We don’t have much space. Lexia is a very tiny boat. Very tiny. The main cabin area functions as our kitchen, living space, work space and kit charging station, and our bedroom. When we want to go to bed we pull out a layer of mattress and sheet of ply to make a double. When we get up, it goes back in to make a single to sit on.
We can sit up in bed but not suddenly. If we want to get into the prow or even into our respective cupboards behind the bed/kitchen area we have to curl up into a ball and swing our legs round while simultaneously hunching our backs, then push our legs out straight(ish) and we’re in a relatively normal sitting position. If we do then want to get into the prow, which functions both as a shed and- if we are meticulous about tidying everything away- as a sort of padded foetal reading pod- we have to plunge headfirst into it, roll sideways onto our backs, pull our legs in after us and then extend them to the other wall and start having a relaxing read.
Though I’ve written this in the plural, only one person can do any of this at once. Once one of us- let’s call them the Exile- is in the pod, or more usually sitting outside in the cockpit, the other has the living area to themselves. The drawback of this privileged position is that they then become the Fetch-Monkey.
With access to all the food, utensils, tools, books and all other useful objects, the Fetch-Monkey has to seek, find and provide everything the Exile needs. If they fail to do so, the Exile gets to climb into the living space and rummage around, generally messing up whatever the failed Fetch-Monkey was doing and getting both our legs all tangled up.
Doing an immense amount of bending and stretching to perform the most basic tasks is doing wonders for our core muscles. On reflection though, I’m not sure that living in a miniscule space is particularly applicable to any of the future scenarios we’re trying to prepare for. I guess if we did have to ‘bug out’ in our boat or hide in a cave or under some floorboards together it would be good to have a head start on the psychological and practical aspects of tiny spaces.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with Heath Bunting about his travels in India. He said he saw a whole family living in a tiny shack right next to a busy motorway. Three generations, with small kids and a grandmother who dressed beautifully every day. If anybody toddled a few inches to the right or left of the shelter they’d be killed by the stream of fast traffic. But somehow they were living and raising a family there. Heath said he was appalled at first, and then impressed. He said it forced him to reconsider his knee jerk reaction of concern and pity and acknowledge a resourcefulness and adaptability in that family that he’d do well to aspire to. When I think of that story I feel quite crap for whining about a lack of personal space.
In terms of UK society though, our situation is often either amusing or appalling to others. A neighbour at our current East London moorings who lives in a widebeam houseboat asked me the other day- quite unprompted- whether we were ‘acclimatising for the apocalypse’. He was quite tickled when he realised he’d hit the nail on the head.
But the space issue is starting to feel like the main obstacle we are dealing with and almost the least relevant to the things we are trying to learn.
That’s why, before we head across the Channel, we’re going to check out a boat in Southampton. It should offer nearly double the living space, twice the engine power and an unsinkable hull. I feel a bit guilty about betraying Lexia as she’s been our home for a month now.