Slicing Through History

Fighting the Rhine at 642

Fighting the Rhine at 642

Wierdo trees in front of Remegen Cathedral. Deem bushes got da clip

Wierdo trees in front of Remegen Cathedral. Deem bushes got da clip

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Standard anti brigand and thug gear c. 1300

 

For much of its northern reaches the Rhine courses along relatively flat terrain.  Just at Bonn the topography starts to change. Suddenly there are hills. In the distance I can see two mounds like lopsided breasts where I must drive my boat through the cleavage-like gate that opens to a new area, one that is historic, challenging, and lovely.

The section of the Rhine from Bonn south is the land of the robber barons and the occasional toll levying archbishop.  From around 800 to just a couple of hundred years ago, those who plied the waters of the Rhine had to pay for the privilege and most often they paid in coin or in kind to square-jawed brigands who placed chains across the river to exact their remittances. Here at Bad Honnef you can see how the river cooperates by narrowing between two islands, Grafenwerth on the Bon Honnef side and Nonnenwerth towards the opposite shore. High on the hill tops the barons and others would construct castles to help them enforce their tolls. Here where I float tied to a dock I look up to the ruins of such a fortress with Rolandsbogan, a single window all that remains of the structure. Stories tell of Roland, one of Charlemagne’s knights who would brokenheartedly look out this window to Nonnenworth below where his true love was married to Jesus at the convent on the island. So moving was the tale that a 19th c romantic poet returned to his native Rhine and repaired the relic leaving only this window to love’s lost battle.

With the narrowing of the river the current is wicked. I am tucked behind an uncertain breakwater that comes and goes as the winter melt arrives from Switzerland. The large barges have to rev their diesels and their bows slam the water in big pushes. I look on and remember the hour it took just to cross the river to find the Wasserverine Hannef where I have found safe moorage and a welcoming community. How would this new rise in the river level and the enhanced currents impact my ability to move forward? Peter Kaufer, my friend who is a retired skipper and worked with the Wasserpolizie, is skeptical that Djes’ Volvo engine has the jam to push us through the ‘Gates’ between Koblenz and Bingen where the rocky shore towers and the barges really squeeze by. I have to admit that as I sit here in Bad Honnef getting the engine fixed, I am somewhat nervous. I have read about the region and now people on the ground are telling me to hold on to my hat for an intense hard ride. I believe in Djes and know her Volvo engine might not be speedy, but she is strong and like the tortoise – will get us to the finish.

This haven I have found is a small Rhine-side rowing club. Its well equipped with a full gym, locker room with shower and barn-like storage area for the array of boats they have in their bunks. The club is used by everyone from young teens who show up during school hours to seniors who go out in four man crews for an early morning pull. The one and two-man boats like those you see at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games are fiberglass with long oars that really get them going. The larger boats are wood, many with the rudder at the front. On weekends the harbour is awash in craft as they launch and set out to take on the currents of the river with crews first heading upstream for a tiring paddle before returning on the helping hand of the nine km river power.

The people at the club have been interested in my story and have offered me their hospitality for which we are very grateful. At first I was uncomfortable using their facilities given that I amount to someone who is squatting on their dock. They have been very welcoming in this regard and greet me with a friendly ‘morgan’ when I run into members out for an early row.

I was lucky to find Wasserverine Hannef. As I have discovered, I will have a significant challenge to run the currents up as far as Bingen where I can cross over and slip into the Mainz river and its gentle ways. Here I am able to get repairs done and use the area as a staging point for journeys around the region.

In fact, yesterday we rolled out Bike Too for a mission that took us as far as Sinzig. The Rhine offers easy bike paths on either side that move along the shore and deek into towns as they come up. Great ride along paved, cobblestoned, asphalt or packed pea gravel paths. Took the Ronsdeck ferry across and rode into Sinzig and the River Ahr. Had a Kolsch and looked out to cherry blossoms below the Romanesque church’s square. This side of the river is more rural with orchards and small garden plots in abundance. Across the river from Kripps where I took the ferry back (Linz), the towns are more frequent and are interesting in their preservation and way of life. Properties can date from the 1300’s and they are in better shape that most I have seen in new developments. You just couldn’t get a good quality particle board in the Middle Ages so they had to build with wood and stone.

Shops here are nothing much. There are the prerequisite souvenir outlets, but for the most part the goods in the stores are utilitarian or fairly downscale with slim selection and a trimmed back style that is indicative of the conservative nature of the region. Grocery shopping has been an eye-opener. While there are large populations in small footprint centers, there is only small grocery to offer them foods. Yes, there is a butcher, several bakers and other specialty food stores, but the Edeka, Kaisers, and others like Netto are just a bit bigger in layout than a community bread and milk store with maybe 10,000 to 15,000 skus in five narrow aisles that cover everything from fresh produce, to general grocery and dry goods to meats and dairy and beverages. Most stores have a lot of space devoted to wines, and beer that I would say averages about 15 per cent of total footage and stock. Interesting is the cost of beer. Very fresh and quality laden, the Alts and Kolsch’s can be had for 69 cents for a half liter bottle or 7.99 for a case of 20 on sale (add 30 per cent to get a Canadian context). Indeed, with so many good beers to try its hard to get involved with the wines or run the risk of becoming like some jolly friar going from town to town in a state of alcohol infused frivolity (doesn’t actually sound so bad). Here on the dock we have a refrigerator that has proven its worth as a storehouse for everything from Gaffel Kolsch to Frankenheim Alt.

Indeed the fridge has been a godsend especially today. Warm and sunny I have pulled out the fishing equipment. Back In Amsterdam at the big box sports store I decided to gather some tackle together and after putting the pieces in shape over the past couple of months I tossed a line into the water this afternoon. I’m using an 8’ telescoping pole with a spin cast reel and 20 lb line (you never know). Got a few spinners and something that looks like a cross between a Lazy Ike and a Red Devil – I’m calling it Lazy Nelson. I’m going for a little garlic rub on the hook and piece of herring to bring in the big one. Now its just a case of patience and a fond hope that the beers in the fridge will last as we look out across to the Rhine and its slice of history.

 

 

 

 

 

A Lock on Love

 

Koln’s Hohenzollernbrücke is 410 meters of arched steel and big button rivet tops. Its Germany’s busiest rail bridge with 1200 crossings each day over spans across the Rhine that give trains, bike and foot traffic access to Deutz on the east side of the river. It also stands as a living monument to love and hope for lasting happiness. The bridge is a site where Kölonians come to bring their love shackles to fasten them to the grates of the brücke’s protective fencing in a statement of undying commitment. The result is a cascade of shiny and weather worn padlock proclamations that must number well over 100,000 along the wide path that looks away toward the sweeping river and the city’s blend of old and new architecture.

The path itself has become a lovers’ walk where couples cruise hand in hand and look at the names and dates. Oddly, the activity is similar to the lonely graveyard amble where people walk amid the stones and also consider names and dates. However, amid the gravestones there is a sadness about the life lived and lost. On the Hohenzollernbrücke the names and dates cast a hope for the future and the happiness of love. Indeed, the entire bridge could be considered not as a piece of infrastructure that conveys people to geographical locations, but as a conduit to an emotional place. Consider that more than 200,000 moon-eyed humanoids have stood on the bridge and while in full-test gob-smacked crazy love placed a lock and left a spatial-temporal impression amid the great continuum. I suspect the entire bridge is awash in a kind of hormonal residue that is an amalgam of lust, hope, trust and selflessness.

