Browne, M. (2009) Narrow Margins Accent Press ISBN 978 1 907 016004
Based in the rolling hills of Malvern in Shropshire, Marie Browne and husband Geoff seemed to have it all. An expensive house, two cars, three children, several holidays a year and an IT company that funded their comfortable lifestyle.
But one day in 2005, life as they knew it changed dramatically. Providing IT support to MG Rover, they were completely dependent on the car manufacturer for their income. When Rover collapsed, Marie and Geoff went into panic; they were faced with thousands of pounds of debt and they didn’t have any savings.
We got lazy, and we relied on Rover. But after they collapsed things got tight immediately. All our eggs were in one basket and we were sitting in a heap of bills. Incomprehensible noises went through my head, I couldn’t understand where my life had gone. I kept thinking it was a joke, expecting things would somehow work out.
After the initial shock, lots of crying, and talks with the bank manager, they decided it was actually a superb opportunity to have a complete change of life.
We decided that we would sell everything that we possessed. Everything that could move was sold: the cars, house, furniture and clothes.
After paying off their debts Marie and Geoff Browne had enough money left to buy a dilapidated former hotel boat, which they planned to renovate and live on as a family.
Their new 70ft home was called Happy Go Lucky, and Narrow Margins records the year of renovation, the journey to the River Cam and their new life afloat.
Every day we thought ‘what have we done?’ I had one horrible moment when I told Geoff I didn’t want to do it anymore, and he said ‘too late, it was your idea!
Browne admits, in an early chapter, that the venture did feel like they were running away:
We were trying to put it behind us and get away. But the children wanted to know what we were doing was right. So the more I told them we knew what we were doing and were having a good time, the more it became true. The first three months were hellish. We didn’t have any washing facilities, no bathroom, no storage. We packed as little as we could but we’d forgotten so many necessities. We had 100 books but no can opener.
Narrow Margins is an enjoyable romp of a book, about a family, about life, about tea and about learning.
It was an overwhelming change for the family. Suddenly there were no restrictions on where they had to be. They take a leisurely three weeks to take the boat from Rugby down to Cambridge, and began to enjoy the feeling of not having a base. And they become used to the constraints of boat living,
Everything has to have two uses – a box of books is also a stool or a step. You become aware of the resources and power you use. If you have to pick up water manually that becomes an eye opener. You cope with less stuff and realise how much you don’t really need. We didn’t bring many toys and the kids preferred being outside making things.
The book closes at a tantalisingly point, with the fully renovated Happy Go Lucky sold, and uncertainty over their future.
Given a sequel has now been published I guess the move back to firm ground didn’t work out and they pined for life on the river again…