Friday, May 29, 2009


I haven't updated my blog in the last week, mainly because there's been almost too much going on and I haven't known where to start, but I thought I'd better get down to it now, otherwise it will be too difficult to pick it up again, and that would never do, would it?

Well firstly, we have made the move, and Craig and Mo are now living on the Vereeniging. Just beforehand, though, I managed to finish a couple of jobs I'd been meaning to do since last summer when I had to re-do the panelling after the new steel sides were put in. There were two window frames I hadn't made and I also had to repair the kitchen panel which can still be removed. Getting these things done felt good.

Mo and Craig have really changed the interior a lot, and although it's not me, it looks great. Very spacious and uncluttered (definitely not me!). Earlier in the month, I'd also got our Bruce to cut a small doorway through to the roef at the back behind the engine room, so now Craig has that as his den, and it's fantastic. I wish I'd had this done before as it's opened up the whole barge and made the roef part of the llving space. I'm already coveting it as my office. The vooronder isn't clear yet, but probably will be in the next week, and then we can start that conversion too.

I've moved my office and some of my other things onto the Luxor, but the rest has come south to the cottage. The living room here looks rather grand now that it's sporting two sofas. I managed to buy a nice old blanket chest to use as a coffee table instead of the slightly too large pine one I had - which is now redundant. I also had to buy yet another bookcase to house all my books and a whole heap of Koos's too. Luckily I managed to find one that matches the other two I'd bought before. This was was an even better bargain at €25, so I was really chuffed with that.

I do absolutely love Marktplaats. It's the Dutch version of e-bay, and I buy almost everything I need this way. Scouring the stuff for sale on the web is almost my favourite do-nothing pastime. An incorrigible bargain hunter I am! Anyway, the two pics below were ones I have just taken with my phone, so they are really current images of what the living room looks like now.

I also need to update my house blog, as there's been a lot of activity on that front recently, although the latest developments haven't been so good. I had the gutters replaced because the old lead ones were rotten, but now there's something wrong with the construction and I've got huge damp patches on the walls in the bathroom, kitchen and living room as a result. Needless to say, the builder has been summoned!

Anyway, back to the Luxor, I am hoping to do some 'modernisation' there too, and will be insulating the sides and building in some cupboards to make it more space efficient. Koos has plans to put into action too. Ho hum, lots to do. Anyway, that aside, I'm still teaching during the week and have been quite busy lately with individual coaching sessions. I'm also giving some business writing workshops, which are great fun, but come the end of July, I'll stop for a month and then hopefully go to France for a few days to see my sister in their holiday home down south. Really, really looking forward to it.

There are other things in the pipeline too, but I think this is enough for one post. I'll leave you with some photos I took last Monday from Fort Lievenshoek, an old 18th century fortified settlement on the south bank of the Schelde. Like its opposite number on the north side, Lillo, it's a charming historic oasis in amongst the industry of Antwerp's docklands. Have a good weekend everyone!

Saturday, May 16, 2009


This coming week, life will change. I'm not sure yet how it's going to feel, but at the very least it will be strange for a while. Mo and Craig have been here for some months now (as you know) and have found that getting a home of their own is more difficult than they'd bargained for. They've been staying on the Luxor since they arrived and combining that with eating with us. But now we feel it's time Koos got his boat back, and as none of my efforts to help them buy a small flat, or even rent a place, have been successful, we are now doing a swap.

As of this coming Thursday, I am moving off the Vereeniging to let them have it for themselves for a couple of years. Yes, I know. Big move for me. But, I've done it before. About three years ago, Jodie lived on the Vereeniging for nearly a year too, and in that time, I spent the week on the Luxor and went to Brussels at the weekends (remember the Tenacité?). Well, Brussels was a phase that passed and now I have the cottage in Zeeuws Vlaanderen, which is where I am writing this. It is gradually becoming a home from home, and this weekend, we came down loaded with books and pictures and the stuff that has previously made my little barge so cosy.

One of the reasons for working so hard on both boats recently has been with this change in sight, and there are still jobs that I need to do on the Vereeniging, which will happen after they've moved in. They've planned some adjustments inside, notably to the colour scheme and arrangement of the interior, and they also plan to turn the storage space below the foredeck into a spare bedroom - a job I will help with. So I'll still be involved - for a while anyway. I have a feeling that after a year or so, they may well feel it's too small, but at least this will give them some time to sort out their finances, gain some credit history and get on their feet.

As for me, I shall focus some further TLC on the Luxor, and then of course, we have our escape as well......

Some random pics here. The first is of one of my favourite barges in the harbour, owned by friend Bas, who single handedly uses this beautiful Hasselteaark as his home, his transport and his workplace. He has no car, so whenever he has to go some distance for his work as a professional electrical engineer, he just takes his home and workshop with him.

This second is one I rather like as it's vaguely surreal. The child stopped in this street in perfect position against the looming presence of the bridge keeper's tower just behind the houses.

