Colin Dobson-Fox is the co-host and producer behind one of my favorite YouTube channels, Foxes Afloat, which recently reached over 100k subscribers (a very big deal in YouTube Land). Colin and his husband Shaun live aboard a narrowboat in the UK, and produce weekly vlogs of their travels, and their lives, including Colin’s life with autism and with mental illness.
This is a bit afield of my usual interviews, but I was fascinated by Colin’s editing process as he takes over 40 hours of film and edits to a 15-30 minute vlog. We also talk about how his relationship with his husband Shawn started (don’t miss that part) (Seriously, goodest part).
Vlogs (and blogs, and podcasts, and writing) are as much about crafting the story as they are about shaping and editing that story, and the overlap between what the Foxes do and what I do was too tempting not to explore. I hope you enjoy my quiet fangirl squeeing and our conversation.
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This episode is brought to you by An Earl, The Girl, and a Toddler by Vanessa Riley!
You might recognize this book title because author Vanessa Riley was a guest on the show a few weeks ago. We talked about the history behind this book, and about air fryers. There are no air fryers in this novel, but there is exquisite use of historical detail and some tropes completely subverted, which is my favorite way of serving tropes.
Surviving a shipwreck en route to London from Jamaica was just the start of Jemina St. Maur’s nightmare. Suffering from amnesia, she was separated from anyone who might know her, and imprisoned in Bedlam. She was freed only because barrister Daniel Thackery, Lord Ashbrook, was convinced to betray the one thing he holds dear: the law. Desperate to unearth her true identity, Jemina’s only chance is to purloin dangerous secrets with help from The Widow’s Grace—which means staying steps ahead of the formidable Daniel, no matter how strongly she is drawn to him…
You can find An Earl, The Girl, and a Toddler by Vanessa Riley wherever books are sold. Find out more at KensingtonBooks.com.
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Sarah Wendell: Hello there. Thank you for inviting me into your eardrums. I’m Sarah Wendell, and this is episode number 457 – woohoo! – of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. This week my guest is a bit outside of what I normally do for interviews, but I hope you’ll go on this little trip with me. My guest is Colin Dobson-Fox. He is the co-host and producer of one of my favorite YouTube channels, Foxes Afloat. Colin and his husband Shaun live aboard a narrowboat in the UK, and they produce weekly vlogs of their travels and their lives, including Colin’s life with autism and with mental illness. So I was fascinated by the editing process, because Colin made a comment on one episode that they take about forty to fifty hours of film and edit them down to fifteen to twenty minute vlogs. So partly this is about editing and shaping your story of your own life week to week over three years, but it’s also about being a public figure in a small piece of the internet. We also talk about how Colin’s relationship with his husband Shaun started, and it’s the most adorable story; you’re going to love that part. So I hope you enjoy my somewhat quiet fangirl squeeing and our conversation.
I will, of course, have links to where you can find Foxes Afloat on YouTube and on Amazon and where you can learn more about narrowboating, because, well, I think it’s really cool and maybe you will too!
This episode is brought to you in part by An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler by Vanessa Riley! You might recognize the book title because author Vanessa Riley was a guest on the show a few weeks ago. We talked about the history behind this book and also about air fryers, and while there are no air fryers in this novel, there is exquisite use of historical detail and some tropes that are completely subverted, which is my favorite way of serving up a trope. Surviving a shipwreck en route to London from Jamaica was just the start of Jemina St. Maur’s nightmare. Suffering from amnesia, she was separated from anyone who might know who she is and imprisoned in Bedlam. She was freed only because barrister Daniel Thackery, Lord Ashbrook, was convinced to betray the one thing he holds dear: the law. Desperate to unearth her true identity, Jemina’s only chance is to purloin dangerous secrets with the help from The Widow’s Grace, which means staying steps ahead of the formidable Daniel, no matter how strongly she is drawn to him. You can find An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler by Vanessa Riley wherever books are sold, and find out more at kensingtonbooks.com.
I have a compliment for Barbara J.
Barbara: You are the human personification of a lifetime supply of bubble wrap, just for popping, and when you’re done, an unlimited lifetime supply of cupcakes and flaky pastries.
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And now, on with my conversation with Colin Dobson-Fox from Foxes Afloat!
Sarah: Thank you so much for doing this. I am so excited to speak with you, and I really, really appreciate you taking the time and, and testing the strength of your Wi-Fi connection to do this.
Colin Dobson-Fox: We are in the most amazing place for Wi-Fi. It’s strange because we’ve – I, I don’t know if you, if you have this over there – we have 5G that’s started over here. Oh, it’s just, like –
Colin: – super fast, and –
Colin: – wherever we’ve been – yeah, we’ve never experienced 5G, and we’re in Manchester at the moment, so as we were coming closer into Manchester we were look-, every time we saw an antenna we were looking at phones, hoping to see that 5G. And when it came up it was like being a ten-year-old on Christmas morning again; it was like, yay! Oh my God, three hundred megabits!
Sarah: We’re going to stream everything twice at the same time! So this is the only awkward part: if you would please introduce yourself and tell the people who will be listening who you are and what you do.
Colin: Okay. My name is Colin Dobson-Fox, and I am half of the brand Foxes Afloat, which – or who – we produce YouTube vlogs, and we also produce a TV series for Amazon Prime video called Britain by Narrowboat, and we cruise around the two thousand miles of rivers and canals in the UK and dig up as much history and tell it in the most entertaining way that we think we can.
Sarah: What is a narrowboat, and what are the waterways?
