Life Afloat- The Birth Of Anu

 

I think I have always wanted to live on a boat.

I have an adventurous spirit, and for those of you who have read my previous blogs, you may remember that one of my very first was about my love of the water- being beside it, in it or on it (  amandahlondon Just Keep Swimming ).

Having been blessed to live on a beautiful private island here on The River Thames for the last 10 years ( amandahlondon Island Life  for more on this! ) I have experienced first – hand the wonders of being so close to nature on a daily basis.

A friend told me, years ago, when I first bought this house, that once I’d lived on the water, there would be no going back.

Richard- you were absolutely right!

We have loved living here, but the time has come for a change of scenery and a new adventure, and recently, I decided that new horizons were beckoning.

I started to look at smaller houses and flats elsewhere ( this was to be a downsize – my eldest son, Rob, and his  girlfriend Marley, live in America and I want to be able to go over and see them on a regular basis ).

But I very quickly became despondent.

Even the nicest of the houses had one vital ingredient missing: water.

Where was the water?

My house here on The Island has a mooring, and amongst the boatyard friends I have made whilst living here, I am well known for being out there, in all weathers.Wrapped up in winter, sunbathing in the summer.

The sight of geese water -skiing up to greet me in the morning, or a baby coot following its mother, or the laughing of the ducks ( yes, they laugh ) fills my soul with deep joy.

And I’m a writer, so I find the peace and tranquillity of the river very inspiring, it allows me space to breathe and create, away from the bustle of London, where I often work.

I began to think I could not bear to leave. I love my house, and will be sad to move on, but it is so much more about my love of being so close to nature, and to water in particular.

But what to do? I needed to simplify and make life less expensive, and anyway, had itchy feet.

My friend Barnaby, who works at the aforementioned boatyard, had spoken to me before about the possibilities of buying a boat to live on.

We had talked at length about it, over a Gimlet or two, and I had listened very carefully.

Barnaby is himself building a boat, which he plans to live on one day.

And so, after much thought, and as I always do whenever I need the soundest advice, particularly in matters financial, I called my friend Zed Lorgat ( JM Financial, for any of you who need a top finance wizard ).

Zed had been advising me on my house move anyway, and knew my plans to downsize, plus my love of the water.

‘ Zed, ‘ I said to him, ‘ I don’t think I can leave the river. Do you think it would be absolutely crazy of me to consider buying a boat to live on?’

Now, Zed knows me well, but is also not afraid of being quite forthright in his opinions …he is a Yorkshireman after all. I knew I would get an honest answer from him.

‘ No,’ he said, ‘ I actually think it’s a really good idea.’

I thought so too.

As always, when I decide on something, The Universe seems to conspire to help me along, for the very next thing that happened was that Barnaby called me.

I had begun to look at some boats that were for sale locally, and I have to admit, I’d seen a couple of very unsuitable vessels ( ok-  they were stinkers.)

Here, I have to thank Steve, who along with his wife, Mel, is a friend of mine who also just happens to be the lock – keeper at the next lock along – East Molesey.

Steve steered me away from a couple of potentially dire purchases- as I say, I am very blessed, I have friends here on the river.

One though, was beautiful, but far too big for me.

She was a Dutch Barge, fully navigable, and my mind began to fill with possibilities.

By now, I had decided against a houseboat. I wanted a boat I could not only live on, but learn to sail. To meander upstream with my family or a friend, drinks in hand, and moor up under a weeping willow for the night…with always a good pub close by- what could be better?

And the delicious prospect of deciding on a new horizon and changing view as often as desired…yes, the sailing life was beckoning me.

‘ Amanda, ‘ said Barnaby, ‘ Don’t buy that one, she’s far too big and expensive and I’ve got a better idea. Come down to the yard and I will introduce you to Keith. He builds boats.’

Reader, I did.

I had always somehow thought that you had to be some kind of oligarch to commission a boat to be built for you.It seemed so…rockstarinsouthoffrance.

I never dreamed that I would be in a position to sit down with a boat builder and describe my perfect boat to him, yet that is exactly what happened.

I sat there, at Harts Boatyard and Stewart Marine with Keith and Barnaby,  and I decided  to commission a boat…built for me,  to my very own spec.

Amazing!

We looked over a couple-  Widebeam Barges, the type I would be having- and Barnaby told me the right questions to ask.

I knew I should be asking about the engine, and how smoothly she steered, but I was already out on the bow, entranced with the panoramic, 360 degree view over the most stunning stretch of river, with a faraway smile in my eyes, planning the name and colours. Imagining myself, up on the roof, enjoying a sunrise or sunset, chilled wine never far away. 

I was a goner. It was a foregone conclusion.

Even my Dad, who as a Shipwright, was involved with boats his whole career, approved the engine spec and design.

But how could this be done? I hadn’t yet sold my house, and a deposit needed to be paid to seal the deal.

Zed,  yet again, came to the rescue, pulling the rabbit out of the hat, managing to put together a finance package for me which would allow me to pay said deposit whilst awaiting my house sale ( thank you Zed, and Jane, PA extraordinaire at JM Financial ).

The impossible had suddenly become possible – I was on my way.

