N is for Never give up – you can still join the Race for Reading

Sophie Neville on r4r2022

No regrets! It’s not too late to register for the Race for Reading.

I’ve been going slowly but nothing is stopping me. My quest is to collect litter and marine plastic as I walk along the coast of the UK to raise funds for the charity Schoolreaders.

As you can see on my earlier posts, I’ve been using the alphabet as a theme.

N is for Nothing changes unless we take action

Day 14 – Another nice walk along the estuary into the small town of Newport collecting numerous wrappers and a noxious nappy dropped by numbskulls.

I walk another 3km later, cleaning the high tide line along the beach finding, amongst the rope and fishing line, a spoon, a sock and five poo bags. Why dog owners use tennis balls is a mystery. They contain lead and can choke large dogs.

Rubbish - old tennis balls
Old tennis balls and shredded fishing net

O is for Obviously old things get outdated or ousted and litter becomes an ordinary occurrence rather than an outrage.

Day 15 – I only cover 2 kms following the coastal path to a lifeboat station but collect three old socks, a pair of knickers and half a bucket of litter. I later search the tide line for flotsam and mainly find dog poo bags and obsolete fishing line while covering another 3.5kms.

P is for Plastic

Day 16 – I plod past a harbour collecting picnic litter, pondering on the fact I’ve probably covered 2 kms. Later I pace the tide line for 3.7kms returning with a heavy bucketful of party rubbish: plastic packaging, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic cups, plastic straws and 6-pack plastic that litters the coast. I find plenty of plastic cotton bud stalks, panty liners and packets of condoms along the shore – an indication of sewage entering the sea. PVC rope and polystyrene discarded by the fishing industry is common.

Plastic, polystyrene and PVC

Patience is needed. PPE, party poppers, plasters and ear plugs fill me with fury. I prefer picking up paddles, pegs, paintbrushes, pens and pencils since there’s a possibility they were simply lost. There’s a litter-picking prize for finding pairs of pants.

Day 17 –

Q is for quayside

but as that is now clean, I walk up the estuary into a quaint market town. It’s quiet but I find a lot of wrappers, covering 3.9kms as I collect a bucketful of litter. The skate park posed quite a challenge. The drains there wash straight into the estuary.

After lunch, I set out across the sand dunes finding a quantity of drink cans and glass bottles left by camp fires. The 20 bottles are heavy to lug back.

filling my bucket with picnic litter

I’ve learnt a lot since collecting litter. You see what’s happening from the underside of society. Alcohol containers are often discarded from high vehicles , rural drug taking is rife and fishing vessels are shredding nets at sea. The arterial roads of Britain are strewn with rat-infested litter loaded with human DNA. It’s surprising we are not threatened by a more serious pandemic.

Day 18 –

R is for re-cycling on the Race for Reading

I have been putting bottles or clean drink cans in the recycling bins but most coastal plastic needs to go to landfill. I scan the mudflats for ancient litter including heinous broken glass covering about 2.5km.

Day 19 –

S is for Sunshine

Silvery skies lift my spirit as I search the seashore for seven kilometers without seeing much flotsam. We seem to be making progress. If people see no rubbish they are less likely to drop litter.

Day 20 –

T is for tidying

I retrace my tracks traversing three kilometers to town coming across little litter. Two more kilometers with the dog and I’m tired but happy. Another two kilometers in the evening take us to a running total of 55 miles covered litter-picking so far. Logging my progress with the Race for Reading has been motivational.

Sophie Neville on Schoolreaders Race for Reading 2022 – photo by Caspar aged 7

If you would like to sponsor me on the Race for Reading 2022, I have a Justgiving page here and there are alternative ways of donating to the charity here.

Each donation will be matched by my company, and then again by SchoolReaders matched funding, so if you can donate £5 it will be magnified to £20.

Every small amount is an encouragement and will make a difference, enabling slow readers to catch up at school and gain a love for books.

