Fridgegate

I’ve noticed that, throughout a lot of my blogs, I often write about the fundamental rules of boating. Rules such as Thou Shalt Not Buy A Boat Because It’s Not Worth It Trust Me and Why Did Thou Buy a Boat Anyway Art Thou Stupid? and See I Told Thou.

But one rule I don’t think I’ve covered is Thou Shalt Not Have Nice Things.

I’m quite surprised I haven’t written about this yet because it applies to absolutely everything. Nice clothes? Don’t bother, coal doesn’t really come out in the wash. Nice shoes? YEAH IF YOU LIKE COAL-COLOURED SHOES. Basically, there is no point buying anything nice because: Coal. And if it’s summer and the fire isn’t on: Dog and Mud. And if you’re not stupid enough to have a dog: General Boat Grubbiness.

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Here is a picture of me, just going about my daily boat business.

But it’s not just grubbiness that’s the problem. Our boat is also like the Bermuda Triangle of new appliances. It seems that whenever we want to treat ourselves to something new that will make our lives easier or more pleasant, Albion looks at that thing and says, “Nope!”

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Albion.

Take, for example, our shiny new fridge.

 Look at it! Beautiful blue ethereal light, radiant with peace and coldness. Like the very apparatus with which God himself creates a snowflake.

Our old fridge was not beautiful and shiny. It was beige. And beige in the way that I don’t think was beige to start out with.

It was also absolutely fantastic at doing the exact opposite of what a fridge was supposed to do. You could put food in it and, just 10 minutes later, the food would be perfectly warmed. Leave it for 30 minutes and your food item would be deliciously collapsing in on itself with rot. The fridge became affectionately known as the Mould Box.

So we replaced it.

I won’t lie to you readers, the installation process of the shiny new fridge was not without its stresses.

 

But, eventually, the new fridge was in and cooling the hell out of our Co-op pizza.

Sounds good, right?

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Turns out we underestimated the amount of power the new fridge would draw from the batteries. The old fridge had run off the gas so had never been a problem and we’re getting so much power from the solar panels these days that we thought the new fridge would be fine. We figured we’d just hook it up to the gas once winter came around.

Sadly this was not the case and, judging by the fact that the lights wouldn’t turn on, the water pump was out of action and we couldn’t get the engine to start, Shiny New Fridge had drained the batteries completely.

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WHY SHINY NEW FRIDGE WE DID NOTHING BUT LOVE YOU

But then we realised that the inverter was still working and that the batteries weren’t completely drained at all. In fact, to our relief, everything seemed fine.

Except for the entire 12v system.

Instead of simply draining the batteries like we thought, installing (and uninstalling) the fridge had obviously caused something to go very wrong with the 12v circuit and we couldn’t find a single blown fuse to explain it.

Which is a worse problem!

 

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Yay!

We thought perhaps the low batteries might be the issue so we attempted to hand start the engine to top them up.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to hand start a Petter PH2W engine (if you have then, wow, niche, and also please please tell us how) but it is IMPOSSIBLE. In theory you have to crank this cranky thing round and round really really fast and then, when you’ve got to optimum fast cranky spin, you flick a levery contraption and the engine comes on.

In practise, the cranky thing takes the weight of seven elephants to turn and the lever does absolutely bugger all.

After several goes, Ed had lost most of the skin on his hands so we decided to give up.

Literally powerless, I invoked another Rule of Boating: If you just go to sleep for long enough, everything will work out fine.

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This is actually a really good rule for life in general.

Lo and behold, curled up with the dog in bed, I awoke to the beautiful sound of the engine spluttering into life and the beautiful vision of Ed emerging, triumphant, from the engine room.

“How did you fix it?” I asked, wondering what year it was.

“Unplugging the fridge loosened a connection in the 12v circuit so I just wiggled it until everything worked again,” explained Ed.

So there you have it, an entire morning of stress that could have been saved if we’d remembered the most important boating rule of all: When in doubt, wiggle it.

 

 

 

 

 

For the Love of the Sun

My mum recently remarked to me that my blog posts haven’t been very lighthearted of late.

Perhaps this is because boating often makes you grumpy and cantankerous in an amount that is exactly proportional to the amount landlubbers think boating makes you harmonious and floaty.

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I mean floaty in a dreamy sort of way, not a physical way. The boat is, of course, physically floaty otherwise I would be precisely 100% more cantankerous.

Example: Yesterday as we were boaty floating through Hertford in the late evening summer sun, a landlubber called out to me, “That looks so relaxing!”

In reality it was 8pm and we had been forced to move the boat despite having another week left in our mooring spot because we needed to empty the toilet and the nearest elsan was over an hour away. Upon arrival in Hertford we couldn’t find a space to stop and so had to go to the very end of the Lea, turn around and come back again. The sky was beginning to bruise and I was beginning to think we would be forced to camp, when Mr L. Andlubber innocently remarked upon the enjoyability of my evening.

I smilingly called back “You’d be surprised!” in a polite, conspiratorial sort of way but inside my head I was really thinking “ARRRRGHHHHHHHH”.

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Ohhhh, that’s why pirates are always saying that.

That being moaned about, it is summer and that is a reason to be happy because it’s the season that will this year contain a) my birthday, b) my wedding, and c) my honeymoon. So I’m going to literally lighten up and write a post about how much I love the sun.

(This one’s for you, mum).

God I love the sun.

It’s been very sunny lately. You might have noticed by the way British people have been joyously heralding the weather on social media only to complain about the heat five minutes later. Or by the way the press have been digging out their stock photos of families enjoying the sunshine (or their teenage daughters wearing bikinis, if you’re the Daily Mail).

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“Thousands of innocent sunbathers enjoy the weather unaware of imminent FLOODS and SKIN CANCER and IMMIGRANTS.” – DM

But I don’t love the sun for its warmth or its tanning potential or any other pedestrian terrestrial reasons like that.

I love the sun for its sweet, sweet laptop juice.

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I am enjoying the sun. Just from inside and via solar power.

When we first moved onto Albion, we didn’t have any solar panels. Instead we had to run the engine to get all our electricity. With both of us working from home this meant a lot of engine running, which in turn meant a lot of money wasted on diesel. And, since our engine is hardly the most purry of beasts, a lot of shaking and a lot of noise.

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And probably a lot of disgruntled canalside property owners.

