Welcome to the world of Narrowboating

To risk is to live!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Loads of Money

There is no doubt that it is generally less expensive to live a floating life style than a land based one; on the other hand if anyone tells you it’s free of big expenses, don’t believe them. You have heard what BOAT stands for? Bring Out Another Thousand!

In these coming months I have particularly big outgoings to keep ‘Don’t Panic’ happy and legal. Firstly there is my annual mooring fee – just shy of £1,300. Then there is my licence to allow me to cruise the waterways – nearly £700.

On 13th February, if we are not iced in, I am taking the boat for her two yearly bottom blacking. This involves blasting all the grime and weed that has accumulated using high pressure water hoses and then painting the hull with several coats of a bitumen based paint to retard rust and so keep her afloat. My roof has needed repainting for some time and so both these painting jobs together will cost around £1,000. I have learnt that the best way of keeping the dreaded rust at bay is to keep her clean and polished and to keep the paint in as good a condition as possible. Rust is very sneaky – you may only see one little spot showing through the paint, but often if you investigate further you can find that it has crept all over the place, under cover of the paint.

Lastly my Boat Safety Certificate is due for renewal this year. This is an inspection that happens every four years to make sure the boat is safe and you have to pay an examiner to do it. I’m not sure how much that will cost yet and of course the expense will rise if there is anything I need to put right. It’s very like your car MOT in that you hope very much that you only have to pay the fee for the exam and nothing nasty is found!

Because all these expenses are due within a couple of months of each other, it requires me to be financially disciplined throughout the year so that I save enough to cover it all. I find this quite difficult – particularly as I only earn around £750 a month. It is so tempting to spend what I have each month and worry about these big expenses when they arise. However that way lies ruin so I do my best and am very grateful to the relatives who have helped me out on more than one occasion!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Poor Sick Bonny

I have been nursing a sickly little dog for the last 9 days. She managed to eat something containing poison – goodness knows where from - and it made her extremely ill. I will spare you the grotty details but we are now on day 10 and I had my first uninterrupted night’s sleep last night! I’m fairly certain we are over the worst now as she has stopped leaking from both ends and is managing to eat a little. The vet dosed her up (and charged me £70) and that has definitely helped.
I know she is ‘only’ a dog but she is my only company and having had her from a wee pup, I treat her more like a child than a dog. So when she is ill, I go through the torments of the damned! It’s amazing how the petty things I usually worry about all fade away as all my attention is focused on Bonny’s health. It will be good to remember how insignificant those worries became when something really important was going on. Then, perhaps, I can keep those worries in proportion and not let them outgrow themselves.
Here is Bonny when she is feeling more like herself…
11 weeks
This is her at 11 weeks, just before she came to live with me.

my lovely cruising dog

And this is her all grown up. She is a little star!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

What to do when the world goes mad?

As I see it there are three options. One is to join in with the madness, the second is to try to change the world and introduce some sanity and the third option is to ignore the world, laugh at the madness and go your own way.

In my teens and twenties I chose the first option – or perhaps the first option chose me. I bought stuff I didn’t need with money I didn’t have. I constantly compared myself with my peers – especially in relation to the way I looked and what relationships I was in and so didn’t like myself very much and was generally discontented. Work increasingly became a matter of lonely competition rather than communal cooperation and although I had plenty of money, foreign holidays and excitement in my work, I became increasingly unhappy. To combat the madness I drank and smoked to excess and to stave off the loneliness I indulged in a series of unhealthy relationships.

In my 30’s and 40’s I changed my life and embarked on a quest to change the world – or at least my corner of it. I chose religion as a vehicle for this; in particular the brand of religion that promoted feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner and spreading love and justice abroad. I worked really hard at this, giving up the quest for money and possessions as well as the unhealthy relationships. But I discovered that however hard I pushed this brand of sanity it made no difference as the world wasn’t listening. The more I pushed, the more the world treated me as if I were the mad one! I eventually replaced my cigarettes with anti depressants as the sense of failure and futility took hold. By late on in my forties, I realised that option 2 wasn’t working.

And so I am now trying the third option – ignoring the world and going my own way. In my opinion the world is now even madder than it was when I was growing up. People are more afraid – of just about everything, That fear translates into aggression on the roads, ignoring each other in queues or as we pass on the street or share public transport, even in seeing our children as threats to be avoided! The rich are getting so much richer while the poor get credit cards. Children as young as 6 are so concerned about body image they are making themselves ill. Work is now almost entirely divorced from the good of the community and is all about money and self promotion. Being alone and anonymous is the new big sin. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your relationship is, you just have to be in one and if you can find any way at all of becoming a ‘celebrity’ then so much the better.

Living on a boat certainly helps with image obsession. No wardrobe space, oil under fingernails and a limited water supply means casual dress is the way to go! The community spirit on the cut means I am no longer afraid to smile at strangers or greet people passing by. When I do though, you can tell those who still live in the mad world as they avoid my eyes and hurry by as if I am about to mug them.

