Thursday, September 27, 2012
Even after a few hours sleep there seemed to be more grandchildren around than we remembered.
We counted them again, and there are still just three, but they have become faster and more wriggly and cleverer in our absence. Perhaps they have become noisier as well. We can't work out if all the hugs and cuddles are for their benefit or ours, and we don't really care.
They took us off to the nature reserve to try to walk off the northern hemisphere, but as they scampered along the boardwalk, the colours seemed even more disorienting.
We quietly bade them farewell and slowly made our way north to make an attempt at recovery from jetlag in the silence of our own company.
No doubt firmly in its clutches, one of us made a rash and uncharacteristic decision that he would attempt to cook a nice cup of tea for the other as she remained blissfully recumbent at some part of the early morn.
With unfocussed eyes he managed to fill the kettle and place it on the gas cooker. His practiced hands reached to the left for the ignition switch, and groped a couple of times until the nuero-transmitters of his brain manage to send a message back that on the boat, he would have been correct, but at home the switch is on the right. With a gentle click-woof the burner ignited, and with kettle in place he turned his back to find the teabags.
The kitchen became enveloped in a dull orange flashing glow. He turned to find the electric kettle which in fairness had until that point been quite similar in shape to the one the he had used daily on the boat, somewhat ablaze.
After carefully writing "Kettle" on the shopping list, he decided it was time for his journal to take a short break, lest even more foolishness be inadvertently recorded.
at 10:33 pm
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
We liken the Singapore wait in the airline lounge to being in the Restaurant at the end of the universe. We try to balance that confusion that comes with not knowing whether we are coming or going with the familiarity of our surrounds, but it is to no avail.
Whenever we are there, our life flashes in front of us as our minds try unsuccessfully to come to grips with the fact that it has been six months since last we passed, and six more until we will be back. We shower and try to relax while at the same time struggling to shuffle the various parts of our lives so that we may deal its cards in their new order.
Have we left the bilge pump on in the boat?
Where did we put the spare car keys in the house?
Despite running over a thousand questions like these, the answers don't come readily to mind, so we board our flight, settle back in our seats, wait our time, lose our night and a day and in our semi-conscious state, walk out through customs in Brisbane one more time.
It's very bright, the sun. It feels as though it might get hotter too.
Everything is as brown as we want to remember it, but no matter how familiar we try to convince ourselves that we are with these colours, the khakis and beiges of the bush are once again a novelty to our spinning senses as we drive along the motorway.
We are back.
But are we home?
at 10:11 pm
It seems too soon to be on our way, we know we have been here a while but the usual signs of autumn have not yet appeared and we feel a bit short changed by the lack of colour other than green in the vegetation. There should be flurries of golden leaves on the streets, and trees tinged with red which can be photographed against clear blue skies, but there aren't.
If we were birds we would probably not yet be flying south. Perhaps we'd be caught here for winter as a result of the late change in season.
But we aren't and we are flying tonight although we did spend much of the day plotting and planning a return in winter, as though the delay in the start of the season has actually affected us as well. Perhaps we will think differently tomorrow when we have straightened ourselves after the flight.
at 6:31 am
Monday, September 24, 2012
A month's rain in London is not particularly a lot by the standards by which we usually measure rainfall, but it comes apparently with quite a lot of wind and nowhere near as much temperature as one would prefer if one is to be out and about for the morning, so we stayed indoors and practiced packing our bags to make sure that all was in readiness for tomorrow.
As it turned out the afternoon wasn't much better because it takes quite some time to deliver a month's rainfall, and the growing pile of ruined umbrellas along the footpaths was perhaps suggesting that we would be well advised not to go too far into the outdoors ourselves.
So we didn't.
at 6:27 am
Sunday, September 23, 2012
This morning in terms of weather was as forgettable as yesterday was memorable. It made the setting for a perfect Sunday really, a good lie in, a late breakfast, a short time braving the elements followed by an even later lunch.
It was a pleasant day indeed, but we just can't help but get the feeling that perhaps yesterday we really did drink the last of the summer wine.
at 6:26 am
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Jules was appointed chief sifter, and after a good deal of doing so produced a list of four buildings worthy of our presence and an itinerary to go with it.
The Bank of England on this fine sunny morning was to be our first stop. We arrived a polite time after the doors were opened to find ourselves standing in a line which was even longer than the one for the iPhone released earlier in the week. If one were to study the above photograph very carefully, one can just make out a red light at the intersection, just a few hundred people ahead, between us and it. When eventually we reached that point, travelling at a rate of twenty-five persons per ten minutes, we had just a further one and a half city blocks and two and a half hours to wait before reaching the entrance. At that point we suspected that we may not quite make the other buildings on our schedule this day.
The Bank of England is only open to the public on four occasions each year, or at least bits of it that are normally not open to the public are. If one is fortunate enough to decide to visit on one of those four days, and if perchance the day does not bring with it precipitation, one may even be allowed to traipse through the office of the governor himself, and accompanied by a nice lady guide and a rather large "no photos allowed please sir," security guard, that is exactly what we did.
Of course by the time we had finished being enthralled by the banter of our guide to say nothing of the countless artefacts and historical snippets, sufficient time had elapsed for us to abandon all hope of visiting any other building that day, but we'd already had our money's worth even in the absence of any samples being handed out.
at 6:24 am
Friday, September 21, 2012
On our return to Waterloo later in the day I didn't see anyone else with the sort of interest I had in finding vents in the glass roof, nor for that matter could I see any open.
I suspect that's why the tomatoes don't grow all that well on the platforms.
at 6:23 am
Thursday, September 20, 2012
For a retired geologist, a really good thing about living in Smeatharpe apart from the seclusion and the garden and the sheep next door is that is is located only a few tens of miles from the famous Jurassic Coast, the site of one of the richest deposits of fossils from the Jurassic Era ever found. This is apparently some form of heaven for those with a geological bent. To show us just what there was to get excited about we were guided along the beach at Seatown in search of ammonite fossils and a pub.
The beach had been thoughtfully designed using nicely rounded stones to protect users from gravel rash should they fall. After a decent few minutes scratching around the ammonites remained hidden from us but fortunately we had more luck with the pub.
at 12:04 am
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
We had not planned to stay in London for more than a night, but as we completed our carefully timed commute into the station at Waterloo and inserted our credit card into the machine to pick up our pre-paid tickets, it seemed as though we may have to change those plans.
