Sunday, May 28, 2017


I think it's quite possible that by now most of my blog pals know I have a special fondness for sheep. I've loved them ever since I kept a small flock of Jacob sheep centuries ago (well it was in the last century) in my life prior to leaving the UK in my youth. Jacob sheep are highly intelligent and very canny. They like nothing better than outwitting their owners - well at least, that was my experience. Mine had great personalities as well, especially my grande dame of the flock, Emily. She was a very special character and led me a merry dance on many an occasion.

Jacob ram, courtesy of David Merrett, picture sourced from

As a result, I love the fact that at the crumbly cottage, we often have sheep in the field at the back of the house. I don't have to care for this flock, so I don't know if they are naughty at all, but they too have real personalities and Koos and I love 'chatting' to them in 'baar' language. What saddens me is that we never see any lambs. I can see when the ewes have been covered, because they have coloured patches on their backs, but where they go to have their babies remains a mystery. I don't even know who they belong to; I never see the farmer tending to them, but they come and go and I miss them when they aren't there. Some of you might remember that last year, we had a solitary ram in the field of which (whom?) we became particularly fond. To my shame, I've forgotten what we called him now, but he loved having his head scratched and whenever he saw us, he would dash over to the fence for some good communing. Then he too disappeared, presumably to mix duty with pleasure by getting lusty with a flock of ewes (maybe that's where the word lewd comes from...haha).

This year's sheeple have been in the field for a while now, and a couple of weeks ago, there were visitors at the house next door who brought three children with them. It was delightful to see the youngsters interacting with the sheeple. I thought how good it was for them to have this opportunity and time to see that sheep, and all other farm animals too, are not just dumb creatures with no intelligence put there for our convenience; they are sentient beings with likes, dislikes and obvious emotions.  Here are a few photos I took of the kids feeding our ovine friends with 'snacks', most of which were weeds and grasses they'd gathered, but it didn't matter to the sheep. They enjoyed the attention anyway!

And sorry for the plug, so if you don't want to see it, look away now, but if you happen to be interested in my own and very real adventures with sheep, especially Emily, they are all here in my semi-autobiographical novel, How to breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics. While the story itself is fiction, the setting and all the animal incidents are true! Oh I had so much fun, I did...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Better late than never : Four days in Faro

Lat weekend I didn't get round to writing a post, but I think I can be forgiven as I was in lovely Faro in the south of Portugal. I went with a very good friend of mine, Marion. We have known each other for as long as I have been here in the Netherlands but this is the first time we have been away together.

Back streets of Faro

A cosy corner in the old city

We had a lot of fun exploring and walking the city and then taking trips out of town. On one day, we headed east to Olhao and Tavira. Olhao wasn't all that exciting (for that read disappointing), but Tavira was gorgeous with a wide river running through it, a castle on the hill and plenty of white-painted charm. I loved it and had to lurk round the river of course.


The church on the hill in Tavira. I was standing on the remains
of the castle walls

City walls and urban homes are indelibly welded together
Looking across the Gilao River

Looking downstream on the Gilao River
We had two more days after this on one of which we went to Estoi, a village just inland from Faro, where we found this lovely old palace which has now been converted into a hotel. The rest of the village was rather clearly shut except for one café occupied by a group of English people having lunch. They told us they lived in Estoi and could thankfully tell us how to reach the palace as there didn't seem to be any clues left for Joe Public. Even the bus stops were a learning experience as the bus companies only have a sign on one side of the road. You have to know that you need to stand opposite it on the other side and we were ticked off by the driver for waiting a few metres too far from the spot.

The Palace of Estoi

Palace grounds and buildings
The following day, we took the bus to the beach and walked to a point beyond which there were no tourists or sunbathers at all (always a good goal). We both paddled in the sea, pleased to know we were treading the waters of the Atlantic - I can't even remember the last time I had my toes in such western waters. It was a glorious day; hot with a brisk breeze and much to my shock, my feet and legs caught the sun. I had a rather uncomfortable night coping with sunburn on my shins, toes and ankles. I can hear you saying 'that'll learn you," can't I?

