A downside for a blogger…

…is a lack of internet connection at home! I have been busy at work (A level season- I teach and mark A levels) and at home- moving regularly, filling the water tank, filling up with diesel, making new friends, having towpath parties, festivalling, and even doing a bit of boat maintenance here and there. We had a scorching July and as the school holidays started, the rains returned as per tradition…

Summer on the canal is a wonderful thing. Boat Girl has built dens, toasted marshmallows, jammed with musician friends, found a little sister who adores her (she SO wants to be a Big Sister!), ridden her bike, planted beans and nasturtiums, grown marigolds from seed, been wild swimming, walked for miles, and generally been outside more than inside. I love that she gets the chance to enjoy the world, rather than watching an interpretation on a screen. She makes things, draws, writes, and does engineering like using string or wool to brace structures or to make zip-wires and swings for her fairy people.
(Don’t get me wrong- I think there’s a time and a place for TV and films, and computers- but we are all apt to become screen addicts and in this setting, that’s not even a possibility because they just aren’t there. For me and for her. We get screen time at other places (her dad’s, my mum’s, work) and as I’m writing this on a BRAND-NEW! laptop (VERY exciting, I can tell you!) we’ll be able to watch films as well without being on hookup- because I can shift the telly and we can use this machine with its splendid battery life and HDMI input.)

I’ve been toying with going back into the marina for the winter. Pros: electric hookup, convenience for parking, toilets, showers, water on the pontoon, having a home mooring at licence renewal time. Cons: the cost, feeling ‘trapped’. Despite the pros outnumbering the cons, they seem trivial in comparison to the cons. Anyway, yesterday I walked along to Sharpness at the southern end of the canal (we’re back at Purton) and on the off-chance I went in to see about a mooring there. They had one, at less money than Saul Junction Marina (though, of course, it’s not as swish). So I’ve taken it, and paid with my marking money for a year’s fees. I imagine I’ll use it little, but it will be useful to have the hookup during the darkest months. We won’t stay there too much anyway as it’s non-residential. It just means I’ll have a home mooring, which undoubtedly makes life easier (“They’ll hound you till you get a home mooring” as I was told yesterday- “they” being CRT).

Anyway because of my laxness at posting recently, here are just a few photos for you to enjoy- a taster of the life we live.

 

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Dawn at Saul Junction
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Early morning mist

 

 

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Spring!

Spring has really sprung the last week or so. The crocuses are all but over, the daffs are looking lovely, and I haven’t needed to keep the fire in overnight or through the day for ages. (As a result I’m burning mainly wood at the moment.)

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Sitting out out on deck of a morning or evening, I reflect on how lucky I am to have had this chance, to make this choice. It’s one I can’t imagine regretting. Even winter-those short days!- feels a long time ago.

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The composting loo is working well. Not smelly, not arduous; and Single Mum has offered me a third share in an allotment, so compost heaps will soon be mine! A moment of composters’ humour: to accelerate the composting process, I was advised to turn and mix the contents of the bucket. As a result I can now say that I stir shit; and have a shitty stick that I wouldn’t touch things with 😂

However, once the Heap is created I suspect the buckets will simply be emptied directly, to break down naturally. A food waste compost heap will be created as well; I don’t envisage using the Heap on my strawberries or potato plants đŸ˜±đŸ˜·

There are lots of jobs to do, apart from breaking into the overgrowth on the allotment. I swept the chimney last week, and cleaned the cratch, but the deck rail wants sanding and oiling, and I really must get around to the rust patches on the roof. However, the bottom is blacked and I’m told she is in good shape down there, so I am pressing on with the kitchen refit. Ideally I would swap all the living spaces around, but unless the lovely B can’t do the smaller job this spring, I think I will let that idea lie for now.

The marina is busy at weekends now, with people filling up, running engines, ‘tidying things up’ after the winter. The rubbish area is filled with evidence of cleaning and clear outs- I took another four bags of books and clothes to the charity shop. Everyone is eager to get out onto the canal. Me too- this summer I must get to the far end and I also want to do my shopping by boat!

