(71) Autumn and Christmas 2014.

We settled in quickly at our friendly port, the weather remained warm and sunny and I found several long walks to keep me occupied. I even persuaded Peter to join me on occasions!

SAM_0001The trusty map and the lovely countryside.

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Dragged out on the promise of a cake…

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Yep, it was worth it!

The ‘Peniche’ bar in the port is a handy ‘local’ and ‘La Chope’ in the high street soon became our favourite for a ‘Belgian’…………beer and frites, the frites there being exceptionally good. We spent several pleasant evenings with Lorna and Lawrence (Waterdog) and Louise and Roger (The River) who are also moored in the port.
I drove back to Cambrai for a weekend with Lynn (Matariki) who was recovering from a knee op. On my return, we were joined by Paul and Jan Mellor, who were visiting WW1 sights on the Somme and popped over to see us. Paul and Peter worked together in the SEG some years ago. We persuaded them to stay the night and enjoyed a meal plus one or three glasses of wine!
After a lot of planning and measuring we ordered our new solar panels and control box; the panels from the UK to be collected by our friends Louise and Alex (Riccall) and the controller via Amazon from the US. We were surprised to have to fill in a form from the Belgian Postal Service in order to ‘dedouaner’ the contol box which had been held in Customs. Fortunately, my French was up to the task and a couple of days later it arrived safe and sound……………not until we had parted with another 30 euro though!

Two more ex-colleagues and friends of Peter – Arthur and Peter arrived by motor cycle for a couple of days. En route, they had stopped by Ron’s Warehouse (aka my Dad’s house) to pick up the various other items Peter had ordered to enable him to fit the solar panels.
They had a very wet ride over which meant all their gear had to be dried. Running the barge engine for half an hour provided the perfect place down below.

The rather soggy solar dispatch riders arrive.

We all motorcycled over to Mons the next day to show them the WW1 memorial at Nimy railway bridge and the St Symphorien Cemetery which had been the focal point of the Centenary service attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge earlier in the year.   We also visited the Strepy Lift which has a ‘wow’ factor as did the patisserie on the way back.

Three heavy objects being moved around Belgium!!

Peter embarrassed about his second cake!

Thankfully the weather improved and we had a nice lunch at the ‘friterie’ the following day before they headed off back to England.

No sooner had they left than we were driving over to Seneffe to help Louise and Alex unload their new fridge freezer and washing machine from the van as well as enjoying an evening catching up on news. A couple of days later they drove the van over to us to deliver our new solar panels, Louise and I enjoyed a walk and a good natter while the chaps fitted them onto the back deck of Aurigny.

SAM_0010Making good use of the aft deck, 1KW of solar energy.

On Remembrance Sunday, I returned to England once again for my annual extended visit. This time I travelled on the ferry from Dunkirk to Dover – a longer ferry trip but no tolls and about 30 km shorter by road.
Once again I filled my days catching up with family and friends. Highlights were walking across the O2 roof with my friends Karen and Linda followed by a cable car ride over the Thames and the DLR to the Tower of London. There we managed to see the poppies in the moat even though it was very dark outside it was a spectacular sight. I also spent a lovely week in Yorkshire with my brother Andrew and his wife Kathryn, enjoying a couple of scenic walks in the Dales.

Kitted out ready for the O2 experience.

The experience!

Back in the south I visited the Imperial War Museum, where the WW1, Holocaust and Victoria Cross & George Cross exhibitions were interesting, thought provoking and very sad. Later that day Laura and I saw ‘Billy Elliot’ at the theatre, which was brilliant.

