Loo views

Loo views

Monday 6 May 2019

Going with the flow?

This is my current view from my loo.

I am still on the Llangollen Canal but have turned at the top and am now on my way back down. The highlight has, of course, been crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the downside has been having to operate many lift bridges!

Travelling on the Llangollen is particularly interesting because there is a strong flow of water from the top to the bottom, very unusual in a canal. Travelling against the flow is altogether harder. The tiller fought my controlling hand, bridge holes slowed my boat so much that it was hard not to bounce off the sides and as for the tunnels... The flow through the Chirk Tunnel was so strong that I just about ground to a halt! And I hate tunnels at the best of times. 

I am now travelling downstream, with the flow, and suddenly everything is simpler and calmer and more enjoyable. My engine doesn't have to work as hard, I slip through the bridge holes with ease and even the tunnels were straightforward. I can cruise at tick over speed and yet be moving as quickly as I was going upstream with full revs on. It is an all together more pleasant experience. 

It prompted me to reflect on my life and how I am living it. Am I going with the flow or battling against it? How much do I follow my natural instincts, rather than forcing myself to fit in with the society around me? How much do I listen to my inner voice prompting me to rest, or eat or exercise? Am I living my life in a way that fits with the person I am becoming? Do I battle with the world or smile on it with compassion and humour and forgiveness?

If I had asked myself these questions 20 years ago, the answers would have shown that I was living a profoundly unnatural life for my character and in almost every way I was 'going against the flow'. Now, after ten years of living on my boat, ten years of increasing material poverty, ten years of letting go of all my many 'shoulds and oughts' , ten years of discovering what my natural self is actually like, well, I still have areas to address, but I can honestly say I am now going with the flow. And it feels good! 

Now I need to leave off writing and pay some more attention to Bonny. She is ten years old today. We have been celebrating her birthday with walks, sausages and much fun!

Sunday 14 April 2019

A new attitude

Not strictly a view from the loo, but more a portal into a different existence; the world of cruising.

I have spent a very happy winter on my not so new mooring at Shebdon. I arrived there at the end of August and the time since has just flown by. So now we are in April and I have left my lovely mooring (and my wee car) and have cast myself onto the waters.

Bonny is still with me and although approaching ten years old, she is as lively as ever. The good news is that, since we have been at Shebdon she has been much less inclined to run away. She did it once and I had to rugby tackle her in the back garden of a nearby house. Since then she seems content to stay with me. So much so that we can now tramp across fields and through woods without using a lead. Her secret is that she has finally lost her fear and anxiety and trusts me now.

We have been cruising since 31st March. Bonny's new attitude has made me reappraise my own bad habits when it comes to new adventures. I have always struggled with anxiety and moving my boat from place to place sometimes causes me illogical stress. I have a phobia about queuing and so will start cruising at silly o'clock just to try and get to a lock flight first. If another boat comes off their mooring in front of me, or I find a queue when I get there, I can feel aggressively anxious. Mooring up too can get me going. I prefer to moor in out of the way places and can get very aggravated when, what I term, a 'snuggler' comes and moors right by me. It can leave me wound up for the whole evening. This spoils what is otherwise an idyllic existence.

This season I have made a 'new cruise' resolution. Each morning I say to myself "Today, I choose not to be anxious." I then carry on my day as I would if I were the only person alive in the world. I don't hurry to start in the morning (this is taking a lot of will power when I have a big lock flight to do). If I am following another boat I breathe deeply and give them (and myself) loads of space. I have started to moor on visitors moorings because I expect other boats to come and moor up next to me, so it causes less stress when they do. And if they don't it's a bonus.

So far I have been doing surprisingly well and only had one day where I slipped and rushed off in an anxious hurry. I noticed how that coloured my whole day and how it affected Bonny's mood. I also notice how much better my days are when I choose to relax and go with the flow.

Perhaps I am finally growing into my boat's name: 'Don't Panic'!

We are currently on the ridiculously beautiful Llangollen Canal, making our way very slowly towards Wales. I will endeavour to make regular entries in this blog as we travel.

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!