 

“Off the Cut” by Wendy Zakiewicz

I thought I’d link to this short film about the (ongoing) dispute between CTR and various groups of boaters. We’re leaving the marina for the summer (but we’re hoping to get back in for the winter!) so I’m keenly aware that I might struggle to move “15-20 miles” as that’s the length of the whole canal…

My own feeling is that CRT are on rather shaky legal ground, but of course so few people being pressurised have the funds to mount a challenge in the courts- and there is an argument to suggest that S8 notices are issued in a trickle for the very purpose of preventing people banding together to defend themselves as a class action.

There are also a couple of petitions doing the rounds- one about allowing boat children to stay in one area to attend school, and one to prevent the eviction of boat dwellers. Let’s not forget that S8 notices are designed for the removal of sunken or abandoned vessels- not people’s homes. Secondly, for most liveaboards, the boat is their home and their only real asset. Confiscation is a massive, massive step to take and it’s hard, in my opinion, to justify that move in the circumstances that we’re seeing in some of these cases.

 

 

Wow, it’s autumn already… and the clocks have gone back.

I can’t believe it’s been so long. And a lot’s happened: Boatgirl learned to ride her bike, taking nine days (no stabilisers). She quickly managed to cycle several kilometers and is now confident and stable- a true cyclist!

We did lots of lovely things in the summer: watching Morris dancers outside the pub, pint of cider in hand; a festival or two; a camping trip or three. However it wasn’t until autumn started that we managed to get out on the cut- I had a diesel leak into the engine bilge (a separate section to the main stern bilge, luckily, so diesel wasn’t pumped out into the canal when I pumped the bilge). I also needed my diesel polishing- who knew that you can polish diesel? Anyway, when they started the job my diesel was so gunky that it broke the filter, so there was a delay while they fixed it. There was a leaky return pipe. There was a pressure outlet from the calorifier dripping into the bilge which should have been routed to the outside, so they did that, too. I now have a bitumen-lined bilge which is bone dry, and shiny red diesel with no bugs inside it!

The guys also fitted my solar panels. I’m so pleased, these things are efficient enough that I’ve managed to charge my phone overnight! Even now, in November, the batteries are fully charged when I get home (even though I’m not convinced my battery charger is now working- it used to make a lot of whirring noises and now it’s silent.). Two 100W monocrystalline panels. Even out on the towpath, with the awful cheap fridge I’ve (still) got, I could go out and leave the inverter on and come back to charged batteries. The only thing I can’t do is run the immersion, so at the moment I still need to run the engine to heat the water- it’s progress though!

It’s true that boating’s expensive. The work on the engine plus the panels cost me the best part of a grand, and I’ve just booked dry dock and blacking for February- that’ll be another nearly ÂŁ1500. I’m trying to save, but life likes to keep us on our toes, so we had a car repair bill last month, and Christmas is coming, and…

But to be honest, living on the boat I feel so rich. So very blessed in our lives: I wake up and climb out into the dawn and feel incredibly thankful that this is my life, my place. I wouldn’t swap it now- well, maybe I’d grab a bit of bank to put a shed on with a decent kitchen, and a couple of chickens! But I feel the boaty life is for me now. Boat Girl saw me deleting an email from Rightmove recently- I haven’t cancelled my updates, I really must- “Mummy, are you looking for a house for us?” she asked. “No,” I said, “would you like me to?”
“No,” she said. “I like our boat.”

She’s not the only one. Everyone who’s been aboard has fallen for her (despite our clutter. Or maybe they’re very kind liars!) and some of the children at school have been desperately imagining what it might be like. Some of them have found out, but we can’t invite people when it’s wet- only in the dry weather. It would have to be a fairly linear party otherwise!

It’s a wonderful lifestyle. I’m missing my outdoor time now that I’m back at work. Autumn here is stunning. The towpath was calm and quiet and peaceful. We started needing a fire in in the evenings, despite the warm days; I don’t mind those chores, the lifting and carrying and sweeping, I relish them for the practical and immediate value they have in warming us, and in the sensual value of the smell of woodsmoke curling from the chimney, the lovely fragrance lightly perfuming our hair and clothes.

