My favourite London run takes me through Limehouse Basin, so I get to see a great selection of houseboats. Everything from huge converted barges, to much smaller yachts moored on a temporary basis.
Some come and go, while others seem to be there for good, never to see open waters again. I tend to get a little misty-eyed when running past, imaging myself taking one on a long holiday. It’s always sunny in my imagination, and my time on the houseboat is filled with laughter, sunbathing and popping champagne corks.
Yet…the reality is very different. My time on barges in France years ago was marked by the following ‘atmospheric factors’:
- The constant and overpowering smell of diesel. No matter where the boat was – in the marina, trundling down a canal, or navigating a lock, the diesel pervaded everything. I could even taste it after a while.
- The fact that you were never more than a few inches from a chemical toilet. And that if you’re not in the toilet, with others just inches away, behind a rickety and paper-thin door, you’re in the toilet, with others just inches away. No toilet privacy. Lots of toilet ‘sharing’.
- The daily blows to the head from various pieces of wood and metal attached to doorways, roofs and ceilings. I’m incredibly short and yet I couldn’t get through a day without head trauma of one sort or another.
- Boat people. The people on other boats were tribal and protective. None of the friendliness and bonhomie that I’d imagined. Lots of angry looks as if to say “get off my lawn”.
- The noise. Noise carries over water like a bugger. So at night, when you’re trying to sleep, you can hear someone farting three boats over. And that’s aside from the noise of the water, ropes and various clanging sounds.
So, if I’m honest, I’m only really interesting in spending weekends on a super-yacht off Sitges. Not owning and maintaining an ancient and smelly barge in a London marina.
Still, they’re lovely to look at…