Legends from our own lunchtimes

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Progress, and no progress

Well that's that then. Seventy-three hull bolt penetrations successfully sealed, nine left to do with all the windows next summer, a heap of tidying up in the bilges done, and a truckload of fibreglass work prepared for the chaps, two knuckles still have skin on them too so we might just quit while we are ahead.

Perhaps I should note at this point that one mongrel bolt fitting just won't get the hint and it's going to stay that way for now. I was concerned about it at the time, I couldn't properly dry the balsa core it penetrates and it's been weeping tannin stained droplets ever since. I'm sure it's just old damage working it's way out because there isn't a heap of tannin in Balsa as I recall.  I haven't quite given up on it, but in the spirit of all things "I may not be good but by golly I'm expensive" I have a plan to catch all those drops until our return in April.

After all, we've drawn a line in the sand, the tools are back under the floor where they belong. The ship is once again ship-shape and we are leaving in the morning.

All we have to do is top up our fuel this afternoon and we are fully prepared.

Mr Perkins?


No, I can't hear you, can you hear me? I'm the one with the key turned to the dot labelled "START".

Ahh, now I remember why we don't make plans. Once again we find ourselves waiting for Michel, perhaps he'll be here tomorrow.  It's time for a Bex and a bit of a lie down I think, or perhaps dinner with Jacques and Maggie instead.

Yes, that will do just fine.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We woke in the dark this morning, dark and gloom and rain but not too cold. I can't think of a time I've been so happy to wake in those conditions.  A week of plugging little gaps in things makes one curious to see whether the time has been well spent.

With all the serious water entry points repaired, the trivial ones take on an importance out of all proportion to life and all that it involves. Previously they were but a drop an hour or half a droplet per day and mostly we didn't know they even existed because of all the other water.  Now we hunt them down at every opportunity. An hour or so of rain gave us five more of the little blighters this morning and another few hours to fix them.

The dawn also brought news of the house we rent from the Government. Actually it brought pictures of it in colour and glossy headlines about "millionaire's row" and how much the government has wasted buying houses in our street. I wanted to write letters to the editor, asking how much would be wasted not buying the balance, ($200million extra for the road the Main Roads Report said), and who will worry about those who are left, but I wondered if, living as we do on our boat, in France, they'd get the wrong impression.

With emotions in check but slightly dishevelled, I disappeared into the bilge to scrub things. Each time my legs cramped or I banged my head or scraped a shoulder against a protruding bolt the thoughts of further correspondence diminished further.

By afternoon stock of cleaning compounds running as low as the amount of skin left on my knuckles the end of work was in sight and there all thought of government incompetence had dissolved.

Chris and Helen thought we should while away the evening eating chocolate cake and drinking beverages of our choice in front of the fire on their barge, it was cosier there they said, and who were we to argue.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chaos continues

Last night we discovered it's been a week since we decided to leave all the stuff in the hands of our chaps, a week where we seem to have toiled almost without ceasing, except for the odd dinner, coffee and excursion of course, while our chaps have been off doing other things. Chaos continues to reign aboard. We have no idea how the two bags full, each with just nineteen kilograms of stuff we brought with us can no longer fit on a ten metre boat, but it can't. The fact that all of the lockers have copped the leak fix and the scrub today and are empty for now, doesn't help of course, and there normally is a place for everything somewhere but today there isn't a place for anything, and we haven't a clue how we are going to rearrange it to deal with the damp over winter.

It will all stop on Friday, it will. Almost everything has been cleaned to within an inch of its life, and all the preparatory work has been done so the chaps can march in when the snow starts and do the fixin' stuff.   Even if I don't get the diesel heater working tomorrow we'll call ourselves ready to hit the trail as soon as our dinner date is over on Thursday. That's been our plan all along, to get the jobs done a fortnight early, so we would not have anything hanging over our heads when a flurry of friends arrived to spend our last week with us.

But plans are only made so they can change. We heard today that Björn and Sandra, the "charming young German couple" we met in Mallacoota will wisely but regrettably not be driving the seven or eight hours from Hamburg to visit, as they are fantastically in the first stage of pregnancy. As fate would have it, our partners in crime from Orleans have seen the weather forecast and perhaps equally wisely they too have decided to do something involving museums and galleries next week instead of travelling for more than half a day on saturated motorways to sit in the rain under blankets with us.

We are disappointed of course that we won't be seeing them, but now strangely look forward to the time alone.  One last cruise to farewell the season. "Strangely" because we have apparently been alone for a few weeks, yet it seems as though we have had a companion invading our space, upsetting our tidy little lives, upsetting our tidy little boat and worse, he's been upsetting our tidy little lack of routine.

His name is "Work" and while he's been fun to have around for a short while, we will glad to see the back of him!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Where did I go wrong?

We didn't leave today, and we probably won't tomorrow either now.

There was washing to do after all, and despite my concerted efforts of recent days, what could only be described as "a leak", was still allowing what could only be described as "river" into the aft cabin. Well I admit it wasn't actually river, just rain on it's way to being so, but it was a veritable river through the cabin and provided the clearest evidence yet of a source of irrigation for the now well and truly disposed of champignons.

I love the smell of grinding disk in the morning, and I had to cut the bolts off to a more respectable length anyway, after which a conference with "my chaps" was in order to determine a course of action. It was never going to be probable that Michel would be available, but he graciously confirmed my diagnosis, that an incompetent repairer many years ago had failed to pay any attention to the fact that the hull had badly delaminated after a massive accident. They'd simply bogged up the hole and continued replacing bits of rotten flooring when hirers complained about the rotting smell.

