Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter work

On Monday, Koos's Luxor is going on the slipway again. I can hardly believe it's more than two years since its last 'helling beurt', but it was, in fact, September 2006 when the weather was gloriously warm and sunny. This time, it will probably be sunny - well that's what the forecasters would have us believe, but I fear the temperature will leave a lot more to be desired. Today it was minus 3, tomorrow is likely to be the same and my internet weather station has bright yellow suns for every day next week with correspondingly sub zero figures. Wind chill is reckoned to be colder still at minus 8, so it will be cheerfully bright but miserably cold...ho hum. I'll keep you posted! The photo above is a pleasant reminder of the last occasion.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Our 2008 calendar in retrospect

While you read, listen to my favourite Christmas song ever - Fay Lovsky's "Christmas was a friend of mine"

2008 was an eventful year. It started off with selling my flat in Rotterdam; thankfully this was very shortly after I'd bought our little refuge in Zeeuws Vlanderen, where we'd spent new year, an event marked by going to the beach at Breskens. We never go to the beach, so it makes sense that on this occasion it was winter, and no one was about - stunning! I'm such a misanthropist.

Then in January, we had the immense pleasure of meeting MargieCM and her fabulous four in Paris. The occasion was of course celebrated by a walk along the canal near Le Marais (I think), and it was all just deliciously Parisian in the twilight. Most of our weekends in the early part of the year were spent at the little house, which overlooks the great Gent-Terneusen ship canal, and we had endless pleasure watching the huge transporters cruising past, but then the spring came and the trees began to obscure the view, so instead of watching from the house, we took to walking along the tow path. We also made forays into Belgium, exploring parts of the Schelde and the Leie with their connecting off shoots.

In May, I had a re-union meeting with two old college friends I hadn't seen since the 70's, and we marked the occasion by giving the Vereeniging its test run with its new-old engine. It was a fabulous day all round, and marvellous to meet my old buddies again.

In June, the next major highlight was acquiring the Hennie H, which ultimately proved to be something of a lowlight in terms of work. Still the trip down through Drenthe from Groningen was magical and gave rise to lots of clicking by me and shuddering by poor Sindy. Before that, though, I went to South Africa for a week to visit Mo in Postmasburg. A place further from the water you couldn't imagine, but its desert-like surroundings are a region that I truly love. Then there was Koos's 60th which was a real mid-year event, happening as it did on 30 June.

In July, I had some major work done on the Vereeniging and amidst the trials and tribulations of sorting out the Hennie H, we managed to get some nice solid steel panels inserted in the sides to ensure that my little barge would remain water and weather proof. It was as usual a much bigger job than I'd expected, and the interior still isn't finished, but it's getting there.

August saw me rushing over to London to see my brother who'd been ill, and of course I took the opportunity to walk down to the Thames at the Barrier and take some early morning photos, which have become some of my favourites.

September saw us heading off down south with the Hennie H to its mooring at Sas van Gent. Unfortunately drama struck again and just as Koos had crossed the notorious Westeschelde and turned into the Gent-Terneusen canal, the steering broke. We are still thanking everything of a heavenly nature that it only happened when he'd reached safer waters.

September also saw the arrival of Mo in the Netherlands. She and Craig had decided to leave South Africa earlier rather than later, and after my visit, they brought forward their move by more than 6 months. In the early weeks after her arrival, we took Mo to Gent where we had a gorgeous day and the most beautiful boat trip round my favourite city. She is now staying on the Luxor, Koos's barge, and it's been wonderful to have her so close, even though life here has given her quite a few challenges so far.

Over the couple of months that followed, autumn came and went with a few bright spots (such as finding the beautiful Lillo) and a few low ones too, like the numerous technical problems we've had with Mo's water system on the Luxor. We are now approaching the end of the year, and in November Sintaklaas arrived, a journey culminating in the special Dutch celebration on 5 December. We are expecting Craig, Mo's husband on Boxing Day next week, so that will be the final but definitely most important highlight of 2008.