In mid-December we had booked various flights for the four of us and Amy, Adam’s girlfriend to Alderney to celebrate Terry’s (Peter’s Mum) eightieth birthday. With a weather ‘bomb’ threatening to cause chaos to our travel plans, we were relieved that all the family was able to arrive safely and in time. The only problem wasn’t caused by the weather at all, but by a complete airspace computer black out over Gatwick where Laura was flying from. Fortunately she was able to connect with the very last flight from Guernsey to Alderney which had waited for the delayed Alderney passengers. We had given up hope of her arriving and were delighted when she turned up that evening. Peter, Adam and Amy were out at the time and unaware that she had managed to make the flight were assuming she had been forced to stay in Guernsey. She managed to hide away and surprise them as we all sat down to the evening meal.
We had a lovely weekend of celebrations including a fabulous birthday surprise meal at June and Nigel’s Pizza restaurant. It was great to get the Skerritt family together again after such a long time.

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80th Birthday celebrations.

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A birthday hug for our hosts June and Nigel.

SAM_0013A chilly stroll around Alderney.

Everyone returned to England after the birthday celebrations apart from Peter who wanted to stay and enjoy some more fishing with his brother Paul, leaving himself just one night in England before heading back to the barge for Christmas.

                                          A good evening’s ‘squiding’ 

With only a day in hand before we returned to the barge, I was still able to join the Treble Clef Choir for our Christmas concert which was great fun.
Ordering our perishable groceries online for delivery to ‘Ron’s warehouse’ was a great idea, saving the last minute dash around crowded pre-Christmas supermarkets. Peter was able to cram everything into our long suffering Micra while I was out singing.
Our return journey to Belgium went almost without hitch. A problem at Dover led to lorries being stacked back for miles on the approach roads and with several of them blocking the outside lane, it looked like I would miss my ferry.
While Peter was able to weave through the traffic jam on his motor cycle, I endured two hours of ‘stop-start’ driving with more emphasis on the ‘stop’! As I watched my ferry dock from the hill above the port, the air inside the car turned a dark shade of blue. With the departure time gone, I had almost given up when Peter texted that the ferry was waiting for 30 minutes. Amazingly, a gap in the traffic opened up and I made it aboard with minutes to spare. Phew!
Once in France we had a pleasant drive in clear skies with a beautiful sunset to the west. We had left ‘Janet’ (the sat nav) in England for Adam to use later in the week and somehow managed without her as darkness fell. Our only slight problem was finding the correct road from Mauberge to Erquelinnes. Fortunately, Peter found the correct one and we were soon home on board ‘Aurigny’. A quick trip to the nearby ‘Brico’ to buy our Christmas tree followed by a welcome ‘Belgian’ (beer and frites) while the barge warmed up, ended a rather tiring day.

While I was back in England Peter had been busy on the barge finishing off the solar installation and painting all of the kitchen cupboards to brighten things up. He had also put up the outside LED lights in readiness for Christmas, knowing there would be little time when we arrived back. It all looked lovely.

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Old…

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…New.

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Aurigny lit up.

With only a couple of days left before the family arrived for Christmas, we set to decorating the barge. On Christmas Eve, everyone arrived safely.

Instead of catching the Eurostar late afternoon and coming separately as planned, Laura stowed away with Adam and Amy in the car, jumping up from under a pile of coats as Peter was helping with the unloading. It was a lovely surprise, catching both Peter and I this time and it meant that the festivities (ie drinking) could begin early!

As well as the rest of the Christmas supplies they also brought out our Tower of London Poppy. We had ordered one for ourselves and one for Terry for her birthday but sadly they hadn’t arrived in time to take her’s to Alderney.

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Our Poppy, which will have pride of place as a tangible reminder of  the many WW1 sites we have visited over the last two years.

We enjoyed a great Christmas together and inaugurated the ‘Aurigny Indoor Putting Competition’ – likely to be an annual event at Christmas…………….and Peter and Adam’s snow bathing – which isn’t!

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Christmas afloat.

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‘Angling it’ off the hearth.

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The tricky elevated 19th tee!

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Lunch with all the trimmings.

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Seemed to go down well.

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A little bit of madness on Boxing Day!

All too soon we had to say ‘au revoir’ to Adam and Amy, but were pleased that Laura decided to stay a few days longer and spend New Year with us. Her offer to prepare the meal for New Year’s Eve was gratefully received and we enjoyed a very pleasant evening along with our friends Louise and Alex who joined us for a couple of days.

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