Monday 19 December 2011

How do you steer a narrowboat whilst also looking after the children?

Once a month I take the boat to Cowroast boatyard for diesel, and a sewage pump out.
“Don't go out on the front deck, and you know where I am if you need anything don't you my love?” Big Sister nods.
I leave her dancing to The Wiggles in the living room while I put toddler reins on my youngest and secure her safely to the sturdy brass mushroom vent on the roof. She then requests a blanket, a pillow, Peppa Pig, Gaston the cuddly ladybird and the doll known only as 'Big Baby'. We are ready to go.
“Mummy, don't want it, move boat,” she says with a sad face and big brown eyes, tugging at my heart strings.
I stride off down the muddy towpath and bash the mooring pegs from side to side with a mallet to loosen them, before heaving them up out of the ground. It's now 10.15 am and we're off. My little one puts in another request.
“Mummy, Little Baby.”
“I can't get more toys now my love, I'm steering the boat,” I explain apologetically.
“Mummy, hold hands.”
“In a minute. I'm just steering around this corner,” I say, pushing the tiller across.
I breathe in Tring's steep wooded cutting in Autumn and look up into a mild grey November sky. The little one smiles like sunshine at me. Yellow, green and brown trees are reflected in the canal water. Leaves are floating like confetti on a puddle and trees on either bank lean softly towards each other to whisper winter somethings.
“Hello Mummy,” whispers my fluffy hooded baby, watching me. Two ducks pass us quietly in the opposite direction.
“Mummy! Baby ducks.”
“Did you see a baby one?”
“Yeah,” she smiles and pauses.
“Mummy, pancake.”
“I can't get a pancake, I'm driving the boat,” I explain.
A small black sign on the towpath tells me we're 56 miles from Braunston.
“Mummy, tired,” she says mournfully, but then her mood picks up as we travel under an arched bridge.
“Ah, ah!” she says, experimenting with the sound of her voice echoing.
As we come out of the other side of the bridge she begins to sing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', gently rocking from side to side. I smile warmly and start to join in.
“No, MINE!” she says angrily and is quiet for a while. Then she looks at the notepad and paper beside me.
“Mummy, draw mouse.”
“I can't, I'm steering the boat,” I reply. Around the corner I spy The Peg Boat, which is fondly familiar to me. It is a red narrowboat on board which lives a lovely man who paints roses and castles and his wife who makes dolls out of old fashioned wooden pegs. I like seeing the same boats pootling around the same area; you can get to know people, it's like a village community.
My daughter begins to cry.
“Mummy, huggle.”
“I can't huggle at the moment because I'm steering the boat. I can hold hands,” I offer and lean forwards to clutch her tiny hand, my other hand still holding the tiller. We're near Tring station and hear a train rushing to London.
“Choo choo!” she says, smiling. I join in.
“Choo choo!”
“No! MY choo choo,” she starts to cry again and asks for a huggle. Sunshine breaks through the trees.
“Mummy, wee toilet.”
“I'm sorry darling, I'm steering the boat.” I have pre-empted this eventuality. She is wearing disposable pull-up pants. She lies down and holds my hand again. A smile lights up her face, she looks contented. It is quiet except for the chugging of the engine.
After the next bridge we see the first of the moored boats that line the waterway up to Cowroast lock and I steer towards the bank. We moor up in time for lunch and I take the happy girls into a huge green field for a run about.

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