Monthly Archives: February 2021

Heather Wastie

Heather WastieHeather Wastie’s links with canals began when she was a child, when her family bought a small cruiser and then an old working boat called Laurel, which her father converted (although he retained the traditional back cabin).
Heather is a writer, poet, singer/songwriter, keyboard and accordion player.  She has published 8 collections of poetry, two of which relate to the canals. Heather performs her poems, working in conjunction with Alarum Theatre Company.
Read More

heather wastie

featured author - spring 2021

heather wastie

about Heather

My links with canals began when I was a child, when my family bought a small cruiser and then an old working boat called Laurel, which my Dad converted (although he retained the traditional back cabin).

We were involved in campaigning for the restoration of canals from the 1960s onwards and Dad (Alan T Smith) was awarded an MBE for his services to Inland Waterways.

I am a writer, poet and singer/songwriter and have published 8 collections, two of which relate to the canals.

These two were published under the umbrella of Alarum Theatre / Alarum Productions:

  • I Dig Canals - How women helped save the waterways (pub 2020)
  • Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways - Heather Wastie & Kate Saffin (First published 2017, Second edition 2018)

alarum theatre company

heather wastie on roof of traditional working boat

Alarum is a theatre company which tours by canal boat (where possible), collecting and re-telling stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

The company consists of myself, Kate Saffin (boater, writer, storyteller and actor) and a flexible team of freelancers.

The photo (above) is a recreation of an iconic image showing two of the so called 'idle women' who operated working boats during the Second World War.

We did a couple of performances in Cropredy which is how I came to write a book of poems about the people of Cropredy and met Louise, a boater and artist who created the illustrations.

to the future, love cropredy

I began to write this book in 2019. My initial idea was to talk to people, find out what they liked about Cropredy, and what they thought it would be like in fifty years time. From this came a whole range of poems.  'Naming Names' arose from the very unusual street names. My poem on the Fairport Festival came about through people writing their thoughts on post-its. Then there were the  wonderful stories about romance through a garden gate in a wall, and a young couple whose disappearance remained a mystery until their skeletons were discovered 100 years later...

'To the future, Love Cropredy' is available from Lapal ProductionsThis delightful little book, beautifully illustrated by Louise Regan, has received an excellent review from Towpath Talk:

'...the timeless quality of the stories and descriptions of village events make it just as much a love letter to every village community in Britain.' (Towpath Talk, January 2021)

Heather Wastie talks about her book on Cropredy, reads some of her poems, and introduces us to the illustrator on You Tube.

 weaving yarns

 I was born in the Black Country and lived there until 2006 when I moved to Kidderminster and became fascinated by the carpet industry.

In 2013, I was Writer in Residence at the Museum of Carpet where I turned people's memories into poems, monologues and songs - which I now perform.

This work was published in November 2015 by Black Pear Press under the title Weaving Yarns. Black Pear Press described it as

a unique infectious cocktail of assorted snippets and stories about the carpet industry and the folk who helped to make Kidderminster the carpet town. It will sit nicely on the shelf alongside the more detailed history books.

In 2017 I was commissioned by Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust to compose a song cycle to celebrate the restoration of the Weavers’ Cottages in Kidderminster.

idle women of the wartime waterways

Idle Women of the wartime waterways

I have strong links with the history of canals. In summer 2016 I began touring a double bill of theatre, poetry and song, 'Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways' with Alarum Theatre.

The book, which includes a transcript of Kate Saffin's play  as well as my own poems and songs, tells the story of young women who left their jobs and middle class backgrounds to learn to handle 72ft narrowboats and their cargoes.

In 2017 Alarum Theatre Company was awarded Arts Council funding to support a 15 week fifty show tour between April and August. After seven tours, the show is now available for one-off bookings.

the muck and shovel brigade

In 2018, I  completed a poetry commission for The Ring project / Canal & River Trust in Worcestershire: The Muck and Shovel Brigade.

My task for The Ring project was to produce in book form a record of the derelict state the canal was in, the huge voluntary effort that went into restoring it and the important role played by Max Sinclair.

The book tells the story of the restoration of the Droitwich Canal and is now a 40-minute show which I perform as part of 'Acts of Abandon' with Alarum Theatre.

I dig canals

Alarum’s current project is 'I Dig Canals', researching women’s involvement in canal restoration and campaigning post-war to 1970s.

The accompanying book is edited by myself, and has a foreword by Carolyn Clark (author of East End Canal Tales). Of course it also includes some of my own poems!

The book is a journey in words and images, with childhood recollections by locals, stories of how women first got involved in canal restoration and first hand accounts of what they achieved.

Editor's note!

It is a fascinating read - a book you can pick up at any time on any page, and immediately become engrossed.

'I Dig Canals' is available from Alarum Books

additional information

Heather has published eight poetry collections, including the most recent, To the Future, Love Cropredy. (Lapal Publications, October 2020.) She has compiled and edited two books of Black Country reminiscences and completed commissions for the Canal & River Trust, Black Country Echoes, Birmingham LGBT choir Rainbow Voices, West Midlands Historic Buildings Trust, Apples and Snakes, Rights and Equality, Sandwell's "Where's Our Spake Gone?" project and BBC local radio (a national project for National Poetry Day 2016).

