Time flies when you’re having fun

They say time flies when you are enjoying yourself. I can’t believe that we have now lived on the boat for over three years and so I have to conclude that we must be enjoying it. This post was prompted by a friend who asked if I had thought of writing down my thoughts on boat life now that I have three years experience to look back on so here goes.

Do we look like we’re enjoying ourselves?

I should start by saying that this is very much my perspective. Don’t get me wrong we are both happy with our situation but if you want to dig into the details then obviously you’ll get a different view from Gill. I suppose that for the sake of drama it would be much better if Gill hated the boat and I loved it but I’m afraid that isn’t the case. About the best I can do is to reveal that when we moor up at the end of the day she always wants to put the back cover up before I do. Sorry, that’s about it.

I don’t know why people are so curious to know what it’s like to live on a narrow boat, or any boat for that matter, but they are. Maybe it’s simply because it’s different. It’s outside of their experience and I have a sneaky feeling that enquirers are half hoping to be told that it’s a disaster. That it’s full of drama and discomfort and we can’t wait for it to end. There are clues in questions like, “but have you got a house as well?”, or “is it cold in the winter?”. The idea that it’s a perfectly satisfactory alternative to living in a centrally heated (we have central heating on the boat) three bedroomed semi seems to escape them. The truthful answer to the question, “what’s it like living on a narrow boat?” is simply that it’s very nice. But I suspect that isn’t the answer that most people want to hear. So just for those people I’ll tell you a bit about the challenges and difficulties so long as you believe me when I say that on the whole I love it.

Space. Space on a narrow boat is very different to the kind that has frontiers and just begs to be explored in the never ending search for extra terrestrial life. There’s loads of that kind of space but narrow boat space is much rarer. It’s the one thing that we definitely have a shortage of and it’s the biggest distinction by far between the boat and that three bedroomed semi. When I’m sitting in front of the fire reading a book or listening to mellow jazz emanating from our indulgent miniature hi-fi speakers I could be in a palace, a caravan or a boat, it would make no difference. On the other hand, if somebody very kindly brings us a bunch of flowers it throws us into a tizz. There’s nowhere to put them, it’s a simple as that. You don’t buy a new coat when you live on a boat, you replace an old one. It’s one in one out and you never go shopping for household stuff without a tape measure. It’s a problem that can be mostly lived with or overcome but I acknowledge that it is an issue. (See next paragraph).

Losing stuff. Now initially this might seem ridiculous in such a small space but you constantly lose stuff on a boat. Well not lose, miss-locate. You know you own it, you just can’t remember where it is. Storage is such an issue that it becomes an obsession and every nook and cranny is converted to hold stuff. The result is a multitude of possible locations for that map, spanner, oil filter or turkey baster. In fact anything that isn’t used on a daily basis has a habit of secreting itself in the most unlikely and hard to get at cubby hole. “Is it under the bed?” we ask each other in vain. Or maybe that cupboard above the bed, or the one by the telly or what about that box in the engine bay? And so on and so on. I tried to solve the problem by creating a map of the boat on the computer which showed the location of things. It failed miserably because it needed updating twice or three times a day and that was never going to happen. We even lost an avocado a couple of weeks ago. I have now concluded that there isn’t a simple answer other than every boat should come with a resident Saint Anthony.

“GILL! I’ve found the mushy peas”

B.O.A.T. It’s a well worn joke amongst those that live on the water. It stands for Break Out Another Thousand because things on boats go wrong all the time. As I type (and you might think the last thing I should be doing is typing) the central heating has broken down, the decorative wooden facia on the roof hatch has fallen off and the shower has been leaking. Again.

Something else that needs fixing

There are other things but I try hard not to dwell on them or compile lists in my head for the sake of my mental well being. Since we bought our Golden Girl the toilet has broken three times! I know, it’s ridiculous but it’s true. It has now been replaced with a very B.O.A.T. priced compost one. Batteries have died, (£650), engine mounts have failed, (£350), a gear box gave up the ghost (£50, insurance covered it) and now we need a new rear cover (£2000). Don’t let anybody tell you that living on a boat is a cheap alternative to land life, it’s not. It’s just more complicated.