We get lovely early-morning mists, we’ve had heaps of blackberries, hips and haws and mellow fruitfulness, and the gorgeous trees in their colours, all accompanied by the incomparable smell of autumn. Last night we had a little Hallowe’en party/ Autumn celebration for some of the boat children and a few from school, with soup and sausages and buckwheat pancakes, cooked partly over the fire bowl and partly in my little kitchen. The dew came down suddenly, with the darkness at five o’clock, after what had been a mellow and golden afternoon, but that was perfect for the celebration. The children loved it, and as we went to bed, our pumpkins guarded us from the spirits wandering the world of the living…

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On the cut at last, and the kindness of friends (and strangers)

I collected Dreams on Good Friday. Stowed the things I’d brought and discovered that although I had three casseroles and a full set of cutlery, I had no plates or bowls and only two mugs. Fortunately, my lovely friend C brought not only a picnic rucksack complete with plates; she also brought cake, hot cross buns, fruit, hummous and Prosecco to add to the croissants, bananas, and beer I’d managed to pull together.

C and her husband M lived on a boat for several years and they spent Good Friday and Easter Saturday showing me the ropes, quite literally. I’m not very good with knots and things so their experience was invaluable. They were so kind: We had a great time catching up, and without them I don’t think I would have managed to leave the marina (or even got to the pump-out station!).C looked after the children and the ropes, M showed me how to woman the tiller, including some dodgy reversing, a couple of bumps and one incident where an overhanging tree (an ash, suitably) knocked the chimney flue pipe into the canal, and M and I had to grope around in the murky water- fortunately only a couple of feet deep- to retrieve it; and they both showed me how to do locks. These are much easier with a crew; you have to open the gates, sometimes either fill or empty the lock, look after the boat inside the lock and also wind the mechanism to release the water.

“Keep boat forward of cill marker” warns the lock gate. Terrible things can happen if you forget to do this; the cill is a sort of step right at the bottom of the lock, and if your boat is above it when the water drains out, your propeller can catch on it and bend, or even worse, you can break the hull if you’re caught high up on it.

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Stockton top lock

On Easter Sunday, after we’d bid farewell to C and her family, Daughter (hereafter known as Boat Girl) and I moved on a little on our own- rather nervously on my part, it must be said. The previous day we’d gone through the locks with another boat each time, and anyway we’d had enough pairs of grown-up hands to deal easily with the locks. Today it was me on my own, as Boat Girl is still too small to play any part in operating these miraculous machines.

Initially she wanted to stay in the boat while I operated the lock, as she had before. Then I decided I would prefer her to be on the towpath, out of any possible harm’s way. We had the row about it, then we had the cwtch to make up, and clad once again in lifejacket and warm waterproof coat she stood on the bank, a small, rather forlorn figure, while I faffed about with the centre line and the stern rope and fiddled about with the winding key. If your boat is the only one in the lock, it’s a good idea to have her roped to one of the mooring pins (because if she drifts to the middle while you’re on the bank, you won’t be able to get back on). However, if the rope is tight while the water drains away, of course you can end up tipping her onto her side (another potential horror from the lock!). I was dithering while wondering if I’d considered all the risks- I was about to grab the bow rope, hold it loosely enough for it to pay out but tightly enough to keep hold of it, while I released the water-gates and let Dreams down- all while keeping Boat Girl by my side and not injuring her with the windlass- when to my delight another boat appeared. I was over the moon. Four more pairs of hands, no need to moor the boat as she would have no room to drift away. This made our lock experience far easier and less fraught!

Anyway, we went through two locks with this other boat, and then I found a mooring to leave her at while Boat Girl and I found a pub for lunch. It was near enough to a road that Boat Girl’s father could find us to come and pick her up. We set off along the tow path with high hopes that a pub would be just around the corner; but as it happened, it seemed that we had found the most pub-barren stretch of canal this side of Pontlottyn, as my dad always says. We walked and walked. We saw VERY early bluebells and violets, we found a swing on a tree, but we didn’t see a pub. Eventually we asked an older couple if we were heading in the right direction to find one. Yes, they said, but it was another mile and a half. By this time Boat Girl was hungry and so was I, and my heart sank a little. We thanked them and carried on- only for them to hail us. “We were thinking,” they said, “Come with us to our car. We’ll take you to the pub, and if they’re full up- because it’s Easter Sunday, remember- we’ll take you to a farm shop and then back to your boat. It’s on our way home anyway.” Well, how kind. They did exactly that- we walked up this (rather long) path to their car, they drove us round the corner to the pub, and waited while we found out whether the pub could feed us. I didn’t find out their names but I’ll always remember them and we hugged as we parted. It’s been a real weekend of kindness for us.

