Part 17

Autumn was here and the work on Misterton was progressing slowly. This time the pace of work was weather dependant, as the welding to seal up the holes could not be completed in the rain, it needed to be dry. As we continued to scrape the rust at the weekends we found more holes, they varied in size from a pinhole to six or seven inches long. Irrespective of size they all had to be welded and for this to happen it needed to be dry, a small miracle around the weather needed to occur for us to spend our first Christmas aboard. I was praying fervently and hoping my namesake would help us but in my heart of hearts I knew alternative Christmas plans were a good idea.

Simon asked me what I would like to do for my birthday weekend, and I suggested that if we were ever to get close to completion maybe we should spend my birthday weekend in Goole working on Misterton. To sweeten the pill Simon suggested that we could book the windmill at Fishlake and I could invite two people to join us as it would make it seem more like a party. I roped in Helen and Greg on the promise of a weekend with a hot tub with coloured lights and music in the garden under the stars, and a guided tour of our boat.

We drove up on Friday night and arrived in the dark to the windmill, but once inside they were both suitably impressed with the mill, it has been restored by its owner Graham in a very tasteful manner and has everything you could need for a weekend retreat. A bar, flat screen in all bedrooms, a karaoke machine, bbq and pond next to the hot tub. We all had a few gin and tonics and settled in for a chilled night in.

In the morning we were woken nice and early by the resident peacock alarm clocks that start squawking from the moment the sun rises, around sevenish at this time of the year. After a hearty breakfast we made our way to the boat and gave our guests a full tour of the barge. This took approximately four minutes to complete, although our explanations of how we were going to use the boat once the derusting and welding was complete took decidedly longer, I suspect we went into too much detail for all concerned, but our guests were polite and listened, making suitable encouraging comments as appropriate.

Helen worked alongside myself as we both scraped rust, I noticed Helen picked this up very quickly and within a short time she was as proficient and fast as I was, I’m sure this is definitely a sign of the intelligence we as the fairer sex often become aware of. In the meantime Greg helped Simon to remove chipboard floor from the boat along with the occasional pub sign that had sneaked its way into being part of the original Misterton lining. At the end of the day we felt quite sore, cold and ready for relaxing. We returned to the mill to wash up and those who were able took part in a hot tub under the starry sky moment. It was very cold outside and rain was beginning to appear, but it was a valiant effort and the addition of some rather fashionable headwear enabled Helen and Greg to remain for sometime and demonstrate their true hardiness. To carry on a good evening Helen and I sat in front of the log fire putting the world to rights, whilst Simon and Greg went to hunt for the curry for the local curry house. Greg was able to introduce Simon to some Essex culture that he had previously missed out on. They were able to drive around the town of Goole with the windows down, shades on and passing comment to the local ladies in the manner that good Essex boys always did in my youth. They were not stopped or arrested so one has to conclude that either the Essex boy practices have reached national status and this was an accepted practice, or the locals were so shocked by such edgy behaviour they had been stunned into silence. I suspect the later, as when two handsome men in shades are smiling any lady worth her salt would be stunned into silence.

The next day Helen and Greg did another full day on the boat before we took them to Doncaster station as they were returning to London. We were spending the whole week there as it was autumn half term, I knew we’d go on a real holiday in 2009 but in the meantime we needed to get on as much as we could whilst the weather still held. On his last day Greg had noticed that the stairs in and out of the boat were damaged and valiantly volunteered to repair and build these. Whether he realises he volunteered or not is another story but Simon is a very good at delegating tasks that he thinks will keep people happy and give them a sense of pride. The task was a very important one as his parents were returning for a second visit to see the progress and this visit would be greatly improved if they could get on and off the boat safely. Greg made extremely secure stairs which were to last us well for the life of them, and I like to think that when we finally had to remove them there was a small tear in his eye.

Helen and Greg departed tired but happy, I like to believe, with their departure came our exit from the mill, we moved to stay with Dave and Margaret in Goole. Luxuries like staying in the mill were for special occasions only and as the amount of work to be done on Misterton increased the number of special occasions we could afford drastically reduced.

Simons mum and dad arrived in the week and stayed overnight in a nearby Travelodge. They helped paint some rust converter onto the hull and a number of useful items we had found amongst the contents left behind by the previous owners. Some old fashioned irons, a boat hook, and some stakes for mooring. They also brought along with them two camping chairs which they left behind for our use, some lovely muffins baked by Simon’s mum and a kettle for us to use on the Stanley range.

The Stanley range had been the centre of a few discussions, it was coal fired and could run the heating and hot water on the boat too. It did look quite old but I cleaned it and started to use it to heat the space a little whilst we were there. As we had removed all the insulation it was not very effective, but if you stood near it for a minute or two you could warm up. We decided to get an engineer to come and give it the once over and see of it was something worth keeping.

