October 20, 2008

Messing about on the river

Filed under: Canal,misc,This is not a mommy blog — Duchess @ 2:21 pm

I haven’t quite come clean about my life in Oxford and have felt strangely reticent in writing about it.

I am, as I have passed myself off, a middle aged expatriot mostly living in England, but also a sometime escapee to a small island in west coast America where there are more Democrats and hippies than you can shake a stick at.

The thing I haven’t confessed to is that in the UK I partly live on a narrowboat, and, in so far as there’s a plan, that’s the plan. When I told my children I intended to sell up and buy a house boat my grown up, moved away son only laughed. My younger, off at college son replied (quite sensibly), But you don’t know anything about boats. My just finished college daughter said, That’s cool, can I have it when you die? And my fourteen year old asked, using the most censoriously clipped vowels her sweet, broad mouth could manage, Exactly how long do you intend to be homeless, Mother?

After that she, and perhaps her siblings too, wrote me off as an unreasonable parent. And why not write me off? Unlike any of the other mothers they know I have sat drinking cheap wine under a bridge and have kept warm by a fire of burning picnic tables.

I have also checked my make up in Her Majesty’s ladies room, because on two separate occasions the Master of the Household has received Her Majesty’s command to invite me to Buckingham Palace. — which means I have got on some ambassador’s list, and long may it be so.

A couple of days after shivering under the bridge while picnic tables burned I fastened a medal to the ample bosum of the representative of Court of St James’s branch of the DAR. Would you be eligible to join? she asked, haughtily and unwisely, breathing deeply as the pin hovered. I didn’t stab and I didn’t join.

My midlife crisis is called Pangolin. She’s 62 feet long, 6.5 feet wide, and illegally moored on the Oxford Canal. I’d be on her full time, except I can’t sell my house and am endlessly here dealing with the upkeep on a part 18th century mess (unless, as I have said before, you are buying, in which case Hedges is an unspoiled village period property with many charming, original features).

On the canal I have peace, though I have no electricity except what I generate with my diesel engine and I think hard about every amp I use. There is no water except what comes from a supply a day’s journey away. My neighbours have names like Ferret and Ratty, keep scary dogs and roll their own cigarettes. We meet in the nearby pub, enforce uneasy peace amongst our pets, get drunk, trade stories. In one way or another we are semi detached from ordinary British society. We are variously lame, divorced, sport shoulder to wrist tattoos, write books or play the violin. We live alone and don’t pay our TV license fee. For once I fit right in.


  1. That’s just so…bohemian.

    I’m jealous.

    Comment by Jan — October 21, 2008 @ 3:16 am

  2. I’m sorry I’m so late in reading this. I’d love to join you on your boat someday, as well as tip a few at the pub with your peers. I’m with Jan. I’m jealous. Happy Trails, Duchess. :)

    Comment by Midlife Slices™ — October 22, 2008 @ 6:31 am

  3. Lifeboat. Now that’s a way to focus on what’s important to you and your life.

    I love the way your children, in their different stages (and accents) respond to their mother’s motherness.

    Comment by Laura — October 23, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  4. I, too, live on a boat. When I’m rowing. I’m thinking of rigging up a small bilge pump so I don’t have to bail her (The Aurora B.) so often. But then I do have a real apartment to go to when I’m not. –Steve from Planet Earth

    Comment by Steve from Planet Earth — November 10, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

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