Mind The Gap by Joyce Neil

Be careful what you wish for!

Reviewer: Kathryn Smith

Mind the Gap is the cautionary tale of Joyce and David Neil’s turbulent transition from running a café to designing and commission a wide beam, taking us through all the stages of the build to their new life aboard.

Deriving from a blog originally intended for friends and family the reader’s pre-existing intimacy with the couple is presumed, rather than developed through the course of the narrative. Sadly neither the plans of the boat design nor photographs of the build are included which is a real shame as this would have undoubtedly been of interest to many readers.

Nevertheless the book is an instructive one, as Mrs Neil explains, the title relates to the gap between the dreams and reality of the boat building experience. First time boat owners looking to design their own craft might do well to imbibe this salutary tale about the elasticity of time frames when numerous individuals are involved in a project.

Boat builders, on the other hand, might shiver at the idea of embarking on a project with two inexperienced people micro-managing their skilled labour and in Mrs Neil’s words ‘keeping the pressure on’. The author creates a very palpable sense of the stress and emotional toll involved in the project.

Mr Neil expresses his hopes that they have given readers ‘a laugh at our expense’ but laughs are in short supply in this book and instead the tension and bitterness surrounding the timescale of the build is manifest. At times this makes for an uncomfortable read as if one were being called upon to take sides in a dispute and the authors’ speculations about the personal lives of the boat building team, for example, felt a little too intrusive for this reviewer.

Once the boat is in the water the Neils begin to experience the benefits of canal life, enjoying country walks, camaraderie and a well-kept pint of beer. They also realise this is just the beginning of the lifelong process of refinement and repair which many boaters come to pride themselves upon.

Evaluating their tribulations towards the conclusion of the book Mrs Neil acknowledges, with a pragmatism which is absent elsewhere, “we thought we were a unique case […] but now I realise our situation was no different to many other boat owners and it is a right of passage through which many must pass.” Not perhaps a joyful tale but if this book helps to provide a dash of realism to potential boat owners it is not its intention to dissuade, only to forewarn which it certainly does.

Mind The Gap by Joyce Neil is published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (paperback) and available from Amazon.co.uk priced £5.71. Buy Mind the Gap from Amazon>>