Legends from our own lunchtimes

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A new journey.

After spending yesterday pretending to be present while the family gathered round us, today we feigned partial recovery from jetlag, filled Matt and Ab's Monster Truck with daughters, babies and baggage and set out for home. Sitting between our Lil and Mr Four, both of whom had dropped off in quiet repose the instant the car was moving, I had to muster all my strength to avoid joining them in the land of nod. In the front, the three girls barely drew breath between sentences.

On arrival at the Home of the Biting Midge, Mr Four as is his way, ran straight into the workshop to make sure all was OK among the tools and half finished boats: "This shed is beautiful" he confirmed, "It's just perfect".

Our house and it's surrounds as it turns out, quite unsurprisingly are every bit as we remembered them.  Admittedly the lawn could do with a clip now that Don has moved, and despite naming it after the little beasts, we had forgotten quite how ferocious and numerous are the midges which share our domain.

With jetlag fading in and out for yours truly as the evening wore on, the other of us apparently immune from its effects while still deep in four months' worth of girl-chat in the kitchen, we boys decided to retire to bed at what amounted to quite a reasonable hour (for a four year old).

As the lights went out, it was the voice of Mr Four which once again neatly summarised our position in the household.

"We're a team Papa", he announced from his mattress at the foot of our bed, "you and me and Elliott". Well Elliott was being a bit of a stick in the mud, hanging out with the girls as it happened, but he's probably using his unborn status as an excuse, so I let that one slip.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

In an instant we are back.

Everything that was familiar is slightly unfamiliar, our brains are spinning, searching for something to grasp while we steady ourselves. The toll on the Gateway Bridge has doubled. They say everything is green, but bah, that's not green, it's a sort of drab olive really. The jacarandas are in flower, surely it's too early for them. The sky is blue yet no one is sitting in the sun. We are wearing sunglasses but it's not yet seven am. Painted houses on stumps. Where are all the people? Yes, we really are back.

Everything is different, but nothing has changed. The babies are bigger, but Skype has kept them familiar.

We are in shorts and bare feet.

We are indeed disoriented.

Was the last four months a dream?

Have we really been away?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Shortest Day - Longest Night

Today has been the shortest day of the year for us.  Here we sit once again in our little corner of the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, having had breakfast at 8:30 this morning, two hours before arriving in Singapore in time to watch the sun set.  It's hard not to feel cheated somehow.  Perhaps there is a very strong argument for never heading east, but we shall have to see to that in future years, we aren't turning back now.

We both feel a little drunk of course, not the alcohol induced sort, but the sort that a glass of water must feel whilst being consumed.

A warm shower, a shave for moi a bit of a trot round the airport and we'll be nowhere near ready to start again.  

Never mind, chin up, upward and onward as they say, by lunchtime we won't even remember tonight.

A New World Awaits

I'm not sure if it's too early to bid farewell to the Northern Hemisphere, after all we'll be in it for all of tomorrow as well, but with just an hour or so before we fly we are sitting in the Airport lounge getting rid of all those jangly nerve feelings that one gets before the check-in process, and having some not needed practice for the long sit home. 

We've run around the flat, done a bit of last minute fixing and cleaning, eaten them out of house and home including a sumptuous chicken and coconut concoction that Julian just sort of whipped up when we weren't watching. We even managed a stroll down to Shell's office to do the bye bye thing, and although given her schedule today I wouldn't be surprised if we were home before she is.

I've mentioned it before but despite the description, it doesn't really feel like a homeward journey, it's really just another leg in our life's travels, but a leg in which we get to spend lots of time with our little people.

It's also a leg in which we will have to face up to some change. We need to find somewhere to live by April at the latest, I need to spend a good deal of time slaving over some more canvasses and I suppose we really should face up to some fiscal issues as well or the means to continue may be discontinued!

If only I could sleep for the 24 hours of night we are about to experience, I would wake up recharged and ready for the new world!

As it is, experience tells me that the new world will have to wait till next week.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Here comes the sun.

The time has come already, to end our brief holiday, and to move once again into travel mode.

This morning that meant the sadness of another farewell before heading south just after ten, and driving on the motorway for four hours into what appeared to be a perpetually setting sun. When we arrived at Heathrow to return the car, we discovered a procession of billboards informing all who wished to know that the sun was indeed elsewhere, and we smiled smugly to ourselves with the knowledge that after just one more sleep, we'll be in a place where minus four is part of a sum, not a weather report.

One more sleep, some washing up, more packing and another farewell followed by a whole night awake to be absolutely correct, but we are already starting to feel as though we are on our way.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Frank and Gil always seem to go out of their way to set an itinerary which involves castles and wildlife and tea and cake and dinner and a rollicking good time all rolled into a single day, and it was with assurances that the further west we travelled, the less bleak the day would be, that we rolled out beyond the border and into Wales itself.

Only yesterday we had remarked at how we feel quite attracted to travel in that country. We weren't sure whether it was because we'd been talking about our Welsh heritage or not, but we do rather like the bleakness of it all, and of course the spelling of words without vowels or syllables and with more double L's and W's than in my own middle name.

After crawling over Conwy Castle there's no doubt that our sympathies were with Llewellyn (after all I was named for him), and the English could rot in their stupid castle for all we cared. Perhaps when my UK passport is issued I shall run for the Welsh parliament and do my bit to support the succession push. That would be doing something for all my forebears perhaps.

