Monday, March 19, 2018

Still winter...?

I saw a funny poster on Twitter today. It's about the first thing I've read about winter that's actually made me laugh. It went something along the lines of 'Winter's behaving like an angry relative who keeps storming out of the room and then rushes back in shouting "And another thing!"'

What March in the harbour should really look like

It's true though, isn't it? We can't get rid of this blessed season. It keeps coming back with a vengeance. Last weekend I posted photos of a lovely spring walk we took. I even opened my coat and took off my hat. Can you imagine that? This weekend I've barely been out of the crumbly cottage. Yesterday we managed a trip to the dump with some junk that had been accumulating over many months, but it was snowing quite determinedly. So I decided that was it for the day apart from braving the throngs in the local supermarket. Today I managed an hour outside in company with a large container of cleaning vinegar. Together we attacked the green mould that has been covering just about everything of a stone or concrete surface. But it was absolutely freezing. I feel so sorry for the birds and wildlife, not to mention my panzies and daffodils which have all bent over in despair.

My rowing boat
Talking of cleaning vinegar, I must say I love it. It's my number one favourite stuff for cleaning just about anything...well, except me. I draw the line at that. Sharp and refreshing it might be, but I have certain sensitivities about just how sharp that can be. That said I have used it to clean the shower and chucked it down the loo. It's amazing at removing the unpleasant orange residue you get from the water in these parts. And the nice thing is that it's natural...well, it's the best part, actually.

last year's spuddle in March
I also use it to clean the green off my barge and I spent a few hours on Wednesday afternoon doing just that. It's funny to think that this time last year we were already spuddling about in the harbour. I was emptying my rowing boat of icy water on Wednesday too and remembered our first venture out last March. It'll have to get a sight warmer before I'm willing to start out this year.

Look! We weren't even wearing coats!

So there you are. I've managed to rabbit on about total rubbish for a few paragraphs just for the pleasure of writing my blog. Enough, you say? Okay. Have a good week allemaal.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The spring of spring

What a difference a week makes at this time of year, doesn't it?

Last week, I was moaning about the Beast from the East, and now we are turning the heating down and remarking on the mildness of the balmy air.

It's been lovely today. After a torrential downpour and thunderstorm that woke me up in the middle of the night, the skies cleared and we were treated to one of those mornings of stunning light and flossy clouds. To celebrate the turn in our climatic fortunes, Koos and I went for a walk. Our purpose was to go and visit a ram (predictably coined Rambo) that lives in a field some distance along the dyke on which the crumbly cottage is situated. This poor fellow is all on his own and I feel very sorry for him. He's a friendly creature and spends his days as close to the fence in his large field as possible. I think he just waits there for the next passer-by to stop and give him a bit of attention and scratch him under the chin.

I recently read that rams should not live alone, and I can't help noticing they they are isolated far too often. While I understand they cannot be left to run with the ewes all the time, they could easily be placed with wethers (castrated rams), or even with other animals. It seems wrong to keep such a herd creature alone and it's easy to see they crave the company.

Here's a couple of photos of Rambo communing with Koos:

I took some other photos of the pretty houses along our route. Being white and quaint, they looked especially attractive in the sunlight and I appreciated anew how lucky we are to have this lovely place to escape to.

I love this Cape Dutch style home. It's very pretty and has a
lovely big garden

View over the polder to the sea canal

The local B&B. Totally self contained cuteness

From its other equally pretty side

The main house; in other words the owners of the B&B
Same style of quaintness

Then of course, I couldn't resist a roofscape that begged to be captured with all its colours and uneven tiles:
Roofscape from the height of the dyke
And lastly, there were some other pretty things along the way of a livelier variety:

Isn't she a sweetie?

Breakast time
Altogether, it was a lovely walk on a gorgeous spring morning, and although it clouded over later, it gives me the feeling that the warmer weather is here at last.

Hoping you have a spring in your step too allemaal. Are signs of warmer days around in your world? Or cooler for my southern hemisphere friends?

PS: On the subject of sheep, my novel How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics is at a knockdown price of 99p/c on the US and UK Amazon sites this week; just if you need something to banish the winter blues once and for all :)

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Beast from the East

I think almost everyone knows what that term means now. After the two weeks of sub arctic temperatures we've had, Siberia topped it all by sending us its wind, that Beast from the East. Now most people who know me well know that I don't vent, explete (if there is such a word) or otherwise resort to cursing, swearing or being in any way mouthy. It's just not me. I have, however, discovered that there's an exception to this; a conditional clause if you like. I should now like to say I don't swear unless I am faced with the full fury of a Siberian wind (or drivers who are trying to kill me, but it amounts to the same thing).

