Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections – Andy Childs

Andy Childs | 10th December 2012

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

In a year when I stopped buying a daily newspaper and my engagement with the increasingly insane real world took another step back my reflections have mostly been personal and domestic and my shadows, thankfully, mostly meteorological. In September of this year we finally swapped life in a dull, fractured London suburb for one of big skies, farmland and (so far) wet weather in rural Somerset. Actually we’re just three miles from Taunton but being surrounded by fields and woods it felt at first like the Big Country. That was before the floods came when much of the landscape, the Somerset Levels in particular, was transformed into a cross between a primordial swamp and a network of paddy fields. “Worst I’ve seen it in 40 years” was an oft-repeated phrase heard locally and it seems now that we have become completely weather-obsessed. Every shadowy rain shower is viewed with suspicion and some dread as though it might be the forerunner to another deluge and more weight-lifting exercise with the sandbags. When the sun does shine though it’s brighter and clearer than I ever remember it anywhere else in this country and from the top of Stoke Hill we can look across beyond the River Tone to the Polden Hills. Stunning.

My small study, already overflowing with only half the books I own, overlooks a field in which two rough-legged buzzards can often be seen pecking the ground, one eye I suspect on the crows that regularly gang up on them and see them off. We’ve fleetingly glimpsed deer in the field as well and the fate of badgers has naturally been a topic of local interest if not concern. Of course I’m still a country life novice and have yet to fully master the art of observation that so many distinguished contributors to these pages employ effortlessly, but I’m learning, and already I feel more qualified to write for Caught By The River and read each daily posting with renewed interest and concentration. And when I look back through my rough notes that serve as an excuse for a diary I find that a good deal of this year’s most memorable moments for me have been associated with the natural world. Chris Yates’ talk on his lovely, eloquent book ‘Nightwalk’ at the CBTR bash at the South Bank and my subsequent reading of it live long in the memory, as does Robert MacFarlane and Chris Watson’s magical collaboration for ‘The Sea Road’ at the same event, again at the Port Eliot Festival, and lastly on record. Groundbreaking. As was ‘The Old Ways’, MacFarlane’s book that richly deserved all of the ‘Christmas Books’ recommendations that it has garnered. For its sheer imagination, originality and stunning use of such poetic language its probably my book of the year as well. Another watery occasion that I will remember for a long time was the performance of Gavin Bryars’ ‘The Sinking Of The Titanic’ and on a colder note the Captain Scott exhibition at the Natural History Museum was a sensitive and respectful way to mark the centenary of the great man’s achievements. Brave men pitted against harsh but indifferent nature. Puts our little inconveniences down here into some sort of perspective.