Angling In Paradise With The 5C’s
The Birthday Boy
I couldn’t possibly write a book like this without including a few tales from Anglers Paradise. I first went there in March 1992 and I was supposed to be going with Kevin Maddocks but he cried off at the eleventh hour so I detoured via Remenham and picked up Andy Miller instead.
Len Gurd gave me my introduction to the place and he’d asked me if I’d help out by shooting some footage for a promotional video he was making.
Zyg and I hit it off right from the start and much alcohol was consumed. Forgive me if the alcohol becomes a recurring theme in this section but I’m afraid you cannot escape the connection – bangers and mash, strawberries and cream, Zyg and alcohol. I’m pretty sure that Zyg was bottle fed as a baby but it probably contained whisky.
So began a friendship that has lasted to this day, but how the place has changed. It’s an outstanding luxurious complex with every amenity you need.
I subsequently became an honourary member of the 5C’s syndicate, that’s the Crafty, Cunning, Crazy, Carp Catchers to the uninitiated. I try to get down there a couple of times each season for meetings although it’s a bloody long drive from Yorkshire to Devon.
So it’s May 2003 and I’m there for the first syndicate meeting of the year, oh and it coincides with Zyg’s birthday. He’s celebrating his 40th birthday – again. Can it really be a decade since his last 40th? Latterly I’ve come to the conclusion that Zyg has it spot-on. Celebrating your 40th is not the same as being 40, is it? Bearing that in mind, there’s no reason why Zyg can’t celebrate his 40th on any day of the year in any year of his life.
I called first at the house, gave his wife Rose a huge hug and presented her with a bunch of flowers. I love buying flowers for women, be they friends or otherwise. It’s such a nice gesture. Unfortunately Rose then told me the bad news, Zyg was waiting for me in the wine cellar rather than the bar. My heart sank; you can lose your marbles in there.
Zyg brews a couple of thousand gallons of wine each year and gives it away to guests and other victims. It’s potent stuff and you should never mix it.
“Ah Robert! Come and help me, we need to select some wines…”
My heart sank even further. I’ve been here before and it’s a dangerous place when you are feeling weary after five-hours of driving and very little to eat.
“Or this one? I thought the first one, what about you? I’ll tell you what, let’s try these two again!”
Anyone who has been there will know the sinking feeling you get after the fourth or fifth glass.
Eventually we settled on the first one we tried, filled several demijohns and headed back to the bar.
“Oh, did I say, you’re eating with Rose and me tonight, come through to the kitchen.”
Zyg then went to the fridge and cracked open a bottle of champagne.
Rose had prepared lobsters and a special Polish vegetable-cum-salad dish to go with it that was absolutely delicious.
Trouble was Zyg had prepared a second bottle of champagne and I hadn’t even unpacked at this stage. By the time we’d finished eating I was feeling comfortably numb and was looking forward to hitting the sack. No chance!
“Come on Wobert, we have guests waiting for us in the bar…”
It was nice to meet up with so many familiar faces. I guess I’ve been to AP that many times now that I know many of the regular holidaymakers pretty well, especially the ones who book regular weeks, and it was good to see quite a few of the syndicate lads had arrived early. We had lot’s to catch up on and plenty of tales to tell.
The next morning I woke up feeling slightly delicate but a lot better than I had reason to expect considering the pounding my kidneys had taken. The big decision I had to make was whether to cook a breakfast or whether to unload the car. I also had a column to write.
Fortunately I hadn’t complicated the weekend by bring any fishing tackle. Past experience has taught me that party weekends in Paradise are exactly that. Float watchers can get terrible headaches when they mix it with too much to drink. They are also tempted to rise early rather than lie in bed and sleep it off.
Saturday evening saw a great gathering in the bar and many more drinks were downed. I meet up with Len Gurd again and had a few drinks but I deliberately took things easy and headed off to bed fairly early. Syndicate Sunday can be a demanding day.
And so, like lambs to the slaughter, we assembled in the Famous African Bar before 11am, drank a lager or two and then got down to the serious business of the year’s first syndicate meeting. Important topics needed discussing, like why were those grown men sat on stools with piles of pondweed on their heads and copious quantities of ice in their trousers? Would Zyg care to reconsider his ban on the beachcaster rig?
“The beachcaster is not banned, merely suspended”
“Can we use it then?”
Speeches were made, awards given, nominations invited for ‘cheat of the year’ in honour of a former member who is now remembered best for the liberties he took and the elders performed their ritual dance during which time the proposed initiates still shivered in their ice filled trousers.
Oh, and two whole crates of champagne were drunk.
