Aug 13 - Sep 4
5 Sep - 6 Oct
7 Oct - 29 Oct
SAINT JEAN de LOSNE
30 October - 16 December
Tuesday 30 October to Sunday 4 November
As I write these packages after the event, I have decided to try taking sections of time longer than each day and try to capture some of the ambience and stories rather than just time slices and occurrences.
I am writing this section on the morning of Sunday, 4 November, which, it surprises both of us, is our 18th day in St Jean de Losne. Not that we are unhappy about this turn of events and sudden change from flat out travelling to flat out relaxing. There is nothing holding us here except that we have made the decision to stay near where we are for the winter and that we have been in the company of some very lovely people whose time and company we wanted to share while we could.
Marcus and Else left yesterday afternoon for all ports south on the Rhone and eventually the Mediterranean for a coast hopping adventure back to the Netherlands. We first met them in the Society Nautique port at Epernay, where we also met Linda and her daughter. We had arrived and gone exploring and when we returned, Linda’s daughter was standing on the walkway at the waterside, holding a large bag of shopping and looking aghast at the gap between the shore and their boat. While they had been out shopping the level of the river had risen, covering the jetty that ran alongside their yacht and placing a very wet gap between them and their waterborne home. We suggested moving the boat to the section of the port we were moored since there was ample room and the walkway was well clear of the river but since Lindy’s husband Roger was away on bueiness they were concerned about moving the boat on their own and resisted our suggestion.
Marcus and Else were ahead of us and I offered them the use of our hose to refill their water tanks as I had discovered a source of water well away from the jetty but in reach of my two connected hoses, the waterside facilities having been turned off. On approaching their boat I had been met by a fusillade of barking from their diminutive dog, a sort of demented Jack Russell. Over the next 6 weeks, despite me feeding the dog scraps under the table and generally being a nice guy, the greeting was always the same, a sort of semi ‘mechant’ concerto of great volume. We decided they were OK but the dog was not.
Marcus and Else are Dutch and have recently sold their successful company, one that has grown rapidly, placing temporary technicians into companies with manpower (sorry labour) shortages. Worn down by the 7 / 24 nature of the business of keeping demanding clients happy, they were quick to take the opportunity to leave the residual questions of the new owners behind as they sailed south in their Dutch Cutter, a 36' steel ketch, especially designed for inland waterways. Marcus is a tall, blond (but balding) 40ish guy with a ready smile and quick sense of humour. Warm and intelligent he makes a great partner for the tall, brunette Else, 30 something and languid. She also is quick with a smile and endlessly charming and these two had worked their way quickly into our friendship.
On the way south from Epernay we had stopped at the obvious ports to take time to explore the towns, fortifications, chateaux and shopping as they had. In this we were also joined by Steve and Akeyo, Roger and Lindy and occasionally others, leading to some long lunches, pleasant afternoon drinks and riotous dinners. In St Jean de Losne, since Roger and Lindy and we two had arranged to winter and Marcus wanted the boat company here to do some minor servicing of his boat, we seemed to just stay on together to enjoy each other’s company and the delights of this small town. Boules. Lunches, walks, wine, cheese and discussions, dinners and dancing, all came into the gamut of our rapidly developing routine.
It was with a sense of loss that we stood on the Quai Nationale yesterday therefore and untied their mooring lines, letting them and our new friends slip through our fingers. We exchanges hurried promises to meet again and to write e-mails, even for them to hire a car and come back to visit and for us to take the train to the Med to meet up with them and they were gone.
We turned back to the job of repairing Little Nellie, the disfigured dinghy and to letting time heal the rending of the companionship and the deep seated hangovers it had caused.
Seemingly to seal the trauma of loss in some natural way, the fog, absent for the past three days, has rolled back during the early hours of the morning to totally obliterate everything formerly in sight. We are no more than 100 metres from the bridge and less that distance to the opposite shore of the river but we can see nothing. Even the commercial tug, which arrived yesterday and tied up 20 metres in front of us is obscured.
I ventured out this morning in the fog to inspect Little Nelle which, safe on out cabin top we had spent considerable time together yesterday placing fibreglass matting and gel coat on and found that the job had gone much better than I expected. All the external wounds including one large hole, some 30cm in diameter, have been successfully patched. The large hole will need another 5mm patck over the top to strengthen it but all the others have cured rock hard and smooth.
Over the past three days I have put into action my resolution to repair the poor little dinghy that I had caused such damage to on the penultimate day in Loosdrecht. Having filled our water tanks while moored alongside the outer wall of Jachthaven WetterWille we used considerable engine power to swing Van Nelle’s stern clear in order to reverse away and clear the wall and the entrance against a fierce onshore gale. Unfortunately, in doing so I caused the dinghy, which I had stupidly left tied to the stern, to be sucked into the prop where the outboard motor was at once cut from the transom of Little Nelle which then had huge gashes and holes lacerated into her by the inexorable blades of the screw. It was amazing that she did not sink at once but with the forward motion of the boat then heading back to the anchorage at West End, the venturi effect sucked most of the water out until we came to rest on the other side of the lake. I had a few seconds in which to jump into the rapidly filling boat to secure the lifting harness before the water went over my knees and I scrambled to safety on the side of Van Nelle as Maureen winched Little Nelle clear of the water. She had been then placed on the cabin top and covered with a tarpaulin until this week.
One more day of fibre glassing, the replacement of some internal seats and the rubber strip around the gunwale and a coat of paint and it will be difficult to see where the damage has been.
Its been a week for traumas.
On Wednesday we travelled to Dijon by train to investigate the cost of replacing our seche linge (clothes dryer) which threw a tantrum and expired in a small puff of white smoke. We took it apart and found a switch burned out leading to the heat damage of the motor. Being an Australian made Hoover, none of the French repair shops wanted to know anything about it, especially since it was on a boat. We decided that since I had already repaired it once, it would make more sense to replace it with one more at ease with the power system in Europe than the higher voltages of Australia. We also wanted to but a combination televiseur / magnetoscope (TV / VCR) to both watch videos on and to record edited copies for replay in Australia. We have a digital camera and an editing program on our PC so we are keen to get into the business of creating some mini documentaries for you folks back home and also as training and orientation aids for visitors.
We took the 1.00pm train from St Usage (a short distance from St Jean) for the 30 minute trip to Dijon and set off on a walk to first locate and inspect the harbour for subsequent visits by boat. Having walked for some considerable time we stopped by a major intersection fronting a park to check our rudimentary tourist guide. I had some trouble making out where we were and where we should be going. It seemed to indicate taking one of three roads that circled the park in order to get to the Port. While explaining this to Maureen (of the well developed ‘sense of direction’ school) she pointed to some barges clearly visible through the trees of the park and suggested we simply cross the road. We did.
