Legends from our own lunchtimes

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Tired but happy.
Thursday 8th November - Vancouver to Brisbane

The flight in a westerly direction crosses the international date line, which can be a little disconcerting for some as in the process a day just quietly dissolves.  In our case our departure on Wednesday the 7th will end on Friday the 9th after a mere fifteen hours of flight.

Our day admittedly had already been jam packed with colour and travel and that sinking feeling that good times must end, (for a short while at least), when Al dropped us at the airport with half a dozen hours to kill.  One of us expected that we may well spend it quietly ruminating over the memories of our week, or our month or perhaps our six months of adventuring, on which the curtain was now slowly lowering.

The curtain lowered much more quickly for the other apparently, as for her, barely minutes into that conversation the past six months had already become little more than a dream.

The Carnival is Over.
Wednesday 7th November - Whistler to Vancouver

What a glorious day Canada provided for our grand farewell.   It was that cold, crisp, clear kind of cold that says “it’ll be snowing just after you leave, once the gondolas start working”, but we didn’t care, because snow would have sent us into O.D.C. (over dose of Canada.)

Sunny and Al had saved one final disappointment for us, taking us on a short albeit “quite scenic” detour to a place where hundreds of bald eagles nest. To be fair to all, Eagle nesting season does not officially start until next week, but we held collective but ultimately false hopes that perhaps one or two may not have taken the change to daylight saving into account and turned up early. 

Without an eagle to be seen, and not wishing to appear ungrateful to our hosts, we ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at the scene before us for a bit, watched the seals catching the early run of salmon for a bit longer, wiped the odd tear from our eye (must have been the chill, surely not because we were on our way home?) and increasingly more quietly and with markedly less enthusiasm entered the monster truck for that final ride to the airport.

Slow down (life), you’re going too fast.
Tuesday 6th November - Whistler

Picture yourself in the company of friends who are so special that they’ve arranged an apartment in one of the world’s great snow resorts at the very foot of the gondolas, specifically so that they can accompany you to the tiny patches of snow at the top of the mountain in the hope of watching one of you go nuts as she stands for the very first time in falling snow.   Now ask yourself, what can possibly go wrong?

When we arrived at the apartment it was stunning. As advertised.  Everything was right there before our very eyes, or would have been if the cloud would lift just for a bit.  That cloud.  It was the wet rainy kind, the sort that delays the forecast for the first snow of the season until the day after you leave for Australia.     

That wasn’t a problem really, it would have been close to a miracle to see falling snow given our timing, but at least we could ride the gondolas to the peaks to scratch around in what was already there, or we could have if they hadn’t all been closed just for this week for pre-season maintenance.

We could have gone to the Olympic Ski Jump site for the same reason, but it’s only open on Mondays.   We could have had a long hot spa bath in the apartment if the water hadn’t been cut off for the day at five in the morning without warning.

Thanks to having nothing else to see except bears and waterfalls and boring stuff like that, we stumbled upon the Olympic Sliding Venue where braver souls than we were qualifying for the weekend’s big event.  We stood transfixed for hours, possibly due in part to our feet being frozen in place, while Skeletons and Bob Sleighs shot past at speeds that were approaching that of the past week rushing by, providing a spectacle that will remain in our minds long after those first stupid snow flakes would have melted anyway.

It’s Us, Isn’t It?.
Monday 5th November - Lantzville to Whistler

We had to get up in the dark to get to the ferry this morning which was a bit uncivilised, but Sunny and Al had planned a monster day for us in the even more monster truck they’d hired for that very purpose, and the least we could do was to accompany them.  

The first planned stop was the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver which is well served by a multi story carpark.  Thankfully parking was not expensive by our own inner city standards, but none the less it might have been nice of the museum people to place their “closed Monday” sign at the entrance to the carpark rather than at the pedestrian exit.  While this was a little disconcerting to our hosts, to put it mildly we are not inexperienced in things closing as we approach, and in our vast experience, disappointment is always followed by some unexpected highlight.

In this case the Vancouver waterfront and Granville Island kept us just as enthralled as poking round stuffy old canoes and carvings would have anyway, and we had to drag ourselves away in the end for the road trip to our next disappointment. 

Thursday, November 08, 2018

It's All Because of Daylight Saving.
Sunday 4th November - Lantzville

We woke this morning to our eighth time zone change in three weeks and wonder if it’s not finally catching up with us.  

One of our number was a bit curtailed with an inflamed achilles tendon, two were battling minor illness with the sort of stoicism that causes grown men to exchange silent nods of mutual sympathy, while the sole survivor of this week of rollicking good times not wishing to be left out perhaps, twisted her ankle somewhere in the wilds during our usual morning excursion.

With nothing compelling on our agenda except for a bit of provisioning and packing for our road trip tomorrow, thoughts of exploration further abroad were quickly extinguished in favour of spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon appropriately recumbent, licking our wounds in front of a nice warm fire.


Oh we do like to be beside the seaside.
Saturday 3rd November - Lantzville

We don’t normally think of bunging on the Wellies for a walk along the beach, but we don’t normally walk on the beach if the temperature is in single digits either. 

While normally the abundance of interesting flotsam and sea shells on the shore would be a reflection of an abundance of life in the adjacent waters.  In this instance we do have to wonder if it’s just an indicator that no one else is stupid enough to be out fossicking among in the rain in sub ten degree temperatures.   Normally in our experience it’s great to feel sand between the toes too, but here that would be a sign that one’s toenails are probably about to turn blue and it’s time for a new pair of boots. 

