London is an enchanting city full of most incredible things to see and experience. Something different awaits you on every corner. Almost a year ago I discovered and had a chance to experience a whole other world here…
The whole story began when I received a letter from an agency that was renting a flat for me. This letter stated that the contract has been terminated, because of some legal issues the landlord had. It left me with two months to find another accommodation. But that led me to another problem – I and my partner had a little blue Staffordshire puppy. It was a hectic mission to rent a decent flat located more or less in Central London where pets are allowed. No place could compare to the lovely flat we had inhabited in Belsize Park. That’s when the idea struck us – our friend was living on a canal boat and told us all about it – and that’s what we did we bought a boat and started sailing London canals.
It was an extremely weird feeling, in the beginning, to live in such place. When you are inside it’s just like an ordinary flat – a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, a walk-in closet. The only unusual thing in here is the steering wheel next to a window in the living room. However, once you go outside, it doesn’t feel ordinary at all – you are constantly surrounded by water. As it concerns the location, you have two options – either rent a space in a marina and pay rent the amount that costs like to rent a room in that area of the city, or you can sail the canals and move to another place every two weeks. We chose to move and that meant that we were living in a different area those every two weeks. Personally, I found it interesting. I have a chance to explore the city better, I got to see neighbourhoods I would probably not go to if I was still living in Hampstead.
In front of the boat, we have a deck – it’s a wonderful place to sit and read a book or feed swans if you are moored in a lovely place. I loved staying in Paddington and Little Venice, King’s Cross next to Granary Square, Regent’s Park. I remember last September we were moored somewhere near Hackney Wick and Stratford. It was a nice warm week and everything was still green. Next to us it was nothing but a huge green field and to get there you had to cross a bridge. No one except people from other five or six boats would walk around. It was a perfectly calm location right next to a rattling East London.
On the other hand, besides the romantic atmosphere that sparkling water creates when the sun is setting and the fun of feeding water birds, London Canals are actually one of the most dangerous places you could end up. You probably have no idea how often burglaries, muggings, thefts or even rapes on a canal are. I had to experience some this horror since I moved in there. First of all, we got broken into. One morning last November my partner left the boat to walk our dog while I was still asleep. I heard someone coming in a couple of minutes after he left, so I assumed that it was him coming back for something. I asked out loud: “Did you leave something, honey?” I heard no answer, so I went to the room where the entrance is. What I found were an open door and open drawers and cabinets. A lot of valuable things were missing.
Later, in December, we were next to Victoria Park. My partner went to visit his family and I was alone for a couple of days. One evening I noticed a man standing next to the window and looking inside. It was terrifying. I called the police, but because it is not that easy to describe the precise location of the boat all the times, officers never showed up. I did not get any sleep that night. Last month we were in King’s Cross, I spoke to another couple who have moored not that far away. They told me that that morning they woke up in a crime scene as someone got raped on the pavement right outside their windows.
The good thing about the canal is the community. Most of the boaters, at least the ones I met, were nice, friendly, talkative and extremely helpful people. Most of the times the neighbours you’ll meet will share information about possible dangers or warn about crimes that are happening around. In fact, you can even find such thing as a danger map online, where people put information about what happened where.
Furthermore, you can find out what is happening all around by accessing twitter or facebook. For example, a group on Facebook called ‘London Boaters’ will probably have all the information you need to know about boating, latest events that took a place and if you can’t find quite the answer, just write a post, you will get more than enough answers.
However, people are not the biggest danger here. Accidents are. If something goes wrong the boat might sink and you will lose most of your property instantly. I witnessed this as well. It was that cold week of February when everything was frozen. At around five o’clock in the morning, someone loudly knocked at our door. As we were waking up we heard a scream – “Is anyone there?” It was our friend, who was moored nearby. He said that the boat he owned is sinking. So we quickly ran there. The firemen and the people from Canal River Trust people were here already trying to stop this tragedy. However, not much could be done, so we stand and watched how it sunk slowly.
But if such horrible thing happens to you, there is a chance that the people familiar with your loss will offer you some help.
Another horrible thing that can happen is like everywhere – fire.
Talking about unusual things, for me it was that you don’t have to pay any bills. We have to access the utilities ourselves. For example, our electricity comes from the solar panels as well as batteries. We also have to fill the tank with water from time to time. However, there is one tax – license to be on the canal. Furthermore, the authority you answer is the Canal and River trust. They are the ones you contact if something happens or the ones you pay fine to if you do something against the law of the canals. They are the people walking around and looking after the order.
Moreover, when we moved in we did not think of how important it is to have an address. You do not have one when you live aboard. You need it not only for your mail and deliveries but also for banking, medical services, and university. It was hard in the beginning. We were using our friend’s address to get our mail for a couple of months. Later someone informed us that you can rent out a post box at a post office. You can get your mail and parcels delivered here, furthermore, it provides you with an address you can use as your own.
All in all, I am happy with the experience I got from this lifestyle. Before, I had not a single clue that such world and society exists. I did not know that you can live on the boat and that all the people are so connected and helpful to each other. It was really eye-opening.