He was busy of course, and fair enough, there are a fleet of boats to take care of, but will have time over winter. I would prefer to have him work in a dry boat though, if he's going to be out here in minus twenty degrees on my behalf.

There was nothing for it but to further investigate, so I borrowed a dust mask and a bigger grinder, donned my disposable overalls with the hood and after sealing the cabin from the rest of the boat, proceeded to chisel and grind the inner two thirds of the hull away. Interestingly, under all those cracks and layers of newspaper, I found a slot about fifty millimetres by eight, which exited directly under a rubber bumper. That could possibly be the problem I thought.

So did Michel, when I called him to inspect my work. Michel is a man of few words, none of them English. Squatting with me in an inch of dust, he stroked my ground-out patch which had grown to almost a metre high and half as wide, and said quietly, "Beau", which I took to be a compliment.

As I knelt covered in dust except for the bits where my goggles and mask had been, plastering in the filler to finish preparation work, and to make the hull watertight, ready for him to glass over winter, I wondered if I hadn't quite missed the point of having a "chap".


Sunday, September 26, 2010

As the sun is setting across the harbour, I can't say for sure if it's due to doing actual work much of the day again, or being in confined spaces upside down with an angle grinder, or breathing champignon spores or grinding dust or whether it's just not drinking enough red wine, but I'm completely knackered. It's not as if I haven't found things for the smaller of us to do either, scrubbing the inside of a locker that reminded me just too much of one I had to cut myself out of with an angle grinder when we were building Piglet, and she looked to me to be of a size that would actually be able to move while inside.

Perhaps it's the stress of being an "honorary assistant" on Jacques' briefing team for new hirers. He had two Australian customers coming in last night and asked if I'd accompany him during their orientation to translate. Now Jacques speaks perfectly understandable English, and I suspect that besides being a very smart piece of salesmanship on his part by welcoming his customers with a familiar accent, it was really a ruse to get me on the water and moving for a bit because he knows that we've been here for nearly a week and the urge to move on is starting to outweigh the urge to complete the work we've been talking about.

Never the less, the experience was interesting and mostly pleasurable. In the case of one party, (who shall remain nameless but in the unlikely event that they find this blog, you know who you are) it was delightful. After the formalities were over, and "we'd" conquered a lock together, and in the process rescued another hirer from a serious predicament in the same lock, we retired to the comfort of the good ship Joyeux and had coffee and crepes chocked full of banana and nutella and told stories for what was left of the morning until the rain stopped.

I'm fairly certain that after I'd accidentally passed a rope under a lifeline instead of over it, and loudly drew everyone's attention to the fact that they should never ever under any circumstances do as I had just done, that they thought it was part of the show. Fairly certain.

Actually, I don't think I am knackered. Despite the undoubted joy that I get from pulling things apart and putting them back together clean and no longer squeaking, I think I am suffering moving withdrawals.

We can always fix the boat next year.

Or the year after that.

We've got time to get to Sarrebourg if we leave tomorrow.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


We woke rather late this morning, or to be more accurate, rose rather late having been awake for a time, the temperature appearing to be far more conducive to comfort within than without the bedclothes. To be fair we retired rather late though, and having taken advantage yesterday afternoon of Chris and Helen's kind offer of a loan of their car, arrived loaded with groceries and even more tools and bolts and washers and a head full of plans for today, it was only reasonable that we should feed them and be entertained well into the night while the rain did it's best to test my handiwork in the fore cabin, and to saturate the aft.

When I first spoke with Jacques about the moisture in the floor of the after-berth, the one we call "ours", we poked the floor in the soft spots and rubbed our chins and stared silently, together deep in thought.  

It was he who broke the silence:" I think it's not too bad", he said, "sometimes when it's bad we find champignons under the floor".

That was weeks ago, months perhaps, and with so many other pressing engagements mostly involving food, the thought of chopping out a few square feet of flooring just didn't come into the equation until about now. We've had the lino rolled up in a vain attempt to dry it for a week now, it was time to cure the source of the water and investigate the soft spots, perhaps carry out some surgery ready for the chaps to come in and do their thing.

Small repairs on boats have a way of turning themselves into large repairs, it's something to do with the law of the sea, and from the moment I lifted the first corner of disintegrating plywood and found the champignons, I began to suspect that this would be one of those days. After several hours, the entire floor of our cabin, the wall framing and some of the lining found it's way to the skip, and we now have a clean dry cabin that doesn't smell of mushroom compost.   After several more hours, all of the penetrating bolts had been removed and reseated in proper sealant,  and the skin on five or six of my knuckles had probably already started to heal.  

The lack of floor is admittedly a little inconvenient, but once we've worked out how to get a sheet of plywood back from the hardware store forty kilometres away balanced on a pair of bicycles, the repair work should be a doddle.


Friday, September 24, 2010


Leaks are like rust, they never stop. The rain has given a great excuse just to fiddle with things, but one of the problems with trying to finish off fixing job in the rain is that there's water everywhere and one can't tell if the leak has stopped or not, then if it has and the bolts are made of metal, which mostly they are, the condensation starts forming on them and they look as though they are leaking anyway even if they aren't.

