wed 28/02/2024

Swandown | reviews, news & interviews



Two men in a boat or, rather, a pedallo; an eccentric voyage laden with self-regard

Andrew Kötting and Ian Sinclair spend a month pedalling their way to the London Olympics

It all starts so promisingly; film-maker Andrew Kötting and writer Ian Sinclair “liberate” a swan pedallo from its moorings in Hastings to launch it into the sea. Naming the absurd craft “Edith” after King Harold’s mistress Edith Swan-neck, they plan to pedal the vessel 160 miles from Hastings to Hackney via the rivers of Kent and the Thames, finally ending up at the site of the Olympic Games.

Conditions are rough and they spend two days on the beach waiting for calmer waters. Eventually we see them braving the waves along the coast to Rye, before turning inland and making their way along reed-fringed waterways past fishermen, cows and the ruins of Bodian castle.

The scenery is idyllic, the camerawork exceptional and the participants waywardly eccentric; the scene seems set for a memorable voyage, except that Sinclair begins making portentous pronouncements: “The absurdity was to take a plastic swan and peddle it until it became a real swan and we ourselves would evolve into birds…and that transformation would be the essence of the journey.”

A girl in a white dress slips into the water and floats, Ophelia-like as the two men pedal by unconcerned. Their studied indifference soon becomes emblematic of the whole journey; they show little interest in the places they pass or the people they encounter.

Instead, they have invited along various sages to say something memorable while looking suitably daft. Alan Moore (writer and prophet) discusses with Stewart Lee (writer and clown) the potential for inter-faith pedallos – powered, for instance, by an Arab and an Israeli – to bring communities together and end all wars. “It would be hard to hate a man if you’d been a pedallo pal with him,” they conclude.

Dudley Sutton (gargoyle and actor) spins aimlessly round intoning a ditty about “a tired old fart with a bypassed heart boring on about the war”. Things are beginning to get self-consciously cute.

At Sheerness Kötting and Sinclair carry their craft overland from the Medway to the Thames. Meanwhile on the soundtrack, Werner Herzog describes the difficulties and dangers of filming Fitzcarraldo in the Amazon jungle; carting a plastic swan across the marshes is being equated, it seems, with dragging a steamship over a mountain through hostile terrain.

Surely it’s a self-deprecating joke, part of the tongue-in-check charm of this eccentric adventure? Apparently not. “As we push on,” says Sinclair, “we see the way that your straight, plodding line sweeps into a much grander curvature and take on the alignment of a swan’s wing, a belly, a graciousness.” And silhouetted heroically against the setting sun, the voyagers liken their journey to Homer’s Odyssey.

I was looking forward to seeing Sinclair, who in print has railed so vehemently against the Olympics, responding in person to the burgeoning canalside developments. But it is not to be; he disembarks at City airport to catch a plane for the US where, we learn, he is introduced as “the co-commander of a self-described Homeric swan boat paddle from the south coast of England down the God of the Thames to the site of the 2012 Olympic Games”.

Continuing alone, Kötting crashes into the barrier erected around the Olympic site, deliberately setting off an alarm and the loud hailer alert: “all alien craft away from the Olympic site”. Yet he concludes that the journey wasn’t about lodging an official complaint, but “was about the ridiculousness of pedalling a swan-shaped pedallo from Hastings to Hackney and spending a whole month in the same clothes.” If only…I would have enjoyed that film.

Watch the trailer to Swandown

The scenery is idyllic, the camerawork exceptional and the participants waywardly eccentric; all seems set for a memorable voyage


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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