On our last day, we did a boat trip around the islands off the coast. Faro is bounded by an area of natural beauty with a lagoon, mudflats and sandbanks. The boat toured the islands and the skipper, Claudio, pointed out which birds, waders and crabs it was home to. It was great to see all the birdlife, and I must say that Claudio was pretty easy on the eye too, so we didn't mind looking at him either...haha. One island is completely uninhabited with the exception of an old man (in his eighties) and his dog (said by Claudio to be about two hundred years old), the only humans and animals permitted to live there. There was also a lighthouse island where we stopped for a look around. The whole tour was a lovely end to our trip and a very welcome dose of sunshine despite my fried toes.

Old huts on Desert Island

The one and only lighthouse

Faro castle seen from the water

Our charming and rather dashing skipper,

Monday, May 08, 2017

A state of flux

When I look back on what I wrote in my first harbour memoir, Watery Ways, I realise how much our community has changed since those days. From my perspective, it is less cohesive than it was, but maybe that's because so many of those I started life in the harbour with have gone; such is the nature of a restoration harbour.

There were many more barges in the harbour in 2002

Trees and cars on the quay...unheard of now!
This is Koos next to our old renault

Sadly, some have gone with more permanence too. This last week we buried the second of our liggers this year: the first was a mere 52 when his heart just stopped while at work in Kazakhstan of all places; the second was a close neighbour of mine who has been struggling with cancer these past four years. At 74, he'd had his three score years and ten, but it still felt too early. George and I had been neighbours in the line-up of barges many times and even when separated by other boats, ours were never far apart. He'd done a beautiful job of restoration and it is sad that he will never get to go faring in it. I liked him very much.

Other things have changed recently too. The helling (slipway) and working yard where I have spent so many hours closed on April the 30th. Its future is uncertain, but the Maritime Museum say they cannot afford to keep funding it as it doesn't make enough money to cover the costs. The keys were handed to the council on May the 1st and we now await negotiations to see if it will be kept going, perhaps on a more commercial basis. I have a lift-out booked for October, so I hope there will be a workable plan.

My first liveaboard, the Hoop, on the helling (slipway)

I think this event, more than any other, defines how things are changing. For the younger generation of liggers, it is probably less dramatic as they have formed their own core community and will arrange things their own way, but for those of us who are older, it feels like the end of an era.

Sorry for the poignant post today, folks. I'm feeling a bit sad, but I hope you all have a great week.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Various whatnots

I'm having one of those spells when I really don't know what to write about on my blog. I feel life is on hold until it gets warmer. It's been so cold lately I really haven't felt like doing anything much, so let me do what I usually do in these situations...just ramble. You are free to leave anytime you feel you've read enough inconsequential burble.

My brain is all over the place with all the unfinished projects that I want to get on with, but you know how it is...'I want' somehow 'doesn't get' (or that's what my mother used to say). For a start, there's the floor in the back cabin of the Vereeniging. No, I still haven't finished it. Awful, aren't I? It all stopped in the autumn when I'd got the sheets of plywood to make it up, but then the temperature plummeted and I've just been looking at it for the past four months (or is it five?) sort of projecting the end result in the hopes it would miraculously finish itself. This week my intentions are good, but I really don't want to go to hell because of them, so I'm not promising myself anything.

The floor before I cleaned it up

Then there's the butterfly or pigeon hatches on the Hennie H (known here as 'koekoek'). I finished one of them before the new year. It needed stripping down, strengthening and revarnishing. It also needed new windows. The other one is just the same except it's taking me much longer to complete. Still, I really am making progress with it because I can do it indoors. In case you're wondering, I made temporary hatches to cover the openings while I repaired the real ones, so no, the HH is not filling up with rainwater as I write. Last weekend, Number 2 looked like this.