The other problem with fixing the big leaks is that the little ones now seem big, but at least we are down to one at each end of the boat, and since each is centred over a bed, we should be able to tell easily enough when they are fixed easily enough. Of course the little ones are the hardest to fix, so it remains to be seen whether anything gets done or not.

Then there are the leaks from the pumps in the loos, which are also on the list, and armed with a pocket full of fresh "O"rings after a big shopping adventure, we'll see what we can do about them tomorrow. I am not sure what we'll do with all the strategically located "Wettex'" when there are no more drips.

And a leak of the news variety too, with word this morning that my hardcover catalogue of paintings has been acquired by the Australian National Library, adding another option as to how I may now describe myself. "Chuffed" seems to sum it all up nicely.

As if to confirm that we have but one thing on our mind, even the groceries ended up capped with a big bunch of a certain vegetable that is locally known as poireau, which can only mean one thing: leek and turkey pie for lunch one day soon!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Walking Freda

We've lost a day. We have no idea how it got to be Thursday night when we haven't even had Thursday morning, but apparently it is which is just as well really because we've done enough today to last for two.

With just a teensy bit of luck the forward cabin may start behaving less like a colander if the forecast rain happens for the next week, and the bilge pump float switch is now beautifully and permanently located so we can be confident that we won't sink, and the sliding door has been adjusted to within an inch of its life, and in two lines I've just described three days' work.

Life isn't all work of course, there's still that magical weather and it just didn't seem right to be walking alone, so we borrowed Freda for the morning to make us look more French. I know, I know, a Highland Terrier isn't all that French, but she doesn't seem to understand any particular language and although she'd never let on in public, she seemed to enjoy herself. The harbour looked stunning from the other side of the canal, and we may have been delayed for a not terribly short while while we had coffee with Helen and Chris (on the barge bottom right) as we attempted to pass. If it hadn't been for the need to fill some holes before the rain started we'd still be there, and it would be Friday before we knew it.

If we wake up tomorrow and it's Saturday, we'll be quite distressed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When the fog clears

With our cabin stripped of all that is useful, things such as a floor, wall linings and a bed, and the forward cabin the subject of almost the same degree of in-piecedness awaiting today's inspection by "our chaps", in the absence of any other alternative the saloon table bed seemed to be the most comfortable option.

Despite the luxury of sleeping on two mattress thicknesses it seems my system decided that I may well have had enough sleep for a week the night previous. As one eye opened in the early morn to watch the stars through the windscreen the church bell's struck five. An hour or so later the stars had faded gently behind the morning fog, unlike the bells which take the six o'clock call very seriously indeed. Just sixty minutes further into the day, as the light began to make its presence felt, the whiteness of the morning had become quite apparent to any among us who, like I, may have taken the bell's rousing call to action seriously.

The temperature at least had the decency to begin in double figures this time and so it was that another perfectly clear warm day began, as indeed did a rush of urgency to get on with things while we can. In a day or two the weather will give us a chance to see if the leaks have been fixed, although mid breakfast I could say for certain that they haven't without the benefit of precipitation. But it's a long time between meals, and while the list for "the chaps" is now complete, every screw I undid today led to an extension of what started out to be a very reasonable (read almost non-existent) workload for moi.

By smoko I'd removed so many screws that I will need to fiddle outside for at least another day, perhaps two (did I mention the glorious weather?) to complete my now significant number of tasks before the weather takes it's turn, and by then I suspect I will feel that I have done enough and we may well ship out for a few days.

Besides, perhaps Michel will have time to do some things sometime next week.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's amazing what almost 12 hours asleep will do to lift the fog rolling across one's countenance. By eight this morning though, that fog had been replaced by another which for a time hid a perfect sky and a "Sunshine Coast mid twenties, windless winter's day". While one of us got decidedly chilled just taking the photo then pottering in the 6° comfort of the saloon thankful that we aren't here for all that minus twenty nonsense that goes on in winter, the other quite wisely remained "chilled" but toasty warm buried under a pile of doonas for a few more chimings of the church bell .

Perhaps we should have moved on under that electric blue sky, but that would have wasted a perfect day for doing absolutely nothing, or pulling the leaking bits apart and re-shuffling the bed frame or oiling the grates in the bathroom floors and catching up on the washing.

We have three weeks you see. Three weeks to think of everything and do everything and get it all sorted before next year.

In the midst of that thought, as suddenly as the second fog had lifted, the last vestige of the first disappeared as well, and his brain became just as clear as the sky;

"Perhaps", he thought, "if instead of doing it all, he could just make a list, then get a chap to do it."

A cunning plan indeed.

But it was Michel's day off, and Jacques was alone in the office.

Well this is France and it was a perfect day for simply waiting till tomorrow after all.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The sun came up again today and at that very moment we were in France. It would be a bit unkind to say that we hadn't seen the sun for a while, but quite accurate to say we haven't seen sun like this. Warm sun that comes out of a blue sky and glistens on the top of the water and makes us alternately squint and not squint as its reflections joggle about.

We thought we'd quite settled into life in London, and we did rather like pottering about and being with the kids. We liked it a lot.

As soon as we arrived at the harbour though, we both felt strangely, warmly, at home. Perhaps when it's 8° in the morning and we haven't got the heater working we'll feel quite differently, but for now we are home and busting to see if Mr Perkins loves us enough to take us somewhere for those three short weeks we have left in his company this year.

