It’s all about the conversations

The journey continues. This last week we’ve done several shows in Milton Keynes: at Lionhearts we met the owner of Ash, the partner of Willow, in one of Heather’s songs and in the tiny village of Woolstone we estimated that nearly everyone who could come to a matinee was there! Then it was on to Stoke Bruerne where we performed at the Northants IWA annually rally – we split the show into two to provide a shorter show for each day. Heather performed Idle Women and Judies in torrential rain on Saturday and Kate did Isobel’s War in glorious sunshine on Sunday. We also joined in other events over the weekend with Tench winning ‘best turned out’ boat and the Idle Women quiz team coming nearly last in the quiz (only saved by the picture round because we’d been to most of the places!).

Although we are thoroughly enjoying performing ‘Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways’, this project isn’t simply about the two of us doing a show for an audience, it’s about sharing the stories of the trainees so the conversations on the towpath and at the locks are all part of the journey. Asking most passers-by ‘have you ever heard of the Idle Women’ usually elicits an ‘er, no’ and we are all getting very good at sharing the outline of the story in a few words. ‘Ah, like the land girls’ they say and everyone we’ve met has been interested to take a flyer with most saying they’ll have a look at the website to learn more.

At one of the locks in Berkhamstead a 15yr old girl paused, politely but reluctantly, when I asked The Question, said ‘No’ but, as soon as I’d told her the story and said it would be a great history project should she ever need one about women at work during the war said ‘Cool!’. She left saying that’s really cool!’ and that her mum would be interested too…

An eight year old girl in Stoke Bruerne is ‘doing’ the second world war at school – so another of our flyers with an outline of the story has gone off to a Northamptonshire primary school this week.

At the other end of the age range (and we have talking to everyone in between) we met a 91 yr old man who has lived in Simpson, now an area of Milton Keynes but a village in his childhood, who remembers watching the trainees come through. So, not only are we taking the stories to the places they happened but we’re getting more connected to them through the stories we are hearing.

Unfortunately we are also having some problems with adding photos to the blog at the moment; seems we might need an update from our present position in 1942. Hopefully we can sort it out and be adding more soon. In the meantime our Facebook page and twitter feed has plenty to browse.


Uxbridge to Leighton Buzzard

So much has happened this week, it’s hard to pack it all into one blog post.

On Friday we were at Hillingdon Boat Club. In the audience was IWA member, Andrew Simpson, who heard that we planned to stop the next day in search of a milepost dedicated to Eily Gayford. Next morning he appeared on his bike and very kindly cycled to the milepost, clearing away the nettles surrounding it, so that we could take a few snapshots. He even helped with the locks. Sorry there’s no photo at this point. For some reason, the website won’t let us add any at the moment.

On Saturday we were at Batchworth Canal Centre. This was an eventful show, a collapsing chair almost pitching someone head first into the water, a boy being sick (rather tidily, and between poems) and a pair of pigeons having ‘the right ten minutes’ behind me, to which I was completely oblivious. (See Kate’s play to fully appreciate the ‘ten minutes’ reference.)

On Sunday in the garden of the Kings Head, Hunton Bridge, the hardy audience braved the cold and were thankful of an intimate indoor location for the second half. The next three days involved a journey to Leighton Buzzard and an unplanned pause when Grove Lock was closed for repairs until 2 o’clock on the day of the show. For that stage of the journey we welcomed three women volunteers. It was good to have Tour Manager Zoe along for a couple of days too, though she did manage to fall in the canal, spending the rest of that day in her pyjamas while her clothes dried in the engine room. We were relieved to eventually arrive at The Globe Inn where we managed to moor alongside the pub.

During the daytime we were interviewed by Fabian Hiscock for the University of Hertfordshire Heritage Hub oral history archive, talking about the wartime women’s work as well as our own.

After the show, which took place in the garden of the Globe Inn, a woman from the audience told me how my vivid description of Ruth standing in the cabin in a state of shock after “a tidal wave had snapped the mooring ropes” took her right back to a similar reaction of stunned shock she had herself observed. The words were part of one of my ‘found’ poems, this one (We met a rocket) blending together text found in books by Susan Woolfitt and Eily Gayford. A young lad responded to Molly Traill’s Report, keen to help in my quest to learn what some of the things listed in the song actually are. He delighted in enlightening me about a ‘blow lamp pricker’ and was pleased to find out what a gasket is from a man who was standing nearby. This kind of interaction gives us such pleasure as the tour is about far more than just the performances.

