Fading Memories

Legends from our own lunchtimes

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Meanwhile, right here in our back yard.
Thursday 16th August - Kortrijk

“In 1302”, according to our information booklet, “a French garrison in the royal castle found itself in a bit of a fix when the Flemish claimed victory in the Battle of the Golden Spurs. This event was followed by a number of riots and disasters between 1313 and 1340.  Meanwhile the Hundred Years War had broken out between England and France, and the Black Death claimed many lives in Europe.  In a nutshell;  peril reigned.”

We think of that stuff often as we look out from our saloon table at the towers which were built as the last piece of the cities walls at that time, and of the subsequent wars and destruction and pestilence that they have endured in the following seven and a bit centuries, with a mix of horror and wonder and no small amount of gratitude that the most we have to endure is a delay in a lock, or perhaps too much sunshine, or none at all when preparing to move on and one is trying to get that last souvenir shot of our view.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Simple pleasures.
Tuesday 14th August - Kortrijk

Today was a Public Holiday, so we thought we’d take the day off too.  

We’ve been in Belgium a month and we’re finally getting to see the sort of weather it’s famous for, not quite chilly but better spent with jeans and a jumper on, with a sky not quite grey but a bland primer as though it were an empty canvas on which the observer could paint the day any colour he liked. Fortunately for us, we didn’t have to think too much about colours as Kortrijk did a splendid job of filling them in as we discovered the exhibition of dozens of art pieces installed throughout the city.

Finding them was a puzzle even armed with a map, no less delightful than the children’s maze in the textile museum forecourt, although some of the pieces themselves were puzzles of the insoluble kind.   

“Killing Children, ‘220 Volts’”, a piece in which an apparently live electrical cable was left amid a collection of small toys, did not seem particularly in the spirit of the day, but a grassy slope that looked for all the world like a water-ski jump and imaginatively called “untitled (slope)” which visitors are “encouraged to roll down at their leisure, with an angle deliberately calculated to make one feel dizzy and euphoric” left some remembering just how dizzy and euphoric a roll in the grass can be. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The day we might have bought a wallaby.
Monday 13th August - Bossuit to Kortrijk

NIne years ago to the day we visited Kortrijk for the first time.  Then, few people spoke our language, and we barely understood a single word in one of theirs.   The “internet”, particularly “free internet” was mostly only to be found in that particular kind of Scottish hamburger chain that calls “frites” “fries” and it is there that we tried to purchase a coffee to pay the rent for the use of the internet.

While one of us busied himself logging on to check the state of the working world, the other set off to order a coffee. This may not have been a problem had we spoken Flemish, but we didn’t.  Every time she corrected her misunderstood French, pointed at something else by way of explanation, or even gasped a contradiction in English, another item would be added to the tray.  Thus this first attempt to order in French was a little too successful, and she returned with half a dozen coffees in four different kinds, a couple of brownies, some cake and a cup of tea.

A salutary lesson learned, we have been particularly careful ever since, lest a careless glance at an object should lead to unintentional purchase.  How times have changed.  Today armed with a confident smattering of at least one alternative tongue and carrying the entire internet in our pocket, we were poking around among what once would have been called “Curios”, but are now “Concepts for Living” when we were compulsively drawn to what appeared to be the remnants of a former marsupial.  “Do you like the wallaby?” came the voice of Christophe, who had heard us speaking in our usual whispers. “Perhaps you would like a coffee while we arrange the packaging?”

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

If you go into an ancient lime kiln, look up….
Monday 13th August - Antoing to Bossuit

We may have been at serious risk of factoid overload had we remained in Antoing another day, but we escaped into what very well may have been a dull grey, damp, windswept day without all our new knowledge to brighten the way. 

Did you know for instance the area surrounding here had once been known as “The White Lands”?Such was the volume of lime production that the dust from it apparently settled on everything changing its complexion.   This colour is curiously opposite that of the local stone from which it was produced.  Known as Black Tournai “marble”, a fine-grained Lower Carboniferous (Tournaisian) limestone, it was burnt to produce the lime, but it also found uses in paving and construction throughout the region, and in carved fonts throughout Christendom. 

