Wednesday 26 October 2011

Living Aboard - Part 9 Pets on Board

Lyra the intrepid boat cat
I was recently asked how practical it would be to keep a pet if you are a living aboard a canal boat?

Dogs seem a popular choice of pet amongst live-aboard boaters. Canal boat cruising is something that most dogs really enjoy, with lots opportunities for exercise and new dogs and people to meet on towpath walks. As always it's important to be responsible about clearing up after your dog, so that the towpath remains pleasant for all to enjoy. It is a traffic free area for walking your dog, although you must remain aware of road bridges. It may be difficult to keep an eye on your dog while working through a lock, so you will have to decide whether your dog would be happiest confined to the boat, or alternatively tied up somewhere safely near the lock, until he (or she) gets used to boat life and you are confident that he is aware of the dangers of the water. While some dogs are happy to swim anywhere, a lock is very deep and has strong under currents. If you move on board to somewhere rural and your dog isn't used to the country life, then make sure that you keep him away from livestock and water fowl.

Cats are more than happy to walk along the gunwales and peer into the windows of your boating neighbours. They can get on and off a boat more easily than dogs. I have met several boaters who keep cats on board. Cats do get used to it, but if they are out exploring and you need to move the boat you may just have to wait for them to come home; bear in mind this could take a couple of hours. When you first move home, as most cat owners will know, you should keep them indoors for two weeks to get them used to their new environment. One cat lover I know has trained her cats to recognise the sound of treats rattled in a plastic box. She rattles this box as a signal for them to come back to the boat when it's time to go off cruising. Her other word of advice is that whenever it is possible avoid mooring too close to busy roads. 

As for other pets, you will have to judge for yourself whether your main cabin has enough room for a bird cage, hamster cage, goldfish bowl or fish tank. Have a look at the variety of boats for sale at Boatshed Grand Union to get an idea of what live-aboard canal boats are available. Some deck spaces are large enough for a rabbit hutch, but if you don't have a mooring there may not be much scope to let the rabbits run around. Having said that, I have seen two boats that kept chickens before. The first was a 50 ft live-aboard narrowboat; the couple on board had set up a small chicken coop on the grassy towpath. I also used to know a couple who sold solid fuel from their pair of working boats. They actually had enough room in one of the holds for a reasonably sized chicken run!


Ben the boat dog - from the Bert and Betty stories (

More about Lyra the Boat Cat:

Disclosure: I wrote this post for the Boatshed Grand Union website.
Visit for remote secretarial services, audio transcription, copywriting, business blogging or freelance writing commissions.

Monday 24 October 2011

How to Change Your Life - in four lines.

Leo Babauta
I've been reading the Zen Habits blog for some time, nodding along in agreement with Leo Babauta's ideas on how to find simplicity in the chaos of our daily lives.

“It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.”

Zen Habits is one of the Top 25 blogs and Top 50 websites in the world, with about 225,000 readers, and it is uncopyrighted. The blog is 'reader supported', which means it's advert and affiliate free. Leo sells books and ebooks through his blog. 

While I love and agree with Leo's ideas I have yet to put any of them into action. But a recent blog post of his summed up his methods into a manageable nutshell.

The Zen Habits Method

1. Start very small.
2. Do only one change at a time.
3. Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
4. Be grateful for every step you take.

The full article is here
Leo then clarified the 'single change' method here Make one change

I am a wife and mother, a writer, and a freelance secretary. I have anxiety habits and feel overwhelmed by the amount of things that somewhere in my past I decided I should achieve. My email inbox needs more than de-cluttering – I have simply subscribed to too many blogs, newsletters and job alerts from freelancing websites. I'm a narrowboater so I have extra chores like filling the water tank, moving the boat and getting rid of domestic waste. I'm also a student of the online course Become a Mumpreneur (Affiliate link) I work very hard but lack focus. My new business is not bringing in enough money.

I'm going to start very small. I'm going to make one change. I will be present and enjoy the activity. I will be grateful for the step that I take.

My Zen Habit this week is to begin to transcribe medical letters for an online dictation company. It's not glamorous or creative. But it's a step towards building up a work-at-home business.

I have written it down. That means it will happen.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Living Aboard Part 8 Where's My Nearest...?

If you're thinking of buying a boat to live-aboard and go on an extended cruise you may well like to know how far would it be between Elsan points and water taps, shops, pubs, visitor moorings and winding holes.