And this third is for me so special. To see Sin enjoying a really good roll, even these days when she's often very stiff, is great. I can almost feel her satisfaction. I wish I could do that too sometimes!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

So, another week on the helling is over and I have to admit to being thoroughly and completely knackered, inelegant though the word may be, but then elegance is not what this world is about. Remember that expression "koop een boot, werk je dood"?

Still, apart from getting extremely dirty..(someone even said I looked like Philip the Teeth of Watery Ways fame ;-))

And picking up my own war wound in the form of a scratched eye (chips of paint gain remarkable velocity and power when spinning off an angle grinder)

the work is very rewarding when I see my little barge gleaming and freshly painted as in the pics below. Note the celebratory poses being struck by my sterling crew who have helped me tremendously these last days. Mo has been an absolute trooper the whole week, never failing once, and Craig put in his money's worth in heaps by being my official sander of paintwork today. The results are really amazing, I think.

In short, we have
1. scraped cleaned and painted the bottom with 2 coats of tar substitute, known in the UK as 'blacking'.
2. Frits (the star) welded a new plate to the bottom to protect a vulnerable place that collects condensation inside.
3. Koos removed the propeller and took it to a specialist to have it adjusted and shaped.
4. Mo and I chipped and scraped a hundred years of old tar off the rubbing rail that runs all round the barge. A horrible job that can only be done on the helling as dropping tar scrapings in the water is a seriously fineable offence. What's worse is that it burns your skin as well, so we both feel as if our faces have been sandblasted.
5. We also sanded, scraped and filled rusty places on the red strip (the boiesel), and then re-painted it (it still needs a second coat though).
6 Then while Craig sanded, Mo and I painted the back cabin, the engine room and the front of the hold in a new bright and luscious green. The place where I used to buy my paint has closed down, so we had to mix our own. It's lighter than the old version, but will definitely darken down when the shine wears off. All the same I rather like it.
7. Lastly, I repainted my foredeck which is always difficult as it's where everyone has to walk, so I was up with the lark this morning to do it before anyone else was awake. Luckily it dries very fast, but it's aleady been well used.

Oh and by the way, when you click to enlarge the photos, you can see loads of small seed pods stuck to the bottom and sides of the barge. They've nearly driven me crazy today, and my newly painted areas are covered in the things, especially the foredeck.

Well, back in the water we go tomorrow, and I'll be pleased to be swaying with the motion of the boat again. It feels really weird to be on land, and the barge feels hard and rigid. Not nice at all. Still, I think Sin prefers it! In a couple of weeks, there will be some big changes, but I'll fill you in on that later. For now, the Vereeniging is fit to fare for another two years...which reminds me - I must book now to get the week I want next time. Yes, really. You have to book it two years ahead if you want to choose your time!

Monday, May 04, 2009

And now it's the Vereeniging's 'beurt' on the slipway

The Dutch word 'beurt' means 'turn' but it's also used when talking about servicing a car as well. You have a 'kleine beurt', meaning a small service and a 'grote beurt' meaning a major service. Well, this is the Vereeniging's 'beurt' for a 'beurt' of the major variety.

While Koos and Craig started the engine, Mo and I threw off the ropes and we chugged across the harbour to replace last week's occupant around midday.  Below you can see the 'boys' as Koos likes to call them, discussing what boys discuss before the gangway was in place for Mo and I to get off. Koos and Craig -being boys - jumped off with the usual casual - and boyish - indifference to the drop. Show offs ;-)

While we waited, Mo was a tad cold by the looks of it....

Things soon warmed up when we attacked all the mussels attached to the bottom.

They are pretty disgusting really, and the next picture shows how thickly they have accumulated. the area in front has been scraped already.

Then comes the spraying. Craig and I shared this job, as it's hard and wet work, but then Koos inspected our efforts and did it all again...oh well, there's always something to learn! I don't really like doing it as the chips of old tar burn my face, and as I sit here typing, I can feel the glow coming off my cheeks. On the upside, I look really healthy!

Tomorrow, we'll start painting in earnest, and on Wednesday, Frits is coming to weld a strip across a vulnerable section of the bottom. Normally, I ask Philip to do my welding jobs, but as he's enjoying well deserved sunshine and adventures in the south of France now (see here), I'm happy because Frits is also brilliant. Wish us luck with the weather! 

Friday, May 01, 2009

Lost in Spain

"I'd love to go hiking when I come to visit," I said before I went to Valencia.
"Okay, I'll see what's going on over the weekend," said Marion.

When I arrived, it was all arranged. We would be joining a group consisting of folk from the local social networks Marion belongs to. The information about the hike in question was on the internet. Not too bad, Marion said. They had rated it as 'medium' difficulty, and with only one climb of any real significance, it looked to be fairly easy going, even for one of such advancing years as myself.

We were taken to the meeting point by one of Marion's friend's, Carlos - an entertaining, quirky and colourful character who won me over by producing a rakish eye patch decorated with a skull and crossbones, which he wore at intervals during the hike. He also intrigued me by having tiny brass musical instruments in the door pockets of his car. I couldn't help wondering what kind of cacophony he might make if left alone in a traffic jam for any length of time.

