Legends from our own lunchtimes

Saturday, July 31, 2010

As we sat in the square outside the cathedral in Toul last night, we had even more time to contemplate than usual.  

It is only  a few weeks since we moved aboard, but it seems like forever.  

Yet already the boat has become home to the extent that we are no longer travelling in a foreign country, we are watching it pass us by, and occasionally we jump through the looking glass to visit the bits of our choosing, safe in the knowledge that we are just a short stroll or perhaps a bus ride from home should something turn out to be not of our liking.

It is the least adventurous adventuring that we have ever experienced.

We can see, we think, how some can live like this for years yet never know what lies beyond the trail that leads from their barge to the supermarket.   For many, their years become a blur of nameless towns and faceless people, erased from their memories by the all consuming need to move on to the next place and see the next people.  

It would be easy not to stop we think, but to just keep going in an environment that's constantly familiar.  

We think in time we will have to watch for signs of those comfortable habits creeping in, but for now, in Toul we wander, until we become familiar enough with the town so that when we return it will be like visiting an old friend. 

Actually as we arrived our old friend with the accordion was setting up a stage and a tent beside the harbour, but sadly for him we had already made our plans, and couldn't attend our welcome party.


Friday, July 30, 2010

The Poo Chute

One of the least attractive things about going to sea in a small boat is that inevitably there will come a time when the marine "head" (toilet ) will need a good unclogging.  It has been a cause for no small amount of concern, that while Joyeux has two of these wretched devices, only one has thus far been in service, and despite enquiring through Jacques and even as far afield as "the internet" which knows all, no one has been able to unravel the mystery of how our ancient mechanical contraption actually functions, or in one case doesn't quite function.

It seemed that there was nothing for it but for yours truly to accept that a teardown of all moving parts, and a removal of all black grimy stuff in the process was  becoming inevitable, and over the past few weeks I have become resigned to my eventual fate.

But these things are weird, like no other I've seen.  The bowls seem to sit on top of a small holding tank, originally hidden from view by a foot operated flap, which fortunately for us has long since resigned from its task of supporting yesterday's breakfast in a position which leaves it exposed to much greater contemplation than one usually deems desirable.

The demise of said flap though had a further side effect in that in certain conditions of weather, a trick of the light allows one to see the unadulterated contents of the tank as though a spotlight were upon it.

Thus it was that in our anchorage last evening, with some distress I noted that weed and small sticks appeared to be floating in the tank, and I feared that before our ablutions were complete, my date with destiny and my plumbers kit would be upon me.

I'm not sure if "reprieve" is a French word, but it sounds like one, and in the absence of a blockage bravely I received one and thus put off the inevitable until perhaps tomorrow.

After a few hours of motoring today, we arrived in Toul, where the waters in the harbour are so clear that we can see the bottom and all that lives within.  We had been stationery but a minute when, as is her wont, she disappeared into the head compartment.  In less than an instant the door to the head opened and I was summoned to peer down the bowl.

I tried to assemble the last vestiges of my manly courage as I approached my fate.

There in the clear green water of the harbour, peering straight up at me, was something doing a perfectly reasonable imitation of a bream!  The photographic evidence is poor, because the relief was so palpable that I shook rather more than the small shutter speed would allow under other circumstances but if one squints one can see him there peering back.

With palpable relief we can report that there has been no clogging, there is no tank, and we actually have a pair of bathescopes built in.  Doesn't that give new meaning to "feeding the fish"!

We just have to hope we don't come across a school of Archer Fish with a sense of humour.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Much as we love Nancy, the weather has been iffy, and we'll be back a few more times this summer so it was time to get out there and float with the big boys.

Out of the canal we drove and into the Moselle River for our solo first crack at a commercial lock, which is a bit like being in the Mooloola River with the tide coming in really fast.  Say two and a half metres in five minutes.

I am not sure whether we'd have known if we had been scathed in the process as I've never really thought till now what actually being scathed looks or feels like.   I do know, and can say with some certainty however that we survived completely unscathed.

A slight misreading of the chart a little later had us closer to being scathed though.  Accidentally  by-passing the floating pontoons at the town of Liverdun, a most unlikely name for a village "situated on a wooded hill overlooking the Moselle, and often called the the little Switzerland of Lorraine," we continued around to a little inlet clearly marked "Port de Plaisance".

It seemed sensible, get out of the current and the weather and the way of the passing ships.

If one can imagine a fiord, only nowhere near as deep or as wide and with barely enough water to float the boat, one has a fair idea of what this "Port" turned out to be.   In small boat terms we'd call it a gunk hole, with room we thought for one, carefully secured across the shallows it reminded us of mooring around the edges of Lake Cootharaba (except with tree studded cliffs surrounding us) , but we managed to squeeze two in, and later in the evening after taking a deep breath, two more.  

The village is a kilometre or three away, but the spot is so protected and pretty, well we decided that we'll give the village a miss, at least until the baguette calls on the morrow morn.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

We have found Utopia

We have found Utopia, and as the photo shows, it is perhaps not what we had expected.

