A river runs through it still…

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November 3, 2013 by Whispering Smith

Published in the Littlehampton Gazette January 3rd. 2013

I bang on about the river quite a lot in my regular column and it is a bit of an obsession with me I know. A town with a lovely river running through it, a safe haven for sailors and their boats as well as a port for coasters, the busy RNLI and, of course, both the recreational and commercial fishing industries. I have covered the latter in some depth in the past and will, no doubt, be banging on about it in the future partly because I love eating their catch and secondly because I have a great and lasting admiration for their skill and for the danger they put themselves through to bring that fresh cod to my table. Also the river is home to such a diversity of wildlife not counting the swans that cover Fisherman’s Quay with their poo or the raggle taggle gulls that litter the sky diving for white bread when they should be out at sea or along the beach eating real seagull food. There are egrets, kingfishers, arguably Britain’s most beautiful birds, to be seen up stream if you are very quiet and very patient, herons and all manner of mammals from fox, badger, stoat and weasel and the prey that make up their carnivorous food chain. A bountiful place indeed.

But the river is more than boats, wildlife, mariners or fishermen, it is the heart of Littlehamptin and means a great deal to so many people for a great diversity of reasons, many of them too personal to mention and many tinged with a wearying sadness. Take Tony for instance, the enigmatic Tony who worked at the Look and Sea Restaurant who sadly passed away a year ago and whose ashes were cast into the river. Friends gathered in the late evening recently and tossed flowers into the river in his memory only to look over the railings and see the pretty blooms stuck in the mud as the tide was running low. He would have smiled at that as did his friends who knew full well that the faithful Arun would flow upstream again later that evening and take the blossom and the happy memories with its passing. And then there is the little lady who visits the river daily in all weathers, sits and thinks and perhaps dreams of her late husband who was a Littlehampton  fisherman. And there are the people of which I am one, who take a daily walk along its town concrete bank and, if it is sunny, sit and remember past adventures and long ago friends who swam the green waters during school lunch breaks or paddled their skiffs along Shark Creek where the marina now stands or took pheasant and rabbit from the woods beyond where the tip once stood with its rats and bits and bobs one could salvage to repair a bike or find wheels for a truck or go-cart. It is so many things to so many people but above all it is a background to the town, something to see, to enjoy and to share. So what of tomorrow?

The workmen are testing the town riverbank now, drilling and checking to see what the need will be to ensure the proposed flood defences will hold in a long time away future. The raised wall will no doubt be built and that harmony, that closeness to the river will be disrupted forever. It saddens me greatly and as I walk the river now at dusk and watch the eidolons flighting above me fidgeting and seeking a roost, I think to make the most of it, the best of what we still have and know that future generations will not have the same memories or the same regrets and that is how life progresses, moves on and leaves we old fools far behind.

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