Sick of hearing our own teeth rattling and not wanting to anger those around us, we realised this could not go on.

It was time to upgrade to…

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SOLAR POWER!!!!!

“But getting solar panels installed is so expensive,” you may lament.

Not so, humble person insterested in renewable energies!

We managed to get two solar panels bought and installed for just £325 thanks to Matt at Old Friends Canal Services. He told us to order second hand solar panels from Bimble Solar (£58 each) and then installed them for us in a few hours. We opted for Kyocera panels on tiltable brackets (we had had stick-on panels on the old boat but had found them next to useless) so we can even angle them towards the sun like energy efficient geniuses.

We were a little worried that second-hand panels wouldn’t be as effective but oh how wrong we were!

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Our boat. All the time.

Since we didn’t get the panels installed until the end of last summer, we haven’t really had a chance to enjoy them until recently. Over the winter we do still have to run the engine for power thanks to shorter days and just generally living in England but the past few weeks have been a revelation.

The other night we fell asleep and left the inverter on. This is normally a disaster of broken-down style proportions but, this time, we woke up and the batteries were on 88%.

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IT’S PROBABLY QUITE HARD FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND HOW HAPPY THIS MAKES ME BUT JUST TAKE MY WORD FOR IT.

We now haven’t had to run our engine for power for at least two or three weeks and probably won’t again until autumn (or the next grey spell).

So if you’re a new boater or just a BWaSP (Boater Without a Solar Panel), I really can’t recommend them enough. Although it is a little bit of expense to start with, it needn’t cost a fortune and will probably save you as much money in diesel and pissed-off neighbour lawsuits anyway.

Clear off and Relinquish Traditions

As a fairly new boater with only two years under my windlass and smarting from some of the reactions to my latest post, I’d like to make a disclaimer: I am not by any means a canal or boat expert and the majority of my blogs are roughly 12% serious. 14% on a day when something’s made me grumpy.

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DEAR GOD THIS BLOG IS ANYTHING BUT EDUCATIONAL.

That being said, today I am going to offer MY UNDERSTANDING of the CCer crisis as it currently stands based on MY EXPERIENCES. Please disregard the lot as soon as you’ve finished reading it. (No, not yet.)

(I’ll tell you when).

We recently watched the insightful Off The Cut by Wendy Zakiewicz. It’s a documentary film about what it’s like to be a ‘Continuous Cruiser’ or ‘A Boater without a Home Mooring’ or ‘Definitely the Best Sort of Boater You Can Be’ or whatever you choose to call us.

Here is the film (you can watch it now, I’ll wait.):

If you don’t want to watch the film or you can’t currently watch the film because you’re reading this blog at work (I like your style) then I’ll try to cram a very huge and complicated issue into a very small nutshell.

Haha Austin… anyway… what?

Oh yes, so, Off The Cut is a pretty accurate, heartfelt account of what it’s like to be a Continuous Cruiser. For those of you unfamiliar with the rules surrounding our way of life, the waterways are looked after/RULED OVER WITH AN IRON FIST (depending on your opinion) by CRT – Canal & River Trust – a charity designed to oversee the likes of lock fixing, dredging, taking away the homes of children, and towpath maintenance.

To be allowed to live on a boat as a Continuous Cruiser, you have to pay for a CRT licence. This entitles you to keep your boat on CRT waters, use facilities, live with the constant threat of your home being taken away, and have a cool key on a cork!

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IT’S ALL WORTH IT FOR THE FLOATY KEY THAT ANYONE CAN BUY ON EBAY.

To receive your licence (and to have it renewed on a yearly basis), you must comply with certain rules as set out in the British Waterways Act 1995:

[to satisfy] the Board that the vessel to which the application relates will be used bona fide for navigation throughout the period for which the consent is valid without remaining continuously in any one place for more than 14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances.

A failure to comply with these rules will result in your licence being taken off you or not being renewed when your current licence runs out. Which means you will be issued with a Section 8: After giving at least 28 days notice, to remove a craft which is sunk, stranded, abandoned or unlawfully moored on the Trust’s waterways

…or a Section 13 (I think?): the British Waterways Act 1971 states that it is unlawful to moor or keep any houseboat (defined mainly as any vessel not used for navigation) on the Trust’s waterways without a valid licence. It further gives the Trust the power to remove or (ultimately) demolish a houseboat if, following proper notice, the owner does not first remove it.)

Simple, right??

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Nope.

The problem with the act is that it doesn’t specify… well, anything really. It doesn’t specify what a place is or what ‘bona fide navigation’ means or what sort of circumstances make overstaying reasonable or why geese eat my blacking or why Pickett’s Lock always makes me crash my boat or why cyclists suck.

Thus, as #LawInspo for the CRT license terms, it’s not particularly useful.

Or at least it was completely fine until canal living became hugely popular and CRT suddenly found loads of dirty boaters clogging up its canals and demanding more of the basic facilities they needed to live (like water and somewhere to empty your poo) and CRT had to begin making the rules the hell up in an effort to get rid of all the boaters who weren’t neatly hidden away in marinas so that they could go back to spending their money on duck graffiti.

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Or, until a charity designed to cut weeds and fix big wooden floaty doors found itself at the eye of a government-created housing storm and did what it had to do to save the poor waterways from a new breed of ukulele-toting millenials who infest Broadway Market and poo in the canal.

Depending on your opinion.

To put an end to the confusion, CRT now state Clearly and Finitely that:

  • a CCer must move to a new place every 14 days
  • a ‘place’ = somewhere CRT made up on a map
  • ‘bona fide navigation’ means not returning to a place you were just at. Or the place you were at before that place. Or shuffling between a few places. Even though those would be different places in accordance with the British Waterways Act? Yes, look could you just keep travelling in a straight line until you hit the sea and then you can turn around. Except maybe don’t turn round even then. Maybe go in the sea. Yes it’s best if you were all in the sea.
  • You have to cover around 20 miles during the license period.
  • What?
  • Where did that come from?
  • I can’t see that anywhere in the Act.
  • What does around 20 miles mean?
  • Like 20 miles in one direction or 20 miles and back again?
  • I dunno, just like… around 20 miles.
  • Around?? Is 10 miles enough?
  • No.
  • 15 miles?
  • Maybe.
  • Maybe?? You’re going to take away my boat if I don’t go far enough so how far is far enough?
  • Look at this duck graffiti! So viral.

