Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas to all from Charleville Mézières

I've not been a very good blogger this year. Life has got in the way of my creative output more than somewhat, and I feel sad about that. I am determined to remedy the situation next year and especially breed some more eccentrics quite a lot more often, but I do have to accept that this year's contribution to blogland has been a bit thin.

For the moment, though, I'd like to leave you with some thoughts on this last year's surprises. The biggest one for me is how very fond I've become of one particular group of students. Since September, I've been teaching Chinese students who have come to study in the Netherlands. One of these groups has become very special to me and we have 'clicked' in a way that doesn't always happen but when it does it makes up for all the stress and hard work that teaching Academic English to foreigners sometimes entails.

Yesterday, we had a little party after class as it was my last session of the year and I took in some snacks and drinks for my favourite students. The interesting - and surprising - thing is that they just seem to love Christmas and all it stands for, even though they come from a confuscian culture in which this particular festival has no real part. Maybe it is just the sheer joy of gift giving and decoration, but these students have made Christmas special for me again, and that was also a surprise.
This sweet card I received just says it all for me.
And here they all are - my very special "PCA2" group

It was quite an emotional occasion as I'll only see them for two more classes and then they will move on to their official study programme. I wish I could keep keep them all for another year!

Another unexpected thing is that I've realised the post graduate studies I'm doing myself are quite a disappointment. Earlier this year, I was awarded a Diploma in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) and I thoroughly enjoyed the course, even though it was all online. I then decided to continue my studies and do my Masters through a British university. I rather expected that because it was so much more expensive, it would be of a much higher quality, but in fact it's all a bit of a let down. The work we do is mainly assessed by fellow students; there is no feedback and although we are going to be doing assignments now, the instructions are so vague and badly explained, I'm having difficulty in dealing with it. I'm even wondering if I will see it through to the final MA.

The final surprise, though, has been that of having my first published book released. I never expected this to happen this year, or to happen so quickly, but it's been quite a thrill to have the Skipper's Child taken on by Sunpenny Publishing. I am looking forward to doing some book talks and going round a few schools to promote it next year. I might even manage to get over to England for some of the same, but whatever the case, I won't let it stop me from, I won't!

Right now, Koos and I are in France. We decided to go away for Christmas this year and in fact, we are finishing off our summer holiday by visiting Charleville Mézières, the town in Champagne Ardennes that we were heading for when our van broke down in August. We only arrived this evening, so we are not sightseeing until tomorrow, and as the hotel has free Internet...well, why not blog?

The absolute last thing I want to say, then, is no surprise at all: All our very very best from Charleville Mézières. I hope you all have a very very special festive season and an absolutely fantastic 2012.

Happy Christmas from France!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

While I'm busy

The big and very exciting news this month is that my 'teens' or kidult (as I prefer to call it) book, The Skipper's Child is about to be released, published by Sunpenny Publishing. I'm told it will be available via various websites as of this weekend. It may take a bit longer to reach the bookshops, but it will eventually. The best deal is to order it through as delivery is free worldwide. I'm really thrilled about that.

Still, what I'm not thrilled about is my lack of time to write anything, even a good blog post. So what I have done is put together some of the most popular posts I have done in the past and coupled them to my two children's stories and the one-off short short story (and yes I mean short short) I wrote a while back, and put them in a little volume with the grand total of 50 pages. I'm giving this as Christmas prezzies to my family. Lighthearted and nonsensical musings with something to read to the kids too.

I'll write something more meaningful soon...and I'll get on with breeding a few eccentrics, but for now, well, at least you'll know I'm still alive!

I hope all my blog friends are well and I send you much love until I can get back here properly.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bye bye Snail

This morning at eight o'clock, the sun shining brightly in defiance of our feelings, we watched the Wandering Snail lifted out of the dock at Terneuzen and onto a 'convoi exceptionnel' low loading truck. Half an hour later, it left the yard by road instead of in its natural home, the water.

