Legends from our own lunchtimes

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Another lesson in Grandparenting

While alone with the elder three today, Misters Ten and Six and Miss Seven, a suggestion may have been made that the mess in the boys’ room was in need of remedial attention.   When said suggestion was taken as a piece of general conversation rather than an instruction, and with the boys due to fly out of the country tomorrow, desperate measures were employed:

“Do you know when you go to the airport tomorrow you have to be checked by the security people?”  

This question was met by silent nods all round, a sign that it had been heard at least, so feeling as though I was on a roll I continued:  

“Well, they are going to ask your Mum for a photo of your bedroom and if it’s not tidy they won’t let you through.  They’ll just send you home to sort it out before they let you leave the country.” 

“Well” replied Miss Seven, who is not accompanying her cousins on the holiday, and sounding surprisingly relieved, “I’m glad I don’t have to go through security!”


Friday, June 16, 2017

Jude Arthur Lewis Friday June 16
Tokyo to Brisbane

With the help of a tailwind we arrived earlier than scheduled, landing in the pink glow of a new day dawning. 

We weren’t the only ones who arrived early today however.  The whole purpose of our mid-year return was to be around for the arrival of our new grandson in a few weeks’ time, but Jude Arthur Lewis must have heard we were coming and in his excitement brought his entry forward a bit.

This was a little inconvenient as his mother was supposed to be picking us up from the airport at the time he was making his presence felt, but it was an inconvenience we were delighted to have foist upon us.  By mid morning we were checking out every wrinkle in his tiny four hour old countenance while he slept on, hiding his excitement much better than we could hide ours, no doubt exhausted and a tiny bit battered after his long journey.

We knew exactly how he felt.

Are we there yet? Friday June 16
Tokyo to Brisbane

 The first rays of the morning sun bathe the underside of the aircraft long before its presence is felt on the surface of the planet below.

Sunrise is a sign that our journey is almost at an end, and we begin to grow restless.   We've missed a day somewhere, we always do coming this way, but our clocks and calendars are now set firmly to East Coast - Australia mode, and it's a small price to pay.  

We'll find it again on our return journey.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

The long and winding road…. Wednesday June 14
Xures to Tokyo

Paulo suggested he could pick us up on his beloved Chopper but that would take three round trips to the station and one of us wasn’t keen, so he turned up in his Fiat Panda exactly at the appointed time, looking the part in his black “Death Before Dishonour” tee shirt in stark contrast to the stuffed Panda on the dashboard. 

In our curiously relaxed state and even with our “travel heads” on, while sitting around with a coffee and what could only be described as “international railway sandwiches” we almost missed the TGV.   Perhaps it was a subconscious desire not to be on a plane, or perhaps it was that we’d planned our connections with multiple contingencies and we wanted to see if they’d work.

We made it onto the plane in Paris of course without the need for contingency with seven hours to spare, and eventually popped out in Tokyo straight after breakfast to find it was already tomorrow afternoon.

Ready - Tuesday June 13
Lagarde to Xures

We don’t normally suffer from pre-flight nerves, so I suspect the butterflies stomping around in our stomachs were more of the post-procrastination kind.  Or of the puzzled kind that couldn’t figure out how after a week of not actually doing a lot, we were actually pretty much ready to go without a hit of stress.

So with the strangest feeling that our year here is at end, even though it isn’t, we pottered ever so slowly down the two locks to Xures, ambled around the village, gave Phillip whatever was left in the fridge, and declared ourselves ready to set off into the wild blue yonder.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It’s not just because of the weather… Monday June 12

It’s funny how unmistakable the sound of a deadline flying by can be even when there’s plenty of time before it arrives.   It’s a sound we must really enjoy at some sort of subconscious level we think, because we do nothing to prevent it.

Today for instance we thought we might start after talking to the propeller bloke in England.  An hour later he exhibited no desire to stop talking despite talking us out of buying anything from him, because he seemed to be in love with my accent.  Then Dick and Linda offered to take us to the supermarket, and despite us not actually needing or even wanting anything of course we accepted.

Thereafter followed stops for refreshments, aperitifs and that particular kind of conversation that could go on all night if there wasn’t packing and tidying to do.  There’s this wonderment among our British friends, who simply don’t believe we are returning to winter, and temperatures that are not dissimilar to this terrible summer heatwave we are currently experiencing.

But we'd better get going.   Tomorrow.

BeforeTwilight - Sunday June 11

It’s odd to think that next Sunday evening where we will be at eight-thirty, the church bells won’t ring, the sun won’t be shining and there won’t be hours of twilight to look forward to, in fact it won’t be evening at all.  It will be night and we may well not be parading around in shorts and tee shirts either.

It was warmish today, so we spent a lot of it sitting in the shade until that became too arduous and then we lay down for a bit.  By day’s end the only real progress was made towards departure was a measurable depletion of perishable foodstuff. With a small boatload of people moored beside us and at least two boatloads worth of food prepared, disposal was never going to be a great issue.   It was tempered with an element of guilt however, because Sunday night in Lagarde is the night that the old bloke who used to run the little corner store fires up his oven on the footpath and makes pizza for his family and anyone who comes along with a little change in their pockets.  

There was a small conflict happening in our heads which was easily assuaged by assuring ourselves that he’ll have to do without our custom next week anyway, and besides there are a lot of hire boat crews in port who are more than wiling to make up for our absence.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

All work not much play. Well maybe a little. Saturday June 10

All work not much play.  Well maybe a little.  Saturday  June 10 Lagarde

It’s a weird feeling this packing up in the middle of summer, but pack up we must as we leave for our other home in just a few days.   It’s not a proper pack up though, it’s a bit like having to clear stuff out of the shed to get the tractor in it, then sort of just poking things back in where ever they will fit.   No wintering, no covers just a bit of a clean and walk away for a month or two.   Terrifyingly it’s a bit like what happened before we left, so we shall have to face the music on that score shortly.

There’s not really that much to do but we’re sure to string the process out for a couple of days, with as many long intervals as we can manage under a shady tree where we may even succumb to the evils of idleness and sloth. 

