Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sunday 19th May - Veurne to Bergues

It turns out that the Kayak-Polo championships of Belgium are indeed a two day event, and that either the club didn’t read its permit, or the waterways people didn’t read the application.   Whatever the case, when we rounded the second corner this morning after being smartly waved through the opening bridge, the barge leading our little convoy of three found itself in one of those “full speed astern Mr Bosun” moments.

This led to a bit of consternation ashore as well, as visions of a pair of polo courts wrapping themselves around the propeller of a large barge flashed before the eyes of the officials.  A shouting match followed, one of those where gesticulation and calling into question the quality of the other chap’s mother’s breeding seemed to come into play.   A small conference between the two following boats concluded that we’d rather be snugged up for the day, warm in the port we’d just left anyway, but by then it was too late.  Some sort of war had been declared between them and us apparently, and we’d been victorious.

It took no more than a few minutes for half a dozen fit young men in kayaks to move their apparatus, and a few minutes more for us to pass the honour guard of disgruntled officials, but both our worlds soon returned to some sort of equilibrium.  The next bridge-keeper seemed to take the news that “perhaps half an hour later would be better after all” square on the chin, and it was probably just coincidence that this turned out to be exactly half the time the lock keeper at the following obstruction delayed us.  Yes it was wet and it was windy and it was cold, but here we are once again in France in the shadow of some ancient fortress wall, or we think we are, it will take slightly more sunshine than we have seen today to tell.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

It’s complicated.
Saturday 18th May - Veurne

With our dues paid, and the card we use to access water and power safely tucked into the harbour masters wallet, we settled down over a coffee to await Dr Jacob’s arrival.   He must have smelled the brew, because he arrived well before the expected time and in due course was delighted to pronounce our Mr Perkins to be in a fine bill of health.

We were delighted of course, and immediately set about things from where we left off yesterday.   First, we thought we’d make an appointment with the bridge-keeper to get us out of the port.   “Not today”, he said, “There is a kayak competition on the canal so no boats are allowed, you can come at nine tomorrow”.   Armed with that information, we thought we’d stay a little longer, but we would arrange an appointment with the next bridge (in France) some eleven kilometres away.    

That conversation went reasonably well, until the nice man on the telephone decided we should be there at ten.  We did try to explain that the speed limit is seven kilometres per hour, and that if seven was to go into eleven and the answer was to be one, quite possibly some physics involving anti-matter and black holes would be necessary for that to occur.  Either the bridge chap didn’t know too much about physics, or couldn’t understand my halting French, so ten it is.   

Perhaps we will be leaving tomorrow after all, but perhaps there is a possibility that we won’t be arriving.  Only time will tell.


A Photo from Tomorrow.
Friday 17th May - Veurne

In the cold hard light of dawn, the grey sky promised change.  At least that’s what we imagine it would have promised had we been up to see it, but somewhat later when we did peer out, the wind had disappeared, the blue sky replaced by a slightly cooler grey and the pollen was being laid gently to rest under a blanket of the lightest rain we’ve seen since the last time we’ve seen very light rain.

It looked like a perfect day to get underway in fact, so we disconnected our shore power, and generally began to make things ship-shape.  At precisely the moment we were thinking about  maybe possibly casting off, we received a message from Jacob, Mr Perkins’ Witch Doctor, suggesting that if we’d like to stay put for a day he could come to check on how the dear old thing was reacting to his winter medications.

This had the happily deflating effect of requiring us to cancel all previous engagements and sending us back to bed for the day, metaphorically speaking at least.  I am sure that were we living in a cell of the same size, a day spent locked inside would send us nuts. On a boat though, there are always things to pull apart, pumps to fix, charts to pore over, books to read and not to mention snoozes to be had.   With our brains engaged firmly in “we’re moving on” mode, at no time during the day did it occur to either of us that we might go ashore.  Thus, with the benefit of hindsight, today’s photo will be taken tomorrow.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Veurne Sunset.
Thursday 16th May - Veurne

We didn’t go out this morning. It was supposed to be a “nasty job” day, but just as one of us was midway through those involuntary shallow breathing exercises one does while summoning the courage to take the shorts and bare feet bravely into the outdoors to clean the icy decks, a gentle knock could be heard on our cabin door.  

