A Rock Concert in Hyde Park with the Rolling Stones in 1969

Shortly after I started work at the Roundhouse, the Rolling Stones decided to put on a concert in Hyde Park which is in the centre of London for those of you who don’t know where that park is.


So as frequently happened, a lot of my guys at the Roundhouse were asked to work on this gig, variously as lighting, sound or security crews.    My luck meant that I was asked to work on the security side of the concert, which chiefly meant standing at the entrance to the back stage area, with a list of people who had been given invitations to be there, and name tags to give them.
You would imagine that this job would be a real no brainer, on the list, let ’em in, not on the list, don’t let ’em in, simple eh?   Well forget that idea.  I very quickly discovered that no end of self-important people who felt they should be cluttering up the back and sides of the stage but had by some unbelievable oversight not been sent an invitation started to turn up, mostly with stunning looking girls, and demanded extremely aggressively to be allowed in, as obviously their names should have been on my list.

See what I mean about all those parasites on the stage?


And of course it was totally my fault that they were not on my list (never understood that one).
There were actually two of us Roundhouse guys on that back stage entrance, myself and a huge Scot who looked a bit like Obelix, (he later had a son whom he saddled with the name Thor).   So we were not actually very bothered about any physical attack from these gate crashers, but quickly became very angry with their verbal aggression and self-importance, and took to simply picking them up, carrying them a reasonable distance from the entrance, and sort of throwing them away…. Seemed to work.  The girls on the other hand, who mostly were simply embarrassed by their escorts, we tended to allow into the sacred back stage area…..
All of this had the result you will see in any video of rock concerts, almost as many people on both sides and the back of the stage as out in front… Stupid, but it made them feel important, even if for the stage hands they were a real problem.
In the course of my work in those days, I came to discover that a lot of bands only felt happy if they could bring their entire court of sycophants with them whenever they played in public….    Others refused to issue any back stage passes to anyone except people who had a real reason to be there… we technicians vastly preferred that sort of group, as it meant that we had room on and around the stage to do our work in a reasonable fashion.    Since once one of those courtiers had established themselves in a visible part of the stage, they were not about to move for anyone… Even a roadie struggling to reconnect a live 400 Amp cable where they were standing…  Tricky at times.
To be honest, the concert itself was not particularly interesting, but it was very typical of such open air concerts in those days.. Not like Woodstock or the Glastonbury ones , which of course are much bigger, but for a one day event, they  pulled respectable crowds.
Very noticeable in the video is the large group of Hell’s Angels, actually they were not real Angels, as they had no contact the Angels in the USA, but they were a nasty lot nonetheless, and came long after everyone else had settled down to enjoy the gig.  I was watching them as they arrived, way back behind the mainly sitting audience. So they simply walked over everyone until they arrived at the front row, and sat themselves down and looked fierce.  And I mean it literally about the walking over bit.. They really simply trampled on anyone who happened to be where their feet went down to the ground..   
We were not responsible for security in the audience (I am happy to say), that  was actually being looked after by the police.   But surprisingly enough, though the cops saw this happening, they did nothing about it, nor did anyone in the crowd…..   All very strange we felt.
In passing I would remark that Charlie Watts is a really nice, friendly and unassuming man.. The various times I came in contact with him over the years were all very pleasing and relaxed.. One very nice guy.

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Been going for 78 years so far and still going strong

Up to now it has been a very varied, enjoyable and for me at least, entertaining life for the most part. So far I have managed to live in something like 11 different countries and had a pretty wide range of professions, all (well most of them) totally enjoyable and I continue to find life both fun and an interesting challenge. And plan to stay as long as I can to see what comes next.

The beginning in Britain:
So I shall begin at the beginning, seems a good place to start.

For me this was on 28th June 1942 in a hospital in North London during an air-raid. Many years later my mother told me that as I was being born, young German pilots were dropping bombs all around us in an endeavour to bring my life to a stop before it had begun – Happily they failed in this simple aim.

