Barging into Burgundy - book review
by Gerard Morgan-Grenville
14th February 2010
This is the third and last book in the "Barging into" series by Gerard Morgan-Grenville, writer, traveller and proto eco warrior.
I was absorbed by his earlier accounts of his 1970's travels in the venerable Virginia Anne, a 150 ton barge which he had nursed from Holland to central France in his first book, Barging into France. He then continued on to the Med and ultimately the Atlantic via the Canal du Midi, which he unpacked in the sequel, aptly called.... Barging into Southern France.
Morgan-Grenville was clearly a man who called spade a spade and turned in his third book with the pithy title of Barging into Burgundy, and true to it's cover that is exactly what he describes.
If you have read the first two volumes this is more of the same really, a wry slightly self deprecating account of their continuing misadventures on a boat past it's sell by date and on waterways under imminent threat of closure. As such it is a fascinating insight into the French waterways of the day, all presented an a series of fragmented but amusing anecdotes. The course of his travels are unclear and appreciation is enhanced if one has a map of the area to hand.
Whilst the book was a pleasure to read, it lacked the certain someting contained within the first two volumes. The first book handled the realisation of a dream and then the thrills and spills of taking an unreliable craft into unknown waters, and the second took this process further with it's account of the journey south along massive waterways, which regularly threatened to sink his plans to the bottom of the river. All gripping stuff which served to give an underlying direction to the books.
Barging Into Burgundy had none of the "will they?, won't they?" suspense about it, returning to Virginia Ann after six or seven years of ownership for a meander through the canals of mid France, never really reaching any sort of conclusion. Sure there were incidents along the way but nothing of great significance.
Strangely, it was the end that I was looking forward to. Not because I wanted the chronicles to finish but more because I wanted to read about how things ended up. Whilst this turned out to be the last book in the series, I suspect that the author didnt' know it at the time. I half expected a dramatic finale, maybe a catastrophic sinking in the Seine or more likely an spur of the moment sale to a like minder adventurer he met along the way. In the event, nothing like this happened. The boat is simply laid up at the end of the season with a strangely prophetic reference to the casual remarks of a French lock keeper, which appear to have crystallised Morgan-Grenville's thinking and set him on a new course into the area of sustainable lifestyles.
"I'm an old man, but I've lived long enough to see the rise of materialism which is crushing the very people by whose effort it thrives. Perhaps we may all be killed by some war, some accidental holocaust, who knows? I tell you M'sieur: it won't make the slightest difference. We might as well be killed in these ways as by the steady strangulation of the spirit, the erosion of the fundemental satisfaction obtained by doing ordinary things. You must believe me, M'sieur, the machine we have made is killing us".
Very eloquent for a French lock keeper. I suspect this short but skilfully drafted mantra contains more than a little bit of Morgan-Grenville within it, but well said whoever spoke it out!
That is the end of the travels of Virgina Anne. One assumes that the author had found a new interest in life and that the craft was sold, but who knows.
Answers in the comments box please.
David and Cherles 1975ISBN 0 7153 6834 6