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I wonder what ever happened to Jupp?

Love gets tough on hate

When love gets tough on hate

Love eatched in brass

Love etched in brass

Back when Köln’s streets were ankle deep in mud and dung and citizens wore cloggy BirkenstocksP1050140P1050150, the city was known as a great place to pick up cheap perfume (as well as a nasty case of Clap). Bathing was considered an unhealthy practice that could dilute precious bodily humours. Substitute odours were sought to help keep buzzards on outhouse roofs and unplug noses. In Köln its special Eau de Cologne offered a fruity mask that covered well the foul airs of medieval life and helped earnest-faced Burghers make a better impression at the Ratstadt. That was then. It was a simpler time when a mere slathering of stink sauce could change both social and individual fortunes. Today we need a new, more potent Eau de Cologne to improve the public good. We need to send in our scientific shock squads to Hoover up the hormonal residue from around Köln’s love locks. Shop vac this chemical gland smack and use it as a kick start for those whose hope, trust and love are in Limbo. Imagine what just a dab of Köln Hohenzollernbrücke Eau de Hormone would do for Robert Mugabe or the Hunt Bros. (not sure what it would do for Kim Jong-un, but it would involve big pouty men in saucy boots). Violent criminal offenders could be regularly sprayed down and kept in a permanent state of love struck bliss.

Like the two side of the bridge that fuses the shores together in a union, the love lock holds a couple’s dreams and aspirations at that moment. If the lock is broken is the spell un-cast? What happens when the bridge is simply full and not one more lock can be placed? Surely plans have been made. Once the last lock has been clasped and the couple walks off into a future assured by love, Köln must have another bridge at the ready. Another long line of grates must wait for the next lock to come and the next and the next till this new bridge too is filled. Love is our great positive. Any place, thing, person, or event that fosters blind love and all its trappings should be an exalted place of reverence – a true chapel of connectedness to the great multidimensional state of being. Like the Easter Islanders we should be devoting all our time (ok, we’d need to do a bit of farming and manufacturing too) to constructing these lodestones of positive emotion.

In a world gone mad with competition and loneliness could we not all use a little more love and understanding?  I’ll take a little squirt just a little behind the ears, please?

 

 

 

 

Global Shift

http://youtu.be/5jqnyHo113A    (Check out the vid of the Voyager voyaging)

Globalism’s one colour fits all approach is becoming more and more evident in the patchwork of the EU. Years ago I might have expected my Dutch friends to scold me in English that I should learn more languages. In Germany I would have been surprised to find two or three people out of ten that could work an English diphthong. Now not only do eight of ten people have the skill to say,” Dude, you are eating way too many Snackinfredas!” they also know how to order at Starbucks ‘Ich, bin eine Duplio mit the extra whipped cream’. People from the tip of Estonia to somewhere in western Romania have a firm grip on the 21st c. and that grip appears courtesy of Sports Check and Disney.

What I’m getting at is that the battle between evolved national culture and the drive to create culture from the need to make us all into the same consumers is moving forward at a breakneck pace. As I sit here in Bonn looking out a cafe window there is not much to differentiate kids coming home from school from those who walk down the snowbanks from Wolseley School or Laura Secord. Fashions (with the exception of snow suits) and visual cues are very similar. -A gang of three jostles each other as they head to the McDonald’s on the corner – The same is true with jokes. Mass culture has shaped what we consider funny and now that globalism has drifted television and movies across the world, someone in Germany or Morocco understands ‘get over it’ from the Soprano’s, the irony of Honey Boo Boo, or that you don’t want to be kicked off the island.

The evidence of the move to unicuture is all around. True, Germany is stronger than most with a highly developed domestic brand culture, film industry and music scene. The shift is in the style of clothes that are less European and more Chicago, the music that is more LA and the food that is more burger, less schnitzle.

Thanks be to Vishnu for beer. The brew is a stalwart of culture that has near nationalist undertones. Consider Köln where Kolsch rules the roost. Kolsch is a light hoppy Pilsner-style brew(4.8 per cent) that comes in thin 6 oz glasses. Citizen clink the bottoms and pound them back. If you are a fan of Gaffle or Sion, don’t show your face at bars where patrons drink Reisdorf or Früe. In Dusseldorf, just a few miles up the river Alt beers are all the range. “Where should I go if I just have one day to see the city,” I asked a couple who had stopped by my friend Han’s house for some of his free advice. “You must go to the Bierstadt and drink our Alt beer,” they said almost in unison with an undisguised pride. I didn’t go, but I did drink lots of Alt (this is the beer Belgians would brew if they were German) and I can attest that Frankenheim is awesome.

Is beer culture real culture? Of course and I hope to find more of it. Glad that the Millers and Buds have not been able to chip away at the true bedrock of European civilization – its beer. Think I’ll just grab another Snackinfreda and a cool Kolsch. Here’s to culture – popular or not. Cheers!

The Daily Grind

Djes is a stern taskmistress. When she is running she demands your full attention. With the currents running hard a few seconds with hands off the wheel and she is ready to turn tail and start heading in the opposite direction or keeling towards rocky shore or oncoming super barge. It had never occurred to me before leaving that I would not be able to set my computer on the helm with German lessons and practice all the way to Frankfurt. Twenty seconds of distraction can create some hairy situations. For example, two days ago I was daydreaming with a coffee in my hand. I was letting her get close to the shore and I was checking out the various waterfowl. Suddenly there is a grinding and dramatic change to the colour of the river as I ground out on gravel bottom. Another time I was attempting to bring the boat alongside a pier when I didn’t pay proper attention and found myself stuck on rocks. Both occurrences required me to lighten the boat to free her.

The days are very focused on driving. Things such as taking a pee, making a coffee, or jotting a note bring fresh challenges. I have no real maps. I am using a combination of my iPhone’s off-net maps and a little tourist map I picked up in Nijmegen. More than once I have nearly crashed the boat trying to find out where we were or where we should be going. The wheel is very stiff. A combination of boat design where the water is swept around to the stern and its rudder and the age of the craft every move of the wheel must be done with force. My left arm is now 25 percent bigger than when I left Canada. I’m like a half Popeye. I have three driving positions. One is sitting with the wheel in front and both hands operating. The second is standing in front of the wheel and using both hands and the third (and preferred position) is standing to the right of the wheel and working it with my left arm. This position offers the best view and the best control.

The water is wicked. The Rhine is filled with eddies and swirling currents that befit a river of this size with a flow of around 5 to 7 kilometers per hour. It is unforgiving – just ask Bike. Usually I make a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate and whip up a sandwich or two to do me the six to eight hours the boat is running. Many days I have left this off. This means making lunch with one hand on the wheel and then making a sandwich in steps where I let go the wheel for 10 seconds to get the bread down, another 10 seconds and I cut one piece, another 10 seconds while I cut another and yet 20 seconds more while I spread peanut butter or find a cheese slice. At any time a large ship could pass and I would have to forgo the operation to keep the boat right in the water. Photos are almost out of the question. A few times I lowered the engine revs and stood motionless against the current in a kind of river stasis that allowed me to run to the rear deck and snap a few shots before running back to take the helm.

