Sunday, May 28, 2017


I think it's quite possible that by now most of my blog pals know I have a special fondness for sheep. I've loved them ever since I kept a small flock of Jacob sheep centuries ago (well it was in the last century) in my life prior to leaving the UK in my youth. Jacob sheep are highly intelligent and very canny. They like nothing better than outwitting their owners - well at least, that was my experience. Mine had great personalities as well, especially my grande dame of the flock, Emily. She was a very special character and led me a merry dance on many an occasion.

Jacob ram, courtesy of David Merrett, picture sourced from

As a result, I love the fact that at the crumbly cottage, we often have sheep in the field at the back of the house. I don't have to care for this flock, so I don't know if they are naughty at all, but they too have real personalities and Koos and I love 'chatting' to them in 'baar' language. What saddens me is that we never see any lambs. I can see when the ewes have been covered, because they have coloured patches on their backs, but where they go to have their babies remains a mystery. I don't even know who they belong to; I never see the farmer tending to them, but they come and go and I miss them when they aren't there. Some of you might remember that last year, we had a solitary ram in the field of which (whom?) we became particularly fond. To my shame, I've forgotten what we called him now, but he loved having his head scratched and whenever he saw us, he would dash over to the fence for some good communing. Then he too disappeared, presumably to mix duty with pleasure by getting lusty with a flock of ewes (maybe that's where the word lewd comes from...haha).

This year's sheeple have been in the field for a while now, and a couple of weeks ago, there were visitors at the house next door who brought three children with them. It was delightful to see the youngsters interacting with the sheeple. I thought how good it was for them to have this opportunity and time to see that sheep, and all other farm animals too, are not just dumb creatures with no intelligence put there for our convenience; they are sentient beings with likes, dislikes and obvious emotions.  Here are a few photos I took of the kids feeding our ovine friends with 'snacks', most of which were weeds and grasses they'd gathered, but it didn't matter to the sheep. They enjoyed the attention anyway!

And sorry for the plug, so if you don't want to see it, look away now, but if you happen to be interested in my own and very real adventures with sheep, especially Emily, they are all here in my semi-autobiographical novel, How to breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics. While the story itself is fiction, the setting and all the animal incidents are true! Oh I had so much fun, I did...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Better late than never : Four days in Faro

Lat weekend I didn't get round to writing a post, but I think I can be forgiven as I was in lovely Faro in the south of Portugal. I went with a very good friend of mine, Marion. We have known each other for as long as I have been here in the Netherlands but this is the first time we have been away together.

Back streets of Faro

A cosy corner in the old city

We had a lot of fun exploring and walking the city and then taking trips out of town. On one day, we headed east to Olhao and Tavira. Olhao wasn't all that exciting (for that read disappointing), but Tavira was gorgeous with a wide river running through it, a castle on the hill and plenty of white-painted charm. I loved it and had to lurk round the river of course.


The church on the hill in Tavira. I was standing on the remains
of the castle walls

City walls and urban homes are indelibly welded together
Looking across the Gilao River

Looking downstream on the Gilao River
We had two more days after this on one of which we went to Estoi, a village just inland from Faro, where we found this lovely old palace which has now been converted into a hotel. The rest of the village was rather clearly shut except for one café occupied by a group of English people having lunch. They told us they lived in Estoi and could thankfully tell us how to reach the palace as there didn't seem to be any clues left for Joe Public. Even the bus stops were a learning experience as the bus companies only have a sign on one side of the road. You have to know that you need to stand opposite it on the other side and we were ticked off by the driver for waiting a few metres too far from the spot.

The Palace of Estoi

Palace grounds and buildings
The following day, we took the bus to the beach and walked to a point beyond which there were no tourists or sunbathers at all (always a good goal). We both paddled in the sea, pleased to know we were treading the waters of the Atlantic - I can't even remember the last time I had my toes in such western waters. It was a glorious day; hot with a brisk breeze and much to my shock, my feet and legs caught the sun. I had a rather uncomfortable night coping with sunburn on my shins, toes and ankles. I can hear you saying 'that'll learn you," can't I?

On our last day, we did a boat trip around the islands off the coast. Faro is bounded by an area of natural beauty with a lagoon, mudflats and sandbanks. The boat toured the islands and the skipper, Claudio, pointed out which birds, waders and crabs it was home to. It was great to see all the birdlife, and I must say that Claudio was pretty easy on the eye too, so we didn't mind looking at him either...haha. One island is completely uninhabited with the exception of an old man (in his eighties) and his dog (said by Claudio to be about two hundred years old), the only humans and animals permitted to live there. There was also a lighthouse island where we stopped for a look around. The whole tour was a lovely end to our trip and a very welcome dose of sunshine despite my fried toes.

