Legends from our own lunchtimes

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Running down the Freeway
Saturday 27th July - Ryalcourt to Douai

Following yesterday’s note, the first ships we saw today were “Freedom” pushing “Freeway” carrying a total of six hundred tons of payload.  Sadly, because everyone wants to get in front of the big load, no matter how illogical that might be, their eighty metres total length fitted into a ninety metre long lock without leaving enough room for us even if we’d taken a big run at it. 

Having to wait at that first lock of the day sealed our fate,  We would be following the ship all day, catching it at each lock and because traffic was quite heavy, we’d have another short wait while the upstream bound ship completed it’s locking process, before starting it all again.

It doesn’t seem much, that twenty minute or so wait, but particularly when it’s windy and the raining, by the tenth lock of the day it takes all of one’s resolve not to find it a teensy bit tedious, which is quite possibly just one extra reason why after that particular lock, we were quite looking forward to stopping for a day or two.  

Torquoise under Violet Skies.
Friday 26th July - Bray-sur-Somme to Ryalcourt

Heading down the highway in too much wind and too little temperature for comfort (I know, I know, we can never be happy) with the sky looking as though it was filled with actual purple rain, the approach of the curiously named “Turquoise” got us all a-thinking about the nature of boat names and particularly those brandished by commercial ships plying the inland waters (which “Turquoise” is not).

You never see a proper ship called “Sea Wind” or “Summer Breeze”.  Their owners have bigger dreams.  

Their ships are named for heroes, for aspirations and often just for fun, curiously in languages other than those spoken by the crew.  Today alone we have crossed paths with two thousand tons of “Stewball” as well as:“Moonraker”, “Athena”, ”Helena”, ”Posiedon”, “Mexico”, ”Mexicali”, “Rottweiler”, ”Pitbull”, ”Largo”,” Touriste”,” Tourisme”,” California”,” Arkansas”,” Capri’ and perhaps the most aspirational of all: 


Forty Two
Thursday 25th July - Bray-sur-Somme

This must be how lobsters feel, puzzled as they slowly come to the boil.  It all looks cool enough, yet on board the boat things are running well into the forties.  We are therefore not on board the boat.

The little supermarket in the village is air conditioned, and we did give a brief thought to painting our fingernails in multi colours to disguise ourselves as a packet of M&Ms in the hope of hiding out there for the day, settling instead to linger while choosing which ice block would last the longest on the walk back.

There we were, lying on our cushions doing not much at all for the fourth successive day of uncomfortable temperature, dreaming of the promise of the cool change, jeans, jumpers and wet weather which apparently the morrow will bring.

Same stuff, different trees.
Wednesday 24th July - Gailly to to Bray-sur-Somme

Bray-sur-Somme according to our rather old chart book, is hidden a few kilometres up a windy bit of the Somme which is badly silted up and not at all navigable.  While mostly we take a good deal of notice of our charts, we were fairly sure we could get there without great risk, and a few careful enquiries did nothing to dissuade us.

Moving made for a pleasant diversion in the heat, and moving through narrow waterways lined with dense forest made it even more pleasurable, slowly of course lest we should come to grief on the shallow bits, which thankfully we did not.

We found a place with shade that we deemed suitable to resume our lolling about and whinging about how hot it was, and after a small orientating stroll, set about doing so for the rest of yet another pleasant albeit too warm for our tastes afternoon.

Groundhog Day
Tuesday 23rd July - Gailly

Yesterday we were so comfortable under our tree with the temperature reaching the upper thirties, that we decided to repeat it exactly.

We had the same shady tree, the same cool towels, the same book,the same man with the dog and the beer and the music, and the same harvester droning away, except that it had finished its work over the hill and had begun on the flats opposite.

This was not a good thing as it was just close enough so that the clouds of dust it was creating could spread and settle on our wet clothing, and find its way into every pore of the boat interior as well.   Perhaps tomorrow we won’t try to repeat today after all.

Extreme Temperatures
Monday 22nd July - Corbie to Gailly

When the forecast tells us to prepare for four days of extreme temperature, we tend to panic, notwithstanding that in the very same temperature at home one of us would be digging holes or building something in humidity at least three times that which we experience here.

But we aren’t at home and we don't have any holes to dig, so we find a shady tree and lie about with only the sounds of harvesting happening on a hill far away (and the old man with the dog who sits at the picnic table drinking beer and listening to his car radio),  commiserating with each other, alternately reading and wiping ourselves with cool wet towels, congratulating ourselves at the end of the day that we have made it through without fuss or the benefit of ceiling fans.


Brightening up the place.
Sunday 21st July - Corbie

With one of us still lamenting the loss of our continuous source of wildflowers, a cheerful pot of purple somethings called out from the “throw out table” in the supermarket today, and found itself transported to a place where it will spend the rest of its natural life.

