Caught by the River

Terminal Chancer

26th November 2014


Terminal Chancer – Silver Seasons, Atlantic Salmon
By James Gilbraith, (£14.99 The Guild of Reason)

Review by Jon Berry

Atlantic salmon. Rainbow trout. Shaun Ryder. LSD. Apocalypse Now. A crazy-as-crazy-gets friend called Lamont. Shrimp-head balaclavas. An unlikely mix, but Gilbraith’s Terminal Chancer is an unlikely book.

It is rare for authors to mention, as Gilbraith’s does in the book’s early pages, that they have self-published the item you hold in your hands because two publishers have turned it down. Upon finishing, I can see why they did; I can also see that they missed a trick. Terminal Chancer is an unusual memoir and an idiosyncratic joy.

Gilbraith is salmon man, devoted to fishing for the rare runs of fish on his local River Ribble. As such, this is a story with very few salmon in it. There is none of the gigantism found in the writings of Hugh Falkus or Fred Buller, and only brief glimpses of the high-end, ghillie and Land Rover fishing that can be had, for a considerable price, in the Scottish Highlands. Instead, we get the musings of a man who takes every opportunity to escape the cracker factory to cast for fish that are rarely there, and frequently fall off when they do turn up.

The characters in Terminal Chancer are the true beat of its tortured heart. There’s Lamont – profane, unpredictable, obsessive and obtuse – and Ahab, the weather-beaten philosopher with the gammy hip. Early on, we meet an angler in his eleventh successive year without a fish, a troubled soul who refuses to surrender. And then there’s Gilbraith himself; a man juggling the disapproval of the Human Resources Department of the cracker factory with a need to be on the river when the salmon are running, a father and husband who knows that time is precious and, as Ahab makes all too clear, always running out.

Angling readers, especially those who pursue fish as rare and capricious as salmon, will recognise these ordinary but extraordinary dilemmas. ‘Work-life balance’ is a phrase all-too-often bandied about by bosses and bean-counters who just want you to work harder, and stop bitching about it. They are not anglers. Gilbraith’s contempt for them will find a supportive audience.

The author writes with irreverence, but the tension he describes is palpable. Beneath the lunacy and lysergic excursions is a man battling to cope with the demands of a twenty-first century which values clocking on rather more highly than checking out. The man who lives by and for his river is increasingly rare, and Terminal Chancer – despite its limited run of five-hundred copies and place far outside the literary and angling mainstream – should serve as a rallying cry to those who know how wrong that is.

Terminal Chancer
is out now.

More from Jon Berry on Caught by the River