Monday 17 December 2012

12 Days of Waterways #Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my true love said to me,
“The generator won’t start.”
On the second day of Christmas my true love said to me,
“The engine has broken down.”
On the third day of Christmas the marine engineer said to me,
“I’ve got a bloke who can rebuild that injector pump but it will take him a few days.”
On the fourth day of Christmas we borrowed the neighbour’s generator to top up the batteries. On the fifth day I worked on my computer at my friend’s house because we didn’t have much electric left. Did I mention the invertor had broken again too?

On the sixth day I said to my two loves, my children,
“You cannot watch TV because there is not enough electric, but we can light candles.”
They are loving the candles and find them very exciting – like a birthday cake.
By the seventh day of Christmas we were very low on water and the engine was fixed. But we could not move the boat to the water point because the canal had frozen. The marine engineer dropped round with his invoice and we had a chat about living in houses and what you may or may not miss about living on the Cut. He and his family lived on a boat for about 12 years but they live in a house now.

On the eighth day of Christmas I pulled the aquaroll down the towpath to the tap to fill with water. There was frost on the ground and a gentle mist on the canal; it looked like a beautiful Christmas card. Beside the old arched bridge while the ducks walked on ice I found that the tap and pipes at the water point were frozen. We will have no running water today. I took the empty aquaroll back home.

On the ninth day of Christmas I went to my eldest daughter’s nativity play in the local church. On the way to church she asked me,
“Mummy, have you ever lived in a house?”
“Yes darling, when I was younger. And when I was a little girl I lived in a house with Grandma and Grandad.”
The play was called The Very Hopeless Camel. It’s her very first nativity and my daughter looked cute. She sang very well and was dressed as a sheep. My husband went to the supermarket while I moved the boat a few hundred metres to the water point. This is usually not difficult but I have never tried ice-breaking backwards before. Cruising through a partly frozen canal is sometimes necessary if you are out of water, and the ice can be broken with the bow. But without a nearby turning point the best way for us to get to the water point is to reverse there. Even though it is difficult to steer a narrowboat backwards, I must try not to hit any of my neighbour’s boats. Breaking large sheets of ice really slowed me down. But I was relieved that when I finally moored up the tap has defrosted and water ran freely!

I filled the tank and my husband came back from the supermarket and emptied the sewage out of the toilet tank with a hand pump: It’s not all roses and castles – as they say.
We then forged forwards through the ice, moored up, had a sandwich and were out again in time to get to our youngest daughter’s Pre-School Christmas concert. She didn’t want to wear her angel costume and was too shy to sing but at least we made it there on time.

Tomorrow is the tenth day of Christmas and I will be writing my Christmas list:
One new invertor, one back-up generator, a larger water tank and plenty of cash to spend on the marine engineer.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my best friend shared with me:
Hot running water, 240 volt electric, several rooms with carpets, prosecco and dinner, and a house to spend the weekend in. We’re celebrating her birthday and my birthday in her new house.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love said to me;
“Do you think you would like to live in a house instead of a boat?”
And I said, to the glittering canal that was my first true love, to the waterways of England that have carried me for years, and to the swans at the side hatch and the ducks at the door;
“My darling English waterways, I have loved you all these years, but sometimes I do have my doubts about us living together.”

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Last posting date for the Theakletuffin thing!

Just a reminder that today is the last posting date for print orders of The Theakletuffin Book before Christmas. So if you know a small child or a big kid that would like an unusual gift this year surprise them with this lovely coffee table book. The Theakletuffin Poem. (There's a video now as well.)
PS This is the last Christmas/Book promo you will see on this blog this year. Normal Narrowboat Wife service will resume next week. I am just so excited that I finally created my picture book! :-)

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Books: The Perfect Christmas Gift

At Christmas you should receive something you want, something you need, something to eat and something to read. 

My friends at Ace Inspire have something to read covered: A special Christmas Business and Blogging Bundle for you. Get Blogging: The Essential Guide, Making Money Online and Marketing: The Essential Guide for £24 that’s a saving of £8.87!
They also have:
Commercial Writing: How to earn a living as a business writer £12.99
A Guide to Promoting Your Business (£15)
Plus a selection of ebooks ideal for those with eReaders.
The perfect gifts for business owners small or large.

Their last postal date is tomorrow 12th December so be quick!

Disclosure: I work for Ace Inspire writing the blog Become a Mumpreneur. It was my choice to share their Christmas offer on this blog, I was not paid for this post. But I do like their books - especially anything about blogging!

Monday 10 December 2012

I made a video!

I just made a 3 minute video to tell you the Theakletuffin story.

  • Quirky pictures
  • Silly words
  • Written by Peggy
  • Narrated by Peggy

Watch the video.

View the book.

Book reduced in price until 2013!