Cheeses - Friday June 9

The man in the van turns up every Friday and Saturday evening.  This is partly because he makes his living out of selling a wide range of local products, the freshest of cheeses and terrines and according to those who know about these things, a rather tasty range of wine as well, and partly because he just likes looking at the boats.

When the port is busy, he is able to make a tidy contribution to his income from the hour or so he spends here each day.  When it’s not, one of us seems to have made it her mission to single handedly support his family through the grimmest of winters.   They have pretty much a standard script, he and she that goes a little like this.

“Could I have one of those please?”
“Is your husband unwell?”
“Could I have four of them then?”   
“Sure, but you’ll need at least two of this to go with those, and goodness have you seen my fresh….”    

…..   and so it goes on until either we have no more cash, or no more room in the fridge.  Then, both sides retreat, congratulating themselves on a job well done. 


Trouble - Thursday June 8 lift the boat

Naturally now safe and sound in our home port, the weather took a change for the brighter side of perfect.

Having lunched for a week on not much more than fresh baguette, a variety of splendid cheese, ham, terrines and a bit of fresh fruit in season, and with two of us already all dressed up ready to continue their adventure by car then aeroplane, it was not going to take much effort for the other two to clean up their act a bit and present themselves ready for a proper farewell lunch in Restaurant PK 209.   It’s not all play and no work however, this life of ours, and we’d no sooner emerged from our splendid time in the air conditioning ready to bundle the others and their baggage into their waiting car, when the trouble started.

For a long time we’ve been toying with modifying the propeller in the continuous quest for improvement and as is always the case, the opportunity came to lift the boat to enable inspection and measurement at precisely the time we emerged from the restaurant.   One of us, oblivious to the fact that he was still dressed in his best jeans and button-up shirt launched into the measuring task with enthusiasm, oblivious in his excitement to the boat yard dust below and the canal fuzz and rust and muck on the hull above.  In his defence the stains are not very big and will probably be covered by his jacket on the flight home, and besides the propeller chap now has proper dimensions to work with.


Keeping away from the hard bits… Wednesday June 7
Niderviller to Lagarde

Sir Francis Chichester once observed that crossing oceans was easy, it was only the hard bits round the edges one had to look out for.  There is perhaps no need to point out that in a typical canal there are rather a lot of those hard bits, and when the wind starts to blow with sufficient force that white caps appear on a body of water barely fifteen metres wide, some concentration and a little boat speed is required to stay in the wet part.

If one were to slow down for any reason, for instance were one to discover a hotel barge pottering along ahead at her normal cruising speed of about half that which is required to provide directional stability things could get quite tricky.   When we caught up with “Madeline” lumbering down the canal today impeding all progress behind, there was logically only one way of dealing with it.

So we stopped for for lunch.

We did make it unscathed though at the end of the day, home to Lagarde, a little windblown and rain washed from the persistent squalls, but we are home again none the less.


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Night Was Dark and Stormy - Tuesday June 6
Lutzelbourg to Niderviller

The morning was dark and stormy too, and if we hadn’t needed to get Ray and Helen’s boat back to Lagarde in a day or two, quite frankly we may well have stayed quietly in Lutzelbourg till the system blew away.   Accidents happen when one takes risks, and while the risks were not great in the scheme of things, the steady trail of severely damaged hire boats that passed served as a sobering warning that inexperience and nasty gusts are not good bedfellows.

The best way to attack a day like today apart from staying in bed, is to find a nice coffee shop and bakery and while away the morning as far from the crowds and the wind as one can get.  Thankfully there is a rather nice spot in Lutzelbourg that is particularly suited to just the sort of whiling we had in mind and by lunchtime once again the weather had abated ever so slightly.

Four locks, a boat lift and two tunnels later we emerged in Niderviller having accidentally found a window of relative calm.  It all came back with a vengeance though with a new and icier weather assault beginning mere moments after we had snugged ourselves into the dock for the night.   Tomorrow?  Well tomorrow’s forecast gives an even greater excuse for remaining exactly where we are.  

Deadlines.  The curse of the cruising class.


A Sunday kind of Monday June 5

Lutzelbourg is one of those places where every day seems like a Sunday, and since it was a public holiday it seemed even more like a Sunday than usual.   

With the benefit of local knowledge we had moored under the shade of the only tree that provides shade to moored boats, “our” tree as it is known, and spent the early part of the morning over cake and coffee helping Ray and Helen into the swing of the cruising life.  Actually it was more the later part of the morning than the earlier part if one were to split hairs, as they’d already spent the early part in the traditional manner showing themselves to be very quick learners indeed.

It was a respite day weather wise, a fine windless day at odds with a forecast of what is to come, too good to walk any distance or expend any sort of energy really, but perfect for sitting under a tree or in the gentle sunshine and staring into space.

I beg your pardon. Sunday June 4
Saverne to Lutzelbourg

The forecast did warn us that winds were coming.  It hinted that they would get stronger as the day wore on, but on a bright note it also suggested that the rain which sloshed over us in little squalls could well diminish later in the morning.

To make matters worse for those of us thinking of moving on today, there were an awful lot of boats with crews sharing the same thought.  If there is anything less enjoyable than boating on confined waterways in high winds it is boating on confined waterways in high winds in the rain.  If while engaged in one those pastimes one then joins long queues of hire boats, some of them fuelled on beer and inexperience and hell bent on destroying themselves and anything in their path, the level of potential enjoyment is diminished to: “why go at all?”.

So even though we’d never promised Ray and Helen a rose garden, we delivered it nonetheless, spending a far more enjoyable few hours this morning among the eight thousand rose plants in Saverne’s collection than we would have had we moved on.    

Eventually with all the boats among us which were going to go, gone, we sensed an opportunity.   After a brief instruction on how to operate the boat with an emphasis on what to do when the wind  takes control, we escorted the other pair up their first lock, then several more and cruised quietly and uneventfully in company all the way to Lutzelbourg with the smell of roses lingering in our nostrils.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Haut Barr.  Saturday June 3 Saverne

A visit to the ruins of the Haut Barr is something we do habitually really, and it's a habit we share with anyone we can when we are staying in Saverne.  

