Legends from our own lunchtimes

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Beyond the fog -
La Cassine to Le Chesne

In the morning, if one is silly enough to be out of bed before the sun makes its presence felt, it’s sometimes difficult to see too far through the mist and the morning chill.  When the day looks like this though, it’s often a sign that clear blue skies and bright sunshine are not far behind.

I would be being less than truthful if I were to even so much as imply that Mr Perkins’ continued cantankerousness is not causing the slightest angst on board the good ship “Joyeux”.  

It is.   

The slightest amount, although it’s more frustration than angst, but we have a plan of sorts.   He seems to be fine for the first hour or so each day, so we’ll simply carry on metaphorically through the mist until we find the sunshine on the other side and stop when he decides it’s time.

Today he decided, as he did yesterday within crawling distance of our chosen destination that he’d almost had enough.  “Almost” got us there albeit at less than walking pace, which happily is about our normal speed in any case.    

As each day passes we are getting closer to the point where help will be easier to source, but until that happens, each morning at “start the engine” time we have the feeling we are playing “British Engineering Roulette”, a version of the Russian game except the loaded gun is a big lump of cast iron willing itself to destruct or at least have some other bit fall off. 

The outcome of the game matters little, just as the morning mist is quite beautiful even without the promise of the later sunshine.  If the truth be known, the countryside is infinitely more pleasant without the background sound of a diesel engine running.  I don’t think we can lose here no matter which way the Perkins falls.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Making hay in the sunshine
Lumes to Le Chesne

The plan was a good one, verging on great.

We wouldn’t leave too early, there would be no need, as we had to travel barely ten kilometres to get us off the river and onto the Canal des Ardennes, where it would be a simple matter to find a place for two boats to while away the afternoon, and what would be left of the morning.

It all went so well too, for about an hour until the malady that has been plaguing our Mr P returned.  His intermittent coughing and spluttering did put a dent on progress for a time, but disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as it had appeared and by mid morning we found ourself at our planned destination.

The only difficulty we encountered with that particular plan, was that the quay that we had planned to moor against had been removed, as had every other solid edge for a dozen or so kilometres as the entire stretch of waterway seems to be under reconstruction.  

We were forced therefore, through no fault of our own, to forgo our post-luncheon snooze, to struggle on into ever improving weather, through more of the sort of countryside that one sees on postcards that are without doubt complete fabrications by some photoshop artisan.

When we could take no more, we stopped under some trees, by a green field full of white cows with hills behind that framed the purple sunset as the last of the post-dinner coffees were being drained.

It may well have been a perfect day in paradise, were it not for the lingering doubts concerning the reliability of our means of propulsion!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Charleville-Mezieres to Lumes

When it’s time to go it’s time to go, and sometime after lunch with the sky vaguely clearing, for us that time arrived.  We could have easily spent more time in Charleville-Mezieres, but for reasons that are not completely without logical explanation, given Mr Perkins’ tenuous state of health, we are a little anxious to get off the river and back into the much more sedate canal system.

So we shopped a bit in the rain, and abandoned plans to wash sheets and sometime after lunch with the bit well and truly between Mr Perkin’s teeth we left Dave and Ria floundering in our wake, or perhaps they were just following at a safe distance lest something should explode from within our engine bay.

Not wanting to overtax ourselves nor overtax our machinery, we feigned tiredness after not quite a dozen kilometres and settled down for a quiet night in the middle of almost nowhere, wondering why our Mr P had not so much as missed a beat all afternoon.

Perhaps he likes being back on the "road" as much as we do.

Monday, July 28, 2014

For Ducks.

Today was going to be our last with power and water for a while.  At first we thought we’d get the washing up to date, then clean some stuff and get some groceries and generally be busy little bees, before exploring a bit more of the town.

But the rain didn’t let up, so we didn’t do anything.

We watched the ducks wafting by, noted they seemed quite comfortable just hanging out with their mates and went to lunch in a warm dry cafe with Dave and Ria.

We took the long way home.  It was a sort of progressive supper/conversation really, the sort of afternoon from which a play could evolve:   Coffee with Dave and Ria, and then with Steve and Peta, then drinks with Bob and Anna and then with Bob and Anna and Steve and Peta, before moving eventually to Ian and Lynda and Dave and Ria.

The rain didn’t stop, neither did the conversation, nor did we get wet.

Tomorrow perhaps we’ll get some washing up to date, then clean some stuff and get some groceries and generally be busy little bees, before exploring a bit more of the town.

Or perhaps we’ll simply move on.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Monthermé to Charleville- Mezieres

In a week the town square in Charleville had been transformed to a place of summer celebration.  

When we walked through it last week, it was an empty space, hot and barren in the summer sun and paved with ancient cobblestones with a Carousel revolving endlessly in an apparent attempt to relieve the  the spirits of those traversing the square.

Today, it was filled with sand and beaches and volleyball and badminton and pools with boats and plastic ducks and children playing and swimming and driving bumper boats.   The inflatable bumper boats really spoke of summer.  

What a joy it must be to cruise in a vessel so reliable and vibration free!