So you see, a lack of clarity is the problem. CRT cannot be more specific about the rules because the Waterways Act isn’t more specific about the rules and CRT is a charity without the legal standing to create new legislation and enforce it by law ( I have no idea if I explained that right. I’m just paraphrasing the script of Silk.) (How good was Silk??) (I loved Maxine Peake in Silk).

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What a powerhouse.

On the other hand, some of the boaters camp argue that murky law is our friend.

(Murky law, not Murphy’s Law).

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Murphy’s Law is no one’s friend.

They argue that, because the official laws are so vague, CRT can’t actually enforce any of its rules and we can all get away with doing whatever we want as long as we all just shut up and put down that ukulele. Pushing CRT (and perhaps, eventually, government) for more definite rules might result in new laws being created that make our way of life even harder. Where our boats will be tracked by GCHQ and any boat travelling just 19.9 miles during its licence period will automatically explode.

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“This one’s okay actually I just forgot to log him in Broxbour… Oh.”

That all being laid out, it’s time for me to confess.

I am one half of a boating couple in our 20s. We moved onto a boat in London (BOATING PROBLEM AREA #1) because we couldn’t afford to live in the city any other way. During our first year, we even RENTED.

According to many people on both sides of the debate, we are The Problem.

I even look exactly like what happens when you type “hipster girl” into Google Images.

So let me give you an insight into life as The Problem.

We moved onto the canals at the beginning of 2013. We started out knowing nothing and making all sorts of mistakes just like ANYONE ELSE DOING ANYTHING EVER. As we got more used to life on the canal, we took the time to learn about its history and about the rules, we found out that renting was a bit of an issue so we used our savings to buy our own boat (although I have to say we were very lucky with our waterlords who were nice and reasonable and took care of us. This is all I will say on renting because I don’t know how many contentious issues I dare to fit in one post).

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“I have read all of the boat informations and I still cannot work out why everyone on London Boaters is angry at me!”

In our rental year, we asked our waterlords to let us leave London and travel up the Grand Union, which we fell in love with. Over the past year on our own boat we have travelled to Oxford and back and are currently travelling up the River Lea heading for first the Stort and then Hertford, even though we both have work that requires us to be in London on some days (thankfully not every day, we are luckier than others with 9-5 jobs).

Not asking for a pat on the back or anything, just stating that this is the case for most of the Continuous Cruisers we have met – just normal people trying their best to live a certain way of life and trying to live it within some pretty changeable rules. I’m sure there are overstayers and poo-in-canalers but I haven’t met any and I certainly haven’t witnessed anything like the extent of problem boats CRT (and some other boaters) claim to exist. In fact, apart from the congestion in London, the only problems we’ve faced are a lack of boater facilities and the unpleasant sensation of being constantly watched by CRT.

Over the past few years we have experienced:

  • Having to risk mice and other pests by storing our rubbish on the roof or in the gas locker for days because there are no bin facilities nearby (where we are currently moored there is a big bin by a cafe with a sign that specifically says ‘No Boaters Rubbish’ or something to that effect, which makes me feel sad and rejected. By a bin.)
  • Continuous texts and emails from CRT telling us to move on from an area during two separate occasions when I had notified them that we had first an engine problem and then a gas leak.
  • CRT Volunteers (who walk the canals checking people’s license numbers to make sure they’re not overstaying) banging on our doors – and I mean banging like “STASI! OPEN UP!” – because they couldn’t read our brass licence plate (Landlubbers: This is akin to the police banging on your door once a week and asking to see your council tax information).
  • Having to pretty much cross my legs and wash with baby wipes for the time we were stuck in Berkhamsted with engine failure because one water point was broken (and never fixed the whole time we were there), one Elsan point was blocked and had started overflowing into the canal, and the other Elsan was an hour away on foot or by boat (and was locked when we got there.)
  • Wanting to visit Oxford but finding the moorings all ’24hrs only’ so having to retreat to Kidlington if we wanted to actually settle somewhere for our LEGALLY ALLOWED two weeks (there’s talk of doing this in more areas now, Berkhamsted included, making yet more ‘places’ unlivable for Continuous Cruisers).

This is just a small amount of the difficulties that we’ve come across as Continuous Cruisers and they are ongoing. We’ve currently come up the Lea because we a) really like Hertford and b) want to fulfil the terms of our licence but there is nowhere to empty our toilet within an hour’s radius of where we are currently moored. We are also two able-bodied people who are lucky enough to work from the boat for the majority of the time meaning we don’t need to be tied to one place. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for the disabled or ill or those with children of school age who are no longer allowed to cruise within a commutable distance to their school.

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I got a bit ranty for a while there and forgot to do any pictures so here’s a funny-looking duck.

People who don’t like Continuous Cruisers (or who are smug CCers themselves) argue that there are plenty of facilities if you just move far enough to find them. Well we’re movin’ and facilities we ain’t seein’. They also say that, if you can’t comply with the rules, you shouldn’t move onto a boat. Which is fine until the rules change so often that you don’t know whether you can comply with them or not from one year to the next. It’s not like you can be happily working, child-rearing and doing an acceptable cruising pattern around your desired location, only to read that the CC rules have changed and then suddenly have enough money to move into a house near your job or child’s school. It is hard not to feel like Continuous Cruisers are having their lives deliberately made harder in order to drive them out, either into CRT-owned marinas or off the canals completely to free up supposedly-protected land to sell off to developers. Either way, CRT stands to gain financially and the canals are kept ‘clean’, ‘tidy’ and ‘free of poor people’.

I don’t know what the solution to the busyness of the canals is, except to suggest that simply adding more facilities might help people spread out a bit more instead of clustering and shuffling around the places where they can find the things they need to, you know, live. As to CRT’s motives and financial dealings, I don’t know enough as yet to say what is truth and what is conspiracy theory. I only know that I don’t believe Continuous Cruisers are the problem we are made out to be and I increasingly suspect that we are simply subject to the same sort of prejudice as any sort of traveller has been since the dawn of time.

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AKA We don’t have to pay bills and get to enjoy views like this and y’all are just jealous.

(You can disregard this all now).

 

War.

A few weeks ago we went to see some stand-up courtesy of Joel Sanders, aka The Angry Boater. It was funny, of course, and enjoyable in the way only 1.5 hours of niche comedy directed exclusively at your interests can be. But most of all, it made me feel better. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

Alone in being very, very angry.

