Thursday 9 February 2012

The Amateur Boatwomen - book review

The Amateur Boatwomen
by Eily (Kit) Gayford
February 2012

Following hard on the heels of Idle Women, I read through The Amateur Boatwomen by Eily Gayford. This makes an excellent counterpart to Susan Woolfitt book on the same topic of the little band of female wartime boaters who did their bit for king and country.

In fact, Eily Gayford was the prime mover behind the scheme, serving as head trainer and administrator, referred to in Idle Women as Kit. So how do the books compare?

Well, this book covers more ground, starting in the Birmingham / Worcester area before moving onto the Grand Union. It covers more time starting in 1941 and continues the take of wartime carrying through to the cessation of hostilities in 1945, and it has greater scope in the subject matter addressed so it has to be the better book - right?

Wrong! For all its plusses, this book isn't a patch on Idle Women, its counterpoint with the catchy title. For all its potential I have to conclude that Susan Woolfitt was the better writer and its interesting that her book seems to have stood the test of time whereas this one languishes in relative obscurity.

The Amateur Boatwomen focuses on the canals whereas Idle Women concentrates on the life lived and the experience of entering this closed world of rivalries and support. And when all is said and done, its life's relationships which we remember rather than places visited.

Don't get me wrong, its not a bad book. Its well worth reading and it carried me on my way to Turkey very successfully, but if you were to read just one book on the subject it should be the other one!

1 comment:

Alan Fincher said...


Again, I can only agree.

It is a shame this book is not more interestingly presented, but it seems Eily (Kit) Gayford's skills were better as a boat-woman than as an author, I'm afraid.

I had higher expectations after some had praised it, but Idle women is the better read.

Also Amateur Boatwomen is a slender volume, only filled out by making the text larger, in my view!

I'm not a great fan of the Margaret Cornish book either, "Troubled Waters". She comes across as a rather bitter person in much of it, with some chip on her shoulder I can never quite work out why is there.

I'm quite critical on Waterway's books, but was pleasantly surprised by the Tom Foxon trilogy now published in the same series as those you are reading. Probably best of the bunch, as he is someone who worked far, far more on carrying on everything through motor narrow boats, horse-drawn traffic on the BCN , and ultimately big barges on the Severn. My favourites to date......