Second part of the actors’ experiences on their floating home...and the drama just goes on
Getting caught in a crime scene and pulling a drunk out of the canal would have been plum parts for young actors Lewis Goody and Kae Alexander but this was real life for the London liveaboards
Eventually after what felt like months in Camden we were able to cast off again. By this point we had been chatting to a boater who lived on a mooring in Lisson Grove, just down the canal before the Maida Vale tunnel through to Little Venice. For a small price, he agreed to spend the day with us cruising up and down and quite literally teaching us the ropes. His main piece of advice was “take everything extremely slowly”.
I still have that voice in my head five years later, every time we move and although it is simple and obvious. He hopped off as we approached Lisson Grove moorings and we were on our own again, now facing the next challenge of going through a long narrow tunnel. As our eyes adjusted and we slowly crept out of the other end everything felt great and fun again. There were some friendly people waving, willow trees and swans, ducks and geese paddling about. Of course, I still get flashbacks of the angry woman’s voice every time we pass another boat, but it was from this point on that we felt this was going to be an awesome way of life. Suddenly we felt like “boaters”. Stopping for water along the canal and emptying the pump-out, chatting with passers by and other “boaters” along the canal. We decided to head out to Kensal Green where there is a big Sainsbury’s, easy access to the Tube with a tad more greenery. As we approached the Kensal visitor moorings there was a bloke in his fifties chopping wood, blaring out blues music, smoking a roll-up and smiling, so we decided this was where we would moor. Cruising is fun, slow and fairly easy but stopping here was not quite so simple. Thankfully Mike was as friendly as he looked and has also just joined the
waterways , so we threw him a rope and he lent us a couple of mooring pins and helped us tie up.
A huge part of our job as actors is to be curious and to explore people and differing ways of life. We try to fill our heads with different perspectives and points of view and living on a narrowboat has proved to be a huge advantage. London is a massive city, full of different people and possibilities for experiencing new things.
However, in the time I have been here I have realised that it can also be an incredibly lonely place with lack of contact with others and it can be very difficult to afford to experience everything it has to offer. You could live in a building of 20 or more flats and never know your next door neighbour. There is a strange fear floating in the air and it stops people from reaching out to one another, whether that be for a cup of sugar or from just saying hello in the corridor. On the canal however, things are very different. When you run out of coal and there doesn’t seem to be a work boat anywhere and you’re freezing cold, wearing jumpers and extra layers of long johns, it doesn’t seem such a big deal to knock on a boat and ask nicely if they can spare a bag of coal. Generally for us, this has lead to a cup of tea, dinner, a bottle of wine and a lasting friendship. Our friendship group went from a bunch of actors of similar ages to 50 to 60-year-old blokes with dogs, middle-aged couples, tree surgeons, set designers, artists, book sellers, social workers, nurses, journalists, architects, unemployed alcoholics, travellers and all sorts of people from all walks of life. The imagination goes wild when you are surrounded by interesting folk and you feel much more connected to the people you live around. I am not saying everyone on the canal is perfect but at least the taboo of talking to other human beings is lifted and you can actually decide through meeting someone whether or not you will be meeting them again.
I think that the canal network is a giant stage ( I would wouldn’t I?) with plenty of drama taking place on a regular basis! We have seen some interesting stories unfold on the canal and been directly involved in a few without much choice. I have pulled an ungrateful drunken idiot out of the canal at 2 in the morning in the middle of November and we have even been witness to not one but two stabbings one day after the other in Little Venice, with us getting caught up in the crime scene as the police cordoned off the area, oblivious to the fact we were there!
They were less than pleased when we hopped off the boat that morning and the CSI team screamed their heads off as we disembarked!
Obviously, these are not the most pleasant of experiences but they are experiences regardless and as an actor, seeing blood sprayed all over the towpath and police in white suits with blue gloves, you can’t help but think that it is going to be useful when I bag that part on CSI. So in terms of meeting people from different worlds and experiencing some real-life drama, living on the waterways has really delivered and kept our creative cogs turning. Were we able to quit doing all the other kinds of jobs to fully commit to our acting careers?
Yes and no. Kae had some great luck with a couple of big TV and film gigs, so that definitely freed her up a bit. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I managed to do the same and if I hadn’t continued to do other jobs I think I would have gone nuts, but living on the boat and moving every two weeks meant that we haven’t had to do that as much. We have our own space which a lot of people we know haven’t. It is our boat and we no longer have to report to a landlord or landlady and we have an interesting and relaxing place to come
‘A huge part of our job as actors is to be curious and to explore people and differing ways of life. We try to fill our heads with different perspectives and points of view and living on a narrowboat has proved to be a huge advantage.’
home to everyday. It really has lifted a lot of the stress from our lives.
When the acting work does roll in, it occasionally takes us abroad. When the unheard of happens and we both get work at the same time, moving the boats on time has occasionally been a problem, not only do we get a ticket but it is an extra stress put back on the list. To combat this during the winter, we arranged to have a winter mooring in Paddington for a couple of years in a row. This has been great for staying central during the tough months and a boon not to have to move too much in the wind, rain, snow and ice. We also got to know a couple of other actors doing the same thing and another great friendship was created.
However, the privilege of not moving does come at a price which reintroduces a kind of rent situation. Still, I can’t imagine that we pay as much as folks living in the flats surrounding the moorings, so it was manageable with a few days a week dedicated to part-time work.
The option of getting out of central London is quite useful as well. We are both nature kids at heart and the city can sometimes get a bit much, so when it is required we can cast off and head up to Uxbridge, Denham and Rickmansworth and take time out.
We can also get around to doing some of the jobs that need attention on the boat and also get complete silence at night. It is only when we get summoned to town for an audition that is becomes a bit of an inconvenience.
For some years we could not fault life afloat one bit as we managed to greatly reduce our “resting job” hours and focus more on our careers. We have a beautiful cosy home full of character which has filled our heads with inspiration from a myriad of interesting people we have met along the way. Life in London is changing for the constant cruiser on the waterways.
In the last couple of years living on a boat has become not only a cheaper alternative to living in and around the big city for many people, but also a trendy thing to do as well. You can’t blame people, we did exactly the same but maybe just before the boom. When we first moved on, finding somewhere to moor was no problem. You could go from Kensall Green to Limehouse and everywhere in between and moor up with no issues. In just three years we noticed that change drastically.
Finding a spot in Camden or Little Venice is like finding a Vaporeon on Pokemon GO! (very rare and it caused a stampede in Central Park). King’s Cross and Victoria Park, just forget it, unless you want to be quadruple moored or squeezed in between three bearded lumberjacks and attacked on the London Boaters Facebook page by a “real” boater, which from what I can gather, is someone who was born on, bred on and never left a narrowboat! So moving around is a tad more difficult, having said that if you have the time and patience that is no problem, but time and patience are a definite must if you are living on the waterways.
As time goes on and we get more work and meetings and also requests for what are known as “self tapes” (an audition you do at home on your own with a mate and a camera) the only problem we are have is a lack of space and I can’t lie, when one of us is rehearsing for a Shakespeare play bellowing out “to be or not to be’s , and the other is being picked up at five in the morning for a screen job, occasionally domestic issues can become a thing, “darling”!
I would say that living on a narrowboat has helped our careers hugely by providing some financial freedom and enriching our lives by meeting interesting people.
It has also helped us equally with loving life, which is essential no matter what you do. Whatever happens in the future with our living circumstances we will most certainly still be involved in life on the water and we look forward to the adventures to come.
Another run-through for another show!
Kae and Lewis on the move
Home and rehearsal studio