Since this is a brand new site, I thought I would run through my story so far – or at least what led up to my living on a narrowboat on the Trent and Mersey canal.
I was born as fifth child of seven and attended boarding school till I was 16 when I went to college, got the odd undistinguished qualification and then shocked my family by joining the police force in Hampshire. My father, who I think was expecting me to do a ‘little ‘job’ before finding a respectable man to marry, told me I’d never last the training – just as well he did, it was the only thing that kept me in!
I was a police officer for 16 years, reaching the dizzy heights of detective sergeant on murder squad, but never found a respectable man to marry – or any other type for that matter, although came close once. Then, for various reasons I got fed up with the police and joined the Church Army instead! This is like the SAS of the Church of England and it’s purpose was to ‘share the Gospel by word and action’ and incidentally recruit more people for the Church. It only took me 9 years to get fed up with the Church, but for more profound reasons than the police. It is harder to leave the Church however, as they give you a nice house to live in and a good standard of living but not much pay so I could never save enough for a house of my own (although had one when I was in the police and sold it at a loss – long story!)
I was pondering my options when I saw a programme about narrow boats on Sky. I had loved boats when I was a child, although it was yachts we spent most of our holidays on, but the idea of living on the water immediately appealed. With my endowment maturing from the mortgage I used to have and a sizeable bank loan I could manage to raise around £35,000. So I started my search.
One of the first things I did was attend a boat handling course at Stourport to find out if I could manage to cope with cruising singlehanded. I did one day on the canal and one on the River Severn and realised that I picked up the basics pretty quickly – enough for the boat and I to survive, but that it would take a lifetime to master – what an exciting prospect!
I also drove around the country talking to as many boaters that I could find – no problem striking up conversations – boaters are a friendly, chatty lot for the most part and most are very happy to pass on tips to a beginner. they gave me a good idea of the sort of boat I should be looking for with my budget and told me the sort of thing to avoid. I visited as many brokerages as I could, but at the same time started to hunt for a mooring. finding a boat is easy, finding a mooring if you are living on your boat is considerably more difficult.
Eventually I found narrowboat ‘Don’t Panic’ – the name nearly put me off buying her as I hate being told not to panic – especially when I am, but I have since grown into the name! She was built by Tim Tyler (very reputable) and won the Lionel Munk trophy for her fit out, when she was built 13 years ago. She is a 50 footer with a trad stern, pump out loo and Beta 43 engine (all that will mean something to you only if you know something about narrowboats – skip it otherwise!)
I started off living in Barton Marina near Burton upon Trent and that was a good beginning as I knew nothing about this life I had chosen and at the marina there were plenty of people offering help and advice. the prices were reasonable and the marina welcomed liveaboards (as we are called) which is quite unusual. However by the end of my first year I knew that I wasn’t a marina sort of person. It was too much like a small village for me – yes, lots of people to chat to and lots of help, but also lots of people with too much time on their hands and so silly disputes and gossip abounded. People would know when you sneezed and I value my solitude too much to sacrifice it for safety or convenience.
So, by the beginning of my second year I was living on a British Waterways mooring at Fradley Junction – the nearest place to Heaven that I have ever been to!
That just about brings us up to date although I haven’t mentioned my cruising adventures yet, which include nearly sinking the boat but they will keep for another day. I will end this entry by saying that this is the first time in my life that I have been completely happy!