Thursday 1 December 2011

On Apathy

So, yesterday I joined thousands of public sector workers in a day of striking. I even decided to march. I shan't go into the whys and wherefores here. This isn't a political blog. I will point out though that for a person who was once a member of the Oxford University Conservative Association going on strike was a pretty serious and uncharacteristic thing to do. I will caveat that piece of information by saying that I became a member largely because they gave you free port and cheese on Sundays and champagne once a term. Needless to say, the quality varied. It also seemed a very glamorous and very "Oxford" thing to do which for some reason felt important. I didn't like the people mostly because they were careerist swine with the gift of the gab but lacking principle. This is a statement I can apply to most members of any Oxford student political party I came across.
Anyway, my day of shouting and marching ended with a trip to my Local Fly Dressers Guild. I truly love going. It's a winter escape from it all. No one speaks of anything serious and a lot of me likes the fact that the whole atmosphere is one of little boys comparing their air-fix models. What matters most there is what you use for your wing-post. This sort of thing gives me perspective. Indeed fishing is what keeps me stable, solid and generally on an even keel. Fishing, my family and loved ones are what matters. So, on the whole, I am unbothered and don't have causes. Part of me had always worried about this. I wondered whether my general malaise, sense of bonhomie and my very British trait of not liking to make a fuss would have prevented me from joining the Suffragettes or say standing up to Hitler. Marching yesterday made me feel good. It reminded me that I do have some principles. Brilliantly and eloquently it taught me that somethings do matter more than fishing.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

On Family.

No chaps and chapettes, I haven’t given up. I haven’t even been ill. I’ve just been busy with things apart from fishing and this has left me uninspired to write anything funny or even sensible. I still don’t have a lot to say. Well, not about fishing. My final trips of the season were not my most skilful.
There is one moment worth mentioning. If cleanliness is next to Godliness my mother is the Dalai Lama. She, is, in a word, ironed. Wonderfully, she has a grid plan taped on the inside of her cupboard so that she knows what’s inside her identical shiny storage jars. It seems needless to say at this point that the spices in her spice draw (all in identical mini jars) are kept in alphabetical order.
We arrived bankside, as a family, just before eight o’clock in the morning. None of us had ingested sufficient caffeine to quite greet the world properly yet. My mother inspects her creel.

Ma: “Oh my God”
Me: “What?”
Ma: “I can’t touch it. It’s, just too horrible”

I looked inside her creel. I could smell it before I peered inside. It had the odour of bread but evil bread, bread that had festered inside the pantry of a serial killer. Where this smell came from is a mystery, my mother is not the sort to mix her picnic with her fishing gear. She has special cases for that! I looked closer. Her creel swarmed with hundreds of squirming, writhing, white maggots. I laughed, thinking that nothing worse could happen to one so immaculate; but my mother was right. It wasn’t even funny. I cannot express quite how grave the situation was.

Ma: “I’m throwing it away, I can’t use it”
Pa: “For heaven’s sake girls what on earth is going on?”
Me: “It’s fucking horrible, it’s filled with maggots, it’s beyond redemption. It’s Satan’s creel”
Pa: “Oh, give it here, that’s an expensive creel you can’t throw it away”
Ma: “I just can’t Tom. I’m not touching it ever, ever again”

We held this discussion as my mother and I wiped maggots from her reel. I could feel their wriggles as I crushed them between the tissue paper. They had slithered themselves all the way down the line right into the backing.

My father took one look at the creel and without saying a word he took it away, far away.

Pa: “That creel has been taken by the Dark Side, let’s not go there again”.

We were all a little traumatised. I think we all fished in a slightly cagey way and we had some but not huge amounts of success. The creel went into three, tightly-knotted black sacks and was deposited in the public bins of a remote village. I still shiver when I think of the maggots pushing and humping themselves all over the contents of the creel.

Anyway, as an end of season post I dedicate this one to my parents. For countless reasons they deserve it and far, far more.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Twenty Nine, going on...

There is a time for growing up and having just turned twenty nine I don’t think this is it.
I am getting scarily grown up though. In general, I listen to radio four. I can justify this, because I work in heritage sector, so it doesn’t make me old. It makes me informed of cultural happenings. I also know the pitfalls of owning a dairy farm in the heart of an Ecoli scare. I find it harder to excuse my occasional leanings towards radio three. It’s a scary sign that today’s current hits are sounding like noise. This irks me because I used to be cool. I listened to John Peel, bought everything on vinyl and collected by record label, (Fierce Panda and Transcopic).

