Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Last Dog Watch

One of the first things I did when I got my boat was to sit at the pointy end in the well deck, with a large glass of Shiraz and go through my diary.
One by one with a huge flourish, I crossed out all the pre planned work meetings I would no longer be attending now that I had left the rat race.
The other vital part of this ceremony of freedom from the constrictions of time, was to remove my watch, an item I had previously been quite unable to function without, and toss it with an even bigger flourish into the Grand Union Canal at Uxbridge.
I assume it is still there along with the many abandoned shopping trolley’s, guns, and even, as was found in the Stroudwater Canal, Gloucestershire a few years ago, a crocodile!
I also assume the watch has probably ticked it's last as it was never particularly reliable, giving up without warning at the first splash of water from an over zealous hand wash. Maybe even swallowed by the crocodile - Now I really am going into Never Never land fantasy, so I will leave you with an introduction to Mellors, my ginger cat, with a personality disorder, for whom the fun of the dog watch had just begun...

(The working day of a ship is divided into watches. The last dog watch being 6pm-8pm)

Saturday, 25 July 2009

A soggy day for Tillie.

Having just spent a wonderful week with Deborah and Bob at their Devon retreat (see I am relaxed and feel ready to impart to you the dreadful day when I almost met my watery grave.

I was glad to finally get out of the marina at Whilton. They certainly seemed a bad tempered lot there. I thought they were waving me off, but I would swear one man was indicating something very rude. Maybe it was a sort of special boater's wave that was not yet aware of, like semaphore. I tried to remember my brief time as a girl guide and then abandoned the idea, concentrating on getting up speed to about 3 miles per hour. I felt very relaxed and self assured.

After all narrowboating is not an extreme sport, what could possibly go wrong? Anyone can drive a narrowboat surely. And with my almost unblemished driving record... ok I know, so maybe I was a little overconfident.

I quickly began to realise that one of Argy’s little quirks was to pull to the right. What I didn’t bargain for was trying to un stick the throttle to slow down and at the same time get the gear into neutral or reverse as required. It all takes good coordination, (not my strongest trait) and sometimes leads the brain to confuse left and right on the tiller, especially when you are tired. (I had been awake with excitement at collecting my boat, most of the previous night.)

It is incredible how time seems to stand still and how many thoughts you can have in what must have been less than a couple of minutes.
The speed that the overhanging branch of the tree hurtled towards my head.
How warm the water was for the time of year as I sank deeper and deeper.
How dark it was in the depths of the Grand Union.
How the hell I was going to get my feet out of this deep mud they were stuck solidly in.
What is is really like to have Weil's Disease.
Oh and luckily, I somehow knew I must stay away from the propeller that was still whizzing round.
When I eventually came to the surface I still had my specs. on (both pairs).

I escaped my ordeal with a bruise (the size of Wales on my bum and a small graze on my hand. My mobile phone was still in my pocket and amazingly still worked although all my contact numbers were lost.

The other thing I lost was my dignity, although I did gain something much more important on that fateful day - a real respect for the possible dangers of narrow boating.
Something that has stood me in good stead ever since.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Still in not so sunny Devon at the wonderful 'Retreatsforyou'...

...and pondering on the meaning of life, led me to recall when I collected Argy Bargy and my baptism of water as I tried to master 'him' and his quirky little ways.
But first a little about how I chose him in the first place.
As I guess most of you female readers will understand, I did not give more than a passing thought to what was in the engine room, or any of the other techie stuff involved with buying a boat.
The colour of the paintwork was not bad, it looked similar to the narrowboats that dreams are made of and inside was sort of open plan, which was just what I wanted in order to convert it to a suitable study where I could be inspired to write and work. Above all, it looked 'cared for.'
So it was not until I came to manouvre out of the marina at Whilton that I realised I had taken on quite a handful.
The bit at the back where I stood to operate the tiller was extremely small compared to the only other boat I had ever driven. The tiller was very heavy to turn and the thingy that increases the speed, a sort of cog wheel with a handle on, was very temperamental and stiff. The gear handle which is on the floor which is up for forward, down for reverse and in the middle for neutral also took a little mastering, especially with my very un boaty shoes. I am sure the other occupied boats in the marina feared for their vessels as I bumped and scraped out of there, apologising profusely as I went.
And so, it gradually dawned on me that Argy was not going to be an easy ride.

Monday, 20 July 2009

What's in a name?

When I first bought my small narrowboat, in November 2006, I never imagined I would be living on it alone. Without a man to do all the practical tasks, especially the ones that require sheer brute force.
However, circumstances have led me to this now 'lone' journey. So here I am, enjoying almost every minute of this, sometimes extremely challenging lifestyle.

'Argy Bargy', the name chosen by the original owners, was, I planned, to be quickly changed to 'Tillie Baker's Study.'
The place where I would be inspired to write my first book, take amazing photographs and become a renowned psychotherapist.
The name remains Argy Bargy, as boating superstition requires that a boat has to come out of the water to be renamed, otherwise - well I never did find out what might happen in that case.
However, the name causes a lot of amusement when holiday boaters sail past and it does now seem quite fitting for what has turned out to be, a wilful, naughty schoolboy of a boat.
As a proud new owner, I sailed away with confidence from Whilton Marina, unaware how quickly I was to find out just how wilful...