The Port in Dijon is large and well developed and our friends Hugh and Brenda were there on their yacht ‘Scotia’ on which they plan to sail to Australia via the USA. We had tea with them and discussed the various aspects of the trip to Dijon and the fact that the canal was planned to be closed in a week and decided we would not go the Dijon in the boat. Time was running on however so we took our leave and went in search of the video store where we had seen a combi for sale at a discounted price, maybe they had seche linge’s as well or could point out where we could find them.
After a couple of missed cues we eventually found the store and found they also had dryers. They started at 2400 francs and went astronomically upwards from there. I had seen a model in the electrical store in St Jean for only 1790 so we were not about to buy one at 50% more or double the price. The manager kindly took out his catalogue and shhowed us all the models available in France of the various different kinds, none of which excited my miserly spirit so we settled on the TV, an indoor arial and another connector for the PC to the VCR, packed the device in my overcoat inside a carton and headed off in a near run for the station, our time to the train departure almost expired.
Hefting the box with the newly purchased equipment, I followed ‘her of the invincible sense of direction’ to a point about as far as you can get from the station starting from the point we had, and then, recognising where we were and where we had to get to, took the box at a near run for the next couple of kilometres. We arrived at the train about 1 ½ minutes before it’s time of departure and sat aboard for some 12 minutes at the station !
On arrival back at St Jean, Maureen took off on her bike in the rain to get cords for me to tie the box to my bike for the walk back to the boat. As she departed however I discovered the box was just small enough to be wedged into the carrier basket on the back and so I also took off for the boat - and beat her back. Since she had the key I accepted Marcus invitation to board his boat for a beer, much to the surprise and consternation of M who arrived some minutes later.
Hurrying aboard and down the steps I was gripped with fear as the hand made handles on the box broke away, spilling the box and its precious cargo down the steps and onto the floor below. I was distraught and rushed to open the box. The plastic case of the device was cracked from its impact, right through the base and up the side, past the loading door for videos and up to the screen. It looked horrible and with trembling heart I inserted the power cord into the socket and hit the button on the front of the device. Nothing. I hit the remote control stand by switch - nothing. I was crushed. Having been so far to buy this machine, the trauma of trying to get it back to the station and finally getting it to the boat, to have it broken before it delivered one minute of program was devastating.
I croaked a reply to M as she inquired gently about its condition and set off to take it apart to see if there was any first aid I could apply. In doing so I came across a well hidden master power switch on the devices side, well camouflaged under a speaker grille. I pressed it - nothing - I put the power cord back into the outlet (electricity helps sometimes) and the screen burned into life. I inserted a video - pictures - no sound. ‘Oh’, said M - ‘that’s a silent movie Dad took of us kids.’ I started to breathe.
After some time operating the menus (translated from French until we found the menu option for English) the device was tuned to the available stations and providing us with liver coverage of a French TV quiz show, a French Church service (transmitted by an Italian TV network) and a German soap opera, Slim Pickings. We decided to borrow a couple of videos from Lindy that night and have a TV night - our first in over 4 months ! It worked a treat and we really enjoyed Matrix but thought ‘A feeling for snow’ was a bit pathetic.
The final trauma occurred yesterday - Saturday. It was time to check the e-mails and I also needed to transfer money between accounts on the internet - always a trauma as the bank’s E-business network takes from 40 minutes to an hour to do simple things like check balances and transfer cash across accounts. The email seemed quite simple at first. We have to check our incoming email first on an internet program since we get lots of junk mail - some of it huge picture libraries of naked women being subjected to every possible sexual act - and repeated copies of offers for everything from private business investigations to weight loss programs. Once these are deleted I can then use our email connection to download the notes for friends and family. While our own server had responded to the internet program it was damned if it was going to connect to download - so I received only mail from my personal email address. I then tried the bank connection. After 40 agonising minutes it timed out and so dis I. I resolved to try again later.
At 8.00pm I again tried the bank connection and bit my lip as the minutes ticked by. The reason it was so slow on this occasion was their 5 megabytes of terms and conditions that was downloaded (at 9600kbitsps) TWICE ! Infuriating. I finally got the banking done after an hour (at 160francs per hour) running me out of phone credit. Bring on the day we have access to a land line.
This turgid repetition of errors made and traumas encountered will probably have most of you wondering why we are doing this. None of the above (which in reality are very small problems) match the wholesale, daily grind of the working week in the land of diminishing returns we call the business world of Australia. Besides, we also have all the glorious positive aspects - the brilliant days filled with time to explore the surrounds, the markets, the language, the culture. Just to be able to wake up and know that the things you will do today are the things you want to do today balances the little trials. And then there are the unexpected acts of kindness and friendliness that cheer you.
I went to the Hotel de Ville (town hall) to inquire about a long stay visa (Carte de Longe Sejour) which I am about to apply for in order to gain residency for 5 years or so. The lady at the Mairie was very kind and very helpful and so, subsequently was one of the directors of H2O, the place we will be wintering - as she had to provide me with a certificate of address. It would seem that this process may be easier than I have been led to believe.
Besides - we now have a new clothes dryer, TV / VCR, money in the bank and a long list of emails from friends and family - and - it appears that French Telecom have refunded 40 minutes of telephone time.
I bought the seche linge (clothes dryer) at one of the two St Jean electrical shops and inquired as to when they would deliver it and take away the old one. The response was to put the price up 210 francs. Since the boat is only some 500 metres from the shop I elected to borrow their trolley and do the delivery / return myself and enlisted Marcus assistance to take the old machine down the stairs into the saloon in order to hoist it out the coach roof skylight and replace it the same way with the new one. That was done very quickly and efficiently and led to Else doing her laundry in our machines after M had done ours.
There is a very good feeling to be able to offer friends the occasional shower, meal or washing facility since we have a ‘mother ship’ as one of them remarked. It costs us nothing while making life a little better for those with limited facilities.
We have played boules quite a few times recently - not with great skill - but certainly with a great deal of dedication and enjoyment. Its interesting how many of the locals who, on their daily stroll past the boules ground we discovered, stop and chat or just watch with an experienced eye. It’s also strange that very few actually play here. Almost everywhere you go in France, the older men are at the boules ground with their friends, exchanging and repeating the same exclamations and endlessly changing ends and turns as they try for the perfect pitch before wandering off to the café / bar for a pastis and to recount the glories of the game.
It’s a simple game - well especially as we play it. The man who sold us the six hard and heavy steel balls in a natty plastic holder complete with two pucks or marker balls of plastic, explained that there are no rules. You can play with two or three balls each, you can play over a distance of say 3 metres for women and 6 for men, you can pitch your boules all at once or in turn and the one who gets closest wins and throws out the puck. He or she can then also determine who leads the play in order for them to be able to throw the last boules and therefore decide the outcome.