As boats pass they give off a large wake that often hits hard. On occasion several boats will have two passing me from the bow while a third overtakes me to the port side. The swells can really get the small boat rocking. I have to really work the tiller to keep the boat moving true and not get in the way of the barges coming up to the rear. On the Rhine, the normal boats (anything over 10 meter) have the right of way. I am on the river as an annoyance to shipping. Indeed, I have yet to spend any time with the barge people. In Nijmegen I spoke to a captain who pulled his160-footer up to the dock and effortlessly parked opposite Djes. I said hallo. He looked at my boat and nodded.

“I heard about you from the radio. That is an old boat,” he said to me in English right away.

“Yeah, I’m trying to take it to the Danube.”

“On the Rhine?”

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Cheap liquor and cheap smokes. Like Vegas with an accent

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The ship’s bog. Room to really do some thinkin’ in thar. Even has an inside lock in case of security issues with the crew.

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The roomy bright interior. Italian design meets Higgins Ave chic.

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Historical beauty off the port bow. Sent the crew in to pillage. They brought back a lot of shiny stuff. I’ll look at it later.

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Why am I so beautiful?

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Tied up waiting to head in to Bad Honnef.

“Yeah,” I said.

He looked the two of us (Djes and I) over and walked away.

Other barge captains have given me nasty hand signals and had their crew go out on deck to yell at me. I remember one crewman who came out, looked at me and then drew his hand over his face in a gesture of complete ‘I can’t believe the stupidity I’m seeing here.’

I have been trying to break up the day by finding an interesting spot to stop for lunch. I tend to look for a place where I can get out and walk around a church or village square or two. These are few and far between. In Holland, smallish centres often had a harbour that I could motor into and tie up for an hour or so. In Germany this fell away to long stretches of river wall and only large industrial places to stop. Now that I am in the Rhineish heartland where population is massive the docking is easy to find in cities like Koln, Dusseldorf and Bonn with neighbourhoods having a small wharf.

Mornings see the crew rise at 9:00 for the ritual heating of the stove. The two- burner propane stove serves as cooking appliance and furnace. Once the cabin is warmed, the process to make coffee is underway. After the first cup the multi- stage start-up of the Volvo Diesel is set in motion. First the rear floorboards must be removed to allow the battery key to be turned on. Next the front floorboards have to come up to give access to the electrics for the fuel pump. Once these are on the glow plugs have to be fired for up to a minute to warm the fuel. On most days the first turn of the key earns a grudging but healthy moan instead of the engine’s normal aerobic chugging. This is when I take off one of the air filters and give her a shot of combustion spray. It’s like a cup of coffee for the old Swede. Next time around I can usually get it going a bit but this often stalls after a minute or so. Third time is the kicker with the engine usually running pretty smooth after 15 minutes of belching white smoke from the exhaust.

As the engine warms – this takes half hour – I do a few ready things like cleaning dishes, finding someplace to take the garbage, and securing everything that can fly around. Once the temperature hits around 60c I go out and untie the bowlines. Best case is when the bow swings around to face the river. Most times I have to dash out of the wheelhouse to untie the stern ropes and then make it back to the controls before I hit another boat or head off with the current.

Most harbours are pretty pleasant places. I have some favourites. Gorenchem in Holland will live on in my memory for a long time. There, the ancient town harbour (1200’s) gave up a pristine Rhine gem of old boats, well preserved buildings and rolling landscape. I love the quiet chugging and low speed entry to a new port. Standing at the wheel the view opens as you come through the entrance. There is a calm to a boat approach not available to those in cars, planes or trains. The burbling ripple of the prop under the water and the slow rhythm of the diesel motor deliver a calm that is punctuated by the easy tap to the dock and another address for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Reliance

 

The sun sets in Düsseldorf. Finally a sunny day. Spent it doing land chores in this city of 600,000 that is the racing heart of this hyper-industrial river region. Hans has helped a great bit by driving his 80’s VW bus like Sebastian Vettle through the streets and tunnels to find much-needed bits and pieces. Now Djes rocks her three tons quietly behind fresh bolsters and her cabins are filled with warm light.

heifenmeiser Hans

Hafenmeister Hans sits at his perch watching the action below.

tied up in Dusseldorf at DKC

Djes tied up at Hans’ dock in Dusseldorf

Hans' pet duck Daisy and her partner

Hans’ pet duck Daisy and her stalwart partner

The Gate

The gate on the drawbridge over the moat. Burglery has always been my strong suit

Club with a few boats

DKC with a few of the boats Hans has had returned

At age 80 Hans stands under a full head of white hair. He lives alone on a boat beside a barge at a rowing club he started 50 years ago on the outskirts of this German city. This is where Djes and the crew found him on the Saturday before Easter after scanning the shore for a fresh harbour. The night had been spent locked behind impenetrable dock security so the morning meant a fire up of the Volvo MD11, a letting go of the ropes and another uncertain move. Hans, a boat builder who runs the Düsseldorf Kanu Club (DKC), was watching from his windows high above the water as we came onto the Rhine and made our way across to his little harbour. He was there on his dock to help tie up as we coasted in.

“Kommen Sie für einen Kaffee,” he said as he threw the rope ends on the boat and walked back up the metal stairs to his perch.

I obeyed and found a charming older man in plaid shirt and patchwork yachting pants, steel rim glasses and great dental work. Trim and neat, Jan was sitting at his chair in a room fitted out to seat 60 for club events. His spot was strategically placed between two windows so he could watch all the action on the river and dockside. The table was set with a coffee thermos, glass of tiny teaspoons and two cups and saucers.

“Bitte sitzen.

Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?“, he asked.

“Ich spreche kein Deutsch. Dürfen wir sprechen Englisch?“, I offered back.

“Ah, English. I speak English. I lived in New Jersey back in the 50’s. Then it was all good with the hair combing and nice manners. Now ist all Snooki and J Wow. Better I’m here.

How can I help you?”

Hans told us we could stay as long as we liked and to let him know if we needed anything. “I’m always here,“ he said.

It was Easter weekend in a devoutly Christian country. The whole place was shuttered tighter than the Flipper estate on Sushi Tuesday. Hans provided electrics, Internet, and any tool I might need. He liked to help. People came to him. “They come here and tell me their problems. Lots of women. I guess I’m like their (fahder) father. Together we talk and then it works out. Sometimes it takes time. Till then I always have my boats to work on.”

Hans had been married twice. “The women, they never stay. I have been all over the Rhine and the men all have been married once, twice, more. The women they don’t like boats.” Now he was alone with his boats at a spry 80.

He lives on a 10-meter powerboat he built several decades ago. When Jan builds you a boat it comes back to him when you die. This boat’s owner had passed away a few years ago and like all things the boat too returned to its maker. At age 80 Jan has outlived a lot of his patrons and has quite a few returned boats tied up along the dock and at his shop wharf.

