Legends from our own lunchtimes

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Can we hack the pace?

I'd never had a car rental chap ask me if the car was satisfactory prior to handing over the keys before. Since he asked so nicely I thought I'd try my hand at miming "Cruise Control" and shrugging my shoulders, which, in the way of these parts is a universally understood expression of everything from joy to grief.

In response he indicated that the reason there didn't appear to be any controls for the "regulateur" was probably because it wasn't actually fitted to the car.

"But", he explained," it is not really necessary unless you go very far. How far do you go?"

"Orleans" I replied.

"I think there is something I can do", he responded instantly and disappeared to find the keys of a new vehicle he'd just unloaded off the delivery truck. Perhaps I should speak up more often.

Five hours later, with the "regulateur" steadily regulateuring us at the statutory limit we had managed to fit in an admittedly brief by French standards lunch, and in the manner of description used by the clever lady who resides inside the iPhone's GPS, after travelling precisely 539 kilometres, we "had reached our destination", without travelling for more than about ten kilometres off a motorway.

From previous experience, reaching this particular destination means that our journey has only begun. Indeed it was only a matter of minutes before being whisked away to fit in a five kilometre walk through the forest "to wake us up after our drive", and to toughen us up for the night that was to come.

By three am, which coincidentally was the time in the morning that we had eaten our last meal here last year, I don't mind admitting I was starting to become a little weary. I have no idea why almost no one else seemed to suffer from that infliction, but I began to have the vaguest of feelings that perhaps this is going to be a very, very long week.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Sometimes a burst of nostalgia washes over one in the oddest of ways. We try to avoid comparisons as we travel, cringing as we overhear that the Dome in St Paul's is almost up there with Brisbane's fine city hall, or worse when some of our friends from across the Pacific mistake a stunning Chocalaterie for a mere candy store.

None the less we are just as guilty as they from time to time, drawing on our travels and other experiences to remark "Doesn't this remind you of. . . . . . ."

And so it was as we glided silently (apart from the dulcet trumpet of Mr Perkin's presence) past a cluster of barn buildings in what seemed like the pre-dawn mist, but was probably the afore mentioned Mr P's exhaust not quite warmed to operating temperature.

There was a distinct aroma pervading the early morning olfactories.

Something that reminded me of good times, yet common sense said it should not.

What was it?

Ahh yes, it came in a rush.

It was unmistakably the aroma of the cattle pavilion at that Ekka.

Good times!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Yesterday, a short time after we finally made contact with Jacques who was laughing near hysterically after somehow telepathically determining our whereabouts.  Bill miraculously appeared from the depths of the engine bay where we keep him in case of just such an emergency, to offer a few words of encouragement as Scots are wont to do.

"Ooh dearr" was all he said.

Bill has actually studied languages at an extremely high level. He speaks half a dozen of them, so when he says "Ooh dearr", one has to assume he means what he says.

As he handed me the seventeen pieces of metal which were once the inner gears of the starter motor, I could see his point. He did however good naturedly, using nothing more than a couple of fingernails he didn't appear to need, and one or two bits of air to replace the missing cog, get us started just not quite in time for us to make a mad dash home before the last lock closed at seven.

Which is why, when we woke this morning we were no more than one hundred metres from our berth, but three metres above it, waiting patiently for the "nice" eclusier, who had knocked off ten minutes early last night, to arrive and let us through.

We are not alone in our battles Rechicourt, the photo above was taken at the precise moment that the heavily laden barge ran aground at full throttle while manouvering into the lock. The bargee indicated that he was a bit of concerned about this at the time by calling out rather loudly to the eclusier above, and making some sort of signal with a clenched fist. In response to my request for a translation, Bill assured me he was saying something that loosely meant:

"Pardon my French"…..

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stumped by Rechicourt - AGAIN!

The big angry mean sucker which telepathically removes parts of our boats workings and habitually refuses to let us pass and to which we have on occasion referred to perhaps over-familiarly as "Rechicourt" is by its full name, Ecluse 2 - Rechicourt-le-Chateau. Once we joked that it was our nemesis. We even proudly proclaimed that we had it's number now, or thought we had, passing through it's clutches smoothly and without incident on our outward journey.

No thought at all, except perhaps for taunting it by taking the photo above, until the starter motor failed to so much as turn over after we had sat patiently for it to fill, in a silence interrupted only by the odd call of a cuckoo in the trees nearby.