Apart from Marion and myself, there was a third lady for Carlos to escort, much to his delight, and this was the fabulous Claudia, a Dutch girl, who is half Croatian and also lives and works in Valencia. She was fun, friendly and truly lovely, but that aside, her gift for languages amazed me. She seems to absorb them like a sponge, and speaks fluent Spanish, English, German and Croatian in addition to her native Dutch. I think she also mentioned that she can get by in French and Italian as well, meaning she probably speaks them quite competently. To listen to her and Marion nattering in Dutch, and then switching effortlessly to Spanish for Carlos and English for me was a treat to hear. I'm still struggling with the Dutch part, let alone anything else!

Anyway, to get back to the point, we arrived at the meeting point, a tiny hamlet called El Molinar, after a stomach churning drive through the mountain passes. The scenery was breathtaking - except that I didn't dare breathe, given that my breakfast wanted to up and away to the hills itself.

We all piled out of the car, and I watched fascinated as this entirely Spanish group (excepting Marion, Claudia and myself) greeted each other. This involved wildly enthusiastic encounters in which everyone was thoroughly kissed and hugged. And I do mean everyone. Me too. Given that I didn't know a soul there, I found this - how can I say - quite special?

Then we set off. The hike was a guided one, and there seemed to be at least three people with walkie talkies co-ordinating the group and trying to keep everyone on track. They were very busy and very earnest about it, which should have given us confidence. Still, the misgivings began after we had scaled the first steep climb. In theory, this should have been the only one. We all arrived breathless and sweating profusely at the top of the hill, thankful that the exertion was over for the rest of the walk. Not so.

After some intense discussion amongst the guides, we took off again up a new path, but within minutes, we were called to about turn and go in the opposite direction. Rather odd, we thought. In the meantime, Carlos kept up a one man entertainment programme as the resident gnome and cheer(ful) leader. Every time we turned a corner, there he was - apart from the group, sitting on a rock, striking a pose or simply grinning from the path above. I got to be quite disappointed if he wasn't there. And then he showed us proudly that he was wearing his own name - a sprig of Rosemary tucked in his pocket. His surname is Romero, at least that is what I gathered, but of course, given our communication constraints, I could be wrong.

The scent of Rosemary and Thyme overwhelms you in these mountains. It is everywhere and all embracing - a wonderful fragrance that stays with you long after you have left. I shall forever associate Spain with Rosemary, or is it the other way round...?

But I digress. Within a short time, we were climbing again. Not just a gentle, advancing years type of climb, this. It was a seriously energetic, stretching-all-the-unusual and unused to -bits-of-us climb. And the muttering had begun. Even young Claudia was moaning. The guides were still earnestly doing their guide thing, dashing to and fro and talking feverishly into their walkies, but it was beginning to become clear. They didn't know where we were. We were in fact, lost!

We had scaled the heights of the mountain but now they didn't know how to get down. We started again on one track, and then had to double back again to an even worse one. What do to when in doubt is, naturally, to have lunch. So we did - all crowded on to a rocky crevice, hopelessly uncomfortable, when just a short time ago we'd seen a lovely grassy field that would have been perfect. The mutterings became open mutiny now.

Nevertheless, the guides were determined. We had to take the line of most resistance. Before long we were on the edge of a precipice, being told we had to climb down it. At this point I nearly had an attack of crinkly mouth disease, but then realised I'd be on my own with my temper, and that wasn't such a grand place to be. Besides, no one else would understand me (being Spanish and all), and they were all being so incredibly stoic. There was nothing for it. I would have to slip and stumble my way down this rock face despite its vast avalanche forming potential. As it happened the only avalanche was a human one.

Astonishingly, there was only one casualty on the way down, and that was a minor injury, but I thought wistfully of the optimistic portrayal of this walk and thought that 'not for the faint hearted' would have been a better description, and 'wear good boots and bring strong stick plus good dose of courage' should have been the advice.

When we all finally tumbled on to the road at the bottom of the rock face, there was still a problem. Do we go left or do we go to the right? The guides had given up pretending they knew where we were, and were now desperately consulting their GPS programs on their mobile phones. The only snag was that none of them seemed to believe the evidence before them, and they were arguing the toss about which way to go even when their on-board computers were unequivocal. Eventually, dear Claudia settled it for us by marching off in pursuit of her own GPS voice, and miraculously, everyone else followed.

An hour later, Carlos appeared beside us, more like an angel now than a gnome. He'd marched on ahead to collect the car and driven back to save us poor damsels the pain of the final kilometre! Bless his heart.

As we 'post-mortemed' the whole adventure on the way back, I realised that despite everything, I'd really really enjoyed the day. It was absolutely the highlight of my weekend. The scenery had been spectacular, the views of olive groves and tiny farms tucked into the hillsides were imprinted on my memory, and the company had been great and the good humour infectious. The fact that the hike itself had been an organisational disaster no longer mattered, and probably - in the end - made it all the more memorable!