BBC Countryfile – The Idle Women

At the end of October I spent the day filming for BBC Countryfile with Kate Saffin for a feature on The Idle Women whose stories we re-tell as touring company, Alarum Theatre. The programme is being aired on BBC1 this coming Sunday at 6.20pm. Here’s how the day went.

We assembled in the Museum cafe at Stoke Bruerne at 8.45am on a cold but dry day, and it was decided that the first job was to film me performing two of my poems – Idle Women and Judies and Heather Bell. The second of these was chosen because it’s all about Daphne March whose niece Kathryn Dodington was also being filmed for the programme. She didn’t have far to walk because she lives in one of the canalside cottages. Mind you, she had already got the fire going on Sculptor, ready for our trip down (and up, and down, and up) the locks once the poems had been filmed.

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Idle Women and Judies
Here you can see Ian with the fluffy microphone, Steve behind the camera and Simon, the producer, looking down at the shot as it is being filmed.

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Filming Heather Bell


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We waited in vain for an intermittent and rather loud noise coming from the other side of the towpath and eventually had to abandon filming in this location. The poem was recorded later in the day on board Sculptor with Kathryn nicely positioned in the background as she steered. Sadly, neither of the poems made the final cut because there simply wasn’t enough time to pack everything in.

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Having shown presenter Ellie Harrison how to work a lock (she was completely new to this) we chatted to her on board Sculptor as Kathryn steered through the other locks with a crew of Canal & River Trust volunteers. Kathryn was a stalwart, winding the boat (ie turning it round) then steering it up the locks again. While one of the volunteers took Sculptor off and winded it again we stopped for lunch (and to warm up) in the Museum cafe. After lunch we set off down the locks again, leaving the boat once we had finished recording so that we could get to Enslow for our evening show and the crew could focus on interviewing Kathryn who had some wonderful stories to tell. In case you’re wondering, the blue barrel in the hold is ballast. This is where the heavy cargo would have been.

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All in all we had a really good time. Thanks to lovely researcher Debs for sending us the photos! And thanks to Canal & River Trust, Kathryn Dodington and the hardworking volunteers for making the day possible. 

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A far from Idle Woman

Heather Wastie - Idle Women & Judies 2

I was overwhelmed by the wonderful feedback I received after my performances as an Idle Woman on Sunday at Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum. The photo above was taken at the National Waterways Museum, Gloucester where I’ll be performing on Saturday November 8th. The piece was commissioned by the Canal & River Trust and is now available for bookings elsewhere!

Idle Women and Judies by Heather Wastie

Performances at Stoke Bruerne
Sunday 28th September 2014

Comments

Absolutely fantastic. Now have a better understanding of women’s role on the boats. Can’t wait for the audio.
Mr & Mrs Roberts, Soham, Ely Cambs

Was great story especially knowing it was real. Sounded very life like, and it was like being there and feeling how the women were feeling. A new life for them in more of a man’s domain. Fantastic.
Belton Family from New Zealand

A lovely performance full of feeling – thank you.
The Richardsons from Lincoln

Very interesting and informative. Very well done!

Very interesting and educated. Thank you.
Isaac Smith age 10

It was very entertaining.
Iona Smith age 8

Very informative and moving.

Fascinating insight into a bygone age.

Learnt new things about ‘Idle Women’ in the WW2. So v. educational. As a woman & new to owning a narrow boat I wish there was an Idle Woman around to teach me her hands on skills!
Penny, Coventry

Very entertaining. Learnt the connection between facts I already knew and those that emerged during the performance.
John Adshead, Northwich Cheshire

Thank you for bringing the story of WW2 women working the waterways to life – very memorable and enjoyable. Great way of bringing history to children.
Rachel

Idle Women and Judies

Earlier this year I was commissioned by the Canal & River Trust to write a new piece of poetry using some of their oral history recordings. I created an audio piece and I’m now about to give the first live performances. See below!

Idle Women Stoke Bruerne poster

Idle Women and Judies by Heather Wastie is based on the wartime memories of 3 women: Emma Smith, Nancy Ridgway and Daphne March (Daffy). It broadly tells story of women who took over the working boats while the men went off to war, from recruitment to redundancy, using their own descriptions, condensed into the form of a poem.

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 & River Trust for commissioning me to undertake this fascinating and rewarding project.