The Lost Diary April-September 1981
A Review by John Andrews
The announcement last year that a part of Chris Yates fishing diaries had been found by his son in a box of old Christmas decorations and was to be published by the crowd-funding publisher Unbound caused much fervour amongst his loyal readership. Yates’ previous diaries Four Seasons – Fishing Diaries 1977-1981 and River Diaries 1982-1984 (both on Medlar Press) both proved immensely popular reads. I remember receiving my copy of Four Seasons as a birthday present on a wet and cold November morning in 1997 and reading it almost to the end without stopping. Within its pages there was even a time when he and I had fished the same water, the opening day at Lodge Pond on Sunday 16th June in 1979, ‘The 16th was as inglorious as a war with one army. A cold night combined with a mass force of carp anglers and a bank like a lake bed’. This account transported me back to that long dawn with my father cooking a fry-up on the same wet mud as we fished up to our knees in water for small roach and gudgeon in unremitting gloom, the ritual of opening night as far from a midsummer’s dream as you could get. Four Seasons was instrumental in me later writing an angling memoir of my own. The book was like a key to a locked box. To think that here was another key to another box was tantalising indeed. More so than any book Yates had written since.
I read The Lost Diary over Christmas, appropriately in front of a fire with tea and cake in hand and devoured it from start to finish. Like the best of lost things the diary is a fragment, only part of a season and even less that of a year, an account of the summer months between April and September. When launched by Unbound for funding it was said that the diary would run over the winter until the following March but it ends quite abruptly in the half light of a late September night on the banks of Shillinglee in Surrey, ‘In the half light it looked magical – an elegant, beautifully formed common that must, I thought, weigh over 20lbs. However, the light was deceiving because when I hoisted the weigh bag on to the scales the pointer stopped at 18lbs 10oz. Statistics aren’t important, though, and for the rest of this quiet deep blue evening that carp was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen’. But worry not for this unexpected halt is only the beginning for The Lost Diary is not a book which you will read only once.
It opens several months earlier with Yates taking tea with the late Donald Leney, the Galician carp importer who stocked Redmire in the 1930’s, a meeting that Yates describes with all the atmosphere of a passage from an E.M Forster novel, ‘and by the time I left, the moon was rising white, behind the silhouette of the dead Wellingtonia in Leney’s garden’.
How long ago 1981 really is, left to Yates to describe those months you could be forgiven for thinking that it was the summer of 1914. There are dawn choruses lead by melancholic robins and lingering dusks marked by churring Nightjars, small ponds christened ‘Minor’, and in a world where deadlines are ignored as a matter of good manners, the trains to Waterloo run on time and night never really arrives. There is poaching by dark on forbidden waters, there are trips to fishing bookshops on the Charing Cross Road in broad daylight and boiled eggs for tea. There are expeditions curtailed by torrential rain, hardware shops in market towns in which you can buy pigeon feed for pennies, remote villages with mechanical stamp machines, hot days quenched by cider under oaks and sightings of shoals of carp so vast they seem unimaginable.
This wonderful book, ironically never intended for publication and yet so enthusiastically greeted by its audience that Unbound’s initial run was oversubscribed is rightly called The Lost Diary. In the film used to launch its crowd-funding Yates expresses delight at once again being able to recall the full detail of stories he only half remembered. And yet at the prompting of his old Swan Fountain Pen even something as tangible as the dried ink on the pages of a diary has an ethereal quality about it. The Lost Diary is the story of a lost summer, it belonged once to Yates in 1981 and to those in whose company he spent it but for a small sum it can also now belong to you. What a privilege that is, to walk in someone else’s footsteps, to share in their memories, especially when that person is a certain Mr. Yates. Although all is not as it might seem, for what you might read and find in its brief pages will be as different and as individual an experience as if in reading it you are recalling a lost summer all of your own. It is a book of spells. A slim volume of much power as if imbued with magic. Oh yes, 1981 really is a long time ago,
‘I remembered the half-dream from last night when, just as I was dipping towards sleep, I glimpsed the ghostly image of a deep swimming carp in a deep blue lake’.
This edition of The Lost Diary is available to buy directly from the publisher.
If you’d like to get your hands on a copy of the now-sold-out original edition of The Lost Diary Unbound have very generously given us three copies to offer up as prizes to be won in a competition on this Friday’s edition of our newsletter. If you’re not on our mailing list already you’ll just need to put your address in the box at the top of this page.