There comes a point in every marriage where your husband walks up to you and asks how would you feel about living on a narrowboat my little sausage.
Oh, they generally don’t, you say? Must just me and my James then.
Here we are regardless, on a boat! Being either naïve, stupid or both, I said yes in a heartbeat. The winter months in Mazamet are incredibly calm; when it gets cold and grey, everything slows down. In fact, the colder it gets, more sluggish it is, up to a point where even the never-tiring labour of atoms comes to a halt and everything we love and cherish will cease to exist. Wait – I might have accidentally described you the absolute freezing point, but I hope you catch my drift. Winter is not the best season by the Montagne Noire. So, to cut a long story short, as James works in the UK anyway, I thought I might as well join him on the Kindred Spirit with our little pupper Rusty.
The house will wait patiently for our return in the spring.
As narrowboats come, The West Riding Kindred Spirit is a pretty typical one; basically, a floating one-bedroom apartment clad in wood – with a kick-ass log burner. Once you get used to the narrowness of it, the boat is more comfortable than many flats I have lived in; it is bigger than my first apartment and far more comfortable. Our unusual accommodation does not feel like a compromise either. The lounge is nice and cosy, and so is the snuck bedroom with a double bed and a wardrobe. Our galley is roughly the same size as our kitchen chez nous, but with the added convenience of fitted cabinetry, a gas hob and an oven. The bathroom too boasts all the modern conveniences including a generously sized shower and a fixed cassette toilet. We a reliant on our mooring for electricity as well as water, but when chucking down the canal system, a handy set of leisure batteries keep us powered up. The regular maintenance includes emptying the toilet around once a week, keeping us stocked in gas, wood and coal and filling up the boats water tank when needed.
Kindred Spirit, currently leased to us, was built by its current owner, an electrical engineer with his dad who’s a carpenter – and the expertise shows. Every nook and cranny of the boat has been beautifully crafted and finished with real wood. Storage has been well thought out too, and there’s enough of it. Only thing I am missing at all is a fixed dining area, but a foldable table is not bad either. The layout of the boat is pretty straight forward: first up there is the lounge and the kitchen, followed by the bathroom, our bedroom and finally some storage space in the engine room at the back of the boat. I personally like how they have divided the public living space from your private bedroom- and storage space by placing the loo between the two. So far, we have had one quest staying with us, on our handy sofa bed in the lounge, and the separation of space worked really well for us and the dog.
And speaking of dogs - Rusty the dog, who has his bed set up right by the fire, has settled in well, although there has been one of two Houdini-acts performed while I was out on errands. It is tricky to say whether he dislikes staying on the boat on his own, or if he would great-escape his way out from our usual residence as well if the door wasn’t so secure. Once on board with us, though, he is as relaxed as ever. Equally importantly, we have settled in well, too. Neither James or I have never lived on a boat before and leasing Kindred Spirit has felt right from the start. We both love the wood burner most; fiddling with the fire is incredibly relaxing.
Altogether, this feels like a great alternative to renting a flat, especially considering the price of renting in England. The biggest bonus is of course that unlike an apartment, it is not tied to a specific location. Let’s say James’ work moves to London next month – we can move the boat with it. It has always been a big stressor for the self-employed folks like him and I, the need to relocate ourselves where ever the work may be at a moments notice, when the standard rental period is 9 months. The UK’s extensive canal network and the ability to chug our home anywhere on it is a huge benefit.
Other important aspects of the boat life I have embraced so far, and I am trying really hard not to get too preachy here, are not just economical but ecological. Needing to be aware of our usage of energy from seeing we have enough gas or logs and making sure the electricity meter is topped up, makes me almost instinctively scaling down our consumption. Also, as the space, storage space in particular is at a premium, you think twice about bringing in more stuff – often realising you can happily do without certain objects and things altogether. The times I do use up a lot of energy around the house, when cooking for instance, I actively try to go with as little gas as possible. In practise this means keeping the kettle on the log-burner rather than firing up the gas every time I want a cuppa or slow cooking stew on it rather than roasting the meat in the oven. Having our food cooking on the residual heat of the wood stove is incredibly satisfying. And did I mention, you can toast crumpets on it too!
Don’t get me wrong, I will stay a material girl ‘till the day I die, but who really needs to acquire every new book/film/gismo that is available to buy? No doubt this newly found self-awareness of my habits as a consumer will extend to my life in France and have an impact on the things I purchase rather than borrow, store rather than sling. It is easy to advocate a life without luxuries when you have a nice house full of nice stuff waiting for you in France, but there we go. As the alternative would have been renting another house or a flat, I think we have done pretty well.