On the face of it Rook enjoyed himself even more than we did, running around like the puppy he was long ago but we did look askance at those poor little bare feet and wonder if he wasn’t just trying to get some feeling back into his toes.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Places to go, People to see.
Friday 2nd November - Lantzville

Perhaps we gave the wrong impression yesterday about just how easy life is in Sunny and Al’s care.   Be assured there are jobs that need doing and it’s a little hard to describe just how difficult it was to get a proper afternoon snooze with Al outside cleaning up the yard with the leaf blower.

Despite that particular adversity, we did manage to appear quite bright eyed when it was time for Rook and we to once again climb aboard the monster truck to watch them attend to even more chores in the afternoon.  This seemed to mostly involve driving down shady leaf strewn lanes to pick up organic eggs, or perhaps embarrassingly to dispose of our carefully carved pumpkins, now destined to make some equally carefully raised yet hungry animals even happier than perhaps they already were.  

If this is mundane, we do have some concerns about how we will cope when we get to the actual pretty bits.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

A Dog’s Life.
Thursday 1st November - Lantzville

Probably the biggest compliment we can pay our hosts is to say they treat us even better than they treat their dog.

We’re settling into a bit of a pattern now, Rook and we.  After we have been fed in the morning, we are taken for glorious frolics through the mist in the forest, then when we get back we are allowed, or perhaps even encouraged to have a snooze before (and after) being fed again.

Sometimes, if we’ve been good, the three of us allowed to go for a ride in the car to the shops.  This is not necessarily a highlight of the day for one of us, but the other seems to bear up under the strain. It will be interesting to see a week from now, what use can be put to all of those merino mid layers on the other side of the world when the temperature is four times what it is outdoors at present. 

Wednesday 31st October - Lantzville

One of us has never particularly liked pumpkin.  It once was even higher on his list of undesirable foods than Brussels sprouts, stringy beans and bitter, stringy rhubarb.  Quite possibly “despise” could be the most accurate term for his relationship with the ghastly vegetable although he would prefer not to think of it as a relationship at all.

Therefore, when the opportunity arose to give a pumpkin a craniotomy and stab its eyes out, it seemed like a chance to avenge a lifetime of mealtime trauma, and he did so with some relish.  There we were, in a familiar kitchen in a foreign land partaking in a custom that we barely understood, not even pretending that we weren’t enjoying ourselves.

While the events of this evening did little to enlighten our ignorant Antipodean selves of the significance of Halloween in this part of the world, there can be absolutely no doubt that the presence of sugar, pumpkins, bonfires, fireworks, children dressed as hotdogs and adults dressed as mustard bottles are all anyone needs to have a rollicking good time, and when a rollicking good time is had, who needs significance anyway? 

Oh Canada!.
Tuesday 30th October - Vancouver to Lantzville

The float plane landed and taxied to the dock if that’s what float planes do, and Sunny and Al were right where we left them five years ago, behind the security gate looking as though they were expecting us, perhaps already wondering what we’d leave behind this time.

We must have been mid-sentence when we last departed, because we all began at once beginning from where we had left off, with a good deal of urgency, all of us apparently oblivious to the the fact that all being well we had the rest of the week and a good deal of the next to catch up.  We simply stood talking and laughing on the dock unaware of our surroundings, quite possibly risking death by exposure or starvation, until one of us or perhaps all of us at once, came to our senses and we moved in search of warmth and sustenance indoors.

Having recently discovered that social interaction is a key factor in arresting cognitive decline as we age, those first few hours of our reunion alone were enough to convince us that we need not worry about the autumn of our brain function appearing for the next week at least. 


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Monday 29th October - New York to Vancouver

Curiously, the whooshing sound of deadlines flying by when one is in the workforce, is almost identical to the sound of time racing past when one is having a good time in a large city with nowhere near enough days, or weeks, or months to do anything but dip one’s toes in the figurative water round its edges. 

We heard that noise today, among the car horns and sirens and construction noise, and that of the peaceful demonstration outside Trump Tower, and the street vendors as we took one last, lingering look at the city that could consume so much more of our time were we to find a way for that to happen.  Even after such a short time we’re going to miss those steaming manholes in the streets, the paradoxes, the colour, the lack of it, the stupendous works of art, and quite possibly mostly we’re going to regret that we didn’t have a work by that artist in Central Park who offered  ‘bad portraits 10$”.

It’s been like living on the inside of a Rubik’s Cube and for now it’s over.   Tonight when we alight from our aluminium steed, we’ll be in Canada Eh?

These Boots Were Made for Walking.
Sunday 28th October - New York

Sadly for one of us, his shoes were at that point in their lives where they are no longer as Consumer Law would describe them, fit for purpose. Yesterday’s little excursion filled them with sufficient damp that one of them at least bore an olfactory resemblance to an open sewer this morning.   Despite being apparently thoroughly dried overnight, it actually squelched when the first tentative step in it was taken today.  To butcher the words of an old song, they were sort of went plip when they moved and slop when they stopped and ewww when they stood still.  If ever there was time for a new pair, now was it.

Happily, there is no shortage of places to buy shoes within a gentle amble from our hotel, and since shoes are about the same price as the hop-on-hop-off bus, it all seemed like a bit of a fair trade to purchase a new pair made for walking instead of taking the bus.  

Signs are not in short supply either in the Big Apple, but none of them seemed to be telling us exactly what we wanted to know.  Eventually we found a large shop owned by a lady called Macy, who happily gave us a tourist discount to offset the somewhat diminished value of our Australian Pesos.  

