We’ve been moored next to Regents Gate by Victoria Park for the past two weeks.
Since we arrived in East London we’ve been having something of a reassessment. Personally I’d been quite unhappy on and off after the first 2 weeks- though there were many wonderful moments. We motored through the last part of the journey, and any effort to stop and smell the roses- let alone meet somebody to interview for this project- was regarded by Skipper Sam as a waste of time. It was all about heading as fast as possible for the Channel and getting our tiny boat over before the weather turns too sour. If it was only the Channel crossing I could see us slowing down once we reached France, but I knew after that we’d be in a race with the winter. Lexia has a single hull and is hard to heat- she’s so small that having any kind of fire beyond our tiny meths stove is out of the question.
I could see all the logic in this. It’s the logic of survival. But we were bumping up against a division in our motives that has always existed. Sam would be happy to simply travel and have an adventure, while I need to make this project as good as it can be with the resources we have. Work is an adventure for me. I’m not so good at getting properly paid for my work to be honest, and I regard that as a separate skill that definitely needs working on. But making and sharing meaning, whether through film or performance, is something I need. I don’t think I could cope at all with these ideas around collapse and degeneration if I couldn’t make work out of it.
Although I’ve created countless shows and films in collaboration with others, the one piece of work I’ve done that was really ‘mine’
took me four years to make. I’d just got my teeth into being a documentary director and I want to do another big project before I have kids. And we do want to start a family soon after we get back. Emily James and Jeanie Finlay, whose work and approaches to production I love, are both mothers- so I know it can be done with style. But it’ll be a lot tougher. At this year’s Sheffield DocFest one of my heroes Molly Dineen confessed at a masterclass session that she felt like a fraud doing it, as since having children she’s hardly made any films. Ulp!
On arrival at our moorings in Victoria Park I started trying to plan an event where we’d screen the films we’ve made so far and invite people onto Lexia. I also had a few leads for people to interview. But just at that point, we found our boat battery had gone flat. The sunny days stopped, so we couldn’t even charge it. I lost my phone handset in the river and Sam’s was flat half the time. The amount of time it takes to get up, get clean, get fed, tidy up and get out of the boat, only to run around seeking power and signal to get anything done, became hugely frustrating.
We had a series of tearful conversations about whether we were doing the right thing. A series of people we contacted for the project cancelled our meetings or stopped returning calls. Others may well have returned calls and then given up- I had no way of knowing as half our comms were flat. Thinking we had to leave for France the following week, I started to panic. Claustrophobia plus lack of time was closing in. Sam at one point decided the answer was to jack in the journey, take the boat back to Bristol and just stay and make films in the UK. This appalled me because the journey part of it was his dream- without which I’d probably have stayed in the UK making films indefinitely. I felt awful that he’d abandon it so readily for my sake after planning it for so long. He took some persuading that I still wanted to go on the adventure- just not this fast and maybe not in this boat. The practical difficulties of living and staying clean and fed, plus the pressure of moving a certain distance every day, were getting in the way of actually doing anything else. I could only see that pressure increasing as we moved further from our friends and family.
I whinged about it on Facebook and my mates exhorted us to carry on, which gave me a bit of perspective and moral support. I seem to need this a bit more than Sam does.
After a couple of fraught days, we decided we could take some pressure off ourselves and still cross the Channel within the next month if we found a bigger boat to make life a bit easier.