Monday, 31 March 2008

Fish Tales on The Radio

Radio 4, Saturday 5th April at 5.45am

Radio 4 is re running CY's "Fish Tale" series, starting this Saturday with the "Carp fishing with Paul Whitehouse" episode.

There were four made in total and if memory serves, the ones to come are, Perch fishing with Tom Fort (whose latest book "Downstream" has just been published), one on Trout fishing and another featuring master rod builder Edward Barder.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Cake By The River

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

The best rhubarb to use for this cake is early forced rhubarb for it’s sweet, fragrant flavour and also for it’s incredible, vibrant pink colour.

Forced rhubarb is just coming to the end of its season (I know, sorry, outdoor is now available) and in this country is mostly grown in the ‘Wakefield Triangle’ – an area between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield. Many years ago, the industry grew in West Yorkshire because they were able to use coal from the local pits to heat the forcing sheds and waste wool from the textile industry as fertiliser. After WW2, there were two hundred growers in the area. Now there are only twelve, who struggle to survive against imported produce.

The method of forcing the vegetable came about by chance in the 19th century when a Chelsea gardener left a chimney pot over a plant. Desperate to reach daylight, the stems quickly grew tall to produce succulent and tender rhubarb.

In the Yorkshire Triangle, the rhubarb plants are started off outside in the cold winter months and then moved into dark sheds where the warmth triggers growth by tricking them into thinking that it’s Spring. The lack of light sends them into overdrive and in a frantic search for light they grow like the clappers in the pitch black sheds.

They grow so fast that they can be heard popping and squeaking as the buds and stems are forced upwards. Within weeks they can be harvested – by hand and by candlelight so as not to disturb them. Must be pretty wierd in those sheds!

175g caster sugar
175g butter
3 eggs
175g self raising flour
200g rhubarb
50g light muscovado sugar

Wash the rhubarb, chop the ends off and cut into 2cm chunks. Arrange the pieces in the bottom of a buttered 20cm round cake tin and cover with the light muscovado sugar.
Beat the butter and caster sugar until fluffy and then add the eggs one at a time. If they start to curdle, add a spoonful of flour with each egg.
Fold in the rest of the flour then transfer to the cake tin, on top of the rhubarb. Bake in a medium oven for about 45 mins and allow to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning out. The lovely pink rhubarb will be on top and the dark sugar will hopefully be sticky and running down the sides!

Wendy Barrett

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset

Caught By The River faves (well, mine anyway - JB) have just announced a UK tour

"Music as tough as it is gentle, as ancient as it is modern, and as coldly desolate as it is achingly intimate.. easily more contemporary and stylish than boys in skinny trousers holding electric guitars like it's 1969...They might not end us being the best-selling British all-girl group of all time, but they're well on their way to being the most charismatic and imaginative."

Paul Morley, The Observer

Friday, 28 March 2008

The Pleasures Of........March

aka what dipped our floats this month

Tench, 6lb 8ozs, Osterley Park, Sunday 9th March

Shirley Collins article in Mojo
Gavin & Stacey (very sweet & very funny)
Bo Diddley "I'm A Man" - The Chess Masters 1955 - 1958 (Hip O Select)
'Theme Time Radio Hour' with your host Bob Dylan (Ace Records)
The Black Crowes "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion"
Neon Neon "Stainless Style" (esp ‘Steal Your Girl’)
Hereford Pale Ale, The Plough And Harrow, The Grand Slam
Nick Cave "Dig, Lazurus, Dig!" (how did Nick Cave write the funniest album of the year?)
Harland Miller
recipes off the River Cottage website
"Come Back (Story Of The Reds)"
proper Jamaican Red Stripe on sale in Tesco
"How To Be Free" Tom Hodgkinson (I know this was in Feb, but it should be there every month)
Portishead "Dummy" (still sounds amazing)
Chris Yates "Four Seasons"
Tribute from the St Austell Brewery

Rob Bailey..

we like your art...

Rob Bailey is one of the most exciting poster designers in Manchester. He had produced an array of brilliant work for Licktronica - Common's electronic/experimental night. Common (39 - 41 Edge Street, Manchester 4) is currently hosting an exhibition of Rob's designs, including a wall mural. Check it out, it's amazing.

posted by Permafrost on mdmarchive

cheers Rofey

Gorsey Lane, Hightown

Last bank holiday, we escaped the traffic by meandering down Gorsey Lane hoping then to drive into Sandy Lane and eventually reach Hightown. However, the lane eventually petered out even though the OS Map would lead you to believe otherwise. It was though the local populace had let the trees and bushes grow over the lane to prevent any interlopers discovering their quiet backwater, around the fields of Moss Farm, which lies about half a mile from Hightown.

Colin 3/9/06

at the river's mouth

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Chris Yates, England’s most revered and esoteric angler, chats to Kevin Parr about carp, silver tourists and rocket powered boats.

Taken from the archives of The Idler

Photographer, author, editor of Waterlog magazine, but foremost a fisherman, Chris Yates has been described in angling circles as a “legend in his own lunchtime”, not least after the capture of a British record carp some twenty years ago, but his enigmatic and private nature has confused many, who label him eccentric and mildly unapproachable.

This latter attribute perhaps affirmed by his initial response to my request for an interview.

“Are you interested?” I said.
“Not really,” he replied, “I’m not interested in anything that resembles work.”

Fortunately, an Idler interview is far from real work and I soon secured an invitation to his cottage in south Wiltshire, with the promise of a pub lunch, afternoon tea and a damn good chinwag.

And so here I am, sitting on a sofa in the most glorious of clutters that is the study of Chris Yates. By one wall a wood burner, which is lit and toiling, on another a huge bookcase that represents five decades of collated paraphernalia, Chris’ desk and chair on the next wall, and finally my sofa. In between the structure is an organised mess of journals, nets and at least a dozen fishing rods - all hand-made split cane, and all probably decades old.
Chris is a single parent of four, and in the next room are two of his children, both sick and off school, but both seemingly content with my presence. Due to this unforeseen bout of illness the pub-lunch could be out of the equation, but Chris is a tea freak, and the second cup is on its way.

CHRIS YATES: And I forgot to strain this one.

KEVIN PARR: Is that mine?

YATES: Yes, but there’s proper tea-leaves in there, you can see them - of course, I remembered to strain mine…

PARR: As you would.

YATES: You can have some fruitcake - it is your cake.

PARR: No, it’s your cake.

YATES: Well it’s my cake now, but it was yours… I’ll cut a couple more slices…

PARR: If you insist.

YATES: …and you should add that we were going to go to the pub, but as this is now “children’s hospital”, we can’t go and leave the patients. Besides I’m actually quite glad we’re not going to the pub…

PARR: It’s definitely off the agenda?

YATES: I think for the minute it is, well an hour - it’s half past one already and, besides, this is a much nicer atmosphere, here in my study. If we were in the pub there’d be clanking about and thinking about what to eat and all that is too much… trouble. (Laughs) It’s never too much trouble deciding what to drink, though, but when you want to have a quiet chat, it could be a bit distracting with all these people coming in from the fields and the woods saying: “Hello Chris, ya seen any big fish recently?!” (Pause)… No I haven’t. No, I haven’t seen a big fish for over a year. Fishing-wise, it’s been a very bad season.

PARR: Yes, likewise.

YATES: Very few carp in the summer - but I did catch my best salmon.

PARR: (Excited) Did you? Where was that?

YATES: It was on the river Tana, in Finnmark, the most northern salmon river in Europe, which flows into the Arctic Ocean… and that was in August. I was in a boat, a little narrow wooden boat.

PARR: Wow.

YATES: It’s probably the best Atlantic salmon fishing in the world, on the river Tana, it’s simply unbelievable. The river flows through Finnmark - that’s Lapland, but they don’t like being called Laps - they’re “Samis”, and I discovered this after a few black eyes. Using the wrong words out there is just bad news.

Anyway, I was willing to put up with the fact that it was meant to be the best salmon and trout fishing in the world. I thought, yes, I can put up with that if I can get to the grayling. Because I’m not a great fan of salmon and trout.


YATES: They are pushy sort of fish, always jumping about and being far too flashy and showy.

PARR: Definitely - and they’re a bit thick as well.

YATES: Incredibly thick - because they’re like a cruise missile, with the same amount of intelligence, in that they just keep going, no matter what you throw at them, they keep going. Whereas the carp, the carp is the grandmaster of chess. And a barbel… a barbel is a little strange, but they are mysterious in a way that salmon are not, they don’t seem to have too much intelligence but they move in a different way.

PARR: Absolutely, there is more art in catching a barbel than a salmon.

YATES: Indeed, but back to the summer in the far north, I was going for the grayling - that’s what I really wanted, but there were so many salmon in the river I couldn’t get through them to catch the bloody grayling. Every time I cast out I caught one of these stupid salmon - although I did manage a twenty-one pounder.

