Monday 31 January 2011

Blogging Carnival

Today I am in a blogging carnival! Every two weeks a different British mummy blogger “hosts” the carnival. Bloggers submit posts from the past month. It introduces you to new blogs.

The carnival on 1st February is hosted by Maggy at The Good Life Blog. I love her header picture because it looks like a tree-misted waterways scene. Some carnivals have themes and this one is themed on the question ‘what’s good in your life?’ It’s come at a perfect time for me, to take a break from blogging about anti-depressants and bereavement and focus on the good things in life (my girls, The Doctor, sunny narrowboat cruises, a job I enjoy, amazing friends, writing, etc etc...). So head on over to read cheerful things about the good things in life!

Sunday 30 January 2011

Winter Wonderland

18th December

Coming home I access the towpath from Danbury Street bridge. The concrete ramp is solid with frozen snow. I gingerly edge downwards step by step, one hand on the pushchair, one hand on the railing. Under the Victorian brick arched bridge the sound of water drips through the darkness into the cut. The edge of the arch is protected by black metal, with deep grooves worn into it: the result of years of ropes rubbing the corner, when horse drawn boats were the main traffic here. Like all boaters my key-ring has a spherical cork on it to save it lest it should fall into the Cut. The BW key opens the heavy iron gate, which is all vertical black railings. This magic key fits all waterways locks and opens gates, swing bridges, electric locks and boaters facilities across the whole country. My footsteps crunch on the towpath, which is crisp with pure white snow. Ice is slowly forming like translucent custard skin creeping by moonlight across the surface of the canal water. The steep cutting on the opposite bank is peopled with bare winter trees, their toes tucked snugly under the snowy blanket, their silhouettes back-lit by old fashioned style amber streetlamps. On our mooring boats are double moored from the bridge to the Islington tunnel. In the nineteenth century winters were so much colder that the local Victorians would come ice-skating on the glistening Cut down here and even go skating in the tunnel: A half-mile black bore-hole lurking and dripping secretly below the bustling boutiques of Upper Street. I can hear the distant chugging of engines as a couple of my boating neighbours recharge their domestic batteries. Single Boat Mum’s boat glows with winter merriment as solar-powered blue fairy-lights twinkle on her roof. Johnny Boater, tousled and curly, stops to chat as I lift the two sleepy angels out of their pushchair. Then he winks and grins and heads off down the towpath and disappears into the darkness. A thick icing of snow on the boats’ roofs’ make us all inhabitants of a charity Christmas card’s perfect winter scene. I shut the blue painted back doors against the snowy boughs leaning over the mooring. Soon chestnuts are exploding in the gas oven, there’s neat Jack Daniels in a glass and Frank Sinatra on the stereo, dreaming of a white Christmas, in Angel.


11th December

At Liverpool Street station Skanky Claus was selling the Big Issue, long dreadlocks lankly hanging out of a white guys Santa hat; a dismal attempt to be seasonally cheerful, three days of stubble, checking his text messages. I was getting a train to The Princess Alexandra Hospital, to visit the Mellow Mum.

I work in a hospital so I knew the importance of using the hand gel when I arrived at Harlow hospital, and when I left. I must have missed a bit though because less than twenty-four hours later I was vomiting and shivering. I went to bed. A few hours later I had inflicted the same onto my husband and eldest daughter; only the baby was unaffected. All night and the next morning we had temperatures, vomiting and diarrhoea. The whole family lay around on the futon bed in the living room, unable to properly care for our baby. The water tank was out of water and we were running out of bottled water to drink, yet both parents were too weak to move. The tap down the towpath has been vandalised, so it can only be turned on with mole-grips. British Waterways sent someone out “to look at it.” They did not repair it. They turned the water off. We are weak and ill, bed clothes and pyjamas are in the bath covered in vomit. Neither of us can walk to the launderette. We need running water and a washing machine. We need neighbours or friends. It is a definite low point in the whole ‘family on board’ life experience. By the afternoon the evil virus thankfully began to fade away and I made it to the supermarket for soup and bottled water.

The Silence of Snow


We are experiencing the earliest cold snap for nearly twenty years. The canal has frozen already, and that usually happens in January. When the canal is frozen the boat doesn’t rock when you walk about. Usually there is a very subtle rocking of the boat as it bobs on the water. After the big freeze came the magic of the snow. It drifted silently down among us turning London mysteriously Dickension. Cars became carriages and the silence made the streets timeless. Little Timothy Cratchit noiselessly slipped off into an alley way, supported on a single crutch. Under the arched bricks of the Victorian canal bridge, icicles hang suspended, glistening, dripping into the cut, beautiful and grimy all at once. My daughter asked what they are and I explained.
“Disgusting!” she giggled.
I’m enjoying my children now. I take one day at a time. There is no monologue, no mental ‘To Do’ list, no incessant internal criticism and no Rolling Stones: just a beautiful silence as the snow softly falls.
“God bless us, every one!” hisses the ghost of Tiny Tim.

Jagger Little Pill

I’ve now been living with Mick for about two weeks. My mouth is dry and I grind my teeth a little bit but I feel more chilled out. His disembodied voice drifts around the boat, “It’s all so different today, I hear every mother say.”

The doctor did some blood tests for diabetes and other things and found everything normal except my sex hormones are really low, which explains the lack of sex drive. She said this is caused by only recently stopping breast feeding, and also by the weight loss. I am such a narrow Boat-Wife. She is concerned that I’ve lost about a stone, which she said is almost fifteen percent of my body weight. I have also seen a mental health worker at the GP practice to help me with stress. Some people don’t agree with the pills and counselling approach to life’s difficulties, but everybody has their own way, and The Doctor’s is wine and TV and mine is this. Since I’ve been on the little white pills I feel normal again for the first time in months and months. My self-critical inner monologue is taking a break from telling me that I’m under achieving as a wife and mother. I’ve been less tetchy with the children and I think I‘ve been nicer to The Doctor too.