Five weeks to go, three on the boat, and we are on our way back to our other home (or the one the Main Roads Department owns to be technically correct) and we'll have to think about things for a bit, like where to put our stuff next year for instance. Five weeks. More than most people have away at one time without taking long service leave, and yet we are seeing it as a winding down time in a sense. We are fighting to remain in a state of being here, not moving into one of packing up.

Perhaps it's the subsonic travel that addles us so. It's bizarre being able to watch the speed of the train on one's phone, and even more bizarre, when one accidentally plots a walking trail, to see the little animated man running across the screen at 313 kilometres per hour, and wondering if he'll have a conniption.

We thought long and hard about the pace he was running, and not keeping up with him, and what to do about slowing down the next five weeks a tad.

We haven't reached any conclusions, but until we do, we'll just lie here in a warm spot, reading for a bit.

We'll let you know when we've worked it out.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


It must have been no fun at all really, hanging around in the tube in the days of steam, and I suppose it's not all that much fun now really, but at least it's not fun without cinders and smoke and steam and it after all is a quite convenient means of getting back to point A after walking all day to point B.

At some point in each visit, we get to the "this will be the last time we….." (until this time of course) and today was the last use of the Underground until our return to this Island for a week or three, so it seemed fitting to take a snap to remind us of all the commuting joy we've had this week returning each afternoon, leg weary from all those point B's after walking far further than we would normally travel by boat in any given day.

We have missed our boat, it must be said and will be pleased to get back to the repairs and a small adventure or two in the few weeks that remain until we return to London and then our other life.

But for now, the alarm is set for 3:50am, the cab is booked and by six we'll be in the tunnel, and twenty minutes later we will be back in France.

Time travelling once more.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Heading East (Or is it North?)

A long walk through Kensington served as a warm up for a catch up with Matt and Kathy and a continuation of our perambulations in the East End, along the Regent's Canal and Park in no particular order, challenging the East End to show us it's worst, but it was all very pleasant really, wandering past such notable attractions as the site where the first flying bomb exploded and what we thought was a reconstruction of the aftermath of the Blitz but which turned out to be the site of the 2012 London Olympics, now well and truly a work in progress.

We've been fortunate enough to have visited the last three Olympic venues at about the same time in their construction programme. Sydney, looked ambitious and sensible at the same time, Beijing was ambitious and incredible even before completion and after a stroll around London's construction site our first impression is that it looks, well, small really, dwarfed by the area of land surrounding it, a trick of the light perhaps.

It probably isn't as these things go, with a planned capacity of 80,000 people which as luck would have it is exactly two seventy-thirds of the number of people who travel on the Underground each day, which makes me want to ponder a bit on whether all the fears of congestion in the City during the time of the Olympics might be just a tad ill founded. It's capacity makes it the third largest arena in the country, but as if to make some sort of a statement about the British fondness for outdoor entertainment, after the games it will be reduced to a very sensible 25,000, about the length of a queue at a typical Fish and Chip Shop, which come to think of it is exactly how we rounded off our evening.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Antique Tees

Lest we had done it a grave injustice by lamenting it's demise prematurely, we decided to see if Portobello Markets were any more to our satisfaction on Friday, the day when "the street comes alive with hundreds of traders with their antique wares". There were certainly a few more traders, although we didn't see the Russian dolls this time so perhaps they've moved on, and one or two stall holders were selling their Auntie Maud's or perhaps their Mum's silver which was at least partially gratifying. There were significant displays of second hand apparel of the kind worn on the cover of Sergeant "Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" which to be fair did hark back to the good old days somewhat but still nothing that struck a chord as novel or new (in an old sort of way of course).

Perhaps age has indeed wearied them. Age and "Made in China".

One of the "New Cockney" traders told me that he'd hardly sold a thing, which meant he would barely have anything to send home to his Mother in Karachi this month, confirming my suspicions that perhaps he didn't get his tan in the East End.

So we thumbed through the antique tee shirts and posters imploring us not to contract Chlamydia and the set of six fish knives with five matching forks for twenty five pounds, and wondered for a minute if a new "Portabello Road" of the world would pop up where we least expect it. We don't think so, Ebay and Etsy and Cafe Press have replaced them and there's no need to brave the elements and the pickpockets to find one's personal bargain.

The little artists co-op gallery we stumbled into on the walk home put some nice icing on our cake-walk, to say nothing of keeping us out of the autumn chill for half an hour or so. Thankfully in a city this size there is always something new to stumble across and discover without having to rely on the tired old half dozen spots on which the tourist brochures have relied for half a century.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The best of times, the worst of times.

Joan noted yesterday that we had seen "The Lion King" in Sydney, and now we can say we've seen it in Sydney twice, or at least the stage was so far away if it wasn't in Sydney it wasn't too far from it and it definitely had a different postcode to where we were sitting. To make things even more interesting, our seats were also quite elevated as well. To be more accurate they were so far up the stairs that I'm fairly sure if we'd turned left instead of right we would have actually seen StPeter manning the other door. To be fair though, the seats were very cheap in a relative sense, (compared perhaps to the cost of purchasing the entire theatre for instance) and there were binoculars for our convenience attached to the seat backs which could become unattached by simply inserting a Pound in a slot. It is suffice to say that despite that generous offer, none of our binoculars became detached.