Over still more tea and cake mid afternoon those thoughts began to fade just a little, and by the time we'd wandered along a few beaches with names that were improbable and dined in a pub named with what was left of the alphabet after the beaches were named, all thoughts of succession were lost for the time being at least.  Each time we wander through a building which can tell stories for six or seven centuries or more before Australia had been invented, we cannot escape a subsequent period of reflection.

Why is it, we wonder, that the sky actually looks as old as the buildings it hovers over.

After just two more sleeps and we'll be under a young sky once more, trying desperately to hold on to some of the memories of today.

Monday, October 25, 2010


When day breaks with a temperature of minus four (feels like two) there's nothing better to begin it with, we've just discovered, than a tall glass of hot, freshly crushed apple juice infused with heaps of ginger.

Bristol was still asleep even in the mid-morning as we began to retrace our guided tour of last evening,  I suspect many were at once recovering from hypothermia and nursing rather large hangovers.  When we arrived at the gallery we had marked to "visit in the morning" we discovered that it sleeps all day every Monday.   In a sense that was a good thing as we really did need to head north and not dilly dally in town for as long as the visit may have taken.

Unwilling to drive for hours on the motorway, we skirted the Welsh border all afternoon seemingly without a purpose, weaving ever northwards, stopping only for slow moving vehicles and tea and cake at Ludlow Castle before meandering up the "B" roads to Broxton.

When we arrived at Barnhill House, Frank and Gil had been waiting patiently for our arrival with tea and cake at the ready on a silver tray. 

We never cease to be amazed at the sense we get every time we are with them, that it has only been yesterday since last we visited. A sort of timeless pall descends when we arrive and our conversations begin where we had left off a year ago.

Tonight, if we finish talking before sunrise, we shall sleep, as tomorrow they have plans.


Sunday, October 24, 2010


As evidence that "holiday" mode and "cruising" modes are two very different things, we stuck exactly to plan today and tonight we are in Bristol, exactly where the hotel room we booked is located, full of Chinese Banquet and good times.

Earlier, the temperature had crawled to double figures just after lunch time, but well before that the sun was out and with it came everyone in London smiling big smiles, basking in the glory of the clear light and the very blueness of the sky. The very fact that we shared their joy was a timely reminder of why it is we choose to flee back to the Antipodes after just a few days of Autumn, with all of winter to go.

Bristol is famous for a few things really, there's its maritime and engineering history of course, its reputed to be the home of world renowned (graffiti) artist Banksy, and most importantly it's the birthplace of the Ukulele supergroup, the RinkyDinks. With more than twenty tee shirt sales in Australia, and probably even more albums, the Dinks are well on their way to international stardom, and we can't describe the thrill of sharing dinner with Trev followed by a personally guided tour of the city and all the venues they have played.

As he said, as he gave me his old Fez to add to my ever growing pile of Dinks memorabilia, "it's a bit like having a tour of Liverpool with Ringo Starr," and who were we to disagree.

We disagreed with the weather boys though. At midnight the temperature was supposed to be minus one but feel like zero. Despite the hoards of scantily clad pyjama people feeling no pain on their pub crawl, we all concluded that minus one contrary to the bureau's assertion, feels very much like minus one.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Getting Ready to Fly

We are getting perilously close to going for a ride on a big bird again, with less than a week until we are due to arrive on the other side of the world, back with our babies and their babies.

In the seventies, Skyhooks had a song which proclaimed that all their friends were getting married, and they were then as were ours. In the last decade it was our kids turns, and now they are having kids, and we love it. Actually our friend's kids are having kids and it's great to be able to see them in person and report that they are well, as we can after our stroll through Hyde Park to Knightsbridge with some of them yesterday. The next time we see them they too will be parents, and it is impossible for our minds to see them in high school, let alone with families of their own.

Jenna has been given strict instructions that Elliott is to remain inside until our return next week, and although Lily and Mr Four have done their best to keep us regularly updated as to their progress via video conference (although he just calls it the 'puter, and she mostly grins and regurgitates), we suspect that the first tickle will be special, for us at least.

Once again we find ourselves not excited to be going "home", but very much looking forward to the next stage in our journey if not to having to make some decisions about how to accommodate ourselves for half the year, but by then we'll be back to the business of it all.

Tomorrow we'll head to Heathrow, and if we turn left instead of right as we plan, we'll pick up a car and head out into the wilds to try to slow the clock for a few days. As much as we are looking forward to the next leg, time is passing far too quickly for comfort.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Armed and Dangerous

Trying hard to overcome our ambivalence, we struck out early for the V&A, or we would have if we hadn't left it a bit late.

Around the other side of the Albert Hall, and down Queen's Gate we meandered, suddenly finding ourselves among the bones of every large animal which has ever roamed the earth, through earthquake and volcano, past every kind of small animal cut off in the prime of their lives, stuffed and posed in glass cases in the bowels of the Natural History Museum. It was not a placid time, as we shared our visit with what appeared to be every six year old in the northern hemisphere.

When we finally escaped its clutches and crossed the street to the V&A, it was close enough to half past lunchtime and the queue for the cafeteria reached through the Asian antiquities and into the sculpture gallery. It seemed to us that if we were to eat before tonight, then it certainly wasn't going to be at the Vic and Albert, unless we chose to brave the chill outdoors and partake of sandwiches and coffee in the court. Even dressed for snow as we were, we were certain we weren't prepared for that.