More worrying still, I have begun to impart my dodgy fishing knowledge on to others. Having had twenty minutes or so with the eminently excellent North Country Angler, I taught my mother how to use a nymph. I t was satisfying to see her concentrate on the end of a greased line, maintain the tension and snatch her prize. I hope to repeat this on Saturday when I take an old friend, not known for being patient, then again, he did live with my messy self for a year fishing for the first time. I have a feeling that either he will take it like a convert to Catholicism, or my Marksman will be angrily snapped in pieces. Dear Lord, please give me a beginner’s fish on Saturday.

The Grand Master denies this but it was my idea on a rainy chalk stream afternoon to twitch sedges across the current. It’s pretty devastating as a method in the late summer. As real sedges begin their maverick dances on the water’s surface a struggling participant is a devastating temptation for a greedy trout.

It’s all very adult all this symphony listening and teaching. However, I’ve been rather maverick of late in a way which is most uncharacteristic. I’m taking on rather too much in life and work which will either be the making of me or see me into an early grave. I also am still totally messy and haven’t reached that amazing stage of adulthood where it becomes second nature to put things back after you have used them.

I’ve also been spending rather a lot of time with a Physicist. He is quite insane, foreign and vegetarian. A good arts loving carnivore like myself should surely exercise more caution. I clearly have some growing up to do.

Thursday 23 June 2011

An Englishman's Home is His River

Thanks to some determined bidding, Mr Chips and I won ourselves a weekend on the Eden with North Country Angler. To be entirely honest, I wasn't considering the fishing. I had to meet the fellow who writes the best blog on fly fishing. NCA writes with such grace and sincerity i can't help but be drawn in in every post.
We all met by a red stone bridge and Mr Chips and I followed NCA faithfully to the Eden. As I stood looking at the green trees, sheathing the black scar of the river, oddly in this English paradigm I thought of America. More specifically Norman Maclean;s description of his beloved Blackfoot in Montana.

The River is straight rapids until it strikes through big rocks or big trees with
 big roots. Then it swirls and deepens away behind big rocks and 
circles back through them where big fish lie under the foam.

Fishing on the Eden is exciting stuff. It certainly got my heart racing when I managed to hook into a large fish and play it fretfully for what felt like forever as it ran amongst the stones. The clever beast unhooked itself at the very moment NCA reached to it with his net. Mr Chips was far wilier and managed to land a beauty which left him grinning like a schoolboy. The river Eden is just, so..manly. The boulders are brutal, it scars itself through cliffs the colour of burnt flesh and when it rains it rises quickly. Yes, very like a Montana river called something butch like Wolf Creek. However, it wasn't so much the geological similarities that made me think of a River Runs Through It. Nor, though Mr Chips and NCA are both gorgeous, was it that my companions resembled a dripping wet Brad Pitt. It was the overwhelming sense of home that oozed out of  my friends as nattered about their local rivers. I was remeinded of the Maclean boys skipping through their "Home River".

 NCA knows every fish in every hole and every creepy crawlie on his river. I felt very humbled to be shepherded through it by someone with such patience and dignity. Thanks to NCA's "fish whispering" I caught a large grayling at the close of play.
I felt nothing short of envy as they compared and contrasted their rivers. That deep knowledge grown from love is something I want deeply.
I am a peripatetic fisherlasss, more so than ever this year. Thus far, this season, I have fished no less than Seven different rivers. If they were lovers, you could quite rightly call me a slut. I need to settle down. 
I returned on Monday to my northern chalk stream and it greeted me like a stern father. It gave me one fish but didn't let me hook into the eight further rises I missed. Clearly he didn't want to spoil me. So I am returning on Sunday and  settling down a bit, at least for this week. 

Monday 6 June 2011

Summer Fishing

A high speed “train of thought” blog entry about family fishing as I have imminent disk failure on my computer… Kerouac did it better and I need a type writer... or pencil. Next entry will be handwritten.

