Midsummer day

Not quite the land of the midnight sun, but dawn broke at 5.19 this morning,  flooding the sleeping cabin with light.  There are four portholes, and a large overhead glass hatch.

The bed when I’m not in it

Not being a naturally early riser, I pull the quilt over my head, but even I respond to the longer days, and was voluntarily up and working by early morning – not at all like me!

These days I’ve been doing quite a few things not at all like me.

For instance,  I watched a football game. It was the second (and crucial) game for the Netherlands in the European Football championships,  and HO and I went to watch it at a pub, with friends.  Those of you in North America erase from your minds images of sports bars…. This was the 3rdoldest pub in Amsterdam, so it had 3 small tables and a few bar stools.  A dozen people in there and it’s

I even wore this silly clip


Part way through the game, impressed with my own brilliant analysis of the players and strategy etc, I realized that I’d never actually seen a whole football game before – anywhere.  However it worked exactly as I’d always been led to believe these things go.  22 men chase a white ball round a field, and in the end, Germany wins.   And so it was.

Keeping up my new-found sporty nature, on Saturday HO and I did a MASSIVE bike ride. Well, it was massive for me, nothing much for HO.  We took our bikes on the fast ferry (hydrofoil) to where the river Ij meets the sea.  HO plans his 65th birthday party in September in a beach restaurant which is near the ferry stop there.

Scene of the birthday party-to-be

Well, near the ferry stop, but on the other side of the waterway.  We wanted to check out local transport/bike route options to see if that’s feasible for people coming from Amsterdam.  Short answer is it’s 20km, you have to detour round the massive steelworks, take 2 local ferries and cycle like the wind (which you hope is at your back)  to manage to catch the last fast ferry back to Amsterdam at 18.20 or else you’re stuck.  Try doing all that in a frock and heels. So no.  Not a practical way to get to the birthday party.

Weather’s been occasionally sunny so the pots on the quayside are doing well.

But personally I felt magnificent for having cycled so far.   There were even HILLS.  (Well, roads through the sand dunes.) I  allowed the saddle on my bike to be put up a bit from the lowest position possible to NEARLY the lowest position possible, and was amazed at the efficiency gain. And I only fell off once.  Really, someone should have given me a yellow jersey.

On other fronts:   My dad is home from hospital which is a big relief to everyone.  He still has some rocky days.   Still, to look on the bright side,  hopefully soon he’ll be walking better and less painfully than he was before his fall.

Empty nest!

No sight of the swans for the last two weeks.  I am pleased that I had a glimpse of them then, and that all 7 young were still thriving.  No ducklings or baby coots either, so I guess I’m officially an empty nester. But here is a mystery: Swans have gone but no geese have re-appeared.  And last night I was on a bike ride (yes, again!  I’m getting really sporty) to explore the neirhbourhood a bit more, and the patch of grass where the geese usually hang out was not only goose-free, it was goose-shit free.  Either those swans had an even greater impact than I thought, or the city has been putting out goose-poison.  I’m going to investigate!

The alleged couch

My couch has been in constant use.  A colleague was ‘between flats’ for a couple of days,  he is new to the organisation and I probably wouldn’t have got the chance to know him otherwise, so that was a real pleasure.   And then I had a couchsurfing family,  mum, dad and two lovely daughters from the US.  It was such a delight to have them here.  They were all lovely and the girls were wonderfully enthusiastic and engaging, a real energy burst.

Flowers left by guests

Went out with HO’s boat again on Sunday.  (I didn’t tell you before, but the handle to the outboard motor was stolen one night by some drunken wag.  It cost about 300 Euros to replace.)  The weather was nice and we stayed away from low bridges, slappy waves and other hazards.  Much more pleasant than the boat ride with Geoff, though I sort of missed not kneeling in an apple pie!

And I’ve left the two best bits for last.  While I was out on that famous bike-ride I had a phone call from Joost, the boat’s owner.  He tells me that they are really loving life in Hungary and will only be back in Amsterdam for a few months this winter.  While here, they will stay on Richard’s boat next door.  Richard is from Los Angeles, where he is a session musician on Hollywood film scores. He loves Amsterdam, but not the cold weather so he’s away for the winter.  So I can stay here – at least through until the end of next summer!   Brilliant!

Kitchen for preparing sandwiches

Finally, the very best thing, my daughter arrives on Saturday,  and my son on Wednesday.  I am so looking forward to seeing them both.  I was very worried that I couldn’t remember what they like to eat, only that they are fussy eaters.  Then I remembered – when they were kids I could always get them to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into the shape of a teddy bear.   Problem solved! 

Don’t believe in fairy tales….

We all know about the ugly duckling. Well,  perhaps SOME swans have that kind of offspring, but the beauties nesting on Nashatram have perfectly lovely grey and white young,  with especially alert expressions in their charming dark eyes.  Or perhaps I’m just a fond grandparent. Every time I get a chance I anxiously count the chicks.  Survival can’t be taken for granted, but happily there are still seven little ones.

All off for a swim! Junior leads the way.

I can identify three quite distinctly.  Junior is darker than the others and clearly the bold one.  He’s first into the water and last out, and loves to roll over and over crazily, splashing all around him.  Another has a gummy looking patch on the down on the back of her head, as if it hasn’t quite dried since she first hatched – she is called Egg-Head.