Friday 28 January 2011

Dodgy deal in the dark

17th November

We decided we cannot accept the place at the lovely nursery in a quite sought after Islington Primary School. (I heard that Tony Blair’s children went there). It’s completely different hours to my work hours. The nursery that Big Sister is currently enjoying is in a school that historically has a poor reputation. Within weeks of my daughter starting nursery the council have announced that they are going to close the school, knock the building down, and merge it with a local Church of England school. The parents are in uproar, it is a multi-cultural and multi-faith area. There will not be enough places for all children when the new school opens. The current staff believe they now have a strong team and have done much to improve the previous poor reputation.

I haven’t used Mrs Jones’s washing machine for months, so I sold it on eBay, “no reserve, collection only”. Tonight I hauled it up the steep towpath and left it at the top of the ramp by the bridge. An Indian man loitered suspiciously under the amber Victorian cast iron street lamp, collar turned up against the cold. I caught his eye.
“Are you looking for...?” He nodded.
“Do you have the machine?” He speaks with an Indian accent and peers over my shoulder into the darkness of the towpath.
I tipped my head over towards the shadows. The towpath is so dark that the machine cannot be seen.
“It’s there.” He looks doubtful but puts a crumpled five pound note into my hand.
We walk over to the machine.
“It works?”
“Yes. It works.” He eyes me suspiciously.
“Thank you very much,” he nods and leans in to lift the machine. I slip off into the shadows feeling like a bit-part in a 1970’s Bollywood gangster movie.

What Mothers Do

12th November

I feel overwhelmed by how busy I am. I’ve decided to write down an average day again, to see exactly what I am doing with my time.
I wash and dress the children, fold the bed away and make breakfast for everyone. (The Doctor usually makes breakfast). Move piles of paperwork and toys from the table to the living room so that the girls can have breakfast. Take the children to the park. Come back and lock the pushchair to a signpost on the towpath. Prevent the baby from climbing up the back of the sofa and onto the kitchen worktop for the tenth time today. Decide to get play pen off the roof. I assemble it as a baby barrier across the room. Phone the Islington nursery where Big Sister has recently been offered a part time place, but completely different hours to my work hours. It seems to have a better reputation than the nursery she has just started at, but is it worth changing if we are moving soon? Yesterday The Doctor made a lovely curry for our anniversary. I warm up the remains of the curry for the children’s lunch. The baby eats well and her sister won’t eat a thing. She insists on being supervised on a trip to the toilet. She says,
“Mummy, I just want to listen to classical music and lie down under the rabbit blanket on the sofa.”
I comply with her request and eat her curry while she falls asleep on the sofa.
Change the baby’s nappy and put her in the bedroom for a nap. Start tidying the kitchen and realise that as both girls are asleep I could do some admin on the computer. I start it up and set up a standing order to the new nursery. Big Sister wakes up. I supervise a wee. Still tired she wees in her pants, trousers and socks. I sort it out. She says her eyes sting and she feels hot. I give her medicine and she sits on the sofa to watch TV. I go on Facebook to wish my brother a happy birthday; he’s now on a beach in Goa. Check my emails, print some documents, and write a bit of my blog. Tidy up some toys and clear a surface to put my computer on. Set up The Little Mermaid for Big Sister to watch on the computer.
The coal boat has arrived. I can see two seventy foot boats buttied up approaching outside the window. They have got their butty boat back from dry dock. I nip out and walk down the gunwale to ask Coal Dad to top up our diesel. It’s cold and raining.
“You get cold, keeping everyone else warm don’t you? Giving all us boats fuel.”
“Yeah,” he replies. “Cold in winter, and we get sunburnt in summer.”
Coal Lad says,
“Been in the paper again lately?”
“No, just the once.”
I go inside and start the dishes. They fill the diesel tank and I pay them.
I get the baby up and give snacks to both children. Chat to my mum on the phone. Finish the dishes. It takes twenty minutes to change the bed sheets because I have to remove the cot barrier and a million cuddly toys from the bed. I clear the table ready for tea.
I’m feeling surprisingly mellow. (Are the pills having an effect already?)
Tidy up toys and make tea. Feed the baby, supervise tea; The Doctor comes home. I begin the bedtime routine, washing girls, pyjamas, stories, drinks of milk, brushing teeth. By eight o’clock they are all in bed asleep. The Doctor has begun making dinner. We eat together and relax.
Somehow, today things seemed more manageable.

I love this book! What Mothers Do

Tuesday 25 January 2011

The Expert

11th November

The Expert came to look at the plumbing.
“Alright Buster?” I said. I’ve known him for years. He’s always done my boats. He is a Corgi registered gas man and can do boat safety certificates too. When you find a boat yard, an engineer or other specialist on the Cut that you trust you tend to stick to the same one. Buster does all my mates’ boats too. The Doctor showed him the problem in the cupboard and I brewed him a cup of tea.
“It’s this pipe here,” said the Doctor.
“Let’s have a look at your water pump,” said Buster, and they disappeared up to the bedroom to look under the girls’ bed. They returned quite quickly.
“It’s your water pressure,” said Buster. “I’ve adjusted it. Should work now. That pipe that was leaking was never attached to anything. It’s an emergency overflow if the pressure gets too much.” He sits on the back step and I hand him a cup of tea.
“God, your good!” I said. “You’ve sorted the problem before you’ve even had your cup of tea!” It’s not even 9 o’clock.
“Thirty years of experience,” he grins. “You can blog about me if you want.”
“Have you read my blog?” I asked, surprised.
“No. Didn’t know you had one. But I’m all over the internet apparently. In these canal discussion forums. There’s a few people say I’m good. Get David Bitmead, they say.”
I agree. Get Buster, he rocks. He covers London and the southern end of the Grand Union canal.

