How to Survive Off-Grid on a Canal Boat if you are a Cat!
Heavy rain drops fall with dull thuds upon the steel roof off the canal boat as a gust of wind pushes against the face of the stern, rocking it to a drunk left side slant. The dividing curtain hanging between my inside and their outside twitches in a slight breeze from a leaky hatch and like a ghostly appearance, air seeps between unseen cracks.
A Boater’s Cat and a New Day…
Here in the warmth, an ember glow of log and coal remnants, in-front of the wood-burner, I curl. An off-grid canal boater’s cat and his tale. Black as the midnight hour and with keen eyes of emerald green. Asleep amongst a gloss coat of fur and soft bird feather cushion. Paws twitch, as they run in dreams of hot pursuit, then capture of a flying tease, or a hidden tail which darts into a narrow passage, and darkness beneath. A gentle rising tummy and a quiet snore.
I too, like the cat, laze in my wool warm bed, safe from the wind and rain, contemplating, reflecting, waking with a stretch to a new day. Above the hatch, outside, a refreshing breeze stings my face, a reminder I’m very much alive; quick to retract back inside my shell like a snail in fright, to my small shelter from the exterior ice.
A Boater and a New Day…
Seagulls screech, impulsive as they play on fleeting gusts. A test of stability, perfecting flight skills, showing off, they glide the strong and accelerating lift of the blowy day. I am jealous of their superior aero dynamics, as they more confident in sky than I on ground, relish the windy wild challenge.
First daylight brings much busy bird twitter and a party of ducks repeat five laughing, loud calls, as if someone told them a hilarious joke. Rain dimples the surface of the water, pitting it with tiny circles stretching away into the far distance. All is awake and bubbling with life. The sabbath candle still burns, yet low; It has burned throughout the night.
What To Do on a Canal Boat- Before You Move On…
Today is moving day, the day we do the moving day dance. We jiggle to our jingle and giggle like young children. A new day, a fresh start, a new place. Enthusiasm spills out as we rise early to our obligations. We carry our full Thetford loo, sloshing and heavy, to an adjacent elsan point. An overflowing bin is pushed with a squeeze up the narrow steps. Filling of cold, wet water bottles- twelve lined up soldiers against the wall, at the ready. There’s a long impatient wait while a thin hose pours freezing water into our giant tank, hidden low down in the hull. Two drainage holes need blocking with perspex and silicon, to stop our deep draft letting in canal water at the bow- as we cross another item off a long list of jobs.
A large man walking the towpath treads firmly and heavily on our bright green hosepipe, oblivious to his great boot, as he stops to admire another’s dog. After a lengthy conversation on canine couture he moves on, leaving behind a dirt footprint, a squashed pipe, and a water stoppage. A quick relay, ferrying of vehicles to our destination, to return again, or sometimes we take a bike ride back to the car. The day of a move is a bustle of activity, we love it!
What To Do on a Canal Boat Before You Move On- For Cats!
The cat sleeps on! He flinches and looks up with disdain as the engine shudders into life, vibrating any loose window glasses. The metal spoons hung up in the kitchen jangle a little. The plate too, bearing our boat number, gyrates to the dance; I remove it to prevent the irritating noise. Our fury friend knows something is happening and tucks his chin deeper into his chest, to ignore the annoying disturbance.
A Magical World and a Cat…
The fictional story, The Magic Far Away Tree, was one of my favourite Enid Blyton novels in my primary years. A giant Oak stretching high up into the clouds, houses unusual characters living in its enormous branches. From Mr Moon’s tree house at the very top, you climb a small rope ladder up through the mists into another world.
A world that revolves around now and then, without warning. You can venture in to this great world, but never know when this new dimension will begin to spin. The danger is that you might never find your way back to the Magic Far Away Tree again; it is the compromise of venturing so far away from home, and perhaps a subtle moral lesson.
What To Do in a Moving Canal Boat – For Cats!
Like this magical dream world, the cat snoozes on, warm by the fire, as the boat moves off. His gang plank hauled in with the ropes, that anchor his world to the grassy banks he has come to know for the last two weeks. Oblivious to all, until he awakes to find his outside territory changed. Like a vague memory of when I was a small baby at the seaside, exhausted by sun, wind, sand, ice-cream and play, I fall fast asleep in my pram. When I wake again, I’m at home in my small bed.
We sail along at an amble, a brisk walking pace, on through an old, listed, hand built stone tunnel. I look back at the white snow falling on the other side, a picture postcard. It’s a chilly day and wrapped in fleece waterproof jacket, hat and gloves, we enjoy the low winter sun as the north wind stings our red cheeks.
