Thursday, 28 February 2008

The Pleasures Of...February

( aka what dipped our floats this month)

Feist "Love You Inside Out" (Sumo Refix version)
"The English Year" by Steve Roud
The Damned United
Lake Windermere
Hard Candy
Ella Fitzgerald sings Duke Ellington
Clydie King
Julie London
June Christy
"Blind - Frankie Knuckles remix" Hercules and Love Affair
Rivers Mole, Thames, Culm
Michael Crick "Jeffrey Archer - Stranger Than Fiction"
Method Man "Bring The Pain" Chemical Brothers remix
Mark Hodkinson "Believe In The Sign"
Damages on tv
Caribou "Andorra"
Gilda on DVD
"A Sense Of Wonder"
Between The Woods and the Water
Curb Your Enthusiasm series 6
Band Of Horses "Cease To Begin"
Underworld "Faxed Invitation"
Tom Hodgkinson's "How To Be Idle" & "How To Be Free"
3 afternoons with the Welsh rugby team
Arctic Monkeys on the Brits
Goldfrapp "The Seventh Tree"

Van Gogh Fields

Behind me the fields of grass swayed nosily in the breeze.

Perhaps ‘swayed’ doesn’t do this vision justice. Neither, for that matter, does ‘field of grass’.

Let us start this vision again in order to gain a better sense of clarity. After all, there are many depictions of fields within literature which I am competing against.


The field was an emerald tin foil ocean shimmering beneath a strobe light sun.

Incandescent with light and life the field was a symphony of whispers in my ear; each blade of grass, each stalk of green corn was a violin string and the dormant breeze was their conductor jerkily orchestrating them into one complete work that held the secrets of the landscape. Each sound was an instrument, the pond and environs an opulent concert hall for the imagination.

The birds, for example, provided the melodies, each species harmonising with the next. Each sparrow then was a trumpet, four passing crows became saxophones and a wide variety of tits, gulls, widgeons and the like spanned the remaining orchestral gamut from woodwind to brass to string. Violins, violas, double basses, French horns, tubas, oboes, bassoons, contrabassoons – the entire ensemble represented.

A distant woodpecker provided intermittent percussion, as did the occasional satisfying sound of a fishing reel being quickly and mechanically operating, clicking like a man-made mating call.

Planes overhead, the throat-clearing cough of an angler on the distant bank, the splash of a trout leaping and pirouetting, the click of branch on branch, the quiet sigh of a cloud basking in the afternoon warmth; each became an instrument, a small piece of the aural tapestry.

The symphony grew with the breeze until the droll baritone clang of a flat-bed truck a mile or so away across the fields became the timpani’s finite knell as the conductor concluded with a frenzy of gestures so violent that a lock of hair loosened itself from his well-gelled comb-over and the fields of grass swayed in the breeze as noisy as an unsold Van Gogh painting in the ear of its tormented lovesick creator, as violent and vibrant as the visions that gingerly flooded his eyes with unfulfilled promises.


Taken from a work-in-progress by Ben Myers. Ben’s second novel The Missing Kidney is published Spring 2008 by Social Disease.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Cake By The River.

Cake plays a very important part in fishing. It's pretty much guaranteed that, after the ritual recitation - "I reckon it's gonna be a good day today" - has been made and agreed with by all, that the next words my pals say are "has Wendy made a cake?".
When fishing with friends, stopping for tea to talk about the ones that got away is a lovely bankside tradition and a cake is the perfect accompaniment. It can be for celebratiion or it can be for comfort. The Marmalade cake, below, has been my source of solace over the last couple of months.

As you know, at Caught By The River we don't believe you should keep the good things all to yourself (ok, Mr Yates, you've earned the secret river), so In the spirit of "pass it on...", Wendy, our resident Queen of Cakes, has agreed to do a regular column and make the world a better place.

Marmalade Cake

Seville oranges are in season for a short time from December to February and are great for making marmalade. They are now grown throughout the Mediterranean region and many are exported to Britain. They have a thick, rough skin and bitter taste and so are not used as eating oranges. However, they have a higher level of pectin than sweet oranges which makes them great for making marmalade as it helps it to set.

