Legends from our own lunchtimes

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Last night we once again spent a large part of the time sensible people spend asleep, sitting quietly in a restaurant with Celine and Dume pondering our life in France, their life in Australia, and everything in between.

Having come tot the conclusion that we will probably not live long enough to run out of things to ponder, we reluctantly headed north, back to the boat where our plans for the cruising season were about to come to fruition, and where we had the makings of a quiet and early night before heading off in the morning.

The speed limit on the motorway is reduced by twenty percent when it's raining though, and our five hour drive was quickly turning into six, as we ploughed on through what looked like drought breaking, if not torrential rain. The first floor planter boxes in Nancy had looked brown and crisp a day or two ago, but now we wondered if there was serious danger of them being washed away.

The phone rang despite the rain, and we found ourselves taking a diversion back to Lagarde, for a "quick" bite with Jacques and Maggie.

"Quick" of course does not mean exactly the same as it does in other places, and yet again we found ourselves struggling in the pouring rain, to find our way home before the dear little rental car turned into a pumpkin.

Not to worry, it was we thought, a nice way to begin our cruising season.

Tomorrow we would be away!


Monday, May 30, 2011


Despite the brave reporting by yours truly, the relentless pace of our social life is beginning to take a toll. We woke slowly to the delightful news that our celebrations on Friday night had not been wasted, and Jacques' boat had indeed been bought by our fellow Captains from Cambrai.

Shortly after, Bob and Penny disappeared in a cloud of fresh picked strawberries, leaving the rest of us to go about our day's business which, apart from deep and meaningful discussions about a myriad of sculpting painting photography things, and perhaps an hour or two in a monster building supply house finding bits for the boat, was really to attend another meeting with the famous French bureaucracy.

Nothing is straightforward in dealing with immigration people in any country as far as I can tell, and the country that gave us the word bureaucracy is notoriously the manufacturer of the most complex mazes, refusing contact by telephone and email adds a further level of difficulty to the game.

It came as no surprise then, when at the appointed hour, standing before the desk of our "case officer"  the immediate answer to our request to collect our Cards was "NO!".

But there was a very slight, but very clear twinkle in the eye of our adversary. "Not unless you sit down, because if you don't, I will be forced to stand and I am far too lazy to do that", he remarked.

He disappeared for an uncomfortably long period, and came back with two Identity Cards and a receipt marked "gratuit" (no cost). We have no idea why there was no cost, nor why our first cards were issued for ten years, nor indeed why we are allowed to work if we choose, but we couldn't have been more surprised nor grateful.

I don't think we would have been happier if someone had given us a small chateau.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

We had been warned.

We have often not failed to notice the tranquility of Sunday mornings in rural France. Everything is closed, every shop, every shutter, every eyelid we suspect,  and apart from the door to the odd boulangerie filled with people intent on procuring their supply of bread for Sunday lunch there is almost no sign of human habitation.

We've also made a note of how, at precisely four PM, the whole of France seems to walk out of the doors that comprise it's parts and simply wanders en-masse around the nearest thing worth wandering around.

And so it was, that with lunch not quite complete, we, four Australians and a couple of generations of French families wandered by the serpent's lair, vicariously enjoying our risk taking, and wondering if anyone had actually been deterred from trespassing despite the warnings.

Surprisingly perhaps, we escaped unscathed, and we all arrived home safely laden with a few tonne of strawberries from Jacqui's patch, in time for a very long dinner indeed.


Saturday, May 28, 2011


Life has been a merry go round of late, a constant tide of people and activity has swept us up, and today it was time to roll the circus south once more to Orleans.

We've marvelled before at French motorways, and we marvel every time we travel on them. Twenty kilometres from where we begin we drive through a toll plaza and take a ticket. Then we set the cruise control to the one hundred and thirty kilometre an hour limit, stop for lunch and a few hours later we arrive at a toll plaza less than twenty kilometres from our destination.

It all seems so simple.

This time, the first twenty kilometres took more than an hour; twenty percent of our more than five hundred kilometre journey. We were met by thousands (yes thousands) of motorcyclists assembling in downtown Nancy to protest new laws which will require them to wear high visibility jackets, (and to have number plates so they can be caught in radar traps) and I suppose we might have been sympathetic except for our own selfish agenda.

Eventually we arrived in Orleans, more than a few hours after we had planned, even more hours after  Bob and Penny, but none the less well and truly in time for tea, and drinks and dinner and tomorrow.