The machine had taken it on itself to reject our credit card. I suspect that the little man in the machine does this from time to time simply to relieve the boredom. "Oh yes" he thinks, "these people have twenty minutes up their sleeves, let's have a bit of fun."
Without tickets it is rather difficult to board a train, so we made some haste towards the ticket office where we discovered a queue which reached until next Tuesday at least, full of people with whom the little man had been having similar jokes.
Not quite ready to admit defeat, I excused myself several dozen times as I squirmed my way along the snaking ribbon-defined line until I reached the front, where I explained my presence to the bemused young couple who had no doubt been waiting since last Easter. I'm not sure if it was out of kindness or whether they still hadn't quite come to terms with my sudden arrival, but whatever the reason they allowed me to slip across to the first available teller, where our tickets were issued without further fuss.
In the middle of the afternoon we were having a quiet coffee in the familiar surrounds of David and Barbara's living room, except we weren't north of Caboolture, we were in Smeatharpe.
at 6:01 pm
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
We can never work out why no matter how much time is available to complete a task the size of the task expands to consume it all. Today was no exception although with as little fuss as we can remember, we finally had the boat locked, next year's list (now grown to several volumes) tucked safely away ready for a new round of procrastination, finalised our farewells and were on our way with minutes to spare.
"Minutes" is a relative term, it means if all goes well as indeed it did today, we would be at the station before the earlier train had departed. That connection would of course leave us time for a coffee and perhaps the last Tart Citron of summer during our change in Nancy, and of course there's the three hour wait in Paris and what has become a sort of obligatory argument with the nice British Border people who seem to have it in their heads that we are somehow plotting to sneak in unannounced and settle somewhere dreary.
We had thought, oddly enough that procuring a passport to confirm my Citizenship of that country may reduce the venom with which we are interrogated, but it seems that it puts the other of us under even greater suspicion. Perhaps it's the lack of Australian Visa in my British Passport which tends to make them suspect that we don't ever intend to return to the Antipodes.
As always, logic and a bit of common sense prevailed and by dinner time we had been reunited with Shelley and Jules in London.
at 5:57 pm
Monday, September 17, 2012
One of us, the one who has been working solidly towards this day for several weeks, managed a timely entry into the bed, the other was still paying for his sins of the past week well into the early hours of the morning.
Both our minds seem to be on where we are going now, rather than where we are. Today I slipped into the wrong side of the car to drive away, thinking of life on the other side of the world, surprised to find the steering wheel missing.
at 4:29 am
Sunday, September 16, 2012
I suppose it has to be as we have only two more sleeps until we leave, and I suspect they won't be terribly long ones, but at least the winter tarps are on. If we had to I suppose we could leave the inside looking as though a cyclone has hit it, and most of the contents would remain dry for winter.
This is usually considered to be a good thing.
Perhaps there is time for one more brief round of social engagements after all.
at 4:26 am
Saturday, September 15, 2012
For that matter, given that we'd been in Lagarde for more than a week we weren't at all sure why there was still so much to do, but we did know that we'd had a wonderful few days off, and as we watched the sun rise, the notion that less than twelve hours ago we had been standing in snow on a mountain top, seemed like some sort of abstract concept.
Finally we had reached a point where the wintering process had to be addressed.
Still, there was no need to panic, if we were able to complete about a day's worth of work every hour, we would leave on time, without fuss.
at 6:39 pm
Friday, September 14, 2012
Over breakfast however, Erika, with a knowing grin assured us that the weather would be perfectly clear on Stockhorn today, and she even volunteered to accompany us up the mountain if we were inclined to take a little bit of a detour on our way back to France.
This was clearly a cleverly laid trap. She knew that even in the unlikely event that one of us was determined to get back and get stuck in to work, the other was simply not going to forgive him if we did. The temptation was too great, and besides we reasoned, if we'd already put off some of our work till next year, there was probably no reason for us not to put off more, and we weren't going to wait another thirty years for the weather to clear.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and I am yet to take a picture that can adequately convey the emotion we felt while standing in the snow at the top of Stockhorn.
Perhaps it will suffice to say "We will return".
at 6:34 pm
Thursday, September 13, 2012
No matter how much we wanted to convince ourselves otherwise, there was absolutely no point in attempting to visit the mountain tops today. The cloud and mist would have provided a view akin to staying in bed with the sheets over our head.
Fortunately for us, Erika had kindly taken matters in hand by planning a few distractions as soon as she became aware of the forecast. We would, she wisely decided, escort Graham and Jill on the train to Berne and ensure they caught their connection. She would then deftly guide us over Berne's high spots, we'd have a bite to eat along the way and return to Thun in time to drive to the Abegg-Stifftung Textile Museum, where Isabelle had kindly offered to host our own private guided tour.
It was settled then.
This being Switzerland, things went exactly to plan, and we had ample stops for refreshments between to boot, and Berne was as wonderful as we remembered and the Museum (and our guide) simply sublime. For reasons that we could not understand, perhaps it was the weather, maybe the concentration or the altitude (after all we are sea level dwellers!), or just that we had been burning the candle at both ends for some time, by the day's end we were starting to flag.
Erika however is clearly made of sterner stuff, for almost as soon as we had arrived home she and Christian departed for their evening engagement, while we tired little teddy bears took ourselves off to bed at a time when most four years olds would have been happy to have been still wandering around the living room.
Tomorrow we would be totally refreshed, leave first thing, be back at the boat by noon, ready to work all afternoon.
at 6:33 pm
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
The weather was gracious enough to clear for long enough to snap a solitary photograph as evidence before closing in for the day but one of us was beside herself with excitement. The Swiss among us, and Graham and Jill for that matter who were still recovering from the shock of us turning up apparently unannounced, and having spent enough time in Victoria and seen enough of the cold in days gone by to feel well satiated were somewhat bemused by the size of the grin and the constant scurrying to the verandah to ensure that the mountains were still there, and when they were that there was snow atop them.
We had no doubt that had she would have climbed them had we let her, but cold, wet, cloudy days with snow on the mountains are best spent in coffee shops and in the higher country with Erika's artist and weaver friends, and the evenings are better spent on birthday celebrations well into the night.