Snowy on mum’s tail

And Snowy — well, you can guess what he looks like.  He’s also smaller and likes to be close to mum.  The other four are to my eyes indistinguishable from one another.  See later in the post for more exciting details of bird-life on board.

Ieva has published her article about houseboats in Amsterdam, complete with lots of terrific pictures.  Of course, the article is written in Lithuanian, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it anyway! http://www.grynas.lt/gyvenimas/lietuves-ispudziai-amsterdame-gyvenimas-ant-vandens.d?id=58724495

Geoff in the Nieuwe Markt

This week, my friend Geoff has been visiting.  He was a real trooper during the week I moved out of my flat in Wales,  and for that reason if no other, I have resolved to spoil him rotten while he’s here.   .

As Geoff sails,  lives on his yacht and is currently staying on a houseboat – clearly what he needed was a RIDE on a boat along the canals.   HO obliged with his boat and, as the perfect boyfriend should, he had packed a big picnic, including a traditional Dutch apple tart.  Once we were underway along the canals, I unpacked the food, which was a challenge because there wasn’t actually enough space for all the food  so the apple tart needed to be put on the seat next to me.

An apple tart -‘Before’.

Though the scenery was of course lovely, we were rather cold, so HO tried – but failed – to get us moored alongside a restaurant where we could warm up over a coffee. While attempting this manouevre, the waves slapped the boat about, and the apple tart flew off the seat and landed -FLOTS! – flat on the floor.   Miraculously, the tart was right side up and unharmed.  We decided  to nip back to HO’s place to eat the apple tart with some hot coffee there.

Setting off down the most direct canal route we encountered a low bridge ahead.  The thing about ‘Friendship’ is that her motor has a tail slightly too short for the boat.  To keep the prop in the water, there are metal slabs weighting her down at the stern, therefore the bow sits up out of the water. As we approached the bridge, it was clear the bow was too high, so Geoff and I moved forward to bring the bow lower.

Geoff being a galley-slave on Nashatram.

Of course, that meant that our heads were now the highest thing, so we ducked as low as we could – which was easier for me than him. I placed my hand protectively over the top of his head, while I knelt in the boat as low as possible.   HO inched forward – even at his end of the boat he needed to crouch down – and we just made it with no room to spare.  Coming up on the other side, I was mightily relieved that we hadn’t given Geoff a bruise on the head.  However, I had an unaccountable sensation of dampness on my right knee.  And that;’s when I noticed that I was kneeling in the apple tart.  (Nevertheless, we took it home and ate it all up!  So there is no ‘after’ picture!)

After that, our adventures were more mundane –  visits to small towns, a castle, into the centre of Amsterdam, through the red light district, an evening of Irish dancing etc.

Nashatram’s ‘garden’ along the quayside.

On the last two days of Geoff’s visit, the cool spring weather (really it felt more like winter!) has given way to beautiful sunshine and temperatures in the upper 20’s.  Having been outside a bit more, I’ve discovered that at the stern end of Nashatram, one of the small floating island gardens has been appropriated by a family of coots.  There are five little ones, with their slightly disturbingly bum-like bald heads surrounded by an explosion of gingery feathers. 

Meanwhile, this morning, after the swan family had left for the day, a duck and seven ducklings decided to occupy their nest.  It’s getting to be like an avian maternity ward round here!   So of course,  I took a picture!  Here it is, and to finish, some more photos of the swans. Take that,  Hans Christian Andersen!

Congratulations everyone – the eggs have hatched!

It happened right on time (well, right on time once I had got the maths right!) this weekend.  Seven eggs hatched successfully.  Beautiful fluffy grey and white cygnets, with stumpy, fuzzy bums that they wiggle enthusiastically at the world, any time they are allowed out from under their mum’s protective body.

Our first outing with mum…..  (Photo credit – Ieva)

Ieva was staying on the boat this weekend while HO whisked me off to the lovely city of Maastricht.  So to her goes the honour of the first sighting, and the first photo.  I hope she will soon write a guest blog about the experience.  I am now going to post some absurdly sweet pictures of the cygnets.  More info on Maastricht after all the sugar.

Photo credit these three photos… Ilona’s camera used by Jo (thanks Ilona!)


…..and so on!

Meanwhile,HO and I were on een grote uitje  (a big little outing…) to Maastricht.  This smallish city is in the southernmost part of the Netherlands – the part that hangs in a sort of pouch between Belgium and Germany, like a cultural hernia. Because of these other influences, and because of the political and economic development of the region happening at a later time than most of the country, it’s rather un-Dutch in many ways.

For one thing, it has hills.  Not big hills, but by local standards, definitely hills.  I should know because HO rented a bike and rode all over Maastricht with me on the back. It was jolly hard work holding on, I can tell you, as he laboured up these inclines. But I managed without a word of complaint. I’m good like that. No, really…..

The city itself is charming, with lovely squares, interesting churches and a rich history. People are smartly dressed, and it has a sophistication beyond its size.We heard the Limburg Symphony one evening, and saw a locally written and produced play the next. And we ate lots of asparagus – this being the start of the season, and the region being the epicentre of production.   Lots more, too, from a boat ride on the river, a tour through miles and miles of defunct sandstone mines (‘Hop on the back of the bike’ said HO.  ‘We have to go to the opening of the mountain’.  It made me feel like I was following the Pied Piper, but off we went.)