We had managed to get off the merry go round but found ourselves ever so firmly seated on the swing!


Friday, May 27, 2011


After a brief "hiatus" when business and blogger  took over from the job in hand, our story continues from where we left off:

I'm not sure how it all works, but in a strange land we found ourselves surrounded by familiarity. When we counted the heads in the evening there were six around the table from the Antipodes. So full is the harbour of New Zealanders and Australians that we all wonder how we will ever learn to speak French, or if when we do, if we will ever find anyone else who can.

The interior of l'Excelsior has not been changed since 1905, the menu may have undergone some slight modifications, and some of the wine was a certainly a little younger and at some time which didn't seem at all too far into the evening, it was Bob who noted that it was 12:30am tomorrow, and we really should get an early night, as when we all arrive in Orleans for the weekend we may be in for a somewhat less relaxing time.

So we retired.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

We felt surprisingly unselfconscious as the cameras followed our every move through Nancy and into the Place Stanislas, ordered coffee and pretended to point and smile, all the while whispering sweet nothings in each others' ears.   

Four coffee grandes later, in mid afternoon the filming was done, we'd waved our goodbyes to the TV crew from Saar, hoped that they'd treat us kindly in the final cut and wandered slowly back to the boat.  Wondering about what had just taken place.

We'd changed plans of course, several times during the day, the weather hadn't been kind and the lock at the end of the canal was closed, for no reason in particular, in fact some said it was open, we were going to stay down on the river for the evening, but there was no sign of life in the lock and without any disappointment  given the circumstances, we had returned to Nancy for the evening.

That was when we found we had a new neighbour in the harbour, fast asleep in his saloon.

Our Tony had tracked us down.

Golly, another long noisy night ahead!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Somewhere from beyond the galley I heard a muffled voice announce that it was nine.

I poked my nose out from below the covers and half opened one eye. There was just no way I was going to get out of bed until the temperature reached at least ten even if the time was well past eight, so I reached for the trusty computer to see what was going on in the world.

A few boat parts were on their way, arrangements were being made for our visit to the Orleans Prefecture office on Monday. Sue had made it to London. Bob and Penny were in Paris and might to try to see us today.

I had to read that again.

Bob and Penny were in Paris and might to try to see us today.

I fired off an email explaining that I thought a five hundred kilometre detour for a cup of tea was probably a bit extravagant, and suggested that if they were to stay a night or two we could make them TV stars, telling them that we had a entirely clear notion of where we would be by the evening as we'd made arrangements for our TV crew to find us in the morning.

But Verangeville isn't all that pleasant a place to stay, all  and despite our having waxed lyrical to Barbara about the joy of entering cities through the canyons of decaying industry, Nancy lying just nine kilometres down the waterway seemed to us to provide the prospect of greater joy.  In an effort to cause complete confusion all round, we motored on past the point of no return.

Eventually, through sheer fluke, we found each other, or was it they who found us?

No matter, the night was long and noisy in a muffled and civilised sort of way.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Basking in the afterglow of a day of filming, or perhaps it was my forehead having spent just an hour or five too long in the sun, we knew that we had to leave, and having made that decision it seemed sensible to leave early.

Of course the party of the night before did temper our best intentions somewhat, and we had to collect all the empty plates which had been distributed among various boats around the port laden with cake or dinner or whatever else the Captain deemed the recipient was in need of during the course of the week.

We had then to bid our farewells to everyone, then get some gas, some diesel, say good bye again, linger a bit longer perhaps then do the rounds one more time just for luck.

By four we had to decide whether to stay one more night or go, and that is how we came to be snugged up alone among the reeds in Parroy, eight kilometres and a world away.

We had just eaten in the early evening, and were settling down for our first night away from the umbilical cord of our home port, when there was a rustle in the grass beside the boat.


Jacques and Maggie it seemed couldn't stand the quiet. Actually there was a modicum of business attached, and to be fair they did promise not to check on us again until Thursday.


Monday, May 23, 2011


Stupidly I had suggested that the TV crew should arrive before seven, to take advantage of the morning light, the mist on the water, and the chill of the almost pre-dawn sun. To achieve that, they had to leave Saarbrucken just after five, which as it turned out was about the same time we had to start our day.

"We just want you to do what you would normally do" Barbara instructed over her first coffee.

"So I shall go back to bed until the temperature is in double figures shall I? See you round nine then?"

How can one get on with the serious business of doing nothing when one has barely been in bed long enough to warm it?