Naturally, the ugly plastic pot was exactly too large to fit inside one of our ever growing collection of ceramic pots-that-last-year’s-orchid-came-in and exactly the wrong shape to risk a transplant, so we’ll pretend that grey plastic is the next big thing, and enjoy them while they last.

Saturday 20th July - Corbie

Eugène Poubelle invented refuse collection, a fact which is celebrated in the French language by adopting his name as the descriptive name for “garbage bin” so it always strikes us as odd that in a country which is historically synonymous with waste collection, we often have difficulty finding somewhere to dispose of ours.  

There are often fewer bins in public spaces than would be considered adequate in less civilised countries, but it all seems to work because by and large in the absence of bins, people are in the habit of taking their refuse home with them. We, well Grahame actually to be technically correct, had been on a bit of a tidy up around “our bins”, tied the broken bags after picking up the stray stuff and placed them neatly on top of the lids.

It was an unhappy caravan park caretaker and self appointed guardian of the public purse, who on discovering his handiwork, presumed that it was our mess and explained in no uncertain terms that the only bins near our mooring beneath the sign that welcomed us, were not for our use.  Unwilling to believe that we were not responsible, she gave us a large bag and directed us to use the facilities provided behind the school, omitting the bit about where exactly we might find the school were we to comply.    Oh Mr Poubelle, how simple life must have been before you came along.

Kiwis, ducks and letting the good times roll.
Friday 19th July - Corbie

Technically we have a three day limit on our stay in any given spot, and (technically) would have been obliged to move yesterday, harvest or not.

Therefore it was a bit of good fortune really that (technically) we could start the clock again after our move, because Grahame and Aileen were on their way and had we not done so we would have been compelled to stay well beyond our welcome while we caught up with each other’s adventures.

Bill and Mandy turned too and before we could say “anyone for duck?” we were among a flock of Kiwis, bracing ourselves for what would inevitably turn into a three day party.  There’s no sense in fighting the inevitable after all, and besides, we have just a few days until the onset of another serious heatwave, bigger and badder than the last, so we all needed to seriously enjoy the evening cool while we could.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Lasting Legacy
Thursday 18th July - Corbie

The tourist office suggested that the Post Office at Villers-Bretonneux would be the nearest place we could obtain change to feed the electricity and water machine at our mooring, which seemed a bit odd given the preponderance of bakeries, supermarkets and other facilities in Corbie, which were apparently not in a position to do so, nor was the Post Office here for that matter.

More than just a place to get change though, here is the place where the relationship with our country runs deep indeed.   It is truly astonishing to see the town hall with the usual inscription  "liberty, equality, fraternity” framed by a pair of rampant kangaroos, the Australian flag flying in its forecourt.  The reconstruction of the school was funded by the state of Victoria and each blackboard apparently still bears the inscription "N'oublions jamais l'Australie" (Let us never forget Australia).

For us though, the most poignant reminder of the past horrors was this modern piece of wall art, so clearly inspired by a number of monuments nearby dedicated to the fallen “war horses”. To feel the gratitude for those who were here so clearly conveyed even a century later is quite overwhelming. Their legacy is a huge burden to carry and we can't help but wonder if as a nation we are still equipped to do so.

The Art of Carrying Bread
Wednesday 17th July - Corbie

We go to the bakery daily when there is one within a shouting distance, but even after a decade we haven’t quite mastered the dark art of carrying baguettes so they don’t arrived damaged in some way.

It’s imprinted on the DNA of the locals.  They wander home seemingly without a care, coddling their loaves like the precious commodity they are. For the purpose of the journey at least, bread and man are one.   They never suffer the careless breaks and squashes mid-loaf from holding them in one hand (isn’t that what the paper wrap is for?), nor do their loaves arrive with the ends missing from being scraped against doors and shopfittings while leaving the bakery, or flattened and bent from being tucked just a fraction too tightly into the shopping bag.

Perhaps if like them, we got into the habit of carrying a spare, we’d have a chance of getting one of them home intact.

A certain lack of tranquility
Tuesday 16th July - Corbie

We’d been happily moored in the quiet of the town quay beside the silos for a couple of days.   It’s a lot more salubrious than it looks, quiet, and only a few hundred metres from the centre of town, surrounded on three sides by a leafy green backdrop.

Then the rains came, or at least the forecast did, giving notice to every farmer that ever there was that it might be time to get the wheat in.   Farmers do this with machinery working from dawn to long after dusk filling great big dusty bins which great big tractors tow to town so that they can be unloaded into great big silos, clanging and roaring and billowing clouds of wheat dust as they go.   