They gave HO a light to be in charge of in the tunnels – he was very pleased.

A lovely weekend away, marred only somewhat by the fact I had a bad cold. The start of the weekend was less terrific,  we went to Floriade – a once a decade horticultural exposition that isn’t too far from Maastricht.  Though there were some nice bits, and you can see that the flowers will really be great in June, the overt commercial ‘push’ of the event really got up our noses rather too much. And since my nose was already stuffed up with the cold, it was a good thing that I had also lost my voice, because it left space for HO to complain!

Here are some pictures of the nice bits – and now, back to swan watching for me!

Being the perfect boyfriend, HO naturally knows how to go shopping for flowers!

Ok, one last cheap poke at the commercialism…..

Queen’s Day

On the Queen’s birthday, I saw a lot of willies. More, in fact, than I’ve seen in any one day  since I stopped working in health care.

They were being held out over various canals to relieve their owners of too much beer, and HO was very worried.  He’d just learned a new ‘weetje’ (factoid). Each year, 15 men die after falling in Amsterdam canals – something to do with booze, the blood pressure lowering effect of taking a pee, and – well – standing so close to a canal.  So each time we witnessed such an activity, HO courteously – but unsuccessfully – attempted to inform them about the imminent danger.

Partying on land and water

I couldn’t really blame the lads for wanting to take an alfresco leak. It was an absolutely beautiful day, the kind of day that makes you want to not turn your back on a moment of it.  Everyone agreed that the Queen must have special influence with the weather gods, since it’s been nearly the only nice day so far this year.

Strangely, this was my first ever Queen’s day.  Something to do with not usually being here while there’s a public holiday and the office is closed.  But it was marvelous. On this day, the Dutch celebrate their monarch’s birthday by a) partying,  b) buying and selling second hand stuff,  c)wearing orange,  d) partying,  e) taking to the canals in boats, and  f) partying.  Who am I to judge?

The Dutch letting their hair down

HO lives pretty much in Queen’s Day Central – the Jordaan.area of Amsterdam, and our day actually started the night before when we went out to gawp at the crowds filling the streets, listening to music performances that throbbed into the small hours of the morning.

Wearing orange for the first time since the ’70’s

The next day, in wonderful sunshine, I did my best to fulfill as many Queen’s day traditions as possible.  I bought some of other people’s old crap.  I wore orange. I helped sell a rather strange frame for which HO wanted to get 1 Euro – he was determined to sell it before we could go for a boat ride.  For a perfect boyfriend, he can be a bit stubborn!

(When I say ‘helped sell’ – I mean I secretly begged his son’s friend to offer him a Euro for it, since clearly no one else was going to buy it, and I thought we might never get the boat going. HO didn’t suspect a thing.)

Even Christine (to whom all photo credits from Queen’s Day) couldn’t sell the frame

And then we had a marvelous boat ride with some friends coming along, some snacks and some wine.  The canals were packed with every sort of boat, and the canal streets were absolutely full of people partying. And in some cases peeing, as outlined above.

One of the less crowded canals

We avoided the solid mass of water-borne celebrants on the main canals, and taking a slightly less central route across Amsterdam towards Nashatram.  We had a wonderful time, though there was an especially exciting bit where HO decided to head down a narrow one way canal while a large tour boat was bearing down on us.  And this is how we found out that the outboard motor works ok in reverse, too, even when HO is using a piece of plastic pipe to steer.

Captain HO aboard the “Friendship”, steering with plastic pipe.

It was nice to see Nashatram from the water, the canal was quiet as it is nearly blocked off by the closure of the two closest access points.  We tied up nearby and had a picnic, before heading back to HO’s home to end the day in a very holiday mood.

At the end of the day – Land Ahoy!

Nashatram from the water  – Swan nest at centre

Now for the promised swan update:

1. They are still sitting. Sitting is still boring. They attempt to relieve the boredom by dragging strange objects into the nest.  Most recently a whole leek.  Where did they get a whole leek from?  They also had a go with part of a tree – nearly 2m long, but this defeated them when it got wedged between the boat and the floating garden.  As I write, the cob (male) is trying to persuade one of the ropes that holds the floating garden that it too wants to be part of the nest.  Unfortunately for him, it’s attached at both ends. The pen (female) is looking at him with one eye closed, as if to say ‘Can’t you get a proper hobby, Cyril?’.

2. There are definitely 8 eggs – we managed to take a photo while the swans were ‘changing guards’ on the nest.

3. Re-calculated hatching date – May 12th.  I’ll probably be out of town. Anyone want to stay on the boat to keep watch?

Eight eggs – and a leek!

And other news –

Yesterday, HO and I set off for Utrecht, to the opening of his friend’s photo exhibition.  We were also looking forward to seeing the spectacular building in which it was being held,  shown on the invite.  wW drove all over Utrecht, looking for this architectural wonder.  We eventually found the address – a drab,old furniture factory in a light-industrial zone.  The spectacular building could be seen in one of the photos in the exhibition – it’s the Beijing Opera house.  Doh!

The Artist, HO and me at the opening. Yes I am that short. And Dutch people are that tall.