It’s very possible that the Waterways Authority compliance officer had never been greeted with such relief, nor with such hospitality.  For an hour or so we plied him with coffee as we swapped notes and he ticked boxes and gave us friendly advice.  Had he been prompted he might have suggested that it was far too chilly outdoors to even contemplate pulling out the pressure washer, but there was no need. By the time he finished it was almost lunchtime, and one of us had come to his senses of his own accord.

It warmed up a little late in the day, thankfully far too late to start getting wet, but it’s surprising how tropical fourteen degrees can feel in the absence of a breeze. We permitted ourselves one brief farewell circuit of the town in the warmth of the sunset, as once again, having almost studiously left plenty of things to see at some future time, we have decided it's time to move on.

Angry Bird.
Wednesday 15th May - Veurne

There is a waterhen brooding over her clutch on a nest she has carefully built on the erroneously named “duckboard” of an adjoining boat.  Another had been entertaining us all morning as she happily showed her two chicks the ins and outs of life in a port which was as still as the sky was blue.

Our morning tranquility was broken by one of the sounds we abhor the most, that of an over-used bow thruster.  We watched for tens of minutes while the accompanying boat was tied, untied, moved, unmoved and retied, all the while accompanied by that awful grinding noise that thruster propellers make as they cavitate, struggling to take a grasp of the water.

When it was over, the former tranquility in the port was replaced by the distressed calling of the mother hen, her chicks floating motionless and dishevelled, apparently after having discovered the inner workings of the thruster tube.   Sad though this was to witness, it did explain the reason  the angry bird which sits on the roof of the city hall glares at people from boats as they pass.

Under A Clear Blue Sky.
Tuesday 14th May - Fintele to Veurne

We’ve were particularly grateful today that ours is the kind of boat that can be operated almost entirely without venturing outdoors.  It’s the wind you see, chilled and flogging leaves off trees, spreading pollen and dust, making eyes watery, noses red and generally blowing everything that isn’t blue out of the the sky with the exception of the sun, which happily shines directly into our warm little greenhouse-saloon.  Admittedly we are not quite so happy about that when summer comes around, but for now we are delighted.

There is quite a lot of concentration required on days like today, to actually steer a course in which contact with the land is entirely avoided apart from the bit at the beginning and end of the voyage, but concentrate we did until we had bumped safely and warmly against the dock in Veurne.

Thankfully here we are only a few kilometres by Tesla from Dave and Ria’s place.  Just before the sun breathed its last for the day they arrived (not entirely unannounced) with their friend Mar, their presence filling our little ship with an entirely different and even nicer, longer lasting kind of warmth.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Tilting at Windmills.
Monday 13th May - Fintele

There was a bit of wind about, doing its utmost to ensure that the thermometer had not much to do at all, and since everything had been cleaned and tidied to within an inch of its life before we left Diksmuide (sung to the tune of “I told you so”), it turned out to be a glorious day for us to do not much at all as well.

We had so little to do in fact that we unfolded the bikes and took off for a bit of windmill spotting.  Around here that’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel of course and it wasn’t too long at all before having visited two, they all started to look a bit alike.   Realising that we were at least three kilometres from home, and not wanting to overdo it, we stopped to thaw out a bit away from the wind, over a coffee and pannekoek.

Luckily we were able to get back to the boat in time to pack the bikes away before lunch, so that we could take the whole the afternoon off.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Mothers Day.
Sunday 12th May - Diksmuide to Fintele

Just as there is an apostrophe missing from “Mothers Day”, we are missing from Diksmuide this evening.   

It wasn’t much of a decision really, when a man’s  gotta go, a man’s gotta go, and the urge took hold of us both this morning. Without fuss, unnoticed except by the harbour master who came out to say something cheery in Flemish which we didn’t understand, but which we thought might have meant "Have a good trip”  but turned out to be “Maybe you should not reverse out until that hire boat goes past”, we quietly set out to disappear over the hill and far away.

In Belgium, even finding a hill is something of an achievement and when one does it is very far away indeed, so we compromised after thirteen kilometres or so and stopped at Fintele, where we we could savour a bit of solitude albeit at first mixed with the happy afternoon sounds of Mothers Day celebrations in the nearby restaurant.   Here we will wait until that urge to change our view returns.

Saturday 11th May - Diksmuide

One of us is determined to get everything inside cleaned and tidied before we go. This confuses the other of us no end, since the minute we head off we’ll be uncleaning and untidying just as determinedly.  On the other hand, he wondered if we  get some nifty little overshoes to wear on deck, he might yet get away without doing too much to the outside before we are cleared for take off.

