Streams of thought that mesmerise

Stephen Scourfield goes with the flow through time and tide

My life with rivers began in Kent. I was a small boy. Opposite my grandparents’ house, alongside a hop garden where men harvested the high, pungent flowers on stilts, there was a shallow river in which I used to play. I lived there through two English summers, and can feel the frigid water, the gravel between my toes, and taste again its peppery watercress, and the freedom that messing about in the river brought me.

Ever since, I’ve been messing about in boats on rivers, as Kenneth Grahame almost put it in Wind in the Willows.

And I’ve been acutely aware that there are freshwater men (more benign) and saltwater men (sharper, with more bite), just as crocodiles differ. I am the former. River people, saltwater people. Every time I hear Broome’s Pigrams sing “stand back, you shallow water man, let a deep sea diver through,” I think they might be singing to me.

Kenneth Grahame lived with his grandmother in Cookham Dean and I spend a teen-years summer there, on the River Thames in Berkshire, and dip back into his book, and reread Three Men in a Boat by rather-English Jerome K. Jerome.

Published in 1889, it is a humorous account of a two-week boating holiday on the Thames. It’s a jaunt, and fits my mood through this hot, riverbank summer, which is a blur of words, this river, and the paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer, who lived in the village and captured its life and scenery.

Future Note to Self: (Re)Visit Stanley Spencer Gallery, High Street, Cookham, Berkshire. Have lunch at Bel and the Dragon, which dates from 1417 and is one of the oldest pubs in England. (Re)Visit Windsor Castle, 15km away.

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