Cliff Hatton takes a look around his world and simply can't believe it...
Sh*t….I’ve arrived, haven’t I? Not only does my tuner dial race past the pop stations in search of Classic FM these days but I’ve found myself conducting the orchestra as I walk around the house, pausing mid-living room – arms aloft – to quell the potted plants with the left whilst rousing the dresser-plates to a crescendo with the right. Did Dad used to do this? Bloody Hell, yes, he did, and what a silly old sod I thought he was.
A few days before Christmas I had no choice but to visit the Town Centre and reluctantly mingle with the ocean of baseball caps and mobile phones carried along by the Great British public. To the sound of Peruvian pan-pipes (Is it just one very enthusiastic ensemble that whizzes around the country or are there franchises nowadays?) I made a beeline for a large department store called Debenhams and entered through a downblast of hot air, then a haze of lavender and roses that told me I was in the perfume department.
Nowadays, I spend Monday to Friday surrounded by burly blokes in boiler-suits, and the weekends in the vast bleakness of the Norfolk fens, so it came as nothing less than a shock to find myself amid a bevy of fragrant, glossy-lipped Goddesses. One, a Marilyn Monroe look-alike approached me, a look of longing in her big, beautiful eyes (or did I imagine that?) and asked breathily if she could be of assistance. Less than 30 seconds before I’d been out in the crisp winter air and thinking of how I could pop-up a frozen sardine, so the thoughts and words did not come easily. I pondered her simple question. Could she help me? I then remembered that this afternoon’s mission was, in part, to purchase a Christmas gift for a close lady-friend.
‘Er, yes maybe…I’m thinking of buying some perfume for a friend’ I said innocently.
Now you might expect her response to have been something along the lines of ‘What price did you have in mind?’ Or ‘Were you thinking of spray or bottle?’
But no. With all the chirpy, girly innocence of ‘Kerry’ at the credit-card call-centre she asked ‘… and is it for a man or a woman, Sir?’
Well, if Frankie Howerd hadn’t got there before me, I would undoubtedly be writing that my flabber had never been so ghasted. After a two second eternity of thorax-freezing self-doubt the words gratefully tumbled out. ‘A woman, of course!’
Totally unabashed she continued.
‘And does the lady prefer a floral bouquet or, perhaps, a musky perfume?’ I regarded her with suspicion and spoke only with my eyes…
‘Are you taking the piss?’ She read my mind perfectly.
‘No, Sir, seriously, some women stick with a particular fragrance for life; your lady might have a liking for Gardenia for example’.
‘What’s that one like then?’ I enquired by way of a side-step.
‘It’s lovely, Sir – here, try’
She gave her left wrist a split-second blast of atomized femininity and proffered it to my unsophisticated hairy nostrils.
I badly wanted ‘OUT’. What if some earthy, no-nonsense, mackerel-slinging acquaintance was to pass by the window and see me lingering over the eau de toilette?
‘Right. I’ll have that one then’ I said, then, as an afterthought ‘How much is that?’
‘Seventy-five’ said Marilyn Monroe without a hint of apology.
Now I readily admit to being out of touch with the price of things but I was pretty damn sure she didn’t mean pence.
‘Okay…that’s one option’ I said ‘Now where’s your woolly hat and gloves department?’
I did, of course, bypass the clothing section altogether, preferring to swiftly exit the store via a side door.
Relieved at escaping such foreign territory and in need of a smoke, I headed for that time-honoured sanctuary of the nicotine addict, the riverside bench. There in the company of three or four other neo-lepers, I whiled away a windy fifteen minutes observing my fellow Humans as they passed.
I have always been something of a student of life, a people-watcher; I find our behaviour fascinating, but derive no pleasure from, say, correctly anticipating somebody’s next move, or what he or she is about to say. My interest is, in fact, a mild compulsion rather than something I consciously pursue for some kind of result, or fun even, and it may well be that I write of a characteristic practiced by millions of people; some actually develop and capitalize on it, becoming psychologists or one of the dreaded Human Resources/Career Development/Individual Enhancement Mafia. Maybe it’s just the natural consequence of becoming older and more experienced in the ways of people and life…dunno.
Whatever, it fascinated (but no longer surprised) me that, clearly, nobody was shocked, appalled, amazed, sickened or even dismayed by the garish collage of junk that festooned the riverbank. I carefully watched for some subtle – or not so subtle – facial or spoken expression of disgust from SOMEBODY.
