Landscape with Landlords (1st January 2014)

Landscape with Landlords

My nephew gave me a copy of "The Landscape Trilogy" for Christmas, the three part autobiography of Tom Rolt. An excellent present. I've particularly enjoyed reading the final part, "Landscape with Figures" as I've not had a chance to read that before.

Rolt was an extremely good writer and had a big influence on me, along with many other boaters and people who are generally dissatisfied with modern materialistic culture. Nevertheless, I've always been a bit uneasy about where he was coming from. Like everyone else, Rolt had no choice about the circumstances of his birth, in his case into an Edwardian family sufficiently wealthy to not need to soil their hands with work. To his credit, young LTC trained as an engineer and took relatively menial jobs in the years between the wars. He clearly admired people who lived simply, and, in particular, those who pursued the perfection of a craft that relied on the rack o th ee more than intricate computational skills.

Rolt had a key role in starting both the waterway movement and the railway preservation movement in postwar Britain, motivating people to volunteer to keep these things, threatened by the ever onward drive towards the mundane, in being for all to enjoy. It is partly thanks to Rolt that we have a canal network and that I can go and enjoy a ride on a steam train whenever i feel the urge.

Like Rolt, I despair of the constant drive to generate money at the expense of all else, constantly making the world a duller, greyer, more predictable place. I love to see land, buildings, machines etc lovingly hand made and cared for. Without resuming this direction of having a spiritual bond with our surroundings, our community and our technology, learning to live more simply, I don't quite see how we can hope to survive on this little planet. However, a crucial part of this for me is that it has to be fair. While there are still masters and servants then the servants will always envy the masters.

Rolt somehow partially inverted this, being of the master's class but often envying the servants, deploring the sad decline in subsistence agriculture for example. Tolstoy was similar, and Ghandhi, but both these men sought to live the simple life of a peasant rather than just idealise it from a lofty eminence.

My disappointment with the later Rolt really surfaced when I read about his very valuable tenure at the Tal y Llyn Railway in 1951/52. He claimed that it was a financial disaster for him as he was only paid £30 a month. That's about £7 a week. In 1950 the average wage for a factory worker was about £5.70, and often this had to support a family. My first wage as late as 1971 was only £10 a week. £7 a week was simply not enough for an upper middle class lifestyle.

I am interested in building a better, more human, more democratic world where communities make their own decisions, use their own resources and people work for each other. This is not possible if some people think they're so much better than others that their children have to be privately educated. I hate to say it, but Rolt was a snob who thought himself better than the riff raff on the council estate.