There are no set number of games or players and one can play as an individual or in a team. You change ends at the beginning of each new game and just chatter away during it. You really have only two choices - to get your boules as close as possible or to bowl at the opponent’s near boules to knock them away. Simple but fun. An a great way to get gentle exercise while enjoying the thin sunshine of the autumn under the plane trees. Actually the most exercise involved seems to be sweeping away the mounds of leaves that accumulate from the over arching canopy of trees, which at this time of the year are changing colout from deep green through yellows and oranges and even a reddy crimson before falling into drifts on the ground before being whisked away by the motorised street sweepers on their daily rounds.
This is not a hard place to be in. We are situated on a wide bend in the river Saone, in the centre of the two towns of Losne and St Jean which take opposite sides of the river, our side being St Jean. Fronting this part of the river is a 200 metre wide set of terraces leading up to the road and extending from the bridge to the grassy banks at their end. The terraces are made of stone set in concrete and have a soft brown colour, very attractive to the eye. Set into the stone are rings to which we and the other boats moored here are tied. Above the terraces is a one way street fronted by shops, café / bars and houses. It is shaded by trees and well lit at night and every 50 metres along the road side are plinths which provide electricity and water to visiting boats whose owners insert a taken of 60 francs for 10 hours use. We use them about one a week to give the generator a rest and to top up the water tanks. For the past week we have shared the facility with Marcus who has taken power from our outlet on the bow and attached his water hose to ours to get water when we are connected.
The road above us runs perpendicular to the main street of the towns which runs through both villages in a straight line across the bridge. On the St Jean side it is fronted by the boulangeries, magasins, boutiques and agents de presse. It is also the location of the Eglise and the Hotel de Ville, a small musee concerned with barging and the river life (once the site of an exposition about champignons where some 300+ varieties of mushrooms were displayed) and which leads also to the Port de Plaisance, the Casino supermarket (always a bit of a gamble) and the Office de Tourism or Syndicate de Initiative as it’s called here for some reason.
Along the river front on both sides are a number of barges. It is said that when professional bargees decide to retire, they can pick where they wish to tie up their barge and live aboard it for the rest of their life. This has apparently been made law as the boats are now almost impossible to sell, such is the marginal income available from working them and this is the only way a bargee and his wife can provide housing for themselves.
Nearby the Port de Plaisance are the ateliers (workshops) of the two or three boat building, repair and maintenance yards here in St Jean. The yards are busy rebuilding old working boats into hotel boats or luxury floating homes for new owners. They also repair current owners boats and do regular maintenance work aboard. The port itself harbours over 200 boats of all sizes and shapes including a large fleet of hire boats by Crown Blue line.
We will not be in the port itself as all the places are taken and the resources stretched thin. About 3 or 4 km up river there is a small ancient part of a disused canal which is now the home of about a dozen big boats. It is here we will spend winter, first having to tend the 40 metres of ‘garden’ provided. We hope that, like the other boats, we will have power, water and even a land line telephone service, enabling us to rest our onboard systems until spring and our departure for ports south, north or both.
It’s still Sunday, 4 November and I have been at the desk writing this part of the journal for some hours. M has made potato and onion soup and it now being 1.15pm has served it. The fog has not lifted, indeed it has not moved and the other side of the river is still invisible as are most features any more than 50 - 100 metres away. We were up at about 9.00am having read till 11.00pm last night. We planned to do some more work on the dinghy but cannot while it remains damp as the gel coat that fixes the fibre glass will not set properly in these conditions. The generator is running, recharging the batteries and powering the PC, lights and pumps that are part of everyday life. The heating system, which is very efficient but never hot enough for M due to my miserly nature, is not programmed to run during the day and as yet we have not laid in a store of wood for the pot belly stove so the cool damp air of the fog is trickling in through the small gaps in the doors and winndows of the wheel house above.
M made curtains for the stair case to stop the cold night air getting down into the saloon and with it in place, the door to the bedrooms closed and the heating turned to 21 degrees, it is very warm below when it is freezing cold outdoors. The heating is provided by a series of radiators, warmed by hot water from the diesel boiler that also provides our hot showers and washing water. This is an extremely efficient system and thankfully one that Frank (the previous owner) did not economise on.
We may go out later on, possibly to visit Lindy and to borrow one of her videos, or to play boules, or just to take a walk in order to justify still being here and not doing anything much at all. In truth, we need the rest after 6 weeks of non stop socialising.
Monday 5 to Wednesday 21 November
While the weather holds and conditions at the Quai Nationale are suitable, work continues on Little Nelle. Indeed, I believed I had placed the final coats of fibre glass on the little dinghy and was redy to test her when it all dried. That was not to occur until Monday 19 when we rowed the boat up and down the gardeau without getting wet feet - all seemed well until we tried to get her out of the water.
I put the stainless harness that connects the dinghy to the winch and began to wind her out of the water. For some reason the bow dipped down and nothing Maureen could do would pull it level. We put her back in the water thinking I had put the harness on the wrong way - it having a short and a long end. We tried again. This time the bow came up almost vertically and as Nelle rose the water trapped between the two hulls came spouting out of every small and large hole - gallons of it. None had affected us as we rowed since the inner hull is apparently watertight, but obviously the outer hull has some way to go.
This was the week I finally put my papers together to apply for the Carte de Longue Sejour, a visa that lasts a year or up to five. I am hoping to get a five year visa but am advised by the staff at the Hotel de Ville that is rare and that I should count on one year initially. The papers went in on Tuesday, four copies of ID pictures, marriage certificate, birth certificate, income statement, address particulars, insurance information etc. I am advised it will be sent to Dijon for processing and will be returned on or around the 20th of December.
I also applied for a bank account at La Poste and was swiftly granted an interview in two days time, at which the account was opened with 1500 francs and a credit card and cheque book arranged. They arrived a week later at H2O. Meanwhile a member of the town staff arrived at our doorstep politely advising us that our stay at the Quai Nationale had been over long. Please note that there is no information anywhere that advises the time allowed is limited but the man advised the Quai was only for occasional visits of short duration so we decided to follow Marcus and Els to Chalons sur Saone, some 70km down river. Marcus had called with intelligence that the port at Chalons was very pleasant and the town excellent for both sight seeing and eating. The shopping, he added, was spectacular with a huge shopping centre right on the doorstep of the Port Fluviale.
We left after my interview at La Poste and spent 5 hours cruising down river, through pleasant countryside, two locks (very large for commercial vessels and thence into Chalons, a large riverside town with major facilities. The Port is on the far side of an island which is right in the middle of the town. The entry is approached by passing the island and coming into the port from downstream. On arrival one is met by a large port. Made up mostly of floating pontoons attached by long flexible walkways and secured in place by large piles standing some 20 feet high (7 metres). The need for this elaborate setup was revealed by Marcus who met us on entry and guided us to a suitable mooring, adjacent to power and water. The pontoons had risen some 3.5 metres last winter, a distance that would have put the more usual fixed jetties about 2 metres underwater.
We were entertained on ST53 - M&E’s boat - a rabbit dinner with trimmings and far too much wine as usual, after which we slept till wakened in the early morning by wind and drizzle noises. Our first ICE. Actually it was a heavy frost with ice patches on the deck and walkways. The wind was cutting and the moisture in the air turned extremities to icicles within minutes. Too bad, we had arrived and had to explore the town.
