Odette Pol Roger is one of my idols. Great granddaughter of Sir Richard Wallace, who gave the Nation the Wallace collection, great friend of Winston Churchill and grande dame of the Pol Roger champagne family, she was also a fly fisherman. She frequently went to parties in Paris to encourage people to drink her family's champagne. After one such party she returned to her home overlooking the River Andelle and, "As the sun was coming up I was thinking of getting a bit of sleep when I looked down from my bedroom window and saw a huge trout in the stream which runs through the property. So I grabbed my rod and rushed down and caught him - still in my dinner gown. Well! Life must be enjoyed, no?"
Probably the most stylish fishing story in the world. I rank Odette amongst the great twentieth century women. Dorothy Parker, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davies, the Mitford Sisters, instantly spring to mind. Strong characters blessed with one or all of acerbic wit, guile, fearlessness and charm. To me, this is what being a woman is all about. The ability to be elegant and to beguile and yet bet unfazed enough to don your wellies, hop in a river and courier for the French Resistance. That wonderful mixture of being charming, courageous and even a little feckless is something to which I aspire. I also think that particular vision of womanhood is something we might yet lose. I worry sometimes that femininity is often reduced to an ability to walk in high heels and finding a man to pay for them. Then again I might just be scathing because I have thus far accomplished neither of those things..
Yesterday, I rang up to organise some fishing and was horrified to discover that if I didn't make it to the river bank that evening it would be July before I trudged a river.
Here was my Odette moment. I had to go straight from work. How brilliant is it to go from crouching over a desk to crouching behind and casting over reeds? A crazed, desperate lust came over me and I zoomed home just as the clock ticked five. I ran upstairs, swapped trousers, (it would have been far cooler to keep my little pumps and thin summer trousers on but my mother would have a fit) and grabbed my fishing crate. I nearly killed my cycling, lycra-clad Spanish housemate as I sped down my street. He thinks I am mad, "like all those English people, you are just odd". I think he may be right.
I couldn't relax the whole way in the car, I was anxious, needful to cast and conscious that, although it was midsummer, I might only have a couple of precious hours. I swore at caravans, lorries and BMW drivers. I was like a salmon, desperate and demented, determined on making its way to its own river to spawn. Well, not quite spawn but you understand my meaning.
I screeched to the fishing-hut and fumbled putting up my rod, changing my leader with shaking fingers, sweating, smoking, running, panting.
And then, with the briefest glimpse of the river and the just-heard sploosh of a trout rising I could breathe again. I stopped, I watched and I smelt. I was home.