What we did on our holiday ~ Part Two

royal thamesis in the French newspapers

A newspaper report has just arrived from Nantes in France, where we arrived on 30th August in our shallop, the Royal Thamesis and Serena, a sandolo belonging to our rowing club, City Barge. As I explained in my previous post, we’d been asked to lead a procession of historic boats into the city as feature of their jazz festival – an activity holiday with a difference.

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I’ve also been sent these photographs of the sandolo, showing our standing up oarsmen being applauded by the crowds.

10620557_10152240262897821_5850021894383206567_n The traditional French rowing boats taking part such as Fille de la Loire, were also admired by thousands.

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Although a couple of gondolas took part, accompanying us some way down the River Erdre, I don’t remember seeing them in Nantes.

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There was certainly a huge variety of boats involved in the Rendez Vous de l’Erdre 2014.

Click here for another photo on the website of Club d’Aviron de Suce sur Erdre. 

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The 240 vessels taking part ranged from sleek period motorboats to a barge once used to transport cattle, which was now taking jazz musicians downriver.

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I loved seeing the steam boats or bateaux vapeur, including Ursula who was flying the flag of the SBA or British Steam Boat Association we once belonged to as a family.

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After mooring up in the basin at Nantes,

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the Mayor of the city treated us all to the most fabulous reception at the Hotel de Ville.

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We found that a feast awaited us.

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Hungry sailors and oarsmen were rewarded for their efforts

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with a variety of delicious things to eat

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and local wines.

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‘What did you do on your holidays?’

I am often asked what I get up to on holiday. We have just returned from Rendez-vous de l’Erdre in Brittany, when we rowed some forty-five kilometers down a tributary of the Loire, leading a procession of 240 traditional boats into Nantes.

RDV poster

The journey started in Portsmouth,

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where the crew from our boat club, City Barge, gathered to load two boats onto the cross-channel ferry to Le Havre.

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We took Serena, a Venetian sandalo and The Royal Thamesis, a thirty-six foot shallop belonging to the Draper’s Company. Towing them from Oxford to Brittany was no mean feat, but other vessels from Great Britain had also made the crossing, including a thirty-three foot steamboat.

RDV flag

We launched the shallop at a pretty town called Nort sur Erdre where a jazz band was already playing to herald the festival de la Belle plaisance française.

RDV map

Stephanie Pasgrimaud from France Televisions Pays de la Loire came aboard to interview me – in French and English for the regional News on France 3.

Sophie Neville being interviewed on France 3 TV

That afternoon we rowed some way down to Monsieur et Madame Courant’s B&B on the river where we met up with other members of the party and stayed for the next four nights.

The gite

I had the most lovely room overlooking the water; chambre d’Empire.

Chambre d'Empire

As the mist rose the next morning we put up our canopy to transport our passengers downstream.

Passengers in the shallop-001

We have a crew of six oarsmen,  with a cox and a wiffler. I alternated with others, taking on all three tasks.

Rowing the shallop

We row in medieval fashion, one oar each, seated on a fixed thwarts.  Please click on the image for a history of the vessel. You may have seen our boat if you watched the Queen’s Jubilee pageant, rowing in third place, while old Father Thames glared down from our badge on the stern, elvers peaking from his beard.

Father Thames

That first morning in Brittany we practised various manoeuvres before rowing a short distance to a boat club, where we moored for a picnic lunch.

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Here we met oarsmen from all over Europe.

Pauline with the Venitians

Including those who row standing up.

Gondaliers

We rowed on to moor up for the night at the small town of Suce-sur-Erdre

Reflections

where Stephanie was reporting on our progress for France 3.

France Television

Here the crews of the 240 boats taking part in the event were treated to a special dinner held outside with a jazz band playing sea shanties.

Diner with sea shanties

The organisers had brought together traditional boats, passé nautique, of many kinds.

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Although there were four steamboats and a number of canoes

Steamboats

most were in the class  de voile-aviron ~ row and sail ~ principalement des bateaux de petites tailles, souvent anciens, et correspondent pour la plupart à des critères de rareté ou d’élégance.

French boats

At every stop for coffee or lunch, laid on by the festival au point de vue, we were accompanied by le jazz.

trombones

It was phenomenal. Much was traditional but new experimental jazz was also being played to appreciative audiences.