It’s our wedding anniversary today. It’s so lovely to get running water again, on our special day!

Monday 17 January 2011

The Doctor

10th November

Our second day without running water. The boat plumbing expert is coming tomorrow.
Today I went to the GP surgery at 16 and a half St Peter’s Street. Barge Mum says a drawback of boating is the difficulty of registering with a doctor. The PCT tried to get us chucked off of our doctor’s list because we did not have the correct postcode. Our postcode is just our post-box, I explained. Our boat’s winter mooring is actually two minutes walk from St Peter’s Street. The computer said ‘no’. We had to get the Patient Advice Liaison Service to sort it out for us.
16 and a half St Peter’s Street is a modern black and white painted, single storey building. Yet the black painted, wooden panelled front door is incongruously olde worlde; with two window panels, a brassy letterbox and a brass doorknob. The semi-circled fan-light window above it has the name of the medical practice in painted letters on the glass. Inside a wooden-floored waiting room accommodates two neat rows of green vinyl covered chairs, solemnly facing each other like soldiers on parade. The notice-boards colourfully offer patients information on immunisations, malaria, bladder and bowel problems, alcohol service consultations, meningitis and the Angina Monologues website, which will tell you that Heart Disease is the biggest killer of women in the UK.
The lovely receptionists are blue-uniformed, smart-buttoned and friendly. The digital screen bleeps and displays another name; another patient leaves the room; the others patiently continue waiting. It bleeps for me. Out the back, a corridor takes me impossibly further into an older, character building, much bigger than this small building could possibly contain. A strange puzzle of physics allows there to be a multitude of closed doors, doctors name plates, balustrades, a staircase and banisters, and strategic pot plants dotted about as I ascend up and up through an old Victorian house.
I open a particular door and am welcomed by a friendly female doctor. I sat down and told her about weight loss, tiredness, fatigue, problems with concentration and memory, decreased appetite, inability to relax, loss of sex drive, feelings of tension, irritability, moodiness, anger, frustration, anxiety, and unhappiness. I read on line that these could be the physical and mental signs of stress. But they could also be simply the natural response to sleep deprivation, being a mother, and finding our narrowboat home a bit of a challenge. The anxiety is partly caused by not being able to get a winter mooring this year. The doctor is a mother, she understood me not wanting to move around anymore with two young children. She arranged some blood tests, suggested counselling and prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Common side effects of the drug include drowsiness, insomnia, weight changes, decreased sex drive, and fatigue. Less common side effects include, anxiety and mood swings. So I’m not sure if I’ll notice any difference....
As I walked home from the chemist with the pills in my pocket, I tried to ignore my imaginary friend Mick Jagger, who was strutting along beside me singing ‘Mothers Little Helper’.

Saturday 15 January 2011

The Mellow Mum

A letter to the daughters of my friend.

I love listening to people and helping them to resolve problems. I was working as a medical secretary and a hypnotherapist when I realised I could combine my NHS experience with my interest in counselling and psychology. I decided to become a PALS officer. I had no direct experience of the work so I arranged a period of work experience for myself in the Patient Advice and Liaison Service at University College Hospital, London.
For one year I spent one morning a week helping out in the PALS office, and this is where I met your mum. I admired her because she had already achieved what I wanted to become, and she was so good at her job. She could always remain calm while listening to a difficult or angry patient, she was polite yet firm when people were rude! She was kind and sympathetic, pragmatic and patient. She was quite recently married and longed to have a baby. I became pregnant and continued to work for the NHS as a medical secretary and also in the PALS office. When I was eight months pregnant I arrived at work for my very last day in the PALS office, before going off on maternity leave. Your mum was bursting with excitement and glowing with happiness. Her and your dad had just found out that they were expecting their first baby together!

Your mum and I both went on to have two girls each and became good friends. Our friendship was very much based upon sharing the mothering journey, learning how to be mothers, muddling through and sharing ideas and concerns. We went to child-friendly cafes, baby sing-alongs and The Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. As they got older our eldest daughters played together. They would run about the soft play area in the Moorhen Pub while we indulged in coffee and chocolate cake.
Our girls were too small to climb right to the top on their own and go down the twisting tube slide. So your mum would climb up there with them, up three storeys of soft play climbing frame and slide down herself, landing in the ball pool with our two-year-old giggling girls.

I wrote a diary about my journey into motherhood, and your mum features in it quite a lot. Suddenly the memories that I have written down about the times we have shared have become incredibly precious to me.

I hope that you both have a wonderful life. Be true to yourself and follow your dreams. Live for the moment. Take care of your dad. Your mum loved him very much. One day I hope you will have a baby of your own. If you do, in those first few challenging days and weeks you will wish for the comfort, advice and support that only a mother can give to her daughter. I cannot give you that, but I can give you my memories of your mum, so that you know what kind of a mother she was. She was loving and kind, she was relaxed and playful. She laughed because I called her The Mellow Mum.

With love to you both, you are beautiful girls and your mum adored you. You made her very happy.