But no… young and old of both sexes, couples, housewives with impressionable youngsters ripe for an impromptu lesson in conservation, a copper…the glaringly obvious foul eyesore that filled their peripheral vision made no impact whatsoever on their sensibilities, such as they were.
Predictably, Colonel Sanders came drifting by in his distinctive red and white craft. Ever sociable, he smiled up at me then executed a swift zephyr-powered figure of eight and hydro-foiled off at great speed to the far bank. Even with certain death by drowning just one hundred yards downstream at the weir, the finger-licking message is hammered home to all he passes. But then, nobody looks do they? I raised my collar and headed for the sanctuary of the tackle-shop.
I entered through a pate-warming down-draught, then a fug of Monster Crab, Green Lipped Mussel and Tutti-Frutti that told me I was in the bait section. Less than ten seconds before, I’d been out in the crisp winter air and thinking of what I’d like to do with the girl in Debenhams, so it came as something of a shock to hear ‘Boilies, Mate? We’ve got friggin’ thousands of ’em. Crème de Menthe, Whiskey, Mongolian Goats Cheese, Australian Nematode Worm, Horse Shit…. Was he taking………?
It was as if he knew that my shed-door bulged and struggled to contain the cane, the Mitchells, the still-perfectly-serviceable Efgeeco ‘luggage’ and the nests of earth-encrusted aluminium bait cans….He could tell that, for me, custard powder is still fairly exotic. Maybe it was my air of amazed bewilderment or, perhaps, just my Jason King moustache that told him I might just purchase a small pack of size 12 Model Perfects and 100 yards of Perlon and was, therefore, safe to ridicule.
Or was it me? Am I developing a persecution complex? I confess that my increasingly rare visits to the tackle shop are becoming a little uncomfortable; I feel as a shoplifter must feel – blindly looking at the merchandise but not seeing, no intent to buy ’cause I’ve no idea what it is or what it’s for. I self-consciously shuffle around the store superficially inspecting the hundreds of Gizmos and widgets that vie for my attention.
I feel guilty! Seeing my lack of comprehension or wary of my purpose, I am offered ‘assistance’ far more frequently than was once the case. I am, I suspect or imagine, perceived as either a tea-leaf or a complete plonker who might just be the fella to relieve them of that twelve-piece combination rod.
A grave injustice that would be. These young tackle-shop owners of today seem to forget that people like me sacrificed much of our valuable youth on the front-line in faraway places like Billing and Peterborough – fishing through blizzard-lashed winter nights in the warm-water outlet for carp that occasionally scraped twenty-five if we were lucky!.
No bivvies then, oh no…just a Woolworths bed-chair, a horse blanket and a brolly – a wooden-poled brolly at that! And our only ‘luxury’ was an extra Thermos filled with Campbells Cream of Mushroom. Boil-in-the-bag curries? These modern fish-trappers don’t know they’re born!....My cousin, now 53 and not a well man, did four consecutive seasons – day and night - pioneering for commons on the Military Canal with little more than a pack of cheese sandwiches and a Lyons Individual Fruit Pie for sustenance. He’s somewhat withdrawn nowadays and doesn’t like to talk about it. He still fishes. His neighbour, Brian, picks him up every other Saturday and takes him down to the park lake. You can feed the swans there.
This is Meldrew’s Syndrome creeping in you know, but it really is nothing to be ashamed of, luvvie; it’s not a disease and it’s not your fault. It’s the awful realization that your fifty or so years on planet Earth have seen so little improvement in so much – indeed, some things are getting worse and all those letters to the editor, the countless Parish Council meetings and the hundreds of calls to the BBC’s complaints department haven’t amounted to a row of beans. Youths still spit on the pavement. Nine out of ten motorists still don’t know how to signal on roundabouts. Sun readers persist in their belief that it supports the working man and the BBC’s fledgling reporters still don’t know how to pronounce Uttoxeter!. The Police are next to useless, firework season now lasts for twelve months and every bus-shelter and brick wall has, seemingly, been attacked by Jackson Pollock on a particularly bad day.
So you take yourself off fishing for the day and what do you see???? Did you get enough sleep last night? Are you losing your marbles even sooner than expected? Is the lady in your life doctoring your coffee?
No, you really, really can see – just rounding that island now – a small speedboat with a dead bream across its hull.
The last time you fished here the bloke in the next swim had an eleven pound sturgeon on double maggot. Furthermore, it was a personal-best and known as Stella!
First published in Waterlog magazine.
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