The view from the top of the mountain

Nearing the summit

Just a brief update for anyone who’s ear we haven’t managed to chew yet.

I don’t know if you have ever climbed a mountain or not but if you have you will know that you rarely have continuous sight of the summit the whole time you are climbing. There comes a point though in most ascents where you can clearly see the top and you become confident that you are going to achieve your goal and reap the rewards for all of the effort that you have put in. That, metaphorically, is pretty much where we are now on our narrow boat journey.

The view from the top of the mountain

Last week we completed the sale of our old home which brought our final goal of retirement and cruising the canal network into sight. It’s been very much like climbing a mountain in that there have been easy bits, hard bits and down right miserable bits but suddenly all the effort seems worthwhile and we can almost touch our summit.

We have made the decision to retire at the end of March and once the necessary maintenance work on the boat is complete we should be away on our travels by the end of the following month. We have revised our plans a little and now intend to travel for around six months returning to our berth in the marina for the winter. And before anybody asks the question; “have you planned your route yet?” the answer is no and we won’t be doing so either. Just about everybody that we talk to asks us that question but the nearest we have to a plan is to head vaguely south and allow curiosity to be our compass.

New horizons beckon

Our original idea was to take off this Spring and just cruise indefinitely but having had a taste of marina life and because we are already making good friends here we thought we would come back for the winter. It will also give us plenty of time to work on any changes we want to make to the boat and to decide with a greater depth of hindsight if we want to repeat the same pattern in future or just become permanent nomads for a few years. Not knowing how it will work out is what makes it so much fun I suppose.

Where we are now is not unlike being tantalisingly close to the top of your mountain and anticipating the spectacular, but as yet hidden views that will surely appear any moment now. We now know that we will be on top of our mountain in April, looking out over a whole landscape of adventures and new experiences. It’s going to be a great view I’m sure.

Who knows what adventures lie ahead?

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Getting wound up about nothing

We’ve been living on the boat for a month now and I think it’s fair to say that we can class ourselves as ‘live-aboards’. Novice ‘live-aboards’ I’ll grant you but ‘live-aboards’ all the same. We have also manoeuvred the boat in and out of marinas, through locks and swing bridges and battled sideways winds completely ineffectively.

Perfect day for a winding hole

Maybe you could call us seasoned novices. From here on I suppose it really is just a matter of practice and experience apart from one particular manoeuvre which had, until last Friday, eluded me. Or, more accurately, I had avoided. The operation in question was turning the boat around on the canal. It’s the watery equivalent of a three (or possibly five or seven) point turn and it can only be performed in specific places where the canal widens out into what is called a winding hole. There is much debate about the pronunciation of this canal feature based on whether or not you are thinking in terms of wrapping cotton around a bobbin, winding; or, encouraging a baby to burp after a good feed, winding. If you see what I mean. Based on the fact that narrow boats never had engines in their original form then winding as in baby burping makes sense because the wind would have been used to assist with the turning procedure. I could wind myself up in knots discussing this but it isn’t really the subject of the blog so let’s leave it there. Pronounce it how you like.

Gill in full control

Back to my concerns over the actual turning business and why I was apprehensive. There are two issues really. The first is making a judgement as to whether or not the hole in question is actually big enough to turn our 57′ boat around in and the second, which is related, is the probability of getting stuck, grounded on the shallows at the edges of the canal. It’s easy to blow these things out of proportion by over contemplating them and that’s exactly what I had done. My mind was partially put at rest by a friendly lock keeper. When I told him that it was the only thing I hadn’t yet mastered and that I was a bit nervous about it he came up with a bit of infallible logic to put my mind at ease. He pondered the problem for a moment and then said; “You know the canal network is about 200 years old and to the best of my knowledge, there are no boats stuck in winding holes.” I nearly replied that I might be the first but thought better of it and laughed heartily at my unfounded concerns instead.

Did we really come through there?

Last Friday was forecast to be wall to wall sunshine and, most importantly, dead calm. There would never be a more suitable opportunity for a bit of winding hole turning so having failed to come up with any plausible excuse for not going we sailed off under a cloudless blue sky. Forty minutes and two miles later we turned the boat around without grounding or wrapping any trees or submerged debris around the prop and we are not, as I imagined we might be, still stuck in the winding hole three days later.

