With the festive season fast approaching, what do you do if you live on a boat but can’t cook? Get two friends to come on board to whip you up a full Christmas dinner, of course
It’s a case of can’t cook, won’t cook, so the liveaboard needs to rely on friends for help
For some reason I have never been asked the classic narrowboat question “is it cold in winter?”. Rather, I seem to invite a most peculiar obsession and fascination with food. Non-boaty people usually chirp up with “can you cook on board?” and, being astonished at the notion that I’m not starving slowly to death, quickly follow with “but what sort of food do you eat?”
Anyone would think that, despite a fridge, ample worktops, a four-burner hob, grill, oven and indeed a microwave, there is insufficient capacity to rustle up anything more than a Pot Noodle.
That said, my standard reply to the query is actually “no” but the incapacity lies with me, not the boat. I don’t cook, not because the boat life prevents me but because I am utterly incompetent to do so. I am to Michelin stars what Gordon Ramsay is to nuclear physics. Plus, I am irritatingly fussy with a very short shortlist of foods I will tolerate (and likewise a veritable endless scroll of items I loathe which, unfortunately, includes the seemingly obligatory staples of garlic, onion, and any kind of spices whatsoever). Worse, I am trying to be vegetarian but can’t abide nuts or tofu. Sigh. Food is irritating.
That’s why this year I am working around the Christmas dinner conundrum by a) for one day only abandoning my veggie principles so that I can have a lovely turkey dinner, and b) getting someone else to cook it all. Can I refer to having principles if I abandon them when it suits? Okay, let’s move on...
I’ve accepted the offer of a friend – of whom, it occurs to me now, I have no evidence to prove culinary ability but whose word I have taken simply at face value – and his wife to come onto my boat and rustle up the full monty of Christmas dinners: roast, Yorkshires, veg, gravy. My contribution will probably be a tin of chocolates and some crackers.
This epic saucepan session will be video recorded and broadcast as my Christmas video blog on YouTube so as to put the food question once and for all to bed. Asked subsequently, “can you cook on a narrowboat?” I shall reply “no, I can’t. However, it is feasible to do so” and then refer the questioner to the video.
Assuming that Gary and Carol really do know their onions, this Christmas is
shaping up to be rather
‘Wood-burning is not for me, all that storing it, drying it, cutting it up, chopping your hand off with a machete...’
jolly on board my little 6ft 10in wide palace. A string of lights, picked up last year for less than a fiver, will decorate the saloon and bring the festive air that only multi-coloured bulbs seem somehow able to deliver. Switch on – it’s Christmas! Switch off – ohhh, it’s all dull again.
A full-on Christmas tree seems unlikely. Not only would it not fit, but I’m also quite sure by the time I dragged it from the car to the boat it would have been chainsawed and hacked into fuel for the fire by foraging neighbouring boaters who seem unable to appreciate a piece of wood unless it’s delivering an orange glow and a 30° Celsius room temperature.
Fair enough, I suppose. Christmas is a magical time even at my cynical and jaded old age (47) and those crispy chill mornings, whether blessed by ethereal fog or sun and blue skies, have ecstatic charm but they do demand a decent heating system. The answer to the original question which I’m rarely asked is of course, yes it IS cold in winter. Doubly so on a narrowboat – but only if you don’t heat it. This explains why we do insulate and heat them and then it’s not only not cold but positively tropical.
Wood-burning is not for me mind you; all that storing it, drying it, cutting it up, chopping your own hand off with a machete ... maybe I exaggerate the last one but I wouldn’t put it past me to do that. Coal it is then, despite the heavy, dusty, mucky, yucky bags and briquettes. I still have yet to run exhaustive tests on each brand and I know each boater insists their choice is the best but I haven’t found a lot of difference between each of them. Is such a statement canal heresy? I fear so.
The mince pies have already found their way on board. In fact, I’d munched my way through two packets before winter had even begun such is the supermarkets’ enthusiasm to get us all in the festive spirit as soon as possible. Normally I don’t approve of such shameless over-marketing but in the case of mince pies I am prepared to make an exception. Frankly, why they’re not sold all year round as a delicious treat I do not know. Perhaps I should start a campaign or online petition or something. Who’s with me?
As we all know is the true meaning of Christmas is presents and, more specifically, the receiving thereof. Being a boater means I do now actually appreciate being given socks and slippers and indeed have put none-too-subtle hints towards my relatives that my present pairs are in dire condition and in need of replacement.
And so, as the end of the year draws ever closer, it’s time to take stock and consider what 2017 has in store. Not much, I think it’s safe to say, until the end of March since the weather’s always shocking in the first few months of the year. After that there will hopefully be much Cruising The Cut – a tentative plan being a voyage down to London though maybe not venturing too far into its scarily crowded waters. Then I’ll swivel through 180 and head back up north to the Trent & Mersey as far as Middlewich, nipping across and down the Shropshire Union with the Staffs & Worcester to Stourport as the end goal. Fingers crossed for sunny skies and clear canals. Happy New Year!
You can follow my adventures in video at CruisingTheCut.co.uk, on Twitter (@
CruisingThe Cut) and, of course, here in the pages of CanalBoat.
Enjoying a winter sunset
A touch of frost
Bright lights equal Christmas cheer
Brrrr, where’s the water gone?