Legends from our own lunchtimes

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Times of Uncertainty
Saturday 17th September - Brussels to London

The day began delightfully at a railway station in Brussels well before sensible people are out of bed, with a Belgian Waffle for breakfast, and continued that way with an equally delightful and terribly British lunch in Wandsworth High Street.

The lead -p to those points of delight had been somewhat more fraught however.  This was the day that our EU visa expired, so we had to be gone.  As we had originally planned to be in Corsica by now, we  had lashed out on fairly flexible Business Class seats on an aeroplane to take us from Ajaccio to Paris and then to London.  When our friend’s illness caused cancellation of those plans, the airline (bless them) agreed to fly us from Paris to London in economy class at no extra cost.

That was all well and good, but the train from Brussels to London was about the same as to Paris, and we could save a day’s worth of travel and visits to two airports as well, so we took the momentous decision to “walk” away from our (now non-changeable because we were already feeling somewhat bruised and what could possibly go wrong(?) tickets.)

Perhaps we could have foreseen the sad demise of the Monarch, and the even sadder last-minute contraction of Covid by our friends, but we hadn’t, and with every seat on every bus and every bed in the whole of the realm unavailable while folk mourned as our Australian PM would say “in his own particular way”,  this leg of our journey was beginning to look a little more adventurous than we would have preferred.  Suffice to say a rather large black hole had appeared in our schedule.

Thankfully Matt and Kathy, who we were hoping to catch up with in a week or two, welcomed us like a long-lost Uncle and Aunt, and our evening ended no less delightfully with them and our little grand-nieces, with an awful lot of catching up still to be done.


Friday, September 30, 2022

Friday 16th September - Brussels

 The cold and rain of autumn has really been making itself felt over the last few days, and it seems that once one reaches a certain age, traipsing around a strange city in the wet and cold is not as exciting as it once was despite the plethora of sights and attractions awaiting our call.   

Since Brussels has an enormous network of very affordable public transport, the thought of travelling in a heated tram was infinitely more appealing than spending the day in wet joggers.  We have in the past, managed our way around many of the world’s great cities with little fuss, but in the absence of a degree in Brussels transport, the transport maps were puzzling to say the least.

We were looking for line 6 on the tram we thought, and the sign said we were in the right place, but it wasn’t too long before we observed that all the trams on this route were number 81.  We concluded after quite a bit of searching, that the subway was referred to as “the tram” by the nice lady in the hotel giving us mis-directions, and it ran just one story below where we were.   When we did find the correct subway line, we were non-plussed to discover “our” train covered in “do not enter” tape and a plethora of security guards, each of whom was suggesting that we should think about taking a train to somewhere far away from where we wanted to be.

We did get there in the end, to the Museum of Modern Art, and spent far too much time on our feet astonished and a little transfixed by the “Rubik’s Cubism” exhibition by once famed graffiti guy “Space Invader” - Hundreds of pieces constructed entirely of stacked Rubik’s Cubes manipulated to create pointillist style pop images.

We weren’t sure that we really felt like walking the few kilometres back to the hotel because we were on such a high from the artwork, or whether we were just a little gun-shy about tempting fate with the transport network, but we were sure that our shoes would be dry by morning in any case, and it really was quite pleasant out there after all with our raincoats on.


Taking the Manniken Pis
Thursday 15th September - Brussels


Brussels is one of those worldly cities which everyone has heard of but no-one knows seems to know much about.  Oh for sure it is the administrative capital of Europe, and it’s got some quaint old bits and some pretty ones too, but for reasons that are not easily understood, tourists seem to flock to view the “Manniken Pis”, a tiny little bronze statue of a little boy having a wee into a fountain just off the main city square.

As we consider “tourist flocking” to be beneath our station, we had apprised ourselves of neither its history nor exact location so it was with some chagrin that we accidentally stumbled upon it and it’s crowd of admirers.  Perhaps had we known more, the fact that it was clad entirely in a cartoon lion suit would not have been so surprising, but as it was we thought some practical joke was playing out.

We even started looking for the cameras when what we thought was a caricature man in a jacket clearly marked “Official Dresser” began fussing and cleaning around the statue.  As we stood transfixed, he lovingly undressed, bathed and re-dressed the little fellow in a Puerto Rican Boy Scout uniform while a group of dignitaries from that country stood by waiting for an official photo session.

Had we undertaken even the tiniest pre-visit research, we would have known that the Manneken spends a good deal of its time dressed in a manner appropriate to world events or seasons, and there is actually a museum nearby displaying all of the outfits he’s ever worn.

We can’t help but think however, that had we done that, much of the joy of the discovery that we experienced would have been lost.  We are therefore unlikely to change our admittedly hap-hazard methodology for at least the foreseeable future.


Thursday, September 29, 2022


Rain  </br> <small> Wednesday 14th September - Hooge Zwaluwe to Brussels</small>

It turns out that the region around Hooge Zwaluwe and it’s neighbour Drimmelen is yet another place with a large dose of the “pretties”, and we’d had a bit of luck with our accomodation as well, having accidentally chosen a place which had once been the Town Hall.  

Rested, breakfasted, and  mindful that arriving on the Antwerp Ring Road too early, or too late, or perhaps at any other time would result in us contributing to the daily traffic jam, we  set off for an hour or two in exploration mode.  

Exploration was mostly confined to bits we could see without leaving the car as the year’s rain had finally begun to fall and the single digit temperatures came as something of a shock after wearing nought but shorts and tees for the last three months. Every now and then we’d venture out for an ever so short distance from the heating in the mother ship, to explore little villages and felt for all the world as though we were in the Cotswalds, (if the Cotswalds had been made of brick), before scampering back for a bit of artificial warmth.

When we did turn onto the motorway which is near the top of our list of those that provide the least lovable freeway-like experiences on the planet, despite our best efforts our timing was exactly wrong.  We had a little over three hours to travel the eighty kilometres remaining.   In heavy traffic and rain which sometimes lifted a little to allow visibility as far ahead as the cabin of the semi trailer in front, we needed all of that time, but made it happily and in one piece, ready to see what Brussels had on offer for a day or two.   


