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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

The Journey So Far

Remember when I said we’d be moving on to Albion in ‘about a week and a half’?

"Hahahah good one, past Carli!"

“Hahahah good one, past Carli!”

In reality, Albion is still not finished and we weren’t actually able to move in for a good three weeks.

HOWEVER, she is now fully liveable in…able. The bedroom under the tug deck was completed a few weeks ago, the bathroom is pretty much done bar some finishing touches and the living room is finally white after 11 coats of crap B&Q paint (do not buy crap B&Q paint).

Trust me.

Trust me.

However there’s still loads we want to do and, with that in mind, I’m saving my ‘Albion: Before, During and After’ pictures post until we’ve really properly finished (although if you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen a few snaps there).

Instead, I’ve got a bit of an update about where we’ve been so far.

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Where we’ve been so far.

With only superficial work to be done and the assistance of professional builders no longer required, we left the comforting womb of Stowe Hill Marina two weeks ago and set off into the abandoned wilderness that is the Oxford Canal, home to sheep, more sheep, red brick bridges, more red brick bridges and never ever any phone signal.

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Believe it or not these are all different bridges.

This same stretch was actually just featured on Great Canal Journeys, the Timothy West and Prunella Scales boating programme. This has been very exciting for us, not least because I have been doing some of the steering and recently managed to get into a diamond lock that made even the experienced Timothy West do a little crash.


Like. A. Boss.

I’m more than a little proud of this, especially as Ed’s always been the designated driver due to superior unpanicking skills.

Now that we own our own boat though, we decided that we should take it in turns to be skipper and so far I’ve managed to steer us out of some pretty sticky situations, such as the time we became grounded on a shallow bit of canal and nearly capsized until I saved the day with some expert tiller manoeuvring (Ed might have been simultaneously pushing us off the side with a barge pole, I don’t know, I was too busy saving the day). Or the time when another boat came round a corner so quickly that he didn’t leave himself enough time to turn and a crash was only avoided by my selfless decision to ground our boat on the side of the canal in order to get out of the way.

"It sort of sounds an awful lot like Carli just runs the boat aground every time she takes the tiller" - IDIOTS MIGHT THINK.

“It sort of sounds an awful lot like Carli just runs the boat aground every time she takes the tiller.” – IDIOTS MIGHT THINK.

The Oxford Canal itself is part beautiful and part pretty weird, in that we’ve been treated to lots of beautiful scenery but we’ve seen some pretty weird stuff too.

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Like the time we discovered a skinned deer carcass on the towpath and initially thought it was a person.

We even braved the terrifying 1,867m Braunston Tunnel:

When I say ‘braved’ I mean Ed braved the tunnel and I hid inside making a timelapse video and only crying a little bit maybe once.

The Oxford is also pretty remote. Unlike the Grand Union, towns with shops and internet signal are few and far between so our original route keeps altering. Unfortunately I need the internet to work from home so we’ve been forced to move on several times from places we’d like to have stopped for longer.

HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE HERE?

HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE HERE?

Even the places we thought would be ideal have turned out to be the opposite. For example, we had planned to stay in Banbury for a couple of weeks to give us time to settle down and have good access to trains into London. My mum lives nearby and it’s a pretty town. We thought it would be nice.

Sadly, it was not. On account of the little shits.

We’re used to little shits on the canal, having spent our first boating year in London, but the ones in Banbury are somehow even worse. Instead of doing anything solid like actually mugging you, they just race up and down the towpath on their expensive BMX bikes, sporting 2004’s emo haircuts and calling everyone twozzas.

What language are you even speaking?

What language are you even speaking?

They’re all so painfully middle class that it’s 100x more annoying, especially because you know that — instead of lurking around shopping centres after closing time (yeah I see you smoking weed behind Debenhams) — they probably do have better things they could be doing.

Oh shut up and go home to the £400 PlayStation you definitely have.

Oh shut up and go home to the £400 PlayStation you definitely have.