It's now received a few more coats of varnish, so it looks much better and richer, but I still need to put some more varnish on it and cut the windows from the perspex we bought - or rather Koos will probably do that as his hand is steadier. Maybe next week I can show you all the finished article...but what was that I said about good intentions?

As for this year's faring, our plan has been to leave on the Hennie H for a long trip east in June...somewhere around the 15th...with the eventual goal being Poland, but I'm applying the intentions rule to that too as I don't know yet if we'll be ready to go by then. Whatever the case, we'll be meandering our way through Germany for much of the summer (I hope) and we'll just see how far we get.

Then there's my writing projects. They are about as tenuous as everything else. I've had this novel set on an African farm as a WIP for ages now, but for some reason I've lost interest in it, which is very unlike me. I hope it (my interest) returns; I'd hate not to finish something I've already written so much of. In the meantime, I've started writing down my memories of the next phase in our African life after African Ways; the part when we moved to a village in the valley...down the mountain, in fact. I'm having some fun with that and I'm writing it on a blog, so if anyone would like to read it while it's in the individual posts phase, just let me know here. I can invite you to the blog. Who knows? It might end up as another memoir, but I'm not risking that fiendish path to Hades again by proclaiming any specific, no.

Have a good week everyone!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The English Writing Festival: can anyone write a memoir?

This last Sunday, and for the third time since April 2016, we held a mini festival at the American Book Center in Den Haag dedicated to writing in English. It always amazes me how many people of different nationalities attend this event and do so because they like or want to write in English.

This April's event included attendees from India, China, French-speaking Africa, South Africa and eastern Europe, and the subject? Well, one after my own heart of course: memoir writing.

The panel of speakers
 I was not speaking at the event myself, but I acted as organiser, host and time keeper and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the experiences and tips that the terrific panel of speakers contributed to the afternoon. The main question being dealt with was 'can anyone write a memoir?'

Jo Parfitt answering questions
We started off with Jo Parfitt, who is a writing coach, editor and publisher. Jo gives workshops on non-fiction writing and with the main question in mind, she presented some valuable tips for those embarking on writing their life stories. She had fifteen points altogether, but those that struck me most were the questions: will your story a. inspire, b. support, c. inform and d. entertain? These are critical elements for a good memoir and it made me examine my own in this light. I shall certainly keep them consciously in mind for any future memoirs I may write, whether travelogues or life stories.

She also stressed the need for demonstrating your vulnerability when writing, a pertinent point if memoir writers hope to gain the empathy of their readers. For me this translates into self-deprecating humour; others might use candid honesty about fears and failings, but whatever technique we use, being vulnerable is an important aspect of memoir writing. Jo's presentation was a great start to the afternoon as she talked about the how to approach a memoir, as well as what to include (or not) and I have a feeling many of the participants will follow up her books and courses later on. Click here for her website and publishing and editing services.

Our next speaker was Carolyn Vines, whose memoir, Black and Abroad tells of her experiences and challenges in moving from the deep south in the US to the land of windmills and clogs. She spoke with eloquence on why not only can everyone (in principle) write their own life story, but should do so. By sharing the pain, feelings and experiences of traumatic, difficult and (conversely) inspiring periods in one's own life, we can find healing, hope and a positive way forward. However, she stressed, as did Jo, that not everything we do and feel should be included in the memoir; only that which is relevant to the story in question. This was the most important point for me: know your story, and be sure you have a focus.  As a life coach too, she suggested that writing is not the only medium with which to relate our stories; both art and photography can be valid media as well.

Carolyn answering the audience's questions
following her talk
After a short break with refreshments and some good interaction between speakers and participants, we started again with a talk by Niamh Ni Bhroin, whose memoir The Singing Warrior is published by Springtime Books and covers Niamh's transition from abused child and wife to a free, vibrant and independent woman following a meeting with a Masai warrior.