PARR: So has no one tapped into this gold mine, and exploited the tourism?

YATES: I think a lot of people have known about it but they keep quiet. Germans, and quite a few Swedes were over there, and erm, Americans. But it’s got to be the most productive salmon fishing in the world now, in fact the world record was caught there - eighty pounds - which is a bloody big salmon.

PARR: That’s the size of your desk!

YATES: Yes. (Laughs) It’s a big silver tourist, but they just don’t appeal, not really, they don’t do anything for me.


: And they are just tourists, you know, they come up river, look around, and go back off to sea again. Some of them don’t make it on the way back, though. They get bored and just roll up and die - just like real tourists. (Laughs) They’ve got to be on the move all the time - they can’t sit still.

PARR: And they’re not even supposed to feed
in freshwater.

YATES: That’s it, to catch them you just provoke them - that’s all you do.

PARR: But I’m sure they would get a little hungry going up river - in contemplation of what they are about to do, (copulate)

YATES: No, it’s just a conditioned reflex. They see a little thing like a fish flash by and they just snap at it. Maybe like a well fed person going for a little piece of pudding.

PARR: Or a second piece of fruitcake.

YATES: Or maybe even a third piece of fruitcake.
And so yet more fruitcake is consumed.

YATES: (Through a mouthful) But, as we were saying, apart from the salmon fishing and trout fishing in places other than England, it’s been a very poor season. And yet I haven’t really minded. I think, perhaps, I’m going through one of those crises that people go through, every now and then, where suddenly fishing has become slightly less important, because there are all sorts of other things going on.

It’s like you’ve reached a fork in the stream, and you think it looks good one way, but it doesn’t look at all fishy. And yet I might find something a bit unusual, where it’s shadowy and murky, and that’s where I’ve gone - I’ve gone up this little side-stream, which is a backwater in life, and I don’t know where it’s going to lead but I like it, and it’s completely unknown to me, where I am at the moment.

I think it’s the first time in my life where I haven’t actually been fishing regularly for over a year - I haven’t been out that often, and yet I’ve been discovering a lot of new things. It’s as if I’ve discovered - blimey, I can do other things in life, other than fish! (Laughs) It’s exciting.

So, I think that’s what’s happened to me - it could be a mid-life crisis, I’m not sure, though I’ve always been rather dubious of the term. I think it’s just a bloody excuse for someone who’s got bored of one thing and think they are too old to take on something new - I don’t think you’re ever too old to start something new.

PARR: Absolutely.

YATES: I got a phone call earlier from a friend of mine, who writes. He’s one of my contributors. He writes about fishing all over the world - mostly in British Columbia, steelhead fishing. He’s actually a very good carp fisherman. He’s caught some big English carp, and he’s probably one of the best fly fishermen I’ve ever seen.

But anyway, he’s not writing for me in this country any more, he met a sculptress when he was in America last year, and she completely bowled him over. And he’s now living with her, and the exciting part of the story - the interesting part of the story, why I say it’s never too late, is that she is probably 34 or 35 and he is 69 - and he said to me, “It has affected my fishing a little bit, but I’ll let it ride for six or seven months and I’ll be back with a rod again.” But right now he’s got other things on his mind, so it’s never too late. (Laughs) And he’s like a little kid - an adolescent - to talk to, there’s nothing like a young woman to make a fool of an old man, but then that’s not entirely true - there’s nothing like a fish to make a fool of any man. But I suppose a woman is the perfect example of how to make a fool of someone.

PARR: But if he is behaving like a kid, then it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think that it is something mistakenly perceived by certain individuals who themselves are in a rut for so many years, that they forget what’s important. They become zombiefied - get up every day, go to work, come home, dinner at the table, watch a bit of television, go to bed - over and over again. Then Saturday morning, wash the car - Sunday, mow the grass.

YATES: (Interrupts loudly) Saturday afternoon, listen to the football commentary…

PARR: Yes, of course.

YATES: …there are some things that even a really boring person can do to liven up their Saturday.

PARR: And Wednesday nights as well.
(Tonight is the Premiership clash between Southampton and Middlesbrough - live on Radio Solent)

YATES: Oh, and Wednesday nights… Occasionally. But only when Southampton are playing well.

PARR: I’ve got to admit I’m optimistic.

YATES: I think it could be a good evening. I’m going to put some champagne on ice - or at least I would do if I had any champagne.

PARR: You could have a Glenmorange, perhaps…

YATES: Oh yes, a Glenmorange would do. I’ll pour two glasses, but we won’t be drinking them until the end of the match - you might have to stay until 10 o’clock, what with injury time.(Laughs)
It is interesting, though, getting back to this idea of the way people age. I don’t think people do age, actually - I think people perceive that they are ageing, and they imagine that they are ageing, and you’ve only got to see a fisherman - sorry a fisherperson…

PARR: That’s a bit non-PC… (Laughs)

YATES: Sorry, you’ve only got to be an angler
to realise that there is no age involved.

There’s experience, certainly, but age simply doesn’t matter.

Take my old mate Bernard Venables, who did in fact die in the end - which was a big surprise, we all thought he was going to be a hundred - he was still keen on the idea of going fishing on his ninety-fourth birthday, just as he had been on every birthday that I can remember. In fact, we celebrated his ninetieth birthday with a pike fishing trip to the Dorset Stour, and he caught a double figure pike. And he was using a multiplier reel, you know, and casting all bloody day - but he got one, and it wasn’t a great day for fishing, it was a bit cold and he did get a bit cold towards the end, but he was determined that he would get one. And that was his ninetieth birthday. I think that’s a good example to anyone.

PARR: Definitely.

YATES: And he was like a kid. We came back here, and, actually, he was sitting there that day more or less. (Smiles) I, realising he is referring to me, am extremely humbled - Bernard Venables, to the uninitiated, is a godfather of angling - though I don’t think I look ninety. He was sitting where you are sitting - and we were talking about it just like two kids who come rushing in after a day off school… “Wasn’t it great?… Cor… The way that fish went…” and we lost a couple, and we caught a couple and we were damn cold, “get that stove up - come on I’m gonna freeze to death.” All this and he was bloody ninety.

So I don’t think you do get old, though obviously the joints start to ache a little bit, but you’ve just got to fight that and laugh at that and not care or at least not really care…

PARR: (Laughs)

YATES: Well obviously you’ve got to care (Laughs). But it happens to kids as well. Like my little daughter who fell out of the tree yesterday, and she’s suffering more than I am at the moment, with aches and pains, and that’s why she’s got the day off school.

PARR: That was a ruse I never tried - to get the day off school.

YATES: What, falling out of a tree?

PARR: Yes.

YATES: I, er, had a special, secret method - a secret recipe for getting off school, which, fortunately, I have revealed to my boys, so that I now know they can never get away with it - and that was the secret of the vomit. And when it was a very serious day - like a French or maths exam, I used to make up some vomit from sandwich spread, all sorts of paste and things like that, lots of tomatoes and diced up carrots - there was always lots of carrots. And I’d mix it up in a bowl, secretly, when no-one was in, and keep it in a jar somewhere - but you’d have to keep it for a few days so it started to get properly rank - fermenting - and then this is the middle of the night- suddenly you go haring across the landing - bang, bang, bang, bang, making lots of noise in the loo and pull the chain and sit there going:(falsetto) “Oh Mummy - I’ve been sick, oh, sorry I’ve made a bit of a mess on the landing carpet” - (pantomime dame) “Oh God, no - oh you poor thing - go back to bed”. And she’d be scraping it up and scrubbing it down at three in the morning, and I’d have a day off school.

PARR: Superb!

YATES: I only did it three or four times, between the ages of twelve and fifteen, when you hate school more than anything else - it becomes serious then.

PARR: Yes it does.

YATES: So each time I used a different mix, and my mother never twigged, and I got off my French O-level mock, I got off the end of term maths exam, and there was something else - a bully that was waiting for me that day, “I’m gonna get you tomorrow Yates!” - but he never did, he got bored when I didn’t show up.

So the sick saved me, and naturally I went fishing on those days too.

My parents were both teachers, and in the morning I would insist that they went to their respective schools, even though I wasn’t well enough to go to mine. And as soon as they had left the drive I’d be on my bike.

I used to call them “hiding days” - because I would hide from the world, and those days were really important. I think the idea of having a day off, escaping, while everyone else was busy - poor bastards, and there you are with a day off, and you’ve got a fishing rod and a pond and no-one knows you’re there. You have the whole world to yourself; in fact it was as if you owned the world because it was only you there. I know it couldn’t last and the next day you’d be behaving like a sprat with all the other sprats getting washed out with the morning tide and washed back again with the evening tide, but you knew that some days you could behave like a fish other than a sprat and avoid the tide and go out to sea and do something adventurous. Go somewhere else.