We decided to stay yet another day in Nancy, despite the rain and despite or perhaps because of the disturbance to our "tranqulity" from to the restaurant that's appeared on the dock half a Dutch Barge length from our boat.  The restaurant may even have been an attraction, except perhaps for the enthusiastic electric accordion which accompanies the menu during the aperitif, all three courses and coffee.  So enthusiastic is said musician that he continues to practice for the five hours between lunch and dinner as well.

Now that I can hum every "tune" with him, and even stumble over the same bits where he stumbles, I frankly suspect that our friend with the straw boater and the long ribbon learned his entire repertoire from an Spanish Accordian version of  "FIfty Great Busking Songs for Guitar You Can Learn In An Afternoon."

I can't say that it's the fault of the accordion alone that makes it the butt of such endless derision though, it's the immutable fact that wherever there is accordion music, there is a solitary person clapping along, entirely out of time with the music.

On an entirely different note, for the first time since we've lived aboard, we dined as they say "out", at a little Italian specialty cafe at the Old Markets, which proved to be a severe test of translation across three languages "Poulet Caccitore" was more than the iPhone could handle.

Our language skills don't seem to be improving much at all though.  When one asks in word prefect French for directions to the conveniences, and without prompting is given a response in word perfect English capped with a big smile and "have a great day", one has to suspect one's accent is not up to the job quite.

Of course this is on top of the Port Capitain shrugging his shoulders yesterday and commanding:"Look, why don't you speak in English, it's a lot easier for both of us."


Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Finally we spent a day being tourists, and we will tomorrow too.  We weren't sure what to expect when we arrived, and we're paying nearly 12€ per night to moor in the heart of town so we figured we'd jolly well better enjoy it.

So we are.

There's a light show in the main square each night, and because it doesn't get dark till rather later than we deem respectable, it doesn't start till almost eleven.  We almost had to set the alarm to make sure we were awake, but we ambled off and were pleasantly surprised to discover that the show was miles better than the "Min Min Encounter" we suffered through in Boulia last year, although the fellow traveller we met a few days ago may have been stretching the point when she told us it traced the history of the place.

The show was an intriguing combination of Terry Gilliam (Monty Python) graphics, sixties psychedelia some terrific music, and modern laser technology, and I suspect that the purveyor of substances advertising on my "Postcards" blog today also had a reasonable increase in sales while it was being produced.

Nancy seems to be like that, a mix of old and new, originality and banal.  It sells tee shirts without a care for the consequences of plagiarism.  I ♥ NY they seem to proclaim in a well known graphic form, but there is a tiny "anc" between the "N" and the "Y" where least one expects it.  

They sell underwear for blokes with rulers running up the crotch, a measure of the man.  

But they don't sell hats, and we wish they did and we walked for more than ten kilometres in the sun wishing they did.  There's no need it seems, it's all remarkably foreign to us.  The other day when hitching a ride on the boat, a young passenger was complaining about being bored.  Her mother put an instant stop to the complaining with:

"Well if you're bored, go and lie in the sun."  

In the southern hemisphere the fact that melanoma cures boredom is still a closely guarded secret. 

Monday, July 26, 2010


I can't tootle over an aquaduct without wondering what else the Romans have done for us, and if you don't know what I mean by that you'd better make a comment below and I'll explain.   The first time one finds oneself chuffing in one's boat several tens of metres above a river it's a very strange feeling indeed.

After a few times, one hands the wheel to one's wife so that one can take some photos.

Despite the excitement as we crossed the Moselle River, we made Nancy by afternoon tea time, having taken all day to travel sixteen kilometres, ambushed as we were by supermarkets and department stores en route, and of course by a tribe of urchins who couldn't believe their luck when we gave them each a guided tour of our "bateau", moored as we were in the French equivalent of Cornmeal Creek running through the back of Sunshine Plaza.

I'm not sure what story they'll tell of us when school goes back, of the ship with two "toilettes" and it's owners from Australie on a voyage grande, but I do wish I could speak as much in their language as the eight year old could speak in ours.

I suppose in the end, lack of language skills didn't seem to stop the Romans communicating any more than it does us.

Note:  HIstorical accuracy isn't one of my strong suits, so let's be perfectly clear.  If the Romans were out of the Aquaduct business in the mid nineteenth century, this one probably wasn't built by them, but I'm sure they were the inspiration, and I suspect that the royalties are still going back to them one way or another!


Sunday, July 25, 2010


Something snapped yesterday afternoon.  We don't know what it was, but we knew that today we must leave, and because it's Sunday and the locks don't open till 9:00 we decided that we'd be there at the first lock ready and waiting.

But it was chilly overnight and we suffered a bit of blanket-suck and my head still hurt a bit from bounding out of bed in the middle of the night as though I were at home and entirely failing to remember that there is a wall beside the bed, right where my head would be if I were to bound out of bed as though I were at home.

Despite our reluctance to actually leave the Ikea doona, at 9:30 precisely we fired up ol' smokey and puttered out into the channel, still not quite sure which direction we would take.  In the end we went east (that is to say, we turned right for the benefit of the girl on board) and set off in direction Nancy.   