Colin: Oh, we get that a lot, ‘cause we have a lot of American viewers who are, are really passionate about it, even though they’ve never seen a canal in the UK in their life. The canals were created during the British Industrial Revolution, which was in the late 18th century, so between kind of 1750 and 1800; that’s when it all kicked off. They are basically man-made rivers without a current, and they were built as the motorways of the time, during the Industrial Revolution, to get cargo – things like coal and stone and food and clothes and anything else that you could carry by boat – from one place to another, and they were pulled originally by horses, ‘cause there was no engines back then –
Colin: – and you’d have a couple of people on the boat, you’d have the cargo, and you’d have a horse, and it would pull it about three or four miles an hour from one place to another. That’s it! And they’re still around today.
Narrowboats, which are the vessels on the canals, are narrow. They’re about six foot, ten inches wide and anything from forty to seventy-two foot long. So over the years, narrowboats have evolved, and it’s now more of a, a leisure industry and an alternative lifestyle. People live on them, people use them for holidays, and there’s between about fifteen and twenty thousand boats that people live on full-time nowadays. And it seems to be growing in popularity.
Sarah: I’m assuming YouTube has helped with that. But I, I noticed, you just crossed a hundred thousand subscribers! Congratulations!
Colin: We did! It’s totally mad!
Sarah: That’s amazing!
Colin: Absolutely mad. It’s never, ever –
Sarah: That comes with a plaque. I know, I know –
Colin: It does!
Sarah: – you live light on the boat. I know you don’t have a lot of room, but you’re going to get a plaque.
Colin: Yeah. Yeah, apparently we were – I’ve been googling this for like two weeks. As soon as we knew we were getting close, and how –
Sarah: You’re getting close, right?
Colin: Yeah – how do we get the plaque? And apparently there’s a banner that appears on our YouTube home page when somebody from YouTube – ‘cause apparently it has to be human-checked. So somebody checks the channel to make sure that we haven’t bought subscribers, that we –
Colin: – we haven’t been naughty and –
Sarah: One, two, three –
Colin: Yeah. [Laughs] Yeah!
Sarah: – four – [laughs].
Colin: Or pinched anybody’s content, and apparently if we, if we, if we get all these checks okay, which we should do – fingers crossed –
Colin: – then a banner will appear on our home page with a redemption code, and we go to this page and it’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory: it’s like a golden ticket into the –
Colin: – into the Creators studio to get our plaque. So apparently that takes about a week, and we hit a hundred thousand I think three days ago?
Sarah: Oh my gosh.
Colin: But it doesn’t matter. I keep refreshing the page and waiting for this code to come up like, come on, come on! Hurry up!
Sarah: Come on, come on, come on!
Sarah: That’s amazing! So which was more exciting: getting 5G or getting a hundred thousand subscribers?
Colin: The hundred thousand subscribers was like a, it – I don’t think I can put it into words, because it was like, how on earth do a hundred thousand people subscribe to our channel? I can’t even – it’s like I can imagine, apparently Madison Square Garden is fifty thousand capacity –
Colin: – so we can fill Madison Square Garden – what? What?
Sarah: Twice! Twice!
Colin: How? How has that happened? But the hundred thousand is just like, whoa! Another level.
Colin: Thank you!
Sarah: You’ve put a lot of work into that! I hope you sort of look back and tell Past Colin like, dude, seriously? You don’t understand what’s going to happen. It’s going to be amazing. [Laughs]
Colin: Do you know what, that is, that is such a, a brilliant way to put it, because I think so often in life you can look back, or you, you wish you could look back and say to yourself, do not worry about this. This is not going to affect your life. Do not waste time worrying and wasting your life worrying about this, because in three months it will mean nothing.
Colin: Well, this obviously does; hundred thousand subscribers does!
Sarah: Means a lot, yeah.
Colin: That means a lot to us! But yeah, in general, yeah, generally it’s like, yeah, I wish I could go back a lot of times and say just, Colin, sort yourself out, mate.
Sarah: [Laughs] So what led you to start a YouTube channel? Because your, your channel goes through – how many years have you been at this? Two or three now? Three?
Colin: We – well, the, the channel is three years old –
Sarah: The channel is three.
Colin: – in, in May. Yeah. Let me just get rid of Otis. We’ve got a, a puppy who’s very keen for attention. The channel’s coming up to three years old.
Colin: The boat is two years old in about – well, the 3rd of May.
Colin: The boat will be two years old; it will have launched two years –
Colin: – on the 3rd of May. So yeah, and the time has just – I, I don’t know where the time has gone. Yeah, we, we look back at the vlogs, and I think we’re on vlog, I think this week we’re on vlog 148.
Colin: And it’s one a week, so it literally is like –
Colin: – well, five, ten, it’s, it’s coming up to three years, and it’s just like –
Colin: – where? Where is that time?
Sarah: Oh, I know this feeling. I just released my four hundred and fiftieth episode of my podcast, and I had to sort of –
Sarah: – when I put that in the field I was like, wait, whoa, hold on. Really? Really, Sarah? Four hundred – wow! Whoa! How did that happen? Because, you know, you just plod away every week.
Sarah: You produce the thing, you make the thing, and then you put out the thing, and then you look back and you’re like, oh, that’s a big number!
Sarah: So what led you to starting a YouTube channel?
Colin: That’s a tough question, because I can’t think back to lunchtime, never mind May 2018.
Colin: We did this before. We bought a boat back in 2004.
Colin: And back then there wasn’t the inter-, well, there was the internet, but there was no such – it’s weird because you think 2004 is like last week, but yet there was no Twitter and no Facebook and –
Colin: – do you know, I mean, there was, there was nothing.
Sarah: It was different.
Colin: And this time round, YouTube was this combination of a diary, because sometimes, when we were talking earlier, looking back and saying sort yourself out; what you thinking? Don’t worry about this; and being able to go back and watch that again from nearly three years ago now is like a diary for us, so that’s why, that’s one of the reasons we did it.