The Snail is going back. Back to England where it will stay for the next year, its wandering curtailed for a while. Snail's people, Anne and Oll have been obliged to return to England for a time, so it seemed sensible to take their home back with them. After all, that's the beauty of boat life. If you move, you can take your house with you - just like a snail.

It seems an age since we first saw the Snail, and then met up with them in Zelzate, but it's only just over two years ago. That was the memorable day they towed the Hennie H back to its mooring, and we've been friends ever since.

We shall miss them. They've become very very dear to us, but we hope we can visit them in the UK before too long. They are seeing this as just a gap year, and promise to be back. I think we'll hold them to that!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reunited in music and friendship

Last weekend was least that's what my children would have said, but it really was.

On Friday evening, I flew to Bristol, picked up a nifty VW Polo and drove to the charming, gorgeous and fondly remembered village of Charmouth. on the Dorset coast. There I was greeted by my long lost school chum, the still beautiful and elegant Sarah, who has been living in Botswana for the last 35 years. She has barely changed at all.

My friend always had more than her fair share of charm, wit and humour to go with her dainty but refined loveliness. She still has it all in bucket loads, and it was just wonderful to see her again. The house in Charmouth belongs to her mother, who is an amazing (and I do mean this) 86 year old bundle of energy and dynamism. Her days put mine to shame. She rises at six, takes here (shamefully) lazy thirty-something neighbours' dogs for a walk, then bakes scones and cakes for all the visitors she has on a daily basis, not to mention anyone else she feels like giving them away to. She belongs to the choir, does flowers for the church, works as a volunteer in the Heritage centre and visits old people (!) who need comfort. I get exhausted just imagining it all.

Apart from this, she has a self contained flat beneath her house that she lets to holiday makers, and every weekend - more or less- is a changeover. Now I know where her daughter gets her boundless energy from. Sarah, herself is an early riser in Botswana. She rides every day from about 5 a.m. till late morning, when it then becomes too hot to do more. All I could think was!

But this was just the start of my weekend, which proved to be a major trip down memory lane....but more of that later. For the moment, here are a few photos of my lovely friend on my beloved Dorset coast



Sunday, October 09, 2011

Images of our Indian Summer

Last weekend, it was summer. This weekend, it is most definitely autumn. I think I prefer the summer. No, not just think, I know I prefer it.

On Sunday evening, Koos took a beer and I took the remains of a bottle of wine with a glass and we sat on the bank of the canal as the sun went down. A hot air balloon was drifting overhead, and two muscular looking tug-boats were assisting a large coaster as it made its way towards the inland docklands of Ghent. The sun glowed warm even as it sank below the horizon. The sky was a clear, unbroken, cerulean blue. It was simply gorgeous. One of those 'for keeps' moments. Remembered years afterwards in nostalgic flashbacks.

I feel very fortunate at times.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Catching up again

Where do I start? What do I say after all these weeks when I've hardly posted a thing but so much has happened?

Perhaps I should take one thing at a time and post as and when I can. First thing of note is that we are having a blessedly glorious Indian summer. This last week has been everything summer should have been and apparently we can expect it to continue until next Wednesday, maybe even longer. The temperature has been in the mid twenties all week, the sun has shone endlessly and it has been dry, dry, dry! Simply wonderful. I really needed this as I've felt pretty down about the lack of UV rays my body has been able to absorb this year.

The downside is that it has been an exceptionally busy month work wise, so the freedom to enjoy this marvellous tonic has been confined to cycling to work and back and walking Sindy. Still, it's done me the power of good.

Apart from that, what has happened? Well, in a nutshell, Koos's sister celebrated a big birthday (out of discretion, I won't say which one) and we were privileged to share it with her. We had a lovely day with his family as there was a surprise trip round Rotterdam's harbours by boat, followed by a very luxurious meal at one of Rotterdam's top locations. And I mean top! It was in the restaurant high up in the Euromast tower from which the view is quite literally awesome. I think Koos has published a film he made of the view on Facebook if anyone is interested and hasn't seen it.

