Caught by the River


Bill Drummond | 26th June 2022

After Smokey and The Temptations

by Bill Drummond

Portrait of The Pied Wagtail under Spaghetti Junction with The Elderly Gentleman. Photograph taken by Tracey Moberly

Monday the 13th of June 2022

Dear Reader,

Some things work best when they fuck up.

Or at least, that is one of the things I like to think that I have learned from life.  

There was a book that one of my other selves had written. As in, my Tenzing Scott Brown other self. This was about 18 months ago. I was hoping to get it printed and published by last Autumn. But then there were three other books I was trying to do at the same time, and things got complicated. I could blame Covid or Brexit, but really it was just me, trying to do too much at the same time and not focusing enough on any one of them. 

Anyway, the book in question was called THE PIED WAGTAIL. 

Many of us grow up projecting all sorts of emotions onto the celebrities of the day, be they rock stars or footballers or the latest actor to play The Doctor. That never really worked for me. I seem to have grown up projecting those emotions onto aspects of the natural world, be they the Fish I have watched in the rivers or the Birds that I watched in the air. Each of them taking on extravagant, extreme, heroic or evil personalities. Sometimes it has been a Pike as the Third Coming, once it was a Black Cap singing Who Knows Where the Time Goes? better than Sandy Denny, sometimes it is a Snail on the pavement that has lost its way after the rain. There have been numerous Crows; always Crows. Not a year goes past without me attempting to date a passing Crow as it makes its solitary way across the sky. 

However impassioned these one-sided relationships, I have never been particularly faithful. I can be having an intense but fleeting fling with a Dace in the stream I’m fishing in and at the same time a dalliance with a Heron on the far bank. And then the Heron makes its move and spikes and eats the Dace in one gulp. And I have been known to think that the Heron ate the Dace because it was jealous. There is no end to the way we deceive ourselves when it comes to these sorts of relationships.

It all gets a bit out of hand at times. Not the sort of thing you can talk to your partner about, let alone your children. Or come to that your grandchildren. But there it is, all the same. The intensity of these relationships does not seem to be waning with age.

I had never had a relationship with a Pied Wagtail. Never even fancied one. But then I started to see this Pied Wagtail running around near Southgate Tube station. This is Southgate in Suburban North London, as in 18 stops from Knightsbridge. I had recently moved to Southgate. I was the new kid on the block. There was no controlling my emotions. I became almost immediately infatuated with her. I would sneak out early in the morning, so it would be just me and her on the street. If I am honest, I was stalking her. 

Then I started having these fantasies that she was in fact the Matriarchal power that was controlling not only my life but the whole universe. 

My Girl exploring the urban landscape around the back of Southgate tube station.

Things were getting out of control. I mean, I knew it was totally one-sided. So I decided to write one of the Tenzing Scott Brown plays, with her as minor character. And in that way, try to reclaim some stability in my unbalanced feelings towards her. This has worked in the past. But it did not seem to work this time. So, I took things to the next level. And tried to persuade myself that She was not the Matriarchal power controlling the universe but merely a passing Muse. I painted her portrait on my wall under Spaghetti Junction. That was early this year. It seemed to work.  And it was soon after this that she disappeared. As in, I was no longer seeing her running around outside Southgate tube station each morning.

And I moved on. There was another Crow in my life. There is always another Crow.

That was until about forty days ago, when I started getting things ready for The 25 Paintings’ Tea Rooms up in the Rooftop Arts Centre in Corby. 

This Rooftop Arts Centre is housed in a derelict and crumbling library all built to pure 1970s brutalist perfection. And it was on my first morning at the Rooftop Arts Centre that I saw my Pied Wagtail again. But this time She had a proper mate, and they had two chicks to feed. I was pleased to find She had found her match. Motherhood seemed to be suiting Her. And I was not riven with jealousy. 

Then, just as The 25 Paintings’ Tea Shops was about to open… And I was about to enter this new chapter in my life as a Nippy in a Pinny, serving tables, the edition of 400 copies of the book THE PIED WAGTAIL arrived from Czech Republic. Six months later than I had planned but not a day too soon. 

This was perfect. I decided there and then that this moment had to be celebrated. And that this celebration take the form of an invitation to those attending The 25 Paintings’ Tea Rooms to attempt to find Her. And if they did, to take a photo of Her. And the first 40 of those that took Her photo and emailed that photo to me, would be paid for their efforts by me handing over a copy of the book THE PIED WAGTAIL. 

The 25 Paintings’ Tea Rooms have only been open for one day, but in that time, I have been given more than twenty different individual photographs of Her. 

And this is the thing…

Some of these photographs are among the most moving photographs I have ever seen in my life. Not that I expect you to be moved in the same way. But for me these photos are up there with that feeling I got when I first read A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines or The Hawk in The Rain by Ted Hughes.

There She was in these unfocused snaps, strutting Her stuff in all the wild glamour of the derelict and crumbling brutalist architecture that was waiting to be demolished. In most of the photos She can hardly be seen, either high on a concrete ledge or in amongst the broken paving slabs, and of course Her colouring camouflages Her. But there She is. 

These photographs might not mean much to most people, even to those that actually took them and received a copy of the book. But to me they define a whole passing epoch.

And now that these first forty copies of the book have been exchanged for those photographs, I still have the remaining 360 left to sell to a wider public. How or where I might be doing that has yet to be decided but it certainly won’t be on Amazon. And there will be no review copies sent out to whoever gets review copies of books. I very much suspect should be the first and only port of call for any interested parties. And I have not yet even mentioned that Elvis Presley, attempting to catch the bus to Potters Bar so he will not be late for his ’68 Comeback Special and the Ghost of Amy Winehouse running down Chase Side, are also characters in this book. As well as a version of myself that has become a wooden puppet. Maybe I forgot to tell you that the whole of The Pied Wagtail is in fact a puppet play. Tenzing Scott Brown’s first and last puppet play.

Hope to serve you at The 25 Paintings’ Tea Rooms sometime, if they ever get to your corner of the field.

Yours Sincerely,

The Elderly Gentleman

Post Script:

There is this pair of Red Kites that I see tumbling in the sky most days, as my train pulls into Corby. I can feel a bit of a stirring in the loins. I have never had a threesome in my relationship with birds. Maybe it’s not too late for a first time. 

What follows is a random selection of the photographs taken of The Pied Wagtail outside The 25 Paintings’ Tea Rooms in the Rooftop Arts Centre, Corby on the 11th of June 2022.

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Lizz Meredith

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Ade Cartwright

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Christopher Lloyd

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Julie McAleney

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Nicholas Gilmour

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Dinah Kazakoff

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Chris Denston

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Thomas Ecke

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Thomas Ecke

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Andy Gell

The Pied Wagtail photograph taken by Anthony Farthing


Limited to an edition of 400 copies, THE PIED WAGTAIL by Tenzing Scott Brown is available to purchase here.