Tuesday 26 April 2011


The Eagle
Photo by Flickr member Ewan Munroe

"Up and down the City Road
In and out of The Eagle
That's the way the money goes
Pop goes the weasel!"

Then everything  seemed to happen quite quickly. On Valentine’s day we had a nostalgic date at The Eagle (the venue of our first date). I described my perfect boat to The Doctor. It would be a 70 foot narrowboat, green, with side hatches and a ‘boatman’s cabin’. A boatman’s cabin is a small bedroom at the back of the boat replicated like the original cabins of historic working boats, and decorated with traditional roses and castles. Side hatches, or ‘loading doors’ are just double doors at the height of the gunwale that let in lots of daylight when open in summer, and can be used as occasional doors.  I’ve always fancied having the living room at the front of the boat with glass doors to the front deck so that you can look out at the glistening water up ahead.
But what would The Doctor like?
“I don’t know really,” he smiled. “A bigger kitchen would be good.” The Doctor is a very good cook.

We talked about leaving London (again) and moving to The Countryside. Although I love Denham Country Park and the area where the nurse and her daughter sometimes go cruising, the Doctor said that commuting to the Multiversity would be a nightmare from there.  Hertfordshire would be a better choice for us for travelling in to work.

I had happy memories of Hertfordshire and the Wendover canal festival. A long time ago, not long after I bought my first boat I met The Marine Engineer and his wife moored near the canal festival. They had a beautiful 70 foot Bantock coal butty (circa 1928) that was converted around 1980 to a liveaboard. She was a trad style with the engine room cabin at the back for the two young boys, and then open plan up to the front where the bedroom was.  I remember The Original Boat-Wife smiling, standing looking out of the side hatch holding her tiny first-born son, only a few months old. They were moored just a few yards from a country pub, The Grand Junction Arms at Bulbourne. Their life looked idyllic. I dreamed of having that same kind of life one day.

Looking for a new boat means drooling over boat-porn on the internet; all varnished wood and brass knockers.  When I was looking for my first boat I feasted my eyes on glossy waterways magazines and caught trains all over England to boatyards full of gleaming paintwork and tongue and groove interiors. More than ten years later things have changed and so much of the searching can be done on the internet. After a couple of weeks of casual browsing the Doctor sent me an email with no words, just a link to a boat brokerage site.

There, before my eyes was a 70 foot narrowboat, green, with side hatches and a boatman’s cabin. The living room was at the front of the boat with double glass doors to the front deck so that you can look out at the glistening water up ahead. This made the spacious oak floored lounge light and airy. The furniture was custom built in reclaimed timber and included a bookshelf that converted into a desk. The diesel heater was styled like a solid fuel stove and heated the whole length of the boat via large copper radiator pipes. The main living space was open plan with a big kitchen that had antique oak fronted cupboards: the kitchen flooring was a pattern of antique oak and slate.

The bathroom had doors closing across the corridor giving the room the full width of the boat. There was a large shower with a glass screen, hand basin and a pump out toilet. The bedroom seemed huge with a large double bed, fitted wardrobe and plenty of storage space.
The engine room was also a utility room containing a washing machine, tumble drier, and another side hatch, painted with the customary time honoured roses.
The beautiful, traditionally painted boatman's cabin, (with drop down double cross bed and drop down table) contained a 1500 watt pure sine wave inverter, and a radiator, as well as seating and storage. There was even a built in, marinised 4kva generator.

The boat was moored on the Aylesbury Arm; just a few miles from the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal, and not far from the Grand Junction Arms at Bulbourne.
The boat broker said that I could come up to see it tomorrow. It would be particularly convenient for him as he has to show it to another bloke tomorrow.
“He’s pretty keen on it.”
I got competitive. I arranged to see the boat an hour before That Other Bloke’s appointment.

Photo by Phil Bassett

Monday 25 April 2011

The Boating Community

I’d been so lonely, travelling for so long. I longed for a sense of community (and my own bedroom, and a washing machine...)

