Legends from our own lunchtimes

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A well earned rest -
Twenty-four locks down the hill to Chitry-les-Mines

We were so close to Chitry when we woke that it almost wasn’t worth moving, but despite ourselves we did, and exhausted from another four kilometres of journeying declared the rest of the day to be Sunday.  

We thought briefly about going out to lunch, but the implications of that, the shower, the shave, the bike ride to Corbigny without certainty that we could even find somewhere, let alone whether the rain would stay away led to only one logical outcome.   

Instead we decided would spend the rest of the day in bed, or at least not far from it.  We would read, eat banana pancakes, have a snooze and perhaps in the evening we’d even watch something from our vast recorded collection of things we must watch one day.   

Late in the afternoon, with the onset of atrophy perilously close, we wandered gently over the bridge but not far beyond, through the village with it’s wolds-like walls and gardens which we noted was either abandoned, or more likely, the entire population had treated Sunday in exactly the same manner we had.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

What goes up… -
Baye to twenty-four locks down the hill

Mostly, if we get underway late we like to finish early to make up for it.  By the time we (reluctantly) finished our farewells to Ron and Robin it was almost so late that we’d have to stop ten minutes ago if that rule were to apply.

Never the less, with barely an hour before the locks were due to close for what no doubt for them was a well deserved lunch break, we departed in a sea of misty rain, through the tunnels, past waterfalls and along what really amounts to little more than a winding forest creek at the top of the Canal du Nivernais, grateful for the whole magical four kilometre section that we weren’t in command of a large commercial barge.

It’s all downhill from there though.  The first sixteen locks come in two kilometres, the next eight in four more, and with an itinerant lock keeper on hand to take care of the hardest work it’s quite easy to make rapid progress, and by lending a hand (and keeping a supply of coffee and sugary treats up to the tiring lock keepers) it’s not difficult to make new friends either.  I only received one declaration of love though, although it came with a bunch of freshly picked wildflowers for the other of us. 

“Rapid progress” is a contextual interpretation which may require further definition though. To put things into proper perspective we had achieved an average speed of almost one and a half kilometres and four locks per hour by the time we called "enough"!   

Friday, May 29, 2015

Yes, you can feel the tranquility -

Perhaps it’s the very name of the place that creates and expectation in one’s subconscious, or perhaps it’s the stone quay that resembles a harbour wall in some fairytale port that creates a strange inversion of ones normal geographic perception.   Whatever the reason, it’s difficult to bring our subconscious to terms with the reality that we are not tucked up in some protected coastal inlet.   

Apart from the distinct absence of seabirds or fish and chips, and an equally distinct lack of salty tang in the air there is little else to indicate that the nearest ocean is half a thousand kilometres away.  We even have something of a “sea” breeze in the evening as the temperature differential between land and water takes effect.

Moored alone as we have been since yesterday, a few hundred metres from the nearest anything, one can cut the tranquility with a knife.

We suppose that the other boats thought they would share some of that when they tied nearby late in the afternoon, and while we didn’t for a moment resent their intrusion on our solitude, we hope that we didn’t impact too greatly on theirs. 

After all, how could they have been aware when they arrived, that Ron and Robin would be joining us for the night?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Going up!-
Châtillon-en-Bazois to Baye

Calling it a summit is probably a bit of a stretch, but I suppose since the chart books refer to the bit of water at the top as the “summit pound”, there is some justification in saying that today we reached another summit.

We’ve gone a bit soft we think, having restricted our travels for some weeks now to distances which often meant one or three locks to negotiate in a day, so the ten two days ago and fourteen today came as a bit of a shock to our systems, even though combined they only add to the total that are required in a day if we were coming from the other direction.  

The numbers are trivial of course, we have already passed through more than two hundred and sixty of them this year so one wonders why every time we arrive at a stairway of a few locks our reaction is always the same:

“How do they expect us to get the boat up there, and when we do, will we fit under the bridge?” 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

On the demise of small business -

The Cafe de l’Union was definitely open for lunch, but we didn’t really find the thought of sitting in the sun on plastic chairs, mere inches from trucks and tractors whistling past to be a terribly appealing prospect, and the weather was not yet warm enough for it to tempt us into the dankness within, so we gave it, as they say, a big swerve and hoped that it will live on despite our lack of patronage.    Earning a living in small villages such as these cannot be easy, and many of the businesses which survive appear to be opened each day out of habit, their elderly proprietors unable or unwilling to retire, till death do they part. 

The Chateau Châtillon meanwhile, which has no doubt been delighted to have us in its back yard for a couple of days is a world heritage listed property and is said to be open for inspection.  It would we are sure, also have been delighted to welcome us within its walls as well, but it wasn’t open today, nor will it be open tomorrow, and there is a good deal of renovating going on involving scaffolding and builders working on the roof which means in reality that it won’t be open for some time to come either.   

