Caught by the River

Letter From Arcadia

Dexter Petley | 3rd October 2011

top brass in wetwood

being the first letter from the camembert, written on solar powered quink:


as i write, things fall from trees in the new equinox. yellow morning leaves on the yurt roof, the thud of acorns on corrugated iron; pigeons felled by hunter’s popguns, conkers crushed on the lanes, the first wormy chestnuts in a chunky spread. not least the trees themselves, top heavy from months of deluge, thumping to the ground, autumn’s dying snap so sudden that death creeps by without cracking a twig:

in other words, nature settles up before it’s time to live on reserves. arcadia has become a quarterly, a four seasons letter in which i thank you for your patience. the chalkstream of consciousness is not, alas, an aquifer. it ran dry after your classic sandwich-board from port eliot, propped against your tent which looked, from here, like angling legends hq stitched from canvas salvaged off dick walker’s barrage balloon. whilst you’ve sailed four wents with the river since, here the words in french arcadia flowed slow as the medway in a summer of mud. forty days it rained. blight upon the spuds, tomatoes like lepers, slugs big as marrows-within-marrows, but mushrooms all june and ever beyond:

the yurt and its dominion took an unexpected dose of trench rot in july. an emergency skin of roofing felt saved it from perishing after leak traumas like a breeched dam. hatching swarms of flying ants made the caravan a locust bed, so while the yurt was down and getting wetter, i lived six weeks out of a bivvy, cooking under makeshift roofs on the open fire midst a carousel of bats and drunkard stag beetles careering home like bumper cars on ice. as ever, writing and fishing were the victims of toil. just a handful of rapid evenings, long away games on the syndicate where north easterlies kept the carp off the rocks. just two fish made the scales, either side of 30:

as september bows out with custard yellow suns glinting off the solar panel, hornets on suicide watch and the wild boar readying to run, i prepare for cold snaps in the chilling fields. the stove already smoked a dummy run:

the wood shed is cobbled together from builder’s flotsam:

and the kitchen is pallet-chic and fruit box frippery, beachcombed by laure from round the back of supermarkets:

yes, it’s yurting for boys, building the ark down arcadia’s end. solar hook up is miraculous. so miraculous i’ve turned power freak. one 60w panel provides the 12v juice from a 60ah battery: lights, laptop and LPs. long wave radio 4 on a solar transistor. the archers by live rays from outer space, by just pointing the radio at direct sunshine. extra lighting by crank-up dynamo lamp and an led box with a seperate mini-panel. sunrise and sunset now have electrical significance. dusk sees me collecting apparatus from the sun trap, winding the dynamos and flipping the power station on till lights out. my message is “get off the grid”. make europe clockwork. bring back national service as an eco-force of dynamo winding, pillock-prevention army. a conscription of steam punks & dynamo kevs with solar sandwich boards could save the world. half an hour of electrical production a day per citizen is fair exchange for leaving your modems on all night.

the mushroom revival continues to delight. even if the sudden heatwave warns the forest floor to get a grip and slow down for the next autumn turning. we’ve never seen the like. every bolet in the book through august, girolles in ditches like a champagne glass lorry overturned its load. pieds de mouton like the flock of ages, like desert islands big as a discus, and yesterday, not ten yards from my woodshed, the massed choir itself, the black brass section of the reaper’s satanic mills band, trumpets of death big as william brown’s deaf aunts’ hearing horns:

all-day mushroom omelettes and electrical sonnets on the birdtable


We began publishing the correspondence between Dexter Petley and John Andrews back in May 2007 making Letter From Arcadia the longest running feature on Caught by the River. It’s made for a fascinating archive and you can go back to the very beginning by clicking HERE.