Liveaboard boater/mum/nurse
I know a nurse who lives aboard with her eight year old daughter. Shehas lived on canals for fourteen years and likes everything about boating but she told me,
“The best things are a wonderful sense of community and belonging, looking after my neighbours and feeling looked after. Financial freedom, change of scene, great friends and canal family, lots of colourful characters and musical gatherings.” She still lives aboard now.

The Marine Engineer lived aboard for twelve years before ‘jumping ship’. He lived aboard with The Original Boat-Wife and their two sons. He said,
“The lifestyle was brilliant, if you never had a friend in the world then the Cut is the place to find them, summers are wonderful for socialising and getting together, moving around all the time was for me the greatest part of it all. A different view every couple of weeks and even when you were somewhere that was not great you knew that very soon you would be moving on again. Generally we always tried to find somewhere really remote and out of the way so there was no one around for miles, or we would be very close to the pub which was equally as nice but for completely different reasons. last but not least the pleasure of just picking up my rod and fishing whilst carrying on with the rest of my life. At times I fished from the moment I got up until I left the boat and started again as soon as I got home: wonderful.”

Marsworth towpath (Herts)
The Marine Engineer’s wife was the first Boat-Wife I ever met. When I asked her about boating she told me,
“I loved the lifestyle, the friends, chatting to strangers, moving around - everything. I  hated...er....er...er...um...restricted space, but only after having children, and...er...running the engine to charge to batteries, too noisy and I think that’s it.”

But surely children make life aboard so much more difficult?

The nurse said, “ I enjoyed living on the boat even more when my daughter was born, because I spent a lot more time at home with her and enjoyed walking along the towpath whilst pushing her in her buggy. I knew a good few boat mums and felt quite connected. We travelled on the boat a lot as well before she started school, so it was a great adventure.
We do so much off the boat, she is well loved on the canal. My daughter does like going up to Denham and being at the country park”.

Denham Country Park offers 69 acres of rambling walks and woodland footpaths. It is surrounded by the Grand Union Canal and the rivers Colne and Misbourne.
“Being on the boat, means that I get to spend more time with my daughter because I don't have to work like mad to pay rent or a mortgage and I like being there for her.”

Marsworth towpath
The Marine Engineer and his wife lived aboard for four years before their first son arrived and lived aboard as parents for 8 1/2 years in total.

The Original Boat-Wife said that sometimes she would drop hints to The Marine Engineer about moving, for some of the same reasons that I have been thinking about,
“Laundry, cramped space - especially when it was raining, dragging shopping and kids from the car to the boat; and I was always paranoid about the water.”

But The Marine Engineer said,
 “Once we had children I think my feelings pretty much stayed the same. to be honest we had a better social life on the Cut with kids than we ever would have had in a house. You can be outside with friends and the kids inside asleep or outside playing with you, and when we moored outside or near a pub a really good quality baby monitor meant we could sit in the pub have a few drinks and the boys would be asleep inside a locked boat and very safe.

The advantages for kids are the outside lifestyle, growing up knowing and understanding a non orthodox way of life, great education of life and nature. Healthy living - having to walk to many places sometimes a long way to get to the shops or even just the car. We lived in some of the most beautiful places in England. Oh yeah, and did I mention getting to have the pub garden (swings, slides and the rest) as your own little garden when you were moored up outside?

The downside for children is the dangers of water, you know what I am saying Boat-Wife.”

When interviewing boating families I asked them,
What are the most common questions that people ask you about living on a boat?
The answers were always, “Is it cold in winter? And, “Aren’t you worried about your children falling in the canal?”

I asked, what are the best things for children living aboard?
The Marine Engineer said,

“As a parent the greatest thing for me was teaching and watching my boys learn how to swing a lock gate and lift and lower paddles properly etcetera, at an age where most other kids would not have a clue what they were even for.

We left only to emigrate, and I think if we had not then we would still be afloat. Living in England   I had no urge whatsoever to move to a house. “

The Original Boat-Wife said,

“I do miss it terribly but would not go back for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. What do I miss? the shock on people’s faces when you say you live on a boat. The friends, the pubs and social life; talking to complete strangers on the towpath and not being treated or treating anyone like a psycho murderer, the peace and quiet, no traffic, crowds, noisy neighbours and of course the beautiful English countryside like nowhere else on earth.