The journey on foot is not arduous, but it’s enough distance and enough of a climb to work up a proper “faces are red and shirts are wringing wet” kind of sweat even through the cool of the forest, and to leave just enough tingling in various leg muscles to remind us that we’ve earned a really nice lunch in the restaurant at the top.     Normally we work off all three courses on the way down, half rolling half jogging back to the port, but this time the circling thunderstorms were just a little too ominous, and we descended more rapidly than usual with the assistance of a friendly taxi driver.

He was delighted to be transporting a car load of Australians, and spent the whole five kilometre journey regaling us with tales of the feats of Alain Mimoun, the French winner of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic marathon, intent no doubt on leaving us enthused enough to begin training for that event.   As it turned out, had we not availed ourselves of his service we may well have ended up in training for an Olympic swimming marathon, such was the weight of rain and hail that began to fall soon after our return.

It didn’t take much discussion at all to contrive a unanimous plan that the rest of the day should be spent lolling around with book in hand, checking occasionally to ensure that “our” Chateau was still above water.

On Becoming French - Friday June 2

It’s not uncommon in France to find ugly walls of buildings painted using a technique called “Trompe-l'œil”  literally “to deceive the eye”, giving the impression of sometimes quite elaborate form in what would otherwise be perfectly flat walls.

It was never going to be an uninteresting day.  If all went to plan Ray and Helen would arrive before lunch and take delivery of the hire boat they’d arranged through our friends at Navigfrance. We’d organise some provisions for us all for the coming week, Jacques would pop down from Lagarde and do the orientation and driving instruction thing with the boat, while Maggie would join us for a rather late dinner.

That’s exactly how it might have turned out too, if it wasn’t the busiest weekend on the boat hire calendar, which meant that things were a teensy bit squeezed at the Lagarde end of the plan.   The one of us who is bent on leaving the world in a cleaner tidier state than she found it in immediately volunteered us to prepare the boat for its new occupants.   The other who is not unfamiliar with the operation side of things assured the by now terribly embarrassed home team that the instruction process was also in safe hands and that really, all everyone had to do was to turn up for dinner.

Jacques was at first dismayed, then bemused, then completely without understanding as to how his friends had arranged a hire by their friends and had then taken over his business entirely.  He could be forgiven for wondering if he was caught in a Trompe-l'œil of his own.   Then he began to laugh.   “It’s not great when things are always perfectly organised” he said, and then with an enormous chuckle and wave of his arms, “this is great, this is truly French!”


Friday, June 09, 2017

The music is within. Thursday June 1

We have often wondered why it is that when one attains a certain age, entertainers think that we are only interested in popular music from an era that occurred some time before we were born.  It’s not that Piaff, Chevalier, Lynn and Co. did not produce wonderful stuff, but why, do they think that is the only appropriate music for “seniors”?   It was therefore with a little trepidation when we arrived chairs underarm for the port of Saverne’s first free concert of summer to discover the band was performing under the ominous moniker of “The Nostalgics”.

We needn’t have worried, for the road they took us down was a truly delightful one, bringing back memories of all those primary school concerts where one could very easily  mistake improvisation for error, where timing ranged between four-fourths and seven-eighths and where, when saxophone accompaniment was appropriate, the individual notes were so clearly and slowly annunciated the rhythm seemed to magically dissolve into something less than tunefulness. 

After not long at all, watching the expressions on the performers change from “intense concentration” to “mid childbirth” was more than we could bear, so we moved our chairs to a distance where our thunderous applause still heard from the stage yet our polite conversation could not.  The relief on the performer's faces when the last note was played was matched only by our own, and  they too seemed to feel that the total joy we experienced during the evening exceeded the sum of its parts!

Friday, June 02, 2017

This is not good. Wednesday May 31

In a few months it will be eight years since we took possession of our dear Joyeux, and it’s reasonable to say that not every day has been without quite justifiable fear of mechanical or electrical failure.  We have worked through most things systematically, repairing, renewing and even redesigning where necessary in an effort to ensure that with each little step the risk of future catastrophe is eliminated as far as we can tell.

There are just a few things in the big picture that remain to be sorted.  The propeller for instance could do with another tweak but its probably really time that we did something about the occasional spark and melt down in the control panel.    We did rewire the rest of the electrics years ago, meeting with great success.

Today, filled with enthusiasm, and with head filled with new wiring diagrams, we opened the panel one more time and peered in, wondering if this would be the day that work would begin.

Slowly we came to our senses, took a photograph to remind us what we were dealing with if ever the urge came upon us again, sealed it firmly with four screws and backed quietly away. 

Swanning about. Tuesday May 30

Traditionally we post a photo of the chateau to mark our arrival in Saverne just to let the world know that we are here and that life is terrific.  Sometimes if we are feeling particularly clever, we wait till the time is just right and that special sort of sunset light appears and we all get a pinky glow that sort of expresses the way we feel. The problem is that to do that we have to be up at sunrise, and that requirement really was never in our travel brochure.

Today though in the absence of anything better to do, or perhaps because there were lots of better things to do but doing them seemed like work, we went for a walk along the water’s edge just round the corner from the port.

There are some industrial buildings there which have been subjected to some serious street art effort which tends to reflect very well on their surroundings.  The swans seem to like them too.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Simple physics - Monday May 29

About the only bit of physics I remember is “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  Nothing  could better explain this principle than a visit to Lutzelbourg on the Monday of a long weekend during which every hire boat on the planet had been out.   It apparently follows that on Monday, every hire boat must return to its base leaving us for the first time in many dozens of Lutzelbourg stays with no one to talk to.

Well almost no one.  There were a couple of Kiwis here as well on the only other boat within cooee of the place.  I’m not sure if they were suddenly lonely or if it was us but when they wandered over to the shade of our tree about smoko time we began a conversation which did not come close to being concluded till the sun went down, and at this time of the year that is pretty close to our bed time.

They of course had intended to sand their decks, and our own wiring circuit was still buzzing around in need of recording, but great minds thinking as they do refused to take advantage of a quiet and entirely empty port.  Surely if even the smallest of the world’s problems are solved during a day sitting in the shade it cannot be called procrastination.

Not to be taken lying down. Sunday May 28

There’s this little spot we quite like to stay on a hot summer’s day, where the shade under the trees is dense and a cool wind blows and where in the afternoon the boat is in the shade as well.   

