A disused barge bought in Holland, a cargo hold converted in Belgium and a live aboard lifestyle discovered in France. The humorously told story of how and why a British couple built their home and their dream on water. More
Peter and Meg realise their dream of sailing the Mediterranean. Then they realise Meg wasn’t designed to be an ocean going sailor. Taking their yacht to England via inland France, they discover an alternative escape from noise, traffic and junk mail. A floating home, complete with brick fireplace and geraniums, becomes a maybe, one day, new dream.
In England, Meg is appalled at the price of thermal vests. Peter, looking for work somewhere the sun shines quite often, studies sits vac in Flight International while Meg drools over boats and canals in Waterways World. They had no intention of going to Belgium, but fate, in the form of a man called Malcolm, puts Peter in work at Brussels Airport – and Meg on the trail of barges in Holland.
They find Colibri too easily. Making the decision to buy this sixty-year-old, eighty-seven foot barge is much tougher, but that is only the beginning of tough. Persuading a cargo hold to become a three bedroomed home entails some tricky episodes. The antique toilet that swallows buttocks simply has to go before Peter can begin his erection of irregular shaped walls and ceilings. Luxuries like water, electricity and keeping warm have to be considered, and it’s important that the boat stays level until cement shower bases are set.
An embarrassingly verbose parrot, a cat that wants to walk on water and a hose that can lift a man off the ground with a rampant ton of water are just a few of the ingredients in a complicated life. A Belgian bricklayer who doesn’t realise a spirit level is invalid on a tilting boat is more than they need.
Then there is the question of ballast because, of course, this is no ordinary home. There is still the business of making it move. Shifting several tons of concrete slabs, delivered in pouring rain the very day the cat puts Peter’s back out, was not part of Meg’s euphoric dream. Meanwhile, a gale is bringing trees down, and she can’t wait to use the chain saw she had for Christmas.
Through it all, France and her waterways beckon. The completion of Peter’s contract sets them free to cruise, but not before a diminutive Belgian welder assists in transforming Colibri into a bomb site lookalike, all in the cause of a bigger wheelhouse.
For her forty-eighth birthday, Meg receives a rope, a ladder and freedom, and a half converted barge heads for France. The River Meuse in flood, Strasbourg by Easter, Dijon for Summer and a barge crashing spotter on an impossible to negotiate canal bridge are all part of their travelling joys. Choosing where to moor their home for the night, dining beneath the stars and cycling down the towpath to find bread for breakfast and returning with sunflowers instead becomes a way of life.
Summer gives way to winter, and Meg and Peter settle down in beautiful Burgundy. Between dinner engagements, arrived at courtesy of an uncontrollable fog-bound dinghy, and mental disorder wrought by thirteen inches of neurotic dog, building re-commences. A front door would be handy, and the cast iron stove, ornately endowed with an over the top Sound of Music scene, must be installed before the cobwebs on the lady singer’s shelf like bosom dampen her tenor’s aria.
With the return of warm, sunny weather, Peter practises saying w-w-work whilst realising he is not ready to return to high stress at a noisy, polluted airfield. A litre of red Chateau Plastique, consumed on a moonlit deck, helps them to decide that it’s easier to ignore the white window envelope from the bank than the onset of spring and those other boaters happily planning summer cruising.
That’s it – they’ll just have to keep sailing into the sunset! And it’s all Malcom’s fault anyway.