August 2011


Last week Little Boots and I went on our first fishing trip together – I will blog about it in the near future.

We went again today, and this second trip very much followed the pattern of the first.

One of us is keener to go on the third trip than the other.

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With a very important Harry Potter-themed party in the offing Little Boots needed a wand. Not just any wand, oh no, it had to be Lord Voldemort’s wand, from his youth.

With our own special birthday in the offing, and having just splashed out on a Slytherin robe, buying one was not an option.

I’ll make one I announced. This may sound foolish, and probably was, but we’re not averse to making things here at Boot Hall. So, a week ahead of the friend’s party I downloaded a few photos from the net, printed them off and after studying them wondered what I’d let myself in for.

Voldemort’s wand has a gnarly bone handle and a long thin pitted shaft. “At least it’s asymmetrical,” I said to myself, because this made it potentially easier to make. Or at least better for covering up errors, or lack of ability in fabrication.

So I drew a few lines on one of the pictures and scaled the wand up to a suitable size. This I then drew this onto a suitable piece of baton and when LB was out with the OH last Friday I started to saw away the extraneous wood. I put it away intending to finish shaping it following day with the Dremel, before giving it a quick coat of emulsion in a suitable boneish hue.

Job done.

Or so I thought.

I was just sitting down with a drink when LB arrived home and announced

“You know, Tom Riddle’s wand is completely different to Lord Voldemort’s.”

My heart sank. I went off to look for a picture on the ‘net. My heart sank further. The desired item was a dark, wooden, highly-turned item, that it wouldn’t be possible to make without a lathe. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’d better give it a go.” I copied the picture and enlarged it to roughly the right size.

The next day, having printed off the picture I marked its dimensions off a piece of dark hardwood beading I’d found. I roughly shaped it with the Dremel and then replicated some of the finer turned bands by painting rings on. I should have done this later as the paint bled into to the bone dry wood. Still, at least that meant that it dried quickly.

All it needed now was some varnish. Unfortunately the water-based quick drying varnish had dried in the tin and all I had was some yacht varnish which if you’ve used it you’ll know is unholy stuff that takes aeons to even become touch dry, and isn’t fully dry for about 6 years as far as I can make out.

As I’ve mentioned the wood was bone dry so it sucked up the varnish whilst at the same time managing to stay wet. Eventually it was dry enough and had a sufficient enough gloss to hand over to LB.

I was not hopeful because in truth it looked like someone had stretched out a dog turd and then lacquered it.

Expecting one of those searingly critical evaluations that only small children are capable of I handed it over rather unenthusiastically.

It was met with silence.

Followed by a short intake of breath.

Followed by a single word.

“Brilliant!”

The beholder’s eye is a wonderful thing.

Until about twelve months ago my interest in fishing was at best liminal. On the fringes of my mind, it was something I thought I might get back involved in one day.

After finishing my RHS Advanced course last year I was casting around for books to read after a four year (self, but necessarily-enforced) diet of little but hardcore horticultural tomes.

Either a review or an excerpt, maybe both, high-lighted Blood Knots by Luke Jennings. I bought it along with a slew of others.

Straight away I was hooked (I have just realised that there are two too many fishing metaphors in this piece already) and I read it rapidly. For the first time in far too long I had a book that I really enjoyed, couldn’t put down, didn’t want to end and felt lost when it did.

A similar route recently brought me to On Nature, and thence Caught By The River the website which spawned it. About fishing, walking, nature, birds (too many birds), music and other eclectic oddments it really was “an antidote to indifference” – there was even  the odd gardening entry and Tracey Thorn‘s greenhouse.

I consumed the years of web archives from start to finish over a short space of time and again was sorry when they ran out.

But then I picked up on How To Fish and On Fishing at Sea by Chris Yates a CBTR hero. These books are just fantastic. As with Luke Jennings’ writing, angling is both primary and at the same time secondary. Chris Yates writes so well, you almost forget he’s writing about fishing because it ties seamlessly with both memory, the present and the natural world. Yet again I was reading stuff I could not put down.

The spark having been reignited by a book and further kindled by more was glowing bright. It seemed fitting that it should be fed by old, bone-dry tinder and so I asked my mum if there were any of my old fishing books cluttering up cupboard space at her house.

Those I’d had I couldn’t recall properly, but I’m sure that there were a couple of Mr Crabtree books gleaned off a relative. Also a weird cardboard wallet folder thing that had sheets on each of our freshwater fish with a large picture, habits, angling tips and rather unusually for the UK cooking recipes. This was actually pretty weird to my juvenile mind as it was decades before HFW started catching and eating grass carp, or Eastern Europeans started (allegedly) treating our lakes and reservoirs as larders rather than a recreational resource.

After a trawl around (yes I’m doing the fishing metaphor again) she came up with this little sprat. Slim pickings and a book I’d forgotten I’d ever had Although now, turning it in my hands and looking at my childish inscription, I can recall buying it in our local WH Smiths using one of the Christmas gift vouchers we always got from our Grandad Fred.

The main thing I recall about it though, is surreptitiously reading it one the schoolbus. Not because I was ashamed of being interested in fishing, but because the I thought the bloke on the cover looked like a knob.

Still, it’s better than blanking.

