Saturday, July 15, 2017

A conversation with Paul

Paul’s curious. "So why do you like living on a boat so much? I mean, not many people choose to do it, do they?"

Where do I start? I pause a moment to think, to sort out the major from the minor.

"Well, the pace of life has got a lot to do with it," I tell him. "Time changes when you're on the water. We have a clock that only tells us what day it is. Hours and minutes don't mean so much. And when boaters say "Good morning" to you, it's not necessarily because it’s morning, but simply because they haven't had lunch yet. We cruise at less than four miles an hour. We do everything at a leisurely pace."

He makes to speak again, but hesitates, so I continue.

"But it's not just that. The boat itself makes a lovely home. And she's got character. Most houses have numbers. Boats have names. And gender!"

He butts in now, pulling a face that suggests doubt. "A lovely home? Really? But it's so small! So cramped!"

I smile. I understand the objection. "But you know, Paul, she's perfectly big enough for just Grace and me. She has all we need for a very comfortable life. OK, it's a rather more minimalist lifestyle than yours, and more than we used to have, too, but that's not a bad thing. It's actually very liberating in a number of ways. We don't accumulate a lot of "stuff". We have everything we need, and just a few things that are simply good to have around but aren't essential. There's no clutter, and no attic full of things that haven't seen the light of day for years. Waste is minimized. Recycling and repurposing become natural."

Paul doesn't look convinced, but says, "OK..." I pause, but only for effect. There’s no stopping me. I could talk about boat life for weeks.

"And then there's the actual boating. The travelling. Taking our home with us to visit different places. And it's not the being there that's most important. It's the journey itself. It's not like being in a car, where the journey is just the means to the end – the arrival at your destination. We wake up in a different place most mornings. We park our home each day in beautiful countryside, tiny villages, or in busy towns and cities."

"That sounds good", he says.

"I think you've only seen a few stretches of canal, Paul. You should see more. They're wide, they're narrow, they’re straight and they’re winding. They cut through farmland, woodland, moorland, meadow and pasture, through hills and on the sides of valleys. They're overhung by trees, or they give us wide vistas across broad valleys to distant hills. They take us through industrial areas, major cities – pretty much every kind of environment you can find in the UK."

I pause for breath, and Paul gets a moment. I think he's beginning to understand.

"I suppose you get to see a lot of wildlife, don't you?"

"Oh yes! We’re very close to nature all of the time. We see, hear and smell her. Birds – ducks and geese, of course, and swans. Coots and moorhens, too. Grebes and cormorants, gulls and terns, herons, buzzards, kestrels, red kites, owls, swallows and martins, reed buntings, reed warblers, robins, tits, chaffinches... " I've run out, though I'm sure there must be more I could name. Most of the common garden species, for a start.


"Yes, and kingfishers, though not nearly as often as we'd like. And the animals – cows, sheep, horses, pigs, donkeys, deer, foxes, rabbits..." I tail off. I've seen lots of those tiny, fast-scurrying creatures, too. Probably voles, but difficult to identify. I don't mention them.

"Even alpacas and water buffalo!" I add.

Paul laughs. “Really??”

"Yes, really! And travelling as slowly as we do gives us so much time to appreciate all the plants, flowers and trees, too. To watch them through the seasons, to enjoy their reflections in the water, and the way the sky and the sun play in them, too. Sunsets on the canal can be truly astounding."

He nods. He's seen my photos.

"Don't forget the people on the canals, though", I continue. We meet some really lovely folk. And yes, of course there are lovely folk everywhere, but on the water we have so much in common with each other. And people are far more relaxed, too. We have time to stop and chat, and that's not often true away from the water.

Paul nods again, considering. He says nothing. I think he's expecting me to say more, but he's got the picture, so I'm silent, too.

"You know what, Roger?”

“What, Paul?”

“I think you ought to write a book about it."

I smile, and reach down for my Kindle. "Well, actually, Paul…"

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