Monday 27 December 2010

This Week's Top Ten

26th October

I’ve observed a few more differences about living on board. The kitchen light flickers, but only when the engine is running. We run the engine every evening for an hour to recharge the domestic batteries. The other difference is the further effects of a baby crying in a small space. My eldest daughter is late to bed because the baby is crying so much in the bedroom. The little one is overtired and possibly traumatised by being left with our childminder for the first time this week. When she has stopped crying and gone to sleep I can put my eldest to bed. Our childminder is much loved by Big Sister and much trusted by us parents, but to Baby Sister she is a complete stranger.

So this weeks top ten...

1) Flickering lights

2) Controlled crying in a small space

3) Going on the back deck to throw a tub of dishwater into the Cut.

4) Filtering all our drinking water. Suspicions that we never want to see the inside of our watertank. Ye olde boat wife kept her drinking water in Buckby cans on the roof (tin jugs bought in the Buckby neighbourhood).

5) Having lunch with children while scenery constantly changes outside the window: locks, lakes, fields, reservoirs, gongoozlers, pubs, moored craft, cyclists, joggers, fishermen, dog walkers; England passes me by at three miles per hour.

6) A friendly chat with the coal boat boys.

7) We never get a lie-in. We’re up with the kids at 6.30am seven days a week.

8) Turning off the lights and taps, because electric and water are finite resources.

9) Canal freezes; iced in and run out of water I meet other boaters at the tap in the same situation. Have to borrow a spanner to get water as vandals have removed the handle from the tap.

10) The view outside the window is nearly always tranquil and beautiful.

I texted my boat-mum mates today.

“Hiya. Where you moored? We’re in Broxbourne, headed to Stonebridge this weekend.”
Single Boat Mum says,
“Springfield. How you doing? What’s your winter plans? Don’t know what I’m doing! Very tempted to go to Angel at some point.”
Barge Mum says,
“Boat Wife! So weird was just about to text you! We live in a house! Sold the boat on Sat, it was a real rush job but it’s done now.”

Towpath Talk

24th October

Both girls have colds and are miserable and crying intermittently. Because of their night-waking we’ve all lost sleep which leaves me irritated and short tempered. Their wails resonate around the inside of the boat while I do the dishes and The Doctor hauls the boat backwards into the lock by pulling on the mooring ropes. After filling the water tank at the tap belonging to the Lady of the Lock he takes us down through the lock and we briefly moor up on the bollards below the lock while we go to say goodbye to the man who lives with the Lady of the Lock. He’s crossing the black and white painted foot bridge over the lock as I approach with my family. I nod at our boat down below, engine put-putting, ready to go, at three miles an hour.
“We’re making a high speed get-away,” I say.
“Oh right,” he smiles. “Have a good journey then. Back to London is it?”
“Yes, slowly. Probably Broxbourne today.”
“You’ve got your copy of Towpath have you? There’s plenty there.” Towpath Talk is a canal themed newspaper with monthly news of the Cut. He keeps a pile of them outside the house for boaters to help themselves.
“Um, no not yet.”
“You’re in it you know.”
“Am I?”
“Yeah, back page. There’s a picture of you and the girls.”
This cheered me up no end. Each month there’s a feature called The Wet Web, about things of interest to be found on the internet. I suggested they feature my blog, and the journalist liked the idea of featuring a selection of blogs by mothers on board. Unfortunately, neither she nor I could find any other such mothers so I thought perhaps she wasn’t going to be able to feature my blog. She has instead, however done a feature about canal related things to do with the kids and managed to feature me that way.
The Lady of the Lock is at work so we were unable to say goodbye to her. I tucked my poorly baby into the pushchair on the back deck. She was snuggled in under two blankets with her hood up and she quickly stopped crying and went to sleep for two hours. We moved on around the bend, past Roydon station and cruised slowly past Single Boat Mum’s golden wheat field. There is a backdrop of blue sky on this sunny October day. I was taking things off the roof, like the chimney and the arial, to prepare for the low bridges, and then duck my head down low as we pass under each one. The water level is much higher than when we came this way earlier in the summer, so there is far less head room. Afterwards, back inside I had to turn the fire up because without the chimney up there is less draught to draw up the burning diesel fumes. I’ve never much worried about walking down the gunwales while moving, or trip-trapping on the roof, little feet like a mountain goat among the life saving rings, avoiding stepping on the solar panel. But since I’ve been reading Ramlin Rose I think of all the ways people got killed and injured on the Cut in the past, especially all of the tragic ways that boat children died.

As The Doctor steered us out past the weir at the end of the Stort I came out on to the back deck to have a look.
“Well, that’s it then.” I said, hands on hips, surveying the point where the two rivers meet.
“Yep.” Smiled the Doctor.
“The end of the Stort. I doubt we’ll ever go there again.”
“Probably not.”
“I suppose there’s lots more beautiful things to see out there. Everyone says the Oxford is good, and the Kennett and Avon is meant to be beautiful.”
Yesterday we returned from a week’s holiday in Plymouth and I was convinced that I wanted to live in a house, with plenty of storage space and full size hot baths whenever you fancy it. But today the sun is shining and I’m talking to The Doctor about all the canals we’ve still not yet seen.

Fieldes Weir lock is our first lock on the Lee. I put a cup of tea for The Doctor on the roof hatch above the back door while he stood on the towpath and pulled the boat in with a rope. It looks like the sunniest Autumn ever and breezy trees wave at our Rodney roof as we enter the lock. Whenever I’m winding the lock gate paddles up or down I feel like that animated bloke at the beginning of Camberwick Green. Through the window I can see my big girl who has just turned three years old, is sat up at the table concentrating hard on a colouring book.

From Dobb’s Weir lock I can see a lake and swans shining in the blue. Exhilarated at cruising through sunny locks I feel that boating is in my very being, in my bones. I wasn’t born to it, and I’m a terrible swimmer, (I’ve never been in, thank goodness) but I’ve been doing it ten years now and it’s a way of life. The Doctor is reluctant to leave the Cut. He doesn’t want to “give in”. That’s what Ramlin Rose says too. “You never gives in. If yer gives in yer goes under.” Although, I think her life on the Cut was a little more harsh than mine. If you had a baby you breast fed with one hand and steered the boat with the other. The toddler you tied to the roof, and your priority was getting the boats ahead.

We moor beside a patch of woodland where the tree trunks are bedecked with holly and ivy twisting around their trunks. For a relaxed Sunday afternoon, we give both kids ‘pink medicine’ (paracetamol) and go to a cosy canal side pub, crunching autumn leaves on the towpath as you go. Mother hand in hand with daughter, baby on father’s shoulders pointing at the birds in the sky.
“Birr!” she says. Bird!
It’s like going out with a couple of nutters. One repeatedly throws her food on the floor. The other one takes her boots off and walks stocking footed on the pub sofas. The baby tries to pull baubles off the Christmas display table, threatening an avalanche of candles and pine cones as she tugs the black velvet table cloth down towards her on the floor. We eat roast dinners before the medicine wears off and head back on board for bedtime.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

The Kitchen is the size of a Travelcot


Since Eastbourne the girls have not slept well. This means that The Doctor and I have not slept well. Luckily the floor space in our kitchen is exactly the size of a travel cot. On a typical night Baby Sister will wake, kneel up in her sleeping bag, grab hold of the cot rails that divide the double bed, with both of her tiny fists, and begin to cry. Big Sister wakes up and calls out,
“Mummy, can you get her?”
I use a miners head-lamp to ensure that I don’t step on a rogue slug in the corridor while walking to the bedroom cabin. The bedroom is dimly lit by a pink plastic flower-shaped light. I climb up onto the bunk and stand between the girls, next to the improvised cot-side barrier. I’m slightly bent over as the standing space is less than five feet.
“Mummy, take her out!” whines Big Sister.
“I’m getting her!” I snap groggily. “ You can see I’m in here!”
I lean over and pick up the grizzling baby under the armpits. I sit her up on the bed next to her disgruntled sister, while I climb down to the floor. Then I carry her through to the other end of the boat where we have pre-emptively erected the travel cot.
After a cuddle and a drink of water she is abandoned in the cot to wail with baby loneliness. Us parents gently offer words of comfort from our futon bed on the other side of the kitchen work-top. The first night we did this she cried for an hour and a half, but it’s getting better. The second night we did this, I was more tired so I accidentally bumped the baby’s head on the lamp hanging from the ceiling as I awkwardly lifted her out of bed, and then stepped on Big Sister. The third night, we tried a nappy change, drink of water, drink of milk, relaxing music and finally a piece of bread: Instant happiness. She chomps happily on the bread and makes the baby sign language for “more”!

In the morning we pack up the futon and travel cot, and clear piles of paperwork, toys and a beanbag off the table and onto the girls’ bed. Then the table is ready for breakfast. We can’t make breakfast until the travel cot is dismantled and packed away. And so on, and so on.

“I am just bored here.”

15th October

BW haven’t phoned me about the mooring.

Sometimes, young children change the subject so quickly that you have no idea what is coming next. Over beans on toast at lunch time Big Sister announced,
“Actually Mummy, I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“What do you mean, you don’t want to be here?”
“Now, I want to move our boat back to London because I am just bored here.”
“Well, we will do soon darling. I want to go there too.”
“So, we can tell Daddy that when he comes home from work.”
“Well, Daddy already knows. Next week we are going on holiday to Plymouth to see Gran and Granddad and then the week after that we are going to move our boat back to London.”
“But I just want to go there.”
“Yes, I want to go there too. I miss my friends in London.” She looks downhearted and pensive.
“But,” she pauses, “when we go back to London I will miss all my friends here.” I am surprised.
“What friends have you got here?”
“Um. Like, the man and the lady at the lock, and the man on that boat, and the dogs. What is that man on the boat’s real name?”
“Well, we don’t know. We don’t know him very well do we? We just know his first name.”
“But I will miss the man and the lady at the lock.”
“Yes, I will miss them too.”