My mother (on the right), her sister Liz and a Sailor called Joe (apparently) Being romantic in the middle of a war.

To make it even more memorable for my mother, she tells me that on the floor below her room, a large number of religious people were conducting a very noisy and fervent prayer meeting. So killers above, singers below, and generally a noisy affair – A good start to a life I feel, and one that probably was more formative than she realised at the time.

Lorraine and Gerry Striding out in war time London.  Gerry was my real father.

Obviously my memories of my first few years are vague, more a series of impressionistic pictures and sounds. Why is it that we can never remember things from the first 5 or 6 years of our lives? Always struck me as rather odd that – probably the most dramatic period in most lives, and we can’t recall a damn thing about it. Lousy arrangement I have always felt.

For me the most powerful part of this impressionistic period consists of a feeling of anxiety whenever I hear that particular type of siren that was used by the British to warn of air raids. Even now at the good age of 78 I still have this whenever I hear that particular wailing sound. A feeling of discomfort and a strange feeling of fear of I know not what. Odd but powerful.
The only other thing I can bring to mind of my first few years is a sort of overwhelming greyness and women in dark coloured bundled-up clothing and large dark hats. I suppose fashions then were somewhat depressing, but I seem only to remember the worst of them. And a general sensation of dreariness and poverty. Not a good set of memories.

I gather that shortly after I had been born, a V1 rocket landed just outside the house we were living in in London, and the drawer (yup, drawer in a chest of drawers, a normal place for small babies to sleep in then as one was protected from flying glass and falling debris in there) was shot out and across the room with me sound asleep in it. I always was a sound sleeper, something I shall return to later in this saga.
So I survived the war unscathed and went on to start growing up as one does.
The only other memory of the period before we went to Australia that I can recall is the snail races that we held in the nursery school I went to. We each collected and brought snails to school for this purpose, and the idea was that all our snails were lined up at one end of the classroom, and whoever’s snail got to the other end first was the winner. Of course most of the snails didn’t co-operate and wandered all over the place but not to the end point of the race. Silly, but fun.

By this point my mother and father had divorced (no idea why) and my mother had married a splendid Australian soldier who had been based in England preparatory to the invasion of France (Plastic surgery for wounded soldiers and airmen being his thing). This man, Russell Cole was the man I regarded as my father, and loved him deeply, a strong and very likeable man, if given to silences – He was a dentist by the way.

MATALA – I live in a cave in Crete

Just before the time that the CIA caused a coup in Greece, popularly known as “The Colonel’s Coup” I found myself wandering around in Crete – an amazingly wonderful and slightly alarming place in those days – about the mid-60’s. A lot of the men walked around with huge and highly decorated knives in their belts, which I gathered they were altogether prepared to use at the drop of a hat.

I got a lift across the island from the guy who was in charge of security at the huge American Airbase on the island, who told me that he had to regularly get airmen taken off the island with no warning as there were fathers, brothers and male cousins looking for them as they had spoken to local girls – a definite no-no.

Anyhow, all that aside, I was heading for a village called Matala which I had heard about – a place where a load of Travelers were living in what we thought were Roman Burial Caves (it turns out they were actually Neolithic living caves) and I thought that might be a pleasant way to spend some time.

So I duly arrived in the village of Matala, which in those days was more or less deserted, just a few houses were inhabited and I seem to recall there was one café and a bakers shop and a couple of inhabited houses. However, the caves, which were on the opposite side of the bay from the village was almost full of people who could be described as Hippies, though they were mostly part time Hippies, not the real thing. So I wandered along the beach to the caves and hunted for one that was empty, which I found on about the third level of the caves, so I moved into it and made it my temporary home.

General view of the caves – mine was in the top layer on its own.

It was in fact a very pleasant cave to live in, as it had a front door and a window that gave a view over the bay and to the – then tiny – and almost deserted village of Matala. It also had a bed, which was simply a flat area dug out of the wall of the cave which had obviously been intended ( we thought) for the dead Romans, but it now turns out was the original beds of the Neolithics who lived there and who had dug the caves out.