It was the best time of my life and I wouldn’t swap it for the world, a house is great...bigger though more expensive, more mod cons, and cleaning! Believe me cleaning a boat was fun compared to a big house. If we didn’t emigrate we would be still on the boat unless we moved completely away to the countryside, somewhere quiet, remote and beautiful and I doubt that would have happened.”

The Marine Engineer told me,
“What I am trying to say is that of all the chapters in my life, the canal would be the longest, and holds truly some of the greatest, loveliest memories I could ever wish for, it also holds the most painful as well, so for us it was a good time to go. Never look back, just forwards, but always remember what has passed, it makes you a better person at the end of the day and appreciate what you had and what you now have.

Learn from it all and then a house can be as enjoyable (for all the opposite reasons) as the canal ever was.  Take care and good luck with whatever you choose to do. At the end of the day only you can decide what is right for you guys, but I would take this opportunity to say that a mooring is different from continuous cruising, but it doesn't mean you can never move the boat -  in fact I would recommend it, every chance you get you take it. But a mooring is definitely nothing like having a house. Especially in England where a house is a hideaway, not many people know their neighbours in the street, other than the immediate next door ones maybe. But a mooring, well you know how it is. No need to tell you guys...”

These accounts of parenting on board made me realise that perhaps I could have everything I wanted if we just travelled in The Countryside instead of in and around London.

I thought that to have a sense of community we would have to settle down on a mooring. The Doctor always said that if you stay still on a mooring you might as well have a house; that there would be all the disadvantages of a boat without the advantages. But the boaters I’d interviewed from outside of London had inspired in me visions of myself in colourful clothes, huddled around a campfire, surrounded by beautiful countryside and like-minded romantic day-dreamers. I dreamed of living close to nature, the freedom of the Cut and the gaily painted charm of a traditional boatman’s cabin.

Boatman's Cabin
I told The Doctor that maybe I didn’t have to have a house, or a mooring. But I did want a bigger boat, with our own bedroom and a washing machine. He was so relieved. He never wanted to stop travelling, but he had been willing to give up the lifestyle that he loved, spend a vast slice of his salary on rent, council tax and bills, and see less of the children due to time spent commuting, all so that we could live in a Victorian cottage in St Albans.

A cottage in St Albans where the landlord did not want tenants with children.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

The Gallery: My Blog

Blogging On Board
This picture shows;
1) 'Cannot Display the Webpage'. This often happens when trying to communicate with the internet through a mobile dongle, when moored in the middle of rural nowhere.
2) Notebook I scribble all my thoughts in.
3) Child's cup shows how I multi-task mothering with blogging.
4) Keys attached to cork keyring - supposed to save the keys if they fall in the Cut, but probably too many keys on there now for that to work.

My blog is a memoir. A year ago I enjoyed reading a memoir of a woman who trained other women to work canal boats during the second world war. The Amateur Boatwomen – Eily Gayford
 I found the details of her day to day life a fascinating insight into a time gone by.
My family were planning on leaving London and cruising off into the sunset to explore the Kennett and Avon canal. I decided to write a diary that could one day become a book, to tell people what life aboard is like in the 21st Century and keep a record of our adventure. A friend suggested I turn it into a blog, and here it is! It is the notes for a book – and the book is nearly finished. It is a story about following your dreams. It’s a narrowboat journey. It’s a description of life as a 'continuous cruiser'. We never got to go down the K&A but we are still on a beautiful continuous adventure of discovering England’s waterways. 
I’ve found that I enjoy writing it and people keep reading it, so I’m going to keep blogging about my life and other narrowboating stuff and parenting stuff. It helps me to practice my writing and gives me loads of ideas for articles – and more books! I also really appreciate all of the comments and feedback that everyone gives me. 

What do you think of the story so far? Would you buy the book?