Niamh's talk began with a reading from the opening chapters of her book. It was a dramatic extract revealing the first emotional and physical abuse she suffered as a child and she used this to explain how important it is to be open and honest in revealing feelings and pain when writing such a personal memoir. For me, her use of dialogue and the visual descriptions were an arresting way to begin her story and emphasised the need for developing character, depth and even humour in what must have been a litany of horrific events. The dialogue involved the reader immediately in her experiences and showed us all how, whether completely authentic or not, it is such an important device in a personal memoir. There were, of course, questions from the audience regarding authenticity, but all the speakers agreed that a memoir is a personal truth and that is what matters more than complete accuracy of detail.

The last speaker of the day was Darya Danesh, a Canadian who has also transplanted herself by moving to the Netherlands. The link to her blog where she writes about her life in her new country is here.

Darya's cheerful personality showing through

Darya is in the process of collating thoughts, extracts and articles, and above all, a focus for writing her memoir. Her presentation showed us all how difficult it is to take that first step towards writing rather than thinking, reading and recording; in other words, procrastinating. Since this is a stage nearly all writers surely go through, it was a great way to move into the question and answer session which completed the afternoon. The panel of speakers, which included Olga Mecking, a former speaker on creative non-fiction, and myself, all shared our experiences on how to get started. Suggestions included making decisions on the story, writing blog stories focused on the eventual memoir, beginning with a trigger sentence, and taking part in a writing challenge (e.g. NaNoWriMo). It was an incredibly useful session and despite my own experience as a memoir writer, I learnt a great deal from listening to all the speakers and members of the audience.

Finally, at the end of the afternoon, we held a draw and three of the participants won a memoir to take home with them, a fitting close to an inspiring and rich event.

Other links readers might like to follow for the speakers are below:

The American Book Center events page with short biographies of each speaker
Carolyn Vines' Life Coach page
An interview with Niamh Ni Bhroin on the I am Expat page.
An overview webpage for Jo Parfitt

Now, of course I am looking forward to the next English Writing Festival!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

First faring in fair wealther

I'm a bit late with posting these photos. I thought I'd be able to put them up last week, but life got in the way and so I can only add my somewhat belated report now of our first faring of the year. As with my last post, the photos tell their own story, and many of you will have seen these views before since we need to  travel quite a long way on the Ghent to Terneuzen Canal before we can branch off and go somewhere else. Thus it is that for a two hour 'spuddle', we can only see the same again...not that I mind! I love it, and I love seeing the great sea ships go past. I also enjoy faring past them. It feels so exciting even though it's probably the safest kind of faring we can do.

The weather was, as you can see, perfect, and my daughter joined us too. I particularly like the photos of her and Koos playing the fool. 

We headed north along the canal towards Terneuzen and then I got some manoeuvring practice in a side harbour. This was an interesting experience in how un-intuitive it all is for me...the wind didn't help either. I practised 'three point turns', but the wind only really let me reverse to the right. To achieve a left turn (with a left turning screw, which becomes right in reverse) is more difficult anyway, but with a strong wind blowing us broadsides, it was nigh on impossible. Add to that my lack of brain cells when it comes to how the steering behaves, and this didn't work all too well. At least I succeeded the other way!

Anyway, it was on the way back I suddenly had a light bulb moment. Driving a barge with a wheel is like driving a car. No one ever tells you this, but if you want to reverse to the right, you have to turn your wheel to the right...duh! I've spent years 'not getting' how to do it. If only someone had said how similar to a car it is I'd have been fine, but the books and instructors just don't make that connection. Odd, isn't it? Anyway, now I'll stop rabbiting and let the photos speak for themselves. Suffice to say we thoroughly enjoyed the first excursion of the year.

Heading out of the harbour Terneuzen

One of our routine sights - a cargo transporter

The whale to our minnow

My WOBs flag in full view too

Daughter and Koos seeking far horizons
And in more recent news, our sheeple have returned to the field next to the crumbly cottage. We love them for their characters and their company. Here are some close up pics. Don't you just love their expressions?

Have a great week, everyone. Have you had some good weather too?