On a slightly gruesome note, during the war, the Cretan Resistance used the caves – we were told – to dump the dead bodies of the German soldiers they had killed, so there were quite a few human bones knocking around the caves, which the people living in the caves used as jewelry which was rather odd… Young girls wandering around with Human collar bones on string around their necks.

All that aside, the people who lived in the caves formed a friendly and close-knit group of people, much given to communal meals around bonfires to gaze at the stunning sunsets over the sea and I had no trouble fitting into the group.

So I spent a couple of months pleasantly in among these good souls, enjoying the peace and tranquility of living in the Cave Community and then headed out again to further explore Crete – An amazing island full of the most extra-ordinary people. I mean the actual Cretans here, they were still living in those days as they had for centuries. The film Zorba the Greek gave a very actual picture of how it was in those days – both the good and the bad aspects. Notably the police were all mainland Greeks, as the government in Greece knew damn well that when dealing with an “honour killing” or some similar, there was no way that a Cretan cop would deal with it as a crime. Odd folk I found.

They all had an enormous admiration for Australia as Australian soldiers had apparently had the same enthousiasm for killing German soldiers as the Cretans when Germany invaded Crete, so many an elderly Cretan villager expressed happily how Australian soldiers had killed German paratroopers with their knives – Gruesome!

Here is a video that I came across on Youtube of a bunch of elderly women describing how they passed their time on Matala in their youth. Altogether rather amazing – seeing how those Hippy like young girls I knew then had grown up into really rather reasonable adults…..

Fun, eh?

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Yet More Thoughts On Being In Isolation Because Of The Dreaded Virus!

I know, I know, I have written several posts on this topic- as has just about everyone in the world by now.  But I have a few remarks about my life in this moment that I would like to share.

People are beginning to gather in crowds again I have noticed here in Queensland, which is a pity as I was hoping that people would stick with the obviously successful – if mildly irritating – social distancing rules.   So today as I was heading into Samford to obtain some medicine (phoned before setting off, medicine will be brought to my car with cash machine, so I have no need to go into chemist) I came across a gang of overweight motorcyclists roaring down the road on their noisy damn motorbikes.  Currently only three people (not of a family) are allowed to gather, but there were a least 20 of these guys – pity really.   Ah well.

Image by Jim Black from Pixabay

Obviously this photo is not of the group I saw, I was driving after all.

Also I have now come across larger groups of cyclists as well, so soon it will be back as it was before the plague – every weekend driving will become tricky as one confronts huge groups of Lycra clad people on their bikes blocking most of the road..   Another case of Oh Well……….

Other than these couple of things, I am hugely enjoying being in isolation.  For me it is simply a pleasure, but then, I live on 5 acres of beautiful country, so I can wander around at will and don’t live in a two room flat on the tenth story of an inner city tower-block.   For those people it must be horrible, and they have all my sympathy.

I experience the horror of the Olympics – In Beijing

While I was working at an international school in Beijing, the Western Academy of Beijing – affectionately know as WAB – I had the unforgettable experience of being involved in the Olympic Games as they were being held in Beijing while we were there.

This is the song that was recorded by about 100 famous singers, including Jackie Chan rather surprisingly.

Unforgettable is the right word for this, not happy or pleased.  Apart from the various changes that were made by the Chinese government (closing down all polluting activities for the duration of the games themselves, renewing all the taxis and buses with super clean modern ones, establishing an anti-pollution system for cars so that those with odd number number plates could drive on alternate days, and those with even number plates on the other days – which led those who could afford it to buy two cars and making sure they had odd and even number plates – and no end of such ideas), we were also involved in a number of ways.