With dry feet and gloriously cushioned heels and set off to explore the brave new world on something of a random path through quieter backstreets, in the hope of avoiding the tourist traps.   We could not claim total success in that regard, seemingly stumbling across every one of them by happy accident, but a marvellous day was had by all, and on our return to our room the stench of the old shoes had almost entirely dissipated.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The day we didn't see dinosaurs.
Saturday 27th October - New York

This morning at ten, the queue at the bagel shop was longer than yesterday, and it was colder and wetter and we didn’t feel like queuing for hours in the cold and wet, or walking in it either, so we took the subway to a place that wasn’t too far from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Then we walked in the cold and the rain until half a city blog from the Museum we found an even longer queue, which despite our contrary feelings, we joined.  There we stood not quite motionless for more than an hour, just inching forward all the while, at the sort of rate that makes one wonder if anyone is actually being admitted or if the queue is just compressing,   Like the bagels yesterday, it was well and truly worth the wait though.  So buoyed by our success, with heart rates racing at the spectacle of it all, we strode off across Central Park ready to tick the Museum of Natural History off our list.

Through gales and icy rain we marched, on streets paved with the gold of summer’s leaves now spent, until we found our new super-queue.   This one reached the end of an entire city block, then turned the corner and went for half a block more.   Undaunted, we joined it too and had gained five or six metres towards our destination after half an hour.  A quick calculation told us we’d be at the doors by next Tuesday, almost at the same time we would be ready to eat again after yesterday’s extravaganza.  Reluctantly we abandoned all hope of seeing dinosaurs and wandered aimlessly and gloriously until bedtime, simply breathing the city.

Cheeseburgers in Paradise.
Friday 26th October - New York

Our hotel is located just around the corner from one of New York’s finest bagel shops, and we thought that by nine the rush hour crowds should have dissipated sufficiently for us to find breakfast in relative peace.  We could only wonder how busy they get as we stood chilling in the queue that snaked along the footpath for half a city block.   “Chilling” here does not mean “staying calm”, it means “our core temperature is getting seriously low folks, move along please!”

We arrived at the front of the queue a millisecond less than an hour later, apparently much sooner than the average morning wait, and our breakfast bagel; cinnamon and raisin with walnut and raisin cream cheese filling, containing an entire week’s ration of at least three food groups was entirely worth the wait.

By mid afternoon, having burnt off just some of our breakfast while ambling aimlessly for kilometres through the streets and avenues of Mid-town and along the pathways of Central Park, the urge to “top up the tanks” became overwhelming, and coincided with us being exactly outside a Joint of the Burger variety.  For the second time in one day, we managed to eat a month’s supply of rations while wondering if our surroundings were real, or on some sort of film set. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

And here we are!
Thursday 25th October - New York

We shared a dream of arriving in New York on the Queen Mary 2, sailing right up under the Statue of Liberty in the footsteps of the millions who had arrived by ship in search of a new life in the free world.   Those dreams never actually mentioned that we’d have to be up before four in the morning, nor that at that time there’s not a drop of daylight, nor that it could quite possibly be a bit brisk outdoors.    

In this case “brisk” meant that it was five degrees actually, and on a windy morning on the foredeck of an ocean liner that’s travelling at twenty knots or so that can chill one to the very core. This is particularly the case if, when the bags were taken last night, the hat, gloves and other sensible foils to the cold were inadvertently left in them when they went.

But we are here, and tonight we are still unsure of what has just happened.  We have crossed an ocean in the most genteel manner at our disposal, yet we are exhausted.  Of course that may have something to do with the shortage of sleep hours or it may be that we’ve not yet properly thawed.  Whatever the case, we shall let it all sink in slowly (now that we are ashore and words like “sink” are back in our vocabularies) and in the cold hard light forecast for tomorrow, will once again set out to explore new territory.

Well That Didn’t Take Long.
Wednesday 24th October - Atlantic Ocean

When the sun rose this morning, we were far too close to our destination for our liking, in fact it was just beyond that dark blue line over there. Then the sun no doubt sensing our apprehension, after a brief appearance, retreated to wherever it had been all week, the wind returned to it’s customary force seven, the sea returned to being “rough”, and we went to breakfast.

This feels as though it's been the quickest week of our lives, and while doubtless the fact that there have only been five days instead of the usual seven to this point has contributed to that, it’s in no small way due also to the relentless pace of doing nothing while living in a cake shop located on the dress circle of a concert hall.  

There’s a certain numbness about today as we go about our business.  Tonight, many of us will have our baggage whisked away to expedite our disembarkation in the morning, and the reality that we do not have another week to see everything in a sensible manner has left us a little bemused really.  We’re all trying to be a bit grown up about it, or at least those who are leaving tomorrow are.  We have a very strong suspicion that the other half of the passenger list, the ones who are turning around and going back the other way are feeling quite differently.

For Exercise.
Tuesday 23rd October - Atlantic Ocean

Anyone who has been to sea will know that prior to emergency drills the sounding of an alarm is preceded with the formal announcement: “FOR EXERCISE.  FOR EXERCISE.  FOR EXERCISE”.  When the weather eventually cleared this morning, while some hardy souls took to the decks dressed in what looked to us like snow survival gear for exercise of the other kind, we were content to take ours by moving between theatres, and were quite looking forward to arriving early this evening to see the National Orchestra performing it’s own “Last Night of the Proms”.

We almost didn’t make it though when one of those last minute “have you seen my keycard” situations occurred.  Amid rising levels of angst, our stateroom was turned over systematically, with no sign of the errant card.  Thankfully, midway through the second search which was of sufficient intensity that it would have made a crime scene  investigation team proud, one of us discovered it in his shirt pocket.

Sensing the first puffs of steam from his spouse’s ears were a forewarning of a perhaps not undeserved castigation, he held it aloft and announced to all within earshot:  “FOR EXERCISE.  FOR EXERCISE.  FOR EXERCISE”.

