A neighbour who lives on land recently expressed her sympathy at me about how hard it must have been to be living on a boat during this COVID fun-time. I’m not going to lie and say that COVID has been fine, it hasn’t, but this is nothing to do with being on a boat. In fact the boat, and the water and our community are the few things that have stayed constant and made me feel grounded during this shit-show of a year.
This neighbour hasn’t ever even been on the boat and it bugged me that she felt she should share her condolences when I had never expressed any problem with our being short of space on a boat. I think sometimes people assume you live on a boat because you can’t do better. She seemed so concerned she even TOUCHED my arm. In the middle of a pandemic! Her eyes said- ‘I’m sorry for you being all squished up inside that dirty floating metal thing’. Poor us! With our grubby little hands and feet all covered in coal and oil and our lack of hot water to wash with and not even having a toilet and only being able to pee overboard when it’s high tide.
Ho ho… if only! This middle-class boat life has its moments, but on the whole we are bona-fide, living-the-dream-spoilt.
Lockdown number 1 was like a cheery little dream, all impromptu canoe trips, shipwrecks, sunshine and not enough work on to keep us from exploring the river. We set out on the big banana (our canoe) most afternoons and found secret waterways off the main river that we never even knew existed. We saw the resident seal many times and once so close that I got a proper look at his face. Such a big face he had- I hadn’t ever really been so close to the face of an animal that wasn’t a dog or a tortoise ever before. (I’m not a cat person). He looked right back at me, with eyes that said – come any closer and you might regret it. I almost shrieked with excitement. I think I did shriek with excitement. The seal didn’t like that and slunk away under the water, re-emerging by the shore to an expectant crowd of onlookers. It then rolled itself out of the river, sideways, (like in action films when people jump off moving vehicles but much slower) and came to a stop, finding itself the perfect spot for basking in and being adored from. The two local seals came to be a big feature of lockdown 1 and all of us on the mooring would share seal spots and come running up onto deck whenever one was seen.
One afternoon we headed off down river and found a secret pathway which got narrower and narrower until the big yellow banana was almost grounded out and we were using our paddles to push the earth, rather than the water, away. We got stuck a bit and had to reverse out, which was awkward but then very excitingly, the water started jumping a lot and the canoe even started to wobble, and this time my daughter shrieked as she didn’t like it and thought it might be shark, which of course it wasn’t. The canoe was surrounded by all these very lively big fish swimming about like crazy, crashing into each other as though they were in that ikea marketplace. We got a good look and later identified the fish- apparently they were bream! And they were all wriggling like that because they were mating, or spawning or however it works. We sat in our canoe for a while watching them, mesmerised, as they bumped us about in a frenzy. Well, I did. I think Nina was squawking a lot about wanting to go home.
All things considered, during the first lockdown I noticed that the thing about living on a boat is that you do have less space, but you also have all the space- right there around you. And when the sun comes out the river opens out for you… all those horizons and all the light. Dammit, that’s good!