So Keith and I sat down again, this time with Ossie Stewart, who owns the boat – building company and the Marine,  and together we drafted the layout of what was to be my boat ( see pic for final version ) .

Keith must be praised here, for immediately ‘ getting ‘ me ( and for bearing with me during several changes of mind on where the main berth would go …thanks Keith).

He had incorporated plenty of wardrobe and shoe space ( I love clothes ), a bath as well as a shower,  as I cannot do without one, particularly in the winter, a log – burning fire,  bookshelves for my many books, and – most importantly- a special wine cooler in the galley kitchen.

We had even built in some steps leading up to the roof, for ease of access when admiring the view or sunbathing.

As I always say, I can do very well without essentials, but I must have my luxuries…and creating warmth and cosiness wherever I am is very important to me, as my family and friends will testify.

And in the meantime, a hot July afternoon spent dreaming in a deckchair,( always so vital for inspiration, doing nothing much ) with a beloved book of mine, ‘ Anam Cara’ by John O’ Donohue, an Irish poet and philosopher, had resulted in me finding a name for her- ‘ ANU’ , which is Celtic, and means  Goddess of the earth, rivers, sea and abundance.

Having always had  a very strong affinity with my Irish heritage on my mother’s side, and a deep love of Ireland, ( my daughter’s name, Molly, was chosen for this reason also )  I wanted Anu to be painted in traditional Irish colours, and Keith suggested Shannon Green and Cream ( again, see pic ).

I chose the harp as my logo, inspired by that traditional and most nutritious Irish beverage- Guinness, and because the harp is, for me, a mythical and beautiful instrument which I have always associated with the sea and water.

As a further nice connection, my son Fred plays drums in the Ellie Ford Band, where Ellie herself writes the songs and plays the harp.

It was all beginning to come together.

And so, the journey begins.

Keith has already been to Great Yarmouth, to oversee the start of the build.

I shall go with him next time, and will post some photos of the hull as it takes shape.

Ossie has a son, Cameron,who is involved in the building of Anu, and in another  twist, went to infant school with Molly…funny how life comes full circle.

It is SO exciting!

And a new talking point at parties, where quite a few people ( the chaps especially, I have to say) are expressing a huge interest, along with a desire to know more, and be invited on board when she is built.

‘ Oh, how wonderful, I’ve always wanted to live on a boat, ‘ they tell me. ‘ Can you fish?’

It is not for everyone, but as Zed says-  it suits me.

So, I look forward to sharing my adventures with you, as they happen, in this blog.

Both as ‘ ANU’  is born, and once I finally step aboard and start sailing her around the rivers and canals.

Bon Voyage, and I do hope you will enjoy the trip!

Captain Amanda

‘ Anam Cara’ by John O’ Donohue

copyright Amanda Hills 2016, All Rights Reserved

 

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Island Life

imageimageimageimageFor  the last 8 years I have lived on a little island on the river Thames.

Water, as I’ve mentioned before, has always been my element, and I had promised myself many years ago that one day, I would live on or beside it.

I first saw my house when idly browsing one day on a website specialising in waterside homes.
Coming from a very large Edwardian house, I took one look at it and thought it was not big enough.

And then I adjusted my perspective and began to think again.

Compact and much smaller than I had been used to, yes, but right on the river in a peaceful and beautiful backwater, with my own mooring and a south-westerly view, which meant that we would get the sun all day right through until sunset.
On one of the quirky little islands that dot this stretch of the Thames like tiny jewels, yet with the best pub in the area just the other side of the bridge and only 15 minutes into London from our railway station.

All this, and with one wall entirely window, filling the house with light and a large decking wrapping around for barbecues and evening cocktails.

Best of all, somewhere of my own to sit right at the water’s edge and dip my toes and reflect.
I would have been mad to turn it down, it had my name all over it.

I went to see it, walking over the large iron bridge and down the winding footpath that runs through the centre.
That was it- love at first sight!

A week later, I signed the deeds and it was mine. I’ve always been decisive when it comes to something ( or someone ) I love.

So we moved in, Freddie, Molly and I, one rainy March day.
By boat, because it was an island after all.

The removal men dropped in the river and smashed, one of my antique Victorian wash-stands and our cat was shell-shocked at the sight of so much water, but we were in.
We had to sell the piano!

When I tell people I live on an island, I hear one of four reactions:

‘ Oh, so where do you park?’
‘ But what do you do when you have to carry all your shopping?’
‘Do you ever get flooded?’

Or lastly, and much more rarely : ‘ How amazing and lucky, I’d love to live on the river!’

I always know that the person who says any one of the first three sentences will never live anywhere like this.
You need to have a certain adventurous spirit to live somewhere unusual and parking is not usually uppermost in that kind of mind.

To think of such banalities as parking and shopping when there is outstanding natural beauty to be had so close to the centre of London is to completely miss the point!

For this is one of the most glorious and unspoilt stretches of water, in the first real village outside London.

Shaped like a canoe and with only 49 houses, each one different, this is one of the smallest of the islands on The Thames.

One of the first things people notice is that we have our own post- box, which is rather quaint and stands there like something out of Beatrix Potter.