At this point Chris was summoned next door to the children’s ward, where the patients required food and drink. I took advantage of this opportunity and nipped outside for a cigarette and a nose around the garden.

The Yates’ residence is certainly idyllic. Set against a steep wooded bank on one side of a valley, that offered views of classic Southern downland, grazed by sheep and quartered regularly by buzzards. The garden itself was kept as a cottage garden should be - low maintenance naturalization. Overgrown, strewn with discarded toys and fashioned wooden weapons (the bow and arrow, I later discovered, was one of Chris’ efforts), with a worryingly unprotected well near the front door, and no apparent boundaries with the countryside.
It was refreshing to see well trodden paths cutting into the trees behind the house, Chris’s children certainly made the most of their spacious habitat, and didn’t need “Tekken 2″ or “Pokemon” in order to stretch their own imaginations.

Cigarette finished, I returned to the study to the sound of the kettle boiling yet again…

PARR: During the Seventies, when you spent half of your life fishing at Redmire pool. Did you think to yourself: “My goal is to catch the biggest carp ever”, or did it just happen like that?

YATES: No, No. At that time, the fishing at Redmire, which was probably the best carp fishing in the world was restricted to ten people who were allowed to fish it. It was incredible that I managed to worm my way in. Actually it was a pretty low trick I played to get in, but I won’t tell that story now, I’ll save it for another day.

PARR: A sequel, perhaps?

YATES: But anyway, I was one of ten, and we fished it in rotation. So three anglers would fish it for a week, and you would have to wait for two weeks before you were there again. And then there was the bloke that ran the syndicate, Jack Hilton, who was the tenth man and he could fish whenever he liked - which of course meant, you never saw him. Because he had that absolute freedom, he never went, and because I only had one week in three, I always went. And I would fish from Sunday to Sunday, for seven weeks every summer, until the beginning of November. When the leaves fell, I wasn’t interested - that wasn’t carp fishing for me. So I lived at Redmire for 7 or 8 weeks, every year for seven years.

PARR: And that would be your priority? You wouldn’t let a work deadline encroach your fishing time?

(At the time Chris Yates was a photographer of some note - the majority of his work designing album and book covers)

YATES: (Slightly shocked) No. No. No. I would phone people up, a new client maybe, and they would come around and really love my work, and I would have to say to them - “Before we talk about jobs, there is something you should know - I am a photographer, but before that and above that, I am a fisherman, that comes first.” Some of them would look aghast, and say, “we can’t do business then - we’re wasting one another’s time,” and off they’d go. But the good one’s would say, “That’s great - you can come and tell me some fishing stories between jobs.”

But I’d always say that - first I’m a fisherman - then I’m a photographer.

And then I’d be offered a new job and clients would say, “Look, you’ve got a three week deadline on this.”

And I’d say, “Well I’m off to Redmire tomorrow.”
“Redmire? Ahhhh…”

There was no argument. They would just say, “Will you have time when you come back - to read the novel and do the cover?”

“Yes… there’s bound to be time…”

So, yes, Redmire did become my second home - actually my first home, the one with bricks was my second home. And I think I got to know it better than anyone else, I just loved being there.

PARR: Did you feel less pressure than other people actually to catch fish?

YATES: Definitely. I didn’t need to be fishing; I just needed to be at that place. But other people, who had proper jobs and less time, felt the need to catch fish. They had to make it worth their while, whereas I didn’t care.

And to make it worth their while, they were always talking of the monster fish. I was happy to talk about the monster, but I think I was the only one not really concerned about catching the record, because that was just a dream. And while I was happy for that dream to swim around my head, I wasn’t that keen on making it a reality, because I so enjoyed absorbing myself in the very special atmosphere of Redmire - it was a magical place.
The others, though, were very keen to catch the record and become the new Dick Walker, who had held the record since 1952, so it was odd when I broke the record - smashed it to pieces - because I was the one who perhaps least wanted it. Of course I did want it when it ended up in my net, and I saw it - I was thrilled - it was a huge event in my life, but it didn’t change the way I thought about fishing.

PARR: It was also a fish that caused controversy because the British record fish committee refused to acknowledge it - I was young at the time, though, so I can’t remember why.

YATES: Oh, it was stupid - totally absurd. It was so laughable. The reason it wasn’t accepted was due to confusion some years before over a record roach, that wasn’t a roach - it was a rudd. They are difficult to identify if you don’t know what to look for - if you’re not a fisherman they look just
the same.

So they made this rule- rule 4b (Laughs) - and they wouldn’t accept anything that wasn’t absolutely kosher - they decreed that a record had to be witnessed by a committee member.

I had five separate witnesses, photographs - we were all experienced carp fishermen. And finally I said, why should we worry about rule 4b, or was it 3b, about confusion of species. - Is this a gudgeon (laughs)? There was only gudgeon in redmire other than carp, so of course it was a bloody carp, and anyway this was a secret location, we weren’t allowed to take outsiders in - which was great. The world was not allowed to encroach on Redmire, so they couldn’t have come in anyway. Unless, perhaps, they were in a sack, and we smuggled them in. (Laughs)

So I’m sorry but you have to accept it. There it is. There I am with it. Here are my witness statements, to say that I have caught it. Here are the scales, and it weighed 511/2 lbs.

And because the British Record Fish Committee were so bloody-minded, because we hadn’t adhered to their particular rule, they rejected it, and as a result everyone gave up on them. So Dick Walker, the previous record holder, who was incidentally delighted that I had beaten his fish, more so because I had caught it on a split cane rod that he had made in 1952 - particularly poetic. Anyway he created a new record fish collective, that was more representative of the time, and that became the one people took more notice of.

PARR: And now at last the record lists have united.

YATES: Yes, finally. Fifteen years or so later, and at last I got my prize, anything I wanted from a Barbour catalogue. And if it hadn’t been such a good prize I would have thrown it back at them, but I thought bugger it, I may as well get a new coat. (Laughs)

The pub is now definitely out - last orders are long gone, but Chris offers to cook me lunch which he prepares. His speciality, no less. Of course the kettle is soon whistling again, and I have a few minutes to myself in Chris’s study. The bookcase is hard to ignore. There are two main themes in Chris’s library - fishing, obviously, and modern poetry, of which there are countless examples. There are more than just books to investigate, however. A scattering of photographs, all seemingly personal to Chris, various trinkets and scraps of scrawled thought, a pile of fishing reels, some over eighty years old, and a packet of dried beans which form the ammunition for Chris’s blowpipe.

What is clear, however, is that this array of memories and accoutrements is arranged for no one’s benefit other than that of their owner. This is no public museum, but a writer’s workplace and inspiration - not that this writer would object to the occasional snooper.

PARR: So after the leaves fell in autumn - what would you do?

YATES: As a child - when the fishing stopped, we would find other things to do with water. Making boats, building dams, splashing around, but not in the winter. In my teenage years, we used to build rocket boats, through the winter we would be designing them, and then during the closed season, when we went out to spot fish, we would round off the day, by having a little regatta.

PARR: So what were the boats made from?

YATES: Carpet tubes - packed with sodium chlorate & sugar, and we fixed fins to them- so they looked like sharks. Some of them would be doing thirty or forty miles an hour, bouncing along the lake- bom, bom, bom and then BANG!! They would explode, and of course because they were made from carpet tubes, they would always either blow up or burn up, and all our hard work would be gone. We sometimes put passengers in them too, normally freshwater mussels, but once we had a toad as a pilot, and I’m afraid he probably didn’t survive the experience. But we wanted something that would last, something that we could re-use. So we considered developing an electric motor. A friend got hold of an oxyacetylene cylinder, we sawed the end off it, and we decided to test it in my parents’ garden.

So we dug a hole, filled it with sodium chlorate and sugar, and fixed a long fuse, which ran behind a bank in the garden. We surrounded the launch site with bits of old iron-mongery, to absorb any big flash, and there was also a garden roller and a windshield from an old scooter I had. Then we lit the fuse, which made a lovely noise, a soft roar, and flames leapt from it, we were thinking, “this is gonna be good.” But suddenly it stopped, and I thought, “eh?”. There must have been five pounds of rocket mixture in the cylinder and it had only been going for a few seconds. What had gone wrong?

Then there was a fizzing sound, like someone struggling with the top of a warm bottle of beer, and all of a sudden the most fantastic explosion, which shook the garden. The garden roller, which must have weighed a few hundred pounds just went high into the air over a laburnum tree and landed on my neighbours lawn with a dirty thud. The windshield simply disappeared, and the top of the cylinder vanished through a red streak into the ionosphere and came down miles away. There were bits of earth and turf coming out of the sky for a long time afterwards, and the bang was so loud it registered 1.8 on the Richter scale at Greenwich.

PARR: (Laughing) Bloody hell!

YATES: And the Home Office came round the next day, and we were in serious, serious trouble. So after that we decided to stop building rocket boats and go back to passive fishing.

PARR: That is a good story.