We dressed thickly and set out like two Michelin men to check out the Ville. Across a pedestrian bridge to the island and through narrow street, crowded with old, leaning buildings, mostly part of the hospital which takes up most of the island. Across the main vehicular bridge from the island to the far shore of the Saone and the main part of the Ville. Most of this area has been closed to traffic, allowing pedestrians free rein to roam and enjoy the spectacular array of shops, restaurants, churches, cafes, markets, museums and town ‘places’. Most of the town is hundreds of years old with some half timbered buildings still in use from medieval times. A large and bustling market offered up warm hats (one with ears for me), gloves and tat and stood near the park where a circus was installing itself for a short season.
We visited the main museum. The two biggest churches, a cathedral and a church actually bigger but strangely designed compared to its senior associate, dominate their respective ‘places’ and provide imposing settings for the outdoor cafes that were definitely not operating externally on this day. We visited the huge shopping centre - a supermarket with some 30 checkout aisles that stretch 100 or more metres plus hardware, electrical, sports, and other stores.
We also discovered that there is a sting to the facilities here - the cost. Being a 27meter boat always imposes extra burdens on us, not just in operating and manoeuvering but also in the cost based on length, IF the place has facilities big enough. On this occasion the cost was 130 francs each night, a total of $A 100 for 3 nights. While this may sound inexpensive compared to hotel rooms or appartments in the middle of these towns it is serious money when extended over a year and is far more than the 860 francs ($A 250) PER MONTH we pay in St Jean. And, having paid for three nights we were dismayed to find that Marcus and Else had to leave suddenly as their French language lessons began the next Monday in Lyon, some 200km down river. We booked and went to one of the many restaurants that stand side by side on both sides of one of the narrow streets of the island on the second night as a farewell to M&E. How many farewells do they get ????
Saturday and we left to return against the current to St Jean. The five hour trip down river turned into a six hour trip back but time passes easily when you are cruising and the absence of locks means you can stay warm inside the wheel house. We returned non stop since the two reasonably large towns on the way were both lacking in facilities for a large boat. Both had excellent little harbours for small craft - 10 - 15 metres maximum but nothing for us.
We had to obtain fuel and confirm arrangements with H2O before we could take up residence at the gardeau and as we arrived after both had closed for the weekend we settled back into life at the Quai Nationale - since the bureaucrats don’t work on the weekend so there would be little chance of being evicted.
Since buying the VCR / TV combi we have been fortunate to have Roger and Lindy as friends as they have an extensive video library which they have been kind enough to share with us. On the cold nights when you don’t want to read or write, a few hours with Pride and Prejudice or Far from the Madding Crowd can be a very pleasant diversion. We indulged on the Saturday as we prepared a really excellent curry for the Sunday Lunch - a feature we plan to make a habit of, inviting different and interesting people to join us for some fine food and pleasant wine as we swap intelligence about the area and the lifestyle.
November 11 was the French Remembrance Day and on my way to the supermarket to pick up a couple of last minute ingredients for lunch I saw the beginnings of a parade. I dashed back to the boat for a camera but unfortunately when I returned it was all over - I thought - certainly at the place I had seen them they were dispersing. As I later welcomed Lindy, our lunch guest, we saw the parade march on to the main street, not 150 metres from us. Again a rush to get the camera and to get to a vantage point - alas - on arriving in the centre of town all I saw was the bank and the pompiers (firemen) wandering off to their cars and their own Sunday lunches.
Monday 12 November - The Gardeau - first week
This was the day to move to our semi permanent mooring for winter. First I needed to advise H2O and to get fuel. H2O was easy and the details passed quickly. I headed back to Van Nelle to start up and cruise to the fuel barge at the entrance to the Canal de Bourgogne and as we did, observed another barge taking the refuelling mooring. Drat - Oh well, just a short wait and then it was our turn to take in 750 litres of diesel fuel at 5.7 francs per litre ! I will really have to get the red diesel tank operational !
In Europe there are two colours of diesel fuel - white and red. The white is taxed and therefore 20-30% more expensive than the red which can only be used for commercial vessels or by plaisanciers for heating and electricity generation. Use for the main engine is subject to strict inspections and heavy fines. We actually have a spare fuel tank of about 200 - 300 litre capacity but it has not been plumbed in to the generator and furnace and I have no idea of the condition of its interior. - Another winter job for the growing list.
I cruised slowly down river past the entrance to a wide area of the river in order to turn Van Nelle so I could approach the entrance slowly and in the correct direction as I allowed time for Maureen to ride the scooter from town to the mooring. As I arrived so dis she and she jumped aboard to assist in the mooring procedure. We moved slowly through the narrow passage between the two lines of moored boats making sure we did not create suction of wake to disturb the people and things of value on board the permanent boats. Turning at the end of the gardeau we retraced our route back to the mooring and slowly manoeuvred in, We were at our new home.
Pretty soon we had the power connected with the help of our neighbours, Matthew and Caroline. Struggling through the undergrowth brought to mind my undertaking to do the ‘gardening’. Charles Gerard the directeur of H2O with whom I had negotiated our stay, had suggested I call at his barge at 1200 to pick up the tools necessary - specifically a lawn mower or whipper snipper. It was soon obvious that a lawn mower would not be able to handle the overgrown tangle that we now began to call ‘The Park". Fortunately the mower was not in working order and a couple of days later he arrived with a whipper snipper which after two days and a complete length of cutting cord, had beaten the grass and weeds into some sort of submission.
Apart from the need to clear the Park, we also had to get to know the neighbours and this was undertaken at once with drinks at Matthew and Caroline’s barge ‘Vixit’ on the Tuesday and on Van Nelle with Charles and Patricia on Wednesday. There are more neighbours but as yet we have not been able to catch up with them.
Other pre winter tasks include getting firewood, setting up the chimney extension, changing a gas bottle and arranging for the phone. The firewood (at 200 francs) was pretty easy with Caroline’s help as she contacted the firewood supplier who turned up on Friday with a van full for us and a couple for them. The gas bottle was rejected around town and required a new bottle to be taken from the supplier at huge cost - 300 francs for a gas bottle (exchangeable from now on) and the gas fill. We will need to change the second one as well, leaving us with three useless bottles and two new ones at great cost. The phone arrangements were conducted with the help of the young tourism official who made the call, explained the details and arranged for them to attend and instal in a week’s time.
Checks made of the use of wood, vs electricity vs diesel heating has wood running number one with electricity next and diesel a distant third and very expensive. After a week we have been able to balance the use of wood and diesel so that we are running reasonably economically. We will need more wood and could do with some electrical heating devices - but everything appears to be heavy on power consumption. More investigation is required.