This last week has tested me beyond anything and I have given very strong vent to my feelings on several occasions – in fact, almost daily. The Beast from the East has shown no mercy and it's been like an assault every time I've walked through the university campus or through town. While I understand the actual temperature was only around minus 3 during the day, the wind chill factor was given as minus 25. Yes. Just think of that.

Anyway, I'll stop moaning now. But just so you know. I was not a happy bunny.

Quite apart from that, there are other interesting side effects to this type of weather. When the east wind blows, it pushes the water out of the rivers and keeps the tide out too. The result is we have very low water in the harbour and scaling the gangplank is an exercise akin to trying to climb up a chute. Going down is even more of a lark. It is not rare for me to squat down on my haunches and inch my way down while clinging to the rope with one hand and trying not to lose my bags in the other one. I would just go down on my bum if I could, but the plank has a surface similar to a large cheese grater. I'll leave you to consider the implications of that one. Here are this week's pics of the challenge. If you look on the other side of the harbour, you can see the footings of the wall. You shouldn't be able to – see them, I mean.

The cheese grater plank. It's actually worse than it looks

An interesting exercise in depth perception

See the footings of the wall opposite
Anyhow, I'm very pleased to report that after having snowed quite heavily on Friday night, today it has been positively warm at all of 7c. The snow has thawed and so has most of the ice, so I've been enjoying (yes, really) being outside and cleaning the Hennie Ha. A pity it started raining as soon as I'd finished. If it's not the Beast from the East, it's Murphy popping up to have his say.

Have a great week, allemaal and I hope the weather is being kind to you wherever you are.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

An afternoon in Ghent: my favourite of all cities

The news from here hasn't changed much in the past week. It's still bitterly cold, but we are fortunate that the sun is shining and that makes a tremendous difference to life. Still, going out for walks, which is something I like to do routinely, is quite an exercise in resolve because of said cold.

Today, then, we decided to make the incentive greater by going to Ghent for the afternoon. With so much lovely sunshine and the beautiful, almost bleached look that everything acquires in this kind of weather, Ghent was going to be even more appealing...and it didn't disappoint us at all. I'll keep it brief this week and let the photos speak for themselves. Needless to say, we walked along the Leie as it winds its way through the city, a route we've done so many times by boat. It is such a lovely city; I never tire of being there.

The old lock through which we normally arrive in Ghent

We've been along here by boat a few times now

Looking down on barges we've fared alongside

This was someone's bike once. It's clearly been
fished out of the water and left to dry.

Walking a route we cannot do by boat as there is a lock
that has been closed off

Looking back at the bridge

I love the shabby chic of these old houses

This waterway is alive with boats in the summer

A waffle cart in the city

Dreaming spires on an icy cold afternoon

Even in winter, the banks of the river are alive with people.
Note the renovations in progress. I'm glad to see the old
buildings being maintained

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rotterdam's lively library: a lesson in how to keep libraries alive!

As you might expect (me being bookish and all) I am a member of Rotterdam's central library. There are many branch libraries in the city, but the main branch is my local simply because my barge lies just a couple of hundred metres from its entrance. But you know what? even if I didn't like reading, I would go to the library just to be there. It is possibly the most invigorating place in the whole city, and I mean that.

Founded in 1604,  Rotterdam Biblioteek is a community hub like no other. According to Wikipedia, it's one of the largest libraries in the country and it's the most visited cultural institution in Rotterdam boasting around 2.5 million visitors every year. That's really something, isn't it? But it doesn't surprise me at all.

Courtesy of the library's website

This last week, I had a moment when it really struck me what a special place it is.

You see, far from being a quiet and restful, Rotterdam library is a lively, busy, noisy and intensely active place. Not what you'd expect, is it? It's also quite huge, so if you really want to find a peaceful corner to pore over books or do some research, you have to make your way up to the top floors (there are seven) and find a desk or table where all is still and hushed. But even there, it's normally pretty packed with students and quite difficult to find space. It's a favourite place for the young and learned to go and work, so empty spots are at a premium.

This aside, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the library and whenever I go through its revolving door, I feel an energy that you wouldn't normally expect from a place full of books.

On the ground floor, apart from a busy information desk, there's always an exhibition of some kind on display. Last week, it was on photos from Aruba and Kazakhstan. There was also a big screen where the olympic skating was being shown and benches were arranged for anyone who wanted to sit and watch. There were plenty of takers.

