Caught by the River

The Navy Lark

Dexter Petley | 26th January 2008


osterley. even the name sounds like catacombs of doomsday pike, bones piled and sifted in their field of honour at the foot of that dam wall. and maybe when the wind snuffs out the parallel world, the sound of the M4 becomes a ghostly perlon whistling through the ceramic rings of bill keal’s pike rod, lady osterley herself, half-jack half-gill, gliding through the laurels with the sprat.
down bleak pit the carp were history too. for monday dinnertime, the meteo forecast sun and ten degrees. i ate my baguette and camembert in gloves as a filthy spit glanced in on a wayward south westerly. stephane came over from his swim upwind, bringing a bottle of nouveau apple juice, crushed by village rovers, two real glasses in his pocket. we hunched it down, this fermenting pre-cider thick with the tang of apple mound and barbed wire fences trampled down by cows on heat and we didn’t give a sou for our chances of a carp. at 2 a black dog walked between me and the rods. i suggested a dual which was stopped in its tracks by a puff of white spume as a pirate showed on the starboard rod. but stephane’s lookout gave first shout. a whaler played him along the plimpsol line. it was bullion at three:

i missed a fidgety run in the dark. the sou we’d bet on a blank was worthless. i should have stayed on but the rain came down like a poll tax riot. truncheons and bricks and waves swept silver by a full moon, orange highlights off a street lamp half a mile away, putting a streak across the whole pit. while packing away i glanced up the streak just in time to see a coaster roll over and go down. stephane heard the lifeboat splash but didn’t see it. it was off his bows.
wednesday i went back whistling a wrecker’s shanty. swung the lead with a pop up and a pva stocking, a leg of pellet, sat back swatting gnats in a breeze mild as a french curry, hatless and overfleeced. the gravel washer on full blast the other side of a bank of dirty ballast and drying sludge. the townie’s were out strolling, dogs and dames, men in hatshop hats and mothball coats. three o’clock came and went like a cancelled train. points failure, wrong kind of pop-up, leaves on the bottom. it turned cold so i took the temperatures and the water was up one degree from monday, a healthy 8°c. the wind blew off the gravel path; everyone got the same perfume for christmas. till the strollers thinned i was pulling the rollneck up over my nose. what is this perfume? old coats. channel number twos. it’s what you spray in the toilet after your aunt’s had a dump. but at 5 the wind dropped and i could only smell myself. cold and pikey, and orange bung at 20 yards would’ve looked nice. cold still water, and a carp bobbed instead of a bung. an hour of carp bobbing, like summer, so it had to come, one beep in the dusk, the tip twitching as the blackbirds sang like divas. i hit a mirror which looked white in the water, fought like a brick with fins because it had swallowed a brick.

up anchors as they started shelling the margins. then yesterday, last manouvres before shore leave and stephane sunk the graf spey in a wet north westerly, under the bows at dusk, pride of the fleet battled on his 7ft stalking rod, 37lbs of winter fruit:

boatswain whistling on the bird table