“If we  were to return in July perhaps it would be possible”, but deep down we know that if we return some time in July, it will be closed on that day due to any number of unforeseen circumstances.   

So we cycled down the tow path for a bit, ate our ham and fresh baguette in contemplative silence, taking consolation in the thought that at least the baker and the butcher will not go broke on our account.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Making it look easy -
Panneçot to Châtillon-en-Bazois

If the absence of anything resembling life as we know it was disconcerting in the evening, it seemed even more so when we woke.  Despite using our best endeavours we couldn’t find anyone to take our mooring fees before we left.  On the one hand that means we have eight Euros to pour back into the well being of businesses along the way, but there was a small warning tinkling in the backs of our heads.  How can these businesses continue to provide services without payment for them?

It turned out that the tinkle was actually a real warning that we hadn’t heeded; it was the sound of the swings moving gently in the abandoned playground.  Lest imaginations begin to work overtime, there were no axe-wielding fiends just out of scene, but the wind was steadily increasing, and with that comes a commensurate increase in the degree of difficulty in navigation.

Winds that in a sailing boat on an open water would be welcomed create near havoc in shallow draft boat in a narrow space.  Seen in a positive light though, fighting its attempts to convince us that it was possible to fit ten metres of boat sideways into a five metre wide lock on a couple of occasions put us in good stead for when we arrived at Châtillon.

Mooring in the wind can bring out the inner Tourette’s in anyone.   Mooring in the wind in a crowded harbour is the time when words long repressed rise involuntarily to the surface, whispers become shouts which in turn can be misinterpreted and become shouted replies over the roar of an engine in full astern, NO ahead, NO the other way.  This is one of those activities which entirely more fun to be a spectator than to be a participant.

So perhaps it was to everyone’s surprise, not the least of them ours, when we managed through a combination of miracle and accident to slot without fuss, neatly in the only available position in the harbour, with millimetres to spare all round apparently using little more than telepathy.  Here we will sit for a day or two in the shadow of the Chateau hoping that our departure will appear to be equally controlled.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse -
Cercy-la-Tour to Panneçot

Tonight we are sitting alone in the little port at the camping ground at Panneçot. Since lunchtime when we bade the lock keeper our farewells we have not seen nor heard another living thing. 

The closest thing we have to remind us that people were once here is the little house across the lake, although there are a couple of empty caravans and some hire canoes locked up under the trees. 

The sign on the cafe says they will be back later this month perhaps, but this is a public holiday and we didn't really expect the place to be completely deserted.  There isn't even anyone to collect the trifling fee for mooring here, yet the electricity works and internet is provided.  It's as though the place has been abandoned. We even checked the maps several times to make sure we haven’t taken a wrong turning and ended up in Chernobyl.

One can only delight in the solitude and wonder whether it's the night before Christmas.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Now I get it! -

The fortifications of Cercy have been torn down and rebuilt on many occasions in the past eight centuries apparently, with the tower ("la Tour" from which it takes its name) taking a right old tumble during the Revolution and only having been partially rebuilt thereafter.  There’s a monument atop the bit where the tower once was which arrived quite late in the piece, the current version having been erected just before our last visit actually, which goes a long way to explaining how it was so spectacularly bright in the photos we took at the time.

It is inarguably a beautiful piece of sculpture, and replaced a somewhat less attractive piece of similar intent which had previously stood for fifty years.  That one had been erected to mark the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the vision at Lourdes apparently although given that we are presently seven hundred or so kilometres from Lourdes the connection isn’t immediately clear to those of us without this particular ecclesiastical bent.

I suspect this twenty-first century interpretation of the pose that is all things saintly was intended to portray supplication with a touch of humility, or protection perhaps for those below, and for the majority of its intended audience I am sure it succeeds.

I am afraid to say it struck a different chord with me.

There she stands, towering over us wordlessly, her eyes meeting ours. The body language is  unmistakably  motherly.  The interpretation is clear:

 “How many times do I have to tell you to clean up this mess?”.

When we leave tomorrow morning, it will be on the cleanest boat on the Canal du Nivernais.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Up up and away --
Decize to Cercy-la-Tour

After three days of staring at the lock and wondering what lay beyond, we decided to wonder no more.

The sky was menacing, but in a “well ok just one more” sort of way, the way a mother looks at a child warning them not to take another biscuit, but maybe one more is ok.

We called its bluff and beyond the lock we discovered patches of blue and sunshine with admittedly a little more breeze than we’d like, and fishermen, hordes of them.

We don’t necessarily enjoy coming across fishermen, they make themselves invisible, hiding behind bushes and trees often tens of metres from their lines, and they tend to want to play chicken with us, waiting till the last minute to pull their lines in, in an apparent display of resentment of the imposition we have placed on their lives.  None the less, we try to be patient.  We smile and wave.

