Replay: Christmas 2008

These were originally four posts over on MyT. It’s funny re-reading them. It seems such a long time ago, yet it’s only two years! Wow.

Christmas Afloat
Well, we finally made it. It’s Christmas Eve, and the Cat and I are preparing for our first night on board Das Boot. The Cat is asleep on the bed in the aft cabin and snoring, so presumably he’s accepted the situation. It’s taken several hours, some grooming with his new Christmas brush, and a bowl of prawns to achieve this harmony. At first he wanted to investigate outside but when I lifted him up and he realised he was surrounded by water he had very rapid second thoughts and spent the next couple of hours cowering under a stool. There’s been a Feliway thingy plugged in for the last two weeks as recommended by the Telegraph vet. It’s supposed to make cats feel zen, so that has helped too.
The sunset was beautiful and the only sound was of the lone angler casting his line over the water. As a contrast with my London address it couldn’t get much greater. There were a few people around earlier, illustrating beautifully just what messing about in boats means. Then the angler. Now all have gone, so it’s just me and the Cat. No car stereos booming out the beat, no frazzled parents struggling with kids and shopping, no raucous early evening drunks. No hot water either. The battery is flat despite being on charge for a couple of hours two weeks ago. No charged battery means no hot water without boiling kettles. So the floor is up in the forward cabin, so that the battery can be on charge.
I’ve attached the new bow fender, filled bottles with fresh water for drinking, had my first meal on board, put up the fairy lights and discovered the bathroom light doesn’t work. It’s a good thing I’m not scared of spiders as there are generations of them here. Due to the battery situation I haven’t had much opportunity to get to grips with housework in the forward cabin, so they are still in residence there. Some are quite beautiful. For all I know there’s a host of spiders who only live on boats. The aft cabin spiders are now on the pontoons for the night, or maybe they’ve managed to get themselves a billet on another boat. I saw an earwig too, but didn’t manage to scoop it up in my duster in time so for the moment it has a reprieve.
I still can’t get the fridge to work. It runs on gas, and there may be a valve somewhere I need to turn, but the whole thing is so cramped it’s like playing a game of Twister. You have to hold on the fuel while repeatedly hitting the ignite button and trying to see if the pilot light is coming on at the bottom of the fridge. It might be okay for someone about two feet high. I’ll give it another go in a while, but I think the gunwale will have to double as a larder overnight and if I want anything out of the bag I’ll just have to reach the window. I think I’ll survive.
Merry Christmas!

Christmas Night
So now it’s Christmas evening and the Cat and I have been afloat for our first twenty four hours. To be fair, the cat is clocking up more marine hours than I am, as I went ashore for the day with the Octogenarians. He’s not all that happy. He’s had a bowl of prawns and some intensive brushing but he’s now asleep in a tight ball of depression. He reminds me of the dormouse in The Dormouse and the Doctor by A A Milne. But instead of delphiniums blue and geraniums red, I think he’s probably doing some intensive dreaming of home, where the floor doesn’t move and he can go out and about. It might have been better if I could have spent all day with him. Worryingly, the marina owners have been telling me about drowned cats, so his shore leave may never come to pass.
In contrast, Mother was very happy today. Grandson Number Two joined us for nibbles and tea about eleven. It took her awhile to get it fixed in her mind who he was, but then she was away, smiling and holding his hand. After he left she spent the rest of the day saying what a lovely boy he is. She made a good lunch and was the only one to manage pudding. Aunt’s new oven worked fine and I was able to show her how to work the timer. We exchanged presents and even opened some of them. Tomorrow the great unwrap will continue. We saw rabbits, pheasants, pigs and crows on our drive through the countryside. I left Mother with a cup of tea, a bowl of grapes and the promise to see her tomorrow. We kissed and hugged and rubbed noses, ‘like Eskimos’, which made her laugh. I think this may be her last Christmas, and I’m glad she’s enjoying it.
Third Night
Third night afloat and the cat and I getting into a routine. Now I’ve eaten my first course and brought the fruit inside from the al fresco larder to warm up for dessert, the cat is stretched across my knees, and my glass of red wine is just out of reach. I’ve been reading my book and making notes of things that I think would improve life on board Das Boot, like lights in the cupboards, or holds, so that it’s a bit less like a game of blind man’s buff. I’m very pleased that I brought the rug. It’s lovely and cosy.
Basically everything is going pretty well. One scary axe murderer moment in the middle of the night when we both leapt awake in fright at a strange noise close at hand. The fairy lights, my attempt to make the boat Christmassy, had fallen down. This morning I woke up to a beautiful clear day. Blue skies and bright sunshine to accompany my coffee. Gorgeous but cold. And treacherous. I tried to get off the boat and the pontoon was so slippery with frost I thought I’d fall in and either drown or die of hypothermia. I went back on board and reconsidered the day’s plans. Suddenly the early start I’d imagined didn’t seem so desirable. Staying alive did. Trouble was I’d promised to be with Mother in the morning and make her lunch. I was a prisoner until the frost melted enough for me to slither around to the foredeck and jump off. I haven’t been so scared in ages.
When I got back in the late afternoon everything was bathed in chilly sunshine and a swan was swimming around the boat. Beautiful. I gave it half my loaf.
Tomorrow the forecast is bright and cold. More frost. Call me a wimp, but I’m going to have breakfast in bed and read my book until lunchtime.

