Summer 2013

Summer 2013


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The mad rabbit at Het Zwin


We arrived back from Italy to nice warm weather but not the high temperatures that they were experiencing in the UK. A nice gentle Northerly kept things pleasantly cool on board but it was generally too warm to do any maintenance below decks. I did manage to finish off the paint work around the new windows that were replaced last year. The glazing in the skylights will also be replaced later this year.

Our search for a permanent English residence will continue next month and we have already booked the ferry and hotel, basing ourselves in Bristol we will look for properties in a 50 mile plus radius.

The first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge was a close run thing thanks to some dubious umpiring decisions and a monumental first innings last wicket stand by Hughes and Agar. England set them a target of 311 to win which would have been a record. There was yet another tail wagging by Haddin and Pattinson but we eventually managed to bowl them out 14 runs short of the winning score, the tail eventually amputated by Andersons magnificent bowling.

We thought we might spend some time on the beach. From just south of the Schelde estuary, right down the Dutch, Belgian and Northern French coast there are continuous firm sandy beaches fringed with dunes. On the Belgian/Dutch border you will find "Het Zwin", an area of salt marsh and sand dunes set aside to revert back to nature. We parked the car in a free car park, quite a surprise as around the up market seaside resort of Knokke Heist they charge you €5 pretty well everywhere.

As we approached the coast so we encountered a sea mist, in Northumberland and Scotland they call it the "Haar" and the name might have originally come from the Dutch language. The temperature dropped from a warm 28 degrees Centigrade down to about 20 degrees with a coldish breeze from the sea so lazing on the beach was out!

There is a network of walking and cycle paths in the nature park and we first walked to a viewpoint looking out across the salt marsh enlivened by one of those eccentric bronze sculptures you find all over Belgium of a "mad rabbit"!

The mad rabbit at Het Zwin

We walked down onto the beach and paddled in the North Sea which would have been swimmable had the sun managed to burn off the Haar. We continued a couple of kilometres along the beach to the outskirts of Knokke Heist which is the end of the protected Nature Park area then headed inland though an area where Shetland ponies and white Dune Goats grazed, back to the car park, a total distance of about 5km.

Sue had noticed a farm shop we passed on the way where we stopped on the way back for an ice cream to equal any we had sampled in Italy, then a few yards further was another farm selling cherries and conserves doing a roaring trade. The cherries were the best I had tasted this year and freshly picked.

We motored back into the sunshine and tuned into to listen to 'Blowers' and 'Aggers' commentaries on the second Ashes test at Lords where England, having struggled earlier at 28 for 3 wickets closed at just under 300 thanks to another fine century from Ding Dong Bellie helped by Bairstow and Trottie.

I have been getting some stick from some of my regular readers about too much ranting, Rugby and Cricket so I have added a bit of code that will hide any extensive extensive rants or sporty ramblings so you will not have to read them. You will now have to click on a button to view these literary gems! If you click it a second time the content will miraculously disappear. Try it!


Aussie friends Andy and Gillie travelled up to Brussels for the day from Paris and we caught the train from Eeklo to meet up with them. Unfortunately our organisation was somewhat lacking. We left without noting the time of the train they were on or Gillies mobile phone number and we did not email our number to her. We met the only train from Paris at that time but did not spot them on the platform and had no means of contacting them to ascertain their whereabouts. Fortunately we spotted them in the main concourse and set out for a Cooks tour of central Brussels.

Andy, Gillie and Sue in the Grand Place in Brussels
Mannekin Pis in Brussels

After a pleasant lunch in a pavement cafe we wandered around the busy streets, finishing at the bronze statue of Mannekin Pis. This is actually a copy of the original sculpture dating from 1965. The original, which dates from 1619, is kept in the museum at the Grand Place. The statue is regularly dressed in different costumes but on this occasion was as nature intended.

Back at the Brussels Midi station we said our farewells and headed back to Eeklo. The weather continues to be "scorchio" with the thermometer well above thirty degrees most days. They keep forecasting thunderstorms which have been much in evidence in the UK but seem to be missing us so far.

The Oz cricketers headed up to Old Trafford for the third test with Clarkie still saying they could win the series, despite having lost Pattinson, his best bowler and batting at number nine, his best batsman!

The weather cooled here in Belgium so I took the opportunity to do some maintenance below decks. The big generator engine we only use for powering the bow thruster seemed to have lost most of its raw water supply evidenced by only a trickle of water from the wet exhaust.

Quotes 'wot I like:
"Engineers aren't boring people, we just get exited about boring things!"