It went dark during the second half of the evening so we were able to try out our newly purchased ‘lighting rig’ – two battery operated inspection lamps pegged to the ground with mooring pins and tilted upwards – surprisingly effective! One of the aims of the tour is to include descriptions from the women’s books of places on our route. To demonstrate how a ‘found poem’ can be created, I quoted words about passing through Leighton Buzzard, in an article by Jean Peters, which I had started forming into a new piece. As it was dark, a man in the audience volunteered to illuminate the page using the light from my mobile phone. All in all, the lighting rig worked a treat!


Week 2

Week 2 began with shows at Cavalcade: tasters in the morning and shows in the evening. On Saturday, Kate performed Isobel’s War under extremely challenging circumstances! A last minute change of venue meant that our sizeable audience carried chairs from one marquee to another while Kate set up to perform. When it became clear that audibility would be a problem, a small PA was generously donated (thank you, Christine!) As it was a hand-held microphone, Kate couldn’t really hold it whilst in character, so she decided not to use it. However Alex (owner of NB Tench) quickly stepped in as boom operator, doing her best to position the mic in front of Kate’s mouth at all times for the whole show. The audience loved it!

On Sunday, still at Cavalcade, after Heather had performed Idle Women and Judies to an equally large audience, both ‘Idle Women’ took part in the illuminated procession – Kate on the roof of NB Second Time Around holding a shaft, echoing our poster image, while Heather sang The Idle Women Myth inside the boat, again with the help of Christine’s PA. Not only did Kate join in the singing from the rooftop, but there was joining-in from the towpath too from a woman who had learned the song at one of our shows!

Monday’s performance involved a car journey to perform in the splendid Dorchester Abbey for their biennial Festival. After a day ‘off’, though as always there was boat moving to be done, Wednesday’s show took place in a hayloft at Horsenden Hill Farm, Perivale. We were due to be outside but, as the weather was cold and rather damp, we were grateful of the unexpected chance to perform indoors. Refreshments were delivered by The Village Butty in a Canadian canoe (at least that’s what we think it was – there was some discussion ….) and the following day, Tench took on some cargo for delivery further along the cut. Payment for delivery of one bale of straw was a box of eggs. Apparently we should have been be reported for not taking a full load. (Molly Traill was, and she was only a couple of tons light.) Thanks to Mike Constable for that information! As we were leaving Perivale, the lyrics to Heather’s song about Molly Traill were adapted …. “We took a trial run from Ellesmere Port to Birmingham” became “We took a trial run from Sowerby Bridge to Barnoldswick …”

Books have been selling very well, as have our new badges! These are replicas of the national service badges given to the women when they had passed their training and were produced for us by Adforce UK Ltd. We are very pleased with the quality. It was a tricky order because we couldn’t risk sending him the precious original. So not only is there chance to see an original badge, worn by Heather at the show, but now you can buy your own to take home.

Tench and Morning Mist are currently moored outside Hillingdon Canal Club ready for tonight’s show at 7.30pm. Tomorrow we move on to Rickmansworth (5pm) and then to Hunton Bridge 7.30pm on Sunday.

Our first week

What a week!

Saturday was launch day, after which we travelled from Bull’s Bridge to Limehouse for the opening night (Monday) which was also press night. Three reviews followed, all pleasingly positive. Here’s an extract from one of them, Theatre Things:

“… an enjoyable retelling and great entertainment … a powerful reminder of the crucial role women played in keeping the country running during the war.”

“The enthusiasm of both ladies, who come from boating backgrounds themselves, is infectious; even someone as averse to audience participation as I am couldn’t resist joining in with the final chorus (though I wish it hadn’t been quite so catchy – it’s a difficult one to forget once you’ve learnt it).”

Click here for the full review: Theatre Things review

On Tuesday we performed at the Ragged School Museum and on Wednesday at the London Canal Museum, having locked through wind, hail and rain. Narrow boat Tench was expertly steered by Heather B, who managed to moor up outside the Museum without once touching the lines of boats either side of our allocated space. She also made an excellent departure (though Kate managed to plant a shaft in the mud and had to go back to retrieve it …)

Two reviewers came along to Wednesday’s show and one of them (London City Nights) wrote this:

“Both women are exceptional storytellers, their performances brimming over with personality and linguistic virtuosity.”  Full review here: London City Nights review

Audiences have been good-sized and enthusiastic – our comments book is full of positive feedback and email addresses for our mailing list. For more reviews, photos and news, go to our Facebook page

Now we’re gearing up for Cavalcade tomorrow!