I know I mentioned it's Sunday, but it's worth noting that every town in France is closed on Sunday, every window shuttered tightly closed and every person disappears into thin air.  For that reason alone, we decided not to stop at many of the villages that would otherwise have beckoned and opted to motor past.

After a few hours, we felt old habits creeping back.  We started to feel an urgency about pressing on, just keep going until we get to the end of the day.

So we stopped for lunch, and had a sleep, and a hot shower (because we could), and once the feeling had subsided, we took off again, drinking coffee and munching apple and almonds as we went.

By the time the summer sun failed to go down, we had travelled  almost 29 kilometres in the day, down eight locks and after it all we just feel happy without the "tired" bit.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let's Go!

Let's go we thought, right after breakfast, and the washing up, and washing our hair, and drying it.  

Maybe it's a good time to check the anchor chain fastening, and finish cleaning the engine bay and maybe give the oily bits of the bilge another scrub, and let's see what's behind the wall panelling behind the bed. 

Ahh... another leak, this one small but it's been there a long time.

Some of the floor has been replaced, but it's rotted again and damp.  Jacques thinks it's OK because sometimes there are champignons growing in places like that and we just have mulch.  I think it's OK because it's just a small repair and not as dramatic as it looks,  albeit that it will need to be dried out for a few weeks before we can do anything about it.

Maggie's off to the shops at Sarrebourg and one of us accepted her invitation to accompany her.

A text from Graham and Iris, and they are only a few hundred kilometres away in opposite direction to the one we were planning to travel, if "planning" is a word that can be applied to our current lack of thought process.

I'm not sure how it got to be dinner time, perhaps we'll go tomorrow.

Suddenly we have begun to set deadlines like a pair of locals.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Salad Days

We're working through the list.  The tyre is fixed on the bike, the navigation lights work now, as does the spotlight and the horn and we've got new mooring lines all round.   For years I've told anyone that would listen of the canal networks in Europe, of how one can take a boat to Switzerland, over mountains and through them, and in a day or two or perhaps tomorrow we might even head in that direction ourselves.

It's as though we're preparing for an ocean voyage, not simply crossing some mountains, so we pottered around all day again, making excuses not to leave, and if it's raining tomorrow that's all we'll need to stay one more day as well.  

Besides, tomorrow is changeover day in the port, the day when the charter fleet gets its new eager holiday makers who all head out at a million miles per hour creating havoc on the waterways.   Well they head out at six kilometres per hour actually, but they have a sense of urgency that we do not, trying to cram as much into their week afloat as they can.

We wish them well, and help them at the dock, and watch as they take their urgency with them.

We had dinner on board this evening with some of our own countrymen with whom we could share our lack of urgency, and I was going to remark that the food was just as it is at home, but of course it was.

This is home.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Two o'clock

Today must have been two o'clock, because sometime mid morning Michel appeared out of the drizzle with tool box in hand.

Michel is a man of few words, and since my vocabulary in his native tongue revolves entirely around not getting lost, eating, or relieving myself of something I've already eaten, and nothing to do with fixing the electrical system on a marine diesel seems to have the word "chocolat" attached to it, he worked in complete silence as I held an umbrella over him.

At one point as he removed a raggedy wire from it's terminal he shook his head and said a word which I did recognise as having something to do with relieving myself but under the circumstances I thought it best to leave well alone.

So I held the umbrella over him in silence, nodding intelligently each time he reassembled something and hoping he wasn't going to ask questions when he'd finished. 

We now have a boat that with a little luck will provide us with reliable transport for a few more months, is unlikely to sink if we leave it for an hour or two, and the forecast has a few days of rain ahead to keep us exactly where we are at the moment.    It's nice to know we could go if the urge took us, but we have power and water and the internet and we choose not to get wet this week.

We realised yesterday that we can't remember the last time in our lives when we didn't HAVE to do something on any given day, and while we won't run out of things to do here, it's a novel experience not having to do them in any order, or even at all if we don't feel like it.

Perhaps we'll stay here a little longer.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wandering Lonely as a Cloud

We aren't at all lonely of course, and we haven't really begun wandering, we are just content to be living on board, poking around, cleaning things, pulling them apart, putting them back together again.

Today it was the engine bay's turn, which has an oil tray that hasn't been emptied for a decade I suspect.  Two buckets of oil soaked water removed and we can see the floor again.  I was hoping to find a few spanners or even an entire tool kit buried deep down there, but really all I found were a few nuts and an old tea towel.  Will someone remind me not to wear a white tee shirt when I do that next time?

Desperate to deflect attention from my zebra camouflaged shirt,  I suggested  that perhaps it was time to pay a visit to a proper supermarket and thankfully the ever clever guys at NavigFrance had just the means for those of us who are temporarily cycle challenged.  We hired one of their courtesy cars  and at a velocity approaching the speed of sound, although it can be said that any speed means sound in an old Dianne, we rocketed through the countryside to Sarrebourg, well away from the miscreant shirt, by then soaking in a concoction of sweet smelling oil smudging solution.  