Tomorrow the forecast has no promise of better conditions, but we have seen enough for one day. We were last in Switzerland thirty years ago. We spent some time in Berne and around the corner from here in Interlaken waiting for the weather to clear so that we could visit the tops of the mountains, but it never did.
We were living a repeat of that earlier visit, but I suspect we will remember Erika's birthday from this day on.
at 5:39 am
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
This was not the best morning in the life of a motorway. Accidents and roadworks caused bottlenecks and lengthy delays across all four hundred kilometres, and the Mazda with it's six speed gearbox and console placed exactly where one's elbow wants to be to change into three of them was exactly unsuitable for this sort of driving, reinforcing my first impressions of it. By the time we had found the the house with the green shutters behind the meadow with the two goats we were well and truly ready to stop.
We knew that Graham and Jill were also visiting, and Erika had gone to some trouble to keep news of our impending visit from them, and our sudden appearance on the wrong side of the world actually appeared to take their breath away for a time.
Our breath had long gone. It was the view. Across the lake we could just make out the outline of what we thought were distant mountains, even in the overcast and rain we could sense that we were in something of a special place. When the weather clears we were assured, there would be alps.
We knew we were in a different world when the bells on the church clock next door rang. Exactly on the hour. They are, explained Christian with only the faintest hint of a grin in response to our bemusement, timed to the second, synchronised with the atomic clock in Zürich.
Welcome to Switzerland.
at 5:35 am
Monday, September 10, 2012
It's getting a bit hard to find excuses not to knuckle down now though, but it's also hard to do anything other than just sit watching with a cup of coffee in hand while the mist is gently rises from the water each morning.
When it all boiled down, the morning promised a day that was too good to waste working for all of it, so we reshuffled the dreaded list just a little bit more, and spent the day getting a few things together and talking about what we had do when we got back from Switzerland. We were, after all looking forward just a little to our respite, even more after receiving Erika's instructions on how to find their place.
"The house with the green shutters, beside the church and behind the meadow with two goats in it."
If we had ever had pre-conceived ideas of what constituted a house in Switzerland, I fairly sure a meadow with two goats would have been involved.
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Sunday is of course national "have lunch with family day", and if one doesn't have family of the related kind then family of the friends kind is good enough, and our family here were kind enough to ensure that we didn't have to sit out the whole of lunch time alone. The whole of lunch time is not a fixed or even finite measure of course. In many families it seems to wind up some time around four in the afternoon and we have often taken a great deal of pleasure in watching several generations appear from nowhere dressed in their Sunday best to perambulate along the waterfront.
At Jacques and Maggie's place however, by four we are barely through the aperitifs by that time, so the other families were forced to walk without our accompaniment.
Besides, we had to conserve our energy for work tomorrow.
at 7:12 am
Saturday, September 08, 2012
At the appointed hour last evening we wandered up to Lagarde's finest restaurant if it's only one, where we met as something of a committee to discuss what further items we might be able to strike from our list in order to get it all done in the ever reducing time available. There was a suggestion that given a certain lack of progress in item's marked "him" that perhaps a reshuffling of responsibilities may be the only way of actually getting anything done at all. Apparently according to them, as indeed pretty much every teacher that ever had the privilege of providing me with an education was heard to say, my mind doesn't seem to be on the task in hand.
So while this morning they left us for the hundredth time this year, I went for a long drive in the countryside to think about all of that, and of course to purchase some new tarpaulins to make a start on the boat's winter covers.
at 7:10 am
Friday, September 07, 2012
A start simply had to be made, so while the morning mist was still trying to decide what it was going to do with the rest of the day, one of us braved the chill and began scrubbing the decks while the other quite sensibly under the circumstances was tucked soundly in the warmth enjoying her morning cup of tea, no doubt planning a super human effort for the rest of the day.
Fortunately for me respite came almost immediately in the form of Jacques requesting assistance in picking up one of the company 2CV's from the workshop in the next town. I returned to the boat as soon as I was able of course, just before lunch as a matter of fact, to find substantial progress had been made on the list marked "hers", and before there was time to say "whoops, I'll do better this afternoon" it was time to head off in the other direction to pick up the hire car.
The hire car company, bless them, had presented us with an upgrade. It was apparently one of Japan's finest, but to say first impressions were disappointing would be the most polite way of summarising my feelings on the drive home. Sixty five years separated the two cars I'd driven today, one of them was a delight as we cruised along the winding country roads. It had a sunroof, low profile tyres, supple suspension, predictable roadholding and ergonomically placed gear shift, the other was a brand new Mazda.
at 7:36 am
Thursday, September 06, 2012
After a quick review of what we need to do we discovered that we needed precisely twelve and a quarter day's to have the boat packed and all the end of summer jobs done and we had exactly eleven days until we leave. This was not entirely good news, so we decided to have a wander round the village to consider our predicament.
Lagarde is not a large village, and wandering around it is not actually the sort of pastime which is conducive to passing a lot of time, unless of course one bumps into Bill, who bounded over with his eyes all asparkle to greet us with the news that he'd (finally) published his first book. It's an ebook of course, self published and by his own admission apparently not very good, but it is done. News like that deserves a celebration of course, and we spent a terribly long time that evening interrogating him about the details of the story and trying to work out how we could get hold of a signed copy of the first edition. I suspect had the red wine not been in moderation, there may have been an attempt to take a Black Marker Pen to the computer screen.
When all that was done, we had ten days remaining, and no matter how hard we looked and from which angle, still twelve and a half days worth of work to do.
For the curious or even the adventurous perhaps, Bill's book is available for Kindle only at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Revelation-Destinys-Children-ebook/dp/B0093LMROY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348034389&sr=8-1
at 7:29 am
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
When we left, spring had not taken hold, and despite the cooler mornings now with us autumn has not quite arrived yet despite some of the trees doing their best to be part of the party. In the past the temperature alone has informed us that it was time to head south, but this time we seem to be remarkably acclimatised.
