It all began so innocently. Watching a few old ducks here, spying on the odd (flock of) sheep there. I suppose that the rot set in when I identified my first lapwing. We never imagine the depths to which we shall sink, do we? Look at me now, up at sparrowfart o’clock, gallumphing up and down the towpath leering at carp.
It began, as so many sad tales of a young man falling into ill-advised ways do, while I was in the hairy arms of Morpheus (the Greek one, not the one from The Matrix) and dreaming of my tin soldiers, my wooden horses and the great battles that I shall win when I am a General. I was woken, do you see, by the terrible sound of splashing.
Ripped thus from my repose and wondering what the matter might be, I laid out some simple clothing (buckle shoes, silk stockings, breeches to the knee, shirt with frilled cuffs, silk cravat, plain waistcoat, embroidered housecoat, medium-sized powdered wig with ordinary black bows) and I dressed quickly, anxious to get outside and investigate.
Well the matter it transpired, was carp. Dirty-great thumping carp and they were either hunting along the canal bank or having sex or, quite possibly, both. I have no idea of the seasons or piscine etiquette involved and damned if I was going to lean down to water-level to ask (my blue velvets are prone to grass-stains).
I am most definitely not a fisherman, and it is therefore with some credibility that I may tell you these monsters were on the order of twenty-four inches and more in length. There were half a dozen of them at least, and whenever they found a tasty morsel there ensued a feeding frenzy akin to that of the Hungarian piranha during the gibbous phases of the Autumnal moon.
They ranged up and down the bank over a distance of fifty metres or thereabouts, either quite unaware that a rather dapper gentleman was observing them (with handkerchief held to nose; the night vapours may linger and I didn’t want to risk ague or worse), or else they were unconcerned.
With such sizeable fins cutting back and forth through the canal water it was inevitable that I should eventually be forced to bandy words with a small but perfectly-formed string quartet on the towpath side, playing the theme music to Jaws (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, prequels, sequels and the Producer’s Cut of the Dream Sequences, the ones that went straight to Betamax, VHS and then, latterly, DVD). In the end I paid them to go away and leave me in peace with my fish (not a sentence that my school days have prepared me to utter without some sense of unease).
‘You there, yes – you, the obdurate cellist, the obscurantic viola player and the identical twins of the ginger persuasion and each on the violin. Here’s a florin, now please go away and leave me in peace with my wild carp.‘
It’s just so wrong, isn’t it? Anyway, t’was uttered, and there’s no other choice now than onwards and upwards, possibly sideways too, with my tale. The carp. Carpe the carp of the diem. The feeding frenzy…
Whatever their prey, it lingered in the shallows near the muddy waters of the bank – and one each just wasn’t enough, the show went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on…
…and on and on and on, surviving even the interruptions of a couple of narrowboats and two inflatable chaps anxious to be somewhere else before their pressures dropped below critical levels. I have little to no experience of inflatables but even I can say that a good or well-maintained one shouldn’t bend like that in the middle, at least not during use and even with the weight of two men and their luggage on top of it. Flaccid, there’s no other word for it.
These chaps had the look about them of desperados on a mission, or possibly actors filming the new Bond epic, The Spy Who Pootled Up England’s Canals A Bit. They didn’t say, and I know better than to ask.
I shall apologise now for the quality of the photographs. When, at the urgings of my chiropractor, I renounced the permanent carrying of a bagful of SLRs and took instead to my rinky dinky waterproof compact little did I think that I’d find myself unashamedly stalking ruddy fish. You get what you get, and I did my best. Dib dib dib.
This being a Bank Holiday weekend of course, it wasn’t long before Carp Season closed and Boater Season opened (with a vengeance).
We suffered just the one full broadside on the Cardinal today, some twit who was letting his six or seven-year old daughter “have a go at the tiller” (in these winds, I ask you)! There was a very distinct opportunity for another broadside, but moored as we were we missed that one by the width of a coat of boat-paint. Missed, and never called me “mother”, by a rather domestic woman whose only grasp of the English language ran to a shriek of “the wind, the wind, the wind…” and yet who, oddly, could do a very passable impression of Churchill with his nuts caught on railings. She completed herself by ramming the armco behind the Cardinal, smacking into the boat moored a little farther on and then abandoning the quarterdeck to her husband (who then promptly rammed the offside, grounded briefly and tacked over the horizon as though in a tea clipper fighting the elements.
What the carp thought of these jiggery-boatery nonsenses I have no idea, they quite sensibly disappeared.
Quite early on in manoeuvres we had the chaps who forgot that while on water one always passes traffic on the foreign side, and who then remembered and caused not some little post-gastric auto-inflation of the blue oilskin trousers by then swerving to correct themselves. I was an interested party of the third part in that little manoeuvre too, since it took place right next to a moored boat (mine).
It wasn’t then long before the really serious boaters came out to play, burying themselves in the winding hole, rendering dubious passing honours and mooring with the gay abandon of the Zimbabwean Navy.
One moored, one investigating the shrubbery, one simply going up and one accidentally coming down. Boing, boing boing boing. Tee-hee. Messing about in boats, is there anything finer, aside from a magistrate pronouncing ‘… the sum of five pounds’?
I remained aloof and removed from active participation in any and all of this derring do and H2-uh-O fun not because of any lack of ability or eagerness myself in the “cock it up like a professional” department, but simply because I couldn’t get the knots undone on the Cardinal’s mooring ropes, not even with my teeth (I rinsed my teeth under the tap once I’d finished trying and before putting them back in).
The final Mogadon-dipped cherry on the Temazepam cake, the closing aria in the Ritalin Opera (in three acts with two intervals and a series of short pauses for casualties to be removed via the side doors) was a chap towing his wife along in a cruiser – by rope.
The gentleman was as cheerful as one finds anywhere, except perhaps in the mud-wallows of southern Spain, but his lady-friend in the boat being towed against the traffic seemed to be very well acquainted with the Gloomy McGloomys of Gloomshire and with the Killmenows of Berkshire. She had the face of someone not unfamiliar with the horse-hair gusset, and to be perfectly frank, her shoulder-droop spoke volumes on the mystery of the link between life-choices and lifetime-regrets. I lowered the Cardinal’s light-mast and assisted their passage with witty quips in re the incovenience of having to shoot one’s horse while still only halfway to Ellesmere Port.
The carp didn’t reappear at any time during the day. It is just possible that they were all killed outright by the propellers of the first two or three wayward boats of the day.
Some Canada geese appeared in their stead. Such a lovely family.
You’ll doubtless recognise Captain von Trapp to the right (of frame, not necessarily of politics, although…), and that’s Baroness Elsa Schräder to the left of frame – the bitch Maria having yet to arrive from the convent to break up the engagement. The children of course, are Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt and Brigitta (Marta and Gretl having been eaten a couple of weeks earlier, by carp).
Noisy little buggers, all.
So, a needle pulling thread. Um, I mean, so, that was Saturday. Day one of the Bank Hodilay (sic). I wonder what Sunday will bring. Will the wind die down? Will the forecast thunder, lightning and rain materialise? Will Max Detweiler propose to The Mother Abbess, head of Nonnberg Abbey and, most importantly of all, will someone put the “seventeen, going on eighteen” years-old Rolf Gruber in his place before the next episode?
I don’t know. Between sheep stampeding past and a migration of piranha-carp I am wondering what is going to cause my disturbance of the peace tomorrow. Wildebeest? Gibbons, swinging through the trees?
I’ll try to let you know.
Chin-chin, after a very full day here in the quiet backwaters.