The Nicholsons Waterways guide for your local area (published by Collins) shows sewage or 'Elsan' disposal points and water points. They also show boatyards, refuse disposal points and recycling points. They are written with boaters, walkers and cyclists in mind and contain coloured Ordnance Survey maps marked out with locks, towpaths and boating facilities. The informative text contains navigational notes, places of interest, waterways wildlife, pubs, restaurants, walks and cycle rides. Many places are listed with their postcode which is very handy for locating yourself using the internet, sat-nav or a smart phone.

Every lock, aqueduct and bridge is marked so that you can plan your journey accordingly, and calculate your likely journey time. Add the number of miles to the number of locks on your planned cruise and then divide that figure by three. This will give you roughly the number of hours that your journey may take, but with narrowboating prepare to be relaxed about punctuality!

The introduction to each guide always contains some useful information for waterways users including boating basics, safety guidelines, mooring advice, and how to use a lock.

For grocery shops, GPs, cash points and the other bare necessities of life you will need the local First Mate's guide by Carole Sampson.

These focus on facilities within walking distance of the canal and include telephone boxes, internet cafes, dentists, vets, hospitals with A&E, chemists, travel links, launderettes, takeaways, churches and more: Everything you might need for a life on the move. Carole's friendly, informal introduction includes advice on using Poste Restante, and other tips on using the guide books. The layout is very different to the Nicholson's guide, focussing instead on the centre of each local town, it's facilities and good places to moor. I like her added suggestions of a “nip-to” now and then, which is something useful nearby, a very short walk from the canal. These are very helpful books containing essential information but without the descriptive narrative that is characteristic of the Nicholson's guide.

Pearson's Canal Companions cover much of the network, with a homespun feel and a chatty and lively narrative.

Richlow guides are "written by people who go there". Christine Richardson and John Lower set up Richlow  to publish books of the canals and rivers adjacent to the tidal river Trent. But the area has widened, with the whole of the South Pennine Ring, and the North Yorkshire Waterways added. Modern short-run production methods mean that they are kept up to date and very accurate.

On the internet you can find  which is a very good route planner with itineraries and virtual cruises. Water-Way is  based on the Nicholson's Guides plus much more.

So when looking for a boat to buy you can also enjoy planning the journeys ahead and how long it might take you to get to where you want to be.

“If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Lewis Carroll

If your boat is quite long, (ours is 70ft) you may have to factor in plenty of time to turn around at the next winding hole. How far apart the shops are depends on how far apart the towns are where you are cruising. But I can guarantee that you are never far from a canal side pub.

If you want to buy a canal boat to live-aboard, have a look at the boats for sale on Boatshed Grand Union. Search terms like "narrowboat", "broad beam" or "Dutch barge" will help you to find the second hand boat you are looking for.

Thanks to John Warner for the idea for this article.

Disclosure: I wrote this post for Boatshed Grand Union. It was my choice to republish it here.
This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.

Monday 17 October 2011

How to Start a Freelance Writing Career in 24 Hours or Less

I found this article ages ago and  I really liked it. But does it work? I promised myself I would publish this as a guest post when I had completed the steps below.
How to Start a Freelance Writing Career in 24 Hours or Less for $0
If you want to start a freelance writing career, it’s as simple as sitting down and taking the steps listed below. You can literally do everything in 24 hours or less – and it won’t cost you a cent. The only thing it costs is time – sweat equity.

If you want to start a freelance writing career, following is a three-step plan of action to get you there. By tomorrow, you can officially say, "I’m a freelance writer."

Steps to Starting a Work-from-Home Freelance Writing Career
1. Put Up a Blog: You need a web presence as a freelance writer. So, instead of putting up a website (which has hosting fees and may require skills beyond your level), simply throw up a blog. A blog and a website are both web presences. They’re just used differently. For now, what you need is a web presence, and a blog will do just fine.
Start with a free one you can get from blogger (dot com) or wordpress (dot com). By putting up a blog, you can’t use the, "I don’t have the time, knowledge, money or skill to build a website" excuse. Once you get an official website, you can move everything over later.
What to Put On Your Freelance Writing Blog
On your freelance writing blog, list three things: your writing samples (which we’ll discuss below); your professional profile/bio (make it short and relevant); and your rates. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Cost: $0; Estimated Time to Complete: Up to an hour (keep things simple).
2. Writing Samples: This the one thing that stops most wannabe freelancers dead in their tracks. Don’t let it.
If you don’t have writing samples – simply sit down and write a few articles for each niche you plan to target. I recommend three to five to start. All potential clients want to see is evidence of your writing ability. Whether you’ve been published before is irrelevant to 90-95% of clients.
Cost: $0; Estimated Time to Complete: 3-5 hours, depending on how many samples you plan to write. Figure on average one article (400-600 words) per hour.
3. Marketing List: Once you have your writing samples and your web presence ready to go, it’s now time to start prospecting/marketing for clients. This is perhaps the most difficult part of starting your freelance writing career.
Hit the web, the best way to find contact information. Target anyone and everyone you think can use your writing services – web design firms, internet marketing firms, ezines, magazines (although these take forever), advertising agencies, etc.
Compile a list of 20-25 prospects you can contact each day. Marketing for writing jobs is simply a numbers game. Before long, you will land a client – I practically guarantee it.
Cost: $0; Estimated Time to Complete: 2-5 hours.
If you spend a full day of 10-12 hours doing everything listed here, you will have pulled together everything you need to start a freelance writing career. Market religiously every day to 20-25 prospects and before long, will have a successful, work-from-home career that you can do from anywhere.
Freelance writing is not brain surgery. Don’t over think it – just do it!

