Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Taking sides?

Last week, Granny Buttons drew attention to the idea that there is a sharp dividing line between people who approach the waterways with an open mind and those who are obsessed with 'heritage'. This led me to wonder which side of the divide I fall on, and whether this is the only, or even the most significant, distinction to be made between different waterways users.

Part of me definitely has a strong rivet-counting tendency, best illustrated perhaps by my niggling obsession with getting the right colour paint for Warrior's engine (we have now committed on this by the way, having ordered the engine enamel from Phil Speight and asking him to match it to the best of his knowledge). It's not that there's any innate virtue in reproducing the original colour, but rather a case of, if you can, then why wouldn't you? The research, and the things you learn and the people you meet through this sort of obsessiveness, is a major part of the fun. The detective work is a challenge, and often leads to a great sense of achievement (and possibly even smugness - an emotion not to be underrated).

Do I feel we have a duty to posterity to preserve things exactly as they were? Not really - as long as there are records, and, importantly, examples, somewhere. History is important, but change is part of history and that includes changes that are taking place now. So why am I pleased to see buildings listed and working boats restored? Ninety nine percent of the time it's simply because they are just more beautiful, lovelier and better built than any modern replacement would be. I don't want to live in the past, but I do despair of the contemporary lemming rush for ever changing, gimcrack, disposable rubbish, whose only virtue is that it's 'new', the pursuit of which drives us into debt and heart attacks and ultimately the environmental grave - and which always still leaves us hungry.

Here's a thought. The age of canal transport lasted, say, 200 years. We think of this as an interesting and significant blip in history, whose end was inevitable. Mass road transport, which we take to be the norm, has been in place for about seventy years, if that.* Will it last another 130? Of course not. I'm not a great lover of sci-fi, but I like to toy with a futuristic plot in which roads are broken up and overgrown, but a few hardy souls set out to restore them so that they can chug around in their salvaged and restored lorries ...

Finally, a lot of waterways users (and I have gleaned this largely from the letters pages of the waterways press and Narrowboatworld rather than direct experience) seem to be neither interested in heritage nor open minded: the ones who complain about 'tatty boats' running their engines, about not being able to take their dog through the Standedge Tunnel, about online moorings being an eyesore or, conversely, about boats passing their online moorings too fast and so on. I don't mind seeing online moorings; I don't mind feeling the boat move, I'd rather hear an engine running than listen to someone else's taste in music, and I'd rather see a tatty, loved and lived in boat any day than a fresh out of the box identikit tub spray-painted dark blue or dark green that you have to take your shoes off to go aboard. If it's inhabited by a couple of hippies with a hairy dog on a piece of string and preferably a clutch of grubby (but happy!) children, so much the better. Bonus marks for a wind generator.

So pleasure-boating and heritage-obsession can, perhaps, go hand-in-hand. It's the misery-boaters who are out on their own!

(The above paragraph was sponsored by Hyphens-R-Us Ltd of Chapel-en-le-Frith.)

*Please feel free to correct or tighten up these figures - they're very much off the top of my head but I hope the general drift still stands.


Andrew said...

Nearly right, Sarah: :-)

Beware of the 'open mind', though. I believe that no-one has an open mind. Everyone is hamstrung by their upbringing and background.

Some are obsessed by heritage, and others are obsessed by the desperation to break free from their background.

There's nothing wrong with heritage. The problem is when the two can't live side by side.

S said...

Agreed that no-one has an open mind, but some are closed differently from others. Some people might become obsessed with heritage in order to break free from their background - not something I'd ever considered before, but I was born in the 60s and brought up in the 70s slash and burn era, so perhaps there's a reaction to that. Not sure I was 'nearly right' - I was very careful not to attribute the idea to you - it is the idea expressed in the snippet you quoted. It just made an interesting jumping-off point. Thanks for reading and responding!