You can hear about the work of the charity here:

A boaty biography

Sophie Neville

I grew up with boats in the garden. My father owned eight at one time, including two coracles and a vintage river launch called Ottor that he renovated himself.

Martin Neville with friends on the Norfolk Broads

As a young man, while setting up a team to develop the fibreglass hull, Dad raced on the Solent, volunteered on a tall ship, and wrangled an Atlantic crossing on the maiden return voyage of the QE2, taking us children around the liner when it reached Southampton.

Sophie Neville with her younger sisters aboard the QEII in 1969

I learnt to sail dinghies at Newport Bay in Pembrokeshire, later making my own sail for a Thames skiff so that I could take it down the lake where I grew up in Gloucestershire.

My father wanted a Mirror dinghy, but since they were beyond his budget we had a dubious one-design with a ? on its sail.

A family holiday in a Hullabaloo boat on the Broads – off season

Dad bought one of the first Toppers, which seemed quite daring at the time. It had no halyards. Its arrival caused much excitement. Called Earwig, the fibreglass hull was portable but proved precarious, soaking the crew as waves sloshed over her orange deck. I wasn’t much good at withstanding the cold and grew to loath setting off with wet feet.

Sophie Neville rowing to Cormorant Island
Sophie Neville as Titty and Sten Grendon as Roger rowing to Cormorant Island

Playing Titty in original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ involved quite a bit of rowing, which I kept up first as a member of the Collingwood Ladies Four at Durham University and later on the crew of The Drapers’ Shallop, a ceremonial barge that can be spotted on the Thames and River Lea, the Dart or Poole Harbour.

Rowing the Drapers’ shallop down to Runnymede

My dedication to fixed thwart rowing enabled me to take part in a Jubilee Pageant for The Queen at Henley, transport a copy of the Magna Carta to Windsor, and man an oar of the royal barge Gloriana in the Boat Race flotilla at Putney a year when Cambridge won.

Sophie Neville rowing in black cap on the River Thames at Putney

Belonging to the rowing club, City Barge, enabled me to take part in the Voga Longa in Venice – a 35km marathon – with the gold medalist Ed Coode as stroke. I later rowed a sandalo down the Amstel into Amsterdam standing to row Venetian-style, getting used to the idea of using a forcola in windy weather.

In the bows of a sandalo on the River Amstel in Amsterdam

We navigated the shallop down a tributary of the Loire in Brittany, leading a procession of two hundred and forty traditional boats into Nantes for the Rendez-vous de l’Erdre. I was asked to take the helm on the way back, great Dutch barges bearing down on us.

With the presenter and crew of France 3 news

One of my favourite vessels is a two-man canvas canoe my sister found on a rubbish dump. I nearly drowned after getting stuck in a kayak and prefer an open dugout or fibreglass equivalent. These have taken me on adventures in Papua New Guinea, across Lake Malawi and through the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Bird watching on the Boro River – Sophie Neville with Jez Lye

Back in 1978, I helped my father, Martin Neville, to restore a 1901 steamboat called Daffodil, which they kept near Oxford at Port Meadow on the Thames.

SL Daffodil on the River Thames

We would steam down to Henley each year for the royal regatta or upstream towards Letchlade. You can read about how we renovated here here.

We took a Humber Yawl that Dad built to take part in a Steam Boat Association rally on Windermere and pay homage to launches used in the film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ kept by George Pattinson at the Steam Boat Museum, now known as Windermere Jetty.

Lullaby undersail, playing the Teasel on the broads

I a lot of time on the water while filming the 1984 BBC adaptation of ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ when we spent three months filming on the Norfolk Broads. The series starred a yacht called Lullaby from Hunter’s Yard, which you can now hire for holidays.

I went away from my wedding in a punt, Dad polling while I sat with my new husband, holding an umbrella while a rainbow appeared over the water.

At the Brewery Arts Cinema in Kendal for the launch of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ and the 40th Anniversary DVD

While serving as President of The Arthur Ransome Society, I gave twelve Q&As at cinemas. Members of SailRansome have often come along with the little clinker-built dinghy used as Swallow, which I helped purchase when she came up for auction in 2010.