We sat for a while talking about the river and boats and then the crew had to head back down to the dock to take care of Djes and set forth to Düsseldorf and its famed Alt bier. The crew left Hans to take the 30-minute walk into the old town. Along the Rhine lovely paths amble amid parklands. We chose a major walkway lined with massive moss-covered plane trees that follow Cecilienstraße to the old town. A wide avenue,  Cecilienstraße has five-story apartment living set against a busy road then a wide blvd with another road/tramway. All is somehow quiet with the buildings looking across to a tasty view of Rhinescape.

The old town of Dusseldorf is a candy box of Hansel & Gretel gable roofs that stand above streets packed with café tables. We had been looking for a shop vac and had to laugh imagining buying one here. Yes, one of the hundred merchants would have one but it would be hand tooled from a Swiss specialty shop after a design smuggled out of CERN. Everything was of a very high-caliber. Fortunately Hans had taken us to OBI a store very similar to Home Depot. The Vac had been acquired, freed from its warehouse store shackles (box and plastic packaging) and inducted into the ranks of the Wolseley Voyager crew. We were now free to drink Alt till das Getränk Halle Mann sagt nach Hause gehen. I would like to say here and now that Vac is a very heavy drinker (15 litres of beer and a 51 euro tab in 47 seconds). Rumour has it that Djes can really party but because of serious weight issues (she tips at a dainty 5,900 lbs/ must switch to lo carb diesel) we frequently (always) have to leave her at the dock. Tonight it was just the Voyager and Vac.

After losing the police behind the English Consul’s house (a story of impolite behaviour and much dashing about) across from the jachtshaven, Vac and I found our selves back on the dock a few hours later. iPhone was called into action to ring Jan who said he would open the gate on the drawbridge over the moat. His line rang and rang. “I’m always here,” he had said. Now we were faced with a nine-foot iron gate with an additional two feet of scrambled razor wire and nails. It took some thought. In the end the Voyager called into reference his many years as a practitioner of Spanish-school toreador yoga (lulu lemon has nothing on these tight pants). Vac and all the various types of gear were piled on the bridge in case of a nasty spill into the water. The gate was mounted. With all the grace of a bulldog on stilts Voyager cautiously swung around the razor wire to land on the other side upright, un-bruised and dry. All this left us wondering, ‘Wo ist Hans?’

Hans was out in the dark on the river in his small fishing skiff. He had spotted good wood floating by so he darted out to get it for his fire.To say that Hans is self-reliant is to make a huge understatement. For instance, he admits that even at age 80 he seldom if ever sees a doctor. This led to a situation three months ago where he broke two ribs in a bad fall on a rock. Rather than head over to Emergency he pulled himself to his shop where he made a harness and sling and put his body in traction for two weeks.

He also makes and repairs his own dental work. Hans had noticed me looking at the gold tooth on the windowsill. “I pulled that out myself. It was my first. I pulled all my teeth over the years and then I made these,” he said pointing to his perfect smile. He admitted that what I saw was a new set for which his insurance company had paid. “These are exact copies. The doctor was very surprised and he wanted to keep my old set. If these don’t work good I can fix them. Come, I’ll show you the machine,” he says.

Han’s ship had numerous layers with his well-windowed perch at the top. We went through an aft hatch and down a set of metal stairs to a door. Hans produced a massive key bundle and opened the steel door. Inside was another set of stairs that led further down to his main shop that opened out to his wharf and personal cruiser. “Its over here,” he said unlocking yet another steel door. We walked down a dim hall to a second workshop where his dental lab stood in one corner. On the stainless steel table was a Dremel and a bunch of files and what looked like some kind of small autoclave. “You can’t trust no-body to do nothing. If you want things done right, you do it yourself.”

 

 

 

Bike

Bike

Bike stands on the dock ready for action

strapped to the hood

Strapped to the hood like a dead moose, Bike rests awaiting fresh chores.

Bike and us had a short history together. We [the crew] came upon each other in Nijmegen at Het Good, a second-hand store much like MCC or Value Village. At Het Good the floors are stacked with shelves of old china, the walls have all the Robert Ludlum and Henk Van Piet books you could ever want and the appliances and furniture all had that ‘please-shoot-me-now’ well-used appearance. We had been looking for a bike to join the crew and when we came up the stairs to the second floor and saw her the match was made in heaven. Bike was a Dutch made Gazelle Solide. She was an ‘Oma Fiets’ or mom’s cycle and came all tricked out with skirt fender, full circle chain guard, lights and generator as well as great styling that screamed ‘Like these fenders, honey?’.

We had been looking for a bicycle since landing several weeks ago. The pages of Martkplace, Holland’s Kijiji, were read and reread and the crew made a few attempts to hook up with sellers. Bike stores and rental outlets were questioned and then finally in Delft the cycle repair guy next to the dope café up the street said he could help me out and would have an Oma Fiets ready on Wednesday the day we had planned to motor off the dock in Rotterdam.

“Ok, we’ll come back on Wednesday. Thanks.”

On Wednesday we came in to the repair shop around noon. The man was sitting at his bench talking to a friend. Over the time we had spent in Delft I had come to like him. He was direct in the Dutch manner and loved bikes. I had looked in as I walked past one snowy day and saw him huddled around a pot-bellied stove while he restrung some spokes and thought to myself – ‘There’s a guy in his element.’ So today when we walked in and asked if the bike was ready we were surprised when he looked up and said, “Maybe tomorrow. Black, right? With a front rack?”

We left his shop feeling sad that times for finding a bike had really come to an end and the crew would have to find other means of land transport. So, when we walked up the stairs at Het Good and saw Bike hearts went pitter-patter and jubilant bells rang out. A hard Winnipeg deal was hammered out with the floor clerk who was surprised that someone would want to make an offer on an item at a second-hand store. (For the Wolseley Voyager no deal is satisfactory unless negotiations have taken place.) Bike left with us and proved to be a sweet ride and willing participant.

Bike’s first mission was to assist with ferrying10-liter jerry cans of diesel from the petrol station. Bike handled it without a grumble turning a four-hour tank fill into two. Along the Rhine, towns seldom place their services like petrol stations near to the old parts such as the harbour. Cars are discouraged from town centres and all things automotive, fuel and such are found in outlying areas. This means distance and having to carry 10-litre cans of fuel back and forth to the boat. Having Bike meant life had gotten easier.

It was a Sunday, and we had found the jachtshaven in Wesel, a medium-sized centre about 100 kilometers from Cologne. After three nights anchored to floating platforms and rusting hulks the nice club with showers and full facilities such as restaurant and ample space for docking as well as electrical was welcome. The day was windy in the extreme. In fact, it was too windy to go out onto the river. The combination of head wind and current would have made travel almost impossible. We would have to wait it out. In the mean time, it was decided to break out Bike for a reconnoitering mission into Wesel. The boat was prepared for a short absence and Bike was brought down from her rooftop perch. We set her up on her kickstand on the dock and quickly went back to the boat cabin to grab backpack, door keys and heavier jacket to stave off the freezing winds. We came out to discover Bike had just disappeared. Gone. Like she had never existed. I couldn’t help thinking about those guys who tell their wives they are going to the store for a pack of smokes and never come back. We had to go back in the cabin and came out a second time just in case the first time was some sort of hallucination. A second look showed that like the first time just a vacuum existed where Bike had stood not more that two minutes ago. Best guess is the heavy wind just picked her up and threw her into the harbour. Optional guess is that her heart, heavy from leaving her native Holland, could not bear an afternoon among the Hun and simply threw herself into the currents of her beloved Rhine where her parts would be swept home to Limburg.