What else? Well, I have started teaching Chinese students at the Rotterdam Business school. It is a one year assignment and I give lessons two days a week. The students are charming, but always tired, so where discipline is no problem, keeping them awake is! I have to invent all sorts of interactive activities simply to keep them busy during the three hour sessions.

The other main event has been the opening of Koos's exhibition in Hulst, Zeeuws Vlaanderen. 15 of his finest photos are being exhibited at a small arts centre in this very pretty, previously fortified, border town. Last Sunday was the first day of the exhibition and even though there was no official opening, a couple who knew Koos from long ago turned up unexpectedly because they had seen the announcement on Facebook and decided to drive the sixty odd kilometres to have a look. Nice, hey?

I'm sure there are other things I should write about, but in all honesty I am too tired to remember anything but the main events, so with that I shall leave you with a couple of pics: three of the harbour trip and one of Koos's perfect photos.

Koos's sister and husband confirming their ongoing affection for each other.
Out on a grey and windy Maas
How the big boats clean their bottoms
One of Koos's abstractions and one of my favourites. I call it industrial art

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A video view on our world

Oude Haven Rotterdam from Roesj Producties on Vimeo.

This video is about us - about those of us who live here in the Oude Haven. It was made a while ago, but the people interviewed are still here and are still our neighbours. Some of you might recognise Philip (from Watery Ways), who took his barge to France almost three years ago now. I think this interview must have been done not long after he came back.

In any event, as it's all in Dutch, I will say that it describes pretty well what it is like to live here. 

In the opening interview, Philip mentions that he is on his way to a place called the Biesbosch. It is one of the quietest places in the area, but even so, you can still hear the highway if the wind is in the 'wong direction'. He speaks of his love for France because of its silence, something he finds quite addictive. Here in the Oude Haven, I will agree that it is very noisy, even though it is like a village in the city. Still, Philip says that the handy thing is that, when he wants to go away - to find some peace -he just takes his 'house' with him. That has always been the main appeal of living on a boat for me packing,  no leaving your familiar things behind, just travel with your home around you, like a snail.

You then see interview clips with Eva. She and her boyfriend, Nico, live on a big luxe motor barge, and Nico is a ship's carpenter. Eva talks about the sense of freedom in living afloat, along with the  feeling of camping all year round, and of living in a village.  She also speaks of how people are mostly very willing to help each other when necessary. It's a close community, and everyone knows each other - something that's very unusual in the heart of a city.

Other contributors are Martin, an 'older' member of our community, who is amazingly fit despite his more than 70 years now. He also talks about the sense of freedom you have on a boat, but he  goes on to describe how he lives a somewhat primitive lifestyle because his ship is still in the process of being restored and converted. Showers are taken at the yard, cooking is take-aways and convenience foods (he has no kitchen) and life is pretty basic on board his tjalk. Nevertheless, I know of few people his age who have as much energy and drive to keep going, so it must be a healthy recipe really!

Then you see red-bearded Joram at work. He is a professional restorer, being both an expert welder and riveter. He lives and works here in the harbour as that is its - and his - purpose: the restoration of historic barges. He says that although it's true that there's this sense of freedom (we all have the illusion of it anyway), anyone who thinks living on a ship is easy is mistaken. It is mostly very hard work, and maintenance is a constant battle to keep one step ahead of the elements (my words here, not his). 

There is of course more, but in essence, that is what the movie is about. I think it also underscores the fact that all of us who live here are either hopeless romantics, square pegs, or simply individuals who want a different way of living that still offers some semblance of autonomy. It's an honest insight into our village people, but despite the romance, none of us harbours any illusions about the work involved in maintaining these old barges.

All that being said, the winter is approaching and lots of jobs have to be finished before it gets too cold. This year, the elements have really been against us. I am so hoping the rain will stop for a few days so we can just do what's needed to keep the our floating homes preserved for another year - that is, until next spring when we will have to  start all over again!

Friday, September 09, 2011


That sounds dreadful doesn't it? With its gutteral 'g', this word 'geslaagd' conveys the feeling that you're about to swipe someone's head off, but actually its meaning is much more pleasant. Thank goodness.