We were comforted as we went, that disguised as we were as a small piece of the sky, we would be invisible to the ever present radar cameras, should one be present in a thirty kilometre per hour zone on a downhill stretch. 

Tomorrow,  Michel is back at work and it remains to be seen if he'll be in camouflage as he tip-toes past en route to another task.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


The thought occurred during the day, that if we didn't have Jacques we'd have to invent him just to make our story sound so much like a French adventure.

Fortunately for us he does exist and it was with every confidence that he informed us that he expected Michel would be with us at two this afternoon.  Michel it seems, is fairly certain he knows what our electrical problem is, as in fact do we, but we are yet to discover if he has a solution for it. I have been charging the batteries one at a time in an effort to get the thing working as best we can until the reparations are in place, and today while waiting for two o'clock we had a near miss with the frig.

We thought at first it had died, but fortunately it was only running on one battery and had run out of oomph, thankfully easy to fix before Michel's arrival without resorting to plan B and buying a new one.

We managed to complete several other tasks while waiting for two o'clock as well, including screwing up the knife rack and sorting out our mess in the bilge and even measuring the amount of water running in through the rudder seal, a quite disturbing three litres per hour. (Note to file: keep power to the bilge pump all night.)  At least we also managed to work out how to fix it, but we'll need Michel's help for that too so I expect it will be sometime after two before we look at it seriously.

From our berth we were able to watch Michel slaving in the sun repairing a propellor on another boat and failing entirely to notice that perhaps time was ticking by. By four we wondered how he was going to make it, by five we were starting to think that maybe he wasn't, and by seven we had Jacques and Maggie over for tea without giving it another thought.

Tomorrow Michel has a job in another town, and rain is forecast for Thursday and Friday so it is highly probable that two o'clock may be sometime next week we suspect.

We think we like it here.

Quite a lot.

Perhaps we'll stay a few more days, or maybe we'll leave at two o'clock.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Adventures

Our notoriously unreliable maps told us we would find a supermarket a small town no more than eleven or twelve kilometres away, so what better way to while away an entire day thought we, than to go off on a bit of a foraging mission.
Off we tootled down the canal tow path on our brand new bikes, mine with a slight maladjustment of the front derailleur which kept two thirds of the gears out of my reach.

"Tow Path" in this very rare case is a euphemism for "bit of land that's been slashed" and after eight kilometres or so our unpracticed legs were starting to feel quite unpracticed. It was hot, and one of us had suffered a teensy graze on her knee after discovering that her bike finds is very difficult indeed to stay upright and stationary unassisted, but we carried on barely daunted, eventually finding our road.

Two kilometres on tarmac seemed like heaven, and when we found the "supermarket" it was in the form something which admittedly did carry the bare necessities of life but somewhat fewer of them than a well dressed corner store would expect to offer.

It was however, on our exit from the store a tiny bit of serious daunting began.

A thorn had pierced a tyre and flattened it entirely.

With a tidy imitation of a Gallic shrug, I pulled out tyre levers and self adhesive patches, which I had cleverly concealed on my person, having less cleverly failed to realize that the patches were self adhesive "requiring the addition of glue".

Conversations in a foreign tongue ensued, and a lovely chap gave us a tube of glue which was past its use-by date, and a tube of silicone sealant both of which failed to have any more stickativity than the aforementioned patches.

The temperature was now hovering menacingly in the mid thirties and we could have easily become borderline grumpy, but instead we bravely soldiered on. Back to the nearest lock we marched, a few kilometres with groceries and bikes, to hitch a boat ride for the remaining eight.

A charming German couple on their rented canal boat seemed happy to have us aboard, and we were glad to play a small part in their continued happiness!

So here we are, tired, happy, mostly undaunted and with two new bikes to fix, half a world away from an election at home. Life just doesn't get any better.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


 For reasons which we can't fathom, but have something to do with having great company and daylight until almost tomorrow, we never seem to be in bed in time for a sensible amount of snooze, so when we arose with the sun high in the clear blue sky the mist had long gone from the water.  

Clearly the mist was still alive and well in my head though, as when I tried to follow exactly the hot wiring procedure that Michel had demonstrated, I got it exactly wrong and blew the tip out of my second best screwdriver.  In my defence it has been three decades since I last short-started an engine, and on the second attempt it burst into it's smoke belching song.

Thankful for their company during our shake-down, and confident that only one blank stare would be sufficient henceforth should there be further mechanical mishap, we bade farewell to Jack and Brii who watched as we descended into the bottomless pit that is the lock, off on our first "solo" voyage, and thankful for their company during our shake-down.

As we descended, with concern for the safety of all aboard, I suggested that perhaps the deck crew, now working  solo, should wear foot attire with a certain degree of toe protection, adding that over the years, I have been made only two well aware of the prospect of digital damage while jumping on and off boats.  Being a person of such extensive experience, and an expert in dreaming up new and ever more wonderful ways of injuring myself, it didn't occur to me that being actually barefoot is probably not in conformity with my own advice, and so it came to pass that when we eventually and uneventfully arrived in Lagarde, my big toes had but one nail to share between them and I had discovered that the BandAids here have a silver gauze in them.

