Saturday, 12 August 2017

Home Again

I have a new place to live - my Cottage By The Sea. I feel lucky, blessed and cursed all at exactly the same time. A dichotomy of feelings - guilt and expectation but also the extreme sensation of stepping off a precipice into space - a step of faith, self belief or self deception - I don't know. One moment I feel brave, the next - well, scared senseless. I can't blame anybody else for being where I am, as if blame were the placebo of choice for the illness I have self inflicted, but the outcome is nevertheless the same - I have come home. 

Home is the place where we feel - sorry but - most at home. Deal is that place. I love Scotland, and sometimes it feels like I belong there as does driving into County Cork, Ireland, but Deal IS home.. Deal WAS home and now IS again. 

So, I bought a bicycle and went for a ride the first Saturday in August and saw - fish! Mackerel chasing the baitfish onto the beach, the shingle sparkling with spangles of silver, flipping in the sun. Tiny sprats that later in the year will be worthy of our attention, yet now are chased by one of my favourite eating fish. 

Naturally, I was unable to fish and, equally naturally, the following week when I was able to grab my gear and hit the beach, the water was coloured and weedy. Still, I hadn't cast the Zziplex for many years, the CT6500 ran as smooth as silk and I didn't get a single bird's nest. And I can still cast well. 

Oh, but it was so good. The smell of the sea, the sea weed and the salty air. The scudding clouds dancing shadows on the surface as the light skipped across the Channel. The gulls swooping and crying, the grey seal's head popping up unexpectedly and the cormorants diving in a silent glissander of movement. 

I caught nothing, but it really didn't matter, I soaked up the minutes, I sat still, I lay back and closed my eyes. It felt like home - it IS home. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Thank Heaven For Friends

A Wet Morning....

Having started a new job in February 2014, I have not really had much chance to get out fishing - in fact for the first half of that year I had one full time and two part time jobs and worked between 60 and 85 hours a week, for the second half I ditched one of the part time jobs but kept the other. I was saving for a big trip later in the year and had no holiday time remaining and not enough money for the trip yet, so I worked virtually every day, but I'm lucky that I enjoy my jobs. It was the holiday of a lifetime and I was going to work my nuts off to make sure we could make the absolute most of it, i was not going to sit on my backside now and regret it later. 

Anyway, more of that some other time,  but the outcome of all that work was that when I was invited for a day fishing, invited by my friend Phil and run on behalf of the Salmon And Trout Association I could not wait to get to the water's edge. Eighteen months since I had last fished - I was pretty desperate. 

Alas, the day dawned wet, very wet, and I was soakied before I had struggled into my over trousers and jacket. Remember those school swimming days when you tried to get dressed when still wet and your vest would get stuck halfway around your middle and you'd give yourself a Chinese burn on the back trying to pull it down, or your socks would stick so that the heal wouldn't go past your toes and the foot part would block in the front of your shoes causing you to hobble around like an old man..?
Like that, but at least I had my wellies so my feet were dry - nothing else was, and I pruned up badly during the day. 

But I was like a kid, I could not wait to get started, even foregoing breakfast to cast a line as soon as I could. It was worth it though, before I squelched back for a hot cup of coffee and a double bacon roll I had caught two fish and lost two others. The boy's still got it - I thought as I dripped all over the fishing shack floor, puddles forming as the recalcitrant ketchup bottle refused to give me more than a dribble of sauce. 

It was a good feeling; a hot, full tummy, a slight coffee buzz, chatting with old friends and the knowledge that two good sized, healthy looking fish were getting wetter on the bank next to my bag than they ever were while cruising around the lake. 

Naturally, things went downhill after that...

The rain and wind increased and the fish that were feeding off the top dropped down in the water making them harder to locate and the next two fish took the rest of the morning right up until one o'clock lunch to catch.

I tried nymphs, weighted nymphs and even toyed with the idea of an intermediate line for a while, but the occasional pull or tap told me I  wasn't far away from discovering what the fish were up to and eventually one and then another was taken on pheasant tailed nymphs a foot or two under the surface. 

I had a great day despite the rain, the company was good and still cheerful after a damp but wonderful lunch and I had caught fish - four of them in fact and lost three others - all was good. 

My four fish were a good size and although I had to leave after lunch for yet another pressing engagement, I managed to win the prize for heaviest bag - an added bonus,  for champagne and trout really is a good combination. 

