Chevroches, Canal du Nivernais

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Big Brother Boating

Hard at work swabbing decks

For those of you who imagine that cruising in France is all about lounging around on deck quaffing champagne and nibbling 'fromage' here's the proof that it's not. Well, not yet anyway. Before we get down to the serious business of life afloat six months of winter grime has to be scoured from the decks and, through the wonders of modern technology, namely the marina webcam, we can be observed from anywhere in the world. Spoiler alert - tomorrow's episode will highlight drying paint and varnish.

We left Scotland in blazing sunshine having had 2 fantastic weeks with family and friends. Thank you to all for making us so welcome. Too often Scotland's scenery is completely hidden in low cloud but when the sun shines it's absolutely beautiful. 'When it's like this who'd want to live anywhere else?' we asked each other. We even began looking at the property for sale ads - and there are many. 'You're quite mad,' said one friend. 'Most of the time it's just grey as far as you can see and that's not usually very far. That and wet.' Perhaps we had a touch of sunstroke.

Our journey from Glasgow to our marina at St Jean de Losne took the best part of a day involving a plane to Paris and then a variety of trains ranging from the fantastic TGV (train à grande vitesse - high speed train) which runs at over 200kmph to the slow country train that trundles along sedately and stops frequently at tiny stations. France has a marvellous rail network and as long as there's not a strike on it is extremely efficient, easy to book and most impressively, it runs on time. The helpful chef de gare at St Jean de Losne found me the number for a taxi and I managed to make myself understood on the phone - thanks Sylviane, the French classes are paying off already.

L'Avenir was just as we left her, albeit somewhat grubby. Perfectly dry on the inside and this year even remained so once we got the water back on. No burst pipes despite a very harsh winter. Today the engine was given a test and so far so good. So, a couple more days and we should be ready for the off. In the meantime, tune in and watch paint dry.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Three in a Car

Gourock to Dunoon ferry

 As we whizzed around the west of Scotland this week, visiting family, we were accompanied in the car by a most irritating passenger. She of the husky voice and insistent manner who flatly refuses to shut up. Yes, we have acquired a sat nav. Now, I know everyone thinks they are a quite wonderful invention and I daresay they can be invaluable for navigating  unfamiliar cities however, I am not convinced of the necessity of the presence of this 'other woman' on perfectly well signposted roads. I have a pretty good sense of direction and am quite capable of reading (and actually like) paper maps so when she demands one route and I another things can get a little tense until she gets shoved into the glove box. There she continues to nag on about u turns, albeit at a lesser volume - the off switch just seems to turn off the map but not her annoyingly dulcet tones. 'Why do you want her?' I ask pathetically.  What's wrong with my directions? It's all in the sexy voice apparently.

 We spent a few windswept days in Tighnabruaich on the lovely Kyles of Bute - Argyll's Secret Coast according to the new road signs. Such a secret that people no longer seem able to find the place (ditch that sat nav). The lack of visitors isn't helping local business and many of the shops seem to be closed - this does seem to be a continuing theme I'm afraid. Whilst we were there one tour bus arrived and disgorged its passengers who were then left to wander forlornly up and down the windswept seafront until the lady at the RNLI (lifeboat) shop arrived and opened up - hopefully making good sales as it's a great cause.
We also had a day in Stirling in central Scotland, a convenient point for another fleeting family reunion. Unfortunately it was cup final day and the pub we met in was stowed out with football supporters watching the game. Once upon a time pubs had mirrors and paintings on their walls. Now whichever way you turn your head there's a huge flatscreen tv. The supporters in this pub became increasingly happy cheering loudly at each goal scored by their team - and there were 5 of them - so it was difficult to carry on a conversation.
A word on the food. As well as whisky Scotland produces beautiful high quality food and has many fine restaurants but the deep fryer remains hugely popular, particularly in pubs. A typical starter plate might contain such delicacies as haggis, black pudding and cheese all crumbed and deep fried and accompanied by nachos, chips and fried bread. Not much room for a main course after that but perhaps leave room for a dessert of deep fried mars bar.
Sottish lass dining in style - deep fried haggis

The sun has at last made an appearance and as the temperature reaches the dizzy heights of 21 degrees the Scottish lads are stripping off their t shirts. Today lily white torsos, tomorrow lobster red and pain.

Next stop Edinburgh and Perth.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Down Memory Lane

The Steeple, Kilbarchan
For 24 hours we hurtled through time and space from Melbourne to Glasgow arriving exactly 18 hours after we left. Autumn became Spring - ostensibly. We stepped from the plane at midday into bracing winds, rain and a not so balmy temperature of 7 degrees.Welcome home to Scotland.
The hire car was waitng for us but trying to work out windscreen wipers, lights, indicators and heaters at the same time as read a map with brains turned to mush by jet lag resulted in the inevitable. Right motorway, wrong direction, quick exit, lots of cursing and 3 circuits round a roundabout. Thank goodness it wasn't France or doubtlessly we'd have been going around that the wrong way. It's only 3 years since our last visit here but in the meantime someone's been busy rearranging the roads so what should have taken us about 20 minutes took us an hour (or two) and we saw more of Glasgow than we intended.
A lull in the rain yesterday encouraged us on an expedition into our past and we visited Kilbarchan, the village where we grew up. Nothing much has changed apart from the closure of many of the shops. As in France the main survivors are hairdressers (but no bakers).
Kilbarchan was a famed weaving village and once upon a time had many antique shops and tourists visiting both them and the Weavers Cottage museum. The museum still functions but neither antique shops nor tourists (other than us) were in evidence.The village inhabitants, Habbies (named after Habbie Simpson, a famous piper whose statue stands atop the steeple hall), were most welcoming though. Whilst we were admiring one of the handsome cottages in the square the owner came out to chat. On learning that one of us had spent many afternoons as a child surreptitiously playing in his enormous back gardens he insisted on taking us on tour of both the gardens and a couple of the adjoining historic properties he is in the process of renovating.
Later, we were once again to be impressed by the kindness of another complete stranger. As we stood reminiscing outside our first marital home, out came the current owner, doubtless wondering who these gawping stangers were. After introducing ourselves, the lady, seemingly reassured we weren't there for any nefarious purpose, very generously invited us on a tour of her house and garden.
And so, we stepped over her threshold and 30 years into our past.

Poet, Robert Allen's well, Kilbarchan