Friday, December 24, 2010

A white Christmas week at least

Koos couldn't resist all that pristine snow

Well it's been the coldest December I can remember...ever...which I suppose isn't saying that much bearing in mind that from 1981 - 2001 I lived in a country where I only saw snow once and then had to drive 400kms to find it.

Still, since I've been here, and that's ten years now, this really is the coldest it's been and the evidence is in the photo above. Never have I seen icicles on my barge like these. Never have I seen icicles hanging from the roofs or the sides of cars in this way. It really has been exceptional.

That being said, tomorrow is Christmas day and I don't think it will officially be a white one. We haven't had snow for a couple of days now, and it even thawed quite a bit yesterday, so a good deal of the thicker snow has gone, leaving what is now rather grubby pack ice everywhere - neither pretty nor very comfortable. Still, I'll leave you with this image here of a trailer I saw the other day parked all by itself and almost totally pristine with its covering of snow. I don't mind it when it looks like this.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone. I hope you all have a chance to rest and relax, and that you will be heading into 2011 full of optimism for the next decade of the 21st century....makes it sound rather grand doesn't it? I'd better have a drink to that!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

End of the year limbo

And here's the black and white calendar. I like them both so much, I'm getting them for the Vereeniging and one for the little house.
It's strange how the end of the year can make me feel. On the one hand, I like having a few weeks with less work - once the marking is over, that is. On the other, I find I have difficulty in managing my time. I know there are a multitude of things I really want to do, such as writing, finishing my thesis, doing some water colour painting, making a couple of skirts and so on, but my reluctance in getting down to any of them seems to suggest I don't want to do anything at all.

As a salve to my conscience, though, I have made a calendar using my own photos of the past year for my family, and I was pleased to hear that my sister had received hers yesterday. My family have got so used to having a Val calendar now that it's more or less expected, which is fine, because it solves a few of the Christmas gift worries. Having done that, I got to thinking that maybe a calendar would be a good medium for Koos' photos too, so now we have selected just a few of the images he took in Poland on this last trip and have made a calendar of those too. I think they look great, so apart from the usual family requirements, I have made it available on my 'storefront' in the hopes that others might find it appealing too.

Here it is for any of my blog friends who are interested:

I'm intending to make another couple. One will definitely be of his black and white photos, and another probably of Rotterdam. I think calendars are a good idea for promoting someone's art work, and of course it saves me from getting down to all the other things I've been putting off doing! In a very constructive way too, which can't be bad.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A place called Lillo

Belgium is full of surprises. I suppose that in itself is not surprising when you think it is the home of surrealism; the birthplace of Tin Tin and the magnificent Jacques Brel; and the country where competitive cycling is the national sport, and not, as you might expect, football, rugby or even tennis.

Given as we are to forays into our neighbouring country in search of small adventures and unexpected delights, we were thrilled to bits a couple of weeks ago to find a treasure trove of surprises when stopping for a simple cup of coffee in the village of Lillo, not far from Antwerp.

Lillo itself is a surprise. It nestles amidst the towering cranes and container terminals of Antwerp's massive harbour. Virtually untouched by time, it retains its original earthwork fortifications surrounded by a moat and fronts the great estuary of the Schelde. It has its own tiny harbour, which empties at low tide so that the moored boats rest gently on the mud flats. It has also maintained its quaint village centre, which has become home to a number of artists and alternative-minded residents. To go there is to feel a sense of peace, a 'still point of the turning world' like TS Elliot's Burnt Norton.

Lillo was spared when the port of Antwerp was built, unlike many other villages that were swallowed up by the hunger for more and greater shipping terminals. Because of this, it has a timeless quality, and indeed time seems to have stood still there. No surprise then that Koos and I enjoy stopping there from time to time on the way to Zeeuws Vlaanderen.

On this occasion, though, our usual hostelry was closed, so we crossed the empty square towards Het Landhuis, the only café that appeared to be open on such a chill and blustery November day. We went in hesitantly, as there appeared to be a private function in progress, but the proprietor, who was having a smoke outside, ushered us in with a welcoming smile.