I am often asked to write articles about my life afloat, and have spoken at literary festivals, on BBC Radio and on ITV News when I nearly capsized.

On ITV News at Ten with Nina Nannar

It is with The Arthur Ransome Society that I have been able to sail an historic wherry down the Norfolk Broads, take an old German ferry to Lundy Island and cruise down Coniston Water on SL Gondola.

Aboard Wherry Maud – photo Diana Dicker

As a member of the Nancy Blackett Trust, I’ve sailed on the Orwell, in the Solent and through the inland waterways of the Netherlands, visiting Middleburg.

~Nancy Blackett in the Netherlands~

I enjoyed crossing the Veersemere to Zierikzee in the wake of my own forefathers.

Over the years, I’ve grabbed the chance to sail yachts to Salcombe, up the coast of Norway and through the Mediterranean but I still love taking out a small boat in the Lake District or on the Norfolk Broads.

At Wroxham on the Norfolk Broads

You can read more in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ available on line.

Swallow’s flag and the bamboo fishing rods featured in the 1974 movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’

The flag Titty made for Swallow in the original film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974)

Were some of these stitches mine after all?

A few weeks ago, BBC Antiques Roadshow featured some of the flags from the original movie ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) in which I played Titty Walker. These film props had been sent to me by the producer Richard Pilbrow who now lives in Connecticut. I take them with me if I’m ever asked to give a Q&A or talk about ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’. Film fans enjoy taking selfies with them.

I explained that they were made on location in 1973, possibly by the Art Director, Simon Holland, who enjoyed painting. Equally, they may have been made by the Set Decorator Ian Whittaker, who went on to win an Oscar and nominations for several more. Bob Hedges who was in charge of the action props was also adept at making props in the days when health and safety regulations were more relaxed.

In the story, Titty decides to make a new flag for the Swallow. I was keen on sewing as a child, and was thrilled to be given a needle and thread to stitch a blue swallow on the flag myself in a scene with Virginia McKenna, who played Mrs Walker, shot at Holly Howe (Bank Ground Farm) above Coniston Water in the Lake District. Rather a modern reel of cotton was caught in vision.

Virginia McKenna, as Mary Walker with Sophie Neville playing her daughter Titty Walker busy stitching Swallow’s new flag in preparation for the voyage to the island (c)StudioCanal

It was not until I returned from recording Antiques Roadshow at Windermere Jetty and had the flag on my desk that I noticed some of the stitches are different from others. It looks as if the small, white stitching on one wing could have been my own. As a child, I had thought the larger stitches rather clumsy but am sure they looked appropriate in vision. It would be worth far more if it was known to have been made by Ian Whittaker. He won an Oscar and was nominated for his work on a number of other films.

Ian Whittaker with the Art Director Simon Holland

‘Properly’, as Titty would say, the bird should be flying towards the mast, although I am assured that Arthur Ransome did once draw a diving swallow on one flag. In his book, the swallow was sewn into the cloth rather that plonked on top of fabric browned by tea but our flag has lasted for 48 years.

Property Master Bob Hedges keeping the perch alive

After Antiques Roadshow was broadcast, a lady who grew up in Bowness on Windermere, wrote to say, ‘It may be of interest that we still have the fishing rods that were used in the film. They belonged to my father Leslie Borwick and were lent to the film crew. They are rather worse for wear but still treasured as I was a big fan of the books when I was young. Unfortunately I was living abroad when the film was made so have no memories of it.’

Leslie Borwick on Windermere

Leslie Borwick, was a keen fisherman who took his daughter out to catch perch. She said that the bamboo rods are quite fragile but one has a wooden reel, which is interesting.

Ronald Bousfield fishing at about the time ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was written

“My mother’s side of the family were very keen fishermen. Their surname was Bousefield and there is a fly called “Bousefield’s Fancy”(Frank Bousefield)”

You can read the original post about filming the fishing scene on Elterwater here

A clip of Swallow’s flag being valued on BBC Antiques Roadshow can be watched on BBC iPlayer.

