The nights are drawing in…

The clocks go back on Saturday night and recently I’ve been noticing the solar panels haven’t been topping the batteries up fully any more, so I’ve been running the engine for a couple of hours each day. This may be because coincidentally, the dry, sunny weather we enjoyed for weeks this autumn disappeared at the start of October, to be replaced by some much murkier days. IMG_0448I did wonder if it was partly my own fault- I hadn’t cleaned them for ages- but I have done now and it’s not a massive improvement. They’re still brilliant, but we just aren’t getting the bright, long hours of daylight they really need for full effect.

We have had a lovely autumn so far. Gorgeous sunshine, beautiful colours; not much in the way of crisp mornings though. We’ve had the fire in during the evenings but not needed to keep it in during the day or overnight. Some lovely clear dawns; still days, good for boating- and of course a couple of named storms! Tom helped me attach some of my fenders directly to the corrugated steel bankside before Ophelia arrived, which stopped the worst of the bumping. After nearly losing my boat last time I was at Patch, back in the summer (thanks, cruisers… and strong winds) I didn’t risk pins but used my chains and metal hooks and so far they’ve worked well (touch wood!).

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Autumn dawn
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Breezy, cloudy, cool autumn day… rain on the air.

The rain which arrived on Monday has made the towpath muddy and all the gaps on the boat show up, as the wind blew moisture in under the witch’s hat on the chimney, in through the windows and vents… times like this I’m grateful for gaffer tape! I’ve also rejigged the interior a little bit- my sawing arm is getting good!

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Taking the chance to get outside on a rainy day…

It’s also been a fruitful season. The neglected allotment did me proud, with weeks of beans, several sweetcorn, little squashes, and loads of apples from the communal trees. Boat Girl and I have been baking and making chutney, jam, cake and biscuits. IMG_0424There’s something about autumn which inspires the domestic goddess in me, that sense of chill that you get on a damp day can only really be chased away by making the home warm, with appetising smells wafting around… mmm! This cake was a traybake from Good Food (I think)- it had four eggs in it, apple, pear and blackberry, but you could easily vary the fruit according to the season. I replaced some of the flour with ground almonds, and it was wonderfully rich and moist- I took it along the row of boats and it went VERY quickly (this makes me happy- I think I was made to mother a large family with food, but when it’s just Boat Girl and me that impulse doesn’t have much chance for fulfilment…

I also made a chutney using windfall pears from the towpath. They weren’t nice to eat so I hope they’ll be okay as chutney! I ended up staying up until midnight because it took so long for a ‘channel’ to develop (Delia’s signal that a chutney’s ready to go into jars…)!

What with Boat Grandmother’s productive garden and my allotment, we’ve done pretty well for veg. The last sweetcorn was eaten on Monday; the last of the beans the previous week; I have some beetroot relish from Mother in the fridge and she’s now digging carrots and celeriac, so hopefully some more soups in the offing! She also has chard, with its beautiful bright stems and crunchy green leaves. I had some in a pot on the boat earlier in the season but it bolted in the dry weather when we were in France. It makes a good substitute for spinach or kale, and is robust enough to stand up to stewing in soup or curry. IMG_0382IMG_0426

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the current DIY is finished, the next project will be clearing the allotment and covering it with manure and cardboard ready for the spring. I’m hoping to do a lot more with it next year- onions, more squash, leeks, beans, carrots, chard, kale or broccoli… it’s incredibly satisfying to gather food you’ve grown yourself.

 

 

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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 😱😷

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!

 

Boat life in wintry weather

We’ve had a few frosts this autumn but the real winter weather started yesterday, with overnight low temperatures down here of about -5°C. We woke to a stunning white world, frost coating every blade of grass. The following night was even colder and when I woke up this morning, the edge of my duvet was slightly damp where my breath had condensed onto it. We have had ice on the brass window frames once or twice, but this morning’s was most impressive.

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Ice on the inside of the bedroom window

We’ve not been cold in our beds; we are snug in warm cotton pyjamas and good duvets (feather for me, wool for Boat Girl) and have blankets on top, plus leg warmers for warming cold feet. In the mornings I usually get up first and throw a cardi or a fleecy hoodie over my pyjamas as I get out of bed- my cotton dressing gown is no match for these early temperatures! It doesn’t usually feel too bad getting out of bed, although this morning was a bit sharp, I must admit, and I hurried to grab my hoodie. Boat Granny recently finished making us some lovely new curtains, using the old ones as linings, and that’s a massive help because being so much thicker, they really cut out the draft. She’s even made us a door curtain and again, that’s made a huge improvement.

