For the love of Deakin

Roger Deakin’s writing is utterly sensual. To read his creations is to be immersed in to a world of sensations, to be swept away by words that cascade like waterfalls through the mind. He quite literally lived what he wrote, and to drink in an account of one of his wild swims or woodland strolls is like being with him. Seeing through his eyes. He is a master craftsman, and surely must have been destined to write about the wonders of the world around him. His Waterlog is my Desert Island luxury item.

In any of the holy trinity of his published works however, the privileged reader of his thoughts is treated to a panoply of delights, both descriptive and scientific. Deakin’s allure is insidious. He gets in to your bones, and recollections of his reflections flow over and through his reader’s thoughts. I went to Westonbirt Arboretum today and saw the Christmas lights experience. I loved it, but I cringed inwardly as I imagined Mr Deakin’s furrowed brows. He would probably say the trees were adorned enough in themselves, and that the phantasmagoria of lighting was inexorably changing the ecosystems of insect life and lichens. Nevertheless, it was his voice that spoke to me when gazing up at the massive boughs of mighty Oak trees. He has pithy phrases that paint scenes in the minds eye, and the most prominent tonight was ‘these are the knees of ships’. In his posthumously published third work, he speaks (I sometimes fancy that I can actually hear his voice) of the immense strength of oak branches where they join to the trunk at ninety degrees. These, he writes, formed the backbones of ships throughout history. They bore the strain that human knees do.

Deakin filled himself brimful of a treasuretrove of knowledge, which he shares with a joyful generosity which is impossible not to love. He breathes his passion on to the page.  Its not only  that, though. He also conveys a tangible sense of being one of those truly rare people that have a genuine love of and curiosity for life, and fling themselves at it. He is always busy in his autobiographical accounts, and throws himself in to projects with an eccentric and at times nonchalant gusto. Of all his endeavours, my favourite must be the painstaking renovation of his Sussex farmhouse, as beam by beam he restored his abode, gladly sharing the initial wreck with several species of wildlife simply because they were there first. Wonderful.

Yet is when he talks about swimming that he truly entrances me. As a sommelier understands wine, he has an eerily aquatic skill of describing the properties of water, and how they can and should be experienced. My first encounter with his Waterlog was on a car radio, and was so evocative that it rendered me incapable of driving. I had to pull over in a layby to savour every word, eventually stalling my car and missing the name of the word-magician. This made me have a massive tantrum which resulted in a cracked dashboard and bruised knuckles. I felt bereft, like the little boy from Hamlin who is denied access to this hidden mountain world.  Only 6 years later did I renew his aquaintance, thanks to a teacher friend who bought me his book as a gift. I will always be thankful for that. My one regret is that I cannot erase it from my memory, and recapture that seductive fascination that a first read of Deakin creates. Dylan Thomas instructs us to ‘Dive in to the sea of yourself like a young dog’. Mr Deakin did that, and I adore him for it.

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