Boat Wife

Memories of The Mellow Mum

A play date in Harlow, Essex

A woodland walk and a country pub, Broxbourne, Herts

A hospital visit

Friday 14 January 2011

Stage Four

10th December

I didn’t expect to be in Harlow again so soon. It takes nearly two hours to get here from Angel. I wander through the concrete wasteland in the darkness, avoiding solitary baseball caps and suspicious strangers with beady eyes. Blue hospital signposts direct me to welcoming strip lights, the yellow-lit entrance of the modern Princess Alexandra Hospital. I’m pacing down corridors, a sterile labyrinth quietly peopled by pale blue scrubs. I glimpse fading elderly people breathing noisily in hospital gowns, I find the ward and in contrast to the grey faded paper-souls my friend seems to beam like sunshine at me: The Mellow Mum. Thank goodness she is still real, still here! We have spoken only in text messages since two weeks ago, when she was told that she has lung cancer that has spread to her brain. Before I have a chance to ask how she is, she is animated, chattering, and wants to hear my news. How are my girls? Will I really move in to a house? How do I get the pushchair up the steep sloping towpath in Angel when it is so icy? After a while, I encourage her to tell me her story. She asks me to draw the curtains around her bed for privacy. I trip over her drip stand twice and draw my chair closer to her. She tells me of her sore throat, feeling tired, then vision disturbance, numbness in left leg, dizziness, A&E, chest x-ray, the CT scans the MRI scan and how there doesn’t seem to be one moment when it all became fact. But it crept up on her and her husband and the professionals were saying, “We don’t give a prognosis, it could be nine months, eighteen months or five years”. She leans forward and confides in a whisper,
“It’s Stage Four lung cancer.”
“How many stages are there?”
“Four!” she laughs.
“So four is the worst?” I assume.
“Yes,” she smiles.
She has never really smoked.
“When I was younger, with a few drinks when you go out, you know.”
“Well I read a bit on line. It can be caused by passive smoking, asbestos, or Radon gas...”
“Really, I hadn’t heard that.” She is quite mellow.

The Mellow Mum is thinking about Christmas and writing cards, and taking her girls to see Santa somewhere. She’s heard there’s a good hospice near to where she lives. She is thoughtful; pragmatic. We chat about normal things, real things like our children. She asks me to give her some hypnosis tips and breathing exercises.
“But how is your husband finding it?” I ask.
“Oh you know. He’s so busy. He’s very tired. Looking after the girls and everything.” She pauses. “But then, he said, ‘One day I’m going to wake up and you aren’t going to be there’,” she sobs through her words and before she’s finished the sentence I am clutching her warm hand and I’m crying too.

24th December

Text from The Mellow Mum

Hi. Had last treatment (radiotherapy) today so feelin tired but really pleased. Looking forward to 2 moro with kids. Have been so wiped out I have done nothing with kids so that is why haven’t spoken to any one as well. So good to be at this stage. Happy xmas. M. x x

31st December

To The Mellow Mum:

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas. Happy New Year, see you soon xxxx
31 December 2010 at 08:58

The Mellow Mum:
Happy new yr Boat Wife hope to see you soon.....
31 December 2010 at 16:46

Saturday 8th January

It is a strange quirk of the modern world that sometimes the most efficient way to communicate bad news is on a social networking site. My friend’s husband announced that The Mellow Mum died at 5.30am on Friday 7 January 2011, seven weeks and two days after her initial hospital admission and subsequent cancer diagnosis. He posted a link to Charles Aznavour's composition, ‘She’ interpreted by Jack Jones.

"She may be the love that cannot hope to last,
May come to me from shadows of the past,
That I'll remember till the day I die."

The Mellow Mum was very kind and she was a very positive person. She was my main friend this summer when we were travelling around on the boat, because she was the only person I knew who lived nearby in Essex. She liked visiting our boat and she liked to go on narrowboat holidays with her family. Tears run down my face when I think about how her tiny girls may not even remember their mum. I feel shock, anger and immense waves of sadness. Every moment of life is precious. Love is precious. Friendships are precious.

This weekend I am staying with Tank Girl, a precious friend. On her kitchen wall is a framed poem that I had forgotten I’d written for her, more than ten years ago.

Being Alive

Being alive is electric and tingly
Feeling alive is jiving and jingly
Staying alive is thinking positively
Loving your life is livingly lovely

Uppity people are out of control
They bring down your day taking bits of your soul
Because they don’t understand it and cannot get with it
Don’t complicate lives, just get on and live it.

This post is in loving memory of Michele Evans 1967 -2011.

Guilty Pleasure

Monday 20th September

I met The Mellow Mum at a huge chain pub in Burnt Mill Lane. It’s sitting pretty on the River Stort among water fowl, narrowboats and willow trees, just next to Burnt Mill lock. I’ve never seen such a massive barn of family friendly, affordable food combined with children’s entertainment. Cosy beams, panelled wood and mellow lighting with great views of the river. In the basement, soft play is a guilty pleasure of the middle class parent; you hate the chav-itational pull of The Moorhen pub, but enjoy the lunch, coffee, cake or wine while the children clamber up ramps and slide down into the ball pool giggling. There are even TVs beside some tables, showing CBeebies. The pub is huge, on three levels with a large garden and outdoor seating, tables, climbing frames and other playground stuff.

Big Sister runs off to play with The Mellow Daughter and The Cute Mellow Baby sleeps in her pram. My baby laughs and makes a mess in the high chair and on the floor. The Mellow Mum has had a sore throat for weeks and weeks that her GP has said will go away.
“My friend had that,” I said authoritatively. “You should go back and say you want to see a specialist. That’s what my friend did. I can’t remember what it turned out to be now, but it was something, and they managed to fix it anyway.”
Big Sister has done a wee in the ball pool.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Back to Work

8th November

It is my first day back at work as a medical secretary. It is very relaxed, typing at my own pace without being interrupted by children. The difference between working with children and working with adults is remarkable. My colleagues ask how I am and offer me coffee. My children constantly demand attention and assistance in every aspect of their lives. I make my own coffee and it goes cold while I change a nappy or supervise a toilet visit.

The Doctor dropped Baby Sister with the childminder. In less than an hour the childminder phoned him and asked him to collect her again. The childminder has a migraine and the baby has not stopped crying since being dropped off. As it’s my first day back at work The Doctor had to take the day off from the Multiversity and look after our baby at home.