This being France, and we having some repair work to arrange, we thought it best that we pass the rest of the afternoon by practicing waiting, which we managed to do quite satisfactorily with our eyes shut.  


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Oh OH!

I said when we paid our deposit last year, that buying a thirty year old ex charter boat would be fraught with uncertainty, and that short of sinking, the worst thing that could possibly happen would be some sort of mechanical breakdown that we couldn't get repaired easily, which would result in us sitting for a certain period of time in the French countryside.

That didn't seem like a too terrible outcome, and despite being a little surprised that it had happened so soon, we found ourselves stranded today at the top of the ecluse de Rechicourt, at sixteen metres tall, apparently the largest lock in the French Canal system although the large rivers have taller.  After stopping for a hearty lunch, it seems our batteries had forgotten to charge themselves during the morning's run, which was a little inconsiderate of them as they can be quite handy when one wants to start the engine to continue on one's journey.

While this is France, the famous Irish chap Murphy works overtime here, and we found ourselves in precisely the right position to receive absolutely no mobile phone coverage.

With the assistance of a nice eclusier (lock-keeper) we managed to get a message through to the irrepressible Jacques at Navigfrance who had no hesitation on driving the 15 kilometres or so to find us, and with his expert eye he too confirmed that the batteries were perhaps not playing the game.  Sadly neither was the spare that he brought us, so he decided to call in the cavalry.

Since clearly we were going nowhere today, nor maybe tomorrow, nor perhaps even this year  we amused ourselves by walking in the bush, eating, and generally making merry over a deck of cards and some chocolate rations, until the galant Michel made it, well after our tea time, to examine everything in detail (twice, then once more for good measure) before announcing something in his native tongue, which we presumed to mean: "Your batteries aren't working".

He gave me a quick lesson in hot wiring a boat, before disappearing into the evening which by then was even more grey than his worried expression, with instructions that we presume meant "I'll have my jumper leads back on Monday please".

Suddenly we were alone, once again in stillness of the countryside, wondering what would dawn on the morrow.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Boat Lag

We blame it on the weather.

We are simply not getting enough sleep, and I'm sure it's not just because of the general conviviality of the crew.   Or maybe it is.   We just don't seem to be able to get to bed before midnight every night, which would be OK if we were on holiday, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that this is what we do for a living now, so we really should be more sensible about this sort of thing.

Another balmy day, with the temperature hitting 38° during the day, and as usual dropping to a pleasant 22° in the evening.   Even though I didn't intend to do any work on the boat until we get back to base, I couldn't help myself, and we've checked out most of the electrical systems, and have everything working except the navigation lights.  One could form the impression that nav lights are redundant on a canal system that's closed at least four hours before dark, but in a few days we have mountains to cross, and that means tunnels.

We have a leak or two as well, but with our internet connection apparently working now, and an inverter to charge all the batteries, we're looking forward to hitting the trail!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Out there doing it at last!

We are finally out there doing it!

A cloud of quiet satisfaction has descended on us as tonight we sit in the middle of a forest with the roof open after having moved thirty or so kilometres in the space of the day. We've been through a few locks, had a hot shower, and even managed to get the internet working after a fashion, so we are well on our way to working things out we reckon.

There will always be a bit more to do, and we'll head back to Lagarde in a day or so to think about what our next task might entail, and to drop off Jack and Brii of course, but by the end of the week we'll be off voyaging proper, with a month to travel the 80 kilometres or so to Strassbourg in time to meet Shelley and Julian.

Comfortable though we may be with our new life, it just doesn't feel real at the moment. We keep thinking we'll have to go home tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Party Party Party

Party party party day today.  The guys at the marina continued their fantastic hospitality in honour of the formal naming of "Joyeux" today, including bunging on a fireworks show and music until well into tomorrow.  They mumbled something about it being France's National Day as well.  What a coincidence!

In brilliant morning sunshine we tied on the new fenders finishing in time to attend a marina "family" luncheon, while in the town the markets raged and in the marina the food and vintage tractor festival thunka thunka thunka'd on.

By the time we returned from bidding our farewells to the poor little Renault in Lunaville the night party had begun, ominous storm clouds loomed, the wind had strengthened and on top of that it became quite a challenge to wrest the champagne from some of the assembled throng for long enough to get the naming formalities completed, but eventually it happened, and "Joyeux - Mooloolaba" officially came into being.

In retrospect we are rather pleased with our handiwork on the name, it's almost impossible for English speaking people to pronounce "Joyeux" in a manner that's decipherable, and completely impossible for the French among us to get their tongues around Mooloolaba.

And so to bed, hoping that when we arise our heads aren't thunka thunka thunka-ing too loudly.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It's like a cuckoo chick this boat, and the little Renault Twingo is it's host. Trip after trip it makes laden to the eyeballs, and the boat just sits there waiting for more. We picked up the bikes as planned, dismantled them to get them around the fois gras and Perrier, and when we stopped to think about it (after 8:00 on our arrival back at Lagarde) we'd travelled nearly 300 kilometres again.

We have declared ourselves ready, (though we're not,) to take off into the wide blue yonder.

