When you move from a three-bed semi into a 60ft narrowboat, something has to give
Last month Neil Barnett took a wry, but not inaccurate, look what to expect when choosing a boat – now it’s time to move forward to life on board
You’ve settled on what you want for a boat when, out of the blue, you are offered an attractive early retirement package and you decide to up sticks and live on it.
You both felt that continuous cruising was too much of a drastic change straight away but you don’t fancy a marina berth either, so you opt for a peaceful online mooring which even comes with a little patch of garden.
There’s a small community of other boaters there too.
Then begins the huge task of trying to fit the contents of a three-bed semi into a 60ft tube, or at least as much of it as you can. All of those ‘it may come in useful one day’ items are consigned to the skip and much of your other gear is offloaded via charity shops and eBay. Mindful of the impending restriction on storage space in the boat, you’ve got rid of an interminable amount of stuff and, after the initial heartbreak of letting some of your things go, you actually found the experience quite liberating – but nevertheless there are some things you’re really going to miss. The following months prove to be a huge learning curve as you begin to realise that despite thoroughly enjoying this new lifestyle, it isn’t all quite how you’d imagined. Living in a house you’d taken so much for granted but now you have a lot to think about.
You become obsessively frugal with water usage because you have to take the boat a mile along the cut every time you need to fill your tank. So you soon perfect the art of having a shower in under four minutes using only five litres of water.
You had opted for a cassette rather than a pump-out toilet, but you regret it each time you have to lug a full one along the canal bank to your car and then drive three miles to the elsan disposal point. Even the purchase of another one doesn’t really lessen the chore and when away
‘You also become obsessed with what you can convince your stove to burn. It seems perfectly normal to have the stove going full pelt and all the windows open’
from your boat you take every opportunity to visit a toilet (even if you don’t really need to go).
Fellow boaters of course empathise with this, so when they pop in for a chat you get to notice when they begin to get fidgety; they’ll soon either leave, or ‘have to pop back to their boat for something’, rather than ask to use your loo.
Non-boater visitors will have already been instructed to use other facilities before they arrive. And if anybody does ask to use the toilet they can be answered with “no you can’t” without being considered rude. A roll of toilet paper lasts a lot longer than it used to, especially when you discover you can separate the two-ply quite easily.
Space, or the lack of it, soon becomes a major issue. Prior to moving onto the boat you’d imagined that things would be so much more organised in a smaller space, and you’d never lose things again.
You’ve learned to make 10 cubic feet of stuff fit into four cubic feet of space but with every nook and cranny packed to the gunwales it’s a devil to find things, and after a while you’ll own a significant number of duplicate items bought to replace the ones you hadn’t been able to find.
You can cook and serve a full Sunday roast for four with less than two square feet of counter space to work on. Conscious to save room and reduce the amount of waste to get rid of, you unwrap and throw away any packaging at the shop rather than bringing it back to the boat.
You used to have so much clothing but now you have just a few items and a bottle of Febreze. You’ve become accustomed to the ‘one in one out’ rule when buying new clothes and the choice of clothing has changed drastically; considering style and colours is now far less important than whether or not they will show up the creases.
On the occasions you visit friends and relatives ‘on the land’ you always take a bag of clothing that needs washing. Your clothes will smell faintly of ‘real fire’ or coal, regardless of how recently you washed them.
Initially this is an inconvenience but eventually you come to rather like it and over time your wardrobe changes. All your clothes now are dark blues, browns, greens and black. You have no idea when this happened and are not aware that this was a conscious decision.
You also become obsessed with what you can convince your stove to burn.
It seems perfectly normal to have the stove going full pelt and all the windows open. You become obsessed with the weather forecast and have it saved to ‘favourites’ on your laptop. Talking of computers, online no longer means just having internet access, and committing the faux-pas of confusing the two meanings in conversation is frowned upon.
When entering a pub you’re able to search out every mains plug socket before your pint is poured, and when visiting friends or family you always make sure you take along anything that needs charging up. You find yourself thinking that microwaves, vacuum cleaners and hairdryers are for posh people.
You are convinced your arms have grown longer and your shoulders have sagged from carrying heavy shopping back to your boat, a task often prolonged by constantly being stopped on the towpath to answer all the same old questions again about being cold in winter, council tax, post, etc.
When you lived ‘on the land’ conversations were usually about the weather but nowadays when talking to fellow ‘boaties’ it’s more to do with the water levels. Unlike when living in a house you know everyone’s name in your neighbourhood. You become so accustomed to saying hello to passers-by that when you go back to suburbia they all give you a strange look and shuffle uncomfortably past you as quickly as they can.
When you go to pick up your post from your parents’ house you realise that for the first time since you were 16 that your mailing address is now the same as theirs.
So it’s been a huge learning experience and you’ve had to make some big changes to the way you live, be less materialistic, compromising with some luxuries, and generally having to always be conscious about things you had previously taken for granted. But you wouldn’t change it for the world – your only regret is that you hadn’t been able to do it sooner.
Room to cook a Sunday lunch for four
So that’s what the cratch is for
The cassette toilet is so draining
There’s a place for everything
Crammed cupboards are a way of life
Loving the quiet life at an online mooring
A perfect end to the day