Marmalade has been made since the 16th century, originally with quinces - the name derives from the portugese word marmilo (which means quince).

However, the first marmalade factory is believed to have been built by a Scottish family in 1797. The story goes that at the end of the 18th century, James Keiller, a grocer from Dundee, heard about a shipment of Seville oranges on a Spanish ship which was taking refuge from a North Sea storm in the Tay Estuary.

Due to being delayed by the weather, the oranges were past their best and so the grocer was able to strike a bargain. He wasn’t able to sell them in his shop as they were far from fresh and tart in flavour, so he gave them to his wife Janet. She experimented with the sour and bitter oranges, added sugar to help preserve them and made marmalade.

One version of the story suggests a different origin of the name. Janet’s son is said to have been carrying the fruit up from the beach, with his Scottish mother yelling at him -
‘’Mair, ma lad!’’

Making marmalade doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to make it on an industrial scale. For each Seville orange that you use, you get about a jar of preserve, so you can make as much or as little as you like. You just need to use double the weight of sugar to fruit and also the juice of a lemon for each kilo of fruit (about five or six oranges).

Cover the oranges in water and boil for two hours. Let them cool in the pan and then, (saving the orange water) halve them and scrape out the pulp and pips. Separate the pips, return to the water and boil for 15 mins to extract the pectin. Drain, discard the pips and keep the liquid. Meanwhile, shred the orange peel and then return to the water in the pan with the pulp, lemon juice and finally the sugar.

Slowly bring to the boil and cook for about 25 mins until set. To test for this put a spoonful on a cold plate and when it’s cool, prod it. If it wrinkles then it’s ready.
Let the marmalade rest for 15 mins before putting in jars, and wait for it to fully cool before putting the lids on.

100g butter
50g caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
3 eggs (beaten)
zest and juice of an orange
100g marmalade
75g self raising flour
75g ground almonds
1 tbsp milk
50g icing sugar

Cream the butter and sugar and then gradually add the eggs. If they begin to curdle stir in a spoonful of flour. Add the marmalade and orange zest and then the flour and ground almonds. If needed, add a tablespoon of milk.
Pour the batter into a greased loaf tin and bake at 170c for 30 mins. Cover with foil and bake for a further 10 mins. Leave to cool in the tin.
When cool, mix 50g of icing sugar with a tablespoon of orange juice and drizzle over the top.


reetha again

Maybe not the best quality, but the moment when a chainsmoking tom dowd joins in, clappin and singing is pretty good...

Andres Lokko

Thursday, 21 February 2008


Attack of the killer fish?

It sounds incredible.

Apparently a savage fish more terrifying than a piranha is invading the UK. It can even "kill people". Sorry, I mistyped that quote, it should be "KILL people".

The story that's got The Sun newspaper and a few other tabloids in a feeding frenzy is a report that a fish called a giant snakehead has been caught in the River Witham in Lincolnshire.

An angler caught the fish last week and sent a photo to a fishing magazine called the Angler's Mail, which forwarded it to the UK's Environment Agency. There, an agency spokesman told me, fisheries expert Nigel Hewlett tentatively identified it as a giant snakehead, Channa micropeltes, originally from east Asia.

Now, the giant snakehead is a voracious eater of other fish and has a set of very sharp teeth. It can also grow to over a metre long and weigh over 20 kilograms. But can it really kill you? At first I assumed too many people had watched Swarm of the Snakehead while taking non-approved pharmaceuticals.

The Environment Agency spokesman also dismissed the claims that it was a man-eater, suggesting the snakehead is no more dangerous than the UK's native pike. And at first I believed him.

After all, it's hard to believe The Sun's story when the photo they used is not of the fish caught in Lincolnshire nor even a giant snakehead. In fact, it is an archive shot of a northern snakehead, Channa argus, as is another photo used in a couple of other newspapers.

Yet to my amazement, there really are reports of deaths attributable to the giant snakehead, as outlined in this description of the species.

"It will attack people," the author of that description, zoologist Walter Courtenay of the US Geological Survey, in Gainesville, Florida, told me. "And there have been reports of deaths, of children being dragged under."