WAB was chosen to be the base for the Australian team for all the non-training activities – physiotherapy, offices, equipment stores and similar, so we enjoyed the company of all the Aussie athletes and trainers for the Games themselves, which was a pleasing experience by and large.   But we were also used by loads of extremely commercial companies as a training base in the months leading up to the Games.   So TV camera men were being trained for months by English guys who worked full-time on the Olympics for a British TV company.  These got horribly in our way, as we had to also set up lights and sound equipment for the multitude of school activities every day, and these idiots got under our feet a lot!

I was also briefly employed by the local cops to  (of all things) try to teach them English.  This turned out to be a publicity stunt on the part of the City of Beijing, as what I had to do was stand in front of a class of Tourist Police and pretend to teach them English while being filmed by a full team of cameramen and sound guys – all good fun and harmless stuff.  In fact all the Tourist Cops in Beijing speak perfectly good English.   In passing, it was a joy to live in a country where (unless they needed guns and similar) the cops didn’t wander around laden down with guns, tasers and bullet proof vests, after having lived in too many countries where they did that… and also it was great to live in a place where the cops wore smart uniforms rather than black combat suites.

As the time for the Games approached, more and more of the companies who live off the games appeared, and we became aware that in fact the Olympics were all about earning large sums of money for no end of companies and the athletes were the produce, the coca-cola bottles as it were.

This rather depressed me, and those of us who were witnessing this hyper-commercialising of the athletes endeavours.  Not only did we see the direct commercialising of the athletes work, but we had to listen to the lies of the various broadcasters who were sent to China to report on the Olympics, but also were apparently also ordered to say the strangest and untrue things about China.   The Chinese government is absolutely not a nice one, but then plenty of others around the world are even worse, and the total lies we heard everyday on the BBC and other apparently honest broadcasters was depressing, to say the least!  They went out of their way to find nasty things to say about the country, its people and its government, and as one who lived there and knew the realities of Chinese life, I found the various lies hard to take.

So, to sort of sum the whole experience up, I hated the reality of the Olympics, the huge sums of money that apparently everyone earned from it all, the pomp and ceremony of the whole idiotic and expensive mess, the chaos it caused in everyone’s lives and the hypocrisy of it all…

Woodford, The Planting Festival – A Festival With A Difference

For several years Lotty and I have worked as volunteers at the Woodford Planting Festival, which is a much quieter event than the Woodford Folk Festival.  100 volunteers instead of about 3000!

We have also worked on the Folk Festival – as Intergalactic S-Bend Warriors, which you can read all about in this post:  Woodford Folk Festival

We have worked this one as stage managers and each year we worked the same theatre/tent which meant that effectively we were in control of our “theatres” for the duration of our shifts each day.   Given that our shifts were about 8 hours long this was quite a load to bear.

In my case it was the biggest tent/theatre in the festival, and my duties consisted of, among other things, ensuring that the speakers/performers were on stage on time, and rather harder, off stage on time too.

Occasionally I had to go on stage and introduce them, or give them our thanks, but generally there were “Introducers” who carried out this function rather better than I could…   Public speaking is not really my thing I am afraid.

One of our other duties was ensuring that the auditorium was clean before every performance, which in most such festivals is a hell of a lot of work,as people arrive with food and drinks, and cheerfully leave their rubbish for others to clean up – but the good folk who attend this festival are of a different sort, and almost always take their rubbish away with them and dump it in one of the many bins around the place, so I was confronted by an auditorium that only had one bottle and a couple of packets of food to deal with after most performances.   Made a nice change I can tell you from one of my other regular volunteering jobs, the La Boite theatre, where after each performance we have to clean up loads of glasses, food bags and bottles – to be honest, I fail to see why people need to take so much food and drink into a show that will only last about an hour and a half – are they so near to dying of thirst or hunger that they absolutely have to have sustenance during a show?

All that aside, it is a gentle festival to work on, the people who attend it are for the most part gentle Hippy-like souls who wander around with friendly grins on their faces – not stoned but simply content to be there.   One of the things I particularly noted each year we are there is how the patrolling cops behave.

