The Journey -
Many thanks to the several people who have warned me of the rising cost of living (and boating) in the UK, and of how those costs are higher in the UK than in France.
However, I have a cunning plan. Although he doesn't know it, Mr Gordon Brown and I have come to an agreement that, towards the end of November, his Government will start to pay me a weekly sum of money which will do much to defray these extra costs - so I only have to struggle through three months (Sept, Oct and Nov) of being a pauper. Mr Brown's beneficence towards me comes in the form of what used to be called The Old Age Pension, but, doubtless, this is now considered to be an ageist term, and some fancy PR advisor has come up with a more neutral (and, hence, meaningless) term.
... AND SOME OF THOSE EXTRA COSTS
There are two costs that are considerably less over here in France.
The first is the annual licence fee, which is less than £200.
The second is mooring fees, which can be extremely high, but, with the minimum of searching, one can easily bring this down to less than £1000 per year, and, indeed, for the really needy, something approaching zero. Last winter, I was paying 60 Euros per month (this included water and electricity) and during last year's cruising season, I would have paid less than £100, in total, for temporary moorings - there are plenty of free ones about. Indeed, several canal-side towns and villages offer free 24 or 48 hour moorings, some even providing free electricity. One rarely has to pay to fill up with water.
Food and booze is cheaper in France than in the UK, but by how much, it is difficult to say. Most folk say that eating out is cheaper over here (and better!!). It is, but it is not something that I do very often, so it hardly gets a mention in my budget. I rarely eat 'ready meals' and the like, preferring to prepare food from raw ingredients - last night (and tonight) it is squid à la Elizabeth David, in a tomato-y, garlicky, wine-y sauce, with a green (and tomato) salad (which is tossed in an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing) the whole washed down with some cold Moussec brut (a champagne-like sparkling wine that costs less than £1 a bottle - 1.09 Euro, to be precise).
ELECTRICKERY ON ROSY...
Whilst preparing for the truck journey back to UK, I've been tidying up inside Rosy. I don't think I have explained about all the electrical connections that a well found boat requires over here.
Bank side electricity is occasionally supplied in the standard 'European' format - to whit, a two-pin socket. Because I got organised for electrical hook-ups over here, my two long leads (from the supply point to Rosy) are armed with two-pin plugs and sockets. Hence, the lead can plug directly into electricity supplied from a two-pin socket.
More usually, it is supplied from a circular, blue, 16-amp, three-pin socket, so I have a short lead with a male 16-amp three-pin plug at one end, and a two-pin socket at the other end to receive my long lead.
On two occasions over here, the supply socket has been the larger, 32-amp, circular blue socket, so I have a second lead with a ditto plug at one end, and a two-pin socket at the other.
At Rosy's end, I have a short lead with a two-pin plug at one end, and a circular, blue, 16-amp, three-pin socket at the other end that plugs into Rosy.
Our French (and other European) colleagues appear not to be concerned about which way round their two-pin sockets are wired. Hence 50% of shore connections are wired the wrong way round, with the live and neutral wires reversed. I therefore have a 13-amp socket tester, which I use to check all incoming electricity connections before I attach them to Rosy (these cost less than £10 in any good D.I.Y. centre near you (if you live in the UK)). Hence, at Rosy's end of the connection, I can insert another short lead that switches the live and neutral wire around. For reasons that I cannot now remember, I made up this lead with the 16-amp, blue connectors at each end. Hence, when in use, it needs a lead with a two-pin plug at the shore end, and a 16-amp blue socket at the other.
For most D.I.Y. jobs around Rosy, a standard, UK, square three-pin extension lead is sufficient. If the job requires a longer lead, then there is a square three-pin plug at Rosy's end and a two-pin socket at the shore end to accommodate my two-pin, long extension leads. I have a couple of plugs (bought in the UK in 'travel' shops that plug into a two-pin socket, and provides a square three-pin socket.
PEDANTS: please note that I use the word 'square' (as in 'square pin') in its loosest sense, and synonymously with 'rectangular'.
... AND BOAT ELECTRICS IN GENERAL
For most boaters, electricity is always a talking point. In this modern world, houses are consuming more and more electricity, and boats are following this trend.