This morning we heard the water pump cycling even when we were not running the taps. It is a low electrical buzz indicating that water is on the move somewhere. This means that there is a water leak in the boat. This is not uncommon in our boat, considering it’s age. Usually The Doctor can locate the leak as much of the bilge is accessible by removing sections of flooring. It tends to be a case of replacing a jubilee clip that holds a bendy plastic pipe together. Until it can be fixed we simply remove the fuse from the electric circuit that runs the water pump. When we returned home this evening I replaced the fuse and heard a terrible sound coming from the water heater cupboard in the kitchen. It sounds like a pipe is thrashing around like an epileptic python somewhere in there. I took the fuse out again quickly. The Doctor investigates and concludes that the broken pipe is not accessible. It is somewhere behind the hot water tank or the central heating system. The bilges below the floorboards are already full of water. We fill as many saucepans as we can with water for domestic use and then remove the fuse again as quickly as possible. We are now without running water and are going to require a visit from a boat plumbing specialist. The Doctor’s phone beeps: it’s a text from the childminder. She suspects that she will be ill again tomorrow and cannot look after our baby. The Doctor has work commitments that he cannot change. I will probably have to stay at home on my second day back in my job, and apologise to my manager for irresolvable childcare issues. The children are in bed. I sit on the back step in despair, looking at the saucepans of water all around us. The Doctor smiles.

“I know what we’ll do, I’ve got a very good idea,” he says, quoting the dad in ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ and reaching into the kitchen cupboard. He opens a bottle of wine and we laugh, just a little bit, about our predicament.


9th November

Before work, The Doctor went to the supermarket and bought lots of bottled water for us to use on board. He also bought me a beautiful bunch of flowers, all autumn colours they are. He smiled. I smiled. They really cheered me up. My daughter said,

“You didn’t know that Daddy loves you sooooo much?”

Tottenham to Angel

Sunday 7th November

We are leaving the raggedy grasses of Tottenham marshes. A winter sunrise above the reservoir bank reveals they have a good portion of sky around here, considering that it’s London. Spindly naked November trees are silhouetted against cold sunbeams and fragile cloud sculptures, drifting absent mindedly across the sky. Here at the Waters Edge cafe you can be served ham, egg and chips by a Hell’s Angel. Next door at the Lee Valley Canoe and Cycle Hire company you can buy an ice-cream for a three year old, and a BW card token to use the laundry facilities. Teenagers in life jackets mill around waiting to be allocated kayaks.

As he casts off the ropes The Doctor is singing one of our Beatles favourites, that Paul wrote about leisurely drives with Linda.
“Two of us Sunday driving, not arriving, on our way back home.”
Stonebridge Lock is electric so there’s no need to manually wind the paddles with a windlass, just a flick of a switch and you’re done. The lock gates make a weird metal screeching noise as they grind shut. I put The Doctor’s cup of tea on the roof hatch and give him the thumbs up. He’s on the lockside operating the controls with the BW key.

The baby slept through the night for the third night in a row and therefore did not require relocating to the kitchen. I am no longer on the verge of tears. Cruising through the back of hidden Hackney, laundry is hanging from blocks of flats. A gang of Hackney swans hang out on the bank and eye-ball us with attitude as we cruise by. I should have said, ‘wind your neck in!’ I told The Doctor to just beep if he needs a cup of tea. Suddenly I hear three urgent beeps! I rushed out prepared to make an emergency brew. But it is just some east London canoeists reluctant to give way to our boat. It’s fifteen lock miles to Angel. If you add the number of miles to travel, to the number of locks you have to do and divide by three that’s five hours cruising. I admire a vast blue sky above Hackney marshes as we pass under Clapton railway viaduct near Lea Bridge Road. Many times we have passed over this bridge on a train into Liverpool Street. Pilons are striding across the tufty grass, geese bobbing white tails in the air as they drink from the Cut. Yellow leaves twinkling as breezes shake trees. Gulls swoop scanning the rippled surface of the Lea. Graffiti ten feet high marks the wall at the corner where we turn off the Lea and onto the Hertford Union Canal. Also known as Duckett’s Cut it’s only 1 ¼ miles and runs alongside the pretty Victoria Park. Straight as a barge pole with only three locks, it’s an essential shortcut between the Lee Navigation and the Regent’s Canal. If Sir George Duckett hadn’t put this nifty little short cut here in 1830 we’d all have to chug down the Lee and the semi-tidal Limehouse Cut to the Thames and then get into the Grand Union through the massive lock at Limehouse Basin: being a narrowboat in that lock makes you feel like a bathtub at sea.

High rise oblongs, brick upon bric-a-brac, towers of balconies, windows dark gaping rectangles, the Doctor in a deerstalker hat crumples deep-pile autumn leaves on the towpath as he passes the window on his way to the next lock. The children and I see him from the knees down as we sit at the table eating a boiled egg lunch. It is a long trip for the Doctor doing the locks alone, while I dress the kids, sweep the floor, make lunch, and do indescribable childcare things that have no name but drink in time like some theoretical wormhole.

What does Angel mean to me? It is the birth place of both of my daughters, it’s my home. I’m only a traveller for half of the year. I do have a base. But now I’m not allowed to be there. We really are ‘of no fixed abode’. As we draw closer to our destination the Doctor spies the warden from Angel; a boatman, a gardener, a DJ, a warm-hearted friend of ours. He planted the rose on the towpath in Angel where our eldest was born. His bicycle slows down as he cheerily chats to the Doctor cruising along. They shout across the water, having a conversation about the winter moorings fiasco. The Boatman is sympathetic to our situation. We have been his neighbours every winter for many years.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Reggie Perrin

6th November.