I plugged my phone in to charge but it’s not charging, even though the invertor is on. I find my miserable monologue has a new mantra. ‘This would never happen in a house.’ Being a stay at home mum is becoming more recognised as hard work, but the little hiccups of boating life added to sleep deprivation are prime elements for another equation.
(sleep deprivation) + (limitations of a narrowboat home) – (most mod cons) – (friends, family, human company) = the return of the miserable monologue.

The Doctor is back at work and the girls miss him. Sometimes Big Sister cries “because I miss Daddy so much.” So I give her a little framed photo of the handsome Doctor to look at.

“Parenting at home can be very socially isolating. It is easy to find that the only grown-up you talk to is your partner. Widening your support network is essential to help both of you deal with the stress and boredom of the everyday, and also just to refresh yourself with some different company now and again. There are, of course, some very useful websites through which you can meet local mums and/or just vent your frustrations (Mumsnet Talk being, obviously the best!)”

Toddlers – The Mumsnet Guide

How come I don’t even have time for Mumsnet? My lovely baby is 11 months old now. Shouldn’t I be coping better?

I saw one of the Busy Bees mums go by on the towpath with her pushchair today. My beady eyes spied her across the cut. I know her – I know her name! She’s not a friend. Only barely an acquaintance. But I briefly connected with another mother if only for an instant. No she didn’t see me, she doesn’t know my boat. She doesn’t know I’m here. But for a fraction of a second I thought, ‘We are not alone.’

As Rory McLeod would say, “I can’t survive on the kindness of these lovely strangers here.”

Rory Mcleod is an ex-circus clown and fire eater. “A one man soulband, poet and storyteller, singing his own unique upbeat dance stories. A modern travelling troubadour using tap shoes, acappella, harmonica, guitar, trombone, spoons, finger cymbals, bandorea, djembe and various percussion instruments!”

He wished to find a rambling woman to accompany him on his travels. I was lucky enough to find my rambling man. I wonder if Rory and his woman kept travelling after they had their ramblin’ kids?

“So don’t let me go darlin’
I love you now don’t make me stay
Come with me darlin’ when I have to go, when I have to tear myself away
And be my rambling woman
I’ll be your rambling man
And together we will go
Holding each others hand
And I’ll accompany you my darling
Whenever you have to roam
You’ll be my countryside darlin’
And I’ll be your home.
Won’t you come with me when I go?”

Working boat wives were not so isolated. When the men went to canal-side pubs, they’d be moored alongside other families, and while the women minded the children on board they could catch up with their temporary neighbours moored next door. They were part of a community.

“’Spite of all you hears about ‘drunken boatwomen’ most of ‘em was content of ‘n evenin to loose their chaps orf to the pub while they stayed tied to their kiddies and the cabin. It was a chance for Mum to catch oop on her chores ready for mornin and catch oop with news of the Cut with the women moored alongside.”

Ramlin Rose, Sheila Stewart p.33

Wednesday 15 December 2010


Sent: 13 October 2010 21:34
To: Mooring_Vacancies Enquiries
Subject: RE: Winter Moorings 2010

Hi BW Lady

I have been trying to use the new system to buy a winter mooring at Islington, London . On 4th October I spent much of the day watching the mooring website which suggested the launch time would be around 4.30pm. When I checked the site at 4.23pm all available space at Islington had been sold. On 5th October someone on the phone at BW told me the system would send me an email if any more space became available on the website. On 6th October a mooring officer at the London office confirmed that more space will become available at Islington and she would phone me when this is on the website. The site today has now changed from saying 3.17 metres available to 2.23 metres available at Islington. Can you tell me if all the mooring space at Islington has been sold?

Boat Wife

I’m still waiting for BW to ring me about the mooring. Until they do I don’t know if my family will remain ‘of no fixed abode’ for the winter. The children have been waking on average twice a night this week and the sleep deprivation is beginning to take it’s toll. Day to day life seems more difficult. Positive thinking is elusive. The ghost of John Lennon drifts around the boat singing ‘I’m so tired, I don’t know what to do.’

My first born baby was three years old yesterday. Her astonished and innocent face awoke to a pile of presents and a boat full of balloons. The family day trip to a Hertfordshire wildlife park included jungle animals, bouncy castles, a woodland railway train ride, Thomas the Tank Engine, an adventure playground, candy floss for the first time and,
“Any ice-cream you want for the birthday girl,” says the man who lives with the Lady of the Lock. “You come inside and choose one.”
Then we went back home for three pink glittery candles on the birthday cake.
“I thought those candles looked really beautiful,” she said softly, her eyes full of wonder.
When the girls were in bed, us parents flopped into bed at 8.30pm exhausted, but noting an immense satisfaction at focussing so much time and energy on another person’s happiness.

The Secret of The Lady of The Lock

10th October
On a sunny Sunday Big Sister and I stopped on our way back from the village to buy ice-cream from the Lady of the Lock and to pay her for the laundry load that she did yesterday.
“You’ve run out of Mini-Milks haven’t you?” I asked.
“We have,” she confirmed, looking apologetically at my little daughter.
“But I tell you what. You could have a Twister lolly. Would you like that?” She smiles at my daughter and then looks at me.
“You can have that for the price of a Mini-Milk.” She returns with the lolly and my daughter sits on a wooden park bench outside her front door and gets ice-cream all around her mouth.
“How do you like it on the mooring there?” she said, leaning on the baby stair-gate in her doorway, that prevents her dogs from running onto the lock-side.
“Oh, I’m really enjoying having a mooring,” I grinned. “Actually, I was going to ask you. Do you mind? I mean, next week, we’re going to Devon for a week. My parents and my husband’s parents live there, so it’s all the grandparents there you know. Will it be alright to leave the boat there? And you could keep an eye on it for us, you know.”
“Of course, yes. Not a problem.”
So we chatted a bit more and I said,
“You’ve got two sons haven’t you?”
“No, four” she smiled, and described each one to me.
“We never got married though, never got around to it.”
So, the husband of the Lady of the Lock is not the husband of the Lady of the Lock. Is it too late to invent a new pseudonym for him?

I do like having a mooring. I like being a short walk from the village. I like living next door to people who sell gas, diesel and ice-creams. I like having an address – we’re having a new futon mattress delivered here next week! I like nodding at my boaty neighbours when I pass them on the towpath. I like going to the same toddler group every week. I like to fantasise about strimming down all of those waist-high nettles and having a garden for the children to play in. But I think The Doctor misses the stunning views of The Mead. He thinks that a mooring is the worst of both worlds; no storage space or mod-cons and you travel a lot less. I’m beginning to feel it would be the best of both worlds. An address near a nursery, neighbours that know my children, and no need to travel to get water, gas, rubbish disposal or the toilet pumped out.

Occasionally I Google ‘narrowboat wife’ and similar to see if I can find other narrowboat blogging mums. Today I was pleasantly surprised to find myself listed as a new blog on George's Canal Boating website.  I am excited to have a tiny bit of internet fame! But I’ve still only found one other blogging, narrowboating mum.

George's: Canal Boating website is an introduction for those unfamiliar with the pleasures of canal and waterway cruising, as well as a resource for experienced boaters. There are over 2000 links to canal and waterways related web sites. “Please... they are "narrowboats", not "barges".

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing-- absolutely nothing--
half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

-- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows


9th October

Recently The Doctor instigated the idea that we should do a big clear out of the boat; get rid of all the things that we’re not using. It’s amazing how many possessions you don’t actually need or use. In my early days of boating I was told about a game called ‘Justify’. Hold up any object that you keep on board and ask yourself do I really need it? Do I use it? You have to justify why you keep it on board. If you cannot justify the space it takes up, it has to go. I admit, that we do not play this game nearly often enough. We piled the back deck high with black bags of rubbish and bags full of charity shop donations, and yet the boat still seems full; there is still more to do. So, this morning I swept the floor, sorted the laundry and bagged up more bric-a-brac bound for the Harlow charity shops. I happily did this while listening to country and western music; another of my guilty pleasures. It reminds me of my mum listening to Radio Devon, with the smell of Sunday dinner cooking. Luckily for The Doctor, he did not have to suffer this glitch in my music taste this morning, as he was reversing the boat backwards and into Roydon lock, accompanied and assisted by our eldest daughter. The husband of the Lady of the Lock sorted us out with gas and diesel, and filled the water tank. I gave another load of laundry to the Lady of the Lock and joked that we should set up a tab with them. I was sat on her doorstep nattering, with my baby in my arms and Big Sister strolling about on the lock-side in the sunshine.
“Last night did you hear what happened out here? Did you hear any noise?” the Lady asked me.
“No, what happened?”
“A man and his dog, fell in the lock!”
“Oh my god!”
“Yeah, he was out here walking, pitch black it was. The dog went in, and the man went in after him to get him out. Big dog it was too.”
Her husband came out of the house to help him.
“I suppose once the dog was in the lock he couldn’t see a way out” I said. “He wouldn’t know to swim out of the lock to find the bank, especially not in the dark.”