One of the houses is called The Chalet, and is an original from when the Island was first developed as a place to live by people from London who wanted summer homes on the water.

We now live here all year round!

We are opposite Hampton Court Palace, and our tiny hamlet is filled with history.
Henry VIII, whose magnificent residence is ours to enjoy just across the river, acquired a cottage in Thames Ditton for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves after their divorce – although she never actually lived there.
The miniscule doors and windows that I pass every day are testament to how small the Tudors were in stature, if not in deed.

Every season is a changing feast for the eyes and senses.

In winter, the glow from the moon reflects upon the water like a silver disc, illuminating the sleeping ducks like a still life.
The boat yard is closed for the season and there is a quiet ‘ off peak’ feel, though our cosy pub, Ye Olde Swan is always buzzing, with roaring log fires and laughter over local pints.

Before I lived here, I hadn’t understood the words in the song ‘ These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things’, but now I’ve actually seen ‘ wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings’.

When the spring arrives suddenly, as it always seems to, there is a flurry of boating activity.
People remove the covers from their little vessels and start to think about the first jaunt upstream.
The Olympic rowing team appear too on their practice runs, the shouts of the cox often being the first thing I awake to.

The cygnets, goslings and ducklings bob past, their proud parents in front.
Friends and neighbours sit out on their porches for the first time, their faces turned towards the weak spring sunshine and there is the promise of long days and nights to come.

Oh, but in the summer!
Lazy boats drift by all day, and everybody is laughing and waving.
As I said to my daughter one day, this has to be the happiest house we’ve ever lived in, for every single face that goes past wears a smile.
Boating on the river has that effect.

And now, the wild life is fully grown and swans glide by, no longer cygnets, their beauty and purity in contrast to the blue skies and colourful clothes of the day trippers.

To sit at the water’s edge at sunset is my favourite thing to do in summer.
Made even more perfect if family or friends are there too, sharing it with me.
And I never seem to be short of willing volunteers in this season!

Chilled rose wine or a beer in hand, the sun glinting off the river, shouts of nearby children and the merry barking of a dog.
These are the delights of an English summer on the Thames.

How could you ever leave?
Or think of parking issues?

I sometimes contemplate how it will be when I live elsewhere, because I know I won’t be here forever on this little slice of heaven so close to London.
That’s why I take as many photographs as I do, plus it is so picturesque.

If there is one thing I’ve learnt, it is that nothing lasts, everything changes. We can only hope to recognise moments of happiness,peace and tranquillity as they arise, and be thankful for them.

For this island living gives me just that ; calm and quiet and a place to reflect and write.

In my working life, I am in central London at least twice a week, sometimes more. Evenings too.
And my love for London is never in doubt, as I wrote in my last post.
In fact, another thing that really thrills me is that the very same river that runs past the Houses of Parliament, also runs past my house.
As I wander along on my way home from a business event or social gathering and gaze out over the lights on The Thames, I have the satisfying thought that very soon, I shall be on my own porch, a nightcap in hand, looking out on my own little sparkling stretch of the very same famous river.

The Island is a wonderful counterpoint to days spent amongst so many people.
Nature has its own power to soothe the soul like no other, and as I walk over the bridge after a day in town, I feel all my cares and tensions melt away and flow downstream.
The quiet of the night here, with no car alarms or traffic, the clarity of the stars because we have only old – fashioned gas lamps lighting our path.
These things restore balance to the weary spirit.

It isn’t perfect, life never is, anywhere.

I think my parents sometimes worry about me living here.
But I went to a boarding school that encouraged outdoor living and robust character, so I find I’m quite resourceful and up to the challenge!

Our power sometimes fails for no apparent reason and water pressure can be a challenge as we share one pump.
And don’t even think of flushing anything down the sink or elsewhere, you have to treat life as though you were on board a boat, but I love sailing so I’m used to this.

These small trials can, if you let them, make you feel annoyed.
But instead, you can allow them to bring out the Robinson Crusoe in you ( or in my case Girl Friday ) and feel satisfied that you’ve dealt successfully with the practical challenge.

Sometimes, when I have to park miles away on a drizzly winter’s day and carry heavy shopping over the bridge like a pack-horse in the trenches, I think ‘ what on earth am I doing living here?’

And returning late at night from a party, the footpath leading to my house can seem like the longest and darkest path in the world.
And yes, sometimes the footpath does flood and I have to don my waders.

But the treasures far outweigh the small tribulations.

Where else but on the river does your view change every single day?

Last week, my son stopped me as we were coming over the bridge to point out a kingfisher darting across the water.
A heron stood at the edge under the willows and ducks were laughing ( they do, believe me ) as they enjoyed the first of their early spring baths.

It’s enough to make a poet out of almost anyone.

So if you’re passing our little island on the Thames this summer, in a boat or perhaps on foot, give us a wave.

We will wave back, safe in the knowledge that you will wish, for at least that moment, that you were sitting here in your very own river-side seat with us.

Amanda

Copyright Amanda Hills Feb 2015 All rights reserved
All images, Amanda Hills
‘ My Favorite Things’ by Rodgers and Hammerstein