Autumn is here already, I cannot believe how quickly it seems to have arrived. The schoolkids are already ignoring the conkers that litter the ground, looking forward instead to another evening tucked up with their smartphones. Might they have more fun if they drilled through the screens and threaded shoelaces through the holes? I walked along looking at all the sycamore seeds on the pathway, tiny footprints littering the mud of the track. Suddenly there it was:
"Stop it! That's so embarrassing. You shouldn't be doing that, not at your age."
A command, from my wife. But it is such good fun walking along, kicking up the piles of dead leaves on the pavement. Lovely rustling noises, and flurries of autumnal colour as I stir the beech and horse chestnut leaves from where they lay, undisturbed. I have, I suppose, always been a bit of a rebel, and rather than accept the instruction I pondered whether to completely ignore the order, or to suggest she might enjoy it too. The latter thought, having been offered, proved to have been the wrong decision, and I was in trouble again.
I have often ignored people who tell me not to do this, or to stop doing that. Many minor things, and a few major sillies that were even more fun. When hang gliders first appeared, (the basic triangular wing versions), I heard that a friend of a friend of a friend, knew someone who he thought had just bought one. So a couple of weeks later I was there, atop a hillside, with an ungainly structure strapped to my back, and the wind in my face. A number of people had told me "Don't do it" and I wouldn't these days, if only because all the risk (fun) seems to have been taken out of it by the H&S gremlins. Nowadays you get a twin seater high tech kite, with an on-board instructor by your side, radio links, and probably a feather mattress to land on. Boring. Oh... and two people with tether ropes, one on each wingtip to keep it level and on course. Danger? What danger? But there will still be those who advise against the idea. Instead, having splashed out a fiver for a very risky flight or two, I had to look at the owner of the glider and ask if he might have any tips. He had not, by then, offered anything other than details of how to attach the straps.
"Keep it going straight down, and avoid that dry stone wall. Moving the bar sideways changes direction, move it forward or back to change height. Now; just start to run down the hill!"
Very basic instructions that I could have probably worked out for myself. So: three steps and I was airborne. When it started to veer to the left I remembered that moving the bar sideways would correct the direction, realigning the straight down course. And it would have done so, had I moved the bar in the correct direction. Instead I had used it as I would have a car steering wheel, the drift left tightened and I rapidly U-turned back into the hillside, causing the odd bruise and some degree of bending of the airframe struts. But it was fun, great fun disentangling myself from the wreckage. My second flight saw me get over the dry stone wall...just. I would have said feet to spare, but my trainers actually touched the top stones of the structure. I did consider that maybe the site for a first flight might have been better chosen.
Far more recently, after yet another "not at your age", I was learning to ride a reverse steer bicycle. Not by any means an easy thing to do, by the way. Much harder than learning to ride a unicycle (which was also a NAYA for me to ignore). But after a couple of hours messing about, and failing to ride the daft bike, I climbed into the car and found myself, at the first corner, starting to turn the steering wheel the wrong way. I immediately corrected it, but the experience of riding the crazy bike must have rewired my brain ever so slightly. Much later and I can now ride it, and no longer have trouble steering the car.
I suppose the real rot started to set in last year: I was fishing a local pond, and one of a group of lads in their twenties addressed me as "Pops". I was horrified, never having been subjected to any form of ageism before. It still upsets me now. I have in fact told my son, as a warning shot, that I am not yet old enough to become a grandfather. And when using my bus pass, watching and listening to the other pensioners on the bus, I have often thought "Good God, I hope I am not seen to be like them."
I was walking home one day recently, passing through a group of high rise flats; council flats I understand. I was approached by a kid, a street urchin about 11 years old who asked me whether I lived there. I responded that I was just passing through and lived elsewhere. He didn't seem to believe me, first insisting I must live in the flats, and then asking me whether I was homeless. Now I know I was dressed in my fishing gear, and yes I do have a beard, but homeless? Oh my God. In the old days I could have probably clipped the cheeky little so and so about the ear. All I might have done on this occasion was to give him 50 pence to prove I was not destitute. But I decided against it. Let him think what he might. No way was I going to fuel his cigarette addiction. Little bugger.
I have a Chinese friend, known her for about 40 years or so. Although she is smaller and younger than myself, I sort of see her as my big sister. She too tries to keep me on the straight and narrow. Recently, she topped 60 herself, and asked whether I would go with her to her local pensioner social group. She is the type who always gets involved, usually far too deeply, having in consequence, to spend time that she can ill afford, doing things that she probably does not want to do. She has always been a sucker for such things. My presence would be partly to stop her in those tracks, and to give her an excuse to stay somewhat more distant, which will probably involve me taking some degree of blame. I'll go with her, but I feel I am just not old enough to be a pensioner yet. I don't mind having had the government pension, and the bus pass, for the last few years, but anything else to do with being a pensioner, I just do not want. I am just not ready for it. Not at my age!