South Kensington is across the road really, and so we found in short order a delightful establishment which served us slices of pizza and coffee on the footpath, which unless my understanderscope has gone completely awry, was situated exactly as much outdoors as the courtyard of the Museum.

With hunger abated we zigged and zagged our way across Earls Court and Kensington returning up the Palace Green, perhaps the quietest street in London. As one walks past the entrance guard post, through the maze of cameras and the beat police carrying machine guns, one gets the distinct impression that the "no camera" signs mean business.

It was in that very silent and contemplative environment that we saw them, exactly opposite the Israeli Embassy and its permanent and (very) heavily armed guard. I wondered if I would be shot as I pulled out my camera, or at best arrested and flayed to within an inch of my life, but it seems they were waiting for bigger fish to fry.

Vicious little creatures they were, biding their time, waiting to exact their revenge on humanity on behalf of their fallen comrades in the Museum of Natural History.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


The decision to have a holiday was a rather clever one on our part, because it meant we could remain snug and horizontal while "the kids" rattled around and off.

Checking the internet to determine what was happening outside from the comfort of one's bed, one was surprised to find that the temperature was nearly three degrees, and that within an hour or two it was expected to be hovering just shy of a very respectable ten, but then came the crunch. The "feels like" column on the forecast proclaimed that at it's best we'd be out in two degrees, and if we were silly enough to rise early, we might even feel as though we were venturing into negative territory.

Once we got to "eight, feels like seven" we ventured across Hyde Park, intent on spending a warm and toasty day within the confines of the Victoria and Albert Museum, or "V & A" as it is known to its mates, but we hadn't counted on having to walk past the Science Museum across the road, and predictably we turned right instead of left, and saw many wondrous things within its confines. Stevenson's Rocket vies for space with one of the Apollo capsules, the age of steam juxtaposes with the space age.

Our time, right now, they have christened the "Age of Ambivalence".

It's a serious message which we hoped would sink in, then we wandered across to the V&A and had tea and cake and didn't give it a further thought.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One Hundred Million

Perhaps, he thought to himself, he's not got a wog after all.  Perhaps we just need a holiday he thought out loud, and she agreed.

"London looks nice, let's go there", they chorused.

Actually London didn't just look nice, it looked sensational, with a crisp blue sky and glorious sunshine. The fact that the temperature was hovering just a little above two degrees and in the breeze it felt what could only be described as somewhat less than two degrees did tend to take the edge off skipping gaily down the High Street.

We skipped through the Temple district around all the law chambers bearing name boards in gold leaf that read "Sir and Lady" or simply "Mr" and past the restaurant so wittily christened "The Witness Box". Across the river we wandered in the cold, past the old Clink prison, the Globe theatre, avoiding any reason for apprehension by the long arm of the law, by not carrying a radio or tape machine on our person, as strictly forbidden by the engraved signs along the Embankment.

When finally we reached our destination, The Tate Modern, we were astonished by what we had come to see. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's sensational one hundred million hand painted porcelain sunflower seeds covering the floor of the Turbine Hall in a six inch deep carpet left all who viewed in the frame of mind he had intended. As a number, it represents less than a quarter of the internet users in his home country for instance, and five times the entire population of ours. It's an almost unfathomable scale and even while standing at its side, almost impossible to believe.

After meandering through two entire floors of the gallery during the course of the afternoon, not to mention the course of sardines and beetroot that was our lunch, the old familiar feelings of despondency, inadequacy and even intimidation which usually descend while visiting environments such as this, entirely failed to arrive.

My new mind was working overtime.

Weiwei had given me a hundred million thoughts on this the first day, and we have an entire week of holiday ahead.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It was definitely a bug, so even thought it's Julian's birthday, I unsociably stayed in bed while he opened his presents. In a bedsit that has only room for two beds in the one room if the rest of the furniture is stacked on itself, that is probably not entirely a capital sin, and in my defence I could keep an eye on the proceedings by arching my neck just a little, but it was unsociable none the less.

I slept on and off until the sun came up, which today for my benefit didn't occur until almost three in the afternoon, just enough time to shower and pronounce myself to be more sociable before Jules arrived home, and to plan (there's that word again) our movements for the coming week.

All the while the flag flying above Whiteleys' somewhat less than stately pleasure dome served as a constant reminder of my whereabouts, should my memory start to fail inexplicably, and the hydrangeas on the sill cheered me up no end.

Cheered me because they were full of colour, light and vibrance in contrast to the shades of grim surrounding them?

Well no, it's just that clearly they felt a lot worse than I do.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Confined to barracks

I think I have a bug hanging around somewhere between the back of my throat and my ears. It's quite a strange sensation as we've had not a hint of malady in the time we've been away, nor for the balance of the year as far as we can recall. It's unlikely to prove fatal but I stayed "indoors" as they say, anyway, for the entire day, while the others went to work and shops and libraries.

Staying with Shell and Jules is like staying in a halfway house, allowing us to slowly make our adjustments to the real world once again, so I suppose if one were to get a sniffle, it's best to do it in transition rather than in transit.

