Wednesday 13 May 2009

One Man and a Narrowboat - Book Review

One Man and a Narrowboat By Steve Haywood

When I bought my copy of Narrowboat Dreams I was aware that Steve had written an earlier canal related book, but it's title "Fruit Flies Like a Banana" seemed ambiguous and provided little indication about its contents. I therefore left it on the shelf.

Having just re read his Narrowboat Dreams as part of my South Pennine Ring sortie this Easter I was interested to learn that his earlier 2004 book had been revised and reprinted under the rather more transparent title "One Man and a Narrowboat". I had come to appreciate his wry take on life so, when I spied a copy in the Gailey Roundhouse bookshop I handed over the £8 change I had been given from a pumpout and became the proud owner of said book, plus 1p change!

So what did I think of it? Well, in short, I liked Narrowboat Dreams a lot more. It's not so much what One Man and a Narrowboat is, it's more what it isn't.

It isn't an account of an epic or unusual waterway journey and the only section that satisfies on that level is his account of his trip down the Severn estuary to Bristol in nb Justice.

For the rest it is a strange mix of a slow (6 month) crawl from Oxford to Bath via Braunston and Stratford using his narrowboat as a base for wider exploration in his much loved and unreliable Triumph Herald. Add into this mix an in depth look at the lives of Tom Rolt and Robert Aickman, founders of the IWA, and you have it.

The book jumps between boating, country life, a history of the Herald and the embryonic IWA in a dizzying whirl, a bit like a mix and match visit to a Birmingham curry house. You get a taste of each offering which individually isn't really enough to satisfy, and you end up wishing that you had had more of just one.

Its worth a read, but if it's a canal based travelogue you are after I would skip straight to Narrowboat Dreams.

ISBN 978-1-84024-736-7

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