YATES: And if you don’t believe me, then you can check the police records. I was originally charged with “causing an explosion with intent”, which wasn’t fair, we were being creative, not destructive. But eventually it was lessened to “illegal manufacture of an explosive mixture”, for which I got twenty pounds costs and a two year conditional discharge.

I must add that this was a long time ago, when I was young and irresponsible.


It’s a little late for lunch, having gone three, but I’m not complaining. A bottle of wine is opened and Yates’ speciality fish dish is certainly worth waiting for. An old family recipe, I’m told, that Chris actually invented about a year ago.

We talk on, but a little more personally. Since that first telephone call a friendship has begun to develop, but the topics of conversation have generally revolved around Chris. So I talk about myself a little, and Chris listens, before discussing subjects sensitive to him. That his marriage suffered due to his angling obsession, he is in no doubt, though he remains philosophical. He knew deep down that every time he reached for his rods he was chinking away at his wife’s resolve, and yet he couldn’t not go. Fishing is an affliction, for which there is no cure. If you resist the urge, then you are worse off, for your eyes close to a mirage of bobbing floats and rippled water until you go quite mad. So you just keep going, even if it costs you twenty years’ marriage.

All too soon the afternoon had passed, school and college had finished and there were now four children demanding their father’s attention. I made for home and listened to the football on my own. Southampton drew, so the Glenmorange remained uncorked, though I understand it saved Chris’ life on the final day of the season. He went fishing with a friend in a wind that blew hard from Siberia, and they were minutes from becoming frozen statues, until Chris remembered that bottle of single malt in his creel.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008


Dear Reader,

I am delighted to inform you that ARCHIPELAGO Issue Two will be available in the first week of April 2008.

To speak geographically, Issue Two ranges from Donegal, Derry and Antrim to Scotland, via Galloway, Skye and Cromarty, to descend into England at Filey Brigg. It delays a few days to explore the Wash (neither sea nor land), then puts out again to round the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts. As it progresses it turns the archipelago this way and that, celebrating it across a host of literary, artistic, linguistic, historic, political and topographical trajectories and perspectives.

Please visit the Website for more information
on contributors and to download an order form to reserve your copy.

With best wishes

Andrew McNeillie

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

More Pike Fishing On Lake Windermere;

the final part of Andrew's the Lake District adventure;

I’d love to be able to describe exactly what happened and how I skilfully played the fish, but it’s a blur. Initially relief that I’d not missed the run, but panic that I’d not set the hook properly. A flurry of reeling and the knowledge that a fish bigger than I've ever previously felt had my hook in its mouth, was pretty pissed off and wanted to get away. Some time passed, I've no idea how long and we finally see the angry pike swirling and splashing just below us. Rich skilfully nets it and it’s in the boat. Now, between me and you, this is the bit I'm dreading. Catching the dangerous mother is one thing, but dealing with it another. I look at Rich, and with a sinking feeling hear the words, 'Your fish, you deal with it.' He helpfully flicks the hook out of its mouth with his fingers and with blatant disregard for their safety. I start to inwardly panic. He then places it a sack, lowers it over the side and lets it get its breath back before we release it. I have a few minutes respite, but soon enough it’s back in the boat. Rich shows me how to slip my hand under its gills and grab it by its chin bone (or whatever technical term). This doesn't seem so bad. I mean my hand might be in its mouth, but I've entered from its throat and I'm nowhere near its teeth (or so I hope). I'm not exactly comfortable, and I'm trying to take the bulk of its weight on my knee

Rich takes a few snaps and I plead with him to take it off me. Somewhere during this I remember stretching my fingers to get a better grip. They must have gently brushed the pike's teeth as when Rich finally relented and helped me release the fish, there was blood coming from all of the fingers on my right hand. I haven't mentioned before, but one of the few things I know about pikes is that they have anti-coagulates in their saliva. They bite their prey and even if it tries to get away, there's a clear trail of blood to follow. Sure enough, the blood flow from my fingers doesn't want to stop. I ask Rich, if it wouldn't be better to wear a glove on the hand that you put in the pike's mouth and get that look of disdain you'd get if you tried to order a half on a Friday night in any Northern town. Not the done thing apparently. Although I do then notice that the so-called pro on the front of 'Pike and Predator' seems to be wearing chainmail over his hands.

My drama is quickly followed by another one of Rich's successful strikes. He brings in a 16lb pike pretty quickly and shows me again how to unhook and handle the fish safely. The irony is that as the fish swims away from the boat we notice Rich's little finger is bleeding profusely. Gloves all round next time? (Obviously not)

We’re so contented with the fish that have been in the boat that we both spend the next few hours dozing. I open one eye from time to time to appreciate the surroundings, but on the whole the gentle rocking motion of the boat keeps luring me back to sleep. The next time I awake I see Rich strike, but unfortunately he’s a little too late. I then get a run, but inexplicably (not really - just lack of skill) also miss. I think we both miss again, and maybe its my turn when we again hear the sound of line leaving a reel, but in all honesty, I'd rather see another fish in the boat than get that sinking feeling that comes with another missed run. And besides, Rich has been more than generous, if not completely altruistic with our alternate strike deal. To prove my decision entirely correct, within minutes another 14lb pike is in the boat.

A few beers later, followed by a much better nights sleep, its Sunday Morning. We awake to find a mist, possibly even a dense fog, has descended on the lake.

We head out, but it’s difficult to navigate with visibility at only about 50 yards. We put out the rods in a spot we've guestimated is about right, just by an island, but we're not hopeful. After an hour or 3 (time has by now become meaningless) the mist/fog slowly lifts and a pike jumps about 100 yards from the boat. You wouldn't think it was possible. A huge dinosaur launching itself out of the water and sending ripples for as far as the eye could see. As with all fisherman, I instantly panic about the prospects of this being over. I phone my parents who are kindly providing home cooking before I return to London. With a sigh of relief I let Rich know that a late lunch is okay and we look at the rods with a renewed hope. Conditions now feel perfect and after witnessing the flying pike, we sense that there's going to be one more monster in the boat before we have to return to civilisation.

We pack up the rods as slowly as possible, even leaving the last bait out a little longer as we have a final look at our beautiful surroundings. Unfortunately, its not to be, but I have consolation in that thought that there'll be other times. But maybe rent a cottage?

Andrew Walsh

Monday, 24 March 2008

Pike Fishing On Lake Windermere;

here's the first part of a Lake District adventure, that Andrew took back in February;

I've been meaning to go fishing with my friend Rich for a few years now. Fishing for me has usually been a fair weather sport. Lazily watching a float on an estate lake type of affair, the vague dream of a carp making it slide from view. This was to be a whole new experience. Freezing cold weather and fishing for prehistoric beasts with loads of sharp teeth. Finally, just after Christmas, we put a date in the diary and decide to stick to it. Whilst flicking through the paper on the train journey, I see a picture of a cormorant eating a 3ft pike. Clearly a lucky omen. Rich meets me at the station and we nip back to his to pick up the boat. I'm not sure what to expect, but it’s basically a one-man tent on top of a small motorboat. 10ft long at the most. Rich has been busy with preparations and the boat is laden with food, warm clothing, tackle and baits.

As we're driving up through the stunning scenery that leads into the Lake District, Rich points out kestrels to me whilst letting me know that the conditions are looking good. There's a 15mph wind from the southwest and the sky is overcast. The temperature is about 9 degrees. Tonight will apparently be an almost full moon.

On arrival we don fleecy adult baby grows. I immediately become attached to mine and insist on keeping it. (Probably the less said the better). More layers of waterproofs and we're ready for off. We launch the tiny motorboat next to a sign that says no launching of motorboats.

Rich heads towards one of his favourite spots and I enjoy the amazing views and surge of pleasure in the knowledge that I'm out of London, phone turned off, in the middle of a lake, about to hunt for monsters. By early afternoon we're fishing. The water is crystal clear and you can see down to depths of well over 10ft. I keep expecting to see pike swim past I’m that confident we’ll catch. We have 6 rods out (Jeff – Rich has 2 rod licences so we're legal!) with a variety of dead baits including mackerel, smelt and lamprey. We're fishing on the bottom at various depths between 20 and 40ft. The deal is we'll take turns in striking at runs. Rich will go first to show me how it’s done. No bite alarms, just sitting waiting and listening for the sound of a reel.

We only have to wait 20 minutes and we're rewarded. It’s a more frenzied strike than I'm used to seeing, as Rich ensures that the hook is set. Within 5 minutes he's brought a monster into the boat. An 181⁄2lb beast. Its beautiful and yet, extremely vicious looking. My first big pike up close.

Rich handles it with the utmost care and extreme ease, even hugging it against his waterproofs to calm it when it tries to wriggle from his grasp. Easier said than done when you see the endless rows of razor sharp teeth throughout its gaping mouth. After the photos and weighing we relax with a beer. Rich is incredibly relieved that we've had a big fish and that my journey from London hasn't been wasted. I assure him that just being there would have been enough, but we both know that's not entirely true.