The other reason was we knew that we would be isolated. So YouTube is this, it’s like a hobby; it was something to do; it was a focus. Everything that goes into it, the rese- – you’ll know this, doing podcasting – you don’t switch a microphone on and start talking. You’ve got to do a little bit of research; you’ve got to know who you’re talking to. You’ve got no way you – so on a boat, we need to know where we’re going, what we’re going to find on the way, how to talk about it, and it was this thing to keep my mind occupied, ‘cause that’s the reason we did this was to try and save my mental health.
Colin: So by having things to do –
Colin: – whether it be using it as a diary or whether it’s a platform for me to just stay occupied and concentrate on things, that’s why we did it to start with.
Sarah: So what kind of preparation do you do for each episode? Do you film every day, or do you decide, all right, today is a filming day, and here’s what we’re going to do? What is your process like to get ready? Because I know you’ve got a lot of footage. You have like, what, three cameras, plus a drone?
Colin: Right. From front to back, so –
Colin: – from prow to stern, we have a GoPro on the front, on the bow –
Colin: – we have a GoPro somewhere else on the boat – we move that around a little bit – we have another GoPro on the back, which we move around a bit; we have a main video camera which we talk into –
Colin: – we have a little mobile pocket camera on a gimbal, so whoever’s going off to do locks or bridges takes that; we have the drone –
Colin: – to get external shots; we have a 360-degree camera, which is getting all sorts of weird type of shots. Yeah, we have a lot of footage. Each vlog will be about thirty to forty hours of footage –
Colin: – yeah, for a twenty-, twenty-five-minute vlog.
Sarah: That’s definitely something I want to ask you about, though, that process. So when you’re, when you’re getting ready to, to film, what do you do to, to prepare? Do you have a number of points you want to hit in your history? Do you want to look at the history and then decide? Like, what is your preparation like?
Colin: What we normally do is we’ll work out where we’re going. So we’ll work out a route.
Colin: So we’re going from point A to point B on this day –
Colin: – and this day is always the day where it’s going to be as sunny as possible, as light of winds as possible. [Laughs] You know, so –
Sarah: Wait, wait, wait, wait. You’re, you’re, you’re in England.
Sarah: Your odds are not good.
Colin: That’s right.
Sarah: I’m really sorry. [Laughs]
Colin: Yeah, we, we move like three days a year.
Colin: It’s going to be sunny tomorrow! Four vlogs tomorrow we’ve got to do!
Sarah: Yeah! Better get the gas! Let’s go!
Colin: Doesn’t always work like that. So we work out a day, and then we’ll work out a route. So we know where point A is; we know where point B is; do the research on the route. There’s no script or anything. We just go! We just set the camera recording at the front; set the camera on the, on the roof, where, whichever way it’s pointing; and the rest is purely ad lib from sometimes bullet point notes.
Colin: I’m autistic, and I’ve got an eidetic memory, so I can research, I can spend an afternoon researching a ten-mile route, and I will remember every single detail.
Colin: Sometimes I’ll have an order on my iPhone with a couple of bullet point as a reminder, but the nuts and bolts of the story that I’m going to tell are, are basically ingrained from, from research. So it’s a combination of preparing the cameras, getting the cameras on, preparing the route, preparing the day, learning the research, and then trying to get those stories out in the most interesting, entertaining, sometimes a little bit risqué way possible.
Sarah: Yes. I, I, I nearly stopped breathing when you started talking about taking Shaun up the Lancashire.
Sarah: I was laughing so hard. Yeah. The bawdy bits are the best part, sorry. [Laughs]
Colin: Shaun loved being taken up the Lancy!
Colin: I knew that –
Sarah: Which is why you have an entire merch line that says you can’t say that!
Colin: That’s right, yeah! I nearly took him up the Ashton a few weeks ago.
Sarah: When you’re doing your research, is there ever a point, ‘cause I know what, part of what your, your vlogs are about is working with your brain, working with your mind and how it is and how you process the world and then presenting part of that to the world. When you’re, when you’re doing all of the research, is there a point where your brain is like, okay, look, this is too much information; you need to stop, or is it like, no, more, more, more, more, more, more, more?
Colin: Yeah, I tend to be like a sponge, so –
Colin: – I can sit and research, and I can go, and what normally happens is Shaun, my other half, will literally have to drag me away from the desk.
Sarah: And you have like thirty-five tabs open on Chrome –
Colin: [Laughs] Yes, yes!
Sarah: – and your computer’s like, oh my gosh, you need to stop!
Colin: Yeah! We spend, we spend our lives telling stories about what’s happening outside the boat –
Colin: – but yet my life is kind of in this seat –
Colin: – just sat here, just researching, so the desk is just surrounded in books; like you say, thirty-odd tab, Chrome tabs open –
Colin: – Wikipedia and Google and just everywhere; and I’m just kind of soaking in all this information, and my other half Shaun will, will literally have to kind of pick me up, say, Colin, go for a run.
Colin: Just go out; just get out there. You’re talking about out there: go out there just for half an hour. You’ve got to have a passion for it –
Colin: – and I think if you’ve got a passion for it, it, you don’t – I could sit here twenty-four hours a day.
Colin: I’d probably fall asleep after like eighteen of them, but –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Colin: – I could sit here for twenty-four hours a day and just research, research, research.
Sarah: I understand that, because I have made my hobby into my job. My website I’ve been running for sixteen years started out of a passion for reviewing fiction, and then I started a podcast, and I could be at my desk all the time. Like, I love what I do, but you do have to get up and go outside! [Laughs]
Colin: It’s so easy, isn’t it?