We try to slow a little, which considering we are usually travelling at around seven kilometres per hour, is a bit relative, and we try to at least make a pretence of moving to the opposite side of the canal.  Again, given that the usable water width is barely ten metres the amount we move can only be seen as a gesture, but mostly we try.  Sometimes though, like this morning, people fish from both sides of the canal and things become a little unfair.   

Imagine us, slowed to a dead crawl, running the gauntlet of half a dozen fishermen on one side, happily waving as we pass, then to the other another two dozen or so, clearly a family group also happily waving, presumably thanking us for our thoughtfulness, when one of them points to our flag.

“New Zealand?” he enquired.

“Australia” we replied.

The crowd “Ahhhed”, one of them called out “WELCOME!” then they cheered a little as we waved back, as royalty would.

Come to think o fit, we rather enjoy coming across fisherman.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Renovations -

We still suffer from the particular kind of mind-numbing that only Antipodeans can understand, when we read the information plaque on some of these places.   The gate to the old centre of Decize for instance was built in eleven hundred and something, but it’s not in its original state.  One can discount any architectural authenticity apparently as it suffered a major renovation not three hundred years later, although little been done since apparently, except perhaps for the installation of the odd length of plastic downpipe perhaps from more recent times.

Yet those who live on this side of the world take all that is old in their strides.  Having absorbed the “oldness” of stuff around them over generations they tend not to get quite as emotional as we do at the pending loss of so many untended artifacts.  They are the ones who think we are joking when we talk of the "old" house we are renovating at “home”, built somewhere in the early eighties.    We can dress it up of course and say it hasn’t had anything done to it since last century, but eventually they always twig that we are talking 1980’s, not 1480’s and the concept just doesn't rest comfortably with them.  They suddenly become as fascinated with our culture and its need to keep everything working and new as we are with theirs without that need.

Our little boat is from the mid eighties too, and being moored beside a monster hardware supplier for a few days has ensured that the endless succession of new things on it has not yet ended, and although I have perhaps in a form of memory repression therapy, failed to mention Mr P of late, some of his disgusting habits remain.   Some shiny copper rings have therefore been added to our box of things that need bolting onto other things, and perhaps sometime this century we shall find the time and the energy to once again tackle his sinuses.

Or perhaps we’ll leave it another four hundred years, and let someone write about him on a plaque, hopefully not recording that he was discovered at the bottom of a river, no doubt having been thrust there by a person unknown who couldn’t fix his rotten stinking leaking fuel line!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A monument to procrastination -

Seven years ago when passing under the bridge in Decise, we laughed out loud when we saw the colour sample patch on it.   There were no fewer than twenty-six not dissimilar colours and tones neatly set out for someone to assess and make a decision.  

We concluded at the time that it could only have been done in an effort to thwart the decision making process, that someone simply didn’t want to paint the bridge.  Instead of selecting one or two colours for approval, a sure fire way of getting a decision, some bright spark had prepared the panels with a dizzy array of alternatives and told the committee responsible for the making the decision that he’d be at home and would be ready to start the minute they called with the chosen colour.

Yesterday, co-incidentally armed with a list of things to do a mile long, we found it again.   If the bridge had been painted in the intervening period, it would have been need of doing again, but it hadn’t, so it didn’t, so everyone it seems has had a win.   

Some of the samples had faded a little, but mostly they were in all their glory, and the painter was no doubt still happily lounging around somewhere beside a telephone, an icon of procrastination.

We are moored alongside a collection of supermarkets and hardware stores, and are going to stay until after tomorrow, which, inspired by the success of the bridge painters, seems like the perfect time to put off what we have to do until.

Tomorrow, we will probably get the groceries and the hardware bits we need, and some fuel,  and clean and wash a bit perhaps, but in the meantime we’ll just poke around the town centre for a bit, or perhaps we'll just stay at home quietly waiting for the committee to call.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

We only do it for the sunsets-
Vanneaux to Decize

A red sky at night they say is a sailor’s delight, while the same in the morning constitutes a sailor’s warning.

I can’t say whether the morning warning thing works as advertised or not, because the morning sky appears well before we have under normal circumstances, detached ourselves from our bed, so we just look up the weather forecast on the internet.

The internet today had one of those little info-graphic things with dark clouds, a sun sitting happily on them, and a note warning that from time to time we could expect a tenth of a millimetre of rain each hour for the time we wanted to be moving.  Oh, and by the way, for good measure the temperature may well not make it into double figures until late afternoon.  

It didn't have a puffy face anywhere to be seen so we were therefore unaware that wind gusts would appear of many more kilometres per hour than one needs for comfort when one is trying to keep a relatively light, flat bottomed boat away from solid objects with sharp bits sticking out.    Would a red sky this morning have done that?

