Me And My Home: Down the hatch

Cheryl Markosky talks to Sarah Randle about living on a houseboat
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The Independent Online

Jazz and blues singer Sarah Randle, 28, has recorded with Joan Armatrading, sang at Linda McCartney's memorial concert and worked with Elton John's producer Gus Dudgeon. Her new album, 'The Sparrow', was produced by Chris Rea. She lives on a houseboat moored in Bristol

I found the Lady Sarah up a canal in Trowbridge. A boat broker friend helped me sail her down. I have had her for almost a year now and she was originally built in 1988. The previous owners looked after her well. She is deep blue with a cream top and has traditional Dutch paintings on the shutters.

"Living on a houseboat is ever so cosy and homey. She is 6ft wide and 50ft long, but there is everything you need on board - a little sink, a bedroom with a bed that flops out, a toilet and a room that shuts off and becomes the bathroom. I put in a pole for a table which seats three or four. I love to open up the hatchway on good days and enjoy a cup of coffee and a croissant while the light flows in. Another favourite spot is the great lounge at the end with a really pleasing and effective coal stove.

"I didn't especially set out to buy a houseboat, but I remember going out with my family on the Bristol/Bath canal when I was young. This whole stretch is quite familiar to me now. My parents are dying to get out on her, too. I spent the first two years of my life in Maidenhead, but I have spent a good chunk of my time in Somerset. My parents ran a holiday club and it was a pretty idyllic way to be brought up.

"I bought my houseboat for £26,500. You can buy some of them for as little as £9,000 or £11,000, but for that money the interiors are usually all ripped out. Ironically, opposite my winter mooring are new flats that are worth a quarter of a million each and they probably don't have any more space than my houseboat.

"It is a challenge living here. Luckily, I like challenges. Houseboats are high maintenance. They can be harder work in the winter. It isn't great on cold days when you run out of coal, and I have run out of water sometimes, too. You can be a bit stuck. But living here is hugely creative. I get great inspiration sipping some wine and eating a bit of cheese while watching the ripples on the water. I am not a songwriter, but if I am going to be inspired, it will probably be here.

"The joy of being on a houseboat is that you don't have to do that much due to its size. I keep mine shipshape and tidy and like to do girly stuff. I am lucky that the couple who had it before me had just installed a gas cooker and looked after it well. There is carpeting half way up the walls and the owners gave the boat a good old repaint. It is a different way of life, however. You do have to be organised. You are using a small area only - not like in a house where there is room to store lots of stuff.

"There are safety issues. You have to use your noggin, like you can't leave the gas on. I was also a bit startled at first by some of the noises you hear. I heard something under the water that sounded like a seal, but I discovered it was the guys doing work on the docks. One of the first nights after I arrived, the Regatta big boat The Aurora set off a few blank cannons. The whole houseboat just shuddered, but it was quite fun once I realised what was going on.

"I like being on a houseboat as it is a bit like living in a big bedroom. I have put up pictures of my family and friends and a friend is staying tonight as we are celebrating her birthday. We have booze cruises in the summer and my boyfriend likes to stay over as well. In the summer, we went off quite a bit and pitched tents wherever we decided to stop and camp.

"I plan to take the boat to Chris Rea's recording studies in Cookham. He just produced my latest album, where he wrote eight out of 10 of the songs. My input is the gospel track. Now we are talking about a second album, once we see how this one does. When we decide to work on the next one, I would like to take three weeks out and take her up there.

"I don't have any plants or garden as such here, as currently I am in the cheapest mooring, but I can just sit out back. The large stern area is terrific. There is easily room for four to sit out there on deckchairs.

"I have had to learn a lot in a short space of time and I'm afraid I have made a few mistakes along the way. My boyfriend Ben and I took her to Bath and back. We managed to flood a lock and I got a rope caught on the throttle. I had a flat battery and had to get it recharged. It is a bit like owning a car - I am learning to keep her topped up with water and am slowly getting to know my way under deck.

"The community here is lovely. People come out on dinghys to take you on board their boats. It is really central, with The Mud Dock pub and restaurant opposite and the Arnolfini Art Gallery on the left. The Old Vic is just round the corner and there are so many pubs that are good for gigs. Bristol is such a vibrant and cultural city."

Sarah Randle's album, 'The Sparrow', is out now on Jazzee Blue, www.jazzeeblue.com

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