Sunday, 7 June 2009

River People.


I grew up beside a river. It wasn't the kind of river that you get up here in the North Country - one day a gentle ripple, tranquil, friendly, burbling away over well-washed pebbles, the next a raging, frothing inferno, uprooting whole trees and flinging them downstream in a frenzy.
My river was the slow, turgid kind, winding through flat fen, needing dredging each year to clear the silt from its bed. We knew that the river ruled our lives. There were few hedges between the fields, they were separated by dykes. When it rained the water soaked through the rich, black soil, drained into the dykes and ultimately into the river. Here and there were extra man-made drainage channels with Dutch-sounding names like Delph, Black Dyke and Polder drain.
If it rained too much the river would back up and the dykes would fill and overflow into the fields. Then the word would go round the village that they were going to open the sluice gates at Boston, and the water would drain away, leaving behind it the rich silt that made the land so good for growing potatoes.
The talk in the village always included the river; it was up; it was down; the fishing was poor this year; the fishing was good; the Sheffield fishermen had made a record catch of roach and perch; the dredger was coming next week; the marsh marigolds were out; the old swan was back on its nest - and (best of all) the Shona was back.
Shona was a houseboat owned by two men. Every year it moored in our village for the whole of the Summer and the owners became honorary villagers. I learned to swim in the river, like most of my contemporaries, and the Shona was our diving board. Once my brother swam down under the boat with a carving knife between his teeth to cut away weed from the propeller. Everyone thought him a hero for that feat and it earned him a place in the Shona's cabin whenever he felt like it.
We fished in the river. My brother caught a fearsome pike with huge teeth. We stood around in awe as he landed it. My mother unearthed an old recipe, stuffed the pike and served it up for lunch. It tasted of muddy water and we all came out in spots afterwards.
One Winter it froze over and we were able to walk across the ice to Cherry Willingham and Greetwell, two villages which were usually a ten mile ride away by road.
I left the river when I was eighteen and I haven't been back. I am told that it is no longer the centre of village life. It is no longer the village swimming pool (the nineteen-fifties Polio epidemic put paid to that); no longer do the villagers walk down there on a Sunday afternoons, watching the fishermen and looking into their keep nets to assess the catch; moorhen's and coot's nests go unnoticed and nobody has to give the swans a wide berth. If the marsh marigolds still flower in profusion there are few to see them. That way of life has gone for ever.
Am I any different for being brought up by a river? I don't know. The author, Ronald Blythe, thinks that living by a river shapes one's life. He writes of John Constable, who grew up by the Stour, walked its banks to school each day, watched the mill working as he passed, noted his family's large fleet of boats plying their trade up and down. And of George Herbert, who was born on the banks of the Severn River, went to school in Westminster and spent hours walking the Thames banks being taught by Lancelot Andrews, who liked to teach "on the hoof" - and then moved on to Cambridge and heady days on the Cam. Blythe feels a river-influence in the work of both these men.
All that I know is that the river lives on in my memories as clearly today as it did fifty years ago. That, whenever I walk by the side of a stream or a river, I am wont to quote (boringly for those with me, I expect) the old Tennyson quotation. For Tennyson was our "local" poet and every year we went to Somersby, his birthplace, from school - took a picnic lunch and sat by "his" brook. We learned "The Brook" off by heart and I have never stopped thinking of it as a pretty good maxim for not getting too upset about anything:-
"At last by Phillip's farm I flow,
to join the rimming river.
For men may come and men may go
but I go on forever."

(If you are a river person, then do read Riverdaze (see my blog list) for Scribe's delightful blog is dominated by "his" river.)

28 comments:

Heather said...

I would love to have lived by a river and your memories are obviously very dear to you. I grew up close by woods and they hold a strong appeal for me. My one-time dream was to live in a houseboat but we would never have got a mortgage for one of those! Common sense has had to rule - but we can all dream.

maggi said...

Such wonderful memories. There is always something evocative about a river in all its seasons. Thanks for the link to Riverdaze - a really interesting blog.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

Where is this "Sheffield"? Not my Yorkshire one, I'm sure. I don't know whether a river shapes the person but I believe it must have an effect on them. Having lived near water (usually the sea) in several places, I do miss it simply being there! And I think a town or city with a river running through it makes a huge difference.

Robyn said...

I'm a River Person! I definitely think growing up next to a river has some sort of effect on one. A love and understanding of rivers for a start.
This is the most beautifully written post Weaver. Well done!

jinksy said...

You obviously have water in the blood!

Crafty Green Poet said...

I love rivers i think they have a lot to teach us, and walking along a river can be so soothing and can help us understand our place in the great scheme of things too

Woman in a Window said...

Lovely post, Weaver.

