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.