The whole story of the making of Swallows and Amazons (1974) can be read here:

Memories of making ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974): part six

Sophie Neville playing Titty Walker in the 1974 movie

‘Titty from Swallows and Amazons’ often gets typed into the Goggle search engine but when I attempt to use it as a ‘tag’ a message pops up saying: ‘Sorry, you are not allowed to assign the provided terms.’ I can only conclude that Google lacks literary enlightenment but the BBC were happy for me to talk about Titty on BBC Antiques Roadshow recently.

Sophie Neville on BBC Antiques Roadshow

‘Memory picks and choses,’ as Arthur Ransome said in his autobiography (p.33) but those who love his novels often wonder what would have happened to the characters when they grew up. It dawned on me that this might be one reason why people are interested to know what we all did with our lives. I played Titty Walker in Richard Pilbrow’s 1974 movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. In 1962, the film actress Susan George played the same character in the black and white BBC television serial of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ with her hair in pigtails. She was called Kitty, apparently with Arthur Ransome’s approval. BBC Films decided to call the Able seaman ‘Tatty’ in the 2016 movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’, when she was brilliantly played by Teddy-Rose Malleson-Allen who went on to star in ‘Four Kids and It'(2020).

The character was inspired by a real little girl, Titty Altounyan, who stayed at Bank Ground Farm (or Holly Howe) when visiting her grandparents who lived above Coniston Water. In 1939, Miss Joyce Cartmell acquired a signed note from Arthur Ransome explaining that, ‘Titty is short for Tittymouse which is what she was called when she was a baby. Nobody ever calls her anything but Titty now’. It appears that Ransome was also asked for a photograph of himself, to which he responded, ‘Too ugly’.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917) described Arthur Ransome as ‘exuberant, rash and intelligent.’ In 1973, I can only assume the film director Claude Whatham was looking for the same spirit in us children. It was certainly captured by Wilfred Joseph’s nautical film score.

What constantly impacts me is the number of people who write in to say how much they wanted  Titty to become their best friend. In many ways the characters from Ransome’s books become friends for life. You can easily gain others who have the same outlook on life by joining The Arthur Ransome Society, who offer activities and grants for young people as well as adults with a literary bent. You too can stay at Bank Ground Farm and run down the field to dip your hands in the lake.

Staying at Bank Ground Farm – ‘Holly Howe’ with TARS

You can read more about making the movie in the multi-media ebook entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’.

And in the illustrated paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ by Sophie Neville available online and from the Nancy Blackett Trust

 

Swallow appeared on BBC Antiques Roadshow at Windermere Jetty with a movie poster from the original film of Swallows and Amazons (1974)

When Lakeland Arts declared that Antiques Roadshow was coming to Windermere Jetty, I sent the BBC a photograph of some of the props used in the 1974 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

Swallow’s burgee made in 1973 for the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974)

I was hoping their expert on movie memorabilia might be interested in the film posters, but couldn’t think that a hand-whittled hazel bow and arrow could be worth much.

Diaries kept on location in 1974, which form the basis of ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’

I was keen to talk about the scrapbooks and diaries that I kept on location and thought they might want to use photos my father took of George Pattinson whose collection of boats formed the basis of the original Windermere Steamboat Museum. He brought his 1900 steam launch Lady Elizabeth to Bowness-on-Windermere when we shot the Rio scenes there in the summer of 1973 . She is currently being restored at the museum.

George Pattinson in his steam launch Lady Elisabeth in 1973 ~ photo: Martin Neville

I also suggested they featured Swallow the dinghy we used in the film. A group of us clubbed together in 2010 to purchase her when she came up for auction.

She was valued by Rupert Maas who is a great fan of Arthur Ransome’s books and watched the film himself as a boy. He liked the fact she hadn’t been over-restored. I didn’t know her ribs were made of elm.

