Loo views

Loo views

Friday, 14 September 2018

Working hard or living hard?

Society has always taught me that working hard was the highest moral good, both for myself, my family and the society itself. And so, logically enough, not working hard becomes a secular sin and anyone who does not make work a large part of their life is of less worth and should be scorned in polite society.

I went along with this mantra from when I left school (where this concept was first introduced at the age of five), until I turned 50. I climbed the greasy pole in two professions and worked very hard in the process. My rewards were a comfortable life where I had enough money for necessities and a few luxuries. I had a home where all the essential services were provided at the flick of a switch or the turn of a tap. My home made me feel safe and secure, as did the routine of my working day. I paid a good amount to the state in the form of various taxes and so could be described as a model citizen.

But that life did not come naturally to me and living against my nature took its toll. I never married, nor had children. This was not entirely down to my focus on my career but it certainly didn't help. The pressure at work meant my mental health suffered to such an extent that I not only anesthesed myself with alcohol and tobacco, but I reached the stage of seriously contemplating shuffling off this mortal coil by my own hand.

To avoid suicide I utterly changed my life. I stopped working full time. I abandoned my career, and with it my house and all the comforts of normal society. I moved on to a boat and worked only when I needed money to live.

Now, instead of working hard, I live hard. I source my own water, easy enough in the summer, but can involve searching for an unfrozen water source in winter and barrelling water back to my boat. I provide my own electricity, which relies on my boat engine and so learning to keep it healthy was a high priority (and this for someone who could hardly change a lightbulb without requiring assistance!) Instead of a turning the thermostat up to keep warm, I barrow coal and wood to my stove. Disposing of my rubbish is now a 30 minute round trip. I could go on, but you get the idea. The mere act of survival takes a lot of time and not a little hard work.

Since this type of work is unpaid, I have had to change my lifestyle. Rather than visits to the pub or restaurant, I shop in Lidl or Aldi. Foreign holidays are a distant memory and spending on any non essentials is hard thought through. Because I am alone, there are increased physical risks in a water based lifestyle and because I am living on a very tight budget, there is very little sense of security or safety.

But this life fits my nature so completely that I wonder if I wasn't a boat person in a past life! I am joyful deep in my soul for the first time in my life. My entertainment now is walking for miles with my constant companion Bonny the Cairn. Watching the trees change colour is a treat that is priceless. Holidays involve loosening my ropes and travelling in my home for new views from my loo. My company is mostly a large and diverse group of friends on Facebook. Letting my solitary nature take charge for the first time has improved my mental and emotional health no end.

And this life is not costing anyone else money. I do not trouble the state for any assistance. Recently I stopped paid work entirely and am borrowing what I need from a friend, against a lump sum I shall receive from one of my pensions. I still pay some tax when I buy things and so far the state has still received a lot more from me than I have taken from it. My carbon footprint has shrunk considerably too, which benefits the environment. Because I have time, I can think deeply and listen to others. I can stop and attend to the unexpected interruption in my day. And sometimes my sharing of fruits of this life benefits others.

Having a job is necessary for almost every one of us for periods of our life. It is also necessary for the smooth running of society. But is it the only route to salvation in our secular world? Do we really still believe in it as the highest form of living when the mental health of both our children and adults are buckling under the ever increasing pressure? Can our planet sustain us continuing to work ever harder and thereby producing more in the way of pollution, plastic and land grabbing? Do we really want to see 80 year olds working at the Tesco checkouts?

Perhaps more of us need to examine whether we can live closer to our true natures. If we buy less, we can work less. This is a truth hidden from us by a blizzard of advertising. For some, perhaps most, a career does suit their nature. Working hard may help people feel useful, worthwhile and gives a reason to get out of bed each morning. In order to spend a large proportion of their time working, most people need the services on which life depends provided for them at the flick of a switch. Having lots of possessions and being able to spend money may help us feel safe and secure.

My question is: do we really still believe that this 'working hard' life is morally superior to a 'living hard' life?

Friday, 31 August 2018

Settling in

Not quite my view from the loo but it illustrates the priorities I have now I am settling in to my new mooring.

Five days in and I am feeling a lot more relaxed and much less tired. It's been busy though. The above picture illustrates how I get water. The tap is around 300 feet from my boat. Fortunately the farmer has strung a series of hoses along the fence. All I have to do is join my hose to the end and feed it to my boat. Then march down the mooring to the tap, turn it on and sprint back! The water pressure is surprisingly good, considering the distance it is travelling.