We shouldn’t complain.  Our Mr P had brought us back after all, with only a few hints of protest along the way; a few minutes of belligerence every now and then to shake us out of our complacency.  Even the normally unflappable Jacques seemed nonplussed at this behaviour, but it wasn’t enough to spoil our somewhat idyllic day with Maggie and he.   Perhaps still one more round of tightening is in order.   

We noted with something akin to envy that not one of those kids had grease under their fingernails.  Perhaps we could just give up our quest for reliability aboard, and trade our entire catastrophe for one of those little bumper boats!


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Water under the bridge.
Revin to Monthermé

We even set the alarm this morning.  

Monsieur Biadelle had said he’d be with us at eight and that was one appointment we didn’t want to miss.   I explained as best I could, that Mr Perkins problem was simple, it was just getting to a solution that was complicated, which I thought was no mean feat in my haltering verbless French.   

He nodded politely, tilted his head and told me he could fix it within the day, ten hours at most, he would just need to go back to his workshop, take the part to a guy who knows a guy, then bring it back, “or perhaps” I could see him thinking to himself, “I could hit it with a hammer”.

We cancelled plans to move,  and had barely sent off messages to those who were to meet us later, confirming that we would still be here, when he returned triumphant, reassembled injector in hand, but no hint as to how he had achieved it.   He borrowed some spanners, assembled the disassembled bits, bled the fuel, waited till we’d started the motor and as efficiently as he had arrived, disappeared with a week’s worth of grocery money in his pocket, a very fair sum indeed for the time he’d spent.

We stared at each other.  The sound of Mr Perkins starting had flicked that inner switch.  Within minutes we had cast off our lines and were on the river, heading in direction Monthermé, communicating our change of plans to they who were trying to find us.

While in the sense that we arrived at our destination without incident the story has a happy ending, Mr Perkins was not his old self, some adjustments will be necessary.  Some cleaning and tightening of nuts will be involved.

We will keep a cautious eye out, and a spanner handy, and perhaps a hammer just in case, but our week in Revin is now water under the bridge.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A patch of blue

We both woke up this morning.  That is always a good thing.

Then, without even waiting for coffee I checked the Royal Mail tracker and it said the package was in Paris and they’d get around to delivering it sooner or later.  That was not quite so good, but rather than dwell on it we made plans fill in the day by cruising with Dave and Ria to Monthermé and riding our bikes back.

So we got all excited and one of us hurriedly cut lunches while the other jogged to the post office “just in case”.

If we’ve ever been as disappointed to receive a package that we’d been desperately awaiting, we can’t remember when it was.   We couldn’t bring ourselves to entirely abandon our cruise aboard Max so hitched a lift as far as the first lock, bade our sad farewells and walked back the couple of kilometres to where the greasy mess awaited.  Max had not disappointed, although having to leave him did.  For just a moment, without a tinge of jealousy, we found our gratitude for our own lot wavering ever so slightly, but we soon recovered.

Of course mid-waver, as if to throw fuel onto some smouldering ember, there was one nut in our repair process that wouldn’t come undone without a special tool.  There always is.  Despite the best effort of the gardener in the park next door, who threw his mower repair shed to our mercy, we couldn’t find a Perkins injector undoer for love or money.   He didn’t even have a bigger hammer than the one I already had hit it with.

So we called for help from the guy in Charleville with the special tool (and perhaps a bigger hammer) and now we wait once more in Revin, until the dawn of a new day, full of hope and promise, although with no need to check the Royal Mail tracker.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Twiddling our thumbs.

Royal Mail parcel tracking, says our part “has arrived in ROISSY CTCI IMP RAP and is being processed for delivery.”  

We are just a few hours from Roissy by fast train, but we have no idea how long a postal van will take.   “Perhaps tomorrow”, said the nice man at the Post Office, without having to say, in the way of these things, “or perhaps not”.

So we’ll walk and explore and read and hang around under the shade for at least another day, presuming all the while that the part in the post is the one we need, and that when it arrives installing it is within our collective skill set.  

It doesn’t seem possible that tomorrow we will have been here a week, but we have, and we know that while we are completely content to sit and wait, the moment we are able to move, the switch in our head will fire and the need to move will hit with some urgency.

We can’t explain that, it is just the way it is.   

In the meantime, we’ll settle in and wait for another sunset.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gather round for a photo

Mr Perkins part, according to Royal Mail parcel tracking, “has been passed to the overseas postal service for delivery in FRANCE.”   I am not quite sure, but I think that’s a good thing on balance, although there might just well be a hint in there somewhere that we aren’t going to see it tomorrow.

So we are forced to sit here for a bit longer with our friends, doing not much but not having time to do anything more, wondering how Dave doesn’t get fed up with having nothing to repair on his boat, while Ian and I seem to be up to our elbows in tools for one reason or another.   We mustn’t overdo it though, the evenings together are not conducive to retiring early.

They all swam today, the other five, in water that judging by the way my toes went blue when they were dipped in it, must have been barely above freezing.   

 I managed as is my custom, not to be “refreshed” as they describe it, being firmly of the belief that if there is nothing wrong with the boat, there can be no reason to go overboard, noting with some satisfaction their squeals of what sounded like vaguely like pain and definitely not ecstasy on entering the water.  