This post is for The Gallery. Every Friday 'top of the blogs' Tara Cain gives a prompt, an idea, a notion and bloggers go out and take a photograph using that prompt. Or use a photo they already have.
The prompt could be one word, an object, an idea, a phrase, anything, and you have to post a picture which you feel represents that prompt. Then you post it on your blog and write about it. Click below to visit Tara's 'Sticky Fingers' parenting blog and see what other bloggers are posting in The Gallery this week.

Meet The Boaters: Memories of 'Betty Blue'

Photo Credit: K&A Boating Community Website*
What makes someone decide to live aboard? Does having kids change that? Why do some families stay living aboard, and others decide that as their children grow older, it’s time to leave the waterways and live ashore? This article continues my series of interviews exploring the pro’s and cons of living afloat with children.

 Clare is 39, has three daughters and lives with her partner in Wiltshire. She is just coming to the end of her PGCE and trained as a therapeutic  counsellor before that. She lived on her boat ‘Betty Blue’  for about five years. ‘Betty Blue’ was a 70 foot narrowboat built by Colecraft.  

Clare says, “We bought ‘Betty’ as an unfinished project from someone else; my ex is a carpenter and he did most of the fit out. The only thing we had to go on was a week spent renting another boat to see if we liked it - we did! We moved on with our daughter who was two at the time and I had just found out I was pregnant with our second. After we split up I stayed on the boat with the girls, it was then that I really started to appreciate and love being on the boat (even though I was a single mother of two at the time!)

Were you on a mooring or a continuous cruiser?

We were classed as continuous cruisers and were on the Kennet and Avon (canal). I moved roughly between Pewsey and Bath but seeing as those places were separated by the Caen Hill flight I tended to spend periods of time either above or below the flight.
(The Caen Hill flight is a famous canal feature, as there are 29 locks in three groups. The locks take up to 6 hours to travel in a boat.) 

 What first attracted you to the lifestyle?  

It was my ex's idea really and I liked the idea of a travelling lifestyle  (although we didn't travel that far in distance).

‘Betty Blue’ was lined in oak, and was open plan with one bedroom and one door! My boat was my sanctuary and I loved nothing better than battening down the hatches and shutting the world out.  It had a pump out toilet which made the boat quite smelly the further into it you got.  I really liked the fact that individual boats had their own unique smell, it’s comforting!

The best thing about living on a boat is living lightly on the earth, feeling connected to the outside and nature, minimal housework, getting away from it all, the sound of the engine lulling babies to sleep, fires on the towpath and a sense of community. 

The worst things about living on a boat are the lack of space, people looking in your windows, muddy towpaths and the worst of the worst DOG POO (for some reason people treat the towpath as a  general dogs toilet!)

Did your attitude to living aboard change after having children? 

I've never lived on a boat without children - I bet  its lovely! 

What are the best things for children about this lifestyle? 

Connection to nature, low living costs mean you can spend time with the kids, my girls were little when we lived on the boat so we spent a lot of time together, they and I was never really out of sight. 

What are the worst things for children about this lifestyle? 

 The danger of the water, and dog poo on the towpath (which was essentially my back garden). 

 What are the most common questions people ask you about living on a boat?

"Aren't you worried about your children falling in the water?" My answer is “No”,  I'm more worried about them falling in dog poo!

 "Do you pay council tax?" My answer to that was  "Do you pay for a British Waterways license?"  

What prompted you to leave the waterways?  

After my relationship with my ex broke down I stayed on the boat for another three or four years. After a year or so on my own really getting to know myself and what I was really capable of I met my current partner. He lived on the boat with me for the next couple of years but when I fell pregnant with my third daughter we decided to call it a day. 

Although I would have stayed on the boat he wasn't keen on having a baby on there so we moved into a house and have been in one ever since. I still really miss my boaty days and sometimes see ‘Betty’ on the canal (we live close to the K & A), but I wonder if I just  look at those times with rose tinted spectacles. It was time of freedom in that I wasn't constrained by school pick up and drop off. 