4.49, snooze function, 5.00, snooze function. 5.10, snooze function.. 5.35..eek. Sort hair out, poke eye with eye pencil, steal socks from Pa. Slurp tea. Tumble in the car, 6.05. Pa grumbles. Ma ignores. Radio 4, Farmer’s Hour, trouble with artificial insemination of cattle… Doze…..
 Popplewell services, have a pee. Be prepared. Buy: milk, bread, cigarettes, ingest sweet coffee like a drug. Stonehenge overrated, retro.  Pretty villages, arrive at river, met by old family friend. Rod up, scotch egg tea. 
Cast, cast, tangle. Cast Cast tangle fish! Bank too high, scoop net.
 Jump in river, return fishing swimming away happily..ahhhh… rain. rain.  Drip, drip, chaffe, chaffe. Change trousers.  Cast, cast, cast, cast, tangle. Cast cast cast, tangle, lose fly new cast put on. Cast, cast, cast no fish. Get in a sulk. Cast, cast catch fish cheer up. Lunch time, bacon and egg pie, corned beef sandwich, om, nom nom.  Fish with Ma. Leap in river, retrun fish. Fish with Pa, leap in river return very big fish. Fish with friend, leap in river, return pretty fish. Mayfly falling, change fly, all is well. Cast, cast, fish. Cast, cast fish.  Cup of tea. Cast, cast,  fish. Cast, cast, tangle. Sun setting, drive off home. Exhausted. Snore, snore, smiley face.

My Father's Twenty Four Inch Monster Fish

Saturday 21 May 2011

The Secret River

As I write, according to some rather mad preacher I should be in Heaven or Hell or being sorted accordingly. The world ought to have ended. The fact that I still have laundry to do suggests otherwise.  If it has, I think I would be ready to meet my maker as I have had my glimpse of Paradise. 
Imagine waiting by your car, you are joined by another disciple and the Master comes to meet you. You walk through fields of heady, psychedelic rape, your eyes stinging mildly with hay fever and the drone of cars buzzing in your ears. He leads you down a steep bank, so steep you have do slide down on your bottom. You fear slightly for your new waders. You plop into the river inelegantly; you look ahead to the Master pointing his stick. The river is still and sluggish, you look behind. Your bum has squished its way down a deep, steep bank of garish pink flowers. You look above and realise the river is canopied with stretches of branches and rich green leaves. The traffic noises gone, you are now in the world of the Secret River.
The Master
The Master tells you to cast. You stare back at him in disbelief. Indignantly and almost rudely, you exclaim, “How?” Then he shows you, it’s now totally clear why he is the Master and you are a mere disciple. Somehow, he has managed to cast so low above the water and under those cruelly dangling branches. The disciples gasp. 
The Colonel
You spend a day, watching, listening, learning, fishing.  Suddenly you find yourself fishing a mysterious new method called the “Duo”. The Master coaches your ill-disciplined wrist until you learn how to do a side cast by your knees. You learn how to press yourself into the opposite bank to allow yourself an extra foot of room.  He and the other disciple goad your slow reflexes. Then suddenly, you find yourself catching fish. At one, glorious point something that only happens in the fairy tales of fisher folk occurs. At the precise moment that you hook into a fish an electric blue kingfisher stops his zooming and rests on a branch to watch you play your fish. This sounds silly but it was as if he doffed his cap out of recognition of a fellow fisherman. You see, this is the kind of gentle magic that happens on the Secret River. As the afternoon plays itself out the Mayflies drift down, almost as if someone is shaking a packet of cornflakes from the sky.  Learning becomes fun.  Then you are no longer one of two disciples guided by the Master but three people, laughing, playing at catching the wildest of wild fish in the Secret River. The giggles continue between the three of you, strangers only hours before, now swopping rods, changing methods gaining as much pleasure from watching as catching.  Then, just as you start to feel comfortable with being immersed in the world of the Secret River, the temperature drops and it’s time to go. The three of you ascend the banks and trudge back through the rape and nettles. The laughter stops as reality comes smacking back at the first glimpse of tarmac and the first sound of tyres and engines. The trio splits up.  You drive home and become aware that your hands are scratched to shit and stinging from nettles, another pinch to wake you up from this dream of a day’s fishing.
The Reason why the Master is the Master. How on earth did he cast there?

The Master was John Aston, I am disgusted that I haven’t read his book if he writes anything like he fishes then it must be a masterpiece.  The other disciple being shown the ways of the Secret river shall be known only as “The Colonel”. 

Sunday 8 May 2011

An Effective Little Trip

A few weeks ago my father and I shared a rod together. We went in search of something Mr Chips and I have called the “River Effect”. You know, that gentle easing of care and woe achieved my flinging a line across flowing water.
We had buried my grandmother only two days before. My fondest memories of her will naturally be of those days when she joined us by the river.

