Punts and pedalos are fine, but you can’t beat a canal boat for freedom

It is always good to be by rivers and canals, and even better to live by them. Especially peaceful ones surrounded by green and birdsong. Or the ones with views; winding through Venice, handsome houses either side.

One of the reasons I loved living in Oxford was swimming in – and relaxing next to – the Isis (talk about a ruined reputation). I loved punting, and by punting I mean sitting in the punt drinking champagne and trailing my fingers in the water, while lovely friends did all the work.

I had some of the best times of my life swimming in the Volga when I lived in Russia. Except the Volga doesn’t really count as a river, because it is so big and sea-like. We swam, we sunbathed on the beach, we took boat trips to islands.

I immensely enjoy being on boats. As a kid, my favourites were pedalos, with their almost toy-like nature. I adored rowing on Lake Windermere with my father, and now I do the same on the Serpentine with pals (one time it was so windy we had to be towed back, for shame). I am not above tourist boats, and am fond of my friend Alan’s motorboat, Top Banana. On a school trip to France I was overexcited by the ferry; and lounging on a catamaran in the Mediterranean is nobody’s idea of hardship.

But the canal boat is best. I know a few people who live on canal boats, which would be impossible for me because I have far too many books and far too much furniture, and little inclination to give up either. I think I would get claustrophobic. (I have an ex who briefly moved on to a narrowboat and I cannot tell you how many times I hit my head on the ceiling during sex.)

There is, however, something about the combination of cosiness and freedom they offer that sings to me. I have special memories of watching television on a friend’s barge, nestled on the miniature sofa, under knitted throws, log fire burning – after a day spent talking on the deck. Bliss.

It’s being in the open air that I like. Smoothly navigating the water with gentle steers, while sunk in a deckchair chatting and drinking and eating picnic food. The nods from other passing boats. It makes sense, now, why I loved Rosie and Jim so much.