I didn’t use to be an angry person. My angriness materialised over the past couple of years. Some might say that this coincides with moving onto a boat. Or adopting the World’s Maddest Dog.

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WMD.

But I, and only I (and maybe Ed), know the true root cause of my anger. That cause is: Cyclists.

Not just any cyclists. I’m talking mad, speeding, arrogant flesh bags of entitlement on two canal-side wheels. I’m talking Towpath Cyclists.

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THESE BASTARDS.

Oh Towpath Cyclists, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

(It’s five. There are five ways).

Way 1 – I hate thee on narrow sections of towpath

Let’s get one thing straight, cyclists. Pedestrians have right of way on towpaths. Okay? It’s as simple as that. Boaters are even more important than regular pedestrians since we are HISTORIC and AN ATTRACTION and ACTUALLY PAY TOWARDS THE UPKEEP OF THE TOWPATH VIA THE LICENSES WE PAY FOR WITH OUR (possibly) HARD-EARNED BOATER MONEY.

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Artist’s impression.

You know where that places you in the hierarchy of towpath importance, cyclists? At least third, that’s where. And even then, canal birds are pretty important.

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That’s why ducks always tag the towpath.

Unfortunately, some cyclists do not know how low down they are in the pecking order.

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Pecking order!

Some cyclists believe that pedestrians, boaters and ducks have to get out of their stupid lycra-clad way on sections of towpath where there isn’t enough room to cycle around us.

THIS IS AN ERRONEOUS BELIEF, CYCLISTS.

Case Study 1: Posh lady, Old Ford Lock, Victoria Park

Last week, Ed and I were walking Skipper back from Victoria Park. On the way back we passed Old Ford Lock. At this point on the canal, the towpath narrows as it passes between the facilities block and the lock. As we walked through this bit of towpath, a cyclist approached behind us.

Now, I have a fairly complicated set of rules a cyclist must follow in order not to anger me. One of these rules is: if the towpath isn’t wide enough, tough. Wait. If you do not wait or, worse, if you attempt to tell me to get out of the way even when there is no place for me to get out of your way in, I will do as much as possible to get in your way as I am physically able to.

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That’s what happened with this particular woman who refused slow down and wait until the towpath widened and so witnessed just how much of an obstacle I can be.

When she finally was able to get round us, she turned as she cycled past and informed us “You simply MUST GET OUT OF THE WAY.”

It was okay though because, in return, I politely informed her of the actual rules of towpath cycling.

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It was like this, but with fewer words and more of them were expletives.

Way 2 – I hate thee in tunnels

Guess what cyclists!? Tunnels under bridges are still… you got it! STILL TOWPATH. STILL PEDESTRIAN RIGHT OF WAY.

Which means it is not okay to cycle through them at high speeds regardless of how many Carlis and their dogs are currently walking through them already.

If you cycle through a tunnel at high speed without bothering to check if I am in there already, you know what’s going to happen?

That’s right!

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ARE WE LEARNING YET, CYCLISTS?

Case Study 2: Grumpy Old Scottish Man, Tunnel Underneath Mile End Road, Mile End

Earlier this week, I was walking Skipper through the short tunnel that goes under Mile End Road. When I was already halfway through the tunnel I saw a runner coming towards the entrance. That’s okay, I thought, we can Share the Space. Anyway, runners tend to be less aggressive because Skipper can catch them more easily.

However before said runner had a chance to even enter the tunnel, a cyclist swerved round him and came straight towards me at fairly high speed.

So, naturally…

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Repetition is the key to learning, cyclists!

As well as making full use of my limbs to get in as much of his way as possible, I also added “There’s not really much room in here, is there? Perhaps it would have been better if you’d waited.”

To which he replied, “Well ask them to make it wider then.”

What!? What grumpy old Scottish man!? What are you talking about? Ask who to make it wider? Who do you think I am?? I am not Boris Johnson or Mrs. Canal & River Trust. I have no influence over these matters. If I did, YOU’D BE BANNED FOR A START.

Way 3 – I hate thee’s unecessary out-loud music??

People who can play music out loud in public: Buskers.

People who cannot play music out loud in public: Everyone else.

Cyclists who play outloud music while they cycle around are Bad People in the way that people who play outloud music on public transport are Bad People. No one wants to hear your music. Stop it.

Case Study 3: Unidentified cyclist, Mile End, 6am

In Mile End there is a cyclist who goes along the towpath blaring music out loud at 6am. EVERY. MORNING.

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Way 4 – I hate thee cycling past dogs at high speed

I hate thee cycling at high speed on the towpath at all but most of all please do not do this past people with dogs. You have no idea whether that person’s dog is a nervous one and whether you zooming past might terrify them into dragging their poor owners into the canal.

You also have no idea whether that person’s dog might have a history of eating rabbits’ heads completely whole and whether you zooming past might make you look like a particularly big rabbit on wheels who might be super fun to chase and whose head could definitely be eaten in at least two bits if not entirely whole.

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You just never know.

Way 5 – I hate thee’s BLOODY BELLS

My views on cyclists’ bells are also fairly complex but easy to grasp for the initiated.

They are as follows:

1-3 rings of your bell: ACCEPTABLE. I understand why you have bells, even if a lot of you don’t. Bells are for letting people know you are coming so that we don’t accidentally walk into you or so that we know you’re about to come round a corner or enter a tunnel (FYI if you get there first, I will wait for you to come through. Because that’s MANNERS).

4+ rings of your bell accompanied by “MOVE” or “GET OUT OF THE WAY” or, worse, a cheery “COMING THROUGH!”: UNACCEPTABLE. I repeat: If there’s no room. Tough. Wait. Bells are not for making people get out of your way. I do not have to get out of your way. I will not get out of your way. If you ring your bell at me four or more times I will get very much in your way.

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You won’t be ‘coming through’, as it happens!

 


 

So there you have it. Those are all the ways in which I hate thee, towpath cyclists.  If you are one such offender, please learn from this. Please slow down and stop expecting people to get out of your way. Please stop playing music out loud. Please learn how to use your bells properly. Please just stop everything you’re doing and start doing everything differently. Otherwise we, the rightful towpath kings, cannot be held responsible for our actions.

DISCLAIMER: Obviously I am aware that ‘not all cyclists…’ in the same way that ‘not all men…’. So don’t worry, it’s not all of you I hate.

Just most of you.

