Black to White
Contrary to what you might believe now it IS possible to turn your beliefs completely upside-down.
Y’know…you can change.
As an upper-double teenager and even as a low twenty, my time, it seems now, was spent largely arguing with my father about the length of my hair; never mind that his front door had never been darkened by the rozzers in search of a drug-peddling car-thief or shoplifter, his conviction that I must be homosexual was all that mattered.
As one of that generation reared on conformity and pudding basins I can now appreciate his concern for the family name, but a healthy flow of mini-skirted crumpet ringing the doorbell every weekend did little to allay his obsession with my Lennon-like locks.
In all fairness they were my obsession too and the very thought of a coconut-job or even a nice, neat College Boy filled me with the revulsion required of all 60s and early 70s ‘hairys’. Mum was on my side, forever explaining to her own personal Alf Garnett that the fashion would soon peter-out and that his son would soon revert to normality, but I would have none of it: I’d always be a mop-head. Even when my turn came to zimmer into Evergreen Lodge I’d be sporting the curtains. Poor Mum, she put up with a lot, but at that time – and for the next couple of decades – I really couldn’t imagine that such resolute beliefs might one day be overturned.
It was the same with fishing. I had certain unassailable, immovable beliefs and standards: the dullest, yellow light on a carp-night would have me galumphing round the lake for an argument; too much merriment from a distant swim and in would go a report to the committee. I was SO serious. Had the Krays tried forcing a denunciation of my fisherman’s values I’d have laughed in their faces: fishing was serious stuff – a science – requiring Pythagorean precision merely to get the canes at the correct angle, and this level of solemnity remained as constant and unshakeably earnest as my affection for long hair right up until the time I rekindled my relationship with the Loveridge.
In the angling sense Loveridge has been my ruination, the reason for so many blanks and sessions aborted in favour of a nearby pub: ‘We ain’t gonna catch anything…wouldn’t you rather be in the boozer?’
I hadn’t seen the former pugilist since my hairy days when our paths would occasionally cross on the banks of the Ripples, but then one day he turned-up at my hospital bed with a get-well card, two books on pike-fishing and a bag of liquorice allsorts. Upon my discharge the least I could do was to suggest a day’s dangling somewhere a bit special, so the new season saw the Crabtree-obsessed Loveridge and me arrive on the bank of the middle Avon.
For every item of barbelling paraphernalia I lifted from my tackle bag the Loveridge produced a piece of culinary equipment: a saucepan, a tea-towel, a wad of something wrapped in Baco-Foil, a set of knives... I remembered then his famous appetite and his oft-repeated boast that he’d never been hungry ‘cause he never stopped eating. Clearly, little had changed: his ruck-hamper could have seen a little old lady over Christmas and well into February.
My pink-indispensable had hardly had time to wrap itself around the cabbages before my buddy’s little whistle told me it was breakfast time. I reluctantly reeled in, hooked up (thereby displacing an expertly rigged lump of lunny) and hunchbacked the eight or nine yards to Micky’s Kitchen; there, awaiting my attention not three feet from a fresh cow-pat was a fabulous, cholesterol-rich Full English and two bottles of sauce.
I had a quick word about his presentational skills, but soon got stuck into the Quantock of lovely grub before me: I’d never eat another cheese sandwich on the riverbank.
Constable would have loved this morning: cotton-wool clouds meandered across the blue; Fresians drank contentedly on the opposite bank and there, midstream, a couple of old rustics worked their horse-drawn wood-cart across the river: one was bent into a decent fish I think. It was hard to tell. As we ate, so the Loveridge popped the odd twig into the Kelly-funnel ensuring a litre of freshly boiled water by plate-mopping time.
He’d actually brought along a teapot, an ornate little job that might well have housed a genie at some time but now it was brimful with hot, orange Rosie. We duly drank, and smoked the first roll-ups of the day oblivious to what might be hoovering the gravel-runs.
