Friday, January 27, 2023

Riparian Selfishness

This was the scene on Finchley Road as I walked home in the evening half-light a couple of nights ago. We've been having some drizzly weather, and I put the tender outdoor plants back outside yesterday morning so they could get a drink (and I could clean the floor). But now I see that we might have frost tonight, so I suppose I'll have to bring them in again. Argh!

After that, though, there's no frost in the near future forecast.

I've finally been reading "Three Men in a Boat," as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I can see why it's amusing, but it's not exactly pulling me in. I'm finding that it takes some persistence on my part to push ahead (a bit like the persistence required to rowboat up the Thames, come to think of it).

The theme of the book is basically the comedy inherent in trying to do a simple task and having it become, through unforeseen circumstance, incredibly complex. Someone tries to hang a picture and they don't have the right equipment or nails and they have to run to the store and then they hit their thumb and must visit the doctor -- that kind of thing. A bit like me trying to fix Olga's steps and tearing my pants and having to patch them. Or me putting the plants out only to have to immediately bring them in again. I mean, these things do happen.

Anyway, I came across one passage I thought was particularly funny, if rather dark. It's about private property owners along the river who put up signs warning away trespassers:

The selfishness of the riparian proprietor grows with every year. If these men had their way they would close the river Thames altogether. They actually do this along the minor tributary streams and in the backwaters. They drive posts into the bed of the stream, and draw chains from bank to bank, and nail huge notice-boards on every tree. The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone.

I mentioned these feelings of mine to Harris, and he said he had them worse than that. He said he not only felt he wanted to kill the man who caused the board to be put up, but that he should like to slaughter the whole of his family and all his friends and relations, and then burn down his house. This seemed to me to be going too far, and I said so to Harris, but he answered:

"Not a bit of it. Serve 'em all jolly well right, and I'd go and sing comic songs on the ruins."

I was vexed to hear Harris go on in this bloodthirsty strain. We never ought to allow our instincts of justice to degenerate into mere vindictiveness. It was a long while before I could get Harris to take a more Christian view of the subject, but I succeeded at last, and he promised me that he would spare the friends and relations at all events, and would not sing comic songs on the ruins.

I kind of feel that way myself when I come across a No Trespassing sign, especially if I'm on a public footpath or waterway. I think it's the Floridian in me, raised with the philosophy that all beaches should be open to the public (as they legally are in Florida, at least to the mean waterline, if memory serves). In Britain, there's a strong belief in maintaining public footpaths and rights-of-way, and any attempt by private property owners to block those paths is met with resistance.

Anyway, I'm undecided about whether to continue on to "Three Men on the Bummel" when I'm done with the boating. (It's the second half of the volume I'm reading, but technically a separate book, I believe.) We'll see how persistent I feel!


gz said...

I think you have to get your head into the way of writing at that time.
Have you read "The History of Mr Polly"?..if you can't get into the book, try the original film with Laurence Olivier I think it was as Mr Polly?

River said...

I don't think I would go out of my way to read this, but if I saw a copy in a box of books on the footpath I would have a look at it.

sparklingmerlot said...

I wonder if the book hasn't aged well. It's been a long time since I read it.
People have strange attitudes towards public land and the use thereof. If they can lay claim they will. We have issues here with wealthy business types trying to block off sections of public beaches.

Frances said...

I have never read that book, and I don't think I will bother. Harris sounds as if he has been listening to Jeremy Clarkson!

Moving with Mitchell said...

If YOU find it hard to make your way through a book, I don’t think I'll try it.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

England's network of paths is one of our national treasures but citizens have very limited access to riversides. Once - when I was about nineteen I was rowing on Hornsea Mere in East Yorkshire. A man came running out of a lakeside house yelling that I was trespassing! I can see how someone might own the land next to a lake but not the lake itself!

Like you, I bristle about "No Trespassing" signs and often feel like I should deface them with "No Putting Up No Trespassing Signs!"

Andrew said...

Via the internet I have learnt that your river banks, sea shore lines and public rights of way across line are sacrosanct. I don't think the offender's family and cohorts should be killed. The fence offender should undergo long term and slow torture. That'll learn him.

Jennifer said...

I've started Three Men in a Boat a dozen times, and never get very far. I've never understood why, but you seem to have summed it up nicely.

Dov said...

Any time I hear "Riparian", I think of Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) and her disastrous picnic on the River.

Boud said...

I read Three Men when I was a teenager and thought it very sophisticated and funny! It's not a book to spend much energy on.
Here in NJ where there are legal rights to ocean access - the whole eastern side of the state is shoreline - there have been fights, usually won, against new wealthy owners trying to block beach access.

One great case of karma was the owner who broke through protected dunes to improve his ocean view, built concrete barriers, and effectively created an illegal private beach.

After the inevitable court case, the state removed the barriers, reopened the public beach access and created a new dune higher than his house, a few feet from it, so he ended up with a view of a sand dune and beach goers!

Ed said...

Although I agree public accesses and areas should remain public, I understand why people feel the need to chain it off and hang up the no trespassing signs. So many times I have seen signs of others who have strayed off the public path and absolutely destroyed the property of others, not caring that somebody else might cherish it. Fortunately I was brought up by parents who taught me to respect the things of others no matter how trivial I thought they might be but I have found myself to be in the minority, at least around here.