According to Courtenay, parents make nests in which they lay their eggs and raise their fry, and any animal perceived as a threat is attacked ferociously. He thinks the giant snakehead is more dangerous than the piranha.

Courtenay was sent photos of the fish caught in Lincolnshire by Ben Weir of the Angler's Mail, and he says it is definitely Channa micropeltes.

So should we be afraid? Er, no.

The giant snakehead is a tropical species and there is no way it could survive winters in the UK, says Courtenay. The fish found in Lincolnshire was probably released recently after it outgrew someone's aquarium, and it died soon after being caught.

So there you have it. Personally, I'm still not entirely sure I believe these reports of people being killed. Fishermen are notorious for their tall tales. Courtenay has given me details of a local expert in Thailand who apparently knows details of attacks, so I'm going to wait to hear what he tells me before making up my mind.

After all, both scientists and the media seem eager to demonise snakeheads, as happened when northern snakeheads were discovered in the US in 2002, with one state biologist describing it as "the baddest bunny in the bush". Sure, the northern snakehead is a problematic invasive species that can alter ecosystems, but claims that it wipes out all other fish are just not true.

Update: Those of a sensitive disposition look away now. Ben Weir of the Angler's Mail has kindly sent us the picture, taken on a mobile phone, of the terrifying "killer fish" caught by angler Andy Alder.

Michael Le Page, biology features editor, New Scientist
(what does he mean, fishermen are renowned for tall tales?)

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Another Place

I spent the weekend on an ale trail round the British Isles as part of a book project I'm working on. Managed to fit in just the one piece of culture, but what a piece - Antony Gormley's "Another Place" installation at Crosby Beach just near Liverpool. Fog had come down over night, but by the time I got to the beach it was burning off, creating the most beautiful hazy Sunday - the perfect backdrop for Gormley's other worldly art works. The body casts are now set onto the beach permanently, interacting with the tides, with sealife, with fishermen and with surfers. Sadly the ones we had in London last year, ominously looming over the Southbank, got removed when Gormely's exhibition at the Hayward finished. Damn shame.


Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Local Heroes

Interesting piece in today's Guardian about food and local distinctiveness. If it sparks anything with you, it's well worth checking out the brilliant book "The Taste Of Britain", which is kind of like a gastronomic "England In Particular". Still haven't actually plucked up the courage to cook up a dinner of Bath Chaps though...


Local Heroes

Letters From Arcadia

  • click here for the latest LETTER FROM ARCADIA, a regular correspondence between angling's two most original contemporary writers...
  • Monday, 11 February 2008

    Fishing With Jakub

    It seems the only way I get to see a fish on the bank these days is by going out with Jak. Last week we grabbed a day and headed over to Oxfordshire to fish a big old estate lake. Not at a bite for Steve or myself but Jak took a 9lb Pike on a spinner in the morning and a 10lb Mirror Carp to a boilie at dusk.
    Then, on Sunday, when the weather was really weird - sunblock on Feb 10th - Jak took me over to Cobham to fish the Mole. It was beautiful. I hadn't seen it before. We parked up by the mill with plans to fish the weirpool but we were too late. All three swims were taken. Looked really good too. So, off we walked across a frosty meadow, following the river along the wrong side of a barbed wire fence until we came to a place where we could get over it and into a wood. It was magical. The garlic was up and as we broke the leaves underfoot the smell was amazing. We had walked into spring. Over snowdrops and quietly to the bank. There were two dream swims and within minutes I had a John Richardson quill trotting downstream. I was going to get a bite. I was going to catch a Chub. I was convinced that the float was going to bury just as it reached the bend and held back below the willow....... but, nope, not a thing. So, we walked and walked and came to here and we had to sit a while and just take it in. A million miles from the Uxbridge Road

    no traffic, no people, no sound but birdsong. No fish either. Didn't care. Getting used to it anyway.

    We made it back to the weirpool just before dusk and the swims were free. Jak spotted a fish roll about twenty feet out, right beside a really horrible snag. A Barbel he said, a big one. Four red maggots on the hook, dropped right on the spot. Feed a few more and wait. It will come. And it did. A great big beautiful Barbel weighing in at 13lb. Jak's the man with the mojo right now.

