up in the air
Three weeks ago we moved on board a narrow boat on the River Lea in East London. I like it, but I also am finding it hard. I’ve moved a lot in my adult life, and I know how long adjustment to new ‘cultures’ can take. So I’m trying to stay open to the experience, keep my opinions – one way or another and in between – up in the air.
It’s an easy place to be. So far there lots of things I like and appreciate and enough that I find unpleasant, challenging and discomforting that I can’t yet form an opinion about this new lifestyle.
what I like, what I am coping with, what I am learning to cope with
London that has been my home for the past 10 years. In short I’m becoming more aware about the restorative, soothing balm the proximity and immersion in nature can be. I found the rural/small town setting I grew up in oppressive and isolating. I fled to the ‘big city’ as soon as I could and have pretty much stayed in urban areas, with the exception of 18 months in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas (Mexico). The thing i like about living on the Lea is proximity to nature AND a busy urban centre footsteps away. It also gives me pause to think about how for 10 years I have essentially taken all this green space for granted. But that’s often that way it is with life’s privileges and gifts. We are more likely to notice what we don’t have rather than appreciate what we do.
like walkies – I love that dog walks begin instantly the dog jumps off the bow of the boat and without a lead (leash for US American English readers 😉 or concern for motor traffic we begin our walk, though some cyclist pass at quite a speedy clip, so it’s not always an easy walk in the park. A bit of vigilance is required.
like few(er) possessions – In moving from the flat to the boat, we gave away about half of our stuff, put another quarter in storage and have the remaining with us. Even this quarter on board is heaps more than when we moved to
the UK with 10 years ago from Mexico. Where does stuff come from? We are not a wealthy household in terms of income, and we get a lot of our stuff second-hand, but still we have a lot! But already it feels good, we’ve stripped away a lot of excess and in few more months will give up even more for our move to Spain. This first culling of stuff to move on board has been enormously helpful.
like my bike – the self-sufficient, ‘do-it-yourself- attitude present in the boating community has inspired me to get back on my bicycle to move about London after a lazy stint of train and tube-taking.
coping with small and (sometimes) tidy space – 71 feet (about 22 metres) of boat and all my stuff right here within reach, I hardly ever have to get up! Our kitchen is so small I can sit at the table and reach the refrigerator, the chest of drawers with food stuff and the cupboard with
plates, all from my stool. And while some things are finding their place, I can see it probably all will fit once we get things shifted just so. And if not, there’s always the roof, providing it is waterproof or will fit into a waterproof bin. And if not there, then in storage space our friends are providing.
coping with showers at work – I wouldn’t say I ‘like’ taking a shower at work, but it is a nice discovery that at my workplace we’ve got a really great shower room with a powerful, large shower head, and no shortage (so far!) of hot water. A spacious area for changing clothes, with plenty of hooks for hanging clothes, a chair and a mirror. I’ve also been impressed to discover that left to the simple task of showering and dressing I can be ready in 10 minutes.
coping with clothes washing and wearing – Since moving on board I have washed clothes once and I was surprised and pleased that between two people we only had three loads. This means we are wearing our clothes more than once (knickers excluded!) and becoming more discerning about what constitutes really ‘dirty’ clothes , which also goes deeper and means meaning breaking personal habits and attitudes.
learning to cope with s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s – Everything takes longer living on board. For example washing clothes the other day took me the better part of a day.
I left at 9 am and got home at 3 pm. I took my computer and thought ‘I’d get work done’ in between loads, but really that was hard. I got some stuff done, like personal admin but settling into a concentrated streak of working wasn’t possible.
This could frustrate me, which honestly it did. But I am also trying to view it through a (positve) lens of personal relationships and connections. Hurrah! Friends/neighbours gave me keys so I can go in and wash clothes any time, how nice is that!? And I also saw two friends that day I hadn’t for a while, and had a great pub lunch. I think I’ll learn to cope (eventually).
learning to cope with limited water – Just how long will 1,000 litres of water last two people living on board? The friend we’re borrowing the boat from lived on board alone and said that a tank of water lasted her about 2 weeks, so last Saturday night (13 days after moving on board) when Ian ran out of water in a shower, I was satisfied to learn that 1,000 litres can also nearly last 2 people — who are super thrifty with water and doing things like showering at work — nearly two weeks too. I don’t like having to be careful about water though, honestly it makes me anxious. Water is life, and it is precious I know. It also makes me aware of I have wasted water in so
many ways in the past, like wearing something once and washing it because it’s feels easier to drop it in the dirty laundry basket than to hang it up. Again, another example of not fully appreciating the privilege and gift it is to have potable water running 24-7. Again eventually I’ll learn to cope with this too and (hopefully) carry with me lessons about how to use a fairer share of the planet’s water.
learning to cope with less frequent cleaning – Related to the water and to the fact that we are dependent on diesel for our on board electricity, I am learning to clean differently. While I am not obsessed about cleaning, I do like a clean, neat and tidy space. It helps me focus my mind and sometimes it gives me reason to avoid getting down to my paid work. But rather than hoover or scrub the tub I’m learning to cope with a broom and dust pan and ignore the spider webs and piles of dust. Learning to cope with a less clean and tidy space means more time for dog walks and all those other chores that need doing.
learning to cope with limited electricity – The other night a lack of electricity forced me to do something else other than ‘work from home’, which is something I (can) do a lot if I don’t monitor my time-usage. It was 8 o’clock and the computer battery was nearly out of power. Though I had more to do (isn’t there always?), noting the time, I thought there are some things about limited electricity that may be a good thing. Like right then, when it was a sensible time to stop for the day, after all I had begun about 12 hours earlier. It was time to connect with my household (sort those boxes and put things in drawers) and the person and dog I love and share the boat with.
Ian just bought kit for a solar panel, so in a few days/weeks times (everything takes longer on board, remember!) we’ll have greater flexibility with our electricity usage. But now, each day we have to run the engine to charge the batteries and be careful about our electricity usage. Watch this space, and I’ll let you know how solar power changes our lives!
learning to cope with unpredictability – Recently, we moved the boat on Sunday afternoon and on Monday evening decided we didn’t like the spot and at 8pm we pulled up the mooring pins to move the boat 100 metres along the tow path. The spot is better, it
has more green grass (where previously there were just paving stones) but it did mean that we didn’t make dinner or configure the wireless router to work with the printer and other jobs we were going to do that night. There’s also the two times the dog ran off into Hackney Marshes just as we were both leaving for work, which meant the day all started differently than I’d imagined.
All in all, it’s going OK, meaning it could be worse. I am in my discomfort zone a lot, and not always in ways that bring out the best in me. I’m also really tired a lot, as adjusting to the small boat bed means I’m not sleeping as deeply and well as I had. And my morning daily creative practice is suffering, but I trust it’s it is the upheaval of the move, and soon, all will be ‘normal’ again. A good night’s sleep usuallly does that, doesn’t it?