I've made a slideshow of photos marking our eventful year, so for a look back to share my memories, feel free to browse through it! Have a happy festive season everyone.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The East Wind Effect

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the effect an east wind has on low tide here in the harbour. I even referred to our loopplank as something akin to the north face of the Eiger. I was using a bit of artistic licence there (others would call it plain exaggeration), but this morning, it really was the case. Yes really. I don't think I have ever seen the water as low as this, and in fact the loopplank was suspended in mid air over the deck of the Luxor because it would no longer reach down that far (despite being 5 metres in length). We could even see the bottom of the harbour emerging above the water at the wall. Getting off was more than usually challenging, especially for Sindy who really does not like anything that wobbles even slightly, but with the help of a chest dragged up the foredeck, we managed it. Well, I won't rabbit on about it any further, because I think the photos here speak for themselves.

Oh yes, and I forgot to add. It was a bit frosty too...the ice was about an inch thick in my plant pots and buckets...I must put those poor dead geraniums away somewhere...must, must!


This is what a normal high tide looks like, but prettier of course, because Momo and I put the Christmas lights on to join in with the other harbour dwellers who have done the same.

Doesn't my Mo look pleased?

Looking along the quay

And standing in front of the Luxor.

The pictures are not totally sharp as I don't have a tripod and the light was dimming fast, but all things being equal, they came out quite well.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zimbabwe...lest we forget

I don't normally do political, or even international, mostly preferring to write about stuff of a watery nature. Even so, as everyone who follows my blog knows, part of my being is still very firmly planted in South Africa, and many of my closest friends and colleagues when I lived there were Zimbabwean. I have listened to, heard and read enough accounts of the rape and destruction of that beautiful land by the madman Mugabe to make me wish for someone to put the whole country out of its misery and despatch the maniac. This article that I have just read in the Economist does nothing to soften my position. When will the suffering of these hapless people end? If economic, political and physical starvation were not enough, now they have disease too...but not according to Mugabe. Oh no, quite the reverse. In fact "“I am happy to say…that there is no cholera” he claimed, just as the World Health Organisation had reported that 783 people have so far died of the disease and that over 16,400 people have been infected. As he spoke, officials in South Africa declared a disaster area in a part of the Limpopo region on the Zimbabwean border, as a result of desperate refugees spreading cholera."
Need I say more?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

For Momo

It's 5.30 a.m. A small, well wrapped figure picks her way up the catwalks of the Luxor. She's wearing high heeled shoes. Good idea for an icy morning on board a Dutch barge. She reaches the gangplank. Hmm, low water this morning and with an east wind the barge has settled comfortably on the bottom like an old maid in a sagging armchair. The plank is like the north face of the Eiger and the angle is at least forty five degrees. No exaggeration. How on earth is she going to get up there? The high heels come in handy for once, for what else can you use as pitons to haul yourself to the top? As she scrambles onto the quay, she has to rescue the pitons and restore them to her feet as shoes. The morning dash is now on.

There's a group of them. About six in all. They all catch the same trains in the morning. It's like a Monty Python sketch, though. The first train takes them to Rotterdam Central. They have three minutes to make their connection. As one, they leap off the train and charge through the station stampeding past six platforms, trampling all in their path to catch the 6.02 to Utrecht. They arrive on platform 2 together, breathless but nodding to each other in satisfaction at another race won. The train isn't in yet. But this morning the station staff are in mischievous mood. They must be watching the team on their CCTV's. Let's make them run for it again shall we? Across the station intercom a voice booms. "Dames en Heren, the six oh two train to Utrecht will depart in two minutes from platform 14." The group all stare wildly at each other. Panic reigns. Off they set, arms and bags flailing in another mad dash to reach platform fourteen before the train arrives.

They make it just as the intercom booms out again. "Dames en Heren, the six oh two train for Utrecht departing from platform fourteen has a delay of 5 to 10 minutes." The station staff chortle delightedly as they watch the varying degrees of murderous intent on the faces of the team. Another day, another morning of entertainment over. Who will they get tomorrow?

At Utrecht, the team disperses and our small well-wrapped figure stands on the concourse watching the the departure board. Another tense few moments ensue. Will the train to the east leave from platform 3 or platform 10? You never can tell...and every day is different. She stands midway between the two. They have a really mean minx in the control office here. A minute before departure time, the board springs to life. Platform 10 it is. Sprinting to the other end of the station, the pitons have now been stowed for future use in our heroine's bag...trainers are required for this leg. Flinging herself between the doors of the train carriage as they start to slide shut, she's made it. Triumph again! At last, eventually, she is ensconsed in her compartment, the only test left to endure being the mobile phone terrorists, who seem determined to hi-jack every sleep deprived traveller's morning commute. Ah well, it's all in a day's work.... isn't it Mo?