The odd thing about the wind when it comes off those dark grey clouds is that it can change speed and direction in an instant, and this only happens when there is little room to manoeuvre, such as when entering or leaving a lock, passing under a particularly narrow bridge or when one is attempting to moor quietly in a very tight spot while others are watching.

An even odder thing is that once all the swear-words have been mumbled, the sweat mopped from the brow, the clenched teeth unclenched and pulse rate returned to normal, the breeze simply disappears and like magic the sun comes out bringing with it all manner of glorious reflections and shadows.  One is left dizzy and confused, wondering if any of the drama (to overstate things just a bit) had happened at all.

Sunsets are natures way of making one look forward to tomorrow!

But what does a grey sky at night mean?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dusting off the bikes. -
Garnat-sur-Engièvre to Vanneaux

Gannay-sur-Loire is a sort of sleepy little village which has been around long enough to have trees in the main street that were planted by a mate of Henry IV in 1594.  

The bakery there is not two kilometres from the canal, so it wasn't too difficult to conclude that by the time we’d hauled the bikes out from their spot (one minute), unfolded them (thirty seconds) and pumped up the tyres (two minutes) we could probably walk there and back, and we could save the effort of packing them away again on our return into the bargain, saving perhaps another three precious minutes in our terribly packed schedule, and we'd be able to amble back sightseeing and picking at our goodies on the way home.

There was a small flaw in our logic however that was not to reveal itself until we actually arrived at the bakery exactly in time to witness the very last crumbs of the morning’s batch walk out of the door in the arms of a road worker.   Everyone of course was surprised and voiced their regret, but none seemed more surprised nor regretful than ourselves. 

It’s interesting to note how much shorter the walk back to the boat seems when one is carrying a warm fresh baguette and a little box of bakery surprise than when one isn’t. 

Perhaps it's time to dust off the bikes.  


Monday, May 18, 2015

… and sometimes we just sit -
Beaulon to Garnat-sur-Engièvre

We walked fairly briskly through Beaulon this morning, conscious that we’d made an appointment at the lock at ten, and under clear blue skies wishing we hadn’t.   We were sure we would have been forgiven if we had changed our minds about leaving, but not sure enough to actually do so at the last moment.

So reluctantly although we still can’t say why, we moved on a total of two and a half kilometres to a mooring at Garnat-sur-Engièvre which as it turns out was even nicer than the one from which we had so reluctantly departed.    We had made the decision to move to allow us easier cycling access to the village of Bourbon-Lacy, but when we arrived we were overcome by the urge to undertake a pre-lunch wander through the fields of buttercups and into Garnat which of course was entirely Monday-lunchtime deserted.

This is where the rest of our day simply went awry.   Reluctant though we had been to move to here in the first place, perhaps because of the impossible silence we were enjoying, perhaps because of the impossibly perfect weather, we found ourselves overwhelmed by an even greater reluctance to go anywhere else this afternoon.

Instead we thought, we’d sit here for a bit and think.

But we didn’t.

We just sat.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Freedom • Equality • TELEPHONE -
Pierrefitte-sur-Loire to Beaulon

While wandering around Pierrefitte yesterday afternoon, we came across this curious juxtaposition of signage and not only because it is possibly the last working public telephone on earth.  If it’s not the last, then it’s certainly the only one that doesn’t have its walls plastered with the business cards of ladies offering all sorts of healthy alternatives to loneliness.

France has a long-evolved socialist ethos the motto of which has been indelibly etched if not on the minds of the people (although how could it not), on every public building, postage stamp, and until the Euro came along, banknote.   The word “Fraternité” or “brotherhood” is obscured in the photo, but perhaps, (he says as he posts his thoughts to social media), in this day and age “telephone” or telecommunications is the means by which our present day “brotherhoods” are linked.   We consider ourselves fortunate indeed to live in this era of telecommunication, where we can be on the other side of the world to those we hold most dear, yet be only a telephone call, an email or a lazy “hit the ‘like’ button” away. 

On another note, our mooring today, after battling the elements for an onerous three hours including lunch is in a beaut little basin surrounded by camping cars, or as we would have them: motorhomes.    Unlike many of their ilk that we have encountered, this brotherhood didn’t spend its day inside watching television.   Instead, they sat under cloudless sky, grey hair and dentures sparkling in the sunshine near the waters edge, chatting and laughing and having such a good time all afternoon that it was impossible to have a civilised nap aboard the good ship Joyeux. 

For just a fleeting minute one gave thought to offering them access to one’s WIFI so they’d all go quietly indoors and “like” each other on to Facebook.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The bridge over the River Loire -
Digoin to Pierrefitte-sur-Loire

Tonight in France it’s the “Night of the Museums”.  It’s just another of those events that epitomises the special madness that is “being French”.  On this one night every museum is open all night, admission is free, and one can only imagine what fun it would be in certain centres when the post-nightclub crowds arrive.  