On a more permanent basis, there is a huge walk through chess game, also with benches around it. This is where you can usually find a number of elderly gents parked while they watch the game in progress. It's played with giant chess pieces that are shuffled across the floor from square to square. The 'board' is made up of black and white floor tiles and it's always in use. Always, yes. Next to it, there's a café, which is where I often meet prospective students. The whole ground floor has such a vibrancy about it it's just a lovely place to be.

Upstairs, each level has a different focus: the first is devoted to media and information. There are large, lecturn-shaped tables with reading lamps where anyone can go and read the newspapers available. Last week, I was just one of a number of – shall we say – mature ladies and gents occupying these spots. Then there are the books but of course these are categorised and spread over the various floors, along with other media such as music, film and other audio. As an information centre, it really has no equal.

Right at the top of the building, there are small rooms that you can hire as a study space and even sound proofed rooms with pianos for musicians who want a private place to practice. There are also meeting rooms for hire for small groups. If you're a library member, meaning that you've paid a subscription, the individual rooms are free, but I should say anyone can use the library, spend time in it, browse through the books and read there. No one is at the door to check you have paid. It's just that if you want to borrow books, or use the internet or other facilities, a subscription is needed. I'm pretty sure there are plenty of visitors who only go there to enjoy the community feeling without feeling obliged to fork out for membership.

Rotterdam has shown how important a library is to the community and ours is such an example. I absolutely love it and often spend time there between lessons, it's such a stimulating place to be. The council have managed to make sure it's still an appealing place to go and it is extremely well run. I can definitely recommend it as a place to visit too. The building is fascinating quite apart from anything else, with its bright, yellow exterior pipe work. It's just one of those off the wall designs for which this city is so well known.

The library to the left of the Pencil building from the Markthal

The library from the Markthal

Well that's it for me this week. Have a good weekend allemaal and I'd love to know if you have a special library. Do you think you'd like to have one that's as busy as ours, for example? What makes a library special for you?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

February freeze

It's been absolutely freezing this week, which has made me even more determined to find a place to winter in the warmth next year. I'm going to have to tighten a few belts, though, because that kind of luxury isn't going to come cheap. For one thing, it's a busy time of year for me work wise, so I'll be foregoing some courses that I know are good earners, and secondly, renting a property for six weeks or so might be pretty pricey. Does anyone know anyone who knows someone who might know someone else who would have somewhere I can rent? Cheap. Haha!

Well, anyway, it's in my scheme of things to make life easier and more pleasant for the remaining five years that I have still to work. Yes, still five years to go. That's the result of the increased retirement age here. Such is life.

Anyway, in the nearer future, we have a few things to look forward to and I am clinging on to these metaphorical pieces of driftwood to keep me going.

Spain...where I'm going in April!

The first is a trip to Spain to visit a friend in April. I visited her last year, and also discovered another former teaching friend from Rotterdam lives close by, so I'm hoping to see her too. It is a lovely area south of Valencia and inland from the sea. I loved it and although it's not quite warm enough for my winter plans, it would be a good contender otherwise.

The historic boat lift at Thieu near La Louviere

The second is a boating trip. In May, we are taking the the Hennie H to Belgium and going to the famous boat lifts at La Louviere and also to the really monster 72 metre one at Strépy Thieu. I am so excited about this I can barely wait and would love to just hibernate between these two trips so I can get this cold spell over and just go. The ascent of these lifts in our own boat has been on my wish list for years. I hitched a lift (excuse the pun) on the historic ascenseur on someone else's barge a few years ago, but I've never been up the monster at all. I'm so glad I haven't lost my ability to be awed by these things.

The seventy two metre lift at Strépy

And another view of it. This section on the right is the
upper canal. Now imagine starting at the bottom of
the building and ending up cruising along this top part!

As for the current situation, my group of Syrians are doing well, although we've hit a bit of a motivation plateau. I can't say I'm surprised as this time of year gets to most of us and I can only imagine what it's like for them being so far from their loved ones. I am aware some of them are really homesick, so it's quite sad and I really feel for them. I only hope I am helping them with some light and laughter during the lessons.

In other news, you may have noticed I've published a new book. African Ways Again slipped onto Kindle at the end of January, so I'll need to add a page about it here, but for now, I hope you don't mind if I shamelessly put the link below to the preview. Thanks a million, allemaal, and have a great week!