Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections – Jon Berry

28th December 2009

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;

363 days ago I sat down at the PC with a lingering hangover and three hours to spare. A friend who writes exquisite books about fishing and life had asked me if I could muster up a chapter for a forthcoming of collection of words on water, provisionally-entitled Caught by the River. I wrote a short story about a small piece of Scotland from my childhood, and pressed ‘send’. In January, in the same week that I turned forty, I received an email confirming that those three hours typing would appear alongside many others in June, and that a cheque was in the post. It was a good way to start a year.

The last twelve months have been ones of change and stasis, love and litigation. I’ve moved to a tiny cottage with oak beams and a bottomless well in the garden, a short cycle ride from a weir pool full of barbel and with a wild carp pond less than three-hundred yards away. Bamboo and guitars and books have filled the rooms and for the first time in my adult life I’m living somewhere that feels like home. Vic is here, and a new cat has arrived – a worm-ridden stray from Pete Doherty’s farm, we were told, who is now parasite-free, endearingly-pot-bellied and who answers to ‘Pumpkin’.

Outside this idyll, the year was hijacked by an increasing workload (I’m a teacher at a very big secondary school, and have finally succumbed to the temptation of senior management, the pedagogical equivalent of Dylan ‘going electric’ – fuck principles, give me the money). The divorce has entered its third year, and the solicitors continue to prosper; it all goes in front of a judge very soon, so that the debts and assets can be carved up and any last traces of dignity wiped away. We will both be happier when it’s done.
I’ve fished, but not as much as usual. There were adventures on Windermere and around Scotland for A Train to Catch, the infamous fishing/travel/social history book for Medlar that is now ‘more than half done’ and will emerge next year. I caught a few barbel from the Bristol Avon and Trent, some wild trout, lots of modest carp, some Thames pike, and enjoyed a grayling day on the Test with Jeff, but the highlight was watching Vic reel in coalies from the jetty at Cromarty in August, in the shadow of the oil rigs at Nigg.
In June, on the eve of the new coarse fishing season, I stood on stage at Foyles and read from my contribution to this site’s first book, in front of an audience of real authors and genuinely-cool music types. It was a special evening, and kind words from Edwyn and Grace made it all the more so. Weeks later Vic and I decamped to Port Eliot for the best festival we know of, in the company of some of those from CBTR. Edwyn performed, and was simply wonderful. So too was John Head. There were other great bands, readings and side-shows, and I found myself praising the beautiful vibe – and I hadn’t used that phrase since an especially-lysergic Glastonbury in the ‘eighties. We had to leave for Scotland early on the Sunday, and did so smiling, promising ourselves one of the tepees next year.
Away from the beautiful vibe in Cornwall, it has been a musically unadventurous year. I have stopped gigging now – too old, too busy, ultimately a bit too crap – and have tended to do what I always do when life is changing just a little too quickly; listen to the same old stuff I always have. Shack, Teenage Fanclub, assorted indie jangles and west-coast psychedelia, northern soul and Tamla, and Beefheart very loud when I have the house to myself. Jeff sent us Doves’ latest album, which we loved, and then tickets to see them at Bristol. More recently, the five CBTR downloads arrived. The cottage has been a noisy little place since those beauties turned up.
Two weeks ago, I sat with the writer of exquisite books, another fishing/writing pal called Kev and the long-suffering Vic in a Southampton pub. The mighty Saints had just trounced Tranmere with three second-half goals, so we were celebrating. The writer’s agent – a QPR fan but in all other respects a very good man, and not unknown round these parts – had also been in touch to say that there was a possibility – a good possibility, even – that my ferox trout book had found a home, and a cheque would shortly be in the post. So, we celebrated that too.

It was a good way to end a year, too.

Happy New Year, Friends of the River.