We have a number of uniformed policemen who patrol the festival all the time it is open, and on the first day they tend to be like cops all over the world, scowling and disapproving of the festival goers, but as the days pass, they become more and more relaxed, so by the third day they are wandering around with the same silly grins as all the festival goers and greeting everyone with a friendly grin and waves…    Nice to see them becoming human in that fashion.

The actual shows tend to be people who speak on a wide range of topics, and the occasional music group as well, so I have had a bloke who discussed the idea of Australia building a number of new submarines under the control of a French ship building company, who pointed out that the arithmetic of the deal made no sense for Australia, and that it would be cheaper to hang onto the existing fleet of perfectly good and never actually used, submarines and to give each of the people it was intended to hire for this project a couple of billion dollars – this startling conclusion he proved with a load of facts and figures.

Michael Leunig

I have also had a world famous cartoonist, Michael Leunig giving two talks in my theatre.  The first one was worrying as he didn’t bother to come back stage, but wandered into the theatre about when he was due to speak, and clambered onto the stage from the auditorium side and sat himself in the chair I hurriedly got onto the stage, and then spoke for the entire time he was booked for as a steady stream of consciousness…  It was superb!    The second time he was due to speak, later that same day, the management who were unhappy with how the first one had gone, insisted that he was back-stage in time, and had a bloke to ask him questions, which was rather less entertaining – Oh well……….

All in all, a pleasant way to pass a few days, and a gentle reminder of those far off Hippy Days of yore.

A Fashion Show Where Charles The First Lost His Head

Many years ago, I found myself working on a fashion show, in, of all places, the Banqueting House in Whitehall – which is chiefly noted for being the place where poor old Charles the 1st had his head chopped off.

 

He had his appointment with eternity on a scaffold that had been built outside one of the huge windows that the hall had, overlooking Whitehall, so he had had to walk through the Banqueting Hall to get to the place where his head was going to be hacked off…  A dismal idea and an odd place to hold a fashion show I felt!

Anyhow, I was asked to help with the lighting of this show by a good friend of mine, Robie Simpson, who was the technical manager of the Roundhouse Theatre where I was the Production Manager at this time, so we were both moonlighting.

I had never had anything to do with the world of fashion, so this was an eye opener for me.   The designer in this case was Zandra Rhodes, who at the time was a young and somewhat revolutionary designer, who even I had heard off.

So, on the appointed morning (the show was due to be held in the evening) we turned up at the Banqueting House with all our considerable piles of lights, cables and control systems and started to set it all up.    While we were doing this, all the models turned up and started to sort themselves out.

For them, it was all a normal matter, so they set up their dressing area in an adjoining room and started sorting out who would wear which outfit.

By this time, the catwalk (as I learned to call it) had been constructed by a team of carpenters, so the girls and Zandra began to rehearse the show.

For me this was extraordinary, the girls sort of minced along that catwalk in all manner of what I thought were really odd clothes and sort of stopped once they got to the end of the catwalk and sort of twirled and posed for a few minutes, and then minced back the way they had come, and duly disappeared into their dressing room, and then the next girl came out and went through the same actions.

One thing that I noticed about the models was their unbelievable thinness, they all looked like they had escaped from Belsen or some similar place. A more unhealthy bunch of girls I have never seen.  The other thing that was very obvious, was that they were mostly extremely young, about the same age as the groupies we had each Sunday at the Roundhouse.  Altogether surprising I found, as I had assumed (on what basis I don’t know) that they would mostly be in their 20’s.

While all of this was going on, Zandra Rhodes and her various assistants were rushing around, fussing over all manner of tiny details and generally getting in everyone’s way.

In due time the actual show started, and I was busy working one of the follow spots, following the various girls along the catwalk in various colours and enjoying the show – well, sort of……..

The audience fascinated me as much as the girls did, a more raddled bunch of men and women I had never seen.   They were all buried under layers of make-up and jewellery (both genders) and, of course, were dressed in the latest modes.   Actually, the audience were as much part of the show as the girls in their costumes I felt.

A very odd experience in a “normal” way.