The sun popped out this morning with the promise of perfect conditions  to be on the water, far too nice to be mucking around with deck brush and soapy water, and we knew it would be just as nice in the centre of town too, so we thought we’d visit the children’s festival in the square and stay just one more day.   There, we had a wonderful time watching slow bicycle riding contests and kids on bikes on obstacle courses (no helmets - last one alive wins!).  There was a wall painted entirely in ketchup, or a facsimile of it, and a young lady speaking in surprisingly halting English asked us to help in a Guinness Book of Records attempt at some sort of shouting.   “Just yell AAAAARRGGHHH, when they say”, she emplored.

We weren’t the only ones having a good time however.  As we approached his office to extend our stay once more, the Harbour Master’s usual chuckle descended into laughter of the kind approaching hysterical.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

But baby its cold outside.
Friday 10th May - Diksmuide

It’s so cold and awful outdoors that even Jack of Diksmuide has turned blue despite his greatcoat. It’s far too chilly and windy he thinks, to clean the outside of the boat, and we can’t leave with a dirty boat apparently. 

Everyone wants to know when we are heading out, so we mention a random day (usually Friday) to keep them off our backs, then when that day comes we remind ourselves that we are cruising, that we don’t have to leave just because we’ve told everyone we were.  So we wander up to the Harbour Master’s office waving another ten Euros and he chuckles and writes a receipt for another day.

Thankfully it’s not so cold that we can’t enjoy a bit of a gentle amble through the neighbourhood Fair Trade Fair in the evening, spending some of our ethically sourced money on no doubt equally ethically-sourced banana fritters, ducking and dodging as we passed the aerobics squad in full flight, marvelling at the kids at work on metal sculptures with whirring machines and no eye protection, and generally pleased we didn’t leave on Friday.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Silent but deadly.
Thursday 9th May - A morning in Dunkirk

Dunkirk is only a couple of dozen kilometres away, so the logistical exercise of returning the hire car should not have presented any enormous problem, but there is an international frontier between here and there, and to say the train route is circuitous would be an understatement.

Of course we could have booked a taxi, but Ria had kindly offered to pick us up in the “Teslarossa” and naturally we leapt at the opportunity even though there was a very real risk that this one journey could end up costing us far more in the long run than any taxi fare.  

While electric cars are something of a novelty in other parts of the world at present, here in the EU they are already a practical alternative.  Certainly this little monster is as fast as a proper red car should be, can travel half a thousand kilometres on a tankful of electricity, and, we discovered has room to carry a fifteen kilogram gas bottle stowed securely in a compartment under the floor of its enormous boot.    There’s nothing not to like about it, unless of course you don’t happen to enjoy that feeling of being pressed firmly into the back of your seat as the speed of sound approaches at an impossible rate.  In absolute silence.   

Thankfully for those among our descendants who we have not yet sold to raise money for things we badly needed, this particular model isn’t available in right hand drive.  Yet.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Wednesday 8th May - Diksmuide

With the precision of a Swiss watch, our little boat became airborne at exactly the appointed time.  The team at Buitenbeentje move like a well oiled machine, but I am not sure if any boat owner can watch a crane lift their pride and joy without developing a thickening somewhere between throat and pit of stomach.

Touchdown was as gentle as the lift had been but that lump remained as we woke Mr Perkins from his hibernation.   To make matters ever so much more nerve wracking we’d shouted him new injector nozzles and water pump while he was asleep and some other bits were replaced too, all untested, so while he (eventually) burst into life, only time will tell whether all is well and we can sail off into the sunset or whether old habits will prevail and we find ourselves on the old reliability roller coaster once again.  

Suddenly a line has been drawn between our motoring adventures of the past week and tomorrow.  We are afloat, cruising again, even if we moved barely two hundred metres to our temporary mooring at the yacht club. Here, in cruising mode we shall stay until the urge to move again o’ertakes us. 


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Fitting in with the natives.
Tuesday 7th May - Sint-Idesbald

Not for the first time this week we were welcomed home, this time into our Belgian family where things were so relaxed that we didn’t feel the need to make any progress on the boat at all.  In fact if it weren’t for the fact that it was due to be reunited with the river tomorrow, we may well have settled in for a lot longer.

