I thought I could share a chapter from my first book Terminal Chancer – I hope you find the chapter both entertaining & enjoyable
The deconstruction of evolution
A hymn for everyman
As May drifted into June it became evident that rain was to become a rarity and that perhaps we should just enjoy the sunshine, stand down, unload the boot for the time being and break out the picnic blanket. Maybe I could use this down time as a period of recovery – half time – iron out all my aches and pains. Get myself match fit for the big three months. My list of ailments included a pulled left hamstring, a ropey left Achilles tendon and an awkward nagging knot under my right shoulder blade which felt like it needed digging out. This sucker was my priority as it had been ambivalent to my own course of treatment – the rotator cuff cure all, the Mick Channon windmill.
It was while I was completing my homespun physiotherapy that a colleague advised that a massage would sort it out, and that she knew a girl doing a degree course at a local college who needed a model so she could be assessed on her Swedish massage. I couldn’t let Sweden down. My colleague went on to inform me that the treatment would be completely free of charge. I couldn’t let my bank account down.
So I found myself in Blackburn College’s beauty department surrounded by beauticians and people wearing scrubs. As I examined this new environment it became notable that nobody owned their own; skin tone, fingernails, eyelashes or eyebrows. As I listened to whales singing, I inspected the posters on the wall with open mouthed wonder – Genuine Racoon hair extensions on sale here. Boy was I out of touch. I was ushered into a cubicle and asked a list of questions by a very friendly lady who seemingly needed assurance that I wouldn’t croak under her care. Once Michelle was satisfied that I was fit enough to be treated then she pulled the drape around the massage table, asked me to strip to my boxers and exited the curtain. No problem – I stood there, gut out with no hiding place and gave her a meek shout that I was ready for her to return.
She was a cheerful happy woman in her early thirties, very smiley and polite in a hyper air-hostess sort of way. I am stood next to the table bed thing wondering about shaved racoons.
The following exchange is conducted with the patient using an unnervingly suspicious tone. While the other protagonists concentrate on a disbelieving quizzical note.
Michelle: “Right then the first thing I am going to do is check your posture. Can you stand up straight please?”
Me: “I am.”
“Ohhh, really, straighten your back and puff your chest out.”
I stretch back and straighten up.
“Ohhhh – does that feel straight to you, can you step back to the wall and put your heels to the wall and touch the wall with your shoulder blades?”
I obey her instructions.
Michelle goes from shoulder to shoulder with a look of mild concern and then stands in front of me with her hands on both shoulders at once.
Me: “What’s wrong?”
“I’m going to have to ask Donna to come in and look at this.”
Me: “Why what’s up?”
Michelle was off(?) to get Donna and it’s just me against the wall and the whales.
Michelle returns with an older more mature looking woman who wouldn’t look out of place behind a Boots make-up counter.
Michelle gives Donna a quick recap and Donna asks me to take a step forward.
Donna: “Oh yes Michelle, I see what you mean… is that how you stand normally?”
Me: “Er, yes I think so, why?”
Donna: “Errmmm well you seem to have a stoop – have you ever been in an accident?”
Me: “No, no accidents.”
Donna: “I think we need to get Marie to have a look.” Donna disappears.
Michelle now says that it’s nothing to worry about, while I think to myself, Marie? who the ****’s Marie?
Donna returns accompanied by a lady in her late fifties with glasses suspended on the end of her nose, mature hog roasted complexion, six inch lama hair eyelashes, hand drawn surprised eyebrows, inch long zebra pattern fingernails and a upright micro waved racoon hair do that Don King would have been proud of. She was obviously their queen.
Queen Marie now gets the capsule recap and asks me using her thirty a day East Lancashire guttural croak to walk ten feet in a straight line, turn and come back. The three of them take a look at me as though they have found the missing link. All I can think of is the Patterson Gimlin film footage of Bigfoot walking through the forest.
Marie: “Please take a step back and put your shoulders against the wall.”
Marie, tight lipped and head slightly shaking puts her hands on my shoulders and gives me a quizzical look.
Marie: “Thanks Donna, yes Michelle you may continue with the treatment and advise the client that he should do some exercises to improve his posture. He appears to stoop forward in a hunched fashion and you’re right, he does seem to have one shoulder bigger than the other.”