Surviving. There you go, a bit of drama. I know that’s what you wanted all along. So what do I mean by surviving? Well I don’t mean that we nearly die on a regular basis but rather the things that keep us alive that most people never think about are more in your face when you live on a narrow boat. Things like water, waste (kitchen and personal), heat and fuel. In a house all sorts of things are like magic. Electricity, gas, refuse collection, water……. they all just happen and all you have to do is pay for them. For us gas comes from a garage or a boatyard in extremely heavy steel bottles that have a habit of running out in the middle of cooking a roast dinner. It’s always dark and it’s always raining too and the gas locker with the spare bottle in it is outside of course. Electricity comes from our battery bank and is supplied by the engine and solar panels. You have to constantly monitor battery levels and worry continuously about it or the batteries explode. I think. Well I’ll never find out because I never stop worrying about it.

Battery monitor – compulsive viewing

Water is stored in a huge tank at the front of the boat and even though it’s huge it empties surprisingly quickly if you don’t treat water like a rare and precious commodity. It takes anything from a half to a full hour to fill the tank and water points can be many miles apart. Planning is everything. Nobody collects our waste. It’s ours to keep unless we take it somewhere and dispose of it. Fortunately there are service points along the canals that include refuse bins and if they aren’t completely overflowing, which they often are, we can offload the rubbish there. Now you may be thinking at this point, why would anybody in their right mind want to live on a boat and for many people they wouldn’t but I love it! I love it because all this stuff makes me feel alive. It makes me realise that there is no such thing as magic and survival is actually quite good fun. It’s in our genes which is, I suppose, just as well.

So there you go. It’s not all roses living on board but the trials and tribulations are massively outweighed by our laid back, mañana lifestyle, pottering around exploring the country and being a part of a very special community. How long will we do it for? Who knows but it’s three years and counting and we have no plans to stop just yet. I have to go now, the coal scuttle needs filling.

A minor obsession

Why I would like to rename our boat.

Most tribes have their obsessions and will discuss them endlessly, and probably boringly, given the slightest opportunity. The tribe I am most familiar with is that of the cyclists and they will bang on and on about punctures, hills, waterproof (or not) clothing and motorists. Or more particularly, motorists that hate cyclists. It’s no different with boaters. There are multiple topics that attract a plethora of opinions but without doubt there are two that stand out head and shoulders above the rest. Toilets and tick-over. Toilets will have to wait for another blog but right now I have tick-over on my mind.

No drinks were spilled as a result of this passing

For the less mechanically minded, or interested, tick-over is the speed at which the engine runs at its lowest setting with the forward gear engaged. I suppose you could have a reverse tick-over setting but we’ll keep things simple. I really hope for your sakes that this gets more interesting. Anyway, let me explain why tick-over is important.

Not so subtle reminders

Suppose you are travelling down the canal at a sprightly three, or even a reckless four, miles per hour and you come across a couple of boats moored by the tow path. Convention says that you should reduce your speed to tick-over whilst passing the boats. The reason for this is to minimize the tendency to rock the moored boats and pull them back and forth on their ropes. The effect of a boat passing by too quickly can be so violent that it has, in extreme circumstances, resulted in spilt wine or beer. A serious problem as I am sure most people would agree. The advice is to slow your boat down three boat lengths before any stationary vessel and not to speed up again until you are clear of it. It’s a simple enough convention to adhere to so what’s the problem you may ask? Well the problem is a combination of human nature and boat propulsion mechanics.

The mechanical problem is related to different engines with different tick-over revolution settings and varying propeller sizes which combine to result in differing speeds at tick-over. Our boat has a slower than average tick-over for example so if we stick to the rules we are real goody two shoes and nobody shouts at us. The second element is the fact that some people are inconsiderate idiots and some are just not very bright or aware of how the world works. The consequences of all this is that boaters in motion are adamant that they are travelling at a reasonable speed that won’t cause any disturbance whilst the people on the stationary boats are convinced that they are about to sink, or at the very least lose a precious glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

This conflict usually prompts a variety of ‘questions’ or ‘suggestions’, mostly shouted from the moored boats, along the lines of: “What’s the hurry”, “You’ve lost your water skier!” “Where’s the fire?” and, most common of all, “That’s not tick-over!”. There are various responses from the guilty party, the most common being to look the other way and feign deafness. Another is to insist they are travelling at tick-over but somehow manage to reduce their revs at the same time. Which is odd. Or often they simply ask the other boater to kindly keep their opinion to themselves but not exactly in those words.