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Book Launch: A Theakletuffin Story

I have finally gone and done it and published a little book with pictures and everything. I wrote this twelve years ago when I bought my first canal boat and used to perform it in function rooms above pubs around London. I was a founder member of the Radge Poets but I wanted to be like Lewis Carroll. So I made up a lot of nonsense words and turned them into a quirky fairy-tale. 

I sent it to a major children’s publisher who surprisingly wrote back to me and said that everyone in the office loved it and laughed a lot. But regrettably they did not feel it was suitable for children. 

The grown-ups on the London poetry scene always liked it and my five year old daughter likes it too. I don’t think it’s unsuitable! But I’ll let you decide. 

This book will answer your question: What would happen to Theakletuffin Valley if the Theakletuffin queen was caught snibbledorping the Cumbleduffinbing?

Look inside the book: The Theakletuffin Poem

What do you think? Unsuitable?

Thursday 29 November 2012

Memory Book – Hobbies

Dear Daughters,

When I was little my hobbies were reading, writing and drawing. I have always loved books and we have read to you two since you were babies, so now you love books too! I remember enjoying learning to write my letters at infant school and writing poems and short stories at junior school. I was so proud when a short story I wrote was on the front page of the junior school magazine. By the time I was thirteen I was reading Jackie and Bunty comics and creating my own versions. I would pain-stakingly draw picture stories with speech bubbles for the characters. Then I would feed the pencil –coloured pages into my car boot sale typewriter and type words into the speech bubbles.

In my later teenage years I wrote angsty poems, dreamy poems and funny poems. I loved studying English literature and writing essays about Wuthering Heights. I did Art, English and Theatre Studies for A-levels and then spent four years at Art College. After a patchwork career that took me through the building industry, music industry, Friends of the Earth, the NHS and hypnotherapy, I finally got back in touch with my first true love: Writing. I became a performance poet, then a blogger and now a professional blogger and writer.

So what can I tell you about hobbies? Take notice of what you love. Do what you love to do. Never give up. Follow your heart and follow your dreams. It’s not just that my dream was to write. It’s more that I could no more stop writing or not write than I could not breathe.

Follow your dreams.- poem for my daughters.


Memory Book is a monthly slot on The Alexander Residenceblog where Penny writes down some memories for her children, there’s a theme each month, and a linky.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Water Gypsy Gets an Address

My five year old had only been in school for a few weeks when we decided we needed to move schools. When we applied for a school place last spring we were continuously cruising and so we picked a school roughly in the area where we cruise. But then we got a residential mooring and I don’t drive, so I ended up  cycling with the children in a bicycle trailer for half an hour each way to get to school and nursery: That’s two hours cycling a day, and it was going to get cold for the kids doing that in winter. Plus, they are growing too big for the trailer and it was starting to be really hard work!

So we applied to change schools to the little village school near our mooring, and you know how important an address is to a school application. The school is so small, there are only five children in reception class. One of the children in that class also lives on a boat, so I asked her mum,
“How did you do the paperwork, I mean without an address and everything?”
“Well, I just use the boater’s post-box.”
“The what?”
“You know. There’s a little post-box nailed to a wooden pole on the towpath. All of the boater’s post goes there. I can cut you a key if you like.”
Wow! I am going to have an address that is actually near to where I live! I was so excited. I have been travelling for ten years and explaining to doctors and other authorities that I do live within a certain area code, but that my post goes to a mailbox service in a different place. I actually have a post-box, and get to receive letters addressed to my boat name, in our little village. How cute!

A few weeks later I bumped into another boater at the bus stop.
“There’s post for you in the post-box you know.”
“Really?” I was surprised. I have hardly even told anyone my new address yet. It must be some admin thing from the school. My youngest and I walked down the muddy towpath and opened the little box with our key. There was a little letter addressed to our boat. Inside the letter was a home-made card from the five year old daughter of my friend who lives in a house in the nearby town. The card has a hand-drawn picture of our boat on the front and inside it says, “Hope you’ll be very happy at your mooring and at your new school/pre-school.”
What a lovely welcome to our new life in the village, and what a brilliant thing to get for our first bit of post.

Thursday 8 November 2012

More Than Just a Mum Meme

Kate blogs at Kate Takes 5 and she had a great idea to share a picture about the sort of stuff you did before you were a mum.
"I want you to post one picture on your blog of you being 'More that just Mum'. Then come back here and link it up for all to see."
I was the vocalist in a band called 'Stoked'. I was a performance poet - I sold my poetry and got paid to perform! I was a founder member of Dangerchix International. I travelled India, I rode an elephant. I had orange and blue fluorescent dreadlocks down to my waist that glowed under UV light. I was a techno-fairy. I went to illegal free parties and lounged around on the bonnet of a New York yellow cab in a field in Oxfordshire. When I was twenty-something life was very interesting and impulsive; but I don't miss it. I am also enjoying drifting quietly on the waterways with a handsome doctor and two tiny boat girls.

