Saturday, 31 May 2008

Notes From Walnut Tree Farm

"For the last six years of his life, Roger Deakin kept notebooks in which he wrote his daily thoughts, impressions, feelings and observations. Discursive, personal and often impassioned, they reveal the way he saw the world. This book collects the best of these writings, capturing Roger's restless curiosity about the natural and human worlds."

Amazing what you find when you're surfing the net, putting all those things you're meant to be doing off for another hour or two. Due to be published in October this year, "Notes From Walnut Tree Farm" is a posthumous collection of previously unpublished writings from the patron saint of Caught By The River, Roger Deakin.

We're already planning the next skive off work to read it... (RT)

Friday, 30 May 2008

Pleasures Of...


The Shield season 6 on DVD
the Santogold LP
Paul Weller "22 Dreams"
John Head "Crocodiles"
Big Tench
Nuisance Carp
George Plember
350 Miles (An Essex Journey)
Electribe 101 "Talking With Myself" (Knuckles mix)
Cherry Ghost getting an Ivor
Bill Drummond and Chris Watson saying yes
Rocket Science
any song by The Honeys
"Eels with Strings Live At Town Hall"
Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 4
Seth Morgan 'Homeboy'
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss at Wembley Arena
David Kynaston "A World To Build (Austerity Britain 1945 - 48)"
Otter Bright on handpump at The Dog & Duck
opening night at Quo Vadis
Youth Group "Two Sides"
George Orwell "Shooting An Elephant" and other essays
Porno For Pyros "Pets"

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The Pleasures Of......May

By Robert Macfarlane;

"Well now, what have been the multiple pleasures of May? May for me is the month of outdoor swimming: the first time in each year when it's warm enough to swim rather than just to plunge in, screech, and haul out. The month when the lidos open in Cambridge (on Jesus Green and in Emmanuel College). So I spent a weekend in Norfolk, swimming salt (on Holkham Beach, with a wintry bite still to the water, and my two-year-old son hanging round my neck like a sea-monkey) and swimming fresh (a pool in the River Stiffkey under an old hump-backed bridge, just deep enough that I could swim breaststroke and not brush the bottom, and the current just strong enough that I could swim against it and stay in exactly the same place. When I found it, the pool was guarded by a swan, who only ceded it to me, with a hiss, after I asked him six times if he'd mind me swimming
I've also planned a 2-mile river swim from Grantchester to Cambridge, down the River Cam, for a couple of weeks' time. There'll be swimmers from all over the country, and other people manning the support craft (aka punts and kayaks filled with warm clothes and whisky-filled hipflasks). We'll be swimming through the stretch that Virginia Woolf said smelt of 'mint and mud'. Hoping for a hot day, and that the pike of The Cam don't mistake me for a bream.

And I've read Wild Swim, by Kate Rew and Dominick Tyler, which is kind of a gazetteer to some of the best outdoor swims in Britain, but also a passport of a kind into the magical world of wild swimming. I'm biased, I guess, because I wrote the introduction to the book. But then I wrote the introduction because I really liked the book.

Finally, terrestrially, I had an Andy-Goldsworthy-inspired reverie in which I spent an hour or two trying to work out if it would be possible to organise a thirty of my students to pick five or six thousand of the tens of thousands of daisies that have flowered on a vast lawn near my office, and then line all the blossoms up into a sine-wavey curve that would run the length of the lawn. That's how hard academics have to work at this time of year."

Robert Macfarlane has a good attitude. He is a true adventurer and a great writer. We highly reccomend his books, "Mountains
Of The Mind
" and "The Wild Places" (out now in hardback, paperback in July) and thank him massively for this contribution.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Lost Lake Found


Heaven knows where to start about the weekend I've just had, but I suppose the start's a pretty good place.

It was the place I first learnt to fish back in the late 70's, a hidden little pond, formerly a victorian glass dump in the middle of the marsh sandwiched between the Linconshire coast and the Wolds a few miles inland, just off a B road in the middle of nowhere.

My memories of the place are still some of my fondest; keep nets full of roach, perch and the occasional decent bream, fishing sound-tracked by Eric Riddell's steam fairground organ (Eric, a friend of my old mans, ran a steam museum a few hundred yards up the road), the chorus of wood pigeons, coots & moorhens and the utter wildness of the place. With hindsight I was spoilt. I spent most summer weekends at this place between 79-83 yet, even on the most balmy of days, we were rarely troubled by fellow anglers.

I often fished with my older next door neighbour, David 'Didds' Lycett, a rather rotund lad with a penchant for oxford bags, Brutus shirts & polyveldt shoes yet, even at 13, he had an amazing knowledge and aptitude for catching fish. He was was with me when I caught my first pike from an old drain in Ingoldmells, he helped me land my first carp from a pit just outside Addlethorpe & he taught me how to tempt wary roach from tiny cuts using light pole tackle. We spent days at this place catching and learning to love all angling had to offer.

In 1983 my folks moved about 30 miles inland and I lost touch with the place, instead my fishing came courtesy of the rivers & drains around Lincoln, yet as I drifted in and out of angling over the next 20 years I still often remembered this place I loved and learnt to fish. Often I would drift back recalling the catches, but mostly it would simply be a case of remembering the happy times I spent there with my old man and Didds.

In the past twenty years I'd made the odd intentional detour on days out to the coast to look at the place. After I left in '83 I'd heard rumours it had been bought up by an angling club, but by the early 90's the former entrance was blocked by the planting of a line of conifers suggesting that whoever now owned the place had no intention of continuing to run it as a fishery.

Yet, despite the dreaming and feeling that someday I needed to return, it never happened, that is, until this weekend.

Circumstance & fate meant I was within 10 miles of the place, in a caravan with my folks and the kids, and so I decided, after all these years, to return.

I really didn't know what to expect. Ordnance Survey confirmed the place was still there, but beyond that my expectations were muted. To be honest, I'd have been happy to simply see the pond again.

And so I set out, full of nerves, both about what I'd find and simply getting in there. I made 4 passes in the car, worried about the couple of houses that sat on the opposite side of the road, before deciding to park a mile or so away the other end of bridleway.

Armed only with a rod and Barbour pockets stuffed with a reel, a pack of hooks, a couple of floats & weights and a tin of corn I darted in under the conifers to be faced with a wall off twisted ivy, willow and bramble. It really was a case of crawling on hands & knees passing the odd familiar old tree before I came out and was able to view the pond which was sat, still as ever, sporting a huge floating raft of tree blossom.

Ostensibly the place hadn't changed, yet having obviously being unmanaged for the past 20 years or so former swims and paths had been consumed by the gradual creep of willow, nettle & reeds. On first inspection the place, although the absolute picture of the 'lost lake', looked unfishable. Yet, the old path around the lake was still vaguely navigable and I found my way around to one corner, still shaded by a recognisible pair of incongruous Scots Pine trees, from which I was able to fish.

A couple of handfuls of corn later and I was fishing. I've never felt such joy; nostaligia, without doubt, yet I was overjoyed to find the place still alive with fish after all these, neglected, years.

Ater an hour or so of my grain of corn being plucked by a succession of tiddlers (I was cursing I hadn't come armed with a pint of maggots), the float slowly slid under in a manner indicating something a bit bigger. A strike and I knew it was somthing a bit more substantial. An obliging bream of around 2lbs was happy to be beached (I'd come light, without a landing net). A second came a few minutes later followed by a decent-ish roach.

I'm glad I caught yet it really didn't matter. I'd returned to fish my memories and was simply happy to find the place still there, full of fish and even more untouched than I'd left it. Somehow I now feel complete; I'd be happy now never to return, although no doubt I surely will. Maybe next time I'll try and find an easier way in.


Tuesday, 27 May 2008

ACA Bulletin

Two weeks into the ACA's 60th Anniversary Auction, the bids are now starting to roll in. Please take a moment to have a look at some of the wonderful lots and use the simple on-line form if you want to make a bid yourself. The more money we can raise the more we can do to fight those who harm our fishing. As in previous messages, we would be grateful if you let as many people as you can know about it -(auction)- even if they might bid higher than you!

Legal News
The insurers of a Powys farmer have agreed to pay compensation to two angling clubs for polluting a stretch of the River Camlad in June 2005. Despite a previous warning from the Environment Agency, slurry from Lynwood Farm near Churchstoke was released into the Caebitra Brook, itself an important spawning and nursery stream for trout, before making its way into the River Camlad. The pollution caused a fish kill of trout, grayling and bullheads, as well as wiping out invertebrate populations - a crucial source of food for the surviving fish. The civil case was brought against the farmer by the ACA on behalf of two angling clubs whose waters were affected, the Pheasant Tail Flyfishers and the Camlad Fly Fishers. According to the EA, it is likely that fish numbers in this once healthy river will take several years to recover. Despite this, the Agency failed to bring a criminal prosecution for the pollution.