In the hole

That’s close enough

The whole process was completely without drama and I actually really enjoyed it. In other words, as is so often the case, I had been worrying about nothing. It was a classic case of the monkey on the shoulder whispering in my ear; “you might get stuck”, “you might foul the prop”, “the winding hole might be too small”, and so it goes on until the problem becomes insurmountable.

Not listening to that pesky little monkey is a lesson that I have to just keep on learning over and over. The lock keeper was right, there aren’t any boats stuck in winding holes but if that monkey has his way he’ll drive you into a hole that you really may never get out of. Don’t listen to him.

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Going nowhere – but we have a plan

Today hasn’t worked out as planned at all. The weather forecast said it would be a bit warmer last night and today would be calm but foggy. We had tentatively discussed a little trip out on the boat, just a few miles down the canal to a turning point and back to the marina in time for tea. It would also be the ideal opportunity to let the stove go out and give it a really good clear out. It’s been burning for a couple of weeks now and it tends to get a bit clogged up and less efficient as time goes on. That was the plan, this is the reality: Gill is tucked up in bed with a horrible cold infection, the marina has a thin coating of ice on it again and I have spent the last hour coaxing the fire back to life rather than letting it go out. We are going nowhere today.

Come to think of it, today is like an analogy of the bigger picture. Our old home in Warton is up for sale but we haven’t had any offers so far. Paying bills on two homes means that we are tied to working until such time as it’s sold and being tied to work means that we can’t just take off and travel indefinitely on the boat. In other words, we are going nowhere tomorrow or the next day either.

Never mind; it’s nice when a plan comes together but it’s also important to be flexible and make the most of things when it doesn’t.

Another plan has gone a bit pear shaped in the last few days but in a good way. We had been planning to go back to our old house and pack up the rest of our belongings to bring them back to the boat. Goodness knows where we were going to put it all but we would cross that bridge later. I knew that we could be imaginative and creative in using all the available space on the boat and I just hoped that once we had it all on board we would work something out. Fortunately, the problem was solved by a simple observation from Gill. She said to me one morning; “the mistake we are making is trying to fit our old life into the boat rather than starting a new one on it”. Light bulb moment!

Just needs a bit of organising

We realised with a bit of reflection that we had been living on board Golden Girl for months now without any hardship whatsoever. We are living in comfort, doing everything we want to do and enjoying life. Why do we need more stuff? So rather than go back to collect the rest of our precious belongings we examined what we were actually missing and it turned out to be next to nothing. What should have been several trips in the car and maybe the use of hire van became one trip, a half filled car and wonderful sense of freedom.

A few more ‘essentials’ to find a home for

We left behind kitchen cupboards and wardrobes full of ‘stuff’ that it turns out we just don’t need. Admittedly there are several boxes of things going into storage but nearly all of that falls into the category of ‘having special meaning’. You know, particular books, photos, keep-sakes etc. No doubt we will get pleasure one day from unpacking them again or if not, some poor relative will unpack them and add them to the pile of rubbish to be discarded.

We thought that we had been pretty good at paring down our belongings over the years but it seems that the temptation to acquire stuff is limited only by the space available to store it in. You may only be able to wear one pair of shoes at a time but given enough cupboard space you can’t half hoard a lot of pairs. We will, of course, have to empty the old house at some point but the contents will mostly be heading to the charity shops or the tip rather than joining us on board as part of our new life. Well, that’s the plan…………. for now.

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Error Error – Life on the wagon

Amongst the stuff that we inherited when we purchased our Golden Girl was a set of bathroom scales. Neither of us are overly obsessive about our weight but on the basis of not looking a gift horse in the mouth, and the fact that they looked quite expensive, we decided to keep them. It turns out that they don’t really work on a boat. The problem is that of shifting weight. I don’t mean that we are dieting so furiously that the scales can’t keep up with us. No, the problem is that when you stand on the scales the boat rocks and the electronics in the workings can’t understand what’s going on. About four out of five attempts result in a long delay before “EE” is displayed. I am assuming that at least one of those letters stands for Error, your guess is as good as mine as to the other one. Electronic Error perhaps? Or maybe just Eating Excessively. Anyway, the point is you have to keep stepping on and off the scales multiple times before you get a reading. Just attempting to find out your current weight is probably a reasonable workout and may in fact result in a steady stream of diminishing readings if you keep at it long enough.