Nashatram is now a very clean girl as I spent over two hours today sweeping and washing her roof and decks. I’m making progress with the quayside gardens too, so things are starting to look very nice.

Canadians in Kerry (photo credit: Kathy)

This weekend is the Port Magee Dance Workshop weekend.   A year ago, a wonderful group of friends from Canada and I went to this event.

View from ‘our’ cottage

Our time in this lovely part of Ireland, with the very special people there, was something that I think none of us will ever forget.

It’s the kind of place where there’s not much to do, and after a week you haven’t done it all yet.  The dancing was really fun, and the weather was kind to us – but not as kind as the hearts of the folks I was with.

Bridge Bar and Moorings – Port Magee, Co Kerry

I’m posting these pictures from that visit, with fond memories and love to all in Ottawa and Kerry.


Let’s face it, there’s only  one event that’s really mattered last week,  and it was HO’s decoration ceremony.   Well, his and 66 other no doubt worthy people, but as far as I was concerned,  his was the only one that counted.

HO by the way was also rather excited.  As he said, it was surprising how fast that he managed to reconcile his pleasure at hearing he was on the Queen’s birthday honours list with his staunch view in favour or a republic!   So on Friday morning we got up early.  Even though I had (to the horror of some female members of my family) not bought a new outfit for the occasion,  I had for quite some time decided that I would wear my red dress.  I felt it was in keeping with the dress code stated on the invite:  “Feestelijk”    — festive.

HO on the other hand had not decided what to wear.  So that morning we pulled out jackets (the red velvet was appealing, but perhaps too ‘costumey’), shirts (I did feel the final choice ought to at least look like it had seen an iron) and more jackets (the blue velvet was a close contender, but lacked a suitable pair of trousers to accompany).   In the end, HO chose his light grey suit, which has a dramatic red satin lining, a dark shirt with a white pattern and a white silk tie.

Then he sat down to polish his shoes. With black polish.  Near the white silk tie.  I held my breath.  Fortunately, disaster did not descend, and a few minutes later we set off, on his bike, me sitting sidesaddle on the back and holding his tie to prevent it flapping.

There was already a crowd outside the Beurs van Berlage when we arrived, and HO knew a few of them as well as his family and friends who were there to cheer him on.  Probably because of the sociable but time consuming Dutch tradition of greeting each other with three kisses, we had strict instruction to be there early. At 8.45 we trooped indoors and shown to our seats.  HO and I were put to sit in the front row, I thought it was like at school, where the teacher puts the troublemakers are put in the front to keep an eye on them, but it turned out to be purely alphabetical.  Omitting the ‘van den’, HO counts as a “B” so we were near the start.

Medals, watched over by scary civil servant

Except that the Mayor, who delivers the awards on behalf of the Queen, announced that he was starting with Z and going backwards,  so we had to be patient.  We were sitting near the board upon which all the medals were displayed, and after a while I decoded the system.  There were different ribbon styles for men and women, and medals for the “Members” of the Order of Orange Nassau were slightly smaller than the higher ranked “Knights”.  I began to wonder which HO would get.  I mean, obviously if the award were for being the perfect boyfriend,  he would get a “Super-Knight” or something, but this was about his contributions in the cultural sector,  and I can’t really judge how substantial they have been.

It was surprisingly touching to listen to the 2 minute speeches given by the Mayor about each person in turn, as they came up to the stage and were given the medal, a bouquet and a loot bag.  There was really a diverse range of people – from a man who runs a brain bank (unfortunately only deposits are possible – not loans or withdrawals) to a woman who has made a break through in restoring and conserving plastics in a museum (I thought we had trouble getting rid of plastic, not preserving it!) to a man who had run a sort of charity billiard club for 40 years!

The Mayor

But even though these things sound odd, they had in fact all made a real contribution to their professional fields, communities and society in some way that was quite special.  There was a couple who were given their awards together, for work in their neighbourhood, a dentist who had perfected a bone grafting technique for repairing the jaw in cancer patients, a youngish woman who works from Amsterdam to help protect women prisoners in Morocco, a psychologist who works with children in Serbia, a choreographer, doctor, painter, musician, TV presenter, mime artist… — each of whom had done something exceptional and beyond the general requirements of their profession.

Most awards were the smaller medals – the equivalent of Member of the British Empire or Member of the Order of Canada – and a few were the “Knights”.  As the count backwards through the alphabet continued, we came to a point where only 4 people remained, and 4 medals lined up on the board..  Because we didn’t know the names of the people seated around us, we couldn’t tell who was ahead or behind in the alphabet.  And one award was for a woman, but there was only one Knight.   When the woman seated to our immediate right was called up,  I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen.

Action shot – the medal being pinned

And sure enough,  HO was called up next and after the Mayor read out a speech.  I have no idea what he actually said, because I was so excited I could hardly breathe, let alone translate.  I later found out that it was praise for HO’s work, mentioning in particular the number of volunteer boards he’s been on, what he’s accomplished there and also speaking of his work bringing together the cultural sector with entrepreneurship and business. Then the Mayor announced: “…. you are awarded the honour of Knight”, and pinned a big fat sparkly medal on my boyfriend’s grey lapel!