But we put on a brave face anyway. We could hear Jacques and Maggie sniggering through the curtains as Mr P added copious additional greyness to the morning mist, but apparently it made great television and the cameras rolled regardless.

We bought baguettes and were given cherries, and docked and left a dozen times which is not at all what we normally do,but we were assured it would look quite normal in the final cut. As the day warmed our cultural differences began to polarise; Australians seeking broad hats and shade, TV crew suggesting that was not at all what we would normally do and perhaps we would prefer to remain hatless in the sun as Europeans would expect.

We scaled Rechicourt without incident, which on past form is not particularly normal either, and the Captain served quiche (Lorraine of course) to anything that moved and by the time the day was over we'd all had a rollicking good time and were even looking forward to our next meeting.

We had barely finished our farewells from the top of Rechicour when it happened. The darkness of the curse struck again. It was nothing insurmountable for someone who wasn't three day's walk from a hardware store, but without that luxury, making a temporary repair to a jammed hotwater tap does take a certain amount of ingenuity. Eventually the flow of scalding water was halted.

Bodgy repairs at the top of Rechicourt are exactly what we normally do, but by then they had been long gone.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Soaring with eagles.

Ahh yes, the list.

Perhaps I could just pop down to see how Tony got on for a bit….

"Goodness is that the time?"

I could stall no more. With the inside of the boat now clear of tools and spare parts and in now way attributable to any endeavour of yours truly, I hid in the engine bay all afternoon with degreaser and toothbrushes, trying to give Mr Perkins a bit of a facelift, or at least to impart some semblance of respectability to give at least a fighting chance should some strange mechanic in a faraway place have need of seeing something that needed to be tightened or adjusted or heaven forbid, repaired.

He looked quit pretty after it really, a bit like a dog after a bath, all shiny and bouncy and we know that just like said dog Mr P will roll in oil and filth at his earliest opportunity. Just enough to make him smell a bit of course. But he looked good for a few minutes.

A few windows and a deck scrub later, we somehow found ourselves yet again watching the sun go down from someone else's boat, sitting down to dine too close to eleven to even bother checking the time. We are getting dangerously close to departing for summer, as are most of our friends of course, and the air is full of lingering and unspoken farewells. Within days we will have all gone our separate ways.

It's a strangely warm emotion that envelopes us, none of us want to leave really, but that would be defeating the purpose of being here in the first place.

It is time to fly.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

We only come home for the sunsets.

Back in the swing of things and with a list of "things to do" a mile long, all to be done before the arrival of the TV crew on Monday, we set about in the nicest possible way avoiding even looking at it.

This was an easy thing to do as it seemed the Port had fallen apart in our absence. Our Tony needed "help fixing roof", and didn't have to ask twice when he suggested "getting groceries before" which would of course involve a nice drive in his car.

Tony, bless him decided in the spirit of sharing some of his ten years experience on the continent, to instruct me on the finer points of buying fuel from a fully automatic machine. After I had showed him where to place his card, the menu buttons on the keypad, instructed him to remove the card, key in his pin, replace the fuel nozzle and collect his receipt, he considered me almost fully trained and asked if perhaps he could give me lessons next time as well, just to see if I'd got it all.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Richard had a plumbing problem, Tony's roof needed an afternoon of surgery, Maggie's deck needed sketching, Jacque's boat moving, and Captain Jojo was feeding anything or anyone that moved or even looked as though it might move at some time in the future.

That was of course before there were aperitifs on someone's boat to watch the sun go down around ten, which turned into full blown drinks and in the French manner enough food to sink a smaller ship.

By the time the church clock was thinking about striking single digit hours again, we sought refuge in our bed, determined that tomorrow we'd actually start on the list.

Friday, May 20, 2011

You are what you eat.

If we had felt ambivalent yesterday about most things except the glorious catch-up with old friends, today we woke feeling strangely exhausted. Perhaps it was the food.

The walk to the station in the crisp morning air would normally have been enough to snap us out of that, but it was even less exhilarating than the coffee from the machine in the hotel.

By the time we arrived in Luneville, we felt a little fresher despite the long train journey, but perhaps that was due in part to the somewhat more caffeinated than expected coffee in Nancy en route, but whatever the case it was definitely the sort of day which improved with age.

Our friendly Atlas Radio Taxi man Gerard wasn't there to meet us though. It seemed he'd sent his affable cousin in an effort to share our wealth among his family. Without speaking a word of English, the affable cousin told us about his boat, our boat, his car, the car he'd like to have, and reminded us that Sarkozy is the devil incarnate. At least we think that's what he told us, and he seemed to enjoy the fact that we nodded in agreement whenever he asked a question.