Captions welcome

As I said I don’t usually bother with such things but as I have joined the flock of sober sheep that are doing Dry January I thought I might just weigh myself once a week to see what difference an absence of alcohol might make. After a prolonged session of what must have looked like the easiest step exercises ever, I managed to get two identical readings indicating that I had lost 3lbs. I hastily stepped off the scales and put them away before they changed their mind.

This is the third time in four years that I’ve done Dry January. I didn’t do it last year because I was worried that I might be developing a habit. It’s been much easier this year in that I know what to expect, know I can do it and there is altogether less drama about the whole affair. I think I do it mostly to prove to myself that I’m still in charge, thus giving myself permission to drink again for eleven months of the year. I’ve never felt for one minute that I was in danger of becoming dependent on drink but I do have an alcoholic gene in me so I’m always aware that the potential is there given the right circumstances. Besides it’s nice to spend a month sleeping like a log, eating like a horse and waking up every morning feeling as fresh as a daisy. If you’ve never tried it maybe you should give it a go next year and find out what it’s like to experience a variety of life forms other than your own.

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Wet and dry January and preventing a drowning!

That’s a full canal

Boats don’t travel around in the dark that much, not on the canal system anyway. That’s why I was a bit surprised to hear the now familiar sound of a diesel engine and to see somebody manoeuvring their boat around the marina early on New Year’s Eve. It was about 4.30pm, already dark and raining, so the idea that somebody might be going out for a pleasure cruise seemed unlikely. It turned out our new neighbours were arriving, later than expected, having been severely delayed by a lack of water in some of the locks they’d had to negotiate. We had only just landed ourselves and as I brought the last of our boxes on board I thought I could hear raised voices. I told Gill I would just pop out to see if they needed any help mooring up but as I stepped outside I was greeted by the screams of a terrified women up to her shoulders in the water and clinging desperately to the end of our jetty. I’ll never forget that sound, it was the sound of pure fear. Not so much the fear of drowning, but the fear of being crushed by fifteen tons of steel narrow boat piloted by her husband who had no idea she had fallen in.

By now Gill was on the scene too but we realised there was no possibility of lifting her out. The jetty is narrow and slippery, as she had found out to her peril, and even a small person weighed down by soaking winter clothing is impossibly heavy to lift in such circumstances. Thank goodness her husband had realised the danger by now and was backing away. That’s when Gill realised that the poor woman was attached to the boat by a rope around her waist and somehow we managed to untangle it just in time. We eventually calmed her down enough to convince her that she was able to stand on the bottom of the marina and then walked her to the bank where there were plenty of helping hands appearing on the scene. Somebody produced a ladder and she was finally able to escape the freezing water to the safety of our boat.

We expected to start New Year’s Eve off surrounded by more of our possessions, and wondering, once more, where on earth we were going to store everything. The addition of a very frightened, wet and extremely cold semi-naked stranger had never been part of the plan. I am very happy to report that there was no lasting damage, as far as we can tell, and our new friend Beth and her very relieved husband made it to the party to see in the New Year a few hours later.

The party was an unsophisticated affair held in the marina offices that are currently under refurbishment, meaning, it’s just an empty building. Consequently it was a bring a bottle, chair, crockery, food and glass party and was all the better for it. It was another opportunity to get to know a few more of our fellow marina dwellers but also a great illustration of what a resourceful and down-to-earth lot they are. The food was magnificent, the drink copious and the laughter unbridled. And so started Dry January.

What was a daunting test of willpower and abstinence has now, in its third year, become more of an annual institution for me. Rather than fret and worry about whether or not I would be able to resist the temptation of the considerable amount of alcohol we have on the boat I was more amused by the irony of the situation. I was constantly reminded of the Dry January tradition on social media as I sat on the boat drinking my tea and listening to the torrential rain beating down on the roof. Then to top it all we woke up this morning to the news that the lower of the two marina car parks was under two feet of water.