Decided at this point to drag the harbour, but lacked the materials. German stores are closed on Sundays – even 24-hour Internet cafes are closed. We would have to take a run back into Holland for a proper hook and we still needed a slim-tube draining funnel for the motor oil as well as food. With sad thoughts about Bike at the bottom of the freezing river, we set out for the Bahnhof. This gave us a good opportunity to check out the town and its 13thc. church. The station was about an hour’s walk from the jachtshaven and took us through deserted streets of closed shops. Trains were numerous with one every half hour to Duisburg and connections to Nijmegen where I felt I could get everything I needed. The trip turned out to be three hours and 20 minutes going in and five hours and 20 minutes returning. Regretfully, the time was such that by the point we got to Nijmegen only food could be purchased before stores began closing for the day. Returned to Wesel at 11:00 with no oil, no funnel, no hook, but had a big bag of groceries and plans for the next day.

After coffee on Monday morning we searched the boat’s side compartments and found a suitable piece of metal that could be tied to a rope for dragging the river bottom. We then spent three and a half hours throwing the line into the area where Bike was thought to lie. The search area was widened and Djes was brought into the process where I cast out and then slowly motored back and forth hoping to catch on a wheel or rack. Nothing. The currents are so strong that we now think Bike was likely swept beyond the docks at the harbour before she even hit bottom at 40 feet. She is probably still moving beyond the harbour entrance toward Nijmegen. When the main currents take her she will continue to go down river till she gets fouled on some tangle of metal or old boat line meeting a tragic end to her flee to Dutch freedom.

Bike we hardly knew you. What we did know about you was that you were a hard worker, had classic good looks and made life easier. Here one minute and gone the next, you taught a valuable lesson in not waiting for tomorrow. All of us will one day end up like Bike were one minute we were just standing on the dock and the next …

BIKE -1985 (?) to 2013

RIG (rest in grease)

 

 

Hard Ride to Nijmegen

Nijmegen lies just a stone’s throw from the German border, a fact of which many have reminded us. In Bellvue, a town we harboured in prior to making the dash for Nijmegen, a woman to whom we asked directions schooled us on how hard the second world war had been on the region. “Just there across the river the Germans sent a constant assault against American and English forces that were just there on the other side. By the time they were finished I’m surprised there was anything left to rebuild,” she said. Her name was Briggette and she was going home to walk her dog. She had been kind enough to escort the crew to the site of a discount grocery and then stood talking for half hour. “Just remember,” she told us. “Not every German person you will meet will be bad.” Obviously, Briggette held a bit of grudge over German atrocities more than 50 years ago. We took her stilted advice and headed into the store for provisions.

We had found this little port by luck. We were scanning the maps and shoreline looking for either a bunker barge, a largish stationary ship that is like a massive Petro Canada, or a land-based petrol station for diesel that was getting a tich low in our tanks. Looking through the binoculars the flag of a Total station flapped in the distance between a church spire and bridge. We headed in and found Bellvue and the De Waal jachtshaven, the first place in more than a week that we had to pay to berth (7.50 Euro).

Formalities taken care of, the crew set off to ferry the diesel from the petrol station above the harbour. This took a good hour or more to fill the tank. Next it was off to the shops to fill in some holes in Djes’ stores as well as find a T Mobile shop to get advice on the new Euro phone that was causing so much anxiety. Back in the boat by 9:00 and ready for dinner. Tonight it was green pea soup, Camembert and fresh whole grain bread, an exact replication of lunch. This meal also offered numerous flagons of French vin a table.

The next day started late for the crew. Undoubtedly we drank a few too many flagons and noon was creeping up as things were readied for the challenge of Nijmegen. The map showed nothing but the wilds of Gelderland, a Dutch province that offers a lot of forests and lonely spaces. There were no jachtshavens and even the berthing facilities for the larger boats were few. I had been slipping into these and getting away with it till two nights before when the river police explained things to us in detail. Now we was shy of these big boat berths not wanting to incur the nasty fines that hang over boaters’ heads for everything from lack of sewage black tanks, to oily discharge, to docking where you are not supposed to.

The engine was started and given its half hour idle before setting out. The crew had an uneasy feeling about the day. The weather had turned from just miserable to state-of-the-art nasty. Wind direction was variable with gusts of 50 km, freezing rain turned to snow and visibility out the windows was bad but made worse by the plus 2 temperatures inside that created a constant fog on the glass. We released the lines and left anyway.

There are some things which are difficult in a boat where constant supervision at the helm is mandatory. The crew would make lunch in advance of setting off. A thermos of coffee and a peanut butter sandwich was a good standby if a quiet harbour or tie-up spot could not be found. One hand on the wheel and the other grabbing thermos and sandwich is an easy task. Going pee is another thing altogether. Let’s just say we have had to be very creative in ways that keep the inside of the wheel house from being sprayed by unconstrained urine as the boat is lashed by wind and wake from passing barges.

The day wore on and as 5:00 rolled around and the sun started to fade, the Voyager’s thoughts turned to ways to get off the river. An inlet appeared and the crew turned the boat into what turned out to be a massive ship yard (shipswerf). The docks were simply too high to tie up. We could not get the ropes swung around the bollards and as time was a wastin’ we abandoned this location and headed back onto the channel. Next we spied a largish canal and small lake. In we went thinking that we could tie up to a tree or even beach the boat. This thinking got the boat grounded in sand. We kept our cool and soon the Volvo had pulled the boat out and we were free again to keep looking. By this time it was after 6:30 and it was dark. The decision was made to stop wasting time with the searching and just power on to Nijmegen, another 12 km up river. Twelve kilometers doesn’t sound like much, but when the current is 6 to 8 km against you and the engine can make 15 km in still water the challenge comes into view. I figure I am making 5 km an hour ground speed with the engine running at around 3/4 full.

The night was as dark as the inside of a cow’s stomach. All that could be seen were the distant green starboard lights of tilting buoys. The markers that I had been using – long poles with green arrows atop that indicated the edge of the channel and the danger of the rocky outcrops – were now gone from view. Occasionally they would race into sight and we would have to quickly change course to either avoid them or move away from the rocky points at their edges. Ships would now just appear, rather than show up on the starboard tail. All that could be done was face this music and continue along until the tune was over in Nijmegen. An hour followed another hour. Soon the lights of Nijmegen showed up bright as we came around a bend. I could see a good potential haven just at the entrance to the town. By now the Voyager’s arms were tired from the constant battle with the wheel and rudder. The entry point came up quickly, and Djes dodged into the quiet of the canal. Unfortunately, this was another shipswerf and we had to set back out onto the river to make the last push into the main part of the town.

Nijmegen is the Netherland’s oldest city and has a population of about 165,000. Looking toward the lights on the shore, our eyes could see that the landscape looked interesting. First we had to get onto the land. Help was at hand. No sooner had we had pulled back onto the current when lights start going off all around the boat. It seems the control tower at the bridge as I entered the shipswerf had radioed a navy boat as I came out of the canal to come back onto the river. They could see that we were seeking safe harbour and sent the navy boat to guide me to the city’s jachtshaven. Under the red and orange flash the navy’s rotating emergency lights we were asked to come alongside for a quick chin wag at which time the crew was told to follow the patrol boat into town.

