Out of town

I live in a tiny flat in the East End: there isn’t even a balcony but there is plenty of noise, anti-social behaviour and bright lights at all times.

Three years ago on 4 May, we had our wedding reception at the London Canal Museum. This was not because for any canal or boat-related reasons but rather because it was affordable, central, spacious and different. Now I would add to that a fervent belief that all wedding receptions should feature a huge central ice well and life-sized plastic horse.

I had never been on a narrow boat: my husband had one childhood trip. Some six holidays later, I am a complete convert and would live on a boat tomorrow. Today, even.

There are so many attractions. The paring down of my usual every day things. I have far too much stuff and it is always salutary to find out how little is necessary.

Enforced relaxation comes with the realisation that nothing can make the boat move more than four miles an hour. No power on earth can make water fill or leave a lock faster than the time that it is going to take. I rediscover a patience that never features in my usual multitasking days.

As Spike Milligan said, there is time to say ‘Look at that’ rather than ‘Did you see that?’ We’ve met hundreds of people on or by the canal: only three have ever been less than friendly or helpful. If I compared that with the average for encounters in London, I think I’d probably cry.

We try to moor where there is no sight or sound of people or buildings. It’s amazing that you can do this within a handful of miles of major cities in England. It’s a constant joy that there are remote and stunning places I have never seen or heard of before so close by.

We heard owls and lapwings, saw bats and kingfishers and herons catch fish and return to young in nests, cooed at countless ducklings and spent a couple of days doing little more than watching these cows. Well, there was actually a brilliant gastropub nearby too but we didn’t know that when we moored.

Outside of splendid isolation, we time-travelled on a tiny steam train full of Second World War re-enactors and visited little village pubs that would make Orwell sob with happiness for his ideal local.

I’ve had brilliant holidays that have been more exciting: snowboarding and scuba diving and marvelling at foreign cultural icons. But falling asleep in darkness (with stars too: how novel) and waking up to birdsong has a simple beauty and feeling of how things should be that I find hard to beat.