Raindrops keep falling on my head – yes you’ve guessed it; we are back in the Netherlands (or the ‘Weatherlands’ as it may also be called), re-experiencing those rainy days of summer 2012. To be fair the Netherlands has had a lovely spring with unseasonably warm sunny days, and no-one was complaining about the weather at all. Martin and I spent a couple of weeks apart tending to ‘she who must be obeyed’ – in my case I was helping my mum with her recovery and Martin was cleaning bottoms and generally tending to the needs of the boat. I will let him tell his story as he generated a superhuman effort to do the necessary work to keep Skookum afloat and functioning.
Our life seems to be a game of Tetrus in which we have to move some thing to empty the space so we could put something else in the space and then when that space was free to do some work on whatever and then repeat the whole process. Hopefully you understand what I mean.
My mum left the respite home a few days before I arrived in England, my cousin had brought her home and taken care of her for a few days. I arrived from Amsterdam and relieved Veronica, who went home to Cambridgeshire. Mum only had the use of one weak left hand while her right arm was in a sling setting the new shoulder in place and needed help with almost everything. Her bed was brought downstairs and she slept in the living room (which had access to a toilet etc). The only time she went upstairs, with help, was for a shower. She could not dress, wash or shower herself as her right arm was immobilized and she had instructions to keep it as still as possible (save for a couple of straightening exercises). She could make herself a cup of tea if everything was left out for her, and she could still pour a gin and tonic (again if everything was left out for her). She needed her food cut up because she was limited to one hand and preferred a softer food (mashed potatoes etc) because at 87, her teeth are becoming rather blunt. Taking care of my mum and all her daily needs was a very loving and humbling experience. Her fall, surgery and the consequent injuries had brought her closer to her Maker, but modern medicine, orthopaedic skills and her determination had put off that meeting for a few years.
Joan came to stay while I was there, and we all sat down on May 17 to watch ‘the Match’ – the English Football Association Cup Final, which featured my home town of Hull City facing the powerful London club – Arsenal. Hull City had never been to Wembley Stadium before in its 110 years of history, whereas the mighty Arsenal team had not won the FA Cup in 10 years. The town of Hull emptied as over 40,000 people headed to London using more than the 25,000 + tickets they had been assigned. It was a great match with Hull City scoring twice within the first 8 minutes. At 2-0 the Gunners (aka Arsenal) suddenly realized this was not the walk in the park they expected from the hicks of Hull aka the ‘Tigers’ (because their strip is amber and black). It took Arsenal the next 60 minutes to score the two goals they needed to not lose. By the end of the match the score was 2 -2 and the game went into 30 minutes of overtime. The overtime was however too much for the Tigers, who lost when Arsenal scored the winning goal about 20 minutes into overtime. Although the Tigers had a bit of bad luck when a great shot on goal went wide just about 4 minutes from the final whistle. So the Hull City fans came home a bit dejected but still full of pride – they had put on a great show, proved that Hull City football is alive and kicking and that the ‘little engine nearly did’
Hull City joy after goal number 2
Mum, Joan and I were glued to the TV for almost two and half hours, cheering and whooping like the rest of the football crowd (up to 90,000 at Wembley). It was great to see the civic pride bursting out as the city of Hull has always had a bit of a low self –esteem problem. The last year or so has been very successful time for Hull, economically, culturally and now in sport, so the city and its residents are beaming.
I challenged myself to deal with the social care system in Hull and the surrounding municipality and discovered that administrative boundaries can be the equivalent of huge brick walls when it comes to eligibility for services. After many days of professional advocacy for my mum the East Riding (of Yorkshire) agreed to give her a free service for the duration of recovery, three visits per day ( breakfast, lunch and dinner) until the end of June to help her deal with her new physical limitations. The service started the day I left Hull to return to the Netherlands and take care of Martin.
Martin picked me up at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, as we returned to Sneek where the boat was moored after all his hard work – but there is still more work to come (I guess a boat like a house is always a work in progress. The boat looked fine (it was the first time I had seen this year), but there were will lots of things to pull out and get functional as we guests arriving the very next day.
Martin and I really enjoy having visitors from Canada – we speak the same language, and have lots of connective history. He went to pick up Casper and Loreena at Schipol after their transatlantic flight from Vancouver. I think they were eternally grateful as getting off a 12 hour plane ride with a 9 hour time change is very daunting, especially if you haven’t been to Europe for 50+ years like Casper. It was much better to get picked up than negotiating the train system in a foreign language. It was also Loreena’s first trip to Europe. Lucky for them, Martin – aka ‘WIFI Hunter’ had to go to Dordrecht to sort out some longer term WIFI, so he was able to pick them up. We were back in the Netherlands and remembered what a pain it can be to stay connected, hence the need for a ‘WIFI Hunter’
Casper and Martin have been friends for quite a few years, they share their concerns over global climate change, ecological disasters, and were active members of the Sierra Club in Victoria. A couple of very smart guys who like hanging out together (and a few other chaps in their ‘men’s’ group). Casper was also a sailor and owned a sailboat for many years so understood many vagaries of boats. Loreena recently retired from nursing and was entering the world of travelling.
