Being unsure what the next four days would bring as we moored up at Alvecote Marina late last Thursday afternoon, we’re pleased as punch (excuse the pun!) to report any expectations we had were met – and surpassed.

Michael, Alison and Sandra, part of the collective of ‘The Roving Canal Traders Association‘, organised and advertised widely an event that saw hundreds of people, from near and far (we even had visitors from Germany), making a special journey to discover more about our alternative lifestyle.

Sadly, not all visitors were impressed, highlighting once again the place our individual ‘stories’ reside and give meaning to the value we place on life, love and possessions.

A mixed bag of boaters

There’s a gazillion reasons why people choose to leave the confines of the ‘rat race’ of the 21st century, take a tentative but purposeful step off the merry-go-round of materialism, and live aboard a narrowboat. Some of us are even aiming to make a sustainable living whilst doing so.

I find it fascinating, and love to regale interested friends, family and strangers, of the journey Barry and I have experienced so far to be cruising and trading on the Inland Waterways. If someone had told me ten years ago this is what I’d be doing in 2014, I’d have never believed them.

Other (mostly) liveaboards we’ve met along our meanderings include:

  • (Happily) divorced males with just enough to buy a boat and cruise away comfortably with no-one to ‘nag’ them
  • Retired couples who sell up, buy a boat and live off their accumulated savings topping up their meagre pension – spending the children’s inheritance wisely
  • People in their fifties who’ve had health scares and suddenly wake up to the reality that life is short and don’t wish to risk waiting for that magical and invented age of ‘retirement’ before they ‘live’
  • Couples from the southern hemisphere who come for six months of the year and then return ‘down under’ in order to avoid the winter and have ‘the best of both worlds’ (indeed we did that ourselves for two years but affordability excluded it from our list of options)
  • Youngsters in their twenties and thirties who realise early on how shallow the corporate world can be
  • A myriad of other reasons too numerous to all be included here

Tasteful or tasteless?

On Sunday, a fellow trader was heartbreakingly hurt to overhear a woman, whilst walking past their trading boat, exclaim “What a load of tat”.

Wow! We humans can be horrible can’t we?

I considered the dictionary definition of ‘tat’ – ‘tasteless or badly made articles’. Hmm, that wasn’t what I saw over the four days.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you all a handful of my opinions and feelings about such thoughtless and tactless talk – it may just encourage someone else to stop and consider the effect before opening their mindless mouth in future:

  • There was nothing on any of the boats that could be described, in my opinion, as ‘tat’
  • Every single item was tasteFULL and appropriate to the event, individually and expertly made with loving care
  • The products available from trading boats are mostly unique, making them even more special and priceless
  • I’d rather look for individual items such as these, than buy the mass produced ‘cheap crap made in China’, purchased from the conglomeration of chain stores found in the massive shopping centres across England
  • It’s well known a handful of people have a negative association with narrow boaters (such people refer to us disparagingly as ‘water gypsies’ – not that I’m personally offended by this term in any shape or form), for whatever reason or story they’ve chosen to embrace and believe.

Subsequently I’d suggest this woman saw exactly what she expected to. She would’ve subconsciously disregarded, or had no interest to discover, the items were extremely professionally, and painstakingly handcrafted.

No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent” (Eleanor Roosevelt) springs to mind here.

Enough said – feel free to add your tuppence worth in the comments below if you feel moved …

Trading at Alvecote were …

Sandra and her 'Golden Boys' boat full of a vast range of doggie treats - including doggie popcorn, easter eggs and hot cross buns

Sandra’s Golden Boyz boat which was full of a vast range of doggie treats – including doggie popcorn, easter eggs and hot cross buns. I couldn’t believe how many canines led their owners to the market, and persuaded them to buy lots of treats and toys

Alison and Lou trade as 'Da Vinci Crafts' selling intricately carved wooden boxes, plaques, jewellery, fine art photography, canal ware and heaps more

Alison and Lou trade as Da Vinci Crafts selling intricately carved wooden boxes, plaques, jewellery, fine art photography, canal ware and heaps more

Jennie and Paul with Fred the Fender below - selling ropes and fenders of course, made by Paul and selling like hot cakes

Jennie and Paul with Fred the Fender below – selling ropes and fenders of course, made by Paul and selling like hot cakes

Fred the fender

Fred the fender

Lesley and Ray 'Morgana" with hand-made jewelry, head bands, hats, and scarves

Ray and Lesley, ‘Morgana’, with hand-made rag-rugs, jewelry, head bands, hats, and scarves

Michael and Krystina – an assortment of products including  hand-painted canal ware, garden figures, second-hand books, … – I coveted the purple box below, but couldn't justify it on our current budget ...