Sarah: Right, yeah! You’re just like, oh, wait, what? It’s five o’clock? Oh! Well crap!
Colin: That’s, that’s the thing! It’s not that you, it’s not that you purposely decide when you get up at whatever time, I’m going to sit here for twelve hours and, and do what I’m doing. And it’s just that you look at the clock and it’s ten past ten in the morning, and then you look at the clock and, like you say, it’s five o’clock in the evening!
Sarah: Yep! You mentioned a minute ago – this is the part where I’m the most curious – your episodes are about fifteen to thirty minutes long at the most. They’re really, really trim, but you mentioned that you have many, many hours of footage. What is your process like to go from all of that footage down to the episode? ‘Cause I know you’ve said it takes about a week!
Colin: Yeah, it could take, the average episode takes me about four days to edit. So I’ll start off with, with up to forty hours of footage.
Colin: I’ll have an i-, I’ll have an idea what the story is, so there’ll be an overriding theme to that day – usually there’s an overriding theme, whether it be one particular story or something that runs through the whole thing – and what I’ll try to do is create a story for the day around one theme. So even though it’s forty hours of footage, eight hours of it might be just from the camera at the front, and that’s, I wouldn’t say it’s benign footage, but it’s just – [laughs] – the camera at the front, so there’s literally not a lot to take from that. So you, you kind of cut it down, and the majority of it is going to be drone shots which are, for the amount of time you spend in the air, the most amount of footage will be used, if that makes sense.
Colin: So from eight hours on the bow cam that just records front going, you might use two minutes –
Colin: – out of eight hours, but from the drone, the drone might be up for five minutes, and you might use four minutes of that.
Colin: So I, you tend to pick up what’s going to get used most. So the drone footage is used a lot; the pieces to camera, obviously, are the, the, the main bones of the, of the vlog, so they get used; and it’s just a matter of putting everything into an order that, that relates to telling that story. From my perspective – ‘cause I think if I, if I find it interesting and it flows for me, then it’s going to flow for other people –
Colin: – ‘cause I’m such a perfectionist, and being a perfectionist, you find that if you’re happy with it, other people are going to generally be happy with it.
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. I tell that to podcast guests. I talk to a lot of authors and a lot of people who are very introverted and don’t want to talk to other people, and I say, you know, look, whatever you will nerd out about, whatever makes you just go completely nerdgasm is always interesting. It’s always interesting –
Sarah: – to somebody who’s, to listen to someone be really passionate about what they’re doing.
Colin: Yeah. That’s exactly right!
Colin: And so putting that story across in an entertaining way and having the footage to back it up – I’d rather have forty hours of footage and be able to visually tell the story as well as vocally tell that story.
Colin: That is more important than just saying, oh, this happened here –
Colin: – and not be able to back it up with any images, because –
Colin: – with your telling a story, if somebody’s giving you a visual guideline, then your mental image is based on that, it’s based on what you’ve been told and what you’re seeing, which is –
Colin: – makes the story easier to, to understand, and I think it makes it more entertaining. Even if we use twenty minutes from forty hours of footage, I’d rather have that forty hours than just have an hour of footage and not be able to tell the story properly.
Sarah: When people are editing books, for example, one of the big directions given to authors is to show someone, don’t tell; show, don’t tell; don’t tell someone what’s happening, show them what’s happening; and so with a vlog and the editing, you have the ability to show people what you’re doing and what you’re seeing and where you are. And it seems from having watched so many that the main major themes of your, of your channel and of the, the, all of the diaries together is, this is where we are right now, and this is where we are personally right now. It’s as much your story as the locational story. And I think that’s really interesting and important because it’s, it’s really hard to be honest and be yourself so publicly, especially in front of a hundred thousand people. I’m an introvert: that’s a lot of human beings. For you, what is the decision that you make to decide how much of yourself to share? ‘Cause I also know that you are the more, the more public face of the channel, and Shaun doesn’t want to do any of the, of the inter-, interviews and stuff.
Colin: It’s a very strange dynamic, because in real life Shaun is the more engaging, outgoing, confident one of the two of us, and in real life I’m the complete opposite. I’m the introvert; I’m the one that can’t wait to get inside the boat if I know somebody’s going to come and try to talk to us.
Colin: And I think this is why I enjoy YouTube so much, because I can completely open up and spill every horrible thing that’s going on inside my head, and, and just talk openly, but it’s not to anybody, so I’m not getting the stress and anxiety and that social awkwardness that I get face to face with people, and I can’t deal with that. And that’s something that a lot of people now understand better, because we, we explain that in the vlogs. So people know when they come to the boat that I am going to be awkward, that I’m probably not going to be sort of there talking like I talk on camera –
Colin: – because on camera, on, through a microphone, I’m a completely different person, which is why I’ve always worked in radio, because it’s been my thing, all alone in a studio. People can come and look at the glass. The microphone is the, is the other per- – and, and it’s a completely different world. Put the hundred thousand people in front of me –
Colin: – and I, yeah, I will just be a pool on the floor.
Colin: Just this – [laughs] – this horrible, slimy pool of Colin sorting himself out. And I think, because I am an introvert and I think the other mental health stuff as well, which makes me more socially awkward, this is my window; this is my way of engaging with people in a way that’s comfortable for me and is getting me out there. Whereas Shaun’s different for – he, he’s like the complete polar opposite: put him in front of a camera or a microphone and he is me in front of a hundred thousand people! So it, I think that’s why the dynamic works!
Colin: He’s got the confidence, and for me, as an introvert, it’s an amazing way to be able to communicate with people.