Perhaps it was his interview technique that helped put us completely at ease for Barbara's visit much later in the evening.

Ahh, Barbara; the roving reporter for Saar Television wanting to do a feature on mad Australians who travel half way round the world to do nothing.

She left before midnight, we are sure she was none the wiser about how we can do nothing all week or even all month but seemed determined to film us doing it anyway.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The French Open

We weren't sure whether we wanted to do anything at all today. Perhaps a small bask in the glow of our new-found titles before we attempted anything constructive during the day - should we, we wondered be known henceforth as Captain Jojo and Captain Papa?

Perhaps not, but even the effort of even finding the railway station which was no more than fifty metres from our hotel was stretching our energy reserves so we put the debate off for another time.

We seemed to be afflicted with a combination of couldn't be bothered and a touch of the sleepies brought on by all that brain exercise of the last week. The fact that we'd decided before buying our tickets that we'd stay overnight in Paris, but hadn't actually found anywhere to stay because everyone in the world was in Paris for the French Open Tennis and had selfishly taken all of the accommodation including apparently the bits under the bridges, wasn't contributing positively to our demeanour either.

When we arrived, the nice lady in the Tourist Office told us there was not a room to be had in Paris, as indeed she has done on so many occasions previously. This time though, she said she meant it, and gave us a book with a list of phone numbers to try ourselves if we didn't believe her. It's the Tennis Open you see.

It's nothing that a spot of lunch won't fix we thought, and so we retired to work on the problem over omelette and green salad in the company of some dear (does that sound too sooky?) friends. While Peter and Jayne have sat opposite us in many tables in many cities around the world, seeing them with what was clearly Paris blooming in the background seemed almost surreal.

It was Peter who voiced it: "We aren't in Weller's Hill are we?"

By the time we had finished our coffee, to the miracle of the internet we had a room reserved and even an address where we might find it, which as it turned out was in a place called "Opera", a buzzing little spot quite near some sort of theatre with a red windmill on top, and just above some sort of entertainment establishment which clearly had more customers than tables.

Peter was right of course, it was nothing at all like Wellers Hill.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Sometime today we had to face the music. There was a guillotine hanging over our head called the theory test with it's thirty questions on the code that had to be dealt with. Aileen and Grahame, the Kiwi couple who were sharing our pain, felt no better equipped than we, but again the experience and skill of our tutors led us calmly through the day, explaining water action on underwater hull shapes, throwing ropes, retrieving objects and avoiding obstacles, all the while dealing with the unending procession of commercial traffic travelling in the opposite direction.

By early afternoon, the intensity was such that we all began to experience a strange sense that we had been together for a month.

Eventually we could stall no more. The final hurdle had to be crossed.

The air was thick with silence as we sat together round the dinging table aboard, answering our questions, each with a different test so there could be no cheating.

As the last pencil was put down, a well timed crackle broke the silence followed by the blaring of Handel's Allelujah chorus from the ship's speakers.

We could relax.

The champagne cork popped.

We were all barge captains and had the paperwork to prove it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Let the battle begin!

Walking through a town square littered with jet fighters gives one a strange, if completely strange sense of security. One almost hopes that someone would jump out waving a knife about, just so that one could teach them a lesson.

For us of course the lessons were not to be in the finer points of Jet Fighter pilotage, but in a rather heavier although no less intimidating ship altogether. Eighty tonnes heavier to be precise. How, we wondered as we approached the good ship Freisland for the first time, would we survive the week let alone remember all the things we needed to remember for the examination on inland pilotage?

The butterflies in our stomachs were truly of Jet Fighter proportions.

Thankfully Tam and Di's reputation is well deserved, and they immediately set about calming our fraying dispositions, watching on nonplussed, ready to gently assume control of their ship and home should any of us through inexperience or simply nervousness place it in a position of danger.

Thankfully Di knows a thing or two about lunching as well, and that a superbly simple selection of local fare, beside a grassy bank in a quiet stretch of canal is enough to leave even the most flustered student ready to take on the world.

We departed the ship reluctantly at days end full of enthusiasm to learn more, filled with concern at the test we must complete on the morrow.


Monday, May 16, 2011


Lunch went for so long yesterday that we quite forgot that we hadn't had dinner by the time we flopped into bed, and we thought it was probably the perfect ending to what had been a long and quite productive week.