It does not have a positive suction head but has a suction filter with a large bowl which provides enough water to initially prime the pump. I established that the suction pipe was not blocked by pouring water into the open filter then opening the skin fitting valve and watching the water drain away. Then I removed the Jabsco pump cover and confirmed that the Jabsco neoprene impeller was intact. An old deck wash pump used the same suction line and I had long ago removed the hose from the discharge pipe on deck. I reasoned that, as the water in the deck wash pump was gradually drawn out, air could then be drawn in through its discharge pipe.

The solution was an elegant engineering masterpiece. I stuffed a cork from a wine bottle up the deck wash discharge pipe and, low and behold, suction to the engine raw water pump was miraculously restored!

Quotes 'wot I like:
"To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

I then turned my attention to replacing the 220v central heating circulating pump. Readers may remember that a new pump was purchased earlier in the year when I calculated a saving in running cost of 80 Euros over a winter period. These jobs never go smoothly and what with the small compartment containing the domestic hot water calorifier and the heat from the lighting I was soon leaking profusely from all pores! The new pump was 50mm narrower than the old pump between the inlet/outlet pipes so spacers had been finally found by Dennis, our resident British plumber but the other 24v circulating pump had to be temporarily disconnected to provide space enough to fit the new pump and associated pipe seals. I eventually emerged half a stone lighter, filled the system with inhibitor, recharged and bled the radiators, crossed my fingers and turned the pump on and the thermostat up. Another miracle occurred as the radiators became hot so the pump was working. Then a cold shower was required!

Here is some more cricket:


Anne of Cleves house in Lewes

In order to get cheap ferry tickets in the middle of the peak holiday season you have to travel at inconvenient times so we were up at sparrow fart and down to Calais to catch the 7-15am to Dover for the ridiculous fare of £19! Sally and Les Harper again made us welcome for a few days in Worthing and Desmond had his annual check-up which he passed with flying colours. We visited our old friends Norman and Mary Veit in Hailsham and wandered around Lewes, discovering Anne of Cleves house in the process.

For those who might wonder who Anne of Cleves was she was Henry VIII's fourth wife for a mere 6 months in 1540. Henry found Anne did not excite him and became impotent in her presence so the marriage was not consummated and annulled by common consent with Anne given a large sum of money and property in reward. She owned the house in Lewes but never lived there and it is now a museum.

Matilda on the spiders web

Daughter Rebecca and family have moved yet again in Fareham. They have bought a house right behind grandson Henry's school so all they have to do is push him out of the back garden gate every morning! We all went to a Forestry Commission place nearby where there was a kids play area and spent an exhausting time doing obstacle courses and things before setting off to the Redlands Hotel and Country Club just outside Bristol. Youngest granddaughter Matilda has been trained by number one granddaughter Eliza to pose for photographs so here she is on a spiders web.

The hotel was much as described by the various reviews, a bit in need of some TLC and mediocre food but otherwise excellent value as we only paid £129 for 5 nights room only, the normal rate being £80 per night. We also had free use of the leisure club facilities next door which included an indoor and outdoor swimming pool which Sue used and a fitness centre which we ignored but I did manage to watch some cricket on the big screen in the sports bar!

The main purpose of this trip was to find a property to rent and we made two visits to Pershore to view property but found nothing that suited us. On one of our trips we toured around the area as far as Stourport and discovered Hartlebury Common Nature Reserve.

Iron age people cleared the area some 2500 years ago and it has remained common ground ever since. It is a special place and has many rare wild plants and animals including the abundance of flowers shown here when we visited.

Flowers on Hartlebury Common

Our original idea was to rent property short term just as we did last winter in Bristol but we were fast coming to a different decision that we really wanted to get back to live in the UK permanently and would like to rent a cottage in a small town with a garden. We also decided that we should narrow our search to concentrate on the places we really wanted to live. We did toy with the idea of moving back to Somerset and looked at a flat in Wookey. On the way we took the back roads through North Somerset and discovered pretty rolling countryside we had never visited before, then up Burrington Combe and over Mendip to Priddy, busy preparing for its annual sheep fair, stopping at Deer Leap with its glorious views across Queens Sedgemoor before dropping down to Wookey Hole and then Wookey itself. As nice as the flat was we had really decided that we did not want to settle again in Somerset and needed a new area to explore.

