Haywood, S. (2009) One Man and a Narrowboat – Slowing down time on England’s Waterways Summersdale Publishers ISBN 978 1 84024 736 7
Haywood, S. (2008) Narrowboat Dreams – A Journey North By England’s Waterways
Summersdale Publishers ISBN 978 1 84024 670 4
Haywood, S. (2011) Too Narrow to Swing a Cat – Going Nowhere in Particular on the English Waterways Summersdale Publishers ISBN 978 1 84955 065 1
For years, at Pete Downer’s mooring at Grimsbury Wharf on the outskirts of Banbury, I moored next to Steve’s boat Justice. We moored in the shadow of the dragon of the Kenco Coffee factory. Old Bill, who did so much excellent woodwork on my previous boat Onward, also did work on Justice and on Steve’s London home.
Despite coming to the series late, I felt I knew Steve a little; having moored alongside him, met him, and read his monthly thought-provoking pieces in Canal Boat, I knew what to expect from the books, and they didn’t disappoint.
Steve’s passionate and articulate, hilarious and intransigent and writes in such a beguiling and direct way that it feel at times as if he’s regaling you with the stories over a few pints on a good night down the pub.
The first book (a re-packaging of an earlier one published in 2004 under the ambiguous title Fruit Flies Like a Banana) does succeed in establishing the mix of rant, humour, travelogue and wry ‘state of the nation’ observational commentary, but doesn’t have as coherent a theme as the following two volumes. Instead One Man and a Narrowboat is a messier mix, vaccillating between boating and on-off journeys in his beloved Triumph Herald.
To me Narrowboat Dreams, with its description of the newly re-opened Southern Pennine Ring, and Too Narrow to Swing a Cat, describing his adventures on the way to a number of waterways festivals over the course of a long summer, are a much more satisfying and coherent read.
But, perhaps I’m quibbling, as each book in the series is actually a delight. Steve wears his erudition lightly, and between humour and calamity, there are fascinating insights, vivid commentary on the state of the waterways, and astute observations on life in general.
I’ve come away from each having been both challenged and entertained in equal measure; you always come away having learned something new, even if it is about the inner workings of that Triumph Herald!
I’ve read the three books pretty much back to back over the last few weeks, and they really have provided a powerful antidote to the frustrations and gloominess of late Winter. They’ve never failed but to make me ever more determined to get out there and get boating again.
As an antidote to Winter blues, and as a valuable addition to the literature of our modern waterways, I can’t recommend this series highly enough.