On our first night in Banbury, the steam from the cooker kept setting the fire alarm off so we had to open the hatch onto the towpath. Within minutes, one LS had poked his head through the door. When Ed politely asked if we could help him, he panicked and raced off on his bike, yelling insults over his swiftly retreating shoulder.

It wasn’t until Ed went to lock up later that night that we realised they’d returned and untied the back of the boat in retaliation, setting us adrift across the canal. It wasn’t very dangerous, it didn’t do any damage, it was just really really annoying and made me want to shake my fist and clip people round the ear and other such irritable elderly person habits.

"You come back here you little shit, I'll give you what for!"

“You come back here you little shit, I’ll set your face adrift!”

And while you’re being attacked by youths from the towpath, your boat is constantly being attacked from the other side by retired boating boy racers.

This wasn’t just a problem in Banbury, this is all over the Oxford. While we tend to pass moored boats at a slow tickover (because, goddammit, if a sign tells me to do something, I’ll do it), these Golden Age boaters zoom around as though they’re afraid they might not actually make it to the end of their journey. I’ve lost count of the times our little boat has been rocked so hard by speeding oldies that it’s knocked over all my new pot plants.

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BOATING HAS TURNED ME INTO HYACINTH BUCKET.

Thankfully we’ve settled for a while on the outskirts of Oxford and hope to help the pot plants recover from this traumatic journey and once more piece together the semblance of a normal life.

For the time being you can keep your eyes peeled for us in your local Ikea and hopefully I can share our finished interior pictures soon.

 

Progress

Things are happening on Albion! People who understand tools are building things I’ve asked them to build!

Here she is in the dry dock the other week, having her insides all nice and warmed up with spray foam.

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For those of you who aren’t currently trying to turn a floating fridge into a bedroom, spray foam is a type of insulation that will hopefully stop us freezing to death in our sleep. Yay!

The rest of the bedroom under the deck is taking shape and we now have a nice curved ceiling and wooden walls which will soon be joined by an insulated floor and some shelves for the keeping of important boat equipment.

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Important boat equipment.

It also has a hobbit hole for a bedroom door, which is great for shouting things like “”We don’t want any adventures here, thank you!”

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I am now going to speak solely in Bilbo Baggins quotes.

The other big project is the bathroom, which we have decided to pretty much rip out and start afresh.

So far our builder has taken out the old shower tray to put a new one in…

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…and chopped the top off this cupboard to make way for a sink (more on that another time).

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Soon the bathroom will be decorated by these lovely, lovely tiles…

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…this copper shower…

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…and this very specifically-labelled copper tap.
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For all your women-washing needs!

It’s all very exciting!

And expensive.

Mostly expensive.

For example, did you know that mattresses cost more than one hundred pounds? Even at IKEA where you can get a lamb shank for £2.95.

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Luckily Sweden did deliver on sofas, and we found this excellent one for £95.

And those of you who saw the DFS Winter Sale adverts know there's nothing I love more than a bargain sofa.

And those of you who saw the DFS Winter Sale adverts know there’s nothing I love more than a bargain sofa.

Anyway, our builder reckons we can move on in about a week and a half but until then there are a million other little jobs that need doing so we’ll be back and forth with our NEW TOOL KIT…

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EAT YOUR HEART OUT BOB.

… so that Ed can get on with lots of DIY and I can get on with putting pictures of it on the internet.

More updates soon but I’ll leave you with this picture of Mother Nature just loving the hell out of us and our new boat.

Was the QEII blessed with rainbows? I don't think so.

Was the QEII blessed with rainbows? I DON’T THINK SO.

 

 

Introducing Albion

When we first decided to buy a boat, we made up our minds that we didn’t want too much of a challenge to start out with. Keeping a modern boat running is hard enough as it is, so the maintenance and expertise required to run a traditional boat seemed all a bit too much for our very first purchase.

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“WE’RE GOING FOR SIMPLE AND EASY TO USE, GUYS.”

We decided that it was best to go for a fairly new build with an easy-to-run modern engine much like the one we have now, and about 45-foot of well laid-out living space.

Meet Albion — the 1980 51-foot traditional tug style narrowboat with a vintage Petter PH2W 2-cylinder engine that we actually bought:

Plans be damned, she's beautiful!