There we can bring out the cushions and, if we’ve had a sleepless night say because our brains have been working the whole time designing new wiring circuits to replace the mess  behind the dashboard so that we’ll never have to replace a melted mains power outlet again, we can drift off into the deepest of deep sleeps.     If on the other hand we haven’t had a sleepless night, then it’s also perfect for sitting in the cool and knitting or for a spot of reading interspersed with the odd snooze.  All in all it’s great place to spend an afternoon immersed in a whole range of wholesome activities.

There is a problem with falling into the deepest, most comfortable kind of sleep in the cool shade though.  When one wakes while lying on one’s side, one can become quite disoriented for a bit.   There’s something completely awry with the beautiful tones of the vegetation as they go from their yellows through to blue.  It’s confusing until the fog clears enough to recognise that everything is lying on its side. The camera doesn’t lie.  Presumably normal orientation will resume in a short while.

We know a place… Saturday May 27 a secret spot not far from Lagarde

We know a place, it may not be where the music plays, in fact it’s a long way from any noise at all and it’s a shady place to rest on a hot summer’s day.  On the first day of a long weekend when every one of NavigFrance’s boats are out, and doubtless those of every other hire boat company as well, the second busiest waterway in France could well live up to its reputation.  Therefore we thought, finding a quiet little nook where we could spend the night could be important, and we knew just the place.

In reality the "quietest little nook" may well have been our home port with all the boats gone for the weekend, but the beauty of having a flexible life is that when one decides to go, one must go, all other things not withstanding.  Go we did, dodging and weaving but mostly waiting while the hire boat flotilla did their utmost to avoid the banks on either side, white knuckled skippers no doubt wondering when the fun begins, at speeds either too fast or too slow and sometimes even backwards.  Sadly in the race to get the most miles out of their weekend hire, they often miss many of the delights on offer, and without the benefit local knowledge tend to stop where others stop. 

Therefore it came to be that we unselfishly shared our secluded little spot in the forest with but five other boats, and settled down in the quiet, but not quite seclusion to await that first slash of sunlight down the canal bringing with it a brand new day.

Continuous Improvement Friday May 26

For all the waxing lyrical about not doing stuff, there comes a time when suddenly a decision is made and we are away.  For Grahame and Aileen as well that time came when our eyes creaked open this morning, although for both of us, tomorrow seemed like a far better time to move than actually right now.

While one of us busied herself inside repairing and tidying and reorganising, the other set to the outside with equal enthusiasm, scrubbing and polishing things and wielding spanners and hammer till everything sparkled, or was a bit straighter and at least glowed just a little bit in our eyes through all those years of hard earned patina.   It all went so swimmingly that we could have been away by lunchtime really, but the funny thing about being flexible is that when one makes a decision to go tomorrow, one isn’t at all flexible when the opportunity to depart earlier arises, particularly when at least two dozen hire boats are leaving port on the same day.

So with not much else to do, we started to take a look at long term projects, making lists of things that could be done better, searching online for replacement parts, looking for ways of improving reliability in the years to come.  In no time at all we’ll have the old tractor looking just like a new one.   In our minds at least.

Life in the Long Village - Thursday May 25

Curiously in the four days or perhaps it’s more that we’ve been back in Lagarde we haven’t thought too much about getting stuck in to that list of unfinished jobs, or even starting new ones, but the sewing machine is on the table now, so I expect there’s a change in the wind.   

The trouble is that in order for one of us to do certain things, the other attempting to get certain other things done invariably gets in the way and we end up in something of a vicious circle which is more conducive to doing not much. Besides there are ways of filling in the corners of one's life in the “long village” that is our canal community that doesn’t involve actual work aboard our own little ship.  

There are things that need helping with on other little ships for instance, and chats, and cups of coffee and sitting in the shade.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The trouble with stopping to smell the flowers. Wednesday May 24

The trouble with stopping to smell the flowers is that at this time of year, you can get a nose full of fluffy stuff that sticks in the back of your throat and makes you gag, or if you’re lucky it’ll only be a puff of pollen, or a cloud of farm dust either of which make the sinuses itch and the eyes water adn create big black bags under them.   

It has to be the pollen causing those bags, I doubt that its the late nights and early mornings or all the laughter,  We’ll have to wait a day or two to find out, because even though team Switzerland cruised off into the morning sunshine, Ron and Robin decided to stay “just one more night”.

I’m not sure what we were planning to do today, but whatever it was, we most certainly did something else instead.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Never do today what can be put off till tomorrow. Tuesday May 23

We had things to clean today, really we did but Ralph and Anita were cruising past this afternoon on their way down stream from their home in Switzerland, saw we were here and stopped for the night.  Ron and Robin having finished preparing their own boat turned up a few hundred kilometres off course in a car as well, so there seemed no alternative that to get together until the sun went down, and stay together thereafter for a good deal longer as well.

Four Aussies, two Kiwis and a couple of Swiss, all good mates, hanging around for hours outside a public toilet.

Life does not get any better (or classier) than this!

Road Trip! Monday May 22

Lagarde is a pleasant little village in the middle of nowhere and to be a little blunt about the place we like to call home at least for a few weeks every year, in the words of the old hit song, "It’s a long way to the shop if you want a Chiko Roll."

When Grahame and Aileen arrive each year, they hire a car for a week or two (as do we) to scratch around provisioning, sorting out odds and ends, and taking their mates for long drives in the country.   

This morning we were in the car before they could say “and perhaps we’ll have lunch at Ikea”, barrelling through the German countryside, although the photo may have been taken in France.  It does look a bit as if the chap in the dashboard GPS is trying desperately to escape rather than pointing to where we we should be going, but our spider senses got us to that giant hardware store in Saarlouis, and our brand new credit cards got the boot filled with all sorts of jobs for the coming days.

We must have been good kids too, because Aileen bought us all an ice-cream on the way home.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rather pleasant. Sunday - May 21

It seems like a lifetime, but it was barely three weeks ago we since we were here, shivering in our boots, looking out over a landscape that was on the bleak side of comfortable.  Yet here we are, spring is over and we are barbecuing in bare feet and tee shirts, looking out at trees in the final flush of finding their new summer coats.

