living on a boat
that's too darned small to live on
a tale from Amanda's perspective...
When you’re young and you run away from all that you know, you don’t really get time to think of anything much that is practical. You just go, often to be picked up by concerned and somewhat annoyed family members a few hours later. When I embarked on my waterways adventure I really was at least practical enough to get as many home comforts aboard as I could but I never thought about spring turning to summer and thence to autumn and colder weather.
Much as I love her, Mayfly is just fifteen feet and six inches long, made of rather thin wood, has no heating and very little space. Way back when I was a stroppy teenager though, this was my chosen home as we set off to prove that you could carry cargo (ours being a box of wristwatches) and to sort the situation that made me take the seemingly desperate measure of effectively stowing away on a boat belonging to someone I hardly knew. My parents were, out of necessity, in Spain so there wasn’t anybody around to repossess me as we set off on what a lot of people would see as a fool’s errand.
The weather was kind to us at first but time does move on and the almost imperceptible signs of a turn towards the autumnal started encroaching. Colder mornings, shorter nights, rain and drizzle making just about everything damp. Even my socks went mouldy one day, which could have put me off the lifestyle but didn’t. What I was becoming aware of was the fact that this part of the adventure was finite. I still loved where I was though and kept coming up with seemingly daft ideas, one of which was to keep the cabin warm at night with hot bricks in an old deed box. It worked a bit and we felt like we’d beaten the weather as we watched the leaves turn brown and then fall all over the place.
This may be very picturesque to the photographer or calendar maker but when you are trying to work a lock whilst walking on a surface that feels like it’s been treated with the best quality axle grease, the romance can fade a little. Actually, after the third time you land on your backside whilst working your way up a flight of narrow locks, I can assure you that it fades quite a lot! There’s always a but though and I remember so well the feeling of triumph over adversity as we sailed out of the top lock. We were both well plastered with mud and it was drizzling but it was another obstacle that I’d traversed without any injury, except to my pride!
Frost was a new thing which, when added to the leaves, made life really treacherous but we still plodded on with out little boat and its polished black outboard. If anything, the weather brought out a sort of house proudness that neither of us knew we had. Yes, of course, we were two youngsters travelling around in rather less regulated times, on waterways that the government would have loved to have filled in. We often travelled all day, or days even, without seeing another boat on the move or even a human being.
Mayfly could have been filthy and smelly but she wasn’t. Every bit that was made of brass was burnished until it was so bright it could have been mistaken for gold, the woodwork buffed up with the beeswax polish that I liberated from what had been my home before I was evicted by people that wrongly thought it was theirs. Finally that shiny black outboard was shone up with some very good car wax that we bought during the summer when our funds were in a bit better shape. If I felt any remorse for running away, or lack of enthusiasm for the next day, all I had to do was take a look at this beautiful little varnished clinker cabin cruiser that was little more than a day boat and I felt that all would be well.
We were clueless back then, even to the point of not being sure if the strip of water we were moving along was a canal, a remaindered waterway or (heaven forbid) a cruiseway! We achieved things almost by accident but still we progressed. To say that it changed my life would be understatement. It pretty much blew everything I knew clean out of the water. We were not supposed to be where we were and certainly doomed to failure according to pretty much all prevailing opinion. The fact is that we were both alive, well fed, mostly warm, and progressing. I was aware that the progression would eventually lead to us having to return to what was my home and face the music but that wasn’t for the moment we lived in. We were facing up to the ever worsening weather as well as the tasks we’d set ourselves and we appeared to be slowly winning.
Of course now I’m a lot older, and Mayfly is sitting as beautiful as ever on the water whilst the leaves slowly begin to match her beautifully varnished hull and cabin. I can’t help thinking how absolutely stupid I must have been to even think of setting off on a voyage with a stranger over half a century ago when I was still of school age. Back then though there was an atmosphere that anybody could do anything and big changes were afoot, so I went without a second thought. My reflective mood was set off by a radio program about diaries from various celebrities’ school years and what advice they’d give themselves from today’s standpoint if they could. What would I say to my young self if I was suddenly plonked back over fifty years
to that first day. My answer is nothing at all. I’d do the same again in a shot and I blooming well know it!