She would drive probably frighteningly slowly, frighteningly quickly and in a reassuring erratic manner laden with lobster, crab frsh baguettes and lashings and lashings of homemade mayonnaise.
After making ourselves ill on a surfeit of shellfish we would resume fishing.  She would then grab her National Trust fold away chair and watch each of us, my mother, my father and I fish in turn.
She was the worst backseat fisherman in the world; always offering help and advice and assistance. She never held a fly rod in her life. However, resplendent in pure white linen and on her green canvas throne, she took control of the river.
Rise, Cast, Catch. Grandmaster shows me how it's done. How annoying.
She came so often I think because she truly understood, the frustration, the joy and ultimately peace and beauty that only fly fishing on a clear river can bring.
I was very touched when, as we stayed in her now empty, hollow-feeling house, I found a file marked "Polly". Inside were print outs of my blog entries. I shall miss her (and her mayonnaise) hugely.
My father’s club waters on the river Wyle are special, beautifully restored, lovingly cared for they are an image of chalk stream perfection.

From the start my father gloatingly referred to himself as the Grand Master. Despite the fact that he has the worst casting technique, floppy wrists, rod too far back etc.. he managed to pull out trout after trout. I rolled my eyes and giggled with him for a whole day. I left the river sunburnt, looking like I had been smacked in the face by one of Granny’s lobsters and I felt heavy with tiredness and at ease. The River effect indeed.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Fishing Trips V: Return from the Monnow & Why Men Should Love their Wives

The return up North from the Monnow was a lazy journey.  I felt more relaxed about everything than I have done in ages. I stopped in Kington, which is certainly in my top ten of towns. There I snapped a rather bad image on my camera phone (real camera is drowned and out of action) of my favourite object. It's the sign from outside the local print shop. I have a bit of a typographic fetish and the spacing on this sign is just really perfect.

There is also a butcher there who makes his own cured air dried ham, Black Country style. It's the British version of Parma or Seranno ham. I bought some and some eggs laid by hens who have a ridiculously cosseted existence.
Two years previously I had been forbidden to go to Sportfish. So I went. Out of principle making V-signs in the air. Remarkably, I only purchased under fiver's worth of goods.  That was out of principle too.
Stopping at Worcester for sandwiches and tea and drinks with friends in Leeds I trundled home at midnight and woke my housemate. 
Today, I have been both fantastically lazy and gloriously domestic. I have baked a Black Country ham and egg pie in an attempt to seal in the wonderful Heredfordshire atmosphere I have enjoyed these past few days.
 It's ugly but delicious though I think I should add a little bit more water to the egg mixture and possibly some parsley. 

On an entirely dull and boring note I wiped down my waders, tidied my bedroom and have put on three loads of laundry today. As I was rinsing off my wading boots, it occurred to me that there was a good chance that most fishermen have wives and possibly various other lady friends in different forms who would be doing all of this for them. I don't mean to pander to stereotypes but it's just a fact that most domestic chores are done by women. The National Statistics Office says so.  So fishermen of  Britain, love your wives as they clean your underpants.
I also managed to sit down at the vice to try and solve a problem I had with sighting my fly. If you are short like me and wading, you can often be not far off the surface of the water and this makes spotting your dry fly tricky.  This means you misplace casts and miss rises. This is why parachute flies are so popular because they have a polyarn post. I have never managed to catch anything on a parachute fly so I don't like them. I also like fully hackled flies as I am convinced their messy silhouette attracts fish.
Call me old school if you like, however, I just really don't like seeing bright pink things on the river. It just doesn't feel right. However, to see, I think you need some pink. So here is a possible solution to trying to tie an old fashioned fly in a way that I can see it.

Anyway on that note, here my holiday ends. It's been wonderful. I am back to work tomorrow and dreading my inbox and pigeon hole and yet the fishing season has truly started.  So none of that malarkey seems to matter so much any more. The hope being that, now fully unwound, I can actually just get on with it, whilst thinking of fishing of course.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Fishing Trips V.ii.1: Mr Chips and the Monnow

I spent a large portion of the night before tying flies for the next day. The one's I made are all variations of things made with hare's ear. With these and the dregs of last year's flies I was able to put something together that was vaguely respectable.

The drive over from Hay to the Monnow is as beautiful a drive as you could possibly want. I got proper butterflies in my stomach I ate an apple to quench  my thirst. I regretted forgetting my water bottle for the rest of the day.
Meeting Mr Chips was brilliant. I made an instant townie faux pax by trying to pronounce the Welsh-spelt village phonetically. "le-lang-goo-wa".  