The flat is not too much bigger than our boat, there's just enough space to allow us to walk back and forth unimpeded providing no one else is walking back and forth at the same time and certainly there is no risk of becoming lost. It's tall enough that I haven't banged my head in a day or two, for which I am grateful, and all the scars from our previous positions should be gone quite soon. Quite noticeably there are no schools of marauding catfish watching for our every movement although I suppose that if there were, they would be three floors down and we'd hear little of them.

I'm a bit concerned about language though, steady as she goes, swapping "bonjours" for "giddays" once again and mostly getting it right. I happened across an ABC news clip on the web, and was amazed to hear the reporter spoke with inflections which to my ear were not unlike the ones I remembered Julia Gillard employing. If that is how an ABC reporter sounds to my now oh so refined and cultured ear, I wonder if I should be terrified at the prospect of having to decipher the accent of the my fellow countrymen on our return.

Perhaps it's just the bug. In a day or two my brain will have reconnected with my ears and I'll be just fine.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's always nicer once one's head has caught up with one's body, even if one wakes up in a different country when that eventuality occurs.

The human mind is a complex thing, and mine may very well be more complex than many, although from my personal perspective it does seem to serve it's purpose. There have been many cogitations over the past few days, although despite the way it may seem they haven't been overly serious ones, nonetheless there have been an interesting destination or two reached within my head that are quite different to the ones to which my body has travelled.

As we were chewing the fat the other evening, Dume spoke of his journey leaving behind the label "successful businessman" to the point where he was confident enough in what he was doing to describe himself as a "sculptor". The parallels were extraordinary, the same insecurities and embarrassment, until with just one completed work that someone deemed worthy of owning, a switch turned on in his head and from that day his insecurities simply vanished.

For me that switch happened a day or two earlier, but there was an audible "click" as the light turned itself on.

When it did, even after almost six decades (I find that almost impossible to believe!) my father's words of "encouragement" rang in my ears: "Get yourself a piece of paper first, then you can do whatever you want." he would implore, always following up with: "Artists don't make any money until they are dead."

While doing whatever I wanted (post graduation) for all that time, I have often justified my position in my own defence against the regular haranguing by my beloved as she urged me to take up a paint brush, that if it was important to me I would be doing it. The time will come I often said when it would become important, and when it does, I will. If I were die before that happened, I guessed I wouldn't be making any money in the time frame espoused by my father.

There is a reason for this apparent naval gazing.

Last week, while our exhibition in Orleans was being constructed, a calendar was published in North Queensland. The cover features one of my father's photos for which I had arranged for the publlsher's to pay a royalty. To my knowledge, that would be the first of his photographs ever to produce an income.

Twelve years after his passing I can't help thinking that he'd be embarrassed at the fact that I'd seen them as objects with a value, further embarrassed at the fact that I'd even spoken with anyone with the aim of creating an income, and he'd be chuckling at his own advice and telling me "I told you so".

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Another leap in time.

Waking in Paris after ten hours of deep sleep makes one wonder if one didn't dream the whole of last week.

Emotionally tired, but undoubtedly satisfied and decidedly happy about our lot, we decided that we should just do nought till check out time, except perhaps take a leisurely breakfast in the relaxing fluorescent lime green breakfast room, and perhaps a deep, warm bath for herself would be in order and for monsieur some deep (but not too deep) cogitation of his journey of the past few weeks and maybe while waiting for the train a special birthday story for Mr Four.

A quiet perambulation down the Boulevard Magenta, banana and chocolate crepes with coffee on the footpath made for a relaxed farewell to Paris until the spring of next year.

Even when it's quiet, there's no getting away from the rush of London though. We know we are here, but we have to wait for our minds to catch up.

We are time travelling again.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Last night I related in my speech that I had sketched a study for "Waiting" in a regional airport during a delay caused by a short staffing strike in the airline concerned.

"I was not sure", I related in jest, "whether French people would relate to it."   The response was appreciative to say the least, and with the national strike set to escalate tomorrow, closing all services in the country including fuel supplies, and all transport with the exception it seems of Eurostar services, we thought perhaps we should make the move to Paris while it was possible.

This of course meant that all we had planned for the next forty-eight hours was in tatters. By now, most will understand that we rarely make plans at all for this very reason. The slow afternoon of planning followed by a long dinner at a local restaurant quickly turned into three computers in concert, searching the internet for last minute accommodation deals and stations at which there was a probability of finding a train that would be empty enough to actually stop.

Fortunately, we found both. Our run of cleverness with Parisian hotels continues with a heavily discounted bedsit turning up a mere two hundred metres from Gare du Paris Nord, our Eurostar departure station, and a superb location for a day when no transport whatsoever will be running. Better still, Celine found a train running just North of Orleans at 6:00 pm (the first for the day in lieu of the normal hourly service).

After careful synchronisation of the three computers we were able to conclude that we had but four hours left for lunch, barely enough, but these are trying times.

Madam did indeed enjoy the scallops on pumpkin cake with forest mushroom sauce, and it goes without saying that monsieur had perhaps a waft of chocolat in his dessert, and both were left wondering why they don't find time to do this more than thrice per year.

There's nothing comforting about standing in temperatures barely above freezing, on a railway platform in the midst the population of four countries all waiting for a train full of people who themselves aren't looking forward to being further crushed as said population squeezes on. It all becomes less comforting with each successive announcement of further delay, allowing time for even more prospective passengers to join the crush. For those of us fortunate enough in the train catching lottery to be near a door when it stopped, life was made much simpler, and the transition was no worse than switching stations on the London Tube in peak hour, which I have it on good authority is where sardine packers learn their craft.