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

A bit of belated planning.
Tuesday 13th September - Engwierum to Dokkum to Hooge Zwaluwe

Some time during the evening yesterday, we realised that our intention to “pop in and visit” Ron and Robin had gone somewhat awry.  It became clear that while we had apparently not overstayed our welcome, we’d completely lost track of the time and it was no longer Sunday afternoon.  .   

Suddenly we realised that if we were to have the car back by the appointed time without having to deal with the enormous stress that a tight deadline would undoubtedly deliver, we should really leave some time today.  Some hasty plans were concocted involving a swap of navigators, a bit of car vs boat cat-and-mouse and a reunion in Dokkum.

Once there although we had decided and were fully committed to moving on, after another gentle exploration of the town, little bit of shopping, a studious avoidance of anywhere that looked as though it was selling apple cake, and a lengthy conversation with a man painting the front door of a house (in the shadow of a windmill) we realised that we hadn’t actually made any decisions as to where perhaps we might arrive by days end.  

We convened a meeting over a plate or four of pepper steak, and using a method derived from “the old pin in the map trick” except without using a pin because we didn’t have a map and no-one would volunteer their phone as a substitute, booked a room in a place called Hooge Zwaluwe that none of us had ever heard of, typed it into the "destination" space in our navigation app, and hoped for the best!


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Engwierum the Heck are We?
Monday 12th September - Electra to Engwierum

We have never worked out what it is, but after a couple of weeks or days or sometimes hours of staying in one place, we wake up with an itch than needs to be scratched, the kind that will only go away by moving to somewhere else.

Ron and Robin felt that way this morning, and since we were very much in peripatetic mode and by now almost part fo the ship’s furniture we were more than happy to have seen our last sunrise in Electra.   The fact that it was also the first sunrise we’d seen for quite some time did nothing to persuade us to remain either.

Engwierum might not even be the actual place we eventually stayed after a few hours of cruising across quite large expanses of lake and marshland but it’s close enough for the purposes of this journal.  

Of course this meant that the car was now twenty kilometres further away than most would consider convenient, but the combination of folding electric bicycles, the wondrously simple cycle network that the Netherlands provides, the perfectly flat topography and a pair of ageing males of our species intent on being back in time for pre dinner drinks made for very efficient if not entirely painless work of retrieving it.


Monday, September 26, 2022

Hard of Herring
Sunday 11th September - Electra to Harlingen and Dokkum

We kind of sort of hadn’t really intended to stay for the day, but someone mentioned that herring might be nice for lunch, and since we all thought that was a splendid idea, and we really aren’t all that far from the sea, (because…. Netherlands) that perhaps we should take a little drive to Harlingen where we were sure to find some fish, perhaps fresh from a fishing boat.

Therefore, not long after breakfast, which as it turns out was not long before morning tea time, we set out on our quest. 

The our first obstacle in our path was the ancient town of Dokkum, with its postcard perfect houses and windmills and bridges, begging us to stop and  have a bit of a wander round.   We dallied for so long that it was almost lunch time before we departed, but having quite possibly eaten enough apple cake with our coffee to keep us sustained for a couple of days, in truth some of the urgency had gone from our original plan.

Finally in Harlingen a little later than is usual for lunch, we discovered that the Sunday crowds had left the town almost bereft of Herring.  Fortunately we did find the last two double servings, which when halved were more than enough for four people at risk of facing charges of apple cake gluttony.  

There is much to see in Harlingen on a Sunday, with the port full of traditional sailing ships in the process  of returning from an equally splendid day out, making a perfect venue for a digestive stroll.   While we may not have seen it all as we ambled away the afternoon, we gave it a very good try, returning to our own (well Ron and Robin’s) boat just as the sun was doing its "slowly sinking in the west" thing.


Friday, September 23, 2022

Back to the sea.
Saturday 10th September - Utrecht to Electra


As is our usual habit, we had only the vaguest of plans for the next few days and we hoped something would become a bit clearer as we went along, but since we happened to be in the Netherlands we thought we may as well make the most of it.   

The Netherlands is not a very big country in fact if there were any hills at all one could probably see all of it from the top of one of them, but there aren’t, so we had to make a phone call so that we find Ron and Robin on the good ship Tiara.  A few hours of driving and the world’s worst motorway lunch later we arrived in the region of Groningen and a little hamlet called Electra which is so tiny and so obscure that only people who are born there or who have friends staying there on a boat actually know it exists.

If it helps at all it’s quite near a pretty little village called Zoutkamp which for what that's worth was once a sconce (whatever that is) before becoming a pretty little fishing village housing at least one supermarket with enough supplies in stock to last four people a day or two.  

Through the miracle of time travel, and being rather a long way behind in daily updates, today’s photograph was taken next Monday when we returned by boat.


Friday, September 16, 2022

An interlude with a small boy
Friday 9th September - Diksmuide to Utrecht

When we contacted Louie’s Mum and Dad to see if they’d be around for a bit of a catch-up, we probably should have expected that we wouldn’t get away with an hour over a cup of coffee, after all it had been an astonishing FIVE YEARS since we took our little road trip to Keukenhof together, and more than little bit of water has passed beneath both of our bridges since then.  We leapt at their invitation to stay, and moved in!

It’s quite amazing how much a small boy can grow in that time.  When last we saw him he could open his eyes in time to feed, and squirm a bit occasionally if he was awake, but was pretty much not good for anything but a bit of a cuddle, which was quite nice it must be said.  Now though, he can run, and kick a ball, and ride a bike and speak two languages. His cheery welcoming smile was enough to make even the horrors of the drive from Brussels via the Antwerp Ring Road/Carpark on a Friday afternoon magically disappear.   