Progress has also been made on the River Derwent in Derbyshire, where a mine- tailings lagoon containing waste contaminated with heavy metals burst in January 2007. An EA fisheries scientist produced a report soon after the event suggesting that action was needed to minimise the damage caused and that there should be proper investigation and monitoring of the heavy metals in the sediment deposited in the river. Despite this, the EA has carried out very few of the recommendations of its own report. The limited and flawed sampling that has taken place has forced the ACA to instruct its own expert on behalf of the member clubs affected. Initial results demonstrate that the levels of heavy metals in inverabrate samples - particularly lead - are high. We are awaiting the trial remediation work, which is probably going to take place in June - almost 18 months after the pollution.

Elsewhere, following pressure from the ACA and the Pickering Fishery Association, the EA has confirmed that funding has been secured to carry out a 12 month programme of continuous water quality monitoring to assess the impact of Costa and Willowdene fish farms and Pickering sewage treatment works on Costa Beck in North Yorkshire.

Finally on the legal front, representatives from the ACA, WWF and RSPB met this week to discuss the potential for using legal tools to press for proper implementation of the Water Framework Directive. Please watch this space....

Annual Report Misprint
The latest Annual Report should have arrived with members this week. We would, however, like to point out an error on the 'Your Membership' section on page 51, which states that there is a proxy voting form enclosed regarding a proposed amendment to the rules of the ACA. This paragraph was printed in error: there will be no proposed amendment to the rules at the AGM and any such changes will be proposed in the autumn when more detailed information about angling unity will be available. Our apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

Our work is only possible because of the support and generosity of our members. Thank you to all those who support us - please encourage all your friends to join up now!

With best wishes from everyone at the ACA

Monday, 26 May 2008

Letters From Arcadia

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

  • Lush Life

    Found out this morning that one of my favorite writers, Richard Price, has a new novel just out in the States.

    Reasons I love Richard Price; his books, "The Wanderers" - '50's teenage street life in The Bronx as soundtracked by Dion DiMucci. Made into a great film by Philip Kaufman. Plus, "Clockers", 80's NJ projects and the crack life, set to a ghetto soundtrack. Awesome book and a pretty good film by Spike Lee. Writing for 'The Wire'; a couple of killer episodes in series' three & four.

    I trawled the web for reviews of the book and the word is good. This write up, below, is taken from the Rocky Mountain News website and is written by Clayton Moore;

    (pic by Sara Krulwich)

    Richard Price and the Lush Life;

    The more things change, the more they stay the same - even in the evolving heart of Manhattan.

    That's just one of the lessons to be learned in Lush Life, Richard Price's caustic fable of murder, injustice and culture clashes in the urban jungles of the Lower East Side.

    Like the misanthropes who populate his novels, including his newest, Price remains just below the surface world. Not only is he responsible for celebrated screenwriting from The Color of Money to HBO's The Wire, he's had a very respectable career as a novelist, fictionalizing his Bronx adolescence in The Wanderers and crafting the crack opera Clockers into a modern crime classic. More recent novels Freedomland and Samaritan found him waxing poetic on racial tensions in America, using New Jersey as his microcosm.

    I interviewed the author not long ago and found Price even more fascinated with his new backdrop, a place he likens to an overabundant garden. "I don't want to sound like the United Nations, but this place is a riot of people," he said. "It's as close to Byzantium as you could ask for."

    Here's the pitch on the new novel: During a drunken evening on the town, three lads are confronted by a pair of brazen but unsteady assailants. Eric Cash, 35, is a glossy representative of the new inhabitants of a very old neighborhood. He brays to the world that he's a multihyphenate artistic sort but has spent the past few years skimming the take as maitre d' at upscale restaurants.

    Fellow hipster Steve Boulware is so dead drunk that he has to be propped up between Cash and handsome young bartender Ike Marcus. When someone sticks a gun in his face, Ike goes off, telling his murderers, "Not tonight, my man."

    Bang, he's dead, and the offenders are gone before his last heartbeat.

    At least that's Eric's version of events, one which jaundiced homicide detective Matty Clark and his ambitious partner, Yolanda Bello, find to be less than clear-cut, especially as conflicting facts come spilling out. Cash swears he called 911, but his cell phone is a blank, not to mention he once owned a gun whose current whereabouts are unknown. A pair of "eyewits" claims there were no assailants and that the trio turned on each other.

    Not only is Eric not getting much sympathy from the cops, he and his ilk don't sway much sympathy from the ethnic pioneers - the entrenched populations of Chinese, blacks, Latinos and Orthodox Jews - around whom these new immigrants revolve like asteroids in a terminal orbit. Given enough momentum, there's bound to be a confrontation sooner or later, which comes as a surprise to guys like Eric.

    "Bunch of middle-aged, talentless artistes complaining about the very people who made them rich," scoffs Eric's boss, old-school restaurateur Harry Steele. "Sitting there saying they have a right to perfect peace and quiet in their own neighborhood . . . No. You don't. This is New York."

    And there's Price's real subject in all its dilapidated glory: an island of contradictions that still represents both wasteland and Promised Land to its denizens, depending on where they're standing at the time. The false resurrection of urban renewal, the bleak cells of the jail known as "The Tombs," the punk boutiques and overpriced party spaces are all painted accurately and populated with well-realized characters. Along the way, Price also captures the paradoxes that plague each character and, in doing so, makes them an integral part of his complicated landscape.

    Matty Clark's ferocious drive to find the answers in Ike's murder stand in stark contrast to his role as failed father to children he refers to as "the big one" and "the other one." Yolanda butters up Eric, trying to get him to spill his guts, and then turns viciously on him with murderous accusations.

    Against Eric's melodramatic version of events, the icy back story of gang shooters interlaced with Clark's brooding investigation seems almost mundane by comparison.

    All of this is unsentimental stuff, portrayed with unflinching bluntness and infused with Price's watermark: the blistering and deeply convincing dialogue that makes a reader believe he's eavesdropping on another reality.

    The funny thing is that everyone in the book - be it the new bohemians populating the city's cafes, the cops delving into a commonplace crime, the project orphans trying to scrape some dignity or the surviving victims of this accidental trespass - has his own act, complete with a mask firmly in place at all times.

    But the consequences of their inadvertent collisions are all too real. Just ask Eric, who ends up with nobody on his side, facing the music in ways he couldn't have imagined. "The people of this city are rubberneckers," he thinks, "and I'm the car crash."

    This is Price's urban realism stripped to its most basic, and his prose is at its leanest and meanest in years. While wryly satirizing the newly gentrified atmosphere of Lower Manhattan in a post 9-11 world, Price also pays tribute to its complicated history and capably fashions a very typical crime drama.

    This story might be the proverbial car crash, but just like a real one, good luck trying to avert your eyes.

    Clayton Moore. (check his blog, 'Bang')

    Saturday, 24 May 2008

    Alan Sillitoe

    from The Guardian

    words; John Crace, Photo; Eamonn McCabe

    There's a great story about Alan Sillitoe that's always done the rounds. He's hanging out in Mallorca in the late 50s, writing six or seven unpublished novels, when he asks fellow expat Robert Graves to do him a favour and read his latest effort. The distinguished writer duly obliges and offers Sillitoe five terse words of advice. Stick to what you know. Bish-bosh, Sillitoe mines his Nottingham roots and launches his career with Saturday Night, Sunday Morning - one of the defining books of the postwar era.

    Like many great stories, though, it's not quite true. "I had actually written a number of short stories based in Nottingham before Robert made that suggestion," Sillitoe laughs, "and when he did I just thought, 'Bugger this, what does he know? Why should I take any notice of him just because he's old and famous?' It was only two years later, when I was sitting under an olive tree working on The Adventures of Arthur Seaton [the book that would become Saturday Night, Sunday Morning] that I decided to pour in some of the incidents from the short stories to give the narrative more life."

    But what the hell? The first version is so much neater, so let's go with that. "If anyone should be able to edit their own life it's a writer," he says. "So I'm happy to rewrite my history. Anything to make the story more fun and interesting." It's the kind of advice that creative writing students at Ruskin College might well be hearing a great deal more of in the near future now that Sillitoe has been asked to give guest lectures at the Oxford college. And it will be strictly lecturing, he is quick to point out. "I don't have the time to go help knock students' unpublished novels into shape."

