After several years of dreaming, several months of preparing, our narrowboat adventure has fully begun. We left the Kelpies a week and a half ago, and after a couple of days on the Union canal towards Edinburgh, we set off along the Forth & Clyde to Glasgow and the Clyde.
What was meant to be a two day trip actually took four. Our engine overheated and went bang with lots of smoke. We had to stop and call out River Canal rescue who removed a possibly faulty thermostat, probably exacerbated by the vast amount of weed in this canal that has not been used by boats for two years. Then when we could get going again, two lift bridges at Clydebank broke down, and the only automated drop lock in the world stopped working when we were in the middle of it. A drop lock is where you drop down in the lock to go under a road and then come up the lock on the other side. A marvellous piece of engineering – when it works!
So we are now at Bowling – a marina at the end of the canal. Since we arrived here our batteries have drained too fast because the solar panels appear to be faulty, and we were using too much electricity. We are having to run the engines for several hours each day to provide power. Then our bathroom sink started leaking, soaking everything underneath it. A quick trip to a caravan parts shop in Glasgow, and some very dodgy plumbing from me appears to have fixed it for now.
On Sunday we plan to take our most perilous journey, an hour on the wide tidal Clyde river, up to Dumbarton Sandpoint where we will wait till Tuesday and then be lifted out by crane onto a lorry to travel down to the English canal network for the rest of the year. My fingers are crossed. If there is no blog next week you will know why.
What have I learnt this week? A reminder that in narrowboating, patience is everything. If something can go wrong, it probably will, and there is no point in getting upset. Better to relax and enjoy the moment.
This week marks the six month anniversary of me retiring, and is an appropriate time to reflect on what I have learnt.
Work is much less important than I expected. Many people would tell me that after 35 years I would miss the challenge of work, and that I would be back soon. It has not turned out that way. I have been offered odd days of highly paid work and have turned them down. Maybe that will change in the next six months but for now, retirement is definitely for me.
Sleep is great. I have always got by on about six and a half hours of sleep. Although I still like to get up early, I now have about eight hours of sleep. It definitely helps my well being.
Food and drink are far too accessible. At work, even working from home, the rhythm of meetings kept me busy all day. Now it is much to easy to reach for the cookie jar. One for me to watch in the next six months.
I love the freedom to do the unexpected. Yesterday, we were moored up, and I discovered the Falkirk monument was nearby, commemorating the battle between Jacobites (Scots) and Hanoverians (English) in 1746. I spent a happy afternoon wandering the battlefield imagining how it would have been.
Mandy and I really like each other. I had heard so many stories of couples that retired and found that over the years they had grown apart. I am not saying we never argue, but most of time it feel like we are a team. I love it.
It can be as motivating to do a trivial job in retirement as to solve a billion pound problem at work. I truly loved my work. I felt I was involved in big decisions that really mattered. I loved being involved in fixing the problem one day when no-one in the UK could make a faster payment. But surprisingly it was equally motivating yesterday to fix the electrical horn on the boat.
I miss the people from work, but am making new friends. The good news is that I have stayed in touch with quite a few of my old colleagues. Also a little surprising because I am terrible at staying in touch. But I have enjoyed getting to know new people in my new life, especially on the canals. Boaters are an eclectic bunch, but always interesting.
I think I will always be a planner. I had great intentions of not planning anything and just seeing where we ended up. But I do plan a lot – where we need to be when, what we need, what we will do. I like to think I am now prepared to be more flexible to circumstances changing. But I do like a plan!
I enjoyed the stress of work, but I am enjoying more the abscence of stress. There is something energising about the adrenaline associated with stress. In most of my roles, I was “always on” 24 by 7, ready to deal with major incidents. It was exciting. But I don’t miss that stress. My blood pressure is down and I feel better in myself.
Retirement is about enjoying the moment, not about distracting yourself. We had plans to go to Orkney for a month and then travel on the canals, as a way of distracting myself from wanting to work. These plans got disrupted by Covid, but in some ways I am glad they did. As we set off for four months on the canals now, it is all about what we will do, who we will see, and how lovely it is.
Are you retired or thinking of it? What is your experience?