Dave assured me that according to his on-board sensors the water temperature was a balmy twenty-one degrees.   Perhaps there is something he can fix after all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Silver Lining

It began like a Sunday kind of Monday and then we realised that it was Tuesday and thought hard about going back to bed until we’d sorted things out. 

The cloud cover and misty rain did nothing to alleviate that feeling either.  If one had squinted hard enough the glistening slate roofs across the river could have been ice or even snow perhaps with a bit of imagination.    

We wondered for a time if long pants were going to be the order of the day but half the news the part for Mr P had arrived at the distributors in the UK and would be despatched this afternoon seemed to combine with the first coffee to put a bit of a rosy hue back into things, and that was even before we’d received Ria’s message that they would be with us by lunch.

Sure enough, just on lunch o’clock when Dave and Ria arrived aboard their Max in a blaze of triumph and glory, that perhaps only they and we could see, bringing with them warmth and sunshine, as though they were couriers of climate.

We have shared their dream and stuck our noses in their boating business for years, planning with them and enjoying their boat building adventure as it unfolded, it seems only fair that now we can enjoy the results with them.

If they can bring the weather with them as they did today, we may never leave their sides.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Living by numbers

The day dawned full of optimism and prospect.   We were hardly out of bed when the first message arrived confirming what I had already discovered; the quest for the replacement part wasn’t going to be straight forward.   For some reason, out of all the parts in all the engines in the world, due to some sort of administrative error, or perhaps a misalignment of certain planets, this one little part, which has a reputation for breaking occasionally apparently, was never given a number.

Numbers mostly just hang around unnoticed, on walls, on doors, on sewer grates and telegraph poles and even banknotes.  We take them for granted, and it is only when some sort of emergency arises, such as when one is trying to order a machinery component to exactly replace another, that they become terribly important.    Eventually though, after a morning on computer and phone, we found a chap who knew a bloke who could get to someone in a far away land who would order the part for us, and all being well something will turn up in the mail by the end of the week.  Or the next.

Meanwhile in the port the numbers of Australians are steadily growing as well.   Richard and Gloria turned up out of the blue, and not unexpectedly we finally caught up with Ian and Lynda, or actually it was they who caught up with us two months and two countries later than we had planned.   

It was not a quiet evening, and for the second in succession the numbers of the clock were quite small when the lights finally went out aboard.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


It would be fair to say that Mr Perkins' state of health is at top of mind if not causing stress, so a detailed search of the internet seemed like a reasonable way of filling in time until hopefully the answers to all the emailed cries for help start rolling in.

But after a couple of cups of coffee, having made only one confirmed sighting thus far part to match our broken one, and concluding that Michigan where the said part is currently located is a long way from Revin, and since no-one in Michigan seems to be prepared to answer their phone in the dead of night on a Sunday there seemed little point in doing anything further in that regard today.

Instead, we looked out the window and cleaned things, and wondered how the people in all those old houses looked out their own windows as they never actually seem to open the shutters.

During one of those looks out the window we couldn’t help but notice Tracy and Martin arriving in their narrow boat, and while it was mid afternoon when they did, suddenly, in the nicest possible way, all our plans for the afternoon and evening were suddenly in more disarray than those houses. 

Mr Perkins chose to ignore the ruckus and slept quietly in his box.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


I was eating breakfast a few days ago when for the second time in as many years a corner of a tooth sheared off.   I guess that means my annual trip to the dentist will end in another crown job, but at least it can wait till we get back.

I found that Mr Perkins had the equivalent this morning while trying to discover the source of the fuel leak and his general crankiness of late. One of the flanges holding an injector into his head has cracked, after years of abuse.   “They” say it’s not something he ate, but that it can happen through being overtightened to fix a leak instead of spending thirty cents on a new washer - I suspect that a lot of thirty cents have been saved over the years on our Mr P.   and that they are going to add up to quite a lot of extra expenditure for the people at the end of the line.   If it wasn’t us left holding the baby, I’d rub my chin and try to look wise and tell them I would have told them so.

It is a bit disappointing at first being stranded forty kilometres from where we’ve paid a week’s rent in advance, but I suppose that if we have to be stuck anywhere, being stuck in a beautifully cared for Port with security, and Supermarkets, hardware stores and bakery a stone’s throw away is no terrible thing. 

It also means that we’ll be here on Monday so we be able to visit our friend Mary in the Tourist Office after all, and Monday is when the real logistical problem begins, when half a dozen parts suppliers return to work to put the weekends enquiries into their systems.   

Two I have spoken to today don’t know where to begin, but what happens if all the others send me one? 

it doesn’t matter, one replacement and five spares won’t come close to matching the cost of fixing the tooth.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Water under the bridge.
Charleville-Meziers to Revin

Yesterday we were looking forward to spending a week just hanging around in Charleville-Mezieres.   We even paid our port fees nine days in advance, and were settling in, pulling out our lists of things to make and do, getting ready for Maggie and Jacques’ visit on the weekend.    Then the boat which was moored in the one piece of afternoon shade moved on, and we cast off our lines and fired up Mr Perkins intent on moving the hundred metres or so into that spare space.