Thanks Phil. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Wild Flowers - St George's Day Thoughts

I had an hour or so spare while Frankie was working and as there was water nearby I was drawn inexorably towards it as all fishermen everywhere always are. We are the men you see standing suspiciously on bridges staring myopically into the sun glazed water looking hard for the sign of movement; a drifting fish, a lazy glide or weed fronds waving in the current. 
Finchale Abbey lies on the River Wear not far from Durham and very near the Frankland Prison which holds the infamous Soham Murderer Ian Huntly, but I gave that man little or no thought as I drove towards the water. 
Set right on the banks of Durham's famous river, the Priory oversees a small woodland area which, on the morning I found it, was carpeted with a large array of wild flowers, carpets, chinks and surprises of petal'd packages to be found all over the small wooded area - and it wasn't really Spring yet - not this far North anyway.   

On the drive through the North East we had been struck by the huge beds of dandelion that lined the roadsides and fields. Not just the scattering of these ubiquitous plants that one normally sees around St George's Day, but almost acres of them, which will soon be scattering their unwanted seeds miles and miles, if this chilly Easterly wind keeps up for much longer, and upsetting gardeners everywhere. 
In the woods, the first flowers I came across were the anemones, barely opening their petals in the lackadaisical sun. Nestling against the trunks of oak and beech their bright green leaves and ever so slightly pink flowers brought a smile to my face, they just look so cheerful when they open up and I love seeing these little flowers scattered among the trees. And, of course, they only open up fully in direct sunlight and the sun always cheers us up. 

Anyone who reads my blogs regularly will know I love wild garlic, the scent often reaches the nose before the sight meets the eyes, but not only do their almost plastic spear-like leaves and spiked white flowers look good, they taste good too. I was chatting to another walker I discovered on the bridge trying hopelessly to capture a photograph of the wheeling, acrobatic house martins that effortlessly fed on the spring ephemera launching off the idling river. He is a chef and was extolling the virtues of wild garlic until he discovered I shared his enthusiasm, so we shared a few recipes and ideas and talked about the abundance of bird life and flaura before heading our separate ways. 

Discovering beds of wild garlic is always a delight for me, Spring is near, Summer just around the corner and longer days filled with walks and warmth beckon. Whilst I enjoy all the Seasons, there is certainly a promise given with Spring that lifts the heart.

I came across comfrey, cow- parsley, tiny dog violets nestling like lilac gems in the grass and footpaths and lady smock peering through the undergrowth. Wild cherry blossom drooped from the trees and smiling daisies spotted the lawns around the Abbey. Everywhere I turned there was colour splashed around as if by accident - as if God's paint palette had been thrown across the countryside

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


Casablanca Souk

Whether they are the little flea markets that sell tat or unwanted memorabilia or the colourful, fragrant spice markets in Morocco, they all hold a fascination for me..

A market traders life must be the same worldwide; the pressure to find the goods and the hope of selling out on the day; the search for items that will sell easily and the balance of cost of acquisition against selling price. In no other place is this balance in such open view as the markets of Morocco. Yet everywhere, if you take a moment to stand and watch, wherever you are you will see the price of this search in the stall holders face, the lines around his eyes from the sun and the worry are a testament to the strain of buying and selling. The disappointment of no sale and the welcome joy of a good price leave equal traces on the face of the market trader, as the wind and rain leave patterns in the dunes of the Moroccan beaches.  

Cape Verde's Markets were very crowded...
I always have an urge to head for a market whenever I get to a town or city, I love the sensory attack that accompanies these places, whether indoor or out. The riot of colours shimmering in the air, the sounds and cries, the smells of meat, fish, vegetables, spices - even clothes and books - and recently, on a long cruise I had the chance to head for the stalls in a variety of places. Tenerife, Cape Verde, Agadir, Casablanca and El Ferrol all provided a feast for my hunger of markets and not one of them let me down. Yet even in the UK I migrate to stalls like a traveller makes for the warmest Inn. I look for the book stand, the green grocer, the baker - oh yes the baker - at this one stall alone does the olfactory sense shift into overdrive and I drool physically at the smells and mentally at the ideas, the shapes, the artisan skill and the ingredients, I imagine the bustle of the early morning bakery, the flour dusting the very air and the heat from the ovens as the bread is shaped, patted and baked. 