After ordering coffee, I disappeared off to euphemistically 'powder my nose', and when I got back to the small bar where we were sitting, Koos was already talking animatedly to a distinguished looking gentleman, who introduced himself as Leo. They were discussing the history of the area, and it transpired that right next door, there was an extensive museum of artefacts rescued from all the villages that had fallen under the axe of industrial development. It was not open now, Leo said, but it contained a marvellous collection, displaying the old ways of the former locals. Hearing our new friend talking so enthusiastically about the museum, the owner of the café asked if we would like to see it. He had the key and Leo was welcome to show us around.

Of course we jumped at the opportunity, so armed with the means, Leo led the way, not outside as we'd expected, but down through the basement of the Het Landhuis and unlocking an ordinary looking door, he led us into Aladdin's cave.

From the outside, the museum looks like a couple of plain and ordinary residential houses, but inside, it consists of more than thirty rooms, suggesting that several houses have been converted for the purpose. Every room is designated to a specific aspect of life and each has a full-size model of a villager, dressed in traditional clothing. There are all the standard household rooms fitted out with the furnishings and paraphernalia of yesteryear, as well as an old-fashioned iron stove and cooking implements in the kitchen. There is also a schoolroom, complete with tiny desks, blackboard and globe, a bar with old-style beer taps and optics, a room with a pair of wonderful sledges driven by huge penny-farthing style cycles, and another room devoted to preserved documents and texts, hundreds of years old.

We passed from room to room in some awe, astonished that so much had been rescued and kept so lovingly in so small a village. Leo was clearly delighted to show us, and Koos took a photo of him 'acting' as a smiling barman behind the beautiful wooden counter of the café. Eventually we made our way back into the twenty first century, and took our grateful leave.

What a special experience it had been.We were glowing with it as we stepped out into the biting wind. It was not just the pleasure of seeing the museum that had warmed us through, nor was it the good hot coffee; it was the kind hospitality of Leo and the café owners who had so spontaneously welcomed us in and and given us their time, not to mention a free tour of these gems from the past.

Lillo has drawn us to it before, and there is no doubt it will do so again. But next time, we will take some family or friends with us, because treasure like this needs to be shared.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The first Big Blogger Wedding

Last week, the newly married Mr and Mrs Billingshurst, alias Invader Stu and the Girlfriend set off on their honeymoon to Eurodisney to realise their dream of being together in the place that brought them together.

Stu, the brilliant author of the fantastic Invading Holland blog wooed Simone, the author of another truly creative blog, Ladybird and Butterfly, after seeing a photo of her on Facebook when she and a friend were larking about at the Parisian theme park. Being a redhead himself and seeing the lovely Simone also had a head of coppery locks, he decided they simply had to meet. The rest, as they say of all good romances, is history, and they are (of course) about to live happily ever after.

Having met them by chance in the Oude Haven a year or so ago, and become friends in real life as well as on blog, Koos and I were not only invited to the wedding, but Koos was asked to be photographer for the day. I was happy to perform the job of back up photographer, and took a few sneak snaps of my own with my old and beloved Leica. These are the ones I've posted here.

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is the communication with people all over the world, but even better is meeting those cyber friends in person. This year alone, I've been incredibly blessed to have met Maria, Hans and Ingela, and enjoyed a wonderful second visit from our dear blog friend, Anne Marie and her Austin, but this is the very first blogger wedding I've been to, and a very charming and special marriage feast it was too. Simone was radiantly lovely and ceaselessly smiling, Stu was gracious, humorous and handsome in his dark suit, and the whole day was beautifully coreographed by their two absolutely precious ladies-in-command, Marjolein and Marije.

The marvellous Marjolein and Marije

This weekend, we're off down to Zeeland again, and maybe, just maybe, we'll have a chance to see our other blog friends, Anne and Ol who have returned from a wonderful eight months in France on their narrowboat, Wandering Snail. Their account and photos on their blog make me long to go travelling again, and yes, I know I've just been to Italy and Poland, but an extended trip to France is still up there high on my wish list. Who knows, maybe next year....

Sunday, November 07, 2010


A gathering of the Warsaw Sniffy Bum club

On my way back from Poland, I spent a few hours in Warsaw. The city was empty. It was All Saints, so everyone was at the cemeteries except dog walkers, happy to have the freedom of the parks to enjoy their 'sniffy bum' clubs. Warsaw was otherwise mine to discover. Even so, I missed the people and being a bit bored, all I could do was take photos. These are some of my favourites.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Katovice's out of the bag

Poland and Katovice. These names have had associations for me for some time as being Koos's domain. It was a world I only knew from his photos, a world seen from his own unique perspective. But this weekend I entered his world and found my own perspective, and I have to say I was totally charmed.

