Live­aboarder David Johns wel­comes in spring­time with a roar­ing fire and a large gin and tonic

Canal Boat - - This Month -

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 Cruis­ 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

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