Saturday, 25 April 2009

Barging into France

I came across this book in my local Oxfam shop the other day. It was published by well-known transport publishers David & Charles in 1972 but I'd not seen it before. They wanted £2 for it, which seemed cheap to me, although on reflection it probably only cost about 50p when new.
I was expecting a travelogue, describing perhaps the scenic and gastronomic delights of the French waterways. Perhaps a bit like some of the cruising blogs that we all enjoy or like the "Mays Days" series of articles about the waterways in Holland that seem to have disappeared from Canal Boat magazine. It turned out to be a much more absorbing read.

The author buys a converted barge in Holland and, with firstly two friends and then his wife and family - none of whom have any barge-handling experience - takes it via the tidal Rhine in a storm, through a stream of commercial shipping on the Meuse and through Belgium into France. He enlists an assistant, who turns out to be short-sighted and unwilling to follow any instructions and suffers from a catalogue of disasters including having to replace the engine (I can sympathise there), coping with lazy and incompetent boatyards and bored and truculent Belgian customs officials, then striking the wheelhouse on the roof of a tunnel in the Ardennes.
If you don't mind the "Englishman abroad amongst the stupid foreigners" writing style, its an hilarious read and highly recommended, even if you have no intention of taking your boat to the continent. If you can't find one at your local charity shop and don't mind paying a lot more, you can get one from here.


Captain Ahab said...

Following your review I found a copy of "Barging into the South of France" on e-bay. I will read it and do a review in due course. Maybe we should swap books?
Captain Ahab

Jim said...

Presumably its the sequel. I'll wait to read your review before agrteeing to a swop though! :-)

Captain Ahab said...

wise man