Caught by the River

Drove Cottage

25th October 2013


The sound of silence. Words and pictures by Malcom Anderson

I’m just back home from a rare day in London. I did the usual stuff I suppose, the stuff that most people in the city do every day. Stuff that reminds me of a past life where I worked in a suit, drove around the M25 and lived like the next payrise was the only reward a job could offer. A life as comfortable as a starched collar a size too small.

I woke and left Drove Cottage before the day is supposed to begin, closing the door on the silent silhouette of a house, a dark lump set against a dark sky. I dozed crumpled in a corner on a crowded train, ate an overcooked croissant and drank a coffee that tasted of grit and smelt of yesterdays barista. On the Northern Line I caught a faceful of some stranger’s armpit as I tried to read a folded paper whilst nonchalantly adopting the stable, wide legged gait of an experienced trawlerman adrift on Lyme Bay in a force seven gale.

My morning meetings moved slowly, minutes passing between the pauses of the second hand of the big black and white clock on the wall. On the outside I was a productive consultant, all bustle and energy, – ideas ideas ideas. On the inside though I’m still as a millpond, flat calm, the exact opposite of a swan – all activity above surface and stillness below. It’s a strange thing this calm, something I’ve noticed about myself since shifting gear and career six years ago but since moving into Drove Cottage it’s become something more, almost a detachment from the day to day. Is that a healthy thing? The jury’s out. It’s like I’m carrying a slice of calm and solitude with me as I move through my day. I’m a tranquility ninja, a rural Batfink. My wings less a shield of steel, more a shield of fresh air and leaf mould.

The shield of calm is a finite reserve however. A battery of peace and tranquility that today is being eroded by an assault on my senses – sight, hearing and smell, all beaten mercilessly by the occluded cold front that is London’s sheer press of humanity.


By the time I finally step off the train and wander along the deserted concrete tunnels from platform two of Salisbury station, past the dripping pipe and the verdant moss leaching like fluffy paint down the wall, and out into the cool night air my battery is almost empty. Blink Blink Blink. My personal power display is flashing red.

My footsteps echo hollowly as I walk back towards the car where it is parked under a bush next to the river Nadder. I walk past glowing neon palaces, dedicated to the god of Audi, Volkswagen and Honda. Past Eerily silent veterinary forecourts and building supply merchants, past illuminated railway arches and sleeping Victorian houses, until finally I can sense the river as it runs beyond the industrial estate.

I can hear the soft liquid song burbling above the faint sounds of an urban night. I can feel the magic of a river dancing under the stars, its hydrous gravity pulling at my weary legs, berating me for my absence. Feeling the need for connection to the water I slip off my socks and shoes, roll up the trousers a bit and hobble across the sharp gravels into the current. Weed brushes against my legs, the lifeless caress of unseen hands, comforting yet unnerving in the burbling inky stream. I duck under a low willow branch, catching a dusty spiders web on my head and step into a bank of shadow so solid that I feel it slide over me like an icy blanket. Behind me the light from the streetlights shatters into a million pieces, the stars fallen to earth and spread across the water surface, suspended in place by a magical cohesion of water molecules; physics and poetry blended together, winking fleetingly over riffles and pools. The energy of the river surges around my knees and my battery slowly fills, by the time I can no longer feel my toes I’m back into the orange.

I drive home, bare feet squelching in my shoes, and arrive back at Drove Cottage just as I left it this morning. A shadow of a house. Dark against dark.

I pad through the stygian rooms, the moon granting just enough light to dodge furniture by and grab a cider from the fridge. The light illuminates my face momentarily as I open the fridge door but I’m soon returned to the magic of a moonlit house and then back outside in the cool calm night. I settle on the bench at the front of the house and let a tsunami of silence wash over me, a baptism of starlight, cleansing the days dirt from my soul. Once the initial wave of stillness subsides however I begin to pick up audible texture in the nights flatness.

Over the hedge I can hear a badger snuffling through his usual trail in the rough vegetation. I catch the soft swoosh of an owls wings as it takes off from the telegraph pole across the drove and behind me I can just make out the soft creaking sighs of 16th century timbers, restlessly exhaling in the cooling night air. Above me the vastness of the Milky Way stretches across the sky, the stars no longer riverbound and back in their rightful place. If I stop breathing for a second I can almost feel the stars grinding across the heavens, the slow steady whirring movement of a celestial clock. With every passing second I feel my battery fill.

It’s these moments of un-silence that I live for. Like the millpond surface that at first glance seems calm the silence seems soundless, yet if you concentrate there are always faint rustles, creaks, scurries and gentle murmurs as the world breathes; subtle audio signposts to a hidden nighttime world. The imperceptible but indubitable sounds of silence.

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