Cruising the canals of England, I have come to the conclusion that there are five kinds of narrowboaters. Of course this is stereotyping. Everyone is different, and one of the things I love about this life is meeting the many people and finding out about their lives. But sometimes stereotypes are useful, so here we go.
The day boaters. This is usually a group who have hired a short boat for the day, and crammed on as many people as they can. Often celebrating a birthday or an event, there is usually a lot of beer and wine consumed, often music, and very little understanding of how to steer a boat, or the rules of the canal. They career from side to side and we try to stay out of their way.
The hire boaters. This is usually a family or friends, who have hired a boat for a few days or for a week or fortnight. Sometimes they also are newbies or sometimes they have had many narrowboat holidays and understand it as well as us. Usually they are keen to learn, and we love to talk to them, to hear what they have been up to and where they are going. Often they are on a mission, perhaps a canal ring to complete, or a place to get to, and they will cruise for eight or more hours a day. Our one complaint about hire boaters is that most of them go too fast, especially past moored boats, sending them rocking in their moorings.
The marina moorers. These are people who keep their boat in a marina and rarely move it. Instead the boat is treated more like a static caravan – somewhere to visit for a holiday, and an occasional trip out. We have a lot of empathy with these people because before I retired, this is exactly what we did, with our boat moored at the Kelpies in Scotland. Marina moorers often form quite a community with other boaters in the marina, and when visitors like us join them, we usually find them welcoming. Bit of a waste of a boat though.
The continuous cruisers who cruise. This is us. The rules of our licence are that we must keep moving every couple of weeks, but in practice, we are on a proper adventure and spend most days moving on to find new places to visit. There are surprisingly few boats doing this, but we get to meet them, and often see them again, on a different canal, later in the year. The problem with this group is that we can be narrowboating snobs. Because we move such a lot, we like to think we are expert boaters, and can be critical of others, especially hire boaters.
The continuous cruisers who don’t cruise. These people have continuous cruising licences, rather than ones for a marina or official long term mooring, but in practice they stay put. I do have sympathy for these people. Often they have very little money, and perhaps children in schools, so can’t move all the time like us. They live in fear of the Canal & River Trust police, who check that boats are moving every two weeks. My only complaint is when they sit on the visitor mornings in the centre of towns, which are meant to be restricted to one or two days.
There are other subgroups I have missed, such as the stag and hen do weekenders, the honeymooners, the people who move boats for a living. Despite any grumbles, we all rub along just fine. And one of the benefits of narrowboating is that if you don’t like the people you are moored next to, then you can just move on. It’s not a bad life.
This week marks twelve months since I retired. Overall it has been a wonderful experience but I am not pretending there is nothing I miss.
Five things I really miss about work are:
The people were great. I know it is corny but I do miss them. I worked with some really talented and really fun people. I try to keep in touch but I am rubbish at it.
I miss weekends. The routine of work and the rhythm of a working week are something I have lived with for nearly 40 years and it feels strange that I can now do anything any day. Either every day is like a weekend, or no day is like a weekend.
I miss chatting early in the morning. I used to wake before 6am and email, text or call with my fellow early risers. Sotimes I now have a lie in till 7am or occasionally 8am but more often I am up by myself these days. Nice to have my own space but I miss sharing.
I miss having money coming in. This is a bit of a strange one because we worked out our finances before I retired and we can afford it. We even have our money set up so that a fixed amount goes into our account each 18th of the month, just like it used to. But there is something psychological for me when it is existing money I am spending, rather than new money coming in.
One year in and I still don’t really understand what being retired means. I was warned it would take a long time and it has. To some extent this still feels like one long holiday, and I still rush at what I do.
Two things I though I would miss but I don’t:
I thought I would miss making decisions that really mattered. I worked in the sharp end of banking and some of my decisions affected literally millions of people and very large sums of money. I remember ny friend Matt (who reads this blog) telling me that the biggest decisions I would make in future would be whether to buy brown or white bread. He was absolutely right but I really don’t mind. The decisions I make these days are about me and my family, and I am very happy with them.
I thought I would miss the adrenaline of work, especially when things went wrong and needed fixing urgently. Looking back I think I was a little addicted to that adrenaline, but I don’t think it was healthy. I am much happier being more chilled now.
And there are many things I love about being retired:
I am not tied down by anything. If I decide I want to cancel all my plans for tomorrow and do something different, I just can.
I can take as long as I want. When we were on our narrowboat I did not have to think of where I needed to be by Saturday – we could go fast or slow.
I get to meet new people, do new things. Orkney for a month for instance was a great opportunity I could never have had while working
Overall I have no doubt I made the right call to retire and I am really looking forward to whatever new adventures 2022 will bring. But as it is Christmas I will raise a glass to my time at work, and to all my friends from that time.
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?
Throughout my career I have engaged in personality tests as part of team building with my colleagues. One of the key traits that is tested is whether people are extraverts or introverts. Extraverts gain their energy from interacting with others. Introverts get their energy from themselves. This is important at work and at home because often introverts can be ignored by the loud brash extraverts, and extraverts can be seen as thoughtless by the introverts, who prefer to consider before speaking.
When I have done the tests I usually get confusing results. In some situations I am strongly extravert. There are few things I like better than to stand up in front of hundreds of people to make a speech. But I am also at my happiest by myself on a walk with my dogs in the quiet countryside and I have some strong introvert tendencies.
This week I heard about omniverts and ambiverts. Omniverts are just like me – in different situations they respond differently and get their energy differently. Ambiverts are happy in all situations and don’t show preference either way.
Under lockdown, very many of us are missing other people and long to be back in crowds. For extraverts this must be particularly painful. We just want the energy from interacting with others. We talk about how we will never complain again about busy bars, queues, jostling on public transport.
But I have noticed this week that as the rules are loosening and the paths and open spaces have got more busy, that I have felt almost claustrophobic, and glad to get back to my own space. So I wonder if this pandemic has changed us all into omniverts or ambiverts. Introverts will have realised that they do miss time with people. Extraverts will have realised that they can get energy from the peace of being alone.
What do you think? Which personality type are you and how has a year of isolation affected you?
When I retired I knew I might miss the routine of work, the self-identity it gave me, and the money. I also I expected I would miss my friends at work. But I did not realise how much I would miss just being with other people.
Of course the pandemic lockdown has made things so much worse. Had we been able to follow our plans we would be in Orkney right now. That was deliberately a long break to decompress from working, but I would have been seeing new places and meeting new people. In particular I was hoping to see the Aurora Borealis, so you can imagine my envy when there was a spectacular display on Monday night.
When I was at work, very often from 0730 til 1730 I would be back to back in meetings, whether face to face or zoom. I honestly did not think I would miss them and in many ways I don’t. I love that I now have the freedom to do what I want and not just what my diary tells me. But I do so miss being with other people. I love my wife and my son. But I want the stimulation of talking to others.
I know I should not complain. There are many people very ill and dying from this plague. There are those shielding or self-isolating that have no-one at all to talk to. There are many who would love the peace that I have. But boy I miss people.
How is it for you? Are you in a busy family squeezed together and self-schooling, where my complaint sounds like heaven? Or do you miss people too?