Saturday, October 24, 2015

On the slipway again

Some of you might remember I had the Vereeniging on the slipway last year. Others might even remember that we call it a helling in Dutch. This word always amuses me as in some ways it's always a kind of hell. But then I must also admit that once the first anxiety of getting the barge out of the water and seeing what has been going on underneath is over, I actually enjoy the work, tough, rough and dirty though it is.

Well, it's about to happen again and this time, I'm a bit more anxious than usual. I normally wait two years before lifting it out, but I felt I couldn't afford to do that this time. You see over the past months, I've been working on board and I noticed woodworm has eaten away parts of the floor in my little back cabin. My heart sank and I started ripping everything out but then got distracted. I saw something worse than rotten wood. I saw rust and lots of it.

I don't know how I've managed to overlook this before, but I have. The bottom of the barge below the wormy wood is encrusted with rust and it doesn't look good at all. I started scraping at it and it was damp underneath the first flaky layers. This was even worse and so I stopped. It occurred to me I could easily scrape my way through the bottom of the boat and then I'd have a real problem. As a result, I made a date with the harbour master to have the Vereening up on the helling this coming week so I could attack the nasty area with vigour and without fear of sinking more than just my feelings.

Rust is strange stuff though. It can expand dramatically and look much worse than it really is. But you can't take chances can you? Not when it's your home. And it could quite easily sink if it has even a small hole in the bottom. My plan is therefore to get my friend Tim to give it hell (pardon the pun) with a hammer from the outside, while I do the same inside. If it's all right, then I can relax, but if it's fragile, then Tim will fix it for me, he being an excellent welder.

So that will be my moment of truth on Monday. I hope the rest of the week will go as smoothly as the rolling of all the paint that will follow. Luckily I have Koos to mop my brow and work alongside me with another roller, but I'll keep you posted on how it all goes.

By the way, I am quite close to being ready to publish my latest memoir, Walloon Ways (our three years as weekend Belgians). It's in the final proofing stages and the cover still needs sorting out properly, but my aim is to have it ready to go by mid November. Another anxious moment to come!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The finished product

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a photo of the storage space I'd started building on the Vereeniging. It's not totally finished yet. There's still a bit of paintwork to be done and I want to make shelves inside the 'box' or 'kist' as we called it in South Africa, but for the most part, it's done and I'm quite pleased with the space it gives me for hiding a lot of my clutter.

So, drum roll…here it is…(for those of you who haven't seen it already on

I've added the trim and given it a 'skirting' board to compensate for the uneven shape of my hull. It's also painted the same colour as the panels above it. The lid comes off and inside there will be shelves like trays with handles so I can just lift them out easily to get at the things that are stored underneath. In essence this will be my DIY storage space, and I'm very happy to hide it away as the table is where I sit to do my work.

The only risk is the amount of stuff that might get piled on top….this is, after all, me. And I might not be the tidiest person in the world...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Breaking one's fast in foreign lands

In the last months when we've had the good fortune to be travelling a lot, I've confirmed my belief that breakfast isn't just the most important meal of the day for our health - it's the one that gets people most fractious if they can't have what they like or what they're used to. It doesn't matter what they have for any other meal of the day, but messing with people's breakfasts is a risky business.

This observation is something I've made several times over the years. We've had guests here from England who've grumbled about being given ham and cheese for breakfast instead of cereal with toast and marmalade. Cereal is a pretty rare commodity in the Netherlands, with the exception perhaps of meusli, and marmalade - well that's almost unheard of. Then I've seen other people muttering about the way the French make tea or serve coffee at breakfast time, well tampered with chicory. Of course no one can object to their delicious flaky croissants, but maybe you don't know the Dutch are famous for taking their own food on holiday to France and Spain, and I suspect that the desire to have their own cheesy breakfast is part of it.

I've always chuckled at the mutterers and scoffed at them for their lack of adaptability - that was until I went to Romania and Moldova this summer and found that breakfast there was at best dry and uninteresting and at worst, almost inedible - for my tastes that is.

And much of my disappointment came down to the bread. Isn't it funny how bread can vary so much in different countries? The trouble is that wherever you go, it's generally what's eaten in the morning unless you come from China where they eat rice and can't fathom why anyone would want to eat anything else…yes well. But anyway, back to bread, I just love it (usually) and could eat an entire wholewheat loaf fresh from the oven all by myself - I really could. I also love French baguettes and Italian ciabattas. I even like German rye bread, but my preference is definitely for slices of yummy crusty wholemeal brown.

