The independent London newspaper

My life as a floating voter

10 January, 2020

• DEAR People of Islington, most inland waterway boaters have it less easy than I in figuring where, when, and how they are going to park.

In metropolis, at least, their boats need regular waterings, muck-shovellings, fuel bunkering and a myriad other things I can do without for days, weeks, or even months.

My narrowboat had these things sorted out in the drawing up of my “original wish list” for an ideal constant cruise back in 2010.

One habit I learnt quickly (and it had never occurred to me in formulating my plan to become a floating voter) is that if I need a tailoring alteration, I have to find one where I happen to be, whereas the settled already know where to get their hem let down and where to let their hair down.

Muggles think we nutters just ram our boats into a convivial bankside and head off for a few groceries before the shop shuts or the pub opens.

It is very different in reality. We gotta build a whole “village” around our crash site…

On canals you make your own luck… and the more luck you make the more you get…

I have a water sprite to manage my water-luck. Her name is Sadbh, say “Sive” rhyming with dive.

Each time I leave a comfortable mooring I leave a familiar mapped village centred on the boat. Each time I tie up at a new mooring my first priority is to map a new village. Sadbh decides where the centre will be. But it is up to me to establish my village.

Islington you’re it!

Slipping away from King’s Cross at 7am on a recent Saturday, I was into Islington tunnel at 7.10am (as advised by Sadbh).

The tunnel light had been set up and tested before slipping; the last place I used it was Bruce Tunnel.

What? You don’t know Bruce Tunnel?

Shee… Do you know Islington Tunnel?

Shee… you may need to get out more. It’s under your feet …

Arriving at the eastern end, Sadbh had organised a space and I emerged into the dawnglo to tiptoe in with a classic “ferryglide” manoeuvre, my personal water sprite guiding me quietly and unobtrusively into a 36ft space by 7.40am and without disturbing a single resident or non-resident in the gloom.

Once moored and caffeinated, out came A-2-Z to map the elements of my latest village and where the nearest bus stop might be. I needed to locate the “nearest pint of milk” and routes and distances around my new address.

Much of this would be shank’s mare and over a few days my latest village would be assembled.

Within days I would know my way around my own village learning more each day and then, just as I have it organised, I’ll be gone.

My latest mooring is close to Angel, very close to Angel.

An initial recce discovered that within 200 yards of the boat I have a postbox, a grocery, dry cleaner, two cafés and, extending to 250metres, I have bus stops at Angel and more on High Street.

I get a branch of my bank, a Vue cinema in a shopping centre, two supermarkets with milk, a tube station. I had none of these when snowed in on the Oxford canal outside Banbury in 2014.

There is a challenge! My knees are now in their 75th year and the climb to street level at Noel Road is maybe 60ft and High Street is just that.

Sadbh, being a sprite and a water sprite even, does not do knees. The good news is I can read the Islington Tribune while I’m here.

Living in Islington you know and always have known where your next loaf of bread is coming from.

Within the house you have your water supply on tap, electricity, TV, fridge-freezer, all creature comforts your great grandma never even dreamt of but without which your life would fall apart. You have wi-fis, mobiles, laptops, Alexa.

You who are part of the muggle community know your garden centres, shopping centres, epicentres, double centres and possibly your church, barber, pharmacy, grocery, doctor, butcher, baker and, for all I know, candlestick maker. (Hint, try High Street.)

You know where to buy a postage stamp or post a letter. You know your short-cut to the bookies, where to walk your dog, or cycle your bike.

Everything is familiar and you may even have a car outside the door to save your legs.

Me? I change location sometimes twice in a week, or maybe after two or three weeks, and each time my new village needs to be mapped… I am “off-grid” by choice.

It’s a 19th-century concept which includes water from a plastic tube in the “utility room”, composting toilets, solid fire heating (my boat uses restaurant charcoal), low-level LED lighting, bed at sunset and up at sunrise and a serious regimen of wasting nothing and recycling everything.

I take shapshots of my village and I took one today of your lovely Islington Town Hall in Upper Street with its flags atop.

I see an EU one flowing proudly in the breeze; but the Union Flag looks a little frayed at the edges while the borough flag is spancelled to its pole. Is this an omen?



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