I now feel like Marty Feldman playing Igor in the film, Young Frankenstein.
Donna and Marie leave while Michelle gets me to lay face down on the massage table.
Michelle gets to work and starts giving it plenty. She soon finds a knot the size of a pike bung and explains that my shoulder is as swollen as a cartoon ham and that I will have to come back four or five times before it’s cured. During the next forty minutes we have a chin wag about how my shoulder could be in such a state.
I really was a total blank. I mentally tallied all my many activities but I couldn’t offer an answer. Maybe it’s due to you bending down and picking the kids up all the time, says Michelle… No other solution to my giant shoulder sprung to mind.
It wasn’t until I got in the car that I arrive at a rare eureka moment.
Flying condom, twenty eight grams, sixty to a hundred visits a year, for on average four hours per visit, seventy casts an hour for over twenty seasons, casting a combined accumulative weight just short of the Humber Bridge.
60 visits x 280 casts = 16,800 casts per year
16,800 casts x 21 years x Humber Bridge = enraged shoulder like a beach ball.
Maybe I should cut down on my spinning and concentrate on the fly rod. During the next four sessions on that table I couldn’t even contemplate explaining the obvious cause of my condition. That would mean describing the whole process of salmon fishing to Michelle, and then admitting that I had forgotten to mention that I was a fisherman – face down with my head looking out a port hole, examining the base of a massage table… That ship had sailed, so as usual I took the easy option and blamed parenthood.
So June became my usual welcomed interlude, a month without temptation or haste. I took the chance to take some evening walks and check out some beats for pools that could be worth a dip with the shrimp or that could be worth a late night appointment with some sea trout.
As soon as the cracker factory klaxon sounded I could pole fault the fence, flee to the river and gleefully loaf about with the shrimp rod, happily watching the red top of my float roam down a pool like a drunk wandering home. This particular pool was on my direct flight path from work and it was criminal to pass it without having a look. I didn’t do this every night but only when the water had lifted and then dropped off quickly allowing fish to move up and settle. It remains one of only two pools that constantly get referenced by other ribble anglers as a safe bet to see some fish in low water.
It’s normally a speedy affair – run the float through two twenty metres sections for an hour and bolt home. One minute I’m knelt trotting my float admiring the summer calm enjoying the silence and wondering what’s for tea, then a leaping fish only a matter of feet away, that must be closer to twenty than fifteen, clears my float and then proceeds to get covered for a good half an hour without so much as a bob. It’s those types of incident that can send you home hatching plans…
Later that night I was caught reading Fred Buller’s essays on Shrimping to my boy as a bed time story. I was trying to impart the seductive nature and anticipation of watching a float drift downstream waiting for a bite…he seemed to like it…his mother took a different view.
After the shoulder lull and this brief bit of rain she was full of enthusiasm for me to go and enjoy myself on the river. Our recent day trips out had included picnics by the Ribble and ice creams at Ribchester. How we joked about how I always got us by the river somehow…slowly this blooming enthusiasm had understandably dissolved…to the point that I had to lie about my true thoughts. While clearly in a day-dream come semi trance wondering about the changing geography of the river/bait/presentation/tactics/weather patterns/forecasts/clubs/tackle/tide times/water temperature /salmon/sea-trout… my wife suddenly asks me what I’m thinking about. Jolted from my day dream I have to quickly scramble for my mental good behaviour cue cards. I can tell by her expression that she doesn’t want to hear that I’m thinking about fishing…I convincingly tell her that I am concerned about which primary school our one year old daughter should eventually go to. This is met with suspicious approval and the inevitable ugly by-product leaps like a mugger at a cash point: a full-on conversation about education…I make a mental note to steer clear of reactionary hot topics…of course I can’t tell her this and carry on rewinding my mind tape of the leaping salmon while nodding with my concerned face.
The last thing I saw that night before visiting the land of nod was that same leaping salmon – both taunting and haunting wrapped up in one perfectly framed airborne thrust. I found myself recumbent in a Hermes reclining chair with my feet cradled in the matching foot stool. I was in a dimly lit oak lined office; I could just make out a large oil painting of a proud cormorant, hanging to my left, to my right the walls were crowded with dusty books dancing for attention. Across from me was an ugly large dark wood desk and behind it sat my wife dressed as Albert Einstein, she rocked forward and mouthed the word “parasite”.
