A year’s worth of lessons

Beginning of our journey

Twelve months ago today, on the 27th of September 2017 we moored up our Golden Girl for the very first night of our new life. As I recall it Gill was exhausted from the physical effort of raising paddles and pushing heavy lock gates and I was exhausted by the stress of handling the boat during those first half a dozen miles of our journey. A year later and the journey continues along the waterways and of life and the learning goes on.

Having lived through a particularly cold winter and one of the hottest summers on record I think it is safe to say that we now have some idea of what living on a narrow boat is all about. Those first few days on the boat last year were a very steep learning curve but now after this year’s journey of nearly six hundred miles (and counting), 370 locks, numerous tunnels, aqueducts and bridges I think we can also say that we have some boating experience under our belts. Living in such a small space and being responsible for your own water, fuel and waste distils life to the basics and that in itself has been another challenge. So have we learned anything?

Deep in thought, deep in a lock

Self sufficiency certainly. Practical skills of course. But most of all I think we have learned to cherish the simple things in life. Perfectly still mornings when the mist rises from the water and nothing disturbs its glassy surface. Leaving a mooring when the only sound is that of the dawn chorus and no other boats are moving yet. The flash of electric blue as a kingfisher skims by the boat and the wary look of a heron as it watches us pass by and tries to decide whether to stand its ground or gracefully move on. Relaxing on the back of the boat at the end of a tiring but fulfilling day and watching a spectacular display of light and colour as the sky comes to life with the setting of the sun. All things that cost nothing but give plenty.

Should I stay or should I go?

One of the things we have laughed about is the feeling of satisfaction and comfort that we both get when we leave somewhere with a fresh tank of water, empty toilets and bins and having re-fuelled with diesel and gas and re-stocked the larders with food. It makes us feel totally self sufficient and that the world is, once again, our oyster. We are free to go wherever our fancy takes us, to stop and moor wherever and whenever we like and to enjoy the anticipation of new places and people as yet undiscovered. To travel with no real destination is the best kind of exploration but it has been something that has had to be learned and I’m not convinced we have totally mastered that skill yet. It’s going to take time as well as miles and maybe another long trip or two to really perfect that skill but we are getting there.

Early morning bliss

I think from our previous experiences travelling we had already learned that people are mostly kind and friendly, always willing to help a stranger in need but this last few months has helped to reinforce those lessons. We have met some incredibly kind folks, made life long friends and enjoyed coming across some real ‘characters of the cut’. So much of what we now know has been generously passed to us by people such as Bob and Betty. Both in the latter half of their eighties we first came across them as Bob skilfully reversed their boat into a mooring space whilst Betty jumped nimbly from the prow with the rope to tie up the boat. Later that day they invited us on board for gin and tonics and regaled us with fabulous tales of their fifty four years of boating. Including the one about their second boat “which kept on sinking all the time”. Listening to them and seeing the sparkle in their eyes made me both wish that we had taken to this lifestyle earlier but also very grateful that we have done it at all.

Of course just because we have learned some valuable lessons over this last year it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty more to learn. I am still trying to understand why I haven’t been motivated to write for example. I thought that having lots of free time and plenty of subject matter writing the blog would be easy but it hasn’t been so at all. Learning that it’s OK not to write is one of the trickier lessons for me. We also still fall out and bicker sometimes over silly trivial stuff but that’s probably related to living in such a confined space and always in each other’s pockets. We haven’t met anybody yet who has the answer to that one!

Sometimes it feels as if we have this new lifestyle down pat and there is little more to learn and then at other times I still feel like I am only in the foothills of the greatest mountain I will ever climb. It seems as if our lives go round in a circle. We start out doing little other than learning and then after a period of thinking that we know it all the learning starts again. Long may it go on, I’m loving it.

