Memories of Jerzy Szauman-Szumski born Poland 1922

Today I received a message about someone I met in 2013 through my Weaving Yarns oral history project. Jerzy Szauman-Szumski was born in Poland in 1922. He told me how he came to work in the carpet industry in Kidderminster. His warm, generous personality made an impression on me straight away, and there is a page in my book (Weaving Yarns, Black Pear Press) dedicated to him. I’m sad to know that he died a few weeks ago at the age of 97. I have fond memories of our conversation and can still hear his beautiful voice.

Anna, who took the trouble to contact me, said this about him:

A wonderful gentleman whom I had known all my life. I’m glad you have “immortalised” him in your book.

To honour his memory, here are his words:

I lost my country, lost everything I had. I had to start from nothing. We lost everything generations had worked for – houses, horses, cows… They just came, arrested you and you go. So instead of being a wealthy man, you are beggar. They close you down.

I had good schooling in Poland. I love agriculture, I love country, I love animals. So when I first went to Carpet Trades I remember I was horrified because I never saw factory, never mind work in factory! I was impressed. It was very good, all automatic, chik-chik! I thought, what can I do here? I couldn’t understand anything about it!

I love Tomkinsons family; they’ve been fantastic people, very good to the workers, and I had a good pension, so I can’t grumble. I don’t know whether I deserve it or not!

Interview with artist, Louise Regan

While soaking up the Fairport Festival atmosphere for my Cropredy writing commission, I visited a pop-up art gallery above the Mulberry Cafe. I was immediately drawn to an ‘illumination’ by Louise Regan and am now the proud owner of a print which I love! My ‘record shot’ photo doesn’t do it justice at all.

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Incidentally, last Saturday at the Merry Hill Floating Market, I was chatting to another artist, Jan Vallance, The Art Boat. She told me how difficult it is to photograph her art to advertise it online; finding the right lighting conditions is tricky for a boat dweller! I love Jan’s work too, all based on her journeys on the canal network.

I hadn’t realised that Louise also lives on a boat until I contacted her on Instagram (@louiseumbra) to ask if she would like to be interviewed for my Cropredy-related blog. This was a bonus, because I want to include people’s thoughts about the canal in my poetry writing. I should say that I haven’t yet met Louise, so the interview is by way of an email exchange.

Louise Regan

Louise Regan

Cropredy’s sense of community
Having grown up in a village, I wanted the same for my daughter. I like the friendliness and sense of community. Cropredy’s sense of community is very strong, which I think has a lot to do with the Fairport Festival. It gives the village a real identity and the revenue it brings in means we have 2 pubs, a shop, a school and various little businesses; which in turn ensures its not a second-home village (like a lot of surrounding villages are). Whilst house prices are high, a good amount of villagers are working class. It’s got bags of local history and from an artist’s point of view, plenty of lovely bits!

Boat life
If you think village life is about strong community, boat life is double that! Got a problem? Need a hand? Someone will be there to help! We live in a self sufficient little world, responsible for everything we need (which involves being organised!) – water, electricity, heating, loo etc. You can also make a boat very much your own – I’m an avid DIYer! Last year I built a kitchen. It might not be like something out of a showroom, but it’s just how I want it and it hasn’t fallen apart yet!

Tranquillity and nature
I will never take the tranquillity for granted or being so close to nature. In mid April and mid October, when the sun is just setting, from our side doors I can see all the spider webs across our field and it’s magical. The curlews arrived mid February this year, which was so exciting! And when the swallows get here there’s a feeding frenzy over the canal after their long journey.

Louise Regan - Medieval Town Illumination

Louise Regan – Medieval Town Illumination

Being an artist
I’ve been arty for as long as I can remember. I’ve been selling painted canal ware for years in various outlets and, over the last two years, taking in online commissions for medieval illuminated lettering and baby name paintings. It wasn’t until February 2019 that I joined Church Lane Gallery, Banbury and actually started exhibiting. It involved a great deal of encouragement from my husband! I was creating my crazy complicated illumination/architectural/nature mash ups as a form of relaxation and he kept telling me I ought to join a gallery – he even went into CLG, had a chat and got me an application form. So over the last 6 months I have discovered people actually understand, connect with, like my work and want to own it!

The future of Cropredy
I shouldn’t imagine Cropredy will change much. I hope the younger generation can afford to stay in the village. The houses certainly won’t change that much, and I hope that we have enough ridge and furrow (providing the protection order isn’t lifted!) around to protect us from being eaten by Banbury.

Louise Regan - Banbury Illumination A3

Louise Regan – Banbury Illumination A3

I’m grateful to Louise for sparing the time to send me her thoughts and allowing me to edit them (only a little!) into this blog. I will certainly choose a few phrases to feed into the poems I am writing. Thanks also to Church Lane Gallery for organising the pop-up exhibition. It was great meeting Amy and Dave there, and fascinating to find out more about their work.

See also Interview with masseur, Ross White

Woman in distress

A couple of years back, I was one of the artists commissioned to write and film poems for Nationwide Building Society tv and radio ads (see my post Nationwide Exposure). This was brokered by The Poetry Takeaway ‘the world’s first mobile poetry emporium’, an organisation which employs poets to write pieces on demand at events across the country.

Last week I was one of four poets working on the NBS stand at the Royal Welsh show. We sweated over poems all day as temperatures soared and had a really good time networking with each other and meeting lots of people with their own stories to tell. One of my commissions came from Gill. As with everyone, I listened carefully to what she wanted to tell me, wrote her a poem, read it to her and gave her the handwritten piece.