I'm a river person but for a different reason. We had one on our property when I was very young and it fed our family and then took my father. We left shortly after that. I feel like I've been trying to get back to the river ever since in a strange and undefinable way.

I really enjoyed this post.

Shaista said...

'For men may come and men may go
but I go on forever'
I am sure these lines will swim around in my head all day. I have never lived by a river, in fact I don't think I have ever known a river. I do hope someday one will weave itself into my life, and I too shall quote Tennyson by its banks.
Thanks for the post.
Shaista

willow said...

WM is on the banks of a river. It was a wonderful experience for our children. Fossils, tadpoles, fish and frogs. I love to hear the rushing of the high waters in the spring.

Beautiful post.

Derrick said...

Hello again, Weaver.

In your post you refer to "Sheffield fishermen". Are these men on a fishing trip from the city of Sheffield? Or is it a local reference?

Leenie said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your words. We are all mostly water; and rivers, streams and the sea can become a part of our lives and our family.

Dominic Rivron said...

I enjoyed this. (I read somewhere that my name means "river dweller", so perhaps that explains it).

I especially enjoyed the tale of the pike's revenge.

As we were saying the other day, Jack -your brother, my uncle- comes over as a pretty dynamic character.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Lovely, as always ,Weaver. We live by the sea and it is a big dramatic painting for sure but rivers are poems and, for me, much more full of 'life' and romance and summer and winter and death and I love them and would love to(not) sleep to the sound of one.

The Solitary Walker said...

Liked this very much, Pat. Coincidentally, was actually in Cherry Willingham today. No frozen river Witham. But torrential downpourings of rain.

Mistlethrush said...

I think that whether you live by a river or in the countryside or both must help you hear the rhythms of the seasons, of life.

We are lucky enough to have a stream flowing round the bottom of the garden. The boys and their friends used to love playing in it whenthey were small.

Rachel Fox said...

Beats Disneyland, hands down.
x

gleaner said...

I think I like rivers because of their life force, their like the veins and arteries of the earth.

Another enjoyable post Weaver!

Delwyn said...

Hello Weaver of Grass,

I was over at Juliet's place and decided to pop in to you. Strangely, when Willow visited me this morning and read my 'River Walk' she said she had already read a 'river' post...and I am now surmising that it was yours.

I loved your river story and how the river of your town shaped your life. I live on a river and not for one moment do I forget its charm and beauty nor do I stop counting my blessings for its peace, calm and interesting changes - the cormorants, brahminy kites and rainbow lorikeets...

Thanks for a river story of a very different part of the world

Happy Days

Rowan said...

What a lovely and interesting post. I think people are affected by the landscape where they grow up. I was born and grew up at the foot of the Pennines and am never really comfortable unless there are hills somewhere in my background. I enjoy the wide open spaces and flat scenery of the fen country to visit but was never really settled when I lived in Essex because it was too flat.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Heather - common sense does indeed rule most of us - sometimes wish it didn't.
Maggi - Glad you enjoyed Riverdaze, it is one of my favourites.
Derrick - hope we have solved the Sheffield thing now - I wonder if they still come by bus.
Robyn - perhaps one knows when on is a river person - welcome to the fraternity of river people.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Jinksy - water in the blood eh? So that is why I am sitting her wearing a fleece in the middle of June.
Juliet - I am always reminding myself of the Great Scheme of Things - it is so easy to forget it.
Woman in a Window - I think you must have that river firmly in your soul.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Shaista - thanks for calling.
Willow - you are a woman after my own heart.
Leenie - even our little beck, running through our fields, forms a huge part of our lives.
Dom - shall now look up the meaning of Dominic.
TFE - sea a painting, river a poem - I like it.
Robert - Dear old Cherry - haven't been there for many years'

The Weaver of Grass said...

Carol - I think everyone has a dream to have a stream in their garden - love the idea of tadpoles.
I believe this is the week when we are asked by RSPB to list all the wildlife in our gardens - so get counting those tiny frogs.
Agree Rachel.
Gleaner - like the idea of veins and arteries.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Hi Delwyn. Thanks for visiting. I shall visit you this afternoon to read about your river.
Rowan - interesting what you say about flat country - I was brought up in the fens and now live in the hills - they are so different - but the only thing I miss is the very big skies at night.

Amy said...

how lovely, I really enjoy now sitting next to a stream or bubbling brook, so peaceful!

rivergardenstudio said...

I love your beautiful river story. I live by a river as well... Roxanne

Janice Thomson said...

I live a few thousand feet from a creek and understand the lure of the water and the woods around it. Everyday I visit and am sure it has shaped at least my poetry. Love the bridge in this photo.
Love your header with all the flowers Weaver.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I always think of the sweet characters in Wind in the Willows whenever I think of someone growing up by a river. And I think it must have been wonderful.