Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cabbage Is King


since mansfield left highgate has gone downhill to kentish town. the hero of the hour in the village is cabbage a staffordshire terrier whose ears and tail were severed by a teenage gang to make him fit for fighting on the thirteenth floor of some nowhere block. cabbage fought back and is now in fine fettle and the teens heads have been spiked on betjeman spires for all to see and smile at their severing. on the heath the viaduct pond emerged from the snowstorm to sprout cabbages in honour of the warrior terrier and from the bridge i stare into the depths looking for the bronze back of a spiegel carp. staring back is a gaunt face framed by a stormtrooper helmet with single bullet hole and lavender token. slipped into the pond on a dark night by your former self, that black and white snapshot you found after our third bottle of bleak in the caravan in the morvan. haircut and jacket both cut like a double of a cold war dick walker escaped from the nearby russian attache's residence a sinister place of concrete walls and barbed wire coils, floodlit at noon like a commercial carp lake in the close season. the heath is still in the hands of winter, the leaves are out but the foxes screech at midnight in the rain and the early may blossom is lost in a sea of pea green. dusk is as long as dawn and as the light goes something is moving in the cabbages.

red brick arch on the birdtable


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

cuckoo spit & dripping yarns


was beginning to despair of a despatch from your sector. lines down, snipers, pickpockets, village hooligans. it must be rough up highgate. thank christmas for the hampstead ponds, their toothless pike and broken perch, ladies of the silt, cutpurse carp who once saw katherine mansfield, and landlocked eels who were there before betjeman. i await your report on a full closed season inspection.
here april still sends volleys over the trench. water temperatures stuck in february. four days in stephane's tourainne 2 weeks ago at his parents house while they were away on a vichy cure. we'd planned fishing the loire but it was over the banks. so it was plan 9 from hell. one thing worse than fishing your own scroffy chanceless pits is going hundreds of miles to fish someone else's ten times worse. here i need spend only 10 minutes picking up the litter round the lake; down there we were on the dustcarts for 3 hours. 4 pits in 4 days, the only carp we saw were dead. fish till midnight and the early hours, in the downpours, the wind whistling jack the knife, spring trenchfoot as the boots leaked, carbuncles, cuckoos, rainbows like iron girders cooling after a smelt of lightening thick as trees; nightingales in thunderstorms, and as the wind dropped for an hour on saturday evening the swallows dropped with it and gorged themselves on rising gnat. i felt like a bloody weather-boy on a church clock, in and out the brolley as one foul weather replaced another. sunday was one long flush on a stuck ballcock, an eerie blue nightfall after a day of pounding rain:

this was lac de varennes, marçon, looking clean for the moment, 230 acres of rain, sunday's best and deserted. they all fish the one point visible in the blue picture, scuffed to mud while the rest of the lake is duck-mown grass. like all these lakes, off-season you're alone. the water's high and the fish are on. they're not all fish; the biggest fully-scaled mirror in france at 60lbs died last year, sick of the point, and the shoreline sunday was post-flood sticks and shampoo bottles and a few bloated fourties side on up the slope. these fish are beachballs with carp body attachments, genetic misprints with bellies designed to explode once 10kgs of gathered eggs bind at the end of its rapid lifetime. the dead ones lay like those green photos of dead soldiers at paschendale, pods ripped open, mouth stuck round on a failed breath. these things self-inflate when they bolt off with the rig. thunderbird 2 painted on their fuselage.
rituals kept us alive: a minute we're in the door a roaring fire off stephane's dad's lifetime collection of faggots, roasting sausages and drying out boots and socks, a raid on the cellar for the best of vouvray and chinon, then red-eyed sleep till mid-morning which brings no real peace as it's carpless in an unfamiliar attic, and into the wind we go again. friday night on street corner pit when the local carp-heads came to launch a thousand boats on a mere 20 acres, playing pirates in the night over disputed swims, firing boilies over the bows, hand to hand over 25 foot of cold blue water, cursing each other through the swash buckle of petzel sword. absolutely fucking crackers. you read the obituaries in the french carp mags now, another fuckhead ditched from his zodiac after a night smoking dope in the bivvy. they cant cast is the trouble. into the boat at 3am they go, squinting at the GPS to drop their bait. hat knocked off by a branch, they make a sea-sick lurch for it and down they go into lazy bones locker. worst are the orange lamps hoisted on poles outside the bivvy. simms city tossers.
once home, swept by nostalgia for penelope pit as the first leaves of spring soaked up the rain. too soggy to garden, never to soggy to fish, i went back on monday, first session there since autumn. thick mist of drizzle, soaked through just putting the rod rests in. this time i wasnt going home fishless. rigged the marker rod and scoured the bottom for something to put a bait on. right hander on a stony patch at the foot of a twelve foot gulley, left hander on a stony hump 8 foot under, dropping off to 12. the drizzle was a fucking greenhouse power mister and got into everything making pva bagging a sealed laboratory job, which meant taking off the waterproofs, stripping down to bare towelled off arms and getting into the front seat of the landrover with the heater blower on to do it. the first three flew off anyway as the chuck was 60 yards. but perseverence, and by half five there were two in place and the downpour suit had packed in, i'd forgot to proof the boots and there was just no point putting up the brolley. so i did the unforgivable and sat up in the short-wheel base bivvy:

the wind dropped my side as i listened to the archers and a fish crashed over the right hander.

