I have now been on the barge for just a couple of months and am getting to know it just a little bit better. My confidence is growing, probably by more than it should - but then, I long ago gave up trying to match my confidence with any sense of reality, since both seem to operate in a chaotic system akin to the climate.
Over the weekend I have turned my hand to carpentry and plumbing, trying to finish off the bathroom tiling and install a hand basin. After burying a hand-saw into my index finger, I have ended up with some quite impressive-looking boxes around pipework and the like, which I’ll probably find I have to demolish when it comes to the plumbing.
It’s all fiendishly difficult to work out, frustratingly easy to make a silly mistake, as my index finger can testify.
Standing back to admire my handiwork, I decided to have a wash, which meant switching on the generator to pump the water. Nothing happened. Without the generator I am more or less helpless - and equally helpless to know what might have gone wrong. Flor called my neighbour Bob, who promptly appeared and within a few minutes had the thing working again. My level of confidence fell towards what felt like a more realistic level.
It didn’t rise very much when Bob told me that my ‘leisure’ batteries have probably died. These are pretty vital, since they store the power from the generator and provide half the reason for running it at all. More to the point, they will be critical to my intended move away from the fossil-fuel guzzling generator to solar panels and possibly a wind turbine as well. Batteries have to be replaced in any event every two or three years, and they are expensive.
This means that I shall have to begin my attempted move towards a less consuming way of life by throwing away - well, taking to the recycling centre - the extremely toxic contents of my old batteries, and finding the money for new ones, which I’m not sure I currently have. Cynics among you will doubtless conclude that this just confirms how greenery is an expensive middle-class fad.
Coincidentally, Darren, an electrical engineer who lives on a boat in London and is making an academic study of solar energy, is due to visit shortly to assess the best or most affordable way for me to proceed. I anxiously await his verdict.
Meanwhile, when old friends from the nearby city call by, I mount something of a display, generator chugging away, mood lighting, the chocolate factory ablaze in the distance, the moon beaming down. With the help of a few glasses of wine, I wax pretty lyrical about the whole thing, I think, and as far as I can now recall - or was in a position to know - their initial feelings of pity for me are tinged with envy.
Even so, I was grateful for their offer of a bed for the night if ever the floods, frosts and gloom of February get too much for either me or my barge.
And if I needed a reminder that there’s no such thing as an eternally idyllic little community of people, it came at the weekend. Jean, Ali and their baby Rachel live on an old wooden boat a few berths along. They have been away in Albania, where he was supervising the conservation of stone at a newly excavated archaeological site. They asked me to a barbecue they were having with some friends at the gazebo in the woods. Suddenly, Jean said we had to leave. Flor was upset that he hadn’t asked permission. Hurt feelings, indignation, a brief discussion of suspect motives, what ‘rights’ we may or may not have…
Oh well, there were lots of kids around, their imaginings made wilder by running in bare feet over stinging nettles and plunging into the river. They came and had a look at my barge and said it was a great place to live.
What’s more, I’ve had my first two eggs fresh and warm from the chickens.