Caught by the River

Spring Offensive : Leave Cancelled

Dexter Petley | 13th March 2008


tragic luck that, in dry dock with thames pox. angler’s curse, pepys’ revenge, and falling at season’s end is a court case under sod’s law. may the scales and scabs fall from your eyes and the spume of cess ridden weirpools glance off your shield. sipping claret in a punt as your herrings bob along the weirs sills does strike me as reaper’s charter if the thames really is flux with 21st century pox, unless it’s angler’s menopause and the estrogens and all the other hermaphrodite’s jetsam got into your claret and you’re actually mutating into a barbel. next time you walk into an indian restaurant you’ll end up on the menu: bangers and masheer.
while you’ve been doing your walking freak show, i’ve been chained to the desk, the dancing editor, refilling the coffers after a spend-up on the rods of necessity, a month of sundries. and it all sat grinning in its wrapping as i ghost-wrote for the aged, sleep-walked for those with the writing pox in search of diagnosis. outside the wind shunted my stove pipe sideways and turned my greenhouse inside out like an umbrella on the fens, the plastic in shreds, the spinach swelling into thick fronds like a crowd of waving mittens. the fields turned nitrogeon green, the rivers of tea and all the spring yellows buttered the bread of the land. after five days and nights of tempest, imagining the waves in the town pit bay, and all those old creaking carp sheltering like wrecks on the bottom, i busted the ghost-writing, rigged up the new rods, piled into the truck and headed for the pox line.

i fished the tail-end of the recent storms, settled to a blue-sky billow, the ramrod steam-rolling half-retired, but it was still an x-ray westerly which all the fleece in china can’t keep out. just baiting up, the rods blew out of my hands and the unhooking mat flattened itself against my face like burst bubblegum. by 4pm both rigs were down at 20 foot, water temp 9°, air temp 10° in the wind, baits at 25 yards. stephane turned up at 5.30 having blagged his pupils about some staff meeting, sneaking out the firedoors where the gear was hidden in his car. he’s got two clocks ticking away now too – the one on the classroom wall and the biological one in his girlfriend’s belly. after september the only runs he’ll be getting in the night will be in his kid’s nappies, so he’s squeezing in every snatched minute behind the rods he can.
it was gloaming on a dropped wind just as i’d fallen back to the gravel path to shake a bit of warmth into myself when i saw the left buzzer light come on. i couldn’t hear a thing because i’d plugged the speaker hole with a rubber swivel sleeve. the hanger was jammed against it and the rod tip was bent down underwater. i played this one down the margins for a couple of minutes. the other buzzer light caught my eye and the right hand rod took off like a dragster, the reel crashing into the buzzer head before upending like the death of donald campbell in bluebird and hitting the water in a deathly spray. it was like those last minute goalmouth scrambles in the mud: you’re 30 secs off getting into the village cup final when a bad clearence ricochet’s off your own striker’s legs and loops towards the top left hand corner. the fucking striker shouldn’t have been back there anyway. it looks impossible, the spinning ball is a ref’s whistle away from the net but the goalie, who’ll end his life doing a milk round anyway, grows wings for the only time in his career. the next thing i knew i was airbourne with a bent rod in hand and landing head first into the water. in my right hand the last six inches of the cork butt. the other rod was now under me with my full weight upon it. i began playing two fish on my back in nappy-mud, the right hand fish taking off on its first run. stephane rescued the left hand rod once i regained two feet and he played the fish into my net as i tried to get control of the rod thief. before stephane could come back with a second net mine came off close in, a good upper 20. the smaller common was spawned up and built like a nile steamer from the omdurman campaign:

i topped the swim up and swung the lead close in, ringing the water from my sodden clothes. there were fish crashing now. lorries on the ring road canvas flapping, double decker trains bringing insurance clerks home from paris and herons cackling, ducks in a night-time panic and pheasants bickering over roosts. the blue light on the right hand rod comes on. one muted bleep and all holds tight so i hit it. this time the fish takes off like the rod had. it’s a tale of revenge. just scraped 30 with half a pound to spare:

spring offensive battle-map pinned to the birdtable