The Monnow, for a chalk girl like me, feels as if it is cut out of  rock. The flow feels as if it is a gush of blood from a knife dragged down the the arm of the mountain. There is something raw about the place but it doesn't frighten me. Think beef carpaccio rather than steak tartare.
I fished a duo over some inviting ripples and I hooked onto a fish on the third cast. I say the third cast but the other two were so rubbish that it should have been the first.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten how to play a fish and promptly lost it.
We spent the rest of the morning hunting rises. We spotted a huge fish from on high. It sat ominously in a new V-shaped ripple making thingy that had been made just the last week by the club. Dave explained the good work they all do on the Monnow and I felt privileged  and humbled to be fishing on this much loved water.
 I goaded Mr Chips to show me how it was done and he managed and with some panache.  As the wind came up and the grannom hatch disappeared for lunch we decided to join them.
Pork pie, champagne and tomatoes, a giggle or two and some insightful musing made for an ideal fishermen's repast.
We moved to a more sensibly named stretch of river. I half listened to Mr chips as he told some  story about the bridge which is apparently a little bit historic.  I apologise for not really paying attention but there were rising fish about.
Anyway we set down to catch them. Thankfully, I got one and I cooed over it in a distinctly girlish manner. Then Dave got another. Four wader-wearing figures came over the bridge. I was goaded into casting for my second. Then, just as soon as the audience assembled, I moved my kneeling knee slightly to the right to find nothing there, so I tumbled in.
I watched this assembled Monnow mafia flick lines expertly over this gentle gushing stretch of the river. They were in a different league to this damp flyfisherlady.
I was very glad when the word pub was mentioned some few minutes later. I sat there, cold, damp and bedraggled. I listened to their funny Monnow ways, in their funny Monnow language of raspberries, socials and brogues. I decided that it was a language I want to know a little bit better, so I decided that I ought to return Monnowards soon.

Fishing Trips V.iii  Monnow and Miss 

So as my real time blogging experiment continues, I'm sitting on the Monnow waiting for something to rise. I learned yesterday that on a flat stone river that "if it ain't rising there ain't no bloody point". So I've torn up a fag packet whilst regretting leaving my notebook in the car. I was meant to go out somewhere pleasant and buy something I don't need and drink an over priced cuppa somewhere quaint. Fishing seemed the more economically viable option. I also wanted to challenge myself a little. Wade unaided with the new little bits of knowledge I gleaned from yesterday. Most sensible fishermen would throw an nymph on. However, I lack sufficient skills to even try. I also don't really own any nymphs. 
So here I am waiting. It could be a while. I missed hooking into a rise early on today. Which annoys me as I think it would have made Mr Chips and the other masters proud had I managed it somehow.
I'm now using the foil of the packet. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that I must be bonkers. It's not even particularly warm. It is very pretty though. I love the fact that the soil is a s sort of primeval rusty red. I like the fact that it speckles itself over the flat stones. Apparently true Monnow trout have a red outline to their fins. I wonder if it's to reflect the red soily colour. Anyway, fishing in this way feels very natural.  That I should catch anything would be a deserving gift. 
You can't see the trout very often. A rise is all that will reveal itself. 
As a child of the chalk I find this disconcerting. I'm used to manipulating a spotted fish to rise, plugging at it with my assortment of flies until it relents.  Here, you just can't fight nature. You have to go with the flow. I'm going to have a little nap.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Fishing Trips V.ii Mr Chips and The Monnow

I wanted to say something clever and insightful. I wanted to be feeling invigorated posting glamorous pictures of Mr Chips and the pretty Monnow and writing things that are oh, so, bloody witty.
I had a lovely day. I shall write more tomorrow. However, my hands are stinging my cheeks are burning and I am so tired that even my fingers feel heavy. Fresh Air is a drug. Clearly, I've not been getting enough of it and this initial spring shot has knocked me for six.
I also fell in the river. I am a little bit damp and I need my sleep. I'll be smiling about today as I sleep, I promise. Good night all.

