We love a good freeze, us boatpeople. We run around the place lighting fires for each other to stop the pipes freezing. We have no water for days and days on end because the one standpipe that serves all twenty of us is frozen, so we just stick potatoes in our woodburners because it’s a saucepanless meal, so it doesn’t matter that there’s no water for washing up. We scrape the ice off the inside of the windows and row over to the pub and sit there for hours “for warmth”, and then, when the inevitable comes and we need to wash, we go to the leisure centre. We don’t quite live in the same century as everyone else. We are A Bit Different.
(Because that’s what we like to think, us boatpeople. That’s why we use that term. Do you call yourself a houseperson, or a flatperson? Deep down – or possibly, not all that deep – we are, of course, very boring people. Like everyone else, we run out of milk, get grumpy in the morning, experience that wincing little flicker of sicky hate whenever someone on the radio says ‘the Prime Minister, David Cameron.’ But this boating thing – economic necessity notwithstanding – is one of those things we do to convince ourselves that we’re Individuals. So when we find that we can’t vote/join a library/flush the toilet when there’s a regatta/get a Nectar card/bend our begloved but frozen fingers around our porridge spoons/stop the Stowaway from screaming after she is woken once again by freezing cold water dripping from the hatch above her bed onto her precious little head, we just say, at least we’re Individuals. It’s the same as dyeing your hair blue, but a lot, lot colder)
Yes, we love a freeze, or a good snowstorm. Ideally it goes like this: a good freeze first, for several days, then a few days of snow to get the ground all nice and covered, then a sudden thaw, which means… a good flood! And boaters love nothing better than a good flood.*
We all pretend it’s a disaster. We run around the place (especially the men) shouting things like, “check your ropes!” and, “bail out your tender!” and, “bring her astern!”**, and, “beware the Severn Bore!”*** and things. We love it. Love it. The river rises, we stand outside looking across what used to be a field and is now a sea all the way to the chocolate factory, we provide the bewildered chickens with liferings. We smile at each other and have a sense of community even greater than in peace-time. We feel all risky.
Then the river goes down and there’s just a lot of mud, and we go to work. Like everyone else.
* With the exception of the presumably – hopefully – uninhabited boat over the river that has the strange quality of staying in the same position relative to the riverbed, regardless of the level of the water.
** Less so when not in active naval manoeuvres.
*** Less so here, as we’re on the Avon.