Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Clank of the Apothecary's Bottle.


thank you for your letter of the 12th and for your kind words in your year of shadows and reflections. my reply is long overdue. whilst you were roasting spuds around the ceasefire and nailing barbel by the tail to every door in laure's village i have been marooned in a shiplake punt in the lock cut to nowhere. unable to put a long trace and the red richardson bung at the foot of the big door itself - marlow lock gates. every pike from there to seething wells smiling the smile of the devil himself, their snitch wire jaws twitching under the willow roots and the roach shivering on the weir sill. waves slapping against the side of the oarless vessel and an owl hooting under the bridge. monday morning i was due to take to the river with g and wyndham barnes when the bream cough came and got me in the dead of night. i woke in a sweat, the weight of the marble keepnet hovering above the bed. seven days without night it seemed and blessed with a laugh like a thackeray baliff going knocking for debt and my own gills turned blue. i missed the last market of the year and a bellyful of ale in the golden heart which may not keep to the new year. if the moon is right richardson and i will be out before the box is closed. i think it will take a fried jack's liver to rid me of this throat. til then i wish you a merry christmas and may the trent otter himself be the one to knock on your door come the morning of the 25th.

hallucinations on the birdtable


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dead Mans Cove Flows Back Down The Absinthe


dead man's cove came a-knocking here, a swell on the road, conger lobs washed past and set off speed cameras, fish clinging to wrecked trees just to stay in the rivers.

been pretty much clinging to the raft myself the last fortnight, bronchial and broke, pre-publication inertia. have yet to stock-take 07, round-up the beasts and lost sheep, the aldermaston days you might call them. tea and sergeant majors, a barbel in the afternoon - surely the titles of great unwritten books, the future slightly foxed.
as i write, the 30 day rain has ended. this morning an orange sun rose on the frosted mud. my solar torch recharges in the window. the pond is up to its feeder ditch and the crucians have breakfasted on silt and leafmould porridge. the birds are feasting off the land - under every leaf a worm. yesterday i saw the deer wander out of the forest like the all-clear had sounded, snicking the lush green along its edges after a month on the run. the chickens still churn out eggs, muddy eggs all tarred and feathered, but yokes of winter sunset, pike in your eye, real yellow waistcoats for your boiled egg soldiers, the ones crawling from their dug-outs waving wet grey flags. the garlic went in with seconds to spare - the last one popped down as the first drops fell well before the first inflatable santas went up on the slates. i've spinach waving green flags, and leeks still bold if ragged from a random tasting by an escaped cow who left deep rain filled holes all over the garden. another ibook died, but the lost novel came back from the laboratory - 470 euros just for some stainless steel surgeon to run a scalpel round my broken hard disk. all this in just 3 weeks, which makes summing up a year a memoir job. with no views of skid row, no crack-heads, gin swine or teenage pimps within a hundred miles, every minute of my year has wonder. is a wonder. which, think about it, is why i can write the bleakest of fiction. kind of a take on something flaubert said: be regular and ordered in your life so you can be violent and original in your work. even rick wakeman said that. but i will pick out some moments and post them at the years end.
your word-posters for john andrews of arcadia are becoming classics. with a john richardson original design to join bill posters jury, you'd have a collectors piece, one for the archives, it could go on a tin, merchandice, something to put the fishermans friends in.

photo: dead man's cove under laure's kitchen window last sunday

roasting spuds on the ceasefire round the birdtable


Thursday, December 6, 2007

The River Absinthe Flows Into Dead Mans Cove


your photos of the absinthe and letter from behind the lines, from beyond the imaginot line - wonderful stuff. a heady brew, a winter ale for the soul. oh to pass a saturday afternoon after a five franc rabbit lunch by fishing from jane birkin's ducking stool, a sister to the marianne faithful cottage swim on the loddon where the good miss faithful did appear to me once upon the lawn dressed in nothing but swan feathers. maybe i should have read your mushroom gospels before i cast in that day. but i did get a barbel in the afternoon. your winter should be pegged out along zola's canal with maigret mixing the heron blood for the groundbait bucket and the roar from the le theil crowd as the light fades. you'll find me by the lock cut reading the pink 'un and working out where i am on the latest free map of the front.

until then all paths lead to aldermaston mill where jeff and i had tea on the lawn with dave bedford and jakub. i sat on the footbridge in the sun and caught minnows and the occasional perch. lost one in the reeds. jeff had a cracking perch in the back garden mill pool, and i poached his swim in the afternoon and had another sergeant major. and then the frost came down, with the water thick like oil and travellers lighting fires on the horizon. it was a resistance party.

have you put your recollections of the year together yet? since i nailed mine to the bar a few more memories have emerged. standing under a full moon on mount abu drinking beer round the brazier for starters. but for now i am still captive to seatown shingle beach. from the angling times - 1962 i found this cutting of stoker's


'the wind had backed around to the north, and the sea had quietened down to a smooth, bass-producing swell that clawed at the shingle beach, and reflected the cold light of the November full moon. this, i decided, was just the sort of night to try my luck in dead man's cove........... as soon as i laid the sack down, an extra large wave surged up to the foot of the cliff. feeling its natural element again, the conger went frantic. that sack seemed a darned sight more important just then than its contents and hurriedly i untied the cord that kept it shut. the conger shot out like a bolting rabbit; glissaded out of control down the slope of greasy lias and entered the water with a final triumphant flourish of its tail. the rest was comparatively simple, and half an hour later a friend spotted me by the the light which hangs outside the anchor inn. 'any luck tonight?'he called out

'well,' i began'.

the turn off for chideock they all miss on the birdtable


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stret Pegging for Zola


that old black box of ted hughes's frayed lines you picked up from autumn's last bung fair came in handy on your drive home then. you conjoured illusion there, the grit they forgot to spread on saturday night for blizzard sunday, for the snow that caught the bulldozer rusting behind the smoke sheds and chased you home. here the grey turned morgue but nothing fluttered. the pond froze for a night or two and the fishes hung their heads in silt. whitewashed fields, whitewashed carping as i waited for the flu to lift like a smog off the river.
your high fidelity to river fishing refuelled my abandoned mission to crack the river huisne, to see a winter bung go down or a rod tip twitch from more than a brush with debris. it always looks a picture, a deep summer chalk stream, sandy runs and weed-tunneled glides. a winter avon, a crabtree pie in the sky. sunday afternoon, bouyed up with herrings and mackerel, flashy shads and frozen maggots, me and stephane toured the valley round his village, opting on a stretch of bends, yellow fields and water the colour of old socks:

pools like laundrettes, leaves tumbling like the first team's kit in the dryers, every trot with a hope-float snares the fallen shirt. the river made mockery of our sunday best. styx and stones. the waddling bungs, decoy geese, the deadbait in a deadbeat. we weren't the first to have hung and suffered there. this was the first advent window for herod's slain, marked by a raft of cast-off clutter from the dishonoured combattents before us:

unhitched the herring as the sun went down and left it in no-mans land where pike were once the stretcher bearers before the last gas fell lockjawed the whole platoon. and in the trenches the men spread rumours of a dead arm down the valley where the fish were gathered round abandoned lilypad installations. we found it in the monday spit, a mile of industrial canal, cholera in the time of zola, a brick chimney off a maigret cover, grist to the mill where it tumbles back into the river like nature's stomach pump:

a little town of railway sidings, bankside allotments and the first team pitch, le theil sportif united, the trainer's swim with a pole-shipping slit on the back:

i stret-pegged a 3AAA chubber under an old stone wall where red brick washing sheds still have their buckets and chains and doctor's lapdogs yapping behind the railings. you once described your chub swim on the mole, the marianne faithful shed i think. well, this one's jane birkin's ducking stool, but i whistled paint it black and fished there like a mourner at the funeral of the last surviving roach.

spot the float contest on the birdtable


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The First Snows of Winter


the dog days of autumn are upon us, all the leaves nearly down and me and john richardson are out looking for roach on redundant chalkstreams. the carriers chucking it through and on the main river the flow slowing to a trotless halt. the roach we want so far out of reach, every handful of maggots attacked by starving trout careering out from under the bank. we fished 1930's hardy roach rods and cursed the lack of coarse fish in a managed river. the water meadows like the commandant's garden. we took a sackful of grayling on goose quills and left before sunset.

just beyond the imaginot line the pike bung factory is in full swing waiting for the big push come december 1st, every window in the allcocks advent calendar opening to reveal a transfer covered gazette bung in a new colour or a ripple where one has gone under. the whole world pike fishing in a tree with a partridge rod and a wire trace like a russian noose. mackerel heads wrapped in silver paper and hung on the tree, the conifers in the woods on frensham common dressed with candles, carols played on hunting horns by bivvy boys gone native on magic mushrooms. darkness at noon, starlings flocking and the brown jawed predator with its deathly smile lying up in the reeds.

at the weekend up to ludlow d and i went for the last big antique tackle auction of the year. through herefordshire into country where the hedgerows stand ten feet tall and the grass grows down the middle of the road. drinking hobsons mild and aspinall's pilchard oil in pubs called the one eyed swan and listening to tales of salmon poaching and the last hangman in england. on sunday it started snowing at one and we left at six, the car laden with pheasants and japanned boxes full of treasure. into the ever whitening night the snow intensifying. we made it as far as clee hill before we turned back but the road back to ludlow was blocked so we took our last route out south and just made it before the roads froze and the lights went out on four thousand homes. back home over the cherwell and the kennet to a london that had been flooded by the low. behind us in the blackness, an ice fringed shropshire mere where at the stillest point of the night a float moved by the reeds.