Perhaps it was the seats, or perhaps it was the production with which Mr Disney has so cleverly captured the imagination of the common man, but we found ourselves seated among all manner of theatre going riff raff. Throughout the performance the upstairs crowd seemed to want to compete with those on stage, serenading us with a constant drone of chatter interspersed with the occasional "clap along completely out of time and a few bars behind, no in front of the music". When ever the lions got to within a few inches of holding hands, wolf whistles would echo through the the theatre. Wolf whistles for crying out loud, for the King of Beasts. It was enough for me to want to send an email to the lady in front of us who was clearly attending electronically to matters of state during the performance.

At no time did the lions ever get as close as the couple next to me though, who seemed to be preening each other's tonsils in turn. Surely they must have met in the theatre and become instantly smitten. If this was a preconceived plan, they could have had a night at the Savoy for the same price as two Dress Circle tickets in the Lyceum.

Note to file: Next time there is a choice between standing in the freezing rain and waiting for some jumped up teeny bopper "star" person to turn up at his third rate movie premiere in Leicester Square, OR buying "half price bargain tonight only you're in luck we've have four just come in" theatre tickets, choose standing in the rain.

In the background, the show wasn't bad either.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Monopoly

We hadn't quite covered the Monopoly Board before we ran out of steam yesterday, so today it was Park Lane and Oxford Street and pretty much everything else we'd missed except "Go to Gaol" although one of us thought that might be a possibility if we didn't stop walking against the red "Don't Walk" signs.

Past Selfridges amazing window displays, into Hamleys Toy Store which has been there since before James Cook left on his journeys of discovery, down Carnaby Street which perhaps has changed just a tad since Twiggy and her mates were young, once more to Leicester Square and into the den of the ticket touts we rolled and before we could ask "are you sure we'll be able to see the stage?" we were separated from the contents of our credit card.

Tomorrow evening, Gaol not withstanding we will see the Lion King at the Lyceum.

Innocents abroad.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tourists in London

Walking is rather like being on a topless tourist bus, except that since we didn't have a bus, we were saved the bother of getting on and off when we saw something interesting I suppose, and we did manage to ward off the rain for five hours or so as we ambled past London, leaving no stone unturned.

Her Majesty was home, although her guards in dark winter dress looked quite innocuous standing silent with legs apart, compared to the machine gun toting constabulary wandering within the grounds. The Krishnas were hanging around Oxford Circus, although they too seemed to be in some sort of winter uniform, their saffron garbs now replaced by a uniform in blue and white, how very chic.

At Covent Garden, for just a second in the Jubilee Market we thought we were in Kowloon as we wandered among vendors selling sticky heads of Princess Di and Silver Big Ben charms which looked for all the world like Eiffel Tower charms with the legs squished in, but the place still looked far too devoid of anything contraband to be real.

In Leicester Square among the ticket touts, preparations were underway for a film premiere, with rows of people wrapped in clear plastic bags sitting in their camping stools with thermos' in hand, waiting patiently for Will Ferrel to wander past many hours hence. It mustn't be cool to wait in raincoats. Waiting in the rain for Will Ferrel doesn't seem like the epitome of cool either come to think of it.

Fashion from Italy, food from Germany, hotels from America, and souvenirs from China mix in what must be some sort of new Blitz, a sort of neutron bomb where only the outer veneer of the culture is destroyed, the buildings remain to be re-used as bagel and yoghurt bars and the people remain to pour ten pound notes in to the machine. As we started to think too much we found ourselves amid the relative calm of Whitehall and the National Gallery loos, wondering if the world would ever run out of zany names for retail businesses.

And then we found the Gastro Cafe, and new it never would.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I'm not sure that revisiting Portobello Road without the crowds was a good thing in retrospect. It gave us time to see just how little anyone has moved on in forty years, and it confirmed that we should perhaps have liked to have remembered it as it was in an era long gone.

There is a new retail clothing outlet on a street corner near here which seems to have created rather a ruckus among the "save Portobello Road" mob, which it seems is being stewed slowly in its own juices without being aware of it. It's proponents cry that the small merchants will be pushed out by the chains, that the place will lose it's character, but they clearly haven't seen it from the eyes of a visitor. The characters that once were there, are gone, replaced by a pseudo chain of cheap souvenir hawkers.

Just how many Princess Diana postcards, or Beatles tee shirts or ones with Twiggy on them, or poor posters of photos of Banksy graffiti can one street sustain before it's character is lost? Admittedly the antiques markets weren't open today and they may well serve to dilute the other effluent, but the "antiques" that were there were junk from Asia, solid aluminium replica art deco junk, gold leaf mis-carved tapestry settee junk, fibreglass Cadillac boot settee junk, Union Jack flag tea shirt junk.

There was neither a genuine elephant's foot umbrella stand, nor a torn and faded knitted gollywog with one eye to be seen. How long can they go on trading on the reputation of the street in the sixties before even the least discriminating among us wakes up?

Worse still, there was nothing that we saw that we could even imagine had been stolen.

Another sign of the rapidly changing times I expect. Furniture isn't stolen any more, it's cheaper to buy it from Ikea, and by the time enough heat has gone from the contraband VCR's to make them safe to flog in the markets, everyone is already playing DVD's.

The sight of Russian matryoshka dolls and imitation MIG flying helmets competing for a place on my mantel with yellow duck Bobbies in Union Jack vests truly make me wonder what is actually left to save!

It's still fun to be there though.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Too much thinkin'!