darkness fell like a wet rag over your face and i stood outside like a horse in the rain, staring at the buzzers as the boots just sucked in mud. quarter to ten, nightingales wetting their whistle, a fish came up in the margin where one of my pva bags had come off on the failed launches. then another 30 yards off. the urge to pack up dissolved. ran through proceedure for a take off the rocky bar. made sure everything was in place. ten o'clock, one beep on the left hander, indicator tight against the rod so i hit it. like pumping in a dumped steamroller till 20 yards off it decided to practice for le mans. so good to be back on jumping scales needles in the dark, 37 to 38 pounds, who cares, spring's in the air:

i'm packing that rod down when the other goes one beep more, the runner-up, one to watch:

next week i'm getting the boat out and heading up the 7 mile dam where the wild commons go fourty and live round the islands in the gorge. the water temperature is up two degrees this week. up with the sap, down with their heads.

battery charger on the bird table


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

vapour trails


the nearest blue plaque to here belongs to the memory of john betjeman who lived up the hill in a yellow stuccoed villa. he who saw the screens in hospitals like the kent and sussex in bluebell vistas and heard the bang of the coffin nail in the peal of a church bell. everything will have significance now. every spud you plant, every onion row, every trot down an empty stretch. every time the spring wind turns to the east and catches the back of your neck. signs which say 'private fishing' will take on a deeper meaning. you'll want to make bonfires of books and start again somewhere new. i met someone on saturday night who was in the same place and had burnt their passport. betjeman had it right when he wrote,

'that garden where he used to stand
and where the robin waited
to fly and perch upon his hand
and feed till it was sated

the times would never have the space
for ned's discreet achievements;
the public prints are not the place
for intimate bereavements'

oil the hinges on the garden gate and put some cake and crust on the birdtable


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Old Mortality.


relieved you spratt yourself up highgate hill. the lost village tench ponds, blue plaques floating in the margins, lift bites off discarded murder weapons. a stolen handbag under every bush, olde tench silted from the days of the poisoners. you must've won the pools mate and pulled the black-out curtains down; was beginning to think you'd snapped your rod and got into the bell jar with jeremy bentham in the interests of science. you haven't missed much. my last winter fish squirmed like an eel on the mat. nine photos like this:

a dozen rivers flowed under the bridge since; mud in bed, mud on the eggs, mud on my literary future as another novel gathers waterstones moss in the amazon jungle on its way to a good pulping.
spring search parties are out for new waters within an evening's radius. found a moon crator colonised by life-forms from garbolino 6, or is it a retired railwayman's miniature model of a highgate pond?:

not the one i found last summer, this one's in the wells fargo village with the health club pit(see Dynamo Kev). a sign nailed to a tree says "no bivvies" (the french spell it biwwy). you can errect a fucking bungalow and fish six poles while you're away at work, but no bivvy. photo in local paper once of this place; some grundy in a red ball cap holding a fourty against his wooden railings. his four rods were laying on the kitchen table, lines taught, between bottles of plonk, baguettes and dried sausage. way to fish.
3rd week of sleeting winds, northern raspers no stab vest ever made stops you getting it between the ribs. i've hacked the pva out several times against it and done the long spring evening but these winds don't drop, they just keep coming at you like they're on something. not having a bungalow handy, i've got under the unhooking mat. just survival time till the chopper picks you up.
another ten quid's worth of sausages off the butcher friday night. the final payment. he called me a bohemian and said i could fish his pond if i ate snails with him. the grey ones that live round his pond. i'll do anything to fish. even that. next it'll be his tripe and frogs legs off the ones that live round my own pond. careless talk with corporal jones...
saturday evening after gruelling on the garden, early spuds in nice curved rows, peas, broad beans and onions squarely put to bed, i pulled some worms and took the avon down to the village stream. miles of heartbreak, barbed wire swims and fallen trees and not a minnow's twitch to the worm:

i found a stump & twig stretch at sunset, the winter wheat rising as far as the house where i'd bought my 5 steres of firewood last october. ash, hazel, the very logs which warmed me this winter came from here:

i'm after significance with this; end of winter, trees cut to the root, sleeted aprils like they were in childhood when we were worming along the village stream; because, as i made these fruitless casts and broke the rod down at sunset, my old lady died, aged 83, behind a screen in the kent & sussex. she who stood at her garden gate to watch cat's eyes cunningham dog jerry 109s over gravesend. she who wrapped the fruit cake in greaseproof paper when i went tench fishing down all saints pond with a stale crust.

grave's end on the birdtable


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Letter From Arcadia


the season is over and thanks to the weir-rash I stayed away from the river. On the last day I was carried by bath-chair up Highgate hill to the smallpox hospital and suspended in a large jar of sprats. I am cured! The air is good up here, we have pitched camp and are exploring the many hidden tench ponds on the heath. The season may be closed but the door to arcadia was opened by another inch.

birdsong on the birdtable