We did manage to assuage any potential guilt by completing our Belgian boat paperwork between conversations, and a relaxed wander to the laundromat saw our quilts ready to go for another year, but that was it really, apart from a sneaky afternoon snooze to fill in a perfect indoors kind of day.

It was a little chilly out there after all, and the town itself has not yet woken from its winter slumber so it seemed only reasonable that we should to try to fit in as best we could.

It begins!.
Monday 6th May - Lens to Diksmuide

We’ve had such a good time during the past week that it’s been easy to forget that at the end of our journey lay the promise of hours of cleaning and sorting our gear ready for a new summer.

When we arrived in Diksmuide this morning we were somewhere between pleasantly surprised and astonished at just how little work appeared to be necessary to have our Joyeux in cruise-ready condition.   Oh there was a bit of dust around to be sure, but due to a combination of bright sunlight, indoor storage and the diligence of the chaps at Buitenbeentje he positively sparkled!

This of course meant that we’d have to pace ourselves if we were going to manage our customary procrastination around the start of our cruising season.  Therefore we fiddled for an hour or two until things inside were far untidier than they were when we arrived, told ourselves that we were almost finished and disappeared to spend an evening or two with Dave and Ria, an infinitely more pleasurable alternative.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Loop in the Loo at the Louvre.
Sunday 5th May - La Ferte-St-Aubin to Lens

The regional branch of the Louvre Museum in Lens is a stunning piece of architecture housing an equally stunning collection which provides a potted glimpse of 5000 years of history in one large gloriously metallic room.

While the rise of civilisations is cleverly tracked in that wondrous chamber, the smallest room in the building perhaps was indicative of the demise of our modern one.  In a glaring example of things carried just a bit too far, there, engraved on the door of one cubicle was the unmistakable symbol indicating it was specially constructed for the hearing impaired.  Yes folks, we have our own loo.

For those unaware, hearing loops are electronic devices installed in some theatres and public spaces to provide enhanced level of hearing for those who are suitably equipped.  

Just why one needs such enhancement while undertaking the most basic of bodily functions remains a mystery, although the writer must admit that even without the additional enhancement provided by the loop, there is indeed a resounding and quite satisfying clatter arising from those functions which in times pre-auditive assistance he was entirely unaware.

A Day at the Fair.
Saturday 4th May - La Ferte-St-Aubin

The temperature in the past week has gone from "a bit chilly" through "quite brisk" to “do we really want to go outside today?”, a simple question, and one to which more sensible people may well have responded with a resounding “NO”!

Perhaps we were over-tired after watching the National Petanque championships on television last night, or perhaps the cold had numbed our brains as well as our toes, but whatever the reason, we decided we were made of sterner stuff, and piled ourselves into the car with as it turned out, entirely inadequate wet weather contingencies, for a visit to the Annual Medieval Fair in Orleans.

After delaying venturing outdoors as best we could, hanging around in warm cafés, browsing in department stores, and generally trying to stay dry, we dashed out during a brief break in the weather, managing to complete a much too rapid circumnavigation of the markets, before retiring to the car with bags of medieval baking no less sodden than we were.  With the car heater raging we noticed the temperature outside had risen too, to an infinitely more comfortable five degrees, but we weren’t tempted by the thought of a re-visit.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

The New Steed.
Friday 3rd May - La Ferte-St-Aubin

In simpler times, if a girl wanted to get around she borrowed some armour, hijacked a horse and simply took off to rabble-rouse as she was wont.

Apparently unable to find armour to fit, Celine has settled for an aged Kombi which will give both transport and a measure of protection as she sets off to change the world one camping spot at a time.  We joined her on her quest today, between bouts of eating, to find a suitable roof ventilator and a few other bits to complete the conversion.  Satisfyingly, one of us even got to make a small replacement part using nothing but a pocket knife and a couple of plastic milk bottles.

We will go into Orleans tomorrow, to take a photo of that famous statue of Joan of Arc, a fitting metaphor we thought for Celine and her trusty steed Jerome, charging off in search of blue skies and foes to vanquish!

Oh, it’s good to be back home.
Thursday 2nd May - Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives to La Ferte-St-Aubin

It’s the weirdest thing.   We left home less than a week ago, and immediately felt as though we were home again in the company of Jacques and Maggie, after all they’ve greeted us every year for the past decade on our arrival in Lagarde.

Today though, after a morning’s worth of motorway we arrived once again in La Ferte-St-Aubin, that little village not far from Orleans which is our actual-official-send all correspondence to-home in France, AND it feels like home too.