Oranges By The Cart Load

The Spice stalls in Casablanca were all I hoped they would be, colours ablaze and glowing in the damp sunshine, oranges by the cartload, chillies and peppers, lemons, limes and the muted hues of the mounded spices themselves; the ochre of turmeric, the deep red of ground chilli, whole nutmegs and cinnamon sticks in shades of chestnut and burnt umber, the rich pastel shades of the lentils glistening in the low December sun. 

Pastel Shades of Spices

UK fish stalls are fun places, fishmongers having a humour all of their own, but the colours are muted. Mackerel, cod, plaice and salmon are subdued in shade and lack the vivid reds and blues of mullet, snapper and wrasse from the Mediterranean or the frightful appearance of the monkfish and scabbard fish from the Canaries. The spangling sardines from Portugal, the Tuna from St. Vincent and the coin-scaled mullet from Spain are on neat display in rows of bright eyed freshness in most markets. I say most, because a couple of the Tuna that were brought along for inspection for our onboard chef in St Vincent were not as fresh as our local fishermen purported, judging by the limp flaccid flesh and the red eyes of the specimens - they were a day or two old at best. But most of the fish on display are caught that day, brought stiff and fresh straight from the boats. 

Scabbard Fish

Vivid Reds...
 And that's another great thing about markets; you get to inspect the goods, discuss them and haggle if you're brave enough. In the UK haggling isn't really the done thing, we don't argue, discuss or debate the goods on offer, we accept them and buy them - or we don't. That's it. 

All over the world deep, meaningful conversations take place around the efficacy, quality and price of the items. Markets are places to haggle, argue and act insulted, to quibble over cents, pennies and proportions. You spend time comparing and handling, learning to trust the stall holder, relationships are forged or trashed, cemented or destroyed as you spend your time buying your essential items. I was sitting at the indoor market in Bath recently watching the cheese counter as fists were bumped, hands shaken and friendships obviously made through trade were on display. There was a respect, an honest mutual liking and of course money and cheese changed hands as I sat and supped my afternoon tea. 

Don't be afraid of markets, respect them certainly, but watch, if you can, over a cup of coffee, tea or a beer and you'll see the exchanges, the colours, hear the sounds and smell the aromas. You'll see friendships, respect and disdain all in one stall, you'll observe peculiarities, oddities and strangeness, but most of all what you're looking at is human nature in its most basic, intrinsic honesty, you're watching life. 

English Market in Cork City

Monday, 20 October 2014


Is it just me? Am I the only one who can smell the past? Sometimes even taste it? Is that what nostalgia is - a flood of sensory perceptions reminiscent of youth, childhood and past emotions? Smells, feelings, tastes and experiences all encapsulated in that one word - nostalgia. 

Just recently, I have been smelling days on the beach, my first sea fishing trips on Deal pier; I can taste the briny air, feel the cold breeze onshore from the North Sea side of the coast and I remember the first crab, the first fish, the lugworm wrapped in newspaper and the smell of the oil on the reel. 

I can feel the warm sun and the smell of seaweed on the days we used to spin or feather for mackerel, learning to cast as far as possible with our Abu reels and fibre glass rods. We learned to oil and adjust the reels so that we got maximum casting distance free of the dreaded birds nest that would stop us fishing for half an hour at a time while we picked and fussed at the mess in front of us. We dressed in our mothers' (washed) tights to keep the cold from our legs on days when the wind blew through you but the cod came in. or the still, bright days when the cod stayed away but the whiting arrived in shoals. We hated the days when numerous, inedible pouting stole our expensive bait, knowing that we wouldn't catch anything but staying on just in case. 

The promenade at Deal saw us standing together as sentinels behind rods that pointed skywards like weapons of the gods while the sea shifted the shingle soporifically in front of us. 

And sometimes the cod came. 

We loved those days, to take a couple of codling home as trophies of our diligence passing them over to our mothers for approval and praise - but not cooking. Nope, that was our job, rough filleted and coated in bread crumbs before being shallow fried in a pan - nothing fancy in the 70's and 80's. Or large whiting, butterfly filleted and shallow fried again in a coating of flour. Remember, we used butter for frying back then, and served with mash and peas, or chips and peas - or just peas.  

