Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Blanking - Makes you Think, Dunnit?

The Tees below Cauldron Snout, April 2011

A blank day: it happens. A blank week, though, is different altogether; It makes a chap think, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I was at the cottage in Upper Teesdale on the 1st of April; alone, and with seven days of fishing spread tantalisingly before me.  The rain started on the evening of my arrival and continued, pretty much unabated, until the day of departure.  This wasn't your every-day, run-of-the-mill rain either.  This was proper North Pennine rain, the kind that penetrates to that signifier of proper soakings - the gusset of one's underwear - with insidious and astonishing rapidity. On my first outing the low watermark was reached so soon that I managed to stagger a mere quarter of a mile into the deluge before submission became the only sane option.

Two hours and a hot bath later saw me ensconced in the homely environs of the bar of The Teesdale Hotel in Middleton.  The delicious sensation of immersion in hot water had been enhanced to no small degree by the consumption of the contents of my hip flask, intended for the toasting of trout, but by no means wasted in its secondary role. Reinvigorated by its effect, I laid and lit a fire, pushed the damper in and headed to the boozer in the time honoured manner of chaps who've had their hopes and dreams of a long awaited day's fishing washed clean away.

The clientèle of the Teesdale during the lunchtime session is agreeable to a man in a fragile condition.  It consists of late middle aged males; some there for the duration, others who duck in furtively out of the rain to sink a couple while their better halves attend to trivial matters in town.  All are affable and enter into conversation freely. A tweed-clad trio at the bar throw out crossword clues to the floor and a log fire is kept roaring by the bar-lady. Questions come after introductions are made and I tell them (how stupid it now seems!) how I drove up to Cronkley that morning to fish. They don't laugh or mock; their faces registering only benign indifference. You don't run into many fishermen here, and fewer local ones.  This is grouse country, shooting country: no-one cares much about fish or fishing.  It's one of the reasons why it's a great place to fish, and an even better place to blank: no-one cares, which helps to put things into perspective. The land is divided between Barnard and Strathmore and managed, some might say obsessively, for grouse. The Tees is but a boundary dividing the two demesnes, left to flourish majestically and ignored, for the most part, by the majority.  

I spent the evening in front of the cottage fire accompanied only by Sheringham's evocative prose and the remainder of the scotch. Thoughts were forming.

Have you ever woken, after such an evening, aware that, on the previous night, you had thought so profoundly of things, such things - philosophies, solutions to previously impenetrable (but invariably mundane) problems - that, if only you could remember what they were, things would look a lot brighter?  Such was the situation next morning. Optimistic - having thought the thoughts of great men, even if had now no idea what form these musings had taken - I sallied forth to the inestimable Conduit Cafe to get outside a full english washed down with a gallon or so of tea.  The rain persisted, and seemed inclined to do so interminably.  It would be folly, clearly, to expose myself again to the elemental mental-ness of Upper Teesdale, and so, breakfast having soaked up most of my hangover, I drove to Barney. 

Barnard Castle is an excellent place to buy second hand books.  The Oxfam shop, mitigating against the tyranny of Cookson, Grisham and Cornwell, offers an 'Old Books' section which often contains jewels from the canon, such as the first edition of BB's The Countryman's Bedside Book (with dust jacket) that I picked up here last year.  Curlew Books, too, is well worth a look in.  I popped in to Wilkinson's to buy some flies.  There was no need really, I had tied a dozen each of snipe and purple, march brown, hare's lug and plover, black spider, waterhen bloa et al before I'd come.  I don't even buy flies as a rule.  I just knew, from experience, that the old chap who works at the fishing counter would cheer me up.  He did not fail me.
"Cast into the white water" he advised archly, "you'll catch".

Absolutely preposterous, I thought happily, as I peered through the rain-blurred window and saw a bedraggled woman battling to turn her umbrella outside in again. But, as anticipated, he had encouraged me.

Back at the cottage I took a wet constitutional (by way of the Teesdale, naturally) before settling down to an evening of Pritt, an umpteenth viewing of Kind Hearts and Coronets, a wee dram or six, and thence to bed, for some reason optimistic that tomorrow the weather might turn.

In the morning the rain had stopped.  But, on a brief detour via the river en route to The Conduit, I heard the angry roar of the Tees long before I saw it.  The thousands - nay, millions - of tons of precipitation which had fallen on various fells during the previous two days was now careening down the valley; a terrifying sight, and a dispiriting one for any angler.  Over the full english I resolved, through clenched teeth (because I don't, truth be told, enjoy it much), to fish one of the local stocked reservoirs.

The rain looked like it would hold off for a good few hours (although you can never tell up here) so I parted with the readies and asked the chap at Grassholme lodge what flies he recommended.

     "Orange fritz is the one at the moment"

     "Beg you pardon?" I stammered.

    "Orange fritz." he repeated. And then, bemused, "I thought everyone had some of those..."

'Bloody hell; that it should come to this', I thought as I pocketed the offensive blighters and trudged around to the other side of the vast, and to my untutored eye, featureless expanse.  Not that it mattered much. Although the rain had ceased the wind was bowling down the valley as keen as ever and there was only one bank from which casting of any kind would be possible. I tied on one of the fluorescent abominations and cast, like I was throwing a voodoo figure into a fire. To my amazement, the moment I began to retrieve  I felt a sharp jab. The old ticker upped the tempo a notch and as I continued to pull in line the fish took again and I was in. It was a rainbow of about 3lb which detached itself just as I was about to net it. Not to worry, thought I, and cast again. Further amazement ensued as I connected immediately with another rainbow. This one, too, was lost at the net. And that was it for the next four freezing, dispiriting, wind-beaten hours. Not another knock did I get: not on the revolting orange fritz, or any other 'fly'.

Back at the Teesdale I listened despondently as the locals discussed the continuance of the bad weather (It was, naturally, raining heavily again) before agreeing that a let up was unlikely in the extreme. Batten down the hatches was the general consensus; and so it was for the rest of the week.

All there was to do - between dining at some of The North's finest eateries (The Rose and Crown at Romaldkirk and The Moorcock at Egglestone in particular); drinking far too much at the Teesdale; walking among some of the finest and most unspoilt scenery in the British Isles; re-reading many of the finest angling books ever written (which inspired me to jot a few sub-standard scribbles myself); spending happy hours searching for second-hand book bargains in Barney and elsewhere and communing with the good people of Middleton-in-Teesdale generally - all there was to do - was think; and think about blanking in particular.

Wiser sages than me have waxed so profoundly, so lyrically, upon the subject of the remarkable similarities between angling and life that, surely, they're no longer regarded as remarkable?  

Suddenly (during a memorable lunchtime session involving a bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pape, several pints of Black Sheep and the best part of a bottle of Bell's) it struck me that blanking, and how one deals with it, offers one of the clearest analogies to life altogether.   The limitless potential of life is mirrored in the almost limitless possibility of a fishing trip, and the way we deal with the highs and lows encountered during both are the mark of us.  In the event that no fish show, the opportunity must be taken to delight in other things; and there are always other things, material and spiritual, that we are compelled to notice, acknowledge and appreciate all the more because we fish. 

This state of mind, I always feel, finds its best expression in the lines that appear at the front of BB's books.

'The wonder of the world, the beauty and the
power, the shape of things, their colours,
lights and shades; these I saw.  Look ye also
while life lasts'

As far as I know, the above lines are unattributed.  If anybody knows otherwise, please let me know.

1 comment:

snape said...

Great blog. Some really interesting articles. Thanks
Any chance of putting a link to this new forum for traditional fisherman

Thanks and keep it up.