It is possible to cut down on electricity. The only essential, for most boats, is a battery to start the engine - though with Rosy's original, hand-startable, Kelvin engine, even this was not essential. Lighting can be reduced to candles and oil lamps, fridges can be gas-powered, gas stoves can be bought that don't need an electrical hook up (YES!! Really!!!) and Paloma (and others) make nice gas water heaters. (I'm told that these now cannot be installed in a boat, though boats already with them may continue to use and maintain them). Battery-powered radios work well.
However, most of us want electrical items.
Electric lights: Most people run a 12 (occasionally 24) volt system in their boat, so 12-volt lights make sense. Traditional light bulbs are still in use and available, though the newer halogen capsules give as good a light for less electrickery, and the even newer neon arrays use even less electrickery - though the colour of their light is a bit iffy (I've got the cold white variety and should (I think) have got the warm white ones). Also, although they are OK for 'general' lighting, they are not really bright enough for close work - like reading.
Then there are computers, radios that need to be plugged in, electric power tools, vacuum cleaners TVs etc. etc. etc.
This electrical load tends to mean two sets of batteries - one set (usually a single item) for starting the engine, the other set (of three, four or w.h.y.) for 'domestic' purposes. These banks are usually charged together, but their outputs are strictly separated, so that when the house batteries have been run flat after a hard night of watching the TV, the engine battery will still start the engine.
For people who want to know lots more about boat electrics, THE book to have is 'The 12 volt bible' (which is also applicable to 24 volt systems).
Suffice it to say:
Many electrical items need a greater amount of electricity, for a split second, when they are initially switched on, than they need normally, and it is this 'normal' rating that is marked on the item. Hence a 50 watt item may well need a surge of 150 watts initially.
There has to be a relationship between the number (and size) of the batteries in the battery bank, the number of watts that the inverter can give out, and the number of watts that the item wants to use. It is, for example, pretty daft to try to run a 3 Kilo watt electric heater from a single, 12 volt, 100-amp battery and an inverter.
The cheaper inverters give out 'non-standard' electrickery - instead of a nice sine-wave they give out a square wave. For heaters etc. this is no problem. Some items check the incoming source, and correct it if it is wrong. Other items (especially, so I'm told, those incorporating timers) will not work properly with square wave electrickery.
The next step up is to use some sort of on-board electricity generator. These can vary from:
That's all folks. Go and get 'The 12 volt Bible' if you need to know more.
During our enforced stay here, I've been doing quite bit of reading - we are surrounded by camp-sites, one or two of which have book-swaps. One lot of books, in particular, are beginning to annoy me greatly. It is a well-known series of detective novels. Unfortunately, the author introduces quite a crowd of characters. Each one certainly has a first name and a surname, and many also have a nickname. Plus, of course, the police have their ranks. Hence, an individual may be referred to, in the third person, and especially in speech between two other characters, by any one of four names. It's hard enough keeping up with individual characters anyway, but when their names vary according to context, the end result is that I have only the haziest of notions of who is doing what to whom.
A FINAL PLEA ...
I've mentioned this before, but it is worth a final plug before we leave France.
Please note that the 'bubbles' (as in billybubbles, my web address) originally came from the trail of bubbles left in the ocean depths by SCUBA divers, now it refers to fizzy alcoholic drinks.
Please let it be known that I have nothing against champagne - except its price. It is a wonderful drink, refreshing, varied, good at parties, good with food, brings a sparkle to the eye and a smile to the face. But, by crikey, it can be wickedly expensive, and I doubt whether the cheapest will come in at much under a tenner a bottle.
The good news is that there are some alternatives. These are made by the same method as champagne, but are produced outside the Champagne geographical area and come it at very much lower prices. True champagne buffs are dismissive of them, but for poor folk like us they have a lot going for them.
The one most often seen in the UK is Moussec, also spelt 'Moussex'. When I last bought some in the UK, over eight years ago, the cheapest was about £6 a bottle. However, it was of superior quality to the cheapo stuff that is an 'every day' thirst quencher over here. In the French supermarkets, brut (dry) and demi-sec (medium sweet) come in at about one Euro a bottle. I find that half a bottle refreshes and cheers my soul, whilst a whole bottle starts to befuddle the brain and interfere with hand-eye co-ordination. Hence a bottle lasts two nights. The new, plastic stoppers keep the bubbles in overnight.
The other one is Crémant, which is not as widely available as either Moussec or Champagne. I've never seen Crémant as cheap as the cheapest Moussec, and I guess that a guide price would be 3 to 5 Euro a bottle - which is still not bad for a friendship-sealing drink.