We have a week and a half to pack and finish our cleaning and maintenance chores, so today we just breathed deeply and sat around to gather our strength for the party tonight, and for making the lists that form an inevitable part of our departure routine.
at 7:22 am
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
It looks as though the scene is set for another in our continuous round of farewells as Ron and Robin arrived again yesterday to await the arrival of some visitors, and will follow us up the canal in a few days. They plan to travel past us, to reunite once again a week or two later, creating opportunities for two further bouts of celebration and still another two farewells. Their boat is of the variety know as a "double ender", it has a canoe stern, which means from some angles it can be difficult to tell whether it is coming or going and lately it's been coming and going so often it probably doesn't matter anyway.
This morning it was time for our Tuesday farewell before we set out to waters beyond the salt factories and grain loaders at Dombasle into the countryside once more. We actually quite enjoy meandering past and under the factories, watching the dust and steam escaping from joints in the pipes, and the grain falling into ships loading below the conveyors, but many we have met seem to think that the industry is somehow unattractive.
I thought I'd pop this picture in to demonstrate just how wrong they are.
Perhaps we like it because it ends so abruptly, forming a gateway to the Lorraine countryside, a gateway to home. Once we have them in our aft windows, we have less than a day of travel before our season ends, but we always get the hankering to linger just a little longer, so once again what could have been a day became two and we moored in Parroy, just a few kilometres from home for one last night alone in the countryside.
Monday, September 03, 2012
This thought was prompted by the reality that we no longer have large bicycles. The small ones with their infinitely adjustable geometry did prove to be a perfect means of retracing our journey of a few days past, along the tow path by the lock staircase, where this being Monday morning, almost every shopkeeper in Nancy was out walking, cycling or simply sitting fishing, except perhaps for the one community minded soul who was content planting a little patch near one of the bikeway entry points.
The girls in our number, perhaps not giving a thought to the time of week, decided to seek solace in our absence, in one or perhaps three of the patchwork shops in the centre of the village. Given that patchwork shopkeepers are no different to any other kind, the solace seeking mission was singularly unsuccessful and apparently morphed into a coffee seeking mission instead.
But whatever the case, solace was found, bicycle adventures completed, a long luncheon had and once again farewells bade and the silence that comes with departure descended on the boat once again.
Or was, we wondered, that muffled sound approaching in the distance that of a recently installed air conditioning unit?
at 6:44 pm
Sunday, September 02, 2012
It therefore came as no surprise to discover that it is also the home of…. err…
at 6:16 pm
Saturday, September 01, 2012
They were to be our last visitors for the year, another of those signs that our summer is coming to an end.
As we waited in the familiarity of the station the reality of how close our return journey is struck home. The station in Nancy is in many ways our gateway between Paris and the boat. It is here that we wait for our change of train on the first or last leg of our travels, either filled with the excitement of a new journey or weary with jetlag and willing the past twenty four hours to disappear from our memories in the shortest possible time. We have a corner in the coffee shop we call our own, our own club lounge if you will where we while away the hour or minutes with one "last" snack.
For all of that familiarity though, I can't say that we had ever particularly noticed that the platforms are painted red.
That of course gave us a head start on the rest of the town which was just as well really, as we only had a couple of days.
at 6:07 pm
Friday, August 31, 2012
One could be forgiven for having thoughts that summer was over a day early as dawn arrived with a temperature in single digits.
It's not that we were particularly aware of the dawn temperature, but Ron looked triumphant, having discovered in what for us would have been the wee small hours that the air-conditioner was actually a reverse cycle one. Once again the saloon of Tiara, this time magically heated to a balmy twenty four degrees was the setting for our elevenses, which, because we were anxious to get underway, took place at nine.
We hadn't considered for a moment that we took to be his triumphal look may of course have been merely one of relief, knowing that we would soon once again part company and they would once again find solitude and relief from our periodic raids on their larder and coffee supplies.
The ten kilometres between Richardmenil and Nancy is known as the Nancy Junction Canal had been closed for four years or five due to land-slips and other malfunctions which left parts of it devoid of water and other parts simply devoid, but was reopened mid year with little spectacle and it is a rather relaxing diversion through one of the city's green spaces, with the tow path shared by what seems to be every cyclist in France, and possibly half of the remaining population who don't for one reason or another have bikes for that matter. Bicycles, hikers, mobility scooters and even the odd walking frame whizz past as though there is no tomorrow.
If we were to have a complaint at all, it would not be that there are nineteen locks along the way, but that the hydraulic devices that operate the doors tend to be quite slow. This is a good thing. It makes transiting through them entirely worry-free, but after staring at the nineteenth pair of gates for the day, willing them to open, the process can be as much of a drain on the mind as it is on the locks themselves.
So we were a bit weary by the time we arrived in Nancy, the breeze which had been building all day, had become wind, with gusts sufficient to stop most of our forward progress from time to time, so we prudently elected to stay against the stone quay opposite the port where hundreds of metres of empty quay allowed us to nonchalantly stop and tie off wherever the wind took us.
at 4:15 pm
Thursday, August 30, 2012
We didn' t mean to travel as far as we did yesterday.
We had decided we'd just pop round the corner and stay at the first place that looked as though it had room for two boats, but we didn't like the first and the second was too shallow and by the time we'd been through another commercial lock there was only one to go, and the lock keeper told us about a place a bit further along, and so it went until we'd travelled all afternoon and pretty well into the evening to boot.
From the river, the only visible part of the "port" about which the lock keeper had waxed so lyrical was a new aluminium structure with a big sign in red lettering which proclaimed it to be "reserved for boats carrying passengers". Further investigation revealed that the reason that it was the only part visible was that it was indeed the only part, but there was room for the two of us to tie behind the pontoon.
Beyond the trees ashore lay Maron, a little village a mere ten kilometres from Nancy as the crow flies, which anywhere else would make it a suburb, but here it is in the middle of nowhere, in a clearing in the middle of a forest.
Since we aren't travelling by crow we still have a day or two in the country until we reach the Big Smoke again, and turn one last time for home.
Sometimes the pace at which we move challenges even our own perspective on time. I have started to wonder about Einstein's theory of relativity, and if time slows down as we approach the speed of light, whether it actually speeds up as we slow down.
Perhaps that could explain how our time in France has simply evaporated.
at 5:53 pm
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
One of the nice things about cruising in company is that there's always an air-conditioned space to retreat from the heat of a summer's morning. That is of course providing the company one is travelling with has an air conditioner aboard, which in this case they certainly did.