Alberta was holding up a tortoise shell hand mirror, that she flipped around so I could see my own reflection. My mouth had become an oral cone and I had an insatiable primeval thirst for blood and fresh epidermal tissue. My antennae groped towards Einstein as I tried to take stock. My obsessive behaviour had triggered a metamorphosis – I was a fully functioning six foot sea louse and I was being counselled by Alberta Einstein – what could a sea louse do? Tell her I would change my ways and look for an alternative to parasitic behaviour – go into politics or that I was just naughty by nature?
Alberta, resplendent in her Einstein wig then said in a terrible Austrian accent, “do you know vot the definition of insanity is Mr Louse?…Let me tell you, it’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
I woke shivering in a puddle of sweat, in a state of high anxiety and extreme relief. I quickly woke my wife and explained my terrible nightmare. She gently told me with her brassneck that if I had have been a parasitic sea louse, I may have probably been less needy. Still in a heightened state I needed definitive answers, so I pleaded – what had Alberta meant? Should I change tactics, go up-stream and sit tight or travel down to the lower river and hope for a tide fresh fish. Bemused and alarmed and staring straight at her I received – Picture no sound and with a shake of her head and a subtle roll of her shoulder she turned on her side and sunk back under the duvet. This obviously reminded me of a salmon head and tailing.
It had been a close call with that nightmare – even worse than waking up nicely relaxed thinking it’s Sunday only to shudder and realise it’s actually ******* Monday. Thankfully it was 6am on a Saturday and I had a plan. I quickly booted my five year old son out of bed and dressed him like Elmer Fud telling him we were going to catch big bad barry – his favourite fish (from TV show Ben & Hollies Little Kingdom) and that we would have to be quiet and avoid contact with the farmer as he would chase us. That was all the boy needed to hear, the potential of a chase by a half crazed farmer on a quad bike and a mythical giant boat eating fish as a prise was like a self-voted pay rise to a politician (all in favour of awarding ourselves an eleven percent pay rise say aye). The only question my lad asked was could we chase mum with the fishes head. My heart filled with pride as I replied yes son, of course we can.
We jumped in the car and Fran chose Jonnie Common’s fantastic LP – Master of None as our Saturday morning soundtrack of DIY lo-fi electronica. We were loaded with my salmon net, twelve foot Barble rod, spinning reel and armed with a pocket full of day glow disco prawns, two floats, small box of drilled bullets, shrimp pins, trebles and line. Our session could last no longer than 7am – 9.30am as he had a swimming lesson, so we would just cover the top of the beat as this was where I had seen the fish the previous night and it was fairly easy to access. I laid it on thick as we crossed the three hundred yards from the car to the river, making us go behind hedges and staying out of site from the farm house. I had permission to fish but my lad didn’t know that – it’s a much better game to keep him in the dark and smuggle our way to the river. We belly crawled the last twenty yards until we dropped down the steep bank to the river side. All the way I had to field eclectic questions about the various capabilities of the farmers JCB’s and tractors including top speeds and noise levels of the engines. Then the odd curve ball direct from a five year olds mind – “do you think he has a lion, dad?”
I set up quickly and cast slightly upstream and trotted the float down about a rods length out. We were crouched low and quiet, me fishing and my lad on lion watch. Second cast, a salmon rises and shows its silver flank as it flashes at the bait, without taking, turns and vanishes. The boy is oblivious as I tug his arm and gesture at the float while asking if he saw the fish – “no dad, was it Barry?” Pulling the bail arm over and holding his hands on the rod we flick the float out again about ten feet in front of us – up from the deep comes a salmon all of fifteen pounds and clears our float by at least a foot – landing back in the river with a hefty sploosh. The boy’s eyes widen as he shouts “it’s big bad Barry dad, why didn’t you catch him?” For the next hour all we do is cast curses as we cover that spot and nothing else stirs. I knew we didn’t have much chance when the first fish came and turned away, they are usually either in the mood or not. My son remained admiringly philosophical as we trotted back to the car “Uncle Lamont would have caught Barry dad, it jumped right over your rod…Has he seen the farmer’s lion Dad?…Maybe Barry had already had his breakfast.”
This was no time or place to start explaining the shrinking digestive system of the returning Atlantic salmon – some things are just best left unsaid.