LIVE­ABOARD CHRIST­MAS

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

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS AND PIC­TURES BY DAVID JOHNS

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?

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