    Still driven

    Sillitoe was 80 in March, but his only concession to growing older has been to give up smoking, and even then he's reserving the right to take it up again. He kicks-starts each day with the 15-minute exercise regime of press ups and jumps he learned in the RAF more than 60 years ago - "Why on earth would I want to stop?" - and he still works with much the same intensity he always has. At an age when most people are winding down, he's still driven by the inner voice that tells him that a day not spent writing is a day wasted.

    These days he can remember the titles of other people's books rather better than his own. There again, with more than 50 novels, plays and collections of poetry to his name, it would be probably more surprising if he could. Even so, he's playing it safe at the moment and the manuscript of his current novel is lying, untitled, on the desk of his west London flat. He's not happy with it yet and has set himself a deadline of the end of the year to finish it; nor is he prepared to say too much about it beyond that it's set in Nottingham in the present day. But it's clearly in some sort of shape as it's type-written and he always writes the first few drafts by hand - not out of some sentimental attachment to the past but out of practical necessity. "I need to write at the same speed I can think," he says. "By hand, I write at 22 words per minute, while I type - [another hangover from his RAF training] at 90 words per minute. Which is far too quick."

    He's big on such details. Sillitoe trained as a wireless operator in the war and still practises taking Morse code every day. He's got a machine that generates code on his desk, and at night sometimes scans the airwaves: "There's far less traffic than there used to be, but you can find it if you look. There's a French station that broadcasts a poetry magazine in Morse. It starts slowly every Monday and speeds up towards the end of the week; I guess it's their way of keeping wireless operators in training in case the computer system collapses. For me, it's just a kind of therapy."

    Sillitoe readily admits that it's an unusual way to pass the time, but he's never been that bothered about what others might think. However, he does worry about what he has to pass on to Ruskin students. "I've really only got one story," he shrugs, "and that's mine; I'm not sure that I can tell anyone else how to write. About 20 years ago an American university asked me to fill out a 50-page questionnaire on the creative process. I didn't know what to say and was tempted to write any old crap and sign it Virginia Woolf. Then I thought, fuck it, that's just childish, so I didn't bother. I can't make those kind of generalisations."

    But he can make practical suggestions. His first is to read everything you can. The second is to read yet more. He spent five years in the early 50s devouring anything he could get his hands on, from Plato and Aristophanes up to Mailer and Salinger. "How else are you going to get a feeling for language?" he says. "And besides, you don't want to waste years writing War and Peace only to find it's already been written." For Sillitoe, these five years were a way of filling in the gaps in a formal education that had ended when he was 14; so there's a touching symmetry that towards the end of his career - even he would have to concede that - he's chosen Ruskin, a college dedicated to giving working-class adults a second bite at education, as the place to pass on what he's learned.

    Fear and chaos

    Sillitoe was born in Nottingham in 1928. His father worked in the local Raleigh bicycle factory. Money was tight, and his home life was both chaotic and frightening, with Sillitoe often left as a helpless spectator while his father beat up his mother. His only line of escape was to withdraw within himself.

    "I was sent to the local infants school, staffed by pale, etiolated female teachers whose boyfriends had all been slaughtered on the Somme," he recalls, "and each day one of them would read out loud to us from the King James Bible. I don't think anything much sank in, but I just loved listening to the sound of the words."

    In a characteristically un-PC turn of phrase, he adds that his mother then got him into a school for "subnormal" children. "She'd heard that the kids who went there got much better food than at other schools," he smiles, "and she wanted to make sure I got plenty to eat. Eventually, though, it dawned on everyone that I wasn't actually learning very much and I was moved to a junior boys school."

    Imagined worlds

    Here lessons were mainly spelling and tables tests. He loved it. "It was somehow quite beautiful," he says. "I loved the clarity of it, the knowing that something was either right or wrong. Getting things right meant that your brain was working."

    It also gave him one of the few measures of control in a childhood that was otherwise chaotic, and once he could read and spell he was free to explore the imagined worlds of Conan Doyle and Rider Haggard as well as start creating his own. He had his first run-in with the censors at 12. "My mother found a story I had written in a notebook about my cousins being caught thieving after they deserted from the army, and she ripped it up and told me I shouldn't be writing that kind of stuff." Was he pissed off about this? "Well, yes, but it was a comparatively gentle act of censorship in comparison with what was to follow with the film script and play of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, where I had to make the abortion unsuccessful. The authorities hated the new generation of working-class realism, but they couldn't stop it."

    It was his grandmother who spotted that Sillitoe was bright, and at her suggestion he sat the 11-plus for Nottingham high school. And failed it. Twice. "Not many writers can claim that honour," he adds proudly. So instead of going to the grammar school, he went off to the local secondary knowing that his education was going to finish when he was 14. "It didn't feel like that big a deal," he shrugs. "It's what happened and I wasn't that disappointed. Besides, there was a war on and all I really wanted to do was join the RAF."

    Sense of regret

    There were a few years before he was old enough to do that, and when he was 14 he was taken on at the Raleigh factory and enjoyed the feeling of having money of his own. His father told him he was mad when he signed up with the Air Training Corps at 17 - "you could enlist with them a year earlier than with the RAF" - but all he wanted to do was become a navigator and drop bombs on Germany.

    The war ended before he got his chance, and he admits feeling ambivalent on hearing the fighting was over. "I'm fairly sure I'd have been one of those who were killed if it had continued. But I couldn't help feeling a sense of regret at having missed out on something important." What he did get was a two-year posting to Malaya, and it was on his return to England in 1948 that his life changed.

    He'd been planning to join the Canadian air force - "you could earn twice as much over there" - and he'd travelled up to Liverpool for his final medical ("they wanted to check you were in the same shape as when you signed up") before getting discharged from the RAF. Instead of getting a clean bill of health, he was told he had TB - "some bastard must have coughed over me" - and he was packed off to the RAF hospital in Wiltshire for nine months before being sent home on a pension of £5 per week.

    The money gave him the freedom to do exactly what he wanted. And, with the American poet, Ruth Fainlight, who would later become his wife, he upped sticks for the south of France. "I was just desperate to get away from England," he says. "Everything was so grey, so hard. There was still rationing in England and I can remember passing through Paris en route to Menton and being amazed by all the food on sale in the shops."

    On the move

    He didn't last long in France. But then he didn't last that long in any one particular place, as he and Fainlight were forever on the move, finding cheaper places to stay and meeting new friends. The only constant was reading and writing, and in 1959 Sillitoe finally hit gold with Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. He found it slightly odd to find himself lumped in with the Angry Young Men group of writers as he'd spent most of the previous nine years sunning himself abroad, but otherwise fame left him somewhat unfazed.

    "I was doing what I wanted," he insists, "and nothing was going to get in the way of that. A Hollywood studio offered me £50,000 to write a film script after the success of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and I thought about it for a bit and then told them to fuck off. I even moved to Tangiers when the film came out as I didn't want to get caught up in all the hype."

    Sillitoe has been writing and moving with the same restless energy ever since. And there's little sign of him letting up. So what final piece of advice would he offer wannabe writers? He thinks for a moment. "Make as much time for yourself as you can," he says eventually. "Go on the dole, pretend to go off sick from work, steal or borrow off of your parents; anything that will buy you time."

    "I'm not sure we can suggest that kind of thing in the Guardian," I reply.

    "OK," he demurs. "Then just tell them to use their imagination."

    It sounds as good a place to start as any. And to end.

    Curriculum vitae

    Age: 80

    Job: Writer, guest lecturer, Ruskin College

    Selected books: Saturday Night, Sunday Morning; The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner; A Man of His Time

    Likes: taking Morse code, reading

    Dislikes: present Labour government. 'I've voted Labour all my life but I couldn't bring myself to do so this time. They are incompetent and want too much control. I abstained instead.'

    Married with two children

    (CBTR thanks to Mathew Clayton)

    Friday, 23 May 2008

    Raising Sand Live

    For a while back there, I worried that I was alone last year in wishing that Robert Plant would knit off the Zeppelin reunion and get himself out on the road with Alison Krauss and T Bone Burnett. On the evidence of a gig I recently witnessed, I very much doubt I was. For two hours, a sold out, 12,000 capacity Wembley Arena was somehow made to feel like an intimate club while one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll stars on the planet was humbled by his fellow players to the point of adoring silence. Plant & Krauss’s “Raising Sand” album, released towards the end of last year, was one of those unexpected curveball records, the ones that take you entirely by stealth, the ones that come along once every few years and take up permanent residence on your stereo. A selection of covers produced by T Bone Burnett (described by Plant onstage as “a man who has produced so many beautiful records, overseen soundtracks and done lots of drugs”), “Raising Sand” is the kind of record that people who’ve been in the game for years (check Prince, Bowie, The Stones…) just don’t seem to make – and, really, why would they bother? It’s a record imbibed with bright eyed passion, a fire even. As a set of covers, mainly obscure, it mines the very coal face of Americana, of early rock ‘n’ roll, of the blues, of country. Really, you can't imagine the bank manager thinking that the Mothership is being dusted off for a global jaunt then hearing about this record and sparking up a fat Cuban in celebration.

