Caught by the River

A Week in Arcadia

John Andrews | 12th March 2012

by John Andrews.


The clock in Arcadia is neither twenty four hour nor nine to five and today the time it sets is no different, for Thursday is when the week begins and ends with a 5am pot of tea drunk trawlerman style from the spout, and a first breakfast of the remains of yesterday’s baked beans on toast eaten to the sound of the weather breaking on the darkened windows of the flat. A kiss for the Empress and the cat, and it is off in the van to Spitalfields where it is my solemn duty to sell Vintage Fishing Tackle for the Soul. Today I manage to get an old friend away and buy a bag of treasure from a gentleman hailing from the district of London known as Peckham. A lifelong angler and hoarder it is time for him to start the process of clearing and sorting. Spring makes tallymen of us all.

Another early start and this time not for a Car Boot Sale for the Soul or to roll down a b-road saluting burger wagons and tea vans but to Somerset House and the opening show of London Fashion Week. The Empress’ old friend from St Martin’s School of Art, Antoni Burakowski is opening proceedings with his partner Alison and their work – Antoni and Alison – Models Walking Up and Down in Clothes is a triumph. A riot of teutonic voiceover, overt and oblique references to biscuits, paper and tweed all in a kaleidoscope of controlled hedonism. After that there is only one thing to do. Take the tube to Archway, collect an undelivered parcel from the Post Office and walk back over the back of the Heath where the snow is still on the ground.

On Saturday’s you will occasionally find me at the gates of Wimbledon Car Boot Sale by half five. In the winter what follows is two hours stumbling around in the dark with a torch being pointed into boxes and into eyes. The smell of candyfloss and clouds of steam pouring out of burger vans. Vapour trails high up in the sky with the sun rising like liquid bronze over the windows of the nearby tower blocks. But not today. My bones are warm and lazy and I stay in bed drinking tea before taking the trip south on the bus to Waterloo Bridge and ducking back into Somerset House for another show, this time the Empress’ old firm – Jasper Conran, which is all elegance and understatement. There are some weeks when the world appears to be run by people who have been to art school. Oh, that it was like that for the rest of the year. All we would do is look at models walking up and down and drink tea and champagne until it was time for more.

A hard frost in Arcadia and a late start after an evening in for once not spent watching BBC4, but dissecting the early years of St. Martin’s with our old mucker Miss Fiona Dealey, legendary door girl of the West End and the Queen of Canvey Island. Ale and curry and a gale of laughter. And then back to work, punting photographs of treasure found to prospective buyers of Vintage Fishing Tackle for the Soul, interrupted by plain cheese sandwiches and the football commentary on the radio. A fire lit as the sky turns to dusk and the owl comes out of the woods to look for its own supper.

There are only four Mondays left of the coarse fishing season and the telephone lines and wires in Arcadia are alive with panic stricken anglers making plans to escape. I’m no different and the first task of the day is to wrap the sprats I bought on Saturday in red crepe paper and freeze them. A trick I was taught by the Thames Professional Roger Wyndham-Barnes. On Friday when I take them out they will have turned gold from the paper dye and when I cast them into a Fenland drain in the company of the artists John Richardson and Charles Rangeley-Wilson I will be hoping for my first pike of the season. In the meantime there are calls of another kind to make, and its down to Peckham in the van to look at the rest of the collection of fishing tackle from last Thursday.

The sixth day of writing a Week in Arcadia and I have become obsessed with the nature of diaries and how the written word creates its own history, one that always seems to record a dream of how the day should be remembered. The action of writing filters out all the annoyances, necessities, distractions and frustrations, removes the background noise. To whit, I posted a diary entry on my daily blog (which is far from a diary and more a snapshot) about an anonymous angler who fished many of the waters I fish, or dream of fishing in precious days not spent being distracted, including the River Wey at Elstead and the River Thames at Sunbury. But it is the place that he fished on the last day of the season in 1936 that bewitches me. For more than a decade I lived not far from Stoke Newington Reservoir, a huge sheet of water behind Green Lanes just north of Clissold Park, and would often wonder what swam in it as fishing there had been banned with the building of the Woodberry Down Estate. The unnamed gentleman in the diary fished there in bright sunshine and an easterly wind on the 14th March and caught a giant roach of almost 2lbs. It measured over 14 inches in length and had a girth of over 10. For some reason I am convinced that he took it to Barnes Taxidermists in Highbury to have it set up and that somewhere in the districts of London known as N4 and N16 over 75 years later the red flint of a roach stares down from the wall into the living room of a terraced house.

A late evening in The Southampton Public House last night drinking pints of Midhurst Mild and Truman 8 with Luke Jennings and his brother Christian, over from Sarajevo, necessitates the need for a Sweet Gene Vincent Sandwich: Black Pudd, White Bread, Brown Sauce – and several pots of tea drunk in no particular style. A gloomy morning as a tow truck is due to call and take away our old car which has sat quietly outside our flat not going anywhere for the past two years. Before that it had taken myself and the Empress to the west of Ireland, the north of Scotland and all points east. The suspension had gone, the mile-o-meter had long packed up and in the cold it took a good ten minutes to coax into life, producing as much diesel as a sick Routemaster. At one point I had hoped a family of bats might decide to nest in it and it would have to be declared an SSI, but to no avail. It might be made of metal but I feel as if I am shooting a horse. Philip Larkin was only partially right in his poem ‘Days’. In the year of Arcadia 2012 solving the question of them brings not just the doctor and the priest running over the fields in their long coats but the scrap merchant too, driving up the hill in his flat bed lorry.

John wrote this diary for inclusion in the now delayed issue 3 of An Antidote To Indifference. That issue will now be a music special on sale from 21 April, International Record Store Day.

To keep up with the comings and goings of Mr Andrews we recommend a daily visit to the Andrews of Arcadia Scrapbook.