True story: Canal boats changed my life!

Heidi SiggersHeidi Siggers lives on a narrowboat with her partner and two young children. She has lived aboard her current boat for 6 years and been boating for 26 years.

But what got Heidi interested in boats in the first place? You guessed it. It has something to do with community boating. This is the first opportunity I’ve had on this blog to interview somebody who really benefited from community boating as a child.

Heidi’s Story: Part One

I first went on the Coventry Council owned boat Godiva as an 11 year old child with behavioural problems; we did the Warwickshire ring. It was the first time I’d been away from my parents and siblings, and the first time I’d really had to be entirely responsible for my own belongings.  I remember getting to the boat in Coventry basin the first time to be met by Tony and Baz the boat men, and Jacko the black Labrador that liked to lean over the stern and bark at the wash created by the boat. We were shown around the boat and taken to our bunks.  I distinctly remember the eye watering smell of the blue in the toilet and I thought even then there must be something better than that to cope with waste!  We entered the galley and I was amazed how compact it all was and how much you could fit in this small space.

I loved it instantly

I loved it instantly; I was in a floating dolls house!  We cast off for our trip around the Warwick ring, I waved goodbye to my parents,  and there began my lifelong love of all things boaty!  It was so strange to be travelling through the city that I’d grown up in and yet recognizing nothing: I might as well have been on Mars.  I had my first taste of independence, my first time cooking for other people (a well-burnt spaghetti bolognaise!), and my first time steering a narrow boat through a tunnel. The whole experience was fantastic, the view, the smells, the places, the people; such special memories.

On my second boat trip I was 14 and it was in London for a week. We went there in a coach and met  Baz, Tony and Jacko with the boats in London.  I remember looking forward to this trip more than the first as I now knew the boat and the boat men.  I was genuinely pleased to see them and the dog again (but I’m not sure if they felt the same way!).

Treated like people

We were never judged by them and were trusted and treated like people rather than just as children. That’s something that stayed with me as well, the fact that they respected us as young people in our own right.  A couple of days in to the trip a load of lads decided to brick the boat from a bridge that we were moored under. Obviously there were no mobile phones then so we had to use the CB radio on board to call for help – we all thought it was great!

I remember being allowed in to London on the promise that we’d all be back by 8pm. My friend Dawn and me had discovered a brand new free standing loo that could be climbed on top of. Having both climbed up we looked to our left to see a large crowd gathering and limousines pulling up. It was the premier of a film and we saw John Travolta among others arriving!

Bad behaviour

That was it, all sense of time went out the window and we stayed on top of that toilet until everyone had gone in, we got totally lost on the way back and ended up finding the boats at midnight!  I still can’t believe we didn’t get sent home.    Looking back we were actually very badly behaved for a lot of the trip. We had a bottle of whisky hung over the side of the boat in the water to keep it cool (it got found).  We were smoking, and we took great pleasure in pushing each other in at Camden locks. (I ended up going back in to pull out a class mate that we discovered couldn’t swim!).  We were told that if we carried on we’d be sent home, so what did I do?  Was I sorry? Did I change my behaviour?

To be continued…

Find out tomorrow what Heidi really thought of the boat men, whether she learned anything from community boating, and how these boating experiences had an effect on her future life as an adult.

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