The deckchairs are floating away.
Monday 22nd October - Atlantic Ocean

We woke in a fog this morning of the kind that covers vast parts of the Atlantic at this time of the year.  The sea was deceptively rough and the winds so strong that we weren’t allowed outside, even if we had been able to open the doors against the force of the wind.   The ship would bounce and wallow every now and then and the occasional creaking protest could be heard from some of the joinery, but apart from being confined to the indoors, and all aboard experiencing certain difficulty in walking in a straight line, business continued in it’s normal happy state.

While leaving a dining room this morning, a lady who was somewhat more diminutive than I and of significantly more advanced years lurched quite violently in my direction following a sudden roll of the ship. Her movement was so sudden that we only avoided a nasty collision because I was mid-lurch at the time myself. 

With a smile in my voice, I asked what she had taken with her breakfast orange juice. Temporarily recovering her balance, she confided that actually she thought in her case it might still be the effects of last night’s Gin and without stopping for breath enquired as to what might be my excuse.

Sunday 21st October - Atlantic Ocean

Photography is not allowed during any performance, which is quite sad for those of us who indulge in that particular pastime, but it is a commendable experience watching a performance without the glare of a thousand telephone screens staring back.

We thought we might have had a fair crack at sitting wherever we wanted in the Planetarium today, since the screening was to be accompanied by a soundtrack of the music of Pink Floyd played live.  After all we couldn’t help but notice that the ship is full of what once we might have described as “older folk”, who surely would not appreciate that sort of thing.

It was therefore a great shock to arrive at the back of the queue for the (free) tickets, to discover about four hundred and forty people in front of us eager to take one of the four hundred and fifty seats.   We could have been excused for thinking that some had camped out overnight to be sure of obtaining tickets but in reality they’d probably just skipped breakfast, a nonetheless noteworthy sacrifice.

A far greater shock came while standing in that very same queue and discovered that those “older folk”, through some sort of distortion in the ship’s mirrored wall, all appeared to be of a similar age to ourselves. 


How did you know?.
Saturday 20th October - Atlantic Ocean

We’d have missed the glory that is our our dining room today if were it not for taking our time over breakfast, such was our exhausting schedule.  It’s not as if we were at any risk of starvation as we did manage to fit a few snacks in between learning variously about happiness and war, watching a movie in three dimensions, a classical guitar recital, a performance by a stand up comedian, and rounding off the evening at a big-band concert.

There are some who looked askance as they watched us quicken our pace to get to the next venue, sandwich in hand.  They rolled their eyes in that all-knowing manner of one who has seen it all before.  

“This is your first cruise, isn’t it?” 

Getting Away With It
Friday 19th October - Atlantic Ocean

After a quick count of the lifeboats on board last evening, although these days they are called “survival capsules” or something much more in keeping with our times, we barely had time to glimpse the cruising sunset before it was time to dress for dinner.  

The reality of “dressing for dinner” then was that it merely involved a bit of a tidy-up, but it was good practice for this evening’s “Gala” event, one of those occasions over which we’d wasted so much nervous energy over the past week or so in the effort to ensure we were more or less appropriately dressed.

We seem to have carried it off with out a hitch, confirmed by the whispered gasps in my ear from a lady I’d just met.  With nods to a bow tie on the opposite side of the table  “he wears a ready made” she exclaimed, followed by “my Gerald always ties his own”.  Apparently she was completely unaware that the person she was addressing was also wearing one of those ghastly “ready mades”.  It must have been the slightly unkempt or as we prefer to call it “hand-tied” look of the two pound Primart special that had her fooled.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

When the sun is over the yard arm.
Thursday 18th October - Southampton

It’s a sure sign that we’re in to the swing of this cruising thing when go out early to take a photograph and discover it’s ten already.

There she was though, waiting for us, floating in a sea of cars, our home for the next week. We weren’t allowed closer of course, not till after lunch, but one of us got excited at the very sight of the thing, in contrast to the usual icy calm of the other ever thankful that he didn’t have one of those watches that publicly monitor his heart beat.

When the sun is over the yard arm, we’ll think all those left ashore, and…… no.  We  probably won’t!

What were we thinking?.
Wednesday 17th October - Southampton

Southampton is famous for many things, perhaps none more than its ties to the Titanic.  It was not just the port from which that ill fated vessel departed, but also sadly the port from which it drew the greatest portion of its crew. 

Without wishing to be too unkind, our impression of the city is that despite its best efforts it’s a bit of a shipwreck as well.  The history is there, but much of the past is safely buried out of sight thanks in no small part to that episode of war known “fondly” as “the Blitz”. 

We’re a bit “historied” out at the moment, but always suckers for a good naval yarn, took ourselves to the Seacity Museum, which sets out Southampton’s Titanic story.  Barely a household in the town was untouched in some way when the ship went down taking with it almost 700 inhabitants. It was a pleasant way to spend a rainy morning, but it won't be easy to rid our minds of some of the images from that exhibition tomorrow as we set sail on the same track as that ill fated voyage. 

Forewarned is forearmed, although I suspect we won’t be going anywhere near the deck chairs.

Travel Weariness.
Tuesday 16th October - London to Southampton

We’d been there almost a week, give or take, but when we pulled Matt and Kathy’s front door closed behind us this morning, it could have been just yesterday that we’d arrived.

Travel is a bit like that.  Our commute this morning involved just one change of station in the Tube and we were deposited just below the platform we needed at Waterloo station, arriving early enough to scores some sample chocolates and in time for the guard to sneak us on to an earlier train, which in turn enabled us to check in to our hotel in Southampton before most had finished lunch.

We had been on the move for just a few hours, yet our minds and bodies felt as though it  had consumed an entire day. Here we were, in the place where Bowls was invented, in the same hotel (it is said, despite not a shred of supporting evidence) that Jane Austin celebrated her eighteenth birthday (in a time when attaining that milestone was of no particular significance), where Lord Nelson had stayed in the shadows apparently of Henry V, with it's ruins and its ramparts, and all we wanted to do was snooze.