That is when things went slightly awry.  For reasons that are not immediately self explanatory and probably not explicable at all, except that the day was hot and clear and the river was glistening and cool, we went straight past the marks where that other boat had been, onto the river for a bit.    The river in this part of the world, is particularly beautiful, lined with the cliffs and forests of the Ardennes, villages perched where they can, just appearing out of the forest.  At each turn some new vista would appear.  It's like travelling through a model railroad layout.

That is how it came to be that almost seven hours later we were in Revin, with no prospect of being home in time for tea, and the Captain of our new Port welcomed us as though we had been long lost , which in retrospect perhaps we had, and invited us to a party under her trees.  

There we met a lovely young lady who worked at the Tourist Office.  We told here idly that we didn’t really expect to be here today, and that tomorrow we’d come and see her in the office to find out what makes the town tick.   

She responded with a blank look and said “No, not tomorrow - we are closed.”

Of course.  Tomorrow is Saturday.  What was I thinking.  Everyone will be on the tourist train.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Finding Rambo
Lumes to Charleville-Mezieres

We didn't get underway first thing, but managed to be in Charleville-Mezieres in time for morning tea none the less, in brilliant sunshine and a sky that reminded us of our other home; just made for washing apparently.   Accordingly we washed everything that needed washing and some things that didn’t and in the afternoon briefly dipped our toes into the waters of the town that was the home of Arthur Rimbaud (pronounced - you guessed it!), child prodigy, Symbolist poet and gun runner and who apparently once stabbed a photographer with a sword-cane during a poetry reading.    

The home town of the man for whom John Rambo was named has a museum dedicated to him (Rimbaud that is), and of course it’s famous and apparently quite interesting and worth the price of the admission, a must-see on the list of anyone visiting this city.

And it’s closed.

Not just closed on a Thursday either, or closed because we were here, we thought of that and booked for ten nights in port because it was the same price as five, more or less, and we thought we could wait out the places that usually close because they see us coming.   No, it’s closed for a year for renovations.   

Perhaps we won’t need ten days to see everything here after all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Making some miles
Mouzon to Lumes via Sedan

We have travelled more than one hundred and eighty kilometres since leaving Lagarde four weeks ago.  Today we accounted for twenty percent of those, and had a lunchtime stroll round Sedan to boot.

I suppose if we’d found Sedan to be in some way marvellous, we would have stayed for the night.  It was interesting enough certainly, modern in a nicely designed fifties and sixties sense, although a bit unloved compared to the cheery little villages we have been in all week.  The bread rolls we ate as we wandered were sensational, but there was nothing that compelled us to stay. 

We have visited enough forts for this week and we have decided that one can overdo forts as tourist destinations, just as one can overdo cathedrals.    

This is not to say the fort in Sedan would not have been interesting on another day though.  It has walls that are twenty metres thick, having been strengthened progressively as improvements were made to armaments through its history.  In retrospect, if one were to judge from the post-war age of the city outside the fort, either the effort that went into the walls was completely vindicated, or entirely wasted pending improvements to weapon accuracy.    On further meaningless history, I have no idea who Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne was, but he was born there apparently and just a few kilometres down the river underway again, we passed the town where Napolean and Bismark negotiated a surrender treaty surprisingly to those of us who imagine Napoleon living a very long time ago, to pretty much coincide with the winding down of Port Arthur as a penal settlement.

Unsure of how to illustrate any of this information in a new and informative way, I photographed a cat, and wondered if it would be better served with a ginger sauce, or mushroom.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On becoming history bores.
Stenay to Mouzon

We turned a corner on the river today and the wooded hills were rising suddenly not far from us from the fields which were doing a fair impression of alluvial plains.  If the crops had been sugar cane instead of corn we might for an instance have been excused for thinking we were on the Tweed River.   

Taking this to be a sign that we needed a coffee, we stopped for morning tea, and while we were at it we stopped for the rest of the day as well to ensure we didn’t overdo things.  As we’d never been to a Felt Museum before and it just happened that the one in this very village was open, we thought that a post-lunch visit to that would make for some light relief from all the tales of war we had been enduring of late.

We would have been absolutely correct on that score had it not been for having to walk through the last of the standing “Town Gates” on our way.  Built sometime a very very long time ago, the towns fortifications notably held back “the Spaniards” in a siege that lasted forty days some time in the 1600’s, although the plaque didn’t say what the score was at the end, or who in fact won.  I can only presume that the absence of paella cafe’s in the winding streets meant that those pesky Spaniards popped off to play somewhere further north instead.  

Knowledge is useless though if it isn’t shared, and when we were invited to drinks which turned into a lengthy dinner with the owners of the two British barges in port, perhaps they weren’t quite expecting that by the end of the night they would be as knowledgeable as we.  I am fairly certain that they we sad to see us (eventually) leave as well, even though we hadn’t quite quite got to the point of asking questions to see if they had been listening.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A flawed reflection.
Dun-sur-Meuse to Stenay

A couple of bridges that had not been repaired since they were destroyed in the first world war drifted past our windows today.  

We can relate to that time frame in a historical context and also to the war museums and  memorials that abound, they are within the historical parameters we have grown up with.   We know for instance that the oldest stone bridge in Australia was built in Richmond, Tasmania in 1825, the Port Arthur penal settlement closed for business in 1877.    The greater part of the history of European settlement in Australia has occurred within the lives of just three generations of my family..