About an hour later, the slow hiss of line leaving a reel interrupts my thoughts. I strike and feel the pleasant weight of a fish on the other end. It swims off and puts up a fight, but I sense that its nothing like the monster we've just witnessed. The tackle we're using is fairly heavy, so without too much trouble, I bring the fish to the surface. This excites Rich no end who informs me that the small pike I think I've hooked on mackerel is actually a giant brown trout. (A ferox). Apparently in over 10 years he's never managed to catch one and he's delighted to have it in the boat. Despite the fact it would comfortably feed a family of 10, we put the 8 1/2lb beauty back.

Another a beer and I wonder aloud how I'm going to pee. A tricky affair in a small boat involving the other person needing to go to the opposite side to balance you. Definitely not something to try in the dark after many more beers. As we've already had a brilliant evenings fishing we decide to head back to a bay where we'll sleep for the night. We eat a delicious dish of Italian meatballs that Rich cooks on the boats tiny, but functional stove. The sleeping arrangements are cramped but no less comfortable than a small tent and we settle down for an early night.

After struggling to initially sleep due to Rich's snoring I'm woken up around 4am by other fishermen arriving and launching their boats. It starts to get light so we drink tea and prepare to set off. As we start the motor we drift behind another fishing boat also leaving our bay. Amazingly (to me at least) it kills it lights and motor, allows us to pass and then doubles round behind us. I have no idea what's going on, but Rich informs me that it's just somebody paranoid about protecting their favourite swim. I know that anglers can be protective of their favourite fishing spots, but the clandestine nature of this behaviour seems excessive to say the least. I mean, the lake is 12 miles long.

We arrive at another swim that has been productive for Rich in the past and by 7am we're fishing. I am by now feeling slightly guilty that Rich is doing all of the work. I try and make amends with bacon and egg sandwiches which doesn't quite do the trick as Rich allocates dealing with the anchor to me. This involves dragging about 50 yards of soaking wet rope attached to heavy lumps of metal at fairly regular intervals. That said, there’s a sense of achievement when the anchor is finally up, and it certainly helps me to keep warm.

We’re fishing for about half an hour and Rich lands another fish. Only 12lb this time. Its hardly photographed as we’re becoming pretty complacent about the fact there’ll be more. Sure enough, another run and this time it’s my turn.......


The Lost Estate Lakes.

Andrew & I were left devastated this week when we found out that our favorite fishing spot had closed it's doors to anglers.
That really isn't an understatement, this place was special. We have had some great and memorable times there. We've caught big fish, but we've seen bigger. We've caught sod all and it hasn't mattered. The place is mysterious, beautiful and secluded and as good as secret. I've fished there with only deer for company. But now it's gone and it's secrets will remain. The lakes are set in the (enormous) grounds of Heythrop House, on the edge of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. The house, which was once very grand, is now a hotel and conference centre. A pure Fawlty Towers one at that. It had previously been a private home, a Jesuit college and from 1970 until the mid 90's I believe, the training centre for the Nat West Bank. The right to fish there was taken away during the Nat West years but reopened when the hotel took over. Now, they want another nine holes on their golf course. Not even the chance of one last cast. Golf is a four letter word. (JB)

Stewart Moss shares his memories of Heythrop Park lakes;

The story begins way back in the 1700's. Charles Talbot, the 12th Earl of Shrewsbury commissioned a magnificent house deep in the Oxfordshire countryside, to be surrounded by equally indulgent parkland. The custom of the time was for such estates to feature an ornamental lake, and this one was no exception. The classic strategy of damming a stream was utilised, with a cotswold stone bridge spanning the dam, with a smaller lake below ending in a pretty little waterfall.

Fast forward almost 300 years to the 1970's when I first set eyes on the lakes as boy on a family outing. But it wasn't until the late 1990's when I first cast a line into the lakes, beginning to taste success with some of the old carp in the lakes a couple of seasons later.

The top lake was the more popular, being more carefully manicured, easier to fish, and boasting a large number of fairly easy-to-catch carp. But it was the bottom lake which really enchanted me, being the epitome of an old overgrown estate lake. It was plainly neglected, hopelessly overgrown, with awkward banks & lots of submerged fallen branches - all helping to create a seductive 'shroud of mystery'.

I imagined it had changed little through the centuries, and who knows what handsome old carp lived in its coloured water? Most of the lake was thickly masked by a series of stunning old Beech trees, and punctuated in the gaps with hawthorns, Brambe, Birch and Alders. With some of the surrounding terrain also heavily wooded, the lake was a haven for wildlife - Deer, Foxes, Badgers, Buzzards, Barn Owls, Kingfishers etc all made frequent visits along the waters edge. The water itself was mostly shallow (save the dam end), with a few patches of Lily & Reedmace, and was usually quite coloured - with a bed of thick silt, sprinkled liberally with old beech twigs & branches. Fish species included carp, bream, tench, roach, perch & pike. All in all it was a stalker's dream - and I soon discovered that on occasion, the carp liked a floater in the sun...

I did not fish the lake hard - it was not the sort of place which deserved such twentieth century pressure; instead making occasional short forays, mostly stalking and surface fishing over a period of several seasons. The carp were not particularly hard to catch if you were very quiet, and a few mates and I did well. The carp were not huge, mainly ranging between 10 and 20 pounds, but all were gorgeous old Oxfordshire carp, mostly commons but with a few stunning chestnut and gold Mirrors mixed in. A discreet little syndicate was formed.

Although not strictly allowed, a few day ticket anglers (and some even without tickets) from the top lake began wandering down to the lake from this time on. Sadly, this coincided with the first appearance of litter at the lake - breadbags, coke cans, sweetcorn tins etc; which was extremely disappointing at such a beautiful lake. Sometimes mankind's filth never ceases to amaze.

I will describe (with the aid of my diary from the time) one of a few treasured fishing memories of the lake. An evening floater fishing session, when I arrived at about 5.30pm and spend a good while first scouting round the lake looking for targets - climbing fallen trees & pushing through undergrowth. Having chosen a swim I spent about 45 mins getting a group of fish feeding confidently on pieces of floating crust - It was apparent that the smaller Mirrors were feeding avidly, but the bigger fish are only glimpsed fleetingly, travelling thru the swim without stopping to feed for any length of time. Finally I decided to start fishing - after one of the bigger fish, and I was able to gently move the bait away from interested smaller fish - the carp were competing with each other for crusts so were not unduly alarmed by this. However, a particularly rapid moving mirror was to quick for me and hooked itself, making a right commotion in the swim before I could land him! It weighed about 7lb and I cursed myself as another 30mins feeding were required before I got a 'competition' situation going again.

With my crust back in position, it seemed that only a group of three smallish mirrors were in the area, greedily slurping, when out of nowhere a much bigger fish rose from the murk, circled my crust, and then (with my heart banging in my mouth), engulfed the bait. Waiting until the big common turned to go, I whacked him, and he sank into the deeps quite lazily, as if he didn't realise what was going on.

But this soon changed and an exciting scrap ensued. To the left of me a rod length was a very large bush, with a whole maze of trailing branches in the water, extending about 15 feet from the bank - the bush also ringed by debris and weed beds. To my right, about two rod lengths was a fallen tree, which is right across the lake, bank to bank! If the carp reaches either snag its curtains! The carp's first real run was flat out towards the bush - using maximum side strain I slowed him down, then stopped him dead just as he was reaching the bush. The water under the branches boiled, debris and clouds of silt colour the water, and a stalemate for a few seconds (but seems like minutes) occurred - the carp trying to reach safety with every sinew of energy, versus me and a carp rod in full battle curve! I won though, and he grudgingly eased into open water. After an arm aching 10minute scrap the common was netted without to much difficulty, hooray!

I carried the common clear of the brambles and twigs & steeply sloping bank to the edge of the field behind, and quickly unhooked him on the mat. A quick selftimer photo on the digital and he was released unharmed, to swim free again. I took particular care to give the common plenty of time to recover in the margins, before he kicked strongly and glides away. What pleased me most is the sensational condition of the fish, a scale perfect mix of chestnut, bronze and honeysuckle...and almost certainly an uncaught fish too, weighing just over 17lb.

Now sadly I hear the lakes are closed to fishing (again), due to expansion of the estate golf course from 9 to 18 holes. A huge shame, but I guess all good things come to an end, and they can't take away the memories of those that have enjoyed it! Looking on the bright side, the lake will become sealed within the course, and apart from a few golf balls, should get another rest for a while....

Saturday, 22 March 2008

In Carver Country.

By Greg Ames.

When his first collection of short stories was published, I was a young associate professor at the University of Buffalo. This was back in 1976 or 1977, I think. We'd all read the book in hardcover and couldn't stop talking about it. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? The laconism of those sentences, the casual humor, etc. We knew it was a masterpiece.