It is fair to say that by the time we rustled ourselves into action some time after lunch quite a crowd had gathered, mostly to marvel at the wonders of the new acclimatisation machine, but also to scrounge coffee and whatever else was on the go in air conditioned comfort. Eventually they were coerced into at least moving off the boat where they gathered in a little cluster of mostly blokes at the sterns of our boats.
Ron seized the opportunity and started Tiara's engine.
"You can hardly hear the motor Ron" was all I could hear above the murmurings of approval on the dock.
"Clear Prop!" I called, in case any of them had taken to the water when I wasn't watching, and contemporaneously the good Captain scurried to the stern to ensure that none were in the firing line of Mr Perkins impending spluttering. The crowd roared in a jocular sort of laugh as though the punchline of the world's funniest joke had just been offered. So loudly did they laugh that we could hear them over Mr P's guttural roar. Thankfully we couldn't watch them falling about through the clouds we were creating, so Mr P and we ignored their unkindness and glided smoothly if not silently and invisibly down to the river, where the very first tones of Autumn were beginning to show.
Our homeward journey had truly begun.
at 3:14 am
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
We were of course not disappointed and with what is technically just a few Summer days remaining this year, the weather was as the forecast had suggested; perfect if a little on the warm side. This of course played into Ron's hands nicely with that new air-conditioner humming so quietly that it was if even its lack of noise was a device to inflame fits of jealousy among those who were without.
But some of us braved the heat and walked around and had lunch and walked some more until Paul and Bertha arrived unexpectedly and dinner became a mere entree for a long night quietly chatting under the stars . One of those long lazy hazy days of summer had been gloriously mis-spent.
How any of us had avoided the temptation in the mid afternoon heat, of jumping from the pontoon into the clear cool water of the harbour is a mystery.
Perhaps our Antipodean youth had instilled a respect for the dangers that lurk within anything so tempting, or perhaps it was a respect born of age for the signs which read "swimming prohibited".
Or perhaps it was that from the comfort of Tiara's newly air-conditioned saloon, it didn't look quite so inviting.
at 3:09 am
Monday, August 27, 2012
As is the case each time we reach a cross roads, or in this case a tee junction in the waterways, we informed the lock keeper where we were headed. "There is a big lock broken on the river" he informed us, and with a and we cannot tell when it will be fixed, it could be quite some time.
"Quite some time" in France is a variable measurement, and in reality could become rather a long time when measured against standards utilised in other parts of the world, so we needed to reassess our plans.
On the one hand this was was good news for us, because it meant that there would be no commercial craft on the river disturbing our tranquility. On the other, it meant that the journey to Metz may be rather more tranquil than we would prefer as we couldn't actually move either, and when we did arrive at the errant lock, there would be a rather large queue of gigantic commercial craft, each of which would have priority over us when the necessary repairs had been completed.
That wait in itself could be "quite some time" even after the repairs had been made.
Under the circumstances, we thought the only logical thing to do was to head in the other direction, so we turned left instead of right and pointed our respective craft to Toul.
Metz can wait.
at 10:31 pm
Sunday, August 26, 2012
We were bound for Metz, but Ron and Robin had a shopping errand to take care of at the waterside hardware store in the morning, and six kilometres of relaxed drifting down the waterway was what we had in mind for the afternoon. There's no point in over doing it after all.
If every journey of that distance was as eventful, perhaps we would adopt a more sedentary lifestyle, something entirely risk-free like base jumping comes to mind.
We had no reason to suspect for instance, that the operator of the lifting bridge would commence unlifting it while were below. Just how someone whose sole job is to stop traffic and allow boats through was able to avoid noticing us is something of a mystery. Not long after that the ferry that we were following stopped without notice, and with even less notice suddenly began to turn in the waterway apparently oblivious to the quite immutable fact that not one of the three pleasure boats heading towards it was equipped with a braking device of any kind.
Somehow we all avoided an untimely demise with nothing more than a cheery wave from the captain apparently unaware of his misdemeanour.
With hearts now beating at least a little above normal resting rate, we secured ourselves quietly on our mooring and were just settling down to a quiet little drink, each with the beverage of choice in hand, when an errant barge skipper, as oblivious to our presence as the ferryman had been failed in his effort to slice us in two by less than a metre.
Suddenly, in one sunny afternoon we had experienced more excitement than most would see in a lifetime on the canals. I suspect that we have used our quota and all we have to look forward to now is clear skies, calm water and incredible scenery.
Life may tend to become a little tedious!
at 4:53 pm
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Today the newspaper headlines and a lead article on the front page are devoted to the summer phenomenon of the invasion from down under. There is hope that it will continue, this new-found interest in France, bringing with us our shiny dollars.
From our perspective we hope that our dollars stay shiny, but things are not as they seem.
We are convinced that the "influx" is simply the result of a misalignment of the stars. No one here is new to cruising in France. Two or three of our number have been in their second year, but most of us are relics from a time when our dollar was very tarnished indeed. It seems to be just one of those strange co-incidences that we have all simply arrived at the one spot at this time.
None the less, we smile and talk to the crowds that come to see us, and assure them all that more are on their way, which is exactly the case. The round of social engagements has become relentless, we are starting to wonder why our countryfolk are so gregarious. Why can't we all just sit quietly by ourselves like so many boats we observe wearing other flags/
Ron and Robin arrived a couple of days ago and have been moored beside us. In a moment of weakness we collectively decided to visit Metz next week, turning our backs on our celebrity here, so tomorrow, when they least expect it, we will slip quietly away.
Or maybe we'll just find somewhere quiet to simply sit and read.
at 3:44 pm
Friday, August 24, 2012
What could appear at first to be a little surprising given my own predilection for the style is that in four years we haven't actually managed to visit the place. THis has been due in no small part to the habit we have found in the proprietors of all things interesting to have them open to the public every day, (except of course the day on which we are there).
This year we were so determined to grace the "Musée de l' École de Nancy" with our presence, and today, having established a day or two ago that this was not a day when it was not open, we did.