The day dawned even more cheerfully than we did this morning and there was absolutely nothing that would prevent any of us taking a long stroll through Kensington Palace Gardens and Hyde Park. Coffee by the Serpentine to ensure we had a top up of sun dancing on water and ducks, and of course a stroll along the perimeter to view the Sunday displays of artistic endeavour, some of which failed to exhibit either art or endeavour, despite our silent criticisms there were no apparent misgivings about the depth of talent exuding from those attempting to sell their wares.

While it seemed that it would be wise to pack up a lot of the work on display before the street refuse collectors arrived, there were some among the throng who could only be described as "undiscovered". I found myself inexplicably confronting my old misgivings about my own stuff, once again riding the waves of uncertainty which roll in without logic whenever I start to think about chewing what I have bitten off in the art world.

But as if to allay if not completely exorcise my thoughts, we received a call with news that all continues to be very well received in Orleans apparently, with feedback since the "soft" opening of the exhibition being brilliantly positive. Logically not only are we well beyond the point of no return, but with the exception of a sale or two have already managed a successful outcome by our own measures and we have a plan to visit there next week, at which time I'm sure those questionable feelings will give way to smug satisfaction then!

Perhaps we need to return to the Sundays of a year or two ago, when we didn't have time to think!

Or perhaps not.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Even on a fine and relatively warm morning in London the dawn seems grey and unappetising.

The fine respectable white faced buildings of Bayswater at first appear embarrassed that we are peering at their nether regions, but after a time they just ignore us and we them. Admittedly after a cup of coffee everything in Queens Mews is brighter at street level and there are plenty of other views to dissect at any rate, and I'm already feeling sorry that I caught them in their morning attire.

It's rather nice to be here in familiar territory, with Shell and Jules in the new place incredibly barely a city block away from Jen's old digs, the ones in which my favourite birthday card was photographed eight years ago, and it would feel as though we have never been away except that renovation of the commercial spaces has transformed some streets in a rather positive manner and the variety and quality of food available does seem to have taken a remarkable turn for the better.

Even better though, the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising has appeared in a once anonymous Mews nearby and for the few pounds we had left after a fine pizza lunch, we were able to spend a few hours reacquainting ourselves with brands such as Camp coffee "daddy likes it full", Andrews Liver Salts "Mummy says it improves one's complexion" and what could only be described as an extraordinary collection of thousands of packages, boxes and tins. We had a lovely chat with the extraordinary Robert, the walking encyclopaedia of soap brands, whose life time of collecting stuff is on display and promised we'd provide a link to his website.

I framed a tinfoil Freddo wrapper some time in the seventies declaring to all who cared to listen that some day it would be worth a fortune, I still have it and if I'd been completely insane and added to it every waking hour for thirty years or so as Robert did, even then it probably wouldn't be worth a cracker. I suspect that opening a museum would be an incredibly efficient way of making a small fortune out of a larger one, but I'm thankful that someone's done it!


Friday, September 10, 2010

Another Blur

A morning in Paris is never enough, but we were making our plans for next year, and everything seemed strangely blurred as we wandered through markets and commuters, past fashion studios and luthiers shops beside bolt sales outlets and got quite warm as the morning sun shone bright and warm after the early showers. We stood still for a few seconds outside 57 Rue de Lancry and waved to the Google Street view camera to saying "hi Mum" as it went past, which was pretty dumb really as Mum doesn't have an internet connection, nor a computer for that matter, but with a little luck our souvenir photograph will be online for a year or two.

Then, waiting for the Eurostar we had time to think about our journey of the past week and the last tunnel we had conquered, all two kilometres of it, and the thirty minutes or so it took to traverse through the mountain.

Today the tunnel was twenty times as long and it took twenty minutes and we turned up in another country, where their language is ours and no one understands when we absent-mindedly wish them "bonjour". We were almost dissuaded from entering by the nice man at the immigration counter who gently suggested that if we were going to keep coming and going as we do without actually going "home", someone might ask us some more questions one of these days.

Given our current circumstances, and the location of the places we call home, I can't possibly concoct a reason we might offer for staying in the UK for more than the 6 months at a time we are allowed, or the ten days we have planned for that matter, but I suspect we'll go through that tunnel when we come to it.

But here we are once more in London, grey skies, grey buildings and a different community to explore.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

The church bells that no one but Julian hears woke us on the hour and four times in between then and when the alarm was supposed to do so, and if the taxi hadn't arrived five minutes early we would have been ready on time, but it did and we weren't and no one was fussed.

At Luneville, the nice man sold us our tickets for the price of a week's groceries and smiled knowingly at us as our debit card failed for the second time, but seemed disappointed when the trump card in black platinum plastic did the trick, and before one could say "I'm glad we packed that baguette this morning" we were in Paris and taking our chance at the Office de Tourism, Gare de Est.

"We are very busy in Paris today" he said, but they always say that, "Perhaps there will be no rooms at a discount", and we always shrug and say "do your best" and they always say "No I have found one and it is a very good price, perhaps just a week's groceries."

Today's very good price was indeed very good, we have a room with big square towels and in which all the bathroom china is designer labelled, and we think we should feel sorry for the other people are paying perhaps more than three week's worth of groceries for their room and for breakfast as well.

But life of course isn't always about groceries, there's also coffee and patisserie and crepes au chocolat to deal with to lessen the strain of an arduous walk and playing spot the tourist and wondering if anyone has spotted us back. Were they to hear us speak, it would be fairly simple to deduce we weren't from round these parts, particularly if we were trying to communicate in French, but I suspect few could not have guessed the country of origin of the voice that rung over our shoulders (and those of the surrounding districts I suspect) from across the lane as we were gazing wistfully through a window at the extraordinary displays of macaroons in every colour and flavour imaginable piled in complicated patterns that almost reached the sky.