Back in London again and having Proustian moments with objects I had with me over Christmas. They smell of Das Boot, oddly disturbing and provocative now I’m home.
I’ve been thinking about my Christmas afloat and gauging its success. I may have forgotten just about everything I learned on my helmsman’s course, but I’ve found out things about myself. I’ve realised that I am quite resourceful and I don’t tend to throw up my hands and give in where there’s a problem. My heart may sink, but I do start thinking about solutions. All those years in the Brownies obviously add up. Solitude doesn’t worry me. I’m fine in my own company, though having the Cat obviously helps, and I probably talked to him more than usual. I also appreciated how amazingly adaptable and accepting he is. I enjoyed watching him explore, deciding where he wanted to sleep, looking inside cupboards.
Watching the Cat settle in, and doing simple, every day things like making breakfast, turned the boat into home. Drinking coffee while watching the sun come up over the river, and seeing the swans and moorhens go by made it magical. At night, I slept so well, rocked by the gentle motion of the water, cosy with my hot water bottles and warm Cat.
Staying somewhere other than Mother’s old house also put a different perspective on things. Das Boot might be more cramped than Mother’s bungalow, but it’s a new space and it doesn’t echo with memories of her life there. I can enjoy it and the surrounding area as something separate from, yet close to her. I only really went to the house since she moved out of it when I was going to see her, so I was always in daughter mode. I hope Das Boot will be more than a convenient place to stay and provide me with a refuge from some of the hurly burly of life here in London. It will be a bolthole, a place to take time out. Other.
But to really make it work I’m going to have to find ways of entertaining the Cat and keeping him safe. He may be turning into an old bloke, but he still likes some action. If he can’t stretch his legs and run about on land as he usually does, he’s going to need to burn some energy on board. He spurned my attempts to get him to play with bits of screwed up paper (generally a favoured toy) so I’m going to have to be a bit more creative. His desire to explore outside is making me think hard about what to do when the good weather comes. A dog crate may be the answer, allowing him some secure space while keeping him from falling overboard. If he weren’t able to wriggle out of his buoyancy aid at will, he could have the freedom of the boat all year, albeit attached on a long tether, but that idea now seems too dangerous. One drowned cat and I’ll off the boat never to return.

3 thoughts on “Replay: Christmas 2008

    • Quite strange I found. It seems an awfully long time ago, yet of course it isn’t. It’s also strange going back to MyT. It’s like a timewarp there of continued arguments, nasty jibes and Islamophobia.

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