Unlike their son, Vanessa and Marty haven’t changed a bit. Although were never going to touch on every topic that needed updating in one night, nor in one late night and one very early morning for that matter, but when we did make it to bed eventually, it was in the knowledge that we had had a pretty good try, 


Th, th, th, that’s all folks!
Thursday 8h September - Diksmuide


We’d been so organised that we’d only had to blow out the water lines, fill the fuel tank (an amazingly little one hundred and twenty-five litres consumed for the entire summer) and have a bit of a farewell lunch before our appointment with the Crane.   

It couldn’t be long lunch by any stretch, because in his usually super efficient manner, Thijs had the slings in the water at precisely the appointed time and we motored straight on, were lifted to dock level to make removing ourselves simple, and the boat then swung around ready to clean, all  in the blink of an eye.

It’s always a hollow feeling, hopping off the boat for the last time at the end of the season.  Homeless.  Directionless.  Strange.

So we popped round to console ourselves with Meg and Chris, and spent the evening cheering ourselves even more in the company of Graham and Carin and we began to turn out thoughts to the adventures that the coming week might bring.


..and so to bed under an actual roof!
Wednesday 7th September - Diksmuide

As things turned out, our decision to spend a night. or two in a B&B instead of amid the chaos as was our usual habit, was entirely serendipitous.  

Not only had it encouraged us to get all of the last minute cleaning things in order well before the last minute, but the day turned into one of those chilly-damp with sunny patches kinds of days that would have made things quite unpleasant, and the joy of a having walk-around bed, and a walk-around shower with almost unlimited hot water to visit at the end of the day cannot be overstated, 

We managed by some sort of good fortune to be where the rain wasn’t during the entire day. 

In the early evening, content with progress and with just a few odd jobs left for the morning, gazing idly at the clouds in the spot where we imagined the sun was going down we decided we'd had enough and should wander back to our roof, double glazing and king sized bed.


Friday, September 09, 2022

Oh oh!
Tuesday 6th September - Diksmuide

We’ve been having such a lovely time of late that we hadn’t been noticing how quickly it’s been flying by.  

This morning as we woke, the realisation that tonight would be our last night aboard for this year gave us quite a shock. It was probably an appropriate time to make some plans for the coming week, and finding somewhere to sleep out of the rain would be nice as well.   Sadly our plans to travel to Corsica have unravelled due to the ill health of a friend, which has given us a bit of a gap in time before we want to be in the UK.  While the airline reluctantly exchanged our business class tickets at no cost from Corsica to Paris to London, for economy seats to go half the distance, we can get to London by train for almost the same cost as getting to Paris and with a day less waiting around in airports.   

So we bought a train ticket, and booked a room in a B&B near the town square, and hired a car in Brussels for a few days, and that sounds like a simple thing, but the reality of online booking for many things is that it's not.  The seven Euro tickets to Brussels for instance, required the opening of two accounts and the linking of said accounts before rejecting all that had happened before, so that would happen at the station we though.   

By the time we’d done that the sun was going down and we had some ideas about how next week was starting to shape up.

With a day and a half till our appointment with the crane, surely there was no need to worry about packing things away till tomorrow?


Monday 5th September - Diksmuide

With four coats of varnish happily curing on the bench tops, we were both a bit pleased with how remarkably improved they were, but our poor old sink was looking even worse for wear than might be expected from only forty years of service.

Stupidly, one of us, hands still cramping from the bench scraping of a just two days ago, decided to “do” a little test piece with some metal polish.   The difference was so surprising that he did a bigger test piece, and then enlarged it and so on until after just a few hours of rubbing and buffing the gnarly old sink looked like a very scratched version of a glistening brand new one.

The transformation was so successful that despite aching fingers and shoulders he tried the same technique on the aluminium frames in the floor hatches, then the stainless steel knife sharpener, then the kettle and he probably would have found other things too had daylight not been quietly fading away.

The instructions say we have to wait at least 24 hours for the varnish to properly cure, so we have another day to wait until we have to make a decision as to whether we ever want to use the galley again or whether we should just keep it for show.


The perils of travel.
Sunday 3rd September - Diksmuide

Diksmuide is one of those towns in Europe that has a fine, some might say grand central square flanked by ancient buildings and lined with coffee shops and restaurants.   

One of the ancient buildings, houses a carillon tower with no fewer than thirty bells and the restaurant just below that is where we chose to take our morning coffee, there being no facilities at present aboard while work is still underway.  We now know that several times on a Sunday morning the bell ringers display their abundant skills with great gusto for thirty minutes without ceasing.

It was Father’s Day in Australia today, and there’s a particular time in the evening on that side of the world which is after bath-time but before tea time when families wanting to wish their Father or Grandfather “all the best for the day” can do so at a more or less convenient time for him too.  Sadly that time coincided today exactly with every one of those thirty bell commencing their deafening chorus.  

It became apparent from the entirely quizzical looks on the other end of the video call, that conversation of any kind was out of the question, so we blew each other kisses, warnings were sent to the rest of our progeny, and Father’s Day greetings just kind of fizzled out to wait for some future time.  

All was not entirely lost though as the five hours required between coats of varnish allowed just enough time for a splendid lunch!


Thursday, September 08, 2022

A Day Spent Happily Indoors
Saturday 3rd September - Diksmuide

One of us was not at all well today.  She was so unwell that she barely protested when the other suggested she should have a bit of a “lady’s day” and remain in bed reading and eating chocolate. “Barely protested” in this case means “protested quite a lot”, probably in the absence of chocolates, but she eventually she saw the error of her way, and mostly slept while the other enjoyed having an entire boat to play in for a day.

There’s no escaping the fact that our wooden benches have been overdue for a bit of a touch-up for around eight years, which not coincidentally is exactly the amount of time they’ve been in use.  Back then, in an effort to get the best layer of protection in the shortest time possible, despite knowing exactly what would happen, “we” took a few shortcuts with the water based finishing “oil” and were rewarded with a job which looked well enough, but became progressively stickier as the years went on. This year if it began to behave like some sort of rabid carnivorous plant, simply refusing to let go of anything that touched it.