Plans be damned, she’s beautiful!

As it turned out, we didn’t want a modern narrowboat at all. The more boats we looked at — and we saw some lovely ones — the more we realised we actually wanted something with a bit more history and character. Albion popped up on the second day of our online search and seemed too good to be true. She’s the perfect blend of old and new; though not precisely a historic boat, from the research we’ve done it seems that she did used to be a working boat before being lengthened into the shape she is today. It’s going to be a whole new learning curve for us but we think it’ll be worth it to own something that bit more special.

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That being said, ask me how I’m getting on with the engine in a few months.

Luckily for us, the previous owner has fitted her out really nicely inside too:

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All picture credit goes to our lovely brokers, Rugby Boats, by the by. If you’re thinking of buying a boat, I would highly recommend them. Or even if you’re not thinking about buying a boat you should buy a boat from them anyway.

There is a bit of work to be done on her still. At the moment the sleeping space is a replica of a traditional boatman’s cabin with a fold-down bed which, while lovely…

Look! Really cool.

Look! Lovely.

…is a little less practical for the two of us, so we’re going to have the space under the front deck converted into a bedroom.

These are the official technical plans sent over by our boat builder.

The official technical plan drawn up by our boat builder.

We’re also going to have to get used to a bit less space than the modern 65-footer we have now. While Albion is actually about the length we were looking for, she is narrower and smaller inside than some other boats we’d looked at. Still, she will (should) be easier to move round and easier to moor up than our current behemoth and she’s just the nicest looking boat we’d seen — inside and out. All this should make up for the amount of clothes I’m going to have to throw away and the fact that I’ll only be able to have one friend over at a time.

"DO YOU LIKE MY NEW HOME? No the others can't come in yet, it's one in one out."

“DO YOU LIKE MY NEW HOME? No the others can’t come in yet, it’s one in one out.”

Anyway, all joking aside we are absolutely over the moon to be the proud new owners of such a unique and beautiful boat and we can’t wait to move aboard.

Updates on building work soon!

5 things that are RUBBISH about living on a boat

I’ve written about the unexpected side of narrowboat life and I frequently write about how much I love narrowboat life but today I’m going to write about how narrowboat life is sometimes COMPLETELY RUBBISH.


Look how crap this storm is.

Here are my top 5 things that are absolutely rubbish about living on a boat, in no particular order of rubbishness.

1) Running Out Of Water

Running out of water is RUBBISH. It always seems to happen when a) you’re about to get in the shower b) you’re already in the shower or c) the washing up has reached maximum density.

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Having said that, no water is sometimes also a great excuse to not do the dishes.

 If you can’t get to a water point for a while this means, at best, several days of trying to figure out the best way to pour a four-litre bottle of water into your mouth to brush your teeth without drowning and, at worst, no tea.

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OH, THE HUMANITEA!

 2) The Cold

Gongoozlers are oft gently made fun of by boaters for always asking the predictable question “Is it cold on the boat?” This is then usually met with some trite reply regarding the boater’s aptitude for fire-making or central heating installation.

obama-smug“I don’t suppose you’ve heard of a little thing called… a radiator?”

But actually, you know what? Sometimes it IS cold on the boat. Sometimes, when you’ve just moved on and don’t know how to light your fire, it is FREEZING.

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The amount of photos I took of myself being cold in our first week testifies to this.

Even now (fire ineptitude resolved) we still get the occasional freezing morning, especially since we stopped buying coal after the British weather tricked us into thinking it was summer.

3) Wildlife Responsibility

I don’t know what it is about boating that makes you feel so much closer to nature but I am suddenly experiencing a sense of responsibility for surrounding wildlife that I have never felt before.

IMG_2418Except for cats. Always for cats.

I have become a weird wild woman of the canal, rushing out to aid stricken coots and poking pike with a pole when they get stuck between the boat and the towpath (this actually happened, it was a pretty stupid pike).

5200_gall_006“If only I was equipped with the ability to somehow swim under the boat.”