One of the downsides to wood burning however is the attendant thick, brown, smelly sap like material which oozes out of the chimney (installed upside down by Frank) and onto the deck. We have tried a few ‘fixes’ but have not yet overcome that little issue.
The other feature of life here is the temperature and the attendant conditions of frost and ice. The temperature overnight has been -2 to -4 C each night for the week to date with the attendant ice formations on the land and the boat. Each morning we are covered with a thin (getting thicker) layer of ice on everything and on the days the sun cannot get through the mist, it stays all day. The Park looks quite beautiful in the early mornings with the golden sunrise glowing through the white tendrils of ice that decorate each bough and leaf.
The easy part of our ‘moving in’ here was the connection to electricity and water. Having been through a number of different countries and diverse places to stop that were supplied with water and power, we have built up quite a ‘library’ of different connectors for both the electric cables and the hoses. While we did not have a perfect electric cable to start with, we had the necessary bits to join together to make a working connection. The other great thing here is that we have a choice of 16 or 22 amp outlets. We have taken the 16 as we don’t use more than that even when everything is on. The only problem with the water connection so far has been that it was frozen one morning and needed a liberal dose of hot water poured on the end to free it up !
There is quite a pronounced drop from the road to the park at the boat level which requires steps of a weather proof kind to be constructed. Now that we have cleared the worst of the undergrowth and the debris left by Bernard, the previous inhabitant, we have been able to make a start on civilising the facilities and have laid a few of the steps in with rubber mats covering the mud. We plan to lay gravel on the steps but will need a vehicle to cart the necessary materials from the local ‘bricolage’. We also thought to plant a tree or two, so people would have something to remember us by. Euchalyptus sounds like a good idea if we can get one or two at a reasonable stage of early maturity in order to withstand the winter cold. It’s killed our long suffering flowers that came with us from Holland I fear.
Week of 19 November
Now that we are here, I have had to own up to the jobs that were not completed in Holland before we left. These include scraping and painting the engine room, completing the refurbishment of Little Nelle and finishing the interior trim of the boat. Pretty soon (like the beginning of the new year’s good weather) I will also have to repaint parts of the deck and hull and there are a few patches of varnish to be done as well. There will definitely be little time for getting fat and lazy. Fat yes - lazy no.
This second week started cold and became colder until about Thursday when the clouds came over and the ice melted, to be replaced by light rain on Friday night and Saturday. We are hoping it will be fine on Sunday as the town has planned a major celebration of the 100th year of the installation of some canons and a Legion d’Honneur, granted by Napoleon but delayed until delivery was made in 1901. Several Generals and Emperors were involved (as best I can make out) but the canons could not be spared until their technology was well and truly outdated. They were won by the town for its gallant defence against a siege laid by thousands, held off by hundreds.
On Sunday there will be a parade and an unveiling, a ‘Grand Vin’ and a banquet (price 150 francs) all attended by the Ministre who arrives and departs by train. Given the precarious nature of labour relations on France’s railway network and the state of the weather, it’s a toss up as to what might spoil the plans. Anyway, we have a Sunday lunch planned so we resisted the urge to join the banquet but we will attend the ceremonies, to return to Van Nelle afterward for celebratory toasts and the pops of Champagne corks rather than canons.
Frustrations have been to the fore at the latter part of the week.
The land line phone was to be installed on Thursday and when the technician failed to arrive by 3.00pm Maureen set off for the tourism office to have them call and inquire. They asserted the man had been, could not find the boat and left and would not be available for another week. Then, the next morning the mobile phone rang and then would not allow Maureen to hear the other party, identified as Lindy or Roger as their number is programmed in. Neither the headset or the flip would respond to any of the old ‘fixes’ like banging it on the table or turning up the volume to flat out so with a great deal of swearing I risked taking it apart. It has been professionally fixed twice previously as a switch breaks sometimes, cutting off the speaker in the top of the flip. I was not sure what I could do but after quite a few frustrating minutes I managed to get it apart and after breaking a delicate locking device for the strap to the flip, also managed to get it back together - and it now works again. For how long I am not sure or confident. I fear we will have to purchase a new mobile.
Having made arrangements to buy a car I need to amass the cash to pay for it. Since there is a limit the amount one can take out each day, I have to spread the withdrawals from the Visa card over several. We have had quite a few frustrations with Visa and the ANZ bank and this was another. Despite the card being loaded with a large credit balance, it also has lots of credit available, none of which was able to be turned into cash on Saturday, despite having been OK on Friday. Messages like ‘We have been requested by your bank to return your card’, or, ‘Transaction not available’. I even tried calling the 24 hour service to get the block fixed - ‘We apologise, the phone banking service is not available at this time’.
This banking frustration follows our constantly enraging task of trying to transfer funds via the internet with ANZ internet banking. Since we have to use the mobile, and the bank programmers insist on loading the system with cute graphics, the process takes over 40 minutes and exhausts our pre-paid cards. What made it even worse this week as I was transferring in preparation of buying the car, was that they also insisted on sending down the line the terms and conditions, all made up with cute (and large) graphics - twice. This timed out the system and turned the 40 minute odyssey into a 1 hour 20 minute nightmare.
The good highlights of the week however outweighed the frustrations and included our first French conversation session at the Tourism Office with the really helpful and pleasant young girl who runs the place, followed by coffee at the Bar Navigation on Quai Nationale with ‘the Gang’ These ‘lessons’ will hopefully correct our pronunciation, clear up the questions we have about when and where to use certain phrases etc and give us a great deal more confidence in general. We theme the sessions arounf shopping, boat maintenance, restaurants, train travel etc. Its fun and very inexpensive as we just decide on an amount to donate to the Tourism Office, which delights them.
We had dinner on Vixit during the week with Caroline and Matthew who also invited Bill and Laurel Cooper and Mike and Carrie ????? Bill is pretty hard to take as he constantly dominates the conversation, really not allowing anyone else a share of the time. I, inevitably, took the aggressive contentious approach and challenged him on just about everything while Maureen worked the evening with charm and tact. The others seemed amused at some of the interchanges and we left the best of friends with Mike and Carrie while Bill seemed not to have noticed and Laurel quietly followed in his path. Bill is ex Royal Navy. A big man with a big ego and one who, according to his own account, single handedly won most of the actions and operations the Brits were ever involved with on the water. He fed and supported the jewish migration to Palestine, mapped Cocos Island, saved the Indians from whatever and still had time to be in intelligence, action and endeavour. Whew.
During the week we also had a visit from Phillipe and a technician from H2O in order to inspect the main motor, decide what had to be ordered and arrange the maintenance work I had requested. They were quiet and efficient and left after a short time with the books (that are in French) and a parts list to order. A couple of days later Phillipe informed me that the parts would arrive within days and the work could go ahead next week. This is good news as I am sure the engine has not been serviced since Frank bought the boat more than 4 years ago. I have to say that I am impressed by H2O. I think it is the influence of Charles Gerrard and Catherine Rault who both are pretty laid back and very helpful.