We had a shrimping net then too. All of us, everyone I knew, had a shrimping net of varying efficacy and repair. We would wait for low tide and cycle to the rockier end of the sea front and after a long sweep of the shallow water avoiding rocks, metal bars and broken groyne pieces we would disgorge the contents of our nets into buckets of sea water which we would then transport on the handlebars of our bikes back home. 

One sunny Saturday morning, my brother and I arrived back home with our pails of shaken shrimps and set up the large pan of water on my Mother's pristine cooker hob in her sparkling, sun filled kitchen. 

That's another thing, by the way - in all my memories, my Mam's kitchen is sunny. Always. I can't actually think of it as dark or dull - is that nostalgia? It surely can't be reality, I first heard Bohemian Rhapsody in that kitchen;  Shine On You Crazy Diamond; Houses Of The Holy. I did homework there, hid swede under mashed potatoes and First read Tolkien over lonely, after work dinners - but it was always sunny. I asked my brother how he saw the kitchen in his mind and the word he used was 'dull'! Odd isn't it?

Anyway, the large pan was on the gas hob and my brother - then in his early teens - quickly ladled all the shrimps into it. 

They immediately and with great energy jumped back out again - he had forgotten to turn on the gas, the water was cold and the shrimps didn't like the fresh water  - we were finding shrimps all over the kitchen for weeks. Neither Mam nor Dad were much impressed. 

We had so many good times right next to, above or on the sea. We had bad days too - severe cold which threatened our health, wet days when the rain was relentless and days when the fish were any where else but where we were. 

But the good times remain; the 10 pound cod caught in a sprat glut; the days of mackerel by the dozen caught under high mackerel clouds of summer skies; the smell of the lightly frying dabs cooked in seasoned butter and the slices of buttered bread that accompanied all our meals. 

The unwieldy, one piece 15 foot fibre glass rods that we had to keep in stairwells, the hours spent crook backed over our reels taking then apart and putting them back again to gain an extra yard or two on a cast.  Backs broken from digging lugworm from the claggy, sticky, sucking mud of Pegwell Bay and the hours spent trying to keep them alive and fresh before our trips.

Would we change anything? No, of course not. Even the gloomy trudge home in soaking wet clothes after long, fishless hours under rain sparkled street lamps resonate with a euphoric feeling of times well had, friendships endorsed and manhood attained. Change it? Never, wish for it all over again - oh yes.

Monday, 28 July 2014


Beautifully made. 

Fishing isn't just about catching fish you know.

Oh, no - it's about many, many other things - including everything looking just right. I mean, you can have your trophy shots - and most of us have - but for many of us things have to look - well, perfect.  

My two favourite quarries are trout in the summer months and pike through the winter - though with a new job I'm afraid I've not been doing much of either lately. 

Trout fishing for me is all about naturalness. While my friend Harry hurls his fluorescent blobs of sparkling man made fibres whistling perilously close to my ears accompanied by gun like cracks as the line whips through the air and turning the water all about to foam  I much prefer the studied, protracted business of carefully inching well made flies through the meniscus. My creations are crafted from, fur and feather and come complete with eyes, elbows and arseholes as another friend, Kim once commented. 

Harry usually catches more than me. 

But, see, that's not the point, my fish mean more, they are caught aesthetically - with finesse and feeling, my fish have been duped by close copies of their usual food items, not angered into snatching at an invasive fluro green monstrosity that looks like nothing they've ever seen before. 

I don't suppose the fish care much though - they've still been caught. 

When pike fishing I love to use floats where I can, not just because they offer the best indication of interest but also because they just look so good. There's nothing quite as exciting when fishing to see the first movement of the float because you just know that something is down there! However, when the float is homemade with love, attention and time it just seems to make a difference. I don't know why - it just does. 

Cane! Now that's a whole other subject!

I came across the floats in the top picture at a clients house. She makes flies and floats and the ones here - which she very kindly gave me - are made out of natural materials; there's a quails egg, Kent cob nut, crows quill and pieces of natural wood, varnished over and over again before being carefully painted and then varnished some more. What a gift - made with patience and care and given with kindness. 

And I'd much rather look at a float than sit behind a bank full of matching rods with baits flung to the horizon in full ambush mode. It's interesting, it's exciting and there's always something to see. If you're waiting for alarms to go off - and there is definitely a place for alarms and gadgets - it's too easy to miss...well everything. If alarms are set then you can do other stuff; reading, watching TV (yes, really...), make up rigs and sleep. If you're watching a float you can't do any of that - you have to look, and when you look, well then you see. Bubbles around the float, signs of activity, signs of life - signs of's interesting! Using a float in all forms of fishing seems to keep the anticipation vital, real and ever present. Fishing with a float also keeps you active - and that's usually a good thing. 