In fact, so long and productive was last week that even if we had not had a long standing arrangement to be elsewhere, we may well have disappeared for a break today in any case.

Our Tony kindly drove us in to Luneville not long after breakfast, and we foundf a train to Nancy, and then one to Paris, another to St Quentin and in day rapidly becoming less tropical than we prefer, to Cambrai.

The journey was at the once relaxing yet strangely arduous as our nerves began to wind themselves tighter as every on of the eight hours of travel passed bringing us closer to the reason for the journey, closer to Tam and Di Murrell's renowned Barge Handling School and hopefully to our formal licenses, technically known as International Certificates of Competence.

It seemed that every kilometre as we studied the code we found some new and impossible contradiction.

One of us didn't want to be here in the first place, and the other was hoping against hope that the penalty he might pay for his minor victory would be short and relatively painless.

Over a few drinks with Tam and Di, it became clear that through some happy circumstance we had both suddenly become of one accord.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

The catfish like it too.

It would be quite appropriate to sleep late on a Sunday, but I'd been thinking about the hot water and getting around the obstacles in the way of fitting it so we woke sometime round eight and didn't lie in for much more than an hour after that so we could get an early start.

I thought that perhaps with a bit of ingenuity, if I played my cards right I could have a hot shower before heading off for lunch at two, so I played my cards.

Sure the missing fittings did prove to be a challenge, and there remains a largeish gap between ends of the pipes carrying the engine coolant and the actual heater itself, which may make it more difficult to get the coolant to pass through than would be ideal, but we don't need the engine for a week or so. Not long after when morning coffee would have been had we not been so preoccupied, I had the water and electric bits separately connected and the thing turned "ON" two hours before I'd be requiring my pre- lunch tidy up.

Barely able to contain my excitement and with less than fifteen minutes before we were due at Maggie and Jacques', I disrobed and triumphantly turned on the hot water tap.


The water pump had taken a leaf out of Mr Perkins' book it seems, deciding to snooze at exactly the time it was called upon.

After reducing my nakedness, I wiggled some things and wobbled some others and kicked my toe on the toolbox which seemed to evoke some sort of sympathy, and miraculously water once again started to flow.

I showered, and shampooed using one of those special ones that stops hair tangling and tames nasty fly-away hair at the same time, then stood there under the shower for longer because I could.

Seven hours later I still feel clean.

We could get used to hot running water.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Another Delay

We arose in a state that was less euphoric, but excited none the less at the prospect of hot showers later in the day and with the end of the electrical work very definitely in view on the horizon.

Not being the sort of person who actually enjoys being in a dark and definitely confined space while adopting the posture of a Mongolian contortionist, and definitely not being in need of practice in re-installing hot water units, I took it upon myself to delay any further activity in that regard until at least after all of the required parts were to hand.

Actually I think I was in mid-procrastination when I heard the call;
"Good-die Moyt", the unmistakable sound of a Yorkshireman trying to sound like and Australian.
"Halloooo our Toe-kneee" I replied sounding ever so much like a yorkshireman in my own mind at least.

Tony was in a bit of trouble with his sliding roof and needed a bit of a hand, and as the one most suitable for lifting heavy objects was occupied baking banana cake, I was co-opted to assist.   After a morning of jacking things and levering and hitting them with blunt instruments I was beginning to think that perhaps a bit of practice moving a hot water system would be a constructive way to spend the afternoon after all, and in the meantime the parts had arrived for the hot water unit.

With a spring in my step, I feigned disappointment at having to leave our Tony to his own devices and unpacked the bits.   

Only two pipe fittings were the wrong size, so that was a good start, and I was a metre short of plumbing pipe as well, then after turning the entire village upside-down to find one, every spanner that t begged or borrowed to fit the element in the hot water system was exactly wrong.     

Perhaps it's a sign of some sort of French-absorbtion that I decided to put off the whole hot water thing until after lunch, perhaps after lunch tomorrow even so we went for a walk instead.


Friday, May 13, 2011


I would like to pretend that when the sun rose, the disappointment of the day before and the reinstallation of the redundant hot water unit was behind me.  In reality, with the prospect of the new system arriving tomorrow disappointment had actually been replaced with stupid childish excitement.    

I was not alone in my happiness however, as today I commissioned the washing machine.  The mood on board was something akin to euphoric as load after load of dirty clothes, clean clothes, neighbour's toupee's and anything that would fit in were cleaned to within an inch of their respective lives, and hung proudly for all to see on the rotary hoist.  