Saxophone

With the music came with the most amazing food.

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We were looked after beautifully.

Sophie Neville on the Erdre

Having eaten well, with our passengers aboard once more,

passengers

we were honoured with the task of leading the procession of historic boats into Nantes.

Nantes

On the Sunday morning we were invited to the Hotel de Ville, the town hall

Sophie in Nantes

for a reception with speeches

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and prize giving when our club, City Barge, was awarded a very large bottle of red wine.

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How did acting as a child effect your schooling?

Sophie Neville outside the school bus with her sister Tamzin Neville ~ photo: Martin Neville

Sophie Neville outside the school bus on location with her sister Tamzin Neville in 1973 ~ photo: Martin Neville

A reader has written in, saying: ‘Much of what one hears about life behind the scenes for younger actors has to do with schooling on set. Did you have tutors all the time or only if you were shooting during the school year? And were you able to keep up with your fellow pupils at “regular” school?

Mrs Tiggywinkle1

If children under the age of 16 are involved in filming they only have to keep up with their schoolwork during term time. The film company will normally comply with this by employing a tutor at the film studio or on location.

When filming Swallows & Amazons in 1973 we were often in such remote areas that a double-decker bus was hired for us to use as a mobile classroom. It could be seen wobbling along the narrow lanes of the Lake District from Bank Ground Farm at one end of Coniston Water down to Peel Island or over to Brown Howe the other side of the lake depending on instructions given the night before.

We were legally obliged to complete three hours of school work a day but my mother thought it would be OK if we managed fifteen hours a week. I am pretty sure we kept working through half term to achieve this, although I did record that we had Witsun Bank Holiday Monday as a formal Day Off. When I look back at my school work I only notice that I would have benefited from higher quality waterclours, brushes and paper.

From my project on Beatrix Potter, 1973

Our tutor, a local education supply teacher called Mrs Causey, believed in dictation; masses of it:

A sample of the school work completed on while filming on location in the Lake District

We were also taught about the history, geography and topography of the Lake District. This was worked into our own records of filming:

School work on Grizedale Forest

A sample of school work completed whilst filming in the Lake District in 1973

I certainly kept up with my friends at school. One wrote recently to say, ‘I do remember the lovely illustrated diary you wrote at the time, as you brought it back to school for us to look at.’

I only missed seven weeks of the summer term to make Swallows & Amazons. What was amazing was that I was obliged to sit the end of year exams in Ambleside. The results would not have been as good as normal, particularly in Maths and Science but I eventually caught up.

There was quite a bit of discussion about whether or not I should miss more schooling. I was only ever offered further film work during school holidays but as I went to a boarding school making arrangements to go to London for auditions could be a nuisance.

Note to phone home

I’d get messages to phone home and letters detailing complicated plans.

Letter about an audition

 

This ‘picture’ turned out to be an adventure movie called ‘The Copter Kids’. Mum was obviously going off to lunch with Virginia McKenna and reading the letters on the Radio 4 programme Any Answers whilst I was busy sitting summer exams.

Letter about an audition page two

 

My sister Tamzin did a great deal more acting that I did as a child.  She didn’t mind missing school altogether or having a tutor. What she hated was being sent to a large comprehensive school in London for a term so that she could rehearse in North Acton. That didn’t do her any good at all.

Tamzin Neville on set

Lights, camera, action: working as a child in television

 

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Is it possible to have a Swallows and Amazons childhood these days?

Sophie Neville promoting her book

When I appeared on Channel 5 recently Matthew Wright asked, “… if it’s possible to have a Swallows and Amazons childhood these days – and if today’s kids would actually have the skills to survive.”

I received so many interesting comments on Twitter and Facebook that I thought I should copy them here, hoping it is OK by those who took the time to write in.