Ahh yes.  Anyone paying attention would remember that we were moored beside the silos, and would perhaps rightly conclude that all those great big tractors caused our quiet to suffer, and the dust caused suffering of a different kind.   Fortunately in this event the town provides a more peaceful alternative mooring just a few hundred metres further away, barely out of earshot, but upwind and in the middle of those leafy green surrounds.


War and Rumors of War
Monday 15th July - Corbie

The Australian government is said to have spent more than a hundred million of our dollars in the construction of the Sir John Monash Centre in the Australian cemetery near the village of Villers-Bretonneux, and it has all the attributes one might expect of a museum conceived a century after the actions it commemorates.

It’s a curious place, contemporary with the feeling of being “not from round here” and almost devoid of the usual crusty artefacts dug from the trenches.  Instead modern multi media displays with more than five hours of commentary play in three languages via personal devices should one have the fortitude to take it all in.

In one way it’s a fitting tribute for the eyes of a new generation, in another perhaps it’s simply there for the gratification of Australian pilgrims, coming variously to pay homage to the lost or to pat themselves on the back in pride of the sacrifice of their forebears.  No matter, for this is the region in which the Australian troops of the first world war left an impression so indelible that a country’s gratitude is still present a century later.

Everyone loves a parade.
Sunday 14th July - Corbie

The National Day parade in Corbie was everything one would expect from the sort of small town where everyone is someone else's cousin.   

There was no mass display of national defence, no tanks rolling through the streets, in fact there was no seething throng of people being held back by the crowd barriers either.  Instead the town’s fire brigade brought up the rear of the rag-tag little parade with both of it’s units.   A dozen boy scouts, a few volunteer fire fighters, three gendarmes and a city band which might very well have been inspired by the Keystone Cops enthusiastically provided the marching tunes in such a way that everyone in the parade could be confident of being in step with at least one instrument.

We gathered at the memorial for a wreath laying ceremony which might have been a trailer for a Pink Panther remake.  Dignitaries in their tricolour sashes and funny hats watched solemnly, old soldiers formed an honour guard and the band failed to perform one of those marching manoeuvres where columns are supposed to turn back on themselves, instead falling about in little bunches of arms, legs, instruments and giggles, giving us perhaps a more potent symbol of our times than all that had gone before.


Let's go.
Saturday 13th July - Lamotte to Corbie

The calm that descended last night as the sun gently lowered itself into the river did not last.  

It turns out that someone in the band that had caused us so much pain on the night of the Music Festival has another uncle running a cafe, this one just a few hundred metres from our otherwise idyllic spot.  In spite of the presumably constant practice since we last heard them, they haven’t improved a bit although fortunately they haven’t learnt any new songs either, so the pain of listening to their entire repertoir was blissfully brief.

Quite understandably from our perspective at least there were no encores, but we decided to move on in the morning just in case they’d been invited back tonight.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Friday 12th July - Lamotte

When a shadow moved in the shrub next to our window last night, at first we thought we’d seen a rat although we certainly hadn’t smelled one.   

A few minutes later the shadow climbed a little higher, skilfully pruning branches without the aid of secateurs.  Then we noted that its tail was too short and its body too fat to be of that particularly malicious species. The fact that it had a tail meant we could be fairly sure it wasn’t a guinea pig, and not that we’d ever seen a beaver as far as we could recall, we were pretty sure it wasn’t one of them either.  

Our attempt at fauna classification was admittedly a bit half-hearted, but we presumed it to be one of the vole family we more usually see swimming near the water’s edge.  We were never introduced, and she continued to ignore us into the evening diligently collecting her prunings and dragging them into what we presume was a burrow just out of sight below the landing, either that or she’s building a bonfire and planning to smoke us out of her backyard.

Friday, August 09, 2019

A world without colour
Thursday 11th July - Lamotte

Ever since Sunny bequeathed us her orchid as she left on her homeward journey almost a decade ago, we have bought a new one at the beginning of each cruising year, just so that we can watch its flowers slowly fall off over the months that follow.   An annual replacement has become an essential purchase except for one year when in a fit of daring, a bromeliad turned up in its place.  This actually turned out to be a lot harder to kill but we still managed to disfigure it significantly over the course of our summer.

This year for a number of reasons that seem too complicated (or shallow) to reiterate, we never quite got around to procuring our plant for the year, so one of us has contented herself by collecting daily doses of wildflowers from the river bank, making them into posies and placing them in vases in such a way that even the other has to begrudgingly admit that a little extra brightness is added to our lives by their presence.

That was until this morning when we discovered, no doubt under the guise of maintenance, but we suspect in a deliberate effort to curtail this illicit poaching, the river banks had been maliciously slashed leaving them devoid of coloured life.  It is a little early to tell what the impact on the interior of our little boat will be, but we are attempting to keep our chins up.

