all is safely gathered in

all is safely gathered in

and frozen solid!

cover of Crimson Lake 'Vee' book

A very long time ago, I was looking out of the cabin window and saw that the canal basin had a sheet of ice on it again but, after the crisis in early autumn that could have wiped everyone out, I was determined, come hell or high water, that Christmas was going to happen!

My new home, a beautiful seventy foot long narrowboat conversion named Crimson Lake was frozen into her mooring again despite my efforts at ice breaking so, lagged with several sweaters and a thick coat, I set about poking at the refreezing water round the hull as the skaters and people walking about on the frozen basin enjoyed the seasonal weather. I’d taken as many precautions as I could, using sump heaters to keep the diesel and water tanks just above freezing, and had run the motor regularly to keep the battery charged. Thankfully the water beneath was still liquid but I had to keep an eye on the cooling water as it formed icicles quite quickly as it plopped on top of the frozen canal.

Inside, Crimson Lake was toasty and warm with the wood burners in the main and boater’s cabins doing a sterling job.

Crimson Lake - snow canal watercolour painting by Michael Nye

Crimson Lake Narrowboat interior

Crimson Lake - frozen canal

This was pretty much the archetypal “White Christmas” of the song. I have to admit that, having heard it so many times I had to resist the urge to throw a brick at the radio every time I noticed the damn ditty being played, but the radio is one of my most prized possessions. It was the first Christmas present I received after liberating myself from the orphanage that had been my home since I was found, as a baby, neatly tucked into a basket and placed on the steps of the main door.

I’d spent a good deal of time putting decorations up and the main cabin looked just a little over the top on the festive stakes but I was more than happy with the result. The little valve radio was glowing and playing a lot of trite Christmassy nonsense, adding to the atmosphere beautifully, whilst distracting me from the problems associated with living by myself on a boat through a record breakingly bad winter.

radio - watercolour

As the temperature outside was dropping again that feeling set me to thinking about the people that were not as lucky as I had been, the runaways and the folk without a home to go to. Basically the ones who, but for the grace of any random passing deity, I could well have been. Although I started out my life as a foundling, graduating at the ripe old age of thirteen to a runaway, I felt I had been more than lucky, thanks in a large part to a character I find hard not to see as my father. Also to find my way into employment and what I felt to be a good life. I could have taken a dive at any time, my mentor could have been a dishonourable bum. After my years of institutional existence though, I’d decided that I wasn’t ever going to do things the right or conventional way, so after a enjoying a decade and a half in more conventional accommodation it seemed natural to become a boat dweller.

Then I spotted my new home majestically mouldering on a canal arm that she could no longer sail out of due to rubbish being dumped in the water and lock mechanisms failing. Crimson Lake had not cost a fortune to convert back then, but I had been questioned several times as to why on earth I would want to live on a canal system that seemed in terminal decline. Some would no doubt say that I’d been stupid to run away from a secure home when I did but I landed on a person that was honourable and who did not take advantage. It’s true that Gerald, a local used car dealer didn’t think that a girl would be any good cleaning his vehicles and doing odd jobs. I worked hard though and, when the offer came, from one of his customers, of being a model for a school uniform catalogue, he was more than happy to support my change of direction.

Following a tap on the cabin roof, through the frost on the window, I could just about make out the shape of Gerald.

“I think I’m going into sellin’ flippin’ reindeer and sleighs after this,” he laughed as I offered him a glass of whisky to warm up. “I couldn’t start the Jag this morning so I hoofed it over here, I’ll stick her on a low gas later until she thaws out. I couldn’t have you spending the day on your own.”

As a confirmed bachelor, Gerald had been happy to spend the big day for many years on his own, but more recently, we tended to pool resources. This was a bit different, being my first winter afloat. In so many ways it was just an alternate location but it did and still does seem to be a totally different way of life and one which I would miss if I couldn’t live it. I’d thought that the weather would have put him off, along with the others I’d invited, but further taps on the cabin top ended up with a fairly full cabin which added to the general good feeling.

With dusk falling, it started snowing. Not the pretty little flakes that Bing Crosby sang about, but the sort that foiled John Falcon Scott. It was snowing and if the party went on we’d be digging our way out of it the next day. Do you know… That’s exactly what we did and followed our efforts with a big snowball fight with all comers. Christmas may come just once a year but I think I’ll remember that one as long as I live. I won’t sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” though, or I’ll be forced to throw a brick at myself.