Tuesday 29 March 2011

You Don’t Look Like a Boatwoman

Photo Credit: Charles Lamb Pub website

After the funeral , sitting on a crowded tube train into town, and standing still like a plastic mannequin on a grimy London escalator I was thankful to be alive. The Mellow Mum can no longer experience this existence. I am thankful for the daily grind. I feel each breath of winter air as I emerge to ground level at Angel station, I am alive. I am re-evaluating my life. I am lucky, lucky, lucky. There is no time to be wasted; now is the time to live.

Or maybe the future will start when I wake up in the morning. Right now I really want to go to my room and be on my own, with some maudlin music and a bottle of wine. But I don’t have a room. I am in my late thirties now and I don’t have my own bedroom. Suddenly that seems peculiar, absurd. So, to be alone, I went to the Charles Lamb pub. It is full of people. I try to cry secretly. Oh me! I wearily and dramatically feel like serenading the many leaded-rectangle paned windows, gently flickering candles and green-painted wooden panels. All of the wobbly rustic tables are taken. I sit on a stool at the bar and order a large red wine.
“We only do wine in one size,” she says. It ain’t large. But it’s large prices; Islington prices.
The melancholy fellow on the bar stool next to me tries to get her attention to order a drink. She looks right through him. I offer him half a smile, apologetically. He is drunk, and considers my smile to be an invitation to initiate conversation.
“What are you thinking about?” He demands of my pensive face. I pay the lady for my wine and take a sip.
“I’m thinking about my friend,” I reply. He nods, sagely.
“Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and have that nonsense respected...”*
I can’t help smiling just a little.
“Friends are like table legs; they keep you stable,” I reply. “If one falls off, you wobble.”
He smiles, holds out his hand and introduces himself.
“Charles Lamb, essayist and poet.”
“I thought so,” I replied, shaking his ghostly hand. I could tell by his nineteenth century fashion sense that he was different somehow. “Associated with the romantics, Shelley , Hazlitt, Coleridge and Wordsworth and considered by admirers as “a pre-Victorian sugar daddy distributing kisses and kindliness”.
“Ah, you have heard of me! Yes, Samuel Coleridge is a good friend of mine.” He sits up straight on his bar stool and glows with satisfaction and pride.
“No, it says all that on the chalk board behind you.” I remind him. His pen name was Elia when he lived in Colebooke Row. “I live in Colebrooke Row too.”
“I’m at Colebrooke Cottage!” he exclaims.
“I’m on the canal,” I tell him. “On a boat, near the Islington tunnel.” He eyes me up and down and looks confused.
“You don’t look like a boatwoman.” He expects to see a frilly black sun bonnet and ankle length skirts.
“Well things have changed a bit on the Cut lately,” I explain. He shakes his head and the very old clock behind the bar strikes seven. My kids will be in bed soon. I’m too miserable to handle the chaos of the bedtime routine but I think about making a move.
“Do you know there was a competition to design the Islington tunnel?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “But old James Morgan ended up designing it himself.”
“ I know that it took three years to build,” I offered. He nods.
“All those navvies with their wheelbarrows, horses and explosives; they finished it in 1818. I’ve seen you boat people walking your horses over the top.”
“Yep, there’s no towpath in the tunnel,” I reply. I didn’t tell him that we haven’t got a horse.

I finish my drink in silence as I survey the fairy lights, the ornate mirror and the deliberately scruffy wooden floorboards. It’s intentionally homely like a Hoxton trendy bar, not like a spit and sawdust back street boozer. The people drinking here are young and probably work in media, but it escapes by a hairs-breadth from being swanky (with a silent ‘s’), to being simply cosy for the younger drinker. I feel a little bit old among the other patrons here, but my new friend looks positively ancient.
He decides not to order another drink, stands up to leave and puts on his rather charming hat.
“I always arrive late at the office but I make up for it by leaving early,” he grins.
Maybe it was the fairy lights, maybe it was the wine, but as I follow him out of the door I feel a little bit warmer inside. A chalk board suggests ‘Mulled Cider – the cure for winter blues’. I turn around to look down Elia Street and Charles has silently gone towards home; nowhere to be seen.

