Caught by the River

Letter From Arcadia

Dexter Petley | 14th September 2010

Last Of The Summer Fridays


thanks for the holiday snaps. those slippery mackerel, glossy pimps who get away with it. surf mods, tide greasers, the spod bucket’s too good for ‘em. you’ll be back with the pike soon, wiping mackeral gizzard off your swiss blade on frozen grass. but while you were fighting on the beaches, i was still on blitz duty, fire watching on arse pit. this week’s letter is a ps, the what happened next bit of the pit & the pendulum.

the heatwave has simmered down to an autumn stillness, wasps gouging eyes in fallen mirabelles, the first dead leaves clot widening margins. thoughts turn to firewood and cider, and bankside peace when boulder-throwing, wrapper chucking kids are back where they belong, knifing each other in the playground.

but back in july, the heatwaves are on a high tide, evolved mosquitoes with bolt cutters come through the netting at night like pirates on blood money. i’m scratching, bleeding and sweating through late afternoon. still buzzing from wednesday’s 32, thursday’s angler has far to go. by half nine the lines were still dead in the water. i pulled the third rod in, stripped down to twilight management. last knockings when the tip pulled round and a junior common played a blinder on his first trial.

friday, i’m a friday’s child; the one day a week i get to see the ley lines under water, when the scales fall from my eyes. friday is fish day; it must have rubbed off, carp divining, urgent calls to the water half way through evenings begun elsewhere. this was another emergency call-out. there was carp song coming down the wires, sky like a bush-fire, so urgent i was there mid-afternoon, shade as hot as sunlight, water as boiling as the air. i set up on the island, right in the enemy camp. a risk, on their heads, under the rod tops. my thinking was a tactical version of impatience; nab one off the point then withdraw to a safe distance and nab another as they regroup and drift down the margins. soon as the lines were flying up and down i realised the error. the carp were mobbing on the bait and surfacing in water shallower than their girths. even slack and pinned down, pectorals raked the lines up. hidden back among the trees, i’m springing out like a spider every time the buzzers whine and the indicator flies up. a big common and two mirrors roll in a ball over the left hand rod like a cartoon cat fight. they all look over 40 but one is a lot bigger. the sweat runs into my eyes and nothing i can do washes out the salt. that’s when the common tried it on. 37, in its fire shield livery:

monday, i’m back after leaving well alone the weekend. there was no sunday litter in my swim. it was all elsewhere, with the 30ft high bouncy castle they’d inflated by the swings, with the kids on bikes, the hoodless hoodies, mean without the means. they ignore me and reserve their admiration for the hand brake turns underway in the carpark. on the point, carp muster nudging thick oily rings as they touch air. passing ducks take a wide berth. poplars rustle in the first breeze for a week. i lean back for a decent wait but spring forward at a half-take on the middle rod before teatime. the fish swings up the margin looking for a passage out. rod creaks in the cork like rigging on an away breeze. three kids on bikes pull up behind me like the carp police. they watch in silence, voices buried in their throats like hands in pockets. i grin and bear it. fish come off when people stand and stare. the fish is running the snags. full welly till it rolls in the net. three mobile phones are sending bulletins home. i try and slap a d-notice on it. tell them it’s only ten kilos. but they’re easily bored by carp care and total lack of violence. the fish has belly and plimpsol line and cargo and goes 37 too.

i wait for their dads to come with carp rods but they’re watching “foot”. the world cup is still on. the bouncy castle is flat. deflated for its own good. i’m getting away with it, fishing unmolested, all i ever ask. someone walks a dog. two grim faced campers leave their van on the campsite after supper for a dogshit tour of the island. an old duff and his grandson come fish spotting, satisfied by sun perch. they don’t see the carp tail big as two lily pads flick ten yards from the silly perch. it’s 8.30, on the brink of idyll – just me and that carp. only this is arse pit, public nuisance number one. no peace with the wicked… the beat up colourless nevada, slagmobile for ratbag family, breaks through the barrier and drives as far as it can get to me. it’s come to collapse your world. it’s like a tumour after remission, a war poet getting killed the day before armistice. within minutes it’s a dump. this family is not in the tufty club. two chipbag brats, pastis dad only 21, married the teenager next door who kicks the rubbish under the car. the 3 year old, shaved head and dressed in camo smashes the fishing poles against the lit barbeque. the wind picks up. the swim’s gone quiet. the carp stopped singing. roll on friday.