So imagine my dismay, followed by deep disappointment and then severe disgruntlement when in Romania and Moldova, I couldn't find any kind of brown bread anywhere on any breakfast menu. Everywhere we went, we were only offered white, rather dense and distinctly un-yummy slices of what can best be described as fibrous cardboard. Occasionally, we could get something from the street stalls that was rather like Turkish bread, but then they filled it with odd stuff like cabbage. Yes. Cabbage...

On my first breakfast in Romania, I couldn't even get a cup of coffee. If you wanted it, you had to pre-order, but we didn't know this. Well, scroll down several posts and you will learn that I am not nice to know if I cannot have at least two cups of caffeine laden brew first thing in the morning. What made it worse was that our dining room seemed to be next to an in-house chapel so while we were chewing on our cardboard and swallowing glasses of tepid water (I really cannot stomach tea), a church service started up in the next room complete with chanting. Now I don't have anything against religious services as a rule, but everything has its place and at my breakfast table is not it.

After repeating this (the repast not the church service) for several days, I started being a slightly unhappy bunny. No matter that we had other decent food and often sampled the local fare, I just couldn't get my system used to the sterile way I had to break my fast. I'm ashamed to say I even started becoming a bit petulant and complaining that there was nothing worth eating at all, which was patently not true. But then I realised that I was being a typical mutterer - just like my testy visitors in Holland who couldn't have their cereal.

And why? Because breakfast is…I know, I've said it already, but yes, it's the meal not to be messed with, and I wasn't getting what I wanted, or what I liked. Sound familiar?

So the moral of the story is: when going abroad and it comes to being faced with a less than appealing morning fare…erm…actually, I don't know. Give it up, maybe? Say you're on a diet? Smuggle your own food in? It's a hard one, isn't it?

But what do you think? Was I being pathetic? No, you don't have to answer that, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this supposedly all important meal of the day. Just don't be too hard on me...

Monday, October 05, 2015

Wandering with the snails in Groningen

I hadn't actually realised it's been more than a week since I wrote my last post. I don't know where the time has gone, but it's flown away, if not by. Last week was a busy one, I know, as I had two new courses starting on top of the ones I was already busy with. At my stage of winding down a career rather than up, this type of work intensity doesn't come without effects, and one of those is that I get a bit scattier than usual.

Luckily, Saturday brought some welcome relaxation even though we had to drive 250kms to find it. We were in Rotterdam already, so I suggested to Koos that we drive north to visit our dear friends, Anne and Oll. They have sort of settled in a marina at Electra near Groningen as they are now the proud owners of their very own shed there - for this, read euphemisim for a rather nice holiday chalet with a garden. They got it as somewhere for Oll to work, a bit more space for them both (the Snail, being a narrowboat, is just that - narrow) and the possibility of renting it out in the summer. 

That said, it's quite out of the way when it's out of season, and so we thought it would be nice to visit them while things are quiet.

After a three hour drive, we found them in a lovely rural spot. The shed has a perfect view and it's really very appealing. We chatted a while, had some coffee, did a tour of the park and met one of their neighbours who lives on a large barge in the same marina. It just so happened Koos knew him too, so we had a good chat with this delightful, smiling skipper.

One of the other sheds in the park
A delightful skipper with lots of stories to tell

And then someone had the bright idea of going for a mini cruise. It was either Anne or Oll as neither of them likes to pass up the opportunity to go out when they can...they miss their more itinerant lifestyle. And of course so do I, so there was no arguing with that idea.

Anne and I caught up with life in the bows with the
ever delightful Woody
 It was a glorious day and unbelievably still with no wind at all. We motored several kilometres west until we arrived at Zoutkamp. The sun was warm, the sky as blue as it gets and Anne and I sat in the bows soaking up the peace. In fact we went on a bit further than that, and turned around, but it was there we stopped for a meal of fish and chips (kibbeling en patat) and a walk round this rather pretty fishing town. Then we cruised slowly back to Electra.


The snail moored up at Zoutkamp

Oll, the skipper in control

Koos, the skipper's mate

Sunset at Electra
Sadly, we couldn't stay longer and Koos and I had to hop in the car to make the three hour journey back to Rotterdam. 500 kms for a day seems like a lot, but it was a very special one and one we'll remember it well during these colder autumn days.