Thankfully I’m the only person I know who has a cabinet scraper on his boat for just such an occasion, and while I may not be the only person I know who actually enjoys using said tool, in the absence of anyone else to call upon, spent a very pleasant morning and a bit of the afternoon removing the goo, and even a tiny bit of the timber surface just to be sure.

This time, there won’t be any tears.  We are going to wait five hours between coats just as the instructions suggest, rather than the fast tracked five coats in a day.

And the other of us?  Let’s just say that by the end of the day, the prospect of new bench tops had brightened her up considerably!


Sunday, September 04, 2022

And it’s goodnight from him!
Friday 2nd September - Diksmuide

Dear old Mr Perkins has sat quietly in the background all year with nary a mention.   Most would agree that is the way it should be in the normal course of events, but that would give rise to a discussion about just how normal the past decade and a bit have been for him, given his status as a minor internet celebrity.  

We like to think of him as being a little bit pampered after his big sleep while we were away.  After all, we hired an expert to change one of everything that could be changed and tightened one of everything that could be tightened before so much as turning him over.  He repaid us for all that love by starting first time every time, except for that morning after the day before when we had forgotten to check the “engine stop” position which caused a tiny bit of angst and then an enormous amount of embarrassment.

We will admit to a little nervousness at first as we departed, but the dear old thing just kept plodding on, dribbling a little muck as always, from every join and from some places where there aren’t, but we have to make some allowances, he’s  more than forty years old now and who knows what that is in “people-years”.

He’s all clean and sparkly once again, snugged in for winter with the merest hint of fresh lemon wafting from his confines.  

We hope he’s not embarrassed by that, but as far as we can tell, “Sauvage” doesn’t come in engine cleaner form.


Find the Error
Thursday 1st September - Diksmuide


Yesterday, at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Action in Dunkirk, we came across this panel of several more than a hundred prints signed by one Lucas Z.   Foolishly, I didn’t photograph the identification sign or perhaps I would have been better equipped to discover whether the one print hanging upside down was deliberate, or was it just a happy accident?    One would logically think the former, but given the rather uncared-for state of the gallery, one never knows.

One must draw one’s own conclusions.

Curiously, while mucking around on Chris and Meg’s boat today, trying to track down an electrical fault among a maze of old wires we had to ask the same question often.  With non-functioning new equipment and operating instructions from older models, and all wiring a single colour to increase the degree of difficulty, we couldn't tell which bits were deliberately "alternatively wired" and which were accidentally so.  That it had once worked at all made the puzzle even more curious.

When faced with the same situation a decade ago on our Joyeux, a friend who knows about this stuff and whom I’d roped in to help, looked as puzzled as I did yesterday.  At that point we simply snipped all the wires and started again.

We eventually completed our diagnosis, decided that it didn’t work, and there was no way we were going to start again, so settled back to enjoy a nice cup of coffee until the man with the wire cutters arrived.    


Saturday, September 03, 2022

Wednesday 31st August - Diksmuide and surrounds

When Chris and Meg invited us to accompany them on a little excursion today, we checked our calendar and apart from a few repairs to be done, bookings to make, and general packing up of things to be undertaken, we were completely free. Of course we accepted without hesitation, and happily folded ourselves into the back of their little car for a day of sightseeing and adventure.

Our first stop was an interesting little castle nearby at Beauvoorde, which is open for visitors throughout the year except if those visitors include us.  It will re-open two years from now apparently. If we’d like to come back then we'd be most welcome.   A chance discovery of a little art studio just around the corner brought about a much more enlightening interaction for a time, and set the tone for what turned out to be a bit of a gallery crawl, ending in Dunkirk at the LAAC - the museum of contemporary arts, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. 

One of our main objectives was to visit the Museum of renowned Belgian Artist Paul Delvaux who’s biography on sale in the museim gift shop, is titled simply “The Man Who Loved Trains”.   The museum housed an enormous number of quite impressive works of the artist who had enjoyed a long and distinguished career, and one or two of his very early and by no means best pieces were indeed sketches and impressions of railway yards.   Over the years however as his style evolved it became apparent to us that his idea of what a train looked like and his depiction of them for the duration of much of his life, was identical to what many would consider to be a delightful impression of a naked recumbent female.  

By lunch o’clock we weren’t far from the beach at Koksijde where we thought we could find somewhere to eat.  The weather on last day of summer was in stark contrast to our earlier visit, with the beach almost deserted and an unnecessarily chilly wind doing its best to put the sand in our sandwiches, and generally make things less pleasant than one would desire. 

We did find a nice sheltered spot to dine and generally take in the view as we did, but disappointingly perhaps, the weather was such that not a train was to be seen.


Friday, September 02, 2022

Music to our ears
Tuesday 30th August - Diksmuide


I thought about posting a mirror of yesterday’s photograph, because that’s pretty much how the day went, and now the other side of the boat is done so there is progress on that front (or side to be more technically correct), and then it occurred that there’s another side to our mooring as well.

The traffic noise from the bridge is barely enough to notice during the day, in fact apart from the comforting kerthunk of a heavy vehicle occasionally hitting the expansion joints at speed, or the sirens of an emergency vehicle on a mission, one would barely be aware of its presence.   

Similarly the carillon bells from the Yser Tower are far enough away so that when we hear the occasional discordant clang wafting our way on the breeze, we are grateful that we aren’t moored directly below it as we have been in the past, and indeed as Chris and Meg are at present.  I’m sure the musically inclined will confirm that the bells are in fact correctly tuned and have not been dropped on their heads at birth, and that the tunes themselves are the work of someone who really knew how to make a few old bells clang, it’s just not always obvious to ears of the casual passer-by.

There’s something jarring about the sound of those bells that reminds us of some of the darker times in our past.  Every fifteen minutes, when they fire up full of enthusiasm, slightly out of time and not quite tuned to our ears, we are transported back in time to every preschool percussion concert we’ve ever had the joy of attending.   

