The Idle Women Summer 2018 tour

Kate Saffin and I (Alarum Theatre) finished our Spring tour of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways last Saturday in Calf Heath Marina, Wolverhampton. We’re now preparing for the Summer tour which starts at the beginning of June. The first show is in Stoke Bruerne, then we’ll be on the Chesterfield Canal in West Stockwith. Click here for the full schedule and to book:

https://alarumtheatre.co.uk/2018-tour-dates/

Here are a couple of audience comments from the Spring tour to whet your appetite!

“Wonderful show – beautifully and compassionately performed.” – Sarah & Tony

“A wonderful performance – it brought the whole situation alive.” – Sue & Geoff

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I become a boatwoman

Chestnut Inn, Worcester

Chestnut Inn, Worcester

The Alarum Theatre tour is about to reach its half-way point with a show at Two Towers Brewery, Birmingham, 7.30pm on Wednesday 25th April. We will then have left the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

I thought now would be a good time to share a new poem I have performed at every show, until now. Once we’re on the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations) I won’t be including it any more as much of the material in my half of the show relates to the areas we are passing through.

After leaving Birmingham we’re heading for the Black Country, where I was born and lived until 2006. It’s great to be close to home! Here are the Black Country dates:

Fri 27 April 7:00pm Brook St Community Centre, Tipton with fish & chip supper
Sat 28 April 7:30pm Titford Pump House, Oldbury
Tue 1 May 2:00pm Wood Lane Community Centre, West Bromwich
Tue 1 May 7:30pm The Lamp Tavern, Dudley

For the full schedule click here. For tickets/reservation click here.

Now here’s the poem!


I become a boatwoman

On the Worcester and Birmingham
in nineteen forty one,
a week’s trial – a trial it was
in more ways than one.

Confused and bewildered
I joined a team of three.
Daphne March and Molly Traill
set out to educate me.

Boats not barges.
Boaters not bargees.’
At seven feet wide by ten feet long,
the cabin’s quite a squeeze.

There’s no room for my suitcase
with all my travelling clothes
so I’m making do with a pillowcase
and heaven only knows

how I’ll sleep on the side bed –
two feet wide, no more –
with Daphne on the cross bed
and Molly on the floor.

On the Worcester and Birmingham
in nineteen forty one,
a week’s trial – a trial it was
in more ways than one.

Confused and bewildered
I joined a team of three.
Daphne March and Molly Traill
set out to educate me.

© Heather Wastie

April 2018
Words found in Amateur Boatwomen by Eily Gayford

Tiller, Kettle, Windlass

I’m delighted to be featured in this wonderful new film by Erin Hopkins:

Tiller, Kettle, Windlass – A Narrowboat Film

Windlass100 year old windlass – backdrop, NB Tench, 2017

The Muck and Shovel Brigade

Next Thursday, 15th March, the book of poems I have been working on for The Ring will be launched in Worcester. This has been a labour of love, taking me back to my first experiences of canals when I got to know Max Sinclair, whose photographs accompany my writing.

The Muck and Shovel Brigade cover

Max and his wife Jocelyn had six children, some of whom I remember. Sadly, since Max passed away a few years ago, I wasn’t able to interview him but his eldest son, Ian, helped with my research into Max’s life. I simply adore this photo of Ian with his three older sisters and the family owned boat, Vesta. Look closely at what they’re standing on.

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Amongst his father’s papers, Ian came across a poem which is not attributed to an author. It’s possible Max wrote it himself. I’ve copied it below.

THE DYING WITCH

From Droitwich down to Bevere,
the old canal sleeps silently,
for nothing but a scar remains,
as nature reclaims, hard won gains.

Foul pitch black water, cloaked in green,
lies stagnant, peaceful, and serene,
moorhens nest in the creeping reeds,
cracked bricks and mortar hang with weeds,

With here and there a fallen tree,
obstructing paths that used to be,
lock gates that crumble and decay,
iron gears and handles rust away.

So different now, for years, gone by
would echo to the bargee’s cry,
and huge black laden barges glide,
with Salwarpe weaving at their side.

Now men’s endeavours seem in vain,
to resurrect the Witch again,
For time, erosion, and decay
have stole the Witches life away.

How quickly eighty years have flown,
now phantom barges creak and groan,
and ghosts of horses labour still,
past Bill’s, and Porter’s, water mill.

Anon

Bill’s Mill refers to Mildenham Mill – see Mills and Windmills by Max Sinclair

To find out more about wych barges, you may like to read Katy Beinart’s blog. Katy is one of the other artists working on the Ring project.

I am indebted to Margaret Rowley (Previous Chair of Droitwich Canals Trust, Wychavon District Councillor and Chairman of Droitwich Waterways (Pamela May) Trust) for the time she spent going through Max’s photos with me. At our first meeting she told me that as well as the many volunteers who worked on the canal restoration, several inmates from Hewell Grand Open Prison were involved. On the whole, the scheme to involve prisoners was very successful, but there was one incident which Margaret told me about. Denis Pike told me the same story but with a slightly different ending. This poem didn’t make it into the book:

A prisoner, or so they say,
was working on the cut one day.
What was his crime? I did not ask.
He was a brickie, and his task
was helping to repair a wall.
Now be it true, or be it tall,
the story goes he took a train
and, so I’m told, flew off to Spain.

© Heather Wastie
August 2017

I will end with a couple of photos. There are so many things we take for granted. For example …

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Who made the diamond template for the number on this lock gate (Hawford Top Lock)? It could have been Alistair Main who still works as a Canal & River Trust volunteer.

And finally, I would like to thank Bill Lambert for providing this one, taken at Ladywood Lock in July 2009.

IMG_0762 Ladywood Lock July 2009

 

 

The women who hated the Bottom Road

During our tour of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways, Kate Saffin and I have been invited to write a couple of guest blogs. Here’s a link to one I wrote for Frost Magazine which is introduced by Milly Adams. It’s all about the route the women took from Birmingham to the Coventry coalfields, a route I remember from my childhood. 

http://www.frostmagazine.com/2017/07/ah-brilliant-more-about-idle-women-of-the-waterways-by-milly-adams/

The Ring Project

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,
M5 spoil
dumped between the banks

and a tangle
of hostility and inertia.

Heather Wastie

Histrionic water

In Wolverhampton,
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