Tonight we are in Stenay, the garrison town that was used by the Germans as their base for the attacks on Verdun. That was in a timeframe that makes sense to us, although when we saw what seems like a huge numbers of artifacts, helmets, bayonets, rifles and badges on sale at the local flea market that conflict of a century ago seemed almost in the present tense.

When we discovered that the town fortifications were dismantled in 1689 after a repositioning of the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire it was another matter.  That was before our time, and we were transported again into a zone outside that of our comprehension.  

Then we came across a description of a nearby fortification described thus: “Not old for the structures of this region, but worthy of note - Built in 1450”.  Even six hundred years isn’t old when you can track what was going on in the village a thousand years before that.

Our mind begins to boggle in a way that people born here don't understand, so we just carry on absorbing it by osmosis, enjoying the view.

Oh what a lovely bridge!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Lunch
Consonvoye to Dun-Sur-Meuse

When we were in Toul, Paul had strongly recommended that we visit a particular restaurant in Dun-sur-Meuse.  

We were about a morning’s distance from the said village and therefore lunch when we woke this morning, and since we hadn’t actually made up our minds how far we were planning to go today, lunch seemed to be an obvious destination despite it being almost fifteen kilometres away.  If our sums were done correctly, we’d have to skip a stop for morning tea if we were to make it though, so we braced ourselves for a three hour, three lock marathon.   

There was no risk that any of the beige notions of familiarity expressed yesterday would be carried through today though, from the moment we cast off, the river was in one of those moods where the light was filtered through a subtle haze mooting the colours of the landscape so that they looked as though they’d been desaturated in photoshop or perhaps left to weather for millenniums.   

We discovered when we arrived that the village itself is postcard decrepit, intact but with a layer of wear thick enough to satisfy the harshest critic of urban renewal.  It’s stone church rises from the rocky crag above the town, posing rather than imposing.  Even those remnants of commercial activity the demise of which I was ruing only yesterday are scattered throughout the town, still sign written as they were decades or more ago.

After eating terrific Italian food cooked by an African chef for a Sicilian restaurant in a French village on the recommendation of a Dutch friend while on route to Belgium we can probably cease our quest for multi cultural adventure for a day or two at least.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Battling Complacency
Vacherauville to Consenvoye

The day began neutrally enough in a beigey sort of fashion.  It was neither dull nor bright, not quite raining, cool, but not too cold and it would be tempting to say that that’s how it ended as well, in a beige little village.  It’s the sort of place that once housed a thriving rural community and perhaps it still does behind all those drawn curtains and shutters, but the baker has gone and the “corner store” and with it all other bits of commerce, victims of the way people want to shop in the twenty-first century; conveniently, in supermarkets with a large range of products just a short drive away, as opposed to the way we tourists would want them to shop in quaint little relics of a bygone time.

To describe it thus however would require a confession that we are becoming a little over-familiar with our surrounds, even a little blasé perhaps.  For instance we take for granted that we are moored in a little embranchment of the Meuse, alone, tied to a quay alongside a perfectly manicured park in crystal clear water that flows into and old mill race a few metres ahead.  If we open our eyes the village isn’t bland by any stretch, quite the opposite in fact, it’s pretty, with just the right amount of decay to enable us to read it’s history.     

At first we hardly noticed the church which has been there since before James Cook was born, with its bells sounding the dot of the hour then chiming incessantly (almost) as the twenty-first century bridal party gathered for its entrance.  

As we watched them arrive the familiarity that is the bane of all travellers crept in again, the inevitable comparison to home.  This was a scene we’ve been part of many times.  We could have been half a hemisphere away. The bride stood on the roadway, her dress dragging in the gravel to the concern of my own bride, her father oblivious, her mother fussing about with flowers.   Her uncle, his hair cut yesterday or perhaps by the look of it this morning with a slip of paper poking from the pocket of his old suit waited quietly, staying out of trouble.   Was the paper, we wondered, his speech already prepared, or the order of service from a funeral six years ago when last the suit was worn?    

We critique the bridesmaids, in frilly dresses that may or may not have been just a tad short to our eyes, in inverse proportion to the widths of their posteriors which in turn seemed to be directly related to the heights of their shoes.

The bagpipes heralded them in and out of our view and for a minute we had our cultural wires crossed, but they were the French kind, (the cabrette I think, blown by bellows).

By then we’d watched enough of the familiar, and wandered off to find another window to peer into.


Friday, July 11, 2014

The Bucket List Loses Another Line

In the end we chose a spot down the road a bit from the refreshment station.  Actually it was down the road, over two bridges, through two-right angled turns and then round a curve up a bit of a rise; about two and a fraction minutes by racing bike, right where we thought we might see some riders discarding their bags. We made sure were there an hour before the “Caravan” was due.

The Caravan is a city festival parade on, if I may indulge in a bit of old cycling jargon, steroids.  Imagine a half-hour long parade of festival floats travelling at fifty kilometres per hour,  with one or more waving princess bolted to the structure in three or more point harnesses, madly trying to stay ahead of the even madder blokes on their bikes racing up behind,.  Simple mathematics says that this procession is twenty five kilometres long, but I digress.   To the above mix, add the princesses trained trinket throwers spraying valueless souvenirs of dubious manufacturing origin into the crowd as they go.   