Easy does it.
Wednesday 10th July - Amiens to Lamotte

We probably walked further today than we travelled by boat, which is not to say that we walked very far.  

Had it not been for that one last visit to the supermarket this morning before heading off to the very fringe of civilisation as we have known it for the past week, we may not have left the boat at all.   

After all, when one stops in a rest area, one feels a certain obligation.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Somewhere unpronouncable.
Tuesday 9th July - Amiens

They are called floating gardens, but really the only thing that was floating in the Hortillonnages was us, or more correctly the little boat in which we were sitting zoned out completely as the commentary, droning on in a mechanical and expressionless way in a language we barely understand was no doubt taking us through the marvellous history of this complex web of tiny canals and islands.

We’d read much of it before, of the centuries when it was one of the great “food baskets” of the region, of the fights to preserve it in the face of changing agricultural methods, and of the necessity to embrace some change to preserve the essence of the place for future generations.

It is curious and beautiful and there is still a smattering of market gardens among the weekenders and overgrown allotments and a museum which does its best to remind us that once, life here was hard, and the edges weren’t retained with timber, and the boats which are curiously shaped to allow them to be loaded from the banks didn’t always have electric outboard motors, but at the end of the day, it was a lovey hour spent on the water so who could ask for anything more?

A Day Off
Monday 8th July - Amiens

Downtown it was as though the city was taking a big deep breath after the weekend, perhaps a little hung over even, but no doubt setting itself for another big week of crowds and music and holiday celebrations, because summer is here and it’s seeping into every corner of the city.

Pop-up playgrounds of astonishing complexity have sprung up, climbing trees and beach volley ball courts have just appeared in places that were only park a day or two ago, accompanied by supervised activities both scheduled and ad hoc for the benefit of holidaying school children, and visiting Australians alike.  In odd little corners of the city, deckchairs are appearing as though the seeds were sown in early spring and it’s taken till now for them to germinate. 

The contrast between the celebration of summer throughout Europe and the almost non existent effort of our own town which derives its living from tourism, could not be more stark.

Lay Day
Sunday 7th July - Amiens

Last time we were here on a Sunday and we wondered if we could find a reason stop on the way back.   The weather was chilly grey and overcast and the mood of the town seemed to match it as we walked the deserted streets in the middle of the day trying unsuccessfully to find just the merest hint of life.   

That impression could not have been more opposite to the one that the city conveys in summer.  Now there is a palpable buzz, a vibration if you believe the banners, that seems to bounce off the clear blue skiy, which itself seems to glow as if it’s been custom-built just for the town to enjoy.

Even though the centre of town was effectively closed for business, or perhaps in spite of that, everyone seemed to be out and about, convincing us that perhaps we should stay for a few more days to see if we can discover the cause. 

Let there be light
Saturday 6th July - Amiens

We’ve seen light shows before.  Some of them are good, some great and some (and we’re looking at you Nancy,) are really spectacular.  We don’t want to sound like jaded travellers when we say that somewhere close to really spectacular, but for the absence of a gigantic square and with “only” the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world to use as a projection screen, lies Amiens’ nightly summer show.

Our lingering memory of it will not be of the thirty minutes or so of brilliantly clever animations which variously deconstructed the building or draped it in a luscious cloak nor any of the other special effects, mesmerising though they were, but of that final static illumination, “painting” the building as historical study suggests it may well have been in the middle ages.    

We stayed as long as we dared, walking up, wanting to touch, knowing that the paint wasn’t real but unable to convince our brains otherwise.  What happened, we wondered as we walked home around midnight, to our aesthetic sensibilities over the last thousand years or so, which allowed this wonder to turn beige?  Perhaps it’s time to give the man from Dulux a call.

What a difference a day makes.
Friday 5th July - Amiens

When we passed through a month ago, Amiens was asleep under a blanket of cloud and chill that felt as though the dregs of winter were going to hang around forever. Even our mooring in front of the English Pub, notorious for the late night shenanigans of its patrons was if not entirely silent, at least quietly subdued.

When we suggested to Anthony, the ever cheery ever helpful controller of river traffic on the Somme, that we might wait until after the weekend before moving “downtown”, he was very quick to suggest that could well be a bit less peaceful there now that the sun is out than perhaps it was on our last visit, and since there is almost no traffic on the river and our little spot opposite his office was quiet and shady to boot, we would be best to think carefully about not moving at all.

We walked around to the other place in the early afternoon where our decision to stay put was firmly vindicated. We were quite amazed at the difference a bit of blue sky can make.  With ten hours or more until evening, the shadows were already seething with bodies intent on not wasting a minute of their weekend, some already no doubt planning new ways of keeping the port awake all night. 
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