 If we found ourselves stuck for somewhere to live I would rather go back to the canal than live in a cramped estate or in a big town.  Unfortunately having teenagers limits us as they (especially the eldest) point blank refuses to live on a boat again.  My partner thinks he might like to get a boat as a bolt-hole, I think once the girls have flown the nest. We would like to retire on a boat.

Clare is crafty and blogs about her crafts at Woollycraft Wonders.

To read more boaters’ interviews click on ‘Meet The Boaters’ in the tag/label cloud.

Thursday 14 April 2011

When a Boat-Wife Jumps Ship

Photo Credit: The Mirror*
When I was a little girl, younger than seven, I used to day-dream about being a gypsy. I had visions of myself in colourful clothes, huddled around a campfire, surrounded by beautiful countryside and like-minded romantic day-dreamers. I dreamed of living close to nature, the freedom of the open road and the gaily painted charm of a traditional gypsy caravan. By the time I reached my early twenties, I had acknowledged that a twentieth century horse-drawn life would be difficult, (not least because I was a little bit scared of horses.)  I began to fantasise about living in a bus! On the free-party scene in the nineties, dancing in fields to ‘illegal’ sound systems, I had friends who were ‘New Age travellers’. Their life was tough, they had to know their legal rights and be prepared to argue with the police when they knew that they were legitimately camped on common land. Drinking water was limited and hauled about in heavy containers. They were a hard working family of four who loved nature, variety and the open road, but they had to face prejudice and many other difficulties. I knew then that I was not ‘hard core’ enough to be that kind of traveller. (Not least because I didn’t have a driving licence.) I was living in a rented flat in Kentish Town when I saw a narrowboat for sale near Camden lock, and I realised that it was the life for me.

Fast forward ten years (at 3mph) through my journey from a single care-free narrowboater, to a married mother of two. I used self-hypnosis to have two natural homebirths on board, and named my eldest child after my first boat. It is only now that she is three years old,  and going to pre-school that the challenges of bringing up a young family have lead me to question my lifestyle.

Something had to change, but making the decision was agonising. What about our dream, to be boaters, travellers, writers and parents? There were difficult conversations with the handsome Doctor.  We began house-hunting in St Albans, but we were turned down three times by landlords who didn’t want tenants with children. The monthly price of rent was astronomical to us. It seemed alien to us to be offering to buy an incredibly expensive product or service and be told that the vendor is not willing to sell (rent) to us! The product was a place to live; we are used to choosing a location and stopping there. No one has ever told us that we couldn’t stay. (Except a BW warden if you over-stay at a visitor mooring – but that’s another story!)  

I wrestled with my inner-self and quarrelled with my imaginary friends. I decided to write an article or a series of articles about families who live aboard, and families who ‘jump ship’. 

I wondered, what makes someone decide to live aboard? Does having children change that? Why do some families stay living aboard, and others decide that as their children grow older, it’s time to leave the waterways and live ashore? I interviewed boaters and ex-boaters about life afloat. The first two replies that I got back completely changed my mind and changed the course of our lives all over again.

*Read Andree Frieze’s report on gypsy caravan holidays in The Mirror.
To read the boaters' interviews click on 'Meet The Boaters' in the tag cloud.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Welcome to the 2011 MAD Blog Awards!

The MAD Blog Awards celebrate great British families and their blogs, and they want you to tell them about your favourite Mum and Dad blogs of 2011.  

They will be awarding prizes and MAD Blog Awards to 15 talented bloggers in 2011. 

I am very new to blogging but have worked really hard on it during the last six months. I’ve been loving it, learned technical things about this ‘ere interweb thing that you wouldn’t believe!  and met some great online mums in the blog-o-sphere.  

If anyone nominated me I would feel so warm inside, and proud of myself.

I wish I had time to read all the good parenting blogs out there, but I am always doing too many things at once in my Real Life, so I don’t comment enough on other people’s blogs or share the ‘blog love’ like I should.

But there’s two blogs that I do keep reading because they stick in my head and I don’t know why. So I’ve nominated  http://helloitsgemma.wordpress.com/ for best new blog. She’s just kind of funny, and interesting and ‘real’ and very readable. And her blog design looks very slick and fancy since she did that blogging course.