If it was one of our kids ringing those bells perhaps we would have entirely different view of the cacophony.


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

So far so good.
Monday 29th August - Diksmuide


The weather forecast for next week is brilliant if you are stranded on a boat somewhere and waiting for a canal to fill with water, but if you are on a boat somewhere and wanting to get things tidied up before leaving for winter, it’s probably advisable to get things tidied up about now, before the rain sets in.

Therefore, one of us spent the day variously washing things that need washing, drying those very same things, and heaven forbid,  even ironing them.

The other, in the very same vein spent at least some of it out of doors, attempting to restore forty-something year old fibreglass to somewhere approaching it’s former glory.   This is a project nigh on impossible, but he does persist.   To be blunt; had the gelcoat finish been given a “best before” date at the time of manufacture, that time would have been long expired, and no amount of rubbing and buffing or dare I say it, “love” will bring the bits that have been worn down to the glass, or repair the cracks and gouges, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't live in hope.

The new polish says that it gives a gloss that lasts for “up to a year”, which seems to be Flemish for “lasts for maybe a few weeks”, so the great hope is that if we can make it shiny this week and get it into a shed after next, it might have some residual sheen by the time we return next year.

If the rain doesn’t wash it off in the meantime of course.


Challenging Times.
Sunday 28th August - Diksmuide

Being back a few weeks early is all very well for those not committed to daily journal postings, but for those who are, days filled with long walks, cleaning, and catching up with friends present something of a challenge to document

Sundays spent lying around reading and waiting for the sunset are very pleasant, but really don’t leave much scope for dinner conversation, even when one of the books presently being read is one of the delectable tales of the adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey.    

Thankfully we haven’t seen Meg and Chris since we were in Ghent in 2019 and they, through a series of mechanical and electrical misadventures have not left Diksmuide on their boat thus far, so tonight at least our post dinner discourse continued well into the night without reaching the end of new topics nor having to delve into the whereabouts of Lady Denver’s missing pearls. 

Whilst waiting interminably for a succession of repairs that would have them mobile again, they’ve had the opportunity to visit the surrounding areas and get to know the transport system just a little more intimately than we do.  We are hoping to emulate some of their meanderings in the next couple of weeks, that is of course if we are able to stop enjoying our selves long enough to actually get the boat packed up in time.


Saturday 27th August - Diksmuide

Because of the drought-induced restrictions on pleasure craft using the waterways, our return to Diksmuide was in no small way assisted by the operation of autonomous barges carrying sand on the canal from Oostende to somewhere past where we wanted to be, and therefore providing us with the opportunity to use the locks.   Yes it’s true, a man in a high vis jacket appeared from nowhere while in the lock, to stand on one in an apparent effort to circumvent the regulation preventing pleasure craft from sharing with unmanned craft, but as someone who used to travel to school on a steam train, being in the very presence of these things is just downright creepy.

Even if one likes to think of oneself as reasonably tech savvy, the first time four hundred tons of sand glides silently towards one’s boat, on a forty metre long barge being piloted by a few sensors and an algorithm, one’s nervous system is prone to making awkward involuntary responses.  The manner in which they respond, moving unhurriedly out of the way, picking their way through moored vessels, moving aside for one another and shuffling forward in the lock to allow others to enter is just… well…I'll say it again...creepy.

According to Wikipedia, of the 1962 cartoon series: “the Jetsons live in 2062, in a comical version of a century in the future with elaborate robotic contraptions, aliens, holograms, and whimsical inventions”.  We have forty years to go, yet we already have robot vacuum cleaners and driverless ships in day to day use.  

George Jetson is said to have been born in the year 2022 which according to our calendar is this year, I wonder if, seventy years from now he will write a blog post including the words “as someone who used to travel on an autonomous ferry…”


Monday, August 29, 2022

The triumphant return
Friday 26th August - Nieuwport to Diksmuide

Some days the only sign of life on the little lake in Nieuwport which is bounded by the boat harbour and the sailing club are a few seabirds idly passing their time fishing or gliding overhead.  This was not one of those days.

By the time we’d said our lengthy good-byes to Jørn and Birgit the day was no longer young, and the lake was by no means clear of obstructions.  With at least three dinghy races underway on separate courses, and multiple fleets of sailboarders scurrying about with junior sailors under instruction, at times it was difficult to actually see water between them.  Given that we needed to cross the lake to resume our homeward journey, this did tend to increase our degree of difficulty a tad.  

On the one hand it would be quite simple to blunder through, full steam ahead, hand on horn leaving dozens of alternatively angry and terrified sailors in our wake (always assuming we could travel fast enough to leave a wake, which we really can not.) but that would only end in tears of one kind or another.   So we gently picked our way around the perimeter of the fleet causing just a little angst to the beginners who’d strayed off course, more or less sticking to where the navigation channel is on quieter days and arrived at the river entrance without so much as a bug splatter on our windscreen.

A few hours of gentle cruising and completely incident free cruising later, we were back.

I am sure had there been a brass band on hand, it would have been brought out to mark our return such was the welcome we received from the Harbour Master and the few club members who were on hand in the Port at Diksmuide when we arrived.  We are  here a few weeks earlier than we need to be but that doesn’t matter, this place is starting to feel quite a bit like home.


And then there was one.
Thursday 25th August - Oudenarde to Nieuwport

We didn’t think we were at all concerned by the waterway travel restrictions, but being up and about in time to take a photograph of what looked suspiciously like sunrise seems to indicate that there may have been just the teensiest bit of tension in the air.  

A few hours later when we joined the concerned faces on the pontoon, we were greeted with the news that no commercial ships were expected today, one of the lifting bridges between where we were, and where we wanted to be was broken, and that generally we had a slim chance of being home by Christmas, but we should press on regardless, and that is exactly what we did.

