Wednesday 18 May 2011

Meet The Boaters: Nigel and Janet

Nigel and Janet

This is the last in my series of interviews about families living on narrowboats. 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 came very close to living in a house this year, and it was partly my friends Nigel and Janet that changed my mind about leaving the water. Although I have referred to their interview in my article about jumping ship I wanted to publish their whole interview because I found it all so inspiring and interesting! 

Janet (46) is presently working as a disability support worker, but when I first met her she was a paramedic. She started looking at boats in about 1989. She was working for a bank, which used to be in Wembley and then relocated to Uxbridge, on the outskirts of West London. She was the kind of person who hated the office and at lunchtime would go to the park or off for a walk. That’s how she found the canal, by the ‘Swan and Bottle’ pub, and saw the boats and the people living aboard.
The Swan and Bottle pub, Uxbridge

“I  got out the local map and went a-wandering. I think it was the freedom that appealed to me, taking off in your own home to wander the countryside like a gypsy with never a worry..ha ha - sounds so romantic doesn’t it? Also I was getting too old to live at home and didn’t want a mortgage, house, and bills etcetera. I met Nigel while I was going to the boat yards and it was a brilliant idea for a shag pad!

 I bought ‘Amelia Rose’ for 15 grand and for the first few days lived out of water bottles, battery powered radio and candlelight as I did not have a clue how it all worked...don’t laugh!  I loved the lifestyle, the friends, chatting to strangers, moving around ...everything. I restricted space but only after having children the engine to charge to batteries, (too noisy) and I think that’s it. 

It all changed in 2004, I just didn’t want to be there anymore, but to be honest I was hinting to Nigel to move before, for all the reasons you mentioned when we were emailing recently; 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.

I do miss it terribly but would not go back for the reason mentioned above. 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.”

Nigel - 'The Marine Engineer'
 Nigel (48) was a marine engineer, when I knew him on the Cut: A good one. He serviced my boat and everyone else’s that I knew.  He lived aboard from 1996 until 2008. Charlie was born on the 1st February 2000 and Alfie was born on the 9th April 2002.
“I moved onto Janet’s first boat as a very short term stop gap as I had nowhere else to go and needed a roof. It was only going to be for two weeks and I did not want it to be any longer. On my first morning I awoke to a frozen canal covered in snow and found that the fire had gone out...bloody freezing, but after one week at the end of a very cold January I had got the bug and Janet couldn't get rid of me. Prior to meeting Janet it would be fair to say that I knew nothing of the canals or the wonderful life that could be had on it. Janet had always wanted a boat though from her early twenties I believe.
We bought our first boat together in 1998 (Rebecca) and I was probably the catalyst for that as I didn't want to be a lodger and shagging my landlady for the rest of my days, (although it did fulfil some landlady fantasies!)

Charlie and 'Rebecca' (The boat)
‘Rebecca’ was a 70ft Bantock coal butty c1928 that had been converted around 1980 to a liveaboard. We did major work on her over the years but she was a trad style with an engine room cabin at the back for the boys, and then pretty open plan up to the front where our bedroom was.

The things I liked were that there was plenty of room inside for a boat, diesel fire, super big water tank: and moving every couple of weeks to do the toilet, water and bins etcetera usually involved a beer along the way somewhere.  My only dislike was the lack of headroom.

“If you never had a friend in the world then the Cut is the place to find them.” 

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 . 

I didn’t like changing the gas bottle when you’re in the middle of a shower in the freezing cold. When we had a pump out (got rid of that pretty quickly) and it was full you had no toilet until you got it emptied. Another thing is having to be mindful of how much water and power we were using all the time.
Charlie and Alfie
Once we had Charlie and then Alfie, 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 out side 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.  

We lived aboard for four years before Charlie arrived, and lived aboard as parents for 8 1/2 years in all. 
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. Living 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 disadvantage for kids are the dangers of water; you know what I am saying Boat-Wife.

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.

The worst things I guess would be the lack of room for all, you certainly learn how to get along with each other but if you need a bit of space and be away from the kids for a bit of chill time then you are very limited, especially when it’s cold or wet outside.

Common questions would be,
Do you have a toilet or shower? Can you stand up? Oh it looks so small, how do you all live in that?

We left only to emigrate, and I think if we had not then we may still be afloat. Living in England I had no urge whatsoever to move to a house. Having since left and now living in a house I appreciate all the luxuries in life which people take for granted: such as a never ending supply of water from taps that never run out; toilets that never have to be emptied - let alone carried in hand, a big bath and a never ending source of electricity and room soooo much room. We have a front veranda with more floor space than the whole of our boat.

It was sad to leave the canal and all of our friends but everything comes to an end eventually and if you stay anywhere for too long it will eventually change, and no one likes change so you end up hating it and fighting it rather than just enjoying what you used to unconditionally enjoy.
 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.

Uxbridge Lock

All drawings and paintings on this post are my own. (c) Boat-Wife.

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