All of which is the reason that if I ever changed the name of our boat I would like to call it; “That’s Not Tick-over”. This would enable me to criticise every passing boat whilst staying safely inside guarding my precious glass of wine or beer.

The washing machine drama

After one and a half years living on our boat we have come to a decision; the washing machine has got to go. I knew you’d be interested.

It’s all a question of balancing space with practicality and luxury. Having an automatic washing machine on board is very definitely a luxury but we have decided that it isn’t worth the space it takes up and the amount of electricity and water that it uses. It’s fine in the marina on shore power but when we are travelling it’s just too greedy for resources and it’s using valuable space that we could really make better use of. So, decision made, we have found a good home for it (no not in the canal) and my brilliant sister and brother in law are coming to pick it up from us. All of that is the easy bit. The hard part is getting it off the boat.

Obviously it came onto the boat somehow but I have been doing a bit of measuring and more than a bit of thinking and it’s going to take all of my A level physics and the help of another friend to extract it. There are two problems as I see it; the first is that getting the thing onto the boat must have been made much easier because of the way gravity works and the second is the doors that it will have to pass through. When I measured the width of the washing machine I found that it was 59.5 centimetres which was OK because the top of the door opening measured 60cm. Then for some reason I decided to check that the door opening was also 60cm at the bottom. It is not! It’s 59cm at the bottom.

Irregular doors at the top of a stair case, what could possible go wrong.

It turns out that we are living with irregular doors and that presents a not inconsiderable problem when juggling about 80kg of domestic appliance five or six feet off the ground and trying to pass it through a hole that is only big enough at the top! I do now have a plan and there may well be photographs of the escapade but equally I may be writing the next blog post from the nearest A & E waiting room. This could be very much a case of “watch this space”.

Questions, questions

It’s amazing how many people are curious about narrow boats and the prospect of living and travelling on them. People we see on the tow path seem to fall into two categories; those who show absolutely no interest whatsoever and don’t even want to make eye contact and the larger majority who, given the tiniest hint of invitation will hungrily embark on a detailed interrogation about our lifestyle. The same comments and questions come up again and again so for those of you who have never had the opportunity to ask, here are the answers.

“Do you live on the boat?”

This is an interesting one because when we say yes we do we invariably get the same response which is something along the lines of; “Ooh, how lovely. I would love to do that. What a wonderful life you must have.” The reason it’s interesting is because they probably have almost no concept of what living on a narrow boat entails but they are confident that they would be ideally suited to the experience. It’s often followed by a second question that somewhat undoes their declared desire to abandon everything and move on board immediately and that is:

“Have you got a house as well?”

The question isn’t quite what it appears to be because what they really mean is: “Have you got somewhere proper to live like normal people?” Technically we have because we own a property that is rented out but as we have no intention of ever going back to live in it we don’t feel that it counts as the safety net that the questioner is hinting at. It’s usually at this point that I can sense them beginning to re-evaluate their initial rose tinted idealism and it leads to questions such as:

“Have you got a telly?”

The answer to that is yes we have but for some reason we stopped watching it back in July and haven’t missed it at all. I suppose we will watch it in the winter on the marina but while we have been travelling it just hasn’t appealed. Variations on this question are:

“Can you cook on the boat?”

No we just eat bread and drink cold water.

The Golden Girl doing ‘real’ cooking

“Is it cold in the winter?”

No because we have a solid fuel stove and diesel fuelled central heating. I can’t really imagine why anyone would choose to live somewhere that is cold in the winter. I’m sometimes tempted to reply with, “No, is your house cold in the winter?” But maybe I am being unkind now.

“How do you get on for shopping?”

Well we moor the boat up somewhere close to some shops and go and buy stuff actually. I guess for most people shopping starts and ends with a car in a car park and they have never considered it can take place any other way. We have been known to walk a mile or more each way to the shops but that doesn’t bother us and you would be surprised at how much shopping two people with a rucksack each and four shopping bags can carry. The only serious issue is when you see your favourite beer or wine on offer and you have to ration how much you buy.

“Can you just stop anywhere you like?”

