When we embarked on this lifestyle change over a year ago, one of my primary concerns was raising children without a garden. I was born and raised in the countryside, with a big garden and fields all around, and for most of my adult life I’ve chosen to live in houses that at the very least have a garden, but preferably are in the countryside too. When Julian and I finally bought our own house it was an ex-farm labourer’s cottage, with a 100 foot by 45 foot garden, surrounded by fields, and half a mile from the lovely village of Boxworth, in Cambridgeshire. I equated a garden with safety and privacy, a place for children to play and grow, a place to sow vegetables and flowers, maybe have a pet. When we bought our house in Boxworth, we even entertained the idea of keeping hens and having our own fresh eggs every day.
So giving up a garden, and the idea of a garden, was a difficult one. But now that we’re living aboard, most of my concerns were unfounded. Spending winter in a first floor flat with a front door opening onto a busy road was difficult at times with two small children, but living on a boat is an entirely different situation. Without even leaving the comfort of our boat, we are immersed in nature – cormorants diving for fish right beside the boat, seagulls cracking mussels open on the pontoon, a resident swan in the marina here in Plymouth. In Torquay, the flash of a mullet swimming underwater would catch the eye to reveal ten, twenty or more fish close to the surface. The clouds, the rain, the sun, the weather in all its moods is there for us to experience, because life on a boat is less sealed off, more lived in the world that it is in a double-glazed, centrally-heated house. And that can be uncomfortable, but it’s there and it’s enlivening, and the girls are learning about the world around them all the time.
But of course much of our life as live-aboards is not actually spent on board. And I’ve discovered that raising children without a garden is fun and rewarding – for them and for me. Even during this summer, the wettest since UK records began, we have been having a lot of fun. Living by the coast means there is always a beach close at hand, and my girls can spend hours getting themselves wet and sandy, collecting shells, pouring water, investigating rock pools. They’re quite self-sufficient when it comes to playing on the beach, I like to keep an eye on them from a distance and just let them get on with exploring and playing by themselves. And there are public playgrounds, and other places to play.
We’re spending quite a bit of time these past few weeks visiting zoos and aquaria. The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth and Living Coasts in Torquay are educational and entertaining, and the Aquarium has become a home away from home for us this past year, thanks to the entry ticket that’s valid for a year for as many visits as you wish. We find endless entertainment in everything from visiting museums to strolling along the street and watching the world go by. I’ve discovered that life without a garden is different, but it’s certainly no less rich and no less rewarding. Rather than losing an enclosed garden we have gained an unbounded garden that’s as big as the world and as unlimited as the imaginations of small children.