The view from Deer Leap on Mendip

In the evenings we drove over the Suspension Bridge into Clifton Village and ate there while we prepared a continental breakfast in our room each day. We joined the National Trust on line and visited Tyntesfield house nearby. It is a Victorian Gothic Revival house the trust purchased with the Estate in 2002 for £25 million after a mammoth fund raising effort. In 1843 William Gibb, a Bristol merchant, bought the house and extensively remodelled it. At the time he was thought to be the wealthiest commoner in England. Much of the house is still being renovated, about half being open to visitors, but many of the rooms are still full of furniture piled high waiting to be catalogued.

Tyntesfield House

The grounds are planted with many different mature exotic trees, almost like an arboretum, and there is a large kitchen garden supplying the restaurant with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Another place we had ticked as a place we wanted to live was Ledbury but the only house we could find that suited us was let the day before we were due to visit so we headed North to Bridgnorth in Shropshire. Like Pershore this was within easy reach of lovely walking country, Birmingham for its Symphony Hall, and a score of historic sites and museums. When we finally arrived we were bowled over with the place.

Bridgnorth cliff railway

It consists of two towns straddling the River Severn, the Low Town and the High Town, the latter built on a 100 foot hill rising vertically above the river and served by an old cliff railway climbing up the vertical sandstone cliff.

Bridgnorth was destroyed by fire during the English Civil War in 1646. The Royalists were besieged in the Norman castle built in 1101 which was eventually demolished by the Roundheads, however, they failed to do a proper job and the remains of the Keep lean at a crazy angle in what is now the town gardens.

St Mary's Church, rebuilt to a design by Thomas Telford in 1792, dominates the hilltop beside the ruined Keep while at the other end of the high street is the Victorian St Leonards Church built of red sandstone on the summit close surrounded by half timbered buildings. In fact the town is full of black and white buildings, more pubs than I have ever seen in one place and restaurants of all ethnicities.

Bridgnorth high street

In the centre of the High Street is the Town Hall, timber framed and built in 1652 after the original towns destruction which is also a market house each Saturday morning.

The River Severn in the 17th century was one of the busiest in Europe linking Bridgnorth with Bristol but is no longer navigable apart from canoes upstream of Stourport. The bridge was rebuilt in 1823, once again to a Thomas Telford design, and a clock tower has an inscription commemorating the building of the first locomotive at John Hazeldines foundry up river.

On the other side of town, just below Pampudding Hill from where Cromwell bombarded the Royalists, is the Severn Valley Railway Station where you can still board a steam train to Kidderminster. A footbridge links it to the town where there is even a pub on the station platform, the Railwayman's Arms, which sells Bathams and Hobsons beers. So if you are a real ale drinking steam railway enthusiast you will have found your Nineveh! The line used to continue through a tunnel under the town to Ironbridge and Shrewsbury.

You can see that we were so taken with Bridgnorth that all other residential possibilities were eliminated at a stroke! The only problem was that in two days we failed to find a property that we liked.

Netley Hall just south of Shrewsbury offered to rent us one of their two bed roomed Holiday cottages for £650 a month inclusive of everything including laundry and we only had to give them a weeks notice to vacate. Although they were really out in the sticks they were only about 25 miles from Bridgnorth so we thought we might move in there and pounce on the right property when it became available.

Just before we left, a house in town that looked the business became available. It was the August bank holiday weekend but we called the agents and left a message indicating our interest and saying that our time was limited but would like to view the property on the following Tuesday. We then drove down to our friends Tim and Anna in the Chilterns after buying a leg of Bridgnorth lamb and all the trimmings at the market.

We spent the next day watching the final day of the fifth Ashes Test at the oval but viewing was interrupted by a visit to Tims cricket club at Hyde Heath where they were playing the Bank of England team. Apparently if Hyde Heath won then interest rates would by raised by 10% on Tuesday as punishment! The bank won and we all watched the end of the Test in the pub and what an end it was.

Here is what happened in the Test:


The next day Tim took us to Cliveden to give our new National Trust membership card another airing. Whilst wandering round the grounds we were met by a group of people in 1930's dress. Lo and behold the one gentleman of the group introduced himself as Sir Stanley Baldwin accompanied by Nancy Astor, the UK's first female MP who lived at Cliveden and Mrs Asquith.

Quotes 'wot I like:
"Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly."
Winston Churchill 1874 - 1965

Tim is a bit of a thespian and knew a little of the history of the time so there then ensued a conversation that might have taken place in the 1930's involving Winston Churchills infamous remark to Bessie Braddock when she accused him of being drunk in the House of Commons.

