Sunday 18 August 2013

Looking Back Beyond the Smoke

Getting married was ace. It rained. I put on my Barbour and took it off again for the ten minutes when the sun came out. There are now several misleadingly bright photographs of everyone eating ice cream. This is why you can't rely on visual evidence alone. Friday, 24 May 2013 was freezing cold. I didn't and don't care one jot though. I've just married the most superb person ever. Lucky me.

Emerging from the “pre-math” and aftermath of getting married has meant that writing anything has been low on the priority list. Quite frankly, after writing eighty thank you letters can you blame me for not wanting to write much more? However, a stern word from my Boss has forced me to take action.

My husband has admitted to me that most things terrify him. Flying, missing deadlines and not knowing which tube stop to change at are make him edgy and sometimes a little sweaty.

I fear very little. Cows, snapping my fishing rod and high places on windy days scare me. I frequently wade in water as high as my waders (neck height) and up until recently I smoked. It's not that I am particularly devil may care but I accept the consequences of my actions. I enjoyed the sense that with every cancer making suck, I was making a point about freedom of choice and expression; my two fingered gesture to the goody-goodies. It's also just lovely. However, without putting any pressure on me, I could sense my husband's fear of my death. Having a smoking wife would have been an uncontrollable variable in his data set. I couldn't do that to him. So, I'm doing my best to stop and haven't smoked since my wedding day. It was also getting a little expensive.

However, here a four fags to remember, because I miss them.

1)             May 2000

It’s 5 o'clock in the morning of my history exam. I'm nervous. So many dates to remember. I'm trudging across the hockey pitches. There is a yellowed path along the grass from the sixth form block; the result of teenagers trudging towards the pavilion for an illicit fag. There was a line of trees and rhododendrons behind the pavilion, which was really a large rotting shed. I settled myself down on a stump with my revision cards spreading them out over my lap. I lit up and looked ahead to the meadows. My sight-line was obstructed by swaying branches. The sun was still rising. It’s golden light barely reaching the top of the tall meadow grasses which a trio of small deer were nibbling at.

2)             October 2000

We sat in a beige and wooden room with a disgusting carpet. Lines of crooked photos of former students drew my eye to a messy notice board.  It was our first afternoon of our first day at University. We were waiting for something I've no idea what. We said nothing to each other. The blonde girl grinned and drew out a packet of cigarettes. “I can’t be fooked with this” and she started smoking. I smiled and drew out my packet of Camels from my disgusting but in those days, painfully cool cardigan. The pale-faced dark haired boy then asked me in the strongest Essex accent in the world, “Can I ponce a fag off you?” We were firm friends from that day forward.

3)             May 2006

It’s my final exam ever it’s on Aquinas for my Masters. It’s in the Exam Schools, Oxford  It’s a strange building designed by Inigo Jones a scarily important architectural den.  Two hours have passed and I'm two essays down with one hour to go. I raise my hand and ask to go the loo. I need to wash my face, focus and gather my thoughts.
I stare in the mirror. A Russian voice comes out of nowhere. “Do you smoke?” It’s an aggressive whisper. I feel compelled to answer. “Umm, well, yes I do”. I say this in the quietest voice possible. It’s not allowed to speak in exams, right. She then throws a packet of cigarettes at me. “Here! Take Cigarette! Smoke!” It was an order, not a request but I'm scared. We could get caught and actually, I was sort of quite busy. “What the fuck are they going to do! Throw us out! Just smoke!” She then marches towards me with a lighter. Suddenly, I'm smoking, I'm smoking during an exam!

4)             July 2008

I'm fishing alone, my parents have headed downstream for some coffee and cake. Suddenly the river is bubbling, there’s a rise on. I cast to the general area and I'm in. The take is soft, so, soft. Nothing seems to happen, there’s no splashing. Suddenly there’s a pull. It’s a big pull heading straight downwards  It becomes clear, this fish is big and it knows what it is doing. When it shakes its head it feels heavy and slow in my hand. It’s a slow fight, I don’t want to lose it I want to put it back and make sure it’s well recovered. I actually will need help to net it. The bank is quite steep. No one hears me. I'm alone. After a time, the fish tires and I have struggle bringing it to the net, controlling a rod and net and fish whilst lying on one’s belly is tricky. I get him, remove the fly and hold the fish in my hands, cuddling him with my fingers allowing him to recover. Only in this quiet moment do I realise that my trout is easily four pounds. This was a stocked river but this fish had been in a fair while, you don’t become this big overnight.
I settle down on my bank and I try to light my cigarette but it’s really difficult. My hands are shaking.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Single..For one night more

So from tomorrow afternoon this Flyfisherlady will have her man. Better than a fall of mayfly. I mean it, it is. Thank you all for reading my silly words and especially for your donations.