Tanker putting the water back where it belongs

It seemed that the heavy rain and Spring tides had raised the level of the canal above tipping point and the car park contained the overspill. Dry January indeed.

One thing is for sure; I don’t think our new life will be boring.

Looking to the source of that Spring tide

 

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Squeeze your lemon

 

New Year greetings seem to be going the way of Christmas sales in that they get earlier and earlier each year. Social media is full of Happy New Year messages today even though the new year hasn’t arrived yet. I’m not sure whether it’s a case of ‘getting in first’ or just general over-exuberance for the celebrations. Or maybe some people think that they may not be capable of selecting the correct characters in the early hours of 2018. I’m prepared to give people the benefit of the doubt though and be happy that they want me to be happy.

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t appreciate your sentiments but to be honest; this coming year, 2018, would have to throw something pretty unexpected and unpleasant at me to make it anything other than a happy one. I know I am probably tempting fate saying that but really I am truly optimistic about what lies ahead.

I’m going to a party tonight, the first New Year’s Eve party I have been to for some years and Gill tells me we are “staying to see the New Year in”. Something else I haven’t done for a while. The party is a home made affair arranged by the residents of the marina and it will be another chance to meet a few more fellow boaters and to reinforce the feeling that what we are doing, moving permanently onto the boat is the right thing for us. I can’t ever recall making such a significant, life changing move at the precise moment that we move from one calendar year to another and although the date shouldn’t make any difference logically, it does. It feels very much like a new beginning in every sense.

As I type, Gill is working her last shift in Lytham and later today we will go back to the boat and leave our old life behind. I’m looking forward so much to this new adventure. The chance to learn new skills maintaining and driving the boat, making new friends on the marina and further afield and learning to live a completely new way of life from anything that has gone before. It’s really exciting and it reinforces my belief that whilst we are all either alive or dead there are so many shades of living in between. We all owe it to ourselves to find the most fulfilling and rewarding life we can and not to settle for second best.

I reached into the fridge the other week and found half a lemon going soft and showing signs of mould. I tossed it into the bin (compost of course) but giving it a second thought I realised what a great metaphor for life it offered. I realised how sad it was that it had only half fulfilled it’s role. I can’t remember whether the used half contributed to a G and T or added zest to a lemon drizzle cake but I was sad that half of it had been wasted. Life’s a bit like that isn’t it? It’s so easy to let half of your life go unused, only to find it lying at the back of the proverbial fridge when you reach the end of your days.

I wish all of you the best of life in 2018 and urge you to go out and squeeze that lemon as hard as you possibly can.

Happy New Year.

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A dreich day

The Scots would call it a ‘dreich day’, the Irish a ‘soft day’. Personally, I would call it a ‘bloody miserable wet day’. However you want to dress it up, I’m not inspired to experience it other than through the window and with the benefit of a full tea-pot and a glowing fire. It’s the perfect recipe for a spot of self-indulgent navel gazing.

A dreich day

I’m always conscious when I start writing that there are countless blogs out there telling us how to live our lives. From Kafir to Pilates, detoxing to mindfulness there is always some holier-than-thou preacher pushing ‘the solution’ and filling us full of guilt because we aren’t on board. They berate us for our consumerism and accuse us of destroying our precious planet whilst proffering the simple meditative, all-fulfilling alternative of living in a small space on a vegan diet in the woods. Whenever I come across these blogs I worry that maybe I am guilty of the same thing. I have never suggested that anybody ‘ought’ to cycle around Britain on a bicycle and I have never said that living on a narrow boat is in some way the ‘correct’ way to live ones life but I do worry that it could come over that way.

When I was younger I had a passion for reading accounts of unbelievable feats of bravery. Tales of near death experiences on ice encrusted peaks in the Himalayas had me spell-bound. I devoured them hungrily but I never once considered following in their footsteps. I never felt that the authors of these sagas were suggesting that I ‘ought’ to be doing the same thing or that what they did was some kind of path to enlightenment. They were having a good time and they felt compelled to share it as far as I could tell and I was happy to gorge on their adventures vicariously without ever feeling denigrated.

