Sunday, 14 February 2010

New media, old media: Captain Ahab gets noticed

As a regular reader of Captain Ahab's Watery Tales, I was particularly pleased to see him recognised and interviewed by the Express & Star newspaper.

However, it did strike me as odd that a local newspaper would consider it news to report on someone who is reporting on the local area. Isn't that what one would expect a local newspaper to do?

To be fair, the Express & Star has quite good coverage of local history, but still it is remarkably difficult to get historical information on the industrial archaeology of an area from the local newspapers. The mainstream print and broadcast media is ever less interested in its educational role and concentrates on the much more lucrative entertainment role, but at what cost to local communities? Is there a social responsibility (Just Google it if you aren't sure, Mr Murdoch) of media? If they are prepared to steer readers towards statements or positions on the political agenda, then why not on the socio-cultural agenda?

Local newspapers should - maybe even must - inform and educate people about their surroundings, whether natural, cultural or historical. They do have more than simply a reactive responsibility to report what happened yesterday.

In the meantime, congratulations to Captain Ahab for showing a local newspaper how one can and should record and report on old canals and industry.

Humber keels

Fascinating little snippets about Humber keels. It is so good to see that some of Britain's heritage craft are still appreciated.

Another peaceful cruise across the Leam valley

What makes England a very special place is that there are few extremes of beauty or size or nature, but that much of the entire country is extremely pleasant. You never have to walk far from any point in the land to discover a landscape worth admiring; it's a land of history, of varied geology, mellow topography, and interesting asides and corners. Every spot has a tale worth hearing; it's England's patina.

So the valley of the Leam - a river not even known by most who live anywhere but Leamington Spa - is a low, weak valley, edged by fragments of old woodlands. The wide flat valley is indistinct, broken up by the inconsistent lines of large fields and the ghosts of old railway lines.

Even in winter, this is a landscape worth seeing. Those forested shards lie like a dark smudged haze along the ridges and among the reedy beds of the streams. Skittish sheep and lambs forage in pale green sharply ridged fields. Red brick farms decay every day, dripping slowly back into the soil below. Men in boiler suits search for something with perky Jack Russels. A harrier hovers discretely and expectantly nearby; a greenfinch shivers among the thorns and bare sticks.

We break the still waters at Calcutt and motor south, through the locks. Healthy couples walk, wrapped against the damp, watching us pass by. We turn at Wigrams and nod at other boats: it's the curt, acknowledging nod of winter boaters. Faces wrapped against the light northerly breeze, gusting to nothing, and hands tightly gripping the tiller or mugs of tea.

Our gang of eight work their way through slabs of bacon sandwiches, chipped mugs of Liptons and exchange old facts: did you know that boats heading for London pass each other in opposite directions here?

My favourite farm, a handful of shattered outbuildings and a raggedy house lie alongside the water, fronted by the ugliest collection of corrugated huts, overgrown huts and barns. Lower Shuckburgh church looms behind by the road.

Too soon, we sweep across the infant valley, the Leam a glittering trickle below and the old railway beyond. North Star returns again to Braunston, where we were so annoyed by the marina earlier in the year, and on towards the padlocked locks. So to the end of the day.

8.1 miles, 3 locks