"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
At last we can reveal our new project!
A few weeks ago, a nice lady whom I knew slightly rang me up and we had a conversation like this:
Nice Lady: Would you like to go boating on a river you’ve never been on, and write about it, and get paid for it?
Me: Is this a trick question? Are you the Child Catcher?
NL: No. Mind you, it won’t be all narrowboating.
NL: No. There will be canoeing too. And walking.
Me: Oh, go on then.
Or something like that. The nice lady is Ros Stoddart, artist and self-styled cultural engineer. The project she has devised with support from the thrice-blessed Arts Council will put Ros, me and storyteller Jo Blake onto the river Nene in Northamptonshire. No, I didn’t either – here it is.
The much-loved nature writer ‘BB‘ (Denys Watkins-Pitchford) hailed from this part of the world. He was a huntin-shootin-and-fishin man who wrote about the river, its wildlife and the land around it – for example in his book Wild Lone, which Jo has already revisited (above). In 1966 he went on a boat journey, and published it as A Summer on the Nene the following year. Our mission, if we choose to accept it (and we have, since we don’t have duck-droppings for brains) is to make our own
journey on the Nene, informed by BB’s work – and to produce a collaborative piece of work drawn from our experiences, which will show in canalside locations late this year, and in 2012.
So…. in April we hire a narrowboat and travel from Oundle, as BB did. In May we go back and look at the same waterway by canoe – and in June, we will walk parts of the riverbank, to see the river from all sorts of different angles. Ros didn’t think to include a hot air balloon phase, but I think we are willing to forgive her.
Jo Blake is a talented professional storyteller, with an interest in wildlife and myths of the countryside and nature. I, as you know, am a boat-dweller and former professional archaeologist, fascinated by the Nene because it is one of the oldest navigations in the UK. The Romans were the first people to make it properly navigable, and it lies in a part of the country I know very little. Not only the
waterway but also its riverbank archaeology is fascinating – Fotheringay Castle, Lyveden New Bield and many other places of interest lie on our route.
If I had tried to design a project just for myself, full of interest, friendly collaboration and fascinating material – plus boats – I couldn’t possibly have come up with a richer or more enlivening one than this. It’s early days and we will soon be setting up a dedicated blog for the project, so keep your eyes peeled for that. [Stop press: we did, and it’s here]. In the meantime we just have to work out – which of us is Mole, which Ratty and which Toad?