This sense of responsibility manifested itself recently when we came across an abandoned gosling, who had been separated from its parents by a giant attacking swan bastard.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 13.00.06We named it Ryan.
Ryan Gosling.

Since my affinity with animals only stretches to small and fluffy things, I fended off the bastard swan with an umbrella. We then watched as poor miserable Ryan floated around crying heartbreakingly and looking exhausted.

Having decided we couldn’t well just leave him there, we called the RSCPA. To our surprise, the advice was ‘Try to grab it if you can and we’ll send someone to pick it up. If not just keep an eye on it.’

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to grab a gosling before but it is a muddy and stupid idea. Regardless of the fact that we didn’t want to scare the poor thing, we couldn’t get anywhere near him anyway short of wading into the middle of the canal.

Having failed at gosling-grabbing, we could do nothing but follow the second piece of advice and kept an eye on him by jogging, then running, along the towpath while Ryan zoomed up and down the Regent’s Canal as fast as his little webbed feet could propel him.

It was a literal wild goose chase.

tumblr_mzgslpv3x51shzrduo1_500All we needed was a black and white filter and the music from Benny Hill.

Finally the RSPCA called us again and told us that, as long as he didn’t look injured, Ryan would probably be all right. We waved goodbye and went on our merry way.

Ryan has never been seen since. This makes me SAD.

4) Theft

As well as living in close proximity to wildlife’s creepy crawlies, canal-life means you also live in close proximity to humanity’s creepy crawlies too. The worst of these are the ones who see boats as an easy target for robbery. Social media abounds with daily stories of bikes, pot plants and sometimes even generators all being stolen.

Luckily our boat is built like Fort Knox so we normally feel safe but, at night, outdoor noises do make you thankful for steel doors and sturdy locks.

Personally we have been very lucky… UNTIL NOW. Yesterday we discovered that someone has stolen our brand-new beautiful white lantern off the front of the boat.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 13.32.03I hope a genie comes out of it and drowns them in the canal.

5) Mouldy Food

One of the things I liked least about flat sharing was trying to keep track of what food belonged to you in the fridge. Or, once identifying which food belonged to you, going to the fridge and finding it gone.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 13.40.25A crime second only to lantern thievery.

We were so looking forward to having our own place and saving money with long-lasting freezer food and a fridge full of ingredients that meant we didn’t have to go to the shop and buy dinner every night.

Except of course then someone made the stupid decision to move onto a boat where we have no fridge and no freezer, at least not ones that are permanently running.

This means that, mere days after purchasing food, it goes mouldy. Bread is exhausted after a couple of days on board, salad wilts at the sight of a fire and once more we find ourselves making daily and costly trips to the shop to buy dinner.

The only light in a dark world of green bread and furry vegetables is UHT milk. I have written an ode to UHT milk. However, I will refuse to look upon scientists with anything but disdain until they see fit to invent UHT Everything.

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Or a fridge that can be kept cold by the contempt of cats.

Well, I swan! (<– Apparently this is a phrase)

Summer on the water just gets cuter and cuter. This time, I was peacefully reading at the front of the boat when I got a call from Ed (who was walking up the canal) saying to get my camera ready as there was a pair of swans a-comin’ my way with all their cygnets in tow.

pngI didn’t believe him at first but he turned out to be right.

Lo and behold, the swan babies arrived. They even swam right up to the boat where I was sitting so that I could feed them little pieces of bread (only after checking on The Swan Sanctuary that it was okay to do so, naturally).

Anyway here are the pictures. I was VERY excited so I’m sorry if there’s swan too many.

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                                           I called this one Little Mister Soggy.

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                                                            The Grumpkin.     

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  This one had EYEBROWS. I stopped being able to handle the situation at this point.

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                               And off they went in their cygnet-ure formation…

The End.

N.B. I am also truly sorry for all the puns, I think all this punshine has gone to my head.

 

A Study in Goose

I’m trying to use my camera more, since canal-life makes for such a good subject. Here are some snaps from our latest cruise.

(I realise these mostly consist of Frederick and Diana headshots but there’s also two of boats. Yay boats!)

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