And Kate? She actually did aerobatics - flying a plane, loop the loops in Australia!

Dangerhix International

New! The Narrowboat Wife Weekly

If you subscribe to my monthly newsletter you may already know about the launch of my new online paper this week. I'm excited to have appointed myself editor, writer and publisher of The Narrowboat Wife Weekly! It compiles everything I've written this week into an easy-to-browse-quick-to-read format. It takes articles from all of the blogs  I write around the web, covering themes of boating, canals, business start-up advice, and true stories from my real life of living and parenting on a narrowboat.  See what you think. 

I’d love it if you would subscribe to The Narrowboat Wife Weekly. You get the headlines by email and you will only get the weekly e-paper, no other emails from anyone but me. Have a look at my newest project and please welcome into your life:  The Narrowboat Wife Weekly.

PS. If you'd prefer to just receive the monthly round-up of news you may like to sign up for my monthly newsletter and help yourself to the free eBook Narrowboat Families.

Friday 2 November 2012

Jenny From the Lock

Cowroast Lock, near Berkhamstead
A couple of weeks ago my friend texted me and said that she was headed for Bulbourne – in her boat! What this means is that after about 12 years of friendship we would finally get to moor up together.
Where r u moored? (I text).
Loose pin alley – she replies (meaning south of the bridge). It’s quieter down there. ..
I laugh at the thought that my chilled-out friend considers ‘central Bulbourne’ too busy. With a population of 126 and the occasional dog walker I suppose my side of the bridge is busier than hers.
I first met Jenny not long after I bought my first boat and we’ve been friends ever since. My earliest memories are of her soft laughter, lots of wiggly red hair and chunky silver rings. But while I worked, lived and cruised in London she gave up her London job and edged out to the countryside; first the Cowley and Uxbridge area and then up the Grand Union into the real countryside to Boxmoor, Berkhamsted, Tring, Marsworth and Cheddington. Oh how I envied the quiet and natural surroundings when I visited her. I admired her independence, and marvelled that she thought nothing of doing a lock (or five) on her own. (This was years before I would grow into this boat-wife that now does locks with two kids tied to the roof.) Jenny was gentle and hippy, witty and funny, and her boats (there’ve been a few) are always full of candlelight and cats, the smell of wood-smoke and the sound of relaxing music. To be with her is like living in my favourite part of my brain. To share a bottle of wine in a country pub is to laugh relentlessly, listen intently and glow internally. I always come away feeling like a much bigger and better version of myself; and to me she says,
“You’re good food for the soul chuck.” Jenny is from Hebdon Bridge, the hippy capital of Yorkshire, a quaint waterways town.
It was years ago, one of the first times that I told her I admired her, that J-Lo must have been in the charts because my friend’s reply was to grin and sing,
“Don’t be fooled by the boat that I got
I’m just Jenny from the Lock.”
Of course her name isn’t Jenny, because I use pseudonyms on this blog, but Jenny you know who you are and after a recent night of chats and cats, candlelight and wine I wanted to capture the wonder of our friendship into words somehow.
At the weekend we go our separate ways; me down the Marsworth flight and her back towards Berko. But for two lovely weeks we were neighbours. How lucky we are to move our homes and to find a kindred spirit on the waterways.

“Your friend is your needs answered.”
Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday 31 October 2012

All Hallows Eve on the Cut

Once upon a time, I can imagine that working boatmen may have gathered their families around the cabin stove on All Hallow’s Eve, and told ghostly stories by lamp light. 

Today my boat is moored beside this haunted bridge in Bulbourne, near Tring, in Hertfordshire. I thought I had read about some ghostly Roman soldiers being sighted somewhere near this bridge. I went to the library to borrow Ghosts of Tring again and yet when I searched the book the story was mysteriously nowhere to be found. (The book also puzzlingly has no accredited author, editor or publisher, having been bound by a short-run printer.)  I did however find a few other canal related ghost stories.

By the canal at Marsworth, the book reports a child was walking along with her grandmother “off the barges”.

“The child was tugging her hand; the grandmother turned to look. At the little girl’s other hand was a character half-man, half-goat.”

In the blackout during the Second World War children often saw lights on the dry canal bank above Wilstone reservoir. “Spies!” they called them.  Also near Wilstone reservoir a young man was approached by two grey shapes near the cemetery, eerily waving their arms. It turned out to be two swans.

On the Aylesbury canal arm one night a niece and her uncle were travelling in their carriage over the Dixon’s gap bridge. The horses shied and the niece saw four men carrying a coffin over the bridge. The uncle however saw nothing…

A perhaps more famous ghost story on the canals is that of the Blisworth Tunnel. This tunnel, on the Grand Union at Stoke Bruerne, is a mile and three quarters long. During its construction the tunnel caved in and fourteen men died. People claim to have seen the shadowy ghosts of these poor navvies and even some say, that when travelling through by boat you may see an alternative tunnel (the one that collapsed) leading off at a tangent; invitingly lit by candlelight.

However Standedge Tunnel in Yorkshire is the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel on the network. Considered to be one of the seven wonders of the waterways, boating passages must be booked in advance. Next week you can enjoy a spooky boat ride or a witches brew in the café as the Standedge Visitor Centre takes on a Halloween theme.

Apparently The Montgomery Canal in Wales is haunted by a Welsh Princess who was buried alive as punishment for running away with her lover. At Rugeley on the Trent and Mersey Canal a blood stain sometimes reappears from a murder in 1839.

With so many poor souls killed in the building and working of the canals I expect there are many tales to be told. Do you know a canal ghost story?

Disclosure: I wrote this article for Canal Voyagers Hotel Boats. They'll be haunting most of these places next year on their 2013 cruises.

Monday 22 October 2012

A Day in the Life of a Narrowboat Wife

I recently had the chance to browse through Susannah Conway’s inspiring book, This I Know. Susannah’s blog, business and book were forged out of grief, and yet her words and Polaroid pictures are uplifting and beautiful. One exercise in the book suggests documenting one day in photographs. I took this as a way to appreciate the little things in life, the insignificant moments that pass you by. Had I not been documenting that day would I have chosen to walk a different way after the school run, and discover a farm with ponies? Would I have appreciated the pleasure of coffee in my favourite mug or the prettiness of bubbles when I washed the dishes? Probably not. (I hate washing the dishes!) Susannah says, don’t worry about being an amazing photographer, so I didn’t. I just snapped all these with my iPhone.

Please watch my slideshow and share a moment with me appreciating the little details of a narrowboat wife’s life. I would love to add music to this and future videos so any musicians out there who'd like to collaborate in return for links, get in touch :-)

Sunday 14 October 2012

#OneMums Against Poverty

On our boat it seems there’s
Never enough water for the laundry or
Electric or diesel for a family of four but
My daughters fill the boat
Up with love and laughter and
Messy fingerprints and
Still we stay afloat.

Clare blogs at Seasider in the City and has started a meme based on the theme of One Mums (One Moms). To join in the meme you just have to take the letters of ONEMUMS and describe what being a mum means to you. Michelle and Jen from BritMums are travelling to Ethiopia with ONE. They don’t want money, just your voice. ONE is a non-partisan advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. All parents share a connection, the idea is to join together to share the progress already being made by ONE. Follow the journey of Michelle and the team with the #ONEMums and #ONEMoms tags and sign up to ONE.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

A Crime on the Canal

I am new to the school run as Big Sister only started school a few days ago. We do the school run with the bicycle trailer, and leave it locked to a sign post overnight. Imagine our surprise one hurried morning when I hassled a two year old and a four year old up the towpath and onto the lane to find: no bike, no trailer. I double-check my memory; yes we did lock it up here yesterday after school.  I can’t believe it’s been stolen! Especially from a country lane in the middle of nowhere. We’re away from our home mooring at the moment and moored in a beautifully rural isolated spot, overhanging with trees. There’s only one other boater moored here, some distance down the towpath from us. As luck would have it that boater arrived home at that moment and offered us a lift to school in his car. His dogs were in the boot and the girls giggled all the way as the dogs licked their fingers. 

Later at Tring police station the constable takes my details and finds it hard to imagine the kind of trailer I am describing. We do get people stopping, staring and pointing as I cycle to school and nursery with my two princesses in their red canvas carriage behind. The policeman says that he will put a sign up in the police station and get a feature in the local paper.
“Really?” I said incredulously. “I used to live in London. You’d say, I’ve had a bike stolen, and the police would say, Oh yeah.” Meaning, “whatever”.
He laughs.
“But this is Tring!”

For the next few days we make long journeys to school by foot,(me) by pushchair (little one) and by scooter (big girl). The school teacher, nursery staff and the other mums are shocked at the theft we have suffered. Soon enough the crime reference number is generated and five or six days after the theft I am planning to claim on the boat contents insurance. That morning I’m busily hurrying the girls ready for school and nursery. The Doctor has just left the boat, heading to work when he phones me.
“The bike trailer is back!”
“The bike and the trailer, they’re back where we left them!”
The lock of course is gone, and the bike seat has been lowered to accommodate the size of someone much smaller than me but other than that it’s our same old familiar and super-useful trailer. Did some thieving  kid’s parents insist that they take that right back to wherever they got it? Did someone have a pang of guilt that they’d stolen from a young family? Or is there just not much call for a bike with one broken brake and a tatty child trailer on the black market in Tring? Tring is a charming Hertfordshire market town, and even the thieves are good at heart it seems.