Legends from our own lunchtimes

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 - Vuerne

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 - Vuerne

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.
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