Tuesday, April 26

Tomorrow I am back at school

but today I am in Bristol  - we sat by the fire, me mending jumpers while my Japanese friend, K made a patchwork quilt and we spoke together about everything:

I showed her the holes in my jumper and made a crying face
moths ... moths make me sad

she thought I was talking about moss and looked puzzled, I explained about the creatures that eat my jumpers
aaah yes in Japan sometimes I think I can hear them in the roof space

That turned out to be mouses so I mimed an evil tiny flying nibbling thing  

Saturday, April 23

Vienna was full of cake and sun

and I spent last Saturday walking beside something I took to be the Danube until I looked at a map and realised it was just a canal.

Returning to London, the Thames houseboat research continued, we visited a squillionnaire who owns three large houseboats - one for himself, another for his offspring and a third for guests, afterwards we visited the lady who had run the boatyard for 30 years, we told her that we'd just met Mr Threeboats. She scoffed

Him - he's an idiot!

We had been sifting through newspaper cuttings in the library going back to the fifties, there were many stories concerning glamorous-looking students, actors and writers who lived on the houseboats in those days, I wondered how accurate this image of houseboat tenants was

When I arrived in the boatyard (the early '70s), the houseboats were mainly occupied by old women, very well educated women, their boats full of books, interesting women who wanted to be left alone

In other news
spent last night with some girlfriends dancing to Prince songs

Thursday, April 14

Back in Bristol today

walking through town it's hard not to notice the huge increase in homeless people. One neat, nice-looking older man walked up to me with a box filled half with nettles and half wild garlic

would you like some wild garlic, I've just picked it in Leigh Woods ... I'm homeless these days

foraging seems a whole lot better than standing around selling Big Issues but I worry about animal contamination when I can't see where the garlic gets picked so I let him fill my bag with nettles and then spent an hour cursing him as my hands got stung to pieces preparing it.  Cooked up with lentils, lemon and coconut it's delicious but my hands are still fizzing.


Wednesday, April 13

One of the boats we visited yesterday

(the one with the muddy burglar under the bow)  was 'pratically given' to the owner's mother in the '60s when she was an art student. I hadn't really understood what was going on when he said that she used to have to get up in the night to pour concrete into the hull and stop water coming in - this aspect of boat life was clarified by an elderly lady today:

you had to bail every day because the wooden boats were so leaky, in 1974 a woman gave me her boat for fifteen pounds because she'd come to hate it. I bailed both boats every day and got hers fixed up, then sold it for three thousand pounds and took off to South America but my lodger sublet my boat and the sub-letter wouldn't bail - I got a call to say the boat had sunk but I still had the mooring and a thousand pounds so I bought this boat - this one's got a steel hull.

Tuesday, April 12

Today we started interviewing houseboatees

as part of an effort to record people living on boats on the Thames before they all get wiped away by property developers.  Newspaper clippings from the sixties tell stories of louche living and bawdy behaviour but we'd heard that the rising cost of moorings had respectabilised boaty life and that we'd find none of that sort of thing these days.

As we got to our first mooring so did the police - to evict a conman who had got into a houseboat on the pretext of doing repairs then locked the owner out and refused to leave. Four years later he was now taking his belongings, one armful at a time, to a waiting car several yards down the road.

We continued on our ways and spent the next hour with someone who told a story about the police helicoptering over his boat one night, shining lights in at him and then finally knocking at his door because a burglar had been seen running into the lowtide mud, rolling around in it and then wriggling in under the bow of the houseboat.

As we left the boat we saw the conman, he had filled the car to bursting and was continuing to pile his bags on the pavement around it and having an argument with the driver about how they were going to fill the car and also get in and drive it away.

