Monday 18 November 2013

Race Against Time - book review

Race Against Time
by David Bolton
November 2013

The sub title to this book is "How Britain's Waterways Were Saved" but perhaps more accurately it should be called "IWA - the early years" or "Robert Aickman - a biography of the IWA years".

This book was given to me by my brother with the comment - you may find this interesting. And he was right. The formative and pioneering days of the IWA were played out before I was born and this book traces the key events of those years.

My take away is that we owe a greater debt of gratitude to Robert Aickman than I had realised. Tom Rolt tends to get all the plaudits as the founder of the IWA and the movement to save the canals due to the widespread appreciation of his beautifully written books, but Robert Aickman was certainly the dynamic powerhouse who made the campaign his own and never gave up the fight over a period spanning a crucial two decades. 

All this and he wasn't a died in the wool boater! He was certainly a complex man who found in the canals a cause which was big enough to consume him but not so big it overwhelmed him The book only lifts a small corner to provide an insight into the man himself, but his passion and sometimes abrasive personality shines through.

One of the more interesting observations made is the time it takes to change a public perception. His view was a generation, or 20 years, and as he managed turn the tide public opinion about the canals in 15 he was well pleased.

All in all its an excellent account of those early days when the agenda slowly moved from a restoration of commercial carrying to the creation of an embryonic tourist led strategy. I don't believe that even in his wildest dreams he could have foreseen the way the network would develop, and for that we all owe him a debt of gratitude.

Its well written and fairly pacy and fills in many blanks. If you like to put things into historical context this really is a must read book. 

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