prolonged absences from the harbour, so I asked him where he'd been hiding. He told me, not only about his own hideaway in Belgium’s capital city but also about the barge next door. It seemed he'd bought into a floating village of sorts on the Brussels canal system. The moorings were situated in a peaceful suburb of the city but within a stone's throw of the centre. What grabbed my attention even more was that some of the barges in this community had their own gardens, one of which was his neighbour’s, and this one was for sale. He should never have told me this, but Philip was always one to tease, and he knew this would get me going.
I started dreaming and scheming. How lovely would that be? A weekend getaway on the water was one thing, but with a garden too. That was even more tempting; I loved living on the water, but I missed having a piece of ground around me. In South Africa, I'd always had a garden and revelled in the delight of watching my plants grow and bloom. I was, as you might imagine, very intrigued.
So Koos and I took a trip to Brussels more out of curiosity than anything else. We made an appointment to view the barge for sale, and we drove down one Saturday morning. We'd recently bought a small delivery van, aptly referred to as a 'half loaf'. In the back we'd erected a sort of kennel to house our dear, but very noisy and destructive dog, Sindy. She'd already dispatched the seats and fittings of a Renault 5 with ferocious efficiency; we were hoping we might hang on to the interior of the van a bit longer. As she settled down to gnaw her way through the panels that made up three sides of her crate, we set off on the road south.
It was a gorgeous day in March. The sky was almost unnaturally clear and blue, and at approaching twenty degrees, it was unseasonably warm. After all the hard work we'd been doing on our barges in Rotterdam, we were as high-spirited as a pair of teenagers going off on a holiday adventure. The trip to Brussels was accomplished without mishap and without seeing Sindy dog's face peering through any holes in the panel that separated her from us, much to our relief. We slid off the highway at the designated exit of the Brussels ring road and wound our way through the Saturday morning traffic. With Sindy shouting at every car that came within a metre of our bumper, we were shortly afterwards very happy to be turning off the road onto the canal side or Digue du Canal, where the barge with its own garden was moored.
We pulled in to park in front of our friend Philip's distinctive white van. He was obviously at home on his own barge, which was just visible over a hedge of clematis in bud. His garden was lovely; there were Forsythia and Kerria bushes in full bloom and masses of early spring flowers peeking through the fence. I moved to the gate next door and looked over. The other barge, the one we had come to see, looked slightly sad, unkempt and shabby as it was. The garden itself was bare of any plants and a far cry from Philip's explosion of flora. I had a twinge of disappointment as it didn’t at all fit the vision I’d conjured up in my fertile imagination. Still, it was a garden and Volharding the barge, although shortened from its original thirty-nine metres to a slightly squat twenty-five, looked homely and comfortable, much like the gentleman who came out to greet us.
François was big, burly, bearded and beaming. He was nearly as wide as he was tall and full of good French bonhomie. He invited us in and showed us around. Apparently his daughter was living there, but she knew he wanted to sell. As he and Koos chatted, I looked around. The liveable part included the large saloon in which we were standing, the wheelhouse where we had come in, and a small aft cabin that was in use as a bathroom. It was all fairly basic but with big windows on both sides, it was light and bright. There was a pine table with two benches serving as both eating and sitting areas, a sort of pub bar and a very fine old oil stove in the corner. I couldn't see where the daughter slept, though, not until we went down the stairs from the saloon into the hold.
It was amazing and rather like a set for Aladdin's cave. There was a large double bed on a huge Persian rug, which in turn was on the concrete floor that served as ballast for the barge. Then acting as a separation wall next to the bed, there was a combination bookcase and wardrobe, filled with trinkets and bric-a-brac. And to add to the sense of oriental riches, there were bright curtains draped over the bare steel of the hold. It was dimly lit, but voluminous and colourful. The only light came from two windows set into each side of the hold close to the stairs. Behind the bookcase was François' storeroom. I didn't even want to contemplate what he planned to do with all the stuff stacked up there after the sale. However, beyond the piles of tools and hardware was a generator of substantial dimensions to provide power when on the move.
Under the floor of the saloon was a low but spacious area housing two large water tanks and a pump. This then gave access to the engine room. The Volharding had a great big General Motors diesel engine with a generous 165 horses. I happened to know that nearly all spits barges had these as they were generally towed until World War II. At the end of the war, a surplus of old US army tanks was left in northern Europe complete with their GM engines. Someone then deemed it a good idea to use these old but powerful motors in the Belgian barges to propel them instead of horses or tugboats; hence the number of spitsen with GM engines.
The more I saw, the more I liked the Volharding. There was a heap of work to do, which I somehow managed to ignore. Instead, I saw the potential pleasure of having all this space, a peaceful and quiet spot at the weekends, and a garden to develop and nurture. While I can't say it was sold on the spot, I was very tempted and Koos and I left with our heads full of numbers and our hearts full of enthusiasm.
As it happened, it took a few months before the negotiations were through and the decision was finally made. There was much debate on our side before I made an offer; in the end, Philip clinched the deal for me with his gifts of persuasion. Once the papers were signed, I knew this was the beginning of a new phase: my waterways life in Belgium.