But we were aboard, and we arrived in Paris, and the Metro system was disconcertingly empty except for hoards of menacing looking security men with big truncheons and guns.

Snug in our room, physically and emotionally exhausted in the most pleasant sort of way, we made no plans for Saturday.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Big Night

It was cold outside so I declined the kind offer to accompany the girls to the markets to top up our dwindling supplies of sheep cheese and honey cake, deciding to while away the morning nostalgically playing architect. Before the mound of steaming mushrooms, pork and baguette landed on the table for lunch, the extensions for the new house were as advanced as plans to continue the national general strike indefinitely, with big rallies planned for Paris on Saturday.

With no, or few trains running, getting to Paris becomes problematic, and with getting to Paris problematic, getting to London um… challenging. With disappointment verging on sadness it seems we will be forced to cut our visit short to be certain that we can make our Eurostar connection, but then a day in Paris is always a good thing in the cheer-up stakes.

I'm not sure if it was the uncertainty regarding the travel logistics, or whether I really was nervous about the function, but as the afternoon rolled on I found myself pacing back and forth. It felt like the countdown before one of the girls' weddings.

When we arrived, Olivier guffawed and looked at his watch.

We were two hours early.

That was our plan, and we managed to fill the time quite happily adjusting lights, polishing sculpture and going over speeches in our heads until the first invited guest arrived exactly on time. Suddenly we were in Barclay's Premier Club. A cloud of deja vu descended. I was back in a familiar environment full of suits and rugby hugs and girls in power dresses. This was just another opening, but there was something very unfamiliar about it all, I was on the wrong side of the fence!

The plan was always to prepare a collection that would compliment Dume's sculpture, and it must be said to the credit of the dynamic duo the plan worked! Of course no one was going to sidle up to me on the night and say "I hate your stuff", but it was with some relief that the exhibition seemed to draw a good deal of positive response. Olivier, as he turfed out the last guest at two tomorrow morning thanked us, and declared the exhibition to be an extraordinary success and has asked if we could leave our work in place till April!

From our perspective, as we dined at three we weren't really up to too much analysis, but we all agreed when the red dot appeared on Mr Three, perhaps the most personal and therefore the least likely we thought, to attract a purchaser, we all felt a quiet sense of achievement. We collectively need a few more sales to cover costs, but there are enough people in love with the other pieces to make us confident that we will probably not go broke.

Of necessity, I am writing this the morning after. It's early afternoon in reality, and we are all staring at each other quietly confident. About what we are not sure, but there is enough afoot to ensure that we may not find boredom in the coming year.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I was asked this morning why I was polishing my old shoes. A hastily mumbled something about not wanting to damage the new ones before the big night seemed to placate things for a time, besides if I wore the new clobber to the bank this morning they'd think I didn't own anything else, which admittedly would be fairly close to the mark.

It is fair to say that the drive in to town this morning was a strangely nervous time, mixed with a tinge of excitement, all the while with an eye out for poor Waiting riding in the trailer behind.

But we made it, and from the moment we reached the foyer of the office even I could see that the feedback we had been getting was not just a sap to boost my confidence.  Now placed throughout the premises, my paintings have indeed taken on the life that I had hoped for them but was never confident  despite the kind murmurings of others, of having achieved.

I had regularly used the word "impostor" in discussions about myself as an exhibiting artist, certain that nothing I had done would stand up to scrutiny, that my lack of experience would be as obvious to others as it was to me and as I lived with these things night and day for those months earlier in the year my confidence continued to falter. I could only do my best and hope that those around me who were attempting to underpin my insecurity were right.

Perhaps because I lived too closely with them as a project, perhaps because each time I visited another gallery and saw the technical skill of "proper" artists I came away more despondent about my own feeble scratchings, my doubts lingered, but today for a fleeting moment seeing them hanging in an extraordinarily foreign environment, I even felt proud of them.   Grateful as I am to all of those who have provided so much support and encouragement along the way I can now say that I am comfortable and even satisfied with this year's output.  Thank-you, you know who you are.

I think that after tomorrow, I'll wear the title "peintre" without a cringe.

Now that I'm an artist, I reckon I'll get away with wearing homely old shoes.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Farewell old friends

One of us needed a new pair of shoes apparently, so it was up to Celine to show us the rounds of the likely spots. Sadly for me the shop sold shoes for blokes as well, and it seems that suddenly two of us needed a new pair of shoes. I was told in no uncertain terms that my dear old Rockports were no longer suitable. Suitable for what exactly wasn't explained by either of my antagonists, but from the beginning arguments to resolve our divergent philosophies on that point were only going to have one outcome. To make the situation more grave, apparently new shoes demand new trousers and a belt to match.

After more than a decade, the old shoes were just about getting comfortable, and my jeans have only been worn night and day for a couple of years, but apparently in their absence I'll look my best at the Bank on Thursday evening.

I thought I'd give this looking my best thing a go tonight at the local theatre, taking it slowly at first, by wearing the new shoes, and I do have to admit that they provide a certain warmth, that some of the thin spots on the old ones lacked.

Theatre? Well yes actually, and bless them, it was a silent production, so we only had to translate the French mime routine, which as luck would have it seemed to have been written in English as we understood the whole thing.