“Would they survive? Hmm. Better drowned than duffers…” Fergus

“Of course it’s possible – we do it every time we are on holiday at www.lowwaterend.co.uk real Swallows and Amazons location. Our kids love it….” Kate

“I think few parents would look at a small sailboat & Coniston Water or Windermere, and give the go-ahead for children ages 12-7 to sail & camp by themselves. However, there are a lot of really wonderful parents who sail & camp WITH their children, and then allow independent exploration with help nearer at hand.” Elizabeth (USA)

“OK – so we cheat a little – in that we stay in the cottage rather than in tents on Wild Cat Island – but it has got a little busy there of late. Trying to bring a boat or canoe into the secret harbour is more like trying to park in a multi national supermarket car park, but very little has truly changed on the island and if you can see past the bright orange and red buoyancy aids of the temporary visitors, one can still imagine being the Walker children. And if you get the island to yourselves – it’s pure joy. We frequently issue the owl hoot just to let our kids know that food is ready! As for the lagoon downstream – it’s still there – our kids have taken to canoeing as far downstream as they can – wading in low water and paddling down rapids where they can. They take no mobiles, IT equipment etc – and they are gone for hours making maps of the stream and naming the shores, fallen trees etc.” Kate

“I’ve just been reading my daughter the bit in Winter Holiday where Dick rescues the cragfast sheep by inching his way along a rock ledge. “Would you be able to do that?” I asked her. “No, I’d be much too scared!” she replied. And I said “Good!”.” Valerie

“Some risks are too high, too likely to leave the child unable to enjoy a normal life afterwards. Examples: diving into rivers with rocks, driving way above the speed limit, using illegal drugs/binge drinking. There are risks that simply have too high a chance of a serious bad outcome. I like the “Roots & Wings” approach. While they are young, you teach how to make a reasonable decision about any given risk, then as they mature, let the child figure out more on their own.” Elizabeth

“It isn’t only duffers who come to grief, and even if it was, duffers deserve to be protected from their own stupidity. So, I prefer the idea of teaching children what the risks are and how to manage risk so that they can then do things that look highly risky without there being any great risk. What is wrong is to shut children’s lives down instead of teaching them how to be safe and free, and that’s the most dangerous route of all because it sets them up for empty lives which will lead them on into a prolonged and deep exploration of alcohol and drugs. Freedom is essential for good mental health and needs to be maximized, but learning about risk management is a crucial part of that. So, how do you teach risk management without it being dull? Get out there with your children and join in with the play. Point out the possible dangers along the way, not in a lecturing way, but simply by telling little stories about idiots who came to grief by making mistakes. It doesn’t take long to make a dangerous environment safe for children to play in by putting ideas in their heads as to all the easy ways to be killed or injured by the apparatus at hand. If they know what the unexpected dangers are, they will be armed against making them. If they die after that, then it will be against the odds – it would have been more dangerous not to let them out.” David

“Agree 100%. In my mind, risk-averseness is one of the great failings of my fellow modern Americans. Never be sorry for a might-have-been.” Sandy

Sophie Neville on The Wright Stuff

If you have views on the subject, or want to see more on outdoor pursuits discussed on the programme, send an email to: wrightstuff@channel5.com

To watch a recording of the programme please click here

Sophie Neville with Kate McIntyre

with Kate McIntryre who loves the outdoor lifestyle

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Filed under adventure, Arthur Ransome, Cumbria, Dinghy sailing, Film, Lake District, Letters, Movie, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons

Questions asked of a writer

Sophie Neville in the tropics

Me, Sophie Neville, in tropical debate

No matter where I am in the world, not a day goes by without someone, somewhere asking a question or sending a message in connection with my writing. I am hugely grateful for the encouragement.

In many ways, ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ was written by popular request, effectively commissioned by hundreds of people who wanted to know how it felt to appear in the film, albeit forty years ago.

It has to be said that was a little apprehensive about the questions I might be asked on Matthew Wright’s show, broadcast live on Channel 5 – for two hours.  If you are feeling brave, click here to see a profile on The Wright Stuff.

They wanted to know about the idea of children being allowed the freedom to take risks and enjoy their own adventures away from civilisation.

“… if it’s possible to have a Swallows and Amazons childhood these days – and if today’s kids would actually have the skills to survive. “

If you have views on the subject or want to see more on outdoor pursuits discussed on the programme email: wrightstuff@channel5.com

Sophie Neville If not Duffers.

IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN

You may need Windows 8 to watch it but the whole programme can be viewed here: 

 
The first section is about the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’

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Questions I’m asked at cinema screenings of Swallows & Amazons (1974)

Over the next few days I am going to be giving Q&A sessions at cinemas screening StudioCanal’s newly restored version of Richard Pilbrow’s movie ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (U) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the film’s release in 1974.

