November 2011


The Sunday before last as I walked to the river I saw a cormorant overhead flying eastwards. They are sinister looking things and I’ve never admired them. Mind you, I don’t hate them with the passion some folk do.

I can’t think when I first saw one, but it is likely to have been inland because trips to the coast were rare when I was growing up.

From my earliest days I recall that there was a cormorant on Noggin the Nog that went by the name of Graculus.

This appears to be an historic name for the genus, or at least for a genus. Graculus perspicallatus (syn. Phalacrocorax perspicillatus), the Spectacled, or Pallas’s Cormorant is an extinct bird that lived on Bering Island in the Bering Sea. Perhaps it was this icy ancient avian that gave the cartoon cormorant its name.

But it may be more complicated that that. Graculus is Latin for jackdaw, is somehow linked to starlings and is the Specific epithet for the Alpine, or Yellow-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus).

There’s obviously a story as to why Noggin’s bird had its name, but I hesitate to try and find it – it’s the sort of thing you go looking for on the internet, only to find after some hours submersed in the ephemeral trivia of vintage TV, that you have not found what you were looking for, but have emerged with a far greater amount of (pointless) knowledge about long-gone kids’ telly programmes than you had at the time you were actually watching them.

I haven’t seen a cormorant for ages, though not as long as it’s been since I’ve watched Noggin the Nog. So, it seemed like a coincidence that I came across this three days later in an old book of comic & curious verse:.

The Common Cormorant.

The common cormorant or shag

Lays eggs inside a paper bag.

The reason you will see no doubt

It is to keep the lightning out.

But what these unobservant birds

Have never noticed is that herds

Of wandering bears may come with buns

And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

Anon

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So the time for Little Boots’ first fishing trip drew closer. We both had rods and reels. The nipper had a small cantilever tackle box that I’d emptied from the garage where it had been full of orphaned woodscrews. The only item in it was a small pair of nail clippers for cutting line close to knots. We did however have a pair of landing net handles (though no net).

Clearly we were still in need of a fair amount of kit. Either a visit to my parents’ home to disinter my old tackle, or a major spend at the tackle shop was needed. Taking a deep breath I chose the former. I had been putting this off for a while. Partly because I was worried that I would find nothing or just junk. Allied to this was another reason that was ridiculously sentimental. It was my childhood tackle and somehow I felt like it should be left to lay undisturbed. Like a fallen warrior. It was probably the best thing I remembered from my youth.

Also to be frank I did not want to end up clearing out my parents’ shed. Eventually I gave way, partly because of curiosity, but mostly due to common sense. Why let perfectly serviceable tackle sit idle? Particularly if I was going to have to shell out cash for some items that might already be lying there.

It was difficult to know what to expect when I made the trip home. Only two things were sure, a feckless relative had borrowed a rod, reel and landing net years back. He was the sort of guy you’d never lend anything to if you wanted to see it again, and unsurprisingly that tackle was gone forever. He was also a useless sod who never cared properly for anything, so I can’t draw solace that it had gone to a home where it would be cared for.

Secondly some years ago whilst I was sorting my mother’s garden she’d asked me to look in the shed because she thought there were mice in there. I recall that I had thrown away a reel case that had been chewed. And some manky bait boxes, but I don’t recall what was left. However the shed was brick-built with a sound roof, concrete floor and a good door and so I told myself that something should be salvageable.

Despite all this prior cogitation I was not prepared for the reality of opening the shed door. I don’t think that it would have been possible to get anymore stuff in there. It took about forty minutes of dragging stuff out and putting it into piles (keep, sort, bin, tip, burn) before I came to the fishing tackle. In an old wicker box barely holding itself together I found a few reels and a couple of plastic boxes containing far less than I remember, but several individual items that I recalled and some I’d forgotten. There were no rods, rests or bank sticks, perhaps they were at the very back of the shed, I wondered whilst at the same time knowing they were long gone. It was clear that this job was going to take some time (I have since made 2 more trips and the job’s still far from done). So I put the tackle in the car along with a load of junk that I was going to get rid of, and returned the stuff that was being kept to the shed.

My Old Man came out as I was dragging a load of crap down to the car. He’s lost the plot these days, following a stroke.

