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

Canal Boat - - News -

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

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