I write this blog because I enjoy it. It’s a handy way of exploring ideas and the world around us and writing things down helps me to get my thoughts in some kind of order. The fact that some people seem to enjoy reading it is a real bonus and that is really all there is to it. I’m not trying to tell anybody else how they should live their lives, just exploring my own choices.

Which brings me to the navel gazing. I’m trying really hard to set aside the novelty aspect of life on the boat and work out why I am enjoying the experience so much. There are obvious factors like the scenery, peace and quiet, abundant wildlife and friendly neighbours (and the stove, don’t forget the stove) but all of that could easily be attained living in a very comfortable house in the countryside.

Don’t forget the stove

The boat, on the other hand, presents plenty of reasons for not living on the water. There is a never-ending round of chores and repairs, we are always tripping over each other and there is never having enough space to store anything. We have cut our personal belongings down to a ridiculous level but there are still more ‘things’ than there are spaces to keep them in. We have limited wi-fi availability, the phone signal is dodgy and we don’t have constant running hot water a lot of the time. Last night the mains electricity was playing on off, on off all evening. Life on a boat is harder than life on land so why is it so much fun?

By modern standards our life now is quite primitive and at times less comfortable than the one we are leaving behind but at the same time I can’t help but feel it is more satisfying. It’s certainly more demanding. To some extent it’s like going back in time. My dad was a joiner and spent his working days being creative in a physically demanding job. In his limited amount of free time he was normally found repairing or restoring something or tending his modest vegetable patch in the back garden. Leisure time was a novel concept then and life was full without having to be filled. Perhaps the boat takes us back some way to that time when there was always something that needed doing as opposed to finding something to do.

Humankind has done a magnificent job of making life easier through technology. From electric tooth brushes to pneumatic nail guns we have managed to take the labour out of nearly everything we do. There is no need to walk anywhere if we don’t want to, lifts and escalators have taken the place of staircases; and digging, weeding, hoeing and harvesting are all taken care of by Tescos. Now we have so much more free time and we can go to the gym or for a run to get the exercise that used to be an integral part of everyday life. I genuinely don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad one but it does seem a bit odd when you think about it.

Our new lifestyle on our Golden Girl is definitely more taxing than our old one but at the same time it is strangely more satisfying. The simple processes of staying warm, dry and well fed require a little more effort than they used to and that in turn brings a greater sense of achievement. The boat is definitely more complex than the house was. There is more to learn, more to go wrong but also more reward from making it work. It demands more time and investment both mentally and physically and for me, at least, it’s just more interesting.

I’m going to put a note in my diary and read this again in a few months time and we’ll see if I still agree with myself or whether it turns out it’s a fool’s paradise I am living in and not a marina at all. In the mean time life on board provides me with plenty to do when I’m not contemplating mental conundrums on a dreich or soft day.

Right, enough of all this philosophical navel gazing stuff, I’m off to empty the toilet.

Still raining

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It’s all about the fire

Sitting on our warm and cosy boat and staring into the fire as the ice in the marina gradually melts made me realise just how important our stove is. So important I thought I would write about it.

I have fond, if somewhat rose-tinted memories of growing up in a council house with basic central heating. I don’t mean central heating in the modern sense of the term, what I mean is that we had a coal fire and it was roughly in the centre of the house. It may have been central but it’s role of heating the whole house was plainly unachievable and our levels of comfort were indirectly proportional to how far away from the fire we were. In the depths of winter I recall changing into my pyjamas in front of the fire before attempting to get up the stairs, into my bedroom and under the bed clothes in less than five seconds, and then attempting to warm the bed up with what was left of my meagre body heat. A hot water bottle may have been deployed in extreme conditions I admit. Eight warm, snugly and peaceful hours later I would awake to find ice had formed on the inside of the bedroom windows while I had been dreaming of long hot summer holidays. Now, approaching retirement and in an era of sophisticated, thermostatically controlled, touch of a button activated heating systems I find myself once more scraping ice off the windows from the inside. It sounds grim I know but I’m actually loving it and I think I know why. I think it’s all about the fire.

