As I explained in my previous blog post, I am working practically full-time on #TheIdleWomen project at the moment. Here’s a link to the blog I’ve been writing: Alarum Theatre blog
However I am also at the beginning of another exciting canal-based project, The Ring – a new arts programme which celebrates a 21-mile circle of waterways in Worcestershire. The project website will be launched on 20th June. In the meantime, you can follow on Twitter and Facebook. As one of their lead artists, I have been commissioned to concentrate on the Droitwich Canals and have just begun researching and doing a bit of writing to document what stands out for me.
When I was a teenager, my family was heavily involved in campaigning to save the canals, many of which were in a dire state. Dad had bought a 70-foot ex-working boat, Laurel, and we became part of a network of people who were passionate about bringing the waterways back to life. One of the people I remember well, and fondly, is Max Sinclair. As president of the Droitwich Canals Trust, it was Max who from the Sixties provided the driving force for the renovation of the Droitwich Barge Canal and Droitwich Junction Canal. In 2012 he won an Angel award from English Heritage for his dedication. I would have loved to speak to Max again, but sadly he passed away in 2016, so I began by reading this article about him, and made a note of things which resonated with me: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/angel-awards/10018202/The-angels-who-mucked-out-the-Droitwich-Canal.html
My Dad (Alan T Smith MBE) did a lot of ‘encouraging and cajoling‘, as did Max. Having read lots of Max’s words online, one thing I love is his honesty, and Dad too would have enjoyed the truth and humour of this paragraph: “We were at Stourbridge doing some work – that was in 1961 – and this chap in a suit came along,” remembers Max. “He said that if we so much as disturbed the water on the canal we would be prosecuted. Someone gave the excavator driver a wink and he swung the bucket around and covered the chap in mud.”
Here are a few lines of ‘found poetry’, using lines from the article, not a finished piece but a starting point. Following that is a poem I wrote about a visit to the top of the 21 locks in Wolverhampton a few years ago.
The angels who mucked out
the Droitwich Canal
knew the value of patience
With grit and determination,
caked in mud, shovelling dirt,
pulling rusty bicycles from bushes,
they fought with tons of mud and soil,
dumped between the banks
and a tangle
of hostility and inertia.
fish take me by surprise.
Looking down from Broad Street Bridge,
then from the towpath edge
I need an explanation
for such unexpected clarity,
a long exposure of minnows,
lush reeds and sulky sediment.
It’s ironic, says the cut water,
I have been cleansed
by a vandal-induced stoppage.
Tearfully the water speaks:
It was you who saved me
from oil slick, effluent, blackened
polystyrene icebergs, mattress tangled
shopping trolleys, half inched bikes,
malicious metal spikes,
contents of living rooms tipped.
I was soap sud soup with beer bottle croutons,
peppered with cans and the odd chunk of meat.
You saved me from scum,
from smothering polythene,
wire running red, the callous garrottes
of those who would see me dead.
I fear the onset of duck weed.
You saved me to be stirred.
© Heather Wastie