We have most things on our various lists, from heaters to bike tyre repair kits, we've even got a stove top espresso pot, but something important is missing. If we knew what it was we'd have bought it of course, but we'll find out as soon as we leave.

Tomorrow is what we in the uncivilised world call Bastille Day, and the marina is set for a serious bit of partying.

If I had access to the internet, this would have been posted tonight, but I don't so it wasn't. A visit to SFR's office in Metz, a mere 80k's away resulted in it working perfectly while we were there.

Golly I'm glad I'm too tired to be frustrated.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Drive in the rain, shop, drive in the rain, shop some more, drive in the rain, pick up a few more bargains. Today was every boy's dream of heaven.


We managed to stretch out 450 kilometres to ten or so hours, but to be fair, we've almost finished our major purchases. That is good, because we are rather concerned about how little money we seem to have left and we haven't been gone two weeks yet! It's all been very much on budget though, and we've been a bit lucky to have arrived at a time when the summer holidays have just begun, and every major store has sale signs which seem to leap out and drag us in.

We pick up our bikes tomorrow, and do some grocery shopping, pick up some hardware, then return the car which has been our umbilical cord to some extent.

Did I mention the vacuum cleaner bargain? It will go in the same locker as the sewing machine and iron, and anything else that needs electricity to make it work.

The sewing machine did cause some consternation among some of our French friends though. They were very agreeable when they knew it was a Singer: "Sonn-zjay" as they pronounced it, telling us it was a very old French Company.

"Non" said I, it is American and it's pronounced "Sing-er".

Thanks to the miracle of the modern Wikepedia, we were soon able to show that the Singer Factory in Europe was very old, and very important to the corporation, and yes indeed, good old Isaac Singer did open his second factory in France in 18-something, but indeed he was as is his corporation, sadly, American.

For a time, I really wanted them to be right, I think our "Sonn-zjay" did too.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


The day dawned some time before we did.   

We'd slept for more time in one night than the total of the previous two, and the warmth of the day was already starting to make it's presence felt.  It's Sunday of course, so all business is closed, and the middle of a commercial shipyard in a summer heatwave is not the most salubrious environment to spend a pleasant afternoon, so we decided to revisit a few of the spots we passed in Deerste last year with Ian and Lynda.

An afternoon wandering the streets of Lille in brilliant sunshine, a visit to the one open patisserie, and a good old fashioned Sunday drive before the Soccer world cup interspersed with catching up with all of the news of the last six months with Graham and Iris were all we could fit into the day.

Meanwhile, the photo above is an optical illusion. It's not looking through a sign on a shop window, it is in fact a pattern drawn on the walls floors and ceilings of an arcade, leading to a restaurant entrance in LIlle.   It was the first illusion of the day.   If you are reading this on the internet you are experiencing the other.

SFR (my new and not easy to deal with internet service provider) sent me a message including my new user name and password, BY EMAIL, apparently oblivious to the fact that without those things, I couldn't log on to the web.   Hmmm… thank goodness for some basic and possibly err…dubious if not  illegal computer skills.

I must start hanging out with nicer people on the web!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

And to the North

If Mr Waiting was forlorn outdoors yesterday, his mood didn't appear to improve as we stripped him of his frame and hung him on a temporary support to contemplate his fate, under the hungry stare of Dume's bat, pending our return in a month or two to see what we can do to resurrect him.  

Another night of food and conviviality failed to produce any more opportunity for sleep than did the previous, and although we were invited to remain to make it a hat-trick of food and merriment, the road north beckoned.

Another round of internet service provider negotiations provided us with a non functioning modem and directions to download the latest software from the internet.  Just how one was to achieve that without access to the modem was not explained, not even in French.  

By the time we left in light drizzle, sufficient to reduce the speed limit on the motorways to 110, we weren't particularly looking forward to spending the  five hours it would take to drive to reach Manatee in the confines of our little car.  The holiday traffic as we drove through Paris, did nothing to raise our spirits, but despite it all, we managed to arrive more or less in good humour.

Manatee herself was in a similar position to our poor painting, having been stuck in the middle of a commercial shipyard near Belgium for almost a week while bow thruster repairs failed to be completed.

It was of course fantastic to catch up with Graham and Iris and our old cabin, in which we'd spent so much time last year.  It was specially fantastic to be in bed before Cinderella's coach returned to its vegetative state.

Friday, July 09, 2010


Poor old "Waiting" contemplates his fate with the accompaniment of a silent concert from Dume's pianist.  We are not sure what to do, the frame is smashed, the canvas stretched and torn, and we have to keep an appointment  near Belgium tomorrow. It's a real pity because it's the one piece in the collection which has met with unanimous acclaim. 

We have had a positive response thus far from the insurance people, and have a little time between now and the first exhibition in October, so we'll sleep on it for a month I think, but in any case we are all pretty pleased with the interaction between sculpture and paintings.

Sleeping for a month is what we need anyway, by the time last night's party finished and today began we had barely four hours of horizontality before starting again today.

