…….what it was like. That day in mid-August you fished alone and saw not a soul. You told yourself to remember exactly how it was – it was that good. Remember? Well, do you? You vowed never to let the views and the colours and the perfumes fade from memory…
You’d grown weary of your usual haunts, local and familiar, no longer capable of surprise, predictable in fact, and you were owed a days leave.
You had instructed yourself to make the most of every minute of that day, to make an early start, to uncover the truth behind that inch of blue on the map and, God willing, to place a worm on a gravel-run amongst the barbel.
Amazingly, you did. You triumphed over your notorious instinct to thump the alarm and plummet straight back into the abyss of sleep. Somewhat surprised by your own resolve, you then drove – alone – nearly two hundred miles to find the most beautiful grid-reference in the world.
Barely able to believe your good fortune, you pushed your way through a wall of thorns then stood with the corn-sheaves, listening to the day awaken. Across the river, atop the high embankment, handsome oaks stood stark against the pink of dawn, and below, heavy, dark rings appeared in the flow, distorting, like a cowboy’s lasso.
You whispered to yourself ‘I don’t believe this’ and scanned a full circle for the ubiquitous Range Rover, but there was none. Sure of your solitude and with no farmhouse in sight you returned to your vehicle and hurriedly lifted your tackle over the fence with the urgency of a jail-breaker. Loaded, you shone your wellies on dewy grass, cramming your toes as you cautiously picked your way down the steep hillside to the river.
Again, you couldn’t believe your eyes…your point of arrival was the best swim you’d ever seen…the excitement just kept coming; as a child with an endless pile of Christmas presents, your senses reeled with the sudden intake of so much excellence. No further exploration was wanted for fear of breaking the spell, and similar discoveries would spoil your choice.
You thought of Thelwell’s Compleat Tangler and permitted yourself a faint smile as you feverishly threaded your line through the rings with a handful of thumbs, one chameleon-eye constantly flicking to the river. Don’t tell me you can’t recall your pulse accelerating when you eventually crouched behind the foxgloves rod in hand, moss-fresh lob and small bullet briefly suspended while you carefully chose your target; how you missed a breath on spotting a scarlet sail break the surface and the way your cast dropped perfectly in its upstream path. You remember alright…
You kept your cool. Your cane was placed in a simple rod-rest and made to doff its tip ever-so-slightly by way of a single turn of the Mitchell. You waited expectantly, admirably resisting the temptation to reel in and cast to each and every splash and swirl that had you chewing your nails.
From far downstream came a faint but impossibly high cacophony of piping and you knew that within seconds – you correctly calculated five – a family of electric-blue and orange darts would be zooming through your swim, not a moment to spare. You can’t have forgotten that. And that wheeling buzzard that forced you to drag your attention from the rod-tip…why did it suddenly lift then allow itself to limply fall out of the sky like a shattered fighter-plane? You remember asking yourself that question, don’t you? Of course you do! You made a special point of telling yourself to remember!
The next thing you knew your backside was lifted from your canvas chair when you frantically grabbed your river-bound ‘Avon’. …for a moment you thought you’d ‘had it’, and a split second later you would, indeed, have felt the heart-breaking despair of losing a good ‘un. Your skills, though, aided by a good dollop of acknowledged luck, prevented it’s escape, and after five minutes of creaking cane and the awful thought that you were being watched, a whiskered juggernaut of around nine pounds succumbed to the net. Yes…you remember it well!
Hyena-like, you jealously coveted your catch and placed it – unnecessarily – in the longest grass for unhooking and admiration, staying low of profile and hunched like Quasimodo on a bad day.
What a beautiful fish! How would you describe it? What would Bernard Venables have said ?…The words wouldn’t show themselves and you couldn’t wait for their arrival, you knew only that you had won a fabulous prize from The Garden of Eden, one which you could possess for mere minutes. Siren wailing and blue light flashing, you hurriedly pushed your way upstream through the wet cow-parsley to free the fish from a shingle promontory. You blinked and it disappeared.
Then you remembered! Was somebody observing all this? On haunches still, you swivelled noisily into the gravel, certain of meeting an angry, riparian gaze, but to your genuine astonishment no-one and nothing marred the backdrop of morning-blue. Amazingly, you had occupied this patch of Heaven for some four or five hours, unquestioned. You’d broken cover a number of times, unnoticed. You’d done splashing, reel-screaming battle with a near-double for a full five minutes, unwitnessed…
Do you recall how you relaxed a little then ? Taking hold of sturdy tufts, you pulled yourself back on to the high ground and easily took in your surroundings – not even a sheep could betray you; only a skylark on aerial surveillance might give the game away, you mused, then strolled back to where tea and sandwiches awaited.
