I used to live in Oxfordshire, so I have several friends who still live in and around the city. I don’t see them as often as I’d like, so last week I got on the Oxford Tube and headed over there to catch up with one of them.
The friend in question lives on a canal boat, which is one of those things that seems romantic and lovely but is probably quite difficult in reality. A few of my Oxford friends live in boats moored along its waterways, and from time to time one of them will try to persuade me that I’d enjoy it too. But I grew up in a caravan and I know that life doesn’t often reflect romantic ideals. I have had quite enough experience of emptying my own toilet, and these days I much prefer being connected to the London sewer system.
But I do like to visit, because it’s pretty, and visiting means you get the romantic beauty and don’t get the harder reality.
First of all I had to go down a little country lane, and then over a bridge. I felt like I was in a fairy story: cross the lifting bridge, solve the riddle the troll gives you… there was no troll, though. Just a pretty little bridge with an idyllic view from its centre.
Narrowboats tend to be painted in all sorts of beautiful colours, and since these ones are on permanent moorings (I think) they can have things like little gardens next to them.
It does seem idyllic, but it’s the kind of idyll I prefer visiting rather than living in. When I was walking home I was thinking, I wouldn’t like to be stumbling drunk along this path at 3am. Not that I do that anymore, really. But London is so much more convenient in terms of buses and streetlamps and transport. Convenient, but not always this pretty.
The waterway in the city centre is packed with tourists and students punting around, laughing and making lots of noise. Further out, though, the canal attracts boat-dwellers and people who are much quieter in their hobbymaking. These people, for example, were chatting quietly as they rowed under the bridge. It looked like a lovely thing to be doing on a hot summer day.
While I don’t think I’ll be moving there anytime soon, it was fun to visit the canal and the boats (and my friend, of course) and get a taste of what life might be like on Oxford’s waterways.
Would you live on a boat? Have you done it already?