There is a place, down in that London Town, by the new high-rise buildings rising like steel flowers in King’s Cross, that sits, uneasily, alongside all of the hectic London life that buzzes on around it.
That place is Word On The Water, an old, very old, 1920s in fact, Dutch barge that was turned into a floating bookshop. Word On The Water opened in 2010 and for the first seven years the trio of owners drove it around London.
Those owners are: Noy, an eccentric Frenchman whose boat, Dianti, was used for the basis of the bookshop having previously been his family home. Then there’s Paddy, who is very passionate about the boat and bookshop but also wants things to be right for the grand opening, whenever that may be. FInally there’s Jon who has sank more boats than most people have stepped on.
Dianti, the boat, hasn’t been out of the water in some 15 to 20 years which isn’t great, particularly when you consider that these boats are meant to be taken out every five years or thereabouts for routine maintenance alone.
With this in mind the trio decamp their bookshop onto another barge and decide to get Dianti looked at. There’s just a couple of issues, one being that Dianti doesn’t have a working engine, so can’t go anywhere under its own steam, the other that they have just ten days to reach their destination in Hemel Hempstead before the lock at Apsley closes for months for maintenance.
Throw in that Noy, a man who regularly vanished but always seems to turn up when he’s needed, or the others haven’t actually got the boat ready for the journey.
As the days tick by, various things see that ten days become nine, become eight, become seven and still the boat has not left for Hemel Hempstead. In some instances this has been because things aren’t ready, in others because of adverse weather and finally because Noy was hungover.
Eventually though, they are off. Noy is in another barge behind Dianti with a very Heath Robinson contraption connecting the two to allow him to push the barge to Hemel. This he does whilst sitting on the roof and steering with his feet.
The group have many, many miles to get to the boat yard, then there’s all the work to do on the boat and no-one knows what condition it’s in, it may just have to be scrapped and then, of course, they’ve got to bring it all back and put the bookshop back on board.
Director Jochnowicz (“Dr Cleaner, Crime Scene Cleaner (Documentary short)”, “Tjentiste – The Fall of an Ideal (Documentary short)”) spent some nine months documenting the whole affair and it’s a wonderful insight into the eccentricity, some may say madness, that so defines the British and French in this instance.
The characters are fun and engaging and Jochnowicz captures them wonderfully. The fall-outs, of which there are many, are presented raw and you can feel the lack of energy or lack of real venom oozing through the camera.
Rebuilding Word On The Water is a well made documentary showcasing a part of London many probably don’t even know exists.
You can see the first part of Rebuilding Word On The Water below and find the rest of the documentary on Jochnowicz’s YouTube channel.