Sometimes in life you have to do things you don’t want to do. It’s all about making sacrifices. For me this was working 8 months on a river cruise in and around Paris. It sounds delightful, I know, that’s why I applied for the job in the first place, but after roughly a month the novelty had certainly wore off.
I knew the job was going to get me the income I needed to guarantee saving. Although the job was going to entail cleaning toilets (lots of them) to travel you need money -and plenty of it. It was a means to an end. I cleaned toilets, washed pots and polished glasses 7 days a week in order to get to where I am today and I’d take cleaning bogs and travelling over a career and a house any day of the week.
The monthly pay was just under £1000 and we were paid cash tips on a weekly basis which could be anywhere between €80 to €280. So needless to say, I lived off my tips. I paid off some of my debts from my student overdraft, credit card and all that nonsense and began saving for the real deal. The Grand Departure 2015.
I call it the floating Thai Prison because it was a boat that (I exaggerate a lot) resembled a Thai Prison. Okay, so it wasn’t THAT bad but living and working on the same small barge with the same 10 crew can certainly send you round the bend and leave you with a good dose of ‘cabin fever’.
There was a week where we were at full capacity and the crew didn’t have a cabin each to sleep in and had to share. I volunteered myself to share a cabin with one of the other hostesses and I’m still sure that my human rights were breached that week. The following week I got to move into my own cabin (but not my original cabin) which when you compare the two you can see why I was so unimpressed.
Temporary digs for the week after volunteering myself ‘down the front’ aka Hell
My job title was Hostess, which meant I would clean cabins, serve lunch and dinner, do the washing up, the laundry and anything in between. Cleaning the cabins were an all time low for me, I absolutely hated it (especially after a skin full the night before). I hope that when I get older I still manage to aim for the toilet accurately. The things you would find on a change over Friday when the rooms enjoyed a deep clean were sometimes too much to handle too.
If it wasn’t dirty toilets, it was awkward guests. I shan’t mention any names but there was one lady who complained about absolutely everything. She was allergic to tomatoes. By the end of the week I’d had enough, given the chance I’d of pushed her out downstream in a dingy filled with cherry, tinned, grape and beef tomatoes. That’s when you know boat life has taken it’s toll.
There were perks. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Working 7 days a week however play time was limited, so we made the most out of it. Be it clubbing in Paris central, eating our body weight in carpaccio or sushi or just having a good old boat party on a Friday night when the guests had left, we certainly knew how to unwind from the stresses of work.
It was sadly one Friday night in June, early hours of the morning on Saturday in fact, that we lost a member of our crew, Peter. He was the bar man and was loved by the crew and all of our guests. For me this is one of the most difficult situations I have ever had to deal with in my entire life.
The pain I felt when I saw one of the rescue divers surface from the river and signal they had found him is something that will haunt me for the rest of my days.
If I wasn’t already ready to hand in the towel- the news Peter had fallen over board and passed away certainly was enough for me to pack my bags and leave. But I didn’t.
I was afraid of water a short while after and would even rush my showers because I felt panicked and anxious. It got to the point where I literally had to throw myself into the river to show myself that It’s okay. It was just a terrible accident.
The weeks after Peter’s death were incredibly difficult for the crew and I, every day was a reminder. I offered to take over the bar as no one else was really happy to and that was tough. I remember my first ever wine speech (that he would usually do, being the bar man and all). I ran straight out the back once it was over and cried my little heart out.
Peter enjoying a glass of his favourite wine, Muscadet, in the barge’s jacuzzi
It got easier with time and I just kept reminding myself why I was there, why I was doing what I was doing – so that I could travel.
Cocktail for our passengers in loving memory of Peter- Grapefruit Moon, One of his favourite songs by Tom Waits
It’s coming up to almost a year of Peter’s death which is why I decided to write something about my time on the boat.
Yes it was difficult, yes we all got on each other’s nerves and bickered like brothers and sisters but the truth of the matter is we were like a little family.
I look back on the experience with fondness and am extremely grateful that it helped form my travels, as like I said, I wouldn’t be writing this from Australia if it wasn’t for the Anacoluthe.