That really is what we have never understood about spring.   It’s called a “season” but it is over in not much more than a morning, which coincidentally perhaps is about the same time that spring cleaning inside the boat took.  The outside remains the victim of some sensible procrastination.  Given that at the last opportunity he constantly complained that it was far to cold to venture outside with buckets and suds, what possible excuse could he find now you may ask.

Well, why would one waste such a perfect day cleaning? 


Sunday, May 21, 2017

So much for mental notes. - Saturday May 20th
Nancy to Lagarde

The problem with writing things down in such a public manner as this, is that eventually one can be held to task for what one writes.  When writing this stuff, one holds on to a very faint hope that even in the unlikely event that it is read, no-one would bother to remember any of it. Therefore it was with some confidence that no-one would take us to task these words were written almost three weeks ago:

We made a mental note of things we’ll definitely do on the way back.  We will walk the new history trail in Einville, we will visit the Brewing and Cinema museums at St-Nicholas-du-Port and we will definitely take four or five days to travel the distance that usually takes us one or two, and we will linger everywhere for more than a night.”    

That was the plan when we set out this morning.  There can be no doubt about it; “four or five days”, we said, “usually a night or two”.  We motored off into the morning gloom without hurry, stopping between squalls to visit both of the canal-side supermarkets above the first lock, while the rain held itself at bay.   

Events took a curious turn after that. Lock after lock presented itself to us ready for entry, not one of them breaking down or causing delay.  We watched helpless as village after village crept past without giving thought to pause.  With minutes to spare before the locks closed for the night we arrived in Lagarde, a little confused and perhaps a week earlier than we had intended.    Thankfully we are among friends, they will no doubt ply us with a few glasses of special counselling fluid and in the morning we won’t even remember what we missed.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Gathering Moss - Friday May 19th

We thought we might be in trouble this morning, well it was barely past midnight but it still counts as today when we were shocked out of our slumber by what sounded like a truck in the middle of a major accident involving huge quantities of combustible materials.   Thankfully the explosion turned out to be nothing more than a lightning strike somewhere very, very close but not close enough to do more than wake us with hearts pumping a bit more than their usual resting rate.

That turned out to be the most exercise our hearts would get during the entire day that followed.  The storm that shook us so in the middle of the night turned into a solid sheet of rain that did not relent until well in the afternoon.   Under the circumstances, going nowhere seemed to be a particularly good idea, perhaps tempered with a spot of reading and generally doing not much but listen to the sound of that slow drip from the badly repaired tap.   

One of us did venture a few metres from the boat during a brief lull, to record the fact that we were actually here so that when we wake up tomorrow we’ll remember where we are.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Another day in the office - Thursday May 18th
Pont-à-Mousson to Nancy

If life only comprised floating almost aimlessly along rivers under clear blue skies, watching the relics of thousands of years of history pass by as we did all day yesterday, where would the fun be?

That is doubtless why, after just one day in shorts and tee shirt, we were back in jumpers and rain gear.  The clouds which formed overnight began emptying themselves even before we left our snug little bunk to get the morning bread. It’s quite possibly why once again the breeze picked up when least we wanted it, from the wrong side when we were wanting to moor, from dead ahead when we were trying to pick up speed, from behind when we wanted to slow down.

It’s probably also why we had delays with lock repairs and when we finally got to stop to buy our new tap fittings and even install them, the leak persists.   It’s definitely why after resealing the front window for the third time, that leak persists too.   It made us wonder why the Romans went to all that trouble to build aqueducts, if they had wanted a continuous supply of running water inside, all they needed was a boat.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bobsledding in Jamaica - Wednesday May 17th
Metz to Pont-à-Mousson

We may be four or even five hundred kilometres from the nearest beach, but there's no reason why we can’t have the kids round for the odd game of beach volleyball or “volley” as it is known here.   The elections are over so the town square won’t be needed for a riot in the near future and the market stalls don’t mind setting up on a bit of sand for a month or so apparently, so why not truck in a squillion tonnes of sand, bus in kids from anywhere we can find them every evening for a month or so, and hold a regional championship?

There’s no fancy stadium, even at centre court, no security, no charge to watch and all the fun you can eat.  Oh, and as a bonus no one asked any of those present with cameras not to take photos?

This is what we like about summer in Europe, there's a joy about it which seems to know no bounds when it comes to celebrating it.  Why today even we were out and about in our shorts and sandals.

Laugh if you must. - Tuesday May 16th

When the temperature gets to around thirty-two degrees in our own Antipodean summer, it’s pleasant enough at first but by the third day of it, after the mildest exertion even women cease to ‘glow’ and simply sweat like the rest of us.  Then the humidity begins to bear down on us like some sort of cross we must endure.  At that point we start blaming things for our discomfort; land clearing, humidity or global warming or perhaps dare I say it, a cumulation of years.

It’s different here.  Here when the sky turns blue and the temperature dial begins to rise, it’s time to take off all but that which is necessary for decency and to sit in the sun or to frolic out there as though it may never come again.  Warmth, no matter how excessive it may be, is something to celebrate.  It should be noted though that these temperatures never quite make it to the shadows, and that is precisely where the habits of a lifetime would have us lurk.

Today when ubiquitous pharmacy thermometers proudly flashed their bright green neon telling us that it was thirty-two degrees on the sunny side of the street we were surprised to say the least, still dressed as we were in wooly socks and jeans, with jumpers around our necks “just in case”. There was a definite chill in the wind in the depth of those shadows in which we hid.

Perhaps if we could sit in the dappled shade for a to convince ourselves that no harm will come from the sun.  If we learn to go out in it we’ll be able to leave the jumpers at home like the rest of them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Mystery of the Torii Gate - Monday May 16th

Travel does nothing if not fill one’s head with information that otherwise one would have considered useless or perhaps not considered at all.   Take for instance the traditional Japanese Torii Gate, a structure with which, given our recent journeys we are not entirely unfamiliar.  At the entrance to a Shinto shrine the gate symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred.  Profane is used here in the literal sense; “that which is secular” rather than when used to describe of a bunch of very rude words.