And for totally best blogger of the year I nominated Molly http://mothersalwaysright.wordpress.com
Because I always read her posts when they arrive in my email whereas others I admit, I skim and delete! She is funny, a good writer, great blog design. What more can I say?

So how about you? Maybe, you’ll decide to nominate Narrowboat Wife? I don’t want a prize I just want the fame and recognition! And a book deal. But I don’t think they are giving those away.

MAD Blog Awards 2011

Friday 8 April 2011

Meet The Boaters: Karolina's Family

Rainy Kensal Green
 What makes someone decide to live aboard? Does having kids change that? Why do some families stay living aboard, and others decide that as their children grow older, it’s time to leave the waterways and live ashore? I’ve begun to interview some boaters and ex-boaters about life afloat.

Karolina, (32) is a finance officer and lives with Grzegorz, (27) a sound technician, and their daughter who is fifteen months old. They bought their first narrowboat in April 2009, so have lived aboard for two years. They are “continuous cruisers” who sometimes take a winter mooring. She loves the peace and quiet of canal life.

Karolina, what first attracted you to the boating lifestyle?

There are no noisy neighbours, you can sightsee London easily, it’s close to nature and on top of it. We could not get a loan for buying a flat so this was a nice alternative. My husband always dreamed of living on a boat, he is a "sailor soul."

Our boat is a 40 foot, traditional, BMC1.5 (engine) I love my plants on the roof. The down sides of this boat are that there is less space for a spare gas bottle, and we need to fold and unfold our table every time after eating.
The best things about living on a boat are being close to nature - birds, peace – and escaping from the rush of London.

The worst thing about living on a boat is winter - you need to be careful with the heating (not too hot, and not too cold, and not to run out of coal etcetera).

After having our daughter I would say that the worse elements are these same things.

I lived in Germany for four or five years before moving to the UK, and we moved together to the UK in Autumn 2008, so we have lived for one year in the UK before having children. I think the best thing for children about this lifestyle are that you can feed ducks from the kitchen window!

So what are the worst things for children about the boating lifestyle?

I just wonder how I will commute to work and nursery once the winter mooring has finished and we have to cruise again.

What are the best and worst things for parents about living aboard?

My daughter will speak English without any troubles! But the worst thing is that we are too far from the grandparents and all family - I feel quite often isolated, we do not have here many friends who would do babysitting.

What are the most common questions people ask you about living on a boat?

Is it cold in winter? And is there any risk that my daughter will drop in to the water?

What encourages you to stay living aboard? Can you imagine anything that might change your mind about living afloat?

Poland is quite an expensive country; it is easier to live in the UK for us at the moment. We might move to Poland only due family reasons, for example, if our parents were ill.

Click on the label/tag Meet The Boaters (in the side bar) to read more boat family interviews.

Sunday 3 April 2011

The Charcoal Mellowed Mum

30th January*

The charcoal mellowed mum drinks a particular brand of Tennessee Whisky. We don’t realise what a blessing it is to grow old with someone: What a privilege it is to be dripped through sugar maple charcoal and aged in the barrel. She buys a skirt in the cancer research shop but £5.95 is a drop in the deep ocean of the scientific study of cancer. She drinks a drop of golden Jack Daniels and watches a romantic chick flick. Her mind is like a spider, wandering. She has always thought churchyards and death memorials to be beautiful dedications of love. A grave yard is a garden of memories, powerful tributes to loved ones. Sad, yes, but beautiful, especially the rose garden in the canal-side cemetery in west London: ‘Until I get to paradise by way of Kensal Green.’
The next day the charcoal mellowed mum has a whisky hangover. She oscillates between thoughts of living profoundly, intensely, and seizing each moment, and then sulkily thinking,
“Oh, what’s the point? We’re all going to die anyway.”

*My time-travelling blog has been 2 months behind my Real Life for nearly a year. I am now on a mission to catch up with myself. For a short while I'm going to put a big effort in to posting up the stuff I've already written so that I can blog in Real Time!

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday