Saturday 16 March 2013

Small Boat in Southern France - book review

Small Boat in Southern France
by Roger Pilkington
March 2013

This book represents the final chapter in the travels of the Commodore, the ex Navy craft which the Pilkingtons rescued from the mudflats of the Medway soon after the war. This craft, bought to potter around on the Thames took them safely across to the continent, up to Scandanavia, through Germany and Bavaria and finally down to the south of France. But in spite if three replacement engines time was taking its toll and this journey across to the west of France was to be its last.

This book, more than any other so far, highlights Roger Pilkingtons trinity of interests: Boating, Medieval history and Reformation / non conformist Christianity. The trip along the Canal du Midi is a walk through the formation of the early free church and the accounts of the canal's construction are intertwined with the building of the foundations of the modern church scene.

Sometimes I find Pilkington's obsession with history irritating, getting in the way of the story of the waterway and cause for paragraph skipping. But here the sub plot was fascinating - the fearful tales of persecution started in Lyon and continued all the way to journey's end in Bordeaux. All along the route there were accounts of free minded individuals speaking out for a simpler faith, based on the teachings of Christ but at every turn they were resisted by the orthodox church of its day. Whole communities were slaughtered and towns levelled in acts of genocide by tyrants who saw it as their God given duty to rid the world of heretics (and to grab their assets along the way). All in all it paints a scary picture and makes me appreciate the freedoms and security we enjoy today.

Against this bloody backdrop Pilkington tells a tale of a beautiful journey to the west, the Pyrenees rising in the background as the Commodore progresses to her ultimate conclusion. We were also treated to a detailed historical account of how this dramatic waterway was built, resting its builders to the full with water supply problems, aqueducts, tunnels and a lot of locks thrown into the mix.

All in all a particularly engaging installment from Mr Pilkington, thought provoking on several levels and ultimately the bittersweet moment when Commodore was left tied to a foreign wharf and the crew return to the UK and the construction of the new Thames Commodore. 

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