    Me, I'm searching for the spirit of Brendan Behan. One day...


    top two pics by Jak

    Thursday, 7 February 2008

    CAMRA Community Pubs Week

    Saturday 16th to Saturday 23rd February 2008

    “It's a frightening reality that at least 56 pubs are closing in Britain each month and early indications of new research being carried out by CAMRA suggest that this figure could actually be significantly higher. Worse still, the majority of these pubs are not high street chain bars or theme pubs, but community pubs, recognised by most people these days, as important community amenities. The local pub, after all, is often the heart of the community.” CAMRA, Feb 2008

    When I was growing up, I was always a little in awe of the pub. It was somewhere that my dad went to spend quality time with his friends, like some kind of adults only clubhouse. It was also somewhere that my grandmother demonized. One Sunday, when my dad didn’t bother showing up for lunch (again), she marched up the road and rapped on the window of the boozer screaming for him to get his arse out and back home. He was back up there as soon as it was acceptable to be excused from the table. From that early age, I was intrigued – obsessed even – with what went on behind closed doors. Even as a pre-teen, I felt a kind of magnetic draw to that darkened smoky room, I wanted to know what I was missing out on. Some people I knew at school wanted to be doctors, but I’ve got to say there was nothing in the waiting room or operating theatre that got me that excited about ever going back there – quite the opposite really. I think I just wanted to be a full time dreamer by any means necessary. The pub, to me, seemed like the kind of place that people could go to and daydream.

    As an adult, I’ve been pretty lucky - my job has always meant that I could use the pub as somewhere to scheme. For every meeting in a boardroom or someone’s flat-pack office, to this day I still find that so much more ends up getting done in the hour or two you spend in the pub afterwards. More often than not, you’re sat in an atmosphere that’s convivial to plotting, to conspiring. To dreaming up ideas of how to make things work. At Heavenly where I work, back in the mid ‘90s, The Ship on Wardour Street was our surrogate office. Back then, in the days before mobile phones, you could confidently ring the pub and know you’d find half the office in there, getting things sorted. As much as it must have seemed like a bunch of people getting pissed all day (and there was enough of that going on), stuff just got done. Bands were formed, bands were signed, clubs were dreamt up, magazines were born. New lives and past lives were toasted. The pub was like another office, like our second home and our community centre rolled into one. Nothing less really.

    Things have changed radically in the last ten years. As mobile culture has grown, oddly it’s made the office invade every space we use. The pub is now less the place for meetings as everyone always has to move on, to get things done, to achieve. As we’re baring witness to unpredictable changes in the music industry, we’re also witnessing a distressing turn of events in pub world. Now no longer acting as community centres for anyone in particular, we end up with the depressing statistic of nearly 700 pubs closing in the UK every year. These don’t tend to be the high street super-pubs, the Wetherspoons and the Yates, they’re usually the local boozer, forced out by competition or rising rents. For every village pub that shuts down, there’s a pub like The Intrepid Fox that gets squeezed out by landlords – 20 years of packed houses in the centre of Soho then the live-in manager gets told to sling his hook with just one months notice. A unique boozer that was obviously seen as part of an undesirable sub culture, it was forced out of the West End as part of some kind of demented clean up plan (happily, the Fox found themselves a thriving new site underneath Centrepoint). It’ll come as no surprise to anyone to say that the original site is still boarded up, lying empty 2 years after its sudden takeover by property developers. The proposed flats have yet to emerge and the building, which has been used a pub on that site since 1784, just sits there empty and rotting.

    As a pub going nation, we’re in danger of losing a vital part of our culture. People talk about the creeping homogenization of the high street, of Starbucks and McDonalds taking over, but no one really talks about the slow, silent death of the local pub. You can rattle off reasons why (the smoking ban, more people are drinking cheaper booze at home, the threat of an on-coming recession) but they don’t really help the fact that a vital part of what makes Britain unique is being allowed to die out.