Friday 1 April 2011

Fishing Trips V.i Mr Chips and the Monnow

I am trying something new and giving you all real time updates on a little trip I am taking to the Monnow. I am meeting a headmaster, who shall be known here as Mr Chips.
I am down in the Beacons because of work. I went to film a very clever, rather excellent gentleman. He is a historic engineer, which means he recreates or fixes old things made out of metal, this can be as big as a steam engine or as innocuous as the handles on kitchen cupboards.  Apparently, as a twelve year old boy he used to make pocket money tying flies from a vice that he made himself by sneaking into the school technology workshop.  Brilliant.
I followed my sat nav with more trust in faith than I have in a lot of people, including some relatives. It took me (hallelujah!) to Hay on Wye, where I wandered about a bit. It's a book town, which means that the pharmacy sells books and the coffee shop sells reading glasses.
My lovely bed and breakfast, called the Bridge, really is on the bridge and its garden leads down to the banks of the Wye. There was an LDO hatch and I saw something rise.
Anyway, they call me Polly and I am to call the Catherine and Richard. You can hear their children playing in the house, so I feel very much a guest rather than a customer. This sense of being in a home is heightened by the fact that none of the doors have locks on them.
Anyway, they kindly let me use their dining room to catch up on my tying.
I bashed out a pile of things using rabbit face (Hare's Mask). Not nicely tied but quickly made and they should do the job. Well I think so. Mr Chips will no doubt tell me otherwise and I'll be a good girl and listen.
To be honest, I am really nervous. It's been ages since I have fished and I am a duffer anyway. Anyway, tomorrow will set the benchmark for the inevitable improvement that takes place over a season. It's like the start of term really. The only difference being that instead of new pencils and exercise books, it's flies and tippet.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

To the Journey

Many of you may have guessed that I have failed miserably with the Ollie/Polly Project. For the writer of Julie/Julia there would always be something needful and comforting about cooking French cuisine. The same thing cannot be said about the Vojic Moser Caddis. Gluing tights over an embroidery hoop does not have the same appeal as gently simmering cream. So that's that.

As I write (I am typing up my notebook jottings) I am on a train to Edinburgh for work. Two mornings before I was in London and bombed it back to work in Leeds at five o'clock in the morning. At three o'clock the previous morning, I surveyed the Anarchist damage to Fortnum and Mason's by rickshaw. I felt slightly distatsteful at the time and began to sink into a mild depression (as only those in the public sector can) over the cutd. I soon retreated back into my bourgeois comfort zone and pondered just how delicious the potted shrimps at Fortnums are. To quote a misquote, "Let them eat cake!" I shan't though. I am sucessfully over a dress size smaller and I am enjoying getting thinner so much that I think I'll keep going for a bit.
Today, thanks to a forgotten train ticket I commuted between York and Leeds before catching the 9.37 to Edinburgh. On Friday I leave my house at six o'clock in the morning to get to Talgarth for work. I am then finally nestling myself in the Beacons for a little rest.
True rest, of course, means fishing. A winter's careful stressing and fretting is quickly unravelled by flashing a line through the wrinkles of a flowing stream. The particular stream in question is the Monnow. It has been carefully prescribed by a dear headmaster. So, as my mad travels end, a new season begins. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday 14 March 2011

A New Look for the New Season?

I've been really rather busy.  Disappointingly this hasn’t been because I have had a whirlwind affair with a better looking, blonder, taller Brian Cox type. Nor is it the case that I have won the lottery, and buggered off to Cuba to smoke Havana’s, drink mojitos and fish for bonies and inappropriate men. I did, however, win my local Fly Dresser’s Guild raffle.
The truth is that things have been a little gloomy. Work, family, friends are all taking their toll a little in various ways. However, as my daffodils keep frustrating me by refusing to flower, I feel I am teetering on the precipice of hope, commonly called Spring.  So despite everything, I can’t help but smile. This is partly because I have some fishing coming up in early April. I have decided to take myself on a little holiday to the beautiful Brecon Beacons. Trout, books and B&B bliss.

I have been on the hunt for some waders. The Google shopping results were interesting.
Simms, swanky expensives, as worn by Oprah no less, were options one and two. The final suggestion was intriguing. A Glamorous Body, Suit for £30. This piqued my curiosity, unfortunately with one maverick click of the mouse I was confronted with the image below.  I think, however, that despite its overt glamour, the suit won’t be much good for fishing. It looks a little chilly and leaky and it might give the wrong impression