This morning after taking the kids to a Fairies and Pirates themed birthday party near Finsbury Park I am exhausted. I returned home, left the children with The Doctor, and went in to the girls’ bedroom to try to have an afternoon nap. I never nap in the daytime, I never have time, but I recognised the signs in myself, the feeling that I’m going to bite someone’s head off or burst into tears. I lay on the bed and stared at the pine tongue and groove ceiling; too tired to sleep, too tired to cry. It is a very dark moment. I consider doing a Reggie Perrin, disappearing and walking away. Yesterday I went to visit an old friend, Rock Chick Mum. She said,
“You’ve lost weight, you look ill. Go to the doctor.” The Bride told me this weeks ago. I ignored her. My mum, my mother in law and The Fairytale Princess noticed it too. Years ago, when I was at Hogwarts, studying hypnosis, we learned that if you hear something once you may ignore it. The second time you hear it you may think twice about it, huh, muses your brain, I’ve heard that before! If you hear a piece of information three times, your subconscious is more likely to accept that it is true. You are underweight. Go to the doctor. Go to the doctor. Go to the doctor.

Mega Mums

4th November

The Doctor went out for the night with The Pub Landlord. I stayed up late checking out other British Mummy Bloggers. Their biogs say things like,

“I have a nine month old, a two year old and a four year old. I used to work in an office but since having children I have become a freelance writer, which is great because I can fit it around family life.”

Who are these super efficient mega mums? I am close to tears half the time because I haven’t slept for three years, I can’t even stay on top of the housework and next week I’m going back to the day job and re-starting my hypnotherapy practice. I’m obviously not organising my time efficiently. Instead of blogging I should probably be pitching articles.

Dear BW Lady

2nd November

Dear BW Lady

Thanks for your offer of an alternative winter mooring but I’m afraid the other London sites are not suitable for me. A few months ahead of the launch of the new online system I began liaising with BW about how best to purchase a winter mooring at Islington this year. I’ve sent emails, made phonecalls and delayed travel plans, while repeatedly checking the website throughout the launch day. Despite being on line at the correct time I was unable to purchase the mooring on that day, and a member of staff at the London office who promised to phone me when more moorings became available at Islington did not phone me.

I live aboard my narrowboat and have moored at Islington every winter for seven years. My three year old daughter has just been accepted into an Islington nursery, and my youngest has just begun childcare with an Islington based childminder. As we are not currently moored in Islington we have been getting up at 6am each day to travel to Islington. My husband works in Islington and I work nearby. It is for these reasons that I did my very best to apply for an Islington mooring this year.

I believe that I did everything within my power to try to purchase a winter mooring at my preferred site this year and I am very disappointed in the new system.

Boat Wife

River Lee Gets Gritty

1st November.

My eldest daughter started nursery in Islington today. My baby has been ‘settling in’ (crying all day) with the childminder nearby. The whole family was up at 6am to trek down the towpath through the scrub-land of Tottenham marshes. Commuting from here is not sustainable, but as we could not get a winter mooring this year we have yet to come up with a suitable Plan B for how to juggle work, childcare and continuously cruising boat life.
“You could almost be in the countryside here,” I remarked to The Doctor as we walked through parkland. “You wouldn’t know that it was London.”
“If it weren’t for the dead body hidden in the undergrowth,” says the Doctor. Perhaps the wild grasses also conceal beer cans and smack needles, I muse to myself. There are electricity pylons overhead and huge cranes in the distance near Tottenham Hale station. The River Lee just got gritty.
We dropped the baby with the childminder at 8.30am and at 9am the Doctor and myself proudly accompanied our eldest daughter to her first day at Willow nursery class. I spent the day there helping her to ‘settle in’ (no crying).
Having roamed for so long I have no idea where I want to settle down, but if the Doctor gets another contract at the university here it would make sense to settle near Angel. It’s near our workplaces, childminder, new nursery and my support network of N1 mums. The only trouble is, a winter mooring (when you can get one) is much cheaper than a month’s rent in an Islington flat. So although we’ve inadvertently ‘based’ our lives there, it’s possible that we can’t afford to actually live there.

Saturday 8 January 2011

The Coal Boat

30th October

We set off early. It’s a five ? hour cruise from Broxbourne to Tottenham in north London. ‘Yellow matter custard’ got me listening to The Blue Album this morning. I’m giving the girls marmalade on toast while John Lennon sings about marmalade skies. My daughter said, ever so politely,
“Mummy. Um, please can we listen to Jimi Hendrix?” while the Doctor discovered a pear tree at Cheshunt lock.
“Something fell out of the tree,” he said, looking up. “I wondered what: it was a pear!” He stood in the sunshine under a pear tree silhouetted against a blue sky with golden autumn leaves shining all around and carpeting the ground.
The canal has never looked more beautiful, begging me not to leave, adorned with golden autumn sunlight. We are still travelling back in time, past Single Boat Mum’s surreal woodland inside-out living room. I have changed the music to Jimi but my daughter demands,
“Mummy, you should put it louder!” I smile to myself; she is her father’s daughter.

Out the window, on the balance beam of the lock gate I can read ‘Keep boat forward of cill marker’ and a yellow warning triangle depicts a sinking boat. This means you must always check the position of your boat in the lock. The cill is a step, the higher level of a lock. If the boat gets stuck on the cill when going downhill through a lock you will sink.

More changes: at Waltham Town lock a whole building has sprung up where there was only bulldozers and earth a few months ago. They are building The Lee Valley White Water rafting centre for the Olympics in 2012.

At Ponders End lock I leaned out of the window to capture on camera a memory of the handsome Doctor working a lock. He’s leaning on a balance beam waiting for the lock to fill. I spy another lens pointing back at me. A man is taking a picture of a picturesque canal scene, me and our boat tied up waiting to come in the lock. I remember one time cruising along in my first boat, my friend accompanying me noted,
“You get more admiring glances travelling along in this little red narrowboat than you would if we were in a Ferrari!”

We moored up at Stonebridge lock in Tottenham. It looks very rural for London. There’s a canoeing club, a cafe, trees, grass and a reservoir. The mooring has great boater’s facilities; rubbish disposal, recycling, showers and laundry. We’d only been moored up for ten minutes when there was a knock on the boat.
“Who could that be?” I asked the Doctor, as I headed out to the back deck.
It’s a lad in a fluorescent workman’s type jacket.
“Coal boat,” he grins. I grin back. We are back in civilisation! I am so happy to accept delivery of a gas cylinder, get the toilet pumped out and the diesel tank filled. The coal boats don’t seem to go up the Lee and Stort at the moment.
“Saw you in the newspaper,” says Coal lad’s dad.
“Did you?” I smile and feel famous on The Cut.
Their seventy-two foot trad has ‘Fellows, Morton and Clayton Ltd’ painted on the side of the cabin.
“How old is your boat then?” I ask, admiringly.
“1898,” says Coal Dad, proudly.
“One of the originals is it?”
“Yeah. Used to have a steam engine in there.” He gestures towards the engine room where his little black dog is peeping out of the loading doors (also known as side hatches).
“He likes it in there,” says Coal Dad.
“It’s warm for him isn’t it?” I smile. His son is yawning as they’re finish up and untying ropes.
“Don’t work him too hard,” I say to his Dad.
“It’s too late for that,” laughs Coal Lad. They put-put off up the Cut at about 2mph and prepare to supply the next boat along with winter fuel.


29th October

Everything changes. The snack van in the meadow near Broxbourne has become a porta-cabin cafe. We went to the park and did some shopping in the village shop. Big sister remembers and recognises the holly bush and the ancient church. The miserable monologue is getting the better of me, so I phoned the Fairytale Princess. My phone is drying out but some of the buttons still don’t work. The Doctor said I shouldn’t use it. She said,
“When you’re in Angel you’re happy. Every spring you say, we’re gonna go travelling for summer and it will be brilliant. But then you’re lonely.”
She’s right. Children have changed my priorities. I think I’m ready for a house.

My true love has been with me
For ten years of my life
And I was a devoted
Narrow-boating wife
My true love gave me freedom
And showed me England’s sights
A flight of locks at Tring
That took me up to dizzy heights
The Pontcysyllte aqueduct
Spanning valleys down below
The coloured bustle Camden
Angel, frozen in the snow
The dripping Blisworth tunnel
Haunts our early courting days
A picnic lake at Ricky
Is where we got engaged
To announce intent to marry
We had to settle down
Two weeks in Uxbridge boat yard
Spent hard-standing on the ground...

To be continued...

Communications Are Down

29th October

This morning in bed I was reading Goldilocks to the girls.
“Goldilocks jumped out of the bed, ran down the stairs and out of the cottage, never to return again!.... Can you imagine if we came home and Goldilocks was in your bed? We would say Get out Goldilocks!”
Big Sister laughs, and pauses to think.
“And, if... we came home and Paul McCartney was in my bed we would say, Get Out Paul McCartney!”

Broxbourne. Rural serenity ripples on the surface of the water as I open the back door to throw a rubbish bag onto the back deck. The launderette equation tells me that the nearest launderette is not even commutable from our lovely willow shaded mooring, next to a little patch of woodland.
Last night the whole family slept through the night for the first time in weeks. This should effect the overall gradient of the life experience – less uphill struggle, more like cruising in a long pound, (a stretch of canal without any locks).

“Mummy, I’ve put water on your phone,” confessed my eldest daughter. Now the buttons don’t work. The Mellow Mum is coming to visit today. I can see the beginning of the text she has sent to me. “How near to the pub...?” She is asking exactly where we are moored, but I cannot reply. Communications are down! “Houston, we have a problem!” I dismantle the phone and hope that the snugness of the diesel stove will permeate throughout the micro-bits and dry out my phone. Otherwise I’ll have to write letters to communicate with the world, instead of texts.

It was 9.30am before I remembered to eat this morning, and then I wonder why I’m losing weight! And I didn’t even sit down to eat that piece of toast, because I was trying to get the boat ship shape before my friend comes around, with her two little daughters.

As I threw out the rubbish I saw that several fishermen have set up camp outside our boat, with the regulation checked shirt, baseball cap and roll-up cigarette, accompanied by all paraphernalia; boxes, rods, directors chair, and umbrella. Ramlin Rose calls them a ‘Mug n a Maggot’. Sometimes you get pegged down fishing competitions along the towpath. I once barged into one of these by accident. It was in my early days of boating and I was just learning to steer. The fishing net nearly got tangled in the prop and I made one poor fisherman very angry.

I came back inside and had an idea. I turned on the computer to email our mutual work colleagues. Perhaps they could phone the Mellow Mum and explain that my phone is broken, but I’m still up for a visit and I’m moored outside the pub. However, ‘Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage’. The mobile dongle signal strength is weak so I clicked on ‘Help and Support’.

“How to improve your signal strength.
Think about the positioning of your dongle. E.g. upstairs will be better than a basement flat. Some rooms get a stronger signal than others depending on thickness of walls. You could also buy a wireless router, which can then relay the signal. It can be plugged into a room with a good signal strength. The dongle is then plugged into the router and up to four computers can use it around the house.”
These suggestions are only helpful if you have walls, stairs, and perhaps a house. The software creators might want to add to that,
“Your mobile signal strength is directly related to the levels of outstanding rural beauty, peace and quiet from which you are trying to reach the outside world.”

(Distance from nearest town) + (Beauty of rural scenery) + (distance from launderette) divided by (a large number) = possible mobile internet signal strength.

I now had a ship shape boat and no guests but eventually I was able to access my email.

Date: Thursday, 28 October, 2010, 12:47

Boat Wife

The Mellow Mum has had a flat tyre on the way over to you and has been unable to get through to you on your mobile.

She says she should be with you by 1pm.

The Mellow Husband

Mellow Husband! My daughter broke my phone this morning and I've had terrible mobile internet reception all day. Can you phone her and explain this please?! We are here, moored outside The Crown. Naezing Road. Thank you!