The whole sentence I should have written was : "Ik ben geslaagd voor mijn examen Nederlands als tweede taal." And about this, I am very pleased indeed. What it means is ...yay! I passed my Dutch exam!

I can tell you that no one is more surprised than I am. I was so convinced I'd messed it up completely, but I do realise, in retrospect, that as a language teacher myself, I might be expecting more and greater things than the examiners are. That doesn't make me feel altogether good about my level, though. Even I know that both my daughters, who have absorbed the language like sponges and kindly smother their giggles at my bumbling attempts, would have sailed through. Meanwhile, I struggle on to figure out what the heck people are rattling on at me about. Still, the fact that I have taken the hurdle head on, cleared it and stumbled to my feet on the other side is very, very satisfying.

The exam itself was quite an experience. I was one of around fifty candidates. Each part of the exam (writing, listening, reading and speaking) took between two and three hours, so the whole event extended over two days. I say each part took more than two hours, but in fact, about half an hour of each test consisted of instructions being barked at us by a sergeant major of an adjudicator. "U mag niet dit en u mag niet dat" and so on and so on as he marched up and down the room with his megaphone telling us in no uncertain terms what we may not do. Okay, it wasn't really a megaphone. It was actually a small mike, but it sounded distinctly OTT.

One of the things that we were allowed to do was use a dictionary for the writing and reading sections, but our drill sergeant warned us that resorting to such aids 'kost tijd' and that we didn't have much 'tijd'. He wasn't kidding. I mean we had two hours to write three reports, a job application and then complete sections of thirteen short letters and paragraphs. I can't even do that in English! Predictably, I ran out of time and ended up writing a heap of irrelevant banalities about labelling litter bins for a proposal about how to clean up our city. My job application letter wouldn't even have passed a litter bin without voluntarily diving in, it was such rubbish.

As for the listening test, well, it would have been great if I'd known anything about being a fisherman landing massive shoals of Cod or such like in the North Sea, or what it means to be wrestling with a flailing 200 metre water hose in the fire service - something I've always wanted to do, I can assure you! It did make me wonder how some of my fellow candidates from somewhat hotter, drier climes fared here, I must say. But, the worst by far was the speaking test.

It was on Day 2, and I confess to having felt a tad over confident after the reading test in the morning, which I found fairly easy. Big mistake. We filed into the exam room after lunch and sat at our cubicles, ready for the sergeant major to strut his stuff. "Put on your headphones," he barked. We did as ordered, but then couldn't hear what he was saying properly. Clever. I took off one 'ear' and gathered that we would be played a tape, which would have questions related to some pictures in a booklet we were given. We then had to answer the questions on the basis of what we saw in the pictures. Okay, so far. It sounded quite good actually. Not only would we hear, but also see what we needed to talk about. Great!

Not. What I hadn't realised was that we would all hear the tape at exactly the same time and exactly the same speed. This meant the 'peeptone' signalling our queue to answer came at the same time for everyone. Result? A huge cacophony of noise as everyone yelled into their mikes at the same time (you know the effect of wearing headphones? When everyone thinks no one can hear them?) I was totally thrown. Couldn't think. Couldn't say anything other than simply to utter even more banal nonsense than I'd come up with in the writing test. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, it felt as if the whole room was trying to shout me down. Disaster. What got me was that I'd had a really nice chat in the waiting room with a young Brazilian guy all about social problems in Brazil and Holland, and all in Dutch, but here I was unable to mutter anything even vaguely comprehensible into a microphone. At least that's what it felt like.

Anyhow, when the letter with my results arrived last Friday, I couldn't quite believe my eyes. I'd passed all four subjects! It's taken me a week to absorb it, and now that I've got my 'diploma' on a fancy certificate, I'm beginning to feel positively euphoric about it. In fact, I don't think I've ever felt quite so chuffed about passing an exam in my life. I'm even thinking of having a go at the next programme...