Since I took a while to cruise here, other priorities included finding a local launderette and supermarket. Both were satisfyingly close in the market town of Newport. I have discovered two claims to fame so far for Newport. It has won Britain in Bloom more times than any other town, and Jeremy Corbyn was born here.

I have made friends with the local post office at Woodseaves so I can now receive post. I have also found my way to Norbury Junction as this is the nearest place I can dispose of my rubbish. This last task has been made more of a challenge as the main road is closed till October while they install new water pipes. Instead I have been squeezing down roads that have more in common with footpaths than highways!

A more difficult task has been to try and shift some of the silt at my mooring. My rescuers did a wonderful job pulling my boat in the other day, but I discovered it was then stuck firmly on the silt. That's ok if I never intended to move again, but I don't like being stuck and so set to to free her.

It took me nearly an hour with much shoving, engine revving and poling but I eventually got Don't Panic back into clear water. I then blasted the side of the mooring with water from my prop for a while, before hauling her back into the side. I have left her on loose ropes, hoping that as other boats pass and cause her to move, it will help shift the silt. I have also poked at the silt with my pole, hoping to disturb it by letting air in. My body certainly knows about it now!

There are still many more jobs to do, but fun to be had too. Bonny and I are loving exploring new and exciting walks. We are really starting to feel at home here and I think this new home is going to suit us both so well as we both get a little older!

Monday, 27 August 2018


This is my new view from my loo on my new mooring. Not pretty (yet) but having my car right here by my boat is a new experience. For nearly 10 years I have been carting everything in my barrow from the car, down the road, across the lock gate and down the towpath to my boat.

Arriving has been a difficult journey though. I had the breakdown at Woodend Lock on the day I left Fradley (see previous post). I broke down again at the junction of the Staffs and Worcester and the Shropshire Union. My throttle cable snapped, leaving me with no forward momentum! Having only broken down once whilst on the move in ten years, twice in two weeks felt like a sign! But perhaps it was a sign of good fortune, as it happened right beside a boatyard. They had me up and running again in less than an hour.

Arriving has been difficult emotionally too. I regard myself as a reasonably courageous woman, but I suffer from anxiety when it comes to meeting new people and particularly when joining a new community. I think the anxiety has got worse the older I get. I no longer have to attend parties or social events if I don't want to. I'm not working so I don't have to meet a lot of strangers. I fact I can go for fairly long periods where I don't have to mix with people at all. And as with most hangups, if you avoid it rather than confront it, you don't resolve it!

So knowing I was coming to a new mooring, with new neighbours and a new landlord has prevented me from sleeping soundly for weeks. The only thing that has kept me reasonably sane is practicing mindfulness. I downloaded the Headspace app and I take 30 minutes each day to meditate and that has really helped lessen my anxiety.

Today was the day of our arrival as I cruised from Gnosall to Shebdon. (Useless fact alert: the three nearest settlements along the canal from my mooring are Gnosall, Norbury and Knighton. All sound like they begin with N, only one does.)

I arrived on my mooring with a flourish. Because it hadn't been used for months it had silted up and I couldn't get my boat closer than a couple of feet from the bank. I grabbed my rope and jumped ashore to try and pull her in. Unfortunately, my foot landed on a greasy paving slab and I went down flat on my face....right in front of my new neighbour! He came rushing to my assistance, as did his son, on the boat moored at the other end of mine, and the three of us managed to pull 'Don't Panic' into the side, with only a bruised knee (and pride) to show for my tumble.

It certainly broke the ice with my neighbours; Colin and Viv on one side and their son Jason on the other. We had a lovely chat and Viv offered to fetch anything I needed as they were just off shopping. They seem very lovely and that is a massive weight off my mind.

Now I have finally arrived (having been travelling towards my new mooring since May!) I feel exhausted. The adrenaline has drained away and it was all I could do to secure the boat and take Bonny for her first Shebdon walk. I have time though. I have a list of things I need to do, but today I will sit and listen to the silence and thank the god of the canals that I am here.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018


This was my last sunset at Hunts Lock; my home mooring for the last 9 years. Today I set off for my new adventure on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Leaving is an exhausting business. Practically I had a list of jobs as long as your arm and a lot of them involved humping heavy loads. Emotionally it has been hard too. Saying goodbye to favourite places, favourite people and favourite dogs drains me, and as Bonny and I did our last favourite walk, in a place she has spent all her life so far, I wondered whether I was doing the right thing. But my car and most of my essentials are already at Shebdon, notice has been given on my old mooring and it is too late for doubts.