May be reprinted with the following, in full: Yuwanda Black is the publisher of The Authority Site on How to Start a Successful Freelance Writing Career. Site features first-account freelance success stories, e-courses, ebooks, marketing advice and more! Want to make money today as a freelance writer? The e-report How to Make $100/Day or More as a Freelance Writer! tells you how.

So, How Did I Do?

1) Blog
2) Writing samples
3) Marketing list 

I must say, it took me more than 24 hours, but I have actually been paid for writing, which officially makes me a freelance writer. My marketing list is an ongoing project and is not particularly long at the moment, but at least I have an idea where I am headed.
I've also been really inspired by a writer called Antonia Chitty from Become a Mumpreneur (Affiliate link). Visit her websites for free ecourses and lots of advice and info on becoming a freelance writer and mumpreneur.

Now go ahead and start your own writing career. Let me know how you do! Leave a link to your new writers website as a comment below.

Friday 14 October 2011

The Narrowboat Wife Shop is Open!

A selection of lovely things from my narrowboat life. 

Emily's shop Image Credit
Emily's shop was rather an unusual shop because it didn't sell anything. You see, everything in that shop window was a thing that somebody had once lost, and Emily had found, and brought home to Bagpuss.

Everything in Peggy's shop window was either something she'd made, or something she'd found, and liked, and brought home to her narrowboat. She didn't have a shop window. Just a page. You will see it's quite a random selection of things, with prices ranging from absolutely free to £35.00 It's only just opened so browsing around will take just a few moments. I'll let you know when I find more lovely things to put in the shop.

Uxbridge Lock: Watercolour

An 8" x 6" canvas print of this painting is small enough to hang in any narrowboat, or could fill a niche in the house of someone who just loves the waterways. 
Painted in watercolour by Peggy.

Have you ever wondered what it is like to live on a narrowboat with children? Is it cold in winter? What if the children fall in the water? All of your questions answered! 
Free ebook!

Massage For Your Mind: Hypnosis MP3 £8.99
This hypnotherapy MP3 download offers help to improve mental calmness, physical relaxation, confidence, competence, and better quality sleep.  Suggestions spoken by clinical hypnotherapist Peggy Melmoth.
Relax and imagine you're drifting along England's waterways.

I was looking for memoirs of families living aboard (and there aren't that many about!) when I discovered this one. I have great respect for any family that attempts to refurbish a boat while living aboard. Marie’s boat is called ‘Happy Go Lucky’ and at the beginning of the story Marie is anything but that. But I loved the way that as the story progresses the couple become more relaxed and dishevelled, the waterways begin to change them, and they find out that sometimes less is more.

Have you read any good narrowboat books? Let me know!

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Living Aboard - Part 7 Computers and Internet

When I first started living on a narrowboat in the year 2000 my computer connected to the internet very slowly via a blue tooth connection to my mobile phone, but technology has improved a lot since then.
If you're looking for a used boat to buy as a live-aboard home then you're probably already using the internet to browse sites like Boatshed Grand Union, where there are up to eighty photos of each second-hand boat, barge and narrowboat for sale.

When you're using a computer on board, a laptop or net-book is a good space saving idea and can be run off a 150 watt inverter, (although you may have a much bigger inverter depending on your personal domestic requirements aboard.) A good sized domestic battery bank is important if you wish to use your computer a lot. However, if you have a mooring with a mains electric supply you could choose a full sized desktop computer, perhaps selecting a flat screen monitor to save space. When you're on the move a desktop PC runs best from a pure sine wave inverter. A small uninterruptable power supply (UPS) maybe be a good investment if you are depending on an unpredictable electric supply for a desktop PC.