Colin: And I think it shows the dynamic that me and Shaun have, because Shaun is the opposite. But it’s good that Shaun’s the opposite, because people, we do get recognized a heck of a lot, and –
Sarah: I was going to say, I bet you do! It’s not that big of a community!
Colin: No. And it’s always Shaun that’s, that’s, like, the face of Foxes Afloat now, so when, when, when somebody knocks on the boat, Shaun’s the one that goes up. For the first few weeks it was like, looking at each other, who’s turn is it? But then it’s like, no, Shaun goes up.
Sarah: I will be right back with more of my conversation with Colin, but first, I have two things to tell you about.
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This episode is also brought to you in part by June’s Journey, a Hidden Object mystery game that several folks in the comments have recommended before on the site. I want to say a special hello to Megan who joined the game after my last spot for June’s Journey and is now playing along too. I even made us a club: SBTP Romance, so you can come join us. June’s Journey is a Hidden Object murder mystery set in the ‘20s. You play as June Parker, an amateur detective investigating the mysterious death of her sister. You progress through the mystery by gathering clues found in different scenes, and you level up by building and restoring the property where June is living. There are so many different elements, but the heart of the game is the hidden object scenes where you try to find as many objects as quickly and accurately as you can. It’s really easy to get caught up in trying to beat my last score. I really like the puzzle challenges, and I like testing my memory with each round. I really like using June’s Journey to take a break when I’m working. I do a few puzzles, and then I go back to my to-do list with a happier brain that solved some things, because my brain loves solving things. And I keep going through each chapter ‘cause I want to know what happens next. There’s puzzles, and then there’s a story, and then suddenly I’ve been hanging out for twenty minutes and I’m really happy! You can join thirty million fans across the globe and awaken your inner detective with June’s Journey. It’s free to download on your phone or tablet. You search for hidden objects and collect clues to solve a mystery. There are endless hours of fun with thousands of scenes and new chapters every week. You can download June’s Journey for free today on the Apple App Store or Google Play. And if you’re playing June’s Journey, please email me and let me know how you like it or, you know, join our club.
And now back to my conversation with Colin Dobson-Fox about narrowboating, editing, and everything else.
Sarah: So did you always intend for your lives on the vlog to be as, for you, as open and inclusive as you are in, in sharing with people about what’s going on in your mind and what’s going on when you have a bad day and – my younger son likes to say, my, my, my brain is just, just, just chattering at me, and I can’t make it stop. It’s just chattering and chattering. When, when you have a minute where you’re, a time when your brain is just sort of fighting with you, you’re very open about that. Was that always part of your plan with your, with your series?
Colin: Yeah. Yeah, definitely, from day one. I think there, there’s a specific reason for that: before we gave up our jobs I used to, I was working in radio, and I love radio, abs-, absolutely love radio, but then the, the people I were working for didn’t understand mental health issues in any way –
Colin: – whatsoever, never mind things like autism and ADHD and anything that wasn’t specifically labeled. They have no understanding and no – I hate to use the word sympathy, because I don’t look for sympathy. I don’t think sympathy is, is, is the issue. I think it’s basically understanding and a willingness to try and help to make someone’s life better. If they have a physical issue, then that’s different. Normally they will be accommodated for. If you have a mental health issue, in this particular case I wasn’t able to get any support from them whatsoever, and I think that was still resonating in my mind when we started the channel, that if I’m thinking like this, if this has happened to me, how many other people are going through this? I mean, the official figure is something like thirty – in the UK – thirty, thirty percent of people will have a mental health issue, and it’s, it’s much more than that, I think.
Colin: The lockdown over the past year and everything that’s going on is showing that it’s not thirty percent; it’s sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety percent of people are having mental health issues. Depression is depression; anxiety is anxiety. It’s uncomfortable, and it stops you from doing things. It stops you from enjoying life. It screws with your head; it keeps you awake at night; it wakes you up at four o’clock every morning.
Sarah: Yes, it does!
Colin: While you were talking about chatter, you can’t get the chatter out of your head. And it, it doesn’t matter to what extent or level that is. And if I can get that message out to other people, if I can help one person, if I can help one employer to understand an employee that they’ve got and not make the same decisions –
Colin: – that make that employee feel uncomfortable and want to leave, then I’ve done a good thing.
Colin: And that’s why we went into this with the term – and I hate using the term – “warts and all,” ‘cause I don’t have warts. Honestly, nowhere; never have.
Colin: But the term “warts and all,” and, and we were very, very adamant from the start that I would be completely, and I have been completely, I’ve, I’ve never hidden anything. If people can understand that other people have mental issues, then, like I say, if helping just one person, that, that, that’s, that’s my job done. And I know from the feedback we get, in three years we’ve had, no exaggeration, thousands and thousands of messages from people who said, thank you; this has had this effect or this effect. There’s no sense of self-fulfillment or ego or anything from it. It’s like, in my head, it’s just like a little thumbs up saying yes.
Sarah: Yeah. Especially because –
Colin: I helped that person.
Sarah: – no one, no, no two people are going to experience anxiety the same, or depression in the same way, or autism or neurodivergence or, or ADHD. No one’s going to experience that in exactly the same way between two people, so your sharing your experience allows people, I would presume, to say, oh, I experience this the same, or I experience this different, but we’re both, we’re both valid. It’s okay; we can be who we are. And you’ve created this sort of visual safe space for people to not only learn but also accept themselves and the things that they go through. So the feedback must be, I don’t want to say gratifying like, yes, ha-ha, I did it! Like you said, it’s not ego; it’s, it’s more like, you, you’ve, you’ve reached people and you know that you have.