We set off with the good wishes of our neighbours ringing in our ears and the good will of the lock keepers helping us up the flight. Once we were actually on our way, my heart lightened but that didn't last!

We reached Woodend Lock, the 6th lock that morning and without warning my engine suddenly started screaming at me. I immediately shut everything down and tied up. I cautiously restarted the engine, but as soon as I tried to put it in gear all hell broke loose. I called RCR, the AA of the canals. Amazingly two helpful and cheerful young men were with me within 30 minutes!

It took no time at all for them to diagnose the problem; a discarded Xmas tree had wrapped itself around my propeller and the screaming sound was my overstressed gearbox. The poor engineer had to don his dry suit and swim under my boat to free the offending item. Here it is...

(A plea to those who live on or near the canals: please don't use the waterways as a dustbin, you have no idea what trouble a little bit of rubbish can cause.)

Once the offending item had been removed and the propeller had been checked for damage, we started up my engine again and, with everything crossed, gently eased her into gear. Hallelujah, my gearbox was fine and in no time at all I was on my way again.

I staggered into Kings Bromley marina for diesel and a pump out, but the adrenaline was draining fast and with it the last of my energy. Once I left the marina I tied up as soon as I was able and collapsed into my armchair. It's a few hours on now. Bonny and I have had a walk and I have chatted to my friends. I shall sleep well tonight but apart from feeling unbelievably tired, I am back to normal.

Who knows what tomorrow may bring, but I'm ready for it!

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Health and Safety versus risk and freedom

This is not the view from my loo today. Rather it is something I stumbled upon during this morning's walk in the woods near Deptmore Lock.

And what a wonderful site it was. Using only the natural earth a group of people had sculpted an adventure trail for cycles. It looked like an ancient burial mound created by some long dead race.

In my youth I was regularly sent off to play in the woods, where my only tools were my imagination and whatever I found to hand. I constructed some pretty serviceable dens, but nothing on this scale!  What fun must be had here. What thrills and spills and what a sense of comradship and adventure.

But already I hear those two headmasters Health and Safety barking their displeasure. There are no safety barriers, no soft mats to land on and probably no adult overseeing the sport. There are no opening and closing hours, no St John's Ambulance on standby. The potential for serious injury or even death boggle their minds.

And that's the thing. Do we value safety over adventure? Do we allow our children to grow by experimenting and taking risks, knowing there is a good chance they may come to harm? Or do we wrap them in cotton wool, sit them on the sofa and place some technological device in their hands so they can experience second hand adventure?

And what about ourselves? Do we view the world outside our window with fear and distrust or do we stride out there, heads held high, boldly greeting whatever comes across our path?

A woman recently questioned my wisdom of operating locks on my own. She pointed out what could go wrong. She advised me to wait for another boat, Oh and don't moor in the middle of nowhere as you never know what might lurk in the hedgerow.

I have my own store of fears and anxieties and I have to battle daily to keep them in perspective. But I will not let my fear stand in the way of my dreams. I will not let the 'what ifs' stop me from sucking the marrow out of life. I will not value my health and my safety over my freedom to experiment and experience.

There is a cartoon doing the rounds on social media. It depicts a worried Piglet talking to Winnie the Pooh. Piglet says "One day we will die Pooh". And the wise old bear replies "Yes Piglet, but on every other day we will live." Quite!

Meanwhile I have this lock in front of me. But it is blowing a gale today, so I shall do it tomorrow!

Friday, 8 June 2018

I feel trees

Yes, my guilty secret is out, I feel trees.

I feel them literally. When I come across an old or huge or beautiful tree, like these in Chillington Woods, I lay my hand on the bark and just feel. I feel the texture of the wood. I try to guess how long this tree has been here to grow as tall as it is. I wonder at all the changes it has witnessed. I look at the leaves and realise that every single year this tree experiences death and resurrection. I stand with my feet firmly on the ground and imagine what it would be like to be so deeply rooted in one place. I look at the trees around this one and am aware of this tree being both separate and in a community. There is research that shows trees really do communicate with each other through their root system.

