The captive river


Image: Pixabay


Released from the house, from fairy lights and the pressure to eat more sugar, I wander up the hill, supposedly to buy bread and milk, but really to escape and breathe air that doesn’t smell of pine and cinnamon and the vinegary tang of last night’s red wine.

I’m disappointed.

There’s no ice out here, no sparkling clarity and breath-fogged air – a midge cloud batters my face, warmth collects uncomfortably under my coat and the Christmas gifts of hat and gloves have to be stowed in my shopping bag before I’ve taken twenty paces.

The supermarket is a five minute walk from our front door ‒ down the winding slope of the burial ground, past the last two remaining gravestones, commemorating an engaged couple who slipped beneath the choppy waters of the Severn on a pleasure cruise over a hundred and fifty years ago.

But I need to be in the world for longer than the graveyard will give me, so I turn up Dunkerry Road, towards the council flats and the playground painted with purple galaxies and flaking stars. In a couple of days’ time, the pavements will teeter with recycling boxes, dreary with crumpled wrapping paper, shedding spruce trees with ribbons of tinsel still clinging to balding twigs. But not today. Today, let’s pretend Christmas is still with us, before midnight on the 31st murders the season for good.

Back down another hill, past that mysterious heap of blackened banana skins that’s grown every time I see it, a fresh yellow caste added to its peak every day.

Crossing the road by the station, I zigzag through the steel bars that keep out bikes and joyriders and I’m in Cotswold Green. It’s not ancient, never a medieval focus for May poles and summer fetes, but an absence, a hole created when wartime bombs levelled a terrace of houses that no one had the energy or focus to rebuild once the skies went quiet.

I keep clear of the grass, cautious of what dog walkers haven’t bothered to clear, though we clambered the slopes in August to pick blackberries for a crumble and there’s a sloe bush somewhere, though it’s hard to remember exactly where in the tangle of thorns.

On the tarmacked footbridge I stop to look at the Malago River running beneath. Barely a river, more a brook, sliding over a bed of concrete slabs and energy drink cans. It’s tamed, this stream, culverted in parts, encased on one side by a Victorian sandstone wall, girders spanning the water to stop the blocks slipping down the bank.

I’ve read a plaque, a website ‒ something ‒ that says the Malago was once a danger to those terraced houses, before they were turned to brick outlines in the grass. There was a flood, people stranded – drownings. Hard to imagine the river had such power – now an irrelevance, caged and subdued to allow first the railway, then the road to dominate it.

A train clanks close by, halts and clanks again, a crocodile of coal carts bumping behind. A blackbird flies low above the water, chip-chip-chip and back up into the trees.

There’s graffiti on the bridge – sprayed by whoever created the muddy path that disappears beneath. SECRET HQ it reads in garish tangerine and I hope it was written with irony. I imagine the hidden space under the tarmac, under my feet, and think of dripping water and trolls and the excitement of being able to watch passers-by without being seen, avoiding thoughts of nitrous oxide canisters and cigarette butts and I don’t want to think what else is really there.

The rain plops loudly on the drum of my umbrella and I know I’ve been too long, that I’ll be missed, that strip lights and packaging and canned music wait for me in the supermarket and I that can’t avoid them.

But for a little while, the green corridor of the river belonged to me and the sparrows and that was enough.


With many apologies, dear fellow bloggers, for not posting pre-Christmas. Between flower-based madness and family frolics, I just didn’t find time to write a blog post wishing you all Festive Tidings. I hope all had a grand Christmas.


11 thoughts on “The captive river

    1. Thank you! You really are too kind. And yes, it was a great escape, even though in the middle of the city, on the edge of an industrial estate. Amazing the good a little green space can do you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. Wish it was a bit colder, though. This mild weather’s weirding me out slightly. I noticed fresh shoots on my verbena bonariensis this morning – so wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, 2015 was supposed to have smashed all temperature records, even though it was pretty dismal through the summer in the UK. Now the north of England is waist deep in water … I suspect it is global warming.Disturbing stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Ah, the Malago! Wikipedia suggests it via Celtic ‘mill+place’ (dubious, I feel) but for me it always sounded such an exotic name for a nondescript little stream, hints of somewhere Spanish or Roman or even African.

    In fact, in Hamlet there’s that lovely phrase “Marry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief” that Hamlet uses to describe the dumb show in the play scene. ‘Mallecho’ apparently derives from Spanish malhecho, a ‘misdeed’, and I’d like to think that the Malago means an apology for a river as described by some Spanish visitor to the port.

    Thus I too shamble from word to word …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did wonder where such and unusual name came from – I’d never heard of it before moving here. It’s an interesting thought, that it may derive from the Spanish – the river is certainly unimpressive these days, but who knows what it was like at one time? Could it be like the Fleet and London’s other hidden rivers – a shadow of its former self, through human intervention? At one time there were tanneries and dye works along the river which suggests it was more impressive at one time. Interesting questions which may never be answered.

      Liked by 1 person

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