Saturday, September 27, 2014

more Three Rivers

Of course by the time I was a child the river hadn't been used as a toilet for at least fifty years and the polluted water course had recovered somewhat. In days before there were outdoor dunnies at the bottom of the gardens along the river bank emptying straight out into the water. The ruins of one of these facilities was still in the corner of our garden when we moved in in 1957. The stench must have been awful, no wonder the houses faced the street. Our house has high walls around the garden and a wall at the end to shut out the river and the smell of whatever happened to have been tipped into it.
As the water wasn't fit to drink everyone drank beer, there were three breweries in the town to supply the numerous pubs, coaching inns and thirsty population with liquid that wouldn't make them ill, I suppose that from childhood on everyone just got used to being a bit drunk all the time.
The old, windowless stable over the river with it's two stalls for coach horses and dark upstairs hay loft was damp and full spiders, three hundred years of generations of spiders, they still think it's theirs and I just happen to be a large being amongst them, they live in more comfort these days. My studio above the river is heated and clean these days, but still home to wildlife, bees come and go, on hot days frogs hop in and on autumn nights Glisglis try to eat their way through the facia board to find a winter hideout.
I sleep in great comfort facing downstream, going with the flow and dreaming strange dreams, I used to sleep across the flow of the river, like a bridge but this never felt right.
I went away when I was eighteen and saw many fine and pleasant rivers but the clear chalk streams of the Chilterns are unique, I've never trusted water that I can't see to the bottom of. In the 11th Century church a few miles upriver amongst the old murals is a picture of a salmon. So before the river was tamed with walls and buildings the fish swam up to spawn. It's a long, long way up the Thames Estuary and small tributaries to reach the Chilterns.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Three Rivers

The three rivers are the Misbourne, Brown's Creek and the Never Never River, rivers that I've lived alongside, crossed, recrossed, swum in, fished in and, in the case of the Misbourne, lived on top of. Only the Never Never is a proper river, so called because it never dries up, running straight down a thousand meters from the Great Dividing Range into the Bellinger River and then into the Pacific Ocean. It's a short potent river, not only because of it's name.
The name says everything about Brown's Creek, the water is muddy, turbid, ordinary, an unreliable water source of small stagnant pools in hot weather, a roaring beast in the wet season. The creek runs through a narrow valley in South East Queensland to flow into the Maroochy River which meanders across a small soggy plain before running into the Pacific.
A bourn denotes a small stream of water that runs sometimes and the Misbourne is certainly true to that, some years there is a dry river bed, dead fish, rusty cans and other years a very low water table devoid of oxygen. In the winter of 2013/14 it surprised everyone by going rogue, it burst it's banks to follow it's own course, rampaging through gardens and outbuildings. It seemed like a war of logs smashing into each other was going on underneath my studio, where the river runs, a dark space previously home to some sluggish crayfish and a few trout that never seemed to grow big enough to eat.
My brother and I grew up beside the Misbourne, we were considered fortunate kids because we had access to the stream to build dams, to swim and float on lilos on glorious summer days, to fish for trout on cloudy days. It's a clear chalk stream that you can watch for hours to see creatures moving about. Fifty years ago there were large grey water rats living in the banks beside where we sloshed about, nobody had heard of the waterborne diseases that terrify people now.
There were leeches that we used to put in jam jars beside the house and watch as they made their way back to the river, one body stretch at a time. We caught minnows and newts and tadpoles in nets, there were many things alive in the water to interest a child fifty years ago.     (cont. later)

Interior Landscape

Interior Landscape is a wood block in oils with pastel layered on top, the wood for the print came from an old stable where I live in the UK. It's a desert scene in the middle of Australia where I go in my imagination, dreaming of the dry heat and noise of insects, the isolation and connection to everything.