Caught by the River

Drove Cottage

Malcolm Anderson | 28th February 2014


Picking up the pieces. Words and pictures by Malcolm Anderson.

Eighty square feet – Eight feet by ten. That’s what my world has been packed down in to. Following the evacuation of Drove Cottage my stuff has been boxed, bagged and piled high into the battleship grey metal container on a gritty faceless industrial estate in Salisbury. My belongings reduced to a simple mathematical calculation of width x length x height, a faded inkjet printed contract and a direct debit agreement signed in haste.

My books are boxed neatly and stored at the back of the big metal box. Kerouac hugging Ransome, Hemingway rubbing shoulders with Blyton, Gierach and Rowling. In my head I can see the letters running off the pages, squeezing between paper layers like water coming out of a chalk aquifer and collecting in the bottom of the masking taped packing boxes; rivulets of letters running jumbled downhill forming pools of new words; oceans of unheard sentences.

My photos sit, wrapped in old blankets, behind a veritable barricade of bookshelves, empty shelves forlorn in their bookish nakedness. The book shelves are in turn, dwarfed by the gleaming white hulks of the kitchen white goods, bed bases and a Spitalfields worthy collection of random odds and sods that have been arranged to fit in any available spaces.

Wedging the last bits in I slam the door, perhaps a tad too firmly, anxiety and some frustration lending unlooked for strength. I double lock the door, each click bringing a measure of closure, Drove Cottage shutting off more with each klunk. Turning away from the piled belongings I turn to walk towards the car and pause for a second. Somewhere beyond the razor wire and CCTV, through the yellowing and early budding willow branches and across the tumble down winter reeds I can hear the flow of my river, my Nadder. The song of the river in full flood reminds me that life is a journey and that stuff is after all, just stuff. I swivel around; my feet slipping on the green moss covered concrete and walk back towards my car, my head held high. Clicking the key fob as I walk I’m sure that the car looks like it’s breathing easier on it’s now lightened suspension springs and together we drive off, unburdened towards a new beginning.


Although I suppose there is no good time to lose a home homelessness really couldn’t have come at a worse time for Joe and I. He’s due to change school in September and I’ll hear in May where he’s going and this will have a direct influence on where I end up living and that makes taking on a new lease somewhere pretty difficult.

Luckily Alison, who helped so selflessly during the flood, has opened up her house to two slightly dazed Wiltshire refugees. It’s a bit of a trek up to school, being in Winchester and across the Hampshire border, but it’s warm, comfortable and the fabulous company more than makes up for a drive in the mornings.

The house sits, uncomfortably to my mind, on an estate on the edge of the city. A small city, sure, but after the months at Drove Cottage I find myself holding my breath as I walk around, Winchester may as well be Dalston or Hackney. I see more people in an hour here than I did in a week on the chalk hills. The spirit of Drove Cottage however is here in my heart; the feeling of home prevails when I sit here with the front door shut and look out over the little secluded garden. Everything from the worn wooden floors, log burner and oil paintings decorating the walls to the nice little open plan kitchen feels nurturing and warm.


When I step out of the front door however I feel an ache for fresh air, quiet and vegetation underfoot. I need the recharging sound of running water, the smell of leaf mold and the keening cry of a buzzard somewhere unseen on a vast blue blanket sky.

So I’m back to running again as it gets me out of the suburbs quicker than walking. I run along a pavement, cracked and marked by the hands of numerous utilities contractors, a crazy network of spray paint markings showing depths, distances and ownership. I run past the group of teenagers, hoods up, laughing and mucking about on the broken wooden benches next to the bus stop and past row upon row of boxy silent houses. My rhythm is set by the music of loose inspection covers, the beat of feet hitting the words CATV, BT, Southern Water. The older metal covers proudly bear the names of towns they were made in and make a solid deep sound as they rock back and forth, the more modern plastic ones make a flatter soulless sound underfoot. I turn uphill away from Tescos and the Happy Valley takeaway; past rows of retirement bungalows guarded by sentinel gnomes and wooden wind chimes and cross the busy Stockbridge road. Five more minutes, that’s all I’ll need. Five minutes to escape the tarmac and feel the mud under my feet.


My heart begins to lift as I turn into the ancient yew-lined remains of the roman road from Salisbury, this section neither Clarendon Way nor Sarum Road, somehow exists between worlds. It’s a transition between the ancient and the modern, the blurred boundary between suburbia and rural Hampshire. It’s home to cyclists, dog walkers, runners, horse riders and now at least temporarily, me. The contrast between this crowded old path and the empty spaces around Drove Cottage couldn’t be greater but ancient trees and mud underfoot are a release regardless and I’m beginning to appreciate just how much tranquility is to do with something inside me, not just the environment outside.

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