Saturday 12 February 2011

On Beauty

There’s not been a lot of “life” in this flyfisherlady’s posts recently. A modicum of blustery fly fishing and not enough fly tying (16 more patterns to go!) has been this flavour of the last couple of months.
I have a horrible feeling that anyone reading this might think that all I do with myself is eat less (one dress size down, yay!) and hunch in the strongly illuminated semi darkness surrounded by dead animals and hooks.  Worryingly, this seems to be the case. I need a boyfriend before I start trying to build cane rods.  Actually, the season starts soon, so scratch that plan.
 I worry, that in my career so far I have dedicated myself to beauty; preserving and presenting art to others for its own sake.  This worship of the beautiful is potentially all a bit Oscar Wilde and I worry at times whether this makes me a pretentious git.
Last week I was involved in something brilliant.  All of Leeds Museums and Galleries has pulled together to put on a display there called “Blue Museum” at the Bexley Oncology Wing at St James’s hospital.  It’s a series of objects, photographs and art works, celebrating the colour blue in all its forms. Glam frocks and bright blue bees, dinky tins and Egyptian beads all form part of the display. It had all been organised by my rather brilliant colleagues, I just turned up at the last minute as an extra pair of hands. Nonetheless it’s probably the most important exhibition I have ever been involved in. The huge Atrium is the heart of the oncology wing. Doctors, nurses, cleaners stride through there. Patients and their families’ friends and carers all wait nearby.
A moment’s thought makes you realise that some of the worst moments of people’s lives are played out in that space. They wait for test results, wait to go in for treatment, wait for the outcomes of operations.  A potential static Hell lived out on leather couches.  The staff at the hospital too are part of it. There are victories here and there but let’s be frank about it, there is nothing very nice about cancer.
What the Blue Museum and other concerts and exhibitions in the Atrium achieve is a little bit of time and a little bit of space away from all this horror. You could argue that exhibitions here are not an essential NHS spend and a waste of money. However, like time spent on the riverbank these quiet moments of peace and idle distraction are pretty priceless. Think about how a fleeting glance of the lovely flanks of a plump trout can lift the soul.
I’ve never had such an enthusiastic and interested audience for an exhibition before and I’ve never seen so many smiles at a display.  The whole display will be covered in detail shortly  in the brilliant Secret Lives of Objects Blog.
Much in the same way that Charles Rangeley- Wilson claimed that catching a wild trout in London was “God at his best. The breath of a river.”  Twenty minutes laughing whilst laying out a display case with a very ill man reminded me that there was a point to this difficult world. It’s not found in big ideas, big societies or grandiose gestures. It’s found in things that are essentially simple; a well hooked fly, sunset glinting on a stream.  Peace in idle distraction. I think that this is what Keats was on about when he got soppy over an old vase. In short, the good in the world might be most easily found in beauty. So, if I have dedicated my life to that so far, it can’t have all been a waste. 

Meanwhile. I introduce my attempt at a Spent Willow, it's actually the first Edwards I've actually enjoyed tying.

Friday 28 January 2011

On Little Victories

On Acheivement.

I finished my Salmon fly a couple of weeks ago and well, it’s a scruffy old thing but honestly It’s probably one of things I am most proud of.

Classic salmon tying is probably about as dramatic as you can get hunched by a vice under the burn of an overhead lamp.  I spent over an hour manipulating little shreds of feather making them marry into an acceptable stripey form.  It’s an odd thing, when you think about it forcing peacock and turkey bits together to make an attractive marriage. I felt like I was fighting nature as I was doing it. Then oddly began thinking of genetics and eugenics and arranged marriages in Afghanistan and all whilst trying to make a stripey wing.  I clearly listen to far too much Radio 4.
Anyway, the next stage in the process is to add a weight to your thread so it will pull your feathers down.  You can’t see any of this, the feathers are obsured by your fingers which are gripping them  for dear life. Two wraps and you drop the weight.  Then you sigh and wait.  Summoning up the courage to move your hand to reveal perfection. Or a mess.   My fly is a bit slovenly housewife rather than yummy mummy. 
Fishing is all about these agonising little moments.  You cast upstream, watch your fly drift, glance at a fish flick it’s fins, will it look? Will it bolt? Or will it gobble. If it gobbles then the agony really begins. Your rod connects and it’s girl versus fish. You feel it shaking its head, sensing every moment of struggle. You look at the rod bending as you feel your tippet strain.  You guide it out of weeds, you ease it upwards as it bores downwards.  It’s weakening, then a paniced fumble in your pocket for your forceps, or your lanyard is caught in your glasses, then your glasses fall off. Your creel catches in your hair. You screech as the only way out of this mess was to sacrifice a chunk of hair.  Then the net then won’t come out of your belt loop. It’s freed with a jerk then the wretched thing gets caught in nettles. You rescue the net, burning your hands in the nettles. The fish flaps as you flail. The heart pounds and the brow wrinkles. Then you calm down, to calm the fish down to ease out the hook.  To coo and caress it back to freedom.  You sort your line out, dry your fly then do it all over again.
Looking at it this way, fly fishing is a bit of a nightmare. Fly tying more so. Why do we inflict crisis after crisis on ourselves? Or maybe it’s just me that experiences total turbulence each time I catch a fish.  Do I do it because of survivor’s euphoria? Or is it because each fish caught, each fly tied is a little victory? A small acheivement that makes sense of and brings a fleeting sense of order to a chaotic world.

