Liveaboarder David Johns welcomes in springtime with a roaring fire and a large gin and tonic
WIth longer days to look forward to, things can only get better on the boat
That’s enough! I’ve had it up to here with those little lids that sit atop the stove chimney. They are clearly designed not for any real purpose but to try the boater’s patience. I’ve only been aboard for just over two years and am already on my fourth of the wretched things.
The first one came with the boat and rusted away during the first few months of ownership. The second was flipped into the canal at Lapworth – never to be seen again despite fishing with a magnet – due to my carelessness with the centre line while locking. The third not only rusted shockingly again but has just blown into the canal during Storm Floofypants (or whatever it was called).
Yes, I should have chained it. Yes, I am stupid. No, I probably won’t know better for next time.
I can’t be bothered hanging off the roof with the Sea Searcher on a long string again, flailing it around like a demented grandfather clock’s pendulum. Instead I shall resort to the traditional boater’s response to all ills, pull out my wallet and buy yet another.
Sigh. Who makes all this rusting tat and how do they have the cheek to charge so much for it? Come to that, why do I keep paying? I should clearly take up the chandlery business, looking at the prices they charge!
Never mind. Breathe in slowly. Calm down. Let’s move onto other wintery matters of life aboard and the weather, you may have noticed, has been very chilly of late (writing this in the first week of January). Thank goodness for the stove along with bags and bags of coal. Mmmm, lovely coal. It’s kept things very toasty inside as well as warming up some baked beans, the water for many a cuppa, and even, on the sub-zero nights, a hot water bottle. I’d not used one of those since childhood but oh my goodness, aren’t they great?
The canal’s frozen over a couple of times, only once to any serious degree where I’m moored and it thawed within a couple of days. More so this winter than before have been strong, gusty winds pushing the boat back and forth, out and in, rocking things almost to the point of mild nausea on one occasion. Who knew the serene canals could be so violent?
You’d think, being on a mooring with facilities, that the chilly temperatures wouldn’t be a problem but take note even an Elsan point can freeze, it seems, leading to mild panic about emptying the cassette.
Mostly it’s the wildlife I feel sorry for in the cold spell. Muggins here is a sucker for
a sad-looking animal so the wallet has also been raided to buy a bag of proper duck food pellets rather than chucking porridge oats at them, which was my prior tactic.
The latter always seemed like a ridiculous amount of effort to eat for such a tiny crumb and much of it would sink whereas the decent-sized pellets float well and the resulting feeding frenzy from our feathered friends resembles the piranha scene from You Only Live Twice. They love it.
One of them, a Muscovy duck alone in a sea (canal) of standard Mallards, is an amusing fellow. We moorers call him the “turkey duck” because he looks a bit like a turkey. Quite bold, he’s happy to stay perched on a nearby canal bridge parapet even as you walk past and he swims up to the well deck as I fling open the cratch cover, knowing that the beloved pellets are likely to be sprinkled imminently, whilst his companions scatter nervously and only return when I’m out of sight. He does a little “excited” dance too, waggling his feet and rocking from side to side until the food is thrown for him.
The same excitement is clearly not shown by the non-waterfowl birds who are resolutely ignoring the seed feeder I hung for them on a tall pole by the side of the boat for winter. A solitary blue tit came over to explore and used the top of the pole to sit on for a bit before yanking most of the seeds out in an apparent attempt to find one he liked. He’s not been seen since so presumably my menu was entirely disappointing.
Below the feeder is mud. Lots of mud. Mud on the towpath, mud on my trousers, mud on my shoes. Mud in the well deck and now mud in the saloon. It was briefly frozen but is now back to mud again as the snow has melted. Housekeeping was never my strong point but under attack from both the mud outside and the endless coal dust from the stove, the only realistic conclusion (I have decided) is to abandon all hope of cleanliness and simply give up until at least April.
This can surely be justified on powersaving grounds since the vacuum cleaner demands many Watts from the poor undernourished batteries and they’ve got enough on their lead plates just running the lights, pumps and whatnot.
Besides, in five billion years from now when our sun explodes, no one’s going to recall my mucky living accommodation so really, does it matter, eh?
Speaking of the shiny thing in the sky, thank goodness the shortest day is now past. Each new morning the daylight starts a little earlier, each evening now ends a little later. Soon it will be Spring – is there really any finer season? – and the glorious sunshine will recharge not only my deprived batteries but also my spirits, which seem always to take a substantial dive in the bleak midwinter.
Someone on Twitter suggested I should write a bit about how to tackle the winter blues but since when people tell me I “need a bit of a tonic” I tend to have one with a large gin, I suspect my approach is not an officially sanctioned method (though I also suspect it’s one that finds favour with many a boater).
The “proper” way to keep one’s spirits up – and not in the alcoholic sense – would presumably be brisk walks, time with friends and family, having a variety of hobbies and interests and so on. All of these are still feasible when living aboard a narrowboat although they do sometimes require braving the elements.
If, like me, you’re not suitably brave then an alternative plan must be instigated. So, should the blues be hitting you hard, consider them the herald of the blue skies, sunshine and new life that emerges on the canal in April, making it surely the most wondrous place to live.
Just this week the Highland cows in the nearby field have started churning out hilariously cute and hairy babies after Mr Bull “attended” – ahem – to the ladies some months back, giving an early new year start to the furry onslaught that is to come.
And if the thought of ducklings, goslings and so on can’t bring any cheer then it is a bleak world indeed. And on that cheery note, I’ll sign off with a reminder that you can follow my liveaboard life here in Canal Boat at CruisingTheCut.co.uk or on Twitter: @CruisingTheCut
What’s wrong with my birdseed?
Nothing beats a coal fire
The turkey duck stands out in a crowd
Open to the elements... again