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.
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