Setting Off

From the family album…


I’m a landlubber. Kate is a live-aboard boater. We first encountered each other on Twitter in February 2016 and – fast forward at break-neck speed! – we are about to embark on our third tour of a show we cooked up together, Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways.

My love of canals started as a child when my family owned a Fellows Morton & Clayton narrow boat called Laurel. We had many adventures and holidays, during which we slept in the cabin Dad had built over the hold. Mom learned how to do graining and traditional canal art so the stern cabin could be restored in traditional style. I loved the sound of the Lister engine. Sleeping in the stern cabin was fun as a child but it wasn’t a popular place to sleep because a trip to the toilet involved a major excursion into the modern part of the boat. There is so much I could tell you about those days, but this blog is not about that.

Tomorrow we begin a journey the wartime trainees did over a three-week trip. Our journey will take three and a half months. But in fact the journey has already begun. It started with Kate’s idea – “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before!” – to Recreate the Journey, then went through the painstaking completion of an Arts Council funding application which took many many hours – no, days, possibly weeks! After the euphoria of receiving the acceptance letter, we then set about organising the tour. The grant enabled us to employ a Tour Manager and a PR company (more women at work), run community events and workshops, and write and rehearse new material, with director, Milla Jackson. Since beginning work on the funding application it has been non-stop.

I cannot begin to tell you how much work is involved in organising a tour of around 50 performances. However, we are gluttons for punishment so we decided to produce a book of all the material written so far as well. Copies will be on sale throughout the tour and are not available from any other outlet (at the moment). There will be mugs on sale later in the tour, plus another rather special piece of merchandise made specially for us. You will have to wait and see what that is!

Kate and I will be travelling on Kate’s boat, Morning Mist, from the beginning of May and we are extremely lucky that historic narrow boat Tench will be with us for the entire tour, thanks to owner, Alex, and steerer, Heather B. Tomorrow we will set off from Bull’s Bridge (now Tesco visitor moorings), the original location of the dry dock where the boats were maintained, and where the boats would begin their journey during WW2. Coffee will be served at 11.30 and at 12.00 there will be a short performance before a bite to eat, then Tench sets off at 1.00pm.

So amid all the venue booking and liaison, putting together copy and designing the flyers and posters and delivering them, ordering merchandise, doing interviews etc etc etc, we need to be ready to give top notch performances. Oh, and there’s the small matter of getting to the venues by canal. One thing’s for sure, this will be an adventure unlike any other and we’re ready for it!

Heather Wastie

21st April 2017

Rewriting Richard: the final week


Well, here we are in the final week before Now is the Winter is on at the RSC The Other Place – time has whizzed by. Susi Dalton has done a fantastic job of bringing a new slant to the play. We’ve had a preview at the Unicorn theatre in Abingdon and the clarity of Helen McGregor’s storytelling wowed the entire audience.  However, it’s not easy getting the word out and about and selling tickets for one night only show – even if it is at the RSC! So that’s where all my effort is going this week whilst Susi and Helen work on the final polishing.

Susi writes…

We have had 2 rehearsals this week and adapted the play into another interesting space for the performance at the European school on Friday. The Hall is very big compared to the Unicorn and we have had to take volume and sight lines into account when we use the heavy curtains which we pull across the proscenium arch. This stage is quite high and it has been interesting to work with the audience location in mind –  sitting on the very edge of the stage swinging her legs is a nice picture.

And finally, here’s the all important ticket link!

We nearly had a show!

Camp house floodedOur first show should have been on Thursday at the Camp House Inn on the River Severn near Grimley (just north of Worcester). Unfortunately, quite a lot of it was in the River Severn – the garden stage and the access road were flooded. I was coming by boat but stopping wasn’t an option, the rails in the picture to the right of the yellow boat are the back of the mooring stage which is about 3ft out of sight.

We had already decided that the river levels meant that we would have to make the journey to Stourport in one go as the Worcester lock keeper had said that the river would probably close the next day. It was all a bit exciting but we arrived safely – I usually travel alone but was very grateful to have a friend with me for that expedition.

Plans are in hand to book a new date as soon as things dry out a bit and the next four shows are indoors, which means there will be heatwave and everyone will wish they were sitting out in a garden, next to the river (or canal)…

Current Production

Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways