Monday, 22 April 2013

Living aboard? We wouldn’t trade the feeling.

Melina: Expat, sister, friend, mamma, wife - and boater!

Every now and then I like to interview other boat-mums. Through my Facebook group Boat Families I’ve been able to ‘meet’ lots of parents from around the UK. I’ve watched Melina’s story with interest as she made the decision to move aboard with her husband and two children aged 7 and 6. This is quite different from my own story, as at first I was a young single boater, and later married a boater and had children on board.

Melina Merlin (42) is a lawyer, and is currently a stay at home mum. She and her husband bought their first boat seven months ago. Elspeth is a 70ft narrowboat built in 1989: a Fenmouth, the plaque says it was custom made for, "Ms. J. McGill."  They have now been living aboard for five months.

Our decision was entirely spontaneous.  We were so sick of renting in London. All our money went for a small, ugly little flat in Fulham where the kids couldn't scream and jump and be kids.  We bought the first boat we ever saw.  We'd never cruised the canals, and never did a holiday let.  We had zero experience but we loved the idea.  And the boat had enough headroom for my 6'1" beau.

 I like several bits about our boat.  She is big enough for all our stuff.  She is easy to live in, having a washing machine all ready to go, and an oven with hob.  So there was no change to the "running of a home."  We all love cruising the River Lea and we look forward to cruising more places over the year.  

 The roughest bit of boating, so far, has been learning how to make the woodstove crank out the heat.  And having winter run into April hasn't been any fun either, but that is no fault of our dear Elspeth!   The worst bit is reminding the babes that clutter is not OK.  And the winter months are all about battling the coal dust!  Everything has got to go where it belongs, no matter how tired you are.  (Honestly, I am my worst enemy with this!) 

We have reliable, friendly and fun neighbours.  For the first time since leaving San Francisco for the UK, we live in a community.  We have a small boating community here, and a larger one via Facebook and Twitter. We've always thought that this lifestyle would be wonderful for our babes.  And it hasn't disappointed them at all: Two boys having a river to explore.  We play off the boat for hours. I can only imagine how much more fun we'll have in better weather.  Yes, they cried when they gave up so many of their toys.  But now, they often comment about how wonderful it is to live here.

 I can't think of any negative lifestyle change.  We are still in the honeymoon phase I guess.  Not that we haven't been without heat, or the water ran out and the hoses froze and the coot 6am alarm clock don't make me shake my head sometimes.  But I can give you 1,000 "real" irritants from our rental years in Fulham, and we had no control to improve our flat.

 The best thing is to own your own home without debt.  It has created such a sense of liberty and independence.  

We love it here!

 I've asked the kids at different times, "Is there anything you don't like about the boat?" And every time they shout, "NO--we love it here." I am sorry to report that the most annoying question remains,
"Aren't you cold on the boat?" At first, I gave a cheery response...but after the first couple months I just stare back and respond with my cheeky answer,
"We have this thing on board, it's called a T H E R M O S T A T and it works wonders," and then I just walk away.  Honestly would I put myself or my kids on an ice slab and call it home?   We are encouraged to stay on because of the joy and happiness we have when we return to Elspeth.  She feels like home.  The previous owners rarely cruised, and we can tell that she just loves it.  We both have such silly grins when we are out on the river.  We wouldn't trade that feeling for a home on land. 

We now move at the pace of our family

 We now have weekly family meetings and we talk about our needs, concerns and questions.  Our eldest recommended it after a rather loud "discussion" between my husband and I about getting that yucky pink stuff into our new Thetford toilet.  We never did figure out how to get it in there without making a bloody mess...but we did start family meetings and learned a lot about our babes and how they think.  We are better parents now because of those meetings.  And we have our narrowboat lifestyle to thank for that.  We now move at the pace of our family, not the pace of the city we live in.

 I've loved learning some DIY to dress up our home.  I have such a sense of pride in all the bits I've sorted - knowing all the light fixtures were replaced by these hands...I am, by nature, anti-clutter.  So I love that this lifestyle gives me an excuse for a monthly tidy-up and downsize.  If we haven't used something that month it moves on to a new home.  

 One of our favourite toys now are our remote controlled boats - we sit outside and race them around.  It’s a blast!

Melina blogs regularly at Stating the Obvious about things like narrowboating, films, reading, cider, wine, laughter and smiles, and being an expat, sister, friend, mamma and wife.


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