Needless to say, I missed much of today's excitement.
An hotel barge was cruising along when it hit an underwater something and stopped so suddenly that the helmsman cracked his head on the extremely smart steering wheel. His humour was further tried when most of the enquiries were about the state of the extremely smart steering wheel rather than about the state of his bruised and bleeding head.
The reserve helmsman came into play, who discovered that the bows were fine but that the stern was hard aground, and that no amount of full reverse or full forward could shift them.
The police arrived, followed by their underwater unit, who established that there was a burned-out car in the cut, and that one of the blades of the hotel boat's prop was a bit bent.
Then the police wrecker arrived. I think it helped to pull the barge off backwards, and then it hauled the car out for further forensic examination.
It attracted a crowd of about 50 boaters and provided them with some two hours of entertainment. Fanny and I went for a walk.
And earlier in the day I found a nice Lumix camera lying in the road. I put a notice up (in French and English) at the place where I found it, suggesting that the owner can retrieve it at 'Rosy'. So far, no one has been. Unfortunately, without the power lead and download lead and instruction manual it is a bit bloody useless!! However, it has now found an accommodating home.
I've been a fan of Wigan ever since I went to a book-titles party, and won a prize, as 'The Road to Wigan Pier' - though some disenchanted losers, who suffered from a great lack of imagination and vision, complained that I had gone as 'The Roundabout at Wig and Peer'.
Anyway, a chap has been hovering about for the last few days. He is from Wigan, and is, I think, an HGV 1 driver - articulated heavy goods vehicle. He works for a few months and then goes off exploring in his much modified camper van. He is one of these chaps who rarely buys anything, preferring to use other peoples' cast-offs, which he finds lying around, in tips and in waste containers.
We met him just after he had found, in our nearby dustbins, a camping gas refillable container, with some gas still in it. He knew that he hadn't got a suitable valve to get at the gas. He could make one (of course) but if we had one, it would be very much easier. We hadn't.
He had arrived at these bins, near Rosy, on his bike. An ex-GPO bike, complete with the tray at the front for the sack of letters. What I immediately noticed was the brand label on the front stem - 'Hand made by Pashley' (or is it Pashly?). Anyway, these bikes are the Rolls Royce of hand-made bikes. A Pashley, today, would cost £600 plus. He had had the pick of a dozen of them FOR FREE down at his local tip - the Post Office had dumped them!! It had a decent three-speed hub gear that also incorporated a back-pedalling brake.
He says that most tips don't like 'the public' removing things from them (why-ever not???) but that most have a hole in the fence and no security cameras!! He doesn't use much gas in his van, so when he is about to run out he keeps his eyes open. Normally, he can find a 'not quite empty' cylinder abandoned, after closing time, at a place (such as a garage) that trades in full 'bottles for empty' ones (or nearly empty ones). So he takes it, replacing it with his properly empty one (though that will not necessarily be of the same brand as the one he is taking).
He weeps at our local rubbish bins, that are just outside one of the 24 camping sites that are around Vias. People buy things for their holiday, and then dump them before leaving - deck chairs, beach chairs, beach mats, small surf boards, a complete and non-pongy Porta Pottie, one of those intricate things that looks like a slim box, but opens out into a picnic table with four seats. etc. etc.
Further to the recent piece about French being mis-translated into English (due to the fact that (as I understand it) official translators of French into English, here in France, first have to prove fluency in French). I have just come across another good example, 'halte nautique' being translated as 'nautical resting spot'.
This also highlights another quirk about English, namely that most English people seem to make every possible effort NOT to use nautical terminology on the canals, so that, for example, the words port and starboard, bow and stern, fore and aft, etc. are very rarely used by the cognoscenti.
I assume that this state of affairs arose because the early canals linked resources (such as coal and clay) to factories, hence contact with the sea and seafaring terms was absent. Hence the boaters, who tended to be ex farm hands, carters and other country folk who didn't know the nautical terms, invented their own boating vocabulary.
In most of mainland Europe, nautical terminology tends to be used on the inland waterways - perhaps because it got onto the canals via the big rivers.
(There is an interesting Masters or Doctoral dissertation in there somewhere).
DICKE DEERNE ...