Sunday 21 April 2013


Fishing is a stupid thing to do. Fly fishing is a particularly stupid thing to do.  Hours of elaborate preparation go into doing something that is inherently pointless.  Money as well is poured into pursuing a purposeless past time. I spent the same on a pair of ill fitting, ugly waders as I could have spent on a timeless, beautiful Diane Von Furstenberg dress. Seriously, manufacturers of fishing apparel should really sort this. It’s annoying.

Fishing is frustrating; especially on a really cold windy day.  Fingers numb, lines get caught in trees and feet are rendered into slightly painful frozen stumps. Why on earth would anyone plop themselves into a river on a cold day?

Indeed, I sometimes wonder why I put myself through the indignity of trying to go to the loo in a semi-public place surrounded by nettles.  I often feel like Houdini carrying out an escape act from waders and many pairs of thermals and leggings.  Flyfisher ladies of the world I salute you, we all deserve a round of applause.

We go through this because going fishing puts us in some of the most precious and beautiful places in the world. We get to immerse ourselves in our surroundings, tuning ourselves to nature’s frequency. The birds, insects, ripples and splashes are even better than radio four and less repetitive.

By and large the fish we catch are gorgeous. Today, I cast into a pool opposite a pub and pulled out a fish that shone like a piece of tin foil crackling out over a roasting dish. I caught a small, newly-run sea trout.

After a day’s fishing, my face is always slightly burnt, my hands are dried out and my hair has gone wild. However, I feel more refreshed than I ever could at a day spa.  Going fishing is my human equivalent of de-fragmenting a hard drive then pressing the restart button.  This feeling of peace and refreshment is why we go.

I'm getting married on May the 24th. That’s in a month’s time.  I seem to have a constant stream of little jobs to do and things to think about. When the wedding is all over, I’ll want to go fishing, push the restart button and start my life again with the best man in the world at my side.

I think that you will all agree that fishing and the habitats we fish in are important and something we desperately need to preserve because they are delicate and need protecting. So, in some ways as this blog is where the Physicist and I began, I’d like to point out our Just Giving page. We are collecting for the Wild Trout Trust who act like good parents and do so much to look after our rivers. It’s a small way of giving back to the rivers and of course the trout that give us so much.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

For Finlay...

“Are you any good at swimming?”
“Yes, I’m very good”
“Hmm, I’m not bad.  Will you be my best friend?”

It would appear that swimming ability was how I chose my friends when I was ten.  Vicky’s arrival at school was mysterious.  There were stacks and stacks of Harrods boxes on a bed, but no one else was about. I found this very cool and retro somehow.  I think it reminded me of Mallory Towers or whatever sickly book I was reading in preparation for boarding school.  I was also somewhat impressed and curious by the sheer number of flesh coloured bras that were also strewn on the bed. Whoever this girl was she was seriously grown up. 
The boxes were soon explained by the fact that her parents lived in Indonesia and so her uniform had been sent ahead. I’ll never understand quite why she needed that quantity of bras though.
Vicky tells me that when she entered the room I thrust my hand into hers. I announced myself boldly and without any sense of coyness, shame or dignity. None of these characteristics went down well with the other girls at first but Vicky was always my friend.  