Banana cake was baked and distributed freely along the marina finger, it truly was a day of celebration on board.

Meanwhile, Bill, perhaps cognisant of the fact that he'd had a near death experience the day before, or more likely completely fatigued after a long night with his digital mistress kept a safe distance.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bill could stand the pain no more, so absented himself from work to head off in search of a new computer.

I, on the other hand was unstoppable.  Despite the pain that I knew I would inflict on myself, I once more lowered myself into the bilge and began the slow and difficult task of removing the old boiler.  It wasn't easy, nor was it fun, but the thought of finishing the day with a warm shower spurred me on.

It got stuck a few times, so I had to dismantle the water pump to get it past, then the engine cooling intakes, then the toilet plumbing, and eventually cajoled the rotten thing all the way to within half a metre of the floor hatch before it was clear to anyone that cared to look, that it was not going to come any further in one piece.

Being the cautious, meticulous and once bitten twice shy sort of person that I am, rather than take an axe to it immediately, I decided to check that all of the parts for the new machine were to hand, lest we were forced to live without water, engine or toilet for a month while waiting for the new one to be commissioned.

I wandered up to the office to pick up the new one, and while looking for some insignificant part, my eye fell on the electrical label: "1200 watt calorifier" it proudly proclaimed, and in the fine print I'm sure I could see a flashing neon sign which said "about 700 watts too big for your generator and electrical system to handle you mug."

I have read in murder mysteries of a certain involuntary scream which gets buried in a muffled gurgle as the knife twists through one vital organ after another, and I can't say for sure if the sound was actually emanating from my own throat or whether I was imagining it gurgling out of Bill as his eyes glazed over and he whispered his last "Ohhh dearrr…"

By the time I found him though, his eyes were already glazed over,   He had his new love on his lap, all 500 terrabytes of her, and had already downloaded three episodes of Doctor Who,  and didn't seem to hear when I told him we wouldn't have much to do on the morrow.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Washing Machine

All day I spent crawling in spaces which seemed to be just a few millimetres too small for whatever part of my body needed to pass, but despite the pain I bravely soldiered on and by the end of the day we had 220 volts flowing into the formerly dim corners of the boat and a special circuit to feed the new 500 watt hot water unit. 

Power points where one would least expect them (as well as where one would) and a charger that works automatically, to say nothing of the clever little switch we nutted out that allows us to turn the fridge from battery to shore power in the blink of an eye.   

Finally the washing machine found its way to its shelf as well, although it will have to come down to fit the water connection, but at least we can walk from one end of the boat to the other without hitting it now, although heaven knows there are plenty of other things  to kick, as every thing we own has to be moved at least twice per day to make way for something else.

The excitement of having hot water on tap tomorrow is palpable, no more showering from the garden sprayer filled from the kettle.

"Bill, you did check the wattage on the hot water unit didn't you?"

"Yes, it's 500 Watts".


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Progress on the new battery box and switchboard cupboard which will eventually become our bed did fill in the day, and Bill finally managed to get all the twelve volt systems up and running, but we were becoming frustrated it has to be said by the distractions we were suffering.
1) I had to build a shelf for the washing machine so we could mount it in the "laundry" and 
2) Every time I turned around to get something or even move in the boat, there was a washing machine in the way, and
3) Bill's eyes glazed over still grieving from the loss of his computer
4) An absence of actual wires to run to all the electrical points that we imagined would one day litter the interior of the dear little ship.

So we went to the shops to get some stuff, and while we were gone we asked Bill to check that the hot water unit in the showroom was indeed a 500 watt one.

We went for a walk in the evening's cool, suitably reassured.

Monday, May 09, 2011

By the time half the day had gone, we were at the point where we could see the end, yet the list of things to do stretched on infinitely.     

As I had done on so many occasions, I quietly mentioned to Jacques that our search to find a boat sized washing machine had been completely without success and I had no expectation whatsoever of receiving a response other than that of a sympathetic bystander who must remember to ask Patrice where they come from.

I am not sure whether it was because of the slight waver in my voice, or the barely detectable increase in pitch, or simply the hang dog look as I explained that my beloved had spent all Mother's Day washing and surely she couldn't expect me to come up from the engine bay covered in grime to wring all the clothes out, but whatever the case, the answer was surprising.  

"I will see Michel, I think we have one in our store."

My heart skipped a beat and I decided to press my luck.

"I don't suppose you'd have a boiler with an engine heat exchanger AND an electric element would you?   500 Watts?"

"Yes we have one in the showroom."