What To See on a Canal Boat in Spring…
Early Spring announces the true arrival of the new year, much later than Rome’s Gregorian bleak January. The boat bids goodbye to winter’s well trodden pathways, our familiar everyday patterns, and on she goes. Fresh sounds and smells, welcome sights, the iridescent turquoise of a kingfisher and cheerful passers-by. Natural light plays on the water and the tall reeds bow to us as we pass by. Branches bud, awakening, not yet one leaf unfurls. Most flowers still hide shy of February’s cold frost, but virgin white snowdrops sprinkle the shaded wooded glades
I feel joyful to be at winter’s end. My senses are alive with wet earth, horses, sea salt blown from the nearby bay and uncharted sights. All is hot off the press, novel and immature as we leave behind fourteen days of well-trodden mud, all that has become known, repetitive, and regiment. As we pull in to our next home and jump off to tie up, a different postcard view slides into the windows, from a stone grey town to a moss green woodland. New neighbours, and a line of red, blue and yellow, traditionally painted boats. The loud boat engine shudders to a halt as all vibrations stop at the turn of the key. All is purr fectly quiet…
What to do when the Canal Boat Stops! Cats…
Then the cat, done with his long rest, yawns, stretches and awakes. With an agile spring up the steps and onto the stern, he stops abruptly and looks stunned; surprised to find his established turf has gone once again. I wonder what he thinks as he ventures out to see an ever-changing world that spins past like magic while he sleeps. New grass to explore, tiny voles in hiding, and noble trees for scratching posts. He tests the territory, the changes- tentatively, not as fast or daft as a dog who bounds, ungainly out, and leaps straight off the wrong side of a turned boat, and into the water with a great, wide eyed splash.
This black panther’s hunting instinct awakes, an arousal tempted by the challenge of uncharted ground. He has favourite haunts- tall grasses, the gang plank where he sits staring intent at small creatures our eyes can’t see, and hideouts he can wander in secret, far away from dogs and their walkers. He stretches his paws up the bark of a large Ash and relinquishes a long and strange “Miooowww”, ending with a scratching of sharp claws.
What to do at Easter?- Canal Boat Cats…
I remember that sunny Easter Sunday morning; he delivered a small, grey bunny. He mauled it with those same sharp claws, before we found its tragic fate. This new, small life takes its last youthful gasp held in our hands, wrapped in a soft towel. A happy hunter in his natural, risky and wild habitat. Off to explore the changed landscape, alone, he always finds his way home, back to his own barge.
How To Take Care of your Wellbeing- Canal Boat Cats…
He befriends a neighbouring boater’s feline. The young couple convey that they woke early to hear the two playful scoundrels bounding around at 5am, upon their long boat roof. He walks with us a mile up the canal and back. Then he lays down on the ground, too fat, a declaration of tiredness, a simple statement that he wants someone to carry him. He quickly learns this is easier than exercise.
On one such walk he meets with two giddy, tail wagging dogs, the first canines he has ever met. He gaily trots off next to his new acquaintances, pleased to meet some other four-legged friends. Down the tow path he follows them until he reaches our floating home, where he bids them goodbye. He grasps that not all dogs are so friendly later and sadly, but for the wiser, he never trusts them again.
The funniest sight is when he takes a walk down the off-shore side gunnel. He can not make the jump at the end of it, onto the bow, and can’t turn around. So he shuffles slowly backwards all the way back again, and we laugh as he passes the windows. He never seems to learn this lesson and repeats the comedic act again and again.
What To Do in The Canal- Cats!
Occasionally he takes an accidental dip, missing his footing between the grass bank and the stern. He doesn’t understand that the boat sways in and out from the edge a little and mis-judging the distance, jumps and misses. Then he needs help! We float a tyre for him to climb on. He swims to it but quick to exhaustion, his head dips under and he paddles frantically with a yowl. Lifted from the canal, a skinny and drenched drowned rat, he howls, then makes a run for the inside, with us in hot pursuit where we thrust him into a dry towel and rub him vigorously to prevent the cushions being soaked. After all the commotion I consider inventing the first cat swim vest.
What is a Life if not for Living?- A Canal Boater’s Cat.
Some boaters keep their pussy’s indoors, confined by a cage to a permanent and boring existence aboard; a premature coffin. But we value freedom and risk, the happy and interesting life of a boater’s cat, a feline who moves with us, through the changing seasons of the year. He stays because we feed him and he loves us. He lives to hunt at night and sleep all day. Smarter than most, he is a strong character- a true survivor with lessons to learn. He has fun places yet to explore, small creatures to hunt, leaping fish to wish for… and eight out of nine lives to live!..
a Canal Travelling Cat and a Faraway Tree.Lenny.