 

 

Albion: One Year Later

It’s nearly exactly a year to the day that we moved onto Albion and we still haven’t made it back to London. We have done a whole bunch of other things though and learned a lot about the boat, boaters, and boating in general. Here are some of the things:

1. Size matters: Small boats suck

Watch this video of a big dog trying to fit into a little bed.

That was pretty much what it was like to move into Albion. We thought we downsized when we moved onto a narrowboat in the first place but moving from a 65ft boat onto a 50ft boat with a tug deck and an engine room and a boatman’s cabin has really tested my capacity for giving up clothes.

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“Ahem, fifty-ONE foot, thank you.” – Albion


2. Size doesn’t matter: Small boats are the best

That being said, downsizing in boat length has meant nothing but sheer relief when it comes to navigating the waterways. No longer are we forced to go gently swearing into that good night as we search desperately for a suitably-colossal mooring space. No longer do we go through locks diagonally (except sometimes when we’re not paying attention). No longer does steering our way around one 90º bend take four hours. No longer are we longer.

Getting around on Albion has been an absolute dream, even with the old go fasty wheel and gear pulling thingy that we control the engine with now instead of what we had on the last boat which was like a modern fandangled throttle wotsit.

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I never said I learned any new technical terms.

3. White was a really bad idea

I love Pinterest. It’s been an invaluable tool in my quest to fall in love with interior design ideas then half-heartedly copy them to ill effect.

The only thing about Pinterest is that it is, much like Instagram, a largely airbrushed version of the truth. Pictures of beautiful white boat interiors do not show how beautiful white boat interiors become muddy coal-stained muckholes after just a couple of weeks.

Take this picture for example:

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Look at that beautiful white boat interior. I bet that beautiful white boat interior is just as beautiful and white now as it was in this picture, right?

WRONG!

That picture has been shared on Pinterest a fair few times. That picture is being used as inspiration for other narrowboat interior enthusiasts (or people who think living on a boat would be really romantic).

That picture is a picture of Albion. A picture of Albion after we painted her white because we looked at pictures of other white boats on Pinterest. That picture does not show what Albion looks like now.

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This one does.

I’m not saying white is a terrible idea for all boat interiors. If you have a bigger boat or you’re not clumsy or you’re an intangible angel made of Cif and Mr Muscle, you could probably have a white boat interior. But we live in a very little boat and consist of 60% coal dust at any given time plus we have an even bigger, even clumsier, and even dirtier dog.

 

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So yes, white was not a good choice for us.

4. Boats are never ever ever finished

I sort of knew this before but when I imagined the never-ending work that needs doing on a boat, I was thinking of maintenance. Blacking, anode-changing, engine servicing; this is all the stuff I knew we’d have to keep doing every so often as long as we were Albion’s custodians.

What I didn’t imagine was how much cosmetic DIY we would want to do and keep wanting to do even a year after we thought we were finished.

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Some DIY ideas are better than others.

A year of living on the boat has made us want to completely redo the kitchen, rescumble the boatman’s cabin, replace all the floors, repaint the boat and a whole host of other things that we’ll probably want to change again a year after completing.

For example it has now become completely essential to rectify the aforementioned white walls (or rather the now grey/mud brown walls) we only repainted but a year ago. The lower half of the walls have especially suffered, sustaining permanent marks courtesy of two fairly clumsy boaters and one larger-than-expected lurcher. We’ve decided to resolve this with another Pinterest-inspired technique: pallet-cladding.

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I’m sure ours is going to look *exactly* like this.

 

 

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And not at all like this.

For the top half of the walls, we’ve come up with another brilliant solution. We’re going to paint them cream instead.

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Genius.

5. Owning your own boat is still really, really expensive

Anyone who thinks boating is a great alternative to hanging yourself off the bottom rung of the UK’s increasingly unclimable property ladder is… probably right because living in a boat is likely still better value than spending your entire month’s wages on a studio flat in District 13.

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Tottenham is the last of the 13 districts of Panem and was thought to be destroyed by the Capitol during the First Rebellion.

That being said, it is still a costly process and it never stops being a costly process. Even after you’ve paid for a dry dock, survey, the cost of the boat itself, insurance, your license for the year and so on, the added costs never stop coming. Over the last year we’ve had engine breakdowns, oil leaks, electrical faults, and now currently a gas leak to be fixed, all normally requiring the help of people who actually know what they’re doing.

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The ‘ex’ stands for ‘expensive’.

I can’t imagine that we’re particularly unlucky, just that this is the way of boats. Yet I cannot help but keep falling into the trap of ‘ahh everything’s fixed now’ only to be greeted by a leak somewhere the following morning or the engine falling off or other equally incomprehensible problems.

Still…

6. It’s all worth it for the ducklings

At the end of the day, after you’ve fallen into the canal, the engine has projectile vomited oil in your face, the kettle’s lost its whistle and you’ve run out of kindling, the fact remains that living on a boat guarantees you get to see up-close ducklings at least once or twice a year.

Which makes it all seem worth it, doesn’t it?

So here’s to another year on Albion. May we learn exactly six more things over the coming 12 months and may there be many, many ducklings.

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Seriously, this is literally the only thing keeping us from moving into a house.

Old Boat, New Fix

If you’re absolutely glued to the fascinating world of boating and – more specifically – me boating, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in a while. This is not because I’m now engaged and utterly wedding obsessed and I can’t do anything besides look at ‘quirky’ weddings on Buzzfeed. It’s because we’ve been a bit tied up with Albion problems.

It’s nothing serious, just a few niggly little bits like not having any hot water or electricity.

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Just everyday, standard boating stuff.

The lack of hot water isn’t actually a new issue (I wrote before about the water heating system being temperamental at best). Since our engine-heated calorifier isn’t working, the only option we have for getting hot water is the back boiler on the stove. Landlubber speak: We can only get hot water by putting our fire on.

Which is really fun in summer.

Which is really fun in summer.

Since we didn’t fancy melting to death this year, we’ve instead been having ‘kettle showers’. I won’t go into details but essentially you boil a kettle, mix some cold water into it, then pour it over your head.

Or, as we call it, Vintage Bathing.

Or, as we call it, Vintage Bathing.

…Which was fine. Until one day the shower pump (which pumps water out of the shower tray) broke. Meaning that after undergoing a Kettle Shower, one had to employ a complicated piece of machinery to bail out the shower tray into the bathroom sink.