Though I have to say when I recently fished the Kennet I appeared to have forgotten how to long trot - out of practise I suppose. But if you've ever seen an expert with a float - my friend Crump and his centre pin instantly spring to mind - it's a joy to watch.  But I caught my mid double pike on the day by leap frogging with two rods and watching the floats and the morning just flew by. And because I watched the floats I saw the activity which presaged the take. I saw the fry leaping away from the marauding pike; I saw the water move, bulge as the fish below shifted its own space about it. I saw the float bob, dip and dance; and I knew exactly when to strike, when to lean into the fish as it turned the bait and moved off because I knew exactly what was happening.

A home-made float seems to make the catch more...well, valuable.
Aesthetically, floats are wonderfully pleasing, but they're also effective too. So too are my flies when trout fishing. Hairs ear, rabbit fur, pheasant tail, peacock hurl, duck feather, partridge, squirrel tail and deer fur - all have their place in fly tying. Using these natural - ingredients, if you like - not only pleases me but also interests the fish. Those little bits of barely seen fur, feather and hide make realistic and effective baits, lures and attractors. I do know that fluorescent colours have their place, but I do love catching fish with natural materials where I can. Sometimes it takes more perseverance - much more sometimes - but if catching fish isn't the only aim, the only goal, try using realistic flies, try using floats and try lure fishing for pike with baits that react naturally (a whole other subject in itself) and see if it adds to your satisfaction. It might, and you might see and feel a whole lot more too.

A small, beautiful fish - but that's a home-made fly, that is..

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Sixty Years

Still snogging after 60 years...?

My Mam and Dad recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and we managed to persuade Her Majesty to send them an Anniversary Card. Well, we went online anyway. 

It was a nice surprise for my Mam, but I think my Dad - nobody's fool even in his eighties - knew all about it since I asked for a copy of their wedding certificate in order to validate my request. I don't think he even considered that I might have been authenticating my legitimacy.

Their anniversary has made me think a lot about the period for which they have been married - sixty years is a long time and there are so many things that are different now, so many changes have taken place over that half century plus, things that we now take for granted still cause surprises and joy for my parents. iPads, Recording TV programs, £8 a gallon petrol, mobile phones and stair lifts to name a few...

There were no TVs when my parents got married, you read a paper or listened to the Home Service (Mam and Dad were both in the Armed Services) for news. You HAD to go to the cinema to watch a movie  - but that was ok and owning a car was a rarity - certainly families never had two or three. 

Great Grandchildren....

Was life simpler then...? Well perhaps, but there were hardly any human rights, life was cheaper, shorter and with far less leisure time or activities to fill it. People read more, chatted more, walked more and ate less. 

As kids we were allowed to play outside all day, my first wrist watch was bought so that I would know when to go home for tea, and I did what I was told to do or I was punished. At school we were caned or slippered for serious crimes like smoking or skiving - none of that these days of course, the punishment, I mean - school children are still recalcitrant. Later, in the sixties, we got our first TV at home - black and white naturally - and German! I grew up watching the Banana Bunch and The Monkees dubbed into German and the actors' real voices were never heard due to the dubbing. It's still a little odd hearing Micky Dolenz actually talking in English. Man In a Suitcase, Fireball XL5 and The Prisoner - all in German and in someone else's voice! I never knew for years that they all sounded completely different in real life - I assumed that each actor/singer/cartoon character did their own dubbing!

Sixty years later my parents have a much more relaxed attitude to life and to their leisure time - I think life has been good to them generally, and, let's face it, they've been married for more years than I've been alive, so they've been through all the things that could have separated them - barring one - and have come out the other side, still together and still very much in love. I wish them both so much more than I can give them - my Father is still my hero, my Mother still my confidant and as gorgeous to me now as I ever thought her when I was a kid, and I am very aware that at 56 years old I am lucky to have both my parents to talk to and share things with. It's a privilege that I think about every day.

So, if you do read this and one or both of your parents are still with you, try and be as thankful as they undoubtedly are - it's a blessing we can only regret and never rectify once it's too late.