There seems to be some sort of understanding that trinket hitting someone in the eye at that speed could take the edge of someone’s day, so the trinkets magically land at the feet of small children who have then only to wrestle their valueless prizes from the clutches of a certain foreigner of grandmotherly disposition, and a good time is had by all.

An hour later, in time for most of the trinkets to be broken or eaten, the wait was over.   

As I had hoped, predicted or just wished, meal bags were being discarded at precisely our location, (one was kindly discarded directly into my lap by a team Movistar legend, unwittingly fulfilling one of the saddest lifelong fantasies a person could have), riders were distributing packs among their team up and down the bunch, eating, sifting through their menus, swapping lunch notes, socialising, texting their mums and generally getting on with racing for another few hundred kilometres.   

Time may not have stood still, but it certainly slowed for a while.  We felt that we were actually a part of the event.  We felt as though we were there.

Afterwards, out of curiosity because my photographs also reinforce the illusion that time, and the riders are moving equally slowly, I checked their timestamps.  From the time I took the first shot of the approaching riders, until the last had passed, eighteen seconds had elapsed.  Eighteen seconds that felt like minutes.

Eighteen seconds, one hundred and eighty-six cyclists.

We may have waited three days for this, but it will be much longer than that before we actually understand what happened!


Thursday, July 10, 2014


Is there such a thing as a good spot to watch a bunch of cyclists tear past at forty or sixty kilometres per hour?   I suspect there is, and it is on a padded sofa in front of a large screen.   We don’t have a sofa or a screen, just a map of the route and the expected times of its whizzing by, so we wandered around the villages surrounding our mooring today, in reconnaissance mode rather than in the sightseeing one, trying to make a decision.

Charny-sur-Marne will be the first to see the riders, and it is a designated refreshment station.   That’s sort of like a pit stop in a formula one race, except that no-one stops.  The team “domestics” grab bags of sustenance held out by the ground crew as they race past, and ride through the pack to supply the front riders in their teams, who try to stay clear of the tangles which often ensue at the pickup point.   

It might be interesting to watch there, but it could be crowded and we might not see anything at all.  Perhaps if we wander down to the next village Bras-sur-Meuse, two minutes of racing further on, or even just a few kilometres up the first gentle climb towards the Bayonet Trenches of the war, we may see a little more as the front runners begin to climb.  

We walked along the route for seven kilometres today and could not decide where we will wait tomorrow.

With a day to go there a little last-minute cleaning of buildings and mowing of lawns is evident, but apart from the few signs warning of road closures, and some truckloads of barricades arriving in the villages there is no hint that tomorrow, for a few precious minutes the eyes of the world will be here.

We thought perhaps we may struggle to find a mooring within a reasonable distance of the route, but we are alone.

I suspect we won’t need to camp out to preserve our vantage spot, which given our indecision in that regard is no bad thing.


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Touring at a snail's pace.

Lying in one’s bunk under a blanket, reading for most of the day while the rain lashes around the boat with the temperature feeling a lot lower than the mid teens the thermometer insisted that it was, gives plenty of time for contemplation.

We awoke with the urge to move that had been brewing since yesterday still with us.    To satiate that urge that we left Verdun this morning before the weather took its turn for the worse, with a few bits remaining to be seen, happy to have a reason to return at some future time. 

Now we are in a what appears to be the middle of nowhere, in a conservation reserve with mooring facilities built by the village of Vacherauville.  This happily, is located less than a kilometre from the route of a stage of the Tour de France in a few days’ time at a place where the Tour begins to wind its way up through the hills and the significant battlefields, graveyards and memorials surrounding Verdun.  This route has been planned as part of the first World War centenary commemorations, presumably to bring the world’s eyes to the region, and it will be interesting to see how vast commercial interests can convey their gratitude as the circus rolls past half a million graves.

The cyclists will cover two hundred and thirty-five kilometres on that day.  

Two hundred and thirty-five racing kilometres. They won’t be tucked up in bed reading if the weather turns a little iffy. They’ll just plug ever onwards at fifty kilometres per hour.

Embarrassingly in the face of that statistic, our own peregrinations have covered exactly one hundred fewer kilometres than that since leaving Lagarde three weeks ago.  One hundred kilometres fewer in three weeks than a bicycle race covers in one day.  

Today we travelled for eight kilometres and felt quite satisfied with that.

I wonder how many books those cyclists get through in a day.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Was it something we ate?

Something was having a deleterious effect on our respective bodily systems overnight, and we both woke feeling somewhat seedy with the rain coming down in torrents.

The manual for cruising says: “if you wake feeling somewhat seedy and the rain is coming down in torrents, roll over and sleep until things improve”.   It goes on to say; “and  even if things do improve there’s no point in pushing yourselves too hard, so just lie there for a couple of hours reading.

Never ones to dismiss instructions we did exactly that.   

The battlefield experience we had planned for today would be hard enough without the need to battle rain and cold and mud as well.  There is no sense in staging our own reenactment we thought.  It will have to wait till tomorrow.  Besides, it's tuesday and the forts are probably classified as Museums and won't be open for visitors anyway.