Other little victories: The kind folk at Fishtec mentioned me as something worth reading.

I tied an Ollie Edwards cut wing dun. Shed loads more flies to tie. I am up against it.

Thursday 13 January 2011


I’ve been a very good girl this week. I’ve kept being decarbohydrated  and I’ve managed to tie one more Oliver Edwards. It’s a Klinkhammer Extreme. My version looks rather dull and run of the mill but thinking about it, how extreme can a fly be? It’s hardly going to stage a fascist rally or dissolve into anarchy. Perhaps if my wing post were bright pink like Oliver Edward’s it would help.  Still, it’s about as radical as a Surrey teenager piercing their navel.

Fly Dressers Guild was brilliant this week.  Fourteen of us have made a start on tying a classic style married wing salmon fly. If you don’t know what one is I recommend you look at anything tied by Paul Little. Apparently he takes nearly a day to tie a fly. I believe it. It took me two hours to do the body. I am quite pleased with my rear end, though the front is rather less convincing.Tying these flies demand perfection and exacting standards.  To avoid fraying the silk floss, hulking men from Yorkshire will wear small and slinky silk gloves when they tie these flies.  How extremely ridiculous.
Half Way There
I went fishing this Saturday at the small Stillwater Kilnsey Park.  The temperature stayed at nought or there abouts. The day was peppered by blizzards and a howling gale was ever present.  My hat blew off, my line blew everywhere, my rod blew away.  It was quite inclement and I was only kept warm/alive when I was lent a very swanky jacket with particularly good, deep pockets.  It was a Grey’s GRXI XTREME.
I also learnt a thing or two about fishing still waters which, as a child of the chalk I can be quite snobby about.  The men I fished with were highly dedicated and focussed. It takes a certain amount of bloody mindedness to fish solely for size or number.  On that kind of water, pleasurable angling becomes sport fishing.  For me the difference between the insouciant, languid river fishing I like to do and the extreme sport of still water angling is like the difference between eating a large, rich, indulgent meal, and participating in a food contest.

Wednesday 5 January 2011


A very happy New Year to you all.  I apologise for being very quiet on the blog front over the last month. I do so appreciate your concern and your complaints. It’s very encouraging to know that someone other than my mother reads this.  I am now recovered from flu, back in the North and back to work.
 I have been rather an idiot and left my Oliver Edwards behind in London. I’ll pick up the week after next and then I’ll have to hop to it as I am running out of weeks to tie all of those dastardly flies of his. However, having just seen a demonstration of tying a married salmon fly by Jim Brown at my Local Fly Dressers Guild, I have no reason to complain. I foolishly signed up to have a go at one for next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.
The diet is going rather better than the fly tying. The first couple of days are going well. However, when people ask me how I am my answer is just “hungry” as all other emotions have been swallowed up in the (relatively) empty void that is my stomach. I’m being very harsh on myself as I figure that there really isn’t any difference between feeling hungry and very hungry. I need results. I’m going to a wedding where I shall be surrounded by hard working, hard bodied London women, who don’t have time to do anything at all, let alone eat.  I am having horrors over the photos. In my current state it will look like I have consumed one or two of my oldest friends.
The worrying thing about all of this is that I have never been thin.  I was born Buddha-bellied and could be described as a stocky child. I have moved up north and discovered butter. I lived with a man for far too long who could consume his own body weight in stew.    I have always been chubby and I am now chubbier, if not, chubbiest.  I need to get rid of a good five inches worth of myself for the wedding which, if it works, will mean that I am not skinny, not even thin, but not chubby anymore.  I am changing me.

There are some things about myself I shall never change.  I was really heartened reading an old exercise book of mine.  I wrote, aged nine:
“Nothing compares with the happy moment [when] you feel the tug on the end of line of your fishing rid. Your heart is in my mouth. Will it stay on my hook? And oh-there it is- a trout landed in the net and it’s mine just mine”
I think we had been asked to write about our favourite feelings. I hadn’t written a title or a date. I was marked down accordingly by Sister Madeleine.
I now have written evidence that fishing, that constant search for fishy tugs has been very much part of who I am for nearly twenty years. At a time when many of us are giving up something, taking up something and jumping on the New Year’s bandwagon of some form of self-improvement it’s comforting to know that being an angler is something that doesn’t have to be changed. I will make one resolution though for this year, to fish well and fish often.