She wanted it to be funny, so I was pleased to hear her laughing. She also thought it could be serious. So it is. This particular poem resonated with me, and though I don’t normally do this, I asked Gill if she would mind me sharing it on my blog so others could read it. She agreed straight away, so here it is:

Supermarket scene

The woman in the freezer aisle
is talking really loud.
Help! I want my brain back!
She’s gathering a crowd.

She’s forgotten what she came in for.
She’s staring at the shelf.
The boys at home don’t understand
why I repeat myself.

The doctor says I’m ‘under-tall
for someone of my weight’.
My husband needs a medal.
I’m in a dreadful state.

I’m feeling old, I’m sleep deprived,
it’s so hard being me.
Oh, the naps! The chin on chest!
I need more HRT!!

A river running down her back,
she’s trying to keep her cool.
The woman in the freezer aisle
is stranded in a pool.

(But she’s a clever actress
and doesn’t say a word.
The shouting’s in her head –
which is why she isn’t heard.)

© Heather Wastie

 

Interview with masseur, Ross White

I am currently in the middle of a poetry commission, inspired by the village of Cropredy in Oxfordshire. During my research, I met Ross White www.mindfultouchmassage.co.uk who lives there on a canal boat and runs his own business in a shepherd’s hut in an orchard alongside the Oxford Canal.

It was already apparent to me how important the canal is to Cropredy, and how well integrated it is into the village. I wondered about the links between Ross’s work as a masseur and his life on the canal. Here are Ross’s responses to my questions followed by a found poem using words from his website.

What is it about living on a canal boat that you particularly like?

  • It’s like living inside a living thing, the way a moored boat rocks or sways in the current. It’s like coming home to a friend waiting patiently for you. A moored boat has the potential to travel many thousands of miles, yet it’s also content to wait.
  • The sense of belonging  to a group of people who have lived on canal boats for hundreds of years, somehow apart from normal dwelling.
  • The knowledge that you can move / escape if you want to.
  • Being somehow an observer into the lives of those who live around the canal.
  • Being literally in nature, hearing the fish or listening to ducks pecking the side of the boat.

What is special about the canal in Cropredy?

  • Its our chosen place. Both my wife and I wanted to live in Cropredy. It’s our children’s only home, where most of their friends live, sharing the water somehow.
  • The people here accept us and welcome us boaters; we are part of the community. One boater sits on the parish council. Some are members of the local WI.
  • It’s only a short walk out of the village into very quiet countryside.
  • I think about the suffering, injuries and death that must have occurred during the digging of the canal which today seems so peaceful. There is something important to learn here.

What do you think the place where you live and work will be like in 50 years time?

  • Some of the boats on this stretch of canal are historic, they will remain.
  • The brickwork of the canal will remain as it is.
  • People will rush past looking at devices oblivious to the history right here on the canal.
  • Some of the old bridges will be shored up by new technological building materials.
  • The canal will be very quiet again with boats driven by electric motors, a bit like the quiet times when they were pulled by horses.
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Oxford Canal, Cropredy

Slip gently
into undivided attention
dance with harmony
engage the deepest layers
relax the heart
soothe the mind and glide
fluid, in a connected state

 

© Heather Wastie
July 2019

 

National Pigeon Day

I’ve just found out that today is National Pigeon Day! Pigeon racing was quite popular in the Black Country when I was growing up. I have to admit, I’m not keen on pigeons; I’m not sure why. My good friend, poet Emma Purshouse has written a brilliant poem about them. It’s in her book Tipton Tales. You can find out more about it here – there’s even a drawing of a pigeon. I prefer magpies. Here’s a little poem about them, from my book The Page-Turner’s Dilemma. The illustration is by Jules ~ cartoonist.

proof gangland small

A search on my computer has revealed the fact that I have written three poems which mention pigeons. One of them appears below, based on true life experiences, possibly explaining one of the reasons I’m not fond of pigeons.

Before the poem, here’s an old Black Country Aynuk and Ayli joke:

Aynuk says to Ayli, “If yo con guess ow many pidgins am in me loft, ah’ll gi yer booth on em.”

Droppings on the washing

No fingers, so no prints
on my best red vest
so I summoned all the pigeons
for a DNA test.

Pete says faeces
don’t have DNA
so the evidence was useless
and the culprit got away!

© Heather Wastie

Scrubbing the step

My mother remarked to me the other day that she used to wash down the pavement outside our terraced house in the Black Country. This will have been in the 1950s / early 60s. She told me that one of the neighbours sneered at her and asked why she was doing it. Our front room (which we rarely used of course) looked out onto the pavement and, in those days, women prided themselves in having a well-scrubbed step and a clean pavement outside their houses.

The conversation reminded me of a found poem I wrote in April 2011 after visiting the Wellcome Collection ‘Dirt’ exhibition. Now that, thankfully, climate change, and looking after our beautiful planet, are being taken more seriously, it also seemed a good time to share that poem.

Scrubbing the step – cleanliness or godliness

We are generators of dirt
even to our ultimate disintegration.
Our waste is evidence of our
advance on earth.
We diligently clean our homes
and turn our backs
on the gigantic
dust heaps, letting the
scavengers risk disease.
Gravity pulls us into dirt.
You and I are earth.

© Heather Wastie

You and I are earth