    Thankfully, while all this has been going on, the good people at the Campaign For Real Ale haven’t just been badgering bar staff to fill their pint glass to the rim (though that is a pretty damn good point to be pressuring for). Over the last few years, they have been trying to raise awareness about the huge amount of pub closures taking place all across the country. Their Community Pub Week this month aims to help endangered boozers by helping to raise their profile, helping make people aware of the fact that their local might be struggling to survive. Their aim is to promote “all community pubs – not just village locals, but urban gems too.” In an age where everyone is becoming more and more aware of the dangers of globalization, it’s heartening to think there is a pressure group concerned only with the extremely worthy heritage that the UK has in its brewing and its public houses. Because God knows, I seriously doubt the government are going to lend a hand anytime soon.

  • camra

  • Robin Turner

    Wednesday, 6 February 2008

    Letters From Arcadia

  • click here for the latest LETTER FROM ARCADIA, a regular correspondence between angling's two most original contemporary writers...
  • The Tao Of Teifi

    Water flows.
    It has to or else it stagnates into a pond.
    Conversation flows too.
    It’s a form of liquid, in that it lubricates our mouths and our heads and occasionally our hearts.
    Due to the maths of time versus weather verses light verses tasks, this journey upriver was not exactly one big chat with the locals.
    Still, it delivered.
    Thank you to everyone within a stone’s skim of the riverbank for all your wit, wisdom and wonder.

    “Wait till the sun comes out, then you can get these blessed spiders.”
    Mary, sweeps away the cobwebs over the entrance to Chapel Brondeifi at Lampeter

    “How long to Teifi Pools? On a bike? An hour or two. 20 minutes to get back”
    The silver-tongued, silver-haired boss at the Talbot Hotel, Tregaron.

    “Granny cog’ll get you there nicely”
    Old couple in Allegro, on descent from Teifi Pools.

    At the summit, after my swim, I meet 2 Dutch bikers on a Honda Goldwing
    “How many cc?” I ask
    “1100” they say “and yours?”
    “1150” I reply.
    They laugh and take my picture.

    On discussing the hard economics of farming in the pub.
    “We farm 200 ewes for lambing on the banks above the village”
    “Oh right. Makes you a living?”
    “Did do until them Irish took over the slaughterhouse. Be lucky now if we £25.”
    “And a leg of lamb is what now…£15?”
    “At least. Bloody supermarkets.”

    Peter Kirby

    Monday, 4 February 2008

    Letters From Arcadia

  • click here for the latest LETTER FROM ARCADIA, a regular correspondence between angling's two most original contemporary writers...
  • The Horse That Stood And Listened

    Just shy of Tregaron, about 63 miles upriver, there’s a field.
    As fields go, it’s very skinny, more a slither of meadow really.
    This meadowette flanks the river and floods when the rain factories put a big order in.

    On dry days, it’s marshalled and mown by a horse, a dappled brown and white creature with a mane dreadlocked by the wind.
    This day, she just stood there.

    Now, we have no hard evidence, but I’d say she was listening to the river.
    She seemed to be soaking up every lap.
    Just like a tree absorbs rain.

    After a while, she stopped and turned towards me.
    Over a gate we shared a chunk of choc.

    A while later, I too sat and listened to the river.
    It’s quite a sound, quite a conversation.
    No idea what we talked about, but next time you pass running water, eavesdrop.

    Peter Kirby

    Saturday, 2 February 2008

    THE TOUR DE TEIFI - field notes

    Peter Kirby's journey, taking the path of most resistance, continues;

    Friday 21-9-07

    Wake in London. Make porridge for Bess & Kate. Kiss and scarper. Cycle to Gabriel’s Wharf, Southbank. Fill bike bottle with River Thames water. Train to Camarthen. Ride towards Cardigan up along Afon (river) Duad as test run for tomorrow. Mist turns to monsoon. Road is a bitch. Truckers cut me up. Stop. Thumb 3 white vans. None stop. Get back on and veer off to Hermon. Evil climb up to 283m. Back tyre loses bite every time I get out of saddle. Wind farms are rampant. 90% brake descent into Newcastle Emlyn for Star Bar & Lucozade reboot. Greet the Teifi with a nod. Glide down river to Gwbert. Hang sodden kit on towel rail. Red sky bodes well for climb. 3 course feast, then recce beach in dark for swim. Empty Thames water into mouth of Teifi. Write sea sonnet under glare of moon.