The cruising manual doesn't explain what makes one want to stay or want to go though.  While this morning we were happy to sit here a few more days, take the bus tomorrow and be tourists, despite the forecast being for weather no better than today, by the afternoon we were calmly ready to move on.    Not far, but on.

Tomorrow we will be travellers again.

Unless we change our minds overnight.


Monday, July 07, 2014

Monday Blues

For much of our working life, if we’d had a particularly relaxing weekend one of us at least didn’t feel at all like going back to work on Monday. 

Much of France is like that, and while it does take some time to become accustomed to the undeniable fact that the country is pretty much closed on Monday.  This is historically we think, because things were supposed to be open on Saturday but  invariably after closing early for lunch on Friday, aren’t.   Some businesses to be fair are open for business but to be equally fair, the ones that would be useful to us never tend to be.  It's a sort of random thing that means that we only ever plan to do things on Tuesdays or Wednesdays except if that means visiting museums because that's when they close.

Today it was the turn of the buses that tour the battlefields.  We had planned more or less to tour that route yesterday but when that didn’t transpire, knowing that the buses don’t run at all on Mondays meant that we would have a day in which we could top up our nowhere near dwindling supplies and generally just hang around happily engaging in meaningless banter with fellow wastrels.

It also meant that there was little distract from the thus far futile effort to find a longer term solution to our wifi woes, as our ageing laptop slowly disintegrates in much the same way that Mr Perkins once did.

Tomorrow we will be tourists again.



Sunday, July 06, 2014


Finally a day where the freneticism around us was displaced by genuine tranquility and a seven Euro lunch.  There’s nothing like spending Sunday variously in bed in a cafe and an afternoon just pottering with stuff between hail storms, to recharge oneself for the rigours of touring in the coming week..

Non-cruising friends often ask if we ever get bored living the life we live.  “No” we reply, but is difficult to explain the degree to which we remain completely occupied.  My stock answer that we spend our days doing absolutely nothing and never seem to get finished doesn’t seem to satisfy their curiosity at all.

Today though, after battling with bits that may keep my aging and terribly unwell MacBook alive for just a few more months, I was giving some technical advice regarding some blogging software to someone who had lived permanently aboard their boat for fifteen years. When conversation came around to blogs and he discovered that I posted daily, at first he thought I was kidding, then he seemed genuinely astonished.

“Where do you get the time?”  He asked.

I had to admit it’s not easy.  Sometimes we have to go without our afternoon nap.

Today we did not.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Peace, tranquility and racing bikes.

The last drum beat died out some time after two this morning, at about the same time the storm terminally dampened the rest of the celebrations, and our blanket of tranquility descended once again, just long enough to allow us to catch a few hours sleep before the weekend hit with a vengeance.

It does come as a shock after a few weeks of rural virtual solitude to be in the middle of a city, and particularly a city which seems to understand exactly what weekends are for.  

It  began quietly enough, in drizzle, with hangover sounds and someone mopping up the spent sky rockets from the wet pavement.  Anyone not required to work remained in bed until the sound checks began for tonight’s concert at exactly ten past get up time, or was it ten to coffee time, but in any case it not indecent, yet still a time when most not yet mobile.   By the time we returned some time later from our sightseeing visit to the subterranean world beneath the citadel and it’s stories of wars, the full rehearsal was in swing at the other end of the port. Of the several words that could be used to describe the cacophony, perhaps “loud” is the most succinct.  

Even more ominously perhaps, for those dreaming of a quiet night of conversation, dozens of the dozens-plus-three boats in the port were being decorated in the orange colour of their national football team.  The concert less than a hundred metres away not withstanding, this was not going to be a quiet night.   That was before we began to wonder why the traffic had stopped on the roads surrounding us.

Traffic and racing cycles don’t get along apparently, not for three hours at any rate.    

Coincidentally on the first day of the Tour de France, a local event was being held on a circuit through the city streets and around the port.   The madmen dashed around the cobbles on a five kilometre circuit lap after lap, while the bands played and people on boats just grinned deafly at one another, either pretending to enjoy the concert or with their hearing aids turned off.   By eleven it had stopped, but in its place the match had begun.

Lying silently in one’s bunk at one am, in a port that is a thinly disguised echo chamber, it’s jaggy coastline defined by bars and restaurants each with a television set and half of the population of Holland within, variously holding its breath and releasing it in unison while a World Cup penalty shootout is underway, is an experience approaching unforgettable.  

As each penalty was taken, the gasps alternatively of delight or frustration sliced through the deadly silence that preceded them while the shot was being prepared.

Then it was all over, a few cheers, a few horns tooted, the sounds of happy crowds vacating bars and extraordinarily within minutes the day was over, just as silently as it had begun.


Friday, July 04, 2014

It's just a game-
Lacroux-sur-Meuse to Verdun

It’s the fourth of July, a meaningless date in France, except that today happened to be the day that France played Germany in what we think were the quarter finals of the Football World Cup.   

