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. 

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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

Carpet Forest in Malvern 20th-30th December

Here’s your final chance to see the wonderful Carpet Forest which includes some of my work. The installation was created for Kidderminster Town Hall and wowed visitors to Kidderminster Arts Festival 2013. Having visited Bristol, it now makes a final appearance at the Malvern Cube. Some of my Weaving Yarns work can be heard on mp3 players hidden amongst the trees. The installation was the brainchild of Loz Samuels, who said this about my involvement:

Having Weaving Yarns as an element of our Carpet Forest installation was a gift, and in turn gave a fantastic environment to showcase a taster of this work. The recordings … gave the public … insight into the real heart of the work. The stories and Heather’s interpretation of them sparked conversations amongst families about their connections with the carpet industry.
Loz Samuels, Wyre Forest District Council Arts Officer

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Worcester Victorian Christmas Fayre on Friday

I have assembled a range of characters over the years as outlets for my work …. tragic opera singer Montserrat Carbonara, Black Country Pat, Barbara the Bostin Darter, a drunken mayor, Edie, Gwendoline, an Idle Woman ….  On Friday afternoon I’m trying out a new one. She’s Victorian, she’s posh, she’s been prescribed poetry and vinegar, and she’ll be performing at the Worcester Victorian Christmas Fayre between 2.00 and 3.00pm. Look out for her in St Martin’s Quarter trying to pretend that there’s no such place as Costa Coffee.

I’m just part of a larger group run by the quirky Clik Clik Collective who I worked with as Black Country Pat for the Worcester Music Festival earlier this year. See below for further information about them and the event which sounds positively vibrant!

http://www.clikclikcollective.com/about-us/

http://www.visitworcestershire.org/about-worcestershire/worcester-christmas-fayre.aspx

Bringing the past to life

Last week the Canal & River Trust uploaded a video of the piece they commissioned from me, Idle Women and Judies, about the women who operated the working canal boats during WW2. Do take a look http://youtu.be/Q1W-FetEHcE  See below for more information about the piece.

I performed a live version at the Waterways Museum in Gloucester on Saturday and was really pleased with this BBC Radio Gloucestershire interview I recorded to promote the event. There are 5 days left to listen to it by clicking the link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02b4j0y. I’m on after about 2:40.

My Comments book now has some new entries from people in the audiences at Gloucester:

Thank you for a very informative performance. Ollie aged 4 thoroughly enjoyed it. Les Abbott

Thank you for an excellent and inspiring performance. I’ve learned a lot about a lost world. Edward Elgar (honest!)

Thank you for joining us for such a wonderful performance. You really brought the museum alive.
Cathy Jones, Assistant Manager, Gloucester Waterways Museum

Idle Women and Judies by Heather Wastie is an audio piece based on the wartime memories of 3 women: Emma Smith, Nancy Ridgway and Daphne March (Daffy). Emma is the author of Maidens’ Trip, A Wartime Adventure on the Grand Union Canal and Nancy worked on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal; their voices can both be heard in extracts from interviews recorded by the Canal & River Trust. The two voices contrast in such a way as to demonstrate the range of women who took over the working boats while the men went off to war. Snippets from Emma’s book are also woven into the piece, as are some of Daphne’s words taken from an article she wrote after the war (shared online by her niece, Kathryn Dodington).

The 6-minute recording broadly tells the women’s story, from recruitment to redundancy, using their own descriptions, condensed into the form of a poem performed by the author. Because of the war, these women had “crossed a line” into a completely new world and the piece takes the listener into that world, enhanced by the sound of narrow boat engines. The engines were recorded at the 2014 Etruria Canals Festival. I am grateful to Martin Fuller (Clematis) and David Lowe (Swallow) for running their engines so that these recordings could be made and also to Glyn & Rosemary Phillips and Teresa & Roger Fuller for advice as to which were the most appropriate engines!

I have been involved with canals for most of my life, cruising on ex-coal-carrying narrow boat Laurel and, in the early days, getting involved in campaigns to save them from extinction with my father, Alan T Smith, who received an MBE for his services to the inland waterways. As a writer and musician, I particularly enjoy sharing other people’s stories through my writing and I am grateful to the Canal and River Trust for commissioning me to undertake this fascinating and rewarding project.

 

 

Weaving Yarns in Bristol & a poem about Floors

Photo of carpet forestDuring last year’s Kidderminster Arts Festival, some of my Weaving Yarns work could be heard in a forest made of carpet which transformed Kidderminster Town Hall. The forest was such a beautiful and relaxing place to be that people spent time sitting under the trees, even taking in picnics. It was magical. Here’s what Loz Samuels, whose idea the installation was, said about my contribution:

Having Weaving Yarns as an element of our Carpet Forest installation was a gift, and in turn gave a fantastic environment to showcase a taster of this work. The recordings on mp3s hidden in bird-boxes gave the public another element to interact with and on listening a sudden insight into the real heart of the work.

There’s now another chance to experience the carpet forest, this time in Bristol as part of the Easton Arts Trail at All Hallows Hall, 13 All Hallows Road, Bristol BS5 0HH from 6th to 15th June. See http://www.eastonartstrail.co.uk/pics/EAT-MAP-BACK-2014-jpg-A4.jpg for further info.

Here now is a poem which has no carpets, just floor boards. I wrote it after chatting briefly to a couple who were sat on the doorstep of their small, old house drinking tea.

Floors

We’re having a party
to celebrate
having floors.

Before today
we had windows,
walls and doors

and a roof
(though the sky
is our limit)

a house
that was empty
apart from our dreams

(the two of us
sitting on chairs
slipping off shoes)

We’re having a party,
drinking tea,
looking through doors
admiring our lovely new floors.

© Heather Wastie

Replacing heritage

I was delighted this week to receive a piece for my blog written by John Moyle who tells me he has recently started to write of his experiences of the carpet industry for his University of the Third Age [U3A] Creative Writers’ Group, and also for the benefit of his grandchildren. You will find his very interesting piece on the Your Stories page.  Many thanks, John.

On May 18th I was inspired to write a poem after a short tour organised by Kidderminster Civic Society. Here it is together with a few snapshots by way of illustration.

Replacing heritage

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(Record of a Kidderminster Civic Society tour led by Nigel Gilbert)

From telling ivyed wall of dyer Watson,
rutted cobbles remembering wheels,
incongruous mountain bike, eyebrowed
by eighteenth century arches,
Church Street chopped,
the congregation stopped,

turned back to Arch Hill rise,
closed eyes the only way to see
the manor house demolished 1753,
the site of the town’s first Spool Axminster loom
and rows of weavers’ cottages
discarded far more recently, their memory lost

in retirement homes. But some remember
Bread Street and Milk Street, and others know
that Orchard Street was very briefly Fish Street,
that Paddock Street was once misnamed as Haddock Street!
That Rack Hill took its name from racks
of dyed and drying Kidderminster cloth.

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And where did all the waste go? Into the Stour.
And where did all the heritage go? Carried away
in a frenzy of tidying, elbowing Baxter from Bull Ring,
bullying listed dwellings to rubble.

And now we grimace and glower
at the grubby “entirely self cleansing” tower
of 1960s strength, and cheer with revenge in our eyes
at the news of Crown House’s imminent demise.

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© Heather Wastie
May 2013

For further information about writer and historian Nigel Gilbert see http://nigelgilbert.co.uk. My poem will appear on his website soon and also in the Kidderminster Civic Society Newsletter – see http://www.kidcivicsoc.org.uk for information.