Communications in the long term was our focus today, including trying to unravel the fine print of our prospective internet contract with the help of they among us who were raised here.  They looked at us askance as they came across difficult passages of gobbledigook written with headings in English, apparently designed to make it terribly confusing for French people.  One provision which we couldn't understand at all was one of the "complimentary" services which allows internet roaming  in the rest of the EU or in the US at a cost of 19€ per day.

A quick trip around Orleans this afternoon, another party tonight and then we must fly, but we'll be back of course, for a bit longer too, when we've had that sleep.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Sunrise on a new chapter

Our first day aboard was heralded by the church bells giving us a call at 6:00 just to remind us that in an hour it would be 7:00.    We had completely forgotten about these pre-dawn wake up calls, and having fiddled till rather late and with a long drive ahead of us I really would have liked to have rolled over and gone back to sleep, but I rolled over and took a photo out of the window instead.

We would have liked to have just sat around all day smiling at each other, but business was calling and the prospect of sitting in an air conditioned car while the outside temperature hovered in the mid thirties wasn't unappealing, so after several coffees and a few strawberries we hit the motorways.

We had a choice of routes to Orleans, the shorter is about 480k's with around eight hour's travel time, so we chose the longer (motorway) 550 kilometre option which would take six if we stopped for lunch, and of course we did.  With cruise control set on the mighty one litre diesel, we shot across the country at the speed limit,  130 kilometres per hour, being overtaken every so often by all manner of craft, including the entire press contingent covering the Tour de France, who passed us as though we were parked.

Meanwhile at Celine and Dume's, the paintings had arrived just before us, and our first job was to release them from their travel-prisons.

One has suffered badly from an argument with a forklift, but the others are as they were when they left our house not two weeks but it seems a lifetime ago.

As I positioned each one in the garden around Dume's sculpture pieces, the surreal fog that has enveloped our lives from time to time of late, once again descended.   

Perhaps the early morning and the dizzyness of the journey contributed, but it just doesn't seem as though this is happening, perhaps we didn't wake when the church bells rang after all.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

We are finally, as so many have remarked "living the dream" or at least it all seems like a dream as we sit in the complete silence of the French countryside, broken only by the occasional graunching sound of our water pressure pump bursting into life when we least expect it.

After another day of shopping we actually moved aboard, pinching ourselves as we had our first meal, made the bed after a fashion and really we should be asleep but we aren't. It's like the night before Christmas except that we're still stirring even though the mice have long ago nodded off. The boat is bigger than we remembered it, and the more we poke around the easier it's going to be to live with it "as is" for quite some time.

Sure things need doing, and the engine is a bit rattly, and today we've noticed that it doesn't actually have a muffler, which isn't going to be all that cool for our neighbours when we have to run it occasionally to generate electricity, make hot water or heaven forbid, actually go somewhere, but what the heck, we're here and we'll worry about all that when it stops.

Among our other purchases today we bought a sewing machine. It was very economique you see, and came in a damaged cardboard box. Even thought it was priced at about two thirds of it's normal retail price Mr Cora saw fit to throw in a steam and dry iron which probably not coincidentally also had a damaged carton.

One's thoughts may possibly turn to the question of how we might utilise two very clearly electrical appliances when we don't have any thing that even vaguely resembles electricity, but since this is a dream it probably doesn't matter, I'm sure it will work out in the end.

We have proof that it's a dream. On a whim, as if to pinch ourselves awake, we checked our receipt as we packed said items into the car and discovered we'd been overcharged by exactly 50€, a hefty sum but even if we could not sort it out, the machine was still a bargain. Armed only with trepidation we approached the service counter with machine, iron and docket in hand.

The gentlemen behind the counter was dressed the way that people in authority are, and although he spoke perhaps even less English than we do French, when we explained our predicament by waving our arms in ever increasing circles, and making sounds that resemble a dozen vuvuzelas in full song, he immediately saw the gravity of our situation. He asked for our names, and wrote them down on a piece of paper on which he made three official thumping sounds with rubber stamps, and then reached into the till and refunded our money without question or delay. With a great smile he said "I'm very, very sorry," and wished us well.

I know it's just a dream, but why can't the girls in Woolies treat us like that?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


This was our first serious day at "the office".  It's not a simple thing fitting out a bare boat with all the accoutrements that are required to make it habitable.

As Jacques was quick to point out, "in Metz is Ickier", less than an hour away in a tiny Renault and they have everything one would ever need on a "bateau respectable".   In truth, Jacques does not construct sentences in English in any way other than using perfect grammar, but without a stereotype I'd have to once again reflect on my own dearth of language skill, although the (presumably correct) phonetic pronunciation of the famous furniture chain would win acclaim in some quarters overseas.

The drive to Metz was sublime of course, through rolling Moselle countryside but we couldn't help but notice that we were travelling through the countryside, rather than as it is on the boat, gliding past.  A speed differential of 104 kilometres per hour is quite a noticeable one, and although we have almost a week before we get to do that, we are counting the days.

Two trolley loads, a hearty lunch and a battered credit card later, we have begun the process in earnest but there is more to do, and the paintings are still in Paris having their duty assessed.  

Paying tax on one's own work is going to hurt.  

