Octogenarians afloat: retired couple loving life on the canals
- Credit: Archant
John and Judie Surridge are redefining ‘Senior Service’ and while eyesight and hearing may not be perfect, nb Halcyon shows no sign of stopping
Our family think we are well and truly mad but accept that our get-up-and-go hasn’t yet got up and gone! After 20 years of running a sailing business on Windermere followed by 11 years of exploring the canals and rivers of the UK we have no intention of vegetating and becoming armchair TV addicts. We are not in the first flush of senior service. In fact as we approach our ninth decade – or as the family spell it “decayed”, we are fit and well and determined to carry on boating well into our nineties. We set off in April, and apart from short forays home to see that all is well and the weeds haven’t reached shoulder height, we return invigorated sometime in the autumn from our trusty narrowboat Halcyon. Although nowadays we do seem to experience certain limitations which we are determined to ignore!
Our eyesight these days when approaching low bridges can be a little suspect! Generally we take extra care, duck our heads and make sure the chimney and TV aerial are flat on the roof. Unfortunately we had a slight lapse when coming head-on to a bridge before the double lock, the one just before the Harecastle Tunnel from the north. As only one lock was in our favour it made sense to go through the other one… It didn’t! Even reversing at top speed couldn’t stop the inevitable clash of bridge roof versus searchlight, TV aerial and top box. The bridge won in spectacular fashion. We were left with no light for the tunnel traverse, no storage box, and worst of all no TV which meant no ‘Neighbours’ for the ensuing 24 hours. The RCR came up trumps and fitted a new light within 2 days, there was a local Tesco 5 minutes away so it was unimportant when we got on the move again, and we chopped up the top box for kindling, even though we had no box in which to store it.
Our hearing is not what it used to be. There is no use taking a two way radio into a lock as the sound of the water far exceeds the voice in the ear. We revert to hand signals providing we are in eye contact. This can lead to a few misunderstandings as we haven’t yet got our semaphore sorted out. Signal from John to proceed under a bridge was read as “Put the kettle on” and he waited patiently for me whilst I poured the tea and sat waiting for him to partake. By the time we realised our mistake the tea was stewed and there was a queue of boats waiting for us to move! After shopping and a long walk, I sat and relaxed, saying: “I’ll fill the kettle dear.” This was received as “I feel decrepit dear” and he sympathised accordingly.
There is not a lot of use trying to watch any TV programme which lasts longer than an hour as by 9pm we are both asleep in front of the roaring log stove after a full day of activity. But we have rediscovered the joys of reading and charity shops are a boon for new books. An added advantage is the purchase of a new wardrobe whilst in the shop. No need for clothes which will last us for the next 20 years!
The contents of our sponge bags now owe more to the pharmacy counter than the cosmetic area at the chemists. Hair colouring is out – I have found that with white hair and a helpless look when struggling with locks, there is usually help at hand for an elderly hapless female. John unfortunately doesn’t get quite the same attention. He looks – and is – completely capable so is left to his own devices.
Painting the boat exterior is not a favourite occupation but it must be done in spite of creaking knees and aching backs. The lower part of the boat down to the waterline takes the most time, interspersed with numerous cups of tea and grumbles about the 60ft to cover, but the end result is worth the effort. Obviously the celebratory glass of wine at the end is a sheer necessity.
- 1 Winifred: a 1980s hire boat refit with reclaimed wood
- 2 4 Interior Design Ideas for Your Narrowboat
- 3 10 of the best pubs along: the Rivers Lee and Stort
- 4 Linking Lichfield: the Lichfield Canal restoration
- 5 Boat test: “Oyster Catcher” the permanent house boat
- 6 Cruise Guide | Grand Union Canal, Part 2 | Braunston to Marsworth
- 7 10 of the best pubs along: the Chesterfield Canal
- 8 Stretching your narrow boat: process and advice
- 9 New book explores what makes our canals special
- 10 Cruise Guide | Rivers Lee and Stort
Nowadays we are in less of a hurry to get somewhere by a certain time. We have found that starting before 8am and mooring up by 3pm we usually have the pick of mooring spots and still have time to explore and walk the dog. We do try and moor up somewhere near civilisation, a paper shop within a 10 minute walk is a bonus and as all our groceries have to be carried in a rucksack or trundled behind us in a shopping trolley, the same can be said for buying provisions. We held out for years from buying the said trolley – “Only for old people!” said John, him being an independent sort of guy. So I gave him the haversack to carry… when it was very full and very heavy of course! Very quickly we jointly decided we were old people and swallowed our pride accordingly. Bags of dog biscuits travel much better on wheels than on backs!
Having said all that, we are now planning our next trip. We plan to be away from April to October so who knows where we will end up? The next big occasion is our diamond anniversary in 2018, where will we go to celebrate it? The Seine perhaps…
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