The Sky is Falling - In London Still.
Monday 15th October - London

With just one shopping day left to dress ourselves correctly for the forthcoming voyage, we set out with a certain resolve.  First into the City which we now know is entirely devoid of suitable shops, to run a small errand, then back into Westfields we went, without hope but armed with a healthy dose of desperation, into the cheap shop.  There without ceremony “we” tried several sample shirts for size, “she” fussing about fabric thickness, underarm tucks and neck, while “he” would have accepted anything just to be finished with it all. Finally we found the perfect fit.

An eternity later, after returning home with the precious package one of us discovered that the other, after all that effort, in his haste to be rid of “shopping” forever, had picked the wrong size off the shelf. 

She on he other hand, after thumbing through the entire stock of what seemed like nine thousand boutiques to no avail, will be wearing “this old thing” for the voyage, consoled perhaps by the thought that she’ll shine very brightly none the less,  beside the bloke in the ill-fitting Seven Pound shirt.

Rainy Days and Sundays.
Sunday 14th October - London

The man with his hand on the weather switch, seemed to suddenly realise his mistake, and made up for the blue sky and happiness of yesterday in droves.   Having raised our family in a climate where the rain will stop tomorrow, we hadn’t given too much thought to what happens to children in an unpleasant winter climate until quite recently when we read that the average child in England spends less time outdoors than high security prisoners do.

It wasn’t winter by a long chalk but it was chilly and wet, and Vivi and Juni are certainly not going to grow up to be average children by that account at least.  Armed with a big umbrella and boots for the former, and with the latter bundled in cling wrap we took to the great outdoors for the afternoon, jumping in puddles and kicking leaves and crossing moors and generally having a lovely time, with our faces barely stinging at all with the rainy chill. 

Despite the pleasures, as the afternoon turned to evening, and with the warmth steadily draining from our Antipodean extremities we must confess that we did take a sneaky sideways wonder about what the people with cable television and warm cosy fires were doing.

Finding Ben.
Saturday 13th October - London

Given our complete lack of success in the shopping stakes over the past two days, we decided that we would get the same results by not shopping, so we thought we’d have a go at sight-seeing instead.  With that creamy blue sky, and the almost balmy conditions, about twenty-five million Londoners decided to join us, perhaps only too aware that this may actually be the last gasp of what had been a glorious summer indeed.

We’ve seen pretty much all of the sights that one imagines one wants to see in the City, but for reasons that are not entirely clear, one of us despite having for the past few days ridden on the Underground almost constantly, being nearly skittled by Black Cabs and Red Buses, not to mention wandering round with a purse full of Pounds thought that we couldn’t be certain we were in London unless we’d seen Big Ben.

That in itself was no mean feat as the Old Boy and pretty much the entire Palace of Westminster Palace are hidden under a cloak of scaffolding at the moment.  With that sorted, we strolled idly back towards the Tate Modern, smiling inwardly at the sunbathers, laughing at the buskers, and marvelling at the way our cleverphone (we’re sure it’s a notch up from smart) could find Matt and Kathy in a feat that was like finding two grains of sand on the beach.  (Four grains if you count the kids.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Day at the Shops.
Friday 12th October - London

Passengers aboard the ship on which we are about to undertake the next leg of our journey are expected to maintain a standard of sartorial elegance that is beyond the usual demands of either the Captain or the Purser of our own cruising domain.

Having failed miserably in our previous attempts to find the necessary accoutrements, we thought that it would be difficult to fail in Oxford Street, the heart of London shopping.  With more than three hundred shops, designer outlets and landmark stores to choose from, how we wondered, could we go wrong?

By lunchtime, having still not quite satisfied the brief, we wandered casually into Selfridges.  Before our very eyes the perfect top just seemed to materialise.  Wonderful!  Thankfully we had taken a quick glance at the price before being approached by the friendly assistant.  We had a moment to decide whether to proceed with the purchase of the shimmering blouse to be worn to dinner on one occasion or whether to use the money to buy a new car.

“May I be of assistance?” she enquired.

“Not at the moment thanks, we’re just making a decision.” 

Too Close to Home.
Thursday 11th October - East London

With nothing in particular that we wanted to see and five days to see it in, there didn’t seem to be any point in battling the rush hour crowds in our first foray into the City.  The more we thought about it, the less inclined we were to venture beyond the East End.  

Given that we had a few necessary purchases to make to see us comfortably through the next week, we headed for what for Antipodean visitors must be the Capital of déjà vu, the Westfield Stratford Centre.

For just a moment we thought we had stepped uncomfortably back into Westfield Chermside, where we had failed to find the things that we were looking for before our departure five months ago.  Just why we supposed that things would be different here cannot be easily explained, but those same simple items of clothing which were missing from the same branded department stores at home, were missing from here too and to add further insult our loyalty cards were not recognised either.  At least we didn’t have to pay for parking.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Back in Dear Old Blighty.
Wednesday 10th October - Sint Idisbald to London

Ria kindly volunteered to drive us to Dunkirk, where we’d catch our first train of the day.  Just before we arrived there however, we had that sort of conversation that happens when someone offers the last slice of cake, and the other, knowing they “really shouldn’t” reaches out and takes it anyway.

The end result of that is that we found ourselves being whisked directly to Lille, leaving at least an hour extra in our schedule, and plenty of bonus time for just one more cup of coffee and just one more round of farewell hugs before descending into the tunnel that marked the beginning of our new adventure.