Its our 29th wedding anniversary on Sunday and a few of the Gang are coming to lunch. We will pop the roast on, shoot off to the Canon Parade and come back for the big booze up here. I bought M a big bunch of roses to celebrate which are now nicely arranged in strategic places about the saloon.
Lindy and Roger arrived this (Saturday) morning with the shopping for the lunch as I was fibre glassing Little Nelle - why does it always rain when I have started either painting or fibre glassing ?
Sunday was the day of the grand parade and ceremony of the Canons. We arranged a lift into town with Caroline and took both the video and stills cameras to record the event. We arrived just as the parade snaked up from near the fuel barge to the bridge and a sharp left turn (a gauche) into the premier rue de la Ville de St Jean de Losne. Here the dignitaries met the ancien voitures carrying the Ministre and other celebrities as the rain began to drizzle on everyone.
The band, discordant but enthusiastic looked marvellous in their medieval costumes of crimson and gold, instruments polished but now dripping with the increasing rain. The soldiers from the Armee de Terre stood stolidly at ease under the dripping plane trees that line the edge of the Place de la Liberation where the monument and the canons are presented. The crowd was quite large given the temperature (near zero) and the rain, but they were quiet and interested. The French love ceremony.
The president of the Syndicate de Initiative (Tourist Office), immaculately dressed in black tails and top hat and resplendent in his flowing white hair and beard, began the ceremony with a speech welcoming the dignitaries, the important town folk and the public, outlining the history of the canons, granted to the town to mark the heroic successful holding off of the siege troops in the 1600s and again in the 1700s. It seems this town, at the confluence of two rivers and several important canals, was much sought after during the time rival ‘kings’ sought to increase their lands and income. Much later, the Emperor granted the canons which did not arrive for another hundred years or so as they were needed to fight his wars against the English. Finally the state came to the party - literally - and the canons were delivered, together with their carriages and other accoutrements, and, at no charge !
We watched as the huge French flag was drawn off the canons and the General of the Air Army, followed the mayor and was followed by the Ministre in making their speeches after which the band struck up and the parade again moved off in search of the ‘Grand Vin’, to be followed by the Grande Banquet (at ff 150 per head sans boissons). We moved off to the boulangerie and the car and beat our own retreat to the ancien ecluse for lunch.
The next week was busy. It was to be the week of the telephone (again) the car and the drinks with Bill and Laurel. The rain continued during the week, completely screwing up the fibre glassing I had done on Little Nelle.
We decided we had been so busy, Monday (known to us as ‘ferme lundi’ as everything is closed on Mondays) was to be a holiday and I spent an extra hour (or so) finishing a book in bed in the morning. Maureen was good enough to bring the odd bit of toast and a cup of coffee to stave off the hunger pangs as I read. The balance of the day and the next seemed to disappear in the minutiae of daily arrangements. Collecting wood, cleaning the inevitable mud off everything and putting new mud on, checking and maintaining important pieces of boat equipment and shopping seem to take whole days but I did manage to get a couple of hours in working in the engine room scraping off old paint, rust and dust in order to prepare it for a new coat of grey paint.
Tuesday night included drinks on board Bill and Laurel Cooper’s barge, Hosanna. It turned out to be a very pleasant night with no stinting on the Beaujolais neauveau. Bill tends to be a bit overbearing on the conversational rights but he was pretty good this night, giving each of us a few opportunities to put in the odd anecdote. He has actually taken his barge though the Mediterranean to Greece - several times. I don’t know if that is brave or foolhardy.
Wednesday’s highlight was again the French conversation classes we had organised at the Syndicat and a few coffees afterwards while the big event of the week was Thursday’s arrival of the telephone technician to install a land line to the boat.
I was up early and rugged up, took the scooter to the H2O office (bureau) to meet the man and guide him to the boat. I stamped up and down for two hours - no technician. By this time the office was open and Catherine (one of the directors of H2O assisted by calling France Telecom to find out what had happened this time, the second time they had not shown up. They were most apologetic as the admitted they had not given the contractor the correct instructions, leaving him waiting at the nearby Borgogne canal while I waited at the office. They arranged another appointment that afternoon at 3.00 and at that time he arrived. By 4.00 we had a phone and about an hour os so afterwards also had the PC and modem connected - no easy feat as the wiring in Australia and France are different and the correct connectors impossible to get in St Jean (I later bought the correct ones in Dole for 1/3d the price of a lesser extension cord in a local shop. However, with my multi meter, small screwdrivers and some super glue I connected the modem and the internet leapt into life on our PC screen. E-mails, which previosly had taken half an hour to collect now took seconds and the opportunity to update the web site was realised. Now all I have to do is use the correct codes to connect to our domain and get the thing updated.
Friday was the DAY OF THE CAR which Catherine reported on Thursday night had been fixed and was ready to test. We picked it up before lunch and by mid afternoon had it paid for, paperwork completed at this end and insurance arranged. We now need to get the paperwork, plus an inspection report, to the prefecture at Dijon within 2 weeks to make it all legal. Here’s hoping the technical inspection will be lenient as the car is a little old and has a few minor faults - but nothing to do with safety and hopefully less to do with reliability. We picked up a couple of mates and went out for a drink to celebrate. As we did so we arranged to go to nearby Dole the next day. Dole is a pretty medieval town with a ‘centre ville’ preserved and closed to cars. It was the home of Louis Pasteur and a tanning centre hundreds of years ago. As a result of the tanneries, small riverside ateliers (workshops), one of which Louis’ father was the owner, the buildings along the waterfront all have water entrances as the river provided a ready source of one of the more important elements in the production cycle. Pity for the people downstream.
We set off to pick up out friends only to hear the most awful noise from under the car. Calamity ? I stopped and looked. A mud flap provided at the front to keep debris off the engine had obviously come loose and been bent by the undergrowth we have to park on. I could not fix it where we were and so went on to collect the couple and set off for the local garage. All the way there the citizens of St Jean looked nervously at this car that made such an awful scraping noise. ‘Tres cher’ (very expensive) they muttered. Arriving at the garage we found even more interested bystanders who had picked up the approaching noise and who gathered around to check the origin as we arrived. Much advice but no help was forthcoming as the patrone was out. Roger suggested we fix the thing back at the marina so we back tracked and jacked the car up at H2O. A couple of quick drill holes, some plastic ties and presto - good as new. I hope it passes the inspection come Monday at 3,00pm.
Car fixed we set off and arrived about 30 minutes later after a pleasant drive through the surrounding countryside. Saturday markets in Dole provided us with the makings for our Sunday lunch.
There is a place called Bresse in France which is the centre of production of the finest eating poultry in the country. The Poulet de Bresse carries its own ‘controlee’ certification and is renowned as THE eating chook of the French Empire ! We had to try one and so ordered one at the markets in Dole. The butcher indicated the head and legs and his chopper and we readily agreed for him to prepare the bird for cooking - which included cutting off the head and legs, removing the entrails and delivering the bird cauterised where cut and ready for the oven. You can take away the parts that are taken off if you like. They are retained up to the point of sale to prove the bird is what it claims to be. We picked up and paid for the bird, some veal and a pork roast and headed off for lunch.