Sparkly medal and clean white tie

I managed not to cheer out loud,  but took photos and gave HO’s hand a big squeeze when he sat down again.  At first I couldn’t tell if it was him or me shaking so hard, but then he stopped and I could tell the difference when I was the only one trembling!


Afterwards, champers and cake for all the gathered throng, then headed into the red light district (as you do) for a celebratory lunch at a Tapas restaurant with HO’s small group of loyal supporters. Surprisingly, the tie remained crisp and clean throughout the entire proceedings!

View from the top of the ferris wheel

View at the top of the ferris wheel

Much later, a few of us met up again in the Nieuwe Markt, where the existing remnant of the city wall (the “waag”, now a restaurant and no longer used to weigh goods — or witches) presides over a cobbled square.  There was a sort of small fair set up there, with a large tent with live music, Mediterranean themed stalls selling food and drink, and a couple of fun-fair type rides for kiddies.  As the sky started to turn to pink, HO and I climbed into a bucket seat in the world’s smallest and slowest ferris wheel, and slowly rotated above the heads of the crowd.  What a lovely day!

PS –

1. Swans still sitting on their eggs,  will update in the next post.

2. Black eye nearly all healed, inside of mouth catching up.  I’ve added pictures (of eye) to last week’s post.

3. Henk the cat was my new best friend and admirer while his food bowl (and food!) were here.  He’s only an occasional visitor now.  I guess he’s ‘not that into me’.  Sigh.

An ordinary week….

A rather less adventurous week since my last blog entry. No life-changing moves or tooth-shattering falls to report,  but a rather nice week feeling at home on Nashatram.

To start at the end:  As of Sunday night, I have a new on-board companion. His name is Henk,and he usually lives on the boat next door.  This is his second home when his servants are away, and it was my pleasure to accept the role of substitute servant to this black and white feline. He is quite comfortable using the cat-flap (yes, Mum, it’s safely above the waterline!) so all I have to do is feed him.

Earlier this week, HO and I went to the opening night of the Spring Dance festival, in the city of Utrecht. It was billed as an avant garde performance by the Sadler’s Wells ballet company, and I really expected to see a lot of people pretending to be trees, or sprouting seeds or something. However, it was a lot more interesting than that, especially the second half in which there were some really compelling pieces.

The stitches are out of the cut on my forehead, and the bruises are fading. I can’t say enough good things about the modern cosmetics industry.  In the right light, with enough make up, I look almost normal.  Well, almost normal for me. Thanks to those of you who voted on the poll – the winning suggestion is “leave things alone and make up a really good story”.  Yeah right.  As Oscar Wilde said:  “Be sure to accept good advice when it is offered, in order to pass it along to friends. It is never any good for oneself.”

During the week, I noticed that we had most of a packet of left over digestive biscuits, and thinking quickly about how to use them up (since HO follows a low carb diet, and I ought to), I suggested that I should use them to make a cheesecake. I know that sounds like more carbs, but in fact it is the useful concept of shared carbs (TM) because I was offering to make this for HO’s son’s 30th birthday party on Saturday.   As everyone knows, when one makes a food to be eaten with other people – ie shared carbs (TM), it has fewer calories, carbs and grams of fat, than if the same quantity had been eaten without a sharing aspect.   It’s a karma thing.    I think.     Well, anyway.

So on Friday night, at about 9.30pm, I rocked up to HO’s place in order to use his oven to make the cheesecake.  One of Nashatram’s few faults (apart from the lazy water pump and the leaky mains water) is that the oven doesn’t work properly.  So there I was with all the ingredients for the cheescake, except the digestives for the base.  HO was out.

I searched high and I searched low, I phoned HO (who was somewhere loud and didn’t hear) and eventually found the digestives.  Three of them in the bottom of the wrapper.  So much for low carb!  A last minute dash to the supermarket, and the cake was saved!  A ginger-orange cheesecake was produced. The chocolate decorations I made initially looked like sheep droppings, so were hacked into bits,  and the cake glazed with Mel’s clementine marmalade, with the chocolate chips around the edge. That meant a lot of orange and brown going on,  so recipe on request to anyone having a 1970’s evening.

Saturday I had a much-overdue haircut, and of course the hairdresser primped it into a style that ordinary mortals cannot duplicate.  When I returned to the flat, HO immediately said:  “They brought the sunshine back to your hair.”  Lesser men take note — it is the capacity to make this sort of statement, unprompted, that contributes so much to his being the perfect boyfriend, even if he does eat the digestive biscuits.  Naturally, (and with the aid of a lot of make up over the bruises and scar)  I then looked all gorgeous for  HO’s son’s birthday party, which was a very nice event.

From left: Christine, Karina, me (with the new haircut) and Ilona get crafty. Photo credit: Justine

Sunday was the much awaited ‘crafternoon’ on board Nashatram. We were 9 people, and we were lucky to have Christine, who knew one technical trick about beading. Which brought our collective technical trick count to one. Undeterred by the fact we knew nearly nothing about beading, we plunged forward.  I reckon that our primitive ancestors knew nothing about beading either, but they must have found ways to use up their bead collections.   The results were surprisingly good,  especially the items made by Christine and her friend Justine, who have the famous ‘French women’s’ great sense of style.  But the rest of us had a good time too, and each did something with the beads that in the end we felt happy with.  And most importantly, we had fun!

