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.
August 29th (sorry, we were offline for days and playing catch up a bit now)
My 31st birthday! Woooot! We woke in Devizes to torrential rain. I stayed cosy in the boat while Sam rummaged mysteriously in the aft lockers, and lobbed delight after delight through the open hatch onto the sleeping bag. Croissants! Card! Bacon! Flowers!
After birthday breakfast we were slightly at a loss. Just the two of us. Pissing down outside. What is there in Devizes anyway? I tried some token ukulele practice, but what next?
I’d wanted to go for a wild swim and a boozy picnic, but it was seriously grim.
We decided to go to Devizes Leisure Centre. Yes. But it wasn’t open to adults for another 4 hours so we went for another meal. When we staggered up, full and rather dirty from our grimy boat life, we discovered that ‘adult time’ at the pool was merely a guideline, and in fact every other attendee was under 12 and focused with fierce intensity on how long they could hold their breath while kicking our legs. Anyway, we got clean.
After that Sam bought me a haircut from a lady whose main concern on hearing of our voyage was whether I was able to bring my hairdryer. The answer is yes, but strictly for the purpose of space heating in the winter and not under any circumstances for my hair. I decided after this small luxury to test the theory that my hair will clean itself if left free of soap for three weeks or so. The hairdresser thought this was very brave.
We got back to the boat and ate another lovely meal, with the bottle of champagne I bought when I found out we’d really sold our house. A final inconclusive amble around Devizes- which is mid-carnival week but was apparently in a lull- and we headed out of town to find new moorings. As we settled into a hushed locale under oak and birch trees, we heard an epic carnival firework display kick off in Devizes. I think I preferred the moon on the water.
The day dawned with gorgeous sun and a fresh breeze. We set off with light hearts and I got my sewing kit out and started hemming the curtains I made the other day. If I don’t get them finished soon it’s only a matter of time before somebody peeks through the porthole and catches us getting spliced.
After about a mile, the engine choked and died. Oh balls. Never mind! The fuel line from the external tank has been acting up, so we just switched to the small internal tank. Start up again. Pootle along in the light, the breeze and the swishing reeds. Lush.
Oh. Engine dies again. Sam rips the top off and starts fiddling about. A small white plastic thing flies off into the water. Apparently it’s quite important.
Summoning my most extreme wifing skills, I jumped off the side and into some very cold water. Now, I’ve been swimming in English rivers and beaches for pleasure since I was a toddler. My mother threw me into the Channel on Boxing Day (for charity) when I was five. So when I say this was cold, I’m not just being your usual kind of pansy. I scooped up soft, gritty mud with my feet and then our dustpan, then dived and felt around until my hands were too numb to tell a rock from a stick from a small white plastic thing.
As I shuddered in the cabin, Sam flailed at the starter cord and managed another 200 yards or so before she died again. I alternated getting warm clothes on and filming his struggles for, y’know, the comedy scene they’ll make later. You have to pay for excellent wifing.
2 hours later a barge manned by two friendly chaps approached. “Need any help?”
Sam said “No, we’re fine, just checking the spark plugs” while I muttered “Tow. Tow?” under my breath. In the end I settled for saving his pride in front of the men and just chipping away at it gradually by muttering bitterly as I returned to sewing curtains. It was like a tiny grubby floating version of the 50s.
The engine fixing and sporadic flailing at the motor continued for another hour. Suddenly she roared into life. I wish I’d had the camera on because Sam’s face as he turned to me was a beautiful and enraging synthesis of blissful satisfaction and vindictive self righteousness. As revenge I made him turn it off again and start it for the camera.
We pulled up for the night at the Barge Inn, decorated with a detailed mural of crop circles, standing stones and various esoteric symbols. There are pictures of the most recent crop circles on a noticeboard on the wall, frequent paranormal tourists with a reverential air, and a long line of residential barges for whom it functions as a community hub.