dream of ted hughes' pike on the birdtable


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Coldwater Revival


your great british pike bungs are the true symbols of the fallen leaf, the design classic to rival the mini, the land rover of the float world. they should be hung down oxford street come christmas. they should be the olympic logo, the lamb street runners, the ice queen's earrings, the acceptable fesse of obesity, the billy bunter bribe. they should be signed by the entire cast of the waterlog christmas panto & cast into hornsea mere on new years day. when i flung jack spratts into the rother as a kid, i bought my bungs in the village sweetshop. a quarter ounce of acid drops and a pike bung please mr pullin. pike bungs should be made compulsory in primary schools, "only two pikers at a time" signs on the corner shop doors. but oh, the inconvenience we suffer for tradition: the land rover, the applemac, the barbour, the mitchell 300; burdens of beauty, out-performed every time by cheap modern rivals. i never caught jack nor pike on a gazette bung and snap tackle. the land rover snaps a half shaft if it has to tow uphill; the applemac burns its motherboards when doing the quicktime; barbours break your back and turn to rigour mortis in the cold; and your life is in your macerated hands if you hook anything over 20lbs on a mitchell 300. dreams and beanos, the old tackle is the the studs on the shin we used to get in the east sussex league 1972, when ex-pro trainers only had the one bung in the tactics box: "go for the man". the pike bung went for the throat. by the time it went under, so was the pike; under the wet towel in the bottom of your whicker basket. but in france the principle is alive and well. you can buy them in the supermarkets, you can find them hanging in the alders. i've even seen old resistance men fishing potatos on a treble hook six feet under pike bungs for the carp you only find in flooded bomb crators.

maybe i should've got the bungs out yesterday. the town pit in its winter patina:

skies which rushed through their dozens tasks both sides of rain:

an hour before dark a scattering of carp nudge surface out of range, moving in but not on my schedule. sitting out the two hours after dark is an endurance now, the lugging of clothes instead of bait makes the mile walk back easy to postpone. the church clock strikes eight on the moth-balled fleet. upping sticks, gloves off on a november night, puts spring a long way off. smoke from chimneys drifts over the lake and twists of it rub the windscreen as i turn the headlights on, like special effects from a zombie set. home to air cooled vouvray and the kind of email i never got from a publisher before: waterstones are gonna 3for2 my novel in january. makes blanking feasible, the 1 for 10 of winter carping.

book tokens on the bird table


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Short Telegram


at the rising of the bobbin and the going under of the float we shall remember them. in a letter home to his wife, one nottinghamshire soldier fighting in mesopotamia in 1917 wrote, "of all the flea-ridden, snake-ridden, scorpion tormented corners of the world this is it, and i'd swap all of jerusalem land for a bit of west bridgford just now". funny how nearly a century later things have not changed.

in the garden nearly all the leaves are off the magnolia and the floor is half a foot deep in them. golden brown. the whole yard a wormery for late autumn perch, fallen soldiers each one. kettle on and bait box out with a smouldering fire at dusk.

wreaths rather than words on the birdtable



Sunday, November 11, 2007

Laying A Wreath


all leaves on deck, the forests are crooked mizzens once more, nightmare cutty sarks, luminous green moss where the first chanterelles are waking:

but today, while you're flogging old poppycocks in redditch, we remember francois polvent, a young french priest from the village of ors in nord pas de calais, who went fishing during the german occupation of world war 1. he fished two rods, one in the water, the other ficked high into a the overhanging trees along the canal. this line was linked to a portable radio transmitter kept in his false bottomed case. he fished in the reeds, sending morse code bulletins on troop movements to the british. his sister lounged on a gate nearby. if a german patrol approached she'd take her hat off and wipe her brow. polvent would unsnag his antenna, close the case and carry on fishing.

the birdtable


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Sunbury Whiskey Sour


whilst you were away with the travelling circus, juggling whisky bottles and walking across the tightrope high above la morinais i was with g concocting a counter plot to november 5th. we met in the priest hole under the stairs at the cheshire cheese, took the stone steps down into the cellar and walked through the labrynth of underground passages past lost toshers a hundred years high on brick dust and rats' livers, ignoring their shouts and echoed yells til we found the grimy path to sunbury. the boatyard at wilsons the same as it was in the early summer, the green punts lying up on the lawn, mr wilson saying not to come too close because he'd caught something from the river, the dizzy sickness he called it. g and i fished the swims next to the lawns and the sheds, their green soft for one last morning before the winter would steal it for shades of december brown. trees in yellow leaf as vivid as sulphur, the water murky but gentle not giving away any secrets. church bells every hour, the hands on the clock eager to fall back one hour at midnight. we followed our floats down familiar runs and trots but to no avail, not a bite to be had. the toshers had all the silver fish tied up in a sack and were getting drunk on gin in some distant drain. snarling terriers in their pockets wanting rats.

we fished tiny penny sprats off the weir sill in the hope of a pike dressed in a frock coat and laid out in a wheelbarrow until the gas lamps were lit but we went without a touch. afterwards we drank best bitter in the magpie and sloped back to town.

i went back a few days later and mr wilson was in hospital, the fever turning to a rash. they say he should be alright. i fished the same swims but with little heart and spent the day watching the leaves come down.

