As last winter continued on into spring this years reading time was prolonged as the urge to get out was limited to some pretty miserable weather. On the one occasion that I did fight through the driving wind, rain and leaden skies was to make it down to Spitalfields Antique Market on a thursday in late April to see my friend John Andrews and his excellent stall of fishing tackle for the soul. Over a cup of tea the conversation drifted into books and my urge to read some Orwell. John mentioned that I should read Coming up for Air, a slightly more obscure book but had the added bonus of some very well written passages on his childhood obsession with fishing. So after a quick hunt around the market and then back home to the internet I finally found myself a secondhand copy for a few quid. Straight away I got stuck into the book and then something happened…we had a summer and the book got placed out of harms way high on a bookshelf.
Only now in late September has the summer truly ended, the evenings have moved back indoors. So while I was looking for something to read I came across Coming Up For Air once again and immediately got stuck into this absorbing book. Orwell has an un-laboured way of writing which is very easy to read, he is able to conjure up vivid detailed scenes full of mood and atmosphere.
George Bowling, the main character in this book looks back at his childhood and recounts his memories of fishing at the turn of the twentieth century, then as adulthood beckons for George so does the great war. After surviving the war, George moves from job to job and finds himself middle age, over weight and astray. He realises he has lost something that he can’t get back, a sense of freedom, something he only had when he was a boy, doing boys things like robbing birds nests, playing conker’s, larking about and fishing. So George decides to….
Well if you want to know what happens I suggest you read the book, suffice to say that there is enough about fishing in this book to be placed on the bookshelf alongside angling classics such as BB et al. Here is a little extract from the book…
‘One afternoon the fish weren’t biting and I began to explore at the end of the pool furthest from Binfield House. There was a bit of an overflow of water and the ground was boggy, and you had to fight your way through a sort of jungle of blackberry bushes and rotten boughs that had fallen off the trees. I struggled through it for about fifty yards, and then suddenly there was a clearing and I came to another pool which I had never know exsisted. It was a small pool not more than twenty yards wide, and rather dark because of the boughs that overhung it. But it was very clear water and immensely deep. I could see ten or fifteen feet down into it. I hung about a bit , enjoying the dampness and the rotten boggy smell, the way a boy does. And then I saw something that almost made me jump out of my skin.’
‘It was an enormous fish. I don’t exaggerate when I say it was enormous. It was almost the length of my arm. It glided across the pool, deep under water, and then became a shadow and disappeared into the darker water on the other side. I felt as if a sword had gone through me. It was far the biggest fish I had ever seen dead or alive. I stood there without breathing, and in a moment another huge thick shape glided through the water, and then another and then two more close together. The pool was full of them. They were carp I suppose’
My second hand copy has the inscription on the inside cover ‘Jonty, Happy unemployment, Love Liz & Annette. June 1982’ and slotted in the middle of the book is an old train ticket from 1996. Perhaps Jonty was also in search of something, maybe a lost carp pool hidden in deepest Surrey somewhere along the Bookham to Horsley line? It just took him fourteen years to get around to looking for it.