The weather helped 'of course' (as the Poles love to say). The whole weekend was cloaked in soft golden sunlight and a warmth that had me wishing I'd taken an entirely different set of clothes. But there were other aspects too which surprised me and endeared this 'most horrible' of Polish cities to me.

For a start, it isn't horrible at all. Never having been to Poland's gems, Krakow and Wroclaw, I had no yardstick with which to beat Katovice, and while yes, it is old and in many respects crumbling, it has a faded, and indeed, shabby elegance that I like much more than places that have been restored out of their intrinsic character.

But even that wasn't it; because what makes this city is its people. My first impression was of a lively, buzzing atmosphere. A city full of open, friendly and very decent folk. A city where there is little or maybe even none of the hostile atmosphere that normally seems to come with such industrial areas.

Take this little hoodie for example. He looks like mischief waiting to become a menace. Well, maybe in some respects he is, but the reason he is squatting on the floor here is because when I got on the tram, he immediately got up to give me his seat. No questions, no hesitation, just instant courtesy. And that's what I met everywhere we went. Smiling faces, softly spoken with ready exchanges and good manners. It seems that even if they live in graffiti covered hovels (as many do), there is still a strong core of decency in their behaviour that makes for a very happy feeling in the environment.

Still, perhaps the highlight of the weekend for me, apart from some riveting tram rides, was the amazing beauty of the celebration of the All Saints feast day. I've never thought of cemeteries as being lively places. Well you wouldn't, would you? A contradiction in terms, in fact. Not so in Poland. The end of October and beginning of November is a period of three to four days when almost the entire population, including all generations, come together as families to honour their departed loved ones. The Poles flock to the numerous graveyards with flowers, candles, brooms and gardening tools. Together, they make a ritual of cleaning the grave stones, decking them with a profusion of flowers and lighting the myriad lamps made from multi coloured glass. The grave stones glow with polish. The crysanthemums glow with rich colour and the lights gleam in the gathering dusk giving comfort to the souls lying beneath them. It is extraordinarily touching to witness, and Koos and I felt very privileged to have been there.

Unfortunately, my photos cannot tell the whole story, but I hope they give some idea of the rare beauty of this occasion. If you go to Koos's Flickr site, though, you will find some of his magical images there too.

Apart from this, the weekend was made special too by the positively riotous tram ride we took on tram 27 which seems to duck in and out of secret passage ways, behind people's gardens, up banks and through semi-rural countryside on its hopelessly wiggly rails. Then there were the old mineheads, which I always love, and the walks in and out of a gloriously sunny and balmy city.

I have the feeling this was just the tonic I needed before settling in for the inevitably wet and windy winter that we have here in the north. It feels that way, anyhow, so my thanks go firstly to Koos for introducing me to his special world, and secondly to Katovice itself for being such a welcoming host on this moving and celebratory weekend.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hmmmmmm...what do you think happened here?

Ahem...yes, you've got the first part right. This is our van. Last night in fact. Now let's see who can get creative here. How do you suppose it got into this sticky position? I shall look forward to a plethora of brilliant ideas....oh and yes, NO brownie points for the following excuses:

1. It was me driving...
2. The brakes didn't work.
3. It was me driving and I forgot to brake.
4. Sindy distracted us by jumping out the back door.
5. It was me driving and Sindy distracted me by....etc.
6. The back door opened suddenly and upended the van.
7. It was me who opened the door.
8. It was Koos's fault
9. It was me who blamed Koos anyway.
10. Koos just wanted a really good action photo so I obliged but forgot to stop.

Haha, now I've disposed of all the usual suspects, you really have to come up with something good!

Then I'll tell you what really happened :)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vivid Vernazza, Jewel of Liguria

I don't have time to write much at the moment, but I did want to share these few photos I took of Vernazza on the Cinque Terre coastal route last weekend. I did the hike with my friend, Sonja, and that is another story altogether, which I will probably tell another time.