The weather is pants at the moment, so I’m off to do some nesting onboard today, rather than cruising, probably- maybe a little cruise- and try to get some photos to share!

Dreaming a dream

It’s an old story. Girl meets Boy. They fall in love and have a beautiful daughter. The End. (Right?)

Well, that story actually lasted a bit longer; in fact, it’s ongoing but in more of a co-parenting way than a Great Romance. I’m trying to write it up but it’s a work in progress. Maybe I’ll share some chapters on here, later.

So then. Girl With Daughter meets Boy With Son. Perfect, no? They fall in love. They decide to move in together, to create a little blended family together. Girl Sells House. Moves In With Boy. A month before House Sale Completes, a month after Girl Moves In, Boy decides that actually, the relationship Girl has with her Daughter is getting in the way of the relationship he thinks he should have with Girl. Terrible things are said. There is Shouting, and Towering Over, followed later on by some Emotional Manipulation and Rewriting of History. There is No Way Back. It’s like an awful dream, except this is no dream.

Long and short of it is, with five months left on the tenancy I found myself living in a house with someone I now looked on as a stranger, and I’ve sold my house and I need to find somewhere for me and Daughter to live. There’s no denying it, we’re in an expensive area; and as a single mother who works part time, I can’t afford any place I’d like to live in. But then, I don’t know where from, the idea pops into my head which could be the answer. Why don’t I use the money I get from my house sale- and buy a boat? I’d own our home so there’d be no rent, no mortgage to pay. The costs of living would be lower- utilities are much cheaper, there’s mooring fees and saving for maintenance and so on, but I would (I calculate) be able to afford all that.

I visited our local marina and asked about the possibility of getting a permanent mooring. No problem, they said. Come in at Easter, that’s when people start leaving to cruise the canals for the summer and probably moor up somewhere else for the next winter.

I joined a couple of canal boaters’ forums. I started looking almost constantly on Apollo Duck. And I spent several days driving around to Worcester, Oxford, Stafford and Warwick, looking at boats. Most of them ruled themselves out straight away. The first one I felt I could live on was a tug-style narrowboat like these, in Worcester. It had a lovely living area and in the bow, the owner had made an actual shed (as someone who values storage space, I found this very exciting). However, the bedroom was a boatman’s cabin with a fold-out bed. And the engine had its own room. I didn’t feel it was a practical setup, so rather wistfully I had to pass on it.

And a couple of views from the bow, with the scalloped finish to the ...
A traditionally styled boatman’s cabin. The fold-out bed lives in one of these cupboards.

The next boat I saw, I fell in love with. She was wonderful, she had a great ‘feel’ to her and the living space was immense. She came with everything and I really, really wanted to buy her and live on her. I saw her twice and loved her even more the second day, but then I did the sums. I couldn’t afford her. Even at the reduced price this lovely boat’s lovely owner offered me, I couldn’t afford her. So, with the nagging feeling that I might regret it, I bid her goodbye.

Now, the nice boats I was seeing advertised were selling almost immediately. Is there a boating craze? Is it a question of massively overpriced housing, and people (like me) seeking a more affordable option? Who knows. Anyway, when I had word of a potential boat going on sale I took the first opportunity to visit her and whizzed up the M42 once again. I was her first viewer. I put in an offer then and there, and paid a deposit to take her off the market. She is light, bright and airy. She has an enormous bedroom, with a fixed double bed and space to put a single in, and a chest of drawers, and hang up curtains from the ceiling (I already have the fabric) to provide privacy when needed.

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The bedroom of Dreams
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The saloon of Dreams

I can start getting excited about moving onto a boat. I can start Decluttering. I can start Panicking About Where Am I Going To Put The Books!?

I love it.