Fishing for Inspiration

The following was first written in September 2016 when I was challenged to write a piece including the words: Float, Wisp and Scatter.  I have had a more recent fishing experience this week.

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Several times throughout my life I have been persuaded that fishing, or angling to give a more precise definition of the sport, is the most popular pastime in Britain. Aficionados claim it is the most relaxing of all sports. Now, correct me if I’m wrong but my idea of sport is the pursuit of some form of activity that actually involves expending more energy than having a cup of tea or climbing the stairs to visit the loo. Something that actually gets you slightly out of puff. Even a sport like archery involves strengthening arm and shoulder muscles and a regular walk back and forth to the target to collect the arrows, but fishing…well. It involves sitting, fiddling with some nylon line and hooks and then…more sitting.

The argument is that it is a mental tussle between man, the hunter, against the living creature being hunted. However, I don’t really put it on a par with say bullfighting in terms of the adrenalin rush it might produce.

My first experience of fishing was sitting (that word again) on the bank of the Leeds/Liverpool canal with a friend who was an angling enthusiast. It was more of an educational experience for me: a tutorial in which I learned about types of rod (steel, carbon, bamboo etc), reels, different breaking strengths of line (I could never understand why you didn’t just use the toughest line – but apparently that’s not sporting) and flies and floats and lots of other paraphernalia, which was a far cry from the time when I was a small boy with a net, trying to catch sticklebacks.

On that day, hours passed with no sign of any fish, although one did rise to the surface, seemingly to see what I was doing as I sat there with my eyes glued to the float, as I was instructed, to see if there had been a bite. I swear the fish in question (my friend reckoned it was a gudgeon) shook its head in despair at my feeble efforts before sinking below the surface again.

I should also point out that this so-called relaxing sport does not confine itself to enjoying the sunny outdoors on balmy summer days. Not at all. The best times to catch fish are apparently on dull, preferably rainy days, and just before dawn breaks, since this is when the fish are ready for breakfast. Naturally, this requires the relevant all weather kit of clothing and a large umbrella or a small tent-like shelter for the even hardier, making this sport one of the more expensive for the serious minded. Speaking of serious mindedness, it occurred to me that this pursuit was something more than merely dipping a line into water and hoping that some poor unsuspecting, hungry fish would plant its mouth over your No. 10 hook (oh yes, I forgot – lots of different graduations for these too). I realised that it bordered on meditation and had serious connections with the teachings of Zen Buddhism. Generally, it is a solitary pursuit, since two or more anglers together might create conversation, and any sound that might scare off the intended prey is taboo. In these circumstances, contemplation of the meaning of life (if not the purpose of fishing) must be paramount.

Hours of isolation on a remote riverbank or beside a lonely lake clearly denies any access to a corner shop or cafe for a snack or other sustenance, and it therefore requires drinks and nourishments to be taken along to the selected spot for the day. Some will merely rely on the sustaining power of cigarettes to keep them going, and sad is the sight of an angler, forlornly looking at the water, peppered with raindrops, which thrum against his umbrella, as a silent wisp of smoke drifts from beneath his shelter, like the sad end to a doused fire. And I have to question whether this person is really happy. But a lot of our happiness comes from personal achievement, and I suppose in the case of angling that comes from catching a prize fish after hours of stalking and luring and then struggling with, especially when it comes to deep sea fishing and catching massive marlin, tuna or even sharks. Now, I would concede that that is a sport. However, back to the riverbank, or canal as it was in my brief experience.

Just now I referred to luring the fish. This is done in a number of ways, using attachments to the line to attract the fish. Fly fishing is a prime example in which brightly coloured lures, many made by fishermen themselves, are meant to look like particular types of fly or gnat or other insect. A further attraction for the wily fish is to distribute ground bait on the surface of the water in order to bring them closer to your hook. To my mind, a scatter of meal on the water is nothing more than an offering of a free lunch to the fish and as good as telling them that this is hook-free food.

Most times, even when a fish has been caught, bizarrely it is put back into the water, in order that it can grow and be caught another day. For all the arguments given as to the benefits and enjoyment of this sport, I am afraid I am not persuaded and the only fish that I shall be pursuing is the battered variety from my local chip shop.

