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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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.

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!

 

 

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.

Oxfordshire

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.

ThumbHyacinth_Bucket

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!

We Bought A Boat

Apologies, dear readers (if I have any left). A new blog post has been long overdue but I do have a good excuse in that I have recently been buying the hell out of a boat.

Yep, you heard correctly. After one year of trial boating, one two-month trip up the Grand Union, countless boxes of poo, many many ducks, one ACTUAL WINTER (sort of) and just a few mishaps (per day), we somehow thought it was a really good idea to buy a boat of our very own.

Which meant my pre-Christmas conversations all went something like this:

“What did you do yesterday, Carli?”
“Ermm… I got up, had breakfast, bought a boat, played the DOWNTON ABBEY BOARD GAME?!”
“What??”
“I know! I had no idea they’d even brought a board game out!”

If I'm honest, it's not actually that great.

If I’m being honest, it wasn’t actually that great.

Naturally, buying a boat was a huge-mongous decision that we wanted to take slowly and carefully so we went out and bought the first one we saw.

Of course we shopped around (for a few hours) but we were insanely lucky to discover that the boat of our dreams had gone up for sale just before we had started looking so, after a quick visit to make sure we weren’t about to accidentally buy a toy boat, we put in an offer and had it accepted.

How I felt, buying a boat.

How I felt, buying a boat.

I don’t know if you’ve ever done it before but buying a boat is a terrifying business. It’s sort of exactly like buying a house except, if your surveyor says your new purchase is likely to sink, he doesn’t mean over a couple of decades.

The sheer amount of things you have to check is mind-boggling; “Does it have an engine?” seems like it would be an unnecessary question but APPARENTLY NOT. Beyond that you have to make sure it has everything else you require such as proper electrics, solar panels, a toilet and not a hole in the bottom.

"Ah, yes. I'm afraid 'not sunk' was on my list of requirements."

“Ah, yes. I’m afraid ‘not sunk’ was on my list of requirements.”

Having said that, I read somewhere that boaters get ‘The One’ syndrome, whereby they instantly fall in love with their chosen boat regardless of whether or not it possesses everything they had wanted. This was pretty much the case with us too, but luckily the additions we want won’t cost too much or be too hard to sort out so we feel like we’ve made the right decision.

We were also lucky enough to organise our purchase through a broker — the lovely Steve and Dominic at Rugby Boats — so we didn’t have to go through the nerve-racking process of dealing directly with a boat owner and handing over a large deposit to a complete stranger (not that I’m saying boaters are anything but completely trustworthy).

Pirate

Far from it.

 

For the moment I won’t share any details about the boat because we are awaiting its survey next week before we can know for sure that we really own it. All I can say that it is AN HISTORIC BOAT (mostly) and that, should everything go well, you shall soon see me out and about on the canals looking pretty much like this.

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Who’s that guuuuurl la la lala la la la lala la la.

 

 

Updates after the survey!

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.