Hardly an hour later, with the soft embers of summer still glowing softly in our memories, we emerged into the bustle and chaos of the Big Smoke.   We were back in Old Blighty!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Take a Big Deep Breath.
Tuesday 9th October - Sint Idisbald

With our boat safely tucked up for the winter, our bags packed, three of our four hands in perfect working condition and a modicum of movement returning to the other one, we had plenty of time this morning to tidy our minds and paperwork, and take some big deep breaths to ready ourselves for the next few weeks.

With that complete and our heads as clear as the blue sky above, there seemed to be no reason not to wander off to Koksijde for one last look at the coast of Belgium for this year, a spot of foraging among the fresh seafood outlets that seem to dot that part of the coast.

Thankfully our foraging was far more successful than our attempt to visit Koksijde’s “Star Chamber, the suspended globe in the City Hall Building which holds the actual Council Chamber. It was probably just as well that we avoided this distraction with the day being as warm as it was, and being laden as we were with a bag full of fresh shrimp and crabs destined to become the basis of our splendid "farewell to Belgium" dinner for this year.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Monday 8th October - Diksmuide to Sint Idisbald

Getting up at the crack of dawn doesn’t seem to be such a big ask when it happens at eight, but the cumulated effects of the last several days had taken their toll, and neither of our bodies were quite as willing to move as efficiently as our minds said they should.

While the one who normally gets things done so efficiently set to work on her final bits and pieces, the other of us with all of the “heavy” blokey jobs still to do, but with a precise plan to work without ceasing or stress, inflicted a small but somewhat recalcitrant wound in the back of his hand.  A few plaster stitches and a visit to the doctor for a compression dressing fixed the bleeding.  Having often boasted that he could do these jobs with one hand tied behind his back, his day of reckoning had arrived.

Meanwhile the small army at Buitenbeentje (pronounced something not at all like “Bert’n’Benjie”) were not suffering such procrastination. With thirty boats to lift, clean and store the team were working with such precision that one would have been forgiven for thinking they were in a country with much higher hills than Belgium has.  Before we could say “well that’s that then”, “Max” and “Joyeux” were safely tucked up for the winter, and their owners had retreated into that wave of silence and exhaustion that marks the end of every grand adventure.

Well everyone has to eat.
Sunday 7th October - Diksmuide

The motorhomes moved quietly away some time in the morning, so late that it was actually the afternoon, like lizards looking for a new sunny spot. 

We tried to focus on the task in hand, with the tune of another deadline dancing by playing in the background.  Consoled by the thought that we had until three tomorrow afternoon to get all done, we knocked off early so we could go out to dinner with Dave and Ria and a few of their Flemish boatie friends.

In our life, two weeks seems like a year but it had only been two weeks since we stayed beside the (closed) restaurant at Stavele.   This time we successfully gained entry to be greeted by the owner, Iris, something of a national celebrity who blamed the closure on her one week holiday in London where she took the time, she said, to learn to speak English.  “Eclectic” is not a big enough word to describe the interior of her restaurant, nor is there a word that’s big enough to encompass her.  It is suffice to say that Belgium is not in fear of invasion while they have a force the size of Iris to repel it.   

We were in bed before midnight, just! (sigh), if we somehow we can an uninterrupted run at packing up tomorrow we’ll be OK.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Party Party Party.
Saturday 6th October - Diksmuide

The occupants of both motorhomes slowly emerged into the daylight at a time many may have been sitting down to lunch.  We on the other hand had been up and about bright eyed and bushy tailed (in the absence of any witnesses to declare otherwise), for at least enough time to tidy the boat in readiness for the next onslaught.

Any thought of making actual progress on our wintering and packing were forgotten entirely mid afternoon when we realised that with the arrival of Dave and Ria, quantities of food being prepared by the other mob, and a chocolate cake in our oven, we had the makings of a proper party.  Packing could wait.  After all we still have tomorrow.

Time flies when you are having fun, Apparently. After a night of what could only be described as rollicking good times, though quite possibly at times the Americans were more befuddled by the Australians than the Belgians were, we found ourselves reluctantly waving everyone off at about the same time that we realised that we no longer had tomorrow to pack.  Tomorrow was already well upon us.

The Attack of the Camping Cars.
Friday 5th October - Diksmuide

Let’s not beat around the bush, one of us is a much more proficient procrastinator than the other. Therefore with three full days left to clean and repair and pack stuff away, rewiring the boat’s heating system seemed like a perfect diversion for him.

Then not entirely unexpectedly, David and Belinda showed up in their monster truck, and Joel and Cindy at the time still two countries away, reckoned they’d be joining us by afternoon tea time.   Naturally the one of us not inverted in the bilge holding bits of heater in his teeth decided that everyone would be hungry, so she quite rightly put packing on hold and fired up the stove.

Such a good time was had by all, and for such a long time that there was no risk of either of the occupants of the motorhomes (who had no packing to do) seeing the beauty of the sunrise the following morning.  

Friday, October 05, 2018

Season’s End.
Thursday 4th October - Nieuwport to Diksmuide

We were up at the crack of nine, bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to rock and roll.  We thought we’d be underway by ten.

That had been a good plan, but when we opened the curtains that sliver of golden sunshine that had seemed to cross our bed earlier may actually have been the glow of the streetlight above us peering in through a crack.   At first the silhouette of the sun was vaguely visible through the fog, but by our planned departure time visibility had reduced from “we can see a bit” to “we can’t see a thing”.

By almost lunchtime if we stood on one leg and squinted really carefully, we thought we could make out the other side of the lake, which we took to be a sign that we could get underway albeit with a certain degree of circumspection.  Finally “home” in Diksmuide in what by then was the crystal clear of the late afternoon, the morning fog seemed as far back in time as the rest our journeying this year.


A bit of a Captain Cook.
Wednesday 3rd October - Nieuwport

For reasons that are are not easily explained given where we live at other times, we hold a bit of a soft spot for Flemish coast.   