when it comes it’s another 32 degree sweatshop. by evening the island is a boot camp of teenage mutants. 3 tents, 2 bivvies, skinny girls with piss dad-off toddlers. the dads line empty beer bottles along the waterside and shoot at them with airguns. shoot and swig, their dogs bark at me across the divide. lord of the flies himself is an axe weilding cave-mouth specialist in anti-carp behaviour. topless with his pants showing, a “watch me” twatt who comes up with a gag every few minutes till he’s reduced to pointing the airgun at his wife’s head for a laugh. the girls collect firewood in plastic bags behind me. they stink of fags and shower gel and i mask my face till the air is breathable again. fire lit, dogs tied to a tree, they settle down to grill their meat. just enough peace for the carp to nudge their way down the margins under the back of the tents. i’m leaving it late, but the friday factor is at work. even when axe-dad throws a grappling hook into the tree above my left hand bait, i believe only in the bobbins. he cracks off a branch and drags it to the fire like a caveman dragging his girl by the hair. before she burns, two bleeps, bobbin tight and the rod top pulls round. the fish stays put. underpants is back with his rope. my line is tight to just below his feet. he sees nothing. i’m standing thirty yards in front of him, in the water with the rod doubled up and a boil like a washing machine under his nose, but he’s not of my time. he’s away in 2010bc. the fish moves off and power-kites at will. i net it as the third branch is stolen off my tree. first of the friday forties:

three weeks passed by. beans to bottle, grass to cut, a smattering of summer ceps to winkle out along the verges, first spuds by the barrow load; three weeks of sleeping in the bivvy down the field, weasels dancing in the moonlight, breakfasts in the dew. the swallow in my cellar dumped all four of her second brood on the floor, impatient to get going with the others who waited on the wires. arse pit in august was urban retour, fear of litter, tosser-phobia. imagine my suprise. municipal rage had stumped up a maze of electronic gates, security barriers and inpenetrable fencing. the tossers were sulking in supermarket carparks elsewhere, admiring the rubbish and the skidmarks. by 6.30 the gates were locked and i was alone, my exit and entrance a bridge of fallen pylons over the river. the water is down a foot, temperature drops, yellow grass. my rodrest holes are still there. likewise the friday forty, picking up where i left off, like a bookmark halfway through a summer read:

it’s a work in progress, arse pit. as i write, another friday tremour on the ley lines making me rush through the day. the willows turned yellow last weekend, the poplars are in their underleaves. morning mists (you remember the chateau lake we didn’t know was there?) and this year’s robin moving in for a winter let. in a way, the story’s over. the sociology diminished with the new security. footpads only, trapped like dogs in a pound. when netting a 28, two of them tried to mug it for their barbeque. holiday anglers came and went, leaving their groundbait bags and coils of line as a souvenir of their visit. ducklings grew, surviving the daily blitz of rock grenades. the popcorn buckets and coke bottles still drifted with the wind and the kebab shop clutter was on the rise as a new wave of mobylette cadets passed their driving test.

it was friday the 13th. national holiday weekend, the final push before the functionaries go back to work. i usually shrink to the woods and re-emerge waterside at the dead end of august. six pm and i’m cocking an ear round the commune in dread of the annual family discos or the village grilled pig, all night ball and fireworks. but all is mute. the weather has rallied behind my flag. grey, chilly, passing showers all afternoon. five minutes and the gear’s in the van. by seven i’m setting up in the swim. everyone’s indoors. even the suicide bikers who wheelie a ton on the pit stretch as a point of honour, in memorium for a dead kawasaki terrorist. the first take comes within the hour, two gentle bleeps and a nod on the rod tip. not up for the fight, it too was on a quiet night in. blocked intestine, carp piles, anus like a wine cork so it’s down in weight. it should be an upper 40 but i settle for 44, your favourite weight.

last knockings, i hit another fish. it rolls along the bottom at will, picks up the other line. i turn the buzzer off, pump the fish back out and play it to the left. the other spool still clicks and whirrs. this pit where i’d once done sixty blanks on the trot and i’ve two 40s on at once, three in one evening, there’s no poetry covers that…

summer’s down now, like a power cut. daylight is thin yellow in a rapid autumn. my friday second sight comes in forth. evenings on arse pit are winding up, scratching for stragglers around darkfall, two blanks in three, still thirties but the unspawned bellies have flattened out and the forties are 35s again. but the party’s over. field duties before rain bogs the wheels down. still no word from the tribunal, so exploiting a loophole i’ve ordered a mongolian yurt. the mayor’s own words – the right to a tent. french law, for all its sarko rot and napoleonic absurdities, got this one fairtrade. a yurt is considered a tent. i may still be challenging the law with a wooden groundsheet, on the level:

by the new year, you’ll find me there. with a new birdtable


We began publishing the correspondence between Dexter Petley and John Andrews back in May 2007 making Letter From Arcadia the longest running feature on Caught by the River. It’s made for a fascinating archive and you can go back to the very beginning by clicking HERE.