The building and its exhibits are of course glorious examples of what was an exciting and daring new era in design, our senses heightened and experience enhanced no doubt by the two Euros we saved with our seniors discount on the admission price, but at the same time we were shaken a little with a new and sobering reality.
We had asked for the discount and had not been asked for evidence of our age.
at 3:37 pm
Thursday, August 23, 2012
New boats mean renewed interest in the blokes equivalent of the progressive tea. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" is our unspoken motto, and before long, fan belts are being tightened and oil filters removed to the appreciative sighs of the assembled witnesses, twenty-five cent cans of beer in hand.
The discussion moves from generators to coolant and back to shear pins for bow thrusters, but eventually I become distracted by a day pass for the buses that needs some use so we set out in search of bicycle locks.
In the harbour, we from the other side of the world, are a novelty. At home we are often told that our flag is not recognised by others. Indeed quite a few do mistake it for that of New Zealand, but overwhelmingly they recognise it for what it is, stop and ask if we have brought our boat all that way and ask us about the weather at home and in return they tell us a little of where they live and how many generations of their family have lived in their village and how interesting it must be to live in a country so new.
We agree of course, and try to explain to them how interesting it is to be visiting a country where one's garden shed predates our European settlement by four hundred years.
at 6:19 am
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
A few years ago when we came through the port we swapped notes about our leaks. At that time I suspect we were winning in the "who gets the wettest when it rains" stakes, but last year the tide began to turn ever so slightly in his favour.
This morning, prompted no doubt by our continued interest in his progress and perhaps to a lesser degree his fascination with his falconry we were invited home for lunch with his family, to inspect their labour of love.
There is nothing in the architectural vocabulary of his house that is familiar to anyone who has been raised in a country which was not seriously settled until the twentieth century. It was built, apparently, in the seventeenth century, mostly from stones appropriated from the ruins of a nearby chateau as indeed was the tower in the neighbouring property albeit built at least a hundred years before. On close inspection ventilation openings in what was once the basement have been fashioned from slots which were once very clearly intended for the despatch of arrows, door and window heads have carved tracery which clearly emanated from a property of more salubrious lineage. On a wall of what will be the dining room, there is a patch of plaster which remains carefully conserved on which a soldier of several wars gone by has left a souvenir of his presence in careful graphite script.
Under the eaves there is a row of small square openings, which centuries ago served as a pigeonierre but he says there haven't been any pigeons there since the falcons moved in, a fact which is unsurprising to any of us.
He explains that rescuing baby falcons is not quite exactly in strict compliance with the law about these things, but what is one to do, and shows us photographs of their last foundling swooping at the kittens in the kitchen.
"We are renovating an old house too", we offer over coffee and he asks as many have done before, when it was built.
"1982" we offer, and his expression tells us he doesn't know if we are joking.
We never joke we tell him with a smile, and then he's sure we are.
at 3:51 am
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
It was not long after two more boatloads of our compatriots had departed that Helle popped in to say good-bye, offering that they too would be leaving within the hour while in the same sentence offering an invitation to the good Captain to accompany her on a voyage of discovery to a shoe store at the end of town, which she assured us would only take a short while.
She started to resist, the Captain did, but seeing the the washing up was already underway must have decided I would be occupied and therefore would in all probability remain out of trouble for the foreseeable future, so ducked off as well, leaving me totally unsupervised, and I would have too had it not been for the Kiwis who arrived in the big blue barge and amazingly another couple of Aussies.
Surely it wasn't my fault that by the time the "hour" at the shops had elapsed, the sun was well over the yard arm and the party started all over again.
at 12:50 pm
Monday, August 20, 2012
We've felt it before, the type of hangover that comes after a day like yesterday.
It's not one the sort of unwell that one apparently suffers after drinking too much of Mummy's special red cordial, but a sort of hollowness that appears somewhere deep within as a cloak of silence falls over the space in the harbour where once there was a boat. Only a few of our number drifted off to continue their travels, but we all felt it, a sort of quasi-sadness that the party that had been the last few days had come to an end, thankfully taking with it the worst of the heat.
Of those, Niels looked after the dogs while Helle went to Paris to source some clothes, Georgi went to Paris too in an attempt not to resolve some immigration questions, Edith and Peter just went, taking their kids with them, as did Kees and Julie, creating even more spaces while the rest of us busied ourselves doing the sorts of things one does when one doesn't particularly want to do anything.
Perhaps to reassure ourselves that there was indeed life beyond the harbour front, we wandered off to town for the afternoon.
at 12:45 pm
Sunday, August 19, 2012
In Nancy at the moment, quiet extraordinarily there are six boats with crews which speak with accents broadly like ours, and while many from other lands equate thirty-seven degrees with Australia, every one of us equated the weather with "barbecue" under the trees of the harbour promenade. Marvellously there are children running among us as well, a thousand of them, or was it four, and a couple of Danes who see themselves as related because after all their future King has Antipodean blood in his veins, and who share their dogs without favour.
So we sit in the shade of our communal trees, two dozen of us variously sharing watermelon or talking bloke stuff and propellor sizes, or girl stuff and grandchildren or chasing dogs to the smell of snags on charcoal and popping drink cans and the squeals of children under a hose.
It's like a great big family picnic on boxing day but there's no grass for cricket, and as always there is a lot of catching up to be done, although in this community if anyone stopped to think about it, no one has known each other for more than two days, but no one does, and the party continues well into the night.
Tomorrow our group will begin to disperse, by Wednesday we will be the last remaining in port, but we will all remember that afternoon in Nancy when the thermometer hit thirty-seven, and half of Australia turned up for the barbecue.
at 10:04 pm
Saturday, August 18, 2012
It's a wonderful production of moving laser projection on the faces of all of the buildings in the square, and anyone who has seen it will offer it as a highlight of their summer time in France.
There are other things that are offered as highlights as well of course, to each his own. So many things are offered that often a listener's eyes tend to glaze over while the questioned person drones on endlessly about things they have seen and done… blah blah blahdiddy blah (those last four words were in Flemish for the benefit of Ria)……. until finally there is a pause as if keeping the best till last….
…."Oh yes!" they will say, as if embarrassed that they had not mentioned them first. "and those incredible irridescent blue-green dragonflies that hover and flash across the water."
They are too fast to capture, yet some days when the weather is just fine and the conditions are just right there are hundreds of them twinkling in the sun.