I obtained permission from the eclusier to push poor crippled Joyeux into the creature's bowel, convinced that I could find the problem before we ourselves would be spat out fifteen metres below. As a contingency, I wisely made friends with the young Swiss chap in the boat ahead, and surreptitiously passed a line across, "just in case, you understand".

After leaving no stone unturned in my diagnostic process, and being completely flummoxed by the starter motor's lack of co-operation, I did what any sensible person would do; accepted the tow to the bank, and had lunch.

There was no point in making any calls for help in any case, as everyone else in the country was occupied doing exactly that and would be for at least the next two hours. When finally the phone was answered, after an ever increasingly halting conversation in English, having failed to understand so much as one word I offered in his native tongue, the young man at the end of the phone enquired if I was actually speaking German.

I suspect there are now several drawing boards to which I must return.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

That boat lift!

Everyone was back at work today, except perhaps our friendly technicians in Arzviller working feverishly between lunch breaks and coffee to put the Plan Incline back in service. We debated with Michael when might be the best time to leave our harbour, he thought mid-day but we opted for ten, which as it turned out allowed us to wait two hours at foot of the Incline until his arrival.

We were there in time to see it working though, and with a sudden lurch which almost spilt the three boats aboard into the valley below, stop working just as suddenly.

So we waited and ate and drank coffee and waited some more, and eventually someone said it would be working again in one hour, so we collectively decided that we had time for lunch a sleep and perhaps another coffee, and once that was done, before we knew it, our hour was up and we were aboard.

Unlike those who had gone before, there were no hiccoughs mid flight for us.

Rather than risk spilling us overboard, the machine refused to budge from the outset. It wasn't until the two emergency technicians had done nothing but shrug and argue and climb over things that clearly did not appear broken, looking terribly concerned but offering no advice, that someone decided it should all work now if they hit the big green button on the control panel.

As the thing burst into life and we gently lurched upwards we could see below the upper level station, what looked like a small battalion of managers and engineers and people in suits all shrugging in unison and arguing and pointing to things that clearly did not appear broken, looking terribly concerned, and we knew that we were in safe hands.

By the time we had departed and negotiated a few kilometres of tunnel beyond the top, the clock was getting terribly close to overtime, and that will never do.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Monday

Easter Monday turned out to be rather like a Sunday as well really, except without the usual trail of cyclists and walkers and families being families or any activity at all really it was much, much quieter than even the quietest day in the week.

We enjoy Sunday, watching the rhythm of day increase ever so slowly in tempo outside as the day wears on. It begins calmly enough, perhaps hushed even, and builds slowly to a clink of glasses and the muffled rumble of seventy million people enjoying a quiet and terribly long lunch, then sometime during the mid to late afternoon, there is a dawn of activity. From out of nowhere they come to enjoy the outdoors in their groups, to walk off their lunches and perhaps their entire week and we watch as they walk and jog and ride and skate by in their groups.

Today was not like that at all.

We did watch the sun rise over Michael and Karen's boat before sensibly returning to the warmth of our doona until a much more reasonable hour. We did pay Ruby and Jean-Luc a visit to ensure we had adequate staples for the afternoon, and we did retire to the warmth of our saloon to watch the nothingness go by for a bit as the wind increased and the weather tended toward but never quite became inclement.

The Easter hirers of boats have disappeared along with their boats, to where we are not sure, but we expect that they will be sitting in the pound below the Plan Incline, (which is currently still inconveniently devoid of incline), waiting for the reparations to be complete, so they can return their boats post-haste and perhaps arrive at their workplaces a few days later than they would prefer.

We thought we might cycle up to see, but in the end, common sense prevailed over curiosity, and we stayed put, alternately discussing the world over drinks with our new German friends and enjoying the silence.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


The van of German men arrived early and reserved the picnic table beside the boat. One made a nest of raffia in it's centre and placed a huge chocolate chicken in it, with scattered eggs of chocolate surrounding it. We assumed that their families would arrive in a little while to find their Easter surprise.

Meanwhile at Ruby and Jean-luc's Patisserie, the queue stretched well beyond the door. Jean-Luc stood by the door near the oven dressed as a charicature of himself greeting us all with pride and satisfaction as we admired his work of the night before. Cakes of marshmallow that looked like eggs, eggs that looked like sheep, chocolate roosters, Easter symbols of Christian and for the pedantic, pagan origin, all lovingly created and displayed with as much affection amid the decoration. We pinched ourselves and wondered if we were extras in a movie being secretly filmed.