Baby it’s cold outside (photo by Gill Pearson)

The option to heat your entire living space to any temperature you choose, to control which rooms are heated and when, and to be able to adjust and monitor the system from your phone seems like the ultimate convenient heating solution. The alternative of filling coal buckets, emptying ash pans and attempting to ‘move’ heat from a single source around fifty seven feet of ice clad steel tubing couldn’t possibly be seen as preferable or even acceptable could it? So why am I enjoying it? Well it’s all about the fire.

Maybe it’s the whole effort, reward cycle. After all setting the timer and thermostat on a modern central heating system doesn’t require much effort and even if you overcome the challenge of a wireless system it’s still only a momentary sense of satisfaction. It doesn’t last. You stay warm but there isn’t any sense of earning that warmth. Tending our solid fuel stove on the other hand is a never ending task that requires real physical effort and a degree of skill and organisation. Carrying a full coal scuttle the length of the boat whilst it rocks from side to side is a brilliant core workout and those 20kg bags of fuel don’t move themselves either. When it comes to keeping the fire in it will burn for ten hours without attention but during the day a little more tending gives us more control. Feeding the fire with coal, emptying the ash pan, cleaning up the dust and adjusting the ventilation to fine tune the heat output means that there is a real sense of effort and involvement in order to achieve the reward of warmth. Then there is the cooking! There is always a kettle on the go and more often than not there will be a stew or curry simmering away, filling the boat with mouth watering smells. The stove has become a crucial element of day to day life that provides warmth, hot food and a good deal of satisfaction.

The true meaning of mult-fuel

Apart from the sense of reward there may be another reason why I am just a little bit obsessed by this simple metal box. Fire has been at the heart of living for a couple of million years now so in the scheme of things our modern ways of controlling it in the form of cookers, boilers and other heating methods are new inventions and maybe in evolutionary terms we haven’t yet left the hearth behind. Nearly everybody enjoys a bonfire or a campfire and who doesn’t love a good barbecue. The idea of sitting around a fire is so ingrained in our species that it drives us to create excuses for doing it and cooking on a fire takes us back even deeper into our roots. Huddling around an open fire and baking potatoes in it couldn’t be described as practical but its attraction endures beyond far more convenient methods of preparing food or staying warm.

We’ve put several pictures on social media of our stove blazing away with pots and pans on it and I have been amazed by the level of attention these posts have attracted. It seems that food and fire are just as critically connected and central to our existence as they ever were. Despite the unbelievable technological advances that we have achieved in the past few hundred years we are still essentially driven by primitive needs and emotions and maybe that is why I am looking forward to finishing this post and putting a bit more coal on the fire. Maybe the novelty will wear off eventually but for now, it’s all about the fire.

I know: the glass needs cleaning

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Early morning delights

One of the most talked about and debated subjects amongst narrow boat owners is toilets. The discussions revolve around the different options for dealing with the unavoidable consequences of not being attached to mains sewerage and they generally end up with an agreement to disagree. If you really want to know more about such things just search any boating forum for the phrase ‘toilet type’ or ‘toilet options’ and you will have all the entertainment you require to see you through the long winter nights. I haven’t raised this subject to start a debate but rather as an explanation for my unusual morning habit.

I have taken to going for a walk around the marina just as the day is dawning, which at this time of year is about 7am. The first time I took the stroll it was to avoid using our own on board toilet and therefore reduce the frequency with which it might need emptying. That purpose now plays second fiddle to the fantastic sunrises, the setting moon and the early morning sounds of nature that accompany me on the five minute walk each way.

I don’t meet many folks at such a time and those that I do probably think that I’ve forgotten the dog, but I do get to see the day wake up whilst waking myself up at the same time. Maybe I have just been lucky so far but I haven’t walked in the rain once and I’ve seen some stunningly beautiful skies. The sight of a razor sharp crescent moon suspended against an ice blue dawn sky would be enough to take anybodies breath away but last month the planet Venus came to add a touch of bling to the show too. The sky on the last two mornings has managed to graduate from a fiery orange yellow through the most delicate shade of violet to blue. It’s a trick that as a young painter I tried, but largely failed to recreate and it has fascinated me every time I have seen it since. The closer you look and the harder it is to see how the colours blend from one to the other.