Vernazza was definitely my favourite place (closely followed by Riomaggiore) so these pics give just an idea of how charming it is. What they don't show, though, is the wonderful liveliness of this small town; a bustling community where old people pass the time of day outside, sitting and chatting on street benches, where dogs and cats dash around leading there own busy lives, and young people call to each other across ancient balconies of yellow stone and peeling terracotta paint. I just loved it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Another Belgium day out

Despite the pouring rain, lowering grey skies and wind that set the trees swaying wildly along the roadsides, we took a trip into Belgium on Saturday to visit a much loved haunt - La Louvière.

Driving south against the clouds, we eventually passed out of the gloom and into sunshine at Lessines, a charming market town on the French side of the language border. After taking some photos of the local colour (people and things), we headed still further south to Strépy Thieu where Sindy reckoned she needed a quick dash around the great ship lift there. So to avoid the typical "s'not fair" look, we parked the car and got out.

Market stalls at Lessines

The scenery there was, as always spectacular and as luck would have it, we saw a large tanker, the Redoutable, entering the lift in the lower basin. Watching the lift in action is always fascinating and even awesome. These huge tubs that can take ships of up to 2000 tons are lifted by the downward force of equally huge counterweights, and the speed with which they do it is incredible.

We climbed to the top, 73 metres above the lower basin, and watched the Redoutable making its exit followed by a very pretty historic barge that had sneaked in behind it.

The rain then started again, but this time in earnest, so we drove into La Louvière to seek out our favourite café and have their very excellent coffee in subtly genteel surroundings. The town had its wet weather face on, though, and we were not inclined to spend much more time there, other than to do a bit of necessary shopping, so we headed out again. Driving round the area is always a treasure trove and it took us to re-visit a little house we seriously considered buying a year or so before we found our Westdorpe get away. It was good to see the place again and be reminded of why we'd been so tempted.

The return journey brought new delights, though. Driving towards the town of Ath, we found sunshine again at Soignies, another attractive place with a truly magnificent church that was founded a thousand years ago. I love this photo Koos took of the town square with the church high up on the hill behind it.

But then the real treasure of the day came. One of the pleasures of exploring Belgium is taking a dive off the main roads and seeing where it takes you. The evening light was turning the landscape to gold and the greens, yellows and browns of the meadows and ploughed fields glowed agains the vivid blue of the sky. Koos has taken some heart wrenching photos of the scenery, which you can find on his Flickr page, but below is one I took from my place in the car.

We drove through it all with mouths agape at the sheer beauty of the world. Eventually, though, we had to move on, and Ath, our final stop of the day, also proved to be a grand new discovery. What a lovely, lively place. It has both style and character and the feeling of a living, breathing urban heart. Even better, it has a river and a canal, and although I hadn't visited the town before, it has a special place in my memories. It was here on our first ever trip out together, more than nine years ago, that Koos showed me a lock on the town's outskirts. The day was very hot and the tar between the stone slabs was warm and soft, so in a fit of romantic togetherness, we put our thumbprints in it. I wonder if they are still there. I like to think so.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Time to shout about something

And that something is Koos's photography as revealed here in this book. These abstract art photos were all taken round the shipyard where the Hennie H is having its bottom plating done. Koos has the artist's eye to such a degree he can even find beauty in puddles full of oily water, flaking paint on empty cans, the daubs where shipyard workers have cleaned their brushes and let's not forget, lumps of rusty metal. They are all here and in Koos's lens become images of great beauty.

He so deserves some recognition and success with his photography, it would be fantastic if our blog friends would spread the word, and maybe..... even buy the book.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Summer 2010 - over

This will go down in my memory as the summer that wasn't. That sounds dramatic and negative, but for me, for us, it's been the case.

There have been some highlights though, and I'd like to remember them here pictorially

The day in June we found the tiny ferry going to nowhere..and took it to the other side

The World Cup taking over our harbour for nigh on a month

Koos's birthday, 30 June, with his son Kasper and Mo and Craig

A lovely July evening with friends Jitze and Manette when they stopped their travels in Breskens, Zeeuws Vlaanderen (about 35 kms from my litle house)

Then Mo arrived home with Charlie boy.

On 22 July, we had a magical day out in Seclin and Mons en Pévêle in northern France. Here Koos is taking a photo of the canal side.

