Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Ceri Levy

16th December 2017

As the year draws to a close, we ask our friends and collaborators to look back on the past twelve months and share their significant moments. From Ceri Levy:

The redwings are back! Forty or fifty of them are tearing up the garden, pilfering every berry in sight and searching through the wintery detritus for anything of worth. They frantically dig and gorge themselves in a frenzied attack on the ground below them. They have been gathering in the fields around me for the last few weeks and I have been waiting for them to enter the garden and do what they do. Once they have sated their appetites I know they will disappear back into the distance, but for now I watch and admire them. These chunky beauties from the thrush family make me want to build a fire and settle into winter; they are my reflective bird. Time to look back with the redwings…

Another year departs and I head into 2018. I have really liked this last year. It has been full of incident, wonder and pleasure. The shadows have been less noticeable this year and a whole host of good things have happened. Farewell 2017, you have been damn fine.

The majority of the year was taken up with Critical Critters and working with Ralph (Steadman). It has been the usual mix of friendship, eccentricity and bonkers conversations and ideas. But we have one drawback in our relationship. If I don’t write everything down we can create problems for ourselves. This year, we were chatting on Skype and we came up with a joke and howled with laughter at it. Jackie, my wife, heard it and she was in hysterics too. When the tears subsided, Ralph said, “That was the funniest joke ever! Write it down.” “Ok,” I said. I picked up my pen and hesitated, “Remind me how it went again…” And for the next forty minutes or so we searched high and low for that joke but to no avail. All we know is that we did come up with the funniest joke ever-ever-ever and it was whipped away from us by the Joke Gods, probably because it would have put every comedian and comedy itself out of business. It was that good. So our Christmas appeal is to help us find it. It has to be somewhere but just remember when you find it that joke is ours. The finder will be rewarded handsomely though and no prank calls please. This is a serious request.

My favourite work of fiction this year has been the Ibis trilogy by Amitav Ghosh. Set during the Opium Wars and located in India and China, it centres on a group of passengers that are brought together on one boat, and follows each of their stories when they get to their various destinations. It tells a compelling tale of British colonialism and is well worth the read in the current political climate. A marvel of modern literature. Read and love this story and the words therein.

The best non-fiction was The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington by Joanna Moorhead. Moorhead tells the story of how she embarked on a friendship with a lost member of her family — her cousin, the artist Leonora Carrington. She was once the lover of Max Ernst, part of the Surrealist movement, and went to live in Mexico City for the majority of her life. Carrington is one of the hidden gems of British art and is well worth reconsidering as an important artist — and yet so few know of her work in this country. This book will hopefully put Leonora’s star right back in the sky.

It’s been a year of discovering what music works when I’m writing and my favourite records to write to have been Alicia Keys’ Home, Tinashe and Nightride, and the whole catalogue from Agnes Obel. But my favourite musical moment has been the discovery of Healy. His mixtape A Galaxy with Skin was beautiful, and his single Slalom (feat. PLC) from his first album proper, Subluxe, is just about the most comprehensively summery record I have ever heard in my life. I’ll leave it at that. Re-discovery album of the year is a tie between Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes and Roberta Flack’s first album First Take. Inspiring, warm and perfect records.

The best event of the year is a tie between Port Eliot and the launch of Critical Critters at Rough Trade East in London. I loved my chats onstage at PE with such varied characters as Alex Preston, Ted Kessler, Chris Difford, and the incomparable Pete Fowler. It was also the time of the deluge, but somehow meeting all my old friends from CBTR made it possible to ignore the adversity. Rough Trade made us feel so welcome for our evening of fun and games for the book launch and to have guests of the calibre of Martin Rowson and Ed Harcourt was sublime. Ed even wrote a song about Critical Critters, which was right on the money and I hope that he records it in the near future.

This has been a year when I have had some wonderful birding experiences and the best was probably going to see a group of bee-eaters in Nottinghamshire, which delighted all and sundry who went to view them. I am so used to seeing them in Spain but hearing that heart-warming chirrup was a sound so golden and so unusual for this country. The perfect rarity and a bird I had never seen in the UK.

I am blessed to have people like this in my life and 2018 is already threatening to be just as interesting as 2017. The most exciting prospect is working on a piece of land outside our village to regenerate it for the benefit of wildlife and the local community to enjoy. This will be done in conjunction with AFON (A Focus on Nature), who are all about helping young people get involved in conservation and nature. I am incredibly excited about working with this enthusiastic and knowledgeable group. Diaries will follow throughout the year and there’s part of a river running through it. Perfect.

Let’s hope that in the dark months next winter I will look back just as fondly at the preceding months as I have done this year. Thank you to everyone who has made this a wonderful twelve months.


Ceri Levy on Caught by the River/on Twitter