Houses and buildings are decorated simply, but clearly for the occasion, with care and thought and little expense. The tourist office has a sign which reads (literally translated): "Because of the problem of the invasion of the Rabbits of Easter, we are closed today for an exceptional holiday"

Back at the boat, all is eerily quiet.

The German fellows by now are quietly drinking coffee and breakfast beers and enjoying their chocolate feast - it was a boy thing after all, and we are struck by their sense of occasion.

We can't help but reflect a little sadly on how in our life at home we have lost this sense of celebration of events both religious and secular under a sea of contrived greetings, junk mail,"Holiday Sales" and last minute rush and bargains to be had.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Time for a rest it seems.

I can't remember the last time I woke to an alarm, and it is my fervent hope that after today I will have forgotten the last time by the time the next time comes around, but today it had to be.

As we watched the sun rise over the station in Saverne, Cheryl and Ian were already travelling at 300 kilometres per hour, in direction Paris, and not having been out of bed at such an unseemly hour in quite some time, we wondered what we were supposed to do next.

Somewhere in the back of our minds we knew we were due back in Lagarde on Tuesday for the electrical surgery, and by our quick calculations, that gave us ample time to do three week's washing, stock up on supermarket produce, and gently cruise back. We started to tick off the chores one by one. Shortly after lunch we decided that we had done enough, and cast off our moorings to commence slowly heading west.

At least we thought it was slowly. Our engine speed was substantially lower than at our cruising speed of last year, but as the locks rolled by, each one thoughtfully open and waiting for us, it became apparent that thanks to the new efficient transmission, we were covering substantially more distance per hour than we had actually intended. The other thing that was apparent was that there were large numbers of boats heading in the opposite direction, yet we seemed to be alone in our travels.

At the last lock taking us into the harbour in Lutzelbourg though, the truth was revealed. The Plan Incline, the great moving bathtub that takes us over the mountain, is broken, and is destined to remain that way until Tuesday.

There are worse places to spend a Sunday or two we thought.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Almost missed lunch.

"Tarte Flambee for four please" we replied in perfect French to our waitresses enquiry as to whether we'd like the menu in French or German.

"We only do Tarte Flambee at night" she retorted.

"Well we'll have four plates of the day then" we offered.

"We don't do plate of the day on Sunday"

"Well that's terrific, because it was Friday when we actually started to think about placing our order"

"Ahh yes but this Friday we are being Sunday, and we don't do plate of the day on Sunday".

By now facing certain extinction, we relented and ordered a selection of stunning entrees from the menu, and perhaps a dessert or two, and coffee. Even the joy of eating from Sunday's menu could not disguise that it was the conversation which was the highlight of the day, the conversation of four people who had been friends for as many decades, reunited for a time, soon to separate again.

Tomorrow Cheryl and Ian depart after a week which seemed to comprise just one day, a Sunday at that. It will be Saturday then I'm sure, but it won't be long before Sunday rolls around once more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Of things electrical.

I'm not sure if it was just that Mr Perkins doesn't like it when our attention is focussed elsewhere, or if there is truly something he wants to tell us. Whatever the reason despite running somewhat akin to a very noisy, smelly Swiss watch he managed to take the edge off our pleasure today by feigning overheating for much of the time.

The day itself was an archetypal example of spring, and the journey down the mountain through the forest from Lutzelbourg is a true pleasure. After a morning in the forest with the roof off, as the waterway enters Saverne past the cafes, we bisect the main street, and follow the fence line of the Chateau to our mooring in the little port. It is just one of 'those' experiences which reminds one of how terrific it is to be alive, let alone doing this "for a living".

So why oh why, with just a week to go until we tear out our well and truly fudged electrical system, did it pick today to send readings to the temperature gauge that seem to bear no resemblance at all to what is actually going on. Every component that we could see or feel appeared to be running normally at worst, every vital sign visually perfect, yet the temperature gauge kept telling us it was quite certain that the boat was overheating to the point of imminent meltdown and that we really should be doing something about it.

Something is exactly what we will do. Just as soon as we are back. The temperature gauge will have time to regret this day as it lies in the bottom of the skip among a tangle of familiar red a black wires.

