Sunday, 5 August 2012

Adrift ...

2011 was one of those years.  P.A., my partner, lost his mother very suddenly.  Two months after that my father died.  I may fill in some of the details later, but because I had to move out of the house we shared for eight years, I have ended up living in a narrowboat mostly moored in a fairly remote part of the Fens.  It is the sort of rural hideaway that, for as long as I can remember, I have imagined I would like to live.  A narrowboat has for a couple of decades been, till now, an unattainable fantasy.

One friend tells me often that it is less trouble to dig a hole and throw money into it than it is to buy a boat, although the effect is much the same.  My nearest boater neighbour says that if you don't like someone, buy them a boat.  He has lived afloat for seven years or more.  I have been here for eight months.  I moved on to the river in December 2011 and, in a very short time, I have experienced every kind of weather the British climate can throw at me including strong gale-force winds, minus eighteen degree temperatures, hail, snow, rain, heat, fog ... is there anything else?  There have been days when I have struggled to keep the temperature inside the boat down to 35 degrees and, of course other days when I have struggled to get the temperature up to something survivable.  My new best friend is my Morso Squirrel stove.  In the colder months it heats the water as well as the boat.  Getting it to cooperate is a work of art.  There have been nights when I have had to put on extra layers of clothing to go to bed, including a hat and bedsocks.  When the river froze it locked the boat in place.  The strangest sound was the accompaniment to the first movement of the day when, before the ice became too thick to allow the boat any movement at all, it would splinter with an eerie cracking sound along the length of the boat.  I had not heard a sound like it before.  That feeling that I was not quite sure what I had just heard reminds me of the time when I was woken up in an earthquake.  An earthquake is a rare occurrence in the Fens.

The Fens are a well-managed drainage system, but the changes in water levels can be disconcerting.  Contrary to intuition the river level can drop dramatically after a heavy rainfall, which has happened often this year.  There have been times when the changes of two to three feet felt almost tidal.  I assume this has been when water has been pumped out of the system in anticipation of an influx of water running into the rivers further inland.  Eventually that water will make it through our waterway on its journey to the sea.  A couple of weeks ago so much water was let out of the river that my boat sat on the bottom.  It listed very disconcertingly.  I am discovering there are a lot of things that are disconcerting when living on a boat. 

However disconcerting life afloat can be, the place where I am moored is beautiful in that dramatic, stark Fenland way.  The sky is huge, changes constantly and reflects in the river.  My nearest neighbours are kingfishers, moorhens and horses.  At night there are two moons - one in the sky and one in the river.  It makes me think of The Dead Moon.  During the day I can look out of my window into my own private aquarium.  I watched two swans sit on their nests for five weeks. The first brood to hatch produced seven cygnets, the second was a family of six.  They are growing rapidly.  The family of six cygnets and two mute parents glide past my boat in proud formations, usually in the early evening.  I am so lucky to be here.  I miss my father.

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