Old huts on Desert Island

The one and only lighthouse

Faro castle seen from the water

Our charming and rather dashing skipper,

Monday, May 08, 2017

A state of flux

When I look back on what I wrote in my first harbour memoir, Watery Ways, I realise how much our community has changed since those days. From my perspective, it is less cohesive than it was, but maybe that's because so many of those I started life in the harbour with have gone; such is the nature of a restoration harbour.

There were many more barges in the harbour in 2002

Trees and cars on the quay...unheard of now!
This is Koos next to our old renault

Sadly, some have gone with more permanence too. This last week we buried the second of our liggers this year: the first was a mere 52 when his heart just stopped while at work in Kazakhstan of all places; the second was a close neighbour of mine who has been struggling with cancer these past four years. At 74, he'd had his three score years and ten, but it still felt too early. George and I had been neighbours in the line-up of barges many times and even when separated by other boats, ours were never far apart. He'd done a beautiful job of restoration and it is sad that he will never get to go faring in it. I liked him very much.

Other things have changed recently too. The helling (slipway) and working yard where I have spent so many hours closed on April the 30th. Its future is uncertain, but the Maritime Museum say they cannot afford to keep funding it as it doesn't make enough money to cover the costs. The keys were handed to the council on May the 1st and we now await negotiations to see if it will be kept going, perhaps on a more commercial basis. I have a lift-out booked for October, so I hope there will be a workable plan.

My first liveaboard, the Hoop, on the helling (slipway)

I think this event, more than any other, defines how things are changing. For the younger generation of liggers, it is probably less dramatic as they have formed their own core community and will arrange things their own way, but for those of us who are older, it feels like the end of an era.

Sorry for the poignant post today, folks. I'm feeling a bit sad, but I hope you all have a great week.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Various whatnots

I'm having one of those spells when I really don't know what to write about on my blog. I feel life is on hold until it gets warmer. It's been so cold lately I really haven't felt like doing anything much, so let me do what I usually do in these situations...just ramble. You are free to leave anytime you feel you've read enough inconsequential burble.

My brain is all over the place with all the unfinished projects that I want to get on with, but you know how it is...'I want' somehow 'doesn't get' (or that's what my mother used to say). For a start, there's the floor in the back cabin of the Vereeniging. No, I still haven't finished it. Awful, aren't I? It all stopped in the autumn when I'd got the sheets of plywood to make it up, but then the temperature plummeted and I've just been looking at it for the past four months (or is it five?) sort of projecting the end result in the hopes it would miraculously finish itself. This week my intentions are good, but I really don't want to go to hell because of them, so I'm not promising myself anything.

The floor before I cleaned it up

Then there's the butterfly or pigeon hatches on the Hennie H (known here as 'koekoek'). I finished one of them before the new year. It needed stripping down, strengthening and revarnishing. It also needed new windows. The other one is just the same except it's taking me much longer to complete. Still, I really am making progress with it because I can do it indoors. In case you're wondering, I made temporary hatches to cover the openings while I repaired the real ones, so no, the HH is not filling up with rainwater as I write. Last weekend, Number 2 looked like this.

It's now received a few more coats of varnish, so it looks much better and richer, but I still need to put some more varnish on it and cut the windows from the perspex we bought - or rather Koos will probably do that as his hand is steadier. Maybe next week I can show you all the finished article...but what was that I said about good intentions?

As for this year's faring, our plan has been to leave on the Hennie H for a long trip east in June...somewhere around the 15th...with the eventual goal being Poland, but I'm applying the intentions rule to that too as I don't know yet if we'll be ready to go by then. Whatever the case, we'll be meandering our way through Germany for much of the summer (I hope) and we'll just see how far we get.

Then there's my writing projects. They are about as tenuous as everything else. I've had this novel set on an African farm as a WIP for ages now, but for some reason I've lost interest in it, which is very unlike me. I hope it (my interest) returns; I'd hate not to finish something I've already written so much of. In the meantime, I've started writing down my memories of the next phase in our African life after African Ways; the part when we moved to a village in the valley...down the mountain, in fact. I'm having some fun with that and I'm writing it on a blog, so if anyone would like to read it while it's in the individual posts phase, just let me know here. I can invite you to the blog. Who knows? It might end up as another memoir, but I'm not risking that fiendish path to Hades again by proclaiming any specific, no.

Have a good week everyone!