There followed some discussion about Tim's family firm of iron founders in Kidderminster and Sir Stanly's in Bewdley at which point we were invited for drinks on the terrace which we had to decline!

Cliveden was also famous in recent times when in 1963 Stephen Ward, who was Cliveden's resident osteopath, took his house guests Christine Keeler (high class whore) and a Russian spy to a Bill Astor bun fight at Cliveden House's swimming pool where the War Secretary John Profumo fell for Keeler and began an affair which eventually sent him to jail and destroyed Harold Macmillan's government.

Bridgnorth house

The owner of the house we wanted to view in Bridgnorth was on holiday but the agents managed to contact him on the beach at Sidmouth and he arranged for a friend to show us round so off we went oop North again. We booked an hotel near Bridgnorth with but when we arrived they had no rooms left. Fortunately a nice Scottish gentleman who overheard our problem phoned a friend and found us a room at another hotel. It cost a bit more but we might get that back off

The house turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. Two rooms knocked into one creating a large living space downstairs with a separate galley kitchen and two double bedrooms upstairs with bathroom and separate shower. It is situated in a quiet corner of town next to the town gardens and the remains of the castle and is just five minutes walk from the high street but the clincher was the beautiful secluded garden. We spoke by phone to Dave the owner who assured us he had no intention of selling so we are OK to rent it on a long term basis. We will be sorry not to be living aboard Harmonie but will continue to spend some time on board at regular intervals to keep her looking TTT until she is sold.

Bridgnorth house garden

We loaded the car with groceries at the local Sainsbury and drove into Wolverhampton to the agent to pay them a holding fee. They did a credit check and we are set to move in on 25th September once the house is ready which will allow us to celebrate Sues 65th Birthday on 23rd before we move in.

On the way back to Dover we called in to Gravesend to see Tony and Mary on their barge Anja. Tony has made good progress with the renovation and was in painting mode when we arrived. They are both sticking to their veggie diet and look well on it. Bea the Bitch was also pleased to see us and we bought her some home made dog biscuits from Giovanni's Ice Cream shop in Bridgnorth. I do not know why an ice cream shop should be selling such things but they made Bea's tail wag!

The ferry left Dover at 9pm and arrived in Calais on time after a smooth crossing. We had a bit of mist on the way up to Eeklo but arrived a little after 1am local time so about three hours from Dover. We look forward to our return to Shropshire when I will have to lose my Somerset drawl and adopt a dialect not dissimilar to Warwickshire where my parents came from.

Summer returned with our arrival back on board Harmonie which gave us the opportunity to do some more painting. All the decks and wheelhouse roof have been repainted this year with any rust spots stripped down to the bare metal and treated with a quality metal primer prior to the top coat being applied. The deck rails were rubbed down with emery cloth which Sue then painted in her usual fashion; large amounts of maroon paint being spread over her clothes and body, the paint brush handle and various other parts of the vessel as she progressed, with me following in her trail painting the bits of rail she missed and cleaning with a rag and white spirit the bits she shouldn't have painted including her arms!

Just discovered this web site menu was improperly coded and you could not access the pages on our Italian trip earlier this year for Amalfi, Sicily and our journey back using the menu. You could find them using the links at the top and bottom of each page but I have corrected the coding and they can now be accessed using the menu.

Here is bit of Rugby Union news:


The task of preparing the move to our new home in Bridgnorth has commenced. British Telecom has introduced two BT Sport TV channels and will televise all the Rugby Union Premiership games this season. They provide the channels free if you subscribe to BT Broadband internet which costs £15 a month for unlimited data so it's a brilliant deal for a rugby nut like me!

Living largely out of the country since 2005 we are now having to start again from scratch furnishing a home and have quite a learning curve to surmount coping with new rules and regulations. Last winter for example I shelled out a £50 fine for parking in a Tesco car park and subsequently discovered that you can tear up those tickets as they have no legal enforcement. On the media front the country has become far more connected in the home so buying equipment is not the same. Catch-up TV was not around much in 2005 and neither was Blu-ray. You now have Hi-Fi, Home Cinema, Blu-ray player, Catch-up digi-box and TV all connected to the internet instead of separate systems and you get so much more gear for much less money.

Our local

We are moving into an unfurnished house and will be taking camp chairs and folding table with us, stopping on the way at the lovely Argos to collect a blow up mattress, telephone receiver and pillows so plan to "camp" for a few days until we can buy a bed and a sofa. The house dates from the 17th/18th century so we would like most of the furniture to be antique and plan to visit auctions to gradually add to the non essential items. We will hire a van to return to Harmonie for most of our personal effects but will leave her equipped to live aboard for indefinite periods.

