Thursday, 24 November 2005

To buy a Narrow Boat

It has been some time since I decided that life on the canals was for me. Based not on actual time on a narrow boat or any boat, other than trip boats, but on the time I have spent living near canals. My first view of a canal was in the 1950's, when my mother pointed out the Grand Union from a train window on a visit to Grandma's. We were somewhere near Birmingham, I would have been about 7 or 8 years old. I watched the canal disappear into the distance till I had my face pressed flat against the window and mother made me sit down properly. I was in awe of this great ribbon of water that flowed through the countryside.

During my RAF career I spent several years living in Halton Village, Bucks, which has the Wendover Arm of the GUC running through it all the way to Wendover. Being a 'twitcher' in those days I would spend many days there spotting birds. The Marston Lock on the GUC was not far away and with three big reservoirs feeding the canal I found lots of opportunity to visit both the canal and the reservoirs.

I spent many a sunny afternoon walking along the canal, binoculars hung around my neck. Soaking up the ambience. Some friends had a house backing on to the Aylesbury Arm, which was always a source of envy. Pitstone was really the spark for me. Our church used to organise trips out from there. Though these trips were only a few hours in duration I was hooked, though it never occurred to me that I might ever be able to afford a boat.

As time marched on wife No 2 left me with two of my three daughters to bring up, the oldest being married, and we spent more and more time by the canal (cheap day out). I would chat to the boaters, operate the locks and generally absorb canal culture.

In 1994 the RAF moved me to Lyneham and I bought my first house in Calne, Wiltshire, sadly leaving the GUC behind. By this time it was only Kim and I. Lo and behold! Only a few miles away was the Kennet & Avon. My nearest point to the K&A was Caen Hill. What a different canal that was. I got great pleasure out of visiting that canal I can tell you.

I left the RAF in 1997 after 25 years 239 days. We came to an arrangement that as we were both going in separate directions, retirement from the service was the best option. At the tail end of 1999 with my oldest two girls married and with children, my youngest Kim at college, I started working abroad. I was able to earn a lot more in Oman than the UK which would enable me to 'bung' Kim a few sovs a month so she could concentrate on her studies and didn't have to get a part time job.

So for the last 5 years or so I have only been able to visit the canals on my infrequent vacations. Every vacation seemed to begin and end with trip to the Crossed Guns at Avoncliffe, intermittently peppered with walks along various stretches of the K&A from east of Devizes through to Bath. It was during one of the visits to the 'Guns' that I began to realise that owning a boat was a real possibility. With the oldest girls now self-supporting and the younger Kim had progressed on to Uni I no longer needed a house, which I rattled around in. I only ever came home twice a year anyway so what was the point of paying Council tax, water rates and other bills when I had no requirement.

I had been home for about a year when Kim finished Uni. An ex girlfriend gave me a scrap of news paper with an Ad for work in Saudi. I called and was offered a job working for the Saudi military. Of course I accepted well at $2700 a month plus 25% 'extras' and airfares and housing, who wouldn't. The package was worth about $46000 a year. When I arrived in Saudi Arabia (this is the third ME country I have worked in, Kuwait and Oman being the other two) I met a chap, from Norfolk, Len Hope who was also interested in canals. We talked a lot. A chance remark convinced me that getting a boat was not only doable, but that with my RAF pension, retiring soon and living on a boat was extremely probable. That remark was 'Not much over a thousand pound a foot�'.

I set about finding out all I could about the canals and Narrow boats. Boy! Was there a lot to learn? The vast majority of the info I have, has been learnt from the Internet, but I don't think I have even scratched the surface yet. I have an 80 Gb hard drive that is nearly full of canal related stuff laws, rules, pictures, history, links etc.

Making the decision to change your life completely is the easy part. I had done it a few times before. Doing the deed is the hard bit. My house had nearly tripled in value during the nine years I had owned it. Money was not going to be a problem. Selling it might be. While in Saudi Arabia my daughter lived there with her boy friend. Though rent-free it was, for me, a bonus in that they looked after the house while I was away and paid the bills. Kim and Jim (honest it's no joke) loved the house and made it their home. It seemed to me that if they could afford it they would be the ideal people to buy it. Kim had, by this time, finished Uni and had a very good job; Jim was working in engineering also with good salary. They bought the house in July 2005.

It is important to me that I have a nice lump sum in the bank when I finally move aboard hence the reason I am still in Saudi Arabia, but time still marches on and in 188 days I should be able to move on to the boat. That's a laugh all I really had when the house was sold was a name 'Maffi Mushkila' arabic for 'NO PROBLEM' and the promise of a build slot in Mirfield.

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