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Naomi, Stories

Lesson #3- Less Clean

Since moving onto the boat we’ve had to deal with new challenges in keeping clean. In the first week I swam a few times, and a few time used Dr Bronner’s rose scented Castile Soap. This stuff is made up of essential oils rather than the usual soapy chemicals so I felt fairly OK about using it in natural water.
As we travelled the canal water changed depending on the area- from river fed, clear streams to stagnant trash-strewn muddiness and back again. The morning after a lovely evening swim in apparently clean water, the cut on my right hand was puffed to double its size, pink and throbbing. I’d waited until it was closed to swim without the protection of plastic and gaffer tape but apparently not long enough. I was sure it was infected. This caused me to reflect on what you can actually do in a resource-scarce or collapse situation when an infection has set into part of your body. Emma Caton had given us antiseptic tincture for prevention but what about cure? Is it only antibiotics that can do that effectively?
If I’d been in Bristol I’d have gone to the doctor straight away- my right index finger is kind of important to me. As it was, I called NHS Direct while going through a lock and anxiously described my symptoms. Apparently the swelling could have been caused either by infection or by overstraining the joint pulling ropes, climbing ladders and winding lock gates since our departure. Either way, as it wasn’t leaking smelly pus or anything they told me to leave it and see if it fixed itself.
Weirdly it felt better as soon as I hung up the phone- which just goes to show a) that NHS Direct is a good gatekeeper for hypochondriacs who might otherwise clog up the waiting rooms and b) that just consulting with somebody and being told I could probably heal on my own was enough to make me feel physically better. The swelling went down within 24 hours, but 2 months later the joint still aches and I have trouble opening tight jars. So for anybody as foolish as me can I just say- don’t bust champagne bottles with your bare hand, however excited you are. And if you must, make sure it’s not your best hand.

Waterways aside, it’s easy to keep physically clean as long as you have a sink or tub full of clean water, and ideally soap and a flannel. Just doing ‘bits and pits’ will stop you smelling but you can rub down your whole body in less time than a shower takes. You need far less water and you can do it without splashing everywhere if you use a flannel and stand on a towel. It’s a good strategy for the scenarios we’ve been in along the London towpaths, when we’ve had to get clean at the sinks of public toilets without getting water everywhere. If the sink area is too public you can fill a squeezy water bottle and do it in the cubicle. Ah, the glamour. Again, at the beginning of the journey on isolated stretches of country canal we rigged tarps and showered in the cockpit. Once you’re in a ‘civilised’ city and cheek by jowl with your neighbours whose barges all have private indoor washing areas, that feels too exposed.
When we move onto Joker we will have an onboard toilet and sink and should be able to adapt that area to have showers in there as well, so our washing situation will be less squalid. While we’re between boats we’re obviously using my parents hot shower, and it still feels like gloriously profligate luxury.

We also washed our clothes at Claverton weir early in the journey, using Dr Bronners body wash and Ecover dish soap. We soaked the clothes in a waterproof tub overnight with the soap and in the morning kicked the tub around the field next to the river for ten minutes or so. Then I got into my swimsuit and rinsed each item, hanging them on nearby trees and bushes. It seemed to get the clothes clean, but then they weren’t that dirty at that point.
As time has gone by, cumulative grime has built up on our clothes and we’ve realised that our low-maintenance way of washing clothes is not getting any significant amount of dirt out. At one point we were also using a very sooty fuel for our cooking stove, so we’ve smeared a few items of clothing with apparently indelible greasy black marks. To be honest, we were fools to think it might work. It’s well known that the invention of the domestic washing machine was a major factor in freeing up women’s time and liberty for things like, y’know, careers and shopping and kittens and stuff. It takes serious time to do by hand. And in East London it is not an option- apart from all the gak IN the water, a thick coating of duckweed covers the whole surface most days. There are a few pedal and hand crank powered gadgets on the market, and also some 12V ones we’re looking at, but for now we’ve had a few friends in London take pity on us and lend their machines. Thanks Petra and Denise. 🙂

