Astride a dark horse

June 07 2013

My name is Ryan. I'm 30 years old and I live on a houseboat on the canals of London, England.

My boat's name is the Dark Horse. I have owned it for 5 months. I am told that the constant fear of sinking eventually goes away.

The boat was built in 1974. It is 50ft long and 10ft wide, with every square foot replete in only the finest in late 70's wood-panelling. Its heart is a marinised BMC engine - the same kind that used to be found in black London taxis - and, like most of those who partied hard through the 70's, it has a tendency to occasionally forget who it is and what it's doing, and to suddenly and violently require a bit of a lie-down. This usually involves loud noises and, occasionally, smoke.
(When I purchased the boat from an elderly widower, she gave me a 'Good Luck' card instead of a 'Thank You' card. In retrospect this should have been something of a clue.)

As I have no permanent mooring (due, for the most part, to the scarcity of new mooring spots in London), my boat operates under what's called a 'continuous cruising license.' Besides being the basis for some truly terrible pickup lines, this entails being legally obligated to move the boat to a new neighbourhood every two weeks.¹ This has proven to be my favourite part of the boating life thus far. Waking up to the sound of joggers along the towpath at Victoria Park is very different to waking up to the gentle splash of a rower on the River Lea or to the distant sound of a genuine Camden punk being heartily sick. The experience has broadened my appreciation of London and its environs.

But the boat life isn't all glamorous 70's decor, punk vomit, and hastily purchased Hallmark cards. There are also downsides.
Besides the aforementioned threat of sinking and the obvious, constant danger of scurvy, the waterways of England are also infested with swans. While in the past the Queen (the only person legally allowed to kill swans in the United Kingdom²) has done a fine job of culling back the white-winged menace, her age and subsequent wavering aim has meant she's far less capable of wielding the royal machete than once she was. As a result, the swans, emboldened, have taken to hanging around in groups, smoking cigarettes, and making lewd comments at passing womenfolk. We boaters have thus far managed to endure this outrage through sheer willpower, numerous cups of tea, and the sound knowledge that should ever Prince Harry take the throne, he's likely to bring the full force of the British army against these beautiful, feathered abominations.

That day is to be found in the distant future, though, if at all, and so until then my fellow boaters and I must simply try to get by, pottering along from place to place, arguing with our engines and watching 'Waterworld' for the 50th time. It's an wonderful movie, really, and Kevin Costner is actually quite good in it.

Thanks for reading.

Ryan Bateman
[email protected]
London, England

¹: Oddly, it also mandates that I have, at all times, a copy of 'Waterworld' aboard, preferably on Blu-ray.
²: (This is not, strictly speaking, true.)

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