The first day we took them walk about in Sneek, they enjoyed the daintiness of the city and marvelled at the pedestrian areas, bicycle dominance, cleanliness, and organization of this small Friesland city. They went to Albert Hein supermarket – an experience to be enjoyed by most people who like to eat in the Netherlands, and walked around the town soaking up the new culture, figuring out prices and trying to understand the strange languages – Dutch and Fries.
Casper is an avid photographer so spent a great deal of time clicking – Loreena clicked too, but like me, on one of the smaller digital cameras. We got back to the boat in the late afternoon and it started to rain.
Casper and Loreena in Sneek
The weather forecast had been for rain all day the next day so we drove to Groningen for a couple of hours, had a walkabout and lunch. We had a slow day as our visitors were still getting their bearings and recovering from jetlag. It was a good decision as the weather was a 6 on my rain-scale. Loreena did remark that she had never seen rain quite like it. Armed with brollies we wondered around Groningen to give them a sense of the uniqueness of the ancient University town, with it bicycle dominance and pedestrian walkways.
Our guests were impressed by the declaration on the wall of the restaurant we visited thanking Canadians for their service and sacrifice ousting the Axis forces from the city in 1945. But like most places Groningen looks much better on a sunny day.
On our way back to Sneek, Martin took the coastal route to the north, we travelled to the Lauwermeer National Park (yes, the Netherlands makes space for nature), and sea lock between Waddenzee ( the coastal waters between the outer islands and the North Sea ( time for the atlas) and the canals. We drove back to Sneek via Leeuwarden our next destination
The weather cleared the next day so after a day in the car we made ready for trip in the boat. Walking along the dock of our marina in Sneek we spotted a Canadian flag on an older Dutch wooden boat called Pescadou. Of course we knocked on the door to be greeted by Ken Weagle and Clio Smeeton now of Cochrane Alberta. Martin had heard of Clio whose famous sailing family, Miles and Beryl Smeeton had settled on Saltspring Island. Ken and Clio had been sailing their boat for 8 summers, starting in Turkey and working their way through the Black Sea, up the Danube into Germany, France etc and were on their way to the Baltic (and I thought we were adventurous!). Loreena had met Clio many years ago at the fox sanctuary in Alberta – small world don’t you think! We left them after a good chat and exchange of information, and the meeting of six Canucks on the dock in Sneek, Friesland was very memorable for everyone.
Ken Weagle and Clio Smeeton and Pescadou
Casper and Loreena were quite taken with the Lakeland area around Sneek. Casper is a birder (twitcher in the UK) and has some posh camera equipment, and he found the bird life on the water very photogenic. We took them to the little town of Grou we had visited last year. It is a very picturesque ‘toytown’ on the lakes.
We stayed the night and wandered through Grou (which took all of 30 minutes), and left for Leeuwarden the next day. We drove Skookum through the flat marshland, passed herds of Friesen cattle (major dairy production in this area), Friesen horses, abundant birdlife, and went through several bridges, again it was great to see our guests marvel at the efficiency and organization of the Dutch.
Angel of Grou
Open bridge in Leeuwarden
Leeuwarden is the capital city of Friesland – with a population of about 110,000. It was founded around 1000 AD. The city’s central core was surrounded by a moat built around 1435, which was then and is now a well used waterway. The War of Dutch Succession and independence (against the Spanish) ended in 1648, after 80 years of war. At this point the moat and fortifications became a lovely parkland area surrounding the Prinses mound or ‘terp’ and a marina, close the city and its narrow inner canals.
It was the hometown of William IV of Orange (nothing to do with the fruit but relates to the colour). The city was a port to the sea until 1901 when it silted up. Building canals opened up the city again and created a new port. The most notable feature in Leeuwarden is the Oldehove; a huge (about 39m tall – 127ft) leaning, bowed tower built in 1533. Work on the bell-tower was halted when it started to sink. Apparently they did not do much geo-technical engineering in those days! The tower, which was originally built for Sint Vitus church but has remained a stand alone feature in the centre of the city.
Leeuwarden residents will always thank Canadian troops for disobeying orders and driving the German army from the city on April 15 1945. The residents celebrate on April 16 every year to remind themselves of this victorious battle. The Royal Canadian Dragoons still fly the flag of Leeuwarden wherever they are stationed.
The coat of arms of Leeuwarden features a Lion – the heraldic symbol of the House of Orange which is the royal house of the Netherlands. So when you watch any sports events, (like Olympic Speed skating or World Cup Soccer) don’t look for the red white and blue colours of the Dutch flag instead check out the fans waving orange flags – they are the Dutch bursting with national pride. More about that as the World Cup looms near.
We went back to Sneek for the last bit of work on the exhaust system (we had a huge leak last year fixed by John and Nancy bringing some Canadian Tire exhaust weld tape). It was four hour drive back on the boat ( about 20kms) so we moored on one of the local camping islands in the lake near Sneek ready for the next job.