City people and two new books finally published!

Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on April 28th 2023.

We took ourselves off to Lille on the train this week for a day out. We get quite excited about excursions like this, but within half an hour of being in a city we start to feel a strong urge to leave it and wonder why we came in the first place.

This is nothing personal against Lille, which has some fine buildings, a host of museums and a simply astonishing number of restaurants. Whatever you might say about its historical past, its present day raison d’être seemed centred around providing food for residents and tourists. The problem lies not with this city, or any other that we have visited in the past, but with ourselves. We are not city people and it seems the older we get the more strongly we feel the urge to run for the hills and leave the concrete jungle behind us. Our tolerance levels seem to diminish with each passing year and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if eventually we met ourselves coming out before we’d even properly arrived!

Despite this there is always something to see and I amused myself on this trip by keeping an eye out for some quirky sculptures and artworks, an area in which the French never disappoint.

This very yellow lady was the first thing we saw in Lille, right outside the train station. There is no plaque or sign to give us any clue as to why she was there.
This was standing guard by the gates to a park.
This is a likeness of the Cardinal Lienart, 1884-1973, outside the cathedral. Not sure if he was still alive or dead at the time this was sculptured!
A splendid horse in the Gare Saint Sauveur, a disused freight station that is now an art venue
These two ladies were inside the cathedral which was the rarest of things in France in that it was relatively modern. The art also had a modern feel to it, which is another way of saying we had no idea what it signified.
Noticed this as we walked past. It’s made of scrap metal, from cars and motorbikes, and the skill and detail was really impressive. Not sure what the connection was with the shop, which sold phones.

On a different subject altogether I am very pleased to tell you that I have two new books now published on Kindle,on Kindle Unlimited and in paperback format, all available from Amazon.

Below is a brief extract from The Constant Traveller, which follows us as we get back out on the water once more, and is a celebration of the joys of a travelling life as we break free from the lost years of the pandemic.

It was 2am and Olivia Rose lay quietly in her moorings. A weak sickle moon hung high in the sky, casting a faint glow over the marina, painting a muted, hazy impression of the boats until clouds scudded across her face and everything went black. Black water, black trees, a night of shadows. Two figures emerged from the side of a building, heads down, walking fast. They came to the locked gate that led down onto the pontoons where the boats were moored and as they stopped, taking time for a quick turn of the head left and right to make sure they were alone, the moon freed herself from the clouds and drew a sharp outline around them. Two men, young, black jeans, black hoodies, and one of them carried something long and thin in one hand, perhaps a crowbar.

They paid no attention to the gate, inching themselves round the side, vaulting over the railings and tightrope-walking across the metal struts that bound the pontoons to the shore. It took only seconds. They were soft on their feet, each footfall considered and silent. Their pace slowed as they assessed the boats and as they came level with Olivia Rose, they looked at each other in silent agreement. Crouching close to the side of the boat one man lifted the crowbar and jimmied our old wooden door off its hinges. Now they were inside. A few steps more took them to our bedroom and as they pushed the door open it creaked, loud in the silence.

I woke with a jolt, eyes wide, heart pounding, stomach clenching. Disorientated and confused, instinct took over and my left hand closed about the rolling pin that I had placed by my bed the night before whilst my other hand flicked on the light switch. The room was empty. There were no shadowy figures by the bed.

‘What are you doing?’ Michael lifted his head blearily, saw the rolling pin in my hand, and sat up. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘I don’t know.’ I waved the rolling pin towards the door. ‘I thought I heard…’ I trailed off.

Michael took the rolling pin from me and went to the door. A second later the light in the wheelhouse came on and I got out of bed and stood by him. The door was firmly on its hinges. We were alone.

‘Bad dream?’ he asked.

I nodded.

‘Well, there’s nothing to worry about. Come back to bed.’

‘I’ll be there in a minute. I might have a cup of tea first.’

