Legends from our own lunchtimes

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.

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