Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Tom Bolton

Tom Bolton | 20th December 2018

Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings in which our contributors and friends look back on the events that’ve shaped the past twelve months. From Tom Bolton:

From a personal point of view, 2018 was a year for finishing things. I graduated from UCL, having finished my PhD the year before. The hottest day for a decade was an interesting time to wear a Tudor bonnet and full set of robes, but it was both bizarre and a real pleasure to be at a graduation ceremony with my parents, 22 years after the last time. I also finally left UCL and stopped teaching, which I am a little sad about.

I also finished my book, Low Country: Brexit on the Essex Coast, based on a 2-year walk around the tangled, dangerous politics of 2016 and 2017, and the equally complicated, incredibly beautiful coastline of Essex. In June it was nearly done, but there was one final place to visit: The Broomway, a legendarily difficult and risky tidal path, the only route on to the military island of Foulness. Not being Robert Macfarlane I did not want to risk it without a guide – but the only guides, a couple who took groups out on the path, had retired the year before. Their final tour had been cancelled when the Ministry of Defence closed Foulness for extra target practice, after the London terror attacks. Then, as I contemplated my so-nearly-complete manuscript, an email arrived out of the blue from the Dawsons, the couple whose Broomway walk we had missed. They were coming out of retirement for one final walk, and we were on it. The trip was an unforgettable experience – a walk through a zone that was neither land nor sea. The book had an ending, the logical conclusion to the project, and I wrote the final chapter in a single sitting. Low Country was published in October by Penned in the Margins.

It is hardly worth pointing out that 2018 was also a year of abysmal politics – the incompetence, shamelessness and stupidity of people in high office reaching some kind nadir for the 21st century, so far at least. The rise of the far right and authoritarian regimes around the world means a dark and uncertain time is surely coming. However, it was still possible to escape this doomed headspace, and 2018 also turned out to be a year of discoveries. Here are a few of the good things:

– Leipzig, a city with a cultural scene most places would envy. We spent most of our time there at a free experimental music festival in a puppet theatre, which was exceptionally good.

– Daniel Bennett’s Arboreal Days, the first collection of poems by one of my oldest friends which not only has personal significance, but is a properly impressive work.

– Eric Hazan’s A Walk Through Paris, a book that ties ideas and place together place to reveal the multiple layers of the city.

– ‘Pigspurt’s Daughter’ by Daisy Campbell, an inspired and inspirational one-woman show about her father, Ken Campbell.

– You Are Wolf’s album Keld, a masterful remaking of folk music.

– Salm, an unlikely album of free-sing gaelic psalms from the far Hebrides, echoes from a dying Free Church culture.

– Shirley Collins’ autobiography, All In the Downs, published by Strange Attractor, the launch of which felt like an important occasion, reclaiming a marginalised artist.

– Maxim Storms and Lobke Leirens, two Belgian performers whose show ‘Another One’ at the Edinburgh Festival was brilliant, physical and like nothing else I’ve seen.

– ‘How to Keep Time: A Drum Solo for Dementia’, a show in which Antosh Wojcik combined drumming and performance in an entirely original way, staged by my ever-inventive publisher, Penned in the Margins.

– Jess Thom’s ‘Not I’ at Battersea Arts Centre, which showed that Tourette’s Syndrome and Beckett monologues are made for one another.

– The Print Room theatre, now based at the old Coronet Cinema in Notting Hill, one of the most stunning theatres in the country with a sloping bar in the former stalls.

– Streatham Space, which opened in the autumn, giving Streatham a theatre again for the first time in many years.