prayer for one of the river's originals on the bird table


Friday, November 2, 2007

Last Tango with Mike November Whiskey


saturday gone, bushwhacked minor roads six hours to brittany with your welsh emails tatooed like mud splash on the land rover. we needed myth, and luck, but got the north east wind chiselling at the willpower.

mike walker's lake, la morinais, 4 days fighting the sabotage. mike november whisky - he comes at night with a bottle of pure malt, willing the home team on. he calls it midnight mass. it worked once, and i'm sure it'll work again, but by tuesday for all i knew the carp were in the trees dropping acorns on us. in the deep corner, stephan, the prof de sport who usually just has to point at the water to get a run. his was a stake out, staying put and dribbling bait in day and night. the suspect didnt show. his 3 commons were so small mike gave them away to the carp eaters who live in the village. i switched swims every half day, trying to get at the one active fish. had a screaming run half hour before packing up on the last night. picked up the rod with gloves on; nothing there. shadow boxing. a trap door in the lake bed opened up and the carp went down the cellar steps, filing barrels with gunpowder or drinking our wine.

it was winter closing in, frost on the tents, a cat escaped from a circus doing balancing acts up the guyropes, waking me up to show me the moon and the wet yellow leaves that completely covered the vehicles. it's the effigy of a carp angler for the bonfire, the road home was too far. in the back, a water bottle with 3 fingerling mirrors, scales tarte au pomme, netted from the stock pond. i tipped them like an organic vouvray into the black water of my pond within minutes of arrival. they'll see me out if they get past winter.
now there's garlic to plant, and broad beans, and the markets are full of hung rabbits and pigs ears. i'm building a new outdoor toilet from willow branch and osier. paid work in the jiffy bag, the firewood to cut. the gone fishing card is back in the pack and if it comes out in the shuffle then so be it.

darkness at teatime on the bird table


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fishing In The Company Of Epiphany Proudfoot


the road to wales is a cosmic highway, littered with giant pumpkins and louis cyphre filling stations. my soundtrack for the way home was 'angel-heart' with the immortal line, "so you know johnny favourite after all?", "yes, he was my father". but before that was the morning after where i felt like harry angel being warned off with the dogs, "you listen and you listen good mister". i took myself off to gromain. a faster stretch than llanstephan with deep pools and boulders everywhere. i was looking for wyndham-barnes' seat, a piece of rock with an arthurian throne carved into it. its magical powers give you a grayling every cast. it wasn't hard to find, the water was up and the seat half submerged, but i managed a grayling on a john richardson float and a piece of flake. the day grew darker with each hour, the hills in the distance encased in rolling mist. when your caravan is on the royal military mine will be in the hills. i went down to the tail of the pool under stephen marsh-smith's house and trotted off the boards. at dusk a chub which took off like a salmon and brought stephen out of his house and down the steps in expectation. it was the fish i lost on the kennet, in fact it was the one i've been losing all summer, mine at last. a holy grail of sorts, the turning of the season in more senses than one. i fished onto dusk and met up again with terry thomas. he'd had a 4lb chub, too. we struck our rods and drove back through the mountains past smoking chimneys, barking dogs and brooding peaks to the nine quid curry house on the outskirts of newport.

north wind all week, flocks of starlings on the chimney pots.

and a chicken from the woods on the birdtable


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Half - Time & Bare Spools


ah, that road to wales, beetroot 66. all that's missing from round here is that iron bridge...and maybe the wye going under it. but it's october brings wales and normandy into line, like the final eclipse, when the moon's like that dace in your hand, when we wish we'd all been taught by clive gammon.
i've had no fishing for a week, grounded with dipswitch and horn failure, not a disease, the landrover, got no lights. last blank on penelope pit and i was bricoling two hours with the mechanism at midnight, trying to get just the low beam on without indicators, trying to whittle sticks the right shape to poke into the switches. i did get home, seeing the world like a magic lantern show on a ghost train. always the only vehicle, and for once i only lit up half the badger's eyes and the bats didn't go for the headlamps.

in spring i baited a bare patch down the garden with pumpkin seed. peered over the cabbages the other day and saw a few bigguns, rolling on their stems, orange bellied, big as cinderella's midnight carriage. rushed to the barn to get the gear. had this one out first cut, 42lbs it went, a right plumber's halloweaner:

night rains are cold now, moon like merlin's scythe slashing off leaves. any mud and it won't dry before april. you'll be piking soon down sunbury weir, and we're all left wondering about that monster chub you lost under david jones oak. i'll go back to writing my novel once the clocks change, thermometer watching, rods at the ready. new dipswitch tomorrow, back fishing by monday. planning the snow carp, rumours of frost