Listen, if I can do it anyone can, so if not, why not? Hey?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Back to Business

The end of August. The end of summer. What summer?

Many of us in Europe are asking this at the moment. Throughout most of France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and eastern Europe too, we have had what is possibly the wettest, coldest summer in more than ten years (at least as long as I have been here). To make it worse, when it has been warmer, the humidity levels have been so high, it has been excruciatingly unpleasant. Add that to lack of sun and you get a stuffy, oppressive warmth that you cannot relieve because it's still raining and the doors and windows have to be closed. In one word..yuk!

We had the most glorious, dry spring with long days of sun and warmth, but it doesn't help because that's when we were all at still work. The two holiday months, July and August - those months when everyone with a family, or anyone who works in education, is obliged to take their time off - have been a complete washout.

We have, however, managed a few brief days of sunny escape. Sadly, both these interludes were cut short, but nonetheless, I have already posted the photos, so you can see that we made the most of them.

Northern France was a surprise I will not forget: its emptiness, space and stunning vistas reminded me so much of parts of South Africa. We were terribly disappointed when the clutch on the van packed up two days before we were due to head home, so we had to limp back to Zeeland early.

My trip to the south was also cut short. What was originally intended to be five days there plus one day returning dwindled to a weekend visit to my sister, including a mad dash to Toulouse and back. We then had to leave early on Monday for them (my sister and brother-in-law) to catch the ferry on Tuesday morning. A misunderstanding about dates that was wholly my fault, but disappointing all the same.

Still, I did at least have two days of sun, although even there it wasn't as hot as I was expecting or hoping for it to be, and it has certainly given me a desire to go back. What a beautiful land it is. I am also completely intrigued by the still medieval customs and habits of the rural French paysan. It feels like stepping back several centuries, and I love it. The sunflowers; the Bastide towns on the hilltops; the ancient, pale or golden stone farm houses and barns, and the sense of both a populace area but one with huge spaces as well.

The visit to my former employer, Roger, at his gorgeous old farmhouse in the department of l'Aude, gave me several new insights into the character of the place, the people and their customs, not to mention the canny (and sometimes downright fraudulent) way they turn the agriculture subsidy systems to their advantage.

This is a subject that often gets my blood up, as France receives as much as 80% of the EU's agricultural subsidies and has everything its own way. On the other side of the Channel, large numbers of English farmers have gone out of business and had to leave their farms due to EU agricutural policies that have killed their generations-old way of life. I love France, but on this subject, I can get very heated very quickly - especially when I see how they abuse it.

Anyhow, at least we have been able to get away, if only very briefly. In the interim, I've made desperate attempts to paint my barge between the downpours, only to have my work ruined by hail or heavy rain. All told, though, I don't really feel I've had a holiday, and now it's time to go back to business and prepare for the new school year. I think I'll try and go away at Christmas for a week or so. Perhaps that's a better idea!

For now, though, all the best to all of you, and apologies for the slightly jaded sounding post. I promise the next one will a return to my normal cheerful enthusiasm! I'll leave you with some photos of Zeeland last weekend, when we took a lovely walk between the showers.

The only way I could get both Koos and Sin in the same photo

Zeeland scenery in the evening light

The harvesters are out. Amazingly, they have had a great crop this year!

Luxury coffee Belgian style, accompanied by a glass of advocaat and cream on top of a small scoop of ice cream. Sinfully divine...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

And now for the south

I wish I had time to write a proper post at the moment, but it's late and tomorrow I have to be out early, but in the words of Rod Stewart, or more importantly, Koos, every picture tells a story, so I'm doing just that. Here is a link to the photos I took during my recent trip to southern France this last week. I hope you enjoy the ride with me.

Another precious experience was the spectacle my sister and brother-in-law took me to see in Valence d'Agen. It was called Au Fil de L'eau and was the story of the town covering the whole of the 20th century told from the perspective of one family. A spectacle it was and an absolute delight. You can see the photos I managed to take of it here.