The best photograph of Swallow under sail was used on the cover or the first edition of my book about making the 1974 film:

This first edition is now selling for ridiculous amounts on Amazon, but please email me if you’d like a signed copy. I have a few left.

You can order a copy of the 2nd edition online here

If you enjoy ebooks, ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons’ has links to behind-the-scenes home movie footage. It is available for £2.99 here

The billing from the Radio Times lists the other interesting items on the show. You can watch the episode, mostly shot on a lovely sunny day, on BBC iPlayer. Further details are reported here.

If you would like to find out about sailing ‘Swallow’ yourself, please contact Sail Ransome.

I might appear in the second of the two episodes broadcast from Windemere Jetty – the one shot in rain.

When the BBC rang inviting me to come up, it was clear that I was the antique they wanted to see. The first thing they asked me was my date of birth. This turned out to be due to Covid-19 restrictions but the director did, later, ask if she could call me Titty.

BBC Antiques RoadShow at Windermere Jetty in Cumbria

Filming was already in progress when we arrived at the museum. It was a typical day in late September, pouring with rain.

There was a great deal of impressive camera and lighting equipment in evidence but a number of marquees had been erected to keep everyone dry.

We were introduced to the designer, who whisked off various items I’d brought with me to display, and Marc Allum, antiques expert, author and long-time contributor to the Roadshow. He’s tough. It wasn’t freezing but the weather was far from warm.

BBC Antiques Roadshow Expert Marc Allum

Once at the water’s edge I met Debbie, the director who was surprised by the length of my hair. I explained it had grown during lockdown having not been cut for a year.

My position was marked by small sticks in exactly the same manner as during the filming of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ when I was aged twelve. Camera tape would not stick to the slate shingle.

A measuring rod was used to ensure we remained two meters apart, even whilst on camera, before I was asked to take up the bow and arrow I had helped whittle on location long ago.

Expert Marc Allum setting on a display of movie memorabilia with Sophie Neville

The display included Swallow’s burgee. I did ask for the flags to be crossed, but the significance of this was lost on the design team. You will have to write in and explain the importance.

When it came to being given an estimate for the value of what my husband calls ‘my junk’, I was truly amazed, especially since I nearly chucked half of it away in a fit of de-cluttering.

I am sworn to secrecy, so you’ll need to watch the show to find out how much my collection of movie memorabilia is meant to be worth. It should be broadcast on Sunday 21st February 2021 – but will I be on? I know they will feature Swallow this week but my item could either be featured in a different episode or hit the cutting-room floor.

We talked about the film premiere and influence the Swallows and Amazons books have had in encouraging children to get out into the wild.  As I walked around the museum afterwards, I found the Lady Elizabeth being restored, which you can see in a previous post here.

There is already a movie poster at the Windermere Jetty museum. I dug out a large, sepia poster designed for cinemas that has not been seen since 1974 but the BBC were not able to feature these for copyright reasons. Since receiving a valuation, I am getting it framed. You can read more about the artist, Arnaldo Putzu on this website here.

Sophie Neville being interviewed on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’

Lakeland Arts, based at the Windermere Jetty Museum, ask how the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was made on location in the Lake District in 1973 –

You can find out more in the illustrated paperback, suitable for all age of readers, entitled ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’, which makes a good Christmas present when combined with the 40th Anniversary DVD with DVD extras.

The original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is on BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer Swallows and Amazons

Claude Whatham’s classic film adaptation of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ (1974) is available on BBC iPlayer until 1st February – please click here for the link.

You can discover what it was like to appear in the movie, in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, an illustrated paperback published by the Lutterworth Press. Although written for adults, it is suitable for all ages and quite fun for anyone interested in acting or keen on visiting the Lake District. It can be ordered online, from good bookshops or your local library. If you already have a copy, do add a review to the online sites or email a photo – it is always great to hear from readers.

