A river, she had said, and now, while her maid’s fingers rippled across the lyre, Sulis found her mind drifting, flowing with the river on its journey. Fifty miles inland she rose, a slip of light amidst the chalk and flint. Gargled by rock, she bobbed under the blown grass, hummed fat bees across her banks, ricocheted the dragonflies downstream and followed thirstily to the plain. At length she became a divider of fields, made way through rich harvests of oats and wheat. Sheep’s teeth nipped her shallows and cattle curved their tongues to reap crystal sheaves, while in her silted depths the slick trout threaded pennants of luminous weed. Then, tiring, she slowed and muddled through ill-assorted islets, reserving solid clufts of land to the use of coots and ducks, to the remote ghosts of swans. Sulis shifted comfortably on her pillow. This was Lychfont, her own country. The rushes towered there. No fisher waited, but sieving birds prospected the mud or snatched at elvers. There the flats were loose and salty, lifted and re-laid four times a day by the restless Solent tides.
That was my attempt to evoke a Hampshire chalk stream in Death of a Ghost - as seen by a river goddess in sentimental mood. I'm not sure how I could have included watercress beds in her journey, but I regret their omission, for watercress is a vital part of the Hampshire riverscape, just as it is a vital part of my daily lunchtime sandwich. And I was shocked - shocked - to learn from the television tonight that sales have halved in the last 20 years, in favour of such niminy-piminy greens as rocket and lamb's lettuce. Indeed, many of the watercress beds have been ploughed up, making the Hampshire chalkland look no more interesting than - well, Berkshire!
It was bad enough losing most of the Hampshire Avon to Dorset in 1974 - a measure that still rankles - but this is serious. Are people really not eating watercress any more? And why ever not? Have they all gone mad?