“Had you been drinking?”
“Huh? What? No. Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous, I told you twice already, I was fishing. Besides, it was the middle of the day.”
I’ve had this conversation a few dozen times over the last few weeks and it’s beginning to wear me down. I suppose, as in the case of the acceleration of the rate of teenage pregnancy, heavy drinking isn’t necessarily limited to the hours after sunset, but that’s the way that I prefer it (I can’t answer for teenagers, but I suspect that they’re fairly opportunistic). Indeed, I never drink when I’m around water – much. Why people associate fishing and drinking is something that I’ve never understood anyway.
As a student we invited a lecturer (he had a four wheel drive) to fish with us in the Transkei for us for a weekend. “No need, thank you“, he said, “my wife allows me to drink at home.”
With a velocity belying his age the Supermodel exploded from the gate, galloped down the very steep slope and came in first by two lengths. His opening cast went tight into a small but very athletic brown. He has a habit of doing that sort of thing; catching the first, last and biggest fish of the day. He’ll tell you that it’s because he’s a great angler. Everyone else will tell you that it’s because he’s a bloody grandstander and a complete bastard, but they admire him all the same.
Rockhopping at a furious pace to get in on the action (or at least ahead of MacGupta) I elegantly ducked a backcast, leaped through the air with the sublime grace of the principal dancer in the Bolshoi Theatre and onto a wet rock that would, I reasoned, afford me an uncluttered casting position. On landing I was transformed immediately into something not entirely unlike a baby giraffe taking its first steps on a greased marble floor. I went from the Bolshoi to a Vaudeville tap dancer, slipping and then smashing and bruising the inside of my left knee against the rock. After a few quick rubs and a selection of words that you never learned from Sister Agnes I was more or less mobile again – with a determined expression on my face and a roughly 15 degree list to port. By then the pool had been spooked and my theatrics were entirely wasted.
We continued downwards for several kilometers through the gorge to a dark pool with overhanging trees, undercut banks and a clearly defined bubble line. It was a pool thick with possibility and where, while attempting to enter from a waist-high bank with maximum stealth and cunning, the bank disappeared beneath me. The shredded remains of my dignity were left in that most treacherous of holes as I harnessed the power of gravity, my not insignificant mass and all available inertia to catapult myself into the river, my already tender leg staying behind. My habitual angling partners are a stoic and forgiving lot and I’m quite certain that the number of times that they mentioned my ruining the pool was intended solely for the benefit of my ongoing tuition in all matters piscatorial.
Single malt whiskey! Ah, the finest apothecary at the pinnacle of his art could not formulate an elixir so singularly uplifting to the human spirit and so positively restorative of bodily vitality. From deep within a pack a handsomely wrought flask of pewter with leather bindings emerged and was solemnly and unselfishly proffered. A pang of conscience gripped me as I realized that so focused was I on my own misfortunes that I had obviously not noticed my partners receiving injuries of their own. Truthfully, so deeply did they dip into the little pewter flask of wellness that I had no option but to conclude that they had as urgent a need as I to seek succour for our ailments.
My coup de grace was finally administered during the mid-afternoon when I stepped between two rocks and my knee finally gave up any desire to bear me onwards. It remained stubbornly pointed towards twelve o’clock while the rest of me crumpled over in the general direction of a little after nine o’clock where I teetered for a while as though undecided as to what to do next. A decision was announced with a fleshy, ripping sound and I went in a direction that neither through the blessings of creation nor the march of evolution the knee was designed to go. The pain was truly blinding and the sound of the river was reduced to white noise around me.
In response to my modest cries of “a little help here” and “please may you move a little faster” MacGupta made his way toward me. I was humbled to have a friend who was that visibly concerned as to my predicament, so deeply were lines of genuine shock and concern etched into his face. Grabbing my rod from my white knuckles he paid it the most slow and careful inspection and, with a deep sigh of relief, declared it to be undamaged – although the reel apparently had “a bit of a scratch, but not too bad“. As comforting as that was to know, what with my knee bent at an angle that would make the most double-jointed flamingo wince I, in my most level and gentlemanly tone, encouraged my young friend to please hurry and help me up. He’s a thoroughly likable young man, is MacGupta, but as a first responder he is desperately woeful.
Fighting back tears and doing my best to following the prevailing advice to “walk it off, big guy” I not only walked it off right the way out of the godforsaken gorge but I had the last cast of the day too. While that may sound pretty heroic neither my general practitioner nor the surgeon who has subsequently had to fix the mess recommend a long, strenuous hike out of a gorge as therapy for ruptured ligaments and a shattered meniscus. My surgeon, bless his well-intentioned heart, did make an attempt to lift my flagging spirits by pointing out that my previously undiagnosed but largely suspected arthritis is at “stage three” and that at “stage four” I’ll be having a full knee replacement. The long-term effects of my current injury, in his educated judgement, would be obviated by my new knees and wouldn’t bother me at all as I get older. The attractive young physiotherapist who visited me in my hospital bed remarked that at my age I’d probably already have had experience using crutches and wouldn’t need her help. When I told her to “sleep with one eye open, bitch“, my discharge was remarkably rapid.
I’m not going to lie to you – getting older and the possibility of not being able to wade a stream frightens me in ways that I find myself unable to describe.
That we’re getting older is becoming a regular theme with my friends. For more than six weeks now, for example, our fishing chat group has been discussing the pros and cons of prescription polarised lenses and whether single vision with those stick on magnifying things trump multi-focal lenses. We are aware of every ground-breaking development in the field of optics to the point that I believe that we could quite comfortably appear as the guest speakers at an annual conference of opticians without embarrassing ourselves.
Coincidentally, just this afternoon my wife called me from a shopping centre in a state of high excitement to tell me that she saw an advert in a shop window for heavily discounted prescription polarised lenses. I wept in joy and immediately spread the word on social media. It was met with great enthusiasm.
Perhaps fly fishing is after all a game for old farts.
If anyone out there benefitted from discounted lenses following my post and should happen to stumble onto a pair of discounted replacement titanium knees (size medium) I’d appreciate them returning the favour.