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