Armed therefore with just enough knowledge to be dangerous, we set out in search of a reason for this particular gate’s being.   Were we moored on the profane side of it or on the sacred?  Had the Shinto followers in Metz decided to save on construction costs by usurping part of the cathedral for their own shrine?

A quick scan of the resources available to us yielded no clue, but we did discover that increasingly smaller versions of the gate are being used in Japan as a symbol to discourage littering and public urination.  If indeed that is the underlying reason for its being, it seems to be working at least as far as we can tell, although it doesn’t seem to have a hundred percent strike-rate on dog poo.

Monday, May 15, 2017

But I know what I like. - Sunday May 14th

 “The immersion in a garden sometimes goes as far as the act of absorption, leading to the culture and consumption of psychotropic plants…...healing, intoxicating or poisoning chemistry, the ingestion of plants produces recreational and toxic uses, leading to new states of consciousness. Alchemy can even go further  ...... pushes this symbiosis to its utmost limit and imagines a “fantastic universe of seeds, germs and ferments where the human species would have become permeable to the plant and animal kingdoms.”

With those cheery thoughts, and many more buzzing in our heads, we left the Centre Pompidou wondering exactly what we had just seen.  The exhibition entitled “Infinite Garden” was challenging in parts, often leaving us in awe of the artist’s skill in convincing the world that his humble experiments were worthy of inclusion in a major exhibition.  This process made even more astonishing in many cases by the fact that many of the artists have long been pushing up the very daisies that inspired them so.

It was Monet who left the greatest mark as he often does: “When he starts to create his famous garden in Giverny, where he paints his Water Lilies, Claude Monet meets with local resistance, people fear that the specimens imported from Japan would poison the surrounding streams. Far from being anecdotal, this struggle reflects the fantasy of an invasive alterity that foreign plants convey.”   It was with some relief that we discovered on reading this line, that we would no longer be returning to the mess that is our own garden after months of absence, but we can actually look forward to “the fantasy of an invasive alterity”.


Are we interrupting something?- Saturday May 13th

If only Sir Bannister Fletcher could have described the fun that is to be had in travelling through time, or even if had just paused for a moment in the production of his dry old tome to suggest that if one popped into the museum in Metz for just one afternoon all would become clear as crystal, none of those pre-exam nightmares would have been necessary and the study of history could have been a joy.

It’s a small museum really, the kind that one would think would take an hour to whizz through whilst on route to something more important.  However the intertwining of the history of the town set chronologically within the labyrinthine course through the building  captivates us every time we visit.   The chambers themselves become something of a metaphor for the ups and downs of the city in the thousands of years it records as we wend our way over and through their multiple levels and its many cultures.  It’s a simple collection, but far from scattered yet the custodians are well aware of its magnetism, allowing a return visit in the nominal cost of each entry.  

Our new favourite game involves looking statutes in the eye and trying to figure out what the subjects were thinking at the time their pose was captured.  Clearly in the above scene, her tongue lashing had gone on to the point where the silent treatment was about to begin, her icy stare a hint that all was not well within this relationship.  Perhaps we had interrupted his exasperation mid expletive?  It must have  been quite embarrassing for him really to have to hold that pose until we had disappeared into the next gallery.

We returned several times, but never caught them out.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mind Boggling - Friday May 12th

Sir Bannister Fletcher didn’t even mention the cathedral Saint-Étienne de Metz in his seminal text “The History of Architecture on the Comparative Method” perhaps the ultimate textbook of its kind for more than a century.  It’s a curious omission one would have thought if for no other reason that the forty something metres height of its nave, and remarkable six and half thousand square metres (yes that’s more than half a hectare) of stained glass, but then the one questioning Sir Bannister’s decision still has nightmares about his final year architectural history exams sat almost half a century ago and may therefore not be in a position to criticise.   

Perhaps it was because of this omission, (or perhaps because of the nightmares!) we studiously ignored the place during our first few dozen visits to the city, but we can ignore it no more.  Now each time we pass we poke around inside, to discover a little more, taking time to read the carved graffiti in the darkest of its corners, (surely in the eighteenth century that would have been a capital offence?), smug as we watch the people discovering it for the first time, wondering what they are going to do with their hundreds of photographs, without for a second wondering what we are going to do with the thousands we already have.  Yet the quest continues to find a souvenir more satisfying than the last. 

It’s not just the enormity of the thing, or the sheer impossibility of its structure, it’s trying to come to terms with it having been here for a thousand years, that all those years ago someone could conceive it and build it and preserve and protect it, to say nothing of the price that must have been paid over that thousand years in terms of currency and the community.    For all of that we can still walk around inside and marvel at it and scribble our names on the columns in black indelible ink…. apparently.

To Market to Market - Thursday May 11th

To Market to Market - Thursday  May 11th Metz

While in Metz we tend to visit the covered markets daily for supplies or for a bowl of soup or sometimes just to pop in   We’ve taken photos of it from all angles, recording the fish and the cheese and the meats within and the clever graphics of its modern awning which seem to bring a certain levity and focus on what would otherwise be a somewhat anonymous building.

On cloudless days it’s anonymity disappears and it becomes the focus of the square with its moving feast of cheery graffiti in neat rows  projected on it’s ancient walls as the sun traverses the sky.

We didn’t pop in there today though, we were on another mission.  Amazingly it’s been eight years since we filled up the little hire car with all sorts of household equipment mostly sourced from a large Swedish furniture shop on the outskirts of town.  The pillows we bought at that time were no longer satisfactory apparently.  Even the least critical among us could see that they weren’t quite the same after last season’s washing and now featured enough lumps and bumps to keep a phrenologist gainfully employed for a lifetime. To be blunt they were mere shadows of their former selves, and not of the kind that will disappear when the sun goes down.

We would probably have slept just as well tonight had we not been on new pillows complete with slightly glossy new and unwrinkled cases and in that case we may have had time to take an intersting photo.  Tomorrow, we’ll go to the market and take this one.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Climate Change Day
Pont-a-Mousson to Metz

What a treat it was to wake to a brightly shining sun and clear blue skies, even if the frost had barely melted on the deck of the boat when we did.  Exactly as forecast the temperature steadily rose, breaking double figures not long after breakfast reaching an almost take-the-jumper-off sixteen before we’d arrived in Metz.   Curiously the forecast from this day on is for minimum temperatures above ten, it’s as though they’ve just moved the maximums from the last few weeks into the next column over on the spreadsheet, and now suddenly we’re looking down the barrel of we won’t need jumpers again temperatures for the foreseeable future.