A Mooring

Thursday 7th October

On the way back from the church hall toddler group I stopped at the lock cottage to collect the laundry. The Lady of the Lock has also, kindly picked up a load of cheap nappies for me when out shopping at the cash and carry.
“When are you off back to London then?” her husband asked me, smiling to see that the baby has fallen asleep in the back seat of the double buggy. “Ah, bless.”
“Well,” I sighed. “I’m having real trouble getting a winter mooring back in Islington actually.” I briefly explained my story. We discussed the idea of staying around Roydon and commuting into London with the children.
“You should just stay around here.” It is not the first time he has encouraged us to stay.
“Well we can’t stay all winter can we? The lads on the boats,” (I nodded towards the boats above the lock), “they told me the cut overflows into the water meadows and that it comes up all over the towpath. They said they move off to Stanstead Abbotts.”
“What?” he laughs. “They’re not going anywhere. I’ve lived here for five years and I’ve only seen it get that bad a handful of times, and even then it’s only for a couple of days.”
“But I thought we wouldn’t get back out under the bridge.” I glance down below the lock, towards the station. “I heard boats get stuck there.”
“Oh yes, I have seen them stuck there,” he said. “But only for a few days. No, stay. Stay as long as you like!”
“Well our little man isn’t back until December is he?” The Lady of the Lock asked her husband. “You could stay on our mooring until December if you like.” She urges me to come and have a look at the overgrown mooring at the end of their garden.
“We’d clear all that,” she gestures towards the long grass and nettles behind the picket fence.
The boater that lives on their mooring is off travelling on his boat. They describe to me their ultimate plans of running electricity to the site, making it a proper mooring and selling that bit of land one day.
“That would help pay off our mortgage and then we could just run our shop!” she smiles, her blue eyes twinkling. I look at their house. They’ve recently started selling Calor gas and put signs up on the side of the house to advertise this.
“Tell your husband, that we’ve got diesel now,” said her husband. “I forgot to tell him when I saw him on his bike this morning.”
“Wow. Since when have you been selling diesel?” I asked, noticing the orange fluorescent hand written sign, advertising the price of diesel in their window.
“Since this morning,” grinned the husband of The Lady of the Lock. “I’ve got it in barrels.”
I look longingly at their mooring and think about having a garden for the girls, a postal address and being a regular at the local toddler group, with my lovely neighbours supplying everything from water and gas, to diesel and ice lollies.

Back home after lunch I can’t get enough hot water to do the dishes, even though I turned the water heater on an hour ago. I check the pilot light in the cupboard: the gas is gone. The baby is asleep in the bedroom so I leave Big Sister painting at the table with instructions to call me if there is an emergency.
“An emergency,” I explain, “is if you have hurt yourself or something; if you really need me.” (Not, my Lego is annoying me, or I can’t get my sock off.)
“I don’t think there will be an emergency,” she reassures me.
At the front of the boat in the gas locker huge spiders scuttle about as I clutch my gas spanner and peer into the rusty well-deck to see that all four plastic stoppers have been pulled out of the gas bottles. This means that all of the gas bottles are empty.
I head back inside and explain to my daughter that we’re going to have to take the boat down to the lock to get gas. The baby wakes up and cries. I put her coat on and make her comfortable in the pushchair on the back deck. I stick her sister on the sofa in front of a DVD and climb onto the roof to lay the TV arial down. Then, I heaved the gangplank onto the tow path, and lever it up to rest one end on the roof. I then somehow heave the heavy gang plank onto the roof. Finally I loosen all three mooring pins out of the earth by bashing them with a mallet. Then I untie the ropes and reverse the boat into the middle of the cut. I didn’t go forwards first because I didn’t know how shallow it is and we could run aground. The sun sparkles on the water and the short cruise is beautiful as it passes through meadows and trees. But as we near the lock the baby is arching her back and crying in the pushchair and her sister has had a tantrum because I refused to let her do painting unsupervised while I drive the boat. I moor up on the lock bollards and discover that she did do unsupervised painting anyway and has pretty much ruined the table with a selection of multicoloured paints.

At the lock house the lovely husband of the Lady of the Lock offers to bring the gas bottle round to the boat on a trolley. He then connects up the gas bottle for me and himself and one of the friendly blokes who moors by the lock spend at least half an hour holding ropes and helping me to turn the boat so that I can moor up on their end of garden mooring. This is because I didn’t fancy reversing several boat lengths backwards to moor at the nearest space because narrowboats don’t steer well when going backwards. As we actually need four bottles of gas and are collecting sand for ballast off him it makes sense to moor up for a day or two here. Although it is right next to the railway and doesn’t have a view of the meadow, I am excited to have a sort of private mooring and a garden gate. What a novelty!

The BW Moorings Officer

Wednesday 6th October

BW moorings lady phoned me, and after a friendly discussion about my predicament, promised to phone me as soon as the extra metres are uploaded for sale on the website.

The Doctor and I have agreed to discuss further the ideas of house versus boat, and so I exercised my right to change my mind during the ‘cooling off period’ and cancelled the bank loan today.

First Come First Served

Tuesday 5th October

The next morning I tried to call BW’s main switchboard again but I still got a recorded message about the Winter Moorings going live on 4th October, and then the phone system cut me off.
I made a packed lunch and embarked on the four hour journey home. Many kind Londoners (mostly women) helped me lift the heavy double pushchair, kids and luggage up and down countless stairs at the tube stations.

BW had still not returned my call by the time I got home, so I phoned them and got put through to the London office. The mooring officer is not at work this afternoon so she will be sent an email asking her to call me tomorrow. I was told that as Islington is a site where double mooring is permitted more space will be available to buy soon, so long as the craft that have already purchased mooring space are not wide-beams.
“So am I just supposed to log on and keep checking then? Because I cancelled travel plans yesterday to do this, as I know it’s ‘first come first served’. I’ve got two kids you know, I’ve got stuff to do! I mean, when you say it will be available soon, is that the next few hours or days?”
“Yes, I can see it is difficult, but I can’t tell you any more than that. The mooring officer is back in the office tomorrow and she will have a look at it then. But the system should send you an email if anything else gets put on the website. I will mark this email urgent for her, so that she can get back to you tomorrow.”
“Ok then, thanks very much.”

Barge Mum and Single Boat Mum were texting me asking if I got a winter mooring. I briefly explained what’s going on so far, and they agreed with me that it’s stupid! So I’m supposed to stay on line all day, with my slow Dongle mobile connection, just periodically checking my email and the BW moorings vacancies website. Humph.

Winter Moorings “Go Live”

Monday 4th October

Today, I planned to log on to the BW mooring vacancies website to buy our winter mooring in Angel and then begin the epic journey back to Roydon, via London. However, due to a London tube strike and the moorings system now going live at 3pm we are staying in Eastbourne today so that I can buy the mooring, and have an easier journey back home tomorrow.

I enjoyed a warm bath this morning and washed the dishes with instant hot water. I noted that the rubbish and recycling did not have to be carted off anywhere in the double pushchair, and I began to imagine what life would be like if I lived in a flat like this. I would probably have put a load of laundry in the washing machine first thing, so that it would be ready to hang out by the time I’d done the dishes. Without the need of a trip to sort the rubbish, recycling or laundry, our outings today were to the supermarket, a child friendly cafe with toys, and a park. My mind seems to have done a swift turn-around from considering a bigger boat, to fantasising about a cottage in the country.

This morning the British Waterways website confirmed that the Winter Moorings 2010 system will now launch at 3.30pm today. I made sure that myself and the girls were home from the park by 3pm and checked the website again. It was then updated to say it is now scheduled to launch at 4pm, and later updated again to change the time to 4.30pm “at which time all Winter Mooring vacancies will be available to view and ‘buy’.” However, “If any problems are found during the update, the system will be rolled back and the update postponed to the following day to allow assessment of the problems encountered.”

Single Boat Mum has decided that she will not get a winter mooring, and will continue to cruise around with her adopted “boat family”. Barge Mum and Barge Dad have had some people interested in buying their boat, so have also decided that they don’t need a winter mooring. They could be in a house soon! Barge Mum texted me yesterday to say that the wind nearly blew the Little Flower’s pushchair into the cut yesterday – with the baby in it! Apparently she was unharmed and hardly noticed, but it sure did frighten Barge Mum. So, we must add ‘buggies in the wind’ to the list of dangers that boating parents have to be aware of!

The last time I checked the website a message said they would begin uploading the winter mooring system at 3.30pm and this could take up to two hours. They suggested checking the site again at 4.30pm. I stayed on line throughout that time but inevitably by four o’clock I was dealing with a crying baby, trying to begin cooking their tea, and then supervising Big Sister’s visit to the toilet. At about 4.15pm I found the system appeared to have “gone live” and I started searching for Angel moorings in the system. At first I couldn’t find it, but then I found that the site was called Islington: Regents Canal. I entered the amount in metres that I would like to buy and received the error message; “Insufficient mooring space available. Currently, we have 3.17 metres available. Please contact the Mooring Sales Administrator who may be able to assist you.”

By this time it was 4.23pm. I tried phoning the Mooring Sales Administrator and British Waterways main switchboard number but I just kept getting cut off. I eventually spoke to someone at 4.49pm who said they had been experiencing problems with their phone system today. I explained I had been having trouble trying to buy a winter mooring and after consulting with a colleague she clarified that the website had said the system would go live “at some point over the next two hours” (after 3.30pm) and that customers should check the site again at “around 4.30pm”. She confirmed that two customers had already purchased mooring space at around 4.00pm and that the website now says there is only 3.17 metres remaining. She then said that the mooring officer for that area could call me back so I left her my number. No one called me that day.


3rd October

It rained all the way to Eastbourne and yet the sign at the station says, ‘Welcome to the Sunshine Coast’. Raindrops are falling on my nose. With genuine concern my daughter notes,
“Mummy, your nose is crying!”

The girls and I are visiting my best friend, The Fairy Tale Princess who is now renting a lovely flat and living happily ever after with her Prince Charming Geezer. Looking on the internet I discovered that we could rent a quaint, rural two bedroom cottage in Devon for £450 a month. It was in a village near both sets of grandparents and was pictured with fields in the background. I would need to get a driving licence if I was to travel to any kind of job. I could set up my hypnotherapy practice in a complementary health centre in Plymouth city centre. I mulled things over while we took the girls to see the waves crashing on a pebbly beach. They squealed with excitement at the powerful noise of the ocean. We ate fish and chips in a cafe on the pier. Baby Sister did not think much of the mushy peas. I had an epiphany that blew into my head across the salty air. Why did I buy a boat in the first place? Because it gave me the ultimate freedom: freedom to travel with my home. But having children limits freedom. I am “tied down”. Rather than this feeling restrictive, now that it’s finally happened to me I am happy to be tied down to my beautiful children; but if I am now tied down, then perhaps the main benefit of a boat: travelling, can no longer be mine. I want to be tied to a community, neighbours, a nursery for Big Sister, and then a school. It is the fact that we now have a nursery place and a nursery start date for her that has really made me question our lifestyle. I accepted the first nursery place that my daughter was offered because I don’t know if she’ll be offered another one. It’s all about where you live, and as we don’t have a permanent address I thought we must be lucky to have been offered a place. I visited the inner city nursery and it was ok, and conveniently located across the road from the Multiversity, but is it really where I want my daughter to settle in, grow and learn for the next few years? I know that it isn’t. I always pictured my theoretical children having an idyllic rural childhood and running in slow motion through the fields.