Hair! Hair. Hair. My birthday on 29th August was the last time I washed it with soap. I was inspired by my friend Gemma and her stunning barnet to take the plunge and give it the 4-6 weeks recommended on the interwebs for my hair to re-establish its ‘natural balance’and start self-cleaning. As recommended, I’ve tried to rinse it with clean water daily and brush it as often as possible. I’ve got past the worst 3 week phase when the texture resembled an overused dish sponge. I’ve got past the days when big smears of black grime accumulated on the sides of my hairbrush as I pulled the knots out. Now I only get small smears of black grime. I’ve been chafing to wash it with a nice harsh shampoo for the last 2 weeks. Sam keeps telling me it’s getting better and it is, a bit. But my hair used to actually be nice. And feel nice. And smell nice. Even though the worst seems to be over, it’s still stiff and unwieldy. I’d never want to wear it down, it morphs too easily into a frazzled Wurzel Gummidge or a slicked down Draco Malfoy- or worse, a bit of each. I wonder if it’s because it’s bleached- maybe the self cleaning doesn’t work if the follicle is damaged? Anyway I’m going to give it a few more days to clean up its own act, then either hack off the bleach for a low maintenance crop or retouch the roots and lay the foundations for a (relatively) high maintenance routine of washing, conditioning and re-bleaching that I probably won’t be able to keep up. Honestly, I’ve never talked and worried about my hair as much as in the past two weeks- I just generally don’t worry about hair- so something has to give.
I’m definitely looking forward to moving onto Joker and having just that little bit more private space to keep clean in.



4 thoughts on “Lesson #3- Less Clean

  1. yes i seem to remember antibiotics as being pretty crucial to our survival, without tetanus even a rose thorn can be lethal. I suppose it’s a good time to reflect on the term survival, things have a tendency to find a balance, we can manage without many things and as you say mentality is a large part of that. Look forward to hearing about the new boat.

    Posted by Michael Wray | October 16, 2012, 1:20 pm
  2. Interesting – and very ‘hard core’. Things were certainly easier in the Med! Yes – flannels good and at sea we used to ‘shower’ with a cupful of warm water. Calendula & hypericum cream is a natural healing balm, and tea tree is supposed to have antibiotic properties. Make sure you have an emergency supply of sterile dressings for any really nasty cuts. Also ‘butterfly’ sutures (you can probably make these from strip dressings and a sharp scissors – careful there!). When you get to the Med, consider a garden spray for getting the salt off your body with a minimum of fresh water.

    Posted by Jenny Jones | October 16, 2012, 4:00 pm
  3. washing is overated but when your nose tingles at the waft of a clean person, then its probably time to get some kinda wash on, fold up kitchen sink served us well and allowed us the luxury of footbath when we had campfires. Probably a little harder on a teeny boat in a city than when you’re camping in the wilderness. I’ve heard that plant misters are good for getting milage out of your precious water.

    If you can bare to pay the prices, merino wool clothes are amazing for sweaty cyclists (not sure Nathan ever washed his) and I would highly recommend exofficio undercrackers. As for hair I just wore a baseball cap all the time, so much so that I felt strangely naked without it and my looking up muscles got weak. Katie was threatening to shave her’s all off but never seemed to have too much of a problem.
    don’t forget, there’s always Petulia 😉

    You can disinfect with Iodine solution or a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide or in a pinch maybe urine (we didn’t do any of these things). For any skin ailments Aloe Vera seems to do the job better than anything else, I even used it to dress a chickens wound after she got her neck slice open by some kind of ring tail cat (she survived after a week of intensive care being hand fed goats milk)

    Posted by Alex | October 16, 2012, 5:34 pm
  4. Dear Naomi how glad was I to read your ‘less clean’ message!? not because I had in any way noticed that there was any difficulty in that department, but because since you had both left to view Joker and then decided to buy her I had not heard anything at all and had not been able to contact Sam by mobile either,. and its Sams birthday tomorrow!!! and i dont know if you are on Joker yet of if indeed you are in France even, though I guess not, sooo Im so glad I can talk to you again and many good wishes are sent to Sam and a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY FOR THE 18TH X X X X X XX X X lots of love from mum Wishing you all that you wish for ……….

    and remember to keep in touch and let me know all the silly details as you go along lots of love from MUM

    Posted by W WILLIAMS | October 17, 2012, 7:10 pm

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