“Hallo, where are you going?

“Nijmegen,” we answered. “We are looking for the jachtshaven.”

“This is what we think. So, we have come to assist you. There is nothing wrong. You are sailing well and all the lights are working. We just want to make sure you get off the river in the dark. This is a very dangerous place for you. I will speak to you again once you are tied up.”

Tied up in Gorinchem

Tied up in the old port at Gorinchem

awoke to snow on deck

Awoke to snow on the deck – again.

Small fishing boats line the docks at Gorinchem

Traditional small fishing boats like the ones Auggie used line the dock at Gorinchem

The cops again

The heat rousting me from my free perch. – Sorry, m’am I’m just leaving.

The sweet taste of free parking

The sweet, sweet taste of free parking

Laurents and Auggie

Auggie (L) and Laurents (R)- Auggie had fished in a small boat till the 60’s where he had to row up the Rhine and live on the craft for three weeks at a time with another fisherman. We discussed fishing and the river currents with the assistance of Laurents who owned the jachtshaven in Gorinchem. Laurents was an exWinnipegger who returned to his native Holland for healthcare.

barge folk

Barge Folk

An hour later we had been guided into a berth right in the very heart of Nijmegen across from their hot-shot new casino. We considered going over for a few spins of the roulette wheel, maybe some baccarat. Given the day the suspicion was that all our luck had been used up just making it to port. Even the newly installed Tibetan prayer flags from Prairie Sky were mostly destroyed leaving us with the view that as the day wore on we had been traveling without a prayer when it seemed we needed them most.

 

On Our Way

At the dock in Rotterdam. I will pay that parking ticket. I promise

At the dock in Coolshaven, Rotterdam. I promise to pay that parking ticket. I promise.

ould Delft at night.

Delft at night. Quality of life is high on their list.

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The Swede’s Volvo heart is pumping as Djes sits ready to cast off from Rotterdam Noord.

The view inside Djes

The view inside just as The Voyager steps to the helm to take her out for a bit of drive.

the square

Church and state in Delft. The cathedral towers over the ornate Stadshuis.

crowd gathers outside the Bulldog in Amsterdam

Small crowd gathers in front of the Bulldog in Amsterdam. What’s the attraction? I couldn’t get in.

don't try the truffles. I think they are off.

I heard these truffles are sourced using hallucinating pigs. They don’t seem to work well in scrambled eggs. I suspect they are off.

Street Sweeper number one, Amsterdam

Street sweeper number one, Amsterdam.

Entry to the main square, Delft complete with twin eggs or are they boobs.

Entry to the main square, Delft. Are these twin eggs or are they blue boobs?

Sitting in a boat yard in Rotterdam Noord having a couple of beers with Bob. Bob is an ex Aussie who came to Holland decades ago to marry. For more than 20 years he drove long distance trucks to everywhere from Saudi to Karachi. At home he lived above the dry cleaning shop his wife owned and operated. She died last year and at 66, Bob cut off his ass length braid and moved out of the flat to take up residence in a 13 m flat-bottomed barge he was fixing up. Together we sat in the Cafe de Waterklerk, at the edge of the boat haven that was home while we prepared Djes for the trip to the Black Sea.

Bob was a wealth of information. “Check out the tide tables, mate. They run hard up river at Rotterdam and will take you well up the wayl. You’ll save money on petrol and make good time.”

The plan was to take the Djes up the various tributaries that tangle out from Rotterdam and then move her to Papendrecht, her home port on the Noord channel.  Figured the run would be about four hours maybe five tops.

As it stood, the boat was having some minor electrical problems and in need of a few things like a new propane system, a thing of which the Dutch are very fearful. Even the big Correct store where the crew had picked up charts and a marine almanac couldn’t be of much help. They advised to get more battery power and go electrical – a cost of 300 Euro. They had hoses and couplings, but nothing like we have in Canada and I could quickly see why they had such trepidation. Most set ups were simple screw on attachments at one end and an open end at the other to just fix on some stove or heater with a universal clamp to make it secure. I passed.

Back at the yard, we spoke to Jasper, the diesel mechanic that had looked the engine over yesterday. “I will see what can be done,” he said. Indeed, the next morning the Voyager dragged his sorry ass out of the boat to find a new tank, filled with a proper coupling and regulator just sitting at the bow in the grass. “I think this is what you need,” Jasper said, refusing any payment except for a few Euro for the gas.

He then came over to make sure the engine was running properly. I had been having trouble with the start.

“Did you turn the key?”

“Yes,” we said, feeling a bit stupid.

Jasper came aboard. He took a look around and said,” This is comfortable how you have fixed. I think you will do well. I like this boat very much. It will take you where you need to go. Just remember to be gentle. Treat like you really love her and she will give it back to you.”

Over the past couple of days we had been fiddling around with wires and other things to try get the motor to fire. We weren’t having a lot of success. The key would turn, the lights would display, but there was no movement. We all knew it was something simple. And as Jasper turned the key and the engine fired to life, we were now sure of it. “You must first turn the key to make this light go off. This means the plugs are glowing. Wait one minute. Then push the key in and turn more.” We had not been doing any of this.The Djes now sat with her Swedish Volvo heart purring at the jetty. She was ready.

We ferried 75 litres of diesel from the petrol station down the road and made a few last minute goodbye’s. Bob had been helpful. For instance, beside general info he had gone to his boat and got me a new bin for food. “Save you the walk,” he said. Piet the cafe’s owner had just been a good guy. He spoke little English, but poured a fine Heineken and introduced me to the other regulars who either lived on their barges or spent their days at the yard puttering in some way or other. Everyone seemed to gravitate to the cafe and its brown wood walls and wood stove. In the small room next door was where Jasper and Peter sat when they weren’t rebuilding diesel motors or having boats painted. They had let me use the toilet and kitchen in their small office. They had helped with having my fuel tanks cleaned and new filters installed. In fact, the two had really stepped up to help get the Voyager on his way. Now it was time to push off.

Leaving is often simpler than coming. When you come you have to discover the lay of the land and build some linkages. There are people to meet and things to get done. When you leave, that’s it. And that’s how it was on Thursday March 7 around 3:00. We had been warned that the lock keepers were on winter hours and that we would likely have to wait till Friday to leave. We couldn’t accept this and the trip was a day behind as it was. So, the Voyager stepped off the dock and onto Djes. In the wheelhouse, he pushed the huge tractor-stye gear lever into reverse and backed out of the slip to meet the current. As the bow swung around the helmsman pushed the the lever forward setting this trip on course for Rotterdam and Papendrecht.

 

 

London I’m So Over You

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Easy Jet helped make the ride all the more relaxing by allowing me to wear my Personal Padding Allowance (PPA)

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The Green Parrot

 

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The Bisham Abbey Nav School, Marlow

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Winchester Cathedral your bringing me down, man.

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Some creepy gargoyle in Winchester. Actually, it was one of a pair that were guarding a door at ancient hospital of St. John

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Ahh, the canals of Winchester.