Despite Scottish Canals running out of water this week, we should finally set out on our adventure on Monday. From Falkirk to Glasgow, and then a week later out of the water to a lorry to take us down to the English canal network for the rest of the season. It is a retirement promise that we have planned for a number of years, and should have started in March, if this pesky pandemic had not happened. But as I write this morning, I am struggling to say goodbye to the marina where we have seen berthed since we bought the boat, and to the comfortable way of life we have had in Scotland, with a house in short driving distance from the boat.
This is particularly strange because throughout our lives, Mandy and I have moved house many times, usually for my work, and have always balanced the excitement of new challenges to be greater than the loss of certainty from where we were already happy. And strange because we do plan to come back to Scotland in the winter, for other adventures, such as a month in Orkney.
I guess I am a little nervous of the trip to England, specifically the short journey from the canals, along the Clyde to the boatyard to be craned out. The Clyde is a wide tidal river, carrying big ships and fast moving craft. We have been getting prepared, including this week borrowing the heaviest anchor and chain I have even seen on a narrowboat – just in case. But it is still scary. I am also a little nervous about what happens when things break down. I have done the training in plumbing, electrics and engine maintenance, but that is not the same as doing it for real.
However, I can feel the positive energy from being nervous, and I am desperate to get back to cruising – to wake up each morning in a different place, to reclaim the relaxation from chugging through the countryside at 3mph. And one thing I have loved this year since retirement is spending most of my time with Mandy. Perhaps surprisingly, given that we have spent much time apart over the years through work, we find we still really enjoy each other’s company – most of the time anyway.
What about you? What is your attitude to major change? Excited by the anticipation or scared of what could go wrong?
Today marks a milestone for me. Two weeks after my second vaccination means that my immunity to Covid is about as high as it will get. My chance of getting the disease is much lower now, and even more importantly, the chance of me getting seriously ill and dying is very small. It makes me feel invincible.
Yesterday lunchtime Mandy and I felt invincible enough to go across the road for lunch at our local bistro. This new café opened at the start of last year and the owner, Kumar, was immediately faced with months of lockdown, and yet no reduction in costs for things like council tax and licensing. We have really wanted to support this local business but it is a small room and we were honestly scared, so yesterday was the first time. Kumar could not have been more welcoming. I had their oriental vegetarian burger, made with lentils, lemongrass and coriander and it was delicious. And maybe because we have both had two jabs/jags now, we did not feel nervous at all. Thanks Kumar.
I was reading this morning a report from the Bank of England, saying that the UK economy is growing rapidly as we have opened up again. That is good news and I guess we all need to put particular effort into supporting local businesses. Amazon has had quite enough of my trade this past year.
The other thing I should have been be getting excited about this week was our expected trip down to England with our narrowboat. We were meant to be leaving our marina on Tuesday for a little tour of the Scottish lowland canals, before lifting the boat out of the water near Glasgow, and taking it down south. Unfortunately Scottish Canals have a big problem this week with the main water feed into the Forth and Clyde canal, and all boat movements have been stopped. This is immensely frustrating because there is nothing we can do. Even being invincible is no help.
How are you feeling this week? Invincible? Frustrated? Excited?
I have been on a bit of a tour this week. From Scotland I drove down to Sheffield for a walk with my son, daughter in law and dog, and then on to Market Harborough for training courses in plumbing and electrics at the Narrowboat Skills Centre, Debdale Wharf, working in a classroom with four other students and an instructor. Since I was in England, I took the opportunity to meet up with a friend from when I was working, and I visited an aunt and her family. Both live relatively close to where I was training. I have eaten in restaurants and pubs. I have even been to a cinema. Then tonight I head on to stay with my Mum for the weekend. We talk most days, but as with my son, it will be the first time I have been with her in eighteen months.
I have to confess that after so long being generally isolated, it has felt very strange to be with people again – strange and a little scary. In some ways I would like to retreat back into my safe bubble at home. News from countries like India continues to be frightening. But there are good reasons to start meeting people again:
Isolation is not great for my mental health. I know that everyone has reacted differently, but now is the time for me to come back blinking into the light.
The economy needs growth. Forecasts are for a huge “bounce” in the second half of this year, but that will only happen if we get back to work and back to leisure activities.
I need to relearn social skills. I have written in a previous blog that I have introvert and extravert traits. This last year has made me more introvert and now I need to get out there, or hide in a corner.
