October 2013

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We have had some wonderful times on Coot. Mooring up in the middle of nowhere, so close to nature and no other humans to be seen for miles. In the late Spring it was lovely to watch new mothers with their offspring, lambs, chicks, cygnets, ducklings, goslings. In summer, flocks of swallows feeding above the water, and geese flying over in such numbers, what a noise they make! I adopted a moorhen, Ditzy. Every day she swam to our boat to collect bits of bread to take back to her chicks. I watched these chicks grow up, and now they swim to the boat themselves. Astra adopted a duckling, Petsy. She too is now grown, and indistinguishable from the many ducks that visit us.

We haven’t done as much cruising as originally planned, but plans are made to be changed. We moored up next to our friends’ boat for a few days, probably my favourite experience aboard Coot. A handful of boats all moored one behind the other, four of them with children on board.

The children played from the moment they were up until bedtime, disappearing off into the fields on their bikes, exploring a ruined church, pushing each other on a makeshift hammock, swimming in a river, watching a Studio Ghibli film together when they were worn out. In the evenings a fire was lit and we all sat around it sharing stories, philosophies, wine and on one occasion a super hot chilli sauce. It was a blissful few days.

Day cruises have been fun too, cruising to show a friend or relative the joys of ever changing scenery, the families of water fowl living at the edges of the canal, crossing over aqueducts and cruising through the city centre. And now as the nights are drawing in, and the temperature is starting to drop, the smell of woodsmoke fills the marina and we light our fire too, and toast marshmallows and, in all honesty, feel slightly relieved that we will not know what it is like when the temperature drops below freezing. When that happens, we will be on a beach, no doubt complaining about the heat!

Nobody drowned, we didn’t sink, although we did get caught on the side of a lock once. What a treasured memory that will be one day. Watching the boat go down in the lock as Astra played happily on the bow, Andy shouting and gesticulating wildly at me and me standing there thinking, ‘what’s he on about?’. Only to notice the boat was hanging, right before the weight of it tipped it sideways and it fell. No real harm done, just a bit of cleaning up inside, but very scary. I read the advice about these situations again, and this time I remembered them. I’m good like that.

We had a head on collision, with someone who was obviously a beginner – we had been on the boat for a good few weeks at this point, clearly experts. Well, we had at least picked up that looking where you’re going is helpful, as is *not* steaming around a bend on the wrong side of the canal. Hmph, beginnners eh? Left a nasty dent on the front of our boat, but he gave us a wry smile as he passed so that made it all okay.

And there was the Blisworth Tunnel. 2.5 miles of pitch dark, only marginally wider than the width of two narrowboats. Andy’s night vision, we discovered, is not great. Mine is slightly better, so I was able to watch as we zigzagged down the tunnnel, bashing into one side then careering over to bash into the other. Eventually Andy straightened us up and we scraped along the side for the next 2 miles. Hey, at least we were going in a straight line!

We took the boat to a marina so we could have some furniture built. We were only supposed to stay for a few weeks, but then the Sydney job came up and we needed a place to leave the boat….
It is quite a community, 50 boats lined up in a row. Some folk are of the, ‘I moved onto a boat so I don’t have to mix with people’ variety, but most are friendly, smiling, sociable. Astra spends hours outside each day, cycling or scootering up and down, taking her toys off to play with them in her den. It’s a safe and relaxing place to live. Quiet, peaceful, with wide open skies and fields and distant church spires.

What a brief adventure it has turned out to be. No sooner had I finished unpacking, than Andy got himself a job in Australia. Nooo, I cried, I LOVE this boating life. I want to live like this forever!! But….okay. A job is a job is a job, and you know what, why not. It will be sunny, every day. And everybody tells me it’s ‘a great opportunity’. Nobody has an answer when I ask them what it’s actually an opportunity for, but that’s okay, the idea is growing on me. And then Astra starts a month long obsession with Huntsman spiders (they are very big) and other Australian delights, and I wonder if Australia for an arachnaphobe might be even crazier than boat life for a hoarder. Hmm.

Our few short months on the boat have been wonderful. It has been difficult at times, but I recommmend boating as a way of life. It’s a way of living in England that means you are slightly removed from the bureaucracy and the societal pressures that living in a street can bring. Don’t get me wrong, there are societal pressures on boats too, such as, don’t have your engine running after 8pm (thank you fellow boater for hammering on our boat one night to enlighten us about that rule)….but they are a tad more *real* than the pressures of living in a house. Well, this is how it has felt to me.

It’s a more down to earth way of living. It isn’t self sufficiency, or living as a hunter gatherer, but it is a lot closer than I have experienced before. Except for those childhood holidays in our ramshackle caravan in a cow field, where the toilet was a tin can and the lights were fuelled by gas. And you washed from a bowl of icy cold water. On a boat you need to deal with your own toilet waste, haul your own gas canisters, light your fire when it gets cold, get your own water. You have to go somewhere to collect your mail, you have to dispose of your own rubbish. You have to use the launderette to get your clothes clean. And you have to pay attention in a way I never did in a house.

In our first month aboard, everything broke down. It became our morning greeeting, ‘wonder what will go wrong today?’. The water ran brown, the water pump failed. The *other* water pump failed. The fixed water pump wouldn’t stop pumping. The boiler stopped working. The toilet leaked. The toilet clogged up. The windows leaked when we were out. The engine bilge filled with water. The power ran out. The power ran out again. And again. The kitchen sink leaked. There were other things too. I was keeping notes, but I got bored. ‘Something goes wrong every day’, I thought, I can just say that. But after a month, the boat ran out of things to go wrong, it had all been fixed/replaced/got used to. And we had more or less stopped banging our heads, stubbing our toes and feeling seasick in the shower.