She stayed with me one half-term and joined us on a family fishing trip to some stocked lakes.  We had a casting lesson and I was a little annoyed that she was a bit better than me at it.  I caught the first fish though.
She was with my father when she caught hers.  For some reason he believes that you should always eat your first fish.  In general no one in my family kills a fish very often. It’s something reserved for special occasions. I broke the rule for my vegetarian physicist.
Vicky was apparently traumatised by my father bludgeoning the shiny, flapping rainbow trout. I had been administering fishy slaughter since I was a toddler so I was fine.
She didn’t come with us again but I think she remembers the day fondly, she certainly has been interested in my fishing although somewhat distantly.  
Years later, when I got my first proper job, I was greatly comforted to learn that Vicky would also be living in Leeds.  To southerners, the north can be scary.  I remember London friends saying things like, “You’re moving north are you? Well I suppose it has got a lot better”. I think many southerners still believe that the north consists solely of blackened factories and mills.  A bleak land inhabited with men wearing flat caps and whippets.  The wee, skinny dogs somehow demonised into Satan’s beasts by the fearful southern imagination.
It’s not like that at all, obviously. I love Yorkshire and am forever mesmerised by is greenness, its bleakness and overwhelming charm.
Being of a firm fishing mindset I sought out a fishable river. Because of how I was brought up, this meant finding a chalk stream.  I found one and it’s beautiful. It runs clear and has random smears of bright healthy weed which harbour many trout and huge grayling.  It is however, generally far windier colder than anywhere have been in the south and the fish are hungrier.  Looking upstream you can see a large factory or mill.  To me this seems perfect. It’s a tougher, northern version of the Test.  It’s also the first place I have fished regularly without my family and somehow it feels my own.
 Vicky and I have grown very close since being isolated from our southern sisters. Bringing her to my river seems an apt confirmation of this.  The trip was also significant because she was soon to be returning to the south. Vicky was there, “because I’m trying to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do before I go”.  I’m touched that a day’s fishing made her list.
“There won’t be any killing will there Polly?” She is clearly still troubled by my father’s well meant bludgeoning.
“No, none at all, strictly sport”.  I saw her whole being relax as we trudged past cows to get to the riverbank. “Phew. Seriously, you won’t use that dodgy, killing, mallet thing”.
I was nervy, for me fishing with an audience is a bit like trying to pee in public, I get stage fright.  After a few dodgy casts into a likely spot with a green nymph on I caught a little gleamer of a trout.  I could  relax as we had achieved what we had set out to do.  
I sought out more esoteric sport and spotted a rising fish tucked into the opposite bank. I explained to Vicky that if I had the right fly on, and if I cast perfectly to him, I should catch it.  She watched transfixed as I cast over the fish again and again with various flies. He refused my fly after a particularly lovely cast again. “The bastard!”, she said with the same vitriol I had only heard her use in reference to a certain of my ex boyfriends. I chuckled and changed my fly again. I’m used to piscatorial rejection. I wish I could be as nonchalant when it comes to men. I cast once more and it went for it like a rocket. Vicky whooped and hopped up and down on the bank with sheer excitement. 
“We shall call him Reginald” Vicky announced as I released him back into the water with a flick.

We sat on a bench together, slurping donuts just like we did as children.  We discussed, as we are now experts on all things northern, the fine nuances in West Yorkshire accents and dialects. When I arrived I couldn’t tell the difference between a Yorkshireman and a Lancastrian. I have come a long way. 

I am conscious that twenty years after our first outing together, we are now women. We have proper grown up jobs. We pay the taxes and bear the scars of broken hearts.  Vicky is married and has just had a gorgeous baby boy. I’m getting married this May. Nothing has really changed though. 
Vicky left the river early and as she went we hugged. It suddenly struck me that this was our final time in the north together. I felt a little bereft. I cheered up instantly as she turned back towards me and said, “They have rivers in the south don’t they, let’s go again. No killing though”.

Wednesday 23 January 2013


I’ll always remember the summers of 2010 and 2011 as stagioni mirabili. They were pretty much carefree. I went fishing once or twice a week. If I wasn't fishing, I was in my garden, growing things. Polly Putnam: The Rock n Roll Years.

York Garden
I  had an attic room, with a fly tying desk.  It was my little sanctuary. My house-mate was a vegan, animal-rights activist, gay man from the Basque country. We got on very well. Well, we did until I mentioned mink and how they are horrid, foreign, vermin that deserve slow, painful deaths.  Things changed a little after that. Differences aside, he was a top chap and a good house-mate.
Climbing up the narrow, rickety stairs was an adventure and an escape to fly fishing heaven without the river. Chopping up bits of deer hair and scraping the face of a dead hare was my small rebellion against mink lovers.  I loved that space, cluttered with scissors and bottles of varnish. Vases filled with feathers and tins of hooks fought for space amongst empty mugs of forgotten tea.  There was also a little sofa which was strewn with fishing books and magazines. I even had a good set of speakers and thanks to the wonder that is BBC IPlayer I had The Archers on tap.
A year or so on, I’ve left York and moved to London.  The terraced house near the river, the attic, the garden and the vast array of weird and wonderful housemates are gone. I’m in a flat in Cricklewood, such is the north south divide.
My fly tying desk remains, though now it’s shoved unsatisfactorily against a wall in the bedroom. My pliers and vice are gathering dust. Work, weddings and weather prevent me from fishing.  A physicist now has pride of place in every room. Statue still, he stares at a screen covered in code surrounding himself with columns of symbols and numbers.  He is more mysterious than a strange quark. He is also charming and beautiful.*
 A lot of what he owns is encased in clear plastic bags. Dollars, Euros, Sterling and Swiss Francs bang against each other and the endless bottles of painkillers and cables. It’s like a G8 summit in a fairground goldfish bag.  Big, blue bottles of man shampoo are making friends with Caroline Worthington and John Frieda.  My dresses and his shirts hang side by side.  I like to think they hold hands when I close the wardrobe door.  My shoes, which take over the bottom of the wardrobe breed like mice in the darkness. It's all a sign that I’m getting married. I’ll fish less, I’ll tie less flies. I’ll inevitably have to call rentokill and cull some shoes and boots. It’s okay though, more than okay. Besides, I still have a shelf for my waders, rod and reel.

*This is a bad physics joke referring to types of quark