Directors I have known, Brook and Barrault, Two very different men

During my years at the Roundhouse Theatre, we had the most amazing range of shows, from enormous film festivals, film crews shooting films, classical concerts, both ancient and contemporary, musicals, Shakespeare in a variety of styles, rock concerts, conferences, dance theatre and so on, the list is actually way too long to remember. Most shows were either one day events or only stayed with us for a month or so. Thus the change overs were long and frequent.

I have never worked so hard in my life as I did there.

Some of the events we had, do remain firmly in my memory, others have disappeared in the mists of time, which for some of them is a kindness to put it mildly as they were so unbelievably awful they deserve no better.

For the fun of it I shall describe some of those that did stick in my memory and the events surrounding them.

Some of these descriptions will be short, and only mention things that stood out about a particular production, others may well be rather longer if I can both remember anything much about them, and if they were so remarkable they are worth describing in some detail. So a series of random anecdotes really.

Obviously this will mean that I shall tell of my impressions of working with a number of amazingly talented, famous or totally untalented individuals who passed me in those years. Some of the least talented were also the most famous… Amazing what some people can manage with a loud voice and no talent.

Lets start with Peter Brook.

At that time he was probably the most successful and famous theatre director in the world, held in awe and almost godlike admiration by all actors and theatre folk for his brilliant directing mainly of Shakespeare. And there is no denying that he was a most amazing and wonderful director, and all his productions were a joy to experience. But unfortunately for me and my stage technicians, he was also a most unpleasant and arrogant man to have to deal with.

While I was at the Roundhouse he directed, either A Midsummer’s Dream, or the Tempest, I cant remember which it was, and his production entailed completely rebuilding the stage and seating in the theatre, which is a hell of a lot of work obviously. This we were used to, and had systems in place to make it as easy as possible, but it is a noisy and messy affair.

Generally productions were rehearsed elsewhere in rehearsal rooms somewhere, and the actors only came to rehears in the theatre for the last few days before their show opened, which gave us the time to crash around, hang lights, build seating rostra and stages and so on at our own pace.

For some reason however, Brooke felt it was necessary for him and his actors to do all their preparations in the theatre itself, not a happy mix.. Noisy technicians and actors trying to come to terms with his idiosyncratic vision of the play do not go well in the same space.

So whilst demanding we build a very complex auditorium and stage for his production, Brook also insisted on total silence as he and his actors played a range of theatrical games in a corner of the theatre.

His technique for getting silence was to sort of freeze whenever a particularly loud crash or stream of furious swearing from one or other technician occurred. Curious to see, he would sit there like a statue waiting for us to realise he was displeased and stop making any noises.

Unfortunately for him, my technicians had seen so many famous and admired people that they were totally unimpressed by him, and started to play a game with him… One of them would start hammering away at a bit of wood, which would cause him to freeze…. Silence would fall…. Then Brook would unfreeze and start working again.. whereupon one of the technicians would produce a loud noise… Brook would freeze again, and so it would go on, all day long.

During all of this I tried to stay out of sight, so I couldn’t be asked to make my guys work in total silence, as this would obviously been impossible and silly.

On the other hand, we also had a production called Rabelais, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault who was also a director of genius, a man with a long and highly regarded history in film and theatre. Unlike Brooke, this guy was a dream to work with, kind, thoughtful, brilliant, funny and civilised, and more importantly also worshiped by actors, particularly the cast of this show.

In spite of hardly speaking a word of English, and working here with an entirely English cast, he managed to communicate his ideas and needs with no real trouble, often resorting to mime to do this (for those of you who do not know of him, he was a famous mime among other things). I shall never forget him miming a war horse for one of the British actors who was having trouble miming that damned horse….. Barrault got up on the stage and damn me, but he became a horse… Superb guy.


He even managed to win over my technicians, which is no mean achievement, they fell for him totally, and would do anything he asked of them at once and to the best of their abilities.

Curiously he had a remarkable similarity to Kenneth Williams, which was a bit disconcerting at times.