Monday, April 11

blanch a whole cauliflower

then chopchopchop the florets and little stalks into crumbs  

mix with  tahini, cinnamon, good oil, saltpepperandlemonjuice 

chochopchop roasted walnuts, hard boiled eggs and  parsley  

mix that into the dressed cauliflower crumbs

cover the dish with butter paper and put it in the oven you just switched off, next to the almost-cooked roast salmon so that when Rosa turns up one hour late it will still be delicious 


the point is to have enough of the cauliflower dish leftover to fry up the next day - if you want to feel that it's a whole new thing add chopped anchovies and sprinkle with crispy breadcrumbs

Sunday, April 10

two full days off the boat and I'm still swaying

or maybe the motion is what seamen call 'tacking'  - possibly I was a boat in a former life and, having discovered my roots, I'm trying to get get back there.

In other news

A reunion lunch at the family home yesterday - seventeen of us squashed round a table intended for six-to-eight in what-used-to-be-the-garage, shepherds pie and carrots for everyone followed by an assortment of cream pies. Once everyone was in place at the table we were locked into a sort of chinese puzzle - no-one could leave the room unless everyone rotated in the correct order.

After lunch my nephew continued an eternal wrestling match with his other auntie which is now in it's sixth year and my gappy-toothed niece declared her love for a magenta-haired cousin, imprisoning her in one of the bedrooms for the purpose of telling monster/princess stories.

Friday, April 8

I adjust quickly to being on a boat

but I am becoming more and more vertiginous when I leave the boat and walk around on this good earth

so I've decided to leave the boat for good 

I'm feeling a bit sad about this

but not a really really sad because I have come to look after my favourite cats and there is a proper bathroom and it's warm 

the tortoiseshell is currently leaping in and out of my capacious handbag and Wheezy has made a nest out of my pajamas

I woke to the sound of running feet

lots of them passing by the barge there was also a sort of commotion.

Assuming that a crime was happening I stayed put and then forgot about it. Once I'd persuaded the damp firewood  to catch fire, I put the kettle on and wandered into the park. There, under a large gazebo, was a man in a Puffa jacket tidying away thermos flasks and bananas. I asked what had just happened

It's the Nike race, they should be at Kings Cross by now

Thursday, April 7

Notes on camp:

barge life is basically camping - issues that are insignificant at 'real home' suddenly loom large;

what goes in:

the quantity of stuff you carry to camp - you must keep this quantity in your head because if you could barely carry the stuff you arrived with and then you acquire more stuff - something has to 'disappear'.

what goes out:

I carried  quite a lot of food and tea to the boat - putting it into my body is simply hiding it from view - the way things work on the boat means that I have to plan my café visits strategically.

Luckily, there is a municipal swimming pool close by - combining bathing and bathroom addresses my major camping issues in one fell swoop.


The boat has solar panels - if I manage things well (and if the sun shines sometimes) I have power for lights and batteries - so far I'm handy with that.

For heating and cooking I've been using the woodburning stove - I've been trawling the park daily to pick up kindling and any other useful wood but to be effective logs are needed, there was a small supply when I arrived and I've used those up.

This morning I bought a sack of the logs at the nearby garage and now I know that London wood is, by weight, more costly than diamonds and that my lovely stove suppers are costing more than I imagined.

Wednesday, April 6

Today there were visitors

we ate satsumas while waiting for our crumpets to cook on the stove

Tuesday, April 5

in the evenings

the man who lives two barges away from me on the canal takes a double bass and a chair to the park railings. 

He puts the chair and the instrument over the railings then climbs over and settles down to play

Sunday, April 3

Barge life

is very tranquil - I am on a stretch of canal near an enormous park in East London, sunlight sparkles off the ceiling and it's all very beautiful. Last night I cooked my sweet potato supper in the woodburning stove.

Yesterday I walked across to the main road which is lined with Fancy-Gifts-for a pound-shops, pawnbrokers and counselling services, shops with shutters-down-long-closed and 50p burger bars. 

Today I crossed the park to a universe where everyone is slim and accompanied by stylish children in Bugaboo pushchairs, in this world the cafés are smart and vegetables organic. I purchased two of the most expensive sausages in the world and took them home to pop them in the stove for lunch.

Friday, April 1

Tate Modern

with mother-in-law having coffee. The actress Judy Dench is being discussed and she says

you know she's my twin? 

same birthday? 

same age, same height - five foot exactly, I'm keeping a close eye on her to see if she shrinks

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