*Charles Lamb 1775 – 1834


Monday 28 March 2011

Are You Waiting There?

I wrote this exactly eleven years ago, the first time I lost a friend. Here it is for you, if you have ever lost someone. 

Photo credit: Epping Forest Burial Park Website

Are you waiting there?

Are you waiting there?
Under the grass
For one of your friends
To come strolling past
And burst into tears
And lay down some flowers
And lament over ancient
Forgotten hours
When you were alive
Having it large
Living so deep
That you would carve
Your memory in
To all of our hearts
Are you still there
Under the grass?

Or did you kick off
Your earth boots at last
And leaving your body
Feeding the grass
Soar into the ether
The everything space
And begin to exist
In all time and space
In between atoms
And out of existence
Returned to the source
And into the distance

A little bit here
A little bit there
A little bit me
And a little bit yeah
Giving it some
And having it large
All over the place
And up in the stars
You can try as you might
To just disappear
But I've a sneaking suspicion
That you're still kinda here!


Photo Credit: Epping Forest Burial Park Website

Friday 18 March 2011

How Do You Perceive Me? The One Word Meme.

Now I read about this last week and thought it was lovely, but was too overwhelmed by events in My Real Life to enter. Michelle Twin Mum has created a one word meme, which means that I can ask readers to describe me in just one word. Michelle's blog explains it better than me. I love her story about the class of chidren who saved their positive words until they were grown up.

Positive affirmations can boost self-esteem. Like a one word nugget of self-hypnosis ;-) You just have to answer by commenting on this post to the question:

Narrowboat Wife is …….?

Wednesday 16 March 2011

The Gallery: Trees

This post is for Week 50 of The Gallery: Trees

I'm quite new to The Gallery, so I hope I haven't bent the rules by combining my pic with something I was about to post that is loosely based in Epping Forest. My tree picture is a blossomy hopeful one, but the post is pretty sad.

If you're new too and want to know what The Gallery is, check out Sticky Fingers blog, and then come and join in!

Epping Forest

Before I left the boat I kissed my husband and my baby goodbye. As I cuddled her warm rounded body I thought of another mother who will never hold her soft round baby again. In the tube station tunnels the cheery tunes of buskers creep around corners and offend my ears; they are inappropriate on this day. I would request that all tube passengers maintain a respectful silence while I make my last journey to Epping. STAND BACK TRAIN APPROACHING is displayed in yellow digital lights as I stand on the platform.
“Ring me when you get to Leytonstone,” she would say. “I’ll come and meet you at the station.” Today I’ll be getting a taxi.

Outside the Gathering Room in the bleak drizzle of the forest I paused. I waited. I am going to walk into this room. What will I find? Her husband? Her parents? Eyes of anguish, souls of loss, faces of devastation. Gaps in lives; disbelief; a vacuum; grief. Motherless daughters?
Bereavement grabbed a sob from my stomach and sickeningly urged it up through my throat to choke me in a gut wrenching horror. The bare winter tree branches stretch hauntingly above me into a grey winter sky. Hot tears run down my sad solitary face. I wish for the comfort of the Doctor’s arms but I am alone. And my friend does not exist. I prepare to enter a room full of strangers.

I am talking to her relatives. We are shocked about how quickly this happened.
“Her daughter doesn’t understand,” said her brother, a tear in his eye. “She doesn’t know where Mummy has gone.”
“The worst part for me,” said my friend from work, “was when we saw the hearse in Epping high street. We were on the way here, it must have been going to the house. We knew that it was her because we saw her name spelled out in flowers.”
The mingling buzz of the Gathering Room settled in to an eerie silence. The hearse had arrived. Outside the big windows I see it pull up the gravel driveway. Immaculately arranged white flowers spell out the word MUMMY in the window of the black car. My friend is inside a smart, varnished wooden box. She is a mummy lost. My heart breaks. I cry again, silently holding in the sounds of my grief as the room maintains a quietly English stiff upper lip. The horror of suddenly losing someone so vibrant and young strikes us all like a solemn grandfather clock chiming midnight. This is the end. My friend is gone. A wife is gone. The crowds shuffle into a seven sided wood panelled room with a hopeful skylight in the centre of the wood panelled ceiling. Behind the white-robed woman who will hold the service, huge windows display the friendly trees of Epping Forest, gathered respectfully to listen leafily to the Bible reading from her mother in law, the brave and poignant address from her husband, the prayers and commendation from the vicar, and the crowd’s moments of quiet reflection accompanied by classical music, “Nessun Dorma” by Puccini.