As we hung out on Lexia, Sam recognised an old wooden barge belonging to his friend John. We’d last seen her when he first brought her into Bristol. Turns out John has been moored here awhile and now has a second barge which he’s opened as a shop, selling organic veg. He sorted us out with a lovely bag of food and carried on drinking. We’d arrived a couple of hours into what I’d call a major session, but who knows, perhaps it was just an ordinary Thursday night. Anyway we never quite caught up.
While out for (one of) my final cigarettes, I got talking to Jane, who lives on one of the barges. She talked about how living off-grid they probably wouldn’t notice a powercut, but what they do notice is the cold. Last winter being so rough, they’d all converged round the Barge Inn to huddle together, commiserate, and collaborate on digging and salting usable paths and sharing lifts out to nearby shops.
John drifted away and back again, asking about our plan as he’s done some sailing himself. Between repeated exhortations to take a different route across the Channel- apparently we should have left out of Bristol harbour to hug the coast around Cornwall- John asks about the project. When we tell him the name of it, he gives us a dose of Scottish plain speaking.
We slept all night with the hatch open, safe in the knowledge that unless the rain goes really sideways the new extension will keep us dry. It’s surprisingly warm inside Lexia. We missed a teary farewell with Lucy as she ran off in a panic first thing, having forgotten the time of her motorbike test. However, we may get another chance as Dave suggested over coffee that we leave Lexia here over the weekend. Sam booked a hire car from Bath to take us to Uncivilisation festival in Hampshire later today, and we’ll probably make a pitstop in my hometown of Portsmouth and see my best friend El before we get back to Lexia on Tuesday and carry on up the river.
I keep wondering whether we are cheating to nip back and forth and hire cars and so forth, but then I remember we haven’t actually set any ‘rules’ for this trip. We’re assuming that with the mode of travel and the skills and experiences we’ll be seeking out we will be facing quite enough challenges to be going on with.
The Toilet Challenge (look away if this is Too Much Information)
Our toilet is a bucket. With an optional seat and lid, and a handle with a rope tied to it. We do not use it for solids. We have a folding army spade for those, though so far we’ve depended on pubs and the facilities at Dave and Lucy’s moorings. There’s a tiny indoor space in the prow with a sliding door in front of it. Instead of paper we use water, and then slosh out the bucket in the river or woods. The romantic mystique we have (obviously) always preserved in our 12 year relationship is in tatters. Ah well.
The Work Challenge
Sam has agreed on a trial basis to remain a web administrator for one day a week while we travel. Today is the first day he is trying it out. It’s going surprisingly well just from Sam’s tethered phone connection, though we did have a couple of internet timeouts, and my jubilant Facebooking as I responded to our friends ‘bon voyage’ messages had to be curtailed. Still, it looks possible, which will mean we have a bit of income trickling in as we go. We’re powering the tech from solar panels, though we’ll need to depend on internet cafes quite often too. Sam’s work and this project will often tether us to the structures we are trying to learn independence from. We’ll just have to deal with it and remain aware of it.
The next post will be on Uncivilisation Festival, happening 19-21 August at the East Meon Sustainability Centre. We’ll shortly upload Vivi Mimola’s edit of last year’s event which was such an inspiration to us. We’ll write our thoughts on this year’s events. It’s a great place to meet and speak with people who think differently. People who no longer expect nor want another chapter in the growth and prosperity story we’ve been telling ourselves for far too long.
We were recently featured in the Daily Mail, in an article that focused largely on our stated destination of Greece. The Mail did not contact us, and based their article on what the Bristol Evening Post wrote a few days before. Despite repeatedly telling the Post that the project was not about Greece specifically but about the whole of Europe and individuals and groups within it and our journey between them, the Post and subsequently the Mail focused almost totally on Greece.
While they got a few things right (our ages, our names, the skills we want to learn, a few of our motivations for the project) the article/s gave the impression that we expect Greece to be either a) a dystopian Mad Max nightmare or b) some sort of foraging self sufficient wonderland of primitive skills.