I wonder what bureaucracy would be called if it hadn't been invented by the French?

Maybe we could get Ikea's product name team onto the job.


Monday, July 05, 2010


Dawn doesn't seem to break in London in summer. One sort of walks out into the grey at four in the morning and gradually the grey becomes lighter, and it was indeed quite light by the time our Eurostar voyage began, and lighter still by the time we arrived in Paris, after the sun had had and extra almost four hours to shake itself awake.

Full of confidence that I could make myself understood we sauntered up to the Counter at Gare du Nord.

I asked for two tickets to Lunaville.

"Oui, near Nancy" I replied to his query with at least one French word in the sentence and a place name pronounced in at least a recognisable manner. After a few more cheery words, he passed us our tickets and depleted credit card and said something which we thought was "wow you are going on a very long journey" but actually we later deduced translated to: "that will be a very long way to travel in the baggage car, suckers".

It was definitely time for a coffee.

Once again armed with a year of practice, I sauntered up to the counter and asked for a couple of cappuccinos and a chocolate croissant in phonetically perfect French. The young lady not only understood well enough to produce my order perfectly correctly, she probably thought there was enough Frog in me to make me Kermit's older brother.

The self congratulations over my success at passing myself off as a local evaporated quite quickly however, when I handed her a twenty to pay for it all.

I'm not sure exactly what she said to me, but I gather it was something like, "I'm terribly sorry my good man, but you can't pay for things with HongKong dollars here in Paris."

Meanwhile in Lagarde, the boat was immaculate, the repairs seem fine, and the stupendous team at NavigFrance are just as laid back as they were at the end of last season.  

I wonder if they accept Asian currency?

Perhaps we can try to pass it off at Ikea tomorrow.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

On the Move

We're all on the move this week, onward and upward of course, but it's surprising how unsettling any move can be, even after only a few days of standing still.   When we return Shell and Jules will have moved happily to the City, and with just a little luck we'll have had a few months cruising in the north of France.

But here's the rub:  We don't quite know what to expect.  We've read them all and seen them all first hand, those tall tales of how err... unreliable the tradespeople are in the country that we choose to make our second home, but thus far we have no reason to doubt that our chaps will be different.

We have no reason not to think that when we arrive the work on the hull will be complete and "Joyeux" will be bobbing peacefully at his mooring (I know that sounds wrong, but French boats are boys), waiting for us to load our things and wander off into the cruising sunset.

We have no reason not to think that Jacques and his team will be waiting there, with smiling faces, all the repairs done and a very small bill to pay.

We do wonder why they don't respond to our emails though.

Tomorrow we will know.

It's a tad ironic though, that today we slept till after six, a sure sign that our jet lag is on the mend and we are getting somewhere close to our routine, yet tomorrow we leave here at four to catch the Eurostar.

I do hope we don't arrive at the boat hot, bothered, tired and grumpy ready for a touch of despair!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Seaside

When Saturday dawned it was clear from the outset that the day would be, as they say in the "Old Country", super.  We had cracked a other great day in summer, the sort that makes them all forget just how crook living through last winter really was.

As did every other Londoner, we decided that a day by the sea was in order, so used some of Shell's bonus rail passes and took the two hour run to Bournemouth, the UK's "best beach", where one can buy the "tastiest fish and chips" and "tastiest pancakes" as well.   

When we were young, all of our reading material came from Britain, and it should not have come as a surprise to find this foreign environment so comfortingly familiar.  We walked along the promenade, paid our sixty pence to wander to the end of pier round the carousels and slippery slides, refrained from the temptations of the ice cream vendors but we did succumbed to the lure of the penny slot machines.

The beach wasn't too shabby, the fish and chips not bad either, and while we didn't taste the pancakes, the longer we stayed the greater the urge to roll up our trousers, plonk a knotted handkerchief on our heads and venture far too close to the wet stuff for respectability. One of our number, showing clear symptoms of living here for too long, donned swimming attire and even managed to feign mild enjoyment while braving the ocean blue.

It was a grand day for certain.  Perhaps it was a little churlish of me trying as I did, to imagine while we were there in the splendour of summer, what the place would be like in less than optimum weather, or perhaps the old gentleman with the dog on the railway platform was right.

"He's Australian too" he offered.

"Well we think he is.  His name is Bruce and he's a bit of a mongrel."


Friday, July 02, 2010


Despite my optimism yesterday, we didn't sleep beyond 4:30 this morning, and we still feel as though we could lapse into unconsciousness at any time.  When I think about it, one of us did that earlier today, and the other may well have done so just a few minutes ago.

Oh sure we've been down to the High Street, and foraged in the supermarket, and we've tidied up the courtyard garden a bit, but we just can't get away from the feeling that we could lapse into a narcoleptic coma without warning, which is a bit of a worry as tonight we face a test.

Tonight we will see sunset we think, for the first time since we have been here.  That means staying up beyond 9:30 pm, a feat in itself, but to increase the degree of difficulty we will at some stage have to walk home across two suburbs without curling up in a warm burrow.

If nothing appears in this space tomorrow, we didn't make it.
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