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