The Biggest Book of Yes

Boat Life, Eight Weeks In

When I began writing this blog back in August, it had been three months since my last blog post. For this, I am truly sorry; sorry to myself more than anything to have allowed my writing routine to fall by the wayside. The progressive story of our boat life, eight weeks in needed to be shared. I will do my best to update more regularly, as time passes.

A narrowboat cruises along a tree-lined canal with a towpath to the left
Cruising along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

In this time away from the keyboard, much has happened. I know I should not be so hard on myself for giving myself this space. It was essential as while a life-changing transition was in full swing. The Biggest Book of Yes was being marketed and there was no way I could have handled the usual routine. Life was far removed from any normal routine I have ever known!

Having said "yes" to boat life, a woman stands in front of a canal boat, holding up The Biggest Book of Yes
The Biggest Book of Yes; chapter written and illustrated, then the book was successfully marketed with the help of a great team!

Tough Decisions

The ‘move’ to our 40ft narrowboat on a canal in South Wales finally took place. Despite the downsizing, it was a way bigger move than I could ever have anticipated. The process of trawling through belongings and making decisions about what is stored and what is given away is tough. The hard part was that most items will not be seen again for at least twelve months.

In the post-move reflection, the process reminded me of prepping for a long-distance walk. Strangely, I experience similar conundrums and anxieties. These are usually fears or concerns about being separated from belongings I may (or may not) need. Even as my skills and understanding grow, I seem to clutch at these unnecessary worries, as if leaving them behind will render me helpless. Note to self: work on this troublesome harbouring of flimsy concerns… it always turns out to be groundless!

Surprisingly smooth

Back to the update on where I am at currently with settling in on our new,
floating home then. While it was a difficult move, in the sense that I had to
face a lot of realities, mostly surrounding the need to shed the enormity of
belongings I had acquired, it has actually been quite a smooth transition,
from an emotional perspective. I thought I would have been much more attached to my house of over twelve years. But the connection was simply no longer there, which surprised me. It was sad to leave my lovely neighbours behind, however. That was a totally different disconnection of ties, to that of the house. At least I know I can keep in touch with them, so it’s not a ‘final’ goodbye as such.

After at least seven car journeys between Dorset and South Wales, over a
period of four days, the move was complete. Some of you will be asking why we didn’t hire a van. It’s simply that we had already hired the van and moved out the majority of the big stuff, in February. It either went to my daughter, to my mother, or to storage. Selling or giving away items became a large part of the process. We glamped in an empty house for four months, due to lockdown. Our honest belief was that we only had a few carloads left to remove from the house. We both see now how much of an underestimation that was!

A chance to get creative

Having bobbed on the canal either uninhabited or used as Mike’s man cave for so long, Alys needed a serious clean, inside and out. I found I needed to be super creative about how to store some of our belongings. Thankfully, doing this task overnight did not occur to me, on this occasion! Boat life, eight weeks in and I’m still discovering new ways to tackle new storage problems. My usual, ‘have-to-do-it-all-now’ attitude may well have been packed away into the self-storage, along with our belongings. I discovered (with surprise) that fortunately, my head was okay with waiting.

Silly things like where to store the little wooden blocks that keep the windows closed, while the windows are open gave me a few days of inventing ideas. Eventually, I came up with attaching velcro to the outside edge of the window frame (on the inside of the boat), so the blocks could attach snugly to the frame and are always in the same place. So simple but even if I say so myself, it was a moment of genius.

A routine for harmonious living

New ways of approaching tasks and finding a new routine were necessary. The sensible and only way to deal with the transition was to consider how we can ensure harmony in such a small, shared space. We fill the water tank once a week, usually on a Sunday morning. It takes around forty minutes to fill up and that’s been a good time for us to both sit and read a book. I haven’t known Mike to read as much before, so this is a great habit for us both – there’s a real sense of closeness, strangely, when sharing reading time.

Other routines including cruising the boat up the canal about six miles for a pump-out once a month or so. Mike goes off to work during the week and while I expectantly wait on the supply teacher’s phone call, I continue work on HeadRightOut admin. I find myself figuring out more nifty ideas for clever storage on the boat, and enjoy exploring my new surroundings.

The big issue

To be honest, adapting to boat life (eight weeks in) has been pretty easy with there really only being one main problem, since the start. There isn’t going to be a quick fix. In short, I have a bad back. That’s such a generic term, which I dislike with a passion, as it really doesn’t give much information about how or why I am hurting, other than simply that. I’m hurting. I’m in pain. It’s like a tooth-ache, constantly niggling and preventing me from any kind of physical morning routine such as yoga, running, or walking. I roll myself out of bed, unable to sit up, bend, twist or make any kind of flexible movement, that really at my age and level of fitness, I know I should be able to.

