Our nar­row­boat Christ­mas

Woman & Home - - Happy Memories - w&h

Katie Fforde, 66, is a best­selling nov­el­ist, and re­searches each of her books metic­u­lously. She also en­joys writ­ing about fall­ing in love, which she thinks is the best thing in the world. Her book of fes­tive short sto­ries,

The Christ­mas Stock­ing, is out now.

When we were first mar­ried, long be­fore I even thought of be­ing a writer, my hus­band Des­mond and I de­cided to set up a nar­row­boat ho­tel busi­ness. this was be­cause Des­mond was a Mer­chant Navy of­fi­cer and was re­ally in­ter­ested in canals, and I had done a cook­ery course de­signed for debu­tantes. While it would be in­cred­i­bly hard work, it would mean we weren’t sep­a­rated for months at a time while Des­mond was at sea.

after our first sea­son, in 1974, we de­cided to bring the boat up to lon­don for Christ­mas. It meant the whole fam­ily could come to us, I would cook and we’d go on a trip around lon­don.

My fam­ily – par­tic­u­larly my mother – were al­ways very crit­i­cal of my tidi­ness and they were doubt­ful that Des­mond and I could run a busi­ness that in­volved feed­ing peo­ple and not end up in chaos. I was the less bright of two sis­ters and had a lot to prove.

through­out the jour­ney from Rugby – which on a nar­row­boat takes some time – I was clean­ing, tidy­ing, sort­ing, wash­ing cur­tains, scrub­bing floors and throw­ing away bag after bag of rub­bish.

My hus­band was an­noy­ingly in­sou­ciant about it all, con­vinced the nov­elty of hav­ing Christ­mas on a boat would over­come their crit­i­cal in­stincts. We hadn’t been mar­ried very long, and he didn’t know them as well as I did.

I had al­ways been a bit of a fam­ily joke – be­ing very lit­eral-minded and not go­ing to uni­ver­sity, and I knew they were all long­ing to sigh about the folly of giv­ing up our se­cure (if bor­ing) jobs to take pas­sen­gers on hol­i­day as a way of mak­ing a liv­ing. I was de­ter­mined not to give them any ex­cuse – which was partly why we had is­sued the in­vi­ta­tion to host Christ­mas on our boat.

soon my par­ents, sis­ter, aunt and un­cle, and my sis­ter’s god­mother were all go­ing to de­scend. I be­came one of those peo­ple for whom ev­ery lit­tle de­tail of Christ­mas has to be per­fect or the end of the world comes. luck­ily I had been cook­ing for up to 14 peo­ple all sum­mer and I wasn’t wor­ried about the food. Christ­mas was much sim­pler in those days – we didn’t have gor­geous tele­vi­sion ad­verts with soft toys and sad songs to set a stan­dard, so as long as there was tur­key, brus­sels sprouts and roast pota­toes, any­thing else was a pleas­ant sur­prise. We found the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket and got the nec­es­sary.

but there was still the fi­nal clean­ing to do. We had no elec­tric­ity so the floor had to be brushed by hand. the var­i­ous re­pairs that had gone on had left a bit of a mess and there were bulk­heads (walls to the unini­ti­ated) to be painted.

on Christ­mas morn­ing we were tak­ing our boat to the meet­ing point, where the el­derly could get onto the boat with­out dif­fi­culty.

My hus­band got up first and came back into the bed­room look­ing wor­ried. “I don’t know what’s hap­pened,” he said. “but there’s soot all over the sa­loon!” My heart sank. Had we been van­dalised in the night? We were in lon­don after all – any­thing could have hap­pened. Panic be­gan to set in as I imag­ined hav­ing to re­paint ev­ery­thing.

then he said, “but I found this by the stove,” and handed me a Christ­mas stock­ing. It took me a wor­ry­ingly long time to re­alise he’d been jok­ing about the soot. Fa­ther Christ­mas would never mess up a girl’s nar­row­boat when she’d spent so long clean­ing it, even if he could have got down the nar­row chim­ney of our lit­tle wood burner. How Des­mond had found the time to put to­gether a stock­ing I couldn’t imag­ine, but I was so touched I al­most cried.

We’ve spent a great many Christ­mases to­gether since then but none quite so dif­fer­ent or quite so ro­man­tic. our guests ab­so­lutely loved their trip along the canal. I re­alised peo­ple aren’t ac­tu­ally that crit­i­cal, and things don’t have to be per­fect to be per­fect. and you can al­ways rely on Fa­ther Christ­mas to add a bit of magic when you need it…

✢ the Christ­mas stock­ing and other sto­ries by Katie Fforde (Ar­row), £7.99, is now avail­able in paper­back.

“We had no elec­tric­ity – the floor had to be brushed by hand”

Christ­mas on a nar­row­boat was un­for­get­table

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.