I like this question because it’s sensible and the answer could have a massive impact on the joys of boating. That answer is, more or less anywhere, yes. There are designated mooring spots that have time limits of one or two days or maybe a week but generally so long as you moor on the tow path side and you are not obstructing a bridge hole or a winding hole then you can just pull up and stay for up to two weeks in one spot. In the earlier part of our trip we almost moored in some beautiful places. I say almost because before I was confident at reversing the boat we would usually just end up looking back longingly at some idyllic setting that we hadn’t noticed in time to stop. It’s better now as although I’m still no expert I can bring the boat to a halt and at least try to back into a nice location. It doesn’t always work and can lead to a little, shall we say, friction between the crew and the captain but we’re getting better.

I think I did actually reverse into this spot.

There are other practical and sensible questions about mail, doctors, dentists etc. and then there are the really ridiculous ones. Often they are heard as observations rather than outright questions. Things like:

“Look, they can stand up inside it”. Or, “They are eating a proper meal” and “That one’s got a washing machine in it”. These things are normally heard as people pass by and blatantly stare into our home without any thought for our privacy. It doesn’t actually bother me really and can be quite entertaining.

The one question that people rarely ask, though I suspect many would like to is; “What do you do about your toilet?” Well it’s quite simple, we use a porta potti just like caravaners do. I’m sure you don’t need any more information than that but one couple I met got a bit more. They were walking the tow path and stopped me to ask for directions as I made my way to the elsan disposal point carrying a heavy waste cassette. I apologised and explained that I couldn’t help them as I wasn’t local to the area at which point the man took in the situation and said; “Is that full of what I think it is?” I replied, bluntly but honestly, “yes, it’s full of poo”. The lady he was with went visibly pale and made a sort of squeaking sound before they hurried off. Probably in the wrong direction. Well, what did he expect me to say!

And finally, the most common question by far:

“Are you the Golden Girl?”

I hasten to point out that this one is always addressed to Gill. She smiles shyly and confesses that yes she is indeed that creature, whilst I usually stand behind her making gestures to indicate that actually she only thinks she is. I’m always tempted to say that I get my turn at weekends and on Bank Holidays but I don’t want to shock people.

I enjoy these exchanges with the people we meet and if the initial flicker of curiosity grows into a full blown desire to own a boat one day then good luck to them. Perhaps I just like being the object of intrigue but really it’s more about sharing something that I enjoy and enthusing about it.

Any more questions at the back there?

Brides don’t have their bottom’s blacked

We are in a frenzy of activity here as we prepare for our first major trip on the waterways.

Isn’t she looking lovely?

The Golden Girl is like a bride-to-be being primped and preened for the big occasion though the analogy breaks down a little in that most brides don’t have their bottom’s blacked. Allow me to explain.

Most narrow boats are taken out of the water every two or three years to check for corrosion and mechanical problems and to clean them off and re-paint the bits that are normally inaccessible. The term ‘bottom blacking’ is slightly misleading as the actual base plate underneath the boat doesn’t get done but I’m not going to miss the opportunity to play with such potential for a little cheeky anthropomorphising.

The actual procedure simply involves taking the boat across the canal from our home marina to the one opposite where they provide the service and floating the boat over a trailer which is then hauled out of the water by tractor. Four days later, once the cleaning and blacking are done, the process is reversed and we can bring our shiny new girl home. Simple eh? Well apart from the fact that our home will be stuck in a shed on a trailer and we will have to find somewhere else to live for a few days. Being homeless for four days simply meant that we could visit family and friends and on the whole I was quite looking forward to the experience. Then I made the mistake of speaking to another boater that had recently had his boat blacked.

Alarm bells started to ring when he asked me if I owned any Wellington boots. I hesitated but couldn’t stop myself asking why and that was the point that ‘getting the boat blacked’ became a completely different prospect. He went on to explain, with a mischievous grin on his face, that because of the steep angle that the boat would come out of the water the rear end, the end I would be standing on, would probably go under water! Apart from the prospect of trench foot, there was also a possibility of the engine bay getting flooded if the bilge pump couldn’t cope. It sounded like the equivalent of sending the bride for extensive plastic surgery a week before the wedding.