I doubt if I then did more than about fifty minutes rod-watching before the call came for elevenses – more fresh tea served with a wedge of something closely related to Christmas pudding. Gut distended now, I laid back and did some serious button-straining and actually succeeded in pinging one off with a fair trajectory. Before I dropped off an awful truth hit me: the prospect of a good meal was beginning to draw level with one featuring lace and elastic – by no means a strong contender just yet but a photo-finish might just prove necessary before long…
I awoke early afternoon to the sound of oatmeal ‘n’ maggot depth-charges delivered unceremoniously by the Loveridge. Assuring me that this would ‘get ‘em going’ he urged me in the direction of my rods with the instruction to ‘bang out a barbel’. Picking up a Penguin fleetingly crossed my mind, but I had the good sense to drop it. Obediently dropping into my reedy stockade I flipped a cube of spam downstream and settled back to admire the scenery, determined to remain more or less static in all but the most rod-whanging circumstances.
The tip did tremble and curve round a couple of times that afternoon but it had probably been just a stick or a leaf briefly snagging the line; at one point though a positively determined arc possessed the carbon causing me to creak forward for closer scrutiny, then I remembered seeing a moorhen earlier on, somewhere in the vicinity of my line. I thankfully eased back into the chair and resumed doing nothing until lunchtime.
Exercise, good for old bones
At around 3.15 I decided to move. Starting with alternate knee-lifts, I progressed to elbow thrusts then to head / neck circles, finishing with a stroll along the bank: it felt good working up a sweat and incinerating all those calories I can tell you. On my return the Loveridge was releasing a chub of about three pounds back into the wild. Nice one I said, and suggested a cup of tea.
The Kelly was duly fired-up and by 3.35 we were elbowed into the Wiltshire grass and taking in the day, oblivious to the rods slung somewhere in the bulrushes. It was a matter of just ninety minutes to put the world to rights and by the time the sun could be described as mellow we’d de-islamified Great Britain, voted for Joe McElderry, banged-up every last feral scumbag and recovered all their expenses claims: it’s not as if one of them had put in for a new catapult or a few sacks of ground-bait and if the aptly-named Hogg had had his moat dredged in readiness of a consignment of wildies he might have enjoyed a degree of public understanding. And what was all this government borrowing all about?
Who was doing the lending for Christ’s sake – America? They were a hundred squillion dollars in debt themselves the Loveridge pointed out, so maybe Brown & Co were receiving menacing Friday night visits from a Neanderthal with a cauliflower ear and a note-book. I mocked his naivete: money I explained, trying to recall the You-tube clip I’d watched the previous week, was merely a concept…a notional commodity…an abstract currency found only in binary form on the hard drives of Treasury computers!
Not wishing to further ridicule the poor boy I turned my smugness to the river only to swivel back again. Who then, he asked, does the government have to pay all that interest to? I briefly tried my hand at bullshitting but it was no good, I didn’t know. Why hadn’t I scooped a dollop of that breakfast cow-pat onto my plate asked the Loveridge: that would have helped. Ever the diplomat he concluded that the unknown Global Benefactor must be Bill Gates or, more probably, Simon Cowell, so I readily agreed and suggested putting a bait on. Well…he’d put the kettle on; I could do what I wanted. Touche.
Back down in my swim and performing some delicate surgery on a cube of lunny it occurred to me that precious little in the way of angling had been done that day and yet I’d had an absolutely marvellous time laid back like Paxman on a sun-lounger one click past the horizontal – and the village pub beckoned. Nonetheless I rolled the dice under an overhang some twenty yards downstream and hoped for a six – or a seven maybe.
I actually came up with a four: four pounds and four ounces of ol’ rubber-lips, a gallant fighter, very welcome, but identical as only chub can be to every other four pound chub on Planet Earth. Ever thought that? Perch are decidedly individual; pike, carp and barbel – and, to a lesser extent, tench – possess a hint of personality, as does the gudgeon and even the rudd and the roach, but chub are like night-club doormen the length and breadth of the country: bulky, bland and rather unexciting. But I’d had one! The purchase and transportation of thirty-five quid’s worth of heavy ground-bait, lunny, worms, corn and hemp had almost been worth it.
As the western hemisphere turned its back to the sun so the Loveridge and I turned ours to the river and set off across the meadow. The sky had turned Turner but the guys in the cart remained just as they’d been all day - and would forever more. Trudging bald head-down and lost in thought I conjured-up the Krays again and I thought you’re right, guys, you can turn black to white. With time.
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