Preparing for six months on a narrowboat

I feel as if I should be writing about Ukraine this week. Russia’s invasion is dominating the news, and the harrowing pictures are literally terrible. This is a peaceful European country just a couple of thousand miles from here. I feel helpless myself, but so impressed at the way the Ukrainians are holding off the Russian army. Such acts of bravery and heroism.

I feel guilty that instead I am writing about the events in my life. But that is what this blog is meant to be about, so apologies if this seems trivial.

We are about to set off on our next retirement adventure – six months on the narrowboat. Last year, due to Covid restrictions, we did not set off till July, but we loved our three months in the canals of the north of England. This year we will head south to travel from Market Harborough to Oxford, to Reading, to Bristol, back to London, maybe up into Essex, and then back up to the Midlands. I expect things will break down, weather will be mixed, plans will constantly change. I also expect perfect moments – mornings in the summer with the mist rising from the water around the boat, lazy evenings moored next to a pub, seeing friends that we have missed for years.

At the weekend, I drove down to check on the boat. It is looking good. Over the winter it has been blacked (taken out of the water and the bottom painted), has had new solar panels fitted, the engine and water heater serviced, a new sink fitted in the bathroom, and an expensive new charger/inverter installed, so that next year we can look at updating the galley (kitchen). No doubt we will find “snags” as we start moving again but that is OK.

I wonder how long it will take us to get back into the slow pace of life, and the relaxed attitude we found last year, where things going wrong are never seen as a big deal, and our worries fade away. I am so looking forward to it.

All being well, by next blog we will be on our way. I very much look forward to sharing the journey with you.

Slava Ukraini!

Moving on

I needed to blow some cobwebs away this week, after the funeral of my Dad. We had a thanksgiving service in Salisbury Cathedral, which was quite a joyous event, as lots of people celebrated his life. But it is still a stressful time and I was glad to get back to Scotland. My son, Tin, and I took the dogs for a walk up Arthur’s Seat. This is a famous hill right in the middle of Edinburgh.

It was a crisp, cold morning and the fresh breeze on top certainly helped clear the mind. If you read this blog regularly, you will know that walking is one of my things. There is something in the combination of physical exertion and the wonderful views that really energises me and gives me perspective.

It will no doubt take some time to grieve for my father, but life moves on, and next week I should be able to get back to our narrowboat. Within a few weeks, Mandy and I will be off on our next big retirement adventure – six months travelling through the canals in the South of England. Mandy says that in my head I am already there. I am certainly getting very excited by the thought.

I look forward to sharing the experience with you.

More reasons to love Scotland

We are having a couple of weeks away in the Scottish Borders, staying north of Dumfries. The cottage is remote and with no light pollution, it is properly dark at night. I had forgotten how much stars “pop” in a properly dark sky. They look amazing. The countryside around here is very beautiful. I have been doing a couple of sections of a long distance walk called the Southern Upland Way. January is such a quiet time here. Most people do not want to take time off work, so soon after Christmas, or if they do, they want to go somewhere hot or to go skiing. Over 30 miles walking I don’t think I met another rambler.

Crawick Multiverse – just off the Southern Upland Way

Being retired has many benefits but I think the best is that I have time to do things like this. When I was working I was lucky enough to have six weeks annual leave a year. But still, to take two weeks in January would have been a big chunk of that, and if I did take the time, I would feel I needed to maximise the time, by being busy every day. Now I am retired I have no rush to do anything. Yesterday I did a long walk and today I plan to relax. It is a crisp cold sunny morning, so maybe I will take the dogs out, then light the fire and watch a film or read a book.

My fire. Not my feet.

While I am excited to be planning to get back to our narrowboat for several months this year, I feel very grateful that we live in Scotland in the winter. It is such a beautiful country – about the same size as England but with a much smaller population. There are many new areas, like this, for me to discover, but also the familiarity of great cities such as Edinburgh. There are castles around every corner, mountains and hills, lochs and beaches.

Drumlanrig Castle, just up the road from where we are staying

Personally I do not support independence for Scotland – I also love England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and see the benefits of great countries being joined together. But I still love Scotland. Beautiful, proud and full of character.

Haggis for my tea tonight I think.

Eight wishes for 2022

Happy New Year’s Eve!

When I was working, we used to write objectives for the coming year. So this year I have decided not to make resolutions about things I will stop or start doing. Instead I have identified eight outcomes to aim for by the end of 2022.

  1. I will have a happy family. For various reasons the past couple of years have not been easy for my sons, but things are on the up and this will be a good year. Mandy and I will continue to love our retired life.
  2. We will have had an amazing year on the narrowboat. Last year we were able to spend 4 months travelling the canals in the north of England. This year we will spend over 6 months in the south, meeting friends and family as we travel, seeing wonderful places, and enjoying the best of the countryside.
  3. I will have lost weight and will be fitter. I made pretty good progress on this when we were travelling last year, but the past couple of months have been more slovenly.
  4. We will have decided where we want our house for the next twenty years. This was also a goal for 2021 but we have struggled to choose between the many wonderful places in the UK.
  5. Covid will no longer dominate our lives. This is a hard goal for me to achieve by myself, but I have a good feeling that after the Omicron wave, we will be living with the disease as we do with flu or a cold.
  6. I will have been abroad again. I have really missed travelling. This year I want to go to at least one new place outside the UK.
  7. I will have experienced many perfect moments. I love those moments when you suddenly see an incredible view, or a sunrise, or you sit down with friends for a wonderful meal and you realise that it does not get any better than this.
  8. I will have continued to write this blog. There is something about writing each week that I find really satisfying and mindful, as I take the opportunity to reflect.