Michael and Krystina – an assortment of products including hand-painted canal ware, crocheted blankets, garden figures, second-hand books. I coveted the purple box below, but sadly couldn’t justify it on our current budget …

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Guess who? Barry's Home Brew Boat of course - selling a multitude of mixes to magically make your own alcoholic beverages

Guess who? Barry’s Home Brew Boat of course – selling a multitude of mixes to magically make your own alcoholic beverages

And finally, Ronnie and Yogi selling hand made shoulder bags (I bought a purple one, I've been looking for something like it for a while), tea towels, wall plaques and heaps more

And finally, Ronnie and Yogi selling hand made shoulder bags (I bought a purple one, I’ve been looking for something like it for a while), tea towels, wall plaques, pictures and heaps more

The vagaries of the weather

Trading outdoors, we were subjected to almost every extreme of weather over the four days of trading. Warm sunshine graced us with his presence intermittently, cloud covered the sky for much of the time, the rain was kind enough to mostly stay away, but trickled down occasionally on Sunday when the wind also howled in a vain attempt to blow us all away.

That day I asked Malcolm, the owner of The Samuel Barlow, if I could venture under his eaves with my face painting table. He was kind enough to agree and moved a couple of items to make space. However, after three hours of painting just one face, I’m not ashamed to admit I decided I was worth more than £1 an hour, and returned to Areandare to better occupy my time. Three good days out of four was brilliant.

The Samuel Barlow and an assortment of wonderful working boats in the marina

The Samuel Barlow and an assortment of wonderful working boats in the marina

In contrast, on Saturday afternoon and evening there was a Christening party at the pub, full of families, so that made up for the quiet Sunday. I even had a woman in her thirties have her face painted as a pink and purple butterfly. She’d never had her face painted before, and the look on her face when I’d finished was priceless. If only I’d been assertive enough to ask if I could capture and publish it. Next time …

One of the consistent comments Barry’s heard over the four days was ‘I haven’t got time to brew my own’. I’m imagining the same people have enough time to sit and watch the TV night after night, and to work endless hours in order to pay for their frequent nights down the pub where they spend shed-loads of money to donate to the government in taxes. It’s all a matter of choice and priorities. Barry will have talked to them in his gentle kiwi manner and described how little time it takes for some amazing results. I suspect many will have left considering it as an future option – we had an on-line order for a beer kit yesterday and I’m certain there’ll be more to come.

Facepainting is an incredible privilege. To witness children (and a couple of adults) as their faces light up incredulously at the transformation of their selves has been an honour. It won’t ever earn me a fortune, but at the same time it is priceless and very precious.

Painting Sandra to match her doggie costume (the things we do!) - thanks for the photo Michael

Painting Sandra to match her doggie costume (the things we do!) – thanks for the photo Michael

Our next trading event is at St Richard’s Festival in Droitwich, so we’re now travelling south to arrive by Wednesday 30th April. Do come and visit if you can – just to say hello, buy a brew kit – or maybe you secretly want to try face painting and release your inner child? It’s a marvellous excuse for me to paint mine every day …

A little easter bunny on Sunday - blessed with a visitor I hadn't seen for many years

A little easter bunny on Sunday – blessed with a visitor I hadn’t seen for many years

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Once upon a time, a beautiful young woman dreamt of an idyllic life selling books from a boat. Sadly, as is often the case, her dream initially failed to materialise as she’d imagined …

Rather than prematurely throw in the towel though, she decided to seek alternative possibilities to manifest her vision.

Sarah Henshaw set off in May 2011, on her floating Book Barge (it’s actually really a narrowboat, not a barge, but let’s not be pedantic), to find her “... sense of self” in order to work out “... how best to engage with life” and through doing so, reframe her story.

We’d first stumbled upon her floating bookshop at Barton Turns Marina during our travels aboard Northern Pride in 2009, but hadn’t managed to enter as we arrived out of opening hours. We finally met Sarah when we were both trading at The Spring Market in Birmingham, ten days ago.

The BBC filming on The Book Barge

The BBC filming on The Book Barge

Sarah’s written and published an insightful and humorous account of her six-month journey navigating and bartering her way around 1,079 miles of the Inland Waterways of UK. I was invited to her initial book launch by the lovely Helen from Wild Side, but was disapointed not to be able to make it as we were away.