But for now we must endure another night of sitting in silence, watching reflections of the Chateau and contemplating our expedition tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Day in Lutzelbourg

We'd been sitting around long enough we thought, but when we divided the number of bicycles aboard by the number of people we came up with a number that had two people without wheels, so after a brief conference, several of us retired to the patisserie while the other remained aboard boiling the billy for coffee.

The blokes among us thought it might be an opportune time (after smoko) to attend to a few minor mechanical matters but after a bit of deep and meaningful discussion, it was mutually agreed that while it was indeed the opportune time that we would probably get dirty, and hot and there was nothing that really needed any immediate attention and perhaps it would be more productive if we were to take a wander back up along the old abandoned tow path.

Those who were not blokes, were in accord with this course of action, and so it was with packs chocked full of saussison, pickle, baguette and cheese, we did just that.

One would imagine that logic and common sense would have prevailed, that our spider senses would have commenced their tingling long before the seven kilometres to our destination had been reached, but alas they did not, and so it was that we, by my rather crude calculations, after a delightful lunch in a forest gladey bit by an abandoned lock, faced a journey of exactly the same distance home.

Last time we were here I recalled, the journey homeward was rapid and easy, it was all downhill after all. Last time we weren't even puffed when we pulled into the crystal artisans gallery, and even felt efreshed as we wandered among the wares, but last time we were on the bikes.

But the return was not too taxing and we are back refreshed, and ready to once more take on the Haut Barr in a day or two.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Good Lie Down

The strains of travel start to show by the third day on the move.

We have covered more than forty kilometres since our journey began after all, and we are becoming weary.

Actually I think it's the late nights and the food and the constant conversation and the warm afternoon sun, but what ever it is, we were weary enough for almost all of us to do something about it this afternoon. We may stay in Lutzelbourg a day or two we think, we mustn't rush these things. One of our favourite Patisseries is just an amble up the road so it wouldn't do to leave without having at least two morning teas, or three if we can squeeze them in, and there's the walk up to the chateau to fit in sometime after coffee.

It feels like a Sunday afternoon.

Come to think of it, every afternoon feels like a Sunday afternoon.

We are indeed cruising again.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Of Lakes and Fromage Blanc

A thousand years or so ago, some enterprising monks spent a very long time in what I can only imagine were not very nice conditions, digging a lake near the impossible to pronounce Gondrexange. It was a mere 660 hectares in area and was to serve as a fish farm.

As we walked around the stone paved edges of the lake last evening it was difficult to comprehend the effort that had gone into the venture nor how may pairs of feet had trod the very same path over so many centuries.

Today we found ourselves, baguette in hand, wandering the streets of the even more unpronounceable Xouxange. As we walked past the tiny building that served as the Town Hall, we stopped to read the notices.

They confirmed our suspicions, having not had an update in more than two years, and as we were pondering at how difficult it might be for a mayor in a place such as this to transition to retirement, the window above us opened.

A grey haired gentleman of almost our own age, enquired as to our origins, and motioned us to the front door. Despite it being well past lunchtime, he had forsaken his Mayorly duties to usher us into his chambers, for what could only be described as a personal audience.

He unlocked a glass fronted book case, and began to show us journals, each a record of the town's administrative decisions dating from the 1800's. The name of the town originated around AD 1600 when some marauding Swedes took it upon themselves to render it devoid of population. He failed to explain just how it magically repopulated, but he did show the ever more incredulous we, book after book of records meticulously preserved through alternating German and French occupations over the centuries. It seems that change was so inevitable that the records were kept in duplicate languages "just in case".

This evening our heads are full of ancient records, of improbable encounters, of Swedes and monks and invasion and language and dislocation, and our stomachs are full of Tarte au fromage blanc.

It's great to be back in Alsace.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

All Conquering

If we'd talked just a little bit longer it would have already been tonight and we'd still be in Lagarde, but as it happened there was a lull in conversation just long enough for us to cast off and head east.

As we approached the first lock there was our farewell committee wishing us onward, ensuring that our absence would be a long one, or at least a week as promised. Jacques chanted madly: "Rechicourt, Rechicourt," willing us to overcome our demons of last year, if for no other reason than with us gone his blokes can get on with proper work. Maggie and Frida waved encouragingly. From the bridge above the lock, Chris and Helen waved and shouted directions, even as far as two locks away in Port St Marie, Patrice interrupted his lunch to wave encouragement.