and there'll be birds on the bird table


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bridge Over The River Wye


to the far off shire, over the severn bridge and through the brecon beacons to builth for the angling writers weekend. super furries 'mountain people' on the stereo. memories and mushrooms everywhere, the unicorn's caravan over the next ridge. rumours of bob's brother and wild carp at llandrindod. dual language signs, dark skies at noon, your welsh novel on every shelf, small towns with methodist halls full of brechtian auctions. pints of brains. the next morning an early escape to the wye, stretching away into infinity, a tree lined river vanishing into mist, the longest aisle, each swim the oldest pew. autumn rain filling salmon pools, trees dripping in ancient woods and the calls of wrens, woodpeckers and jays. the water from the deepest springs, to wade in it is enough, to put a float through it is overwhelming. james of ealing never made coarse rods for the wye, it was a salmon river until only a few years ago and now it is being opened up like the midwest. so its the kennet perfection, my battered rapidex and a john richardson avon. shoals of dace, each fish touching a pound, like a silver hoard from under the stones.

a voice in the trees, and terry thomas arrives, the king of caerleon,

the man who was taught at school by clive gammon and is now his closest friend. we fish for chub in the dusk and lose a monster in the roots of a magic tree.

merlin on the birdtable


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tomb Of The Unknown Angler


your photos always peel like churchbells from a far-off shire, pasties and mackeson, "the last of england". your market town tackle-shops are worth their weight in practical nostalgia. france, for all its backwardness, has managed to lose its high street tackleshops. post-war shame, uprooting all signs of working class culture from the grande rue. stick in a coiffeuse and a flower shop. they call that modernity and think it's chic. most french anglers buy generic tackle from supermarkets. this is the gross devaluation of a culture doomed to welcome the coming of the jacques-the- knife asbos. the french are losing home-pride, throwing it away. they eat shit now, the kids are running on pre-crack E-numbers and porsche envy and are hungry for power; this is france on the tilt: from right to wrong in one sarkozy leap. in 10 yrs time i'll be beaten up by a girl gang outside the boulangerie. count on it. france is going to the chiens. i hate to sound like the mock invader but i have to say you can't buy much of any quality in france now and no one seems to care as egality & fraternity gives way to greed. angling follows suit: the old brands have lost out to the hypermarket, cheap and chancy, breaks first go. ill-equipped anglers with bubble-pack pre-loaded reels and telescopic rods i wouldn't even use for runner beans, actions like an oscilator wave. the tackle shops you do find in the major cities and medium towns are chains, franchised clones without character or tradition, or windowless warehouses on industrial estates selling bankrupt stock and job lots by ex brassiere salesman who've only ever tied a knot in a shoelace and a kipper tie. your "the creel" is a cutty sark, a stonehenge, the tomb of the unknown angler. every june 16 the frank barlow pie&mash legion should lay wreaths at its door, lest we forget.
here it's mushrooms and hunters and bellowing bulls, 3 blanks last week, driving home in scotch mist thicker than a plank of rain. saturday was mushrooming under fire, scrambling up a mossy hillock as the gun dogs sniffed me out, bells clanking round their necks. i stank like a wild pig after a week of old dirt and it put them in a yelp as i filled my basket with pieds de moutons (hedgehog mushrooms). just made the vehicule as the shots cracked through the bracken. it was worth it, they're in the freezer:

monday, back to penelope pit, no ideas. just look for the mushroom in the swim and fish there(it's under the right hand buzzer):

both runs came to the mushroom rod. first one dumped the hook, second tore strips off me this side of midnight, a catamaran with auxilliary boosters, a hunting carp:

beetroot soup tonight as rain thrashes the leaves off trees.
service revolver on the birdtable

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Creel


it is the desolate diana and the scene from the planet of the carps in the photo, they are one and the same. the barren wastes of crown land in the winter stalked by teenage prescription drug asbos in reebok classics with no laces, the original midnight baitrunners. your hat trick of full moons was like the great escape, i was waiting for the baliff to say good morning to the big one as he boarded the last train out of hampton court. had my own 36 this week, not a common but a shopfront, the greatest shopfront in the world, 36 station road, aldershot, the address of the creel. the tackle shop i visited with my dad after my first day at secondary school, twenty nine years ago. half a pint of maggots, a plummet and amo, amas, an unhooking mat. unhooking mats as unheard of then as latin is now. on the old strip by the station, past the old southern hotel. the smell of ammonia and giant leneys in their cases on shelves high above the counter, all found dead at frensham small, original stockings from after the war after they'd refilled the ponds from their war draining. renewed my farnham permit for winter days on the wey and trips to frensham. was going to go yesterday morning after i found the following entry in the fishing gazette:

october 14th 1905

'mr george griffiths of frensham pond writes, 'our perch are feeding well, within a fortnight with only 3 rods, six have been grassed over 1lb and up to 1 3/4lb and last saturday one of just 2lb'.

last saturday a century on would have been yesterday but put off by the likelihood of yachts on the pond and nagged by my empty pockets i chose the race track at wimbledon for dawn where i knocked out boxes of auction surplus to thames start-ups. tea in the garden today, bulb planting under the magnolia later.

