Pauline Conolly is an Australian writer, but a confirmed Anglophile. She and her partner Rob owned a holiday house by the River Thames near Marlow for many years, and walked the Thames Path from source to sea. ‘All Along the River : Tales From the Thames’ is based on this journey, and the couple’s subsequent explorations of the river.
It is an affectionate and often humorous tribute to the Thames and its environs. Pauline and Rob continue to divide their time between the beautiful Blue Mountains of New South Wales, and their current UK base at riverside Maidenhead.
To celebrate the release , and as a treat to our readers, here are a couple of snippets from ‘All Along the River’ for you to enjoy…
(1st Paragraph of Prologue)
Standing in a remote Gloucestershire field I ceremoniously primed the Thames by pouring two pints of water into a dry well of pebbles. As water now rarely appears at the river’s source my partner Rob and I had brought our own supply, drawn 112 miles (180 km) downstream below our holiday home at Marlow. We had filled an old beer bottle, purchased at exorbitant cost from a Henley antique shop and supposedly tossed into the Thames by an eighteenth-century bargeman. I would love to believe the story, though perhaps the dealer recognized a pair of gullible Australians.
The stunning village, Marlow, sat on the banks of the Thames.
(From Chapter 6)
Walking by the lock [Day’s Lock], Rob and I came across a rusty sign nailed to a tree reading: BEWARE OF BULL. AVOID COWS WITH YOUNG CALVES. I had my photograph taken beside it, hoping to fool friends into believing we were undertaking a dangerous expedition. Despite my initial fear of cows it did not occur to me that the warning was current until a large bull suddenly appeared from a copse of trees. He was followed by his many sons, all-bellowing with adolescent aggression. Clearly my ragwort offering at the Oxford boundary marker was about to be put to the test. Faced with the choice of strolling across the field feigning nonchalance or running like hell, we chose the latter…our boots scarcely touching the ground. At least we had been warned, unlike the rambler who ended up on his back after blithely opening an old gate marked PULL… the P having originally been a B.
(From Chapter 14)
Having spent much of my childhood arranging miniature furniture in an upturned apple box, the highlight of my visits to Windsor Castle is Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. When leading artists and writers of the day were invited to create works for the project, the acerbic Virginia Woolf refused. However, her friend Vita Sackville-West contributed, leading to the following exchange between the pair at a dinner party:
‘Why don’t you contribute to the Queen’s dolls house, Virginia?’
Virginia’s response was a rather facetious suggestion as to what she might present:
‘Is there a W.C. in it, Vita?’
As a matter of fact Virginia, there are five. There is even a story that the original idea for the Dolls’ House came after the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens showed Queen Mary a tiny lavatory from the scale model of one of his buildings. I doubt if this is true, but apparently it is true that the Queen caught her earring in the beard of the Dolls’ House plumber. He was demonstrating to Her Majesty that the tiny cistern in the King’s bathroom flushed half a champagne glass of water.
The beautiful Windsor Castle.
(From Chapter 21)
The Tower’s Yeoman Warders have long been called Beefeaters. Some say this was because beef formed a regular part of their daily rations. My friend Yvonne once telephoned a Beefeater on my behalf, to ask about the origin of the name and whether the beef ration story was true. He told her he had no idea. I have since heard an alternative theory; that Henry VIII established the Warders as boufitiers, or guardians’ of the king’s buffet. You would think any Beefeater worth his salt should have known that. Never mind, I prefer the story that King Henry tripped over a sentry in the dark one night and snapped: ‘Forsooth man, keep your B…feet out of the way!’.
The buffet guards…now affectionately known by all as ‘Beefeaters’.
(From Chapter 23)
One hundred and eighty miles (288 km) down and no more to go. Perhaps it was just as well, because it was bloody cold. As Ezra Pound wrote in a parody of the old song written by the monks at Reading Abbey:
Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamn,
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
It was time to go home and light the fire.