We will be OK for food and drink while we are "camping" as there is a good Indian restaurant just across the road which is in the process of being renovated and a few yards further is our local pub with good real ales, home cooking and a "husband creche" where they can be safely left while their wives go shopping!! The High Street shops are a five minute walk away.

Quotes 'wot I like:
"no one can be the suppository of all wisdom"
Tony Abbot 1957 -

Tony Abbot seems to have booted out Kevin Rudd in the Australian election. I think the bloke seems slightly dodgy with his budgie smugglers, religious background and numerous gaffes which seem strange coming as they do from a Rhodes Scholar but then so was Bob Hawke who was also a bit of a nutter!. Mind you, Abbot does have a couple of nice looking daughters, I'll give him that! The ALP seem to have lost rather than Abbots Liberals having won if that makes sense. His problem might now be that the country may be at the end of an economic boom. The Aussie dollar has dropped 17% from it's high against sterling so far this year and may continue the downward slide which it does need to do so that the indigenous industry can survive and us poms can afford to go there again!

Here is one of my rare rants about the EU!:


And here is some more Rugby Union and Cricket:


For the record, as a result of the hotel over booking mentioned above, we were contacted by who apologised and requested a copy of the hotel invoice from Bridgnorth. The price difference was refunded in full and as a result, will be our booking agent of choice in future.

In 12 months time Scotland will vote in a referendum to decide if they should become an independent state outside the United Kingdom. I lived in Edinburgh for 20 years of my life so I did learn a few things about the Scots and their country. In the late 1960's I was a member of a folk group, the majority of whom were not Scots. Just the same we took great pleasure in singing lots of Scottish and Irish republican songs and even performed in benefit concerts for the Scottish National Party!

I remember Wendy Wood, the leader of the Scottish Patriots, standing on The Mound every weekend imploring us to "stick 'yer stamps on upside doon". The reason was that Queen Elizabeth was the 2nd of England but only the 1st of Scotland and we even used to sing a song about it, I think by Hamish Imlach; "how can there be a second Liz when the first yin's never been?". Our present queen should, of course, be Elizabeth 1st of the UK just like the first UK king was James 1st but in addition the 1st of England and the 6th of Scotland. It is these little inequities that get up Scots noses like being British when you win but Scottish when you lose! When Wendy Wood died it turned out she was English after all!

Quotes 'wot I like:
"The great thing about Glasgow is that if there's a nuclear attack it'll look exactly the same afterwards."
Billy Connolly 1942 -

Be in no doubt that Scotland has a strong national identity, it's own law and ample ability to manage it's own destiny as a nation separate from the rest of Britain. The only question I would ask is "why do it"? When I listen to a lot of the separatists their main motivation seems to be "here's one in the eye for the English" and there are plenty of English who would say "good riddance". I do not see any good political reason for leaving the UK or any problems that can not be resolved by remaining within the union, but whatever they decide I wish them well.

My many Scottish friends of all political persuasions have precisely the same democratic beliefs as the vast majority of Southerners. If anything it is the English who have the biggest axe to grind as Scottish MP's get to vote on purely English matters like health and education but English MP's have no say on those matters North of the border (known as the 'Lothian question' after the Scottish MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, queried the anomaly in parliament in 1977). Most Scots agree the situation is unfair on the English.

Belgians ask me what will happen next September. My answer is that, probably, good sense will prevail and the UK will remain intact but it might be a close run thing. If Scotland leaves the UK then, as an Englishman, I will at least be pleased to see the Lothian question resolved to some extent as that is unlikely to happen now while the Labour party gets most of its support from Wales and Scotland. The present coalition government has proposed a fourth reading of any purely English bill on which only English MP's could vote but it is unlikely a future UK Labour government would risk being unable to pass English legislation in the event it had a minority of English MP's. Separation will, however, give us all more headaches with politics polarised left of centre in Scotland and right of centre in England.

A Happy 65th birthday to Sue

The Aussies beat England in the final game at Southampton to take the ODI cricket series 2-1 with Watson scoring 143 of their 298 runs. At long last they have won something and now it is only two months before the next Ashes series begins in Brisbane.

Peter and Jan gave Sue a great 65th Birthday treat on their barge in Eeklo with a splendid dinner and lovely Alsace wine Jan had bought back from her recent wine tour of the area. The next day with Desmond Daihatsu packed to the gunwhales with as much of our belongings we could get in, we set off for our new home in Shropshire.

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