Participating in the event is one of those things on our list of things we must do one day, if for no other reason than to save the five or six Euros admission cost.  

In Digoin, there is a neat little museum recording the history of the river, which one day we will surely visit.  It is is on the banks of the Loire right beside the “pont canal”,  literally “the bridge canal”, a stone structure carrying the canal safely over the Loire River, rain hail or shine.     

At the opposite end of the pont canal, there is a lock, giving the impression that the canal just ends in mid air, or in mid-forest.   The urge that one gets to walk along it to see what is beyond is similar to, but much stronger than the urge to walk to the end of a jetty over the sea.    The urge to travel along it, to go down into the darkness of the forest, and find what lies around the bend is stronger still.

We thought we had a choice: Museum or move on?   Would we stay up late struggling to read descriptions of other people’s adventures, or would we head off into the forest and have adventures of our own?  

It wasn’t a choice in reality, the night at the museums will just have to get along without us for one more year.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A very long weekend -

A cake for every occasion the sign said, and if a toffee encrusted profiterole cathedral with white chocolate steps is an example of a cake to celebrate one’s “confirmation”, I’d have to give serious consideration to turning Catholic!

 it’s beyond imagination what could turn up for a special occasion such as for instance morning coffee tomorrow, but we are not going to find out, the shop is closed for a week you see.

Yesterday was a public holiday (Assumption Day), so a lot of businesses quite sensibly saw little point in opening today for the half day that is usual for Friday,  nor for the rest of the weekend, nor for that matter in opening for any of next week if they are only going to have to close again the following Monday, which is another public holiday.

Therefore the town had a sort of lazy Saturday afternoon feeling about it as we wandered around.  Even the downtown supermarket is closed “for renovations” until Tuesday week.

We did manage to find the big on-the-skirts-of-town supermarket though, where we scraped together enough essentials to get us through at least a few months of famine should it strike, but mostly they were green things that need chopping and cooking and sadly there wasn't a profiterole in sight.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Change -
Paray-les-Monial to Digoin

Once again that little switch in our brains did its thing and we were compelled to move on.  

We had no reason to do so.  There are a host of activities and markets planned over the next few days in Paray-les-Monial, and last night we had almost decided to hang around just a bit longer.  When this morning arrived, the forecast for the next few days was indifferent to say the least, and for reasons which are entirely beyond our control, we simply left town.

I am as yet to find a way of explaining the joy that we derive from quietly leaving what was until the time of departure, a perfectly enjoyable location, in search of of a no doubt equally enjoyable spot somewhere else.  There is just something about casting off and moving ever so slowly away that generates a satisfying, deeply seated thrill.  Someone clever could track it back to something that happened earlier in our lives no doubt, or perhaps it’s some sort of affirmation of the freedom that we enjoy.  

Whatever the reason, a few hours later we were in Digoin, once again content for the time being at least, watching the change in the weather engulf us and the thermometer plunging.

Tomorrow we will see what there is to see, and if we really want to visit the Accordian Festival in Paray, we are content in the knowledge that we can be there in twenty minutes on our bikes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Getting ahead of ourselves - -
to Roanne by bus

Sitting happily in the afterglow of our day, watching the setting sun light the trees along the canal behind us, we suddenly realised we were four days ahead of ourselves.

We considered turning left in a day or so and heading to Roanne, where several of our friends winter their boats.   Other than to simply poke around we didn’t have a compelling reason to stay, and the return trip back to our intended route would involve four or even five days of detour, days which could otherwise be spent far less productively, so we decided to look for alternative transportation options.

Fortunately, the nice people who own the buses and the trains, had a solution.  For not much more than the cost of a can of cold fizzy drink each, a bus which would deliver us in air conditioned comfort, in less than forty minutes.   It is important to note the “air conditioned comfort” part of that description, because the temperature soared today into the mid-thirties.   

We had intended to wander the streets for much of the day, but it was a bit warm, and it seemed like a far better idea to spend time indoors, over lunch with Doug and Susan, and limit our walking to a cursory catch up with all the others we knew in the harbour.   Sure, there’s a lot to see in Roanne, and we didn’t see any of it, but it will just have to wait.

I wonder if, when we arrive at the canal junction the day after tomorrow, or perhaps the one after that, we will be able to resist the urge to turn. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Apparition Tourism -

Paray-les-Monial isn’t particularly old by local standards, but its history is the stuff of which movies are made.   At its heart the first church was consecrated a mere thousand years ago, and was run, if that is the correct word, by an order of monks who, reading between the lines had a great old time of it for around seven hundred years.

All was going splendidly it seems until a young nun experienced a vision in the early seventeenth century, and the place became the focus of great pilgrimages in the years that followed.  Pilgrims still make the journey in the present day albeit presumably in greater comfort.  Mind bogglingly to those of us who thought that recognition of things historical began in the seventies with “Green Bans” in Sydney’s Rocks area, the church was declared an historic monument in 1846.  

