Remembering wartime canal women

On Remembrance Sunday, I am very pleased to have been able to highlight the role the Women’s Training Scheme played in the war effort on the British canals. The work I have been doing with Alarum Theatre, telling the stories of these mainly middle class women, will feature on BBC Countryfile this evening at 6.20pm on BBC1. Also included will be Kathryn Dodington whose aunt Daphne March (Daffy) carried cargo throughout World War 2 on her family owned boat, Heather Bell. As Kathryn told me, Daffy’s motivation for doing this work was ‘service’. It is also important to remember the women of the working families who didn’t have the choice; this is what they were born to, and they just got on with it. Our show Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways gives an insight into the lives of all these women.

In remembrance of the working women today, I am sharing a few lines from my piece Hillmorton Locks. This section was written after speaking to Ron who told me the story of his birth:

Emma Humphreys, expecting twins,
a boat-load of coal, her labour begins,
the war is on, the shrapnel flies,
the cabin’s tiny, her youngest cries.

Two men to thank, Albert and Ron
make sure they’re safe till danger’s gone;
under a bridge, twin boys are born,
named after the men who saved their skin.

© Heather Wastie
from Hillmorton Locks

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More shows for #TheIdleWomen

After our successful 50-show summer tour, Kate Saffin and I have put together a short run of performances of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways in and around Oxford at the end of this month. See below for dates. Here’s a review to whet your appetite:

“Both women are exceptional storytellers, their performances brimming over with personality”   London City Nights

OXFORD CANAL & THAMES October 21st-29th 2017  Tickets £10/£8

Sat 21  7.00pm  Shipton-on-Cherwell Village Hall, Kidlington OX5 1JP
Tue 24  8.00pm  St Margaret’s Institute, 30 Polstead Road OX2 6TN
Thu 26  7.30pm  Rock of Gibraltar, Station Road, Enslow OX5 3AY
Fri 27   7.30pm   Wolvercote Village Hall, 1 Wolvercote Green OX2 8AB
Sun 29  6.00pm  Unicorn Theatre, Medieval Abbey Buildings, Checker Walk, Abingdon OX14 3JB

Advance booking via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/alarum-theatre-9882552992, email admin@alarumtheatre.co.uk, phone 01865 364095 or pay on the door. See also www.alarumtheatre.co.uk

IWWW Oxford tour 2017 flyer v4IWWW Oxford tour 2017 flyer back v4

After my time

I regularly take my poetry and songs to dementia cafés organised by the Alzheimers Society. We chat about a whole range of subjects – gloves, cooking, vinegar, hair – you name it! And often I go away and write something inspired by what we talked about. Sometimes the poems are humorous and sometimes serious. Here is a serious poem I wrote last week based on words spoken. It started to form in my head as I walked round a park near where the sessions are held:


After my time

No more buzzing of bees
No more rainforest trees
Ah, that was after my time

We can’t see the sun
And the ice has all gone
Ah, that was after my time

No more footprints, no more sand
No more green and pleasant land
Well, that was after my time

We traded earth for speed
We didn’t see the need
Well, that was after my time

No fish or polar bears
but I ask you, who cares?
I don’t know, that was after my time

No more rivers, only flood
We would stop this if we could
But you see, that was after my time

No more us and no more them
Though we know that they’re to blame
No more time

© Heather Wastie
October 2017


3 Poems on Freedom

National Poetry Day will take place on Thursday 28 September 2017 and this year’s theme is “Freedom”. Click here for a whole page of Freedom Poems. Here are three of mine:

 

High Rise Artist

I knew a man
who filled the only bedroom
of his twentieth floor flat

with wild horses,
huge canvases
depicting freedom,

they wouldn’t fit through the door,
let alone get as far as the knackered lift.

In the sitting room,
along with his bed,
was a new piece,

not horses this time
but a woman who had jumped
from her window

trapped forever mid-air.

© Heather Wastie

 

Mistaken identity

You seek happiness
and thought you saw it
in my eyes

but it was not
happiness, it was
freedom.

Find freedom
and you will find
happiness.

Understand freedom
and you will understand
happiness.

No matter how hard you look
into my eyes
you will not find happiness,

my happiness
or yours.

© Heather Wastie

 

Breaking the surface

Now that the heavy sheen is gone,
eroded by tears,
I am no longer afraid to
let the wild wind splatter my face,
lose my grip on rocks slippery with seaweed,
feel the freedom of floating
in a salt sea.

© Heather Wastie

Songs and poems for historic cottages

Having written a song cycle for the historic Weavers’ Cottages in Kidderminster, I’m keen for these unique houses to be owned by people who care about the heritage as much as I do. 

The three separate properties will be sold by auction on 12th September – click here for details. The one on the right, No 22, is a rare example of a cottage specifically built to house a weaver. The top floor is light and spacious, designed as a work space which contained the loom. We know that the middle property was once a sweet shop because of the sign which is faintly visible above the ground floor window. 

Not many people can say that a song cycle has been written about their home! Here’s a link to recordings of the songs, together with poems and stories written by 4 other writers after a workshop I ran as part of a series of activities organised by Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust. 

There’s a poem version of one of my songs which you can hear in this interactive film by James McDonald. You can move around inside the cottages using your computer mouse. The film is one of several made by James which I find quite addictive. 

The songs will be available soon as a resource for young people, linking them to their own local history. There will be an online publication with the song lyrics, poems and stories, and the songs will be on a CD. This was a hugely rewarding project to be involved in, with a truly lasting legacy. 

Final push for The Idle Women

If you would like to see the show I have been touring with Kate Saffin since the end of April, there are just 3 more opportunities – two at The Rising Sun, Berkhamsted (Monday & Tuesday) and one at The Pirate Castle, Camden (Saturday) – the last time we will perform the show in London. This will also be the last chance to see historic narrow boat Tench which has been with us all the way. After the tour, owner Alex will whisk her away and get back to her own solo adventures!

We have had very appreciative audiences, rave reviews and have been featured in national press so we’re delighted, if a trifle tired as we have done quite a few lock miles over the past 15 weeks too! Do come and support us at one of our final shows if you can.

Here’s one of my ‘found’ poems from the show which is also in the book we have produced to accompany the tour:

A horse on the path

Early in the morning
a horse on the path

the ring of shoes on cobblestones
the swish of a bow, a shout

the whip of a line, the soft flap
as it drops on the cabin top

another whip, another shout
lock gate thud, rattle of paddle

through cabin doors nudged ajar
we stir to grey outlines
on a slack-black star-stippled sky

© Heather Wastie

using words found in The Amateur Boatwomen Canal Boating 1941-1945 by Eily Gayford

Saturday’s performance will be our 50th since we launched the tour in April and the journey has been incredible. See www.alarumtheatre.co.uk and our Facebook page for more.

Once the tour is over I will be taking a well earned break!

Weavers’ Cottages songs

If you click the link below you will find stories and poems by Margaret E Green, Sharon Cartwright, Kathy Gee and Maggie Doyle written as a result of my workshop for the Weavers’ Cottages restoration project in Kidderminster. My commissioned songs are there too, performed by Sue Pope and myself, recorded by Diabolus in Musica.

http://www.weaverscottages.info/poems-stories-music.htm