Journal the Third. Dark January, Paris and catastrophe strikes, Normandy on the beach amongst the sand-dunes, dog with lampshade, flares night and in February lurvv is all around. All human life is there. What do we do all day?

Keeps me searching for a heart of gold
And I’m gettin’ old

” . . . Yesterday was the 14th February, a gloriously warm and sunny day that emerged out of a cold mist mid-morning. The River Rats community declared their Valentine’s Day love for each over the 09h30 ‘net’, with love songs and little ditties, both dedicated and anonymous, orchestrated by the Kiwis, Jayne and Pete, on Rehara II. It could have been ghastly, but humour prevailed. In the afternoon, a small group of romantic sports fans gathered at the PMU bar to watch France play rugby against Ireland, and in the evening, John and Jan, the Australians aboard ‘Arjo’, entertained everyone with another of their (in)famous Quiz Nights. Two days earlier, we gathered at the Café de la Navigation for another ‘Franglais Soiree’ – the French do love to parlez; and two days before that we had informed the local fireman and police that we would be having a ‘Flares Night’; not a Rave for Ageing Hippies, as our Aussie friends quipped, but a chance to let off out-of-date life saving devices, some of us for the first time. Boy, do those parachute rockets go! As I said, the social life here is non-stop.

I was prompted to sit down and write today by a visit from an English couple, who, whilst planning their own boating adventure, had been following this column with some interest. They seemed pleasantly surprised to find us in the flesh and grilling our morning toast! Yes, life is real here and, no, Jane and Mike from Southampton, we have no regrets. Just do it!

January was a dark month, the tenting over our boat making daylight hours even dimmer and shorter. After the snow melted the rain drizzled, and we snuggled down to read more books and make even longer lists of jobs to do when the weather became more clement. Our considerable library aboard is augmented by a ‘free book’ shop, run by a marvellous ex-pat, who arrived in St Jean 17 years ago and never went back. All you have to do is swap your own well-thumbed tomes for someone else’s. We also lend and borrow all manner of reading materials inter-boat.

At the end of January some good friends from Normandy invited us to visit for a week; we had baths and slept in a bed for the first time in 3 months. We took long walks on the endless sands around Montmartin, the sea in the distance, now fast becoming just a memory, was a mere strip of bright turquoise against the lowering skies. Then, a clean and comfortable train from Granville, stopping only twice on the 3 hour trip through the sparkling snow-dusted countryside, took us straight to Gare Montparnasse in Paris. Here we stayed with Neil, my brother in law, for a week in his flat in Boulevard Deaumesnil.

Opposite the block of apartments and offices are the Arches d’Arts, the undersides of the old raised railway line heading towards La Bastille. Newly renovated, they provide workshops and salerooms for artisans, and a roof top promenade for walkers, joggers and sweethearts, but not for dogs. Paris is difficult for dogs, at least for those who prefer to perform quietly upon some greenery or under a shrub, like our Chloe – and here starts the story of our worst trauma so far.

We were required to escort her 20 minutes or so from the flat to a park in Bercy Village, where on a large, raised stretch of grass, she found a playmate and raced around. We walked to the end of the park, bounded by a parapet overlooking a 3 lane road some 5 or 6 metres below, and beyond that, the brown waters of the fast running Seine. We called her since she appeared to be wandering off and suddenly she was racing towards us, had jumped up, and then skidded over the ledge beside us, plummeting to the pavement below. I saw her bounce, get up, take a few steps and lie down next to a tree, inches from the nearside lane of trafffic.

There followed a frantic dash to find steps to get down to her, a ride in a car with a Frenchman, who had been watching open-mouthed and immediately offered to take her to his vet, and then an agonising wait to find out the extent of her injuries. In fact, she sustained a dislocated hip, a cut to her leg and a bruised eye – that was all. Even her pulse and temperature were normal. Ours certainly weren’t. She is recovering well, back on the boat, still limping a little, wearing her ‘lampshade’ and restricted on a leash. She is also handling her notoriety with great aplomb.

February has been extraordinary; from the 2nd onwards, five brilliant days of wall to wall sunshine. Started the kingfishers to dart in and out of the reeds and the coypu to swim openly from pontoon to pontoon. The tent came off and we breakfasted on deck in shirt-sleeves most mornings, sometimes joined by friends for coffee. These were followed by one or two misty days, one or two very cold days, and then more sunshine, during which we have started in earnest on the jobs list. The extension (widthways) to the bed is now complete, we have widened all the shelves in the boat and are currently making alterations to the galley. Today, we watched the England v Italy rugby match on Hazelwood’s telly with 5 of our sports mad friends, in between preparing the windows for new sun-proof curtains, and designing the wind chutes and mosquito nets ready for our summer adventures in the Canal du Midi and the Med.

And folks from dear old Blighty ask

. . . what do we do all day?