We arrived in the very centre of the city of Verdun and moored beside the lost Englishmen, not entirely tranqully between cafes and bars and mad clowns in the sort of dress which marks them either as one-eyed supporters of the home country, or as deranged beer stealing lunatics.  As the fireworks and drumming and tooting of horns carries on into the wee small hours of the morning, and the bridges are closed by people simply parking on them to celebrating the loss and perhaps fire off the odd skyrocket, we are starting to feel a tiny bit grateful that France didn’t actually win.  It's hard to imagine a more enthusiastic celebration although perhaps there would have been no tears.

But there’s also something a bit odd happening in our heads as we brace ourselves to visit some of the surrounding areas over the coming days.  Verdun is a living reminder of a grim world history and it's a grim irony that the same protagonists were at the centre of that history all those years ago.   The contest of a hundred years ago, left almost six hundred thousand people lying permanently in the surrounding areas and another eight hundred thousand wounded.   

Many of the trenches and battlefields remain untouched to this day.   Fields have remained unploughed for a hundred years, as they were at war's end.   That was a contest no one could win, nor did they, and the trophies from that one are perpetual.   

Perhaps that constant reminder puts losing a game of football into its proper perspective, and the celebrations too, win or lose.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Out in the midday sun
St-Mihiel to Lacroix-sur-Meuse

For a few days we have been travelling in company more or less with an English couple with whom we'd arranged to catch up at this evening's stopover.  They'd left earlier than us, and even suggested we could moor alongside them if space was at a premium.   The bounders (that’s what they would have called us if we’d done the same thing to them) weren’t at the next stop when we arrived after all.  We guessed they’d been enjoying themselves so much they just kept going.  It's disappointing really, when someone makes an arrangement then doesn't stick with it.

It had been another perfect morning until we realised we'd been stood up, except for having to navigate for a few lengthy spells through the weed growing in the canal.  Weed in the clear waters is a wonderful thing behold, particularly with the numbers of fish and animals we see among it, bit it is also our achilles heel, wrapping itself around our propeller and rudder and limiting forward progress to the point where we have to stop and remove it every so often through the conveniently located and aptly named weed hatch over the propeller.  Mr Perkin’s coolant leak even stemmed to a mere sniffle in sympathy.

But we arrived and determined to have a good time by ourselves anyway.  It was only after visiting each of the town’s sixteen fountains, and the baker of course, having failed to find the “best butcher in France” open at the time of our passing, when were quietly relaxing in the heat of the midday sun,  without mad dogs or Englishmen, that I glanced at the chart to have a think about what tomorrow may bring.

There I noted that we had travelled ten kilometres yet again, and a further ten kilometres beyond where we had stopped was the town that I may have inadvertently mentioned as our next port of call when making our informal arrangements last evening.  We fear that somewhere a few locks downstream from here, there is a boat with an English crew, who have just confirmed their suspicions about the reliability of we Antipodeans.


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Another tough day.
Sampigny to St-Mihiel

We are quite anxious not to overdo this cruising thing, not to press ourselves too hard, but every now and then with a particular destination in mind one has to leave early.

It may well have been a perfect day, but we couldn’t just sit there enjoying a leisurely breakfast.  No, we had places to go, people to see, things to do so we had ourselves more or less tidied and fed and the trusty Mr P ready to do his thing by the dot of eight thirty, ready to make the first lock by the time it opened at nine.   For almost two hours thereafter we slogged our way through a perfect sky and post-card countryside, battling a complete absence of wind and tide,  until finally we reached St-Mihiel, thankfully well in time to catch the bakery and visit the tourist office as well before lunch.

Sadly our Mr P has not settled into his new state of being as well as we might have hoped.  He has developed signs of some bodily fluids emanating from an orifice which thus far remains hidden from view,  so we shall have to watch him over the next few days.

In the meantime, if all else fails, there are worse places we could think of to be stuck awaiting help.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Not bread alone.
Commercy to Sampigny

There’s something mildly comforting about waking in the morning already looking forward to lunch.    

With that mild comfort in mind, we strode off through the streets of Commercy post breakfast, following the tourist trail, past Stanislas’ favourite home, the church, the place where the abattoir once stood, taking a wide berth around the shop selling Madeleines lest we once again fall into its clutches, and into the bakery where we bought yesterday’s perfect baguette.  At least we would have walked into the bakery had it been open today, but it wasn’t.  Not on Tuesdays when we are in town apparently.

“Best baguette ever” was the way one of us described yesterday’s fare.  Nothing else was going to compare. Our lunch plan was if not in tatters, at least a little ragged at the edges.

We did find a near if not quite perfect impersonation of yesterday’s baguette, in another bakery which also sported a rather large range of pastries the likes of some we had never seen before.    Normally we are quite disciplined about such displays.  We have a rule that usually allows the purchase of such items only on Saturday, although in the event of a Saturday being quite some way off, exceptions can be made on a day ending in the letter “y”.   Fortunately today was such a day and after a quick discussion, we managed our return to the boat for morning coffee, armed with a thing called a “Nougatine”, a glorious device containing all essential food groups except perhaps meat and vegetables and possibly fruit, but absolutely all the others. It certainly took away almost all of the pain of being stuck with a slightly inferior baguette when lunchtime came  around.

When lunchtime did come around, we were sitting beside a small forest clearing no more than ten kilometres further downstream, overlooking farmland opposite, wondering why we would move again today.

So we didn’t.
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