Its amazing that whenever you look for a restaurant in a town full of them you cannot find one. We went round in circles until a friendly passer by directed us to a nearby café where paella and rabbit were the order of the day. A quick visit to the art gallery and some more shopping and we left Dole for St Jean, pleased with our first motorised outing.
Week of 3 December
Two major projects occupied my mind and my time during the next week - the continuing effort to repair Little Nelle and the preparation and painting of the engine room however there was the matter of the car registration to complete.
Buying a car in France requires one to have it inspected by a specialist company, very thorough, and, having overcome any discrepancies (in our case emission adjustment and new tyres), to submit the report, together with an insurance certificate, to the Dijon Prefecture which then takes your money and issues a transfer and ownership certificate. This was done with very little pain, except financial, as the kindly Catherine Roult at H2O assisted by making the appointments and arrangements by phone. Having come from H2O, a major client, made all the difference and the technicians were ‘tres sympathetique’.
Little Nelle was a more difficult project as the fibre glass seems to have cured porous. I checked the hull integrity by filling the void between the hulls with water and it leaked through several areas. The dinghy can wait therefore until I feel like cutting back the last layer and finding and applying a good water proof paint ! I had better results however with the engine room.
Having scraped the burned paint off all the areas I could reach (I thought) I prepared the equipment and over two days, painted the ceiling and upper walls. The grey paint went easily over the prepared surfaces, including those I had painted with Owetrol, a rust inhibitor. It also went easily over me, and as I had omitted to wear a hat, I acquired even more grey hair. I tried combing it out (very painful and very ineffective except to remove large clumps of my remaining tresses) and therefore resorted to washing it out with turpentine (very painful).
The engine room is now a lot brighter since the lights have something to reflect off rather than be absorbed by, and it appears a lot cleaner and more efficient. Cleaner since the vacuum cleaner was put to the task of sucking up a couple of kilos of paint chips, dust, rust and old hardware, and more efficinet since in completing the task I had to clear away the remaining vestiges of Frank’s reign. Kilos more scrap onto the junk pile.
During this cleanup and painting binge I rediscovered the tiller - a grand iron affair, weighing about 100lbs (40kg) about 9' long with a beautiful curve to it, ending in a keyed slot that fits over the top of the rudder post. I look forward to trying it but hopefully not as a result of the failure of the wheel steering gear.
During the week, Charles Gerard, the Directeur of H2O brought his front end loader down our way to pick up a speedboat owned by the former resident of our mooring. He had left in a hurry and had left his boat in the water. Matthew Morton, our 747 captain neighbour, had tried to beach it without success but had managed to get most of the water out of it and had secured a tarp over it. This made the job a little easier for the front end loader. Unfortunately the period in question followed a period of some considerable rain and the ground was muddy underfoot. This did not deter the tractor on the way down the bank but did allow it to leave some pretty deep furrows from its massive tyres. We secured the boat to the front scoop which then raised it from its watery home. Then Charles attempted to reverse his tracks back up the bank to the road. Given the sloppy state of the earth this task proved the equal to the tractor’s power, repulsing it not once but some three times in different places, including our bank, the neighbour behind’s steps and Caroline’s (in front) bamboo patch. Charles finally acceded to the suggestion to drop the boat on the road and take the tractor up without it, a feat that was achieved fairly smartly. The dinghy was again hoisted by the scoop and deposited ‘tout suite’ onto it’s trailer.
All chagrined, Charles and the tractor reappeared an hour or so later with a big scoop of gravel for our pathway which then turned my attention to the creation of a reasonably mud and water free entrance through the park to the boat. Over a couple of days I managed to cut steps into the bog, reinforce them with tree timbers and cover them with gravel - both Charles’ present and 8 bags of commercial river stones. The effect was dramatic and a path of some attractiveness and efficacy was created.
During the week we did not ignore our social obligations, having Charles, Patricia, Bill, Laurel, Matthew and Caroline for drinks on Thursday night - until we poured them out after 10.00pm and having had a delightful rabbit stew on Friday, courtesy of Lindy and Roger. Sunday morning also saw us at breakfast on Amacita, Charles and Patricia’s 38m peniche after which we headed off to St Jean to check out the St Nicholas Day markets, parades and entertainments and finished the week with a wonderful dinner on Vixit, guests of Caroline and Matthew.
Each of these weeks provides adequate occasions to test a wide range of French wines, of which we are becoming at least familiar. The hunt is on for the best wine at the lowes price. I found a beauty - a Beajolais Nouveau at 5 francs a bottle (about $A1.50) but when I went back to buy up the whole supply it was gone - the whole pallet load. The locals also know a good deal when they taste it. However we are still finding many good wines at the 20 - 30 franc level and some ‘quaffers’ at 10 - 20 francs (3.5 francs to the dollar).
We don’t have to wrestle with the French Franc for much longer as the change to the Euro is on Jan 1 and is in all the TV, radio and newspaper editions. The petrol stations are converted and while the pumps give the price in Euros, for now we have to pay in francs. Come Jan 1 we will be on an equal footing with the French - monetarily at least. Our Wednesday French lessons continue but my progress in them is not great. I take heart however that I have years to go and the words, phrases and verb conjugations are becoming clearer. We can now hear the words spoken by newsreaders - now all we have to do is understand them !
We finished the week with a visit to Nuits St George ! This is the centre of one of the world’s great wine growing and production areas with famous names such as Nuits St George, Vosne Romanee, Mercurey, Macon, Pouilly-Fuisse and many more in the great Borgogne Region.
The town itself is quite large with a burgeoning industrial area on the outskirts feeding the production houses that scatter the landscape and the town. The centre of the town is quite picturesque with a central pedestrian region connecting the Hotel de Ville, many caves, the marketplace, restaurants a small hotel and lots of shops selling - wine ! We attended a Xmas market in the marketplace, a two storey building used for exhibitions and markets. The two floors were furnished with booths offering local products and produce. A four piece band played country and western tunes and a few regional folk tunes thrown in for punctuation.
We tested this year’s Nuits St George at the degustation booth and pronounced it drinkable but a bit young and thin. I have been surprised by the lack of solid body in the wines we have been predominantly presented with in this region and further north. Most of the wines are made from Pinot Noir around here but we have also had a lot of Beaujolais and Cotes du Rhone (Gamay). I made comment about it at a dinner with Matthew and Caroline, just as Matthew poured a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux - what a difference ! Here was the body and the strength. The exploration continues.