Colin: Yeah. When we were talking about being introverts –
Colin: – earlier on, there’s, this goes back to that in a sense, that it’s a way for me to be open and engage with people. The overriding thing that I look for in our content is that we can form that relationship and engage with people in such a way where they feel like they know us, and that’s, that’s, that’s the, the message we get most of all. The amount of emails and messages we get that start, I feel like I know you, but –
Sarah: Yep. No, it’s true! Voice is very intimate, especially if someone is watching your videos with, with earplugs, so it’s just your voice in their eardrums? Voice is deeply intimate, and people will feel that they know you because you’ve been talking to them literally for hours! It’s intimacy and it’s vulnerability, yeah?
Colin: Yeah. I think the term voyeur sometimes leads to something different, but I think we’re all voyeurs in that way, that we all, we all stand and stare at people.
Sarah: Oh yeah!
Colin: Everybody has a story, and, and people are people watchers. I think we are inherently designed that way, and to be able to watch somebody else’s life and be able to engage and relate to what’s going on in their lives –
Colin: – especially when it’s things that are not spoken about generally and –
Colin: – and openly, I think is –
Colin: – what draws people in. And it’s these little things that people don’t talk about, and because it’s, it’s more of just us to camera, with a lot of beautiful scenery in between, I think that, that’s the interest. I think that –
Colin: – people are just interested in people, aren’t they?
Sarah: People are definitely interested in people. I remember listening to a podcast called Simplify, and one of the hosts, Caitlin Schiller, said that her theory about why pop-, why podcasts exploded in popularity is that you’re giving permission to other people to eavesdrop on your conversations. And so with a vlog it’s very similar: you’re giving people permission to sit on your boat and travel with you, except, as an introvert, they’re not actually there. You don’t have to talk to them, you don’t have to feed them, they’re not going to use your toilet, but they’re, we all get to be there. All hundred thousand of us are on your boat. Not only is it inviting a form of voyeurism and witnessing, but it’s also, it’s intimate because you’re being invited to eavesdrop and be there without, without all of the extra stuff that comes with interacting in person, right? It’s –
Sarah: One of the reasons why I love podcasting is I get to have conversations, but it’s, it’s very low stress for me as an introvert.
Colin: I relate to that completely.
Colin: Absolutely, completely. It’s, and it was, it would be different, because if the, if the people that listen to your podcasts, if you were sat on a stage with the people out there –
Sarah: Oy! That’s a whole different thing. [Laughs]
Colin: – and I was the other side of the table –
Colin: – then I think we would both be that, that horrible, slimy pool of nervous mess. [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I can, I can do, I can do events. I have a very long preparation process before I do something in person, and it’s been like over a year now. Like, I haven’t put on real pants in over a year. It’s ridic- – I’m sorry, trousers. I beg your pardon; that means something different in the UK.
Colin: That’s all right. But yeah, I, I totally agree, and it, it comes down to being able to relate, doesn’t it? I mean, two people can talk about something that people have absolutely no interest in, but I think it’s the fact that you’re, you’re within that, you’re the third person in that conversation, even though you’re not in the conversation.
Colin: It’s just that thing about being in that intimate moment. I don’t mean intimate in that sense, but intimate in, in just the, those two people talking –
Sarah: In your presence.
Colin: – and you feel –
Colin: Yeah. Even though –
Colin: – a hundred th-, however many thousand people have, have listened to it or also listening to it, it’s just, I think it’s a weird thing, and I think it’s underestimated. Again, it’s something that people don’t talk about. Again, it comes down to this mental health thing: people, people are not always a hundred percent honest about why they’re doing things or what they’re feeling or why they’re doing it. And so to be able to talk about it in a way that’s not taboo, it’s not naughty, it’s not, oh, I shouldn’t be saying this; talking about it in a way that’s completely normal –
Colin: I mean, we did a vlog, I can’t remember when, and Shaun actually filmed me on the bed melting down, fetal position, crying my eyes out. Luckily, my feet were clean, ‘cause he got those in shot.
Colin: But – and to this day I’m glad I didn’t have to crop those out – but, yeah, kind of lying on the bed, having a meltdown, and then another one where I, I melt down and I just, I, I run off from the boat, and I don’t, I don’t remember it. And he, he kept – and he just got his phone out and started talking about it, and it had such a powerful effect. I can watch it again and cringe because, oh, I was having a meltdown and everybody’s, oh, but then you start seeing the comments that are coming in, and you think, oh my God! That, that helped all these people.
Colin: I think the first vlog I ever spoke about ASD, about autism, was vlog 9! We’re on 148 this week, and it was vlog 9, and –
Colin: – it was – for anybody that follows the channel, this is a bit of a scoop; you’ve got a bit of a scoop out of me now! Vlog 9 was recorded literally days after I left my job in radio.
Colin: And that’s why I recorded it. And it was supposed to be my kind of coming out to my coworkers, and –
Colin: – this was the video that was to explain to anybody that didn’t know why what happened had happened. When we look back at the other early vlogs, ‘cause this was vlog 9, so this was June, July 2019, and we look at the other vlogs from those days, there have hardly any views, and then the autism one, the, the coming-out one, it’s, it’s like a hundred and odd thousand views now, and it still gets as many views now as it did – well, more views now than it, it did back then. And I think it comes back to that thing about just talking and being honest and, and relating and, and people – we would get so many messages of, oh, I feel like that, and this happened to me, and, and have I got autism? It’s like, well, we don’t know; you’ve got to go and see your doctor and go through the process, and it’s quite a long – but even if it’s just getting people to think, and it’s like a contemplation, it’s getting them thinking. So I would rather the wake up at two o’clock in the morning and think, I really need to go to the doctor, because this isn’t right. I’m feeling like Colin feels, and I, maybe there’s something I can do about this.