If you don't get the slideshow straight away, look at the menu bar above the photos and click on slideshow.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The lonely beauty of northern France

One car is enough

Straw medallions are everywhere at this time of year

I sit in the van on the crest of a hill. The window is open but it's raining softly. Ahead, the road sweeps away, plunging into a deep valley and then climbing to a vanishing point far, far in the distance. Golden fields stretch out on either side of me, dipping and rising in rolling waves. They are scattered with perfectly round bales of straw which gleam bright as coins as they catch odd rays of sun penetrating the clouds. Everything is still. Completely silent, except for the rain drops pattering on the windscreen.

Then I see car lights, just pin pricks for a while until they grow and take form. They charge down the hill, disappearing for a few seconds and then blast over the rise in front of me. Suddenly all is noise as the car rockets past. A huge whoosh of sound and the van shakes. And then all is silence again. There is nothing else here. No building, no sign of life other than these strange straw coins in the well tended fields. It has a haunting, lonely magnificence

This is France in the Picardy region - the department of Aisne to be exact. Koos and I are on a few days' break and are discovering the breathtaking beauty of the north. Neither of us has ever explored this part of the country before and we are both convinced that most others haven't either. There are few tourists here and we largely have the roads and the gorgeous villages to ourselves. Last night we were in Guise, a charming town dominated by the massive ruins of a medieval castle high on its hilltop. Today we spent the afternoon in Laon, a much larger and well known medieval city, famous for its superb gothic cathedral and ancient city buildings. It is a lovely place, shabby, but clean, gracious but lively and oozing history from every ancient stone.

A real french folly - a fantastic gateway in the middle of..well...nowhere

Then this evening brought the highlight of the day. We drove to a tiny village south of Laon called Braye en Laonnais where we saw the entrance to a two and a half kilometre tunnel on the Canal de L'Aisne à L'Oise. Yesterday we had seen the rather sad remains of a collapsed aqueduct on the Canal de la Sambre à L'Oise, so it was great to see this tunnel in good repair and clearly in use. Again, it was incredibly quiet and still and the evening sun cast a marvellous warm light over the hills and scenery around the canal.

The entrance to the 2.5 km tunnel on the Canal de L'Aisne à L'Oise

My phone photo doesn't do this scenery justice

We drove further and at the village of Bourg et Comin, we saw the canal cross the Oise again by means of another aqueduct. Standing on a bridge near the village, we watched a barge pass beneath us on its way to rest up for the night and a little further, we listened to the hushed talk of contented boaters enjoying the quiet of a French canal on a summer's eve.

It is food for my soul to experience this space, this beauty and this almost lonely silence, and what it tells me is that you don't need to go south to find France at its best. It is this, and it is here. It is and has everything I love about the country, and if I could I would settle here and let myself take root in this ancient land of hills and heavenly horizons.

PS I'll post more photos when I have a better connection. The first two are courtesy of Koos.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Post helling hiccoughs

I realise things have been rather quiet here, but there's a reason for that. It all has to do with the Marion Aagje. Mo and Craig's week on the slipway was long, hard work and they put in equally long hours to finish doing all the loud and dirty work that can only be done in the yard. The redundant mast was craned off, the mast foot unbolted, and lots of extraneous bits of steel were ground off by a determined Craig.

As I was still working, I could only help for limited amounts of time, but by the end of the week, most of the necessary welding, grinding, scraping and banging had been done. Then, the dreaded moment when they came off the slips. All seemed fine, until they got back to the mooring next to the Vereeniging. It was then the leak appeared. Water bubbled up and into the hold in rather worrisome quantities. Not sure of exactly where it was coming from, they covered every possible spot with quick drying cement, but the flow still kept flowing. Mo and I spent the best part of an afternoon excavating the now redundant and well solidified cement till we found the real source of the problem, but then, how to stop it? Well cement again did the trick - eventually - but not before I'd requested a return to the helling to pull it out of the water again. Mo managed to exert her will over the leak and pushed enough of the grey powdery stuff into it to finally halt the flow.