We drove out of town to the north west looking for a break in the buildings and an entry into the rolling hills covered with vines. We soon found a side road that led up the hills and through a small village (6-8 houses and a restaurant !) which we drove slowly through marvelling at the houses that look as though they have not been changed for hundreds of years. Its only the presence of tractors and farm machinery that gives a clue that we are actually in the third millennium. As it was very cold we decided that the reconnoitre was completed and that we would return to stay overnight at the small one star hotel in the centre of town with some friends and take the chance of a couple of days without having to drive to really do justice to the local food and wine.
Week of 10 December
If the new week starts on Sunday we started the week with breakfast on Charles and Patricia’s 38m peniche Amacita just 5 or 6 boats down the canal from our mooring. This was the day of the St Nicholas arrival, parade and markets in St Jean but since we were at a brunch first up we missed the first arrival parade. We went to town at 12.00 and wandered through the street stalls, lots of French bric-a-brac with some very cold looking stall holders. Enticed by the chocolatier we stopped long enough to buy a bag of truffles which we later presented to Caroline as we had dinner with her that night.
5.00pm saw the second parade, made up of St Nicholas, the children, the town band and hosts of parents, grand parents and well wishers. It was absolutely freezing as there was a lively breeze adding a wind chill factor of about -12 degrees to the ambient temp of 0C. We saw and left quickly to warm up. St Nicholas is the patron saint of barge people and schools so it is a big occasion in this pre-eminent waterways town. St Nic was played by the President of the Tourism Office (Syndicat d’Initiative) and was most appropriate with his flowing white beard and hair - all his own !
On the advice of long time resident and fellow barge person, Caroline Price, we decided to trek off on Monday to Louhan which boasts a mega street market. We were advised to arrive early and thought 1030 was pretty good for us as we are tending to get up later and later as the days get shorter and darker. We saw why the advice was given as when we arrived all the carparks were full with cars abandoned in the most unlikely and inconvenient places. I adopted the stop and wait approach which paid off quite quickly with a couple arriving to extricate their van after about 5 minutes. We took their place and strode off towards the noise and the crowds. Street full of stalls greeted us. Food, wines, animals, produce, products, leather goods, clothes, shoes and boots, CDs and tapes, mattresses and millinery, cheeses and meats - a huge array of fresh, good quality product at reasonable prices - including some room to bargain if you have a mind to - in French !
I stopped off at the France Telecom shop to but a replacement phone and was soon able to advise the clerk that I wanted to retain my number but buy a phone that I could interchange the sim card into from the other (now mortally wounded) mobile. )We can still use the Motorola for connection to the internet when we have to leave our land line behind). 430 francs later I set off with a smart new silver mobile after Maureen who had gone off to find Christmas presents.
We needed to find appropriate but small gifts for just the closest family, preferably things obviously French and ones that would fit into a smallish post box from ‘La Poste’ to go to Australia quickly. We had previously tried to send a bottle of Palmer Amazone Champagne to our dear friends Ian and Helen Palmer with the result being a soggy box carrying a smashed bottle. Not wishing to emulate either the cost or disappointment of that foray we chose small solid items or good value and attractive appearance and later put them into a postal box supplied by La Poste for mailing. That done we hunted out a few choice food items and drove the trusty Renault back to St Jean.
Caroline having gone to the UK to see her parents and friends before Xmas for a week it fell to me to look after the daily requirements of Puss, her orange cat. Puss is not a great socialiser as I found out. I tried all my charms even going prone on the floor to try to offer some TLC (as requested) to no avail. After three days of trying to give a very reluctant cat a bit of a stroke I decided to treat it as it was treating me and replied to its somewhat rude miaows with off hand remarks. It seems that is the best approach with Puss as it now stays quite close as I arrive to freshen its food and water.
Wednesday saw us attend our weekly French ‘lesson’ at the tourism office but I despair at my lack of progress, I guess I really need to work on it 7 days a week as repetition will be the only way I will progress. I seem to forget everything as quickly as I learn it. I hope however that now that I seem to be able to identify individual words among the torrents of French directed at me by shopkeepers and the TV at sometime in the future I will understand what the words mean. In my defence I have to say though that I have been able to achieve all the tasks I have been set, buying goods, getting service for the engine and other such projects.
It has been far too cold to work on Little Nelle but I did finish the steps to the boat with another three bags of gravel which drys quite white. I now plan to put some lights in strategic places so visitors and ourselves will not fall off the boat into the icy water - or as it was this morning, onto a sheet of ice surrounding the boat.
Thursday night saw all the boat people we could muster gather at Petit Louis’ Café Nationale on the Quai Nationale for drinks. 5 couple from a range of boats squeezed into the diminutive, smoke filled bar for three hours of house red and white wines and ‘pression’ beers (on tap). Represented were a British narrow boat ‘Back of the Moon’ owned and operated by Alan and Denise, a new canal cruiser ‘Blackbird’ from the UK owned by Jan and John, Lindy and Roger (timber yacht ‘Hoivande’), ouselves, David and Diane of Glorinda and a yachtie named John who had driven his campervan up from the Med to look for a barge to replace his 50' motor sailer. Unhappily he refused the offer of power for the night and froze his van, bursting the water pipes and destroying his heating system on his overnight stay.
The meeting was an uproarious one with no let up to the flow of pichez de vin and verres du pression. At the end of it the bill offered required only 80 francs per couple - remarkably cheap night. At the affair we discussed the planned beer and skittles night which had started as an idea of Bill Cooper’s to get all the boating fraternity together for a cheap meal and lots of talk. The idea of a dinner at L’Amiral was rejected unfortunately in favour of a journey out of town to a bowling alley. Since we have hired out our car, I am not sure at this point as to how we will get there as the nights are far too cold to take the scooter - perhaps.
The week ended with a few nasty surprises. The Kabola water heater and central heating system refused to work on Saturday morning resulting in the temp inside the boat dropping to about 8C instead of the relatively warm 16C that it is set to. That discovered it was made worse by Maureen’s discovery that the water surrounding the boat was solid ice. Had we frozen the system ? Had a component broken ? How would we repair it and stay warm ?
I started the process by testing the obvious symptoms, working from the operating instruction book - if the green led is blinking do the following.... After a call to the office of H2O, the marina management company I managed to get the machine operating. Called off the mechanics and set about topping up the closed water system of the central heating which had dropped to .4bar, less than the minimum .5 or maximum 3.5 bar. I managed that reasonably easily but was unable to bleed the system. I will wait for Phillipe to reappear with the torsion wrench for the engine and apply his skills to the problem. Meanwhile Maureen thought the 'frig had stopped working. After removing it, setting spacers on the floor to stop it rolling back on the wall it started quite happily and purred away.
Had I been in a better frame of mind and had the heater and all been working perfectly this morning it would have been a great adventure to discover the ice and play with it as Maureen did by skidding nuts across its surface, as it is I’m sure I will have plenty of opportunity to do so on every other morning this week - or month - or season. Perhaps this is an unseasonable run of cold weather and the balance of winter will be warm. And, was that a pig that just flew by the window ?
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