We scurried to our desks to write short stories, hoping some of his genius would rub off on us, but his style was impossible to copy. You just ended up sounding really stupid. Here you've got a teenager named Earl in a Laundromat folding his shorts, or you've placed an Arlene on a Tilt-a-Whirl up in Washington state. And then what? We sipped our coffees and shook our heads.

But Christ. I was dying to write one. My friends were all dying to write one too. A Carver story. We were not ashamed to admit it. And worse, we were reading our meager efforts out in public. In the late 1970s, open fiction readings were pretty popular in Buffalo. There wasn't much else to do during the ball-shrinking months of winter. I still remember the night Tony Pelosi sauntered up to the microphone at The Verb and read an "original" story. Nobody in the audience knew what to make of the narrator who was a forty-year-old man reclining on a cot in his mother's ranch house, chain-smoking Merits and asking things like "What's the weather like in Tonawanda?" and "How much are you asking for that color console?" But hell. We all clapped like crazy when old Tony finished up, even though we were pretty embarrassed for him.

Snow fell relentlessly outside the bar's plate glass window. Red and green Christmas lights blinked off and on above the bar. I drank eleven cups of draft beer. Soon it was my turn to read. My piece -- "Hand Me My Pajamas, Honey" -- didn't go over much better. Hell.

We were in hell. Carver hell. We couldn't break the ties. Every time I thought I had gotten over him, moved on, found my own voice, I would write a few sentences that were undeniable rip-offs. And I'd bury my face in my hands. But I wasn't the only one struggling. Every young professor in our department wanted to be a writer. One guy was a Beckett fanatic, of course, there's always one of those types lurking around, but he kept mostly to himself -- his clothes always smelled of gasoline, as I recall -- and he ended up committing suicide in 1984. His suicide note read: "I can't go on. I really mean it this time." But Carver was the ghost that haunted us more than any other writer.

So a few of us started a support group, using the twelve steps and traditions laid down by Bill W., the founder of A.A. The first meeting was held at my house on a Tuesday night in 1985. We called it the "So Much Raymond So Close to Home" group. As chairperson, I read the Daily Reflections and How It Works, replacing the word "Carver" for "alcohol" when appropriate. Then I welcomed any first-timers and out-of-towners. Nobody said anything. "You're in the right place," I said. After that, we went around the room and introduced ourselves. The first meeting was not very well attended. It was just me and Barry Stein from the PhD Comp. Lit. department at the University of Buffalo. So instead of sharing in the traditional sense, we just sat on the folding metal chairs, sipped our coffees and talked back and forth.

"You know, I have never even been to the Pacific Northwest," Stein said, rolling his Styrofoam coffee cup between his palms. "And yet I dream about it. Every god damn night." He shook his head. "And fishing! I hate fishing. I wake up in the morning and I can smell pike on my hands."

I nodded my head. Sure, we'd all been there. Pike on the hands. "Go on, Myers," I said, stubbing out my cigarette on the chair beside me.

"What?" Stein said, turning to me. "What did you say?"

"Go on. It's just an expression," I said. "It means I'm listening," I said.

"But you called me Myers," he said, holding up his hands. "Why did you call me Myers?" he said.

"No, I didn't," I said, holding up my hands. "I didn't call you Myers."

He shrugged. And he tried to get it talked out. "I just need to get it talked out," he said, shaking his head.

"Talk it out," I told him and shrugged. "Who's stopping you?"

"I can't do my own work, my research." He looked at me and sighed. Stein had spent the last three years working on a biography of Nikolai Gogol. Raymond Carver was the bear in his path. "I thought I would have accomplished so much more by now. But it's the little things that get to me." He swirled the coffee in his cup. "Things are bad," he said. "Things are real bad."

"Tell me about it," I said. "It's really something," I said.

He seemed desperate. "Maybe I need to take a trip somewhere," he sighed. "A little vacation. You know, to clear my head."

It was then that I had the idea. "What say we climb into one?"

Stein gave me a look. You know that look that Stein gets? He gave me that look. He used his face to give the look. "What do you mean?" he said, looking at me.

I meant what I'd said. "I mean what I'm saying, Stein," I said. "It's simple."

"I need a drink," he said.

"Look, we choose a story," I said, "and then we go into it. As readers we become textualized. Christ. It's beautiful," I said. "We've got them all memorized. Let's pick one and climb in," I said.

My mind galloped over the plains of Carver country, but I found it hard to concentrate. My living room seemed so clean and comfortable. The TV was a beaut. The ferns were healthy and sprawling. The sofa was too damn soft. It just wasn't right. We were miles away from Carver country. So we moved the So Much Raymond So Close to Home group to the bar -- Tiny's -- on the corner. I didn't have any money but Stein did. He was a tenured professor. He bought the first round.

"What's wrong with us?" Stein said and shrugged. We took two stools at the bar. "Christ. We're a mess. Are we crazy?"

"Hell," I nodded, shaking my head. I'm a big man and I have a big head. I shook it. Then I nodded. "We're lost in Carver Country," I said.

Then we didn't speak for seventy-four minutes. Nobody said anything.

"Hell," Stein said finally, looking at me.

I said, "Christ." And looked back at him.

Finally Stein said, "Let's get us another round. What do you say?"

I nodded. Why not? I shook my head and shrugged. What was stopping us? "Okay," I said.

Neither of us budged. Time passed. Shadows moved over the bar. It was not the sun or the moon casting the shadows. It was the bartender. Big Jim. He wanted to know if we were drinking or just taking up goddamn space. We ordered two more and moved ourselves to a booth in the back.

"So," Stein said after we were seated, "how do we get into one? How do we get textualized?"

As professors of English we had every damn right to do it, I argued. I thumped my fist on the table to emphasize my point. Stein was a mess. His tie was undone and his collar open. He looked down at the table and began to cry. "I'm drunk," he said.

"All the more reason," I told him.

First, we drank another round. Then we ordered another one. We poured that round into the round we already had. Then there was a mess on the table. Beer was dripping on the floor. Stein began to cry again. A good-looking woman, an ash blond, came over with a wet rag in her hand. She mopped up the table. She didn't say anything. We watched her. We didn't say anything. Then she walked away.

It was getting late.

Stein yawned. I was drunk. The jukebox was off. So we went home.

Stein went to my place and I went to his place. I unlocked his door and took off my soft beige-colored shoes that made my feet feel free and springy. I stepped into Stein's slippers and I put on Stein's cotton pajamas. Then I went into his kitchen.

What I wanted more than anything was to break free of Raymond Carver, to become his opposite. I wanted to be known as his sworn enemy. Carver's nemesis! If he was a minimalist then I would be a maximalist. If he ate meat then I would become a vegetarian. But you couldn't flick him off like a piece of lint on your sweater. He was too big. At night I felt his hairy fingers pressing into my neck, constricting my windpipe. His enormous shadow stretched behind me when I headed to work in the morning. I turned quickly to find nothing there. I cheated on him with other writers. I read promiscuously. I spent nights in bed with Proust, Mann, Kafka and Borges. I tried desperately to love Katherine Mansfield and Doris Lessing. I cradled Eudora Welty in my arms and let my gaze linger on her spine. But I kept coming back to one man.

Carver had me in a full-nelson and wasn't letting go.

I sipped some whiskey and watched Stein through the kitchen window. Over in my house, Stein was wearing my red flannel pajamas. He kissed my wife on the lips and put his arms around her waist. They slow danced. He grinned at me through the window.

"Stein," I said.

But he couldn't hear me. He was in my house and I was in his. I banged my hand against the glass. I called out his name. I called out my own name. I called out Carver's name. But the night was silent. Nobody heard me. After a while I stopped talking.

taken from

About the author:

Greg Ames lives and works in Brooklyn. His short stories have appeared in numerous literary journals and websites, including McSweeneys, Open City, The Sun, Fiction International, Literal Latt,, Brooklyn Review, and Other Voices. He received a special mention in the 2003 Pushcart Prize anthology and in the Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2004. To learn more, go to

Friday, 21 March 2008

Near Klamath

Raymond Carver

We stand around the burning oil drum
and we warm ourselves, our hands
and faces, in its pure lapping heat.

We raise steaming cups of coffee
to our lips and we drink it
with both hands. But we are salmon

fishermen. And now we stamp our feet
on the snow and rocks and move upstream,
slowly, full of love, toward the still pools.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Caught By The Reaper

Mikey Dread, 1st January, 1954 - 15th March 2008

Must have been around 1978 that I gave Paul Simonon a C-90 (that’s an audio cassette to you young 'uns) of Dread at the Controls, a legendary radio show in Jamaica. That set in motion a sequence of events that led to me becoming friends and working with the sadly departed Mikey Dread.

