Caught by the River

Sweete Themmes! Runne Softly, Till I End My Song.*

5th May 2008

As mentioned here previously Andrew, Robin & I are working on a book. It will be called Caught By The River and it’s a collection of writings on British rivers. We’ll keep you posted on the progress.
With this in mind, the recent publication of “Downstream” , a book by Tom Fort of a journey he made down the river Trent, was of some interest to me. The Trent was “my” river. I was born on it’s banks, a few miles outside of Nottingham and spent a lot of time on it as a kid, either fishing or watching football. Great football. Brian Clough & Peter Taylor football.
Anyway, the Trent means something to me, but sadly not for Tom. He tries his best – he writes very well and if I’m honest, the odds of him finding revelation ain’t great – but ultimately he chose the wrong river. He would have preferred to have written about his local river, the Thames, but “…seriously doubted if I could do anything different from those who had gone before”. He then mentions a book called “Sweet Thames, Run Softly” by someone called Robert Gibbings. I’d heard of neither book nor author but I liked the title so I tracked a copy down. Thank you Tom Fort, it’s a lovely book.

First published in 1940 and illustrated throughout with engravings by the author, it tells the story of a trip he made along the Thames: “…it occurred to me that it might be fun to explore the river Thames, in whose valley I had lived for fifteen years.” “It would be restful, too, for I planned to float down-stream at the river’s own pace, and to look for nothing but what I might see as I moved along , consigning all guide books to the devil…”

It’s observational, anecdotal and opinionated. He was definitely somewhat eccentric and it reads all the better for it. Here’s an extract;

“Now the celandines are sparkling in the marshes, and pools in the still flooded fields shine blue. The redshanks are whistling, the peewits are tumbling, and yellow wagtails trip along the muddy borders of the stream, their breasts as brilliant as the kingcups. The sand-martins, too, whirling like leaves in a gale, advertise their return, while high up among the purple blossoms of the elm-trees the young rooks have already broken their shells. Nearer to earth the poplars wave their catkins, and the willows and sallows regale the years first broods of insect life.

The sap is rising. Each day our world turns further towards the sun. All the energy held in bondage during the winter is being released. To quote an anonymous writer: “Week by week the crops swallow up the wild life of the open countryside, while the woods and hedges draw veil after veil over the doings of the small things which they shelter, and wherever we go a hundred eyes peep and a hundred ears listen, of creatures that we cannot see or hear at all.”

“If we would glimpse behind that veil we must forget those fanatics who think that walking at less than four miles an hour is a sign of laziness or physical decay. Those are the people who, after an excursion into the country, spend their evenings at a cinema because they have seen nothing during the day with which to occupy their thoughts. We must learn to walk slowly, so that we have time to see; we must learn to tread quietly, so that we do not cause alarm; above all, we must think peace.”

All of my reading at present is with our book in mind, looking for ideas or inspirations, contributions or inclusions, so after I finish “My Fishing Days And Ways”, I’m back on to Robert Gibbings for “Coming Down The Wye” and then “Lovely Is The Lee”.
Which means that the new Tim Winton novel will just have to wait (let’s hope that it’s up there with “The Turning” and therefore worth the wait). (JB)

*SPENSER, Prothalamion