Caught by the River

Letter From Arcadia

Dexter Petley | 16th February 2009

Down at the Old Bull & Boar


been a long silence, half a winter long, the bobbins so still they’ve been frozen in time, bookmarks in a russian novel. the bird table gazette suspended its evening edition; if you fish black holes you get what’s coming to you. so, while your own heaths and ponds have looked like the top of a yuletide log in a rip-off winterland, northern france has drenched, frozen and blown, viciously and without mercy or sun. i finally got the message. deliverance is not nigh. last week’s tempest brought down a falling star and i saw full moon-chips hoovered off the sea of sighs and spun across the universe. sleepless as the roof clapped and anything not nailed down outside lies flattened against the trees at the bottom of the field where the old bull & boar tree keeps wooden council:


i’ve fished the winter through more like a rat gnawing on cardboard than a carp angler ahead of the game. the species is truly dormant; 4 degrees torpid. i’ve gnawed both busily and symbolically. there was christmas eve symbolic only:


new years eve symbolic:


& new years day prophetic and resolute:


i was still the first to buy a license in this region for 2009. packed in early on new years eve, did a bar crawl, not for inebriation but reasons halieutique. those dead bars in a living mist, opposite church clocks still on summer time. blondes dressed like bonny tyler now they don’t wash ashtrays anymore, telling me the new licenses weren’t in. no one fishes winter here, just some jobless die-hards on the wagon after pot-sized jack and zander. tracked the only licenses down to the bar with no name. you remember the village cafe where we ate lapin chasseur then found tussle with municiple carp the other side of the church wall? eight o clock new years eve and eric’s still open, counting lottery tickets and feeding the dogs his worn out shoes. he closed the cafe down when his wife left him a year back, but the bar remains, still sells fags and maggots and eric sets his mousetraps baited with paper round the bags of groundbait on the shelf. he palmed a wad of 2009 tickets from his biscuit tin under the counter, still in their bonds. he’d gone to pot since i last fished for his confessor’s carp, a man gone pasty without the square cafe leftovers, another depressed hunter with a gun cabinet and a cellar. i was just thinking how sad it might get when i heard clogs thumping down the stairs. she was back, then, the adulterous lice still on her. “what do you want?” he said when she starts rooting through a wooden draw beside the till. “envelope” she said. “where they always were,” he said. how much sour grape went into the lucky number on my license remains to be seen. buying your carte de peche for the new year should be fresh start, a clean slate for the joys to come, not the sullen handover, the black spot, the mark of the cormorant that i got.

i fished through january in the drifting ice, listening to water crack together after dark like they were the sheets on eric’s bed. i saw dead koypus frozen in their holes and wondered if that carte de peche wasn’t made from the recycled tickets collected at the chamber of horrors. i watched grown men encourage their sons to empty out the litterbins onto the ice; quality time with your family of dorks is skimming beer bottles across the ice at sitting ducks. the bottles lay there for weeks till with a thaw they drop to the bottom along with cans, bricks and branches. they have no shame and no one stops them. no one even seems to notice. the french don’t have words for litter. that says it all. i once saw a sign nailed to a tree: campers throw your rubbish in the river. another year beside the dead-heart pits begins.

but since our last arcadia, my pond filled up with serious run-off in a deluge, and, once the ice thawed, a rogue bloom of alien algae set up their aquadomes, breeding pods on the first martian carp fishery in france, the patrick mcgoohan memorial pond, or maybe they’re just hibernating frogs farting in their sleep during the st valentine’s day inter-crucian ping-pong race.


special branch cordon round the birdtable just in case