Saturday, 7 August 2010

Is it cold in winter?

Friday June 11th

Both girls were asleep and we were sat eating dinner when we felt the boat rock. Not the kind of gentle listing that it does as another boat goes past, but a steep lean to the towpath side, like someone getting on board. The Doctor leapt up and headed for the back door while I stuck my head out the window. We saw a bloke with a camera stepping off the gunwale and back onto the towpath.
“What are you doing?” I asked, angrily. He gave an embarrassed smile and half gestured towards his camera.
“Sorry”, he said, with a foreign accent.
“This is our home, we have children asleep on board here!” I called after him, as he walked away.

Sometimes teenagers untie us and we awake drifting across the canal. Once in Camden I came home to find French teenage tourists with rucksacks just sitting about on the back deck.
“Get off!” I yelled at them – they looked so surprised, as if they had assumed the boats were all part of the tourist attraction for anyone to sit on and enjoy. Once, in Angel, I felt that familiar lean of someone stepping onto the back deck and looked out the back door to find a woman posing for a photograph. When they were discovered her partner explained,
“We thought there was nobody home”.
“Does that make it ok then?” They made as if to carry on and take the photo.
“No, get off!” I shouted.
Today I bumped into another boat mum and she invited me round for coffee this afternoon. I carried Baby sister, and Big Sister walked down the towpath; there’s no need for the pushchair as she is only a few boats up from us. She has a lovely Dutch barge and it is for sale. It’s wider than a narrowboat, and in comparison seems huge inside. There is a full size bath and two bedrooms! I started to picture that extra bedroom with two little beds in it for my girls. We sat in her wide-beam living room with wooden floorboards and I envied her bookshelves. There is a lovely writing desk in the corner and I imagined myself writing books there. Dutch Barge Mum provided me with coffee and cream cakes, and supplied Big Sister with a washing up tub to splash about in. Baby sister was laughing at Barge Mum’s two little dogs, I don’t think she’s ever seen little dogs up close before.

I told Barge Mum that I am thinking of writing a book about boating-mums. People are always asking me if it is hard having kids on a boat, and I say no. But then I’ve never lived in a house with kids, I’ve been living aboard for ten years, and maybe I don’t think about all the little things I have to do that you wouldn’t have to do if you lived in a house. They all add up. Barge Mum said,
“Yes, like moving the boat, filling up with water...”
“Emptying the toilet, getting rid of the rubbish and recycling...” I added. “Although that’s just a little job, by the time I’ve got everybody’s coats on, loaded them both into the pushchair and carried all the rubbish to the rubbish point it all takes time. If I lived in a house I would just put it all outside the door and somebody else would take it away!”
“Yeah,” smiled Barge Mum, “and you’d be just chilling in the garden with the kids.”
“So what’s the worst thing about living aboard then? Why are you selling the boat?”
“This winter was so cold” said Barge Mum. You can’t maintain a constant heat with a solid fuel stove.
“Yes, this winter was bad” I agreed. “I mean, the canal always freezes for a bit in January but we were frozen in for about three weeks this year. I’ve never been frozen in that long.”
“We ran out of coal,” confessed Barge Mum.
“Oh my god!”
“We managed to borrow a bag from the boat next door, and then Barge Dad got a lift to Uxbridge Boat Yard, and we bought all the bags they had left.”
“We ran out of water,” I replied, “and used bottled water from the supermarket for washing and everything! But having no heating is terrible – especially with a baby!”

Actually, the second winter with Big Sister, our diesel stove broke and we went down to the warden’s mooring and used his electric to run an electric heater. It didn’t keep the boat as warm as the diesel stove though. I think the diesel stove is the best thing we’ve ever bought for the boat. But The Doctor is pretty keen on the solar panel too.
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