Clearly all the attention brought with it a certain change in the economics of the village, although apart from a couple of shops selling “souvenirs of the apparition” of slightly dubious relevance, it’s mostly a working, living place with a chocolate-box scene at it’s heart.

We did manage to avoid buying any of the ceramic quasi-mediaeval souvenir figurines carrying lambs or tending cows, even though for many reasons we were sore tempted to part with some change for the one in the coloured gown in the form of a helium-balloon vendor.  Instead we sought refuge in a fabric shop, leaving there with several balls of hand dyed knitting cotton and a few buttons.

It seems we are going to make a souvenir of our own.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The urge to fly away -
Génelard to Paray-les-Monial

Seven years ago on this very canal, Graham warned me as I sat in the cockpit of Manatee, camera poised, that I’d never get a shot of a blue heron standing in the grass.  “They always move off as we draw abeam of them” he said and generally they do, but every now and then, usually when the light or background is wrong, or there’s a tree in blocking the shot, they don’t.

I spent two months back then stalking the blighters, failing entirely to get a single photograph as they set sail at precisely the moment they came into camera range.  The odd thing is that they don’t seem to be afraid of or escaping from us. It all just looks like a spur of the moment decision.  Sure their eyes aren’t far apart, leaving precious little space for brain material, but they seem to just get the urge to fly off, always across the canal in front of us, then as suddenly as they have left, they get the urge to stop, swerve back and land a few hundred metres upstream on the same side of the bank, in the same position they were in relative to us, before they took off.

Every now and then the urge to fly does seem to leave them, and they settle for a bit, giving me half a chance to hold the camera one-handed and one-eyed while managing the boat with my remaining appendages and eye.

Some days whatever it is that induces this behaviour in them seems to rub off on us.  It’s hard to know why, but when a certain switch clicks there’s no use fighting the feeling, the only response that works is to cast off our moorings and flit away.

This feeling rarely lasts for a terribly long time though, so often, today for instance, having got ourselves off to an early start we change our minds after a late smoko, and by the time Paray-les-Monial loomed on our horizon, we’d been on the go for almost four hours.  

We may have to rest here for a couple of days now, so I suppose if there is anyone who wants to take a photograph of us, now would be a good time.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Finding somewhere to sleep -
Montceau-les-Mines to Génelard

Who would have thought, that after being at the wretched nightclub for two nights in a row anyone would have volunteered for a third?   We certainly didn’t.  Yet there it was sometime before four; the now familiar thump-thump-clack-clack of music played too loud for human habitation within a structure obviously too small for the comfort of said humans. 

It was of course also accompanied by the sorts of discussions held in streets outside when patrons, seeking fresh air and desperately trying to fall in love whisper sweet nothings at a volume sufficient to be heard over the music for relentless hours on end.

Dawn eventually thump thumped its way across the carpark, and by the time the locks were opened for business the nightclub was closed and it mattered no more.  We were off in search of silence.

In the village of Génelard, there is a quiet little harbour with a beautiful modern museum right beside it.  The “Museum of Demarcation” is dedicated to the demarcation line drawn across France in World War II.  We had tried to visit seven years ago, but as we later came to expect it was closed when we were there.   Determined not to leave it unvisited, we decided that it would be our destination at least for the day, or possibly until the museum opened if it was going to play those silly games that museums play as we pass.

When we arrived, the lights were out.   A sign stuck in the window said “finitely closed” suggesting that perhaps it wouldn’t be smart for us to hold our breath until something happened.

So we lazed around under clear sunny skies, accompanied only by the sound of our washing machine, and wondered if they are going to turn the building into a nightclub any time soon.


Saturday, May 09, 2015

My kingdom for a snooze! -

We would have woken late to a boat echoing with the emptiness of guests not long departed, except that the disco-nightclub thing must have had a Friday night special on and once again it was early, somewhere between two and three, when it decided to share the goodness of it’s synth-tech beat with all around.  Therefore the only echoes we heard were bass and drums and (insert stimulant of choice)-fuelled conversations on the street.

Respite when it arrived, did so around six.  Sadly for us it was in the form of the market traders setting up in the pre-dawn chill apparently blissfully unaware of the presence of the bleary-eyed residents of the port a few short metres away.  Happily for us though, those very same traders came laden with all manner of produce and other things and we were shortly thereafter able to while away a very pleasant hour or so as they found ever more delicious ways of parting us from our money.

With our larder replete, our refrigerator chocked to the gills, and ourselves well satiated we thought a well organised afternoon nap may well be in order lest grumpiness overtake us by nightfall.    

That thought was terribly mis-timed as at exactly the intended moment of repose, Richard and Gloria arrived on their boat. Since neither of us had managed to bridge the twenty kilometre gap between their house and ours while at “home”, we had rather a lot of catching up to do.