Excellent, I'll set up the clothes line ready then.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Bill was lost.   His computer had died a slow and ignominious death during the course of yesterday,   He'd stopped work yesterday on more than one occasion to check that it was still rebuilding fifty million files, and he did seem a little concerned over the fact that all seemed to be lost.  Every episode of Dr Who was slowly being gobbled in a series of Windows checks, along with this writing and who knows what else.

His computer was it seems his confidant and friend and now without warning or back up it was gone.   

He wandered down from his camper car distraught and directionless, desperate to discover if the Dunfearnly Rangers and beaten the Haddock Tossers in the local league, and from the time we were able to determine that indeed they had, we were never sure if we were in his clutches or he in ours.

Chaos ruled with all our possessions, bedding and equipment temporarily displaced while the work is happening, but we were all oblivious to the mess.

Coffee and biscuits moved into lunch and not very long after that a pleasant afternoon tea as well, and all the while I was dismantling our former bed, screw by screw, staple by staple while Bill on his day off seemed to content to sit for five hours tutoring the finer points of the French language.

Tomorrow we shall start work again, on the wiring and the bed and while we are at it we'll try not to preach too much about the benefit of separate hard drives. 


Saturday, May 07, 2011


Yesterday, as we came over the gentle rise near where the memorial to the Polish Grenadere's who lie in the soil after dying on a summer's night in 1940 during a bayonet charge to liberate Lorraine lie under the skeletons of two great oak trees, about a kilometre from home, the one who wasn't driving was given to remark that she rather liked the way we had come.

It made she went on to say, a nice change. The interesting thing about that was that it was the route we usually take, transformed to something else in just seven days.

A week ago we would have been in the midst of a sea of yellow rape flower, the village and the port itself clearly visible across the Canal du Marne au Rhin. In just seven days, the village was lost behind the trees lining the canal, the yellow fields now an almost drab green in comparison to their former vivacity. The steeple on the church once again stands as the only visible marker to the town.

Even the memorial  to the Polish Grenadere's who lie in the soil after dying on a summer's night in 1940 during a bayonet charge to liberate Lorraine  seemed lost in the deepest shade somewhere under the two oak trees that had taken it upon themselves to burst into leaf while we were gone.

It seems that in the blink of an eye, spring is over and everything is getting on with whatever business it may need to get on with until the next winter.

Back on the boat, the electrical system had also been transformed. There is more to do of course, but it's looking as though it may just give us the reliability we have been seeking.

Roll on Summer!


Friday, May 06, 2011

The weight of the world

We had been on the road less than an hour when the phone rang.   

We bought our new French sim card for economy and convenience, but it had served an unintended purpose three days ago.  The billing address to which the invoice was sent was our "new" French one, and as much as I am in awe of those who invent policies that deem utility bills to sent to an address as proof that one lives there, I am perhaps even more impressed by the "box tickers" who can stare me in the face and accept that a receipt for a one Euro sim card for a prepaid mobile phone is in fact a utilities bill and I must therefore live at the address to which it was sent.

Perhaps it is they who are in awe, that one should even try, but that aside the phone did indeed ring.

Celine was almost speechless as she told us that the nice young lady we had lodged all the forms with had phoned.

"Remember me?" she had enquired, "I'm the one at the Prefecture office who welcomed your friends from Australia…."

To cut what we had heard should certainly have been a very long story short, it appears our application for Residency Cards has been approved, and we are to return later in the month to pick them up.   After all the horror stories we had heard about the process, we are somewhat reeling in disbelief.

Not long after, we stumbled across "Creation"  parked as it was, quite in the middle of nowhere it had no relevance whatsoever to the story, but we liked it.


Thursday, May 05, 2011

No flies on me.

Today we sat in the Ligne Roset showrooms waiting for the madding crowds fail entirely to arrive.

The adoring fans and the autograph hunters were no doubt themselves waiting for the evening's function we thought, as we sat in the stillness broken once only, and then by a solitary person who was asking for directions.

It was quite eerie really, as though someone had decided that it would be a retail-free day.

By the time it was party o'clock, we really had no idea what to expect, but should have known better. Sure the people who had indicated and interest in the paintings failed to arrive, but by golly those that did turn up did so with enthusiasm that is quite intimidating.

Once again, today finished in the wee small hours of tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

It's on page 13, but it still counts.

"Is opening a bank account in Australia as difficult as this?" the smiling manager enquired.