I have been to Greece several times, have a few friends there, and am well aware that neither of these is the truth about Greece. While we are very interested in various strategies that certain people in Greece may be using to deal with the impact of the economic problems there (because our bet is that similar problems are on the way for us), we’re aware that the article gives completely the wrong impression about what we expect Greece to be like. Likewise, our hometown of Bristol is a normal British city with large areas given over to consumerism and throwaway culture, but within it are many projects and people preparing for a very different future.
The Mail will never apologise to you, as it has never apologised to anybody for its crass generalisations about other nations, so please accept this apology from us.
All the best to you in dealing with the challenges of this collapsing age.
At 6pm we arrived at the Benjamin Perry Scout Hut and started setting up. People were arriving, clustering round the dock and venturing along the wobbly jetty to marvel at Lexia, bobbing there covered in fluttering bunting. Our parents arrived, and to my great delight, all my Mum’s brothers and sisters, wearing huge smiles. We screened the roughcuts of our current crop of films, as one by one the pink-clad Ambling Band arrived in full pirate swing. Turns out a lot of them are boaters too. The Euphonium player in particular had a lot of piercing questions about our route. As soon as they kicked up their brassy party sound all the stress melted away. We danced. Suddenly it was 10pm. People started asking if we were really leaving. We probably were. It all seemed both too soon and just right. We ran a gauntlet of warm hugs and I found myself on the jetty with a bottle of Champagne in my hand and my nearest and dearest lining the shore. Sam was at the stern, revving the engine. I brought the bottle down on the prow. It bounced off. Embarassing. I raised it high and belted the metal point on the prow. An explosion of booze, glass and dim pain flew over my hand. I leapt on board to cheers and flashbulbs, pulling the prow line after me. As we pulled away, I sucked and licked blood from a deep slash on my right knuckle, hoping nobody would see. Within 5 minutes, we were sliding through the dark, quiet waters of the Harbour. Our exhilaration floated up into the night air, bounced off the underside of low bridges with our laughter. We’ve been talking about this voyage for 4 years. We are finally moving.
The day jolted me awake in Brislington at our friend Isobel’s house. I’d had 3.5 hours of sleep. The previous night, I’d had words to write, video to edit and files to transfer. I’d also had hours of deep chats with Isobel, a friend who is so constant and so ready to offer help and company in the happiest and darkest times that it’s more accurate to say she is family. And at the end of the night I just had to spend one last hour luxuriating in a warm, soft bed, on a solid floor, and all alone with a book.
I regretted all that luxury as I stumbled out of the house, but by the time I reached the boat laden with bags and found Sam nestled in a sleeping bag with the hatch open, excitement began to take hold. I woke him up and we spruced ourselves up in time for a sheepish BBC Bristol radio reporter to arrive with a piece of kit that refused to work. After missing our live morning slot he jumped into Lexia to perch between us and do an interview, focusing mostly on how small she is. At the end he asked if there was anything else to say and I launched into a lengthy treatise on the motivations of our trip, including the economy, climate change and peak oil. It became a 5 second news item, 1:28:24 here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/p00whzjq Ah well, he tried!
After that the heavens opened and we sat staring at the walls, less than a foot from our faces. Trying to imagine this as our actual home. By the time we’d had two pots of coffee it all seemed possible, and when the rain slacked off we headed off for a crazy dash around Bristol- picking up parcels, dropping off the final remnants of our stuff, paying final bills, taking and making calls. At 4pm I met two friends at the Watershed and we put the final touches to the edits for the launch.
Now time for… The Launch Party!
Sam: ‘So what is this story? Why are we doing this? Apart from because it’s a brilliant adventure. Why don’t we just stay home and join our local Transition group or CSA farm? ‘
Naomi: ‘It’s an adventure story. It’s like Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam are happy in the Shire. It’s safe there, but they know it won’t always be safe. So they go out into danger*, they immerse themselves in it and explore its heart, and when they come back the danger has come to the Shire and they know what to do about it’
* in this case danger could mean a number of things- the big looming dangers of collapse or just the feelings of danger people experience when we’re way outside our comfort zone.