We quietly gather and follow the coffin which is transported by hearse to the burial spot. Many, many mourning-clad, black-coated people crunch boots against gravel and stifle sobs as we trudge a weary procession towards her forested resting place.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” My friend believed in God, and so I am glad that she thought she might be going to a better place.
It’s so cold, so cold. The rain drizzles on to the misery of a solitary husband standing strong at the foot of the grave as the crowd back away quietly. We shuffle politely down a woodland pathway, tearing ourselves from the final sight of our loved one, repressing the painful sounds of our aching grief. I am so angry with cancer! That silent killer that crept unnoticed into my friend’s body and stole from the world what was vibrant and fun, loved and needed, vital and real; a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife and a friend.

Please consider donating to The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, in memory of my friend The Mellow Mum, who never smoked, died seven weeks after diagnosis, and left behind a husband and two tiny daughters.

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Monday 14 March 2011

Meet The Boaters: Rosie and Tony

Rosie and Tony lived on a narrowboat for four years and a Dutch barge for two years. Rosie is an artist and Tony is a careworker. They have two dogs and a one year old baby.

Rosie says, “Tony used to walk Mabel, our dog, down by Kensal Green canal when we were renting a flat up that way and he got into the idea of the boat, I was nervous about coming back at night but there was a woman with a baby moored there and I thought, ‘If she can do it we can’.

We got a shell from the Liverpool boat company and fitted the whole thing out at Kensal Green. We had a camp stove and no toilet or running water. We had to go to Sainsburys for the toilet and a pound shower at the leisure center. The roof was totally piled up with crap but we were really excited about it and enjoyed roughing it up! We did Bobby Dazzler out lovely in the end, and it’s now well loved and looked after by its new owners.
Our next boat was bought off a bloke who was doing it out with his wife, but she died and he wanted shot of it. I was ready for land but Tony talked me into looking and we decided to buy it. It was cold when we moved onto it and the heating was a diesel stove that didn’t work; it was pretty grim. We had a beautiful lake to ourselves in Shepperton but it was full of Canadian geese which never shut up! It had a lot more space and it was a lot easier to do out as you could put normal furniture in it, but because it was old it wasn’t well insulated and needed all the rust taking off and painted and greased again.

The best thing about living on a boat is summer evenings when you’re moored with a nice bunch of boaters and there’s a barbeque on the go and we had some good New Years party cruises on the Bobby Dazzler. But the best thing is long summer trips down the Thames. You get a good set of people on boats from all walks of life but you all have the boats in common and I like that.

The worst thing is long winters; having British Waterways on your back, and toilets are nicer on land - but you just get used to that. It felt a bit damp on Jantina ( the Dutch barge) towards the end of winter but that was a long winter.

The best thing with our baby was that it was a nice towpath community, including some of the dog walkers. There were low overheads in that lifestyle. I would have loved to have taken our daughter on the Thames round Cookham way when she was a bit older. She used to like sitting in the wheel house when we were on the move.

The worst thing about boating with a baby is doing the locks, keeping the heat consistent (especially when she was really tiny) not having a doctors, having to move when you have made mum friends in an area, getting on and off the boat with a buggy, you couldn’t get a babysitter, and smoke coming in the boat! I could go on …ha ha!

We lived on the boat for four years before we had a baby and nine months with her.

I think it’s a nice way for kids to live as it’s a big adventure, although when they get a bit older they might make friends that they don’t want to move from. It would be ideal if you had a group of boaters with kids that moved around together. I don’t know how it would have been now that she’s walking; that wouldn’t be too relaxing.

I found it hard being so reliant on Tony for so much.. i.e wood for the fire, petrol for the generator, filling up, emptying out. It’s nice for him now that he can come home from work and settle instead of having a million things to do (athough he probably doesn’t know what to do with himself). The little things that are a bit harder on a boat really add up. Laundry, changing gas, topping up the fire, all become a lot more intense when there is a new baby. When she was really sick the other day we did about ten washes in one day, and I kept thinking, I’m so glad I’m not on the boat!