Tupperware it's at.

…Which was fine. Until one day, when we were both hard at work, our plug socket began to make a funny little fizzing noise and everything smelled like burning and the fuse for our 12v circuit blew. So we replaced the fuse and went on our merry way.

…Which was fine. Until one day the fuse blew again. And it sort of seemed like maybe the 12v system had fried my laptop battery and phone. So we fixed my laptop, bought a new phone, replaced the fuse and went on our merry way.

…Which was fine. Until one day my laptop charger melted.

"It's probably time to have the electrics looked at."

“It’s probably time to have the electrics looked at.”

As everyone knows, three problems is too many problems to deal with so we decided to pop the boat into the lovely Darren at Cow Roast Marina and see if he could fix Albion up good and proper.

PROBLEM #1: SHOWER PUMP BROKE.

Solution: Remove ancient collapsed impeller from pump born in 1871 and fit nice shiny new impeller.

Status: Still not working. Why. WHY?

Solution 2: Realise old impeller has disintegrated and blocked all the pipes. DEPLOY PLUNGER.

Status update: FIXED! Yay! A shower you don’t have to hand-drain! Luxury.

PROBLEM #2: 12v SYSTEM ZEUS-ING THE HELL OUT OF ALL OUR ELECTRICAL GOODS. 

Pictured: Old electrics system.

Pictured: 12v system.

Solution: Fit a shiny new inverter to change all our juicy 12v electricities into friendly 240v electricities that don’t hate gadgets.

Status: Still not working. Why. WHY?

Solution #2: Remind Carli that she needs to turn the inverter on.

Status update: FIXED! Yay! Electricity you can actually electric things with! Innovative.

PROBLEM #3: NO HOT WATER NOT EVEN WHEN YOU ASK THE CALORIFIER REALLY NICELY. 

Solution: Fit a new bleed valve to get air out of the engine cooling system, allowing hot water to be pushed from the engine around the hot water tank, heating up the hot water and making Carli a happy boater.

Status: Still not working. Why. WHY?

Solution #2: Fit a small pump into the engine cooling system to make sure water is pumping around the calorifier and heating up the hot water and ensuring Carli doesn’t cry throughout all of her showers.

Status: FIXED! YAY! WAIT! NO! IT STOPPED WORKING. WHY. WHY?!

Solution #3: Cry. Boil kettle.

Yes, while all of our other problems have been beautifully and wonderfully rectified, our troublesome hot water system continues to baffle even the canal’s finest minds.

THE CANAL'S FINEST MINDS.

THE CANAL’S FINEST MINDS.

We can’t work out why the engine won’t heat the hot water. Or rather, why it will sometimes and won’t most of the time.

So unless any of my readers have any bright ideas about how or why airlocks continue to block up our waterpipes, it looks like it’s back to the drawing board.

And 1812.

And 1812.

Some Happy News

A little off-brand today but this post does involve boats at some point so bear with me.

A week ago Ed and I were lucky enough to get to go and stay at the beautiful Finn Lough Resort in Northern Ireland.

Look at it! Beautiful.

I lake it a lough.

Just as an aside, if you’re planning a trip to Northern Ireland or you go all the time or you’ve never been but have always wanted to go or you didn’t know you wanted to go but you do now or you’re in Northern Ireland RIGHT THIS SECOND — this is the place to stay. It’s run by my friend Gill Beare and her lovely family, and is made up of luxury waterside cottages on the banks of Lough Erne in County Fermanagh.

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It is for reals one of the most beautiful places I've ever stayed in in my life.

It is for reals one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed in my life.

As well as being just generally mindblowingly pretty, the resort also offers loads of activities.

We went cycling…

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…surfing…

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…and then we decided to head out onto the lake in our very own little boat.

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See, I told you there’d be boats eventually!

Unbeknownst to me however, after conspiring with Gill for months, asking my parent’s permission and managing to get down on one knee despite being in a rowing boat (proper boater, see), Ed chose this spectacular moment to ask me to be his boatwife forever.

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Yaay!

The surprises didn’t end there. I was then rowed to a beautiful little picnic spot…

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I must add that at this point we did have a bit of a heated debate about how to tie up the boat. After all, it’s not a proper boater proposal if it doesn’t include at least one argument about mooring.

…where I was greeted with champagne and, to even Ed’s surprise, a riddle…

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…which led us to this beautiful little camp, all set up by Gill to help us celebrate our engagement.

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So there you have it, we met on a boat, live on a boat and now we got engaged on a boat. It only remains to be seen whether we’ll marry on one too…

We won’t. We can only fit two people on our boat at one time. The registrar would have to stand in the canal.

NB. We’d like to say a massive thank you to Gill and everyone at Finn Lough for making the weekend unbelievably special. If you’ve got a proposal, celebration, wedding, or just an urge to row a damn boat across a damn lake for the damn hell of it, I’d really recommend you book your stay there now. It’s magical.

5 Weird Things I Used to Do Before I Lived on a Boat

We haven’t been on boats very long, just 18 months in fact, yet the time when I lived in a home that didn’t float seems like a distant and hazy memory. However there are some things I very definitely remember that I used to do and am now no longer able to do due to living in a capsizable house.

1) Shower. Just, like, whenever

When I lived in my South-West London flat, hot water came out of the tap all the time. Seriously it was just like, whenever you want hot water, BOOM, there hot water is. It was a magical mystery.

Scientists believe this strange 'hot' water comes from a magma layer located deep beneath Clapham that will - fingers crossed - one day erupt and take all those estate agents with it.

In actual fact, scientists believe this strange ‘hot’ water comes from a magma layer located deep beneath Clapham that will – fingers crossed – one day erupt and take all those estate agents with it.

Sadly everything about canal living is cold and wet, including the water. Joyous impromptu showers have become a thing of the past. Now if I want hot water, I must first either a) light a fire to get hot water from the back boiler or b) run the engine to heat the water in the calorifier.

This is why you must now give me at least two hours' notice if you need me to be clean for any reason.

This is why you must now give me at least two hours’ notice if you need me to be clean for any reason.

2) Have dry hair

Let’s make that four hours notice if you need me to be clean and presentable as I also no longer own a hairdryer.

This is *exactly* what I look like all the time.

I googled ‘wet hair’ and, sure enough, this is *exactly* what I look like all the time.