    So, six months after the release and the record is taken on the road in the face of legions of angry Zeppelin fans, feeling like they’ve been robbed of their birthright by Plant’s decision to explore a very different set of waters. That's quite a lot of stoney faced rockers with a large chip on the shoulder about what they're denied. You can imagine the rehearsals for the gigs and the old Tony Soprano maxim coming to the band's minds “You’d better come heavy or don’t come at all.” The point at which the band lay waste to Zep’s “Black Dog”, with an overdriven, squalling fiddle taking the place of the guitar solo, you sense that the band have risen to the challenge of appeasing Plant’s core fanbase and then decided to see if they can fuck with their heads a little. The music is a perfect storm of noise – bluegrass, pure country, four-piece harmonies, fiddle solos that sound like Jimmy Page going crackers at the Grand Ole Opry. At points, it’s pure New Orleans voodoo up there – I mean, there are two dudes in the band who look like Dr John which can only add a pure menacing Gris Gris effect. The Black Lodge nightclub in Twin Peaks also springs to mind, the kind of band you might witness in a spooky, dusty off-the-beaten track kind of clubhouse. When playing the Townes Van Zanzt song “Nothing”, Plant describes the lyrics as “a profound piece of pain”, then proceeds to go at it with the full force vocal onslaught you’d normally see reserved for galloping hair metal music. This - you think - this is special.

    What’s really most surprising about the pairing is how much Plant’s voice is an eerily symbiotic foil to Krauss’s and vice versa. It’s also touching to see how respectful he is of her voice. A four song section where Krauss takes the lead produces the most jaw dropping moment, the “Oh Brother Where Are Thou” stand-out “Down To The River To Pray”, performed accapella with a 3 piece back up, including Plant, who keeps a safe minimal distance, huddled round one microphone with two band members, lost in the moment. This really couldn’t be any further from hammering out “Kashmir” at Knebworth if it tried. Add to that “The Battle Of Evermore” which manages to fuse a deep soul country soul to the late ‘60’s folk rock movement, with Krauss taking on Sandy Denny’s backing vocal and you’ve just witnessed something pretty magical.

    The rumours abound that with this tour out of the way, Zeppelin will get back on the road and show the current generation how it’s really done, that Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones are waiting in the wings with a dry towel and a pocket full of cheques for amounts that could eradicate world hunger. More encouraging for me though was the recent interview with Plant & Krauss where they talked about continuing this project, possibly with an album of songs written by them and the current band, exploring fully the sound they're creating. Call me old fashioned (I mean pre-Zeppelin, pre-rock 'n' roll old fashioned) but that really is something to get excited about…

    Robin Turner

    Wednesday, 21 May 2008

    Guilt Free Beer

    Been a while since we've posted a 'Caught By The Liver' so here goes...

    Much as I try to live my life as eco-consciously as possible, annoyingly there's always a concession to be made when it comes to beer, and trying to work out the air miles (beer miles?) that a bottle of Little Creatures Pale has clocked up on it's way over from Western Australia or an Anchor Steam has notched up whilst winging it's hoppy way from San Fran is enough to turn anyone to drink (well, that's my excuse anyway). So, tipping the balance back ever so slightly and helping the planet pint by pint is Adnam' new East Green beer.

    Housed in an innovative lightweight bottle, proudly Carbon Neutral (they offset any emissions made in the bottling process) & pesticide free, East Green is another great beer to add to the Southwold brewery's small but perfectly formed list, a 4.3% golden ale that made for a very fine Saturday afternoon 'take the edge off last night' drink. To paraphrase the great man Tom Sheehan, "very quaffable". If you happen to be in Southwold, Adnams deliver all their beer by horse and cart round the town, so the only emission there is likely to be a little equine methane. (RT)

    Currently available in Tesco or online from Adnams

    Pistol Shrimp & Water Song


    This is a exciting and immersive composition based on recordings by Chris Watson, who is arguably Britain's leading wildlife sound recordist.

    Water Song captures the rhythmic beat of individual drops seeping through cracks and dripping off stalactites in the glow worms caves of Waitomo in New Zealand, the chattering gurgle of a mountain stream, to the underwater snap, crackle and pop of Pistol Shrimps, the percussive patter of raindrops tumbling down a drainpipe, the immersive surge of waves across a beach on the Galapagos islands, the powerful creaks and groans inside Vatnajokull, a vast glacier in Icelandic and the almost deafening roar of a waterfall.

    Alongside this unique composition, Chris explains what first attracted him to the sounds of water, and how this fascination has developed. He describes some of his recording techniques, the astonishing diversity and quality of sounds he has captured and the emotional experience of tuning in to this watery world; from immersive and tranquil rhythms to deafening and terrifying sounds. It's "the music of another medium", he says.

    Over the years, Chris has become increasingly fascinated by the quality, depth and diversity of sounds produced by water - from single drops, to rivulets, brooks and streams, ice sheets and glaciers to oceans and waterfalls.

    Listen here

    Those were the words of BBC Radio 4, where Water Song was first broadcast in 2006. I first heard it when it was repeated last year and I've been meaning to post this link ever since. I love listening to it, I listen to this and Roger Deakin's "Cigarette On The Waveney" a lot. Particularly on rainy days. I think, the reason I haven't posted it earlier is because I wanted to find out a bit more about the man who made it. The BBC blurb is alright, it tells you that he is an intersting fella who thinks a bit differently but I thought I'd try and find out more. So, one night, a few months ago, it was a Monday, I remember, I'm watching TV with my kids. We are watching a recording of the previous nights David Attenborough adventure and as the end credits roll, I see Chris Watson listed as sound recordist. That reminds me, go find out more, the Water Song guy. Credits finish and we turn over to the telly proper, BBC 1, Bill Oddie in a boat, on a lake. He isn't alone, he's got a guy with him who is putting microphones under the water. I knew that was Chris, it had to be, it was "one of those things".

    A couple of weeks later and I'm talking to a friend of mine who works with the band Sigur Ros. He gives me a DVD copy of a film that they have made. I read the credits and there's Chris again. So, I bring this up with Paul, my mate, and he tells me that "yes, Chris contributed a recording of glaciers colliding". This guy is interesting, I said. "He is. You know he was in Cabaret Voltaire don't you?" Paul said. "This gets better" I replied.

    Cabaret Voltaire formed in Sheffield in 1972. There were three of them until Chris left in 1982. I would have seen Chris on stage, performing with them at the Sandpiper club in Nottingham in 1978. I've only just remembered that. The Cabs, as we called them, were great.They recorded for Rough Trade and Factory. These days they get called "electro pioneers" . I'd not heard anything like them before. They were into Burroughs and Ballard and The Stooges and Delia Derbyshire (I'm guessing here). "Sound" was very interesting to them.

    So, that was a surprise. Even bigger surprises were to come a couple of months later.

    Chris is on the wish list for our book, our anthology of writing on rivers. Of course he is. I get his phone number and give him a call. We talk. I hurriedly try to explain who I am and why I'm calling; "blog, book, interview, fishing, rivers...". "Sounds interesting" he says, sounds like he means it too. "Do you know of a film maker called Hugh Miles? I did the sound on a series of programmes for him a while back". Surely not. 'A Passion For Angling', it was called". Next we are on to Roger Deakin. I explain that our book is gonna be the same format as RD's "Wildwood". Chris knew Roger. He did the sound recording for the great Radio 4 broadcasts, 'The House' and 'The Garden' (also, see post of 28 December) and my favourite, 'Cigarette On The Waveney'.......

    So, Chris is a hopeful for the book but didn't have time to meet for an interview as he was just off to The Cairngorms for Springwatch. But talking to him really lifted my spirits. This guy who has been involved in our Holy Grails made me very happy. That in itself would have been enough, but instead the week got dafter...... but more on that later. (JB)

    Chris Watson website

    Sunday, 18 May 2008

    Thought For The Week

    I like this quote. It was given to the writer Sean O' Hagen by the psychologist and author Adam Phillips, when he asked him what would be the single thing that might make us more content in our ever accelerating culture.....

    "We need to find the time to daydream and be bored, and to see that, too, as a part of our creativity. We need, as it were, to find the time to waste time without worrying about the consequences".

    (I came across it in Seans piece on My Bloody Valentine in todays Observer Music Monthly.)