By now the mood was set and those who intended to compete in the first match of the year headed down to the Main Lake. The match is fished to interesting rules that involve a weird combination of weight, species and points. And firing a shotgun…
I joined the other elders in the boathouse where we are expected to carry out the solemn task of putting the world to rights, laughing a lot, making a lot of noise and sampling a selection of malt whiskies.
Despite the levity, Len Gurd somehow managed to tempt an immaculate 24lb common carp on a bunch of maggots and an old cane rod from the side of the boathouse path. Fair play to him.
Eventually the proceedings drew to a close, Zyg fired a gun to signal the end of the match and everyone gathered at the boathouse for the day’s main cabaret – the final rite of passage for the initiates. Should you happen to visit Paradise you’ll see there is a rope bridge suspended between the boathouse balcony and an adjacent island. I say bridge but it is simply three ropes, one to put your feet on and two more at shoulder height – and they slope downwards in a sloppy kind of way.
It is the duty of the now drunken elders to cross the rope bridge without falling in the lake, gather on the island, drink more champagne and then plant the empty bottles by stamping them into the ground, neck first, during a linked arms fertility dance. Well, to call it a dance is as futile as to call the unintelligible racket that accompanies the process as singing.
The bottoms of dozens of champagne bottles can now be spotted protruding through the grass all over the island and we are eagerly awaiting a bumper harvest. Who knows, maybe it will be next year…
From here on things begin to take on a greater degree of hilarity. The elders have to re-negotiate the rope bridge and anyone who has tried will tell you that going uphill is considerably more difficult than coming down. And if you aren’t careful you get wicked rope burns on your arms from the nylon rope. Amazingly we all made it back without falling into the lake, and you should bear in mind I’m probably the youngest elder and none could be described as remotely sober.
Having shown the initiates how it’s done, it’s now their turn. Of course there is now a large crowd of syndicate members, guests and holidaymakers baying for them to fail. And as you might expect, the crowd is never let down. One by one they are shaken from the rope to fall into five feet of water.
And it all ends up in the bar again. You can appreciate why I seldom bother taking fishing tackle to these occasions.
A Tub Of Livebaits
Once upon a time there was an ambitious young member of the syndicate, well known for his lack of regard for rules, who came and spent a couple of days with me while I was there for a whole week.
This guy had published a few articles and was embarking on a determined mission to become famous. He’d decided that he was going to catch a record fish on the basis that it ought to provide him with the perfect shortcut to stardom. By his reckoning there were record perch swimming around in a quarry he knew – but what was the best way to catch them?
The quarry was full of sunken trees and legering worms was out of the question because you snagged up every cast. You couldn’t realistically use lures so I suggested paternostered livebaits. Could he catch them from the quarry – it was February, after all?
“No need, I can buy some perfect sized rudd from the garden centre.”
And that is how a few dozen rudd came to be swimming around in the bath of the main bathroom in the bungalow where Christine and I were staying. It didn’t matter to us as we were only using one of the five bedrooms and we had an en-suite anyway.
The plan was to fish the quarry on the following day so off we went down to the main lake to see if we could winkle out a carp. Unbeknown to us Rose, who is Zyg’s wife, spent the afternoon socialising with Christine at the bungalow.
I found this out when we returned and it was clear they had shared the odd glass of wine. And a few coffee’s. And then the penny dropped.
“Did she go to the loo?”
“Of course she went to the loo!”
“Which one do you think she used? The one in the hall of course. Why?”
“Did she mention the fish in the bath….?
You know, to this day Rose has never so much as mentioned those fish. Perhaps she didn’t see them, I don’t know. But she’ll know now.
Santa Arrives Early
One afternoon I was walking back from the lakes to the villa we were staying in when a voice piped up, “Hey up, Bob, come in here There’s something I want to show you.”
He gestured to the door of the bungalow.
I was certainly not ready for the sight that met me for the house was full of people, his whole family was there, but it wasn’t the people that stunned me, it was the fact that it was trimmed up for Christmas complete with a Christmas Tree, in October!
“What the hell’s going off?”
“Oh, it’s too long to wait until December just to have Christmas so we dicided to have another one now, Christmas dinner, presents, the lot.”
“So why haven’t I seen you in the bar?”
“Oh, Zyg and I had a few words last time we were here so we decided to bring all our own booze and stay in the bungalow. We’ve had a fantastic time…”
I tell you, Paradise is a mad, mad place that attracts some of the daftest, most lovely people on earth. If you think it’s just about the fishing then you’ve got it completely wrong.
If you enjoyed this article you can find more extracts from Tales Of The Riverbank here