The lead performer, if that's what the "man" in a one man show is called, wore a pair of pumps which bore a startling resemblance to my own nifty new footwear, a sure sign that I'm dressed "suitably" now I would have thought.

Perhaps I'll moonwalk home.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Back to Work

It's one thing staying with friends and talking till the wee small hours, but it's another thing altogether to have them start cracking the whip and getting one working almost as soon as one is out of one's night attire, even if that happens to be closer to lunch time than one could respectably call 'breakfast time", but to be fair there was a repair to be made and a deadline to make it by.

I think it was fear of catastrophic failure that made me reluctant to want to start, but "Waiting" has been patiently waiting on the living room wall with a tear in his side and his stretcher removed for three months, pending our return. We had planned for the worst, a major reconstruction and surgery on the tear, a repaint and four days of hoping it would all dry. It would be a painful patient process, but after two cups of coffee I was ready to start.

Dume had kindly arranged for the stretcher to be repaired in our absence, and I could stall no more. I reached deep into my picture framer's bag of tricks learned all those decades ago in my first proper job, and my apprentice and I, within a few short hours were gazing somewhat in awe of our own ability, at a completed job with no discernible damage. Amazingly, by my quick calculation, that should have left us four days completely free until the opening of the exhibition grande.

But of course I had not considered that our hosts may have had other plans for us. After some detailed instruction about what we were actually looking for, and what might actually kill us if we got it wrong, they had the gall to send us out into the forest until late in the afternoon foraging for mushrooms and chestnuts.   A forest!  Foraging!   What if we were snorted at by a wild boar, or tripped by a mole?  

As if the foraging wasn't bad enough this evening they made us sit in front of an open fire roasting chestnuts and eating all those wondrous varieties of fungi gently sauteed in butter and garlic with a loaf of fresh bread to hand.

We thought life on the boat was tough!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

And so to bed

It's already a long way into tomorrow in a day that went faster than our TGV Express to Paris.

We slept unsoundly on our last night on the boat, the church bells woke us as usual at six and we went back to sleep as usual till eight, missing as usual the seven o'clock call to start work. By eight of course we had five hours left till the taxi arrived and six hours worth of stuff to do, so we thought we'd work out how to go about it over a leisurely breakfast.

Helen and Chris popped by for a quick goodbye, and Rudolph and Karin didn't want to hold us up as they were going through the same process, but we really hadn't made too much of a dent in anything by smoko.  Perhaps we thought we could change in our methodology to something which didn't involve entertaining visitors.

We'd almost come up with a plan when Maggie and Jacques arrived having just picked up the keys to their soon to be new but for the moment very crumbling ancient barn and house and wondering if we'd be interested in a quick squizz, which we thought given our now desperate situation was an absolutely splendid idea. By the time we got back it was time for coffee and for reasons which we couldn't explain, the amount of work left to do seemed to be about the same as it was last night yet the amount of time left to do it in was contracting at a nearly alarming rate.

So we had lunch.

To heck with it, it's our last day cruising for the year!

We did leave on time, our boat tidy, our friends farewelled, our town quietly going about it's lack of business, our neighbourhood deathly Sunday silent, and ourselves with a strange sense of leaving our home, rather than setting off back to it.

Once over the hill we were time travelling again, a well-worn path to a welcome back in Orleans, back in "our" room as though we'd never left. When we arrived we had five hours till midnight and six hours worth of stuff to catch up on, or make that seven.

And so to bed. There will be no church bells to wake us in the morning, and work to do, and after all we have till Thursday to get it done.

It's a wrap!

It's bedtime, and all we've achieved today is moving every item we have on the boat from its rightful position to one that's as far removed from where it should be as we can get it without actually leaving the boat.

The stuff from the aft cabin had to move to the forward cabin because there's work to be done there over winter, and the stuff from the forward cabin had to move to the main cabin because there's work to be done there over winter, and the stuff from the two bathrooms (ok heads if you want to be picky) has to be removed because the blokes need access to all the pumps and things, and the stuff from the main cabin had to move somewhere as well because we need to keep all the access to the bilge areas free and open.

We did work out that we can get two bikes upside down and without their wheels on, on the bench straddling the stove, so that's a start, and by crawling along the bilge I got to a space under the helm where there was enough room to store the wheels out of the way of the fibreglass work to be done.

The wrapping job looks neat though, it's such a pity that it will probably all have to come off so the blokes can move the boat, and sure as eggs they won't remember how to put it back, but at least it will keep some of the melting snow out of the bedding we hope.

And Mr P? Well it's the water pump I'm afraid, and while we are arranging a substantial increase in our investment in the boat, with new electrics, upholstery and a bit more remedial work on the hull, it's a bit of a rude stunt to pull if I do say so myself, and Old Smokey isn't going to get out of chugging us along just yet!

But not to worry for now, tomorrow we have a train to catch and a new adventure awaits.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Two more sunsets over the implausibly named Cappuccineau are all that we have, which is probably not too bad because we are starting to feel as though we are taking part in a remake of Groundhog Day.

More cleaning, more coffee with our German friends, more offers of Swiss beer from the returning hirers opposite, more items on the list of things to do than can possibly be done in the time remaining.