When you live on a boat people always say … “Oh how lovely, I’d love to do that!” …and I think, 'You wouldn’t last two minutes love!'

Rosie and Tony now rent a house with a garden.

“I left boating because of all of the worst things that I’ve just said, but in spring and summer I will miss it because of all the good things... “

Rosie Short creates quirky hand-made dolls at http://www.theworldofbobbydazzler.co.uk/

Friday 11 March 2011

Managing Expectations

In 2009 I wrote an article about hypnosis for childbirth, reiterating the importance of managing realistic expectations (‘Great Expectations’, The Hypnotherapist, Volume 11, No. 3, September 2009). In my personal pregnant quest for knowledge I was seduced by Grantly Dick Reade, Marie Mongan and Ina May Gaskin1 into expecting a pain free, orgasmic and empowering childbirth experience. When my 7lb first-born burst onto the scene morphing my progressive, hypnotic affirmations into one long drawn out agonising primal scream, my beliefs about hypnosis for childbirth had to be re-examined and re-evaluated. Some women can feel that they have ‘failed’ if they take the time to learn self-hypnosis and subsequently do not achieve the ideal birth that they had planned. My own labour was thankfully relatively short, efficient, uncomplicated and un-medicated. After a candle-lit homebirth on our narrowboat you couldn’t have got much closer to my idealistic birth plan, yet I was disappointed in what I had expected of hypnotherapy, and made it my business to investigate further.

Research indicates that the use of hypnosis in childbirth promotes shorter labour, reduced use of pain relief, medical and surgical intervention. Studies conclude that hypnosis can encourage a reduced time in hospital, reduced instances of post natal depression and higher Apgar scores in infants (a measure of newborn health). Hypnosis can reduce fear, increase mental calmness and confidence and help the client to manage pain. It is misleading to suggest that by using a particular technique pain free childbirth is achievable for all, but positive suggestions can encourage a more calm and comfortable pregnancy and childbirth.

For my own journey into motherhood, I recorded myself some self-hypnosis CDs and listened to them throughout pregnancy. In addition to my basic training as a hypnotherapist I did two further courses in the use of hypnosis for childbirth, and read around the subject on both the physical and emotional elements of the childbirth process. Because of the pain and exhaustion I experienced in my first labour, I wanted to improve my preparations during my second pregnancy. I now had a more realistic expectation that birth was indeed likely to be painful, but that preparing myself with hypnosis could indeed offer many benefits. I wrote and recorded a new script for the birth of my second child, putting more emphasis onto pain management and accepting the sensations. I recorded a separate program purely for practicing glove anaesthesia.

Three weeks before my due date I felt some uncomfortable cramps during the night, and relished the opportunity to practice my glove anaesthesia. It went really well and I managed to doze through the night, controlling the sensations with self-hypnosis. I thought that it was too early to actually be in labour, because the midwives were not even intending to deliver the homebirth equipment until the following week. However, by 5 am I could no longer sleep and was too uncomfortable to continue lying down. I changed position to all fours and my husband continued to snooze, assuming that I was experiencing ‘Braxton Hicks’ practice contractions. By 6 am my husband was awake and although I was now claiming to be in labour he thought that we had better wait and see, as these things can take a long time. By 6.30am I was shouting,
“Get the babysitter! Phone the midwives! Get the TENS machine!”
“I’m a man – I can’t multi-task!” he quipped, and I think I might even have smiled. Although the contractions were painful I felt I was very much in control using some breathing techniques and self-hypnosis. A phone call to the babysitter revealed that he was on tour with a band in Sweden, the TENS machine was nowhere to be found and the midwives said,
“Hang up, and call an ambulance.” My two year old daughter woke up just before seven, and my husband began dividing his time between reassuring her in her bedroom, and comforting me in what was now the noisiest throes of labour.
“My wife is having a baby, right now,” he told the emergency services telephone operator. She began to ask questions and issue instructions. I experienced a huge involuntary push and the head was on its way. One more intense contraction later and the baby was delivered into my husband’s hands, directed and coached by the lady on the end of the phone. The ambulance arrived but the paramedics could not get through the locked gate to access our narrowboat’s mooring. My husband fetched our bewildered daughter from her bedroom and introduced her to her newborn sister. The paramedics called my husband’s mobile and he walked up the towpath to find them wandering in the patch of woodland above the canal tunnel, trying to find a way in over the fence or the gate.

Another ambulance crew arrived and then two midwives. Professionals loitered awkward and redundant in our small living space, after doing some basic health checks on the baby and I. The midwives said they call this a BBA: Born Before Arrival (of the midwives).
The baby was born at about 7.15am, after just two hours of ‘active labour’. The experience was intense, efficient and empowering. There was no TENS machine, gas and air or pharmaceuticals. The Apgar score was high; the baby was quiet, calm and feeding well. I felt that my labour was calm and confident, only panicking briefly at the moment of transition; (“I can’t do this!”) a common sign that the birth is imminent.
After conducting this experiment on myself, I can conclude that a combination of realistic expectations, knowledge of the physical process, self-hypnosis and pain management techniques can result in a wonderfully positive childbirth experience, and an interesting anecdote to share at dinner parties.

1) Authors: Grantly Dick Reade ‘Childbirth Without Fear’, Marie Mongan ‘Hypnobirthing’, Ina May Gaskin’s ‘Guide to Childbirth’.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

The Gallery: Change

Big changes are happening in my real life right now. Today we bought a new home. It is beautiful. I will write a proper post about that soon. Today I found out someone close to me is pretty ill. I will not blog about that today. But I am thinking about that.

This post is for Week 48 of Tara Cain's Gallery: One word.

If you're new and want to know what The Gallery is, go and read here, and then come right back and join in!

I did try to use this post for the recent Silent Sunday linky but was too late to enter.

Monday 7 March 2011

British Waterways Angers London’s Boating Community

Photo Credit: LondonBoaters.org

The London narrowboating community, who are largely based on the River Lea & Regents Canal, could become history in the near future as a result of draconian new mooring policies proposed by British Waterways for the whole East London region, which would make it very difficult to live on a boat whilst cruising in London.

Some narrowboaters feel that it is an exercise in cleansing the river of boaters in order to make way for profiteering on the Olympics; and that it effectively treats boaters as second class citizens.

British Waterways is currently consulting local people and waterways users on the Rivers Lea and Stort, Hertford Union and Regent's Canals to discuss new proposals for managing short-term moorings. The suggested changes are due to the increased number of boats mooring in the area (an increase of nearly 40% in four years), and BW states that they are also a response to concerns raised by other canal users.

BW’s intended changes are as follows:

• designating mooring 'neighbourhoods' between which the boats should cruise, and where they can moor subject to time limits, encouraging boats to move along the waterways in a way that is fair to all;

• introducing daily charges when boats remain beyond the maximum time limit;

• talking to local authorities about the broad range of issues in the plan and how they might make provision for suitably located long-term moorings in the future.

British Waterways reasons for developing the new policy include overcrowding, licence evasion, property spilling onto the tow path and overstaying on visitor moorings.

If a boat is licensed on a ‘continuous cruising’ basis it must move on a regular basis complying with three key legal requirements.

1) The boat must genuinely be used for navigation throughout the period of the licence.
2) Unless a shorter time is specified by notice, the boat must not stay in the same place for more than 14 days.
3) It is the responsibility of the boater to satisfy BW that the above requirements are met.

Before 1995 all narrowboats on the canal system were required to have a home mooring (permanent base). Some liveaboard boaters cruised the system 'continuously', rarely visiting their own mooring. In 1995 BW allowed these boaters to cruise the waterways continuously without meeting the home mooring requirement.

Some boaters do use the same short stretch of waterway to move back and forth and hence causes congestion on many of the most popular visitor moorings. Some waterways users are under the impression that these type of “selfish minority boaters” often do not possess a valid British Waterways licence and mooring licence when appropriate.