The tapes had been passed around on the reggae circuit and had soon become a roots must have. But I'm running ahead of myself. Michael Campbell was the maverick radio DJ whose radio show on JBC (Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation) which notably started in '77, musically revolutionized the island. He was dropping exclusive dub plates and 45's bringing the dancehall vibe live and direct to the airwaves. We're talking custom made jingles, sound effects and sampled bits of dialogue. This at a time when all the other local radio shows were playing bland foreign music. I should point out that this coupled with the social and political climate of the time is exactly what fueled England's punk movement. 'Dread at the Controls' was Punk Rock. He broke Althea and Donna's 'Uptown Top Ranking' and Gregory Isaacs' 'Soon Forward' for Christ sake.

Back in England the Clash had become pretty popular themselves. It was Paul Simonon that suggested they bring Mikey to the U.K in 1980 to join them on the 16 tons tour. Now I ain't here to give you a history lesson (go buy some bloodclaat books!) but rather pay respect to a bredrin' that would go on to produce 'Bankrobber' and was to be an integral part of the Clash's flawed masterpiece 'Sandinista'. By this time Mikey had quit JBC re-invented himself as a singer/producer and in a D.I.Y stylee started his own label, D.A.T.C. Check his ‘Dread At The Controls’, ‘African Anthem' and 'World War III' to get Mikey in full effect.

Michael Campbell passed away on March 15th 2008 and let me say that although he was indeed 'Dread' he was also easy going, funny and importantly open to ideas. Mikey we miss and salute you.


Don Letts

Download podcasts and buy records from Mikey Dread's website

Archaeological Scrumping

Peter Kirby on ‘archaeological scrumping’ on the North Bank of the Thames

You might remember we ran Peter Kirby’s brilliant pieces on cycling from sea to source on the River Teifi a couple of months back (thanks to howies for that hook up). When we were talking to him about running it, he happened to mention that he’d built the steps to his house out of things he found in the Thames. We thought that it was worth buying him a pint and getting some kind of explanation…

“A while back I started to explore the Thames, just down past Blackfriars Bridge, where you can get onto the banks in low tide. There are certain things in the British Isles that aren’t owned, like the foreshore. I did a project for The Guardian about churches on beaches and I found out about a Catholic preacher in West Clare in Ireland who was outlawed from celebrating Mass, in an attempt to enforce conversion to Protestantism. This he got this little shack and wheeled it down to the foreshore and baptised people in the sea, then wheeled it back. The church was called “The Little Ark”, people would say Mass outside it every Sunday, whatever the weather.

Anyway, the Thames has got a massive tidal shift, so I spent time watching the tides. I’d go down when it was low for a period of about a month with two massive plastic bags, and I’d collect bits of pottery, glass, slate, clay pipes… for some reason there huge amounts of cream and coffee colour plates down on the banks, lots of clay pipes too, very rarely whole ones though. The tide shifts and it dumps these things on the North bank. Also, weather affects things, brings different things to the surface. By sifting through things, you’re kind of fulfilling a role of cleaning the riverbank as these things obviously aren’t natural to it.

So I’d get this stuff home (just near Guy’s Hospital by London Bridge) and I’d rearrange it with the intention of starting to build steps to my house out of whatever different materials I found. I set out a load of grey slate, about 10ft of it, and then took coloured pieces to run through it like the river. There was a lot of terracotta that came out which was quite flat - it must have at one time been roofing tiles. Certain pieces have holes in, certain pieces that are very defined shapes – oblongs, perfect triangles, squares. I’d set them aside into different classifications. I bleached all the scum off them then laid them down with grouting. My mate came round and said “What the fuck are you doing?” I was looking at it thinking that, if the worst came to the worst I could just tear it up and paint over it. In the end it took on this Spanish villa look. Oddly, having it there has made the house cooler, especially in the summer. Now people come round and are blown away by it, which is fantastic.

The great thing is, you don’t really know what you’ve got until you get it home and clean it up. I’m very interested in the idea of taking things from its seemingly natural habitat then reclassifying it somewhere else. It’s something that Richard Long does in his art, he arrives on a spot, there’s a bank of rocks or something that he’ll rearrange into an unnatural shape. When photographed it becomes poetically beautiful.

Whenever I’m giving talks to students about creativity, I’ll always tell them to forget trawling through the museums, just head down to the river for inspiration. At low tide, you can rummage about in front of the Tate Modern or somewhere and you’ll always find something down there that will get you going.

One odd thing about being down there is when the river police come past, half checking to see what you’re doing. If I had bags of stuff, I’d drop them and mosey about somewhere else until they sped off to do something more important. You can get a mudlark license from the authorities which means you don’t have to give anything you find over to the Museum Of London. They only cost about twenty pounds. It’s such a brilliant thing I think, mudlarking. I didn’t get one in the end though. I thought about it, I even downloaded the forms, but then I thought it was just too official, I wanted to be a bit covert about it.

I’ve stopped doing it now though, I think I’ve brought enough detritus back to the house. Building the entrance and steps was enough I think, I don’t need to do the whole house...”

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Letter From France..

that's a great osterly brace, even if it wasnt carp or chub week, it's a sweet end. love to see the tench, love to catch a tench. they're extinct in france. they eat 'em.
if i had access to a private oxon lake i'd kill for it. good luck with that. i'm fed up just fishing shit pits with ring roads rushing by. i'm catching fish, but with the roar and flap of lorries it's not tea, cake and nature. i'm still hoping my butcher will invite me soon to his wild pond. i went and bought another kilo of sausages i didnt need off him this evening just to keep my hand in, even asking him when we were going fishing. no time, he said. it's the black pudding championships this weekend for christs sake.still, had another mid-20 yesterday so cant complain, 60 acres of water and i'm usually the only angler. i'm going further afield this year, the only way. up to the seine once the garden is underway, under control.
the rivers just opened for the new season, but they're all flooded. walking those of a spring evening is the antidote to ring roads. wild streams, empty of fish but worth taking the cake.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The River.

By Raymond Carver

I waded, deepening, into the dark water.
Evening, and the push
and swirl of the river as it closed
around my legs and held on.
Young grilse broke water.
Parr darted one way, smolt another.
Gravel turned under my boots as I edged out.
Watched by the furious eyes of king salmon.
Their immense heads turned slowly,
eyes burning with fury, as they hung
in the deep current.
They were there. I fel them there,
and my skin prickled. But
there was something else.
I braced with the wind on my neck.
Felt the hair rise
as something touched my boot.
Grew afraid at what I couldn't see.
Then of everything that filled my eyes—
that other shore heavy with branches,
the dark lip of the mountain range behind.
And this river that had suddenly
grown black and swift.
I drew breath and cast anyway.
Prayed nothing would strike.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

The Last Day.

The traditional coarse fishing season came to an end last Friday.
The final chance to fish favourite rivers sees anglers grabbing every opportunity to get on the bank in hope of catching the monster or to drink tea with their mates for the last time before June 16. Of course, it never really goes to plan. Last week the severere winds and heavy rain played havoc with conditions up and down the country. I ended the season with targets unfulfilled. Catching a chub from a river and a carp from Osterley Park will remain at the top of my list for next season.

Jakub & I went to Osterley last Sunday and had to deal with a day of extremes, going from an hour beneath an umbrella to burn inducing sunshine all through the day. The Carp wasn't forthcoming but I was chuffed to catch a Tench in March (at 6 1/2lb) and to follow that with a 6 9ozs Bream.

Tuesday saw four of us go down to The Old Mill at Aldermaston, this being a favoured stretch of the River Kennet. We got there only to find it incredibly busy, incredibly high and deeply murky. Pretty depressing really as it made my chances of a chub next to none. Therefore, I targetted Perch and therefore I caught Minnows (and yes, I even failed to catch Perch on Minnows). Andrew decided to plot up beneath his brolly and fish the pond and was rewarded with a 10lb common carp and a 7lb Bream. Dave's first Barbel will stay atop his list for next season and Jak's swift and brutal change of fortune continued.
I still had hope for the chub as a trip to the Thames at Oxford with Justin and Neil was planned for Thursday but alas work got in the way and I reluctantly hung up my rods.

The question now is, how long will they stay hung up? 'cos although the rivers - and lakes at owners discretion - are closed, it is no longer a regulation applying to all waters. When I fished as a kid there was no (coarse) fishing anywhere between March 15 & June 15. In my early twenties, when I lived in Devon, I would occasionally join my Brother on fishing trips across the water to East Cornwall, where, I believe, there has never been a season, allowing you to fish all year round if you wished (anyone know why that is by the way? Is it because the rivers are game rivers?).

When I picked up fishing again, loads had changed - three rods, carp everywhere, nobody on the rivers - and fishing out of
season was seemingly encouraged, so I did it. Now, I appreciate the tradition but I'm not sure I can uphold it. If I fish (a lake) in Cornwall on a holiday next month, does it count? Do I move to Cornwall?.....