I have given up smoking and am experimenting with a bit of alcohol free living at present, not that there is anything wrong in my world with smoking or drinking.Having a Whisky Mac while watching the sun set is a rare joy, but I want to see how many crutches I can do without – just as an experiment. Soon I will no longer be a wage slave and so will need to live on very little. That will solve the problem of buying stuff I don’t need. When I do work again, it will be to earn just enough to get by, so no need for competition or too much ugly pushing and shoving.

Lastly in a world full of noise, I will be exploring the gift of silence. No social networks – I prefer flesh and blood friends. I have a mobile phone but sometimes I turn it off! More and more I am also turning the TV off in the evening and instead doing some reading or practising my new ukulele. Increasingly though I want to practice just sitting in the quiet without anything to distract me from my own inner workings.

This way might well lie madness, but I think it is preferable to the current madness of the world. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Sunny Tixall Wide

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Terrifying Chore

I had just finished my last draft post (no internet access here at Shadehouse) when I noticed the rain had stopped and the wind had dropped to a stiff breeze, so grabbing the moment I set off for King’s Bromley Marina. (Writing both of these on Tuesday 3rd)

Oh my goodness – what a terrifying trip just to empty my poo tank! Most of the way up was OK. The woods sheltered us from the worst of the wind and all I had to do was avoid submerged logs etc. Then, just as I was getting close to the marina I found a tree had come down and was lying across the canal. There was nowhere to moor and no way of turning round. I just about managed to live up to the boat’s name! I decided to aim for the small gap between the top end of the tree and the bank, go quite quickly and then as I reached the gap, put the boat in neutral and coast through, hopefully preventing any damage to my propeller from submerged branches or the silted up bankside. The plan thankfully worked although the boat tipped to an alarming angle as it surfed the silt.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I got into the marina and managed to spin the boat in the wind to reverse up to the diesel point. The manager was suitably impressed that I had made it, although between themselves, the staff probably said I was crazy. The relief of having my poo taken off and diesel put on is indescribable to anyone who is not a boater. Imagine you have had constipation for a week and then managed to go and you will have some idea of the feeling!

I left the marina feeling high as a kite as I figured I had made it one way so the return should be a doddle... Yes, the words pride and fall come to mind. The wind was really picking up again as I got to Woodend Lock – the only lock between the marina and Shadehouse which marks the top of the Fradley flight. I lined up for the gate (I had left it open for my return as I guessed rightly I would be the only idiot to use the lock today), the wind was doing it’s best to push me into the bank when suddenly my engine groaned and my tiller started to vibrate in my hand. I knew immediately that my prop had been badly fouled by something and needed freeing or else expensive damage could be caused. There was no way I could stop in mid manoeuvre so I gave one quick burst of power and then, for the second time that day put the engine in neutral and coasted towards the lock. It was a bit bumpy but I made it in. Then I had to strip my waterproof layers off, turn off my engine and go shoulder deep in freezing water to fish about by the propeller. I found a plastic bag, 3 sticks and a short length of rope all tangled around the shaft.

I dropped the boat the five feet or so in the lock and cruised the last stretch to Shadehouse where I planned to tie up for the rest of the day, returning to my mooring tomorrow. It was gusting at about 45mph when I returned (according to Met Office) and unfortunately those gusts were blowing my boat across the cut, away from the bank. This is where being single handed can really make things difficult. You have to steer the boat into the side, leap off with your centre rope and swiftly tie it onto something before it gets dragged out of your hand by 50 foot of steel being blown away from you. I didn’t manage it the first two times of trying. The third time I managed to jam my nose into the bank long enough to tie my bow rope to a mooring ring. In the time it took me to do that, my stern had swung across the canal and was jammed on the opposite bank. I walked down the gunwale, poled the stern off the silt and then used the engine to drive the stern towards the bank. Another wild leap and speedy tying up of the stern rope and I was finally safe.

So next time you use the loo, just take a moment to appreciate the fact that you can flush it and forget it!!

Have A Fulfilling 2012!

Thank you for those of you who have encouraged me to keep writing. If there was ever a year for me to keep a record then 2012 is likely to be it!

It has started wildly for me as I am currently sitting at the top of Fradley lock flight waiting for the storm force winds and accompanying rain and hail to die down. My black tank (where the toilet contents end up) is full and I need to travel to Kings Bromley marina to have it pumped out and to take on diesel. I have today and tomorrow to get there and back before going back to work for 4 days. If I don’t pump out now then I will be going au naturelle (as a bear in the woods) before long!!

I look to the coming year with a mixture of high excitement and some trepidation. My work bores the soul out of me but it does provide a steady income and when the shop closes I will have no income – for the first time in my life. However, thanks to my step mother I have funds, and the idea of taking off round the system, going and stopping where I like, for as long as I like clenches my guts with excitement. I am also really looking forward to being able to visit friends in Devon and in other places without feeling I am losing valuable cruising time!!

I expect to know myself better by the end of the year. It is all very well fantasizing about having all the time in the world, but can be a challenging reality. Without busyness, it is much harder to hide from yourself and from the void yawning at all our feet. I hope to be able to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and to overcome my fear of the emptiness of reality and the closeness of death. (Not that I expect to die any time soon, but you never know and a wise author told me to make friends with the reality of my death).

I hope that 2012 will be fulfilling, joyful and challenging for you too!

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