Part 25

Misterton is now insulated and the rust scraping era is coming to an end, a little left to do on the back cabin but that work is at least a year away, we have agreed this will be the final room that gets finished, for now its dry and secure and that will suffice. Now the lining of the barge can begin. When we had left on our last visit I had a sense of passing a massive milestone and felt that we were well on the way to completion. As we surveyed the boat with eyes thinking about what needed to be done to fit out the inside ready for habitation I realised I had a familiar feeling washing over me.

If I rewound the clock about a year it was the same feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that I had when the realisation of how much work there was to do just to keep her afloat. The sense of drowning in a challenge, not able to keep my head above water, but drowning with my head under the water line, I was out of my comfort zone.

I turned to Simon and he was smiling, thankfully, ‘she’s beginning to take shape you can see our home in her now.’

I guessed the only thing to do in a situation like this is to start doing something, by taking action and becoming part of the solution my spirits always lifted and the mountain was being climbed, albeit slowly.

Simon’s family were coming for a visit, mum and dad were going to give us a hand with some painting and his sister and the boys were calling in to see the progress on their way home from visiting friends in Yorkshire. Mum arrived with a batch of baking that would temporarily add to the ballast of the boat, it would also be used to bribe the workers as mum’s baking was always sought after. She had made sweet and savoury muffins, a devils food cake and we were happy to sample all the flavours on offer. The temporary boat ballast was in danger of becoming permanent human ballast as the eyes bigger then the stomach time took over in response to such tempting delights. The flavours were also a hit with the workers and hopefully such treats would spur on the pace of the work.

Meanwhile mum and dad set to work painting the ply inside, sealing it with white undercoat. I had started with some in the bedroom area, but the speed they worked at put my efforts to shame and proved that you can never beat experience.

‘Simon,’ his mum asked, ‘have you ever considered one of those new machines you can get to help make painting easier?’

My ears pricked up, machine that makes painting easier, despite the twelve months of applying vac tan to the rust, I was still getting the painters shoulder, a new term I had adopted to pain which I think must be the equivalent of tennis elbow. If a machine existed that helped alleviate this then we should get one immediately.

‘I’ve heard of them, but I thought it might be too quick and leave Mary with nothing to do so she’d get bored. I figured it would be better to do the slow way and keep her occupied. Nothing worse than a bored wife,’ Simon quipped.

Simultaneously with equal horror his mum and I indignantly said, ‘you cheeky monkey.’

Simon laughed, his father smiled and I wondered if it was good sign that his mum and I were chorally speaking, did this mean I was turning into Simon’s mother? Was this the beginning of the end? I decided it meant nothing of the sort, it just meant that Simon’s mum and I were both right, and we were both tasked with keeping Simon in line.

The painting carried on and I was now painting the wheelhouse windows, I had already painted the coach sides and the colour of both was the same – black.

We had discussed at the start of the project how the décor would be allocated, we both had different tastes but we both needed to live with the choices. Left to Simon he would paint the whole barge inside and out black, his favourite colour. Left to me I would try and artistically select the colours that would best compliment the barge’s natural aesthetics. We decided that Simon would be in charge of the outside and I would do the interior décor. We would check the other liked our final choices but the leads were defined.

Simon had selected black sides and windows, silver/grey roof and deck, and a maroon wheelhouse. The maroon colour he had found in a classic bike magazine, he claims he was drawn to the colour alone and not to the scantily clad lady sat astride showing the bike off. I believed him, and I knew he was extremely keen on the colour as he had gone to a lot of trouble to get the colour matched and made up especially by a company that make paint he had previously used for his narrowboat. How this colour was to look was still to be seen, although as I neared the end of painting the windows the next painting job would be the undercoat on the wheelhouse.

I had had some initial reservations about painting the outside of the boat black, but as I completed my painting I must admit that I could see that it was a good choice. I have glossed over the painting of the coach sides but feel that a little bit more information could be in order.

Misterton is now moored on the inside of a boat called service, and although it is possible to paint one side of the coaches standing on the bank, turning the boat round to paint the other side is not straightforward. Instead I found myself on a floating raft, tied to the side of Misterton, with my ipod playing my favourite tunes as I painted away, staying away from the edges of the raft, that had, quite frankly, seen better days as the water was clearly over the top of the raft at the edges. Often when arriving on the raft there were rotting, stinking carcasses of fish kindly left behind by the feeding seagulls, and if I was really lucky some seagull poo to stand in as the colour of the poo nicely blended in with the colour of the raft.