In 2016 she composed a series of songs for an English Touring Opera Turtle Song project in Wolverhampton with people who have dementia.

In 2019 Heather completed an extensive singing, song-writing and reminiscence project for people who have dementia with Arts Uplift near to her home in Worcestershire.

Other collaborations include Brewers’ Troupe performance poetry company with poet Emma Purshouse and spoken word / squeeze box duo Jiggery Spokery with the late Dave Reeves (who bellows).

Heather has also worked as a poet and actor for National Trust property Croome Court in Worcestershire.

To find out more about Heather Wastie, her books and her performances, visit her website, watch and listen to her performances on sound cloud, or read her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter: @heatherwastie.

For more on the Alarum Theatre Company, and for details of performances visit their website

Heather's books are available to buy from Lapal Publications and Alarum Productions.

Illustrator Louise Regan can be contacted by email.

emery owl

critters on the cut

emery owl

On a recent walk with my best friend, we were lucky enough to have an aerial display from a VERY confident Barn Owl.

barn owl in flight It was only my best friend's second ever sighting of a Barn Owl.

Six or more fly overs and what seemed like hours following us.

She (just a feeling) ended the display with a low swoop no more than 6ft above our heads.

The entire time her gaze was locked on my friend.

Hence her name "Emery".

barn owl by Keith LazarusEmery can be seen regularly in the fields between Whitminster Church and "Swingers Corner".

She favours the marshy areas, easily seen by the Marsh Grass aka "Sturdy Chives" (its an inside joke).

Although when the water table is too high, she will hunt further afield - literally. Overcast days from 2pm onwards seem to be her favourite. She really isn't bothered by people or dogs.

Whitminster ChurchNote:

Whitminster is on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, just to the north of Saul Junction.

Moorings at Saul Junction are for two days, or just north of Junction Bridge for two weeks.

There are plenty of good walks in the vicinity.

If you want to know more about barn owls, check out this RSPB link

fi’s fabulous floating emporium

fi's fabulous floating emporium...

magic created inside the boat for fun on the outside

One of the most colourful characters on the cut is Fiona Lewis, who lives and trades from her narrowboat Calabrese. She is a registered roving trader, with her business very aptly named "Fi's Fabulous Floating Emporium". Fi is currently based on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.

For the past twenty years, Fi has been a self employed Festival / Event Trader, making most of her own stock. She moved onto a boat in 2017, and found it was fairly easy to transfer her creative skills onto the water.

Because of the restrictions currently imposed upon our society, Fi is concentrating upon her online sales, but she is hoping to expand 'Fi's Fabulous Floating Emporium' and also open a floating tuck shop, with hot snacks, 'yummy cakes' and organic squash.

early days...

Fi, herself a mother, comes from 'a beautiful large family with lots of lovely nieces and nephews'. In fact, at the last count, she has 19 great nieces and nephews!

She believes she always had a creative streak - probably inherited from her Granny Hedwig. Growing up, she was continually making things from cardboard, fabric or twigs.

When all the girls in the family wanted parties and hair-braids and face-painting were in high demand, one of them  (that's Fi and her three sisters) had to learn the necessary skills.

Of course it fell to Fi! She remembers her very first hair braid which took almost an hour to perfect...

Anyway, she got faster, and before long she found herself running her own children's party business.

moving on...

fi's fabulous emporium

Fi continued to do well with her party business but it wasn't enough to keep her occupied - she needed something more.

Eventually she decided to create her own stall for selling goods at festivals and other field events.

This meant that as well as the face-painting and braiding, she could now also sell a range of festival clothing and other goods.

This went well for a while, but Fi soon began to realise that many festival stalls ended up selling much the same sorts of goods. She decided she needed something unique so that her stall could stand out from the rest. So Fi began making some of her own stock.

Hats were one of the first things she began to make. They proved so popular, that 15 years later she is still creating them. Understandably, as they are all unique, and as funky as you want them to be. Needless to say, they are among her best selling items!

Fi's fabulous emporium - hat

fi's fabulous emporium - hand knitted hat

fi's fabulous emporium

At the same time, she turned some of her attention to Hula Hoops.

Fi is a qualified Hula Hoop coach and teaches hula hooping. She has taught both children and adults at festivals and, more recently, along the towpath! It's not an uncommon sight to see Fi hula hooping on the roof of her boat...

goods on offer...

hand made hats from Fi's own designs

hair accessories - dreads, hair bands, braids

bags - sourced from India and Fair Trade

fair trade items - from homewares to clothing (from recent trips to India)

festival clothing and accessories

bandanas for dogs

hula hoops in different sizes

fi's fabulous floating emporium

fi's fabulous floating emporium

fi's fabulous floating emporium - festival clothes

covid restrictions and trading

Fiona Lewis - fi's fabulous floating emporium2020 was almost a write-off for trade, affecting traders on and off the water.

But it was a year in which Fi managed to enjoy her floating home and get some home improvements done too!

She says:

"I love my life on the water and the people I surround myself with. I like meeting great characters with great stories to tell."

Fi's Fabulous Floating Emporium is currently based on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.

You can follow Fi on Facebook to see where she is trading, or you can buy from her online.

You can also contact Fi by email

And if you do come across her on the towpath, do stop for a chat. She might even show you how to hula hoop!