Adapting to the realities of running three businesses from a narrowboat!

It’s around five years since Barry and I first began formulating the possibility of finding ways to make a ‘sustainable’ living, continuously cruising aboard a narrowboat.

Running three businesses whilst moving around the system involves a bit of a juggling act! Allowing a plate or two to stop spinning and fall (like writing this blog regularly) is an inevitable casualty of becoming increasingly ‘successful’ in our endeavours.

Not that I’m complaining mind you, it’s absolutely what we’ve been focussing on.

We just have to step out of the busy-ness every now and again and reflect on what we’re doing and why. And of course appreciate the advantages for us of living this way. It’s not for everyone!

Once again I’ll do a catch up of the past three plus weeks – and make a tentative note to write shorter posts more frequently in future …

Market Drayton and Bromyard

Since our last post, Barry’s traded at the Market Drayton RCTA Floating Market while I hired a car for the weekend and spent a bit of time with mum as I had a facepainting booking in Bromyard, not far from Ludlow.

Barry somehow secured a starring role in an amateur video made of the traders at this floating market. Sadly it’s been taken off Youtube so I can’t share it with you.

Meanwhile I painted and glittered non-stop in Bromyard from 11am to 4pm, when everything began packing up around me! Nothing like the canal festivals where I continue until everyone’s wandered away.

Bromyard 1940s Street Fair June 2015

My Funtastic Facepainting stall on the end – a little different to my usual gazebo

Bromyard 1940s Street Fair June 2015

Getting the High Street ready for the crowds –  luckily the rain stopped just in time









Bromyard seemed a delightfully quaint village, away from the hustle and bustle of 21st century life, whose population came out in force to take part in the 1940s street fair, and really got into the prevailing mood of the era. A most enjoyable ‘job’.

Following that last weekend in June, we meandered along the Shropshire Union from Market Drayton, making great efforts to secure Internet signal for some scheduled Life Coaching calls. It’s one of the most serene stretches of waterway, with few locks to interrupt the peace. Just not so great for running a business requiring online calls!

Shropshire Union Canal

One the many beautiful bridges along this waterway

On the way we managed a brief stop at The Anchor, a pub we’d wanted to visit for a while. It’s the most incredible, historic place, owned and managed by 79 (I think!) year-old Olive, who strolls into the bar from her sitting room as necessary. We ordered our drinks just before the dulcet tones of the ‘Coronation Street’ theme tune was heard, when she bustled back to watch the soap.

The Anchor Inn, High Offley

Enjoying a drink in the garden of The Anchor – once it opened at 7pm and not a minute sooner!

Captain Ahab captured the feel of the establishment in a 2009 post which portrays the atmosphere so much better than I could (he has a magnificent way with words)!

The Anchor Inn, High Offley, landlady Olive

Barry finds some change to give to landlady Olive, for our two pints

The Anchor Inn newspaper cutting

A newspaper cutting in the pub – click here to read another one from the Shropshire Star

A quote from the article (2009) reads:

“Olive Cliff stands at the spot where her family have stood for generations – at the small hatch in the doorway that separates her own sitting room from the bar.

Olive, 73, is the landlady of The Anchor Inn at High Offley near Newport, a tiny parlour pub on the east Shropshire border that has been run by her family for more than 100 years and whose interior of quarry tiles and wooden bench seats has remained pretty much unchanged from when it opened in 1830.”

The Anchor Inn

There’s even an outside loo – that seems ‘unchanged’ for many years too!

Nesting birds

Complete with a couple of nesting birds – chaffinches?

Jim you were right – Bromyard shares a few similarities with the aforementioned establishment, though to be fair in comparison it’s moved on somewhat further than Olive (who I hope never moves on, life looks so much simpler from her parlour).

Brighton with the boys

Our next stop was Birmingham once again, as I had a train booked to Euston on Friday 3rd July where I met up with Lisa and the boys and we continued to Brighton for the weekend to stay with Kim. We’re not together very often, so really relish any time we co-ordinate it.

