Turning to things more prosaic, stocking the boat with essentials before we headed out was a priority. Turning to things more ‘poosaic’, the waste system on a boat is unique and nothing like the system in a house – as we were about to find out.
Stocking the boat: we needed cleaning supplies. On the Canal Network, the waste from the shower and sink is referred to as ‘grey waste’ and is dealt with in a very simple way. It goes straight down the plug hole, along a pipe and out into the canal. This has rightly forced us to be far more aware of what we put down the plug hole, much more than we ever used to be. Wanting to keep the canals as clean and unpolluted as possible is now a massive focus of ours. There is a brand of products that are free from harmful chemicals and that are stocked by our local Tesco. ECOVER claim to have the same powerful formula as other recognised brands but they use biodegradable plant-based ingredients and so are kinder to our environment. They make a range of all the cleaning products that we use everyday: washing up liquid, dishwasher tabs, laundry liquid and fabric conditioner, as well as bathroom and even glass cleaner. They cost roughly the same as other well known but less environmentally friendly products, which was a welcome surprise. They all come in lovely fragrances too, way more than I expected: lemon & aloe, chamomile & clementine, lily & lotus, pomegranate & fig as well as a zero fragrance free alternative. Awareness of these products is growing and it’s encouraging to see such a huge selection alongside other more well known products.
We then went in search of shampoo and conditioner but sadly were not faced with the same choices. Our supermarket has a wide aisle dedicated to these two products that the general population use on a daily basis. What we use in the shower at home goes straight down the plug hole and into the water system, having a direct impact on planet earth, yet I searched and searched looking for something suitable for use on a narrowboat. Eventually I managed to find one brand “Love Beauty And Planet” shampoo and a conditioner too. Reading the label I found that it had no sulfates, parabens, synthetic fragrance, phthalates, or PEGs (polyethylene glycol) and was definitely eco-friendly. But unlike the Ecover cleaning products, these were not cheap. The price was a staggering £7 for each bottle.
This got me thinking. Extinction Rebellion, and other climate change and environmental awareness campaigners, should raise awareness and challenge the producers of these products to think more about making them kinder to our planet. There were shelves and shelves of products with chemicals that are harmful to our planet and a choice of one for those who care about the environment. Shouldn’t the balance be the other way round? Surely safer products should be more prominent and not priced out of a lot of people’s budgets?
Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now (literally).
The dirty bit: our toilet waste is definitely not ‘grey waste’ and is dealt with by a macerator, which basically grinds everything up and takes it down a fairly narrow pipe into a tank, which, previous Blog readers will know, is situated under our bed. Having it working efficiently is vital and so you have to very careful what you put down it. Positioned strategically above the toilet we have a sign which reads: ‘Please do not put anything down the toilet unless you have eaten it’ – a golden rule to ‘GO’ by. You should also never use anything heavier than double ply toilet paper (most is at least triple-ply). My bottom is used to being pampered and I always buy nothing but the higher end quilted toilet paper. It still feels weird to be using the cheapest, thinnest paper but needs must and life is all about compromise. We were advised by a fellow boat owner that the best kind to use was Sainsbury’s own brand recycled paper. I took some convincing that recycled paper was okay to use and I still worry what it is recycled from!
Despite following the rules and only using the right toilet paper, I still managed to block the toilet! Following a visit to the smallest room one morning I confidently pressed the button to flush. The macerator came to life and I fully expected the contents to duly disappear. To my horror the toilet just filled up with water and not just water, brown water! I tried once more and pressed the flush button again. I could hear the motor of the macerator working really hard but things were just not moving at all. After several minutes of pressing, waiting and then utter despair I summoned Rob. He looked at me rather accusingly. He didn’t have to say anything. I knew exactly what he was thinking. How could you have broken the toilet?? His usual suggestion of pressing the button over and over was of no help at all and the offending brown liquid just wouldn’t go away.
Fortunately, we were not far from the marina, so with legs crossed we headed back. Derek at the marina, who is very helpful in all boat-related matters, said he would come and have a look. He already has us summed up in his own mind as land lubbers who really know nothing when it comes to boats, usually rolling his eyes or tutting under his breath whenever we ask him a question that he thinks anyone with half a brain should know. He does it in a good humoured way but we are always left with the sneaking suspicion that he thinks we really are numpties. This latest dilemma would just reinforce his opinion of us.
His professional view was that the toilet was well and truly blocked and that it would require taking apart and a thorough inspection of the pipes. But before he could do that it would need to be emptied manually. When Rob asked him how to do this he was promptly handed a bucket and Derek left mumbling under his breath. Not the nicest job, but Rob being a perfect gentleman took on the unenviable task of scooping the brown liquid into the bucket. Something I am eternally grateful for.
Offending liquid removed, and after careful inspection, Derek found that the pipes were old and that the plastic was so brittle that it could have developed a crack at any moment leaking pooh in places that you really don’t want. An even greater disaster. So actually I did us a favour by blocking it up!
It might take some convincing for Rob to see the benefit though.
We now have sparkly new pipes, a new macerator and a spare. Apparently having a spare is vital and something Derek never leaves the marina without. £700 lighter but a lot wiser.
As an aside and to make me feel better, Derek also told us that he and his wife Emma used to run hotel boats. New guests were always greeted and welcomed with a social event on the first night and given a dose of high bran flapjacks – that way at least giving the toilets onboard a fighting chance in the week ahead!
I’ll add bran to the shopping list……