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Monday, 11 May 2015

Slow TV: Bath, Canals and Psycho-Biography

There was  a two hour show called All Aboard! The Canal Trip on British TV last week. It involved sticking a camera on the front of a canal boat and following the route up the Bath end of the Kennet and Avon Canal.

It was a strange thing to watch because for the last 14 years I've been up and down that canal following the route the canal boat takes from the lock at Bathwick Basin up to the Dundas Aqueduct.

But even though I've been up and down it so many times, I still found it strangely compelling viewing and enjoyed living at second hand the spots that signified so much of my life in Bath and my life as a father.

The canal cut a trail through the outdoor places I used to visit (and still visit) with my family. The trip started from Bathwick Basin and cut through Sydney Gardens, it went past Grosvenor Bridge and over the repurposed land (see top picture) between the river and canal, with Solsbury Hill and Brown's Folly in the background, then continued over the fields by the River Avon, past Warleigh Weir to end up on Dundas Aqueduct, just up the road from the Angel Fish, the canal side cafe we sometimes cycle to for breakfast or a cake.

As we watched, the show became a mix of geography and biography (maybe it was psycho-biography?) with the route traced by the canal a mapping of our recent history. On this canal trip we saw all the places where we had been, where we had enjoyed, not things that had happened or things we had done, but the simple pleasure of being in a place of beauty and calm where the canal slips into the undulating lie of the land.

It was slow TV on a slow boat in a slow place with only the sound of the birds and the lapping of the water as accompaniment (the sound of the engine was edited out). But it was shown on TV, which is somehow antithetical to slowness. It adds a frisson of excitement to things. Seeing something that you experience on a daily basis on TV is somehow dramatic no matter how everyday it is. You watch the boat sailing down the canal and go, oh look, that's the bridge we walk under when we go to Sydney Gardens, or Ohhh, that's by the field where the rabbits used to be or Why, that's where we used to pick blackberries, or that's the path down to the bridge where the mural of the guy who got killed in the drug deal was painted.

But it's on the tv so it's second-hand and it looks different. It's like living your life at a distance, a televised distance where the peace and the quiet and the beauty of the place are dramatised through the camera. You're looking at a location rather than living an experience. It's a very beautiful location though, but I couldn't help but the resonance came from the places the canal touched upon as the boat wended its way through the Avon Valley. It was a mapping then, of places, of memories, or movement.

The show was part of a series of 'Slow TV', so is fit into the whole 'slow' movement - slow cities, slow food, and slow travel. If you google it, slow consultancy comes up rather a lot - which might be revealing of the gap between the rhetoric of slowness and its commercial manifestations.

But yes, it was slow, and it got 600,000 viewers who watched it for probably the same reasons we did, to see what something looked like when shown on TV.

And slow photography? Well, that's always been around....

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