Fading Memories

Legends from our own lunchtimes

Friday, September 21, 2018

Don’t Bother Knockin’
Friday 21st September - Ypres

There’s a certain time in the wee small hours when a man of a certain age has to do what a man has to do.

At that time this morning, this particular chap, trying to remain asleep while doing what he had to do with one eye half open and the other still closed, was decidedly unsteady on his feet.  Thinking that some sort of vertigo had set in he gave up his slumber quest, opened his eyes and discovered that the earth was moving, or at least the water on it was and the boat on that was moving in perfect synchronicity.   

It takes a fair old wave action to start a flat bottomed boat that is almost four metres wide a rockin’. One may even have thought it impossible in a puddle that is no more than thirty metres wide by seventy long, with boats and pontoons acting as breaks.  One can only imagine what the wind strength was at the time.  In the cold hard light of day it all looked so beguiling, but there is more to come so we will continue to do what we did yesterday until the weather pattern becomes a little friendlier. 


Thursday 20th September - Ypres

We’d planned to depart this morning, but a judicious check of the weather forecast told us that the calm of the heavily sheltered port this morning may be a little deceptive.   By mid afternoon the winds were expected to increasing to more than fifty kilometres an hour, building to one hundred over the next few days, considerably more than we’d consider to be comfortable in a narrow canal with sharp objects at its edges, and actually in the range where the word "dangerous" comes to mind.

We could have pressed on, leaving early in the hope of arriving before the edge of the weather system arrived, or we could have taken off on an outing on our bikes (if we could get our heads around a fifty kilometre per hour headwind), but really, after a few days of relentless touristing the thought of simply lying around reading or sifting through photographs and not bothering to leave the boat seemed like a terribly pleasant alternative.

So we sat all day like a vintage car cooling off in the town square, creaking a bit, taking it easy after a long journey.


Wednesday 19th September - Ypres

Feeling just a bit over-warred, we trudged into town once more.  Why subject ourselves to this torture? Like a dose of bad medicine, it had to be done.  Perhaps like moths drawn to flames or watching train wrecks we are powerless to prevent, we bought a combined museum ticket this morning, took a deep breath, and plunged once more into the abyss for one last dose of it all before turning our minds to happier things.

We’ve had enough of war to last us quite a while, and we are already actually quite well informed, but there’s more to the story than death and destruction, and it's be nice to discover a little of the few thousand years of history that tend to be lost in the annuls of the last hundred.  It is always a shock to see that “destroyed” in the war means “not a building in the town still standing”, yet strangely encouraging to discover that a town has had a bit of practice at building from the ground up.  

Apparently Ypers is known as the “City of Cats” appropriately perhaps, but not as a result of the nine lives it has experienced, but as a result of a tradition which grew in the middle ages, of flinging cats, which were thought to be the instruments of the devil (are thy not?) from the town belfry.  For that reason alone, the town shall be held very dear to our hearts.

Not an Easy Day.
Tuesday 18th September - Ypres

Late in the day, in “No Man’s Land”, we explored a temporary art piece which gave some sort of scale to the disaster.  Comprising 600,000 tiny cowering or perhaps unborn figurines, one for each person killed in Belgium in those four years it covered three hectares. Like the landscape on which is stands, it is slowly being covered by vegetation, but beneath the new green beard the scars remain.

If there is anything more futile than killing one another for the sport of rulers, then it has to be spending years digging tunnels in order to blow up hills that the other mob is standing on just to gain a few hundred metres of territory, while they are attempting to do the same thing to you.  That is how war was fought here for four years without gain.  The craters have been here for a century to prove it, except for one which turned up in in a thunderstorm fifty years ago.  There is still one which has not yet formed too, it’s charges lost in their mine for a century, quite possibly ready to startle hapless bystanders at a time of its own making.

We toured the sadness today in comfort thanks to David and Belinda’s generosity in providing both the meals and the wheels, visiting graves and cemeteries and places where remarkable people had stood and remarkable things had happened until our brains were full of questions and our emotions drained as they tend to become when one stands on a quarter-acre plot which contains the remains of what once were 40,000 human beings.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Last Poppy.
Monday 17th September - Ypres

Ypres or Ieper. like so many places around this neck of the flood plain can be spelled and pronounced in so many combinations that it seems to be impossible to get it wrong.  It’s the epicentre of a lot of awful history, the reminders of which are so omnipresent that one wonders how the people who live in the surrounding areas, deal with it.

One of the ways is in providing services to those who come almost as pilgrims to visit all those names on walls and tombstones.  This is inarguably a tourist town, albeit a war tourist town which has earned its stripes in that theatre, but in exploiting its history there is a fine line that needs to be trod if the lesson taught by that very history is to be preserved as the generations with direct connections to those names begin to fade away.

“Tommy’s Souvenirs”, “The British Grenadier Bookshop” and “The Captain Cook Restaurant” no doubt have instant appeal to parochial tourists, and the numerous specialised companies competing for battlefield and cemetery tour business serve the centenary visitor throngs admirably, but really couldn’t the world live without Poppy shaped lollipops?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Last Post.
Sunday 16th September - Ypres

We’d hard-earned our twenty-four kilometres of progress today, with a bridge and two locks to negotiate and one of them broken,  so were in no state to race off exploring the city in the afternoon, (which is code for: we will be here for a few days so a nice nap may well be in order).  Having fully recovered by the early evening we set off for a minor reconnoitre of the village. 

The Last Post has been played at the Menin Gate in Ypres every evening for the past ninety years as an act of remembrance and gratitude for the price paid by the British and Commonwealth soldiers  whose lives were lost in “The Great War” while serving in this region and whose bodies were never found.

It’s a bit difficult while that’s going on, beneath the names of just some of the 600,000 who were killed on the nearby battlefields, not to think about stuff, to be more than a little grateful ourselves that by some cosmic quirk we were born in the place and time that we were.  It was on that happy note, with a few thousand others clearly also pondering, we quietly filtered off into the night.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Just One More Night.
Saturday 15th September - Diksmuide

We were going to move on this morning, but Jakob whom we expect will be Mr Perkins new medical specialist was delayed a bit.  Since Mr Perkins' health comes before all else, well one more night in town wouldn’t hurt.

We even had a fleeting thought about going out, which as so often happens was followed by an even more fleeting discussion about how so often when we do, we leave with the feeling that we could have had better at home.  Besides one of us was in the mood to cook up a bit of a storm apparently.

Not being the type to fight battles that cannot be won, the other immersed himself in conversations with Jakob about oils and filters and tappets while said storm was brewing in the galley.  It turns out that for reasons inexplicable, despite being able to achieve all sorts of wonders over a stove with one hand tied behind her back and both eyes closed, the culmination of all this effort turned out to be something of a fizzer.  In fact we looked at one another mid meal and agreed that perhaps, just this once, we may well have done better had we gone out.
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