Fair enough, I thought. We have a coffee shop right opposite our hotel.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A holiday is as good as a change.

One can almost see Paris from the top of the Rechicourt lock early in the morning, or at least at 9:00 which is early as these things go. The rain is clearing for a bit just to prove the weathermen wrong and we quite like it when they are in this case, but there seems little doubt that they will be increasingly correct with their predictions for rain and more rain for the next few days. Even without the rain, some of the wind gusts we experienced today made me think that a smart person would be thinking about heading to London, perhaps with a day in Paris enroute.

The taxi is booked for 9:00 tomorrow and if we can find a train to take us there, that's exactly what we'll do.

It's a strange feeling preparing to leave life afloat for a time. We've barely been aboard for two months, yet feel as though it's been all of our lives.

We've even set an alarm to help us adapt to the old ways.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

I've just discovered a lot of odd grammar has been creeping in of late and it's too late to be embarrassed, they are there. Auto-correct has auto-reinstated itself along with the typical weather experienced this summer, so once again we woke to the sound of raindrops and they would have kept falling on our heads too if we'd been sleeping in the forward cabin, which of course selflessly we reserve for our guests.

That all added up to a day to do the "wet weather" jobs, like doing a bit more tidying up in the bilges and painting all the floor hatch framing, and remounting the water pressure pump to cut the noise down a bit, and I thought I'd like record it all with a photo of all that grease-free space and all that grey paint (as if anyone would care) although in the process it's also too late to be embarrassed that my shoes seem to have auto reinstated auto-stow under the bed, and the person who cares about that has already addressed that situation!

By mid afternoon, the time we normally look at boats putting past and wonder who in their right mind would not be sitting somewhere quietly sipping on a nice cold glass of water, we had wandered round the sights of Niderviller including the pottery which has been in operation since 1723, and were ourselves ready to move.  So we did.

Not for the first time this summer we found ourselves closing on the big lock at Rechicourt on a cold, bleak and generally hideously wet evening. We didn't get there of course, we never do, and in true wandering Hobbit fashion we once again sought the comfort of a friendly forest, just a few kilometres from our nemesis.

Tomorrow, we will once again steel ourselves and continue our private battle with the dreaded " Rechicourt" and then almost in a blink we will be home in Lagarde, packing for a grand adventure.

Monday, September 06, 2010

We figured if they wouldn't leave we'd just take them with us, so we loaded Joel and Cindy's bikes on board so they'd have a means of getting back to their camper and headed off up to the lift at Arzviller, or Plan Incline as it is technically known. The "Plan" is a bit of a tourist attraction across France, as billboards all over the country are only too pleased to announce, and people travel the world to pay 3€ so they can see the likes of us riding up and down (for free) in a tub of water.

It was a markedly different experience today, compared to our last visit, when we all hid from the rain, peeking outside to wave to the throng, braced against the cold.

Today was a top-down meander through the forest, smiles and waves as the Arzviller tourists watched and cheered as we slid gently sideways up the hill, and when I asked the keeper of the tunnel if it was OK for us to wait another hour or so while we had lunch, the reception was so positive I thought he was coming to set the table.

French people have very civilised attitudes to eating, and since our guests had thoughtfully brought lunch along, it was the least we could do to attempt to follow local custom by spreading lunch out for as long as we possibly could, but eventually, when we could hold off no longer, we pushed them off to scoot down the hill to their camper, and cruised once again weightless through fairy land that is the bowels of the mountain.

Actually it was Cindy who inadvertently provided the best summary of the day. It was late morning, and a couple of the waterways authority blokes had trickled past on the tow path in the midst of some important mission or other, and she wondered out loud:

"Do you think", she mused as they passed ," they ever wonder why everyone on this boat is smiling all the time?"

Sunday, September 05, 2010

We might have left today, but the conversations didn't end until almost tomorrow, and besides, we like it here.

We'll try again tomorrow, the hardware shop in Sarrebourg is calling, so apparently is the shop that sells something called "winter pyjamas" now that the nights are starting to chill a little. One of us doesn't think he can recall anywhere in the hyperthermia treatment manual which says "wrap the victim in winter pyjamas", but the other seems to think that prevention is better than cure.

Meanwhile the flowers in the courtyard of the house beside our mooring keep trying to tell us over morning coffee that there's plenty of warm weather left during the day, and as if to reinforce that view, the lull between the holiday season and the low season is well and truly over for the hire boats as well. In summer every boat was covered in family groups of all ages, we had once spoken to a Belgian group with thirteen aboard across four generations, but that was admittedly at the extreme end of the scale. Now they are all party boats, full of young adults and blokey groups and macho men wearing sailors hats. Perhaps the loudest was the group that passed with speakers the size of a large refrigerator, and more beer than could fit in said refrigerator, with a generator lashed to the back to power it all.

I've been watching with interest as each group passes, wondering what provision they have made for the pending climate change, and to day I can assure all who will be assured, that I haven't seen a single pair of winter pyjamas among them.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Just before the sun goes down, things go deathly quiet, and that's the way they stay till well after the sun comes up again.