What about you? What are your goals for 2022? Whatever they are I wish you a very happy, healthy and prosperous year.

Love Pete

When was your very good year?

I was listening to Frank Sinatra’s ”Very Good Year” this week, and it made me consider which has been my best year. Frank talks about meeting girls at 17 on the village green, 21 in the city and at 35 in their limousines. He then talks about being in the autumn of his years and feeling like a vintage wine. The song became an enormous hit and is still amongst the ones he is most famous for.

When I was 19 I had left home for university and was living in London. I was loving the independence and the freedom to make my own choices. I was doing some studying but also spending a great deal of time at the student radio station. My future was open with so many options. It was a very good year.

When I was 22 I left Uni, started a career in IT and married Mandy. We were just kids and knew so little of the world. Many people told us we were far too young but we were so in love and so excited about the future. It was a very good year.

When I was 26 we moved to the Netherlands. We had two very young children and spoke no Dutch. But instead of being scared, we were excited. Everything felt new. I loved my job. I had remote access to the computers with a 2400 baud modem – 27,000 time slower than the speed I have in this remote cottage in Orkney. It was a very good year.

When I was 37 I joined the Halifax Bank. I had spent many years as a consultant and working for a “real” company felt fresh. Our boys were 11 and 12 – old enough to do almost anything, but before they turned into surly teenagers. We lived in Yorkshire, such a great county for countryside and straight talking people. I learnt to ski, to fly, to dive. It was a very good year.

When I was 48 we bought a house called Monkroyd, in Todmorden, on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. It was the house I had dreamt of as a child, a Victorian mill owner’s mansion. It had secret rooms, open fires, two large cellars. Mandy was back close to her family in Burnley. I was commuting to the great city of Manchester. The boys had left home and we were enjoying our space. It was a very good year.

When I was 55 I was leading a very large team running payment operations for Nat West. It was my perfect job and a great way to end my working career. Fascinating challenges and a leadership team that could meet any challenge with energy and positivity. We were living in Scotland near Edinburgh, my favourite city in the world. I also got a chance to spend a lot of time in India, my favourite country in the world. It was a very good year.

I am now 57 and Sinatra’s “autumn of years” is probably appropriate. Despite a stuttering start in lockdown, retirement has been amazing. After many years of making choices that narrowed future options, suddenly we can do anything we want, whenever we want. Mandy & I have spent so much time together and remarkably we have found we still enjoy each other’s company.

I have had so many very good years.

Which was your best year? Let me know.

Who would go to Orkney in November?

I am very excited. We are currently travelling up to Scrabster at the top of Scotland. Tomorrow lunchtime we take the ferry over to Stromness in Orkney for the next month For anyone that does not know, Orkney is a set of islands north of the Scotland mainland, and south of the Shetlands. Orkney is a popular summer tourist destination, when it has daylight from about 2am to midnight. In winter, Orkney tourist attractions close, it is windy, wet and dark. So why on earth would we want to spend a month there?

The original retirement plan was to go in February, after stopping work at the end of the year. It was meant to help wind me down, hunkered in a cottage with a warm fire as the rain and winds blew around. Well the last lockdown put and end to that plan. In February we were not even allowed to leave West Lothian. Instead the retirement got kicked off properly with our long narrowboat adventure – more to come next year. But we still really wanted to visit Orkney, and November is much like February.

There will still be many archeological and historic sites to visit, amazing walks and views, great food and drink. And there will still be plenty of hunkering. We are super excited. Next week I will let you know whether reality matches my imagination. Orkney here we come!

Why can’t I choose a car?

I have spent much of the past week looking at cars. Buying a car was meant to be one of my first jobs after coming back from the narrowboat. We currently have a Nissan Qashqai SUV and a bright yellow little Fiat 500. While we were away we decided we could live with just one car, and that should be a slightly larger SUV. So this week I have been trawling both Internet and car showrooms, looking at options. We came close with a Mazda CX-5 but I just seem to be unable to make the decision. That is unlike me, so I thought I would do a bit of self-help in my blog, to examine why, and then decide on next steps.