The big event in July was the arrival of Anne Marie and Austin with whom we spent three fabulous days

At the end of July, Mo and Craig came to help us with the Hennie Ha.

And finally, in early August, my sister came to visit and took this photo of Koos and I in our favourite Belgian village of Sautour.

The rest of August, the month of my holiday from work, was sadly a wash-out in every way, and the only day worth remembering was a day trip we took to Oostende on the 28th, where Koos took some of his most beautiful photos ever. On the way, we stopped at a place called Lisswege, supposedly the prettiest village in Belgium. Here it is.

This looks like quite a lot for one summer, doesn't it? Maybe I shouldn't complain after all. It was just August in the end that could be struck from the record and wouldn't be missed. For my part anyway.

Enjoy your Sunday everyone. Autumn is on its way and the changing colours will be accompanied by those wonderful smells of damp earth, falling leaves and the tang of frosty mornings. I find it melancholy but beautiful too.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the way to being the Bionic Woman

Cataract one is done...yay...I've been waiting for this since July. By the end of the year,after the second one's done, I'll be able to see again. That will be such a relief.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Taking Stock

Well. I've reactivated my blog mainly because I miss my special group of bloggie friends. I'm still off FB, and don't know when I'll put that back.

The thing is there's a whole heap of stuff going on in our lives at the moment, not all of which are pleasant; and sometimes you just want to batten down the hatches and hide from the world. Never having been one to 'talk', it's not in my nature to thrash things out in public, so I hope my dear blog pals will understand that I don't do so now. It all sounds as if I'm looking for sympathy, but I'm not at all. I'm fine and I know this phase will pass - it really was a simple case of being too tied up in these other things to worry about blogs and social networks, and I just got the hell in with the whole internet scene anyway.

Interestingly, after reading Anne Marie's blog where she lists the goods and bads of Facebook, which she's just joined, I am finding I don't miss it at all, and may decide to stay away. It's just that there are so many friends there who don't come to blogland, and yes, that's hard. I'd miss the contact. Still, I will decide sooner or later I suppose.

In the meantime, hoping you're all well. I probably won't be blogging all that much in the next weeks, because work is also piling up, but I will be here and I will be following yours watch out :-)

PS I've added a couple of updates of the Vereeniging which I've now moved on to again. Strangely Blogger just won't accept one of them, so I'll try again later. The drawers beneath the bed are my latest creation out of some old wood I've been keeping for some years now. They match my kists in the lounge area which are made of the same wood.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bits and bobs

Oh dear, life is running away with me again, and my poor blog is suffering...well, it probably isn't, that's just me talking nonsense. The thing is, it's really hard to keep track of what's going on at the moment, so let me just list a few things.

Firstly, I am almost ready to move back on to the Vereeniging. That's a big plus, although now I am down in Zeeland for a week, so the proper move will have to wait until I go back.

Secondly, those of you who have seen my Facebook status will know that my holiday plans were severely interrupted by some mindless, drunken idiot sticking his boot through my windscreen, costing me days of my break, not to mention a few hundred euros in repairs that I can ill afford right now. Something of a minus here, I think you'll agree.

Then, we are still really busy with the Hennie Haha, which I now call it since this little boat seems determined to have the last laugh on us. Anyhow, the decks are all scaled now and today I went over them with a rotary steel brush attached to an angle grinder (how I love power tools!) and managed to wear the brush down to nothing in the process...haha...see? Still, they look good and are pretty much ready to be painted as soon as the rain decides to more plus.

Another plus is the amazing photography Koos has been doing at the shipyard. I call it container art. If you haven't seen his latest photos, just do yourselves a favour and go to his Flickr page. The pictures he's publishing of images he sees on the old containers in the yard are just fantastic.

The final plus is that hopefully I'll have some time to write in the next week, and that I'm really looking forward to, so let's see now - on balance, there are more plusses aren't there? All I need now is some sunshine to brighten up my spirits!

I'll leave you with a photo of the Vereeniging's new sofa uncovered here to contrast with my beautiful Sindy. After taking the pic, I bought a couple of throws to protect it from my very black dog.

There's also a neat movie that Koos made here with music by the wonderful Kate and Anna McGarrigle