The crunch has come, on a quiet day aboard, without cold and rain there will be nothing to talk about and only boring postcards with clear blue skies taken lazily through the back door of the boat.

We are in Metz, one of our favourite cities, moored in our usual happy spot wedged betwixt park and cathedral wondering what it was that was different about the crowds in the park and in the city as we wandered round. It took a few minutes to realise that there were bare arms and legs on display, queues at the ice-cream stalls, cafe customers sipping beverages with actual ice in them.  All perfectly normal things to do when the temperature soars close to twenty.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Dancing with elephants -
Champignuelles to Pont-a-Mousson

We lowered ourselves gently onto the Moselle quite early this morning for they among us who consider nine to be early, and shifted the throttle to “ramming speed”, flying downstream at times reaching almost nine kilometres per hour with not a care in the world but a steady eye out in case one appeared around the corner headed in our direction.   It’s easy to overstate the danger of travelling on a small river in company with large ships but they do give cause for the occasional flutter of the heart, appearing as they do, silently as if from nowhere and travelling at almost twice our speed. Likewise when they come across us waddling out of their way like an old duck would, we expect that they feel as we do when we come across a flotilla of kayaking schoolchildren.

Like jet fighters they are in their stealth if not their bulk. With engine rooms located as much as a hundred and forty metres behind their pointy ends, they can easily be gone before they are heard. Of course they are piloted by highly skilled individuals who no doubt live in fear of the sort of mountain of paperwork that would result from a collision with a small boat, and there is great heart to be taken in that and accidents at least while moving are extremely rare.    

Charles Dickens it was who summed up the situation nicely, although until I enquired I always thought it was a songwriter from The Who or The Animals sometime in the sixties:

'" 'Every man for himself', cried the elephant as he danced among the chickens."


A long walk - Monday May 8th
Nancy to Champignuelles

After nearly eight kilometres of exertion today, all on the part of Mr Perkins, we arrived sometime after lunch at Champignuelles, a small abandoned harbour next to a nice bakery (open every day, closed tomorrow, thanks for coming though) a nice bank, and less than a kilometre’s walk from a large hardware emporium.  We would normally have moored the boat right next to the hardware store, but having been a little short on exercise for a day or two decided that a couple of round trips on foot were what the doctor may order if we were to continue with our new found sedentary life.

An ever so slight amount of guilt derived from eating our strawberry tart (the baker is closed tomorrow, not today) while watching hundreds or actually thousands of walkers pass by in various states of disarray may have contributed to this.   Today was the thirty-third annual Metz to Nancy walk. If that sounds like more fun than eating strawberry tart in a warm boat, let’s just say the temperature outside briefly made ten degrees and that was when the wind and rain stopped for an even more brief time, and the total distance is around sixty kilometres or about three days by boat.

We may not have even made it thus far had we not been kicked out into the cold while lingering over a coffee with a few friends including the duty Port Captain in his comfortably heated office, when he suddenly stood and said, “I’m sorry we have to go quickly now!  It’s lunchtime and if I don’t lock the office very soon the alarms will go off!”

Rather than risk a visit from the Police for forcing our friend to work during lunch, we quietly slipped out of town.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Even less is more -Sunday May 7th

If yesterday was a catch up day, today turned out to be one where we had the opportunity to get ahead of things, but why would we?  If the rain stopped at all today it wasn’t when we were watching and we couldn’t have cared less, we had books and a heater and chocolate.

OK we had books and a heater and peanut M&M’s but there was no way we were going to leave the boat even for chocolate.  So for the first time that either of us can remember, which admittedly isn’t a terribly long time we didn’t set a foot on land all day.

We did get a start on all sorts of projects, none of them practical or meaningful which makes them even more valuable and important somehow and we did find a photo of a cactus smiling to itself in a little sunshine  just three days ago, which reminded us of just how dry things have been till now.   

Besides a little rain can be quite uplifting when one is living in a boat with no leaking windows

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Opening exceptionally -Saturday May 6th

I recall yesterday thinking that we might move on tomorrow, visit the hardware store on our way out, that sort of thing.

This morning we thought the same thing, even told the Harbour Master that we’d be off and thanks for having us once again.  Then we went to the supermarket to provision ourselves for the next arduous leg of our journey which might take us away from shops for perhaps a night,  and we noticed a sign on the door.  “We will be opening exceptionally on Monday from nine till four”.    This is the opposite of “closing exceptionally”, a sign which we are quite used to seeing on days when we arrive and really need something from whatever store it is displaying said sign.

What it also infers is that other stores, for instance large hardware ones, will not be opening exceptionally on Monday, which as it turns out is a public holiday in a month in which there are four.   With that knowledge safely tucked away, we won’t be leaving tomorrow, perhaps the next day will be better, and in the meantime we’ll just sit around here today and catch up with a bit of writing.

Ready for the growing season - Friday May 5th

We’ve been lying around doing not much for a while, a bit like the beds in the little botanic garden up the road.  But like those gardens which are all planted in readiness for the coming summer, we too are ready to get a move on.   

We’ve got ourselves sorted at last. It’s amazing what a week of lazing around can do to in that regard, a few minutes of work here and there and we’re ready to go for summer. Admittedly there are a couple of “home improvements” to be done, but we’ll sort those out when we pass the hardware store on Monday.  Yes, we’ve made a decision, we will move on. We will be on our way once more.

Life isn’t about lying around inactive all day though, we did take a longish walk around the larger park as well.  We lingered for a while as we passed through the little zoological gardens, watching the monkeys for a bit which for reasons completely inexplicable reminded us that we really might like to make a video call with the grandkids tomorrow.


Perambulations Thursday May 4th

I cannot say for sure why today’s photograph should be of an antique baby carriage, standing lonely in the middle of a street.   Even to say “we discovered it” would not be correct as it had obviously been discovered long ago and was being used as a wordless billboard for an antique shop.   It is a sad reflection on our powers of observation though, that so attracted were we by the glittering bits of marquetry, and the curly ironwork, we had failed to notice that one of the wheels was somewhat less than intact, going a fair way towards answering our own question about how it remains in place without a lock in the face of such obvious temptation.