The more I research, discuss and think about issues of resilience for the future, the more I reinforce my belief in local, community solutions. Governments and corporations are massively powerful, and as ordinary citizens, our influence on their decisions is kept as much at arms length as possible. Their structures for doing that can be temporarily disrupted by direct action, or we can join our voice to pressure groups and organisations who will lobby for us through the ‘proper channels’. But for me, taking power should always also mean taking responsibility, and that is so much more manageable when the groups are small and the problems they are trying to solve are close to home.
I am a big fan of the Transition movement for that reason. It’s about people relearning the skills to provide themselves with food and necessities locally, and in the process rebuilding the connections and interdependencies many of us have lost with our local community.
The internet provides community of sorts, but it can only go so far. I have met and befriended like-minded people all over the world, and it’s great. But when it comes to life’s real necessities- food, water, security- jawing on Twitter might help us blow off steam or spread the word but the person next door is where it’s at. And that person may not be ‘like-minded’ at all. It might take some work to build a relationship with that person, far beyond ‘liking’ the same vaguely subversive webpage and having the same snarky sense of humour in comments threads. This kind of work you have to do in person, with eye contact, cups of tea and sometimes heavy lifting.
The real-life community I’m most a part of is The Invisible Circus, a collective of artists, performers and makers and the subject of my first feature doc. It started out with an effort to be non-heirarchical and my film chronicles, among other things, the ways in which that succeeds and fails. Now it is run more centrally by a much smaller group, but the wider community around it is made up of individuals who share their resources and help each other out. Professionally the group comes together to collaborate for creative processes and in terms of overall strategy the door is always open, both for input and people who want to take on the work. I’m happy with this and I don’t see it as a failure of self-organisation because it’s small enough. I know that the people who have power are also those who take the most responsibility, and we all know each other’s faces, names and hearts. That’s my kind of anarchy: not horizontal consensus with the entire group consulted on every point whether they show up to do the work or not, but manageable hierarchy and respect and autonomy for those who take responsibility. It’s only possible on a small scale, and it’s a damn sight easier when everybody is physically near.
So I definitely understand the argument of several friends who’ve questioned our strategy of heading out, just the two of us, on a tiny cramped boat, to other countries and other communities. In a way we are removing and isolating ourselves from the communities we hope to be a part of, that we’ll depend on and contribute to in the long term. But it’s temporary. We’re not saying the two of us on a boat can be entirely self-sufficient. We’re on an adventure to learn how others do it, and bring back those ideas skills and solutions- from the madcap to the basic and pragmatic. We’ll bring them in person to the folks back home on our return, but also to your community, both as we pass through and second hand via you and the magical interwebs. If you see something on our travels that inspires you, go next door, invite them for a cup of tea and see what you can do together.
“Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
We won the pot at the third ever Bristol Spoonfed! Some great projects presented their ideas, including Stand and Stare’s show Guild of Cheesemakers who need to get to Edinburgh this August, an idea for a beautiful outdoor game presented by the lovely Jo Lansdowne with the aid of some charismatic turnips, and Mr Ydir who wants to award the brilliant people in life with an award to say ‘You’re doing it Right’. These were just my favourites but there were many more, so it was a great privilege and a surprise to get the vote and win the pot of £185. I was so knocked out I nearly forgot to thank The Collect who organised the event, and completely forgot to mention their lovely sponsors who provided the amazing bread, soup, cake and venue. For more info on SpoonFed for anybody who needs a small grant to get their project started, and to see what the 7 other great projects were on the night, visit: http://www.thecollect.org/projects/spoon-fed-no-3–june-24th/
We’ll be launching a bigger crowdfunding campaign via IndieGoGo very soon, so it was a great boost for us to see our first efforts bear fruit. We’ll be spending the cash on a great little waterproof HD camera so we can shoot hands free and sail at the same time, and bring you all the drama of the open seas.
Thanks again to The Collect and everybody who came down, whether you voted for us or not. All the best of luck with your projects and thanks for a brilliant evening. I leave you with our faces looking decidedly chuffed and clutching our newly won funds: