Sunday, 29 July 2012

The End (sort of...)

Hi All,

Again, sorry not to post for so long. Busiest time of the year for us - madness.

The following is what WAS going to be the end of the Fisherman's Apprentice book. Just found it in a  dusty old electronic folder, and thought I'd show it the light of day at long last.

The end of a great time for me in a beautiful little Cornish village....

The Magic of Little Cove:

Why is it worth saving, this bustling border of our island? Why should we get very excited indeed about the riches that lurk in the shallows, as we shade ourselves on packed beaches sporting ridiculous hats and licking over-priced ice-creams.

The answer for me is best provided by the small, stony beach the other side of the Todden, a little cove known - catchily - as Little Cove. After a days fishing I would sometimes sneak down the stone steps onto the shoreline, speargun in hand, and go in hunt of bass. These most beautiful and noble of all our inshore fish would drift in on the rising tide, appearing like grey ghosts from deeper water. They seemed less like fish and more akin to wraiths soaring over the white sand, moving in packs, sleek, deadly and full of predatory intent. They drifted on the edge of the tide, eyes bright and seeking out movement ahead, broad tails sweeping them towards forests of kelp and bladderwrack. They would move ever closer, sliding towards their hunting grounds as effortlessly as a glob of mercury, until they were positioned under the shoals of sandeels that bunched and pulsed overhead, silhouetted against a golden dusk. Once the main players were in place, the predatory drama could begin.

I would fin lazily out to meet them, floating high above and taking care not to cast my shadow on the seabed. Moving from boulder to boulder, hop-scotching along dark waving patches of weed, I would settle into stillness. My breath would rasp through the snorkel and the neoprene of my hood would enhance my pulse, a sonorous drum beating the slow rhythm of the hunt. The scene below was entirely timeless, acted out on this same stretch of seabed long before man appeared, the rising tide and fading light an irresistible trigger that summoned the predators from deeper water.

Skulking in the wings were pollock, smaller and less agile than the aristocrats who had appeared in their midst. They would dart from cover to cover, they too watching the sandeel weave patterns against the sky, occasionally darting into the shoal which would scatter before them. They seemed more opportunistic, more impulsive, relying on serendipity to bring the smaller fish in range. If their predatory runs were unsuccessful - and it seemed to me that a great many of them were - they would settle once again on the sea floor, bodies angled upward slightly, dark livery clear against the sand.

The bass were altogether more deadly, and on some simultaneous cue they would erupt, exploding into life, streaking towards the shoal that shattered before them, a shrapnel of frantic silver crystals. The bass would twist and turn, flashing broad flanks in a series of final lunges that tracked and then devoured fish after fish. I watched it all, breathless at the spectacle as the waves crackled around me, a prism that split the rays of the sun to dance on the seafloor beneath. Once the bass had torn several times through the shoal, they would settle once again into exploratory lazy circles in mid water, a cue for another predator to move towards them from the surface.

I would slip quietly under the water, away from the world of light and air, and fin gently deeper. Again and again the bass would drift away, contemptuous of my clumsy approach, until after an hour or so my angle of dive was precisely right, just in the blind spot of one of the shoals as it hovered in mid water. I settled briefly, extended one arm towards one of the bass, paused for a moment, and fired. The spear ran straight and true, hitting one of the fish broadside with a percussive thump that transmitted clearly through the water. It thrashed and heaved, twisting in it’s death throes as I ascended.

I walked back up the shore carrying the bass on the end of the spear, heading for home where lemon, garlic, and chilled white wine awaited. By now late afternoon had passed into dusk, and the surface of the water shone in the reflection of an indigo sky. A hunters moon had risen from the sea, and the first lights glowed warm in the windows of the cottages on the Todden. A wisp of wood-smoke rose from one of the chimneys, twisting into nothing as the wind whisked it away. The smell was unmistakable, stemming from the timeless ritual of another fire being lit in a grate in this tiny Cornish fishing village. The rock walls beneath and beyond the cottages loomed stark on crackling foundations of spray, whilst the waves sighed their quiet demise on the shingle of the beach.

I walked the last few yards through the fleet, past Scorpio with her battered blue hull and predatory lines, and then past Kingfisher 2 - brightly coloured, friendly, and larger than life just like her skipper. Silver Queen loomed in the darkness beyond, the chough painted on her wheelhouse door still gazing out to sea, lit eerily by the silver glow of the moon. And finally, resting in the darkness, lay Razorbill. I idly ran one hand along her weathered gunwale as I covered the last few yards up the beach, the wood scarred and marked by the rough passage of a million lines.

I felt completely alone, caught in the timeless passage of another day at the edge of the Atlantic. Pausing one last time, I looked out over the fishing fleet of Cadgwith Cove, then turned and rounded the corner for home. For one more evening, in one more magical rocky inlet around the British coast, the hunt was over.  

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A guilty pleasure.....

There are - of course - many pleasures to be had from fatherhood. There is that first smile, and that first moment when you can convince yourself that your cherished offspring is actually saying your name. The latter came about after an Ipcress File style interrogation, where I sat in front of little Isla for an hour going “da da, da da, da da...” over and over until she eventually buckled. Glassy eyed and fatigued, she finally mumbled “da da” just to get me to stop, which gave me proper bragging rights over Tam. Unfortunate Isla had to do it all again as I had forgotten to video it. I imagine it’ll require several years of counseling for the poor wee mite to recover from the stress.
But aside from all these land-mark moments on the journey for any new parent, there is one pleasure that over-rides them all. This is the fact that you are now allowed - in fact obliged - to watch children’s tv programmes.
I dimly recall these from my own childhood of course. It’s a roll call of innocence, of a time lost that will never be reclaimed. Trumpton, The Clangers, Mr Ben, and Andy Pandy (mind you, for the latter even my four year old brain was thinking “This is garbage, I wonder what’s on the other side - ah yes, Vision On.”). It might just be the passage of time, but a lot of the kids stuff that I’m watching now makes The Magic Roundabout look like Panorama - plot lines are scant, and the animation lazily compiled on computers that don’t require painstaking manipulation of bits of plasticine. There is, however, one notable exception.
I was introduced to this by Tam, who’s giggles made it all the way to where I was attempting to work / staring out of the window idly wondering when the rain would stop. Curious, I walked into the front room to find the ladies of the house both hooting with laughter at the tv. One of them was dribbling uncontrollably too whilst periodically trying to eat the remote control although fortunately this was Isla, so I could turn my attention to what was on the screen.
It’s was a programme called “In the Night Garden”, and quite frankly after watching it for ten minutes I was dribbling and trying to eat the remote too. It’s barking mad, properly insane, utterly deranged, and quite, quite brilliant. 
I’m struggling to think of the production meeting where it was devised. Of course something mildly hallucinogenic would have been discreetly piped into the room beforehand. And everyone has to be equipped with a spliff the size of a baseball bat. How else would you explain the subsequent conversation?
“Right, we’ve got a forest as a setting, now we need a star, a strong central character around who it all revolves. A role model for kids watching. Any suggestions?”
“How about a blue half man half teddy called Igglepiggle who passes out every time something unusual happens?”
“Brilliant. Any more ideas?”
“Well - and bear with me on this - how about a train that climbs trees called the Ninky Nonk?”
Vigorous nods all round.
“And I thought three weird creatures - let’s call them the Tombliboos - whose trousers keep falling down. Oh, and a small thing called a Makka Pakka who essentially has OCD and relentlessly cleans stuff.”
“This is tv gold I tell you! Keep it coming....”
“Right, well we’ll obviously need five massive, billowy things called Haahoos that basically get in the way all the time and are just a bit sinister in a starey wide eyed way - the sort of things that would give Andy MacNab screaming nightmares.”
“Stop right there - I can smell the awards. All we need now is a narrator - someone who is down with the yoof, trendy and very much of the moment?”
“How about 73 year old classic Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi? 
“Of course, silly of me not to think of him sooner.”
And there we have it. The result is once-in-a-lifetime tv that’ll make you laugh so hard you’ll almost certainly rupture something. Or - depending on your viewpoint - a disturbingly insane set of images that means your kids will never want to go near a forest as long as they live. Isla finds it mesmerising and baffling all at the same time, as I think the attached image illustrates. What you can’t see is that Tam and I had precisely the same expressions as we watched it too. Even the dog looked bewlidered.

I’m hoping the rain stops soon I can get back to exploring the coast, but for now “In the Night Garden” is doing a very good job at keeping us all vaguely sane. It deserves every gong it gets.