(72) New Year 2015 at Erquelinnes (Jan-March)

To our delight, Laura had decided to prolong her stay with us until after the New Year, but with a trip to Orlando planned with her friend Kim in early January, the time came for her to leave. We drove her to Mons station, once again visiting the St Symphorian Cemetery and Nimy railway bridge on the way.

As expected, the port was very quiet, but sadly terrorism reared its ugly head; this time in France where some Muslim extremists murdered several innocent people in France resulting in a tremendous show of solidarity, with anti-terrorist rallies Europe wide.

We drove over to Cambrai where we wintered the previous year and joined Lynn and Stewart (‘Matariki’) for another lovely meal in the Petit Chef at the port to celebrate Stew’s birthday. En route, we stopped at the fortified town of Le Quesnoy, where the New Zealand Soldiers scaled the walls to usurp the Germans who had occupied it since the start of WW1. The alternative had been to bombard the town with shells and so this very brave action saved the town from destruction. Although rather wet underfoot, it was well worth the visit.

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Not exactly peak season but an impressive fortification!

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Memorial close to where the New Zealander’s scaled the wall.

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The townsfolk were very grateful it wasn’t bombed.

With time on our hands, I continued with my knitting (graduating from scarves to hats,) counted cross stitch, reading, learning to play the piano and walking. Peter did the inevitable engine room maintenance jobs and we both enjoyed snoozy afternoons watching old films and evenings watching the two series  ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Dexter’.

As January drew to a close, we drove over to Seneffe to spend a couple of days with our friends Louise and Alex (‘Riccall’). On a dull, wet day Alex drove us to the big IKEA south of Brussels where we had lunch before ‘following the yellow brick road’ around the store and buying some odds and ends in the ‘market place’. Always fun to spend time with good friends though whatever the weather.

A couple of days later we were joined by Torild and Nils (‘Passe Lagom’), who we had met last year in Ypres. They drove down from Bruges for a night and it was really good to catch up with them again.

Next a mercy dash to Cambrai with our spare generator for Lynn and Stew, whose electrics and generator had combined to stop working at the same time. That evening two of their friends were arriving from New Zealand and it was very cold. Unfortunately our spare generator failed to start, but Peter and Stewart did at least manage to get Matariki’s generator working before we left.

At around this time we decided to spend another year in Belgium and had secured a winter mooring at Flandria Jachthaven in Bruges. This meant that we would be spending our 30th Wedding Anniversary where we honeymooned.

The port froze over several times during February and I was glad to have the use of the free washing machine and tumble dryer in the capitainerie plus my new 13.5 tog duvet!

My friend Karen arrived at the start of half term for a few days. I was pleased to have found some lovely walks which we could do, but still managed to get lost on one of them…in fact the same one that Peter and I had gone wrong on back in September! I think we must have crossed the French/Belgian border a couple of times! The ‘Belgian’ from our local friterie went down very well that night!

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The bedraggled walkers return.

While we were out one day, Peter began demolishing our single cabin. The swapping over of our utility room and single cabin was something he had been mulling over for several months. The former was the other side of the saloon from the galley and the latter adjacent to it. It seemed to make more sense to change them and would mean that we would have room for a dishwasher too.

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The old bedroom in the process of becoming a utility room.

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Where there was a bed, now a dishwasher (less squeaky than the old one!)

The changeover had not been planned for this winter, but with time on his hands and me planning to return to England in a couple of weeks, it seemed possible.

Despite the delay caused by us both getting colds, the conversion was soon underway. The new utility room began to take shape. We were delighted and a not a little surprised when we went to buy vinyl flooring from a shop in nearby Maubeuge.  The chap quoted us 225 euro for the size of vinyl we wanted, but then managed to find a couple of off cuts and end of rolls in a design and colour which were also suitable. When he said they were both ‘gratuit’ we couldn’t believe our luck. As he helped us load them into the car we shook his hand and then chuckling at our good fortune, drove off.

By the end of the day the flooring was laid, and by the end of the next the work surfaces were in place too. With Louise and Alex popping over for the night en route to England the following day, we just had time to move the washing machine, freezer and drinks fridge into the new utility room and tidy up the front cabin. Phew!!

I went back as planned to England for the dentist, hairdresser etc and managed to see several friends and spend time with the family. Laura treated me to a wonderful classic rock ballet and a meal in London and Adam to a meal plus chocs and flowers as belated birthday/early Mother’s Day gifts.  Whilst in England, I was able to get the car’s windscreen and faulty light bulbs replaced and drove around for a week with our new dishwasher sitting in the back of the trusty Micra.

Meanwhie Peter was working hard to finish off the conversion and by the time I returned he had almost done it and was suitably exhausted. I was amazed and delighted and really pleased that he had bitten the bullet this year instead of waiting for next winter.

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The old utility room en route to becoming a bedroom.

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Just enough room for a bed and the hot water cylinder.

Everywhere was covered in dust, but our new G.Tech vacuum cleaner was soon put to good use and a few days later we were almost shipshape. Both new rooms appear to have more space than in their previous lives and having the utility room next to the galley is much better. We had an interesting half hour or so getting the dishwasher onboard and through the front hatch. The fittings I had brought from England meant that the washing machine and dishwasher were soon plumbed in.

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Only way in for the dishwasher.

With the end of March rapidly approaching, we told Toni the Capitaine of our intention to leave at the end of the week. Peter was getting itchy feet.

With just a few days left, we drove over to Dainville near Arras to visit the WW1 War Grave of my Great Uncle Frank. This was a moving experience as I was probably only the second relative to have been there. On the way back we stopped over with our friends Lynn and Stew in Cambrai and enjoyed another convivial evening with them and John (‘Plover’).

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Nicci plants Violas at her Great Uncle’s grave.

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The location had remained unknown until just recently.

Back in Erquelinnes, Lorna and Lawrence (‘Waterdog’) and Louise and Roger (‘The River’) had returned from England and with more inclement weather forecast, Peter was persuaded to delay our departure for a day or so.

We held an impromptu farewell ‘aperros’ onboard Aurigny two days before we left and were pleased that twelve of the ‘locals’ from the port were able to join us. It had been another enjoyable winter and we had made some more great friends.

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