Against the Flow by Tom Fort
Review by Roger Wyndham Barnes.
The jacket notes of Tom Fort’s new book Against the Flow (Century Publishing) categorises it as ‘Travel writing’ and this is certainly true as a straight-forward angling book it is not. However it is clear that Tom’s life would be incomplete if there wasn’t some fishing involved somewhere along the way. In fact fishing is an essential part of his being and woven into his life and what he does as much as his beloved cricket. Tom grew up in the village where I now live and playing cricket for Twyford and extricating chub and barbel from its river Loddon are intertwined in Tom’s life like wisteria round an ancient pergola, so a fishing rod is as essential a part of his travel kit as his razor.
Tom is an excellent writer, as one would expect with someone who is an Oxford graduate in English and has spent his life in journalism, the BBC and in writing books. The one thing that always stands out in his work is the high quality of his research. If you have read Tom’s Book of Eels (Harper Collins) you will know what I mean about the extremely thorough quality of background research. The new book could just as easily be filed under ‘History’ as well as ‘Travel’ as it does a marvellous job of explaining and unravelling the incredibly complex history and social and religious intricacies of eastern Europe where the travelling for this book is carried out. The research must have been extremely difficult due to its complexity and the fact that all the rivers and towns have totally unpronounceable names like Jászfelsözentgyörgy. The proof reader must have had a nervous breakdown and the spell-checker probably blew a fuse before their tasks were complete!
I found the whole book immensely readable (apart from the place names!) and the subject matter fascinating, especially its exploration of the changes in eastern Europe since the Berlin wall came down. The book would be well worth a read even if it didn’t mention fishing once but there is enough included to keep an angling reader interested and really fishing is the real raison d’être behind both the journey and the book.
I have had the great pleasure of fishing with Tom on several occasions and he is much more of a ‘complete angler’ than he admitted to in a previous very enjoyable book of his The Far from Complete Angler. My favourite Tom Fort story was told to me by a friend who had never met Tom before the day he bumped into him on the Thames at Wargrave. My friend had hoped to fish from the jetty at Wargrave slipway but when he got there he found a strange looking punt moored up in the middle of the swim. In the punt a man was fly fishing for pike. My friend enquires as to how sport was, a conversation ensued and my friend mentioned that it was an unusual type of punt. The boat angler explained that he had had it especially made for a trip down the Trent (read about it in Tom’s book Downstream, published by Century) and that he had written about it recently in the weekend papers. “Oh,” said my friend innocently, “Are you Jon Beer?”, “Good God no! I’m Tom Fort!” boomed Tom in his stentorian, Etonian voice, a voice that has the ability to rattle windows at fifty yards. That’s Tom for you, impressive man, impressive voice and a very impressive writer too.