The show itself was great fun to see, as it took place without seating over a long more or less cruciform set of stages, so the audience sort of followed the action from stage area to stage area. By the way, it was actually Rabalaise’s story of Gargantua, a very noisy, earthy and funny story, which an all English cast managed to pull off, in spite of the trouble English trained actors have with moving, being more word orientated in their training.

It is interesting to see how two more or less equally brilliant directors got the results they did by such totally different approaches to their cast and technicians. Give me Barrault’s approach any day over Brook’s arrogant approach.. The Barrault experience was a real pleasure for all involved, the Brook was only good for the audience, we hated him with a passion and thus got no enjoyment out of our work with him. And enjoying your work is important we all felt..

More to come as I think of it….

Our lives on a couple of boats – Part Three

Well, so far we have arrived in Amsterdam and sold Mjojo and bought the Good Old Water Rat, and continued to settle in A’dam, that most pleasing of cities and next thing was to start converting Water Rat into a house on the water, which occupied us for the next 20 odd years, and finally was more or less finished about a month before we finally left Holland and went to live in France – also another story worth telling, probably I have already told in this blog, have a look at the various posts, there are 201 after all, and you will find various accounts of our lives in La Douce France.

At our mooring at the Entrepotdok in Amsterdam – with a load of firewood for the winter

The first job we had to start the conversion of the Water Rat into a house was to take up the planks that were on the floor of the hold, and grease all the steel-work on the inside of the hull bottom.    So, that is what we did, heating up the grease so that it ran nicely into the corners and so on under the hold floor.  Whilst as a barge, she was a relatively small vessel, this was still a hell of a big job as far as we were concerned – but in due time it was finished and we could put back all the planks that were the hold floor and start to consider how we wanted to convert her into a house.

All of this took a very long time, as we were far from fanatical about it all, and also we had to earn our livings as well – in my case that was as a model maker, chiefly working for museums and similar, and Lotty was a teacher at the International School of Amsterdam.   Also, we wanted to enjoy ourselves and use the Water Rat to see the Netherlands, so we chugged happily around the country enjoying ourselves with the freedom that she gave us.   We could – and did – fill her up with water at the fuel bunker ships along all the major canals, and at night we could simply head for the side of the river or canal and tie her up to a handy tree and enjoy ourselves in the quiet country side.

As we had the engine running at the same speed all day long, she was very economical with diesel fuel, and considering that she had what was in effect a large truck engine, our fuel costs were not unreasonable.   We also became really expert at dealing with the many locks we encountered, or bridges that had to be opened for us to pass under them, and on a number of occasions we ventured out into what was in effect the north sea, the Ijsselmeer to the north of Amsterdam, where on occasions we found ourselves in a dodgy situation as barges are not really designed to sail in rough water – one of the drawbacks of having a vessel with a flat bottom, waves get under it and push you over………

Anyhow, happily this never happened to us, though we did have our teeth clenching moments.

One of the things about the Water Rat was that as she wasn’t laden with cargo, her bows were actually out of the water, so on one occasion whilst in a very small canal in Friesland, and found our way blocked by a bridge that had a sign on it telling us that it would next open in June…….   And this was in April!   So, as it was not really possible to reverse for the many kilometers to the larger canal that we had turned off.  I thought about it for a while, and came to the conclusion that the only solution was to set the bows up on the canal bank and turn on that fulcrum.  So, I did just that, scaring the hell out of a flock of sheep who were grazing in that field when suddenly a very large steel thing came at them, and managed to get about 8 or so meters onto their field.   Anyhow, it worked OK, and we sailed without a care back to the bigger canal.

Maintaining our mobile home was an annual event, every year we went to a beach on the tidal river Lek, and when the tide went out we ensured that the Water Rat was nice and high and dry, and over a couple of tides we would tar the whole of her ides, up to and over the water line.   Then every alternate year, we had to go onto a slip and do the same, as well as under her hull…   As you can see in the photos, this was a hell of a lot of work – she may have been a small barge, but she was still damn big!