Although I am pretty bad at styling my own hair anyway, I could at the very least make sure it was dry back when I lived in a flat. On the boat however, a hair dryer is just too much for our mini inverter and I have to resort to drying my hair in the wind like some sort of woodland nymph.

How I imagine this looks.

How I imagine this looks.

How I actually look.

How this actually looks.

3) Not have a dog

The good thing about being a grown up is that you get to make all of your own decisions (well, most of your own decisions. The government make a lot of them for you like “Don’t kill people” and “Don’t slide down the middle of escalators”).

The bad thing about being a grown up is that you get to make all of your own decisions.

Is it just me that has grown up to find that adult life is essentially the unending decision on what to make for dinner?

Is it only me that has grown up to find out adult life is just unending indecision about what to make for dinner?

Although we were technically grown ups before we moved on to a boat, we had been renting for most of our adult lives and so had a certain level of autonomy taken away from us when it came to making really stupid decisions like getting a dog.

Unleashed on our very own boat however, we stuck it right to the man by going out and getting a massive, mental dog pretty much straightaway.

Look at it! Massive.

Look at it! Massive.

Nearly £400 in vet bills and countless destroyed slippers later, we’re wondering if landlords were doing us a favour in preventing us from getting a dog as big as a haystack.

That being said, when I get into bed at night and Skipper comes in and spoons me, I am both partially creeped out and 100% sure I wouldn’t be without her.

Okay, 80% sure. I really liked that shirt.

Okay, 80% sure. I really liked that shirt.

4) Attend social gatherings

If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know that it’s taking us a super long time to get to, or even near, London. Since London is where most of our socialising takes place, we’ve spent most of 2015 in a state of reclusive dog/boat-obsession. Even when we’re in London or near a handy train station, lots of boat-related incidents can and will prevent me from attending your social event.

rsvp

5) Have an Instagram account that was 0% pictures of canals

Before I moved onto a boat, my Instagram photos fell largely into two camps: Stuff That I Thought Was Funny and Stuff That I Thought Was Arty (But Wasn’t).

Stuff That I Thought Was Funny:

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Look at this hilarious yet for some reason extremely moodily-lit carrot!

Stuff That I Though Was Arty (But Wasn’t):

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The Keys to Life. Also a beach hut. Something about the sea?

Now my Instagram photos fall into one camp: Pictures of Canals (with a 5% deviation for Pictures of my Dog or Pictures of my Dog Near Canals).

I didn't say they weren't *amazing* pictures of canals.

I didn’t say they weren’t *amazing* pictures of canals.

So I guess you could actually call this an improvement, depending on how much you really really like pictures of canals.

(If you do happen to really really like pictures of canals, you can always follow me over on Instagram. If you really hate pictures of canals but really love, say, pictures of hilarious boat dogs, you should probably just follow someone else.)

If you want to know more weird stuff about boatlife or even just normal stuff about boatlife, you can also find me on Twitter where I’m happy to answer questions using all my years of boating experience (which are few) and all my knowledge of boating (which is little). See you there!

 

 

A Fortnight To London

 

As those of you who know us might have realised, we’ve been ‘heading back to London in about a week or so’ for five months now. There are many reasons for this. The reasons are four-fold.

Reason Number One – Thamesphobia and The Stoppage That Never Was

When we first bought Albion it was still winter and so there were a fair few stoppages taking place on the canal (non-boaters: a stoppage is when a bit of the canal gets closed off for maintenance). One of these was on the Grand Union at Milton Keynes. Since we needed to pass through here to get to London from our starting point of Stowe Hill, we were in a bit of a pickle.

We decided that, since we’re both working from home now and not tied to the city anyway, we would avoid the Milton Keynes stoppage by going down the Oxford Canal and heading back into London on the Thames. We planned to do this over one two-week trip.

That took up the first three months.

One small hour-long drive for a car, ONE GIANT QUARTER OF A YEAR TRIP FOR BOATKIND!

One small hour-long drive for a car, ONE GIANT QUARTER-OF-A-YEAR TRIP FOR BOATKIND!

By the time we reached Oxford and looked into the logistics of travelling into London along the Thames, we realised that it would actually cost less in diesel to just go all the way back up to Northampton and down the Grand Union to London than it would be to buy the gold license you need to take your boat on the river (and to pay to moor up each night, which it looked like you had to do on the Thames).

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People who have boats on the Thames, apparently.

I have to admit, making this decision was easy for me because I was terrified of taking our little boat on the river anyway.

NOPE.

NOPE.

Funny story: Halfway to Oxford we also realised that – since it took so long to complete all the work we needed to do on the boat in the end – by the time we’d set off, the stoppage would have been over anyway. Lol!

Lol.

Lol.

Reason Number Two – We Accidentally Got a Dog

One of the things that made our trip down to Oxford so much longer was the dog that accidentally joined us halfway through.

"OH HI I LIVE HERE NOW!"

“OH HI I LIVE HERE NOW!”

When I say accidentally, I half mean it. We had always planned to get a dog ever since we decided to buy our own boat (we had always wanted pets but had never owned our own property before). At first we wanted a cat but, after seeing the amount of ‘drowned cat’ posts on the London Boaters Facebook group, we decided a dog would be a better choice.

Being the sensible creatures that we are though, we decided to wait until we’d been on Albion for a while to ensure that were settled and used to all the boat’s quirks before we took on a new challenge.

Except then one day I looked at the Dogs Trust Rehoming site.

How could we resist? Except by being normal mature adults?

How could we resist?? Except by being normal mature adults??

There’d be no harm in just going to have a look, we said. They probably won’t even let us rehome a dog on a boat, we said.

Two weeks later we were en route to pick up our new crew member, Skipper.

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11036257_10101616134630655_4614051092777787521_n And we haven’t regretted it once. Apart from on the first night when she peed on our bed, or the initial two-month period where she point blank refused to get on the boat without being carried, or the time she chewed the handles off our chest of drawers, or the time she ate an entire loaf of fresh giraffe bread after I HAD JUST BOUGHT IT.

This added ages onto our journey since we had to spend loads of time settling her in. Still, three months on and she’s a boat dog through and through. She sits on the roof of the boat when we move and, since she’s a lurcher (half greyhound/half collie), she sleeps for 80% of the day. Just like I do.

A nap is no good without a nap buddy.

It’s not a nap if you don’t have a nap buddy.