For a little variety, Mr Perkins has decided that even though we thought he had breathed his last for the year, he'd construct a coolant leak to add to our list of things to fix. Just how the inanimate Mr P can create a substantial leak of his own volition no fewer than two days after his last activity, is a complete mystery and one that I'm rather afraid to solve lest he should have other ways of throwing tantrums because we are leaving him alone in the ice.

I do now know however that the disposable nappies we've been using to catch the odd oil drip in the engine bay completely disintegrate when full of an oil and antifreeze mix, and that disintegrated nappies are not at all fun to deal with. I suspect that's just one reason people don't feed their babies on oil and antifreeze.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

As the sun was shining it's last this afternoon I happened to set my foot ashore for the first time today. For the purposes of this exercise, being on the pontoon doesn't count as ashore, as I'd spent an goodly part of the day inverted, sanding paint off the lower rubbing strips and sanding scratches out of the metal bumpers and when I got tired of that (after about a minute actually), I spent pretty much all day trial fitting three tarpaulin covers over the boat. Exactly how one can spend all day tying and untying three tarpaulins is beyond me, but I did.

That and making clips for all the ties, and fitting extra grommets in the tarps and commiserating with our German neighbours who were doing the same thing.

Meanwhile inside, things were deathly quiet. The sort of quiet that in a former life would have meant that the kids are about to get into serious trouble. The silent cleaner was at work, washing, organising and just doing stuff that needed doing.

But I digress. As the sun was shining it's last this afternoon, and I set my foot ashore for the first time today, I happened to wander past the Marina Office and as I glanced in, I couldn't help but notice that the seagull in the gift shop, captured in the day's last sunbeam, was flying south. Just why there are Seagulls in the gift shop which seems to be about as far from the sea as Alice Springs is, remains a mystery, but not as big a mystery as how it is that each year when it's time, that birds just seem to be able to go.

I'm fairly sure they don't put tarps over things, they just sort of fly off really and trust that it will all be there when they get back.

Before they fly, I'll bet they don't have lists of jobs that get shorter proportional to the time left to departure, or even bigger lists of things to do on their return that get longer in the inverse proportion.

But then they don't have the endless rounds of farewell dinners and afternoon coffee either, which I rather suspect they'd quite enjoy.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Exactly a year ago, (from Friday next) I sent an email to the folk at NavigFrance asking if the boat they had advertised was still for sale. He wasn't perfect by a long shot, (boats are boys in the French language) but he was cheap and they'd given it a bit of a scrub before we arrived, and agreed to do more work over winter. We were delighted, and named him Joyeux (Happy) in honour of our mood and the times that we would have on board.

Since then the team in Lagarde have looked after us as if we were family, which is nice because we think we are, and we've given him more of a scrub, and fixed a few things and made lists of things that still need fixing, very long lists.  But he shines in the sunlight now, and most of the water runs outside when it rains.

We've also travelled a few kilometres together this year, 670 of them to our amazement when we added them up, traversed 204 locks, and for all his ragged edges, and he's lived up to his name.

Today was a perfect day. We knew that it must end, but there was no harm to be had in stalling that time by travelling back to base even more slowly than usual, with the roof back and our feet up, until we simply ran out of river and locks and excuses to stay out longer.

As we were waiting to enter the lock that would bring us into the harbour this morning, for the last time this season, we wandered over to lend a hand to a Swiss family heading in the opposite direction. Their expressions could only be described as beaming and as he took his rope back, the patriarch of the troop looked at the sky and pointed to the boat, and said something in German which I didn't quite understand, so he repeated it for me in English.

"It's like a child's dream" he said.

We could find no argument.



Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Another Slice?

We thought for a time that our chocolate cake of yesterday had been for nought.  The promised sunshine seemed a long way off as the day dawned darker than grey.  It was so much darker than grey that the street lights were still lit as we had our breakfast coffee, and while we don't have an accurate measure of humidity, we could hear large drops of it falling on our roof, which seemed to be a fair indication that it might be dampish outside.

As we motored off through the autumn once again however, contemplating whether to waste another piece of chocolate cake on someone who clearly wasn't up to speed on this weather manufacturing business, the sun burst through for long enough to take three photographs as evidence that we were there when it did.

As he drank more of our coffee and ate the last of our cake, he promised us that the next few days would be sensational and as if he owed us something, he called on a mate or two to give him a hand to get us through the chain of locks lest we should get caught and have to wait till the conclusion of the sacred lunch hour.   That was kind of him, but of course it meant we had no excuse to stop for lunch ourselves, so we pressed on to Gondrexange where the weather reminded us that it wasn't tomorrow yet, and we decided to keep moving until it was, or at least until it was closer.

With that single decision we found that we were in travel mode once more, anxious to get "there", thinking that perhaps we were travelling at less than the customary six kilometres per hour, timing ourselves to make sure we hadn't slowed.   Then we wondered where "there" actually is.

We have no sense of heading "home".  We are slowly turning round,  heading back to visit children and friends and play with grandchildren, and the house we rent from the Government, but home for us very clearly now, is where our handbag is.

For tonight, home is in the middle of a forest of yellow and red and green, with a carpet of freshly fallen leaves across our waterway, the rain has stopped and there is a postage stamp of blue in a corner of the sky.   

Perhaps it just takes two slices of cake for him to get it right. 

