A third extract from Love Madness Fishing, which was published by Little Toller / Caught by the River in April, and is available in the Caught by the River shop here, priced at £15.00.
Words: Dexter Petley
It was a grey spring evening, drizzling but warm. Outside, we kicked a punctured football in the cinders back of the garages, then Liam showed off my pike plug to his brother Fin and his mate Scab. He made me feel so proud to own it, I let him keep it, after all. They showed me the ten acres of allotments between their estate and the River Medway. It was where they went fishing, at the back of these allotments at night, for eels. They sold the fookers for ten pence a pound.
We threw stones at each other for a while, then Liam said they were going off, stuff to do. I had to ask his dad for a lift back. On the way, Nurse Dillon said:
‘Liam likes you.’
I fixed him up with Angie two days later. He promised to take me night fishing if I did.
‘Snot the fishing’ season,’ I’d said.
‘Fock the season. Eels don’t count. It’s a good laugh, oi tell ya. There’s cash in it.’
Angie was from another ward, way across the grounds where they housed the sprawling mad, patients from suburban catchments, Croydon, Sidcup, Slade Green. We were the country disturbed, the Maidstone & District bus-route nutters. Angie was a red-bus hermaphrodite who looked and dressed like David Bowie. She was halfway through her second year in art school. Her drawings were troubled, album-cover gothic, fantasy, creatures, warriors, broken columns, sweeping skies, hounded chariots flashing like lightening. She drew herself in fine pencil, such perfect lines, perfect likeness, manacled to a tree shaped like a witch’s hand. Coming from Lewisham, she sounded like all my cousins. She stood in the car park outside Farm Villa in the rain every day until I went out with her. Just gritting up our flares in the wet, slogging round the grounds, sitting in the patients’ canteen or shoplifting down Maidstone.
One night there was a disco on Female Nines, a long-stay ward. Angie and me went over there, ate sausage rolls and took the piss a bit. The nurses danced with old hags, making their arms go up and down to Paul McCartney crap on an old Philips record player on the floor. Angie was weird, not me-type weird in Liam’s eyes, but scary, jagged weird. I wanted to dump her before she cut my throat. After the disco we stood under the iron fire escape in the rain and lit up No. 10s. An hour to go before night medication. She wouldn’t stop talking, a thousand words a minute. I was fungling her and smoking at the same time. I chucked the nub down and levered both her tits out. She was staring into the lamps and the rain, like I wasn’t there, yattin’ and yattin’. Then she was singing some new song she’d just heard by 10cc:
Ah’m nod in la-arve, s’doan forgeddit, ‘s juss a silly phase ah’m goin ‘frew…
As she sang the last verse I cried and scubbed myself against her till I dampened the Wolseys.
‘Less go back now,’ I said.
She hadn’t noticed anything. It was early May, windy drizzle, blowing hot and cold. A foot in two seasons, the kind of day I caught my first chub on a fly down Bodiam, on the cane rod, with the old fly line Mr Cavey had given me. I remembered it because I’d felt on the verge of something, a twelve-year-old achieving a thing incredibly sensible. This was the furthest off I could think of. The furthest off I wanted to be right then. A boy who knew who he was in a world where the horizon stopped where it was supposed to stop. I’d even tied the fly myself, and maybe if I’d hung on to the pride, I wouldn’t have gone the wrong way down a No Through Road, heard the poetry voices or wasted these moments in a psychiatric hospital. Eighteen years old and going with Angie down the slope to an impurity where neither words nor water flowed. I knew that once you lost hold of the fishing, just being working class was like having epilepsy a hundred years ago. They bunged away the key so you had to keep filing at the bars. The screech it made drowned out the fading songs which Sarah had convinced me were there.
We walked over the grass and stopped just outside the ring of light from Farm Villa. Angie laid down on the wet grass and said:
‘Yer c’n screw me up t’ the eyeballs tomorrer. I’m flying’ the red flag today.’
I told Liam. He said:
‘OK, oi wouldn’ moind a bidda groin.’
He took me eel fishing in the middle of May as promised.
At both of these events, Dexter will be talking with his Letters From Arcadia correspondent John Andrews, undoubtedly a gig of the year for long term readers of this site and all lovers of country/nature writing. See John’s review of Love Madness Fishing here.