I say lucky as I have been told that it is lucky it a birds deposits poo on your head or you accidentally stand in bird poo. This may have been a rouse that was sold to me at the age of nine. As I walked home from school one evening I felt something land on my head, I put my hand to may head to find out what it was and some hot and sticky covered my fingers. When I brought my fingers in front of my eyes, to my horror I discovered my hand was covered in bird poo. I had the humiliation of walking the rest of the way home, a good ten minutes walk, covered in this sticky mess, tears falling down my cheeks and convinced that everyone in all the houses I was passing could see my predicament and were laughing at me. I finally arrived home a snivelling mess and my mother saw me and instantly realised the problem.

‘You are a very lucky girl,’ she said, ‘let me run you a bath and tell you why.’

Lucky, I thought, how am I lucky when the whole world has seen my humiliation, but my curiosity got the better of me as I followed her upstairs to the bathroom to find out why I was lucky.

‘If a bird poo’s on your head, it’s a very lucky sign, if you accidentally tread in bird poo it’s a lucky sign too (I guess she was covering herself for future predicaments).  It is such an unusual thing to happen and so unlikely to happen that if it happens to you its lucky, wait and see your life will be blessed.

I remembered this little episode as I stood on a raft surrounded by rotting fish and bird poo that quite frankly I could not avoid accidentally stepping in, my life was truly blessed.

As  I was finishing the final coat on the windows Simons sister and the boys arrived, Simon gave them the guided tour of the boat and I carried on trying to finish the last coat. We all went and had lunch together in the museum café, we had placed an early order in as we were quite a large party. Tom and William liked the museum, and William was particularly delighted to be able to add to his snow globe collection from the museum shop.

After lunch we returned to Misterton and had some of the cakes for dessert, it did not take long for the devils food cake to be finished, and we were generous sharing some with our neighbours.

The last time Tom had visited he and William had thought the boat was a big rusty mess and really not a good place to be. I could not resist, ‘Tom do you think the boat is still a rusty mess? Are you still against the idea of coming to stay on her sometime?’

‘No, I think she’s great, I’d come and sleep over on her.’

‘Would you like to help me start the engine?’ Simon asked.

‘Can I come too?’ William asked.

‘Of course, Simon smiled and the uncle trotted off with two very excited nephews.

Steve reappeared and asked me where the boys were, ‘we really ought to start going, it’s a long drive.’

‘They are with Simon starting the engine, shall I go and…’

Before I could finish the sentence Steve disappeared off shouting something about starting the engine, and in front of me he had morphed from a responsible forty something dad to fourteen year old boy.

‘Boys and their toys,’ Bex smiled, and we both helped ourselves to another piece of cake.

Finally the family had to depart and we waved them off. We had another day before we had to leave and return to London to carry on with our paid jobs.

The next day the boat builder and his wife arrived to visit, as my painters shoulder was beginning to ache I was happy to stop for a break and they looked like they had some news.

‘We’ve been to Stanilands and measured her,’ they smiled,’ and she’ll fit.’

They sounded triumphant as they explained their story, but were clearly perplexed by the lack of reaction I was given. I knew what they were saying was a good thing but I had no idea what it meant. The wife explained to me that they had gone to Stanilands, which has a dry dock in Thorne, and measured a boat they were going to sell. Whilst there they noticed quite a large boat in the dry dock and they thought the dry dock could be big enough to take Misterton, so they measured the dry dock. Now they needed to measure Misterton, and they proceeded to do that with the biggest tape measure I have ever seen.

‘Yes, she’ll fit, with about three foot to spare.’

This was fantastic news, there was still some underwater welding to do, and the only dry dock near enough was booked for five months and this would mean not getting her to London this year. The dry dock in Thorne had space so she could go there once the engine was fixed back up, the welding could get done, the hull blackened and she could go down this summer. We were both delighted.

The weather remained glorious for the rest of the day, and with the knowledge that we could get everything we needed done this year and get the boat down, I felt energy burst.

This energy burst was enough for me to start painting the wheelhouse, I managed two coats of undercoat, and I really liked the colour. I hoped when it got to putting on the overcoat I liked this as much.

Simon smiled at me and I knew he was pleased with the colour so far. ‘I’ve got something to tell you that will make you smile,’ he said.

I was interested straightaway.

‘When you started painting the boat builders wife commented on how much weight you’d lost, and asked if you were ok?’

I laughed, ‘did you explain that the new boat outfit from Tesco’s is responsible and not actual weight loss?’

‘No, I knew you’d be happy with the comment though.’

As we packed up for our journey back to London I pondered on the seagull story from my mother, maybe there was something in this lucky story after all, we had found a dry dock when I was surrounded by bird poo. This had been a lucky visit.