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If Liz and Phil are rockin’, don’t come knockin’

Home to the richest bishop in town. "I 'er 'e 'as gold on his 'oly boot scrappers, gov."

Home to the richest bishop in town. “I ‘er ‘e ‘as gold on his ‘oly boot scrappers, gov.”

 

Over the years the Voyager’s relationship with London has been an off again on again affair that underlies feelings that the city is a greasy old bitch. For decades he has come to the city as both a traveler with back pack and holes in his pockets and on business where he moved about in a Mercedes and dined well. Always he came with the prospect of meeting up with an old friend, only to leave with feelings of being emptied. This time was no exception.

True, the crew’s time in Marlow at Bisham Abbey Nav training was enjoyable with great people and surroundings. Training was excellent with a day spent on the Green Parrot, a Mitchell 22 with a 40hp Perkins diesel. The Thames really gave it up with rushing flood waters and manse lined shoreline. The small harbours were filled with newly acquired Dutch barges (the English have discovered you can get more foot of boat per pound sterling if you go to the continent for barges). Lovely.

The crew also found Winchester to be an idyllic small town with Roman walls, Medieval buildings galore and a stunning cathedral – ‘Winchester Cathedral, you’re bringing me down
You stood and you watched as my baby left town
You could have done something but you just didn’t try
You didn’t do nothing, you let him walk by’ (Geoff Stephens).

The crew should have left it at that and gone to Heathrow to drop the car before heading to Harwich and the ferry. Not to be. On the way a sign said ‘Windsor Castle’. Too good to resist, the crew headed off to see if Liz and Phil were home. The plan was Knock on Ginger. After ringing the bell, we would hide in the bushes and laugh as Prince Philip opened the door only to look around finding nobody. Maybe we could leave a bag of flaming poo. Disappointment awaited us as we drove farther and farther down the road. We passed Ascot and other sites before coming to Windsor, the fortress and its souvenir shops. The castle was magnificent its true, but we could not find the front door and  the gun-totting Royal Guardsmen were off-putting. Drat. Time to leave. If only we could find the car.

The curse had now returned. After such a peaceful afternoon amid the swans of Winchester the scold that is London had me and the crew fretting about the whereabouts of the car. Following the pleasant days in Marlow and Winchester the Voyager had decided to give England her due and let bygones be bygones. Now we in the weeds, lost and desperate to find the the world’s largest airport and it was proving to be a needle in a haystack. And, while it was undoubtedly another case of Voyager Stupidity™, it was wishfully  suspected that it was my irreverence to the crown that had me cursed. If only I could just accept the fact that they were given their lands and power through the magic of The Lady of the Lake and have held them over the centuries by merit I could I set my thoughts aside. Matters at hand, we had now searched the streets for almost one hour and still the VW Polo was hidden from view. Finally, we came around a corner, went through an arched tunnel and pushed back a construction tarp to find the Polo sitting right where we had left it. We were back on the road.

The delay was to prove costly. Hopelessly lost in the dark we roamed the forested roadways for another hour before finding the massive M4. Then it was another half hour to find the M25 and the road to Heathrow. The Voyager was beyond tired and the entire experience was getting to be a little too much to handle. The crew still had to find the car rental site (nb. when they say the car rental firm is in the terminal don’t believe them) and then take 100 pounds of luggage through the tube to Liverpool Street station and the train to Harwich. The signs were getting better as we drove and after  much swearing from other motorists (how many ways can one be called an arse?) the entry to Heathrow appeared and we pulled into AVIS. However, we had forgotten to fuel up. This would incur a nasty penalty from the rental co, so we set off to find petrol. An hour later (drove all the way to Runnymede for gas) we were back.

Some businesses run on the understanding that their customers have needs. Not so, AVIS Heathrow. It was close to 45 minutes to check the car over and get a receipt. Next the shuttle driver was late and then he had to use the loo. By this time it was 9:00 and I could not see how we could make the ferry for an 11:45 sailing. ‘No problem,” said the man at Heathrow’s transit information. “Take the Piccadilly line to Holborn and change to Liverpool Street. Have you there in a jif and you should be in time to catch the last train to Harwich.” We set off for a seemingly endless number of stops and then a long walk to do the change. Got to Liverpool Street and was sullenly told I’d just missed the train. “Tomorrow, mate. Train leaves at 6:38. Don’t be late for this one.”

Pulled the bags out of the ticket area and looked around at the open air train hall. Where to spend the night? Above, a sign said waiting area, so we set off to find it. When we got there they were taking all the chairs and tables away. “What’s up?,” we asked. “Station’s closing in an hour. Can’t stay here.”  Outside it was raining. We made some inquiries. “Where could we find a cheap hotel that was near-by?”

“This is London, mate. Nothing’s cheaper than 100 quid.”

Out the end of the hall we spied a well-known budget hotel brand. We headed out into the night to see what could be done.  On entering we discovered you could not book directly with the hotel. One had to go to the computers along the wall and make a reservation via the Internet. We asked all the same. The clerk said Ok and looked. 118£ was the cheapest. We explained the situation and started talking. He was Islamic and wanted me to examine the Holy Koran. We discussed the nature of the soul and need for greater compassion as well as other topics while we stood at the desk. At this point a man comes around the corner with his bags, drops his key card on the desk and says, “Checking out.” We seized the opportunity. “Why not let us have the room. We’ll be out by 5:00.” The clerk looked up and said,”You will have to be out by 3:00. That’s when I finish.” He showed us the room which was a bit destroyed from the previous guest’s sexxy sexxy fun time.  Foil condom wrappers sat crumpled on the night stand and used Trojans floated in the toilet. We were too tired to care. The clerk said good night and left us to have a glass of wine and a sandwich from the provision store in the crew’s backpack.

At 3:00 there was a sharp knock on the door and it was time to go. Had managed to score two hours of sleep. We told him we’d be right down. Grabbing a quick shower, we packed up and left. The clerk was waiting in the lobby. We thanked him and set off into the chill early morning of London’s east end. Pulling 100 pounds of luggage is not fun in an airport. Its less fun over cobble stones. We went back to the station and sat in the rain to think the day over. As the sun began to lighten the sky a cafe appears. We head over to get out of the damp. Amazing how quickly a strong latte will buoy your spirits.

At 6:00 we paid the cafe and moved across to the station for the leg to Harwich. True to their word, Greater Anglia Rail had a train ready to go and we set off at 6:38. Slow at first and then faster as the train left the grey suburbs of London behind. The day seemed to be working in our favour. We were tired, but with a seven hour ferry ride ahead and the opportunity to sit back and recharge things could have been worse. Just then, the train came to a halt and we were all asked to remove ourselves from the carriages. “What!”

I had just been speaking with Grete, a woman on her way to work in Harwich Town. She had her bike and we discussed riding in Britain. We nattered on till we were asked to leave the train. Both of us were facing a challenge. We had to catch the 9:00 ferry ad she had to get to a new job. We both went over to the rail office to see what could be done. As it turned out – nothing. The next train was at 9:00, they would not phone a taxi, had not made arrangements for their passengers and wanted us out of their offices. “Could you get your car and just drive us? Its only 15 minutes,” we pleaded.

“You must be daft. Can’t take passengers in private car. Not allowed.”