Reason Number Three – The Oil Watergate Scandal

Living on Albion has by no means been plain sailing (no, it’s not a pun. We don’t sail, we navigate). Getting used to a significantly-reduced living space has been hard, our fridge wouldn’t work for ages and our hot water system has been temperamental at best.

Still, these were all things we could get used to or fix. Water getting into the engine however, required Professionals.

Mechanic

We only have amateur-level overalls.

Turns out it was a good job we didn’t go on the Thames as, one day journeying back up the Oxford Canal, the engine suddenly starting cutting out at low revs, sending us drifting – unpowered – down the canal (if anyone saw me drive straight into the wall of that lock, THIS IS WHY). Then the oil pressure gauge dropped dramatically.

I won’t go into the technical details (largely because I don’t know what they are) but the long and short of it was that water was getting into the oil in the engine. Since this can destroy the internal workings of your engine, we could no longer continue. We were stranded.

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Luckily, with the combined help of the positively angelic James Hoare and Keith Duffy on Facebook and Tom from River Canal Rescue, the engine was fixed up just enough to get us back to our Alma Pater, Robbie at Stowe Hill Wharf.

Positive things: Being back at Stowe Hill meant we were able to get the engine fixed, the boat blacked and amazing new solar panels fitted by the wonderful Matt from Old Friends Canal Services.

Negative things: Not only did we have to borrow a lot of money to do all of this, we were also now four months into our trip yet had only managed to make it as far as right where we started.

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 Reason Number Four – The London Conundrum

Though we had initially planned to return to London (or thereabouts) with Albion, the past few months have had us questioning our decision. On the one hand, our friends, social lives and work opportunities are in London. On the other hand, London sucks.

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NOPE AGAIN.

Everything’s too expensive, the tubes are packed, the streets are packed and – worse – the canals are so overpacked we don’t even know if we’ll be able to moor up when we get there.

That being said, we do need to be able to commute in easily for various reasons and the Oxford/upper reaches of the GU have not been ideal for this (up until literally this week, getting into London has meant a four-hour round trip and extortionate train fares that would be better spent on buying fun dog toys that I like more than the dog does).

IT'S A GIANT JAMMY DODGER.

IT’S A GIANT JAMMY DODGER!?

So, while we are heading back into London for a bit, it’s really for a change of scenery from the remoteness of the Oxford and we’ll probably spend the rest of the summer exploring the Stort and going back up the Grand Union again.

After all, what’s the point of living on a boat if you’re not going to discover what lies on the nearest easily-commutable-distance-from-London-with-plenty-of-shops-and-boating-facilities horizon?

Adventure is Rickmansworth.

Adventure is Rickmansworth.

 

Albion: Before, During, and After

Yes! After a teeny tiny three months of DIY, OPDIFY (Other People Do It For You) and TABFDIYBILST (Taking A Break From DIY Because It’s Like Super Tiring), Albion is finally finished! In the way that only a boat can be finished, which is not at all, ever.

There’s still a million things we need or want to do but installing new solar panels, refitting the entire kitchen, getting new reclaimed wood counter tops and floors, and generally tidying up the boatman’s cabin will all have to wait until we’re able to Bring Out Another Thousand.

Still, everything we initially set out to do is done and we now have a proper bedroom, a freshly painted and decorated living room, and a completely new bathroom. Which doesn’t sound like a lot of work now but it WAS.

See:

The Bedroom

Although we had a bedroom in the back cabin, it had a fold-down bed that we didn’t think was very practical for the two of us on a daily basis. Not wanting to waste the huge space under the tug deck, we decided to turn it into a little bedroom den. And when I say ‘we’, I mean our amazing builder Robbie did it. (Although Ed has just reminded me that we did do the varnishing. So that fresh woodsy vibe you see is allllll us).

Before:

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During:

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After:  

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            IMG_9935             IMG_9936            

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The Living Room/Kitchen

The living room was already pretty nice so all we had to do was paint it white, decorate it, and install a sofa.

This took about three weeks. We painted it nine times. Nine layers of paint that still peel off at the lightest brush of a limb. As I mentioned before, never buy cheap B&Q paint.

Before

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During:  

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NO.

NO.

After:

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The Bathroom

The bathroom was the hardest room in the whole boat (and that’s counting the living room and its B&Q anti-paint). First of all, apart from building the bedroom from scratch, this was the only room that we completely ripped out and started again. It hadn’t been touched for about 20 years and needed new EVERYTHING.

Second of all, there was no sink and no space for a sink. We had all manner of problems with the sink and where to put it, at one point considering fold-down caravan style options or just having to brush our teeth in the shower. Eventually we decided to chop the top off the existing cupboard and turn it into a plinth. This involved gently coaxing our builder into drilling a new waste hole in the side of the boat. I can guarantee you, there is no more unpleasant aural sensation for a boat owner than hearing a drill go through your boat’s hull.

…Apart from the ‘uh oh’ that came afterwards. (Luckily it was just because our tough tug hull had snapped the drill bit, rather than because we were, you know, sinking).

Third of all, we had to rip out part of the kitchen just to get into the walls to fit the new shower.

Fourth of all, we chose the most beautiful but most impractical boat tiles ever. Not only were they so thick and huge that they were nearly impossible to cut, they were so heavy we had to put concrete blocks under the bedroom floor just to stop us capsizing.

Look how pretty though!

Look how pretty though!

Fifth of all: sanding.

Just so much sanding. Endless hours of sanding. I have new muscles just from sanding. There was dust in places dust oughtn’t to be. I once lost Ed in a cloud of dust.

The problem was the traditional scumble varnish that was all over the walls. We quite like it in the living room but we wanted the bathroom to feel fresh, bright and clean. This meant we had to sand all the scumble off. Five million years later, it was ready to varnish, tile, and decorate.

Before:

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During (of which there are many, many pictures because it took us so long to during the hell out of this bathroom):

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The kitchen taking one for the team.

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Fitting the new shower tray. 

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After:

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Et voila! It is done. For now.


N.B. A foreword to anyone coming to visit our boat: There is blood in the varnish, sweat in the grout and there are tears in the wall paint. We will not accept anything other than effusive and adulating praise for all our handiwork. We are especially unreceptive to comments such as “Missed a bit!” or “Oops that’s a bit wonky!” This is the best boat interior renovation you have ever seen and will ever see in your lifetime and all of the lifetimes following. Trust me. I have a new axe.