Every one of them is as memorable as the light show in Place Stanislas, and we don't have to wait till after dark to see them.
at 7:32 pm
Friday, August 17, 2012
Not that we were racing of course, in fact Mike let us go first the other morning, and we vacated our lunchtime mooring for them the next day. Yesterday we were only moving a short distance, so let them overtake us to ensure they got the best run at the locks. Life on the canals is supposed to be like that, slow and mutually co-operative.
Some people just don't get it.
This evening, as Betty B was shuffling into the lock that would take her down to the harbour in Nancy, we hung back as is usual, waiting our turn. I didn't need a calculator to tell me that after squeezing twenty-eight metres of steel barge into a thirty five metre long lock, nothing else would go, but apparently the bloke in the fourteen metre cruiser sending surf across the canal was of the view that if he entered the lock fast enough perhaps HE would.
In an effort to get his attention I stood with my head through the hatch and screamed across the roar of his engines in my most non-confrontational voice in something I hoped approximated his native tongue,. "Hey Dumbkopf! There's a barge in the lock";
That might have worked had in the process I not absented myself from the wheel and left our dear "Joyeux" to his own devices while I did so. The slow arc we were scribing in direction big ugly cruiser was what seemed to attract the attention of the skipper more than anything. This, while not intentional on my part, admittedly from the perspective of a fourteen metre cruiser travelling in close quarters at twice the speed limit, may well have been misinterpreted as a rather aggressive attempt to force him out of the water, which I stress it was not. This was not a good thing, but it did distract him from his race for long enough so that he did actually notice that the lock was in fact not to put too fine a point on it; "chockers".
It seemed to be at about that exact moment that another pair of immutable facts sunk into his thick scone: There were actually TWO boats in front of him in the queue for the lock, and as soon as dear Betty B left the lock, the lights would be turned off for the night.
Possibly unsure of whether he would find pleasant company beside the lock for the night, he was last seen heading in direction opposite, more slowly than I was later reliably informed, he had travelled all afternoon.
As soon as he was out of earshot, the skipper of the second boat shouted in our direction :"Hey, it's YOU! The ones from Television! You are from Australia!"
Err….. how did you recognise me when I was wearing my sunglasses?""
"You were wearing them on TV too!" he replied with a chuckle, referring to last year's Saar Television spot.
And yes another marvellous evening ensued aboard Albert and Doris' little cruiser, which as a result is now somewhat depleted of a fine range of Saarland gastronomic specialties!
I wonder if they'll frame our autographs?
at 7:13 pm
Thursday, August 16, 2012
The reality though, is that even in the wildest parts of "the wilds" one need only carry one's new ten kilogram folding bike for a few metres across the grass to reach a small waking track which in a few hundred metres will lead to a small vehicular path, which will lead to a road, and within a kilometre or two, to a bakery.
One needn't fear starvation when mooring in the wilds.
What one really needs to fear apparently is complacency and procrastination and the urge to nothing but sit variously chatting quietly and laughing for long periods of time before taking a nap. Just why one needs to fear those things is not yet clear to me though, and when it is, perhaps I shall take steps to prevent them happening.
Neither Dave nor Ria nor for that matter the good Captain herself have any fear of those things either, as progress during the day if that is what it could be called, was interspersed with all of them along with a little food, and halted entirely when eventually we came across another shady spot, not unlike the one we had left.
at 4:09 pm
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
But today was a new day, and with it brought canals brimming with water, sky brimming with sunshine, an early start, and a small car with Belgium number plates brimming with bicycles, arriving at our rendezvous in Charmes at precisely the same time that we did.
It's hard to believe that fifty years, two months and fifteen days have passed since that birthday morning when I crept into my parent's bedroom in the early half-light to run my trembling hands over every inch of my first bike, but as we started to unload the car the excitement was barely less than then.
These bikes seemed just as special, proper fold-ups that will fit four in the boot of a small car, weigh less than a carton of beer, and feel like proper grown-up machines to ride. They have proper gears and are bad-boy black and are probably exactly the sort of bikes Darth Vader's mob would have ridden if they'd run out of space-things to take them places, or perhaps if they'd been juggling clowns in a circus perhaps.
It was complete co-incidence that the bikes we had chosen were identical to Dave and Ria's, but probably no co-incidence in the way these things go, that at the precise location that we took delivery of the new machines, thousands of kilometres of some of the finest bikeways in Europe petered out into a barely marked off-road track suitable only for super-athletes mounted on mountain bikes.
For months we've been travelling alongside paths in which the EU have invested tens of millions of dollars creating a network that is truly remarkable. For the past month we've looked enviously as hundreds of cyclists have passed by on their way to places unreachable, we've missed opportunities to visit small villages and galleries and chateaus, but bravely and patiently we've waited for the new bikes to turn up with barely a whimper of complaint.
Now at last they are here, we have the means to follow those yellow brick roads to their very ends. We have bikes chosen for their performance on those billiard table smooth paths, and they came to an end right there, fifteen kilometres back, in Charmes!
Is there any wonder Darth and his boys preferred space ships.
at 3:48 pm
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
We had noticed the campervans circling like vultures over a dying carcass, but hadn't realised they were waiting for our parking spot until that very moment. They would have to wait, we had things to do at the bank.
Deeply engaged as we were in discussing exactly what we would buy from the bakery for morning tea before we departed, we joined the queue in the bank and settled in for our wait. Eventually with hearts in throats because the technical nature of the discussion we were about to have was far beyond our abilities in the language stakes, it was our turn.
I laid our bank details and identification documents on the counter and contemporaneously launched into my well rehearsed apology for our inadequacies in the area of communication. The bank chap politely butted in, throwing me entirely off my game.
"Credit Agricole" he said, reciting the name of our bank clearly set out on the letterhead before launching in to a short but undecipherable tirade, while tapping on my documents.
"Yes, that's right" I replied, expecting some resistance as, after all that is what happens in banks.
He then repeated his whole diatribe, and again I ignored him and pressed on with my enquiry.
Everyone except us has a story about how hard it is to get assistance when one doesn't speak the local language. We had escaped to date, but now it was our turn. Clearly I had a tough one here.
