Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Nick Franglen

20th December 2009

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;

I look back on 2009 with joy. I couldn’t say that for recent years, so it’s a pleasure to reflect on things that caught me in 2009.

…. an increasing obsession with the weather. Englishness swells in my heart. In 2008 the diving had been pretty poor due to the weather, so in 2009 it could only get better, couldn’t it? All through this year I was told how wonderful it was going to be next month, my highlight being the friend who told me the rooks were nesting higher than usual this year, meaning that it was going to be a cracking summer. I was so happy for the rooks, and for myself. Unfortunately they were wrong – I hope their nests were okay because storms and high winds scuppered most of the dives I booked. I think the September might have been a bit better, but I was away then of course.

… Ferrara in May. I went out there to do one of the Nico tribute shows with John Cale without knowing where in Italy it was; I still haven’t found out – the unforgivably lazy, hands off approach to continental touring. Wherever it was it was beautiful, a real warm spring tonic after what felt like a very long UK winter. More weather obsession. Ferrara’s a walled town, and each morning before rehearsals I’d take one of the hotel bicycles out for a spin on my own around the city walls; the freedom of a bicycle in a place you don’t know is like Christmas – I’d always try and take a bicycle on tour. I guess you could do the whole walled circuit in under an hour but I wasn’t interested in rushing it, there was always something interesting to divert. Sometimes I’d dump the bike and scramble down an embankment to look at Roman brickwork, pause in pastures so filled with pollen you’d swear it was drifting snow – a hay fever sufferer’s nightmare but magical to me. Those were the mornings, and to put a cherry on the end of every day we’d sit with the gaggle on the cathedral steps past midnight with steady flow of drinks from the only bar still open. It felt like cheating somehow.

… diving the Moldavia, at last. I’d tried to get out to this deep, intimidating wreck four times over the past couple of years but never managed it, prevented by that old friend bad weather and once – the one time we actually succeeded in making the three hour boat trip from Brighton out to the middle of the Channel – by uncharacteristic and stomach-emptying nerves while I was kitted up and ready to jump in, so I pulled the dive. Very frustrating but you can’t fight those feelings, quite a few people have died diving the Moldavia. But this June all went to plan, and at last we found ourselves dropping down and down and down the shot line until the famous 6 inch gun loomed into view. I knew it was a massive ship – a P&O cruise liner commandeered for war service, 500 ft long with more than 1000 portholes, sunk in 1918 by the U-boat equivalent of the Red Baron – but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer scale of it underwater, just breathtaking. It wasn’t a ship, it was a submerged metropolis, a steel mountainside, a cathedral – huge buttresses sweeping above you, vast chambers to explore, intimidating and beguiling, almost calling you to go deeper inside – you could easily get lost within it. When we finally surfaced we found we’d just been hanging around where the torpedo had holed the hull, and never even made it around to the decks and more interesting bits of this astonishing wreck. Next time.

And keeping with the diving, the lovely clay pipe I found on the last dive of the year a few weeks ago. Hidden underwater in a wreck for 90 years, I can’t stop thinking about whose it was. I haven’t used it yet.

… watching the sun rise over City Airport from within Millennium Mills. Urban Exploration is a relatively recent thing for me, and each time I’ve broken into an abandoned building I’m struck by both how serene they are inside, and how childishly exhilarating it is climbing over a barbed wire fence at 4am. Naughty, but not naughty enough to get you banged up (I reckon). Makes the world a brighter place once you’re out, tired and grubby with pigeon shit and what you hope isn’t asbestos poisoning.


… canoeing up the Arun with Guy and Gus – in light of recent needling maybe not the best admission to make to angling devotees, but as it was my first intimate river experience I think I can be excused. Into the water at Littlehampton at 8am, gently up with the tide past Arundel to the Black Rabbit where we had a gourmet lunch of a digestive biscuit with a lump of cheddar on it and a couple of pints while waiting for the tide to turn. Then an effortless drift sideways, backwards, anywards, simply enjoying the river running back down to the sea, with enough time for fish and chips at the West Beach Cafe. High octane stuff. When we kept a respectful distance from the one man and his rod we came across he called us over for a chat, so we can’t have been too much of an unwanted intrusion.Canoeing-8791

… being Caught By The River in 2009. I love this place. I’m looking forward to seeing what the current will bring in 2010.