The bed mattress is new, so my inner Sherlock concludes that it shouldn’t be
the bed causing the pain unless of course, it was the incorrect level of
support suited to me in the first place. The intensity of moving house, is no doubt a culprit within this saga. I’m guessing that not many of those who usually suffer from the occasional back niggle would find themselves escaping back pain, following a house move.

The bedroom area of a narrowboat is a big part of boat life
The bed at the stern (back) end of the boat. Mike and I put up an extra shelf under the existing overhead storage, to house my sketchbooks, drawing board, and rolls of podcast corrugated cardboard, used for sound dampening.

A possible solution

My constant searching for the root cause of the problem has led me to the bench seats on Alys. These fixed, storage seats are topped with foam mattress cushions, which when welcoming guests to the boat, double-up as a spare bed. I am pretty certain that spending time sitting here chatting, eating and writing is the main source of my pain.

Back in Dorset, there is a supplier that provides foam for many uses,
including but not limited to, the marine industry (particularly Sunseeker, who are based in Poole). Having placed an order online, it is my aim then to head back down south this week, to visit with friends, and to collect one seat pad’s worth of mattress/sofa-grade foam recommended for this purpose. I’ll try it for a week or two and if successful, I’ll begin ordering a full set of new foam rectangles for the bench seats and take on the task of reupholstering them too, as the old cushions do not have removable cushions.

Friendships and exercise

Regarding friendships, I haven’t made any ‘close’ contacts yet, however, I
do have some lovely shared friends with Mike who has a wide social circle here in Abergavenny. I strike up impromptu conversations with many people who wander past the boat. Some are holidaymakers, others are regulars – either daily strollers, stretching their legs, families, cyclists or dog walkers. For the time being, as I am still in a place of settling-in and getting to know my surroundings, this has kept my need for people and community, well-fed. Longer-term, I am sure I will connect with like-minded people who I can call my ‘tribe’ during my time here in South Wales.

Regarding physical activity, later in the day, once my back has eased, I try to get out for a walk along the canal or up the hill behind our mooring. As long as I continue to move my body and get some cardio exercise in, which the hill walking definitely fulfils, I feel as though I’ll be able to work on strengthening my back.

Lady sits at the top of a hill, smiling and looking hot and rosy-cheeked
It was hot work, climbing the front face of The Blorenge but Zoe did it, despite her fear of heights.

UPDATE

At the time of completing this blog about our boat life – now mid-September, although I am still achy in the mornings, my back is actually much better than it was in the first few weeks of moving to the boat. I am feeling confident that I can continue strengthening and as a result, enjoying my time living in this new environment.

I cancelled my order of the piece of foam for the bench seat. At £54, I felt that was a bit excessive, as I’d have another four foam pads to purchase and cover, if this one was successful. Instead, I found a reclining seat pad from The Range for £17.99 – it has worked like magic! My friend who lives near the Bournemouth store has now purchased a second one on my behalf, for me to bring home for Mike. I’ll collect it when I visit her next. I wanted to make sure they didn’t sell out!

The interior pink bench seats inside a narrowboat with a recliner seat pad to help assist back pain during boat life
The magic recliner seat pad, in-situ atop the twenty-something-year-old bench seat cushions.

Yoga has been part of my much-needed transition to boat life. It has been empowering being on my mat on the grass to the side of the towpath, with an incredible view of the Skirrid on the far side of the valley. On one very stormy night, I was able to make some adjustments inside the boat and move my yoga mat indoors. The only thing I couldn’t do was to raise my arms high. As the wind raged and gusted outside, it took all my core strength to ensure I stayed upright – bearing in mind that as the wind blows, the boat moves!

dreamy skies

I have to keep pinching myself to make sure that living here isn’t just a dream. Waking up in the early morning to moonset and sunrise includes a varied mixture of wet or grey days, coral skies and the occasional fireball, peeking through a misty morning in the valley below. In the first eight weeks of boat life near Abergavenny, I have been blessed with witnessing a cloud inversion twice and when it happens, I am as excited as a child diving into their gifts on Christmas morning. Rainbows and thunderstorms catapault me into the same, enthusiastic place…

As autumn creeps its way into our days I find myself eagerly seeking out the signs of new colours appearing across the tree canopies. Whenever I can, I ditch the option of taking the car into town and instead will walk. Or I give myself an hour to walk up through the steeply wooded footpath of the old Blorenge tramway. I’d love to muster the courage to cycle into town – I know I WILL manage this, but I’m still feeling apprehensive at the moment. I’ll definitely be shouting from the hilltops when I’ve achieved it!

Woman standing next to a triangulation pillar on top of a hill, surrounded by blue sky and boulders.
Happy to have reached the triangulation point at the top of The Blorenge, after my solo scramble up the front face of this very steep hill.