There is a lovely Dutch tjalk (or something like that) moored nearby called Dicke Deerne. It is based on an old type of sailing barge (maybe it once was) but it is now motorised. It is a curvaceous, beamy vessel, complete with its great, wooden, lifting keels (still useful on tight turns and in side winds). It is called Dickie Deerne, so I enquired as to who Dicke Deern is (or was, as the case may be). The skipper looked bewildered and eventually realised I was asking about the name of his boat - upon which he roared with laughter. He explained that Dicke Deern is not a name - it is Dutch for 'Fat Girl' - which his boat most definitely is!!
... AND NITWIT BOATERS
Sadly, I missed it! A few nights ago, the owner of a big new cruiser was explaining that on these canals one really needs twin engines and a bow thrusters. Presumably this rubbish information was presented to him by his boat builder.
The additional costs of a second engine - the engine itself and its installation and controls - will be upwards of £5000, and a bow thruster, plus its tube etc, at least £1500. Those few folk known to me who run such vessels say that the fuel consumption, on the canals, of EACH engine is some 9 or 10 litres per hour!!! Hence most of them now cruise on a single engine, using the second one to 'balance' the boat in and out of each lock. With all these costs, one feels that a weekend (and, maybe) £200 to £500 spent on a boat handling course, is probably money well spent, especially if it teaches how to run a boat on one engine and one prop.
THIS REALLY IS THE END ... PROBABLY
I now have a definite timetable.
Today is Monday 1st September. Next Saturday a truck arrives from England and Rosy is craned on to it at Agde (about one or one-and-a-half hours from here by boat, via the famous Agde 'Round' lock). In between leaving the water and getting settled on the truck, I hope to clean off the small amount of fouling that has accumulated since we cleaned and painted the bottom earlier in the summer.
Then we do nothing as the truck cannot use the motorways on Sundays. On Monday we head north for Caen, get on the Portsmouth ferry, and then head up to Calcutt Boats (near Braunston for canally folk, and 20 or 30 miles north of Banbury for the rest of humanity). We got loaded onto a truck to bring us to France at Calcutt Boats, so it seems to be a nice circularity to return there.
Then there will be the problems (and costs) of getting Rosy her Boat Safety Certificate.
The main worry at the moment is Fanny, who has to have an injection between 24 and 48 hours of checking in at Caen. If I don't get the timings right, or if there is a delay whilst trucking through France, there is a possibility of having to pay truck and driver for an extra 24 hours which would severely drain my already precarious bank balance. I hasten to add that if the UK really is as awful as the whingers out here say, I just about have enough loot left in the piggy bank to get us all back to Northern France or Belgium.
Meanwhile, life is a bit dreary, as the work of preparing Rosy for the overland journey continues. All the books are coming off the shelves and put into boxes on the floor. Computers likewise. Plus stowing wine, spirits and beer away. Highly drinkable bottles of rosé wine, for example, are still available here for under 2 Euros a bottle. A half decent red would cost a bit more, though red plonk perhaps 50 cents less (or even less). The winos buy it 'en vrac' (loose) in five-litre plastic containers.
Hhhhmmmmmmmm!!! (Am I doing the right thing!!!!)
WE'RE HERE!!! IN THE UK!!!
Rosy, with everything packed away, and loaded with plenty of booze, left the mooring at Vias bright and early on a Saturday morning. Jeff, from the boat next door, came along for the ride.
The cruise up to the famous Round Lock at Agde took about 40 minutes. There were two pleasure boats wanting to head Eastwards, so we went up with them, and waited in the lock whilst they exited. Then the lock-keeper returned us to the level we had just left, and let in a passenger barge. There was quite a bit of jiggling about to fit us in, and Rosy managed to finally moor just as the doors opened to let us out. (The same sort of thing happened to us last year!) Anyway, on exiting onto the lock cut, and the barge left first. It moored immediately below the lock, so we went passed it, and cruised down the lock cut, to the junction with the River Herault.
My worries about the wriggle (from the cut to the centre span of the bridge crossing the river) were entirely unfounded, and we found ourselves cruising down the Herault on a glorious September morning. The sea air and the breeze and the famous light of southern France, so loved by the impressionist painters, conspired together to give us a glorious morning cruise, and a most wonderful way to end Rosy's French cruising adventures.