Simon thought we should try it for the first six months and see how it worked out, I was concerned as I have got used to the luxury of instant heat and hot water. I have never been great at mornings, when asked by a career advisor what career I would like in my youth, I suggested we start by looking for jobs where you did not have to get up too early in the morning. I am not and never will be a morning person, how people can be so cheerful and full of beans before sunrise defies me, especially on cold days. I had visions of horrific hurricane mornings, where I would have to get out of bed and light a coal fire and then wait an hour before any heat came through. These visions were swiftly followed by the nightmare scenario of me returning late from school when Simon was working away. The boat would be cold and unwelcoming and I would have to light a fire and wait before cooking anything or getting warm. I was convinced there were much more contemporary ways of going about heating a boat and was keen to hear what the engineer had to say.

The engineer was quite impressed with the range and said it had stood the test of time well. He estimated it was about 45 years old, and said it could remain effective for occasional use for a number of years. I explained to him that we were intending to live full time on the boat, and his tone of voice changed considerably to one of grave urgency.

‘In that case love, I would say if you’re doing this boat up and putting in a new kitchen and so forth, you’d be best off taking the range out. You could adapt it to being a diesel range but for the cost of that you could get yourself a modern second hand range that will last a lot longer.’

‘What about instant heat?’ I asked nervously, ‘do modern ones create this?’

‘They are quicker than this one, but if its’ instant heat you’re after then really you need a marine boiler separate from your cooker.’

‘Can you get these into boats like ours?’

‘Yes love, just depends how much you want to spend and the size power you want,’ he explained kindly.

When he left I looked at Simon and held my breath. I thought the sensible thing to do would be to get rid of the range and start again, but Simon needed to have this thought on his own. Men like to believe they make all the major decisions, and experience was teaching me that Simon was happy for me to have the same thought but he liked to have it first.

‘Sounds like we might be best off changing the rage after all,’ Simon said. I could breathe again. ‘We need to look at all our options before we make a final decision though.’ My heart sank slightly I wanted to change the stove and change it now, then at least we would have heat for Christmas, Simon wanted us to look around at all the options – this could take some time.

In the meantime I was able to use the old range for heat and as Simon mum pointed out we would be able to heat a kettle on the top and have hot drinks if we wanted, that was progress, however slight.

Our stream of visitors continued as Simon’s sister and brother in law, plus nephews  Bex, Steve, Tom and William arrived in time to be given a full tour by Simons mum and dad. The two boys declared it to be a ‘rusty old boat’ and I suspect they thought we were a bit crazy thinking of living on it. Still it was nice to canvas varied opinions on our future home.

The following weekend friends Piran and Loretta came to visit, we three caught the train up from Kings Cross, Simon had gone earlier in the morning but I had a Saturday conference and so met Piran and Loretta afterwards and we shared a nice bottle of wine on the way up. We arrived in Goole with just enough daylight to give a quick tour of the boat and then took Piran and Loretta to the premier inn, via a detour to Dave and Margaret’s. We all had one of the premier inns finest meals that evening and the two visitors were looking forward to a days work on the boat.

Piran helped Simon move some of the wood Simon wanted to keep – in case it came in useful (reminiscent of the fibre glass) – onto the roof, Loretta and I took a couple of trips to the dump getting rid of wood that had not made it to the useful pile. When we returned Piran and Loretta set to work as a very good team, they started scraping the rust off the one part of the hull in the workshop that had not been touched. Within minutes it became apparent they were very good at this task. Piran joked they had been breaking into boat yards and practising before their visit. I suspected they had done something as they were very good. Loretta told me later that her parents had built their own house when she was younger; I think this experience has held her in good stead and she helped Piran achieve her high standards. I was hoping we would be able to convince them to come another time along with all our other guests. It was still rust scraping and rust converting but I enjoyed it more when there were guests joining in as several things were achieved in one go. Firstly we were able to keep in touch with out friends, as I was slightly nervous that everyone would forget we existed as we spent all of our free time in Yorkshire; secondly we were able to catch up on everyone’s news; thirdly our friends contribution would be part of our home and we were keen to have a home that people would want to come too; finally it made the time pass much quicker having some company on the boat who were all really positive about our project and helped lift our spirits.

The rain continued and in true British style as the autumn progressed into winter the amount of rainfall increased. I became concerned as when we were preparing the sides of the hull and then afterwards sweeping up the rust flakes from the bilges, I noticed more water appearing in shallow puddles beneath the floor.

‘Simon the boat appears to be slowly sinking,’ I said.

‘It’s just the rain coming in through the holes above that need welding up,’ he said.

Simon got the boat builder and his wife to reassure me that the water was coming in from the sky, and none of it was seeping in from the canal. Once all the holes were welded up there would be no more water inside the boat.

‘I understand what you’re saying,’ I told them all, ‘but as long as there is water in the bottom of the boat I’m going to worry, it just doesn’t seem right to me.’

‘Wait till the welding is finished,’ Simon said, ‘then you’ll see.’

I tried to put it to the back of my mind and carried on with the unending task of rust scraping, in the damp and the cold. I looked forward to further visitors to make the boat seem a warmer place.