Sleep is probably over-rated anyway.  


Friday, May 08, 2015

Milly says goodbye -

We weren’t really thinking too much about today being a public holiday when we retired early this morning, having failed entirely to solve the world’s problems, or even those related to a small garage extension in Atherton if one were to get really picky.  

We were aware of it of course, the holiday, but couldn’t foresee that the disco-bar that is located a handy fifty metres from the boat would be having a pre-holiday celebration, nor that by three or four they would feel the need to share their thumping disco goodness with the world at large.

We hadn’t thought about the jumble sale in the carpark between us and it either, nor that perhaps a black Mercedes parked in the midst of it would be a little inconvenient for the stall holders and for the hirers of said Mercedes should they wish to leave for other parts any time soon.  

Thankfully, with her usual morning cheerfulness, Milly managed to coach us all through our combination of too little sleep, packing chaos and extracting the car from the midst of the jumble sale, and even had her parents packed and in the car in what was given the circumstances an extraordinarily timely manner.

The effort took its toll though.  They had not been gone ten minutes when the text message arrived: “Milly is asleep already with her balloon firmly in her grasp”.

Even without a balloon we didn’t take much longer to follow her cue.


Thursday, May 07, 2015

A Roadtrip -

When Jack and Brii went to collect their little Renault hire car in Paris, it had morphed into a rather larger, very black, very fast, very German car of the kind that very bad people drive in movies.  It’s also the sort of car that it appears would be very easy to offload in a hurry if one found the necessity, given the number of people who offered to swap it for their various work vans and bicycles as we encountered them.  

Despite having almost completely depleted their travel budget in speeding fines on the way down from Paris, they happily agreed that since we were within a few tens of kilometres of the heart of the Burgundy wine area, a short road trip may be an way of seeing a little more of the area, and we decided that we would get underway first thing.

I am not sure what the Army considers to be first thing, but I gather from one or two things that Jack hinted at that when we did get away in time (just) for a late, leisurely and very pleasant lunch in Beaune, almost forty kilometres away, our definition may differ somewhat to his.  

In any event we’d finished lunch by four more or less, wandered through the grounds of a chateau by five, had bought some of the regions product and were home by six, parking the car safely within twenty metres or so of where our day had begun.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Snakes alive! -
Montchanin to Montceau-les-Mines

The locks in this neck of the woods are automatic, but potentially  so unreliable that they need a lock keeper to attend most of them while transit is happening, which is much nicer from our perspective than waiting for the inevitable breakdown to occur, and then having to wait for a response.

This is a great idea in theory, but in practice, it requires a little more discipline than we find natural in order to arrive at the first lock at the appointed time.   We did exceptionally well to be at the first lock at exactly the appointed time we thought, even if three-fifths of our number were compelled to walk that distance.

It wasn’t long before we found our first delay.   The lock keeper seemed relieved to see a troop of Australians arrive, after all they know about snakes he thought, and would surely be able to give some advice as to how to extract the sleeping monster from his nice warm electrical controls.  Calling on the vast depths of Jack's electrical experience, we were able to suggest that if he was to go poking around in a live electrical bus bar, perhaps he should turn off the electricity before he did anything else.  He immediately concurred and told us that last week he had the firemen out to solve a similar problem and if they’d turned off the power first it may not have taken ten hours to fix the damage that was done by the subsequent electrical short.

Wisely he let us through the lock before turning off the power.   When last we saw him he was armed with a pair of tongs designed for picking up rubbish, and protected by a set of washing-up rubber gloves, with his off-sider walking hastily in direction “away from the snake”. 

Our hero though had upon his countenance the sort of large grin and sweaty brow that one imagines gladiators may have worn as they entered the lion’s arena, full of adrenalin and bravado.   We didn’t hear of any lock closures, nor did we hear any sirens, so we can only presume that the fire truck was spared its outing.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Cleaning --

Suddenly it’s been a month since we moved aboard.  

We aren’t quite sure how that happened nor how it is that so many little jobs have thus far managed managed to escape the attention of our otherwise industrious selves, but they have and we woke at a very civilised hour determined to do something about them before Jack, Brii and Milly arrived.

The nature of little jobs is that they seem to expand to fill out whatever time is left to do them, and so it was that despite a constant flurry of scrubbing, folding and mould finding, each time the phone signalled another message advising of a further hour’s delay in the expected arrival time, we were still an hour and ten minutes away from being ready.

When eventually they arrived, we’d all had enough, they of travelling, and we of preparing, so we wandered off in search of a playground to let Milly stretch her legs, and where we could engage in the sort of conversation that people engage in when they haven’t seen each other for a time.

It was time to stop and smell the .. err.. little white flowers growing in the grass.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Keep them doggies rolling -
Santenay to Montchanin

We didn’t really know we would end up in Montchanin when the day began.  We had barely  heard of the place, yet here we are.

