Friday 8 October 2010

Single Boat Mum

3rd August

I went to visit Single Boat Mum for the evening. Her boating neighbours made us dinner and we all sat out on deck chairs on the towpath to eat from the little wooden coffee table. Their dining view is the golden wheat field, and we discussed field envy. When Single Mum first saw my mead she was suitably impressed, but the wheat field is not bad either. We talked about boaty things, like boaty books, and boating mothers. They explained to me that a “Rodney boater” is waterways slang from Oxford, meaning one who’s boat is more than a bit scruffy. Single Mum has nicknamed her boating neighbour ‘Uncle Rodney’, although his boat is not of the extreme scruffiness they describe. Her other two neighbour’s (and travelling companions) are Rodney’s girlfriend, and BG which stands for ‘Boat Girl’. We discuss parenting on board, and how it might differ from parenting in a house. How on earth did they manage in the old days? I don’t know much about Victorian childcare philosophies, except that ‘children should be seen and not heard’. This must be how the Victorian boat-wife managed to prioritise boat work over entertaining the children. I’ve also read that in the days of working boats, the boats always came first. The faster they could deliver, the faster they got paid.

I said that I wanted to find out more about women and mothers on boats in the past, and they told me to read ‘Ramlin Rose: The Boatwoman's Story’ by Sheila Stewart. She draws on recorded interviews with boatwomen who were born and bred on horse-drawn boats and recounts their experiences as seen through the eyes of an illiterate boatwoman. She describes how school children would jeer at the boater’s children and call them dirty.

“There was dirty boat families, we called ‘em ‘Rodneys’ after them railroad rodneys, vagrans, wot rode rough on rail wagons. Like every other tribe in life we was some and some. Most of us was kept scrubbed regler with Wright’s Coal Tar (soap) and Condey’s Fluid (disinfectant).”

Single Boat Mum and I talked and drank wine until late. Then we had a paranoid discussion about whether it was safe for me to walk home alone late at night. It’s a half an hour walk up the towpath through the fields to my mooring. Our minds are still in London. Realistically the chances of meeting a murderer or rapist on the deserted towpath at 1am in rural Essex are very slim. We laughed about it on her boat, but I took the route home via the high street instead of the fields.

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