Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Malcolm Anderson

Malcolm Anderson | 13th December 2013


Wight, Portland Plymouth. Southwesterly violent storm 11. Backing Southerly, becoming 3 or 4. Occasional sunny spells and rain showers. Poor to moderate becoming good later.

2013 dawned for me on a landscape torn apart by change.

The latter half of 2012 had existed as a half world, an empty shell. A world holding its breath. A storm was coming, a pressure cooker, roiling quietly under steadily darkening skies and heading towards a barely celebrated Christmas.

When the storm finally broke it arrived with an unexpected ferocity, an almost poetic explosion of finality, a meteorological full stop. The sort of storm that you know there is to be no going back from. The trees of my inner landscape were bent double until they split like peeled bananas; their roots dragged from their earthly embrace and laid bare, white skeletal fingers broken and lifeless under a sky the colour of coal. Misery fell diagonally in sheets from an upside down tumultuous sea, raining down onto the duvet of Wiltshire’s already saturated beige winter landscape and with nowhere for the salty raindrops to go the rivers ultimately burst their banks.

My world, packed down tight into a small blue rucksack, was cast adrift and I floated aimlessly in life’s current finding nighttime purchase in the fleeting safe harbours provided by friends and family.

By the end of winter my landscape had, once again, shifted around me. Gone were the floods, the waters of heartache receded, the old waymarkers of my ordered world swept away. My world existed for a time as a featureless nothingness and I felt disorientated as if I was lost in a blanket of silent fog. Tasteless, meaningless, multidimensional; up, down, forward, back – every step felt the same.


Slowly the void around me populated with detail as the green fire of springs new growth melted the frigid nothingness. Faint shoots of life penetrated my befuddled brain, faint noises caught upon passing a quiet room, verdant leaves shooting on winter browned branch tips, the flash of a fish seen through coloured river water. Behind it all though exists the omnipresent breathing of a planet that continues to rotate on its axis regardless of any one persons petty concerns or travails. Conscious of my small place in the overall scheme of things I picked myself up and moved out of the miasma of indecision and emerged into a new landscape. A sweeping landscape of soaring rounded chalk hills above mist shrouded river valleys. Sleeping dinosaurs under uneven green blankets, their flanks dotted with hangars of beech; crisscrossed with ash, oak and ancient yew fringed droveways.

The mist clears finally from the valley floor, airborne water particles pooling mercurially back into ancient dew-ponds, coalescing on the moss covered archaeology of long-forgotten watermeadow infrastructure. A low brick and flint cottage materialises at the foot of an uneven flinty droveway like a beacon of safe haven following a period of upheaval and change. The second that Joe and I set foot into Drove Cottage to look around, before the letting agent had said a word, we both know. Without understanding why or how, it is obvious that we both feel that we have come home. Home to somewhere we can both adjust to our new life as a father and son only family unit.

Home. It’s a funny thing. We put so much store in the four walls around us, so much emphasis on the notion of the family home yet when things fall apart we pack a few boxes and move on. Home becomes the next four walls, the next adventure and the next challenge.


Drove Cottage fits like a glove and as I relax and breathe deep on clean unpolluted Wiltshire air I can feel the healing effect that the house has on both myself and Joe. As the weight of the past drops off my shoulders I begin to realise more about the parts of me that I have put on hold for the last nineteen years, the parts of my character that had been buried under decades of eroded self belief and misplaced guilt.

As 2013 evolved and morphed I learnt to trust myself more, to accept that there were some things that, actually, I am fairly good at and that it’s no bad thing to have a modicum of self-confidence. I learnt to trust in the scribblings that I occasionally and somewhat hesitantly send off to the chaps at caught by the river. I learnt to trust that the photographs I took were not just of interest to my mum and that it was not abnormal to be interested in ground source heat pumps, to enjoy listening to Minor Threat, Dinosaur Jr and Fugazi and to detest the X Factor.

I’m now fitter than I have been in years, I’ve gained a pristine wild chalkstream as a playground, I’ve rekindled old friendships, I’ve lost friends who I thought were the friends-for-life sorts. I’ve been hospitalised by a thug with a hockey stick on the mean streets of Wiltshire and I’ve narrowly avoided being struck by lightning. I’ve been to my first opera and I’ve seen the Pixies play again 22 years on since I last saw them live. I’ve met someone who reminds me how good it feels to be alive, who makes me smile, who makes me feel strong and confident. Who shows me every day that I’m exiting 2013 in a much better place than I entered it.