I also feel trees in that I sense the spirit of them. To me they feel utterly at peace. They are where they are. They may have seen hundreds of seasons come and go. They experience growth and death. They are sometimes naked and sometimes rich in foliage. Birds and animals and humans play in their branches. Some damage or even kill the tree. Meanwhile they stand.

I sense an almost maternal, or perhaps paternal feeling from certain trees. I have sat between the roots at the base of a tree and felt protected and held by it. They seem to possess an ancient wisdom that I long to hear, if only I could stay still long enough to listen.

Trees seem hugely patient to me. It takes so long for these massive trees to reach maturity. Every spring their sap rises and all their huge strength is poured into producing leaves. Gales blow, the sun burns and then with the first frosts, all that effort seems wasted as the leaves curl up and die. They stand, seemingly bereft of life through long winter nights, until the coming of the next spring when the light returns.

I feel trees and they feel so good.

Monday, 4 June 2018

My new view to be

For once this is not my view from my loo, at least not yet!
After having a lovely time on the Llangollen, Bonny and I have pottered back down the Shroppie and yesterday moored very close to what will be our new home base.

The first photo is taken from the road bridge, looking down the mooring. I will be moored towards the far end which suits as it means very few cars will pass our boat. As you can see, the driveway is well kept and I can park right next to my boat - an entirely new experience in nearly 10 years of boating.

The little pink boat will be leaving and on 1st August that space will be officially mine! I won't actually be moored on it till around the end of August or perhaps into September. There are so many things I need to do at Fradley first, but there is no hurry.

There are plusses and minuses when I compare this new mooring at Shebdon with my current mooring at Fradley:

The biggest advantage is the location of the Shebdon mooring. It is on my favourite canal, the Shropshire Union. It is an area known for its peace and solitude. I love the look of the 'main' road..

Fradley has been wonderfully peaceful for me, despite being one of the busiest canal junctions on the network. All things change though and there are so many plans for development in our immediate area, including a gravel pit, a marina, houses and of course that gross vanity project, HS2. I have noticed too an increase in the number of visitors to the junction which can make it difficult to park sometimes.  I am at a stage of life now where I increasingly value peace and solitude and an absence of bustle!

The two practical advantages at Shebdon are being able to bring my boat to my car and having water taps on the mooring. My foot condition has been almost entirely healed by a steroid injection, but if I carry any weight, for any length of time, it can cause a flare up. So not having to barrow everything from a car park, down the road and across a lock and then down a path to my boat will be brilliant! The water tap is a bit of a distance but I met one of my new neighbours and he said I could attach to his long hose in order to get water to my boat. Thank you Jason!

There are things I will miss about Fradley though. I have been blessed with a mooring full of friends (both human and dog) and I shall miss them all terribly. Bonny and I had a multitude of different walks right on our doorstep at Fradley. Our new mooring, being set in a sheep farm, means our choices are more limited. Mind you, once we explore, who knows what we might discover, and I was pleased to notice a Bonny proof fence between the mooring and the sheep field! 

There is nowhere to dispose of rubbish at Shebdon, which means a car run to either Norbury or Tyrley. At least it will be very easy to diesel and pump out as Norbury Junction is less than an hour's lock free cruising away and boasts of providing the cheapest fuel on the canal system. There is also somewhere to turn my boat at either end of the mooring, which will be very different from Fradley. If I needed to reverse direction there, it meant cruising through locks to Alrewas and turning there, before cruising back, a journey of at least 90 minutes.

Change though is unsettling and I have suffered a fair few sleep disturbed nights since I said yes to Shebdon. To lessen my anxieties, I decided to keep my Fradley mooring till the end of August. This means I can complete things like my car service, blacking the boat and sorting out Bonny's jabs in the familiar places I have always used. Then I will have plenty of time to find new places for all these things before I need them.

Fradley gave me one essential thing that I'm not yet sure I can get from my new area and that is a postal address. My little post office at Fradley has been so wonderful. Ralph and Gaynor have received all my post for the past nine years and have never charged me a penny for the service! They even forward my mail for me whenever I am away cruising. I shall really miss them! I will be visiting the local post offices in the Shebdon area once I have access to my car again to see if I can find another angel!

Meanwhile it is time to cruise on as I am meeting my friends Roger and Shirleyann at Great Haywood on 17th June in order to cruise the Caldon. Once I have reunited them with their car it will be full steam back home to Fradley, for the last time.