I had a cardboard box under one arm and a reel in the opposite hand. “Little Boots wants to go fishing,” I told him. I talked briefly about the first time he took me fishing. I have little memory of that. He has none.

By the time I returned he was sat on the front doorstep with a large plastic tackle box. “You can have this if you want,” he said. “There’s a few bits and pieces in here“. He opened it and proceeded to show me the contents.

Despite the size of the box it was slim pickings and I judged from the contents that it was not something he’d put together because there were things like baiting needles and bits of carp gear that he’d never use.

He was in truth a pretty ropey angler. Probably the box was something he’d picked up during the period when he was a driver for Age Concern and was always bringing various pieces of tat home.

“And there’s this old sea fishing reel,” he said unzipping a reel case bearing the name of a long-gone local tackle shop.

“That’s not a sea fishing reel,” I told him. “That’s an old Abu Cardinal, that was a bloody good reel in it’s day. People still rate them.”

“It’s a big old thing for freshwater,” he frowned, and I knew that my attitude had come from the same place – big reel = small penis. It was the same expression he had every time he saw a boy racer in a small car with a big exhaust driving like an arse because he thought he was Paddy Hopkirk, James Hunt or Nigel Mansell. As a mechanic, his life had been plagued by softheaded plonkers who knew as little about motors as they did about driving.

I finished packing the car and went back up to the house to say goodbye and he’d gone back inside and had beside him a holey landing and keep-net.

“Here’s some more”.

He had no fishing rod or landing-net pole or bank-stick for the keep net.

This was all a fantasy I told myself driving home. A load of things he’d got together planning to go fishing one day but never had. Going to the pub always got in the way.

Later back home when I was picking through the box, there was in the bottom, along with scraps of line bearing hooks and shot, a crumpled foil packet of the Old Man’s favourite baccy.

Perhaps he had been fishing after all.

Whatever the case, a torch has been passed on.

Note – you may have spotted from my post on 30/8/11 that we have been fishing. That post was more or less made in real-time and is out of sequence with this one and others I have drafted about our first trip and the build up.

It was undoubtedly a failing on my part that until a couple of weeks ago the name Robert Gillmor did not connect with me. In my defence I was however familiar with his work examples of which have formed covers of the New Naturalists Book Series. Not that I have any of that range, much as I would like them, but I know myslef too well and if I had a single one of these beautiful and interesting volumes, I would want the lot, and that is a collection that I cannot afford at present. One day. Maybe. However amongst the books on my shelves is one that bears the artist’s work – Victor Osborne’s Digger’s Diary.

So, when I saw a Robert Gillmor retrospective was on not too far away I marked it down as something to do during the oimpending half-term. Going to a gallery with a seven-year old is not ideal, but Little Boots is pretty god. With an enquiring mind and the ability to quietly observe and absorb he probably sees more than I do if I’m honest. Plus the gallery is attached to a museum which the youngster enjoys visiting.     

On the day we actually had the best mate tagging along too, which did worry me a little, but they were impeccably behaved and did look at the pictures (albeit quickly) to decide which was their favourite.

They did then settle down to watch the video where the artist demonstrated how he built up his lino cut prints. I was told afterwards that the method was like an animation, (something both kids are interested in). This did then morph into a game where they pretended that Mr Gillmor was a man who lived in the telly.

They sat quietly giggling whilst waving and pulling faces at him.

Though dominated by his more recent linocut work, it does cover all of the artist’s work from his childhood onwards and in a variety of mediums. Examples include a pair of rather camp watercolour dragons used on a 1970 BBC wildlife programme, a Radio Times cover, in addition to those for a number of books including the aforementioned Digger’s Diary, New Naturalists, plus a ghostly fish for Fred Buller’s “Pike and Pike Angler”.

His work for the Royal Mail on Post and Go stamps is well represented, but for me these are not so fine as slightly earlier pieces such as Full Moon (2000) showing a hunting barn owl set against the silhouette of a large bull and March Moonlight (2004) where the moon reflects on distant water behind a pair of bounding hares.

I would have liked time to have enjoy further, but realised the dynamic duo were hatching a plan to rescue the man in the telly, which signalled time to make tracks. Ushering the kids from the room with promises of chips, I looked over my shoulder and promised myself I’d be back one day very soon.

Alone.