So last week, and the week before, I fished through a few nights. Twice in horrendous weather, pouring rain, mud, and a rising water level, lapping around my ankles. Obviously one more "not at my age" of course, as my wife had pointed out before I went. Target was bream, and I was equipped with all the usual bait and tackle for such a session. Umbrella rather than a bivvy of course. Bivvies are for teens and twenties, not seasoned old, (would you cross out that word "old please?), warriors such as myself. So it was cold and wet, the misery of the first night only added to by three two pound eels, that, as is their usual wont, caused me hell. Night two was no better, just a single suicidal six inch roach. AND I ripped my trousers from belt down to the knee, climbing down an awkwardly steep bank to my chosen swim. I spent a draughty night. Prior to these sessions, I had not fished seriously for bream for well over 40 years, back in the Cheshire Meres days, and so bream was one of very few species for which my personal best fish had remained undisturbed. I did catch, one day, a number of fish of 8 and 9 pounds, with one of them going 9-15 , but it was a Cheshire Meres double that still topped my list. The Cheshire experience proved useful though, and, modified only by the substitution of a spod, in exchange for the old rubber dinghy, as the method of introducing bait, I entered night three. That dinghy was more like a kid's paddling pool to be honest, bright yellow, and I would no longer trust myself in it...definitely not at my age. Luckily it has long been lost in the mists of time, or somewhere in the attic of my previous house. The spod is not perfect for my style of groundbaiting, but at a pinch it does the job...just.
Night three was difficult, and by 1 one o'clock only another eel had emerged to play with me. But then, my dough bobbin, (Hey! "Old fashioned" is not the same as "old"), on the right hand rod, rose slowly up to the butt ring, in what I have always regarded as a typical big bream bite. The strike made contact and I started to reel in what I was sure was another small eel. No real fight, but occasional resistance suggesting the eel was swimming backwards. But, half way in, it broke surface, odd behaviour for an eel, but it was too dark to see much, other than a disturbance in the mirror-like flat calm surface. As it neared the net though I realized it was a bream, only a bream could show that amount of flank. It looked huge, monstrous, even in the dark. And so it proved: 14 pounds one ounce of very good looking bream, with an absurdly high back, and very thick from side to side. It also deposited copious amounts of slime in my net. A tip here: either know the weight of your landing net in advance, or weigh it later, once the bream slime has left the mesh. It could make several ounces of difference to the weight of your fish, if weight really matters that much to you. It does seem reasonable to consider the slime to be part of that fish at the time it was caught. A second tip: to get rid of the slime, don't waste your time shaking the net: instead leave it submerged for a couple of hours or so, and it will have all quite miraculously, gone. Now weigh your wet net, and subtract from the weight you recorded with the fish in it.
The bream dragged the LCD digits round to 14-1, considerably bigger than my old P.B. Three more nights each produced just one bream, a 6 pounder, one of 11-8, and then a second fourteen pound fish, an ounce less than the first. Three doubles in a fortnight: excellent.
But I am now in a quandary. Half of me is in a "been there, done that" mood. None of the bream fought much better than your average dishcloth, they slimed everything up, and it is getting rather cold at night. The other half of me says strike away at that hot iron, for with two fourteen pound fish caught, there might be a chance of a 15, a 16 or maybe even bigger. Not sure what I will do yet...the barbel are calling me, and/but a sixteen pound bream would be no harder to catch than a fourteen, if the two fish were side by side in my swim.
|Dough Bobbins Ready for Action. Raining.|
|14-1 a Humpbacked Whale.|
|14-0...."Blinded by the Light".|
The weight of fourteen pounds is quite significant for me. In my younger days, when all that mattered was that next, even bigger, fish, before I took my holiday from fishing for well over 30 years, I knew the then record fish sizes off by heart: Bream 13-12, barbel 14-6, tench 9-1 and there was Richard Walker's "Clarissa" at 44 pounds. I wonder if I should I blame Walker for the present day awful tendency to give fish names? I don't like it at all. But a friend recently referred to those 40 year old records as "our" records, and I would confess that they still have more meaning for me than the current numbers. I never tried to break any of those old records, they just seemed unattainable, but the goal was to get near them. Fish, certainly of those four species, are much larger these days in general, and that applies also to their modern record sizes. I don't know how big the present records are. Never bothered to look, and never reading the "comics", the sizes have remained unknown to me. It is generally thought that the much bigger sizes of fish these days is due to all the high protein bait that gets thrown in by anglers: boilies, pellets etc. etc. I think it is rather more than that. I feel the weather over the past 30 years or so has played its part, milder winters, and warmer summers allowing fish to feed well for longer. Certainly boilies and baits have been in the game, but so many big fish come from so many different waters today, even some that are lightly fished, that I am quite certain global warming ( or at least our improved weather) has played its part well. The result is that I have now broken "our" bream record twice in a month, and "our" tench record several times in the last few years. I don't claim it to have been a great angling feat, certainly a pleasing one, but one that anyone these days could manage with a bit of thought and some serious application to the task. I certainly haven't spent too much of my time fishing for such fish...far too much else to aim for, making full use of all the variations in species, size, methods, and venues that angling offers me.
But I am not seeking a record fish: not at my age!