tackle shopfront archive on the birdtable

swifty's in vauxhall is next


Monday, October 1, 2007

Blue Hearts, Lonely Moons


peter sarstedt stole your baitbox. sandy denny just put him up to it. is that the desolate diana in the photo, or the last scene from planet of the carps? it sent the shivers through me, carp with glass eyes swim in there don't they? bob's mate had a 26, (or was it a 19 common?) with anal fin syndrome out of there last week. summer was dead on arrival here, and now its carcass is heaped in the fields and burning under a moon like a blood orange. i've piped a new stove into the caravan and fish with the LL bean mittens on soon as that sun plunges like the last R101, well before the french shopkeepers lock up now. the air smells of after-plough; first forest harvest in the wicker basket:

mushroom clouds on north east collision course put the cold slap on penelope pit and a couple of blanks had me on late nights in the r&d lab. sometimes you just have to take them by surprise by doing the obvious, so i stayed put in the double-30 swim when the fish were crashing on the opposite bank like bath time for aquaphobics. i tweaked the set-up to get more bleeps and last wednesday well into black-out an sos came through, this one was a zeppelin, armed to the pharangeal teeth and it went down to hand-to-hand as the wind sang through the line, a hired 40 on a no-win-no-fee mission:

paperwork and the yearly garden/barn and general tidy-up meant i missed the last chance waxing days and wednesday saw me heading for the pit through a wall of cold rain, the one thing the carp there despise. so i do too. cold piss on a full moon, so soon as i saw the pall of grey spounge over the eure valley i turned back, headed for home, avoided a straffing and got some proper kip for once. next day the clouds broke so i taxied the hurricane out of the barn again, fully armed from the day before, arriving at penelope as the sun rolled the pitch. north east wind barking like ridgebacks. a 3-rod day i thought, something i do in a blue moon, a lonely hearts way of fishing, but out the third rod went, into a 12foot hole in the wind. by 9 o clock the wind had got to me and a full moon was draped in flowing chiffon. the racket off the route nationale was what chainsaws are to rainforests, so i actually backtracked to the hurricane parked back of the swim to turn the radio on for a time check. it always works, that or a piss when you've hovered on the rods expectantly for hours: the left hand buzzer gave me three bleeps to the wind and i hit a good fish running. it's on the mat after shooting out my auxilliaries, and i'm saying to myself could be another 40 here when the blue moon rod goes off in the hole. i hit that one and let it run on a tight clutch, came back and dealt with this one when, you've guessed it, you can see the red middle buzzer light in the picture, just come on by the carp's nose before i've even time to lift it:

i'm on a hat trick with a possible upper-30 plus i've no time to weigh, two fish on collision course, more penelope madness:

the 3rd one's way off in the night and the dogs lost the scent.
weekend was spent on autumn rituals; me and laure trimming and clearing the trees round my pond, cutting firewood and stringing the onions. this is hugely satisfying work. telling winter we're ready. even the cat has got his fluffy leggings on, burying his shrews like a squirrel then digging them up when we're looking, throwing them in the air like his own penelopes, even fooling himself they're still alive, a moggy off the old block...
it's days on half pay now, watching the skies, the oak apples thrashing my pond in bursts whenever a convoy of crucians glide under it. monday morning, no work's come through, unsteady rain, and i think i'll go roach fishing.

chestnuts on an open birdtable


Friday, September 28, 2007

Who Knows Where The Time Goes


the sun went down on summer isle and drew the north wind down from the pole. put the commons deep in the mud, up to their gills in the passing season's silt. the wicker basket men took off their masks and headed for the one doored pub, fiddles tucked under their elbows, readying themselves for a six month lock in. an excursion on christmas eve for a flounder might be the best they will manage. passing round a plate for frank barlow and his concrete keepnet. your fat forty was the start of autumn proper. the fish that stole the baked beans from the altar at the harvest festival. here the wind blew down lamb street banging the doors at christ church spitalfields like the apsley cherry-garrard's tent flap on his fortieth night at the pole. the thames is running like slate and i'm putting old float winders on the fire. the roach will be on the elder berries before too long. want to get out on the river but sandy denny has stolen my bait box.

glimpse of a wren on the birdtable


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pumpkin Eaters


your carp is the last surviving spitfire from the battle of atlantis. gawain's supper caught on a green knight. mine are just baby-boomers, demobbed galicians whose scales fell from their eyes. mine skulk in boilie-bunkers, fox-holes and nutrabait nuthouses; yours do night-school ballistics, shooting out lights and littering their lake bed with burned out mitchell 300s. and how did you get that photo of marc bolan, david carl forbes and dick walker wearing their emerson, lake & palmers? or are they the mortgage flock queing up to take their feed out of the foot&mouth bank? wicker basket men at the weigh-in, the day 5drams of bleak took the sweepstake. the roach in the rollneck jumper looks familiar. there must have been a hole in frank barlow's keepnet.

