Breydon Crowther

A script-in-in-hand performance of Breydon Crowther, our new musical opened the Great Yarmouth Arts Festival in June this year within sight of Breydon Water where the story is set.

We had hoped for funding from the Arts Council and after they’d turned us down twice we were left with a difficult decision.  We had a handful of songs, a community choir enthusiastic about the material, and a belief that we had a good story to tell. Actually, it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. Composer Chris Warner and I had a brief discussion which lasted all of two minutes and decided to carry on. Essentially, we were going to write an entire musical on spec.

We approached various funding bodies, Eastern Angles and The Broads Authority and managed to raise enough money to fund five actors for a week and a professional director in the shape of Tim Bell (currently touring with his one man show Dame Nature – The Magnificent Bearded Lady). Then we set to work.

The resulting performance went better than we dared hope. A full house with everyone on their feet at the final curtain. The representative from the Broads Authority left with a smile on his face.

Which was good news as they have just won a £2.6 million Heritage Lottery Grant for a project they’ve called Water, Mills and Marshes which is focussed on the exact geographical area where Crowther is set. They wanted some drama input as part of the delivery of this project and put this element out to tender. Eastern Angles put in a strong pitch with Crowther as its centrepiece and got the gig.

So it looks as if our original decision to go ahead without funding has been vindicated. Breydon Crowther will get a full production. The downside is that the project won’t be delivered until 2020, which is not the sort of deadline I like. And there will have to be a deadline because the show will have to be substantially re-written. The show will have to tour. Realistically this couldn’t happen with our orginal forces of 5 actors plus 15 singers and Chris on accordion.  The  new version will be for 5 actor/musicians and a set that can fit in the Eastern Angles van

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‘Elf and safety for writers

Some recent research has suggested that sitting is as dangerous as smoking. (Smoking and sitting at the same time is clearly a bad idea.)  This comes as no surprise to most writers. Put two writers in a room and it won’t be long before the conversation turns to backpain.

On a building site there are invariably brightly coloured posters offering advice about hard hats and the importance of not standing under falling hammers.  This is my version for avoiding the hazards of life at the desk.

Obviously evolution has carefully designed us not to sit at desks. So the first thing my poster would say in big letters is THIS IS RIDICULOUS GO AND DO SOMETHING ELSE. This advice is likely to coincide with what friends and relatives have been telling you for years and is something you can safely ignore.

Sitting position. You don’t have to buy a £900 Herman Miller Aeron. But you do need to be able to sit with an open hip joint. That is, your hips should be higher than your knees.  A cheap foam sitting wedge will convert most dining chairs into a back-friendly work chair. This might seem a poor substitute for the all-embracing leather fantasy chair but see below.

Screen position. The top of your screen should be just below eye level. Adjust the font size so that the image comes to you. The resolution should allow you to sit back rather than hunch forward. Your elbows should be at 90 degrees, your wrists relaxed.  Notice this combination of seating and screen position is impossible to achieve with the laptop that everyone uses. Ideally you should plug your laptop in to an external screen, and probably an external keyboard. Or just yourself get a desktop.

Writing slopes. Even if most of what you do happens at the keyboard you will still need space to read scripts, scribble notes, and doodle. So get yourself a writing slope. The sort medieval monks used. Your back will thank you. You can pay proper money for these or you can knock one up out of blockboard. You might find they even encourage you to try using a pen.

Use a pen. All right, you don’t have to use a pen.  But when things aren’t going well I don’t know a better solution than turning away from the screen and picking up a pen. This also allows you to indulge your stationery fetish and your fountain pen fetish at the same time.

Standing. It worked for Philip Roth. Standing to write has a good pedigree. You can buy desks with adjustable heights or you do what I do and stand your writing slope on top of a chest of drawers.

Think movement rather than stillness. The big message here is that you should not be aiming for the perfectly supported position where there is no strain on the body. Because that means you are still and being still is a bad idea. You have to find a way of making your work practices dynamic. The body needs to move. Galen Cranz in a wonderful book called The Chair argues that your workspace should be thought of as a gym rather than somewhere you can support yourself in immobility. It should have a variety of places to work, sitting and standing as well as room to lie on the floor.  Lying on the floor, head slightly raised on a paperback, feet flat on the floor, knees pointing skyward is what you should do when you’ve ignored all of the above. It’s a life-saver.