My friend Ieva, who stayed on board while I was in Wales, is writing an article about life on board a houseboat in Amsterdam. In Lithuanian. She asked me (thankfully in English!) what was the most exciting thing about living on board a houseboat, and I really had to think about that.  In the end, I answered that the most exciting thing is that it’s a boat — I know that sounds silly, but it’s the sense of being suspended, not standing on land. At the moment, for instance, I’m sitting at the dining table, and probably my bottom is below the level of the water outside, so I’m cradled by water.

And the unexpected thing is that somehow I feel both separate from the city (of course the garden along the quayside, and the floating island garden along the water side help)  but also because my head is really AT street level when I’m inside the boat, I also feel very connected to the street.  It’s quite an unusual thing in Amsterdam to feel slightly separate from the city, and I like the sense of retreat.

This coming weekend is a bank holiday, for the Queen’s birthday. (UK and commonwealth readers note: Their’s not ours, obv.) I’m told that the city goes nuts with people out on the streets and on the canals.  Many many people sell used items on the streets, a giant once a year city wide boot sale,  and the epicentre of all this is HO’s neighbourhood, the Jordaan.  Apparently it’s barely even possible to walk around, it’s so crowded. Many Amsterdammers and especially the Jordaanese dread the day, but HO says he’s looking forward to seeing it through my eyes.  He is planning to get his new boat in operation so that we can do the canal thing too.

Nearly last and most exciting thing – my daughter is going to visit in late June, and I’m so thrilled.  And my son is likely to visit briefly in June and again in August.  How lucky am I?

And to wrap up –

1. The swans are still sitting.  Sitting is boring.   I’m glad I’m not a swan.

2. Some people have asked about Charlie and about Dark Star. See  http://www.sailblogs.com/member/dark_star/

3.Henk says Miaow to you all, and notes that I should be able to add more pictures to this blog post very soon.

One week after the fall - sans make-up

PS – here are some pictures of my eye

Five minutes later - with make up

Seeing stars

My first week of living ‘only’ on the boat – and I’m very happy to be here.  The swans seem happy too, they are definitely sitting full time on the eggs now, and so the incubation period is underway and there are probably 9 eggs.

This puts the hatching date at about May 5th, perilously close to Queen’s day when all the world and his idiot brother take to the water in Amsterdam on boats big and small.  I may organise a couple of signs for the canal, to try to minimise people zooming along in a way that might tip the floating islands (and the nest) or swamp them.

A busy work week, with another training, this time for a more experienced group of colleagues.  I appreciated the skills and experiences they brought to the program, and used one of the participants as part of a case study (thank you Ilze!) to the benefit of the rest of the group.

The group went out together one evening for dinner and to listen to excellent gypsy jazz played by the husband of one of the participants. It was very enjoyable – see http://www.robinnolan.com/ for details.

On Saturday afternoon, Aslihan and I went to a baby shower for Mareike.  We stopped on the way to buy a gift, at a shop Asli had spied, which seemed to sell nice kid’s clothes.  It turned out to be a second hand shop, which in our world of recycling is even BETTER than new!  Within our budget we bought several adorable and totally as good as new outfits, plus a cute pair of sandals for Mareike’s daughter.

Mel hosted the event at her house – she had done a wonderful job preparing loads of yummy food, and her partner (aka ‘the big guy’) worked magic with the BBQ, with the help of Maia who was most keen to defend her position as Deputy BBQ chief!    Mel is a generous host and talented cook and gardener, and her blog can be found at http://www.ediblethings.net.  Check it out for great recipes.

North Brabant rocks..... loudly!

Sunday afternoon, HO and I went to the  Dutch national arts contest for high school age students.  Each province holds competitions, and the winners in each of several categories come to the finals, held in Amsterdam. We managed to see some impressive orations of literature composed by these young people, creative fashion designs, several short films, a DJ, visual art work and a (really!) heavy metal band from North Brabant. I was sorry we arrived too late to see the dance section, and the auditorium for the theatre performances was completely full.

Practicing for next week, HO looks very handsome as he accepts an "Eternal Hero" award at the youth art competition. Such a magnificent title in exchange for a donation!

Then we watched the final awards, which were as high energy and enjoyable as you would expect.  I wonder which of the participants are the stars of the future?  There is certainly no lack of talent. HO used to be the chairperson of the board for the organisation that runs this event, and we were ‘VIPs’ on that account. It was interesting to talk with different people (including the director of the Melkweg, where the contest was held) to hear a bit about the background work that goes into such a complicated occasion.

Leaving there about 7.30, we headed out for dinner.  And – whoops – as we walked towards the restaurant I caught my toe on a kerb and did a magnificent three-point landing on my eyebrow, cheek and nose.  Some bleeding, some ice applied and a bandaid – and things appeared to be under control though bruising would surely follow.  However, as soon as I started to eat it became apparent that something inside my mouth was disturbingly wrong.

HO was entirely the perfect boyfriend and took care of me most capably – just as well as he later said I looked like “a pigeon who has been struck by lightening”.  He managed to find the only dentist working in Amsterdam at 10 o’clock on a Sunday night, and he organised a car and took me to hospital to be looked after. The saga ended at gone midnight, after a rather gruesome session in the dentist’s chair, while HO sat nearby and made encouraging comments. The dentist was resourceful and cheerful, humming ‘tum-di-dum’ as he went about his business, while using so much local anaesthetic that I think the Dutch medical system may now be in crisis.