In the end the Voyager scuttled to the front of the station and hitched a ride. This proved to be a bit of a challenge. Most people drove off without even looking, some were incredulous, one was a good guy who said hop in. John was a geologist on leave who had driven his son to the station after discovering the train had not come to Harwich. As we talked fracking and tar sands he broke the land speed record between Manningtree and Harwich. Still, the crew arrived three minutes too late to make the boat and watched as it pulled away from the docks.

In the terminal, we approached the nice people at Stena Ferry to inquire about things. “If the station had called we would have held the ship for 15 minutes. We had no idea you were coming. Your booking was through Greater Anglia. You should speak to them. They are downstairs.”

We went down. The office was indeed down and the woman at the window was as grim and solemn as the grave. “Help you?” she asked.

“Yes, I missed the ferry because the train broke down and I’d like a refund. ”

“Not here. You’ll have to write them a letter.”

We complained a bit more and then left to go back upstairs to discuss with Stena. They were willing to put me on the next boat in 14 hours and eat the difference in the cost. “Thanks,” we said.

However, by this time I had enough and wanted to be done with England and her wicked snarly bits. The decision was made to fly. iPhone in hand we had found a flight for 69£ that left at 3:00 from South End. Went back to Greater Anglia and asked about the train. “Yes, we have one in 20 minutes from platform 2. I can write you a travel voucher for journey. Give me ticket.”

The ticket was handed over and she wrote a voucher for rail keeping my 59£ ferry ticket in the process. Now that the voucher had been written, it could not be refunded and returned. She could not give me the ticket back either. We left to find out about Easy Jet at South End.

Easy Jet ain’t so easy. The terminal is a tiny commuter facility that seemingly services only two airlines – Easy Jet and Aer Lingus. We had tried for hours to book the ticket on-line with the iPhone, but kept getting Easy Jet server errors, a fact that drained the battery and used up precious data time. No matter, we here now and stepped up to the counter. Behind the service counter sat three ‘mean girls’. They were 20ish sour faced binge drinkers suffered their daily hangovers. They took great pleasure in hassling the crew with details like a 26 kilo weight overage and a carry-on bag that would not fit in the Hindenburg let alone an overhead compartment. Facing a massive cost to fly, the Voyager elected to wear almost all the clothes in the bags to reduce the weight in the suitcases. Now, standing at the check-in counter, The Voyager was clad in four jackets, four pants, four sweaters and full rain gear including a bib. Fees were brought down, but the cost to fly remained high as he sweated and dripped under all the clothes. More, the Voyager’s passport went missing after security and had to take it all off and put it all on again during boarding line-up. He had to step out of line, and undress in the waiting area under the disbelieving stares of the other passengers. Passport found and off to Holland.

As the plane left the runway the crew looked out to fields and suburbs of South End London and gave it the finger. “F you London. I’m so over you.”, he said realizing that he had said the same thing every time he left yet still came back again and again to this bitch that is London.

 

 

 

 

 

Arguments are down the hall

lady in blue raises a grandmotherly stink with her racist overtones

lady in blue raises a grandmotherly stink with her racist overtones

small crowds did not daunt the Voyager

small crowds did not daunt the Voyager

25000 nuclear warheads could really spoil your day

25000 nuclear warheads could really spoil your day

Not kind to the Prophet

Not kind to the Prophet

Arguments are down the hall in the well-worn Monty Python sketch. In London they are just off Oxford street in Hyde Park along the fence. There, the fruity and the fascinating gather for a bit of shouting and rough and tumble conversation. On Sunday morning the Voyager was among them.

The crew arrived early after a sleepless flight from the wilds of Pearson airport. Jet lagged and dog-breathed the crew sat in a cafe across the way from the famed site of democratic free speech. This is a spot that saw Marx, Lenin and Orwell spout their stuff from soap boxes to Sunday morning crowds. It was here that workers were roused and the British government was forced to extend the civic franchise to all men (unfortunately women would have to wait). This morning the crew was looking for a damn good rousing and so it was a case of three espresso, a quick write of a few thoughts and then off to find an audience in the park.

What the crew discovered was a quiet state along the fences. The  early morning was freezing with a bit of wet snow in the air and people were bundled for walking or dressed in full cold weather gear for running. The horsey set who road their mounts along sandy paths were out in woolens and ear flaps and their rides were covered in extra blankets. The crew was undaunted. We set up the camera on a tripod to capture the event and then set about trying to raise a crowd. “Hey, come over here and see me make a complete jackass of my self,” the Voyager was heard to say to one group. “No, we are from Norway,” they said scurrying in the opposite direction. “Was ist mit dir. Kommen hier und hören,” another group was asked in the crew’s hastily learned German. They were from Klagenfurt in Austria and they came over looking amused. Another couple joined them and the Voyager began his rant.

Unlike the real speakers who come to the Corner every Sunday morning and early afternoon the Voyager used his notes until he could get the engine of blab going full rev. “Wake, Up! I stand before you this morning to ask you to open you eyes and ears and experience the freedom that is innate in us all. Consciousness is not a gift. Look beyond the chimera that is consumerism and seek to master your lives. Make life do your bidding,” he said as the crowd thinned to nothing. The presentation was simply too half-baked and uninteresting to people who came to watch the real show that was now starting to build.

Beyond the square along the fences, people had set up placards and stood on kitchen ladders to address any who would listen. Much more practiced that the Voyager, there was an Imam preaching his brand of religion across from a raving woman who hurled Christian-based abuse in his direction. “The prophet is an ass,” she screamed. To which a man came over and asked her quietly to stop insulting Mohammed. She began the argument with spit flying out of her mouth as she quoted scripture and received support from those near by who shook their bibles at the Islamic man. “Please, we are happy to listen to your views, but do not insult our prophet,” he implored.

In another corner a white-haired woman in a light blue woolen overcoat stood her ground amid a large group. She spoke on ceaselessly on the plight of modern England, the troubles of immigration, the uselessness of the current generation and democracy. The Voyager called her out on the sham of democracy and the need for greater consensus in our societies. “And what society is that? I hear an American accent. Don’t think you can come here and tell us anything,” she spit back. The Voyager offered that in truly free societies the minority is not shut out, but has respect and a voice. “What minorities?”
she barked. “This is just the problem isn’t it. Too many damn minorities trying to tell us all what to do,” she said missing the point completely.

Along another fenced area stood a young Irish man. Hooded and clad in jeans and leather, he spoke on the rise of nationalism in the modern state in the face of globalization. Far from nutty he was more like Daniel O’Conner, the 18th c. father of the modern Irish state. He was reasoned and respectful of his audience and in true Irish form he was able to quietly bring his arguments around through anecdotes and homespun wisdom. His was an address that sneaked up from behind and surprised you into agreement.

To be sure, the Voyager was outgunned and outclassed in every regard no matter how loony the other presenters were. Really, the crew was operating an abuse service this Sunday morning where people were more terrorized than pleased by the sight of an unshaven man in a puffy parka spout a bunch of gibberish and half-baked prattle. In the face of the Voyager’s sorry ability to communicate people were left like those in the Monty Python skit to go down the hall for a really good argument.

Check out this you tube to see the lady in blue hassle the crowd:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouj2kl0UxEs