I don’t know what it is about my mind but armed with this new knowledge of possible catastrophe it decided to explore all the other things that might go wrong with ‘getting the boat blacked’. I lay awake in the small hours envisaging the boat tipped up at some alarming angle and wondering what would happen to our furniture and belongings under such circumstances. Would they all end up in a broken heap at the back of the boat? Would the sudden shift of weight send the stern even deeper under water? Would I be able to hold on? Should I wear a life jacket? Then, for no logical reason whatsoever I decided that it might be blowing a gale on the morning of our appointment and I would be faced with smashing recklessly into our neighbours homes as I thrashed around trying to manoeuvre out of our marina and into the next one. By the time I finally got to sleep I had managed to conjure up a tragedy that made the Titanic disaster look like a paddling pool accident.

Of course it all went smoothly on the day. I didn’t fall overboard, our belongings never moved, no neighbours boats were destroyed and I didn’t even have to change my socks. In fact, I quite enjoyed the experience and our Golden Girl is positively blushing.

Here are a few pictures in case you are wondering what on earth I am wittering on about.

Waiting patiently to be hauled out

Here we go, onto the trailer

Testing the pressure washer. Oops! Sorry madam.

This is great fun!

Out we come

Our Golden Girl’s bottom.

Going back into the water and this is as bad as it got.

Are you sure she’ll fit through there?

It’s my list to port

I do like a list. Shopping list, jobs list, wish list, etc. I love to set things down in a clear, easily understood format and then obliterate them when they are done, achieved or acquired. Lists are a visible measure of organisation and whilst they may be daunting at times they should always result in satisfaction eventually once they are complete, or even diminished. There is one list however that isn’t giving me any pleasure at all. In fact, it’s giving me nothing but angst. I lie awake at night pondering it and trying to work out the answer to it. I have spent several months now working out how to address it and although it isn’t as daunting as it once was it still causes me consternation.

It’s my list to port.

We didn’t notice it when we bought the Golden Girl. In all the excitement of finally finding our ‘perfect’ boat we never noticed that she was a little wayward. If we had noticed we might have been able to negotiate a reduction in the price. The money saved could even have been converted to one pound coins and stashed as ballast on the starboard side to solve the problem. Now that would have been a neat solution don’t you think? It was only after we had been living on the boat for a while that we became aware that we were never quite upright. I started to investigate, and I started with a list.

Heavy items on a narrow boat

Fresh water tank

Fuel tank

Calorifier (think of it as a fancy immersion heater) (or if you are under fifty, a giant kettle)

Solid fuel stove

Batteries

Engine

Washing machine

Freezer/Fridge

These items need to be carefully distributed on either side of the boat in order to maintain a nice even balance but in our case they are not. The heaviest items are all on the port side and to make matters worse we gave away the really heavy sofa that used to sit on the starboard side with us on top of it. Now we sit on two lightweight IKEA chairs leaning gently towards the fire and the telly.

It’s not all bad news; if you drop anything round or cylindrical then you immediately know which side of the boat it is to be found on and spillages on the sink side of the galley all run to the back of the worktops rather than on to the floor. We also corner marginally better on left hand bends.

As I have explored the dark recesses of the boat I have discovered that the previous owners had made various attempts to redress the balance as you might say. There are bags of garden stone in the engine bay on the opposite side of the battery bank. Handy if we ever moor long enough to establish a patio garden or put in an entry to the Chelsea Flower Show I suppose. We have continued this theme, storing a 40 foot length of redundant anchor chain under our bed on the starboard side but nothing quite seems to solve the problem.

I did come up with the brilliant idea of buying lots of beer and wine and storing it all on the lighter side of the boat. It definitely helped but it turns out not to be a permanent solution. I obviously didn’t think that one through properly.

If anybody can come up with a list of ways we can solve the problem I would be truly grateful.

Does that look straight to you?

Curse of the mad axeman

Arrrrgh!! What’s that noise?

There seems to have been nothing to talk about for the past week but snow and ice. Well, that and stupidly low temperatures rendered even lower by wicked easterly winds. The TV, radio and every nook and corner of social media have been obsessed with it but nobody has been talking about the noises. We have kept our lovely stove well stoked and coped quite easily with the cold and the wintry weather but the noises have been a whole different ball game.

It’s been a bit chilly

Amongst all the research that I did about life on a narrow boat I never came across any warnings about all the weird and wonderful sounds that boats make. Particularly in winter. I’m not talking about the gentle throb of the engine or the jaunty toot of the horn but the strange vocabulary of the boat itself. These noises are amplified and multiplied when combined with ice and wind and, let’s face it, we’ve had a fair bit of both just recently.