Sarah: I think what it goes back to is, I have this theory that everything is language? That when you give someone the language to talk about what they’re thinking or feeling, they’re going to be able to connect with other people who share that language, whether that’s being able to describe the book you want to read and the particulars of the book you want to read or it’s being able to talk about what’s going on in your head in a way that someone else can say, oh, I understand; I have that same experience, and this is what I call it. When you arrive at a common language, it helps people understand what’s going on in other people’s heads a little bit, little bit easier.
Colin: Yeah, yeah. I think that, that’s totally right.
Sarah: What does Shaun think of the success of the channel and of, you know, from his perspective, what does he think of the, the incredible number of, of subscribers you have now and the, the responses that you get? What’s his perspective?
Colin: We’re in Manchester at the moment, and a nuclear bomb could go off and Shaun wouldn’t spill his wine.
Colin: It’s like, this is how chilled Shaun is. Yeah, Shaun is the ultimate Mr. Cool, so he doesn’t think about, oh, how many subscribers are we getting this week? Have we lost any subscribers? Have we gained? How many views has this video got? He didn’t think – Shaun’s like wake up, have breakfast, let’s do what we’re going to do, let’s go to bed. That’s like –
Colin: – I hate, I hate that you can be like that! Please just, like, take half of my stress and let me have half of your, like, total calm, because I just don’t understand how somebody can be that chilled. So, so he was plea-, yeah, he’s pleased that we got to a hundred thousand, but he was pleased in such a chilled way that you wouldn’t even know.
Sarah: [Laughs] He didn’t spill his wine.
Colin: We’ve got a hundred thousand follow-, subscribers, Shaun! Oh, cool. No, Shaun, we’ve got a hundred thousand subscribers! Oh yeah, yeah, cool. No, I don’t think you realize: we could fill Madison Square Garden twice with subscribers! All right.
Sarah: Yeah, okay.
Colin: Have we ever, have we ever been to Madison Square Garden? Well, no, but –
Sarah: How long –
Colin: So yeah.
Sarah: – have you two been together? I think you said it was twenty-plus years?
Colin: Yeah, it’ll be twenty-nine years this November.
Colin: Thank you. We met in 1992, November 1992. Well, no, it was actually the summer. Well, actually, I’m, I’m going to, I’m going to give you a second scoop, actually. [Laughs] I was dating his boyfriend –
Colin: – and I didn’t, I did-, I didn’t know he had a boyfriend! Well, I, no, the, the, the guy I was dating, I didn’t know that the guy I was dating was Shaun’s boyfriend. I didn’t know at the time.
Sarah: Oh no!
Colin: And we’d been dating, I mean, we’d been dating days. I mean, this was, like, gay relationship in the early ‘90s when relationships lasted days. And we’d been dating a few days, and we were walking through Leeds city centre, and this guy walked up to us and said, oh, hello, who’s this? I don’t have a very good instinct, but the instinct kicked in pretty much immediately, that light bulb – I mean, the light bulb didn’t just come on; it exploded. And it’s like, oh dear –
Sarah: Oh crap! [Laughs]
Colin: Oh yeah. I need to, I need to go; my bus is – bye! And I’d gone. And so what happened is, over the next few weeks, Shaun was stalking me around the bars I was going into in Leeds. Now, I thought he was going to basically kick my head in. I thought he was, he was, like, stalking me to do me harm because I’d been dating his boyfriend.
Sarah: Oh no!
Colin: And in reality he’d kicked his boyfriend out for, for being unfaithful, as you would –
Colin: – and he liked me, so he was kind of trying to court me. That’s a nice English saying, isn’t it? He was courting, he was trying to court me, and I thought he was trying to do me harm, so every time he was following me into a bar and standing near me, I’m, my heart rate, like, goes up to a hundred and fifty beats a minute and I’m out of there like a shot. And this went on for about a month before he kind of bought me a drink, and I’m like, right, what’s going on? [Laughs]
Colin: And we, and we started dating, and we started dating in November 1992, so yeah –
Sarah: You were what, like –
Colin: – November 2021? Four.
Sarah: You were like fifteen years old?
Colin: [Laughs] Thank you! I was nineteen!
Colin: Yeah, I was nineteen. So yeah, this November will be twenty-nine years since we’d begun dating.
Sarah: Wow! That’s a long time!
Colin: Yeah, amazing. That is amazing. It’s weird; it’s one of those relationships where I can’t, I – everything that could go wrong in a relationship has gone wrong, and we’re still here, and we love each other like crazy. Some people think he’s like a crutch, that because I have mental health issues, that he’s the strong one. And he’s really, it’s not like that at all! Every time we do a vlog and I’m shown, and I show any weakness, like we did the tidal Thames in London, which is like the biggest adventure you can do in a narrowboat.
Colin: You do not take a fifty-seven-foot, flat-bottom boat on a tidal river –
Sarah: Yeah, bad idea.
Colin: – with a twelve-knot – really bad; so many disasters happen that way – well, not actually, but could have done – and I show the slightest bit of nervousness, and Shaun’s the hero, so therefore Colin has mental health issues, so Shaun’s the strong hero and Colin’s the, the – I’m not even going to say the words that we get, that I get called sometimes. And that’s, that’s upsetting, because I am, I’m – I mean, this is no ego – I am the brains.
Colin: I am, I am, I am the brains, and he, he’s the one that will stand at the tiller in any weather and direct us through a storm.
Colin: So he is the strength, and to me, saying he’s my rock is an understatement. He is the book –
Sarah: He’s your lighthouse.
Colin: – the world, everything, yeah.
Colin: And he will stand at the tiller and guide us through any storm, metaphorical or, or otherwise, but I am the one that will sit here for a week and plan the route through that storm, so it’s definitely –
Colin: – a two-way thing.