Dear Customer,

This email is to confirm that the Winter Moorings 2010 system will launch on the website today, Monday 4th October. The system is scheduled to launch at 4pm at which time all Winter Mooring vacancies will be available to view and ‘buy’.
If any problems are found during the update, the system will be rolled back and the update postponed to the following day to allow assessment of the problems encountered.
The Winter Mooring vacancies will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. The length of space at each mooring site will be advertised until all of the available space has been 'let'. Vacancies will be advertised at a per metre rate and boaters will be able to 'buy' the length of space they need through a 'Buy Now' system.
If you should encounter any problems using the system please contact the Mooring Sales Administrator.

Friday 26 November 2010

Boat Families Meet-Up

26th September

So we finally had our boat families meet up in the child-friendly rain-proof venue, The Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green. Two families couldn’t make it due to illness and holidays, so the guest list was: myself and family, Barge Mum, Barge Dad, and Barge Baby, who is named after a little flower. I also invited Single Boat Mum and her blue-eyed baby with the pirate shoes. The Doctor and I were travelling in from the edges of our remote field, and delayed by the train. So Single Boat Mum phoned me and asked,
“What does Barge Mum look like?” They’ve never met, but they’ve heard about each other on the towpath telegraph.
“Um. Light brown hair, straight, down to her shoulders. But I don’t know how you’ll find her. There must be loads of people there. It must be quite busy.”
“No it isn’t. I think I might be looking at her.”
“We’re just coming out of the tube, we’ll be there in two minutes.”
When we arrived they had found each other and were pleased to finally meet. Single Boat Mum now has Jolly Rodger wellies, that match her daughter’s footwear. Barge Mum said that it was Barge Dad’s birthday and there were smiles all round as we began chatting and unpacking baby food and sorting out high chairs.
“It’s your birthday is it?” asked the Doctor. “That’s an excuse for a pint later,” he grinned.

Topic of the day was, what is everyone going to do about winter mooring? This year British Waterways has changed the application process to something on line. The way we understand it, there is a date next week when we all have to log on at the same time and try to buy our mooring by the foot. It is a case of first come, first served, and London winter moorings are notoriously popular. When each mooring site’s length in feet has been sold, there will be no more space available to buy. Meeting each other today and having such fun discussing boating and babies, we mournfully wished that we could all just moor together in one big happy community.
“Shall we all just moor together, in Angel?”
“If only we could all get in there, but it’s so popular.”
“I’d love to go there,” said Barge Mum.
“Have you never been there?” asked Single Boat Mum.
“We tried to go there,” she laughed, “but we got stuck in Maida Vale tunnel!”
“I’m going to sort out that wheel house,” grinned Barge Dad. “I’ve started doing it!” He plans to convert it into a collapsible wheel house, then they can go East, through the London canal tunnels.
“So we’re going to apply for Little Venice for winter, I think,” said Barge Mum. “We got a letter from BW saying that we’re not allowed to apply for Paddington again. They had complaints about us last winter.”
“Complaints?” I asked. “What have you done?”
“Oh I don’t know,” she said. “It was that really cold winter, we were frozen in, so we used the tap at Marks and Spencers to get water.”
“They asked us not to do it,” admitted Barge Dad, “but we did it a couple of times.”
“What? So, you’ve run out of water and you’ve got a new born baby...?!”
We agree that they should write to BW and find out exactly what the nature of the complaints about them were, as the letter didn’t specifically say.
“Well I’ve heard that there’s a reasonably priced mooring available at Stonebridge,” I smiled at Single Boat Mum. She laughed out loud, knowing that a recent BW moorings auction had rented a Stonebridge mooring at the price of four thousand pounds for the year.
“I know!” she exclaimed. “Four grand! Who are these rich boaters?”
“And it’s not even a posh area!” I pointed out.
“Exactly. Tottenham!”
“I had a look at Wenlock Basin you know, and that’s expensive too.” Wenlock Basin is also in Angel, Islington.
“Yes and they’re all sausaged in.”
“Is that a technical term?”
“You know what, I know what you mean. It’s a sausage mooring!”
“I would hate to be like that,” said Barge Mum. “You look out of your window and you’re just looking into somebody else’s living room.”
As we chat we discover that us boat-families have a common desire. We all love the country life, and all of us are familiar with the wild flower meadow, Hunsdon Mead, but to be out there close to nature means that we miss our sense of community. This is a boat-woman thing more than a boat-man thing.
“Barge Dad would love to be in the outer Hebredes!” admits Barge Mum. “But I would go mad.”
“We should just do a land grab,” jokes Single Boat Mum, “and set up our own community.”
“There’s a place down the Kennet and Avon that is sort of squatted like that,” said Barge Dad. “They’ve even got tee pees.”
We conclude that the best thing would be if we could all moor together in Angel, and form our own babysitting circle, but that is never going to happen. We’ll have to wait until next week to see what happens when the new winter moorings system “goes live”.
The babies enjoyed a groovy light show at the museum, and my eldest daughter played with various toys and the sandpit. After Barge Dad had played The La’s ‘There She Goes’ on the retro juke box, it was time to take all of our pushchairs in a convoy to a convenient Bethnal Green pub. We raised glasses of Guinness and Stella in the name of Barge Dad’s birthday, and a good time was had by all.

“Introduction to Winter Moorings 2010

Winter moorings are available to boaters whose regular home mooring cruising options may be affected by stoppages; and for continuous cruisers they offer the opportunity to put down roots for a few months when the weather is less pleasant.
BW designates up to 50% of the space at many of its visitor moorings for winter moorings and this year, for the first time, allocation of the winter moorings will be through the website.
The Winter Mooring vacancies will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. The length of space at each mooring site will be advertised until all of the available space has been ‘let’. Vacancies will be advertised at a per metre rate and boaters will be able to ‘buy’ the length of space they need through a ‘Buy Now’ system.”

Victims of Crime

25th September
I came home from a ‘writing day’ in Harlow to find there was no pushchair on the back deck.
“Where’s the pushchair?” I asked The Doctor as I came in down the back steps. The warmth of the boat hit me as I’d come indoors from the crisply cold September air.
“You’re kidding me?” The Doctor asked turning to look at me. Baby Sister shrieked with happiness and threw up her arms to celebrate my arrival.
“I’ve been a bit naughty and I didn’t eat my dinner,” confessed Big Sister, standing in the entrance to the kitchen.
“It’s not outside. It was on the towpath when I left this morning.”
“We haven’t been out!” exclaimed The Doctor, hastening outside to check. It’s been a wet and windy couple of days. The river is shallow so we have a gang plank out to the towpath. I couldn’t get the pushchair across the gang plank yesterday and had been meaning to ask The Doctor to bring the pushchair on board last night, but I forgot. Still, we are moored by a field, in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t surprised to find it still safely on the towpath when I left this morning.
“It was here this afternoon,” said The Doctor. “I went outside because I heard the gang plank falling down.” It was a windy day. The question is, was it stolen, or could it have been blown into the water? It is a big heavy thing. This seems unlikely. We stand beside the towpath and peer into the murky water around our boat. There is nothing to be seen. We are outraged. We have little hope of getting it back, but Roydon is a small place; perhaps someone has seen something.
I phoned the police. They have difficulty opening the crime as a case on the computer because I don’t know my postcode. He asks me for the nearest road or street name. I say there isn’t one. There is very little in his computer that relates to any part of Roydon. We settle for Roydon Mill Leisure park, a good twenty minute walk away, as the nearest landmark. He takes my name and a lot of details and says that someone will call me back.
That night The Doctor went to every pub in Roydon (there are three) and spread our tale of woe and asked the locals to keep a look out.
The next day he cycled to Harlow, to check the towpath. Perhaps some dodgy boater has stolen our pushchair? It could be found on another boaters roof. It may be by the wayside, shoved into a tree by local teenagers. Luckily we have a small wheeled, too wide, cheap twin buggy that was given to us a while ago. We keep it on the roof and were planning to sell it. I bundle the kids into it and heave it along the stony towpath. The wheels catch on the grass verges and it bumps over rocks and stones. It is hard work. I mentally mourn my beautiful red double buggy that can take two kids and two loads of laundry anywhere I want to go. It was £300 second hand on eBay. We will never afford a similar one. How will I take these two on public transport to the childminder and the new nursery? I deliver a poster to the lock cottage, where everyone is suitably outraged at the crime that has been committed against us. We carry on to the village and I display a poster in the church hall, for the Busy Bees to see, and another one in the village shop.

“Stolen. Double Buggy.
Red ‘Phil and Teds’ Double Pushchair E3 model
If someone offers to sell you or give you this pushchair
Or if you saw anyone in or around Roydon on Friday afternoon (24th September) with an empty double buggy
please contact Boat-Wife or the local police 0300 3334444.

Many thanks.

Stealing from a family with very young children is offensive and distasteful.
Any information would be much appreciated.”

As I struggled back along the towpath with the wide twin buggy with the small hard wheels grating on the path, my phone rings; it’s The Doctor.