they're playing chicken at penelope pit now the wind is a stiff draft. yesterday evening the rain turned a dirty tackle and i stood like a horse under an oak tree waiting for it to stop, waiting for the haybale that never comes. drove home early with a mud flap missing, listening to the slap of manure hitting the chassis (they're ploughing as i scatter). today i dried the kit outside and nearly didn't fish. tossed a coin, the nogent pit opted to bat. it's a weary walk round it now, having to pack extra kilos of english wool for the chilly mist and the cold blade of a machete moon. i needn't have bothered. this 28-a-day hattie jakes broke her asbo and made a run for macdonalds in evening dress as i sat in the late sun editing a novel about drinking guinness.

how did your olympic wildies running on chic pea fuel become these gas guzzlers? didn't yours strip the skin off your knuckles? mine jogged a few yards then threw up on the mat.
night fell hard though, sky like a chav's ford escort windscreen, moon hanging off the rear view, white smoke coming off the water, autumn revs, souped up and glazing the rods in dew which sent a chill down the line. days drawing in tighter than a lynch mob culling wicker men.

phoenix on the bird table

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Wicker Men


i used to think your french carp were zeppelins when you held them by the tail and watched them creep back into the water in the beam of a torch. searchlight phantoms. now i know they're the ghosts of your juggernaut drivers as they cross the country on a cocktail of pastis and pills, with their pinprick speedball eyes, the descendents of maigret's barge boys. feeding on your baits like they were swilling down a five franc dinner at a roadside bar. they are history, down to the last scale. mirror carp, a reflection of france, the miscreant country at the back of europe's line.

while you were hitching your hooks to passing trucks i was down the leg of mutton for what felt like the last of the bushy park trilology. armed with a peter wheat bottle green glass avon, a battered mitchell 300, 8lb all the way through, chick peas and an a pair of efgeeco rod rests. i wasn't through the gates til one o'clock, an early start thwarted by the deer cull. the bracken turning and the leaves beginning to come down. thunderstruck oaks turning white. the walk through the bracken maze took me past sets of antlers that would suddenly move, and disappear into the woods like wicker heads. the feeling of being watched. the end of the summer at sunset. finally my only wild carp of the summer climbed the ladder and took the bait. the fire was lit and out came the wicker heads to celebrate. even rod stewart and britt eckland's bum double. they reckon the original master of the wicker man was buried under the M3 and now i know where, at the hampton court turn off, junction 1. with the bones of a medieval common in the can. the distant cousin of your mirror.

summerisle celebration on the bird table


Friday, September 14, 2007

After The Goldrush


another hair-triggered memory, another johnny's jaunt whistling past my ear: romney marsh, royal military. if constable had owned a camera he'd've taken that photo. i'd cancel my exile if you lived dyke-side. pike-bung mini-breaks with the smuggler rod on the romney hythe&dymchurch shuttle, revenge a wasted childhood, begging on bleeding knees for my old man to let me take the rod on the compulsary sunday drive, me and the ratbag packed like nuns in a morris minnow. just one cast, but the cunt called fishing desire "bellyaching". all because once, to keep me from mischief, he left me there with a float rod and the crust from last week's loaf while he smarmed his way into some posh widow's kitchen with a bag of tools. she must have thrown him out. he came back in half an hour, just as my second cast sent a drunken quill lurching through a tench's haareem. "pack up and get in the car," he said, words which killed so many fisher-boys hearts dead with hatred post-1966. that one glimpse of the other life you never recover from. i dream of it still, my geoff hurst tench 40 years on, my "grand meaulnes", my dr zhivago.

penelope pit has no white horses and was never mentioned in a gazette. women who look as if they were swapped for a horse walk their dogs along the potholes, and men who limp from a tractor accident smash the nettles down with landing net poles to flip their rubber shads into the dead-leg, funny bone, tennis elbow of a river running alongside. the only sense of history is yesterday's rubbish. scruffy horses fart in the paddocks and the lorries gush by, air brakes hissing this side of the roundabout half a mile downwind. last night i could see the blue and red neons of a macdonalds from my swim. a granary town, we're still bucolic pit-side, if the word has half its leg in tuburculosis or plague. i shouldn't be there, i've things to do, but come 5 o'clock the old man within me says "get in the car". where the rods are sunday nuns in permenant supplication. it's a harvest sun and an indian wind baking the smell of harrowed fields now the kids are back at school and the swallows gang up on the late hatches. i fish back of the wind come september, cast on the line where the ripples begin. the wind is irrelevent now. blowing hot and cold and chasing its own tail. yesterday it turned south and i set up with sun in my face and not a carp to be seen. a 30lb amnesia day, rig stiff as a corpse, 3 bait stringer right on the edge of the glare, the left-hander on a bar. you'd think the old man was still on his high horse, checking his albert down the widow's pantry, my 30 minutes was up and he thinks "that boy is up to mallarky"... a single peep and the tip just creaked an inch. i was still in poloroids. after the goldrush, 33lbs of crazy horse which toppled wellington:

it's a game of two halves now. i'm in the winter fleece soon as that sun hits the macdonalds yard arm. almost too dark to see i pull the left-hander off the bar, re-bait, put it back. the tip a silouette, it pulls round, no bleep. it's only been out there 5 minutes. the old man hasn't even got to the widow's front gate. touch & go at 31. old man lying by the side of the road with the lorries rolling by:

neil young on the birdtable


Monday, September 10, 2007

Romney Marsh


lots of pair of wellies with white socks turned over washed up at
dungeness. they walk around by themselves when the moon comes up.
you can see the tilley lamps rocking in the breeze.

didn't come straight home, too many roads to tramp. followed the
line of the old royal military canal, a tree lined, lily padded
noose, the olympic village of the napoleonic wars - redundant by the
time it was dug and finished in 1808. in his 'new and complete
history of the county of kent' published in 1828 william henry
ireland noted that the water 'abounded with large carp, tench, perch,
pike, eels and every other species of freshwater fish'. their
descendents still swimming its length. the ultimate back water, the
end and the beginning of romney marsh, two and a half hours from my
door - i am going back to pike fish it in the winter. talked to a
few old boys watching their floats by the pads, as the wind cut
across the fields. swore i saw wellington crossing the ditch on a
white horse. could have been you landing a double in 1978.

cutting i found from the 1804 kentish gazette on the birdtable:

"last week the wife of one of the men employed in cutting the canal
at shorncliffe was conducted by her husband to the market place at
hythe with a halter around her neck and tied to a post from whence
she was purchased for sixpence"


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Brooke Bond Beach Heads


your seascapes would make even captain cat's eyes get up and walk. dungeness was a legend of my childhood. there were men down my road who went there sundays, leaving me guessing with my breadflake and hooks to nylon. men of dungeness, powerstations in donkey jackets, long green heave-ho rods and twelve snoods of mackeral, white mini vans come back half rusted from an hours high tide, men not born to roach and rudd their lives away. beach-heads, big intrepids, bobble hats and wellies with the tops turned down. i imitated them, even bunked sunday school and collected mackeral feathers but the call never came. they left me sucking split-shot. unto the carp i went. lugs to holland in a dream, or a john buchan novel. you brought it all back, the sunken wreck of kent childhood, a jarmanised chassis. dungeness lighthouse, my photo on a brownie from a school trip, 3rd prize in the brooke bond inter schools....

last night the moon a-tilt, a punctured wembley winner stoved in from a kneeing. i was still beside the nogent pit as it topped, way beyond the whistle, the cold wet dew on its victory lap, my knees pulled up under the fleece. random fish, aimless strollers on the flat orange water after a day of northern bitter ruffled their feathers. i'd put the right hander on a bed of granules first and only cast at 7, 3 hours back, a 1oz lead flattened with a hammer, using up the Hutchinson hollow braid, flurocarbon a thing of the past, it shouldn't be on the market, you wouldn't trust it to hang your granny with a grinner knot. burn the lot and start again. no doubt it's a hooklink breakthrough, but research only got as far as the break. and in the left hand corner 30lb amnesia, looking like a fucking power cable out of dungeness. cold, de-wined, and running on four bits of toast, i decided a piss and a pack-up. it would get me home by 11, early night, plan it again sam. instinct is stubborn. 15 minutes more, then i'd piss and piss off out. the run came on the piss. 29lbs:

got in at midnight, cooked from dry, digging up the garden veg with a dim smack-it-again-sam torch, the moon long back in the brambles by the time i fell asleep. i should've gone again tonight, but the tide is low and the powerstation down. everything is drawing in, from the money pouch to firewood carts, and autumn signals make frantic prompts off-stage.

first pumpkin on the birdtable


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Space Shuttle


back from dungeness, the lost beach, the largest area of shingle in the world along with cape canaveral, a post apocalyptic edward hopper vision in a corner of kent long forgotten by the mapmaker. the first sight of the power station chills the guts - a ticking time bomb, a concrete tumor lost in a forest of pylons. no human life visible, little birdsong. all around it the future post dirty bomb perhaps, a wasteland of gravel, sand and alpine plants, giant sea cabbages, rusting arms of iron poking out of the ground. occasional pilgrims to derek jarman's prospect cottage with its gethsemane garden and john donne's 'the sunne rising' nailed on the side.

a row of clapperboard houses, its occupants the pioneers of the 21st century, their dwellings built from abandoned railway carriages.

expected to see the ghost of roger deakin walking round or swimming in the areas marked DANGER on the map. a place bleak and beautiful beyond the imagination. porpoise in the sea, your sailfish wouldn't have been out of place. left the rods in the car wrapped up in a flag. walked and walked and sat on the beach and watched the fishing boats being winched on and off the shingle, stick men on the horizon hurling their leads and lug at holland. planned our dream of living here. the white cliffs in the distance. collected driftwood for the first proper fire of the autumn and had a pint of spitfire in the britannia - the last pub in england.

the best day of the year on the bird table