A gentleman that does up hold the tradition, in fact believes very strongly in it, is Chris Yates. Here Chris shares his last day with us;

The weather was perfect for the last day, but the river was not. Rain over the previous few days had brought the Stour's level up and coloured it too much. Though the level was falling yesterday and the water fining down, the conditions didn't improve enough to save my blank. Mind you, I had three good chances, but missed two and just briefly felt the other. It was, however, a memorable day; a typical Golden Scale Club outing: eight anglers, eight nice pieces of cane, some favourite floats almost lost in the willows, a massed boiling of Kelly Kettles and plenty of cake. Also, 76-year old Peter Wheat landed 3 nice roach. The moon appeared at the day's end, at the same moment that a barn owl glided across the water.
Now I won't have to look longingly out of my window any more whenever the fishing conditions threaten my work, which is why I always appreciate the Close Season. I shall go bassing and trouting in May, but no more perch, tench barbel or carp till June 16th.
I hope you managed to have a last cast with Andrew somewhere lovely - or did the work prevent you?
Best fishes,


Saturday, 15 March 2008


Andrew, Robin & I have been working on ideas for books for the last few months and just yesterday concluded a deal with Mathew Clayton at Cassell for what will be our first one. It will simply be called "Caught By The River" and it will be an illustrated collection of writings / meditations on rivers of the British Isles. We will be approaching our wish list of writers this week to ask if they would like to contribute pieces on their favorite rivers. We'll tell you more about it as we get people on board but I can tell you that it will be released on 16 June next year.

With that in mind, I was excited to see this in todays Telegraph;

For centuries the Trent has been a battleground, trade route and cultural divider. In his new book, Tom Fort explores one of our great rivers

When I told people I was intending to journey from one end of the River Trent to the other, the response - even among the more geographically enlightened - was one of quizzicality laced with ignorance. "Ah, the Trent," they'd say. "Where does that rise, exactly?" "North of Stoke." "And where does it reach the sea?" "It doesn't. It joins the Yorkshire Ouse to make the Humber, which goes into the North Sea past Hull." "The Humber, eh? Mmmm, interesting," as if I'd been referring to one of the lesser rivers flowing into the Sea of Okhotsk.

At 170 miles, the Trent is Britain's third-longest river, after the Thames and the Severn. It once rivalled the Thames as a trade route, opening the way between the industrial Black Country and the sea. Historically and culturally, it divided England, North from South. Armies bent on conquest marched across it, the Romans garrisoned it, Cavaliers and Roundheads fought each other along it in some of the most bitter engagements of the Civil War.

In short, the Trent is one of our great and significant rivers. Yet these days it hardly registers on the shared consciousness, except for those from the counties along its course (Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, in case you're wondering). It goes its quiet way through the heart of England, unsung, uncelebrated, almost unnoticed.

I was as oblivious as anyone. Then I decided to write a book about rivers, about our relationship with them, about how we have used and abused them, and worshipped them and wondered at them. To do it, I needed to undertake a river journey. The obvious choice would have been my local river, the Thames, except that it's been done to death by writers. So I thought: why not the Trent? And I went in search of it.

With a river, you must start at the beginning. I located the source of the Trent (it isn't where the books say it is) in an unkempt field below the Staffordshire village of Biddulph Moor. For its first few miles it is no river, but a tiny, dark, secret brook, and I had to walk it. I did my best to follow it through Stoke, but it kept disappearing from sight, as if hiding its face from the landscape of urban dereliction around, or hoping that no one would know it is there.

At Trentham Gardens, just to the south of Stoke, I stopped walking and started floating. I launched my boat - a punt, a lovely, light, sleek, elegant thing made for me by my friend Jon Beer, who used to write about fishing in these pages and is remarkably nifty with his hands. Jon was keen that, the boat being a punt, she should be punted; but his demonstration of the art of punting ended with him flying off the end, smacking into a landing stage and cracking a rib, whereupon I went off the idea and decided to paddle and row.

Until recently the Trent's appointed function was to remove the industrial and human wastes of the Midlands. As a result, the river was hideously polluted, biologically defunct for much of its length, and you would have been mad to try boating on it. Now that the industry is gone and water treatment is vastly improved, it is restored and cleansed - a river once more, rather than a sewer.

It is also deliciously peaceful. I drifted down from Trentham through a pleasant land of extreme greenness, through meadows grazed by innumerable cows, past sleepy villages and the occasional welcoming pub, beneath willow branches and bridges old and new. I hardly met a soul on the water, and precious few beside it.

Sometimes I camped, which was an adventure for me. But I wasn't purist about it, and when I came upon a riverside hostelry where I could secure the boat, I gladly gave myself over to the exquisite pleasure of a sprung mattress, clean sheets, hot water. At Burton upon Trent I actually stayed in a hotel, although soon after breakfast I was coaxing the punt over a weir in the centre of town, giving some amusement to the passers-by.

Almost as far downstream as Nottingham, the Trent is left pretty much to its own devices. It twists and turns, races over its shallows, comes to a stop in its pools, following its whims. But when it meets the Derwent and the Trent-Mersey Canal, it becomes an Official Navigation, and its character changes utterly. It becomes wide, slow, ponderous; impressive in the way big rivers are always impressive, but a touch dull to those who have known it in its carefree youth.

It's also hard work. Instead of dipping the oars or the paddle when I had to and taking a breather when the current did the work for me, I had to row. And row. For two days a fiendish wind blew upstream, and if I stopped pulling for a moment, the punt - mainly plywood with the odd chunk of oak - started scooting back the way we'd come. A little way below Newark, the Trent becomes tidal, which means big and hazardous.

Huge gravel barges churn up and down, and there are even cargo ships below Gainsborough. It was no place for a punt, I was strongly advised. So I took the coward's way and exchanged my valiant craft for a sturdy bike and pedalled the 70 miles to the river's end, which I reached one steamy summer's afternoon, with thunder muttering over the flatlands of Lincolnshire.

Here the Trent is very wide indeed, very brown, threaded and coiled with competing currents, distinctly intimidating. I sat at its end, trying and failing to come up with some profound insights. All I could think about was how far I and this water had come; the way in which the tiny blue thread on the Ordnance Survey map covering the source had grown into the broad ribbon here. Which wasn't very original, but is still pretty amazing.

Life's essence
From Chapter 1

For some, the wonder of the physical world is concentrated into mountains. For others it is the seas, the troposphere, potholes, deserts, flowers, bees, bogs, birds. For me it has always been rivers, and always will be; and when I no longer have the strength to wade them, or even sit beside them, they will still be with me, their life in me.

Leaving aside the metaphysics, rivers are also workers. They did not shape our planet in the first convulsions of creation, but they did make it fit for our use. They broke down the rock to make the soil on which crops might be grown and animals fed. They fed the earth, they gave the power to turn the stones to grind our bread. Even now they provide the water we drink and wash with, and in many places they are the source of the energy that heats and lights homes.

We could live without mountains and we could go to the forests to obtain wood. But we could not do without rivers. They nurtured the first settlements, giving birth to the notion of society. Settlements grew into villages, villages into towns, towns into cities, always beside or near moving water. To build monuments to their gods, men turned to rivers. The bluestones of Stonehenge were quarried in Wales, shipped around the coast, then floated up the Avon. Abbeys, priories, cathedrals, temples arose beside rivers because that was the only way the rock hewn from distant hillsides could be brought to the places deemed appropriate by the priests.

Invaders struck along rivers. Castles were built to defend river crossing points. When thoughts turned from making war to seeking trade, eyes focused on the river, too. Rivers separated realms, acting as lines to be defended or breached. But they also connected peoples and places.

To the philosophers, rivers seemed to fuse the human and the divine. Their element rose from within the ground and fell from heaven. They offered an analogy of divine purpose: infinite diversity sprung from a single design. It was obvious that, to succeed, Man must placate and honour the river in order to gain access to its power and potential.

Berth & rebirth
From Chapter 6:

By now I was hot, seat-sore, sun-blasted, thirsty, weary and getting anxious about where and how I would spend the night. My plan, inasmuch as I had one, was to find somewhere to camp, then camp. But I am not naturally the outdoors type, and my experience of camping was slight, hence the anxiety.

I was lucky. The river flowed along the edge of a village called Burston, where there was a steel footbridge over the river. Just above the bridge was a big willow, with a miniature bay and a shelving beach at its foot, just right for the punt. I pulled her up and tied her to the tree.

It took me an hour and a half to get my tent up. By then darkness was gathering. Sticky with sweat and suncream, annoyed and ashamed at my ham-fistedness, I sank into my collapsible chair to cool and calm down. I watched the river as it curled around a high, sculpted bend into my little beach. The bank was pitted with the holes of sand martin nests. The surface was molten silver, streaked with gold, whorled and marbled by the competing threads of water. In the course of that day the Trent had left its infancy behind. It had acquired depth, strength, purpose. It was aspiring to be a river.

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