The old lime kilns that still dot the landscape look very much like ruined castles with their Gothic arches and overgrown shrubbery. At least one of them dates back to Roman times apparently.   Some are being converted into wondrous houses, one has a simple modern house built discretely on top, and one we were able to clamber within to try to nut out how it worked for ourselves.  It’s difficult to see an application for all this new knowledge, but the view looking up was quite nice.


This Old Man Came Rolling Home
Sunday 12th August - Peronnes to Antoing

Quite possibly the most arduous part of our three kilometre long cruise this morning was rustling up  the lock keeper even though it was almost morning tea time when we set out.  Sadly for some, our journey was so brief that we didn’t need to refer to our brand new charts at all.

With nothing to do and all day to do it, we cycled off to Tournai in search of ancient bridges, cathedrals and perhaps a bite of lunch.  Not yet to grips with the customs of a new country, the latter turned out to be rather more difficult than one would have thought at midday on a Sunday, but we did find one place vaguely open in the heart of the town.

In the absence of any assistance forthcoming, we chose a table to our liking and settled in. This did rouse someone who advised that where we were sitting was not to his liking and he promptly ushered to an equally vacant spot three tables away.  The pizzas were delicious but of a size more suitable to feeding a small nation. Our request to share one was politely declined;"It’s just not possible sir".  Not wishing to cause a scene we made a gallant attempt at consuming the two before eventually raising a white flag, quietly accepting defeat, and rolling slowly home, a feat we could quite possibly have performed even without the bikes.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

We know where we are.
Saturday 11th August - Péruwelz to Peronnes

We’ve managed to travel across half of Belgium, the country that gave us Gerardus Mercator, with charts that amount to little more than road maps.  That these are the charts relied upon by most English speaking navigators and a good number of Dutch ones as well is probably an indication of how simple the task is rather than a reflection of our collective navigation skills and to be fair, we do manage to end up in some seriously pretty places.

None the less, we left our little stone clubhouse with it’s perfect replica tea-clipper interior this morning, on a mission:  We would voyage to Peronnes, where we completed our first incursion into Belgium nine years ago with Ian and Lynda.  Then we would cycle to the Fuel Barge in Antoing and buy proper chart books, the kind that are drawn to an actual scale and have grids with latitude and longitude and kilometre marks and water depths.

Given that the distance to be travelled to achieve this was something less than ten kilometres, it can come as no surprise that both missions were accomplished in plenty of time to spend at least part of the afternoon calculating what the insides of our eyelids would look like when projected using Monsieur Mercator’s theorem.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

On the Move Again
Friday 10th August - Thieu to Péruwelz

One feels like a bit of a goose really with all the uncertainty about whether to go or whether to stay in the face of a bit of wind.   In our previous life on bays and oceans we have often sailed home (though never gone out) in the face of a strong wind warning issued when gusts exceeded forty-eight kilometres per hour.  Today’s forecast was for winds of not much more than three quarters of that yet we had our doubts.

The difference is that in our current life we have no foil shaped keel nor sails to steady our way, nor a vast (or even a tiny) expanse of water to keep us at a distance from the hard bits round its edges.   When it comes to resisting the wind, our boat is a slippery as a soap dish in a public bathroom.  The wind points and we follow. To add to our troubles, there is an immutable law of physics that declares that maximum gusts will occur when boats are approaching lock gates, trying to catch a bollard to windward, avoiding an approaching ship or nearing a mooring.

We did leave in the early morning calm, which came to an end at exactly the time we called the first lock, and had a delightful day in which surprisingly our skills were barely tested, albeit that we were slowed occasionally to an excruciating six and a bit kilometres per hour on occasion when the wind thought it would try coming from in front.  Now we are tucked safe and snug in the lovely little haven at Péruwelz.  We just have to watch where we step.
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