 

The second edition of the ebook, entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons (1974)’, is similar but includes a few more stories from the Lake District and links to behind-the-scenes cine footage. It is out on Kindle, Smashwords, iTunes, Nook/Barnes&Noble from £2.99  If you already have the first edition you can re-load the up-dated version free of charge.

A recent author interview with Sophie Neville

Author Sophie Neville

Sophie Neville this summer

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I graduated from the University of Durham with a degree in anthropology and went straight into the mayhem of the BBC. I worked on a number of drama serials, filming on location in London, Paris and Corfu, and produced INSET programmes for Schools Television before setting up documentaries for the Natural History Unit and ‘Blue Peter’ in Southern Africa. I was based on a game reserve where we ran horse safaris. Disaster struck when I broke my pelvis but I used my time on crutches to turn professional as a wildlife artist. My sketches proved useful to illustrate my first books. I now live on the south coast of England where I use my spare time to raise funds for charitable projects in South Africa.

 

How did you get started writing?

I began by writing for television. It was a matter of putting my own programmes together and working with BBC Books to bring out accompanying literature. I seemed to be forever submitting blurbs for the Radio Times. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that I started writing books. I self-published ‘Funnily Enough’, that won an international book award, and ‘Ride the Wings of Morning’, made up of the letters I sent home from Africa about riding horses through the wilderness.

 

Can you tell readers about your latest book?

The publishers Classic TV Press asked if they could bring out a paperback version of ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’, a memoir I’d launched as an ebook under a similar title. As a child I played Titty Walker in the classic movie of Arthur Ransome’s book, shot on location in the Lake District in 1973. I used the daily account I kept as a 12 year-old to guide the narrative, adding anecdotes as to how disaster was averted. It has appeal for anyone who grew up in the ‘seventies or enjoys light-hearted biographies.

 

What else have you written recently?

I am just finishing a novel based on a true story from WWII entitled ‘Makorongo’s War’. I’ve recently written Forwards to ‘An A-Z: Cumbria and the Lake District on Film’ for Hayloft Publishing and ‘Swallowdale’ by Arthur Ransome for Albatros Media in the Czech Republic. I’m currently working on a Forward to ‘Swallows, Amazons and Coots’ by Julian Lovelock soon to be published by Lutterworth Press.  Revelation Films asked me to write material for the DVD Extras of ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’  and since ‘Funnily Enough’ was serialised in a magazine I’ve had feature articles in Cotswold Life, Country Life, Classic Sailor and Word in Action.

 

Have you got a favourite genre to read? If so why?

I get totally engrossed in the memoirs I use for research but my book club keep me reading popular literary fiction.

 

Which writer or writers has had the most influence on your own writing?

Since I write true-life stories, I would say Monica Dickens, Helene Hanff and CS Lewis. I was hugely influenced in my youth by Gerald Durrell and James Herriot, both of whom I met when I was working in television and was impacted by how well their memoirs translated to the screen.

 

Where is your favourite place to write?

A thatched cottage deep in the African bush, where I can escape everyday life. I use two rooms at home on the south coast of England – one for admin and one for books.

 

Pen or keyboard?

Laptop, I’m afraid. It’s not good for the posture. The original material for my last three books was handwritten but had to be typed up. My prehistoric computer sadly died when I was writing my first book in South Africa and I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. Miraculously, a brand new PC was donated to the local primary school. The teachers had no idea how to use it, so I introduced them to Microsoft Word in exchange for being able to work on my book while they were busy in the classroom. I sat at a low desk on one of those tiny red plastic school chairs until I had 100,000 words and the headmistress gained computer literacy.

 

How would you describe your writing regime?

The ideal would be to escape to South Africa for a couple of months to get my first draft on paper so I can assimilate research material or type all day long. I would then work on the structure and keeping adding material every afternoon back at home. I find my mornings are occupied with marketing. Since I was appointed President of The Arthur Ransome Society, which is the second biggest literary society in the UK, I spend quite a few weekends giving talks.

For more photos taken this year please click here for Sophie’s blog, Funnily Enough 

 

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