It was as if they thought they'd never see us again, as though we were heading off on the adventure of our life, crossing a pirate-infested ocean perhaps. All we were doing really was to see if the new fridge would run on the batteries, but we welcomed their encouragement, and waved and shouted back, all the while trying to look a bit seamanlike as we sailed off into the sunset.

Mr Perkins, bless him, seemed to be enjoying it all as well, revelling in his newly found ability to overcome the drive train, and as he gently ticked over he could have gained the impression that we'd slipped him in an entirely different craft. Gone was the skittish steering, the transmission slip, the straining to maintain speed at critical times. Now we have a boat that just gently does as it asks.

Once again we conquered Rechicourt, now a mere shadow of the threat that it once was, and tonight we lie at the top of the mountain awaiting the dawn of another perfect day.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

We woke before the alarm, so early that I actually I had time to scrub the ice off the boat and dry it before heading off to Luneville in the old Citroen. As we rolled in to the Gare, we received a text from Ian. The train had had a puncture or some equally debilitating mishap, and had been delayed by five minutes.

That NEVER happens in France, but it had, and we had time to smell the flowers.

Then another text came which said duration of the delay was indeterminate, so we had time to get some petrol and go to the hardware shop and have a coffee.

The next message had an ETA but also the news that Ian's luggage had been stolen, so we had more coffee and made lists of things we would need to find for him and where we could find them. Our carefully planning for the day had once again gone awry, would we ever learn?

There wasn't much room in the little Citroen anyway, so we were actually quite grateful for the absence of baggage, the nice young lady Police person even worked into her lunch two hours to produce an impressive report with a very official rubber stamp on it, and everyone we spoke to was horrified that this had happened in their country.

We were all quite relaxed really, although the prospect of spending a week with a naked Ian was probably something that was worth avoiding, so after yet another diversion to replenish the parts of his wardrobe that we deemed necessary, we eventually trundled back to Lagarde, vowing never to plan again.

Tomorrow we have no plans.


So we'll probably stay in bed until the ice has gone, and smell even more flowers and make something up after that.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Having nodded off late the previous evening it was only natural that we should wake early, before the ice had melted on the roof.

Apparently it's hard to sleep with the knowledge that the transmission on one's boat now works as it should after a year of pondering and reading and questioning those who didn't know.

Neither of us have any idea why this is so, but a long and entertaining evening with Bill reminding ourselves endlessly about how clever we are, turned into a long and not quite so entertaining night of staring at the ceiling and counting of the quarter-hours on the church bells.

Neither of us could explain it, it wasn't insomnia of the tossing and turning and wishing we could sleep kind, we were quite relaxed about it all, content to lay in the knowledge that we were both equally awake.

Perhaps it was all the owners who had been working on their boats in our proximity had left and we'd run dear old Mr P for an hour to create enough hot water for our first "proper" shower, or perhaps it was the vicarious thrill we got from slipping him into gear from time to time just to feel the strain against the mooring line, or perhaps we knew we had a plan.

Tomorrow we'd pick up Ian and Cher and we'd be away.

That's it, we'd be away!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Twelve millimetres

If it hadn't been so chilly this morning I may have sprung out of bed with a lively step, trying hard to remain confident that everything would turn out well today, but as it was I used the cold as an excuse to hide my apprehension until the temperature hit a sensible double figures.

We have a rule that the thermal underwear goes on when the temperature is in single figures, and it seemed silly to dress, then undress to dress again, so recumbent I remained until almost nine.

The sunshine brought with it a host of ideas on how to fill in the missing twelve millimetres in our transmission linkage, which my by now well digested theory had convinced me was the cause of our woes, and to be fair it also brought Bill.

After a few hours of tinkering, Bill had Mr Perkins ready to eat out of the palm of his hand, I had the transmission linkages tuned to within a whisker of perfection, and if the borrowed battery charger had been working we may well have been underway.

But we weren't.

So we wired in the new charger, had lunch, then afternoon tea, and marvelled at our cleverness and how for thirty years this poor boat had been running at less than half its potential, because no one had bothered to install a basic part correctly. Twelve millimetres of adjustment was all it took to put paid to a previous diagnosis that required a 5,000€ transmission replacement.

Elated after finally testing our handiwork, I decided to check on Mr P's well being before retiring for the night. He had been crying tears of green.

One last coolant leak to fix on the morrow and we will be away.

At least, that's the plan.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It was quite cool on the outside of the doona this morning when finally we woke, so cool that the computer refused to charge. On investigation, it's little sensor thingy was telling me that the processor was shivering at 2° and could I please come back later when it was a little warmer as it would like to lay under the doona a little longer itself.

I'm not sure what is going on with us and electrical circuits at the moment, but co-operation seems reluctant to say the least.

Today is the day before which our solar panels back at DickyWorld are supposed to be connected to the grid.  Whether or not they are depends I suspect on a home-grown equivalent of Bill turning up on the day, to attach the inverter, which seems quite coincidental really because here we now have a box of inverter, charger and some other thing with an orange plastic top which we'll attempt to hack in temporarily till the real job gets here if indeed Bill turns out to be half as reliable as the nice people from Energex.

In the meantime, there are a few fiddly jobs to take care of, perhaps a bit more cleaning round the engine bay to be done. The gains are now in smaller increments, and hopefully it will be easier to find any leaks in the fuels system which may or may not be the cause of our current lack of animation and perhaps to clean up some of the wiring ready for surgery.

In any case, we need to be ready in a fortnight, when we are due tear out all the wiring and start again, to bring the poor old thing kicking and screaming into the 21st century, fitting that "black box" that Michel recommended all that time ago.

Now that sounds like fun.

Almost as much fun as it would be tearing around on the old AutoUnion motorised cycle we happened upon in the car park this morning.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Watching Herbs Grow

If one were to be perturbed by plans going awry, I suspect one would be perturbed a good deal of the time on our little ship.

Plan "B", we thought, the one that had us leaving anyway and stacking the freezer full of frozen water and keeping things cool the old fashioned way, would be foolproof. That was to recap, until of course Mr Perkins decided he liked doing nothing just as much as we do.

We thought perhaps it was time to call on the long suffering Michel, but for once he is busy suffering on all manner of other craft and will be doing so for a week or two into the future it seems. Bill on the other hand, if he remembers, is due back on Thursday and although he does not yet know it, there is a special place in his heart reserved just for the cantankerous Mr P.

While we were watching the grass grow or actually, the roesemary, mint, oregano and sage through our aft cabin window, the rain began, the breeze picked up, and the temperature plummeted, and we congratulated ourselves on the wisdom of our decision to remain another day or three.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Today was to be the day before we left for Saverne.

All that was necessary was delivery of an inverter and a charger and the use of a few minutes of expertise and we'd be set. Oh we have our contingency of course, we'll go and only use the fridge when we can plug into shore power. We figure we can do that in jumps of six or so hours, so things should stay coolish on the way, and the drinks cold when we actually need them.

Perhaps it goes without saying that the delivery did not occur, that it may tomorrow, and that if it does we shall have the parts early for the week after next when we start to assemble them.

We thought we had them outfoxed, that we were set to go despite them all, but for reasons which don't seem at all obvious, having spent a reasonable part of the day cleaning every one of his nooks and the odd one or two of his crannies to boot, I thought I'd give Mr Perkins a tickle to see if he felt like playing tomorrow.

Apparently he does not.

Bill, who is Scottish by birth but French by nature and by dint of the percentage of his life spent here, agreed to pop over and work some magic before he left for parts south this evening. Perhaps it was the Scot in him that caused his forgetfulness.

So here we lie, in the middle of our little harbour, our orange curtains a definite cry for help, unsure once more of where the morrow will take us, or even if it will.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Perambulations
(the use of the word "perambulations" is "for Julian)

Sunday in Lagarde is like every other day really, except that it's deathly quiet apart from the quarter hourly reminder from the church steeple.

If it's possible to imagine a deserted street as even more deserted, then it's possible to imagine Sunday morning. By lunchtime, which on a normal day is a fairly long time, but on a Sunday tends to go on until early Monday, if one dares to be conspicuous one can take a stroll through the village, just to listen to the stillness.

It's a special stillness though, for if one pays attention there is sound permeating the place, a gentle sound of family and friendship, of meals not begun and others midway through. Now that I think about it, it is very much like walking through the suburbs at home about mid day on Christmas day, perhaps that's part of the reason we identify so strongly with the feeling.

Every day is Christmas Day in Lagarde!

