by Josephine Myles, guest blogger and author of Barging In
Have you ever dreamt about living somewhere really unusual? As a child who always had her nose in a good book, I was forever daydreaming about my future adventures living in a hollowed out tree, a remote lighthouse, a tumble-down castle or a tepee. I also had recurring fantasies of running away with the gypsies or the circus. Then at the age of eight I went on a school trip to the local canal, involving a short cruise on board a narrowboat, complete with an old-fashioned boatman’s cabin. I adored the idea of living on the water and fell in love with the traditional roses and castles artwork.
Fast forward eighteen years and I was living with my husband in a one bedroom city flat in Bath, both of us yearning for a greater connection to the natural world. Despite my jungle of houseplants, I would still find myself staring out of my window at the river below, wondering if we’d ever be able to afford a patch of land of our own. We couldn’t, but there was another option staring us in the face: the canal.
The Kennet and Avon canal runs for 87 miles through Southern England, between the river Kennet in Reading, and the Avon in Bath. The stretch near Bath is arguably among the most beautiful landscapes in the country, and is crammed with tourist boats in the summer. However, there is also a thriving community of boat dwellers living on the water, and in our time in Bath I had become friends with a few of them. According to their boat licenses, they were meant to keep moving every two weeks, but many had found loopholes and places they could moor up longer term, allowing them to work in Bath. This seemed ideal: I could run away with the gypsies, but I’d still be able to hold down my teaching job!
So, in the spring of 2004 we sold our flat and bought a fifty-five foot narrowboat. It wasn’t an easy life, but the canal was so beautiful I found I didn’t mind the sacrifice of all the mod cons. The hardest thing to go without was a washing machine, but with regular launderette trips and a bucket of soapy water, I found I could manage. Okay, so I could never quite wash the smell of woodsmoke, diesel and damp out of my clothing, but that was part of the peculiar charm of being a boater… The romantic side of me won out, and beat my practical side into submission.
In the end we lived on our boat for two and a half years. In that time I learnt a huge amount about the boat dwellers’ way of life, including, but not limited to: making do with only a car battery to run your entire electrical system; the best strategies for inviting yourself around to a friend’s house for a bath; the many and varied uses for a bargepole; and the best way to empty a portable toilet without inhaling the delightful stench. I often told myself that one day I’d make use of all these experiences and write a novel set on the canal–I just never dreamed it would be a gay romance!
Our move back to dry land happened as a result of the birth of my daughter. Suddenly, the boat that had been big enough for two felt like it had shrunk. My life seemed to consist of washing baby clothing in buckets, and I longed for a washing machine and enough space to dry all those tiny clothes. The charming idyll had become tarnished, my romantic side had gone into hiding, and I just wanted to move before I started to resent my boat.
These days I’m a proper landlubber again and find it impossible to contemplate doing without my broadband and 240v electricity, not to mention central heating, mains water and sewerage. However, there are certain mornings, especially misty ones like the day I took the photograph on the cover of Barging In, when I remember being on the boat and feel wistful. One look at the laundry basket is usually enough to beat my romantic side back down again, though!
What would you do if given the chance to live a romantic way of life you’d always dreamed of, but which demanded you sacrifice many of your creature comforts? Would you leap at the chance, or would your practical side win out?
Website and blog: http://josephinemyles.com/
English through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. Jo once spent two years living on a slowly decaying narrowboat, and was determined that she would one day use the experience as fodder for a book. The result is Barging In, her first novel length m/m romance, which will be released by Samhain Publishing on 20th September 2011.
Barging In links:
Samhain page: http://store.samhainpublishing.com/barging-in-p-6461.html