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.


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