And once one ventures a few hundred metres beyond the town, it all becomes quite, well.... pretty really.  Does anyone have any idea why my sinuses are playing up?

Saturday, April 09, 2011


Without car, we had no excuse for not getting stuck into all the little jobs that need starting, but on a gloriously sunny spring Saturday it didn't take very long at all for us to work out that we don't actually need an excuse and in any case we are badly out of practice at this doing nothing caper.

So it was decided that with ice in the brand new fridge, even if it remains for now dependant on shore power, we would take our first tentative steps into sinking into a sensible routine for summer.

We weren't alone of course, with the advent of the weekend came a small number of boat owners each as intent as were we in making a dent in his own little list of "things to do". But the sun combines with water and boats to create some sort of sedative and it was not long before the sounds of scraping and cleaning were replaced by the sounds of reading or snoozing quietly in the shade, interspersed by the occasional click of a top being removed from a bottle.

Even those whose boats were still on their winter hardstand were undeterred.


Friday, April 08, 2011

When he arrived to pick us up after returning the rental car, Gerard our Taxi chap welcomed us with open arms, like siblings, or perhaps as the benefactors who had provided his entire family through winter.

It was our departure last year that tipped the balance we think. It is a little known fact that Taxis meters here tick over at a double-plus-a-bit multiplier on a Sunday. This is probably little known because on a Sunday any Frenchman worth his salt is resting quietly with his elbows on a table laden with food, and there is simply no thought to moving further away than the kitchen or cellar, and therefore no opportunity to test nor desire to discuss the economics of Taxi travel.

By some quirk of fate many months before we had booked a train on that date,without regard to the day of the week on which it may fall and this one fell on Sunday.

We had aside a small amount of cash, enough for the fare and uncharacteristically, a small tip (the tip being uncharacteristic rather than the size of it), with perhaps enough left for an even smaller coffee en route.

We squirmed in our seats as we watched first the fare, then the tip, and finally the coffee dissolve before half the journey's distance was done.

Nothing is too much trouble for Gerard though, and he cheerfully led us on a grand detour past every "Sorry we're closed on Sunday" ATM, kindly waiting while we tried a couple of others which lethargically refused to take our card, humming all the while in time with the ticking meter.

By journey's end both parties had I suspect achieved something of a personal best. The twenty five kilometres had cost just a whisker less than 4€ per kilometer, and Gerard's children and grandchildren would not want for anything over winter.

All of this is to record that today we are once again without car, happily confined again to life aboard.


Thursday, April 07, 2011


Yesterday we drove to Ikea in Metz. We quite like it there, but we like the drive better, so much that we did it again today. Sixty kilometres through rolling countryside, flowering trees and fields of rape glowing bright yellow, in perfect twenty something degree sunshine, and the car goes back tomorrow so it was going to be our last chance to buy something in a flat pack for a time.

We've been thinking about our plans, and how a month in Paris seemed such a good idea, and how easily we took the decision this morning to abandon the journey west for this year. We have a window of opportunity you see, to upgrade the electrics at the end of this month, and doesn't the long suffering Michel look happy at the thought that he may not have to rescue us again. More importantly we should end up with years of trouble free service if all goes according to plan, so Paris can wait.

We turned off life support for the fridge this evening, grateful for the fact that we were able to wring another year out of it anyway, and while its passing was not unexpected, the battery charger we bought last year to get us by, and nearly didn't bring with us is now a barely adequate doorstop, awaiting the manufacturer's replacement to arrive.

It seems that in Lagarde our amazing luck continues to hold; if something is going to break, for completely inexplicable reasons, it does so in port, where help is cheerfully at hand.

Meanwhile outside, the trees continue to grow leaves and drop flowers and the grass remains greener than green, and tomorrow we buy tins of tuna and cassoulet and jars of pickles and fresh baguette, enough for a week with no fridge, and when we think the time is right, we will quietly slip away.

We will be alone on the river, and that's got to be worth not going to Ikea for.


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

For the past three years we've watched the boating season coming to an end.

Slowly the numbers of boats on the water diminishes as each finds it's own particular burrow in which to hibernate for winter. At that time the harbour is a hive of activity, slowly filling beyond capacity with a sort of sleepy buzz as people go about applying covers and taking home the remnants of their summer aboard.

Now, as the leaves are arriving on the trees, the harbour is stirring, but ever so slowly.