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Last Monday I was invited along with writing colleagues to visit a local trout farm, where one of our group members offered to catch some trout and prepare the same for our lunch in an oak chip ‘smoker’.  Thankfully, our only requirement on what was a drizzly morning was to stay inside a hut and await lunch, and draw inspiration from the calm surroundings to write something.  This I managed in the form of haikus. Oh, and the trout was delicious.

 

Willow trees close-dipped

Where raindrops dapple water

Sway in shy embrace

 

Casting lines caress

The gently rippled surface

Innocent fly floating

 

Catch, silver-glistened,

Hang beneath a cold, grey sky

Oak smoked pyre awaits

 

Writers’ Block or Blockage

paperwork

Like most writers, I have suffered the ‘block’ in the past. That time when nothing emerges from the grey matter. Worse still, when midway through a poem, or story, or in my case a novel, there is the juddering halt in creative juices. My third novel remains unfinished with only the final few chapters required. I blame myself for leaving so many loose ends to tie up, or perhaps I could just cut them off. Nevertheless, my block gave me the inspiration to submit a poem to a triolet competition for which I was shortlisted.

Writer’s Block

It looks like I have writer’s block.

No words appear across this page.

I’m deafened by the ticking clock.

It looks like I have writer’s block.

And there is nothing to unlock

This feeling, even though I rage.

It looks like I have writer’s block.

No words appear across this page.

 

My problem is in trying to write too many different things at the same time. Submissions to competitions, plays and poems, with many efforts  abandoned mid way as I turn my attention to something else. Deadlines loom and I concentrate my efforts in another direction. Too many things on the go. Not just in terms of writing either. Moving to a rural part of the country, I wanted to immerse myself in lots of local activities and engage with the community. To date, as well as joining a local writing group, I have joined a tennis club, go to ballroom dancing classes, volunteer for a local charity and recently went to a reading with the local drama group. I did not get a part which is probably just as well, since rehearsals might well have put paid to any writing I might have been able to do.  All in all it’s writer’s blockage rather than block that is the problem.

Writer’s Blockage

I’m writing and fighting the constant urge

to write a different type of piece.

So many unfinished poems and drafts

now lurk in drawers and piles of files.

Copious notes remain forgotten,

scrawled in notebooks down in the bottom

of boxes. Should I try such different styles

of writing? Or is this the very craft

of penmanship, a unique niche

of which I might be on the verge?

 

Dancing in the Street

It is to be expected in the more rural areas of England to find traditional events going on at some time or another. I was intrigued to see what the Day of Dance would be in the town where I moved to a few months ago. I was not disappointed by the spectacle which draws ‘teams’, if that is the correct word, of dancers from far and wide to perform through the town’s main thoroughfare. There is something comforting about the continuation of such traditions which is not so much a nostalgic feeling as a means of touching on history, and preserving a community spirit in a world that is rapidly losing that essential aspect of society.

Day of Dance

Day of Dance2

The Day of Dance has crowned the town

With all manner of dress and gowns

As gay and gaudy as the gardens.

The Morris is a must of course with clogs

And sticks and fiddle. The middle

Of the square, as all the teams of dancers

Prepare, where colours collide and mingle,

Is a mayhem of pagan pageant. No single

One stands out, as people sing and sounds

Resound throughout the town to celebrate

The birth of another Spring.

 

 

Dreadful Service

No, this is not a restaurant review or a rant about the delivery of broadband to the remoter parts of Britain. It’s about tennis, and about my diminishing ability to play the game.  Twenty years since I last weilded a racket in anger, I was lured into having a game by the mention of it by a colleague. I eagerly joined a group of retirees about the same age as myself (a couple a lot older), keen to be skipping around the local court and whipping the ball back and forth.  Time, however, is a cruel beast and, along with loss of memory in old age, there is also a marked loss of agility.