There are many things I want to do in my retirement and I can’t do them if I am scared of being with other people.
The vaccines work. Even where the faster spreading variants are prevalent, vaccinated people seem to be relatively safe from severe symptoms.
Gossip is fun. I am not sure if you have found the same, but remote conversations lack nuance and body language, and so the “water cooler” gossip doesn’t happen the same way. I know it is naughty but we all like it!
If not now, then when? I can’t wait for everything to get fully back to normal, because I think that may take decades.
Teams work. Next week I am meeting a couple of fellow narrowboaters to see if we can travel the river Clyde together late in June. It is a big tidal river and frightening alone on a flat bottomed boat, but as a team we will all feel safer and can help each other.
People are interesting. I have always been a people watcher. I love the ways we are all different and can learn from each other.
I have really missed my friends and family. Zoom, FaceTime and Teams are great, but are not the same as being with people.
What about you? Have you sneaked out of lockdown to meet people, are you still prohibited, or like me are you now just beginning again?
I have been walking through a couple of canal tunnels this week. Some of the most exciting and scary times on a narrowboat are travelling through tunnels. Most canal tunnels have very little space around the boat profile. This is deliberate because when the canals were designed, the boats were pulled by horses, and the horses would not go through tunnels, so the boats were “legged” through by two strong men, lying on either side of the barge roof and using their legs to “walk” along the tunnel. These days we have engines and we have to steer 50-60 foot long boats through the tunnel with often less than a foot space on either side.
There are two keys to success. Don’t be overconfident and don’t panic. Fluid mechanics give us a big advantage because the water being pushed either side of the boat as you travel through the tunnel, gives pressure to keep the boat away from the walls. But if you are overconfident and drive too fast, or if you panic and over-react to each boat movement, then before you know it, you are bouncing the boat off the walls side to side.
I wonder of there is an analogy. Here in the UK the Covid numbers have fallen right back. Deaths and hospitalisations are very low, since so many of the population are now vaccinated. Society is reopening, with shops, bars, gyms, cinemas now back or soon to be back. In a month or so we will be nearly normal. There is talk about Coronavirus treatment in pills taken at home next winter. It really feels that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
But two things could get in the way. One would be overconfidence. If we relax the rules too fast, give up on social distancing, refuse to self isolate, then it will be back. The other would be to panic. There are some horrible new variants out there, but the science is working and we can steer our way through this perilous tunnel.
Have wonderful weekend. Let me know hat you think.
We have been living on our narrowboat this week. We are lucky that it is moored relatively closely to our house so we can stay there without breaking too many rules, and it needed some maintenance for the start of the season. It is amazing how good it felt to get back to being on the boat. We so miss travelling on it, and hope that maybe next month we will be allowed once again to cast off the ropes and set off along the canals. The dogs loved it too. When we bought the boat I worried that the dogs would get claustrophobic, or would hate the engine noise, or would keep jumping off in the water. But like us, as soon as they arrive they seem to settle. The only problem we have with them is that they consider the towpath as being part of their territory, and so bark at other dogs walking nearby.
I was reading an article on a narrowboat forum this week, and came across the idea of “shiny narrowboaters”. These are people who care more about the appearance of the boat than what they do with it. I think that I am quite shiny. One of the jobs I did this week was repainting the roof and one side of the boat (I ran out of paint). I also varnished some woodwork, changed a left hand cleat for a right hand one (getting too technical for a blog here!) and put up a sign that was made for me by my work friends when I retired. I think the boat looks very smart.
However, for some in the narrowboat community, I am concentrating on the wrong things. Boats are about living on, not about polishing. I am sure there is some truth in this, but I still like it to look good.
One of the things I love about narrowboating is that the canal community in incredibly varied and tolerant. We have hippies who want an alternative life, We have young people who cannot afford a house. We have people on their first ever canal holiday, and those that have lived their life here. We have people who make their living on the water, and those like me, who have retired from all that, and want the peace. And we all rub along just fine. There is something about the common enjoyment of boating that brings us all together.
And so yes, some may call me “shiny” but it is said with a smile, and with respect. I love my narrowboat, and I love my friends on the water. Good health to you all, whether shiny or not.