I remember it well; as if it were yesterday, which it wasn’t. It was 2001-02, when we finally sold the house and we moved aboard a narrowboat; just me, my ex-, her son, two dogs and a cat.

It had been our, Pauline’s and mine, mutual dream for three years, and finally it happened.

However, when the day came that we were to move out of the house, we still hadn’t bought our narrowboat, so we all moved-in aboard Pauline’s father, Dennis’, narrowboat Roma until we had our own.

This wasn’t going to be easy; yes, it was a 55ft traditional stern affair, but, Dennis had a guest, Ken, over from Nottingham, when we all needed to move in. I think we generally got on ok, but it was tight and stressful, that first week.
Dennis, who had more than a passing resemblance to Uncle Albert from Only Fools And Horses, always got off on winding me up and now he had an audience. We nearly came to blows a few times as I fought my corner; yes, I could have backed-down for the sake of peace, I suppose, as I had done several times before, but, even though I never started it, I was damned-well certain that I was going to finish it. His audience was my audience, too.

Finding Dulwich

After several false dawns we finally found a boat that looked to be for us; it was a 57ft cruiser-stern, GRP-superstructured ex-hire boat, with a Lister SR2 engine, convertable double bed in the saloon, six bunk-beds, two pump-out toilets, a shower and gas central-heating. All this, working, for £15k!
We visited the boatyard at Iver, Buckinghamshire, and immediately fell for it. She was sleek and modern and called, er, . . . Dulwich!?
Who? Dulwich! Yes! I know! Who would call a boat Dulwich? Not us.
Pending a favourable survey, we would put in an offer.

We visited the boatyard on survey day and Dulwich, of course, would be one of the last out, nnngh!
To be honest, there wasn’t really any point in us being there, apart from watching the crane lift out boats, observe the boat surveyor at work, and watch the crane put the boats back on the water again, repeatedly.
So, to pass time on this hot, sunny day, we watched the planes taking-off from nearby Heathrow, but this soon bored us, so we just had to put our feet up in the shade of the only decent-sized tree in the yard.
Several hours later, we had to drive back up the M40 motorway to Dennis’ boat, which was moored at Napton, on the way to Braunston.

After a couple of weeks, we received the boat survey; apart from some over-plating near the front and replacement of the sacrificial anodes, the boat was fine.
Our offer was accepted and we moved aboard in mid-August. Yippee! The dream was becoming real!

First Day And Night Aboard

After moving aboard, and as we were facing the wrong way, we had to head west along the Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal to the only winding hole in order to turn around.
To my amazement and delight, the engine turned over first time, so we cast off to unknown destinations.

After we turned around we headed for Cowley Peachey Junction to join the main canal network, passing Iver yard on the way.
To my great surprise, when we reached CPJ, P said to turn right, for London; “Why?” I asked, as it was about 7pm by then.
“Food shopping!” She answered.
“Can we not do that tomorrow? We can moor-up at Uxbridge and find a chippy or something,” I said.
“No, I want to do it now so we’re stocked-up for a few days,” P insisted.
“Oh, ok,” I acquiesced, and turned the rudder right, for London.

Somewhere near Bulls Bridge junction, we moored outside a Tesco somewhere; I’m not entirely sure what this part of west London was called; West Drayton or Yiewsley, perhaps.
When we stocked-up there, we couldn’t help notice that we were totally out-numbered, as white people, and were being stared at by staff and shoppers in a not too nice a way.
Back on the boat, we cooked our dinner, drank some wine, listened to the radio, and went to bed, tired but happy

The Journey North Begins

We were awakened, at about half-past six, on our first morning aboard, by a British Waterways employee shouting:
“Are you lot fuc*ing getting up yet, or what?” in his Lannen (London) accent.
We had tied-up to his work-barge, complete with backactor, and he was already moving-off towards Bull’s Bridge as I emerged out of the rear hatch in just my shorts and a T-shirt.
P untethered the bow and I got the engine running and unhitched the stern.
After bidding the BW bloke a fond farewell, complete with Vs, we motored back west, towards Uxbridge, taking it in turns to get washed and dressed, and steering the boat along the cut.
We had breakfast as we went and made it to Uxbridge as rush hour started; I remember our satisfaction at not having to be part of all that, at last.
We stopped near Uxbridge for reasons that elude me now, but I remember what a busy, modern-looking place it was and the sooner I was back out of it the better!

After losing a couple of hours motoring time, we moved off from Uxbridge, but it soon became apparent that something wasn’t quite right about the boat’s electrics; the lighting was a bit feint and the engine wasn’t as powerful as the day before.
We managed to chug as far as Harefield and moored-up for the night but had to use candles for lighting as the batteries failed.

In the morning, rather than continuing north towards Watford, we decided to head back to Uxbridge in order to find a boatyard and try to get the problems fixed.
The boatyard wouldn’t do the work themselves but recommended a marine electrician.
After crawling around and looking stumped for a while, he decided that it was that the batteries were old, worn out and would need replacing; there were two large leisure/domestic batteries and one for the engine which would cost us £180 in total.
This was not the start to our idyllic life afloat.