I think I’ve kept myself fairly fit over the years and, although I gave up going to the gym last year, for a while I engaged in the new over-50s game of ‘walking football’. Really good. But following my move to the other side of the country I have been unable to find similar around here. Hence my desire to take up the opportunity of playing tennis. I must say that I was not doing too bad in getting the ball back over the net and actually winning a few points. The downside was when it came to my turn to serve. I remember being told many years ago by someone far more adept at the game than me that a key part of the skill was in the serve. It does not need to be particularly powerful, but accuracy is essential. Getting it over the net and/or into the opposite court would be a good start for me. I lost count of the number of double faults I committed (‘committed’ is the correct word, because my game was criminal).  Notwithstanding this, my friends have continued to invite me back for further participation, with the advice that I should get myself a new racket. The one I have is not exactly a museum piece but it is 20+ years old, so perhaps they are right.  I also think my game might improve if for once the wind does not play on the days we get together for a game. But that’s just an excuse.

 

Net Prophet

 I had a feeling when I received the balls

For me to serve, there would be many calls

Of ‘Out’.’ Just get it in’, was the advice

As to how I should improve my service

Game. But again and again, just the same.

‘Get a new racket’ they said. The fools.

A bad workman always blames his tools.

Not the tools in my case. The fact is

I just have to practice and practice.

 

 

Irish By Write

I took a recent trip to Dublin, visiting Ireland for the first time in my life. Much to my shame I might add, since Ireland lies not that far away and I also have some Irish ancestry. I found the city of Dublin everything that anyone has ever said about the place. It is vibrant, friendly and the people have a spontaneity of spirit. Needless to say I visited a few of the pubs (there are apparently 1000 in the city), in order to sample the Guinness which it behoves any visitor to do.

Of the various sights in Dublin I was surprised to chance upon the Dublin Writers Museum which has been in existence since 1991. It is a fascinating place, being a large former Georgian residence and which now contains a wonderful collection of manuscripts, books and letters from the great names of Irish literature: Swift, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde and Beckett, amongst many others. Each one a genius.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream,

              Their minds moved upon silence.     [W. B. Yeats]

 

Museum

Only a Number

The classic phrase when it comes to discussing age, and especially old age, is ‘it’s only a number’. And I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.  Time is a contrivance to keep track of things. If the Earth took twice as long to orbit the Sun then I would only be half the age I am now. Conversely, if it went around its orbit twice as fast I would be (gulp) double my current age. Doesn’t bear thinking about. The reason I’m going on about this today is that, as you may have guessed, it’s my birthday. Given the time of year – the Spring Equinox – everything should be in perfect balance. However, in contrast to last week’s lovely warm sunshine, the weather has reverted to more wintry bluster and rain, which is I suppose some sort of balance. Yin Yang as it is said.

Looking at the symbols for this and the positivity of ‘complementary opposites’ my age (69) would seem to have a bright outlook. Certainly, if the rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday To You…’ from fellow members of my writing group this morning was anything to go by (and which startled other customers in the coffee shop), this should be a pretty good day in spite of the weather.

69

I played a game of tennis last week for the first time in about twenty years and was amazed that I could still return the ball over the net. More strenuous games involving running may not be as straightforward. The opportunity to wield a cricket bat in a competitive game may not present itself again, as I reflected in a poem posted a few years ago.

Playing for Time

 The pace of the games these seasons,

are much faster. I was a disaster,

painfully failing to fend off the fours.

Batting was just as bad, until a happy clatter

of stumps and Out! Polite applause,

but not quite sure of the reasons.

 

Let’s be honest, I’m a failure

and my best position is in the bar,

where I don anecdotal regalia.

A sage with time but no desire to declare

analysis of what has gone before.

I do not have to settle any scores,

but merely issue warnings and advice,

while the young must deal their cards and roll their dice.

 

© Wally Smith 2013

 

 

 

A Walk on the Wilde Side

This last weekend I found myself in Reading for the first time in many months. It was a place I thought I was quite familiar with until I took a walk from my hotel early on Saturday morning, enjoying the spread of spring blooms in the very welcome sunshine. The River Kennet runs through the town and a backwater flows by the ruined abbey and below the walls of the old Reading Jail. I discovered that the path has now been turned into a memorial to one of the jail’s most famous inmates, Oscar Wilde. The railings and gates have been fashioned into lines from his poetry and one gate has been cleverly made in his image.

Oscar Wilde

In his words:

I know not whether Laws be right,

Or whether Laws be wrong;

All that we know who lie in gaol

Is that the wall is strong;

[From The Ballad of Reading Gaol]