However, a few years ago NABO asked BW about the number of patrol notices issued and then asked them to look at the proportion of those notices that were issued against boats that had home moorings versus those that were Continuous Cruisers. The results showed that boats that had registered with BW as having home moorings we more likely per capita to attract overstay notices than Continuous Cruisers.

The Kennett and Avon Boating Community website asserts that the new British Waterways proposals for the River Lea Navigation break a number of laws.

“BW appears to be going ahead with local mooring strategies in other areas which it defines as ‘hotspots’ before the pilot local mooring strategy on the Kennet and Avon Canal has even been drawn up and implemented. As far as we know, these areas are the Lee and Stort, Birmingham, the Macclesfield Canal and the Southern Grand Union.

As we have discovered from the consultations and the subsequent local mooring strategy steering group meetings on the Kennet and Avon, local mooring strategies are likely to be targeted at boats without moorings and especially at liveaboard boaters without moorings.”

A London Boaters Group has been formed in response to the proposals, and a similar one has been formed for the River Lea and Stort. Members hope to research the practicality of the proposal, asking is it actually feasible to cruise by the guidelines? What is the social impact of the proposals? How would it impact on life, school, and work for continuous cruisers? How would other waterways users view the increase in boat traffic? There could be environmental issues related to the resulting extra journeys. How would increased boating affect water movement and wildlife? The proposal suggests dividing the whole of the River Lea into four ‘neighbourhoods’. BW has proposed their own boundaries to define ‘neighbourhood’, as opposed to any existing borough boundaries, for example a ward or parish boundary.

Boaters may be forced to leave jobs, friends and communities by the requirement to relocate beyond the designated neighbourhoods. Some boaters suspect that BW is under pressure remove boaters from the Olympic zone.

The London boaters group are keen for London residents to let their opinions known to BW by replying to the consultation. If you enjoy seeing boats on the canal in London please do support the boating community by making your views heard.

BW Consultations


London Boaters Community Website

Consultation Paper



Liveaboard Forum (blog)

BW Consultations

K & A Boating Community

Friday 4 March 2011

What I Did On My Half Term Holidays

By Boat-Wife, aged 38

Actually, half term is like any other week for a (part-time) working mum/hypnotherapist/blogger with two pre-school daughters. My eldest just went to the childminder for three days a week instead of the pre-school nursery.

On Monday I played ‘air drums’ to The Beatles while the girls screamed and clapped with excitement at my performance. I felt like Ringo Starr.

On Tuesday at the dinner table Big Sister asked The Doctor,
“Why did you hug mummy?”
“Because she hugged me first. It was self-defence,” explained The Doctor.
“Self-defence?” I asked. “A retaliation hug. (As opposed to a pre-emptive hug.)” I smiled.
“A hug for a hug. Yeah, as Gandhi said, ‘A hug for a hug makes everyone kind’.”

On Wednesday the Coal Boat came to deliver gas and diesel. I asked Coal Dad for a job: Admin, bookkeeping, anything really. Our living costs are just about to go up and up and I need to work more.
“I could do with some help with the bookkeeping,” he grinned. “My receipts are all over the place at the moment. In the boat, in the van, at my mums....”
His business is expanding. They’re buying another 70ft working boat.
He agreed to regularly deliver receipts, by boat, to my boat and I agreed to put them all in a spreadsheet and do his tax returns! A perfect working-from-home job for a liveaboard Boat-Wife!

I also saw my first hypnotherapy client after returning from maternity leave; I helped a lovely lady to become a non-smoker in only one session, and remembered just how rewarding this work can be!

On Thursday we played ‘Justify’, where you have to justify why some object is on the boat, and if you’re not using it, it has to go. A bag of clothes went to the Cancer Research shop, in memory of The Mellow Mum. But why oh why have the girls got so many clothes? I blame the generosity of Tank Girl: That beautiful, tattooed, body piercing, entrepreneur-super-mum, that always looks amazing, sounds interesting and cares deeply, texting and phoning and keeping me sane on the 3mph rollercoaster that is my (so called) canal life. (She gives us clothes that Tank babe has outgrown.)

Friday was laundry day. I can take two loads of laundry to the launderette in the double pushchair.
“You won’t be seeing much of me soon,” I gleefully told the launderette man. “We’re getting a new home with a washing machine and a drier!”