There was a reason why I had gone to bed with a rolling pin by my side and some justification for the nightmare. Olivia Rose had indeed been broken into, a fortnight before we arrived. They had lifted our sliding door off its hinges to get in, stolen our good knives that we kept for cutting the mooring ropes if we got caught in a lock, broken a few things indiscriminately and let off a fire extinguisher which had made a mess but not done any real damage. The only thing of value on the boat had been our bikes, chained and padlocked down in the galley, but these had not been touched. Another boat had also been broken into, a much more expensive one with secure locks and heavy-duty doors. It would cost the owner several thousand euros to repair broken doors and smashed windows, whilst it cost us nothing. There is a perverse benefit to having a boat that is easily broken into.

No-one had any idea who had done it, or why, and the security cameras had naturally been pointing in the wrong direction at the time it happened. We put it down to lads out looking for a bit of trouble and hoped they wouldn’t come back. Besides, we soon had far more important things to worry about.

It was 14th March 2020 and we had arrived back in France from the UK two days before, our journey a rushed affair due to concern over what effect the Coronavirus might have on future travel plans. Within a few short weeks it had grown from a far-off problem in China to a much more serious threat on our own doorstep. Whatever lay ahead, we knew we wanted to face it in France and on our boat. She was our home.

Two days later, France went into lockdown. The day began normally enough. There was a muted hum of traffic from the road, children were playing in a nearby playground and we could hear the intermittent beeping of a forklift truck in a nearby scrapyard. And then, at midday, which is when the lockdown officially began, silence fell. It wasn’t a gradual lessening of noise but an abrupt, overwhelming emptiness. The cars all disappeared. The children never came back from their lunch break. The metal gates at the scrapyard stayed shut and the machines were still. No cyclists along the river banks, nobody strolling along the footpaths. Because we had arrived before the season had started, we were the only people living on their boat at the marina and from now on no-one would be allowed to visit. Our isolation was complete. We were swallowed up in the sound of the silence and nothing has ever felt so strange.

My second book is something completely different, entitled How to be a House-Sitter and I wrote it because house-sitting has now become part of our lives and I have learnt that there is much more to it than I first thought. It is without doubt a niche market but, for those people who have half-wondered whether house-sitting was something they might like to do, I hope this pocket book provides the information and encouragement to take the leap.

And that about wraps it up for this week. If things go to plan the next blog will come from Belgium! I’ll leave you with a picture of a young cormorant that sits on the wall further down the marina every morning, drying out its feathers even if there is no sun. It always looks bedraggled and I think it’s because it hasn’t got an adult coat yet.

So sweet – always had a soft spot for cormorants

Take care.


12 thoughts on “City people and two new books finally published!

  1. I feel somewhat the same about cities, especially having just left Edinburgh, which was a lovely city but 24 hrs was enough. I loved your quirky photographs, or should I say quirky subjects! I look forward to your books.


  2. Congratulations on your latest books. You are prolific! You must be very disciplined to write during all the travelling and house sitting.

    The French are good at quirky art. I know what you mean about cities, though. Much as I enjoy visiting, it’s always good to get back to la France profonde. Hope your travels go well.


    1. Hi Vanessa. I normally take lots of notes over the summer and do most of the writing in an intense hit over the winter months. I find it hard to be in front of a laptop in good weather! But I admit doing two books at once was a bit of a challenge. Might try and space it out a bit more this year.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great to hear your news! Good luck with your new books, I love the covers. The photo of the young cormorant is very special. Look forward to hearing about your travels in Belgium. Here we are busy planting veg……in the beautiful countryside.


  4. Good to hear your new books are out. Thinking of getting the house-sitting one four our daughter… Well done. Gosh, some of those monuments are a little scary, especially the two women? The one made of bike and car parts looks just like “Predator” – quote scary!! We like what we think are Michael’s drawings for your book. He is getting quite the artist. Bon voyage and look our Belgium. Take care A & G.


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