As if to spite us all, having made it all the way without incident, the wind increased from unpleasant to horrible at exactly the time we were trying to dock in the confined space above the lock in Nieuwport.  By now though, our little gang brought together by our experiences (definitely not adversity no matter how tempting it is to paint that picture) we all cheerily rose to the challenge, and settled down to wait jammed in above the lock, with no prospect of movement apparent before the next lunar eclipse.

Eight hours of quiet contemplation later, we were advised that a pair of autonomous “Watertrucks” were due to arrive within the hour.  This was a little concerning because the satellite information had them arriving on the eleventh of November ,and autonomous vehicles with satellite anomalies are not entirely confidence instilling.  Never the less, hasty negotiations followed, as pleasure craft quite rightly are not permitted to share a lock with unmanned vessels.  Some arrangements were made behind the scenes and at the last moment a person arrived to supervise our passage through the lock in company with the two ships.

With an hour till dark and two hours to home, and our Navigation lights tucked in a box in the bilge, we waved farewell to our companions who seemed happy to head off into the twilight and equally happily found a berth for the night.   We hadn’t considered that we were at all tense or stressed about the days adventure, but then, safe in the knowledge that we would be home in the morning, the relief we felt was both curious and palpable.

It might be quite some time before we wake for the next sunrise!


Sunday, August 28, 2022

Wednesday 24th August - Brugge to Oudenburg

Our plan, if that’s what it could be called, was to tackle our journey back to Diksmuide one lock at a time, waiting as necessary for that one commercial ship that was our ticket to use each lock.  Given that we have a few weeks up our sleeve before we need to leave the boat, and three locks to go, time, we thought, was on our side.

The concerned faces on the Harbour Master and the crews of the other boats in the port heading in our direction told a different story however.   Meetings were being held among the Authorities, and there was a concern that Monday could bring a new round of measures which MAY make our return through the last lock (in Nieuwport) impossible.  Therefore, they had decided to beat a hasty retreat and we decided to join them.

There was a ship on the way apparently.  Our passage through the lock in Bruges was assured, and we’d been asked to wait in the lock to save a bit of time after it’s arrival, so the five of us entered the lock and huddled together in the far corner to await its arrival.  With all eyes scanning our “Vessel Finder” apps, when the approaching ship stopped for the day a dozen or so kilometres away, the collective gasp from within the lock could possibly have been heard on the moon.    

For the first time within living memory, there was not a ship to be found within a day’s travel of Bruges.  In the absence of options we settled in for a day of quiet contemplation.

Three hours later a ship appeared from nowhere.  Without notice, the lock began to drain, which caused something of a scramble, and even a little panic for those who had been happily sitting on the park benches waiting but it all worked out in the end as these things have a habit of doing and our little flotilla was on its merry way. 

The Plassendale lock our next obstacle, was open at both ends so presented no problem.  We arrived in Oudenburg in a state which was just a little short of euphoric.  With just one hurdle left to jump, our little group, now brothers in adventure, spent the night in quiet celebration of what would in other circumstances have been a very pleasant, but unremarkable day. 


In search of sustenance
Tuesday 23rd In Bruges

When one is staying in a town one knows quite well and one’s friends ask “do you know somewhere nice for lunch?”, it should not be difficult to form some sort of sensible response.

However, we are hopelessly indecisive when it comes to choosing a suitable eating establishment, usually relying entirely on the recommendations of others.  So after batting that question right back to the bowler, we were dismayed to learn that so were they.   We decided as a group that we’d walk the opposite side of town, perhaps just a little off the beaten path, and we’d eat at more-or-less the first place that took our collective fancies.

The first place looked well enough, and if just one of us had said “OK” we would have stopped, but we kept walking, passing a number of quite possibly very suitable places without hope or inspiration.  After some time we were in very real danger of missing lunch, so we phoned a friend who really knows about this sort of thing.

The first on her list was the first one we’d past, but it was twenty minutes behind us by then, so we decided to press on.  The next was just around the corner and it was closed on Tuesday, as was the next, and the one after that, and the one that was a further twenty minutes walk away, back to where we had been yesterday.   Fortunately in the tourist part of town, things don’t close ever, and by now at risk of hallucinating from lack of sustenance we stumbled blindly down a tiny lane towards some people seated at tiny two person tables.

“She has just finished” said the proprietor in response to our question, and in one single movement swept the poor lady’s table out from under her elbows and placed in deftly beside the one that was already between the four chairs we had occupied.  

Thankfully her sense of humour was as merveilleux as the food and service.

We were not similarly evicted, but left of our own accord after quite some time, congratulating ourselves on our new found skill in restaurant selection and feeling just a tiny bit more grown up than we had an hour or two earlier.


Once more into the Bruges, dear friends.
Monday 22nd August - Beernem to Brugge

We could be quite fairly accused of being quite blasé about some of the places we visit on a regular basis, even when those places are among the most visited and arguably most beautiful cities in Europe.   

A decade ago, when we first visited Bruges, it was with Dave and Ria as our local tour guides, and we were as wide-eyed as anyone might be when visiting the city for the first time.  They showed us places which took us years to re-discover walking the streets on our own in the years that have followed, and to some that we still haven’t found.  We were eager to learn a little (but not too much) about the city and naturally tucked away a few interesting snippets of trivia for future reference.

Over the years since, we’ve spent a few months there, and while we have a comfortable familiarity with the streets, it took showing a couple of Danish mates around to make us realise just how much of the detail of the city’s past we’ve forgotten.   As we led them on a merry chase through some of our favourite alleys and parks and along the waterways of the town we should not have been surprised that we seem to have directed our energies more towards avoiding the places where the crowds are at their peak, than towards the actual history of the place.   We were simply not equipped for answering questions!

We could have, we supposed, signed our guests on to a walking tour, and tagged along out of politeness feigning disinterest while surreptitiously taking notes.  Instead we chose to take our normal course of action - just to be there and enjoy the efforts of all those who have gone before without the need for a history exam at the end.

