Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Malcolm Anderson

Malcolm Anderson | 27th December 2016

…In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back on the past twelve months and share their moments;

Twelve Months. Well, where do you start? As a year it’s all too easy to look back on 2016 and just see negativity, division and loss.

Bowie and Rickman. Cohen. Harper Lee and Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. Prince.

For those of us of the chalkstreams of southern England, we even lost old mutton chops himself, the great bewhiskered river keeper of the Itchen, Ron Holloway.

As the year progressed I think we all, at one point or another, have sat back and just thought, seriously? again?

Punch drunk we reeled from one well-meaning media retrospective to the next.

On top of that, seemingly every time I opened a paper, turned on the news or looked online it felt like we were being bombarded with bad news. On a global level, let’s face it, the world feels like it is going to shit.

I woke the morning after the Brexit vote and just sat thinking ‘uhmm’ for most of the day. My mind full of whats, ifs and maybes and to be honest, even though it is now December, I’m still not entirely clear on what the hell it all means. The farcical political fallout that followed the vote made us all look rather ridiculous to the rest of the world. We appear to have been caught by surprise with no plan at all for what to do next, our nation’s trousers well and truly down around our Cornish ankles.

Our national representative on that global stage? The snake-oil-selling, nauseatingly saccharine Farage. My granny would be spitting and shouting obscenities at the TV like she used to do at Margaret Thatcher and Barbara Cartland.

The only thing that has eased the feeling of being the butt of a long Daily Mail joke this year is the complete cluster-fuck that’s heading America’s way as Trump puts his right wing oil buddies in power. Although the impacts of his being emperor ming-the-merciless will be global, I can’t help but feel that at least we’re not the only country who’s done something truly stupid this year, and that at least is something of a relief. I was always told that it’s wrong to take pleasure from others’ misfortunes however, so I’m sorry for your loss America, I really am. If it helps, you can keep Farage. Think of him as our simple-minded village idiot, just in a suit instead of a smock.

But despite 2016 progressing like a muck-spreader behind a tractor careening downhill, flinging poo as far and high as possible, here in my corner of Wiltshire I’m delighted to say it’s actually been a really good year. In fact, truth be told, despite the odd bump it’s been a really really good year. I don’t mean that in a smug way, but it is nice to look back and not have been flooded or moved house for a whole twelve months.

I’ve spent quite a bit of this year looking through a lens so am going to try to give you a summary in ten pictures. Some I’ll have something to say on, others just remind me of a time and a place.

1) Home. Living out here in Savages Cottage, surrounded by empty lanes, woods and chalk downs has been a delight. It’s settled into being a proper home, somewhere I feel that for now, I belong. Merging two lives, a child, a cat and a dog was never going to be easy but with the exception of the cat going feral and taking to the hills it’s all gone well.
2) Snowboarding with Roz, Joe and assorted friends. Hard work with a teenager, an ACL injury and one of the hottest Thai curries ever invented, but also provided one of the best days of powder snowboarding I have experienced in decades.

3) Wind Pump near Pitton. Just because. One of those perfect mornings. Right place, right time.

4) Rivers. I’ve spent some time exploring rivers that I thought I knew well this year and every time I go out I learn and experience new things. I’m lucky enough to have access to large stretches of the Wiltshire Avon and the sheer diversity of it never ceases to amaze.

5) Did I mention home? There is so much to do here. It is hard, backbreaking work but I’m happy as a pig in shit chopping and stacking logs, cutting hedges, sorting ancient brick paths and strimming through. I love the deep connection to place that comes from dirty hands and fresh air and being exhausted physically rather than mentally. The garden provided potatoes, onions, runner beans, squash, courgettes, tomatoes, cabbages, leeks, chillies, spinach, strawberries, pretty much every herb under then sun and we still have the sprouts, leeks, sprouting broccoli and cabbages to go for winter.

6) Still sunny days.

7) Joe being settled and happy. After the turmoil of Drove Cottage and the subsequent house moves, it’s lovely to see Joe as at home here as Roz and I. His un-self-conscious laughter outdoors is a reminder of the young boy he still is underneath the face of the teenager he’s growing into.

8) Autumn was stunning this year. The colours just lasted and lasted. Grovely Woods never disappoints but this year was, to my mind, the best in decades. Magical.

9) Roz. There’s a teensy bit of chaos, colour and noise that follows Roz around. It’s not unusual to find her wearing large quantities of whatever she is painting or cooking, or for her to be the one who falls in the big muddy puddle on a long walk. It is that full-on lust for life, sense of fun and complete commitment to whatever she is setting out to do that makes living with her a pleasure – if a little messy from time to time. I can genuinely say there’s never a dull moment and for that (and everything else) I thank her.

10) Winter on the Avon. Crisp mornings with mist curling off and long meandering shadows. Woolly hats. Pike fishing. Kelly Kettle tea. Cold fingers and toes. Cosy pubs with open fires and no jukebox.

Malcolm Anderson on Caught by the River/on Twitter