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.