Famous work of the well known artist; Nature

These magic skies are full of birds on the move at this time of year. Thousands of geese in great geometric skeins pass noisily overhead as they make their way to their day time feeding grounds whilst large flocks of jackdaws rise from the surrounding trees filling the air with their distinctive cries and putting me in mind of squabbling children.

Pink footed geese on their feeding grounds

There are always coots, moorhens, swans and mallards on the water, already busy at this early hour watching out for movement on a boat that might indicate food is on its way. The rapid repetitive quacks of the mallards always makes me think they are laughing at something. Come to think of it maybe they are: probably that daft bloke walking to the toilets at such an unearthly hour of the day.

“Any chance of a bit of breakfast?”

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A life, and a boat, of two halves

Well I suppose it’s better than half a life, or an empty life, and yes, a boat does have two halves.

We are now spending just over half of our time on the boat and the remainder back at the park home in Warton. It’s a bit frustrating to be honest. The time spent at the marina is everything we had hoped for; we are surrounded by nature and wildlife, our neighbours are lovely and always helpful and we are enjoying making the boat our own and our home. By contrast, back in Warton, we find ourselves living in the shell of our former dwelling as we gradually divest it of our belongings. We are trying to find a balance of keeping it looking lived in to engage prospective buyers whilst taking sufficient of our chattels to the boat to make that our cosy home. It’s a balance that results in us always needing the one thing that is in the other place. Far too many of our conversations start with the phrase, ‘did we bring’….., and usually the answer is ‘no’. Hopefully we will sell the park home soon or at least Gill will find work in Rufford and we can make more of a definite move to our new life afloat. In the mean time…….

I like being somewhere new and undiscovered and at the moment that includes the boat, the marina and the surrounding area. We seem to flit between getting to know our neighbours, discovering new and beautiful footpaths to explore and pulling apart various bits of the boat to work out where and how, we are going to keep everything when we do eventually get it on board. And as if that isn’t enough to keep us occupied there is always the distraction of what has turned out to be a fantastic local hostelry in the village. Great food, great beer and, did I mention the Ukulele playing? We have discovered a lovely five mile walk that takes us along the towpath and country lanes to Mere Sands Wood wildlife reserve and back to the village and we have already had close encounters with Kingfishers, Water Voles and Tawny Owls all within a mile or two of our new home. It’s fabulous.

Kingfisher by Gill Pearson

Whilst we have been roundly entertained by the local fauna, I have been doing my best to entertain the other residents of the marina by moving our boat about. Boat movements aren’t that common now that winter is upon us so whenever the throaty throb of a diesel engine alerts everyone to some activity they all come out to watch. Particularly if the boat in question belongs to a complete novice like myself. Mutterings of “this should be funny” could be heard from all corners of the water as Gill and I prepared to leave our mooring. Popping over to the service point to fill up with diesel seemed like a simple enough operation to me so I thought I would spice it up a little by turning the boat around at the same time. We had originally moored with the pointy bit towards the land and having cleaned half the boat from our jetty we needed to swap it about to get at the other side.

Leaving our mooring to do some entertaining

We managed the re-fuelling easily enough and then I began to reverse vaguely back towards mooring point number 98 with something I had read occupying my mind: “narrow boats are notoriously difficult to steer backwards”. I can now vouch for that, they are.

It felt as if I was trying to coax fifty seven feet of seven foot wide wriggling python into an eight foot wide slot that I could swear was moving. By the time I managed to ‘engage’ with the end of our jetty at the third attempt the spectators standing on the other boats were probably wishing they had made a sandwich and flask of tea for the occasion. I think I was supposed to ‘drive’ our beast gently backwards along our berth but in reality Gill and I just dragged it there using the ropes. It was more like a round of The World’s Strongest Man (and woman) than a lesson in boat handling but never mind, I’m sure everybody but us enjoyed it.

Are you sure it will go in there?

The next challenge is to take the boat down the canal towards Sollom where there is supposedly a winding hole where we can turn around before heading back. We wandered down there this morning to take a look and the ‘hole’ looks about two inches wider than our boat is long. That should be interesting I thought. Perhaps we should go under the cover of darkness for our first attempt.

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