Perhaps a ride on a boat would be perfect for a bit of revision.


Thursday, August 25, 2022

Quiet Enjoyment
Sunday 21st August - Gent to Beernem


Jørn and Birgit were at the very top of “people we like to visit in Denmark, even higher on the list than Mary and Frederik, so when they messaged us a week ago to see if we might like a pair of visitors, we nearly fell overboard with excitement.  We made arrangements for them to meet us in Beernem, which happily as we ended the call a few minutes before they were announced, turned out to be a perfect place for us to make decisions regarding what are now ever evolving restrictions on waterway travel. 

We had planned to depart Gent frightfully early to get to our planned rendezvous in plenty of time, so set the alarm for seven and did an aquatic tip-toe out of town on the dot of eight while everyone who wasn’t already going about their normal daily business surely slept on.   

As we sipped our coffee and watched the countryside drift past, we did spare more than one sympathetic thought for the other pair who had a commute which was roughly seven hours longer than hours at a hundred kilometres per hour faster pace.

Our reunion took place just below the Boathouse Restaurant, and we hoped we weren’t disrupting the patrons' quiet enjoyment of our mutual surroundings. If we were, their complaints were but a gentle murmur drifting off into the evening.

They didn’t know what they were missing!


Sunday, August 21, 2022

Ghent seems to have recovered well enough!
Saturday 20th August - Oudenarde to Gent

Apart from the odd spot of shipping avoidance, and one or two or perhaps five or six nights of catching up with old friends, we’ve spent the better part of the last month drifting about in the forests or through farmland or wandering in the nearly deserted streets of tiny villages.

When we were last in Ghent we described the place as “hungover” after the great summer festivities, and although most of it wasn’t exactly deserted, the crowds such as they were, even in the tourist centre, were were relatively thin and particularly quiet.  We felt we had at least a little personal space around us as we explored the centre of town then. 

It was an absolute shock to arrive in the early afternoon today to find an entirely different city.  It seems that in our absence the place has been over-run by a seething mass of humanity.  The streets and waterways alike were filled with all manner of craft bearing people intent on having a good time and not at all quietly.  

We did venture out, to have a quiet look around and to buy a seal for our coffee pot, because that seemed like the most important thing on our list of things to fix.   After jostling with the shopping crowd which was bigger than the tourist one, by the time we’d found the shop that sold the parts we’d forgotten what size we needed.  If it hadn’t been specifically for the making of coffee we might very well have abandoned that project there and then. 

Desperate perhaps, we doubled back, retrieved the pot and waded into the masses once more for a trial fitting in the store, bought said seal, and retreated as quickly as we could.  Tomorrow, as soon as we wake we will quietly slip away on what will be the first leg of our homeward journey, and we'll sip our coffee as we go, wondering which version of Ghent we’ll remember when we look back at our travels in years to come.   We know which one we prefer!


Saturday, August 20, 2022

Friday 19th August - Kirkhove to Oudenarde

“Don't Panic” is a phrase on the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. 

This was apparently partly because the device "looked insanely complicated" to operate, and partly to keep intergalactic travellers from panicking. It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopaedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words 'DON'T PANIC' in large, friendly letters on the cover."

It’s a pity that the Flemish Waterways people hadn’t taken a leaf out of that particular Guide, for today the intergalactic message-ways were awash with panic.   Dave and Ria called to calmly let us know there has been a notice issued to the effect that from next Monday, there will be restrictions on pleasure boats; lock movements will only be carried out in company with a commercial ship as a water saving measure, and in the absence of commercial ships, the wait might be interminable.   Not long after that rumours of disaster were swirling through the very air we were breathing.

The couple in the boat just ahead of us, who share our “home” port were not the only ones to have received a similar albeit slightly distorted message and were racing about loading their bicycles aboard and ready to depart post-haste, having first come to us to tell us that the second but last lock of our journey (at least three days from here) was closing on Monday and they were going to make a dash for it.    

I phoned the lock to confirm our recollection that since there was no water level difference at the moment it was permanently open and unlikely to change in the next week or so.

With that news, they decided like us, they’d take their chances on the Waterways Authority not changing its mind in the next week, unloaded their bikes, and went to lunch.

And so did we.


Friday, August 19, 2022

Thursday 18th August - Kirkhove to Oudenarde

When we last saw Koos just a month ago or even less, he may not have been leaking oil, but otherwise he was in a such a state of health that he bore a passing resemblance to our dear Mr Perkins all those years ago.  He was smoking, had a blockage in his supply lines and was generally not firing on all cylinders.  

Having been in for a bit of a mechanical upgrade in the intervening period we were delighted to discover  that not only was he not a “former” friend, but that his recovery had been sufficiently complete for he and Val to board the good ship Hennie H and set off on their belated summer of faring.   We were even more delighted to discover that if we could be in Kirkhove last night, we would be able to resume our somewhat curtailed earlier reunion, and we were, and we did!

This morning, as we watched them disappear into the mist, it was without the slightest concern for their well being, except of course for the distinct possibility that they might run out of water.  Then we turned and headed in the opposite direction to yet another delightful Flemish city, Oudenarde, just a few hours away.

Of course we could have posted a photo of a thousand year old building, or a pretty flower box, and yes some of the buildings in Oudenarde are quite special, and the flower boxes spectacular, but we don’t have any thousand year old mates (although we might have some pretty ones come to think of it), but every one of them is a bit special, so perhaps this slightly anonymous photo will remind us how thankful we are to have you all.


Oh My! Haven't you grown up!
Wednesday 17th August - Tournai to Kirkhove


The first time we visited Tournai more than a decade ago we had the impression it was a city very much in decline.  Apart from the entire scaffold around the Cathedral Notre Dame and an extensive exhibition promising that one day it will once again look great in photographs, there wasn’t much to remember about our visit.

