Friday, 12 April 2013

Archie White

I was able to get up the Orwell quite a bit last year and couldn't help but notice Archie White's old boat. I say old in the broadest terms for as you can see it looked in fantastic condition while swinging from a buoy just off the Butt at Pin Mill. The boat featured on the cover of Archie's east coast cruising companion Tideways and Byways in Essex and Suffolk which was first published in 1948.  I quite enjoy thumbing through my original copy every once in a while. It has a frayed and foxed jacket and a faint smell of cigarette smoke and when turning a page, while lying down in bed reading it, it gives a pungent waft of strong beer. The cover has to be carefully removed before reading otherwise I will completely ruin it. Being a non-smoker I find the accumulated aromas that came with the book, which incidentally I picked up from a second-hand book shop somewhere a few moons ago now, overload the senses and take one straight back to 1948.  I like to imagine it had sat on a smoke-filled pub shelf for many years, somewhere on the East Coast perhaps, and has been thumbed through by hundreds of ale-sipping sailing types; beardy blokes in black wellies and fishing jumpers or garb aficionados in salmon trousers and Breton hats to obtain its unique patina. Inside, all is pristine and the illustrations he has drawn throughout are simply among the best that can be found in any book.
  I'm quite sure not everyone who sails can truly appreciate what we have on the East Coast and perhaps that is a good thing and keeps many places relatively peaceful but Archie was "in the know". He knew alright and to quote a few lines from his book "Ditch crawling is good fun. At low tide the restricted water in the creeks is calm and still, unruffled by the wind soughing across the marshes above. It reflects the sky like a mirror. Peeping over the grass-tufted edge of the saltings cumulus clouds sweep across its surface upside down. All is quiet. Even the dinghy's wash is subdued- the little waves merge into, rather than lap, the limits of the tide. High banks of glistening mud rise on either side, blue and grey and sepia, or like a pearl." Wonderful stuff, and how marvelous that 65 years after the book was first published his words have lightened the day in 2013.  Archie's work features in other 50 years-plus old collectibles that I own, some of them with bent cardboard covers that look quite battered with a charm only dampened by that musty book smell. I see them as treasure chests where the wonder awaits within. The story of this wonderful boat can be found here


Paul Mullings said...

Well written Tony, I concur with all you say. I can't claim to have such an evocative copy as you, mine being the 1977 reprint of the original one from 1948...... But it still counts as one of my favorite books and sits proudly alongside many of his contemporaries and latterly - one Tony Smith!

Unknown said...

i have a copy from 1948 inscribed by the author it reads.
Good luck and fair winds for Nora Geina
Archie White West Mersea.
i would like to know more of this.