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.
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.
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.
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.
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.