Food, or rather locating shops to buy it, always looms large when I am out on the cut. This is weirdly true of trying to purchase natural yoghurt. This ongoing food-buying anxiety was ever present on my long summer boat trundle. Summer 2019 saw me and Montefiore – Montague (aka Monte-Moo the Boat Cat) heading towards Oxford on nb Pea Green. The trip took a mammoth ten weeks. Though admittedly this probably wasn’t necessary, as I do know of others who have completed it in a speedy 14 days from Welford.
Monte’s dislike of moving more than 4 hours a day, and weekend trading stops of 4 day contributed to the slow pace. Additionally, progress was further slowed by the multitude of locks on the Oxford Canal; I work locks very slowly on my own. Whilst other unplanned ‘events’ brought me to a grinding halt. These included having an accident on a lock and requiring medical treatment, plus Pea Green breaking down. These tales will be told in future posts, but now back to the challenge of locating shops and yoghurt on the cut.
My boat travel usually takes me through lovely, apparently shop-less, countryside. As a result, I lose all sense of place and seem incapable of locating shops. For example, I had no idea Daventry town centre is only a mile or so from the tree lined canal. In the parallel universe of canal travel, even shops right next to the waterway are often invisible to your average boater
It is impossible, without a shop-radar, to know what lurks up above and beyond the next road bridge. The only sure-fire way to find out what is nearby is to emerge onto the road to investigate. This is not as easy as it sounds. Emerging entails scrambling up a bramble covered path, fighting through a patch of nettles and lurching out of the undergrowth onto the road-side. By this point I am usually bleeding from the brambles and blotchy from nettle stings, and creating alarm amongst passing motorists.
Canal world competing
As well as the physical plant inflicted injuries, moving from canal to road is a mentally disorientating experience. Coming face-to-face with speeding traffic and negotiating landlubber rules. As a consequence of this mild psychological trauma, I tend to avoid entering the ‘real’ world when out cruising. (Some might say I try and avoid it most of the time. ) Clearly this avoidance of shops is totally counter-intuitive to buying mega amounts of yoghurt and other food stuffs. To try and deal with these competing anxieties, when I still have one foot in land world before leaving Welford I over fill the boat with food.
My food hoarding is totally over the top. I fear running out of food at some remote canal mooring, as well as worries about never finding a shop. (Additionally, my subconscious is ensuring I am prepared for the coming zombie apocalypse.) Although this anxiety, (running out of food, more than the zombies) is real, another strand to my worries is the cost of food in village shops. So, to counteract anticipated issues of shop access, food costs and crazied zombies the boat was almost listing with by the time Pea Green left her mooring. All semi-accessible spaces on the boat were stuffed with a frighteningly wide array of food stuffs. Monte. Additionally, I had enough wine and beer for about 2 years.
Good ship curlywurly
Packed to the gunwales with every conceivable food eventuality, Pea Green was ready for an Ellen Macarthur style global voyage. (And ridiculously over prepared for a waft to Oxford, which is, after all, only an hour’s drive from my house.) The situation was reminiscent of a Dawn French comedy sketch, aboard the good ship Curlywurly. For those unfamiliar with the sketch, Dawn is is seen recording a video diary. She is crying and huddled on her boat, apparently lost mid-Atlantic. As she eats her final Curlywurlys she is fearful that help won’t arrive. It is only later, when she hears the harbour master over a loudspeaker that Dawn realises that she hadn’t left her mooring.… God forbid I will ever have to resort to eating my last Curlywurly – especially as they have shrunk since 1975.
The challenge out on the canal is buying fresh dairy and veggies at prices that don’t break the bank. Plus, there seems to sometimes be an issue with veggies being fresh and diary not being past its use by date. (I will eat food beyond the date stamp. I draw the line, however, at milk expiring that day, and finding the seal is broken.) Top of the list is feeding my natural yoghurt for breakfast obsession, this has become a running with my friend Kate.
Shops and yoghurt on the canal
The yoghurt thing plays out in my head as I keep a tally of how many pots of yoghurt I have, and when I will run out. I have to admit I also keep a mental log of the cost of yoghurt. The latter is particularly worrying, as I have a real problem remembering numbers. Quite simply, I have no idea how much any other food stuffs cost, yet I know that a 500g pot of natural yoghurt at Lidl costs 45p. My personal trauma at finding yoghurt costing £3.49 in one village shop will, I hope, be understood. Personally, for that price I would want a butler to come and serve me breakfast.
I was concerned my yoghurt needs are over the top. However, after detailed discussion with Kate, I feel vindicated that 2 ½ pots a week is not excessive. I feel hard done by if I have to eat anything else with my muesli and fruit. The only exception to the yoghurt combo is the one breakfast each week where I over-eat banana pancakes. Generally, the overdose of pancakes is so severe that I can’t consider eating them again for at least another week. So, this still leaves me with the challenge of reaching well stocked shops and not over paying.
Where’s the car?
I could take my car with me and run it in parallel to the boat. However, I feel overwhelmed by the complexity of this idea. I find it challenging enough to find a spot to moor, let alone locating car parking, moving the boat, running down the towpath to find the car and then moving the car closer to the boat. Additionally, I am convinced I would forget where either the car or located. I could try public transport, but after my disastrous experiences in Rugby I prefer to avoid this option. As a result I stick with walking or my newly acquired fold-up bike.
The bike has been a great acquisitions, however fitting it onto the boat is quite challenging. Pea Green is tiny, and if you imagine me, Monte, my painted stock to sell, paints, extra bits to paint and all that food, it is a challenge to squeeze in the bike. I could try and haul the bike onto the roof, but it’s heavy, there is no room and additionally I like my boat to look smart when I am trading. I don’t want junk amongst the teapots. Therefore, the bike has to fit inside, further pushing the TARDIS like qualities of my 32 footer.
Other bike challenges took some grappling with. When I find a shop I have a horrible tendency to overbuy food. I revert to having bags of swag precariously strapped onto the bike. Along with extras stuffed in my backpack. In the real world this bike overloading wouldn’t be too much of a problem. However, in canal-land there is usually an obstacle course to negotiate before getting the bike and the shopping back on the towpath and unloaded onto the boat. I was faced with a footbridge (with steps) on one occasion. However the worst was an Everest style slope from the road down to the towpath.
Yoghurt thief alert
Descending a 45 degree slope made up of uneven, muddy, steps with a heavily laden bike almost ended in disaster. Admittedly this was my first shopping foray and I had gone a bit mad. As I arrived at the top of the steps on the road bridge logically I should have unstrapped my goodies and carried my bags down, followed by a second trip with the bike. However, I decided to bump the bike down the steps. I was convinced the Daventry yoghurt thief was awaiting my bags. This involved holding the front brake and bumping the bike, complete with shopping, down the steps towards the canal.
Sliding down the path
Bumping the bike down the steps was a foolhardy decision. Halfway down the inevitable happened as I lost my balance. Despite the slow motion slide I was not going to let my shopping haul disappear into the cut, well not without me going in with it. I managed to regain my balance, as the steps turned 45 degrees. With a few scrapes and bike helmet still securely in position I continued down the remaining steps. I realised afterwards that had I crossed the road I would have found a bike accessible path from the road to the towpath. This was the biggest humiliation. Note to self: always check under the bridge to see if there is an easier path.
As I begin to think about 2020’s summer waft I am still contemplating accessing shops and yoghurt on the cut and how I might ease the pain. As a result I am not seriously considering entering into the world of making my own yoghurt on board…. I realise this won’t deal with the fresh veggie fruit conundrum, but will sort out that £3.49 yogurt.