He seemed a bit perplexed, although not at all frustrated, and said something that sounded like "No you are here" pointing as he did to the wall behind us.
"Well yes I know I am here" I replied, not completely certain of where the conversation was heading, although at that precise moment a rather large light bulb deep within my brain switched itself on.
We were standing in the chambers of a bank whose name sounded very much like the French word for "here", not actually the one we had intended to be in. Engrossed in thoughts of morning tea, we had actually wandered in to a bank almost a city block from the one we sought, an establishment very much in competition with our own. Much laughter, heart felt apology and slapping of backs later, we shook hands with the long suffering banker, no doubt no longer feeling any benefit from his day off yesterday, and departed for the correct address, where we had even less success with obtaining assistance.
It was time to retreat we thought, before the canal became as dry a gully as the one's we'd been running up all morning. The water by that time was so low that our exit was about as close to off-roading as one can get in a boat, but after several hours we were again in safe water and ready to resume our travels.
at 6:58 am
Monday, August 13, 2012
I had to face facts, no matter how much I told myself it might be ok if I just let things settle for a bit, the black goo that filled the hydrometer when I checked the battery charge confirmed that this one particular battery was broken, as they say in the construction industry, with a capital "F".
Fortunately it is just one of a pair which serve to keep our lights and pumps running, and of course the refrigerator when we have no shore power, so we do not have a crisis of any great magnitude. Without going into a long discourse on what makes a battery a battery, it is suffice to say that light, pump and refrigerator batteries have different characteristics to the ones we use to start combustion engines.
Therefore before heading off in search of someone who could help, I spent some time ensuring that I had the correct terminology in my head, and in the event that it left my head even fleetingly, written in large letters on a piece of paper held securely in my pocket,.
Incredibly perhaps, my efforts at communication were entirely successful, which meant that following each "no, sorry, (shrug)" I received in response to my enquiries, I was able to elicit from the shrugee directions successively from tyre company to auto accessory shop to anywhere within walking distance of the preceding place having established as I went that each of them stocked only the wrong type of battery, and no it's not possible to order one in.
In a way I can't say that I was unhappy, because as each new direction was given as to where I may find one of the wretched things, I found myself being lured further and further from the boat like a child being lured into the forest by the smell of fresh gingerbread perhaps, and I must admit I began to be wary of the prospect of lugging thirty or so kilograms of battery across Epinal, arriving splashed in acid with arms dragged from their sockets.
As that wariness grew into fear, I sensibly abandoned my pursuit of a battery and set off for the bank in order to settle the small matter of payment for our new bicycles.
But how quickly we forget.
Today is Monday, the day that bankers reserve for anything but banking. It's like a Sunday really in their eyes, so with that in mind we became bankers for a day and went for a long walk through the ruins of the Chateau, drank cool drinks in the shade of a tree, and wondered what anyone that didn't work in a bank was doing.
at 3:34 pm
Sunday, August 12, 2012
We should have been stuck in no-man's land two thirds of the way down the hill, but we weren't, we were lying in a nice port watching the colours dance around the water, wondering why we can never devise a plan that is capable of remaining intact for more than two days.
We like it here.
Perhaps we can find a battery. Even better, perhaps we can find someone helpful in a bank who will assist us to pay for the bikes before their imminent arrival.
Perhaps we can stay for a while, but it's Sunday and there's no point working on a new plan today.
Perhaps we will look at that tomorrow.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
If everything was to go perfectly our way, a contradiction in terms when one is referring to French Canals, I calculated that we might actually get to the top of the downward chain exactly three minutes too late to make it to the bottom. I wondered what our chances would be of picking up a valuable three or four kilometres on the run to Toul.
The first two hours of the day were encouraging to the point of causing excitement, we'd actually picked up almost ninety seconds, if we could do that for the next two hours we'd be there!
That is exactly when we caught up with the Dutch couple in the large cruiser, and they were not a pair of happy campers. It would seem that a couple hailing from a country best known for its efficiency, had simply refused to allow them into the lock, closed the gates and departed, leaving them (and for that matter us) with a dozen or so locks in an automatic chain, completely out of synchronisation, and in need of a good deal of work by the lock keepers on route just to keep us heading in direction forwards. We thought about our shattered plan, and took solace in the fact that it didn't seem to be anywhere near as disastrous as their shattered plan, and got on with enjoying our day together at least until we got to the top of the hill when we lost sight of them in their haste to make up for lost time in the ten kilometres of lock-free canal before the descent.
The descent is a chain of locks, each separated by at most a hundred metres, and timing being what it is, our new Dutch friends found themselves separated from their nemesis by exactly one lock, and we followed them by the exact same distance, through the miracle of automated technology, none of us able to move closer or further away.
In the meantime, through circumstance that were completely inexplicable, after a somewhat tension filled last hour, we managed to enter the last lock in the chain at exactly one minute to six, to be met at the bottom by the now smiling faces of Remco and Clara.
We'd had enough excitement to last a week.
We had arrived in Epinal, it was time to change our plan.
at 7:48 am
Friday, August 10, 2012
We came up with a plan overnight. Due to an overwhelming number of plans failing to come to fruition, we haven't done that in a while, but despite the little warning buzzer in the back of my head we did it anyway.
The plan was simple. We'd put the "pedal to the metal" and spend the next four days travelling from nine in the morning to six at night, the business hours of the locks on this stretch of canal, and by Tuesday we'd be in Toul, where we'd meet Dave and Ria. We wouldn't linger anywhere on the way, we'd simply make notes to follow on our return next year.
We were in the first lock at six minutes past nine, a disappointing effort in light of the fact that we had actually moored at it's very gate, and for the first hour or two our plan went swimmingly. Then we arrived at Fontenoy-le-Château at about coffee o'clock, which turned into coffee and I wonder if the Baker has any eclaires today, which turned into an admittedly swift reconnaissance of the town "for next year", a chat with a passing barge or two, and a promise to stay for a month on our return.
Not withstanding our short diversion, twenty-three locks and twenty-six kilometres up the hill since breakfast, we found ourselves facing a lock that refused to open, and discovered that perhaps this was a very fine piece of forest to spend the night after all.
We had averaged an impressive two point eight kilometres per hour for nine hours. We were humming!
at 7:16 am