I am deeply fortunate to be able to able to identify the symphony and serendipity in ordinary things, or perhaps I am fortunate in that overtly serendipitous things do in fact befall me more than others. Either way, these things are not lost on me. Far from it…I savour them.
So here’s one. You tell me if this is a delightful chance, or if its just me being a sentimental fool:
So…I found myself in Stockbridge, in a fly shop, being served by a fellow South African. And the shop had a better collection of books than the one over the street. In fact I found myself with a pile of “must haves” that would simply not fit in my luggage on the return trip, and I had the agonising choice of which ones to put back. One of those was a book called “The Healing Stream” by Laurence Catlow. It is a book I had not heard of before.
I read a few pages, and decided it was on the “keeper” list, and by that night I was reading it. My decision was an unequivocally good one. The book is a delight and a treasure, with words that flow like pure prose.
A short way into the book, the writer starts to suck the reader into his love affair with one particular river. He rights lyrically. I quote:
“….drive up Garsdale to Hawes, where you turn left and head up through Gayle and over Cam Houses; then it is down to Oughtershaw and Beckermonds before following the beginnings of the river through Yockenthwaite, Hubberholme and Buckden, through Starbotton and Kettlewell and so, after the rough poetry of these northern names, down to the main beats of the Kilnsey Club.”
Those names washed over me as I put the book on the nightstand and fell asleep.
The next day, I found myself on a bus, travelling up a river valley in the Yorkshire Dales. The purpose of that bus ride is the topic of another discussion, but suffice it to say that it was not directly fly fishing related. The bus wound its way up a river valley in ever tightening bends, and over bridges that hardly seemed wide enough for a bus. As we progressed the valley became more and more lovely, until it started to literally take my breath away. The rain spattered on the windows of the bus. That was an excuse not to take photos, but at some stage I took a decision not to attempt a photo, because the beauty was so stunning that I knew that a weak attempt to capture it all, would in this case, serve only to tarnish the memory of such a heavenly place.
As we made our way, I started to take note of names. The village of Kilnsey. Kettlewell. Starbotton. Buckden. Hubberholme.
I am a bit slow, and putting something in reverse is sometimes quite adequate a move to fox me, but at this point I did awaken to the fact that I was travelling the valley I had read about the night before.
Of all the valleys in that fair land, I was in the one I had read about the night before. This freak event deepened my sense of appreciation for where I was. It awakened in me an awareness of how special this beautiful trout stream is to at very least ONE angler. An angler and writer, who I might add is brave enough to admit that his own sense of nostalgia and appreciation on the banks of this river regularly drive him to tears. He even comes a little unhinged.
Having seen his valley, I completely understand those tears. The beauty of the Wharfe River valley in the Yorkshire Dales defies description and capture on celluloid.
It is other-worldly , and to visit it is an experience bordering on the religious, especially when you have by sheer chance read the paragraph describing it the night before.
Perhaps its just me? My mates say I am a little unhinged myself.
I am delighted to now own all 3.
“Thus, Instead of spiking his rod when the morning rise is over, and taking his Walton or his Marcus Aurelius or his Omar Khayyam from his pockets, let the wise angler concentrate on the casual feeder; and if his reward be not great, there is every chance of it being quite respectable , and he may be saved the humiliation of an empty creel”. GEM Skues, Minor tactics of the Chalkstream . 1910.
Now I don’t know about you, but I reckon if I took my “Omar Khayyam” from my pocket while out fishing, I think I wouldn’t be saved any humiliation by my fishing mates. Come to think about it, if I took along a creel, there would be significant ragging, and if I filled the thing, I would be crucified.
But aside from the fact that we don’t carry creels and classic literature on the stream (oh, and we don’t have those reversible spears on the butts of our fly rods), nothing much has changed since 1910. “Minor Tactics” is a delight to read. Skues drops in the odd “wherefore” and “thus”, but we will forgive him for that. The language is in fact sheer poetry in places, and his setting up of his argument for nymphs in the face of Halford’s doctrine of dry fly only, is so polite as to seem slightly apologetic. In fact the last chapter is named “Apologia”. Only the British!
I hadn’t realised that my copy of the book is a first edition. It’s a bit wasted on me, because I buy and own books for the words between the covers, not as items for glass display cases. Having said that, its is quite novel turning these pages which are as thick as cardboard: I keep thinking I have turned five pages at once, and am reminded after much thumbing that, no….that’s just the way paper was back then. I swear many of the pages are different thicknesses too. I guess that back then, their hook sizes and tippet diameters were equally variable in their tolerances. But I get the impression from reading this book that their sophistication, entomology, and finesse in technique were not that different to today.