My first job is to riddle the fire and stoke it up- I bank it up overnight with coal, so in the morning it doesn’t need re-lighting and the saloon end of the boat doesn’t get too cold. That way it warms up again quickly in the mornings and also in the evenings. Sometimes I chuck on a few logs to ramp up the heat, but on work days I heap on more coal so that once we’re on the way out, I can just turn down the vent and leave it to burn low all day long. Our shoes stay down by the stove overnight, which helps with cold feet as we’re heading out for the day.

Boat Girl’s dad gave us an electric heater and that’s been a boon the last couple of mornings. Coming on for an hour at six, morning and evening, it takes the edge off the chill by her bed, and helps keep that end of the boat less damp-feeling as it starts to solve the problem of condensation on the metal and means the air isn’t too cold when she goes to bed, or when she gets up. It isn’t too expensive on the pillar, either; though I don’t know how it’ll run on the inverter. Hopefully over Christmas I’ll get to try it out on the cut and see how practical life will be living out there full time. Having said that, I’m glad of the facilities at the moment. We use the shower and the loos in the block here, saving our own water- pontoon water is off while the temperatures are so low- and we have shoreline electrics. My battery charger doesn’t seem to be charging the batteries at the moment so it’s all on the solar panels- and while they are doing well, the daylight is so limited just now that they can’t fully charge the batteries; we’re floating between 60 and 80% at the moment. Out there, we have no immersion so will still need to run the engine to heat water (and charge batteries) until I find a way around that problem.

In this cold weather I’m using more coal- lots more. Probably a sack a week, supplemented with logs. It’s still affordable when you offset that cost against the savings made by having no other utility bills to speak of*, no council tax and minimal rent (and that only for a berth in the marina; out on the cut, it would only be the annual cost of the licence). £11.30 is good for 25kg of Taybrite fuel. I’m sharing the logs with Boat Granny, so that’s another saving (a load is far cheaper than buying by the net, and free logs can be found in the woods; we cut them up and stack them together). I’m comforted that it’s a primary use of fossil fuels- our own heating and also some (quite a lot of) cooking. It’s more sustainable than using electricity generated by a coal-fired power station; and wood is carbon neutral, of course.

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Solar panels on the roof box- frosted!

My second morning job is to get the coffee on, and then the porridge. Each evening I put Boat Girl’s school clothes near the fire so that they’re nice and warm for her to put on in the mornings. Pyjamas go there in the evenings, and towels hang there to dry. I need an enormous cup of coffee to start the day. Boat Girl often has hot chocolate and again, if I leave the kettle near the stove it makes boiling up in the mornings a quicker process.

Changing in this weather is done quickly. Bottom half, then top half. Boat Girl changes by the fire but I don’t because although we’ve curtains on the side windows, our front windows are currently open to the world! As a child I remember getting dressed under the bedclothes because I didn’t have a radiator in my attic bedroom (no, my parents didn’t make me sleep in a garret!) and it’s similar now. No hanging about. We shower in the evenings and put pyjamas on with a fluffy dressing gown (Boat Girl) or an old cardi or hooded top, and slippers, and sit by the fire for stories and cwtches before bed. It’s important to stay warm in the evenings, because warming up in a cold bed is hard if you’re already chilled. Our camping experience comes in handy for things like that! In the morning, a splash of super-chilled water on the face is great for waking you up!

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On weekends, I have a day when Boat Girl is with her dad, and a day with her. On the day I’m alone, I do jobs like cleaning, filling the well, moving the boat to the pumpout station and so on. I make mental lists of jobs I’ve not got round to, like sanding down and rust-proofing those pesky patches on the roof and around the windows. “In the spring,” I think, recalling the drying advice on the tin of Jenolite… I also try to take time to admire our home, tidy it, and enjoy it. It’s pretty special and on mornings like this morning, it’s not hard to see why I still say I’m loving our boaty life.

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My neighbour’s boat had impressive webs, beautiful in the frost

*I’m still waiting for that gas bottle to run out. One day soon, one day soon… it’s been in place since 1st August! Undoubtedly it’ll go on a wet, dark day or night, when I really don’t want to wrangle with it and can’t do without it…