“I can see the pushchair!” He said. “It’s in the river! How near are you? I might need your help to get it out.” We are so relieved! I stopped at the lock cottage to explain to The Husband of the Lady of the Lock that we are not victims of theft after all. Perhaps we are just victims of vandalism. By the time I get home The Doctor has pulled the pushchair out of the cut. It is caked in mud, but it will be ok. It was quite far from where we left it, it was in the river beyond the back of the boat. Was it local kids mucking about, or an extremely strong wind that blew it in there? We’ll never know. I’d better take all those posters in the village down. A few days later the Doctor collected our post from the postbox in London. The Essex Police Victim Liaison Officer had kindly written me a lovely letter saying that he was sorry to hear that on the 24/09/10 I was “the victim of THEFT – OTHER”.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Burnt Mill Boat

21st September

At breakfast time a boater neighbour knocked on the boat to quiz The Doctor about our solar panel. While I was feeding the girls I could hear them discussing twelve volt efficiency and technical specifications. Then the conversation turned to our very recent and very local disaster. A narrowboat has burned out and half sunk under the willow tree, outside The Moorhen pub. It is all black and twisted and is a sobering sorry sight. Although the hull is steel it looks like the top must have been GRP. The word is that the owner was filling his petrol generator on the back deck. The boat batteries were not covered, (as is required by the Boat Safety Certificate) and a spark must have set things alight. Apparently the bloke himself caught alight and went indoors to fetch a fire extinguisher: Big mistake. Now the interior of the boat is alight. He required rescuing by some heroic onlooker and was taken to hospital with 50 percent burns. It made front page of The Harlow Star and the towpath telegraph (aka known as ‘boaters gossip’) says that the poor fellow was not insured.

“The 39ft (12m) boat was well alight by the time fire crews arrived at the scene and efforts to extinguish the flames were hindered by an on-board gas canister.” Harlow Star

We left our mooring in Harlow park and The Doctor turned the boat below the next lock. Then we headed back to Moorhen marina and tied up to fill the water tank and dump our rubbish at the rubbish point. We were then moored right next to the tragic charred boat and were able to walk up and have a good look at it, with our curious children. The willow leaves hanging above are crispy and burnt. The pub beer garden is closed with a sign that reads, ‘Danger, Keep Out’. The staff fear that parts of the willow tree may fall into the garden. The Moorhen is located right next to Burnt Mill lock.
“Maybe Burnt Mill lock will have to get a new name now,” said The Doctor.

We cruised on and Big Sister said that she was sad to leave Harlow. She likes the adventure playground and Pets Corner, the petting farm. She is not so keen on Roydon. The best things to do for a two year old around Hunsdon Mead are just blackberry picking and eating ice creams from the Lady of the Lock. For most of the journey she stays indoors to watch her favourite Beatles film.

We cruised back in time past Parndon Mill towards Hunsdon Mead. We passed the ghost of Grassington-Two-Weeks-Ago, going the other way just like the Yellow Submarine.
“Look, there’s someone in there!”
“They’re waving.”
“It’s a group of fellas.”
“It’s us.”
“Then I would suggest, that yonder yellow submarine, is none other than ourselves going back in time.”

Turning back towards London it’s time to reflect on the travelling experience. Be careful what you wish for boat-wife: Being a travelling, boating, writing, parent can be lonely.

Back in Roydon I returned to Busy Bees and now that the summer holidays are over it is held once more in the church hall. It was great to walk into a playgroup and be recognised, waved at and greeted.

Ship Shape

13th September

I run a tight ship: I believe in routine. I was preparing lunch for precisely 11.45am so that the baby doesn’t get too hungry. I turned on the ring to boil the rice and the gas ran out. I put a Muppets DVD on for Big Sister to watch and provided Baby Sister with a bread stick to chew on. With the kids appropriately occupied I spent approximately twenty minutes squatted on the front deck peering into the gas locker. It doesn’t take The Doctor that long to change a gas bottle, but being of the fairer sex, I’m in there knocking the spanner with a brick trying to undo the fitting, and attempting to ignore my arachnophobia as the eight-legged occupants of the gas locker scuttle away from the noise of clanging metal. The new gas bottle is finally connected and I return indoors to put the rice on to boil. Lunch will now be in thirty minutes time. My Gina Ford book doesn’t cover this eventuality. The routine is stuck up the Stort without a paddle.

70ft Trad

12th September

When I sent a slug out to walk the plank, I shuddered to think about how many more of them may be on board. I believe the time is coming when we need to re-organise our finances and try to get a bigger and better boat, with less of nature’s stowaways.

So, the whole family went on a three hour train journey to a boat brokerage to view a 70 footer called Teal . Teal is a 70 foot traditional style narrowboat built in 1991. It’s painted dark green. Inside is fitted out with pine tongue and groove and paranah pine. It was last blacked in 2007 and had the anodes replaced at the same time. The toilet is a Porta Potti, the fridge is 12 volt, not gas. There is a 2000 watt invertor and a solid fuel stove. When we arrived, it had it’s home river painted on the side, as is common in canal world: coincidentally it is the River Stort! Perhaps it is a sign that this boat should be ours! A “trad deck” means a small counter to stand on and the engine located inside an engine room. There is a separate bunk-bed room for my girls, a bedroom for parents and a four person dinette booth for family meals. This also converts to a double bed for guests. Our four person family sat at the table to try it out and smiled as we imagined having family meals there. Our own boat’s dinette is really only made for two to sit comfortably. The girls sit on the two seats and the Doctor and I perch at the edges on foldable bar stools. The squirrel stove at the front of the living room on Teal burns solid fuel and the Alde central heating is reported to be effective. Big Sister likes the spacious cratch covered well-deck to play in. The boat is tatty, but within our budget (thanks to the eagerly anticipated bank loan) and it is so much bigger than our current home. One of the disadvantages is there’s a shower but no bath – my girls do love bath time, and I too occasionally enjoy a relaxing lavender oil mini-bath when all our tiny girls are in bed and The Doctor is watching a science documentary on TV. There are a few portholes which don’t open, so it could be more warm and stuffy than our own dear homely boat on a hot day. But the thing that I love about this boat is that it has a washing machine! Watch this space.

Child Safety in a Double Bed

11th September

The baby can creep along on her tummy and is nearly crawling now. She is getting too big and too active for the hammock, so I installed a barrier down the middle of Big Sister’s double bed. Her pine panelled tongue and groove cabin is exactly the size of a double mattress, plus a small corridor down the side of the bed for parents to stand in. There is a cupboard full of baby clothes above the pillow end, and a cupboard full of toddler clothes at the foot of the bed. A musical rabbit is suspended from the ceiling hatch. The door at the front of the cabin leads out to the cratch covered bow deck at the sharp end of the boat. The Doctor bought a second hand cot from eBay and we have velcroed the two wooden cot sides together to make a surprisingly strong, child-proof barrier. Until recently this kept Big Sister safe from rolling out of bed. The cabin bed is higher than a normal adult bed as it has storage space and the boat’s water pump underneath it. I screwed cheap door-handles to the walls inside the two clothes cupboards and attached the cot-side barrier to these with bungee cords and carribena clips. We thought this would make the barrier easier to remove when necessary, but this is not so. The barrier divides the bed like the Berlin Wall, and to insert the baby onto her side of the bed, beside the window, requires back-bending gymnastics that are advised against in all doctors’ back-care advisory leaflets. After sleeping well for quite some time, the baby has now returned to night waking while she gets used to her new and unfamiliar sleeping arrangements.

Last night one babe woke the other up. I lay in their bed between them, trying to stop the baby from pulling her sleepy sisters hair and listened to the tree trunk outside grinding against the steel roof. It made an awful grating noise, it’s no wonder they couldn’t sleep. Eventually I went outside wearing a nightie, biker boots and a black woollen cloak. I edged up the gunwale and peered into the dark water, thinking to myself, Rosie and Jim never had to do this! We are moored too far from the bank for me to investigate over land. I can’t see where the tree is rubbing the girls’ cabin. The Doctor suggested putting the tyre fender between boat and tree, but it’s not tied on and I think it would fall in the cut if I just balanced it on the edge of the handrail on the roof. I return indoors having failed in my mission. The Doctor says the girls are quiet and have probably gone to sleep now. But they’ve woken him up, and although I then sleep well, he has a bad night’s sleep from there onwards.

Observations of Harlow

7th September
I admitted that Harlow Town Park is a triumph of modern planning, as I enjoyed walking to the library past nature reserves and through trees and lawns. I dropped the laundry in the launderette at The Stow, a pedestrianised shopping area. This is the first launderette I have ever been in which there is a sign displayed that forbids the drinking of alcohol in the launderette. I wonder if the shopkeepers have to stash the tinfoil behind the counter around here? Our mooring in Harlow is in the park, and beautifully rural, and yet I’m thrilled to be near all modern conveniences like the launderette, the supermarket and the library. However the Samaritans phone number as a permanent fixture on Harlow Town train platforms, reminds me of the train track suicides at Harlow Mill two years ago, on our last boating visit to Harlow. There is such hopeful pride in the original planning of this new town, when you see the historical plans for the new station proudly displayed at the station. It is a place where I feel the Yin and Yang of two extremes co-existing in concrete harmony. I discover the library at The Stow is closed until 1pm, so I write this in a cheap cafe with frothy coffee and marmalade on toast.

Friday 19 November 2010

Massage For Your Mind

Apologies in advance, for the digression from the narrowboating theme.

I have just returned from maternity leave and I am taking bookings to see hypnotherapy clients in my practice rooms in Holborn, London. I am also launching a new self-hypnosis MP3 download.

“Massage For Your Mind” is a good all-round hypnotic program that encourages mental and emotional well-being, but it can also be used to target specific problems, in particular anxiety and confidence issues. It is the perfect introduction to using self-hypnosis recordings. You can listen to a bit of it here;

Massage For Your Mind


I would like to offer readers of my blog a 20% discount. Simply enter the discount code HYPLOOP20 when buying.