Then, as indeed it was five years ago, mooring for boats was still strictly for masochists who enjoy living while being constantly smashed against the wall by the stream of ships passing.   A few years ago we cycled in from Antoing and we were sufficiently unimpressed with the general unloved-ness of the place (and the pizzas) that we might not have bothered to visit this time had it not been for the wonderful facilities now provided for pleasure boats.  We thought we'd give it one more chance.

Perhaps it was the bright sunny day, or perhaps there really is a feeling of revival surging through the town, the Cathedral and 1000 year old carillion are now fully restored, work on the bridge of similar vintage is progressing well, and what we remember from our last visit as an empty square bathed in litter is now buzzing with activity despite the temporary road diversion through it.  Whatever the reason, in our eyes at least there’s a new positivity in the air.

Had we not been determined to ensure our paths crossed with Val and Koos once more, we might even have stayed another day. Actually, we would have stayed another day. We might even have visited a museum!

Tournai, all is forgiven.  We’ll see you again just to check progress on all those things still to come!

Thursday, August 18, 2022

On the Motorway
Tuesday 16th August - Antoing to Tournai

We have in the past, mentioned our fascination with the naming convention or lack thereof, of the monster ships we are playing with a the moment.   So often they seemed to be named after a favourite kitten or some not terribly obscure piece of Greek or US folk law or literature.  

If we had been looking for omens today, perhaps the fact that the first two ships we saw were  “Missile” and “Abyss” might have been a clue as to what awaited us beyond the bund walls of our quiet little harbour.  Since we don’t seem to connect those sorts of dots until after the fact, we edged out into the canal and turned right towards Tournai anyway.  

Things went extraordinarily well for a few minutes or perhaps ten, until we rounded the first bend to discover that every bargee that had taken the day off yesterday was bent on making up for lost time today.  Every turn in the river was effectively a road block, with ships trying to tip-toe past one another.  

All went smoothly enough with the skippers of each passing ship just as intent on avoiding us as we were on avoiding them.  Apart from a bit of drifting time while waiting for the one way system through the city centre, progress was slow but quite pleasant and we arrived relaxed and ready to watching the fun from the comfort of our inner city mooring, having travelled the nine kilometres in almost two and a half hours.

Given that each  of these ships has the load carrying capacity of around fifty semi trailers give or take, we shuddered to think just how long the “train” would have been if the loads they were carrying were on road transport, let alone what our states of anxiety might have been in had we taken the same time to travel the same nine kilometres by automobile in their company. 


Another Well-Deserved Day Off!
Monday 15th August - Antoing


When yesterday we had been told today was a holiday, we naturally assumed it was the sort of day where things like shops and cafes would be open for the convenience of selfish tourists like ourselves, but we were mistaken. It was a proper holiday, that kind of day where people stay at home and have fun with their families, even if they have supermarkets to work in or chandlery barges to open for passing trade.  

Which goes a long way to explaining why, when we arrived in Antoing after a not very taxing four kilometres and passing one large lock (shared with another pleasure boat as a water saving measure) the place was even more deserted than usual, and why there was no one to let us in to the supermarket or the boat supplies barge.

Having decided that what we wanted wasn’t so important that we had to wait here till tomorrow, we were in the middle of making our decision of the day; whether to move on after a cup of coffee, or maybe lunch, or perhaps after a bit of a post-luncheon nap, when we were interrupted by the arrival of another boat.  It became clear as we made our introductions that the crew were speaking with a vaguely familiar accent albeit one that we hadn’t heard for some time.

As it turned out Tim and Elaine were from West Australia, and if we thought we needed some time to catch up on a few years worth of news during our various re-unions this year, swapping the notes of a life time with people we’ve just met consumes even more!  We did stop to take a breather for a time in the mid afternoon, but that was only to gather strength for a much longer discussion that went well into the evening. 

What a curious place Antoing is.  The harbour is not exactly beautiful although the town itself is certainly in the process of some sort of renewal if not gentrification, and the new waterfront apartments overlooking kilometres of crushing plant are curious, but every time we have stayed here we’ve had a memorably good time!  


Monday, August 15, 2022

Another Reunion!
Sunday 14th August - Perronnes - Antoing

It seems of late that whenever we mention someone while reminiscing of our journeys in years gone by they simply bob up at the next port to say “Hi!”.

Therefore we shouldn’t have been surprised when Ros stuck her head in our window yesterday evening to say exactly that.  Not that we had been thinking of her particularly, rather her sister Tuppence, who was one of those unforgettable characters that crosses one’s path from time to time.  

Tuppence was gifted with that sort of eccentricity that seems to be reserved for a particular part of the English gene pool and travelled for years solo in a six metre sailing boat, de-rigged and encrusted with an ever growing collection of other people’s cast offs and lost fenders which “might come in handy one day”.  She had  In her latter years been barely able to move from her tiny cockpit, with failing eyesight and fading health generally she travelling alone indefatigably, having adventures of the sort that they make moving picture shows out of.     We copied some charts of hers once, wondrously annotated in beautifully clear script which read things like:- “the mayor was very rude”, or “look out for noisy children throwing sticks”.

Ros and her little dog Sparkle, would join her from time to time, which we always thought was an attempt to bring some semblance of conventional order to her life.   When last our paths crossed it was a decade ago, Tuppence was in hospital in the UK, more seriously ill than anyone had suspected, and Ros was taking the opportunity of her absence to substantially reduce the payload of the little boat  by making repeated trips with a very large trolley to a rubbish skip. 

Sadly, Tuppence never left the hospital, but Ros decided to clean up the boat and keep cruising in her memory.  Sparkle is no longer with her either but her new little companion is a dead ringer, and the boat barely recognisable in its new ship-shape state.  

How can it be that after a night spent remembering the most absurdly insignificant conversations of a decade and a half ago, that one could forgot to take a photograph?  Thanks to the miracle of the modern bicycle it wasn’t too difficult to catch her entourage to make a suitable aide-mémoire of yet another delightful reunion!

Blogger Template Created by pipdig