    Saturday, 17 May 2008

    ACA Bulletin

    Starting today, the ACA is launching its special 60th anniversary fund raising auction. Over 140 fantastic lots, generously donated by our supporters, are now available for you to bid for via our website and there are full details in our latest Annual Report, which will be with you in the next week. There are some fantastic items in several categories - guided fishing trips with high profile anglers, coarse and game fishing all over the UK, coarse and game tackle, art and literature. Much of the fishing on offer is on private rivers and lakes giving you the chance to fish waters that would not be available otherwise. Guide prices range from £10 to £900 so there should be something for everyone. Please remember this auction is to raise funds to help us to continue to fight those who damage our fishing, it's not a bargain hunt!

    The auction operates on a sealed bid basis, ending July 16th. If you see something from the catalogue of lots that interests you, you can bid the maximum you would be prepared to pay for that lot. If your bid is the highest on the closing date (July 16th) you win that lot but you only have to pay £5 more than the next highest bid, rather than the full amount of your original bid. If two maximum bids are the same, the first bidder wins, so get in quick! You can make bids directly through the form on the website or by posting the form from the Annual Report back to us.

    Please send this e-mail to as many anglers as you can to publicise the auction far and wide.

    Good luck and happy bidding!

    About the ACA

    In 1948, backed by funds of just £200, a new pollution fighting body fought its very first case in Britain and won! Known then as the Anglers' Co-operative Association, it was a pioneering organisation founded by John Eastwood, after whom we have named our current headquarters in Leominster, Herefordshire.

    Three years later, the newly-formed ACA forced a city corporation to spend £1.8m - worth £30 million at today's prices - on a new sewage works to prevent pollution. John Eastwood showed remarkable vision and determination by using the common law to stop pollution and to win compensation for anglers when it occurred.

    Since that daring start, the ACA has brought thousands of cases to a successful conclusion, recovering millions of pounds for those affected by pollution. We are a powerful deterrent and we make a real difference to the quality of watercourses and lakes in the UK. Anyone who enjoys aquatic wildlife benefits from our work, as ultimately do all of us who drink tap water!

    In 1994, the Anglers' Co-operative Association changed its name to the Anglers' Conservation Association to reflect more accurately the valuable work it does conserving and protecting our rivers, lakes and streams.

    Today's ACA, with its highly professional staff, takes on all polluters and others who would damage fisheries from the largest multinational corporations to one-man fly-tipping operations.

    If necessary, the ACA will pursue cases all the way to the House of Lords. In its entire history, the ACA has only lost three cases - a record second to none. Such is its reputation that most cases are settled out of court, with defendants being made to pay compensation to enable polluted waters to be cleaned up, restocked and restored.

    Today, no stream, river or lake can be completely free from the threat of pollution or other harm. No organisation fights that threat as single-mindedly or effectively as the ACA.

    If you want to support us, please click here to join up

    Friday, 16 May 2008

    Same Old Faces, Same Old Faces

    We've had a great response to Mark Hodkinson's piece on Barry Hines ("German Bight", May 7th), including this great clip sent in by Steve Philips. Congratulations are due to Steve for landing his first carp in six years with a 14lb common from an Oxfordshire estate lake, yesterday. I should add that Steve is neither crap nor obsessed with gudgeon, and that for most of those six years, his gear was impounded due to being caught in the crossfire of the Bedford vs. Bedford war.

    Thursday, 15 May 2008

    Numero Group - A Small Gesture.

    Over recent months I’ve become a big fan of Alan Furst's entertainments. The series of stories set in and around the Second World War, Paris and what was known as middle Europe. They’re wonderfully romantic romps, filled with subterfuge, solitude, sabotage and espionage. Small people with big ideas, fighting back against the fascist threat, specifically, and the authoritarianism of the Russians, additionally. Unexpected bravery of everyday people. Stateless souls making small gestures.
    One of the great things about Furst’s books is the attention to detail. His obvious passion for and knowledge of the era. He can picture him curled up, ploughing through another history of Rumanian diplomacy, soaking up the detail. And this all comes through in the writing. The oh so casual deliberateness of the references. A Joseph Roth mention here and there. The nod to Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy. A wink in the direction of Sartre and Camus. I like that sort of thing. I like colour. I’m the sort of person who might freeze frame a film to study what’s on someone’s bookshelves or what records are piled up here and there.
    I don’t know if this is specific, but I always sense Furst's characters place special significance on small objects. The monogrammed hankie. The cigarette case salvaged from a fire. The leather bound book rescued while running from a room. That these objects evoke special things, people, moments. Like the old story of the deck of cards helping a soldier pray or meditate. And I was just thinking that if I grabbed that pile of CDs issued by the Numero Group I would have just about everything I could need to remind me what’s so special about music, and why this life can make you feel about ten mile high and as low as can be.

    Since I guess 2004 the Numero Group has been steadily releasing a series of records that are, well, wonderfully romantic. In this they are far from unique. Where the Numero guys excel however is in the attention to detail. They are fans. They are collectors. They are passionate. And they understand that this thing we love is about more than the music. It’s about the feel of things, the look of things, the whole thing. The packaging, the sleeve notes, the little things that make a difference. Looking at the 15 Numero Group CDs on my shelf, they look good to me. If I saw 15 Numero Group CDs on someone’s shelf I would like that person. I would instinctively trust that person.
    So what makes the Numero releases so special? Apart from the contagious zeal of missionaries and visionaries, well, there’s the context. The Numero folk, they’ve been running a series called Eccentric Soul. For that alone you have to love them. They have single handedly reclaimed the word eccentric. Freeing eccentricity from the world of whimsy and restoring the meaning of irregularity and off-centre. Left field. These eccentric soul stories are tales of chancers, lovers, dreamers, schemers, back in ‘60s/’70s America. But it’s a timeless tale, like the music. And then there’s the Cult Cargo series, giving a glimpse into how music is refracted as it travels the globe, and how each twist, each variation, adds something unique. Funk, calypso, reggae, soul. Whatever. To hell with purity. A creed the Numero guys firmly believe in. Their catalogue has some wonderful deviations beyond the funk and soul into folk, power pop, and what not. And yet if I was to pick a favourite it would have to be Glory Road by Fern Jones, a gorgeous slab of salvaged ‘50s gospel, hillbilly, rockabilly, swing, what you will. It’s the sort of thing I’ve been listening to a lot lately.

    Looking at that row of 15 Numero Group CDs it’s hard to think of any other modern equivalents where things look so consistently right. I can’t recall collecting quite so avidly a label’s releases. And yet there are just 15 CDs in that row, ad that begs a question? What happened? What changed? Why the break? Why the change of heart? Why the end of a habit? Well, events drastically change lives. That comes up a lot in Alan Furst’s stories. Other things change as a result. That’s the way things are. Then when things like that happen, other things become more important, and matter all the more. Small gestures. Like someone unexpectedly saying thank you.
    Once I wrote a few words, a pitifully few lines, about Fern Jones' Glory Road, and her daughter got in touch to say thanks for writing about mum’s music. I thought that was lovely. It was also absurd. But it was a lovely gesture, and it got me thinking. We don’t say thank you often enough. I should have been the one saying thank you. To Fern’s family and particularly to the guys in the Numero Group; Tom Lunt, Rob Sevier, Ken Shipley and whoever is involved with the label. A huge thank you for making available rough and ready music which one hardly dared dream existed. Thank you for putting out these salvaged sounds in a form that is so beautifully right. It means a lot. Sitting looking at that line of CDs. Playing those CDs.
    And, yeah, soon life will take another twist and turn, things will look up, and I’ll go out and get the rest of the Numero Group CDs, visit their website and take out a subscription. I need them. I want someone to look at my shelf and know I’m someone that’s gonna be alright. Because bad people do not get Eccentric Soul music. They don’t understand the beauty of those little CDs. What’s gone into them. The stories that they tell. The small gestures that have been made. The small gestures that matter so much.

    Kevin Pearce, May 2008

    The Outside Of Everything

    Wednesday, 14 May 2008

    Lost Youth

    Don't know if you've seen today's Guardian and the article on George Plemper's newly found photos of south east London in the '70s. For me, it was like seeing ghosts.

    Here's a link to more of the photos,I hope.

    Kevin Pearce

    The Outside Of Everything

    Tuesday, 13 May 2008

    Chords By The River

    This CD was kindly compiled for us by the Don, an amazing collection of bankside music and the first in our occasional series, Chords By The River.
    Talking of Don, he's just had a brilliant documentary, 'The Blues Dance', on Radio 4. The programme tells the story of the Blues Dance or Jamaican private club in Britain. Crowds gathered to listen and dance to heavy bass lines of reggae, pumped out from huge speakers. The first wave of West Indian immigrants set up informal basement parties in West London, but the phenomenon would later gain prominence across the UK. You can listen to it here

    Monday, 12 May 2008

    Caught By The Reaper

    Fred J. Taylor, 1919 - May 8, 2008

    By Keith Elliott, from Fishing Lines, The Independent

    Everyone seems to have a Fred J Taylor story. My favourite one concerning the great man happened on a cold, wet winter's day, the sort of day when sensible fishers sit in front of a fire and think: "Glad I didn't go out today!"