A printer will work off your usual mains supply or from an inverter if you are cruising, but make sure that you store your paper reams in a completely dry place. A laser printer has particular power requirements, so check this when you are buying one.

If your boat has a permanent residential mooring with electric shoreline and a standard telephone line then your internet connection can be arranged the same way as it would be in a house. This could be perfectly adequate for you if you feel that you won't require internet access when the boat is out and about cruising.

Mobile broadband is provided by mobile phone companies, who will also sell you an internet dongle as part of the package. This is a small piece of hardware which is inserted into a USB port on your computer. Price packages offer a variety of data usage allowances which you will select depending on whether you want to just send an occasional email, or, at the other end of the scale live stream TV and music.  Your mobile broadband connection speed will depend on network capability, modem capability, signal strength, and the number of other users on the network at that time. There are booster antennas available for all types of dongle, but a cheaper solution is to first try using a 3 meter length of USB extension cable, male one end, female the other, and mount your dongle in a different place, away from your computer, perhaps in the window or in the cratch of the boat.

Alternatively, you may be happy to simply access the internet via a smart phone, such as an iPhone. It is now even possible to create a mobile WiFi hot spot on your boat, where your phone, computer and other devices can connect wirelessly to the internet with something like the Three Mifi device.
You might also consider the T-Mobile Wireless Pointer. This does the same thing, but can also accept an external antenna, which is useful in poor signal areas. The Boaters Phone Company can supply a suitable aerial.

Technology and the internet has improved so much since I was first looking for a boat to buy.

The Boatshed formula of traditional brokerage using local knowledge and world beating technology  has proved very successful on all of the Grand Union, including the London Canals, as well as the River Lee Navigation.

The Boatshed Grand Union website offers a search facility to make it easy to browse live-aboard boats for sale within your price range, and you can contact James or Phil directly if you have any questions about a particular boat. Use search terms such as "narrowboat", "broad beam" or "Dutch barge" and register on the website to see the full range of photographs of each boat.

Thanks to Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons blog for recommending the T-Mobile Wireless Pointer.
You may also like this post: MiFi changed my life!

Disclosure: I wrote this post for the Boatshed Grand Union website. It was my choice to re-publish it here where I hope it is of interest to you.

Visit for remote secretarial services, copywriting, business blogging or freelance writing commissions.

Monday 10 October 2011

I can paint Roses and Castles!

The sound of sirens and beeping horns, the stench of bus fumes and cigarettes jostle for attention through rude rucksacks and grumpy faces as I walk through Kings Cross. So as I enter the London Canal Museum, (which is secretly tucked up behind the Caledonian Road) my boots trip-trap conspicuously across the silent wooden floorboards. The train made me late for the roses and castles painting workshop and everybody else has started painting roses on paper plates. Tricia is friendly and relaxed though, as she welcomes me to the class, and I catch up quickly.
So, you start with three blobs, then a nose and a smile. Yes these are the technical terms that I can understand. On top of that, you paint three commas and then three swishy brush strokes.
“Comma, comma, comma, swish, swish, swish.” I can remember that!
The working boatmen didn't have much time to paint their livery, Tricia tells us. They had to snatch a moment here and there while waiting for orders. So this folk art is quick to do, and before lunch we have progressed on to painting plant pots. I am left feeling satisfied with how much I can achieve in such a short amount of time.
Tricia seems to have been somehow connected to England's canals for much of her life, as she drops into conversation her previous cruises and boats, her friendships with working boat people in the sixties, her current floating home in Little Venice, and fourteen years of experience painting roses and castles. Her theory is that this folk art may have originated in Persia.

I can paint roses now!

In the afternoon I feel confident enough to splash out a few roses on to the green tub that I wrote about last week on Magpie Monday. Next, we paint the time-honoured castles, bridges and mountains on to pieces of wooden board; this is a slower process but perhaps even more satisfying than the roses. I decided not to paint the large tray that I bought in a charity shop last week, but instead bought a piece of white-washed board from Tricia.
I resist the temptation to slightly stick out my tongue whilst I concentrate on building up the layers of paint, copying Tricia, step by step. We're using acrylics and she says we should varnish it later with something like Ronseal hard glaze.
It probably takes about two hours to paint the castles, but the time flies by as we giggle at our mistakes, and Tricia is patient, easy going and always encouraging. The class is small, there's just seven of us and we share a long table on the mezzanine with plenty of natural light flooding in from the canal basin.