A back tooth was cracked, and had to be removed – as quickly as possible since infection was already setting in to the jaw. I tried to play an inner sound track to distract myself during the horrid procedure,  and for some reason the only song I could pull up from my mental i-tunes list was the Elke Brooks number: ‘Pearl’s a Singer’. Over and over again.  Mind you, the part where she belts out the verse in a particularly bues-y way was quite useful in drowning out the noise of the tooth splintering, or the drilling to blast apart the filling which previously held the thing together.

By the end of the procedure, an hour and a half later, my nerves were so shot that I distinctly heard the dental assistant say as they removed the last part: “look, a big carrot” — then I remembered that in Dutch it is the same word for Carrot and  Root.

Finally stitches inside my mouth, and by this time the wound on my forehead had re-opened and it too needed stitches.  Today I have a black eye and a bruised and swollen face, but all things considered it’s not as bad as it could be.  In fact, I have so many antibiotics and painkillers, I’m thinking about falling over again just to get my moneysworth!

Last two points; If my mother is reading this – yes, I was of course wearing both a bike helmet and a lifejacket (even though not on a boat or a bike) and yes, I will remember to be more careful in future.  And some nice news about the group of hitch-hikers I picked up last week in Wales – they made it to their objective of Croatia in under 7 days on their charity journey.  Well done Sarah, Clarissa and Rob!


There has been a certain amount of interest in the progress of my black eye,  and even a suggestion that it may be a cheap publicity stunt to drive attention to my blog.  Just say I’m shocked and appalled at the suggestion.  However, I’m not ABOVE using it as a cheap publicity stunt, so here is a whizzy poll in which you can vote on what I should actually do about the black eye now I have it.  Voting remains open until Sunday afternoon, Amsterdam time.


Easter Eggstravaganza (…..groan!)

This has been a pretty crappy week but even crappy weeks have their good moments, and I am a believer in looking for the joy in life.

The weather was nice nearly all week in Pembroke, and the sun sparkled on the water outside my window.  The sun and the looming holiday weekend brought out many sailors who busily set to making their boats ready for the season.  Quite a few yachts came sailing up the Haven and into the marina, probably from wherever they had been on the hard for the winter or simply from a quick haul-out.

One of these boats was Atanto, built a year ago by her owners – Colin and Jenny – and now circumnavigating the UK.  The boat – and Colin and Jenny – had spent the winter in Milford Marina, and she has just had her first haul out to have her bottom scrubbed and everything checked, re-painted and polished.  And a very smart girl she looked too, when I visited her in the shed a few miles away.

I’d gone there with Geoff, as we were putting some of my boat things into his storage locker in Neyland. I met Geoff last year after I’d (briefly) put an ad up in Milford Marina, asking if anyone needed ‘barely competent’ crew.  Though my work away from Pembroke made it nearly impossible to take him up on his offer, we did eventually manage one day sail.  I admired the dexterity with which he handled his ketch (two-masted yacht), and it was only after our day out that I found he was just a few months shy of 80!

Anyway, Geoff has been a kind friend,  and he is one of the other blessings of this week.  He worked incredibly long and hard to help me with moving things, and I am very touched by this and grateful.The week would have been utterly unbearable without his steady presence, not to mention back-breaking work!

On Wednesday – the only day of rain – Atanto was put back in the water, and came under motor to Milford. Geoff and I were on the pontoon to meet her and take the lines, and to present Colin, Jenny and the boat with a bottle of champagne. Which we later consumed, sitting in their very comfortable wheelhouse. They will be off soon – heading for the South coast of England and then the French canals.  Bon voyage.

The weather brought out the best of the Welsh countryside too, with foamy blackthorn flowers, zingy yellow gorse and pale primroses all in full bloom. The sparkly white lambs couldn’t stop jumping about in the sunshine.  Standing next to them, the ewes looked grey, fat and drab – but then, motherhood does that to you!

Eight eggs!

In Amsterdam, the weather wasn’t so nice, but an exciting update from Ilona.  She SMS’d me: “The swans have found an Easter branch for their nest, and now there are EIGHT eggs!”   And so there are  – she managed to get a quick picture of them while the swans were adding to the cosiness of the nest.

Photo credit (both pics): Ilona

A sad but beautiful moment on Friday, when I visited Charlie.  He had always said he wanted a woodland burial, and so he is in a little bit of heaven on earth, on a hill overlooking the sea. The field is being re-habilitated with native species, so he is under an oak and now there are dark bluebells, lemon primroses, white snowdrops and anemones growing all round. I know I wouldn’t need to explain to Charlie the many painful choices I had to make this week about what to keep and what to let go, but it doesn’t stop my heart from screaming.

Finally leaving Swansea on Saturday, heading to Bristol airport, I was surprised to see three young people hitch-hiking at a bus stop near the university. They had a sign saying ‘M4’ and ‘Charity hitch-hike’, so I stopped and we piled their bags into the car.  They were good company on the drive – Rob, Clarissa and Sara who was dressed as a frog and whose smile lit up the back of the car!  As we set off again, I asked them where they were going.  “Croatia” they replied.    Well, what luck – I’ve driven (well, been driven) to Croatia twice in my life, so I know the way quite well!   As things went, I could only take them as far as the Severn Bridge, but I wish them luck abd admire their spirit..

And then a very exciting thing to report.  HO met me at the airport (that’s not the exciting part, though I was very pleased to see him!) and insisted on lugging my ENORMOUS suitcase back to the boat for me, despite limping with a gouty foot.  There would have been two enormous suitcases, but KLM lost the other one — by time of writing it has caught up with me. No we’re not at the exciting bit yet.

On the way home, he told me he’d had a letter informing him that he was going to be decorated.  At first I thought he meant he was having the painters in, but then I realised what he meant. He has been named in the Dutch equivalent of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, and has to attend a ceremony at the end of April to be given his decoration.  We don’t know what exactly it is — though it is for his work with the cultural sector.  There seems to be all sorts of jolly titles like Knight, Lion, Commander and so forth, but perhaps there are some dull ones too, and he might be a ‘Stone’ or something unimpressive sounding!

We are pretty sure that he will not get the Military award, since he refused his national service, many moons ago, upon which the military wrote and told him they didn’t want him anyway because he was obviously a mental incompetent.  He went to the recruitment office to protest, but the officer there became so agitated, HO decided that he was not only in mortal jeopardy,  but that if he stayed he could be forced to demonstrate that he was, indeed, actually prepared to fight in hand to hand combat, so he beat a hasty retreat.   Anyway, watch this space for updates on honours great and small.


Being the perfect boyfriend, HO not only got up early with me on Saturday morning sothat I could catch the 6 am bus to the airport, but he carried my case to the bus-stop and even came all the way out to Schiphol with me. The case was empty, except for a toothbrush, so I didn’t strictly need help, but the company and the act of care meant the world.

And, the night before, he’d set the alarm so we could get up in time to catch the 6am bus. He calculated out loud the time we needed to get up, and set the clock for quarter past 4.  It wasn’t until I looked at the electronic clock displayed on the bus, that I realised neither of us had spotted the extra hour that had slipped into the calculations.  We were on the 5am bus!

Despite the hour, the bus was very crowded – the clubs here close at 4.30am. Everyone was either tired or jolly (or both) and there was a pleasant laid back atmosphere.

Making the best of a too early start, HO and I decided to breakfast together at the airport.  Everyone knows that there is only one thing that the Welsh metabolism can possibly take on board at 05.30, and that is toast!  There is something badly wrong with the world when one can buy – at 5.30 in the morning – burgers, pizza, sandwiches, ice-cream or beer, but NOT TOAST!  No wonder the global economy is in crisis and the climate is going to hell in a handbasket. With this sort of wrong-thinking, it’s surprising we have managed to shuffle along thus far as a species.

My (empty) suitcase got damaged in transit, and I asked at the service desk in Bristol Airport it there was anything to do about this.  They asked how long I’d had it.  Well, as you know, I am not a very good liar so I stuck to the truth.  ‘Just under a year’, I said.  How much did it cost when new?  ‘Oh, someone gave it to me in Ireland, but I guess a suitcase like that would have cost 70  or 80 Euros’. So I am about to be sent a smart new red suitcase of a convenient size. However,  be advised that I am NOT above lies of omission – my friend Trish jettisoned this particular case last year when we were in County Kerry – ‘It is rather old’, she said, but I had room in the car and took it anyway.

Smooth travels from there on, though, to Swansea and my parents’ place.

I had an errand to run in the afternoon –  pick up some cardboard boxes from the self-storage place that I will be using.  My parents decided to come with me for the ‘run’.  About 15 minutes later, my mother emerged from her bedroom, in a cloud of perfume, with her hair and make up immaculate, and looking gorgeous for this important mission.  Dispensing instructions to my father and me about what to wear or not to wear, she headed out of the door, and was only a bit crestfallen when I asked if she REALLY meant to go out in her slippers (which are pink flip-flops).

And off we set in my rented car. I will say — and urban planners of South Wales please take note — it is RATHER confusing to have two Abergelly Roads in Swansea, especially as they are right next to each other and not connected up.

Mission accomplished, we returned to my parents’ home, and had a fine evening watching the high-quality programming offered on British TV these days.

Sunday morning I drove to Pembrokeshire, and my lovely flat which this week I will pack up and move out of.  It is going to be a difficult week, but it must be done. The weather so far has been sparkingly beautiful, which a) helps and b) doesn’t help.  This morning a small fishing vessel I hadn’t previously seen made her way into the harbour entrance in front of my window.  She is called ‘Shining Star’,  a reminder of my own ‘Dark Star’ (still in Ireland) and ‘Nashatram’, which means Star.  All these stars of the sea – long may they shine.

Ilona reports from the houseboat that the swans were slightly disturbed yesterday by her kitchen noises as she made lemon curd – the galley being right under the window near the nest. Making lemon curd is not usually a high-volume activity, so unless she was using some innovative technique like zesting the lemons with an angle grinder, it’s unlikely the swans will be too miffed.  More probably, they just would have liked a taste of this treat!  No news of any new eggs, there were four when I left.  The nights have been cold, and I wonder if that puts them off laying?  Time will tell.