    Fred, however, had been fishing since dawn. He had hoped the driving rain and biting wind would ease. No such luck. It just got colder and rained harder. Fred had forgotten his umbrella, so he sat it out in weather that seemed to have travelled all the way from Siberia just to make his life unpleasant. And he wasn't catching anything.

    His companion, the redoubtable Richard Walker, seemed impervious to the cold. Not Fred, despite the extra layers of flesh that nature had generously equipped him with. As the raindrops turned to sleet, Fred turned to Walker and said: "I'll be glad when I've had enough of this!"

    Tells you a lot about the bloody-mindedness of fishermen in general and the humour of Fred in particular. His Friar Tuck looks, smiling face and ability not to take the world too seriously made him a favoured companion of the best anglers in the land. Walker, Peter Stone, Fred Buller, Bernard Venables, Hugh Falkus: Fred J fished with them all as an equal. Not one (even the crotchety ones) had a bad word to say about Fred.

    Note the past tense. He died this week, aged 89. Not toppling off his box on the river bank, as he would have preferred, but in a hospital bed. I visited him not two days before his demise. A columnist for my magazine 'Classic Angling', he was debating what to cover in the next issue.

    But Fred always was a prolific writer, a great story-teller. He had 23 books published, from fishing stories and country matters to poetry and ferreting. He wrote columns for 'Shooting Times', 'Saga' magazine and 'The Daily Telegraph'. He starred in the first television series of 'Hearts of the Country'. Not bad for a kid who bunked off for most of his schooldays and went fishing or trapping rabbits.

    Thousands of British anglers travel to Canada for its exceptional fishing. That's down to Fred, who pioneered and championed its angling potential at a time when we thought it was all trees and lumberjacks.

    He won lots of awards. This year, he picked up an MBE for services to fishing. Typically, he chose not to go to Buckingham Palace, opting for a smaller ceremony with the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire. Nearer his Leighton Buzzard home, you see. He was born there and never really moved away, apart from a short, unsuccessful emigration to Australia (he missed England too much) and enforced spells away during the war. "I came in as a private, got promoted to corporal and came out a private," he said.

    A founder member of the Carp Catchers' Club, he fished the legendary Redmire Pool, home of record carp, in its heyday. He played a key role in inventing one of fly-fishing's most important flies, the Dog Nobbler. He popularised using dead fish rather than live ones for pike bait, thereby saving the lives of millions of tiddlers.

    For those who took up fishing in the 1950s and '60s, Fred J was one of the gods. He may even have been the best of the lot.

    Sunday, 11 May 2008

    The Damned United

    Tonights South Bank Show (ITV, 10.50) on David Peace's genius book "The Damned United" has got to be worth a look;

    The Damned Utd focuses on Clough failing - in the wilderness between Derby and Nottingham. At Leeds he is tortured, haunted, sleepless, entirely alone - without Peter Taylor, who refused to join him - behind enemy lines. His mission seems to be to destroy the soul of his new club. Straight after he arrives he is on the phone trying to sell the icons - Johnny Giles, Norman Hunter - and to bring in his own men. The interior monologues, the detail of the despair, the endless plotting are made up, but all of the events ring true: how Clough took an axe to the desk of his nemesis Revie, how he banned mention of his predecessor's name, burned his infamous dossiers on players and referees; how Clough, the greatest man-manager of them all, the man who made League champions out of little Derby County and would later make European champions out of unfashionable Nottingham Forest, introduced himself to his new Leeds team with these words: 'Gentlemen, I might as well tell you now. You lot may have won all the domestic honours there are and some of the European ones but, as far as I am concerned, the first thing you can do for me is to chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest fucking dustbin you can find, because you've never won any of them fairly. You've done it all by bloody cheating ...'

    Letters From Arcadia

  • click here for the latest LETTER FROM ARCADIA, a regular correspondence between angling's two most original contemporary writers...
  • Friday, 9 May 2008

    Unfinished Business?

    note left on Tony Wilson's grave, as seen yesterday

    thanks to Rofey

    The Bard Of Salford.

    Paul Morley, radio 4 documentary on John Cooper Clarke Listen Here

    Beasley Street.

    Far from crazy pavements -
    the taste of silver spoons
    A clinical arrangement
    on a dirty afternoon
    Where the fecal germs of Mr Freud
    are rendered obsolete
    The legal term is null and void
    In the case of Beasley Street

    In the cheap seats where murder breeds
    Somebody is out of breath
    Sleep is a luxury they don't need
    - a sneak preview of death
    Belladonna is your flower
    Manslaughter your meat
    Spend a year in a couple of hours
    On the edge of Beasley Street

    Where the action isn't
    That's where it is
    State your position
    Vacancies exist
    In an X-certificate exercise
    Ex-servicemen excrete
    Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies
    In a box on Beasley Street

    From the boarding houses and the bedsits
    Full of accidents and fleas
    Somebody gets it
    Where the missing persons freeze
    Wearing dead men's overcoats
    You can't see their feet
    A riff joint shuts - opens up
    Right down on Beasley Street

    Cars collide, colours clash
    disaster movie stuff
    For a man with a Fu Manchu moustache
    Revenge is not enough
    There's a dead canary on a swivel seat
    There's a rainbow in the road
    Meanwhile on Beasley Street
    Silence is the code

    Hot beneath the collar
    an inspector calls
    Where the perishing stink of squalor
    impregnates the walls
    the rats have all got rickets
    they spit through broken teeth
    The name of the game is not cricket
    Caught out on Beasley Street

    The hipster and his hired hat
    Drive a borrowed car
    Yellow socks and a pink cravat
    Nothing La-di-dah
    OAP, mother to be
    Watch the three-piece suite
    When shit-stoppered drains
    and crocodile skis
    are seen on Beasley Street

    The kingdom of the blind
    a one-eyed man is king
    Beauty problems are redefined
    the doorbells do not ring
    A lightbulb bursts like a blister
    the only form of heat
    here a fellow sells his sister
    down the river on Beasley Street

    The boys are on the wagon
    The girls are on the shelf
    Their common problem is
    that they're not someone else
    The dirt blows out
    The dust blows in
    You can't keep it neat
    It's a fully furnished dustbin,
    Sixteen Beasley Street

    Vince the ageing savage
    Betrays no kind of life
    but the smell of yesterday's cabbage
    and the ghost of last year's wife
    through a constant haze
    of deodorant sprays
    he says retreat
    Alsations dog the dirty days
    down the middle of Beasley Street

    People turn to poison
    Quick as lager turns to piss
    Sweethearts are physically sick
    every time they kiss.
    It's a sociologist's paradise
    each day repeats
    On easy, cheesy, greasy, queasy
    beastly Beasley Street

    Eyes dead as vicious fish
    Look around for laughs
    If I could have just one wish
    I would be a photograph
    on a permanent Monday morning
    Get lost or fall asleep
    When the yellow cats are yawning
    Around the back of Beasley Street

    What Has Happened To All The Walkington Ducklings?