Ms. Moon said...

That passage reminds me a bit of Mark Twain. I think he would write something like that.

The Bug said...

That is an excellent passage - and I agree with Ms. Moon - very Twainesque. I might look into it because I often enjoy meandering British novels. Especially if the narrator is good. (On a side note I'm sort of falling in love with the narrator of the JK Rowling "Galbraith" books. Which is good because the latest one is 33 hours long!)

NewRobin13 said...

Now I'm wondering why some humans are so incredibly thoughtless and selfish while others are open and trusting. We cannot own rivers or oceans, although some humans think it all belongs to them. This battle has been going on a long time.

Red said...

I just finished Bill Bryson's the Body. It was interesting and informative but a lot of numbers thrown around.

Jeanie said...

Well, I like the passage. And I agree about the beaches and footpaths and such. Although, people used to be more respectful of others' property so I understand, if not agree, with the chain.

Janie Junebug said...

I had to look up riparian. The passage reminds me of a story about Kate Hepburn and her family, told, I think, by Spencer Tracy. The Hepburns were talking about the rights of the common man when a stranger appeared on the beach at their Connecticut home. The discussion came to an abrupt end as they shouted that the man was trespassing. How dare he, and so on and so forth. So much for the rights of the common man.


Sharon said...

That is an amusing passage but as you say, a bit dark. I have had similar feelings about a few politicians but I suppose that is a different thing.
I love the drizzly photo. It reminds me of my nighttime explorations around London.

Margaret said...

Definitely dark--and I would not want to be his family member, even after he backed off his original fantasy. I have mixed feelings about access; we mostly have public beaches here but people do trash them. It would be difficult to limit access to Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean though!

Kelly said...

I found the passage you shared quite humorous, so maybe I'll get around to it before too long. I've heard the next book isn't nearly as good.

We do have "no trespassing" signs on our property, but that's because we've learned the hard way that most trespassers are up to no good and often are vandals, as well.

Catalyst said...

I remember having a copy of that in our bookstore but for some reason or another I never felt compelled to read it. But having read the excerpt above, I now am inclined to see if the local library has a copy. It's just about my type of humor.

Mike O'Brien said...

I loved "Three Men In A Boat", but could not get into "Three Men On The Bummel". Looking forward to seeing if/how you do.

Your plants are a bit like cats this winter, always wanting (needing!) the other side of the door.

Chris from Boise

Vivian Swift said...

Wow! That photo is one of your very best! It is gorgeous! The way those three red lights punctuate the scene is stunning, and the glow on the wet roadway that leads into and out of the picture, and the color of the sky at just that minute before it gets gray --- ahh, it is perfect. You got the three people walking at the just the exactly right moment, with the car in the background at just the right looks staged, it's so compositionally amazing. I LOVE it. Seriously, I could stare at this for a long time and be mesmerized. There is so much to see: the bare tree branches, the white fuzzy lights in the mist, the angle of the street signs, the shadows cast by the street made a superb picture. What an eye. I love it.

Steve Reed said...

GZ: I have never even heard of "The History of Mr. Polly"! I like old-fashioned writing styles, usually.

River: It's worth reading but yeah, I wouldn't go out of my way.

Caro: I'm struggling with a lack of narrative arc. It's not a book you read to find out what happens at the end.

Frances: Ha! And we've all had enough of that personality type, haven't we?!

Mitchell: It's not difficult reading but it's kind of pointless overall.

YP: I hope you told that guy to F--- Off! Or words to that effect.

Andrew: Torture is an option when it comes to blocking off public access, for sure! LOL

Jennifer: How did you even hear of it? I'd never heard of it before I moved here.

Dov: YES! Her waterside picnic with "riparian entertainments"! I love that episode!

Boud: It has its moments but it meanders -- a bit like a river, in fact. I'd say that property owner got what was coming to him!

Ed: I can definitely understand putting signs up on one's private property. The problem is that sometimes property owners "creep" onto adjacent public lands or rights of way, and block access to those as well.

Ms Moon: It is very Twain-ian. (Twain-ish?)

Bug: Ah! Twainesque! That's the word I needed.

Robin: I have friends who insist the very concept of property ownership is ridiculous, and it kind of is, when you think about it. Who are we to buy or sell the EARTH, which has been here billions of years before us and will long outlast us as well?

Red: I love Bill Bryson's books, but yeah, there's a lot of information! I read "The Body" but don't remember too much about it, to be honest.

Jeanie: Of all the passages I've read in the book, this one made me laugh the most.

Janie: Ha! A classic NIMBY approach to such issues!

Sharon: I DEFINITELY have that feeling about some politicians!

Margaret: I guess people trashing things is the price we pay for public access. This is why we have to have functioning governments to help clean up public lands (and increase awareness/education).

Kelly: Yeah, I've decided not to go on to the next book. A boat is enough; I don't need a bummel too!

Catalyst: It's a pleasant read with no depth whatsoever.

Chris: I'm passing on the bummel! (Especially after reading the reviews here!)

Vivian: Wow! Thanks so much! I took about six shots and that's the one that stood out the most for me. :)