“Is that Mr Barbus Maximus?”
“Why, yes…is that Mr Barbus Numerous?”
I was on the phone to my good friend, Michael Loveridge, for the first time since our successful trip to the Avon. It had been an extraordinary occasion to say the least and now, a week on, we went over the details perhaps a little too excitedly for two guys just an underarm-flick from a certain birthday.
Too excitedly did I say? Well, I retract it! The fact is, come the end of the working week, both Mick and I mentally regress to the age of about sixteen at the very thought of a night in search of whiskered rod-whangers.
“…..all four of them, though! Who’d believe it?” said Mick.
And it was true: the circumstances of their capture – apart from being hilariously funny – were quite incredible, each fish catapulting the rod from its rest on each of the four times it had been necessary for me to vacate the deck chair; that I am still in possession of my Oliver’s ‘Tench’ is quite remarkable to say the least and testament to my superhuman speed and reflexes.
The first time it happened, around 11o’clock, Loveridge was rendered near-helpless with ill-subdued laughter as I slid the last few nettled yards on my backside and grabbed the last two inches of cork. The rod, of course, had no bend in it whatsoever at this point and the barbel was very nearly into Christchurch so I can only assume that my rapidly blurted prayer was answered. The 6lb line held, and after five minutes of admonishing Loveridge for his continued irreverence, I was able to lead my best-ever barbel into the Linsley ‘Perfection’landing-net.
To celebrate and to punish in one, I got Loveridge to make a brew with the storm-kettle while I resettled myself and made a fresh cast into the darkness. Now as all devotees of FM will be aware, it is a matter of a just a few minutes to boil a litre of water in these fearsome machines so, before long, Loveridge was beckoning me to collect my tea and a handful of fig-rolls …
“Do you remember what I said to you then, Mike?’ Our telephone conversation continued…
“Err, yes…something about lightning striking twice and would I bring your tea down to you”
“That’s right” I interrupted, “but you reckoned you had your hands full”
“Well, they were!” Loveridge protested laughingly.
What happened next might be obvious to readers here and it was, with hindsight, inevitable. Barbus Medimus took his chance on seeing my back turned and made off with the sweetcorn as only that species can…the dry Hampshire earth greedily drank my tea, and the biscuits went in all directions as my outstretched fifteen stones were flung at the vanishing rod just in time. As before, I fought the fish to a background of wheezy laughter and I reddened at being the very character I strive to avoid on the riverbank. Overcoming my shame, I ordered the tea-boy to make with the net and after four or five minutes a 9lb plus barbel was within its folds. Recounting the preceding minutes I started to laugh, inviting the bursting Loveridge to carry on where he’d left off, near wetting himself at both the absurdity of it all and the sheer, simple delight of being a fisherman on a warm Wessex night.