Speaking of temptation, we were actually wandering with some intent in the general direction of the covered market in search of cheese.  Some Comté or Morbier would do the trick, or with just a little luck, a little of both.  Naturally, this being France, luck of the cheesy kind was not hard to find.  Therefore laden with sufficient supplies to keep the wolves at bay for a considerably greater time than perhaps we had initially contemplated, we returned happily to our rapidly diminishing list of things to do in the warmth of indoors.


Beaux Arts - Wednesday May 3rd

We’d always had the Museum of “Beautiful Arts” in Nancy on our list of things to do on a rainy day.  Even today a visit wasn’t being seriously contemplated until we found ourselves at the top of town when the precipitation began and foolishly we were without umbrellas.  Suddenly a visit became a sensible way of whiling a way a few hours.

We had barely begun whiling when Jean Prouvé solved a problem I’ve been grappling with for some time regarding keeping the top of a dining table apart from the floor, and we recouped the minuscule cost of entrance with interest.   With nothing to lose from then on, things just kept getting better.  Yayoi Kusama’s infinity room, a version of which we had visited in her astonishing exhibition in Japan gave us a lovely sense of deja vu, as did a painting called “The poor fisherman” which had creepily re-materialised in front of our eyes as if not wanting an end to our discussion regarding its wretchedness, begun in front of it  two weeks ago in Tokyo.  Curious as to how it could possibly be following us, we discovered this one to be an exact copy of Puvis’ original by an equally renowned chap by the name of Maillol.

One could go on, and its suffice to say we did, through all three levels and back again too which given our usual lack of attention span in these places is no small recommendation. Eventually though, even the rain couldn’t keep us inside.    This is Nancy after all where the beautiful arts can be found everywhere, even on the wall of the chemist shop just up the road from the museum. 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Time for a different perspective - May 2nd

We’ve been on the run for a few months now, and it’s become something of a habit, this running madly barely stopping for a breath.  It’s time to take stock of ourselves, understand that we are supposed to be “retired”, and that we will not suffer any penalty if we don’t actually do anything for a day or two.

Of course it may be a little difficult to write about it at day’s end.  How does one describe with a sufficiency of eloquence taking one’s breakfast while still clad in night attire at a time when others less relaxed may well have been contemplating their elevenses?

It was raining, the boat was tidy and we went for a long walk in the afternoon.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Labour Day - May 1st

Today is Labour Day which over several centuries has become intertwined with “La Fete du Maguet”, a day on which one gives those one loves a little bouquet of Lily-of-the-Valley (Muguet), to wish them happiness and good luck in celebration of the arrival of spring.  King Charles IX started it all in the sixteenth century and declared that on this day anyone in France can legally sell flowers without a license.

In honour of this great public holiday we invoked our “rule of ten” this morning, not rising, as is our custom until either the time or the temperature reached that convenient number.  As it happened in the absence of artificial heat, the clock ticked over to match the thermometer at exactly the same time this morning and we rose refreshed and ready to face our still lengthy list of after-winter things to tidy up.  We thought given the weather, that before we did that perhaps a stroll between the showers to see what was happening in this holiday stricken city would be nice.  

As we walked through the wonderful square, almost deserted but for a handful of people selling small posies of flowers, one of them enquired as to whether we’d like one.   

“No thanks” was our automatic response.  “They’re free!” he replied “and they are from the forest”.   Naturally we enquired why he was not selling them.

“Normally I sell them” he said, “but I am happy and I like to make everyone happy.  It’s a happy day, we don’t have to work!”  

So we didn’t.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Changing the plan. - April 30
Einville-au-Jard to Nancy

The house next to the bakery in Einville sent a signal this morning, perhaps it’s time to revisit the art nouveau museum in Nancy, perhaps it’s time to stay for a bit and poke around, but that part of our plan never varies, we just never seem to carry through.   

We have no need for rush we say at the beginning of every voyage.  “We are going to stay for two nights every time we stop this year” we say.  “We will visit the places we’ve been before, but explore every nook and cranny, we’ll leave no stone unturned” we say, and then circumstances conspire and we inevitably end up leaving lots leaving nooks and crannies “for next time”.

This year we thought we would travel in a gentle circle down the Saar, up the Moselle and back, but no sooner had we begun annunciating that thought than our plans began to unravel.  The coming Monday holiday didn’t help, neither did the prospect of spending a couple of cold rainy nights away from power, but the delay in re-opening the lock at Saarbrücken foiled us entirely and we set out in exactly the opposite direction to the one we expected.   Today, while loitering on our way to the bakery in Einville-au-Jard early, before shooting off to Nancy, we made a mental note of things we’ll definitely do on the way back.

We will walk the new history trail in Einville, we will visit the Brewing and Cinema museums at St-Nicholas-du-Port and we will definitely take four or five days to travel the distance that usually takes us one or two, and we will linger everywhere for more than a night.   

Starting tomorrow.

Aweigh! - April 29
Lagarde to Einville-au-Jard

If ever one were in need of proof of the benefits of procrastination, today would have given that proof in buckets.

It was buckets of soap and warm water that were needed mostly, along with a scrubbing brush and a pressure cleaner.  While the temperature may not have quite made double figures, the glorious blue sky and brilliant sunshine made it seem like three times that once work got underway.   There were lots of things that could have been done, perhaps should have been done, but as the morning slowly turned into afternoon, our little “Joyeux” was starting to look a bit like his old self, and with that the urge to get underway started to take a fairly strong grasp on us all.

Some quick sums were done.   It seems we have two days of sunshine ahead of us, which is about half a day more than it will take us to get to Nancy, but exactly the same time remaining until the May Day holiday when everything closes.   After that there will be a few days of much needed rain, together with a not so much needed cooler change, during which time a small electric heater could be a comfort, which in turn would make an electrical supply quite useful.

After pressing the “equals” key, the answer came firm but clear - stop work, take the shiny clean boat to Nancy, leave straight after lunch.  So we did.
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