    Hey Jeff

    The above was a headline in last weeks Beverley Guardian that caught my eye on a bank holiday visit to see my parents. Walkington is a small village in a semi-pretty part of East Yorkshire. I spent my teenage years there before escaping the rural coma and heading to the Big Smoke to achieve my ambitions of finally becoming the low-rent media-yahoo-borderline-alcoholic-with-nagging-drug-problems I had always dreamed of. I have mixed feelings about the place as it's not really home anymore but it's nice to visit sometimes. One ex-girlfriend of mine once described it as "the land of cowshit and four-wheel
    drive" which pretty much sums it up I suppose. Anyway, it seems fear and horror is stalking the Walkington village pond. This
    year's batch of ducklings are being devoured by some mysterious creature or creatures. Parents are afraid to take the kiddies to the pond to feed the ducks (which seriously cuts down the list of potential leisure activities in the village). Of course there was no other subject being discussed by the dark lords around the bar at the local pub The Barrel on Saturday night. One might immediately suspect Mr Fox but this has been dismissed as the foxes up there are properly wild (not the fried chicken-loving hipsters we are used to down here) and would never venture as far as the pond because of passing traffic and the volumes of people around the centre of the village. Even village godfather and highly accomplished naturalist Ernie Teal is stumped. Some are suggesting a more plausible villain is the Terrapin. After the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze of a few years ago it was claimed that unloved and unwanted terrapins were being released into the pond where they have been breeding and adults are quite capable of devouring a ducking apparently. See the attached photo of one sunning himself on Saturday. Local farmer and occasional crab fisherman Rodge 'The Dodge' has taken to baiting crab pots with rotting flesh and putting them out in the pond at night in an attempt to rid the local landmark of the amphibian menace.
    However I fear I may have another explanation which has remained a dark and guilty secret of mine for some twenty years. Well, until now that is I suppose.
    The year was 1988 and I was a slacking six-former. The second summer of love pretty much passed us by up there away from the bright lights of Shoom and Spectrum and apart from the occasional trip across the M62 to the Hacienda my best friend and I spent most of the summer taking acid and going fishing. One fateful night dead-baiting for pike we caught a frisky 5lb Jack and my friend (who ironically is now a respected marine biologist working in the Pacific monitoring the Japanese fishing fleet) decided it might be a gas to release it into Walkington village pond.
    Now I have felt very bad about this for years. A smallish village pond is no place for a noble fish like a pike and I assumed that the poor thing must have expired but my partner in crime (armed with an MSC in marine biology by this time) always claimed it would have thrived on the small fish and large amounts of bread in the pond and, of course, would be totally at the top of the food chain. Could that very same fresh-water wolf from all those years ago be responsible for the violent decimation of the Walkington duck population?
    I fear so and that I have created a monster.....



    Thursday, 8 May 2008

    Making Love In 2003

    This morning I woke up to the sound of the neighbor trimming his tree. I told myself he would stop trimming only if I got out of bed. The tree got smaller and smaller. Soon it was just a stump, and he had to go underground and start trimming the roots, and still I couldn't get up. The roots were gone and he was sawing through the earth and I told myself that when he came out in China, I would get up. It took him all day. I wept and curled and uncurled myself in a way I couldn't control. I was actually writhing in heartache, as if I were a single muscle whose purpose was to mourn. But by the time my neighbor had hit the molten core, I was motionless. I had exhausted myself into a blank stare, a full-body examination of the ceiling. I could feel him pushing up underneath the streets of Shanghai, and to my horror, I felt hunger. The body's expression of hope. As he burst through the ground and into the Chinese air, I sat up. He plowed into the sky, upward through tree leaves and then the clouds. My neighbor sawed into outer space. He cut through the Milky Way, right through the stars and stardust. He went around the universe in a giant circle. And then he landed, with a quiet thud, back in his yard. I lifted the curtain and saw him putting out the sprinkler. It was dusk. If he saw me, I would live. Look up, look up, look up. He raised his eyes, as if it were his own idea, and I waved.

    From 'No one belongs here more than you. Stories by Miranda July', 2007

    A broken heart is a troublesome thing at any time of year, but when the trees are bursting into leaf, as Larkin wrote (see our March post), heartache seems evermore a hardy perennial that can withstand the melting beauty of even the sunniest spring day. My foolproof remedy at times like this is to immerse myself in books. These are times when only literature can massage balm into the hard-to-reach places of the human heart, and I am currently finding grateful relief in Miranda July's short stories. The passage above is, I think, one of the best descriptions of unrequited love I have ever read. It makes no difference to the ardent feelings of the narrator of this story, an adult schoolteacher, that it's a fifteen-year-old special needs student that she's in love with, but only a brave writer could pull this off and make it plausible and humane and hilarious. Miranda July, better known perhaps for her debut feature of 2006 'You, Me and Everyone I Know', has one of the most original and surprising fictional voices I've read in a long, long time. It's almost worth suffering heartache just to experience the relief of knowing that someone else out there knows what it's like and can render it so beautifully. Highly recommended.



    kitchen sink dramas

    Wednesday, 7 May 2008

    German Bight.

    The piece below, written by Mark Hodkinson, is an insightful tribute to the writer Barry Hines.
    Mark, in his role as proprieter of Pomona Books has recently republished a couple of Barry's lost titles and this piece is the first draft of the introduction to an anthology he is publishing next year.

    Like a lot of folk of around my age, "A Kestrel For A Knave" was one of the books that "got me in to reading". Yes there had been the Famous Five and The Lion, The Witch and the blah blah blah, but "Kes" was real.

    Mark kindly sent us this;

    I first met Barry Hines about 10 years ago. I'd been sent to interview him by The Times. He asked me to meet him at his writing den, a small office on the campus of Hallam University, Sheffield. I remember being struck by the starkness of the room: a postcard on the wall, a desk containing a pen and a few sheets of paper, and that was about it - no books, no computer, no
    telephone. On the floor was a tiny kettle, able to contain just enough water to fill a single mug; I'd never seen one of these before.

    Barry wasn't unfriendly but a bit gauche - a word he'd never use, of course. There is angularness about Barry, in his movements and manner, that takes a while to get used to. He doesn't go in for social protocol, asking how you are and whether you've had a pleasant journey. This isn't for affect or to invoke any kind of power-play: he probably just forgets. After a few minutes, it doesn't matter anyway because he has an aura that coalesces kindness with straight-talking. In short, he feels good to be around.

    During our conversation he often repeated the word 'wondrous'. A lot of things were wondrous: being able to work as a writer and not down the pit; Barnsley FC's current form; the standard of script-writing on Coronation Street; American crime novels. He sang the word, much like a kid would having just learned it.

    Over the years, I kept in touch with Barry. I couldn't resist. He, among a handful of others, had made me want to be a writer in the first place. Every day he is with me, his influence, as I try to emulate the honesty and compassion he brings to his work, in my own. Also, we are brothers, working-class brothers. Although he is a generation older, I know so well the people of his novels because they could be my family. My granddad worked on the railways, my mum and gran in sewing factories. The
    grind, the humour, the ups and the downs - it is a common history.

    When I set up Pomona a few years ago I asked Barry if I could republish two of his old books - Looks and Smiles and The Price of Coal. At this point, I imagined I might possibly encounter a more anxious and vain Barry Hines: writers can be very fussy and precious about their work. He remained the same Barry I had met in that tiny room. He was flattered by my interest, trusting me with the covers and contract, happy to help in any way.

    I was delighted to learn that he had a folder of unpublished work labelled, 'Early poetry, short stories.' It is from this folder that This Artistic Life is drawn. The stories date back many years, some to the late-1960s and early-1970s, when the success of Kes, the book and the film, had elevated Hines to the unexpected position of feted writer.

    Much of the work is nostalgic and mentions of 'secondary modern'; recs'; 'two-bob'; '11-plus'; 'silly buggers' and kids saying, 'Soz' when they mean, 'Sorry', feel like a portal to another world. He writes a great deal about the mining industry and two incidents in particular that have stayed with him always - the death of his granddad in a pit accident and the time he was berated by a neighbour for choosing (briefly) to work down a mine.

    Tinker Lane, one of the longer pieces, feels like the first draft of an autobiography. In his trademark unadorned style, Hines tells us about the people that lived in his neighbourhood, the scrapes they got into. The writing is effortlessly simple, a sense of time and place and person brought to life within a few short sentences.

    The football stories are largely on a similar theme. Another Jimmy Dance, Tottenham Hotspurs and The Turnstile Man effectively feature the same protagonist - an ex-hero returning to his former club with his latest team, now older and slower, facing the ridicule of the crowd. The players - Eddie Royle, Jimmy Dance and Jackie Moon - are, above the colour of their shirt,
    brave men running their hearts out, one of a team but alone when they receive the ball. In all his work Hines innately sings the song of the underdog and in these stories he is calling on the reader to consider issues of loyalty and decency.

    There are little cameos within the stories that show off both Hines' sharp eye and the power of under-statement. In The Turnstile Man, we learn that the boy's father is estranged from his mother. This merits just a few lines but resonates loudly. Without revealing any more, the reader is left wondering about the family's home life, how the separation occurred, how
    they are working things out between them.

    A father-son relationship is complex and, again, Hines states this without addressing it head-on. In Another Jimmy Dance the father, exasperated by his son, scolds him and then, a few minutes later, pulls up the lad's hood when it starts to rain. Any parent will recognise this see-saw between anger and love that a child can set in motion.

    The poems which intersperse the stories reveal a hitherto unseen side to Hines. Much like his writing, they are succinct, whether playful as in Prudence Dowd or sombre in the sketches about mining and the loss of the communities that formed at pit-heads.

    Once, while we were talking about books, Barry mentioned an admiration of the American writer, Bernard Malamud, in particular his novel, The Natural. In Barry's stories, The End of Sammy's Career and Billy Peak he veers from his usual style and touches upon what became known as 'magicrealism', of which Malamud was masterful. The short story lends itself less
    well to this approach but it shows Hines' willingness to embrace an idea that was very much in vogue in the late-1960s.

