A LIVE­ABOARD CHRIST­MAS FEAST

How do you pre­pare the full Christ­mas Monty? Sim­ple, in­vite four knowl­edge­able boat­ing friends

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS BY DAVID JOHNS PIC­TURES BY CAROL TYRES

Ido apol­o­gise. Just look at the state of me! Gravy down my front, cus­tard round my mouth, belt buckle un­done to re­lease the strain. This is the an­ar­chy of post- Christ­mas lunch. In­deed, don’t be sur­prised if this ar­ti­cle is some­what choco­late-stained as I am si­mul­ta­ne­ously writ­ing and pol­ish­ing off the last of the wafer-thin mints.

And what a lunch it’s been aboard my good ship. The full works: a splen­didly juicy roast turkey; roasted par­boiled pota­toes and honey-glazed parsnips; apple and pork stuff­ing; pigs in blan­kets; York­shire pud­dings (freshly made from flour, eggs, milk and all that jazz, no packet mix here!); the most de­li­cious gravy driz­zled over the en­tire meal and cre­ated from Bisto, Oxo and the turkey juices; plus peas, car­rots – and, of course, a sub­stan­tial help­ing of Brus­sels sprouts.

It’s quite in­cred­i­ble to ap­pre­ci­ate that all this was whisked up in the com­pact gal­ley aboard my boat but ’tis in­deed true. I’d love to take the credit but as I ad­mit­ted in the last edi­tion of Canal Boat, cook­ing is not my forté. Rather, four good friends from Yelvertoft Ma­rina came to visit and, what’s more, brought all the veg, did all the cook­ing and then pol­ished off the wash­ing up too. These are the kind of friends you sim­ply can’t have enough of.

‘Briefly for­get­ting that I was mod­el­ling a stylish bob­bled red Santa hat, I rushed along the tow­path look­ing for any­one else at home’

As Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions – I watched them do­ing all the work – I noted that tim­ing was cru­cial in my oven, which has only one shelf. The turkey had to go in first, of course, and be pretty much done for a cou­ple of hours, then it was whipped out and wrapped to keep warm while the pota­toes, parsnips, York­shires, blan­keted pigs and stuff­ing went in to roast or heat up as ap­pro­pri­ate. Up top, the gravy was in one saucepan and a three-layer steam­ing con­trap­tion wor­thy of Heath Robin­son cooked the greens.

It was only to­wards the end of this mam­moth lo­gis­tics ex­er­cise that one of the ladies of the crew pointed out the tray un­der my grill would surely be the same size as that in the oven and that, there­fore, we did, in fact, have two shelves for the oven. Credit awarded for be­ing ab­so­lutely right was im­me­di­ately de­ducted for not hav­ing pointed that out at the start of pro­ceed­ings.

Salt was also a prob­lem. Ap­par­ently I’m not nor­mal for hav­ing no salt on board. “Oh, he’ll have salt, we don’t need to bring that” the visi­tors had ap­par­ently said to them­selves be­fore de­part­ing to come here, bring­ing ev­ery other con­ceiv­able kitchen im­ple­ment and food­stuff. Their looks of baf­fled in­com­pre­hen­sion when I could not pro­duce any condi­ments other than ketchup were – from my per­spec­tive – quite amus­ing.

This story does il­lus­trate the joy not only of Christ­mas but of canal boat­ing neigh­bourli­ness how­ever. Briefly for­get­ting that I was mod­el­ling a stylish bob­bled red Santa hat, I rushed out along the tow­path look­ing for any­one else at home and, sure enough, mere mo­ments later I re­turned with a cup of salt from a ran­dom boater who was kind enough to un­der­stand the predica­ment and not snig­ger at my lack of ba­sic sup­plies or at­tire.

I doubt my lit­tle dinette ta­ble has ever creaked so much un­der the weight as it did that day. Five of us squeezed around it, tuck­ing into a mon­u­men­tal meal with nap­kins on our knees, cham­pagne flutes at our lips and cracker de­bris strewn ev­ery­where. Cheers!

What’s that, you say? Pud­ding? Oh yes, there was pud­ding. One, ad­mit­tedly shop bought, tra­di­tional fruity Christ­mas pud, set alight with a dol­lop of brandy not once but twice af­ter we as­sessed the first in­ferno as in­suf­fi­ciently spec­tac­u­lar and too short in du­ra­tion. Dou­ble cream and cus­tard took the role of pud­ding gravy, while an al­ter­na­tive dessert of ab­surdly

rich Bel­gian choco­late cheese­cake was also atop the ta­ble should any­one de­sire ei­ther va­ri­ety or sec­onds.

You might think it no sur­prise, then, that dur­ing the af­ter­noon, one of my re­clin­ing armchairs in the saloon broke as a guest sat in it. The en­tire metal base post had sheared off. Yet de­spite the con­spic­u­ous over­con­sump­tion of us all that day, blame could not be pointed at the meal since the seat­ing col­lapse took place half­way through cook­ing.

I’m quite sure the chair must have been fail­ing for at least sev­eral weeks (and only five months since I bought it new, for shame!) but at least its fall­ing apart un­der a guest meant I could a) laugh heartily at their ex­pense and b) blame them, to the point that they went home with the seat base and a prom­ise to weld it back to­gether. That’s saved me a te­dious helpline con­ver­sa­tion/ ar­gu­ment with the orig­i­nal ven­dor. Hooray for Christ­mas!

Mean­while, even my trusty boat fire alarm was get­ting quite merry and join­ing in the fun, beep­ing sud­denly and very, very loudly at ev­ery hint of steam from the pans. A new game emerged of run­ning to the back of the dinette and leap­ing up at the ‘si­lence’ but­ton which guar­an­tees a fur­ther seven min­utes respite un­til the sys­tem re­sets it­self.

(I have yet to un­der­stand why it’s so keen to chip in when I’m merely cook­ing or rustling up a slice of toast, yet stays res­o­lutely silent when I open the wood stove to chuck in more fuel de­spite oc­ca­sional clouds of black smoke from freshly-added coal which raise not so much as a chirrup from the alarm).

So that was din­ner well and truly done. Bask­ing now in the post- Christ­mas glow, let us pause to re­flect on the year gone by, the year ahead and any lessons learned. The 12 months just gone were my first cal­en­dar year liv­ing aboard a boat. In that time an en­tire world has opened up be­fore me that hith­erto I had no idea ex­isted. Not just a factual, me­chan­i­cal world of bilge pumps and toi­let cas­settes but a more ethe­real – dare I say spir­i­tual? – world of new friend­ships, fresh per­spec­tives on life and liv­ing and a more holis­tic take on the na­ture of ex­is­tence.

Blimey, this must be the sherry talk­ing. Things are never this deep nor­mally.

2017 is now just about un­der­way and I’m plan­ning my voy­ages for the sum­mer. I’ve al­ready in­vested in Ni­chol­son’s Guide Num­ber 4 and pro­vided my en­gine’s ran­dom oil leak doesn’t get any worse, may see you on the cut some­time. Happy New Year!

You can fol­low my ad­ven­tures in video at Cruis­ingTheCut.co.uk, on Twit­ter (@

Cruis­ingTheCut) or here in the pages of Canal Boat mag­a­zine.

Post-pran­dial bliss

Can I help? Thought not

You see, it’s as easy as this...

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