Finally, if you’d like to know more about hypnosis join my group Ready, Steady, Sleep, on Facebook to receive an (occasional) newsletter providing a bit of hypnotic news and knowledge, and occasional special offers and competitions to group members.

That is the end of my hypnotic commercial break. More Boat Wife news coming soon!

Home School of Rock

Monday 6th September
We slowly tore ourselves away from Hunsdon Mead, like a plaster being reluctantly peeled from a child’s knee, and began the leisurely cruise to Harlow. Having no interest in narrowboat cruising Big Sister asked to watch The Yellow Submarine again; although she is a bit scared of the Blue Meanies and puts her fingers in her ears whenever they appear. Baby Sister is in her pushchair on the back deck drenched in sunshine and The Doctor is steering the boat. I’m doing the dishes as Hunsdon Lock wall recedes down past the kitchen window. We rise up past green lock-slime clinging to concrete, as the shiny happy Beatles sing “we all live in a yellow submarine” to us.

This cruise is now a familiar journey to me as I have been walking to Harlow this way on my writing days. Eastwick Mead on the port side is as vast as Hunsdon Mead and the A414 noisily rushes past us on our starboard side. I make fried eggy bread for the baby’s lunch while we moor up on Parndon Mill lock bollards; The Doctor and Big Sister head off with a windlass to set the lock. As she sings ‘Hey Bulldog’ under her breath to herself I proudly note that The Doctor’s homeschooling is going well: home-School of Rock that is. Big Sister has abandoned the Beatles film, but I am listening to ‘All You Need is Love’ on the stereo as the baby eats her eggy bread in the baby seat on the kitchen floor. Day trippers on a wide beam help us through Parndon Lock, because they are waiting to come down through it. This is standard boating etiquette, to help others in a lock that you are waiting for, so long as you have enough crew to spare. After the lock I am still doing the dishes but the captain calls me on deck to check if the TV arial is going to make it under the next bridge. All bridges on The Stort are low. The pushchair and header tank can make it – so long as there’s not been too much rainfall lately. The arial needs to be turned further onto its side as we approach. I’m standing barefoot on the gunwale, hanging on to the roof rail.

At Burnt Mill lock, Burnt Mill lane and Burnt Mill Industrial estate I imagine the mill workers back in the days before the fire; completely oblivious to the fact that some day, this whole area would be named after one devastating fire on a day they had not yet seen. There is no mill here now.

As a pedestrian I was very unkind to Harlow, but as a boater it is great. Moorhen Marina provides toilet pump-out, a water point, rubbish disposal, recycling, shower, toilets and laundry facilities. However, the washing machine can only be operated by a digital card, available to purchase from Stanstead Abbotts marina. This is five or six hours boating away, or an indirect train journey, changing at Broxbourne. However, The Moorhen waterside pub is extremely child friendly and does two meals for eight pounds. We moor up and take the whole family out for dinner.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Wish List

31st August

I thought that I wanted countryside, but it turns out that I wanted so much more*. I now want these things:

• Friends
• Neighbours
• A community
• A washing machine
• More storage space
• Enough electric to run a hoover
• Our own bedroom
• A place to write, (doesn’t have to be a room, just a cute writing desk or a bureau would be nice).
• I also still want an amazing view, like a field, or the sea.

So this is my wish list. It’s not a list of complaints, and I don’t know if it means that I want a bigger boat, or a house. When my friend recently made a ‘Vision Board’ to visualise her perfect flat, with a sea view, I affectionately, and secretly dismissed it as a nice yet whimsical hippy idea. However, when she updated me a week or so later that her dream flat by the sea has materialised, and within the low budget that she stipulated too, I was laughing on the other side of my cynical face. So I will think about asking for what I’d like, and see if I like what I get.

As the March Hare said to Alice,
`You might just as well say,' ... `that "I like what I get" is the same thing as "I get what I like"!'

Why do you want your home to move? I ask myself. Because there might always be something better around the next corner. “Explore. Dream. Discover.” In Roydon, we have arrived at A Better Place. It allows me to ‘look inwards’ and see that the mushroom vents leak when it rains.

*Incidentally, I have discovered another narrowboating blogging mum at So Much More.

Saturday 13 November 2010

On Another Level

Late August

When the water level dropped dramatically the other day I, rather unfairly, blamed the inexperienced hire boaters. It turns out that it is I, having lived comfortably for ten years on the Grand Union Canal, who is inexperienced at river living. It was midnight and we were already asleep when The Doctor noticed that the boat had an extreme list. The fridge was chugging like a Goa trance tune, frantically humming, trying to maintain its operations because of the list. We were practically rolling out of bed, on a steep slope. He went outside to loosen the ropes and after briefly tucking in Big Sister, who called out to me, half-asleep, I joined him on the towpath. The water level had dropped beyond belief. We were well and truly grounded on the bottom of the river, and by the light of the moon, the muddy river banks were clearly visible well below the waterline. What on earth could have happened? We were actually a little alarmed.
“If it keeps dropping, we might tip over,” observed the Doctor.
“What can we do?” I asked nervously.
“Not much,” said The Doctor. “I’ve loosened all the ropes, we’ll just have to hope it doesn’t drop much more.”

Luckily, it didn’t. The next morning I asked one of the bachelor boys who moors by the lock,
“Do you know what was going on with the water level last night? What happened?”
“Yes, I do.” He confirmed, authoritatively. “They opened the sluices.”
“Oh, it was the waterways people? We were really worried, I thought we were going to tip over! I’m not used to this river living!”
“Yeah. Well, I was watching TV, I’ve got a satellite on the roof, and I was in the middle of a film! The boat tipped and I lost my signal. So I phoned up British Waterways, I said the level’s really dropping out here mate! He said, I know! I’m watching it on my computer!”
“So they’re expecting rain then?”
“That’s right, they do it if they think there’s going to be a lot of rain. But to be honest, I’d rather my boat was a bit low, than have it up over the side y’know?” He gestures towards the towpath, and I realise that to float above the river bank and then be grounded ashore would be a nightmare indeed. We’d tip over for sure and never get back in the cut!

The Neighbours Are Cows

21st August

We have new neighbours – a herd of cows have moved into the geese field, opposite. In the meadow I notice that the fairy ring left by the paddling pool will be the only trace left of us when we are gone.

I told the husband of the Lady of the Lock that the Tollhouse tea rooms in Cowley receive post for boaters and I thought it could be another business idea for him and the Lady of the Lock. He thought it was a great idea, and they are going to do it. As of Monday they’re going to sell gas too, propane bottles. I don’t know how we’re ever going to leave here!

This afternoon I took the children to the park and we had a picnic under a tree while it drizzled with rain. My eldest daughter was cold and so I put her hood up telling her that it will keep the warm air in and keep her cosy. When the wind blew her hood off she panicked, in genuine distress.
“Mummy mummy mummy! The air is coming out of the top of my head!”

Tuesday 9 November 2010

The Village Playgroup August

As we approached the level crossing I noticed The Husband of The Lady of the Lock walking across the railway. He’s just off to his car with his toolbox. I call his name and rush towards him across the uneven surface with a double buggy full of children.
“Have you got the key?” I asked him breathlessly. “I’m late for my first day at toddler group!”
Being in possession of a heart of gold, he returns to the house to get the key and lets me through the big gate, off the railway and into the lane. This saves us at least fifteen minutes of time. During the summer holidays the church play group meets in the houses of the Roydon mums. I am nervous about meeting a group of mums on their own turf, as I know they’ll already be friends, and I will be the new girl, the woman that lives on a boat. It will either be lovely to chat to other mums, or I will feel shy and awkward and sit in a corner. Either way, I’ve heard that there will be cake, and my daughter will enjoy the toys and the company of other children.

I heave and push my buggy uphill through Roydon: Where lovely and large detached houses are named after birds of prey. The house is huge. The garden is huge. The mother bakes cakes. There is an iconic black and white portrait of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Go-lightly in the toilet. I love it. The house is gorgeous; perfect. Is that an Arga or a Rayburn? I wonder, as I envy the SMEG fridge and all the things that are on my wish list if I were to wake up rich one day. Discussion topics among the local mums are; Holidaying with family – or holidaying at all with the kids. Is it worth the hard work? And, Swimming Lessons for Pre-schoolers. What are you supposed to do with the baby while supervising an older sibling?

I cannot ‘break in’ to this group just by bringing a packet of shop-bought apple pies, (which cower in shame next to the plate of home-baked fare), yet although I dreaded a cliquey reception, these ladies are just like my own dear N1 mums. They face the same challenges and worries of mothering, such as doing the hovering with the baby strapped in a sling, because he simply will not be put down. My baby is happy on the floor with the other babies and plastic musical toys. My elder daughter enjoys copious amounts of toys, and on the lawn in the garden; plastic balls, tents, ride-on toys and a sand pit. It is as good as any ‘Stay and Play’ at the London children centres that my daughter misses. In fact, in my opinion, this gorgeous garden is better!

However, next week we cannot go to this group. There will be a different hostess and her house is too far to walk. In September the group returns to the church hall and we hope to join them then.

Stealing Words From The Church

17th August

We stopped by the church hall to pick up leaflets and information about the church toddler group. When I got home I realised I had accidentally stolen the Roydon Parish News. I didn’t realise it was 50p. I found that this month’s letter from the parish priest was strangely applicable to our lifestyle.

“Four hundred years ago, a youngster growing up in Roydon would probably spend a lifetime living and working within the parish boundary. Only those with the financial means and an adventurous few would travel to London, let alone distant places. What changes we’ve seen, even in our own lifetimes!....”

She goes on to say that the church Flower Festival at the August Bank Holiday will have a theme of travel and explorers.

“The novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” I would like to think that those brave men and women who set out with high aspirations, but failed to achieve their ultimate goals, nevertheless believed that their hopeful travelling was rewarding in itself.”