Summarising our boat life, eight weeks in

Overall, boat life, eight weeks in has been a positive experience. Any anxieties I held about taking the leap to move here were short-lived and unfounded. Even taking into consideration the fat spider that made its home in my bed, the Houdini earwig that found its way into a tightly screwed jar of honey (and drowned), and the leaky sewage tank under our bed (being dealt with) – it is still the most liberating and worthwhile episode of this particular chapter of my life, so far.

Any complaints?

None.

The interior of a narrowboat, looking towards the bow end (front) of the boat with a wood burner in the foreground and open doors.
The living space of the narrowboat, with woodburning stove, chest of drawers, and Zoe’s homemade deckchair style curtains.

HeadRightOut
HeadRightOut

10 Comments

  1. September 15, 2020 / 8:26 am

    And there I was, wondering what your boat was like inside! Now I know! What a brave move to sell up like that and store everything for a year.

    We did something similar when we moved to Abergavenny in February after 31 years in the same house in Barry. We had to rent for a while in very cramped conditions so our stuff was in storage for 4 months (after lots of it had been sent to the charity shop) so I know what it’s like to let go.

    But your current circumstances are not quite the same as ours! You are really close to nature and have definitely opted out of the rat race and conventional living to do something for yourselves! I admire you for your drive to do this and your insistence on making time to take stock of your lives.

    I really had to be persuaded to make “the big move” as, let’s face it, I was very nervous about giving up what had been my home for most of my adult life, where we had brought up our children, made friends, etc

    But despite some scary damp problems in our current property (part of a newly developed Victorian mansion in Pantygelli – Rentokil are here as we speak!), it is all worth it, waking up and seeing the view of Skirrid from the window on a sunny morning from our sitting room!

    I’m glad to hear your back problems have started to ease. You will no doubt have new and different challenges as the winter approaches. I particularly hope you have an efficient stove and somewhere to dry clothes. 🙂

    Wishing you all the best!
    Bea

    • HeadRightOut
      Author
      September 15, 2020 / 8:36 pm

      Hey thanks Bea!
      Well, we have a back-up in that we didn’t sell our house – it’s being rented out but for a minimum period of one year. I was still nervous about leaving an area I had lived in for thirty years however. My friends, a few family members and all the familiarity of my ‘patch’ was hard to say goodbye to. You were in Barry for 31 years – so very similar situation, yes!

      The heating is good on the boat – will be cold in the bathroom perhaps but otherwise we have central heating, a wood burner and electric blanket. If all else fails – hot water bottle and blankets!!
      Thanks again and take care.
      Zoe 🙂

  2. David Hope
    September 15, 2020 / 1:13 pm

    An excellent read, while giving my own back a rest. Looking forward to the next installment.

    • HeadRightOut
      Author
      September 15, 2020 / 8:40 pm

      Hi David,
      Thank you for my glowing report! 😉 So sorry to hear you are having back troubles. It’s flipping frustrating when you know how you want to move (which should be so simple) but then find that you can’t! I have found icing my back to be a great remedy too. It reduces any inflammation around the nerves. Wishing you a speedy ‘back’ to normal… (sorry about that pun – couldn’t resist!)
      Best wishes,
      Zoe 🙂

      • Jude
        September 18, 2020 / 4:41 am

        I was going to suggest icing your back, or more precisely icing for 20 mins and alternating with a hot water bottle for 20 mins. Also, if it’s a bulging disc issue (v common), lying on a hard surface on your front, and propping up on your elbows so your lower back is curved upwards can help. Most importantly core exercises but you’re already doing those!
        It all looks idyllic, I’m not jealous at all, Petal (much) xxxx

        • HeadRightOut
          Author
          September 20, 2020 / 9:47 pm

          Thanks Jude, my back is much better than it has been – I don’t think it’s a disc issue though. I think it’s more muscular than anything else and something I am prone to with either a change in my posture, gardening or moving house. Come and visit – we need to explore more dog walking routes!

  3. Karen Rima
    September 16, 2020 / 6:19 am

    I love reading your blogs. They are a great insight into your life. True and honest .keep putting pen to paper Zoe, your a natural your blogs bring a smile to my face aswell. I’m hoping once kids and grand kids move on to purchase a VW camper and take off with Damian that’s my dream xx

    • HeadRightOut
      Author
      September 20, 2020 / 9:52 pm

      It sounds wonderful Karen. Dreams are made to have something to look forward to don’t you think?

  4. Cath
    October 2, 2020 / 9:16 am

    Loved reading your blog, your boat sounds just awesome. See you soon for a swim n wander 🙂

    • HeadRightOut
      Author
      October 8, 2020 / 10:16 pm

      Thank you Cath! Can’t wait to do that. Will be good to walk and talk and as scary as it seems, I’m also looking forward to my very first wild swim with you! 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *