A Jewish princess without air-con? It can be done

Go on, shock your friends in the kosher suburbs. Live on a narrowboat.

By Katharine Hamer, July 2, 2009

My friend Sharon is worried about the ship. That’s what she calls it, anyway, even though it’s actually a 7ft wide narrowboat that’s moored in the middle of an industrial estate in west London; not the QEII (there’s the worry about the Norwalk virus and getting tennis elbow from playing deck quoits alleviated, then).

Primarily, she is concerned about the weather. In the blustery spring, she rang to enquire whether I had been blown off the ship. More recently, her most urgent preoccupation has been whether the ship has air-conditioning, “because darling, otherwise you’ll be shvitzing in summer!” Pointing out that (a) there are doors at both ends and, in any case, (b) since this is not North America, the fact that air conditioning anywhere is considered a luxury does little to reassure her.

At any rate, I have been living on the ship since moving back to London earlier in the year. It belongs to my other half, who is clearly not a Jew. After years of ignoring the same five people on JDate; apathetic attendance of Chabad dinners, and set-ups with so-and-so’s unmarriageable third cousin, I found myself a nice Irish Catholic boy. An unscientific straw poll of this, or indeed, any other, stretch of the canal would undeniably turn up no other live-aboard Jews.

Occasionally, my own deep unsuitability for such a life is highlighted by my swain — for instance, when I am meant to be throwing ropes overboard to secure the vessel to shore and am unable to do so on account of my nails not having dried yet. Or when I flatten myself against a corridor wall and refuse to move until he eliminates what is surely the most enormous spider I have ever encountered from the bathroom floor.

Living here does allow me to commune with nature in a manner that certainly the Talmud would prescribe. There are ducks and geese to feed right outside my window, and an impressive array of native flora (particularly stinging nettles) lines the towpath.

On the other hand, lighting Shabbes candles is difficult when your primary concern is not setting alight a floating tin pot anchored by a diesel engine at one end and gas canisters at the other.

No doubt in many fine Jewish residences these days, a home help is employed to do the washing, stoke the fire, and generally make the place sparkle.

Here on the ship, a more abstemious method is used: once a week, we put-put down to the nearest lock and fill up with water, dispense with the rubbish and empty the portable toilets. (I prevaricate here. In fact, I operate on the “it’s too heavy for me to lift” principle — a narrow escape.)

As for laundry, you may be interested to know that our neighbours run a washboard-and-mangle system not dissimilar to that last seen in repeats of Upstairs, Downstairs. And the fire? Well, I’m thinking of having a remote control-operated version installed on the sly by some Q-like genius of the small craft world. With an air-con option for summer, obviously.

Last updated: 12:12pm, July 2 2009