While rolling all this stuff around in my head I thought I should accompany the occasion with something special, and given that I don’t smoke cigars, I cracked open this instead:
Interesting stuff. I googled it : LINK . Fruit. I don’t know…sometimes I think my sophistication in taste is at the same level as my appreciation of first editions and literature by Khayyam and that bait angler….what’s his name…..Walton.
As I drove into work the other day I observed a bumper sticker that said “How do I drive?”, and I thought it was a bit late to be asking for such guidance.
In front of me was a truck full of waste. I wondered if it was headed for recycling, and then I spotted a punnet of rotten fruit pressed against the bars of the load-bed. It had a supermarket sticker saying “50% off”. It looked to be 75% full.
Then an armoured vehicle labeled “Asset protection” violated just about every traffic rule I know, pulling across the traffic, and a solid white line to push in front of me. I wondered how well, with actions like this, he might be protecting those assets…..
All this helped me to appreciate the levels of cynicism building within me after a long week dealing with the drudgeries and stupidities of business.
It made me think of a Shakespeare line quoted in Tod Collins’ recently published book: “I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed” , and I imagined when I might unleash that one on a colleague….
All of this , I mean the cynicism and penchant for unleashing cruel and derogatory comments, signals the need for time spent “just being”, and that is the topic for the aforementioned book of Tod Collins. He called the book “The Art of Being an Awful Angler”, but the title is a clever self-effacement, behind which sits a solid argument for the carefree, for the arcadian, and for the tranquil. In the book, Collins, by example alone, builds a case for the untroubled, sedate and contented state of an angler with no point to prove. The exploits on which he reminisces, are by no means dull or unadventurous. On the contrary, his tales are spread across continents, and situations and they bear testimony to an intrepid spirit. They are however mixed with both nostalgia, and a broad interest in all outdoor matters that one encounters as a fisherman. That being people, and places and birds and everything in which an observant and appreciative angler of modest intellect might immerse himself. He throws in references to literature and history while he is about it. The fly-fishing obsessed who have little regard for life beyond their tackle and their quarry will be skipping pages for sure. I am reading most pages twice. The stories are laced with people and places which I personally know, to the point that he mentions a few people by first name alone, and I know exactly who he is writing about. Coupled with the fact that I know many of these people, is that he relates to them with a decorum and civility that you would expect from their doting headmasters of yesteryear, and their family vicars.
In a world of fly-fishing literature, videos, blogs and magazines, in which angling pursuits are conducted in either environments pristine or exclusive , or in which everyone is cool (or trying a little bit too hard to be cool), this tome of bygone hue is as refreshing as it is unique for goal-driven times.
And I haven’t even finished reading it!
If I survive the retribution to my Shakespearean aspersions on my colleague’s wit, I will complete the book (slowly, and reading each page twice), and continue my praise in due course. In the meantime, and fearing damage to my typing hand, I thought I should punt this lovely publication.
On running out of flies on the river:
“I had to go home and be in time for supper, an astonishing mishap, breaking all precedents”. From “Rod and Line” by Arthur Ransome…. 1929
(This little book is a delight! It is poetic in its delivery, modern, adventurous, and upbeat in its content, and not the stuffy armchair stuff that you might expect to be hearing from a Brit between the wars.)
It is easy to get caught up in the whole boutique coffee thing and get a bit snooty about it. But here’s the thing: This here off-the-shelf supermarket stuff really hits the spot for me:
In my machine, and with the quantity of the grind set right down, the fineness of the grind at about 75%, and tamping it down ever so lightly, I get this enormous crème, which lends itself to amazing artwork on top of the flat white. But I don’t do artwork. I just know it is a smooth, intensely flavourful cup of coffee.
You could say it’s a Real Peach, which is a catchy tune I have been listening to. I particularly like the lyrics.
I particularly like the lyrics: Real Peach…the lyrics
That is the “beats” part covered.
Books. There is a 1936 gem nestled in a special acid proof document wallet thing on my bookshelf.
Every time I take it out to pour over its pages, I regret it, because it weakens, and love it, because it’s a rare volume with such interesting history and pictures.
Perhaps I should photocopy it and use the copied one to browse and drool on. That way I could keep the original in tact. I think I might just make a cup of that good coffee to settle the nerves, and then do that……