Boat Wife

The Mellow Mum arrived an hour and a half later than expected after being stuck at the side of the road with a flat tyre and two girls younger than mine. But of course she was mellow about her predicament. Her and her daughter collected leaves to make a picture, while waiting for assistance. My bubble of isolation has now been shattered by the crying of not two, but four children. How did boat wives manage in cabins ten feet long with four, five, or six kids?

I was so pleased to hear that the Mellow Mum is enjoying my blog.
“But do you really sit perched on a lock gate writing, or is that poetic licence?” She asked. Is it true that I must write anywhere and everywhere? I told her that it is. This morning at 10am the children were fed, washed and dressed but I had forgotten to eat something myself. I was sat typing something in my vest and pants while the baby napped and her sister watched TV.

The Mellow Mum, the four girls and I, went for a woodland walk where the girls had a frolic in a forest clearing and then we all had a drink at the pub. The older girls sit at the table colouring pictures. Her babe sleeps; mine cries. We comment on how amazed we are that we can laugh in the face of crescendos of crying, when we’re with one another, yet handling the crying alone creates an instant upsurge of stress, which you try to internalise and hide from the kids.

Today’s stress relief exercise for myself was: Write a list of the ‘life challenges’ that are stressing me out. (Overtired, isolated, lonely, no spare time, where to live?) Then go into the girls’ bedroom for one minute alone to eat chocolate in secret, so that my daughter cannot see the chocolate and suggest that I share it.

At bedtime after putting the baby to bed, my daughter and I always snuggle up on the sofa under the rabbit blanket, for a bedtime story.
“Do you want Beauty and the Beast again?”
“No,” she said firmly. Tonight for my story, I want the Beatles Book.”
“Oh Ok.” This is The Beatles: The Story of the Songs. Tonight she points at a page she likes because of the pictures on it and instructs me to read that one. So I begin to read and explain the origins of John Lennon’s nonsense lyrics in I Am The Walrus. The Walrus was a reference to The Walrus and The Carpenter, Lewis Carroll’s poem. My daughter really enjoyed a children’s rhyme from the 1960’s that had inspired John, and had me read it to her several times over.
“Yellow matter custard, Green Slop Pie, All mixed together with a dead dogs eye, Slap it on a butty, Ten feet thick, Wash it all down with a cup of cold sick.”
“Disgusting!” she giggles, delighted, and I pack her off to bed for sweet dreams.

The BW Lady

27th October

Dear Boat Wife,

Many thanks for your email and my sincere apologies for the delay in responding to you. I have been away on sick leave.

I can confirm that all the Winter Mooring space at our Islington mooring site has been sold. There is still space available at other London sites, including Little Venice and Victoria Park, should they be suitable for you.

I’m very sorry that you were unable to secure a space at your preferred site on this occasion. If you require any assistance securing space at another available site please do let me know.

Kind regards,

BW Lady

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Goal Setting

New Year Resolutions

When I was training as a hypnotherapist at Hogwarts I liked that NLP saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.” My hypnotherapy teacher used to say,
“Whatever you believe to be the truth, is the truth for you.”
1) Set Realistic Goals. I am always making myself lists and berating myself for not accomplishing everything. I began this blog by writing that our mission was to be boaters, travellers, writers and parents. Now I don’t know if it’s realistic to be all of these things, as well as a medical secretary, a hypnotherapist, a home-maker and a wife.

2) Enjoy my children, every day. Spend quality time together. Life is short.

3) Put some TLC into my marriage; recognise thoughtfulness, make time for each other, listen, and focus on the positives.

4) Get a bigger home, more storage space, a washing machine. Maybe a house.

5) Sell a freelance article. I’ve had articles published, but this year I am going to be paid for writing something! I have bought a book about it.

6) Finish writing one of the three books I’ve started writing.

7) Keep on top of the housework/ boat chores.

8) Settle in a community. Get some neighbours and a local pub.

9) Exercise – swimming or yoga?

10) Be more calm and confident – use self hypnosis more often!

11) Promote my blog. (The only thing I have done so far is a bit of Facebook and British Mummy Bloggers!)
12) Get a job related to writing – perhaps a secretary in a publishing company?

13) Long term goal – make writing my career.

I found out about this blog hop from read it and vote for her in the blogging awards!

Endearingly Shambolic Transport

26th October

I went for lunch with The Endearingly Shambolic Comedy Songwriter in Camberwell. Arriving at his house in Rainbow Street reminded me of when we used to keep our car there for a while. Because we move every two weeks it makes sense to park your car outside a mates’ house where they can keep an eye on it. If we’re moored in London zone 1 we can’t park near the boat: we don’t have a residents parking permit and we couldn’t pay to keep it on a meter for two weeks. But this meant that we didn’t see our car from month to month and the Doctor would have to travel on public transport to collect it. I don’t have a driving licence. One time, we were moored in Uxbridge, which was a significant mission by tube for the Doctor to reach Camberwell. When he arrived the car was gone. He called at the house of our friend, and The Endearingly Shambolic Comedy Songwriter had not noticed the car was gone. A brief investigation revealed that the car had been vandalised. Because the window was smashed the police thought it was a “terrorist risk” and the local authority towed it away. They wanted £100 to release it! It had not been illegally parked but it was accused of being abandoned. Our much loved endearingly shambolic car had only cost £250. When you don’t have anywhere safe to keep a car there’s no point in having an expensive one. The Doctor argued and reasoned with the vehicle impounding people until they yielded to his mind-bending time tricks and gave our shambolic travelling machine back.

A different car of ours got its windows smashed in Stoke Newington. When the Doctor first bought his boat as a bachelor pad, (now our family home) he parked his car at the quiet rural railway station of Long Buckby, near Daventry. We collected the boat from the boat yard and spent a week cruising south towards London. The Doctor then returned to Long Buckby by train to collect the car, on an arduous journey thwarted by engineering works. When he finally arrived at the place outside Long Buckby station where the car had been parked, there was nothing but smashed glass on the tarmac. After a while we stopped buying cars.