I am quite proud of my first time effort

I haven't painted for years and my creativity has been reignited. I feel inspired to become a regular magpie, seizing bargains from charity shops and painting them in this traditional style. So watch out friends, family and foes, you are all getting home-made Christmas presents this year!

The next roses and castles painting workshop at The London Canal Museum is on 27th November and costs £25

Tricia Parrott runs evening and weekend classes in Roses and Castles, narrowboat livery and lettering, and international styles of folk-painting. She is a professional signwriter who learned the craft in Braunston boatyard in the early 1970's.
For more information contact Tricia directly on 0207 2896323

I am linking this post up to Magpie Monday, to update the other magpies on what happened to my little green tub!
Me and My Shadow

You may also like my article about Learning Opportunities at the London Canal Museum and my watercolour painting of Uxbridge Lock.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Living Aboard Part 6: Home Comforts

Living aboard a narrowboat

I am sometimes asked, have you got a TV, shower or toilet on a live-aboard narrowboat? Most boats for sale have all of the above and depending on your budget you can have all mod-cons including a bath, microwave, dishwasher and washing machine! The complicated part is do you have a big enough water tank and an electric system that can cope with the demands of modern life? Running these modern luxuries is easier if you are on a mooring with 240 volt electric supply and your own water tap. If you are continuously cruising you will need to find out about generators and invertors and make sure that you have a good sized water tank. Chemical toilets can either be the pump-out type, which is emptied at a pump out point (pumped out by a machine), or an Elsan (sometimes called a ‘porta potty’) which can be emptied by hand into a sewage disposal point. An Elsan toilet will need emptying more often than a pump out, but may be supplied with a spare cassette (sewage container).

The cooking will be done on gas, and may be a mini hob and oven in a smaller boat, but will often be a full size cooker. It will sometimes run off butane, but more commonly the gas bottles installed on the boat will be propane. Fridges can be 12 volt electric or alternatively they might run off gas. 12 volt fridges may drain your power if your battery bank is inadequate, so you could add a large solar panel on the roof. A gas fridge has a pilot light which will go out when the gas runs out and will then require re-lighting. Most fridges will have a small freezer compartment but a full size freezer is uncommon on a boat because of the 240 volt power that it requires. If you are on a mooring with a permanent 240 volt supply this may not be a problem for you.

Domestic hot water may be heated by a number of means. A common solution is a tankless gas water heater such as a Paloma or a Morco which supply instant hot water. This requires a gas flu to be fitted above it, through the roof of the boat. Alternatively you may have a hot water tank, heated by a gas boiler and this could also heat a radiator system.

A calorifier is a hot water tank containing one or more coils of copper pipe, which heat the water. The heat in the coils may come from the engine cooling system, a solid fuel back boiler or both.

Water tap to fill the water tank
If you don't have a big enough water tank and an electric system that can cope with the demands of modern life this can be more easily rectified than major alterations in a house. If you see a boat for sale that you like, remember that electric systems can be improved, domestic boat batteries can be added, a generator can be bought and water tanks can be expanded. There are live-aboard boats to suit all budgets for sale at  Boatshed Grand Union has second hand narrowboats, wide-beams and barges for sale on the Southern Grand Union Canal and London inland waterways.

Wind generator on a narrowboat roof

Disclosure: I was commissioned to write this post for the Boatshed Grand Union website. It was my choice to re-publish it here where I hope it is of interest to some of my readers.

Visit for remote secretarial services, copywriting, or freelance writing commissions.

Visit Become a Mumpreneur for free eCourses and more.

Monday 3 October 2011

Magpie Monday

I'm so excited that on 9th October I'm going to learn how to paint roses and castles at the London Canal Museum.

I went to a couple of charity shops and bought this green metal tub to paint roses on, and a big tea tray to paint a castle on. I need to white-wash over those birds on the tea tray.

The folk art of roses and castles was traditionally painted on the narrow boats themselves and their fixtures and fittings such as the water cans. They were traditionally on the cabin doors and the side of the boat next to the name of the boat owner or carrying company.

Although at one time it was thought the painting style came from gypsies, that was later found to be untrue, and the origins of the art remain unclear.

I'll be posting up new pictures of my artistically transformed objects when they're done.

I'm linking this post up to Miss Lizzie at Me and My Shadow blog, where other bloggers  have written about cool second hand stuff they have found.

Me and My Shadow