Sunday 13 May 2012

Words on Water

I've wanted a home river for ages now. I've been a peripatetic day ticket fisherman all my life. I am now a member of an angling club and have all the access I need to the Pretty Ditch, when it isn't filled to the brim.
Today I had lunch with close friends like I have done many times over the years.  A little baby has recently joined our elite set of thinkers and jokers. Her gurgling and screaming made me feel like I was in the midst of my Yorkshire family. I waddled, gammon and chocolate-filled to my little rented terrace along the river, the Ouse in York. Its burst banks had recently subsided leaving a muddy film smeared all over its walkways.

For much of the year it is a benign and pleasant distraction on my walk into town. Its banks are crowded by tourists, cyclists, smug runners and dishevelled intoxicated students.  The concrete, brick and gravel taming it into a wide water feature.
Today I was reminded of its wildness. I nearly trod on the chewed remains of a pike. A few steps further and I saw the final resting place of a large bream.

 The strange, rapid rise and fall were too quick for these poor creatures.  Further on and a large branch has alighted itself on the park bench, an odd juxtaposition worthy of Andy Goldsworthy.The viewing dock is wrapped in yet more branches and a television.
I’ve never fished the Ouse. It’s not really occurred to me to. I have to admit that I am a little put off by the lonely men yanking out roach as they smoke roll-ups and the likely lads spinning violently for pike.  Because I have never fished it I had ruled it out as my home river.
The debris, the dead fish and the slippery mud knocked sense into me. A hundred yards from my house and some steps take me to its banks.  This river is home.  I’ve walked up and down it countless times. When I walk it now I always think of the endlessly repetitive conversations I've shared with ex-house-mate, colleague and man of honour, about Masterchef, London and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There is also a certain spot, where, after a jolly afternoon sinking impromptu cocktails he found relief. I still giggle each time I pass it.
The street lights and the sight of a modern, multi-coloured bridge have guided me home at times when it really would be more appropriate to take a cab. I am drawn to the Ouse. It offers a safe haven away from the night time, horrendous customers of kebab shops and the Wetherspoons following a day at York Racecourse.  One evening I saw a huge pike loll and roll on its flanks under a bush on the opposite bank. I like to imagine it had just swallowed a coot.
I’ll always remember watching the minnows jump and shimmy away from another large pike under the orange glare by Brownie Dyke Lane. In this instance it wasn’t because I’m an angler and I like these things. It’s because I was with my Physicist on a balmy July evening. He talked about the Manhattan Project and I realised then that he would never bore me. So I kissed him.

 * I bought Caught by the River: A Collection of Words on Water three years ago and became immersed in its tales of other people's rivers. Pretty soon afterwards I decided to start this blog in the dream of perhaps, when pigs have flown be able to write like those guys. I write this post today in homage to that book and accompanying website.