Caught by the River

Drove Cottage

Malcolm Anderson | 18th July 2014


Points On a Compass
Words and pictures: Malcolm Anderson

An early start from Winchester this morning. Joe’s uniform is cleaned, ironed and a sleepy eleven year old is dragged from his bed, fed, watered and bundled into the car. For a second I think about putting him in the boot and having the dog up front but just have to accept that it wouldn’t be fair on the dog. My Radio One free car rule lives another day drawing a “Daaaad. That is so unfair” from the hitherto silent pre-teen.

Traffic jostles about for position as we pass the turning for Porton and then slows noticeably as we draw closer to Salisbury, a snaking metallic centipede edging bumper-to-bumper in the still morning heat. Impatient people sit clutching their steering wheel security blankets, studiously ignoring the other human beings in their little cages as they pass. Anonymised by steel and plastic, carbon and rubber. Lost in their own dramas and lives, are they dreaming of holidays away or thinking of leaving their wives? Have they just opened a letter with bad news? Buried their husband under the patio? Their lives are their own, as is mine.

I drop Joe off at school complete with swimming stuff, squash kit and an electric guitar on top of the normal backpack and turn back for the countryside post-haste. As the sea of tiled roofs, tarmac side roads and double yellow lines fades slowly back into flower strewn verges, summer hedgerows heavy with leaf and just-yellowing cornfields I can feel my stomach unwinding and I begin to relax. The windows are fully down and I enjoy the cool blast of air as it thunders around me, causing old parking receipts to swirl up from the dusty footwell, tiny paper gulls wheeling on the tumultuous air.

Turning off the main road I slow right down as I take the lane up towards Figsbury Ring, the car lurching over dried out potholes, kicking up clouds of white dust behind me whilst ahead a heat haze jellies the air above the potted white chalk surface. I pull to a close, turn off the engine and in my rear view mirror the airborne chalk dust falls back to earth, silent and unhurried as snow on a still January evening. I sit still, lost briefly in that that split second of adjustment, that point in time where the loud brash human world switches off and the noises of the wider world have not yet begun to register. A momentary sensory nothingness that fades all too quickly.


Within minutes I’m walking distractedly through a subtly shifting sea of waist high long feathery grasses and my fingers play unthinkingly with the delicate seed heads as I pass. This morning’s spider harvest glistens in the shady understory beneath the taller grasses, millions of rainbow hued dewdrop diamonds suspended on fibrous filigree webs.



I make a short sharp climb and lie back on the rabbit cropped grass atop an Iron Age earthwork, a wet arse a small price to pay for the chance to sit and think under a vast still sky. Mungo stops chasing rabbits for a while and comes and lies next to me, his coat thick with goose grass and his doggy smile content. Ahead of me Salisbury nestles between chalk ridgelines, the spire pokes from behind Laverstock Down, an ever-present visual reminder to the rural population of days gone by about where the power in this landscape really lay. To my right sit the unwieldy blocky Lego buildings of Boscombe Down, incongruous human right angles in an otherwise soft-bosomed landscape. Overhead, swallows and swifts careen joyfully across a Ruisdael sky. The faint rustling of long grass and the riot of birdsong fill my ears but behind it I can just make out the metallic sound of the halyard on the MOD’s warning flag slapping lazily against the flagpole. The red flag at the top of the pole flits fitfully in the meagre breeze, unsure of whether it’s supposed to be pointing North, South, East or West; I know how it feels.

It’s time for change once more, my journey come almost full circle. I recently found out where Joe is going to school in September. Winchester is just too far away from school for me to be able to get him there every day so after much soul searching, brain wracking looking for alternative solutions and long discussions it means that I’ve got to find a house for Joe and I to start over from. Again. Not an ending this time but a sideways step, a move away from the company, comfort and homeliness that I’ve come to enjoy in Winchester. A step into uncertainty once more.

Another decision taken for me that I can’t alter. Marriage breakups, house sales, flooding, school appeal boards – I’m getting more than a little tired of the universe being in charge. All that’s left for me to do is figure out where the hell I’m going to live next, making the whole thing as positive and forward feeling as possible. I know where the school is and have now looked at houses at all points of the compass in a ten mile radius out from that. I’ve looked at beige modern houses on soulless estates, I’ve looked at Victorian terraces in Salisbury and I’ve looked at tiny run down country cottages smelling of old wellies and leaking heating oil. I’ve developed an addiction to online property websites, I know letting agents by name, I’m on the waiting list for all of the major country estates in the area and I’ve got little adverts up in village post offices; yet I’m still no clearer about where the next chapter lies. Like the flag I’m caught in the doldrums between the universes deep breaths, floundering a little, waiting for the next gust to set me on my way.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the house will decide everything for me when the right one comes along, probably simply by virtue of being available, affordable and having that elusive feeling of ‘home’. I may have to settle for affordable and available but until I find that ‘right’ place the search continues and I will keep self-medicating, using the solace of an open sky and the soft caress of wet grass underfoot to keep the anxiety led spectre of my Crohn’s disease at bay.

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