Mazda CX-5
  1. We have always loved the cars we have bought and while the cars we have seen have been perfectly logical and sensible, I just haven’t felt the passion.
  2. At the moment we can’t downsize to one car because our son, Tin, needs a car to get to work, on the other side of Edinburgh. Public transport would take several hours.
  3. The car we need to replace is the Fiat, because after its last MOT, it looks like it could have issues in the future. But we have been looking at SUVs, and with the Qashqai would end up with two SUVs.
  4. Given climate change I really don’t want to own two SUVs.
  5. I feel we ought to be looking at electric, but with a fair few long journeys, the range is not quite there yet in second hand cars.
  6. We have spent a lot of money on the Qashqai in the past 12 months and that will be lost if we sell it.
  7. It is a bad time to buy a second hand car. Because of part shortages, there are not enough new cars coming off production lines, so customers are looking at second hand instead, and that has made the market really hot.
  8. If we have to have two cars, what I really want is a toy car for me – preferably a small convertible. But I know that will just annoy Mandy, who wants the bigger SUV. So I am prevaricating.
  9. Right now we have lots of options, and as soon as we make a decision we have no options.
  10. But I don’t feel happy not making a decision, so need to do something.

What next steps? I have some long car journeys around the UK over the next few days, as I go to visit family members that I have not seen since the first lockdown. That will give me time to consider what I really want. I also need to talk more to Mandy. Or perhaps I’ll just wait till she reads this blog…

What should I do?

End of part one?

We are back in Scotland. The narrowboat is safely moored near Market Harborough and ready for the winter. Our long trip is over.

For the past few years my retirement plans have centred around spending time on the narrowboat. We reckoned that by the end of the trip we would know whether Mandy and I still get on, whether we actually love boating or it was just a dream, where we want a house, and what we want to do with our future.

So how have we done?

The good news is that Mandy and I still get on. We have rubbed along very nicely being together 24 by 7 in a small space. We have discovered that we absolutely love to meet friends and relatives, but we also love the times when we are moored in the middle of nowhere, with just each other for company.

We also have found that we do love the canals. We love seeing something new each day, the beauty of the countryside, the history of city centres, the pace of life, the community. It feels very sad this week that for this year it is over.

In terms of where we want a house we have not made so much progress. We absolutely love Scotland. Where we live now is very convenient, but Fife or the Highlands are also very appealing. We have also considered moving back to northern England to be nearer friends and family, and nearer the canals. Alternatively we could live on the boat 12 months a year, but for now that feels too scary for me. Maybe a house with a mooring for the boat. We have certainly spent time discussing options this year, but are not a lot further forward on a decision. No rush I guess.

What about our future? No decisions there either. But I think we have made progress. We have found that in retirement there is no need to make long term plans. We know much of what we are doing this winter (Orkney in November, Swinton Park for Christmas, maybe skiing). And we know we want too spend six months on the boat next year. That is enough for us.

So probably 5 out of 10 against our goals for this summer, but the way we both feel is more like 10 out of 10. It has been a tremendous time and we want more.

Have a great weekend. Pete

Why am I scared to say hello?

There is a real community of narrowboaters. We are an eclectic bunch, from hippies to shiny boaters, but unlike almost everywhere else, we seem to like each other’s differences, rather than resenting them. Everyone says hello, or waves as we meet. And yet, in “real life” I am quite introverted and tend to avoid contact. So why do I seek out people to speak to on “the cut”?

This week, Mandy and I have been watching a lot of YouTube vlogs from Colin and Shaun – “Foxes Afloat”. You can also catch them on Amazon Prime. Many of the narrowboaters we have been talking to this year have mentioned them. Their vlogs are a bit of a cult viewing, as they travel the canals of the UK in their boat the Silver Fox, and tell us about their adventures.

Foxes Afloat

This week we discovered that coincidentally they have been travelling a very similar route to us, and are but a few days ahead. They have travelled the Coventry, North Oxford, Grand Union and Leicester branch. They stayed in Dunchurch Pools marina in the same mooring where we were last week. They also seem to have a very similar philosophy to Mandy and me. They love the life of a narrowboater, with the beauty and peace it brings. They love the ups and downs of owning a boat. Colin and Shaun have been together for 27 years, like the 35 years for Mandy and me. We resonate.

Shaun is the lead presenter and is autistic. He is happy talking to a camera but struggles with other people.

I am not autistic and have found that this summer that one of my favourite times is working a lock with people I have never met before. But how does that fit with me being scared to meet new people, being nervous to communicate? Maybe it is similar to how I used to work. I found energy from putting myself out there and learning new things, learning from others. I have written before about my mix of being strongly introvert and strongly extravert at the same time. I love watching Foxes Afloat. I empathise with Shaun and Colin. I love the connection with our own trip this summer.

And I wonder why I can be full of energy with others, but feel equally attracted to hiding in a corner.

It is an odd thing, being human.

Stay safe.
Pete

I don’t want to go to jail

We are staying this week in a very new Marina south of Rugby. Dunchurch Pools was designed by the people that built the Eden Project in Cornwall and is very beautiful.

It is set in a remote part of the country, quite a long way from shops and other amenities, but it is right next to three prisons – a category B, a category C and a young offenders institution. They are hidden behind trees, but inquisitive as always I have been for a look.

It made me sad and a little nervous to look at the high walls and barbed wire. The counterpoint between the freedom we have on our boat, and the restrictions for prisoners was very real. I have never been inside a prison, and only once been in court. That was for a speeding offence and although it was a very “friendly” court and I had a good story to tell, I still felt hugely nervous.

I would hate jail. Fortunately I have no plans for a life of crime. But I am hugely grateful that my life has not gone that way.