Perhaps it’s something about the light that we like, the way colours always seem pastel soft, or the way it appears to continue endlessly without distinguishing feature, apart from markers created from time to time so that those walking along the beach can keep tabs on how far they’ve walked.

In warmer months its a hive of activity with countless apartments open to the sea, now though they are vacant, shuttered tight against the elements and that perv with his binocs.


Ready for Next Year.
Tuesday 2nd October - Nieuwport

By mid afternoon, having rid the bilge of it’s navel lint and having made sufficient lists of things to do to keep us procrastinating for at least another year, it was time to once again poke our noses into the great outdoors.

By then the wind had settled to something less than a roar, and the sky to a lighter shade of pale.  We discovered that the town was also putting the finishing touches to it’s preparations for the coming bleak, stripping off summer’s tinsel, like us no doubt making lists for the coming year.    

Just two days ago there were gardens and floral mermaids and fish and a lighthouse with people strolling while licking ice-creams almost as an act of defiance against the coming season.   But two days ago was September.  Now the gardens are as bare as the streets are devoid of people, waiting once again for warmer times.  

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Looks Like We're In for Nasty Weather.
Monday 1st October - Nieuwport

It was blowing today, hard.   It was raining too and while these conditions may well have provided a myriad of photo opportunities for those a little more steadfast than ourselves, we were happy to listen alternatively to the buffeting outside and the little whir of our tiny electric heater doing its best to keep us snug and indoors.  We used almost seven kilowatts of electricity today, almost four times our usual and were comforted that the wind  turbines out there were spinning faster than usual to make up.

Yesterday as the last of the blue was being blown out of the sky we couldn’t help but notice a few things that perhaps we could point out to our Antipodean leaders.  Here, not only are wind turbines not considered uglier than coal fired power stations, they are often found on the very edge of villages, where they may not disappear exactly, but they don’t intrude other than as a reminder that electricity has to come from somewhere, and perhaps if one doesn’t want more of them, one should use less of it.

On the other hand, here, curiously perhaps, having a tangled mass of electrical and telecommunications cable hanging at first floor eye level is not considered to be a sign of prosperity and success.   Perhaps we should just get out more and forget about this stuff, but that’s not going to happen until at least the rain stops.

Down to the Sea in Our Ship.
Sunday 30th September - Veurne to Nieuwport

Nieuwport is at the very heel of the Ganzenpoot, the Goose Foot, that part of the delta where half a dozen rivers and canals converge through a series of sluices and locks which keep them all above sea level where they meet the sea.  This is where the gates were flung open in a desperate attempt to keep the invaders at bay in the Great War, successfully allowing a bit of Belgium the size of a pocket handkerchief to avoid occupation.

In something of an historic understatement, this was said to be a politically necessary move for King Albert 1st, who remains in some prominence in effigy, sitting on his horse overseeing the comings and goings of the entire Ganzenpoot.  There are a number of other monuments to those times sprinkled in the vicinity to remind us of battles fought and prices paid.  It was a far less significant battle that commanded our attention today though.

We had a tiny weather window to cross this equally tiny patch of seawater before the already strong winds would turn to lashing gales.  Fortunately this coincided with the similarly sized time window in which the locks were operational.   If one imagines being a cork being blown across a bathtub in which a firehose is being used to fill it through the plug hole, one would have a fair idea of what our five minutes of discomfort felt like.  Sadly, a casual observer could not have been aware of the depth of experience called upon to oh-so-casually enter the lock and tie off without fuss, but we noted that King Albert, who’s seen it all before, did appear to avert his gaze until we were settled.

Monday, October 01, 2018

In every nook and Cranny.
Saturday 29th September - Veurne

Newton’s Third Law states (more or less) that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Therefore it stands to reason that for every bright sunny day we’ve spent out and about and generally having a good time, the things we have neglected or just plain ignored, like cleaning the naval (not a misspelling) lint from the gloomiest corners of the boat’s nether regions, and the accumulated soot and grime in Mr Perkins’ bedroom leave us with a price to pay.

Thankfully that sort of work seems to be so much easier on a bright sunny day, and  today was that day.  So was yesterday as a matter of fact, and we are happy to report that all the hard to reach bits are now sparkling clean and shipshape, even places “where the sun don’t shine”.

The Alternative Lifestyle Conspiracy.
Friday 28th September - Veurne

By day as the only residents in the port, we are surrounded by silence except for the sucking sounds of the barnacles treating themselves to the buffet that our worn out anti-fouling has become.  No other boat is on the move.

Each night though, the carpark behinds us fills with Camping Cars, or Motorhomes as we’d call them in another hemisphere.  If they could seethe, there would be a seething mass of them, but they can’t.   After dark at least they are quite possibly among the most inanimate things on the planet, and the more their numbers increase, the less seething they appear to do.

They just turn up around dusk in their droves, huddle in neat rows, and are mostly gone by the time we have seen fit to greet the day.  The curious thing is not that they are there, but that there is rarely a sign of intelligent life aboard or any life for that matter. Windows and doors remain firmly closed, nothing emerges from within except the barest hint of a winking bluish light that seeps out of the cracks of the blackout curtains, accompanied by vague sounds of murder or football or cheery game show audiences.

Perhaps they are not occupied at all, perhaps by day they are part of some sophisticated, remote controlled traffic calming system for motorways.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.
Thursday 27th September - Veurne

We first noticed a bit of an oil slick around mid morning, about the same time that the fisherman phoned the waterways authority.  Although there didn’t appear to be a great quantity of pollutant, there was enough to cover the surface of the entire port and any spill is quite rightly treated very seriously indeed.