We were the first to take up residence for the new season, the first to remove the covers and give the boat it's scrub for summer. Those who remained for the winter see us as another sign their ordeal is over. On Friday we shall all celebrate. The canal is still closed at Nancy and the complete absence of traffic exaggerates the stillness. About a third of the hire fleet is still ashore, and the team are busy with the steam cleaners.

We've made a list of things to make and do too. The fridge has coughed and spluttered and wheezed and told us it's time. We've got the new upholstery in place and will one day come to terms with the colour, the bed is back where it belongs until we work out how to replace it.

I suppose we should get on with it, but the sunset through the trees on the opposite bank looks for all the world like purple lace and at the pace we are moving it may take quite some time to actually do anything at all.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

We really are back!

We dined last evening on baguette and cheese and rabbit terrine and drank the juice of freshly crushed apples with strawberries the size of for want of a better description, big strawberries, for dessert and then collapsed at seven, unable to stay awake a moment longer, grateful that we had elected not to dine in the motel restaurant.

We woke of course, not entirely refreshed, a little after one, and wondered why they just couldn't move France closer to home. By five we had nodded off again until a much more sensible hour had arrived, waking to our first day in a "proper" spring.

When it all boils down spring seems to be just lots of lovely green shoots and every tree covered in flowers and petals falling from the sky, paving the roads in pink, and we think we like it. When the time came to move once more, we headed west instead of east and drove in a big loop to Lagarde, breathing in the countryside as we did, trying at once to linger in the scene for as long as possible while anxious to arrive. We could have driven through it all day, but we had things to do, people to see.

Again that feeling of not having left enveloped us, and we had coffee with Jacques and Maggie, and tea with Chris and Helen, and coffee with Bill and they told us of winter and wondered how it was that it seemed like yesterday that we had left, and we told them how much we had to do to unpack and clean the boat and how we must get going, but we didn't.

We had planned to do quite a lot yesterday actually.

Now we plan to do it today, or perhaps tomorrow, or maybe next week.

It's good to be back!


Monday, April 04, 2011

Perhaps it's the jetlag, coupled with the cleaning and moving-house lag, but we are distinctly confused by the impression that time has stood still in our absence.  Just as when we arrived home last year, we were uncertain of whether we had really been in Europe, now we can find no evidence that we ever left.

Strangely when we arrived in Luneville this afternoon, it too felt like home, even though we are as yet a day and thirty kilometres from the boat.  It was the  baguettes we were served at the two am "dinner" en route that triggered the feeling that not only were we back, but that nothing could possibly go wrong, and even if it did we had made no plans so how would we know?

In Paris despite our fuzziness, we fluked a succession of flawlessly timed transportation interchanges, which allowed us to avoid a three hour wait in a cosy cafe in Paris, and allowed a one hour wait in a cosy cafe in Nancy instead, and saw us arriving in Luneville exactly two hours before the car rental people were due back from lunch which as fate would have it, was where they were when last we dropped a car off to them.

Perhaps therein lies the clue that we have indeed been away.   Had we not, we would have planned for but one thing.

We would have planned NEVER to arrive ANYWHERE at lunch time, EVER.


Sunday, April 03, 2011

Time Travelling Again

If the past five months went quickly, the last two weeks have simply dissolved.

The house is habitable and (mostly) furnished and we have been able to thoughtfully dispose of much that which was too large for the new more diminutive spaces. Actually they are more like the spaces that we were accustomed to for all but the last eight years, so it's a bit like pulling on a favourite old pair of jeans that one hasn't worn for a while, right down to being the same length but not quite wide enough in spots, but if we breath in we still fit.

Yesterday, mid afternoon we declared it done and drove the rental car to the big smoke in a sort of jet lagged fug. This is not necessarily a good thing when one hasn't yet commenced one's journey, and it must be said that we left with the feeling that there simply weren't enough goodbyes to go round properly, wondering how those we hold dear have put up with our busyness for the past few months.

Suddenly it all stopped. The Big E hid his tears behind his shades, ours held off until we were out of sight. We were in the air, and the washing machine that has been our life turned off, we left the roller coaster and ran to the merry go round.

Here we sit in Singapore. In transit, in our old seats in the Qantas Club, trying to believe that we have actually been home, trying to come to terms with all that has happened in that time, excited to be seeing our Northern friends.

By dawn we will be in Paris.
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