Saturday, 26 September 2009

Pin back your lugholes...

My favourite author is Tom Rolt as he's most widely known. Lionel Thomas Caswall Rolt was a writer, philosopher and visionary.
He was responsible for the Railway Preservation movement with the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society, the Vintage Sports Car Club and the Inland Waterways Association. The second and third of these ensured the purity of genuine vintage motoring and the saving of the canals for the widespread liesure use they now enjoy respectively.
He found Prescott Hill for the VSCC, which is now run by the Bugatti Owners' Club, who have a museum in his name at the hillclimb course in Gloucestershire.
Prescott has grown in stature to become the premier hill for all vintage and classic motoring events.
Tom's Alvis 12/50 Duck's Back. He never owned a more modern car all his life and was completely at home driving this across country on the minor roads of England as he was making a new part or repairing an existing one. He, quite rightly, proved that an inexorable march , blindy, toward modernism is neither inevitable or necessary. When he became a family man he simply moved seats to a 4 seater Alvis 12/70 Tourer of similar vintage, belonging to his father.
His seminal work, "Narrow Boat", which has been in print continuously since 1946 is rightly credited with saving our canals as places of leisure AND work, where they might have been all filled in if Tom hadn't have led a number of crusading journeys and rallies to save them.
Tom's boat, "Cressy" at the War-time mooring at Tardebigge where he and his first wife, Angela, befriended the March ladies on their boat "Heather Bell", the boat now owned by my wife and I. It was here that Tom formed the notion of an Association of interested parties who would keep the canals going after the War.

Starting the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society and running it almost single-handedly in its early years showed many others worldwide that such was possible.

I have spoken with people who were fortunate enough to have met him or who knew him and it is probably true to say that he was not, perhaps, the easiest man to know. Men of strong, unbendable principles rarely are, but the world is poorer for the woeful dearth of such people in this modern age.
It is also immeasurably the poorer for the lack of writers of his ability. Those for whom writing was a constant struggle, but whose style was born of an earlier, gentler age where the English language was to be revelled in; those who were uncowed by any considerations of political correctness. It is far more enjoyable to read what a person really thinks when it is not only unfettered by such things, but done with elegance and honesty.
Tom, riding an Irish train during his sojourn in the Emerald Isle, for his volume, "Green and Silver". I am homoured to posess a first edition of this fine book.
It was during a period of introspection and, perhaps, depression that I picked up his "Landscape with Canals". I read it from cover to cover in nearly one sitting and when I came out the other end I was fine. I had to read the rest of this astonishing man's work. I knew of "Narrow Boat" but had never read it. I did so and found the same euphoria. It was very easy to see how this one book, more than any other, had started the movement to save the precious resource of our canals and navigable waterways.
I continued with the other two books in his "Landscape Trilogy", "Landscape with Machines" and "Landscape with Figures". These three books form his autobiography and through his self examination help to explain how he, to some extent at least, came to terms with the dychotemy of his apparent hatred of the way the modern world was heading and his love of engineering. All was revealed to him one night at Llanthony Abbey in South Wales. Having been there, I can well understand how his epiphany came about. Reading these books made me want to read his philosophical works. I was to wait some years until I could both find and afford them, for here we enter the realms of rare books and their collectors, for Tom had become a collectable writer.

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