I do occasionally (Barry would say far too frequently!) pine for the simplicity of life in New Zealand, and have been known to occasionally complain about the British weather (can’t imagine why?!), but I seriously am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to be back in England spending magical moments with my girls and grandsons. We had such a fun weekend.

Back to the place of my birth

Returning to Barry and the boat on Monday 6th July, and we headed slowly to Kings Norton, our next planned trading festival.

As it wasn’t terribly far from Britain’s second city, we chose to take a little de-tour to Shirley, a suburb of Solihull, south of Birmingham.

You may ask why? Well because it’s the place of my birth.

However, we hadn’t appreciated quite how far away from the canal said place was …

Not wanting to miss the opportunity, and using the GPS on my iPhone, we walked almost 3 miles to 4, Brentwood Close, where my mum gave birth to me on 28th September 1959. In those days you were ‘forced’ to have your first baby in hospital (so dangerous you know, those untested wombs!), and then unless you had a VERY good reason, you had subsequent children at home whether you wanted to or not.

My dad, being a rather traditional male, went away for work despite mum being around 38 weeks pregnant. As a midwife I know that babies are ‘full term’ from 37 completed weeks to 42 weeks of pregnancy. In other words, if they’re born anytime between 38 and 42 weeks it’s ‘normal’ (a controversial subject admittedly depending on your perspective).

Anyway, dad was absent, mum had my sister Kath at home who would’ve been 16 and a half months old, when she went into labour at night. There were no home phones in those days. So she had to walk across the front garden to her neighbours, Nina and Peter, wake them up, and ask Peter to go to the nearest telephone box and ‘call the midwife’. The first time he did this I’m reliably told the midwife decided mum would be ‘hours yet’, so to call back when things were hotting up a little.

Not too long after, mum had to retrace her steps, and say she was getting quite distressed. So off Peter trots again and calls the midwife.

This time she did make a bit of an effort and reluctantly came out to mum. By now mum was in the second stage and wanting to push. The midwife said to her “Don’t push yet, I haven’t got my equipment ready.” Mum informs me she said “I’m bloody pushing!”, and out I came. It seems I was impetuous and impatient from the beginning! Or maybe headstrong and decisive?

Though to be fair, if you offered a woman at that stage £1million to not push, it’d be nigh on impossible for her to stop the forces of nature.

So there I was. Born in Shirley, around 6am on a Tuesday morning all those years ago.

It was quite surreal to be back at the house. I don’t think I’ve been back since I was a teenager – we left there when I was almost five years old.

Brentwood Close, Shirley

Brentwood Close, Shirley, the place of my birth is where the red and silver cars are parked

Barry asked if I was going to knock on the door and say hi, but I wasn’t sure that was a great idea. Shortly afterwards a lovely lady came out and took her bike from the garage. So I did, say ‘hi’. And recounted that I’d been born in her house! She’d moved there in 2002, and said at that time all the original features were still present, including the serving hatch between the kitchen and dining room.

I have a scar above my right eyebrow from falling off a chair onto a spoon, when I was about four, that I’d got through the serving hatch as I was setting the table. I can still picture myself doing it.

It’s now all been modernised, and the drive’s changed from a grassy lawn that mum would’ve walked across, to a two car parking area. There’s double glazed windows and an extension on the back of the house.

But it still evoked memories from my distant past, and I was so thankful we’d made the effort to re-visit a very special place in my life.

Kings Norton

This was the final of the four festivals celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Worcester-Birmingham &  Droitwich Canal Society in 2015. We’ve traded at three of the festivals – we missed Worcester.

Arriving on the Thursday evening, 9th July, we were almost the last trade boat to moor up. Helen and Andy from Wild Side snuck in behind us on Friday afternoon.

Kings Norton Canal Festival 2015

Barry sets up for a day’s trading

The main festival site was a short walk away, on the Kings Norton playing fields. I was offered a facepainting spot by the canal bridge, but declined as it felt unsafe – much to close to the water for my liking! So I got a great pitch in the main field with the land-based traders.