Me and Jake engaged in spreading tar all over the Water Rat

Slowly we converted her… clad the walls inside the hold with tongue and groove pine, installed a working kitchen, built a shower and lavatory, created a bed (raised) for us and a decent cabin at the bows for Jake and generally made her into a civilised home… And the finishing touch we finally achieved about 3 months before we sold her and left the Netherlands and moved to France, which was installing an efficient oil fired central heating system.

With some extremely good friends, one of our favourite people, Margot. The kitchen is behind me and the wood stove is in the foreground…

One of those geese was named Diner….. With an obvious intention on our part… But it never happened, and we later heard that she lived to a ripe old age as a free spirit on the canals of Amsterdam…………

At about this time, I created a steel and copper model of the Water Rat for the Maritime museum, the model was about a meter long…

Well, in a way, that is the story of our various house boats, after that we lived in boring houses…  Well not really – In France we lived in a ruined granite mine and in Australia we have actually built our house from the ground up, with our hands…   Anyhow, that is it for now.

Our lives on a couple of boats – Part Two

As I hope you will have read in part one of this stirring account of our lives on boats, we had just bought the Water Rat and managed to get it as far as Alphen on the Rijn where the engine had blown up.   So there I was, on my own in a shipyard wrestling with the problems about choosing a new engine for our later to be trusty vessel.

An odd business altogether really.   Other people dashing about on our boat was a new experience to us both – Lotty had driven down and joined me on board.

Anyhow, to cut a long and painful experience short, in due time a 6 cylinder Deutz was built into the boat, and all connected up and tested, and so off I went again, still alone in the boat as Lotty had to drive the car back to Amsterdam.

Happily this time it all went smoothly, including getting through the lock at the start of the canal.   The only real problem I had was the huge Pusher tugs with their 12,000 ton lighters in front of them hurtling along at 30 kilometers, could and did  pick up my boat in their bow wave, which was alarming to say the least – I found myself surfing on a 28 meter long vessel, not a good idea!!  I discovered that if I put her into reverse and gave it all the power in her, we came off the bow wave and could carry on calmly.  It was then a case of quickly putting her into forward again and carrying on before the bows swung around and I ended across the canal.  Altogether a dodgy situation!!

Water Rat chugging along in Friesland. The “cage” behind the wheel house is a Kinder Kooi, a safe place for a young kid to be while the boat was chugging along.

At this time we were based in the north of Amsterdam, at a place called Nieuwendamerdijk where we had tied up with Mjojo for some time, so we tied up the Water Rat in the same place and carried on with our lives.

We quickly fell foul of the Harbour Service of Amsterdam, who came around to charge us the fee for being in Amsterdam, and quickly told us that we could only stay in Amsterdam for about 6 weeks and then had to go away for some days, and then of course we could return………..

So, that was the story of our lives for quite some years – tied up in Nieuwendamerdijk for about a month, and then off to Weesp or some other town outside Amsterdam.  All a bit tedious, but it did force us to learn how to drive the good old Water Rat around, and get her through locks safely and generally learn how to cope with such a large vessel.

We fitted remarkably well into the local life in Nieuwendamerdijk and became good friends with both other boat dwellers (mostly professional cargo carrying folk) and shore dwellers too, and had a very enjoyable number of years there, even with the everlasting having to leave Amsterdam at regular intervals.

Showing the wheel house and Het Roofje. This was taken while she was on the slip so we could paint her hull with tar

At this time, we lived in what was called het Roofje, which is the accommodation behind the wheel house. which was very civilised, consisting of two small bedrooms, a bog, a sitting room and a small kitchen, and Jake lived in het vooronder, which was a double cabin right up in the bows of the boat.

The actual hold was still as it was in the time of the previous owner, who was a professional skipper, a 17 x 5 x 3 meter long empty space, which we intended to convert into our home in due course.

So, that is all for this installment….   More to come, of course!