We uncharacteristically set out to find somewhere we could easily be found, without knowing quite where that would be. Milly is on her way you see, and we thought that since she is not yet two, it would be nice if we were somewhere easy to find, and from where we could go to somewhere easy to leave, perhaps with some secure car parking for her chauffeur and carer as well.

That was all a bit of a challenge, and for reasons that are not particularly clear, we asked ourselves what Sunny and Al would have done in that situation.  Immediately we knew what we had to do.

We'd just keep going!  Having just settled so comfortably into cruising mode,  it’s hard to describe how taxing switching back to commuting seemed to be, but we did our best.

Hanging on to the cruising ethos for as long as possible, we deliberately arrived at the first lock fifteen minutes after opening time, and stopped for lunch too, this time making sure that the lock-keepers knew where we were.  As a further concession we barely moved faster than six kilometres per hour as we charged on through the view.  Through vineyards, their new trellises shimmering like gossamer in the morning sunny patches, villages both kempt and un-so, we burbled.   The ever changing view easily making up for the disruption in progress by what seemed like an endless procession of locks but in the end turned out to be barely two dozen.

Now once again we are alone, with only the noise of intersecting freeways to lull us to sleep, waiting for Milly. 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The never-ending day -
Chagny to Santenay

It as raining all day to day except for the times when it was fine, and then it was very fine indeed, which, mixed with spurts of activity carefully designed to suit the conditions somehow made the day seem like very many perfect days rolled into one.  We did manage amid spurts of boundless energy and frenetic discovering of things, to move a further five kilometres up the hill though.

We don’t get excited about going to the markets as a rule, although the coloured brochures indicate we should.  They never seem to mention that it can be quite damp at times, but we toddled off in our raincoats anyway, prepared to be underwhelmed as always by the throngs of swarthy gentlemen selling things rejected at their places of manufacture, and instead were surprised almost to the point of amazement.   This was one of those markets where happy people were sloshing around with newly bought live chickens and ducks in boxes, and people queued twenty deep for some special cheese, and charcoal baked bread and we couldn’t help but join them, happily filling our bags with all manner of produce and a treat or two to boot.

By mid morning having wandered for four or so kilometres around the stalls, and with the rain letting up we moved our entire household to a delightful clearing in the woods near Santenay,  a place as deserted as the market was crowded, where we feasted on our market purchases, drinking nothing but the view.    

We really should have had a snooze after that, and we would have on a lesser day.  Instead, we found a sunny patch to explore until mid afternoon, returning just before we were caught by more rain and a need to satiate the urge to fiddle with things in need of fiddling.  

And that is how the curtains for the front windscreen came to be clipped in place this evening, and as the light of day began to fade once more, there were tools spread from one end of the boat to the other.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Slowing down is so hard to do -
Chalon-sur-Saône to Chagny

Even if it had not been our intention to continue our flight at the same relentless pace, we would have been foiled by the river which was flowing at a good four kilometres per hour in a direction opposite to that which was our preferred.  This may not sound much but when the river’s pace amounts to half of one’s usual cruising speed the result tends to be a substantial slowing of the pace.

But it was just for a bit, and we soon made the left hand turn onto the canal, where the cruising magic descended in the way yesterday’s rainbow implied it would.  

We smiled and congratulated ourselves on our new found calm and how quickly we'd regained this cruising pace. We ticked along quietly through the morning, stopping at smoko for a coffee and croissant.  Then, feeling ever so self congratulatory we stopped again for lunch in a nice forest clearing just a few bends and a few hundred, (perhaps five or six) from the next lock, although well out of its sight.     

The cheese had barely taken its position between two halves of a slab of baguette, and neither had taken their positions between my upper and lower jaw, let alone between my upper and lower intestine, when a cyclist arrived, breathless and apparently somewhat concerned about something he obviously thought we could help him with.

The lock he said, had been set for us to go through, and he had been waiting above it on his boat for more than half an hour so he could continue his journey in the opposite direction.  He went on to imply that perhaps it would be nice if we forwent our smug little luncheon and that nap that would surely follow, and got a bit of a wriggle on.  


Which is how, despite our best endeavours, we found ourselves settled in for the night in Chagny, not much after two in the afternoon.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Wet weather work -

We didn’t go down to town today, because we knew that it would have been the same as yesterday, except that the shops would have been closed, and the doors and windows shuttered, and there would be no one else there, and it would have been cold and wet and windy and miserable.

Instead, we stayed relatively warm and dry, and fiddled with things that had been in need of fiddling with for a while, and had a nice lunch with Roger and Emal all the while watching the rain drizzling down and the river level slowly rise around us, hoping that by the time we leave tomorrow the current will still be manageable.

In the unlikely event that it’s not, we may just go down to the town again tomorrow.
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