    There is, in the very best work, always a moment. That point where head and heart collide. It can be a chord change in a song or a line of dialogue in a play or film that is brilliant and true. This comes, for me, in this book in the short story, Tottenham Hotspurs. The father is telling his young son how to negotiate getting into a football ground. The boy wants to go through the same turnstile as his dad, but is told he can't. He asks why;

    ''Because that turnstile's for misters,'' his dad says.

    In this simple sentence Hines shows us everything: the clarity of his memory; his ear for language; and his ability - perhaps a writer's greatest skill - to take us back there, making us believe whole-heartedly in the story and the storyteller. 'Back there' is a very specific sense of place, in this case to a time when we were kids and our dads took us to football matches and used words like 'misters'.

    Many years ago another writer, clearly an insightful soul, congratulated Hines on his 'iron integrity'. This little collection forms an eclectic hotchpotch of stories and poems, some of them nicely formed, others sketchy and whimsical, but that iron integrity is across it all and through Barry Hines, the man, too

    Mark Hodkinson


    Tuesday, 6 May 2008

    The Tenth Cast

    Last week (April 29th) we had the great honour of being the first place where you could read an extract from Chris Yates forthcoming book "Out Of The Blue". Well, it just got better. Last night Chris's son Will sent through two brilliant illustrations that he has done for the book. I've added them to the post. Go look..

    Monday, 5 May 2008

    Sweete Themmes! Runne Softly, Till I End My Song.*

    As mentioned here previously Andrew, Robin & I are working on a book. It will be called Caught By The River and it’s a collection of writings on British rivers. We’ll keep you posted on the progress.
    With this in mind, the recent publication of "Downstream" , a book by Tom Fort of a journey he made down the river Trent, was of some interest to me. The Trent was “my” river. I was born on it’s banks, a few miles outside of Nottingham and spent a lot of time on it as a kid, either fishing or watching football. Great football. Brian Clough & Peter Taylor football.
    Anyway, the Trent means something to me, but sadly not for Tom. He tries his best – he writes very well and if I’m honest, the odds of him finding revelation ain’t great - but ultimately he chose the wrong river. He would have preferred to have written about his local river, the Thames, but “…seriously doubted if I could do anything different from those who had gone before”. He then mentions a book called “Sweet Thames, Run Softly” by someone called Robert Gibbings. I’d heard of neither book nor author but I liked the title so I tracked a copy down. Thank you Tom Fort, it’s a lovely book.

    First published in 1940 and illustrated throughout with engravings by the author, it tells the story of a trip he made along the Thames: “…it occurred to me that it might be fun to explore the river Thames, in whose valley I had lived for fifteen years.” “It would be restful, too, for I planned to float down-stream at the river’s own pace, and to look for nothing but what I might see as I moved along , consigning all guide books to the devil…”

    It’s observational, anecdotal and opinionated. He was definitely somewhat eccentric and it reads all the better for it. Here’s an extract;

    “Now the celandines are sparkling in the marshes, and pools in the still flooded fields shine blue. The redshanks are whistling, the peewits are tumbling, and yellow wagtails trip along the muddy borders of the stream, their breasts as brilliant as the kingcups. The sand-martins, too, whirling like leaves in a gale, advertise their return, while high up among the purple blossoms of the elm-trees the young rooks have already broken their shells. Nearer to earth the poplars wave their catkins, and the willows and sallows regale the years first broods of insect life.

    The sap is rising. Each day our world turns further towards the sun. All the energy held in bondage during the winter is being released. To quote an anonymous writer: “Week by week the crops swallow up the wild life of the open countryside, while the woods and hedges draw veil after veil over the doings of the small things which they shelter, and wherever we go a hundred eyes peep and a hundred ears listen, of creatures that we cannot see or hear at all.”

    “If we would glimpse behind that veil we must forget those fanatics who think that walking at less than four miles an hour is a sign of laziness or physical decay. Those are the people who, after an excursion into the country, spend their evenings at a cinema because they have seen nothing during the day with which to occupy their thoughts. We must learn to walk slowly, so that we have time to see; we must learn to tread quietly, so that we do not cause alarm; above all, we must think peace.”

    All of my reading at present is with our book in mind, looking for ideas or inspirations, contributions or inclusions, so after I finish “My Fishing Days And Ways”, I’m back on to Robert Gibbings for “Coming Down The Wye” and then “Lovely Is The Lee”.
    Which means that the new Tim Winton novel will just have to wait (let's hope that it's up there with "The Turning" and therefore worth the wait). (JB)

    *SPENSER, Prothalamion

    Saturday, 3 May 2008

    Don't Judge A Brook By It's Cover

    Chris Yates learns that big fish can lurk in the most unexpected places (from today's Telegraph)

    After a few seasons watching the habits of freshwater fish, it becomes less of a puzzle guessing where a particular species might lie on a given day.

    I find that wild fish move in mysterious ways. If I'm looking for perch, for instance, and the river is running high, I will fish the quiet, deep pools on the inside of bends or below sunken trees. When the river is low and clear and I am hoping for a chub, I'll look for a steady, streamy run between reed or weed beds, where small groups of these black-tailed fish are often visible, holding station, just under the surface. Big, powerful barbel prefer strong, deepish runs, especially if there is a roof over their heads in the form of an overhanging willow. Like roach, dace and bream, these are shoal fish, which makes them easier to locate than the more solitary trout and pike; but whatever species I'm after, if I start hankering after a monster, I have to remind myself that monsters move in mysterious ways. Furthermore, they often inhabit places where even the most experienced angler would never think to look.

    I had my eyes opened when I went for a walk along a tiny tributary of the River Loddon - which is a small stream, anyway - looking for wild brown trout. My companion, Edward Barder, who had been exploring the water over the previous few years, pointed out a little scoop in a very ordinary stretch of shallows where, not long previously, he had seen a fish that looked, in that bath-sized pool, like a salmon.

    Apart from the overhanging trees, which gave a bit of cover, I would never have imagined it as a likely spot for a big fish. Yet the "salmon" proved to be a tremendous trout. On a mayfly of his own tying, Edward hooked it. After a spectacular battle, he landed it: a wild fish of 5lb 4oz, the sort of creature that most fly-fishers can only dream about.

    On the day we were hunting for big fish, we didn't see anything monstrous, but I watched Edward stalk a canny three-pounder, which looked enormous in a bottleneck of a glide beneath an old footbridge. The bridge seemed superfluous, as I could almost have stepped across to the far bank, but the fish obviously appreciated it and would not venture out of its shadow, even when a fat, juicy mayfly floated the merest tail flick away in the sunlight. Edward had to cast his artificial fly from below, trying to get it through the bridge so that it landed lightly on the surface before drifting back downstream.

    This may sound straight forward; but the wooden crossbeam was only about two feet above the water and he was up to his armpits in reeds, 30 feet along the bank. It was amazing that he managed it several times - and at each attempt the trout ignored him. Edward gave up in the end and we went on upstream until we came to a little hollow of a pool below a leaning willow. Nothing was visible when we crept up to it, but Edward spotted something beneath the surface just upstream of the tree. It was another good fish, which swayed in the current, showing its neb (its nose) every time it rose to take a mayfly.
    Generous as ever, Edward said it was my turn for a cast, even though he had seen the trout first. I crawled through the long grass, but could not get too close because the fish was in a little open glide between reeds, and if I could see him, he could see me. I was using my featherweight cane seven-footer, which has a lovely action, even if I don't. As I extended the line, I realised this was a tricky cast - not as tricky as Edward's under-the-bridge effort, but tricky enough for someone who fishes the fly for only a few days each year. My first attempt sent my fly into the reeds; the next put it into the trailing bough of an alder, upstream of the fish. Finally I got the thing to land almost perfectly. It floated down over the quivering greyish shape in midstream - which didn't rise for it. I was wondering whether I could ever repeat such a good throw, when the fish turned and snatched the fly just before it swept under the willow. The line tightened. I'd got him!

    The rod went into a sharp curve as my trout dived, circled and buried itself beneath the leaning tree. I presumed the game was over as soon as it had begun, but steady pressure gradually brought a response and, to my relief, the fish came free, dropping down into the deep pool next to us. I was convinced it was going to launch itself into the dense reeds downstream, but as it circled the pool, Edward said I should keep the pressure as steady as possible while he waited with the net. After a minute or two, as the trout made a slightly slower pass, close to the surface, my gillie leaned forward and scooped him expertly out.
    It was a lovely golden 2½lb wildie, with just a few speckles and a broad square tail. He went back in the stream to grow into a five-pounder.