She mentions a selection of explorers and travellers, both historical and biblical, and then goes on to ask,

“I wonder what it is that you are seeking when you travel – the sights, sounds and smells of your destination? The thrill of the new? The opportunity to be a different person, albeit for just a fortnight in the summer?”

“...Are you someone who travels hopefully? Do you feel you’ve arrived at some places you have consciously aimed to reach?...

...May God bless you on your life journey: your setting out, your labours along the way, and your arriving.”

Hen Night

Saturday 14th August

“Um, Mummy. If I have a hen party my cousins could come and we could all wear fancy dress couldn’t we? And I could be a FAIRY!”

The Bride’s mum is invited to the hen night. I hope I get invited to my daughters’ hen nights, then I will know I have been a great success as a mother! It’s like having an A+ in mothering. It is my first night in nine months away from my youngest baby. By 7pm I felt tearful as I expressed the milk feed that my baby usually gets at bed time. But then I felt much better, so I thought it was the hormones. The Bride said it was the champagne.

It is an extremely rare novelty for me to wear make-up and deep red nail varnish! We had an English afternoon tea in a posh hotel and then drank buckets of pink wine in an old fashioned cosy pub. Another hen night in the pub has a 1950’s theme. They are dressed as Pink Ladies and Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. Our group is a more sedate and inconspicuous hen night. I say,
“We should all have badges with our hen party nicknames on them really. You know, like ‘Horny Diva’, ‘Drama Queen’ ‘Dizzy Tart’ and stuff.” Except if you’re a mother of young children your badge might read, ‘Mine’s a cup of tea’, ‘In bed by ten’, or ‘Make mine an Ovaltine’! We laugh. So we nicknamed the hen in charge of the drinks kitty, ‘Mistress Kitty’, The Bride’s mum became ‘Mother Hen’ and for organising an Italian themed hen night, I became ‘The Godmother’. Then we ran out of nick names.

The next morning I felt lost without baby sister. I missed her. But I really enjoyed relaxing with coffee, Mother Hen and the bride, sat around the dining room table, discussing the huge church wedding with all the trimmings, that Groom-zilla has got planned for my friend!

Tiny Fragments of Beauty

On my next writing day I am thinking of the Mark Twain quote, “Write until somebody pays you,” and muse over the ‘How Fast Can You Get To The Library’ equation:

Walk to the bus stop minus the walk to the station, plus the train journey time, less the train delay... There is no equation for this one.

Harlow appears to be designed for cars and conspires against the pedestrian trekking from the Stort Navigation to the town centre. It takes me on a route more meandering than the navigation as I circumnavigate tarmac roundabouts and have to avoid A roads that don’t have pavements.
I enter Harlow Town Centre through the pedestrianised ‘Bird Cage Walk’ and the name makes me think of the book title ‘I know why the caged bird sings’. A market trader setting up his stall, is playing The Lightening Seeds on the radio, ‘pure and simple every time’. It is a beautiful uplifting sound among the early morning concrete and sunshine. In the newsagents window amid the adverts for a caravan, a rabbit hutch and a ladies bike for sale, I see a poem on display. I have seen this poet display his work in other newsagent windows in Harlow and I think that these courageous poems are like weeds struggling through concrete paving slabs, or a caged bird singing. My friend The Mellow Mum came round for coffee recently and defended Harlow to me. She said that there are other parts of the town centre that are not so bad, they even have flower beds. I feel that I have been unkind to Harlow. Tiny fragments of beauty are sometimes revealed in the most unlikely places.

Don’t be harsh on Harlow, chides my inner monologue. If I’m honest, it reminds me of my beloved hometown Plymouth, which was bombed in the war and rose from the ashes like a 1950’s concrete architectural phoenix.

Outside the library there is a poster advertising ‘Free Play for Children Under 6! All we ask is that you buy a soft drink.’ We went to a theatre show for pre-schoolers in Islington once, and we really enjoyed it. I’m so pleasantly surprised that someone would or could put on a children’s play for free. Then I read the other poster below it – they mean ‘soft-play’, a junior gym; one of those places that looks like a wild toddler zoo. I am foolishly mistaken about the possibility of complimentary cultural events for children!

Harlow Library is the noisiest library ever. Matey on the next computer desk is listening to the football commentary. An Essex bint is chatting to the drum and bass DJ sat next to her, star-struck by his international career. A polish labourer is on the phone to his boss. I think to myself, if there ain’t no rules in this library, then what the hell, I’m gonna eat my packed lunch in here!

Of course, I’m not writing or blogging all day. As well as a mother and a writer I am an administrator. At the top of my current ‘to do’ list is to research tax credits, in case the next contract from the mythical Multiversity doesn’t materialise. Can we afford to be writers? Can we afford the childminder when I return to my part time job as a medical secretary? When should I re-start my hypnotherapy business? Shall I type into the tax credits calculator, ‘self employed’ expected income, ‘nil’?

Another thing in Harlow’s favour is that the people at the bus stop on the way home are friendly.
“Nice talking to you,” said the overweight peroxide blond, and we only talked about bus times. I come from a distant land called London, and it is sadly not in our culture to chat and be friendly. The last bus to Roydon gets me back to the village by 4.30pm. This leaves me to spend the last half hour of my ‘working’ day in The White Hart. It is a cosy country pub with low ceiling beams and horse brasses above the fire place. Local men drink pints at the bar. I drink coke or coffee and tappety tap on the lap top until five.

Thursday 4 November 2010

This is my dance space

11th August

The many flavours of The Field include; misty morning, dew glistening, stormy grumbling, golden afternoon, summer buzzing, sometimes soaking, an airstrip for water fowl, an underground play den for moles, never seen, and an evening walk for one man and his dog. It is the perfect location for the boat girls’ paddling pool and a dining room with a view for two boat parents. It is a meditation visualisation, a footnote to a vast blue sky.

I was watching housewife TV this morning when a chat show asked, Does Britain Hate Kids? An older lady phoned in and said that we should blame the parents, not the kids. She speaks slowly and deliberately.
“Children now, are not taught that we have to share the world with other people. They run around in restaurants and kick the back of your seat on the bus. If you try to complain you’ll get a dirty look from the parents.” At the risk of going all Daily Mail I found myself agreeing with her.

“Mummy, I do like The Wiggles don’t I?”
“Yes darling.”
“But I don’t like the doctor bit.”
“Well, it’s not scary really, it’s just one of The Wiggles dressed up.”
“Um. Is it Grig?” (She pronounces Greg with an Australian accent. She’s never heard the name spoken any other way.)
“Yes, I think so.”
“And um, Mummy?”
“Have all The Wiggles got willies?”

I want to live close to nature but I don’t want nature to live close to me. We regularly have to cast away slugs, spiders and earwigs, although the stowaway butterfly was quite a charming and welcome intruder. In the words of Johnny Castle,
“Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don't go into yours, you don't go into mine. You gotta hold the frame.”

Wednesday 3 November 2010

The End of the Rainbow

10th August

Since having children I have developed an irrational travel phobia. I’ll just nip out to the supermarket in Harlow to get toddler pull-ups I thought – but I don’t have a car or a driving licence, so it was two hours from our boat to the supermarket. Although Harlow is just one train stop away there was a severe train delay and two flat tyres on a three wheeled pushchair. It took one hour and ten minutes to get home from the supermarket by train and walking to and from the stations. It only takes one hour ten minutes to walk there down the towpath, without any trains involved at all.

The laundry run is now a joy not a chore. It is a country walk and a chance to practice my improvised botany. On the way to the lock cottage I see so many nameless wild flowers. I’m no horticulturalist so I have to create my own names for them: purple tufties, cabbage-white butter-flowers, purple pansy clusters, golden grasses sun-bleached and crispy, spiky purple flower’d thistle balls, and lavender look-a-likes shaking with laughter on the towpath. And O’ sweet bushels of pinkle-bells that tinkle with the sounds of summer.

At the lock The Hay Man is leaning over the footbridge railings and chatting to The Husband of the Lady of The Lock. The Hay Man came here as a baby evacuee during the war, and he never left. He lives in one of the chalets on the chalet estate. We see him now and then on his way back from Hunsdon Mead where he collects hay for his horse and then pulls it back home on a trolley.

It rained for most of the day. At home I noticed water leaks in places that I didn’t know we had places. I put a bucket in the corridor and felt miserable about the boat. A narrowboat broker would now call it a ‘project boat’. It has had the hull re-plated but it is old and not big enough or good enough for my two girls. We need more storage space for clothes and toys. If only The Doctor and I could have our own bedroom we would have a writing desk in there... But I wonder what I really want. ..a bigger boat with a washing machine, a caravan by the sea, or a two bedroom semi-detached in suburbia? Should we rent a flat? Could we rent a bigger boat? The Doctor says a caravan will be on some depressing caravan site, all boxed in among too many other caravans and he’d rather live in a house in suburbia. This can’t happen because of my suburb phobia.

I am anxious about our future finances, income and work. Even the willows weep for me, at the bottom of the mead garden. As they drizzle tears into the lesser Stort on the far side of the field, I consider DIY anxiety remedies:

Anxiety Busters

What advice would you give to a friend?
Break down tasks – problem solving
Give yourself more relax time
Listen to a hypnosis mp3 download

The children are in bed and I think it has stopped raining. So I go out on the back deck and see my first ever rainbow sunset! First, I saw the rainbow, arching from the field on the east of the river and stretching to the bow of our boat. It’s huge but seems so near, right here, just across the river, bending and curving over our boat. With meadows ahead of me and meadows behind, I look all around and think I must be the only human to see this enormous rainbow. So, I allow myself to imagine that it was put there just for me. I was unable to capture it in a photograph, it just appeared washed out in the preview frame. I turned behind me to check our heavenly meadow and there is the most amazing sunset I have seen since we’ve been moored here. The clouds are pink, orange and yellow, intensely striking and streaking across the sky. The clouds are rolling and sweeping over the embers of the sun’s golden glow, seeping through cracks in the sky and leaking out, the paper sky absorbing the wet paint colours sponge-like, blurring and fading into one another, lighting up the sky with a passionate intensity. Clouds are sucked into a vanishing point, perspective is speeding away from me across the green field to where the lumpy bumpy shadowy skyline of dark trees meets these heavenly grumblings of clouds that are now already turning ominously red and purple. Fluffy fragile grasses stand silently beside me and share in my awe as we witness the sky.
Yet, in a few minutes it was all over. The sun crept off over the horizon, the sky became a washed out faded denim blue, and when I looked behind me, my rainbow was gone. I’m not religious or even superstitious but if I was looking for a heavenly sign to comfort me in these times when I am prone to worry, then that was it. More than just a ray of hope, a rainbow sunset painting the evening sky was a fierce lightshow competing with the misty transient vulnerability of a vast rainbow, existing for a moment in time.