We moored up at the Allemand boat yard and checked in, expecting to have to wait until the afternoon for the truck to arrive. In fact it appeared only a few minutes after us, driven by Sid, and with his son Ryan map-reading. In next to no time, Rosy was out of the water and sitting on the trailer of the truck.
The cost of a lift-out varies with the length of the boat. For Rosy it was some 160 Euro. Allemand made no charge for parking, and were extremely helpful all through our stay with them.
I spent the afternoon twiddling on Rosy, whilst Sid and Ryan headed off to the beach. In the evening we went out for a meal and I really enjoyed mine - the main course was cockles with aïoli (a fantastically wonderful French mayonnaise, made with nothing but garlic (lots of it), eggs and olive oil).
During the night, I learned one of the disadvantages of living in a truck mounted boat. It was a little windy, and as each gust hit the side of Rosy, she jerked a bit. This doesn't happen on the water as any movement is dissipated by the water, and, in extremis, by the flexing of the mooring lines.
The next day (Sunday) was spare as French rules prohibit trucks like ours from travelling on Sundays.
Monday started a bit hectically. I was up 'de bon heure' to walk 45 minutes to the vet to get Fanny her anti-tick treatment that she needed 24 to 48 hours before checking-in at the port of Caen. That done, I had to walk back. The staff at Allemand phoned the local police, as the road to the motorway is one way, and we needed to go the wrong way up it (alternative routes to the motorway could not accommodate our load length). The police arrived within about 15 minutes and we were on our way.
To avoid steep and narrow roads, we stuck to major routes, so our journey was a bit extended. We stopped at 'Aires' (French motorway service stations, invariably with lots of open, grassy spaces) every few hours, and eventually overnighted in one of them. Fanny travelled in her bed on Rosy. During the day, I was in the cab with Sid and Ryan, and I slept in Rosy overnight.
At each stop Fanny caused a mild sensation. When she was very young, her big mate was Jess, an older sister of hers, belonging to Rex Mackay at Briare. At the time, Rex's boat was ashore, with a ladder needed to get onto her. Fanny did not let a ladder stand between her and her friend Jess, so she shinned up the ladder to get to Jess. Hence, although I carried Fanny down the ladder when we arrived at an aire, when it was time to go, Fanny climbed the ladder herself - on one occasion we gave the ever growing crowd of admirers an encore!
We also called in at a truck-friendly super market to get some booze for Sid.
We eventually arrived at the port of Caen at about 1830 hrs, and started to check-in.
The check-in staff told us that dogs are not allowed on freight vehicles, something that I had not learned from my reading of the DEFRA requirements. They would not let her travel in her home (i.e. Rosy) nor, for reasons that I wholly failed to understand, would they let Fanny and I transfer our allegiance to a car or motor-home that was already booked onto the ferry. Eventually, they agreed to refer the matter to the duty manager who would be arriving at 2030 hrs. He turned out to be a bit more flexible, so I legged off to find the people who had agreed that Fanny and I could travel with them onto and off the ferry, and our problems were solved. Our saviour turned out to be a retired boat builder!!
The night crossing ensured that Sid stayed within the regulations concerning drivers' hours and rest periods. The crossing was forecasted as 'choppy', but I hardly felt a wobble.
There was a slight delay in Portsmouth as cars and trucks have different exit points from the docks, but eventually Fanny and I were reunited with Sid, Ryan and Rosy. A few hours later we arrived at Calcutt Boats, and were quickly unloaded, launched and moored up.
Phew!!! Home at last.
Since then I've been cycling (it's about a 12 km round trip to the nearest shops) and putting all the books etc. back up on the shelves (I'd boxed them all up for the journey). I've also been through some other shelves and drawers, and seriously questioned things that have not been used for the last eight years, whilst wondering whether returning to the UK was/is the right decision!! Soon came to the conclusion that it most definitely was.
And that, as they say, is that.
What happens now - I don't know.
First of all, of course, many thanks to all those folk who have encouraged me over the last eight years by reading these witterings.
Secondly, I need to get Rosy through the Boat Safety Scheme.
After that I want to explore the UK canal system.
However, my number one priority is to acquire an Internet connection on Rosy, and then I'll come to some conclusion as to whether to continue these witterings (which started before such postings were christened 'Blogs'), which, in essence, are the thoughts and experiences of a bloke, his boat 'Rosy' and his faithful hound 'Fanny the Woof' whilst travelling in a narrow boat on the European (and English?) canal system