After that, well, the rain started, and it rained and it rained and it rained. Last Thursday, the 14th, poor Jodie came to visit for her birthday. It rained relentlessly the entire day, not just lightly, but torrentially, in fact so much that water leaked through my windows and into the bottom of the Vereeniging. Now I had a leak too, but this time from above, not below.

Anyhow, fortunately Friday dawned clear and bright. The sky was blissfully blue - the perfect day for painting. Mo, Craig and I set to it and spent the whole day painting the Marion Aagje from end to end and the results are in the photos above. I gave up around nine at night, but the kids went on and finally finished up at midnight. The barge looks gorgeous now, and I absolutely love the colours they have chosen. There's still loads for them to do, but the bulk of the work - outside at least - is done. What a job and what a week, but then that's life if you have a they say here 'koop een boot, werk je dood'...I don't think it's all too difficult to work out what that means....

Friday, July 08, 2011

A helling of a week

I fully intended to do this post a bit earlier, but what with one thing and another, the week has run away with us and I find it's already Friday with another of those helling weeks nearly over.

This time it was Mo and Craig's turn. Monday morning found us up with the lark helping them to move their barge, the Marion Aagje to the slipway (or helling, as it is known here in the Netherlands). We didn't really do all that much as friend and neighbour, Bas, who was coming off the slips, moored up his own barge and then promptly jumped into the little harbour tug and pulled the Marion Aagje skilfully to the bottom of the ramp. Our contribution in the end was mainly to lend moral support and to act as translators when orders were being barked from the helling crew to Mo and Craig on board.

In the end, it all went very smoothly, and since then, I've lent a hand (when I haven't been at work) with sanding, painting, and the dismantling of various items they wanted off the barge. We've also been official 'Charlie-the-spaniel sitters' when the need has arisen.

They have worked incredibly hard, but this is usual for a 'helling week', as we do it all ourselves in the Oude Haven. By Monday, I expect they will be ready to sleep for a week, or at least their limbs will be. Luckily, they'll be staying over our side for some days while they finish painting and working, so the pressure won't be quite so intense, and hopefully they can relax a little. As long as the weather is relatively kind, they should be able to get plenty done. In the meantime, I'll keep the pictures coming.

Friday, July 01, 2011

It's a K Day

Birthdays in Holland are famous, but not always for the right reasons. Mostly they are the subject of derision among non Dutch imports (like myself), who cannot quite grasp why this ritual needs to be endured every year. I'll admit that's what I used to think too, but yesterday, K Day as I have dubbed it, changed my opinion, and now, I think I could actually get to like these excuses for getting together in a family sort of way.

It was, as most of you already know from that most frenetic of social networks, Koos's birthday.

Why have I changed my mind, then? It helped that the weather was kind. In fact, it was lovely. It also helped that Koos's two sisters are real darlings, and they were the first to arrive with their respective husbands. We did the coffee, tea and apple gebak sitting on the foredeck of the Vereeniging in the sunshine. Koos held court for his family like one born to it - which of course he was.

Then Mo and Craig stepped across from the Marion Aagje which is now moored up next to us (more about that next time), followed by Koos's son, Sanne, and his wife, and not much later by Jodie and Barry. All three dogs, Sindy, Charlie and Beowulf joined the party too, and the conversation took on a noticeably more youthful tone. The tea was exchanged for beer and the apple cake for quiche and salad.

A little later still, Kasper, Koos's other son arrived and then the party was complete. The sun kept shining, the beer kept flowing and all was well with the world. By the time they all left, I realised I'd rather enjoyed the day after all. To see the whole family is always great, and birthdays are really the only occasions everyone manages to make the time to get together. Maybe these cloggies don't have such a bad thing going after all. Dutch birthdays? Just an excuse to get your nearest and dearest in the same place at the same time - something that is becoming increasingly difficult in this hectic world of ours. But well worth it when it happens, mostly anyway :)

Jodie and Beowulf

Kasper and Koos

Craig and Charlie

All and sundry

Mo and Charlie