People living close to the canal were a little shocked at the conglomeration of boats descending on them. Apparently it’s a rarity for boats to moor there, so there was a bit of conflict from a couple of locals, some of whom live in the historic toll house. Understandable really, they felt their privacy was being invaded. Barry assured then that it was unlikely to happen again for another 100 years …

I had another really great weekend, meeting and painting heaps of gorgeous children and many fun-loving adults. Including a number of the organisers. I can post a photo of them here – I won’t ever post children’s faces as a matter of principle (though a few do get on my Facebook page if I’ve gained permission from a parent or they post themselves there).

Facepainting at Kings Norton Canal Festival 2015

Some of the fabulous purple brigade, the Worcester-Birmingham & Droitwich Canal Society workers for the weekend, who all had their faces painted each day

Kings Norton Canal Festival 2015

Two lovely painted ladies

Our Friday night entertainment was our regular round (or two) of six handed rummy with Helen and Andy. On Saturday night we frequented the music and beer tent – as I didn’t finish painting until around 7.30pm I staggered directly there and had just enough energy to buy some chips for tea. I knew if I went back to the boat I’d have been unlikely to venture out again that night!

Full-on facepainting days entail no chance of a loo break, never mind the possibility of eating, so once I’m finished my throat feels like it’s been cut, my stomach is echoing, my feet ache, my back is crumbling and my bladder complaining painfully! Maybe I’ve begun this new profession rather late in life?!

With my feet up, bladder emptied, a pint of Thatcher’s and a tummy a little satiated by carbs, we all enjoyed a fab band formed in 1992 called ‘Meet on the Ledge’. Barry was in his element, as they played many songs he loves, and to cap it all they played ‘Comfortably numb’ by Pink Floyd. One of his favourites from 1979, when he was a spritely 23 years old and living with a few of his mates in a veritable (and infamous I believe!) ‘party house’ in Gisborne.

Mooching around Birmingham for a while …

We seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time around Birmingham due to our current festival bookings.

Barry was invited to trade at The Birmingham Beer Bash at The Bond this weekend, which he’s really looking forward to. Unfortunately it means he can’t come with me to a Walsh family gathering at Northmoor House on Exmoor, to commemorate mum and dad’s 60th wedding anniversary on 30th July. It’s a magnificent property that as a family we’ve spent many happy times over the past couple of decades.

Yesterday I returned from a few days with mum, which I’d coincided with a Funtastic Facepainting booking at Hadley Bowling Green Inn, a short distance from her home. I have a listing on ‘Stall finder’ in her area which is how I’ve got local bookings. It means I can be with her AND work.

Hadley Bowling Green Inn

Hadley Bowling Green Inn

Funtastic Facepainting by Sandra

Funtastic Facepainting by Sandra all set up and ready to bring colour and sparkle to lots of lovely folks

It does however entail hiring a car to take the facepainting set up – definitely not possible to pack it all into a manageable bag to carry on public transport as you can see!

Next moves

I’m catching a train shortly from the almost completed New Street Station (it’s going to be incredible when it’s finished in September), to Lisa’s to granny sit my gorgeous grandsons for a few days. Then down to Devon for the long weekend before returning to Barry.

New Street Station, Birmingham

Putting the final touches to the upgraded New Street Station, Birmingham

Hurrah for the flexibility of self-employment which means I’m able to juggle so many balls!

7 thoughts on “Adapting to the realities of running three businesses from a narrowboat!

  1. Pingback: Idle Women Finding Their Feet On The Cut | Adventures Aboard AreandAre

  2. I made a pilgrimage to The Anchor last year, having heard so much about it in the years before. Very enjoyable as long as you like Wadworth 6X (which I do). I also have the tee shirt to prove it.

    • Hi Ray, great to hear from you! It was our first visit too, and we were rather disappointed not to be able to stay for longer.

      I’m sure “we’ll be back” as Arnold said, and maybe check out their tee-shirts 😉

  3. Hi Sandra, your posts may be getting less frequent, but certainly no less interesting and readable! And I never thought I’d see Bromyard featured in a waterways blog!

  4. Your “chaffinches are house martins in their mud built nest, often built under the eves of country houses, barns etc.


    • Thanks for that Dave – my mum had some house martins nesting above her back door for a few years. I hadn’t recognised them, now I see the similarities 😉

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