Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Sophia Banks's Trade Card

Sophia Banks was the sister of the famous naturalist and all round polymath Jospeh Banks.
She would make astute observations of the natural world and many of her ideas found a place in her brother's writings. She is perhaps best remembered for her large collections of ephemera which are now housed in the British Museum. The thousands of visit-cards, trade notices and prints are the detritus of an elite gentlewoman's life. It's particularly pleasing therefore to find this rather fabulous trade card, one of three from Iverson and Sons in her collections.

Trade Card of Iverson and Stone (c.1792) Collection of Sophia Banks
Copyright: The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum Number: D,2.2084

In Georgian England, angling was a gentle art, enjoyed equally by both men and women. Rivers and lakes became dotted with dinky little houses, furnished with comfortable chairs for ladies to pursue this art in comfort, with servants to do disgusting things like baiting hooks. It would be wrong to conclude that such comfort replaced an angler's obsession and enthusiasm for the sport. Look at Lady Mary Coke's account of fishing with Princess Amelia in 1768,

The Princess order'd me to attend her to the Great Water to fish: 
in two hours I catched three score; two large carpe & above twenty considerable perch;
the rest small. The Princess catched about forty, but none so large as mine, to the great 
mortification of the page who attended her. He seem'd to think it a reproach that the 
Princess shou'd catch less fish than mine: his distress made me Laugh.

Op.cit. Kate Felus The Secret Life of the Georgian Garden, pg. 84.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Small Things. Quiet Achievements.

Enforced rest caused by a frightful pox upon my legs and kidneys is good for me, though I'm not sure I can keep this up for much longer. I'm listless and lethargic, wondering if I am tired because I am not quite well or tired because I haven't done much. I'm not used to this. 

My Head of Research has told me to get well and strong doing all the things I enjoy. "What do you like to do Polly?" I like to be outside, quietly and vigorously expending energy in order to truly relish something warm and hearty and stodgy. I like the feeling of my cold, chubby cheeks turning red, warmed by log fires and laughter. I like this to have been preceded by a sense of quiet achievement. A day tramping about chasing pheasants would do the trick as would digging in some manure into frost crusted beds. I was looking forward to stalking pike in the frost. From my bed right now, I can almost feel my cold, chapped lips crack with a smile earned from a good catch.  All to much for me to cope with right now although I know I'd feel better straight away for having a good, log walk in the cold, fresh air. Hopefully I'll be stomping round again before spring. Instead, today, I experimented with tying paraloop flies. I also mopped the floor and made a lasagne. Small things, quiet achievements. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

Ephemeral Anguish

I think if we fishermen are honest with ourselves we spend the first couple of months of the season waiting. Throwing weighty nymphs and speculative casts are all well and good but it’s never truly satisfying. 
So, for the early parts of the season we watch and wait for hatches of march browns and clouds of grannom but nothing captivates us like the mayfly. Their life cycle means crazed fish and fishermen. There’s an intense sense of getting to the river “first” at my club at the moment. Members are determined to grab the best beats as they hunt for fish and the mayfly. For many, this is the only time of year they fish. I’d like to say I’m immune but there is nothing quite like watching a river change and go into a frenzy as angry looking trout gobble up lace-like and fragile mayfly. Or indeed my favourite spectacle of all, watching little ducklings strain their necks to snap at them.


Last season enormous hatches blessed my daily cycle along the Thames. They seemed to be everywhere, dancing above the brambles or fluttering into my face. Every evening as I crossed the bridge at Hampton court, there were always a few resting in the stone bridge. Normally, the webs, which span the fine, baroque ironwork at the palace are peppered with mayfly corpses.  I enjoyed listening to squeals of horror as they invaded the garden of my local pub. For me, a resting mayfly on a cool pint glass is a welcome companion.

This year, my cycle rides are spent straining my neck to see traces of mayfly in cobwebs, or their shucks floating on the slower, gloomier parts of the river.  


I’ve become fascinated by scavenging seagulls, dipping and diving for elusive insects over the barges. I question the custody team at work about them, and none have become imprisoned in the Tijou. 
Tijou Screen Hampton Court Palace.

I’m getting desperate. Where are they? I angered a speedy lycra-clad cyclist by dithering on the banks as I searched for signs of mayfly presence. He shouted “fucking knob” at me and I shouted back “Don’t you care about nature you sweaty bastard?” At first I questioned my aggression but I was anxious. Anxious over the whereabouts of an ephemeral insect.