End of the day

Failure

By the time I post this we should be in Kings Lynn in Norfolk which brings to mind one of the many times in my life that I have failed at something. The particular failure I am thinking of is very significant right now because Kings Lynn is where I aborted my first attempt to cycle around the coast of Britain. I set off on the first of April thirty or so years ago and only managed about 300 miles before giving up and getting on a train up to Lancashire. I blamed a painful knee condition at the time but as I got older and wiser I realised that the knee was really just an excuse. The truth was that I was lonely. I probably should never have attempted it on my own because just a couple of years earlier I had also abandoned another solo adventure. That time I had planned to walk the length of Wales but again I had got lonely and fed up on my own and came home after three days. It might appear that both of these trips were examples of failures but that isn’t true of  the second one. The first one was a failure because I didn’t learn from it which is why I set off on the solo ride around Britain. The second was anything but a failure because it taught me a valuable lesson that I have never forgotten. That is, I’m not that keen on travelling alone so it’s probably best avoided. And therein lies the inadequacy of that word failure. It carries with it nothing but negativity and it is so often misused.

I actually learned two things from that aborted cycle trip. The first was that I wasn’t really suited to travelling on my own but the second and much more important discovery was that it is OK to fail in anything so long as you learn from the experience. Or, as someone once said; you should never make the same mistake twice because there are so many to choose from.

It is thanks to those early learning experiences that I can happily sit in this hotel bedroom having abandoned our plans to camp today. Not camping when the rain is relentless and we are wet through all the way to our skin has nothing to do with failure and everything to do with having learned from past mistakes.

Of course it’s great to have the benefit of hindsight and experience but then again ignorance is sometimes bliss. We have just met another tourer in the bar downstairs who is four days into his own round Britain tour. Kuldip set off from London with not so much as a packing list of things to take as a shopping list of what he needed to buy on the journey. He showed us today’s purchases which included a new waterproof jacket, overshoes, a light, a water carrier and goodness knows what else. His complete lack of planning and happy go lucky outlook was a breath of fresh air. We left him preparing to ride for another three hours before it got dark and in the pouring rain too. Two hours later when we went down for dinner he was still there. Still smiling broadly and still preparing to leave. He eventually headed for a nearby campsite in his brand new waterproof to pitch his four day old tent and unwrap his other new purchases. I really hope such a happy and positive person turns out to be a quick learner too. Good luck Kuldip, I hope you enjoy your shopping trip around Britain.

We met another interesting character this morning. As we got ready to leave the hotel I had my bike propped up outside and as I oiled the chain I became aware of a disembodied voice telling me to go away. I traced it to a very rude old man sitting on the other side of an open window. He claimed I was spoiling his view. I asked him if he meant the view of the building on the other side of the street but he simply told me to go away again. I told him to stop being ridiculous and continued with our essential maintenance. At this point the manageress of the hotel came out, apologised profusely but asked me to move. It turns out that the former squadron leader has lived in the hotel for the past three years and is plainly a few cards short of a full deck. I waited expectantly for Basil Fawlty to appear to complete the scene but sadly I was disappointed and reluctantly moved the bike to keep the peace. I did consider going back into the hotel to present the miserable old fart with one of our contact cards so that he would be able to read this blog but Gill talked me out of it. I have no doubt that he learned all sorts of valuable life skills during his heroic time in the RAF, it’s just a shame that tolerance or good basic manners weren’t amongst them.

It is now twenty four hours since I started writing this and Kings Lynn is behind us. I am re-tracing my steps along the Norfolk coast. A bit wiser, a lot older and in far better company than thirty years ago and unlike thirty years ago I am enjoying it enormously.

Random pictures from the last few days.

Preparing to watch the tour in some style.

Preparing to watch the tour in some style.

Here they come and there they go.

Here they come and there they go.

 

At last, a bridge that was open.

At last, a bridge that was open.

Crossing the Nene in the  rain.

Crossing the Nene in the rain.

There are lots of potatoes in Lincolnshire.

There are lots of potatoes in Lincolnshire.

A right royal thistle, Sandringham.

A right royal thistle, Sandringham.

At last, some dramatic scenery. Cliffs at Hunstanton, Norfolk.

At last, some dramatic scenery. Cliffs at Hunstanton, Norfolk.

 

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