As my beautiful brother stepped aboard the slimy, green, beaten up old barge I’d told him I thought was a cracker I could see in his face a familiar look. I’ve seen it heaps.
“what the fuck?!”
I was pretty fragile at the time, and my kind and loving brother chose the path of support and encouragement he clearly saw I needed. Two days later he gave up more of his time, we collected her, and after I feebly helped the broker fit some necessary leisure batteries, together we motored my slimy green, poorly kept but cleverly converted barge up river on her maiden voyage.
That was just over a year ago as I write this. And what a year it’s been for us all in soo many ways. My slimy green, beaten up old barge is now a beautifully clean, slightly less beaten up, magical floating home.
Here’s three little learnings that have come from this weird year for society, and a special year (aside from not earning money) for me living wild aboard my hundred-year-old steel smoke bucket.
In February 2019 I sold a big church in the mountains of Wales. I filled a truck with 3 king size beds, 3 big sofas, an 8-seater dining table and chairs, two massive TVs and a whole bunch of other ‘stuff’ accumulated over the years and packed it into a storage unit. I left my job.
When I bought my barge the only bits of furniture I needed and that came with me were two folding tables. In the Church they’d been bedside tables. Now they are my eating/working/everything tables.
I sold every other piece of furniture I owned. I think for a lot of life I felt defined by what I could “show” for my efforts in life. Property. Cars. Job Title. Etc etc. My journey of letting go of all this stuff hasn’t been a smooth one. And sometimes when I’m watching a good movie or something, I miss having a massive TV. But there is a joy in letting go of “stuff”, and working out what “having” or “wealth” actually means to us as humans.
I’ve had some magical shared experiences on the barge with friends and family. Most of the time I’ve been alone for the last 8 months (since returning from Bali during the first lockdown). I always hated being alone yet craved my own space. Go figure?! I felt that being alone meant I wasn’t worthy or something. Solitude, particularly on a boat with few neighbours and often being out in the sticks (by choice) is often hard, and yet I have learned to love it. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that we humans are supposed to be connected to others, but there’s a magic in solitude and I have enjoyed finding and creating a balanced appreciation of both. To relish connection when people visit, or I visit them, and to luxuriate in the silence of the river. I’ve read a few books this year let me tell you!
Us boat-lifers don’t tend to be rich. And yet the inland waterways we live on tend to weave their way through some of the most expensive properties around. I’ve always struggled with the concept of individual land ownership (despite for a short time hypocritically having two properties), and living on a boat has highlighted the good and the bad in our societies insistence that this is something we should be doing. Owning land – essentially, putting our flag in the ground and giving ourselves the right to keep others off it. Are we not all of the land? (look out, potential hippy statement alert!)
In some locations rural land owners (land that has a river bank obviously), create a sense of welcome. They don’t charge for you to moor your boat (float next to their land), and they even come down and chat with you as a human. In other locations where it would do absolutely no harm, including not spoiling their view (heaven forbid), I’ve had land owners driving down their fields and yelling at me along the lines of “how dare you moor your boat on my land. This is my land”. And in other places I’ve been asked to move on until they’re granted their permit to charge us boat people £10 a night for the privilege of floating our boat adjacent to their muddy bank with no services. This to me is where individual land ownership really shows it’s ugly head on the river. It’s a river. Boaters pay a license to live on the river to the people who look after the river and provide services like water and rubbish disposal (the Environment Agency). This isn’t cheap, but it makes sense. And yet, if we float next to someone’s land they have the right (and more than a few, the majority, make the greedy, non-communal decision to exercise that right) to charge us for that non-privilege.
This is a part of our societal structure I struggle with. That we allow it and encourage it makes me sad.
It’s winter again now. I hadn’t planned to be aboard ship, but away catching waves on a beach somewhere that stays warm and light way into the evening. And so I am learning another lesson in adapting to what is, and making the most of what winter has to offer afloat: Fires, even more peace and quiet, beautiful winter sunrises and sunsets, and winter wildlife.
I wonder what this musing will include if repeated 1yr from now.
Josh Bulpin - December 2020 - somewhere afloat x