My haven: Actress Susan Penhaligon, 62, lets her cares drift away in her houseboat moored on the Thames in London
All aboard: Susan”s houseboat was originally used to transport grain down the canals of Holland
1 DREAM BOAT
My dear little houseboat was originally used to transport grain down the canals of Holland. During World War II the crew used to hide British airmen in a cupboard in the hold before they were ‘spirited’ back to the UK. After the war it stayed in London and I bought it about 12 years ago, and had it fully refurbished – the hold is now a lounge and kitchen and there are two bedrooms. I’ve got central heating too, so it’s the toastiest place on a cold winter’s day.
2 THIS IS ME
The late John Bratby, who was famous for his ‘kitchen sink realism’, painted this portrait of me back in the 80s. He’d painted everyone from Paul McCartney to the Queen Mother, so when he invited me to sit for him at his home, I had to go. He painted very quickly but I left without buying it because I wasn’t quite sure if I liked it. Ten minutes later I turned the car around, and went back and got it, and I’m so glad I did.
3 FAIRY STORY
Encouraged by my father, I started to read when I was very young. It helped that I was brought up in a house without a TV – so I had to entertain myself. I was a voracious reader, and this 1918 collection of peculiar European fairy tales, written in archaic English, was a particular favourite. It’s full of the most wonderful old stories and illustrations. My copy’s a bit tatty now, but I couldn’t bear to part with this piece of my childhood.
4 POSTER GIRL
I made the 1975 adventure film The Land That Time Forgot – about a lost island with dinosaurs – with The Virginian star Doug McClure at Shepperton Studios. The special effects were primitive in those days – when they blew up a volcano, we were bombarded with bits of cork which hurt like hell. Doug was a man’s man – he got into an awful temper one day and put his fist through the producer’s wall – but he was terribly protective of me.
5 MIRROR MIRROR
This pretty little mirror is engraved with the words ‘My window is the sea’, and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it in 1997. It’s called ‘Godrevy’ and was made by a lady who lived in St Ives where I grew up, so I just had to have it – Godrevy Lighthouse was right opposite my bedroom window. I couldn’t afford it then because I was ‘resting’ – but soon afterwards my mother died and I inherited some money. Whenever I look in it, it reminds me of Mum.
6 MY DEAR DOGGIE
JJ, my wonderful dachshund, was part of the family until a few years ago. Some people were staying on my boat while I was on tour, but didn’t keep an eye on him and he jumped overboard thinking the tide was out when it wasn’t. He was swept down the river for a couple of hundred yards before he was rescued. But he got so cold that it affected his heart and he died. So when I spotted this wrought iron dachshund boot scraper I had to get it.
As told to York Membery. Susan Penhaligon supports OPLAC, which campaigns against boat mooring fees on the Thames. www.oplac.org