Of course if you’ve never lived on a boat before as we haven’t then it’s easy to work out what is going on. The loud bangs of what sounds like metal on metal are obviously the work of the mad axeman on the roof as he tries to break in and murder us in our sleep. Then there is the ear splitting screech of tearing metal as ice pierces the side of the boat just below the water line. The ropes strain to breaking point with agonising creaks which must surely be an indicator that they are about to snap and cast us adrift into the wild dark night. The sudden pounding of the wind moves the boat so violently that there couldn’t possibly be any explanation other than we have been rammed by something like an aircraft carrier or the QE2. All of this is magnified both in volume and by vivid imagination as darkness falls and especially once we are lying in bed in what ought to be blissful silence. Then the groaning starts. It sounds as if some wretched former owner is trapped in the hull, probably as a result of the curse put upon him for renaming the boat. Well it was called ‘Smith’ so you couldn’t really blame him. It’s tricky getting to sleep when all you can hear is the desperate last gasps of some poor soul dying an agonising death somewhere below the bed.

After several days of this we manage to rationalise most of the sounds. The reality is that we haven’t been gruesomely murdered in our beds, there isn’t a stench of a rotting corpse coming from the hull and when we look out of the window we are still snugly tied up to the jetty. All the strange noises, well most of them, can be attributed to the boat moving against the ice and the ropes and a bit of good old expansion and contraction of steel. I’m still a bit worried by the axe I found on the roof though.

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.

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

You lucky gits!

“You lucky gits!” Said the lady behind the counter of the convenience store. She offered us a bag for our shopping and having initially refused we quickly remembered how useful bags are on a boat and changed our minds. When we explained that we had come into the village on a narrow boat she sounded genuinely pleased for us and just a little bit jealous, hence the lucky gits comment. She is right of course, we are incredibly privileged to be bobbing about on the canals on our own boat but what she didn’t know is what a steep learning curve it’s all been. I have heard it said that you should never make the same mistake twice because there are plenty to choose from. There are plenty of boating ones to make I can tell you for sure.

Not only are there lots of things to get wrong, there are whole categories of things to mess up. There are technical ones related to electricity and plumbing, including toilet related issues of a cassette capacity nature. There are lots of boat handling mistakes that can result in simple things like failing to land on a mooring properly due to wind aggravated problems that leave you pinned helplessly against the wrong side of the canal for about half an hour. See this post for details of our rescue. There are also silly practical ones that I am only owning up to purely for your entertainment so please laugh in private and not in our faces next time we see you.

Swinging Bridges, whatever next.

We have left the boat for a few hours without shutting the stove down sufficiently and come back to a floating sauna which nearly rendered the sofa a molten blob of plastic. Ooops, quite serious that one. We convinced ourselves that the aerial for the telly was broken until a friend pointed out that when you relocate your home every day you have to retune the T.V. Duh. Oh and we have settled down for the evening more than once only to realise that we haven’t put the chimney up and then had to scramble onto the roof to affix said appendage. In addition, we have forgotten to take it down but I count that as a different mistake.

Our troublesome chimney with impressive decking background

Getting used to travelling at less than three miles an hour and having a form of transport that is severely restricted in where it can go has meant a fair bit of planning when it comes to shopping and keeping the cupboards stocked. We have managed to get that one mostly right and haven’t had to go on emergency rations yet. Cash hasn’t been a problem as the ubiquitous ‘hole in the wall’ pops up in the most convenient of places.

How convenient: A hole in the wall.

We have also proven to be pretty hopeless at planning how far we can get over a period of days because of delays like locks, swing bridges, (especially on windy days) and getting stuck for a couple of nights because we don’t particularly want to travel in horrible weather. Then there are the stoppages. There are issues on the canals like broken locks, low water levels or inconvenient fires close to our route. (See BBC News for details) This latter one has just closed the Blackburn locks but we are hoping it will be open again tomorrow. All of this has resulted in a bit of a last minute dash for our home mooring at Rufford in order to be back there by Friday. Not what we intended and a really good reason to retire and never have a deadline again. You see that’s what I mean by learning from our mistakes.

Leaving a lock without sinking or drowning. Phew!

On the whole though it has been a blast. Testing, stressful, relaxing and demanding all at the same time but overall I think we can definitely say that we are two very lucky gits.

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