We smiled back and assured him that it was indeed, but in reality I can't remember the last time we spent more than two hours locked in a bank managers office, nor had writer's cramp from signing documents. We were not wanting a loan, nor were we trying to launder vast quantities of international crime funds. We simply wanted to deposit a few hundred euros to make our lives a little simpler.

We all missed lunch, which is perhaps a gauge of just how important the procedure was, but when we emerged into the afternoon sunshine we had sixty pages of countersigned copies, the promise of new debit cards (curiously called "credit" cards) and we each had a 15€ share in the bank.

Just how that actually occurred is a small mystery, but as a result the fees we will pay are minimal, and it seems we have a bank account for life.

Perhaps it is the part of the price one pays for fame.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Chores

Once again yesterday finished well after today had technically begun, but with our immigration issues out of our hands, and an appointment set for the bank for tomorrow, we set off with the shopping list of things to buy while we have a car.

First stop: the generator shop.  Forget that.  I can't understand how salesmen can look you in the eye and tell you that they have no margin at their outrageous price when you know perfectly well that it's 50% higher than a merchant selling the same item on line.  So we bought on line and in a day or two a large truck will arrive with a very small generator on the passenger seat.   

That was easy, unless of course it arrives in a day or three, which will make it less easy.

We couldn't buy fabric for the curtains over the internet, but our run of incredibly good fortune continued in the fabric shop, when we found a bolt of material that we considered would be perfect for the new curtains on what we would call "the throwout table".   A bit of careful measuring later and we discovered it contained exactly the amount of material we needed.  

It looks as though one of us at least will not be short of things to do for quite some time. 

The other has been procrastinating as usual, sitting in front of the fire by night fiddling with silly details while the real issue which must be seen to with some urgency, the construction of the bed just seems to slip quietly into the darkness whenever it is raised. 

Monday, May 02, 2011

Applying to stay.

Bureaucracy is a French word so it should come as no surprise to anyone that if there was a world championship in demanding copies of things in triplicate, every other country in the world would be in a race for the silver medal.

Today was the day we put on our best smiles, dodged the hoards of papparazzi cunningly disguised as a busload of Asian tourists, but who were clearly staking us out, and braved the best that City Hall, or by it's real name, the Prefecture office, could throw at us.

We were well armed of course, with everything we needed tied in neat bundles, and multiple copies colour coded with originals in a separate file and two delightful French people who had written references and would, if necessary shout and perhaps thump the table and tell the bureaucrat just where to stick his stamp.

But we were foiled. We took a number, and meekly prepared ourselves for the marathon wait. It never came, instead pleasant young lady smiled and ushered us in. We apologised that we didn't actually have an original birth certificate that was less than 90 days old as demanded by their legislation. As being born in that time frame would provide some challenges, wouldn't it, we wondered aloud in her presence, be just possible that two passports and a wedding certificate perhaps could be used to provide the same information?

She smiled and agreed, and for a second I thought I saw her smile widen ever so slightly in one corner of her mouth.

"You must stay in France for six months before the application can be accepted", she explained as she checked the contents of our bundle, ticking off each item in turn.

Which is odd, we thought, since it is an application to be allowed to remain in the country for exactly one day short of that period of time.


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Afternoon in a small Chateau

May Day marks many things around the world, we aren't exactly sure what it marks in France, we think it's something about labour struggles and having lunch, but we haven't really bothered to enquire too deeply.

For us it meant going to bed not much before it was time to get up, leaving us all day with the distinct feeling that we'd been travelling for weeks, wandering among the trash and treasure on the streets of la Ferte in a daze, and crepes from a stall that in our addled state looked so much as though it could have been the CWA tent at the Quilpie show, that we ordered in English.

We did have time to pop in to an exhibition in a small chateau in Orleans of course. (Note to Mike who has been running around gathering vital documents for us: Thanks heaps, and you really need to be here, the surf can wait!) Small chateaus are not normally where we can be found admittedly, and this one was smaller than most, with the work of two painters on show on its ground floor. In the background, music filtering through every corner from somewhere above, sight unseen.

Our French connections made enquiries and obtained permission for us to explore the vacant first floor, where we found the source of the Musak. Jean-Dominique the journalist who just a year ago had written some tremendous reviews of our own work, had installed himself, alone apart from his flute, in the empty upper level space, to play for the duration of the exhibition using the acoustics of the place to avoid the need for amplification.

We lingered for an age, sitting on the floor, feeling the afternoon mellow as our private concert continued broken between brackets by quiet chatter between musician and audience.

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