Unless Joel and Cindy are in town and they happen to find a spot for their motorhome just beside the very spot we've moored, not that things are anything but deathly quiet for a long time after the sun comes up, but before it goes down there's a dull roar from within Joyeux that goes on for longer than we would consider polite if we weren't here ourselves. After nearly ten years driving round Europe they've been considering swapping the truck for a boat but are having some serious problems with the lack of pace, noting that by their calculations we've travelled six kilometres in the past week. That is not quite true though, we've done the sums and we happen to know that it's nine kilometres and in the coming four days we'll travel another thirty, so we will have averaged almost twenty a week for the fortnight and we can't see anything slow about that.

Between us we have travel just about right though, we get to poke along with our route defined and our itinerary uncertain, while they dart from Paris to Belgium to Koblenz via Morocco and every now and then they manage to track us down for a grand reunion and we start the process again.

On further reflecton, our numbers for the coming week will be bigger than theirs though. We will have been through Paris and will be in London by its end, travelling at a different pace again, it will be interesting to see if we have slowed enough to feel the weight of the cities when we are there, whether we have acclimatised to this life to the extent that we will miss the stillness as we leave our world to become tourists in another.

We can certainly feel the weight of another day in Lutzelbourg.

Damn that Patisserie!

Damn Joel and his endless Moroccan dinners!

And while I am at it, damn travelling at six kilometres per week as well!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Postcard from Lutzelbourg

What a difference a day makes, or in this case a few weeks. When last we arrived in Lutzelbourg, visibility was not much, rain was continuous, storms lashed us all night and we ducked out into the drizzle for a walk to the ruins of the chateau which loomed like a grey spectre over the town. To top it off it was peak holiday month and finding a mooring in town was no simple matter. We actually belted extra stakes into the footpath to hold us during the gales that night. But we loved the place even so.

Today we arrived on the third of Autumn, shiny bits on the boat shining under postcard perfect clear skies, perfect temperature and the trees turning ever so early (well they don't have anything to clean I suppose), with the harbour completely deserted. The postcard perfect Ruby and Jean-Luc at the postcard perfect Patisserie/Tea Salon made us a postcard perfect cake each, and we went on a postcard perfect cycle up the postcard perfect abandoned flight of locks through the postcard perfect mountain forests tumbling almost vertically down to the postcard perfect waterway.

Tomorrow, I shall be specially alert, and if, while I am lying in bed in the latter part of the early hours of the morn, I hear someone shout "Cue the sun!" my suspicions will be confirmed.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Another Day at the Office

True to forecast, the weather continued to hover around the "glorious" end of the scale, so we did what any sensible person would do, and kept cleaning things.

Not just things that get cleaned in the course of a normal life, things like the insides of the battery boxes, and the window sliders and the aluminium brackets that hold the roof mechanism. Things that haven't seen fresh air for thirty years sort of cleaning, and maybe things that need a new screw here and a drop of oil there sort of cleaning. It's all stuff that we've been meaning to do of course, and now we have.

The really nice thing about spending two days working on the boat, is that we are in Saverne, and when we need a break, at morning tea time we can pop around to the Patisserie just to buy a pastry escargot and a baguette to have with our coffee, and in the cool of the evening we can wander up town and look down the main street at the sun setting on the side of the mountains and plan to go there tomorrow and pinch ourselves and feel absolutely content with our lot.

All that's missing at the moment is a chap to clean the boat while we watch.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010


"YOU HAVE TO PUSH THE BUTTON - CAN'T YOU READ?" she half shouted (in her own tongue) as she opened the door to let us in.

Well as a matter of fact, yes, but a fat lot of good that does us when we don't understand any of the words eh?

For the first time in a foreign land as far as we are aware, we were being spoken at, rather than to, in a loud voice by someone willing us to understand her language but without the where with all to do anything but speak in ever increasing volume until we got it. I think we have climbed some sort of mountain.

We have arrived back in summer, or I technically early Autumn now with the good old spectacular weather that forgot to happen. Clear blue skies, high twenties, the sort of weather that makes lambs wag their tails and cows smile or whatever it is that cows do when they have this sort of weather, but for reasons inexplicable it makes people clean things.

Normally it wouldn't of course, but we've had almost two months of climatological indifference. Some trees have been tricked into thinking it's already Autumn and have long since lost their leaves, humans, I think have been tricked into thinking it's spring, which is why we were trying to get into the laundromat in the first place.

Three loads we had saved up, everything we owned really, for this day. There again, everyone in Saverne had done the same. Doonas were arriving and queueing for the "big" machine, perhaps the last chance before it really gets damp, and thankfully our guardian angel was there to let us in.

On entering, addressing the curious gallery, I offered my usually apology about language and the Antipodes, which seemed at first to have no impact whatsoever, although one could clearly see in the eyes of each of those before me, that when I said I couldn't speak enough French to be useful, there was no difficulty reaching unanimous agreement.

She of the loud voice having already saved us once, decided that we did reasonably well with her last lot of directions, after all we were inside were we not, so clearly she was going to be the one to sort us out. To be fair, in addition to the volume adopted, she was by now speaking terribly simply with perfect annunciation, one word at a time taking us step by step through the process of putting our detergent in the machine, the money in, and waiting half an hour until, with an even louder voice she half shouted VOILA!!

Well that seemed clear enough.

Once she was absolutely certain we'd got it, and the first load was on, she did what all heros do, wished us a "Bonne Vacation" and disappeared, silently into the sunshine. She didn't know she'd made our day just that little bit sunnier, perhaps she did, but certainly not by how much.

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