Therefore the waterways guy phoned his boss who phoned the police, both of whom arrived promptly in two teams.  They phoned the fire brigade who phoned the environment department,  representatives of which turned up as well, and phoned the rescue people and before we knew it the port was lined with firemen, environmentalists, oil recovery experts, crane drivers delivering fuel collecting sea booms and a cast of dozens all walking up and down and scratching their heads (and other parts of their anatomy when they thought no-one was looking). 

The harbour master told the environment guy who told the police who told the fire brigade that the spill didn’t look too serious, so the off-shore equipment returned to from whence it came and three men in a plastic boat took their place, merrily spraying detergent and splashing about to the delight of the hi-vis clad crowd. Perhaps there’ll be no mosquitos tonight. 

The Twilight of Another Cruising Year.
Wednesday 26th September - Stavele to Veurne

This morning’s wait for the first bridge of the day was only an hour (three less than yesterday), and when the very cheery chap arrived he filled in the additional half hour he’d asked us to wait until another boat arrived by debriefing us on yesterday’s adventure and making notes of things that perhaps his colleagues could attend to over winter.  

After following us through two bridges a lock and two more bridges, he handed us over to an even cheerier fellow on a bicycle, who became our guide and dare we say confidante, piloting us safely right into the port of Vuerne where we sat, less than a day from “home”, slapping mosquitos in the twilight chill, trying to work our where our year has gone, and how to stretch it just a little more.  

There was a time when mosquitos kept a safe distance from Mr Perkins’ foul expiration and we do miss that smokey signature just a little at times like these.  He has done a sterling job once again it must be said, gooey ooze from his nostrils not withstanding. Sometimes he is a bit tentative in the early morning now that it’s a bit cooler, but having attained a certain age, who isn’t?  

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Off-road Adventures.
Tuesday 25th September - Fintele to Stavele

The sign did warn su not to make any waves, that boats wider than four metres and deeper than one and a half were not allowed. When the man operating the lifting bridge ushered us through without question, we believed them all, partly because we are in Belgium  (where everything works).

We expected the six kilometres to Roesbrugge-Haringe to be narrow, perhaps challenging in a boat nearing the maximum allowable size for the channel, but we didn’t expect to have to engage four wheel drive and low range  for much of the way, nor to have to take a bit of a run at a couple of obstacles where the bank had collapsed to leave the net distance between it and the trees on the opposite bank uncomfortably squeezy.  Had there been just a little less water it may well have been called a road, at least then we could have sent someone ahead with a chainsaw to clear a path.   

We arrived at the end of apparently navigable waters and decided that with the river levels currently dropping after the recent rain, waiting till tomorrow to attempt a return journey as planned may be ill advised.   We therefore returned to Stavele where the amazing and eccentric waterside restaurant we had heard so much about was closed for the week.  We would have liked to have visited it too but it must have been expecting us.  Each day we are discovering that perhaps Belgium is just a teensy bit more like France than some would like us to believe! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Picture yourself on a boat on a river……..
Monday 24th September - Ypres to Fintele

If there’s anything like a glorious day outside to purge the constant ghastly reminders of those troubles past which have hung in our minds like the dark grey clouds that hung low in the sky outside, it has to be moving gently on a boat away from it all, on a river filled with clouds.

It’s hard to believe we are barely twenty kilometres from the centre of all of that, yet here we are in the middle of nowhere, or as close to it as exists in Belgium, being three kilometres or so from the nearest village, without a care in the world.

Except for trying to avoid the cows.


Why can’t we stay in bed all day?
Sunday 23rd September - Ypres

As if from nowhere the temperature plummeted and we found ourselves once again having to reinstigate our “rule of ten” the one says we don’t get out of bed until either the temperature or the time has a “ten” in it.

The sudden shock to our systems of a day of barely double digit temperatures may have been taken a little easier if it hadn’t been accompanied by the first serious rain that we can remember.  This was rain of the bucketing down kind which turns to the lashing sort as the wind squalls whip through, and whip they did.  All day.  We began to wonder if someone, somewhere was pairing off animals just in case, then late in the evening it stopped as suddenly as if someone had found the “off” button.

“Red sky at night” we remembered was supposed to be a good sign for the next day, so when the calm came, if we looked at something green for a minute then squinted at the clouds, they took on an ever so slightly pinkish tone, and we were happy to call that “sunset”.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Blue and green should never be seen!"
Saturday 22nd September - Ypres

We were starting to think we weren’t going to experience a Belgian Summer, but it arrived with just one day to spare.   Temperatures in the low teens, gusty winds at times and the sort of rain that doesn’t wet anything unless it stays out in it all day, which we certainly did not do.

The change was timely in that it did prompt a bit of surgery on the heater, to make sure it was pumping out the requisite kilojoules, and we were never happy with the colour match between the buildings and all those clear blue skies and green leaves anyway.  


Friday, September 21, 2018

Don’t Bother Knockin’
Friday 21st September - Ypres

There’s a certain time in the wee small hours when a man of a certain age has to do what a man has to do.

At that time this morning, this particular chap, trying to remain asleep while doing what he had to do with one eye half open and the other still closed, was decidedly unsteady on his feet.  Thinking that some sort of vertigo had set in he gave up his slumber quest, opened his eyes and discovered that the earth was moving, or at least the water on it was and the boat on that was moving in perfect synchronicity.   

It takes a fair old wave action to start a flat bottomed boat that is almost four metres wide a rockin’. One may even have thought it impossible in a puddle that is no more than thirty metres wide by seventy long, with boats and pontoons acting as breaks.  One can only imagine what the wind strength was at the time.  In the cold hard light of day it all looked so beguiling, but there is more to come so we will continue to do what we did yesterday until the weather pattern becomes a little friendlier. 

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