When I was about ten years old there were, I recall, trips with my aunt and cousins to a nearby large town. The purpose of these excursions I can’t recall, but I do know that we used to pass by at least a couple of pawn shops. What exactly they were about I wasn’t sure at that age, but I did register that in the windows were fishing tackle, air rifles, electric guitars and other coveted items; they were like Aladdin’s Cave. With the passing of time these shops vanished, just as I came to realise how sad they were. Places where people gave over their belongings for a few quid.

These days not only are pawn shops back, but they are now in high streets rather than back streets.

There’s one on a main street I walk down regularly. It’s been there a while and I’d always been indifferent to it. But then the other day without any forethought I walked in. It felt like a spontaneous act, but it wasn’t. Not really.

What drew me to it was certainly inquisitiveness in part, but I think it had much more to do with the childhood memories of all things fishing related and the dim memories of those dusty treasures. I decided to take a quick look inside. The shop was chock full of electronica, gamephenalia and the like, but there in a corner in a glass display case were a couple of centre-pin reels and a fixed spool one.

This put me on a slippery slope. I had got Little Boot’s a new reel to go with the birthday present rod, but didn’t have one for myself. And we had identical rods, so I would need one wouldn‘t I?. There’d be one at home I told myself (by home I meant my Mum‘s house). But for some reason, I was putting off an archaeological expedition there to retrieve any remains of my tackle.

I stooped and had a closer look. An old Intrepid. The same make of reel that I remembered from my first ever fishing trip. It seemed to much of a coincidence. 

I asked the price. The shop assistant a tall gaunt geezer with wonky teeth and neck tattoos, had the bored air of someone who’d rather be at home playing computer games and doing recreational drugs. He’d pretty much done his best to ignore me, but burst into life as soon as he took the reel out.

“I thought about buying it myself,” he said. “I’ve got this old rod it’d go well with. It’d be great,” he grinned. Clearly someone who’d loved fishing but didn’t go anymore. He continued, “But I thought what if it broke? It’s an old rod and couldn’t take the punishment of a big fish.”

He handed me the reel, I gave it a quick once-over and handed him a note. Whilst his eyes still burned with enthusiasm it was overlaid with a layer of melancholy that made me wonder why he didn’t go fishing any longer. In reciprocation I told him the story of my uncle and a treasured old rod which he had managed to snap by getting carried away in demonstrating how marvellous it was.

He nodded sagely and handed me my change.

I left with my reel and bitter-sweet feelings both about it’s source and the mien of the guy that had served me. It was an odd experience.

With Little Boots’ first experience of angling only a short way off it’s inevitable that I should recall my own, all those long years ago.

Things I remember about my first fishing trip:

  • I was quite young. Certainly under seven, judging by the house we lived in. Possibly as little as four years of age.
  • Dad made paste from bread and Dairylea triangles. It seemed like a waste of  cheesey treats to me.
  • It was by a river. Or a canal. Not by a pond or lake.
  • There were biscuits. They did not last long.
  • As well as my Dad two other grown ups came along. I don’t know who. Probably my Godfather and another of Dad’s cousins.
  • Only one fish was caught. It was silver. Actually there may have been two. Not a haul whichever the case.
  • My Dad’s reel had a broken handle. He had made a replacement. It was rubbish.
  • Someone lent him another reel before we set off and he used the handle off that.
  • My Dad’s reel was an Intrepid De Luxe.
  • The wrapper from a biscuit packet is no substitute for toilet roll.

I’ve been noodling away at all manner of things piscatorial lately and so I thought I’d do a week of postings on the subject. If you came here expecting horticulture, please be patient, normal service will be resumed in due course.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I’ve bought Little Boots a fishing rod as a present for the impending birthday. I thought I should get myself one at the same time, so that I don’t do that parent thing where they buy the child a present and then monopolise it.

It should be stressed that the rod isn’t the sole present – more of an adjunct to the main event – that said, I’m hoping it’s going to be a bit like the Jazz stage at Glastonbury – where the magic often happens, away from the bloated headliners.

Since they were essentially little spinning rods they came with spincast reels and I‘ve no experience of them; although they do seem just the thing for whizzing out a lure, I‘m pretty sure they’re not really suitable for our purposes. So I thought I’d get LB another and picked up a neat little reel from eBay for a few quid. Made in Japan, it is a fairly anonymous little thing despite bearing the legend “Junior Matchmaker 333”. It is very light, just like the rod and the pair feel good together.

It’s important when introducing children to anything, be it musical instruments, sports gear, gardening tools, or whatever, that they are given equipment that suits their size.

And besides, if we catch anything on a light set up like this, it’s going to feel like a whale, which is exactly the thing to make it exciting.

This happens to me quite regularly: someone points towards you a muzzy photo of a plant, or produces a bedraggled piece of foliage, and says “What’s this?”

My late father-in-law was a great one for it. He’d ask me to identify some piece of unfamiliar exotic fauna in his garden on the Cote D’Azur, and then regard me as an idiot when I had no idea. It didn’t matter that I could name every plant in his garden back in the UK, even down to the cultivar with a lot of them.

So it was today when a colleague bowled this apple at me and asked what it was.

I tried pointing out that the RHS, and I think Brogdale would identify it for a fee.

“I thought you could tell me,” came the reply.

I reckon Spartan maybe – probably not a Lord Lambourne

The pound coin is there for scale, but this is not a fully grown fruit just one that fell off the tree.