Fortuitously for us however, we were destined to meet. And it just so happened that when we did, it was at the same time as the BBC happened to be filming Sarah and her inspiring ‘never-give-up’ story, as she travelled to the event in Birmingham. We’ve previously blogged about being immensely proud to be the only other ‘hand picked’ trading boat at the event – and The Home Brew Boat gets a two-second appearance in the feature story aired yesterday morning.

Apologies to those blog readers not living in the UK. Those who do, can view the BBC ‘Real Time’ clip, described as ” … a series for the BBC News website in which ordinary people tell their own extraordinary stories. Click on this link.

It also meant I could buy a copy of her book (The Bookshop that Floated Away), to support a fellow boater, trader, storyteller and blog writer. Andy Tidy has written a superb review of the book to tickle your taste buds – it’ll take me a few weeks to make the time to devour it properly.

Andy says “For my money it is a canal travel book with a distinctive USP. If you like canals and literature all recounted in a slightly tongue in cheek self depreciating way it’s one for you.”

I’m not ashamed to say that yesterday was my first eight-hour day of work since early March 2013. It was also, if I calculate it, the worst hourly rate I think I’ve ever ‘worked’ for (and I do use that term loosely in comparison to my normal definition of the word). But it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ in the usual sense, and that’s the point.

I’ve not been un-employed, seeking benefit, or looking for any form of ‘paid-employment’. It’s what’s called being ‘joyfully jobless’ – and I love it! I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment called ‘Making a living without a job‘, by Barbara Winter. I wish I’d read it years ago. It supports our vision of having multiple income streams, doing things we love, whilst making the money we need to not only ‘survive’ but to thrive and experience life without being stuck in the confines of a 40-hour work-week.

It’s early days yet, but it really feels as though our plans are beginning to come together …

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A serene sight at around 0730hrs – the calm before the traders emerge and visitors arrive

The day began at 1000, and lots of people came to check out the floating market. Michael Wooding, who runs the Roving Canal Traders Association, organised the event. We’ve chatted on Facebook a few times, so it was good to put a name to a face – not that I remembered to take a photo, maybe today …

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Early in the day and already lots of lovely visitors to this colourful event

Our ‘pitch’ was originally by the car park, but there’s two historic boats moored there that couldn’t be moved. So we got the end slot of the walkway. The only challenge with that was that there’s water either side, so face painting didn’t feel like a safe option there.

I negotiated a move with Michael and ended up on the grass next to The Samuel Barlow pub, which is run by Alvecote Marina – and Sandra on her Golden Boyz Doggie Crafts boat. I had to wait a wee while for the grass to be cut, so had a little wander to take a few shots of the other boats trading.

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Sandra sets up her side in readiness – and boy did she get tons of interest from the incredible amount of dog owners who visited

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Alison and her partner own Da Vinci Crafts and sell all manner of gorgeous wooden craft shapes and handmade gifts

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Narrowboats and curious people everywhere – a festive atmosphere for a mostly sunny Good Friday

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Lesley and her husband selling a range of hand-made hats, scarves and jewellery – she sold out of crocheted head-bands within the first couple of hours!

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Paul and partner (have you guessed yet how dreadful I am with names?) selling fenders and ropes – very successfully

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Here’s a name I remember! Barry’s The Home Brew Boat the customers haven’t quite reached him yet, but he was busy all day chatting amiably and sparking interest in ‘doing it yourself’

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Michael and Krystina sell a wide range of crafts and books from two enchanting old working boats called Draco and Success

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My perfect pitch as the little ones wander by – they can choose to be painted on the way up or have a think and do it on their return

I had a steady stream of delightful children visit my Funtastic Facepainting area who all left with happy smiles on their faces after they’d been transformed into a slightly different version of them selves. We had butterflies, tigers, a few spidermen, flowers, an easter bunny and a dragonfly.

Today I’ll be painting colourful flowers on the face of a lady who looks a similar age to me. She’s off to a party tonight – I can’t recall whether it’s a 60s party, or just flower-power, but she was most excited to find me and discover we’re here for the next few days.

A selfie after a full day of facepainitng - today I was a butterfly

A selfie after a full day of facepainitng – today I was a butterfly

There’s another six floating markets around the country in 2014 for some of the myriad of floating traders on ‘the cut’. Sadly we’re unlikely to be able to get to any of the others – but you never know.

If you’re in the West Midlands are looking for something to do over the Bank Holiday Weekend – come and see us and all the other terrific traders here at Alvecote Marina.

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