Later, I remembered that I had said that Hunsdon Mead and Roydon would be the end of the rainbow for us.

Hunsdon Mead Entertainment

We can barely get a TV signal out here, so we haven’t watched TV for weeks. It’s a relief not to suffer CBeebies. Instead we watch DVDs of Shrek and Toy Story, in which we can enjoy some adult jokes. But the real live entertainment is The Mead. We watch white mist creeping in the distance, mysteriously lurking towards us across the field. Other programmes that we have on ‘sky’ are Stanstead planes landing, loud, looming and large; sunsets and sunbeams, cloudy formations in slow motion and geese gatherings and landing, loud, looming and ‘having it’ large. We also watch nature dramas, like The Spider and The Fly. The fly is still alive and manages to struggle free in less than two hours. Another drama involved a hovering dragonfly, waiting for her mate’s release from a cobweb prison. We watch crunchy snails cross the pathway after the rain, and rooks swoop low and land in the buttercups and dandelions. Late one night The Doctor even saw an episode of Starlight, featuring The Plough, two shooting stars and a satellite. The important thing, The Doctor observed, is that they’ve got a whole lot of sky out here. Actually, the wonder of the mead is not so much about the field, it’s all about the sky. Ironically, it is a post war yearning to see more sky that inspired the creation of new towns like Harlow.
“As a result of the great damage done to towns by the bombs, an unexpected popular interest arose as to the form their reconstruction after the war might take. Across the extensive areas of destruction and rubble, which it was the government’s policy to clear promptly and convert into melancholy vacant sites, city dwellers saw new vistas.
They were astonished at the amount of sky that existed – the unaccustomed brightness of the devastated scene. Their sense of the permanence and un-alterability of the built-up background dissolved; the “urban blinkers” were dislodged from many eyes. What would replace the former crowded buildings if and when we won the war? Might we not have much better homes and workplaces and retain this new sense of light and openness?”
(The New Towns: The Answer to Megalopolis, by Sir Frederic Osborn and Arnold Whittick, London, 1969, page 89, quoted in Harlow: The Story of a New Town. Frederick Gibberd, Ben Hyde Harvey, Len White.)

A British Waterways warden stopped by our boat on his bike today. He explained that he is just checking our location and licence. He was very friendly and said that everything is fine and went on his way.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Welcome to Harlow

Saturday 7th August

After experiencing a couple of lengthy train delays at Roydon station, I decided it might be almost as quick to walk to Harlow, to get to the library today. Hunsdon Mead, Hunsdon Mill Lock and Eastwick Mead are the beautiful rural scenery accompanying me on while commuting on foot. Forlorn poppies left over from June have fallen by the wayside as I walk past the grassy expanse of Eastwick Mead. At Parndon Mill a concrete wavy watery sculpture is inscribed with these words,

“1769 The River Stort open to navigation flowing into the Lea and onwards to the Thames, Then out to the sea and so to all the ports of the world.”

A tempting sculpture exhibition is advertised at Parndon Mill, water cascades from leaking top gates of the lock and willows frame grasses and cowslips in the meadows. A wrought iron footbridge by the lock is a pretty sculpture in itself. It twists and turns around chunky flat nuggets of glass imprisoning the frozen imprints of local meadow flowers, wheat, grasses and a piece of chunky chain. This curly work of art was probably forged by fairies. Then, as I leave the Stort towpath ‘Town Centre’ signposts suck me in through a concrete labyrinth of car parks, housing estates and graffitied underpasses. The ultimate destination of my quest is a plethora of grey pedestrianised angular boxes. Who would have thought that heaven and hell could have the same postcode? Harlow New Town was established in 1947 And unlike Roydon it is not in the Domesday book.

“In 1898, Ebenezer Howard outlined his vision of the ‘garden city’ in Tomorrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform.... Howard’s prescription for the garden city, as adopted by the Association in 1919, broadly sums up the kind of community that was to be built under the New Towns Act, 1946: ‘...a town designed for healthy living and industry; of a size that makes possible a full measure of social life but not larger; surrounded by a rural belt.’ “ (Harlow: The Story of a New Town, Frederick Gibbertd, Ben Hyde Harvey, Len White and other contributors.)

In Birdcage Walk there is a fish and chip shop and a betting shop. A cafe makes a hopeful attempt at Mediterranean dining by sending a squadron of tables and chairs out to bravely assemble themselves on the pink and grey geometric patterned pavement. The market square before the stall holders arrive is bleak and grey. Pale rectangle windows, placed above pale green panels are surveying a square starved of activity and spirit. The locals trickle through it like the lesser Stort, winding their ways to the employment agency, the ‘casino’ gaming shop, the half price jewellers, and the cheap chain clothes stores. A dismal modern concrete sculpture, titled ‘Vertex’ is the centre piece of the precinct, proudly penned in by a red-brick knee-high wall. It looks desolate, but maybe Harlow Art Trust had a meagre budget when tasked with acquiring a piece for the town centre. The shoe shop’s signs declare that it is ‘here to help you spend less’. I walk past the pound shop, the fast food restaurant and the pawnbrokers. At the top of the high street an eerie carousel slowly spins in a faint hearted attempt to cheer up the two children that sit on it. They circle blankly around and around to the tune of Rolf’s ‘Two Little Boys’. One lost soul stands and stares blankly at the pavement on the approach to the shopping mall – no wait, he’s just waiting for the cash machine. He is a queue. In the mall I notice the surplus of peroxide in the town. There is an unusually high percentage of fake blond hair in this town, scraped back into Essex ponytails. A sultry Wella Woman advert in a hairdressers window is pleading me to join them, “Make the First Move, Go Blonde” she invites me. Do it boat wife. Be one of us.

At lunch time I hid from Harlow in the Harvey centre, which looks like any other indoor shopping mall. On the plus side, while I am depressed by Harlow, I am not afraid of it, the way that I am afraid of suburbia: launderette country.

Tank Girl’s helpline for boatwomen

Friday 6th August

Sometimes I feel depressed, lonely, isolated, and anxious. Mothering books and internet chat forums reassure me that this is normal and nothing to do with being a boater. Sometimes I forget that I can always phone a friend. I phoned Tank Girl, who runs her own body piercing shop and has a three year old daughter: A Mumpreneur in the extreme. It turns out that I only needed to talk to someone and within minutes I feel much better and I’m laughing. She asked me when I last had a conversation with someone in real life (not on the phone) and I admitted it must be a few days, if you don’t include staff at the village shop.
“I like your blog,” she says. “But how on earth do you find the time to write it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s an addiction I guess. Sometimes I just can’t stop writing. I take a notebook and a biro with me and stop and lean on the pushchair when I need to write something down. Or sometimes you might just find me perched on a lock gate, writing something.” As I go about my business I sometimes stuff a notepad into the hood of the pushchair and keep a pen behind my ear.
“I suppose it’s like me and exercise,” says Tank Girl.
“Yeah,” I agree. “I never know how you find the time to do all that running and spinning and stuff.”
“I just love it! I’m mad I s’pose!” She laughs.

Treat yourself to a bit of Tank Girls’s funky jewellery at

Towpath Talk

Boat Wife is on page 61 of issue 61

Friday 15 October 2010

Little Fluffy Clouds

Thursday 5th August

This is my first whole day away from the children in nine months. It’s supposed to be for writing but I have such a backlog of admin and odd jobs to do that I took my computer to Harlow library and sorted a few things out. On the internet I organised Chloe’s hen night and wedding present, and then I replied to a bunch of emails from nurseries as part of my continuing mission to research childcare and a nursery education. At this stage I did not mention that we roam the waterways like wanton water gypsies, but just mentioned our winter mooring in Angel, Islington. A brief internet search on ‘travellers rights’ confirms that every child is entitled to a nursery education, but in practice it helps if you are based in one area.

Being a writer is a wonderful existence so far. I half jog, half walk to ‘work’ down the beautiful meandering towpath of the navigation. My ‘office’ at the moment is Harlow library. The feeling of satisfaction that I get from typing up my notes, researching and checking facts, editing and rewriting makes me feel whole and completely alive. I know that my soul passionately wants me to write during my short time on this earth, even though my body prioritised my yearning to mate and raise children before the needs of my soul. To get home after a good day’s writing, I catch the last bus to Roydon, which leaves at 4.25pm. By 4.40pm I’m in a cosy corner of the White Hart with my lap top. The barmaid brings a cup of coffee with a miniature foil-wrapped chocolate to my table. The pub is cosy, quiet and quaint. There is a fresh flower in the vase on my table. I type happily for the last half hour of my working day, before striding across the level crossing and up the towpath towards Hunsdon Mead to get home. The only minor drawback is that my current writer’s salary is zero! This will have to change if I’m going to keep raising those children.

This evening we took our deckchairs, dinner and wine down into the field and discussed our family’s options for the future, and little fluffy clouds. The field is good, but we concluded that what is really important is how much sky you can see over the field.
“What were the skies like when you were young?
...the most beautiful skies as a matter of fact....purple and red and yellow, on fire...
You might still see them in the desert.”
(Little Fluffy Clouds, The Orb)