It wasn’t a frivolous purchase; it was my first step onto the property ladder. As a self-employed single woman living in London it was hard enough qualifying for a gym membership, let alone a mortgage. My friends were all living with partners or siblings and I’d had enough of sharing with strangers. I’d been fortunate to have met life-long friends through house sharing websites, but after one was arrested for stealing several grand of bill money to go to a Beyoncé concert, I decided it was time to get a place of my own. Albeit on water. I have a long-standing love affair with London’s canal network. A peaceful, watery haven tucked away behind the smog-ridden rat race of the City; I’d take weekend strolls along the canal to the markets of East London. I scowled at smug couples with posh coffees and smug French bulldogs, carrying unacceptably large Areca palms from Columbia Road flower market, secretly wishing I was one of them.
I took note of each boat I walked past. Over time, I’d spot them at different moorings, recognising their names like old friends and fantasising about what it would be like to live on one.
Well, it was hell to begin with. Once the novelty wore off, I was faced with the reality of having to empty my own sh*t into a sewage drain. Most people only see their food twice, but I saw mine for a very traumatic third time.
The heating didn’t work, my lights only turned on during the day, which was counterproductive, and the décor was in the style of a 1970s care home. But she was mine.
I named her Nora, after a multitude of boat-related mishaps and near-death experiences made ‘bloody Nora’ my unintended catchphrase.
After a half-hour lesson with the delightful Hungarian couple who had sold her to me, I was on my own. I had all the gear but no idea how to use it.
I’m still learning how to be a proper boater, but the greatest lessons I have learned from owning a boat are the ones I have learnt about myself.
I’ve always been one to burn the candle at both ends, which inevitably leads to burnout. I’m often so focussed on one job, one project or one relationship, that I forget that my body and my mind have needs of their own. Boats are the same. If I don’t charge the batteries, the electricity cuts out.
If the electricity cuts out, I can’t turn on the water. If I can’t turn on the water, I can’t use the toilet.
And it all goes to sh*t. Keeping on top of the essentials that Nora needs in order to function is a chore, but if I don’t, the consequences are far worse. In life, we sometimes feel ourselves sinking, but more often than not, it’s because we have been neglecting an element of our own basic needs.
We’re a kind of machine ourselves. We need water, we need fuel and we all need a bit of fixing now and then.
It’s a challenging time for everyone right now but, in an attempt to give things a positive spin, self-isolation is teaching us to slow down and appreciate the simple things in life. Nora has been a godsend over the past few weeks.
There’s always something that needs fixing, or painting or filling or emptying, and it’s kept my hands and mind busy. I even constructed a beer garden on my roof as a symbol of hope for the summer we may eventually experience. I don’t miss the outdoors so much, as when I open my curtains in the morning it feels like I’m already in it.
Every two weeks I go on a boat trip to fill up the water tank (essential travel only) and it’s a nice little break from the stillness.
I don’t have a postal address, however, so when I run out of essentials like contact lenses, I have them sent to a nearby friend’s house who throws them to me from his balcony.