Saturday 25 May 2013

To be friends with the swans...

This winter seems never ending. We do have daffodils beside the boat but I must admit I still feel cold. How I used to laugh when people would ask “Is it cold in winter?”
That was before our dodgy diesel stove kept breaking. At the moment we’re using the “back-up” heating which is a portable gas heater.

We’ve known our local swans for nearly a year now, since we took a permanent residential mooring. I call them Bonnie and Clyde: I don’t know why. They visited us regularly for bread, throughout Autumn and Winter. My little ones would sit on the front deck and call down the canal,
For some reason they feel this is the appropriate call that should be used to summon the swans. And the swans come. Then the ducks come and try to fight for a bit of bread too. If there’s any left over the big fat carp jump up and have a bite as well. It is one of the loveliest luxuries of living on a boat to be friends with the swans. Although it can be a demanding friendship at times. Clyde has now become bold enough to knock on the kitchen window with his beak if we are not on deck at a time when he wants feeding. Recently when I sat chatting with friends on the front deck he actually pecked me in the small of my back to let me know that he was there: ready and waiting for his bread.

But where is Bonnie? She has not been seen for some time. We discovered their nest beside the next canal bridge; safely on the offside, undisturbed by towpath walkers. She sits and waits, guarding her eggs. Clyde glides protectively before her, on the surface of the water, head held high and aloof, surveying the area.

When we return from the school-run the girls say,
“Can we check the swans?”
If it’s freezing and raining I grumpily say no, and drag the girls back to the boat for mugs of cocoa. But mostly I smile and say yes, and we sit on the bank opposite and watch, and talk about the swans.

This morning Clyde knocked on the bedroom window; wife in tow, with three gorgeous grey fluffy cygnets too! I grabbed some bread and headed for the front deck calling for the girls as I went.
“Girls! The swans have had cygnets!”

Just yesterday she was still on her nest, so they must have been born today and are straight in the water already!
“It must be their first outing” said The Doctor.
“Those proud parents,” I mused. “They must have said to themselves this morning, Let’s take the little ones down to The Bread Boat.
“Yes,” laughed my five year old, “To the cafĂ©!”

The girls threw bread, I took photos, The Doctor took a video. And we gleefully announced the news of the birth to other boaters and walkers on the towpath.
“The swans have had cygnets!”

It is sunny and the Spring is finally here.

Not my best pic - but they were moving fast, trying to escape the cries of "Swan ATTENTION!"

Monday 20 May 2013

When boaters come to visit...

Last week, just as I arrived home I saw this unlikely pair moored up at my local water point. The lovely hotel boats Snipe and Taurus were once again in my local area. Although we have plenty of beautiful pictures on Flickr I couldn’t resist taking a few more of the red-painted boats and traditionally colourful water cans. Even on a gloomy, rainy day these boats are a sight to make you stop and stare (also known as ‘gongoozling’!)

There are very few traditional working pairs of hotel boats on the canal system today. It’s lovely to watch the motor tow the butty towards an ancient ‘bridge hole’, unhurried as they travel onward. Yet Neil, Corinne and the crew can cover a surprising distance in the space of a week, always offering their guests a varied trip that can include big cities and tiny hamlets.

That night Neil and Corinne came round to my boat: It’s always a novelty to have friends to visit who have arrived by boat, knowing that their own home is conveniently moored a short walk away down the towpath. I had just put my two little daughters to bed, but upon hearing the arrival of Neil and Corinne they immediately got up again to see ‘the lady who turns us upside down’! There were a lot of giggles, running about and tickling before Corinne persuaded them back to bed with the promise to visit again in the morning.

I love to chat to Neil and Corinne about their unusual lifestyle, their travels, their boats and adventures, and how they got into it all in the first place. So while the girls obediently settled to sleep in their boatman’s cabin at the back of our boat, I shared a few glasses of wine with my travelling friends and talked about all things boaty. They’ve done many more hours of boating than me and have learned traditional techniques that I’ll never need, like how to take a butty and motor safely into a lock. At the moment I’m reading the memoir ‘Maiden’s Trip’ by Emma Smith. She learned to carry cargo with a traditional working pair during the Second World War and the descriptions in the book make you realise how very different things are manoeuvring a pair of 70ft boats together.

The next morning my youngest (age 3) opened her eyes and immediately said,
“Can I go into the living room?”
“Yes…. But why?”
“To see if Corinne’s still there!”
I explained that Corinne had returned to her own boat, but shortly after breakfast Corinne arrived with home-baked biscuits for the girls. Her boats were already in the lock beginning to climb the Marsworth flight and since then they have travelled all the way to London.

I noticed on Twitter recently that Corinne shared a cool picture of narrowboats moving faster than lorries on the M25 and smiled to myself. You may think the lifestyle is slow and relaxed but they sure do get around. As I write this they are now preparing for a trip up the River Lea. Catch up with them soon and grab your own cabin (much more affordable than hiring a whole narrowboat),  with a £50 discount .

Disclosure: I was paid to write this on Neil and Corinne's hotel boats blog but re-published here as it is also part of my Real Life! I realise I am not writing much about my real life lately and this is because work and other personal commitments are making me super-busy at the moment!