It may be a little hazy now for you were drowsy, but do you still see the greens, the browns, the blue, and the darkness of shadow and mirrored trees turning and mixing against that fallen bough, flotsam searching for escape, the musical rush below the trailing branches? Can you hear the soothing cooing from within that lush canopy of backlit horse-chestnut? How strange it is, you thought, that the dove warbles his pleasant and peaceful sequence over and over yet chooses to terminate the notes so abruptly – and with consistently bad timing…
You won’t recall the following fifty minutes, you were asleep and lucky, perhaps, to remain in possession of your MK IV. You will, however, harbour vivid pictures and memories all too sharp of the thunderclouds that rolled over as you dozed and shed their load with unbelievable force.
With much reluctance you put up the brolly, but the olive-green and umber panels blended well affording excellent shelter and concealment. Thus, for an hour or more, you wallowed in the wonderful diversity of the British climate and the everlasting drama of the skies, confident of an undisturbed afternoon.
And so it was. You had been considering – though it is no shame to have forgotten – a number of things, from the wisdom of the flat back four to the absurdity of life itself, when you perceived a brightening and an easing of the downpour. Perhaps there is a God you pondered as the dark mantle was seemingly lifted – like a towel from Joey’s cage – by some unseen, divine hand. There were signs of renewed vigour in the river; you dismissed Mankind’s most pressing questions to burrow into the worm-bucket for one of two particularly enormous ‘snakes’ you’d patiently teased from the front-lawn the previous evening. No struggle this time, the lob rolled lugubriously in the lid then buckled with the warmth of sunshine as you hastily retrieved your hook.
Remember how you hissed a ‘yesss!’ as lob and lead arced up and across, narrowly missing an overhang, and plopped deliciously into the smooth, dark glide under the far margin? It was tantamount to a fish on the bank, a foregone conclusion, an inevitability just waiting to happen and…thank you, Lord, you said, the line lifted and pulled straight to the rush of a watchful chavender. And what a chavender! Come on, man! Don’t tell me you’ve no recollection of that fish’s first heavy dash for the tree-roots!
I know it’s indelibly printed across your brain! You couldn’t wait to bag and hang it from the hook of your brass Salter! Tell me again where the needle settled…yes, 6lb 14oz, an incredible fish….a sight you’d never forget.
Minutes later, the chub’s gills tasted cold, fresh water once more, up at the shingle point. Inwardly ecstatic still, and somehow desperate to possess the moment, you held the fish in the shallows, closed your eyes tightly for a few seconds, relaxed your hold and took a snap with your eyes. When you opened them again the fish had gone but its image, you hoped, would last a lifetime, burnt into memory.
But it didn’t end there, did it? Positively casual now, you filled your pockets with crusts and slugs and odds ‘n’ sods and crept downstream to search for likely holes. Your most outrageous fishy daydreams materialized before your very eyes…long golden runs caressed by luxuriant tresses, simmering glides, bottomless bowls that screamed pike!! (You’d be back in October, you said. Remember?)
The sun had fallen from view before you thought of work next day. You’d bent into two more barbel, three stonking chub, a bonus perch of two pounds and now it was time to re-bag the cane. Despite the failing light you took your time, glancing up occasionally with a smile in your eyes, taking in what remained of the perfect day; even the survivors in your bait cans lived to crawl another day.
At the top of the slope you paused, yes, for breath, but mainly to absorb the evening that filled the valley. Four or five miles to the west on higher ground, someone flicked a switch and there was light. Somewhere to the north a rasping 125 annoyed the neighbours. So, there was life. You weren’t the only person on Earth to escape the cloud of deadly poison. You thanked the river and the hills sincerely and quite unselfconsciously before pushing back through the hawthorns to the car. All aboard, you gunned the engine and returned to normality, but nothing would ever blur the pictures you’d developed that day. You’d never forget…..
In the weeks and months that followed you paid homage to Ikea more often than is healthy. The Sunday morning car-wash became a ritual followed by a mid-day pint. Or three. As did the afternoon, prostrate on the sofa. You joined the local video club. You rarely turned down the overtime. Yes, you occasionally took yourself off to the local pit and ‘wet a line’, returning rather chuffed with a brace of tincas and a mirror to your credit. You allowed yourself to gravitate back into mediocrity, the land of D.I.Y superstores and Shopping Emporiums. You even had a MacDonalds…..
So you did forget, didn’t you.
One day, possibly years from now, the yearning to escape will, again, well-up from within. Vague recollections of a pleasant day will return you to the valley and when, once more, you stand atop that verdant crest you’ll know the awful significance of your apathy.