Schedule breaks. At least every hour. Get up, walk around, take some deep breaths. A view is a bonus for any workplace. Let your eyes focus on the horizon instead of the screen. At low tide I can see seals on Scroby Sands. The seals aren’t essential but the view probably is.

All of this might seem obvious. But it’s easy to lose sight of when you’ve got a deadline looming.  A laptop in bed might work in the short term. But the thing about writing is it’s a long-term game.

Rescue

Boats heading for the outer harbour come in on a course which lines up with the window where I work.  If it wasn’t for the intervening docks and the river the same course would bring them through the front door and up the stairs. If they’re heading for the river entrance – and most of them are – they approach from the north east instead before disappearing behind the warehouses on the opposite bank of the Yare.  They average some 80m in length and for the most part with their steel hulls, high-tech navigation equipment and powerful diesel engines seem impervious to wind and weather.

Last week I looked up to see something  very different making an approach –  a wooden ketch, twin masted, with a lengthy bowsprit on a course for the river mouth under lashing sails.  It was grey and overcast. A strong wind was whipping up the sea and sending waves crashing onto Scroby Sands. The ship was being flung about by the waves as it struggled towards the shelter of the harbour. It was a scene from the 19th century which had unaccountably surfaced in the 21st.

The Marine traffic website identified the vessel as the Bonawentura an elegant 16m ketch from Poland.  And the Bonawentura was in trouble. She was getting closer to the shore, but was failing to make headway.  I didn’t know it at the time but she’d suffered engine failure and was in the process of being driven onto the rocks that made up the enclosing arm of the Outer Harbour. Before I’d managed to work out just how much trouble she was in – I could see she wasn’t going to make the river on her current course – the Gorleston all-weather lifeboat Sarmarbeta arrived at high speed.

From here on it was a race against time. After some tricky manoeuvering the crew managed to get a line on board and with very little room to spare hauled the Bonawentura backwards away from the rocks. With the immediate danger over they managed to fix up a more orthodox tow and bring the vessel home. Andrew Wilson’s Marine Traffic photo catches her arrival off Gorleston.

 

BONAWENTURA-1 (1)

SW Scroby

At night, from my upstairs window, I can see the flashing light of the SW Scroby buoy. Throughout the hours of darkness its green eye blinks unwaveringly every 2.5 seconds. To my right – partially obscured this evening by the superstructure of a wind farm service vessel – is the next buoy in the chain  marking the edge of the channel formed by Yarmouth Roads and Gorleston Roads:  the  W Corton buoy.  The W Corton buoy has a green light too, but it’s easy to tell them apart. Instead of SW Scroby’s regular pulse, W Corton flashes three times in bursts ten seconds apart.

Beyond the channel lie the shifting hazards of Scroby and Corton Sands. Maritime charts of these waters carry a warning. Charted depths are not to be trusted.  A 2011 survey revealed that waters whose charted depths were 12 m were now showing a drying height of 0.3m.  Or to put it another way, where there ought to have been enough water to take the 148,000 tonnes of the Queen Mary 2 a foot of dry sand was showing above the waves.

The view was a surprise. At ground level the tiny terraced house looks out on to the blank brick wall of an industrial unit. The street narrows to 6’6″ at the far end but here is just wide enough to take a line of parked cars straddling the narrow pavement and pressing against the chain link fence. At first floor level you are above the corrugated asbestos of the adjacent roof. From here you can see the river and the quayside that makes up part of the port of Great Yarmouth. At times it’s lined with service and general cargo vessels, at others it’s deserted. Beyond the quay are warehouses, South Denes Road, and finally, the sea.   I can watch waves breaking on Scroby Sands and the occasional vessel making its way into the Outer Harbour.

This was my new world. Or at least the portion visible from the window of what inevitably became my study.

This, I remember thinking, this is going to be ok.