    Saturday 22-9-07
    Fidget sleep. Dream of punctures. Weather dry, but grey. 07.50 swim in sea. Water warm-ish. Fill bike bottle with mouth of Teifi water. Find driftwood in shape of river. Fry up, herb tea. 75.4m to go. Make deal with handlebars: always take road closest to river. Big detour to Cilgerran. Pooh sticks debut – this will be a theme. ‘Beryl & Joan Thomas’ etched into stone bridge. Shout “Morning Teifi!” many times. Rain cranks up. Ask firemen best way to Lampeter, 3 different answers. Let them squabble. Study map. Find friendly contours. Route is not shortest or prettiest, but is the one the bike takes like a horse to water. Hug river high up along A484. Think: rivers are veins, capillaries, arteries. Rain eases up around Llandysul – best-kept small town 1990. Carved pelican watches over kayak poles. Geraniums in red canoe. Take D road past feral geese. Deep South couple give directions – she smiles, he sneers. Pass 3 stone pigs, ask farmer for photo. Sign in porch at Maesycrugiau – NO WATER PLANT, YIPPEE! Second sign reads: NO LORRIES. NO BOTTLES. NO FACTORIES. EVER!! Llanbydder, sugar stop at Spar. Dead red kite in road, grieved by spouse kite above me. Two more hover over lamb abattoir. Pedals squeak on hills. Cadge WD40 from motor spares man. Chapel Brondeifi, chat with Mary, janitor. Blissful serenade with river for 5 miles to Llanfair. Cute shop crammed with Ecover. Buy bananas, galaxy, water. Kids crash on bikes - no tears, just swearing in Welsh. Squirrel mourns dead lover. Dead fox. Dead hedgehog. B4343 - wildlife needs an underpass here. Share galaxy with horse on Riverhood Watch. Single bovine family by riverbank - Bullocks 4 Justice perhaps? Off-load weight at Talbot Hotel, push on 2 stone lighter. Cors Caron simmers a dead red – Kenya in a sulk. Sweating heavily, but no smell, such is genius of merino. Aptly, sheep spur me on with bleats of chutzpah. Pass school of mural magic. Find McDonalds litter thrown out of car. Junk food, junk brain. Collect on way down and bin. Teifi Pools – right, and up, up, up. Hills really hurt now. Finally, at 1500 ft, sun beats cloud in arm wrestle. Fuck, it’s beautiful up here. Stash inscribed driftwood from beach behind stone slab, manned by curling black slug. Write summit sonnet. Empty salt water into source. Collate lake water in bike bottle for Thames deposit tomorrow. Strip to trunks and swim.

    Sunday 23-9-07
    Fry up. Cloud to mizzle to sheet rain. Arrive Carmarthen drenched, in 3 hours. Oh, the joy of downhill. Replacement bus burns out on motorway. Wonder why engines fail and bikes don’t. Hit London as Freewheel car-free day ends – nice feeling. Coast down The Mall. Empty Teifi Pools water in Thames. A Holy Water Trinity.

    Friday, 1 February 2008

    The Path of Most Resistance - continued . . .

    On September 22nd 2007, one man and his bike took the 75.4m path of most resistance from sea to summit at Teifi Pools, one mile above sea level.

    What follows, over the next few days, is the high, low and twilight of Peter Kirby's journey.

    Ingredients of a river

    • Tidal river, sand flats, lagoons, mud flats 20%

    • Inland water bodies 55.9%

    • Bogs, marshes, ferns 8.9%

    • Heath, scrub, maquis, garigue 2.7%

    • Broad-leaved deciduous woodland 10.6%

    • Inland rocks, scree, sands, snow and ice 1.1%

    • Other land 0.8%

    Ingredients of a cyclist

    • Blood, flesh, bones, tissue, water, nerves 61.8%

    • Carbon, steel, plastic, paint 9.7%

    • Rubber, pressurised air 1.2%

    • Mud, silt, manure, sweat, defiance, joy 25.5%

    • Leather 0.7%

    • Merino 1.1%

    • Land trace