Monday, October 04, 2010

Chocolate Cake

There are thirteen locks between the top of the hill and Mittersheim, twelve in the nine kilometres we had to travel today, and while they are in the process of being automated they still need manual attention, which means making an appointment for an eclusier (Lock Keeper) to attend to each in turn.

There are only so many places one can look when opening and closing a lock, to avoid making eye contact and therefore having to respond to inane conversation in polite grunts in a language not of one's own, and our fellow knew every one of them, even during the times I was at his end of the lock helping him grind the gates closed.

By the fourth, I'd had enough.

I waved the stovetop espresso pot at him through the hatch and called "Cafe Monsieur?"

His eyes lit up, and he replied (in English) "At the next lock eh?"

Perhaps it was the fresh coffee, or maybe the slice of chocolate cake that came with it, we can't be sure, but by the fifth lock, he could speak French, German and a little Spanish, and was unnecessarily apologetic for what he perceived to be his imperfect English.   In the remaining half dozen stops, we heard the story of his life and he ours, and he promised us a fine sunny tomorrow for our return through the forest.

We've kept some cake, just in case.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Another Sunday

If it wasn't an inanimate lump of metal it would be hard to believe that Mr Perkins didn't delay us deliberately, pending the dawn of a perfect day.

When we (eventually) rose this morn, that day had arrived.  Everything in the village was smiling. The sun was the sort of sun we watch people here sitting in all day and shudder, so there was nothing for it but to slide the roof back and see what that is about. We thought we'd just simply soak up the gloriousness of it all as they do, although in a small concession to our Australian-ness I did wear a hat and our underwear remained just that.

Before we could leave there was a plethora of decisions to be made, with our usual complete lack of plan the thought briefly occurred that we perhaps could accompany Saskia to Nancy, but in the end it was lack-of-plan "A" that held sway and we turned left in direction Strasbourg leaving further decisions for the appropriate time.

With temperatures like a warm winter's day at home and the sky clear blue we slowed from our normal six kilometres per hour to something less than walking pace, as we putted our way through the forest and the farmlands with semi denuded copses opening up distant vistas we hadn't seen before. All the while a gentle shower of golden leaves fluttered down upon us in our topless state.

Eventually though we came to the canal junction, and there was no escaping it, the time had arrived. Decision time. The spell was briefly broken while we faced reality for a few moments. Once again though, lack-of-plan "A" came up trumps, and once again we turned left, this time in direction Mittersheim, where everything quickly fell back into place, except now we had lakes as well as forest to glide through and not even the merest hint of breeze to break the reflections. Finally we could take no more and so it came to be that tonight we are moored betwixt farmland and forest, ready for anything tomorrow may throw at us.

Last year, while accompanying him on Manatee, Graham had a particular way of describing days like today. After a long day at the helm, he'd sit back in his easy chair with a glass of something refreshing in his hand and a big grin on his face. After a minute or two of silent reflection he'd sigh.

"Ahhhh" he'd whisper to himself, but loud enough for the world to hear,
"That was magic!"


Saturday, October 02, 2010


The forecast said it would be fine, and get finer for the rest of the week, it just forgot to tell us how grey and wet the morning might possibly be until that happened, so we hung around until the wet part had left us and made our way off through the Autumn forest for an hour or two, once again in direction Rechicourt.

It seems that Lagarde has a magnetic spell on us at the moment though, as we were barely ready for lunch when the temperature gauge decided to tell us that we were running far too hot for good measure. After cleaning all the filters (again), and checking the propellor was clear, (yes the water was a bit chilly, thank goodness I could do it through the access hatch so was only wet up to my armpits) I was fairly sure the gauge was playing up, but to be safe we returned to the safety of home, and the long suffering Michel.

Michel was as perplexed as I, and he has the advantage of being perplexed in two additional languages, but between us we decided it was probably just a fault in the gauge and we were going to be ok to start again.

That was when the battery failed.

Fortunately that was also exactly the time Nick and Diana accidentally attempted to cruise by on Saskia, delaying us over coffee just long enough to ensure that we would probably be silly to leave today.

So tonight we will have left over Laksa and fresh Chocolate cake in Lagarde, and tomorrow in the sunshine, we may just head off again.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Cruising again

When we did get going it was just down to the lock and back because we didn't want to overdo this travel thing now that we are back in cruising mode, no longer tripping over tools at every turn. No, we thought, it's late, lets just ease ourselves in, warm everything up, specially the contents of the hot water tank, and sit back and perhaps we'll leave tomorrow after we've had a proper hot shower.

We are definitely back in the zone where time doesn't matter, which which was fortuitous really as earlier today Mr Perkins was in no more of a mood to take us anywhere than he was yesterday. In his defence, he gave us a glorious day in port and with Michel running exactly not on time, we were still here late in the afternoon, to witness the triumphant return of "our girls", one of the Aussie families we'd seen off barely a week ago in one of the charter boats.

Watching hirers depart from "our" pontoon is a bit like being a parent sending kids off to camp. We have a brief encounter as each party arrives to take charge of their vessel, in a mood of expectation with a little apprehension. If we are here for the return it is usually triumphant, full of excitement with tales of adventure and new lands conquered and "our girls" were no different. They returned keen to share their enthusiasm, and we just as keen to share in it.

It's like some sort of affirmation of our lifestyle decision!

They've fired us up, we might even leave in the morning, now that Michel has once again worked his wizardry.
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