Sarah: Oh yeah. The way my husband and I describe it, I set ‘em up, he knocks ‘em down.
Colin: Yes! [Laughs]
Sarah: Yes. So you set it up, he knocks ‘em down.
Colin: And it really annoys me when people think that mental illness is a sign of weakness. Because it’s not –
Sarah: Oh, for the love of God, yes!
Colin: And a lot of people think that, and again, I think it goes back to not understanding. I don’t think it’s out of malice; I don’t think it’s, it’s anything like – it’s just a lack of understanding.
Sarah: And fear.
Colin: But it’s still annoying when you read comments like that, isn’t it?
Sarah: So what advice would you have for anyone who’s thinking of starting their own vlog?
Colin: Be yourself. I think a lot of channels, a lot of people that start YouTube will come into it thinking that they’re going to get thousands of subscribers, they’re going to make a lot of money, they’re going to get influence deals and this, that, and the other. Vlogs are going to get thousands of views, and it just, it’s not like that. [Laughs]
Colin: It’s not like that. I read that ninety percent of views go to the top ten percent of vloggers.
Colin: And that – now, have I got this right? So ninety percent of views are of the top ten percent of vloggers, and the other ninety percent are scrambling for the final ten percent. Is that right; have I worded that right?
Colin: And I think the key to it, the o-, the, the best advice I can give is to be yourself, because if you try and be anybody el-, you can’t, you can’t be anybody else, because you will always end up reverting back to you.
Colin: So you can try and be fake, and you can try and replicate what other people do, and people have done it with us as a channel. We’ve had people start on narrowboats, and they basically copy everything that we do, even down to the designs of titles and music, and it doesn’t work, because it’s not them!
Colin: And I think that’s the key to it. And sometimes, you know, you’ve got to be honest: you could start a channel, you could be yourself, you could do the best that you could do, and it won’t work.
Colin: And that’s just because that’s how it is –
Colin: – and sometimes you just have to accept that.
Colin: I’m just starting in podcasting, and after listening for the last hour and a bit how, how you come across, that’s kind of done in my confidence, ‘cause I’m now thinking, I’m not going to do well in podcasting, ‘cause –
Sarah: Oh, you’re going to do brilliantly. Do not worry.
Colin: – ‘cause you’re a natural, and I’m like –
Sarah: Oh, thank you!
Colin: [Laughs] So I think, yeah, just be yourself and be realistic. And don’t give up.
Colin: Because if, if we’d have given up in the first year – I think it, it took us a year to get five thousand subscribers.
Colin: I think in year two we got up to about thirty thousand, and it’s only the last nine months that we’ve gone –
Colin: – from thirty to a hundred.
Sarah: Thank you so much for doing this. I cannot tell you –
Colin: It’s been a pleasure!
Sarah: – how much I appreciate your time. I’ve taken up a lot of it, and I’m very, very grateful. This is a, this is a big step outside for me, like you were saying, about be yourself and do what you want to do. Most of the time I talk to authors and I cover a lot of topics related to romance fiction and women and things, so this is a step outside for me, but it has been an absolute pleasure, and I’m so excited to share this with my community. Thank you so much!
Colin: Oh, I’ve loved it! Thank you so much for talking!
Sarah: I also have a – so Shaun can’t hear me, right?
Colin: He’s not on the boat at the moment.
Sarah: Okay. So I have a gift suggestion for you to give to him. There is a cookbook called Snacking Cakes.
Sarah: Yeah, and it is all recipes for cakes. Snacking –
Colin: I’m writing this down; sorry.
Sarah: – Cakes, and –
Sarah: – so it’s wonderful. I don’t know if you have – it’s available digitally, so you don’t have to have the book itself, but the cake recipes – and I believe it’s American; I don’t know if it’s been translated into, you know, what the rest of the normal world uses for measurements – but everything is adaptable, so it’s like, okay, if you don’t have this pan but you have this pan, you can do it this way. So it’s very adaptable for large and small scale –
Sarah: – but the cakes are phenomenal.
Colin: Right. I’m getting that.
Sarah: And I know, I know, I know he, I know he likes cake. [Laughs]
Colin: Yeah, he does, and he’ll be making ‘em from day one. He’ll just go through it from –
Colin: – from front to back.
Sarah: It’s a brilliant cookbook. It’s so good.
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. I hope you enjoyed my conversation. If you are looking to find out more about narrowboating or you want to check out Foxes Afloat, do not worry; I will have links in the show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast. Thank you to Colin for hanging out with me, and, and I hope you enjoyed our conversation.
I end every episode with a terrible joke, and this week’s terrible joke comes from a listener. Martin sent me this joke, and it’s awful, and it’s so perfect because this is what’s happening in my world. I presume if the seasons are changing for you, you might also be experiencing this. [Clears throat] Are you ready for this terrible joke? I cannot wait for you to share this with people; it’s so great! Okay.
Did you know that there is a vision of the afterlife where each circle of hell is plagued by a different kind of pollen?
It’s true. Circle of hell, each layer different layer of pollen.
It was written by Dante Allergieri.
[Snorts] Allergi-eri! [Laughs] Thank you, Martin. So if you don’t have pollen, maybe, like me, you’re also about to have an incredible symphony of cicadas this summer. Holy cow! I wonder if there are bad cicada dad jokes. If you know of any, you know what to do with them, correct? You send them to me immediately, right? Yes, of course you know that. [Laughs more] Allergieri! Thank you, Martin!
Thank you for hanging out with me. I hope you enjoyed this episode. We will be back next week, but until then, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend and thanks for tuning in!
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to listen to at frolic.media/podcasts.
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.