Ronald Fraser walking the plankSten Grendon, Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton and Sophie Neville as the Swallows making Ronald Fraser walk the plank. Where are the Amazons?

If you can come, please do bring a question. I am always very interested in those asked by the children. They can be quite difficult to answer:

‘What did it feel like to be alone on the island?’

Titty alone on Wildcat IslandTitty leaving her tent on Wild Cat Island

‘Where you really able to keep the parrot?’

swa_bw_neg_ 021 Kit Seymour with Sophie Neville  and Polly in the Houseboat

‘How long did it take to film?’ is another question I am often asked. The answer is quite complicated.

Then I ask,  ‘Would you like to know about the mistake I made?’

swa_bw_neg_ 043The crew of the Swallow leaving Holly Howe 

I started singing, ‘Adieu and Farewell’, when the sea shanty Spanish Ladies is always sung: ‘Farewell and Adieu…

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies, 
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;
For we’re under orders
For to sail to old England,
And we may ne’er see you fair ladies again.
We’ll rant and we’ll roar, like true British sailors,
We’ll range and we’ll roam all on the salt seas;
Until we strike soundings
In the Channel of old England,
From Ushant to Scilly ’tis thirty-five leagues.

swa_bw_neg_ 042Virginia McKenna watches the Swallows sail from the jetty at Bank Ground Farm on Coniston Water. Can you spot the safety officer – a frogman just visible right of shot?

I noticed that one inconsistency made by the design team was that the swallow flew down our flag whereas it always flies up Swallow’s burgee in Arthur Ransome book illustrations. I count it as a subtle differentiation that I reproduce whenever I draw the crossed flags myself.

Swallows & Amazons flags for book

 

When I was writing ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ I noticed that, while the title of the book is ‘Swallows and Amazons’, the graphic designer working on the film always used an ampersand, making it SWALLOWS & AMAZONS in the 1974 film.

There is another odd thing right at the end of the film, as the credits roll. See if you can spot what it is.

This week there are a number of screenings in Cumbria:

Royalty Cinema Bowness-on-Windermere 6th, 7th August http://bit.ly/1nCooVq

Roxy Cinema Ulverston 6th, 7th August http://bit.ly/1nYKgKn

Zeffirellis Ambleside  6th August (with Sophie Neville Q&A) http://bit.ly/X8BYFU

Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal  7th August (with Sophie Neville Q&A) http://bit.ly/1jTanmg

For details of screenings at PictureHouse cinemas across the UK please click here.

(All photographs on this page are copyright StudioCanal. To see more stills and merchandise available please click here. )

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Come to watch StudioCanal’s newly restored Swallows and Amazons (1974) at Hackney PictureHouse

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StudioCanal, who distribute the 1974 feature film of Swallows & Amazons (U), have a huge treat in store for film fans:

40th Anniversary Restoration of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS, starring Virginia McKenna and based on Arthur Ransome’s classic novel, will be released on brand new Special Edition DVD and first ever Blu-ray release on 4th August! Pre-order your copy here: amzn.to/1pmF7fe.  Special anniversary screenings will be taking place – ” 

Hackney Picture House drawing

The Hackney PictureHouse will host the first London screening with Q&A by me, Sophie Neville, on Thursday 31st July at 11.00am. Please click here for details.   Do join us!

Hackney Picture House exterior

 

It has been a difficult secret to keep. Virginia McKenna, Suzanna Hamilton and I were interviewed for the DVD extras, which I believe also feature Christina Hardyment exploring the film locations this summer while imparting information about Arthur Ransome who drew on his own childhood holidays in the Lake District to add detail and authenticity to the original story.

The 16mm behind-the-scenes footage that my parents took when they were with us on location back in 1973 was handed over to the technicians to use in the extras package. I haven’t seen the finished version yet, although I did record a commentary to explain what was going on.

StudioCanal DVD cover

 

What do you think of the cover?

Hope to see you at some of the screenings! Let me know if you can come.

There will also be a number in Cumbria this August.  Please go to Sophie’s Events Page for details.

To read the press release please click here.

 

 

 

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Filed under Acting, Arthur Ransome, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Film, Film History, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized, Zanna Hamilton