It might have been the warmth of Celine’s welcome, or the way her Mum makes a special effort to visit on the night we arrive, or Manu’s huge hugs or it might just be that we like the place a lot, whatever the case, as we were wandering the streets of the village in the late afternoon sunlight, once again we were home.   Home it seems, really is where our hearts happen to be.

The Gardens of the Auge.
Wednesday 1st May - Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives

Pretty much everything in France is closed on May Day, and pretty much everyone in France wants to get out and about on their day off.   As a result of this there seems to be an over abundance of people looking for places to go and things to eat and a corresponding shortage of places to do so.

We were no different, and thought we might visit the nearby Château de Vendeuvre, but after phoning them at ten to enquire if they were open to the public today the owners advised that they hadn’t made up their mind yet.  Therefore Jacques declared we would visit the not much further away “Gardens of the Auge District”, which was fully booked, but if we visited early there would be a table for us in their cafe before the luncheon rush.  

Created by one family over a period of not much more than a decade these gardens were nothing short of inspirational.  After just three days away, one of us was so enamoured with what he had seen that had he not been put firmly back in his cage he may well have caught the first plane home to get stuck into an immediate rehash of the Dicky Beach landscape.   Though the site’s restaurant managed to find us a table laden with paper napkins, an absence of suitable pencil ruined any attempt at preliminary planning and wonderful things have thus far failed to happen.

Watch this space.


Tuesday, May 07, 2019

In the shadows of giants.
Tuesday 30th April - Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives

The Abbey at Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives has been looking out over the town for quite some time, and while the world reels at the loss of much of the structure of Notre Dame Paris in last week’s fire, it does serve as a reminder as it peers into our bathroom window, that there are an awful lot of historical monuments left in this country.

This one was founded by William the Conqueror’s great-aunt in the early 11th century, the Countess Lesceline. One wonders if he called her “Auntie Les”.  Some time before he was an actual conqueror, probably thinking it would be good for his political career she invited young Bill over from the next village to lay the foundation stone.   History records that he did indeed go on to do a few more things, the least of which involved a bit of a barney with his cousin Harold. 

If there is a reason that we find ourselves stuck in our own little vortex of endless travel, part of it can be found in our fascination with almost continual and quite coincidental discoveries such as this, of mundane connections to lives which in our youths, spent in a place so disconnected from our history, were simply names in dusty books. 

Monday, May 06, 2019

Unsettling in.
Monday 29th April - Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives

Perhaps nothing says “we’re back” more than a walk through a market in the crisp spring air, taking time to fondle the endives and pat the rabbits (specially the ones with the “for consumption” sign on their hutches), returning laden with seafood and vegetables that were personally selected for us with the same passion no doubt with which they were grown.

Nothing that is, than lunch prepared by good friends with a similar love for that same produce (without the rabbits) followed by a bit of a snooze.

As we happened to be in Caen in the afternoon, we thought we’d avail ourselves of the opportunity to visit the (Battle of Normandy) Memorial Museum.   Impressive though the museum was, it did not take long for our jetlagged brains to become lost in the melee as wave after wave of intolerable history once again washed itself over us.  

Nothing says “we’re back” more than being just a little too close to an uncomfortable past. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

That old familiar fog.
Sunday 28th April - Paris to Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives

Yesterday evening, barely forty-six hours since we were last lying in a bed, the bits of us which had arrived collapsed into our airport hotel not at all concerned that it felt as though vital parts of our brains were still somewhere in transit nor that the bits that weren’t were wandering around aimlessly in opposite directions.

This morning that familiar feeling returned, it’s a bit as though we needed tuning in the manner of an old valve radio with a dial which wasn’t  quite on station.  Breakfast helped, and a few large coffees had the voices in our heads slurring a little less, but it’s always a bit disconcerting to drive that hire car out of the lot for the first time.

For those unfamiliar with the CDG-T1 carpark. It’s a bit like negotiating a computer game where the highest degree of difficulty starts at the beginning, and each level becomes progressively easier.  It’s probably designed to make entering Paris’ Sunday traffic in one piece seem like a reward, and in a way it is.  The balance of our drive to Normandy seemed unremarkable except that if there was anywhere to find lunch along the way its presence escaped us entirely.    

None the less we arrived safely at journey’s end, into the outstretched arms of Jacques and Maggie, hungry, somewhat tired and very happy.

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