Tales Of The Riverbank – Part 5

Bob’s saga continues…

 

Wetting The Baby’s Head

Despite our fun and games on the carp lake, the desire to ‘guest’ on waters didn’t completely desert the Jonah and me and another trip remains memorable for very different reasons. Moreover it was a guest session like no other. You see, we were both attending a Christening party. No, let’s be perfectly accurate here, it was the Christening of the Jonah’s eldest daughter and I was to be her godfather.

 

Things went as swimmingly as they generally do on these occasions. Let’s face it, the average vicar gets plenty of practise and it’s fair t say he probably knows the words by heart. Anyway, the old vic did the business, we all promised to do what gaurdians do, holy water was splashed around, the baby cried and we all repaired back to the Jonah’s house where drink flowed as freely as you might expect.

 

I’ve always regarded Christenings as pretty much a women’s thing. Babies don’t have a clue what’s going on, parents do as they are expected to do whereas female guests get an excuse to dress up in posh frocks. For men it’s not quite the same, is it? We blokes tend to wear what we are told to wear and huddle in corners pretending to show a modicum of interest in proceedings but if truth be told, our minds are generally to be found on other things. A well trained husband can maintain a pretence of interest for hours, others are not so successful. When I’m pressed into situations like this I generally try to hold a beer glass in one hand, grin inanely and make small talk with a procession of strangers that I have nothing in common with until it is time to go home.

 

Anyway, by late afternoon my patience was wearing a little thin and I really needed to escape, but how on earth could I? Well, in the books of second rate novelists you will find many instances when eyes meet across crowded rooms. What happened at the Christening party was not dissimilar. I’d long passed the point where I lost the will to live and visions of red topped floats kept intruding into my thoughts and refused to go away.

 

One minute I was in that little twilight zone where nothing else exists but the fantasy of catching a huge fish, or any fish for that matter, the next I drifted back into the real world. Looking up from my near empty glass I caught the same wistful look in the Jonah’s eye and I knew exactly what he was thinking.

You probably don’t believe in the existence of telepathy or ESP but let me tell you that it does exist and should you be blessed with the ability to transmit and receive you will know that it is a much more reliable service than that offered by any of the phone companies. Unfortunately the lines are not private and can be intercepted by others who have the gift, like my wife for instance.

 

She spotted the look that passed between us and didn’t need telling what we were thinking.

 

“You can’t!” she hissed, “Don’t even think about it”

 

That was it. Our secret desire was out as surely as a cork exploding from a champagne bottle. I looked at the Jonah, he looked at me, and I swear to you that not a single word passed between us. He just nodded and we rose as one.

 

“Shhhh! See you later.” I whispered to my wife, “No-one will miss us.”

 

And with that the Jonah nipped over the road to a John Dudley’s house and cadged some bait. Twenty minutes later we sat, dressed to the nines, by the side of the local Association’s very private and usually well-guarded stock pond. For company we had several cans of lager plus the remains of a bottle of malt. It was Isle of Jura, if my memory serves me correctly and I can tell you this without fear of contradiction, whisky never tasted better.

 

I doubt anyone really missed us and to be honest, neither of us cared too much if they did. We had carved another notch on the rod butt and written another entry in the poachers’ black book. Neither of us has had the audacity to even attempt to set foot on that water in the past, nor did we ever return.

 

Looking back, there could not have been a more perfect way for us to wet the baby’s head. We simply celebrated the occasion in our own inimitable style.

 

I’ll bet you’ve been to many Christenings in your time but in all honesty can you recall any of them? I doubt it.

 

This one was a magnificent exception.

 

I wonder why?

 

The Rock and Roll Years

I’m sure everyone has a favourite decade. Mine was the Seventies. So many fantastic things happened. I was as fit as a butcher’s dog, became a father, bought a house and had a job I loved.

 

Moreover it was a decade in which I learned to catch roach and one when I rubbed shoulders with more rock stars than you can shake a stick at.

 

The River Idle has suffered more than its share of disruption down the centuries. Hard to believe now but the town of Bawtry was once a port. Indeed this is where the Pilgrim Fathers commenced their journey, sailing from Bawtry to West Stockwith and on to Plymouth before crossing the Atlantic.

 

Take a walk down Wharf Street, duck under the railway arches by the park and you’ll come to a depression that swings in a right handed arc down to the River Idle. This is all that remains of the original course. You’ll notice the river we know today runs perfectly straight on a parallel course to the town. That’s because the railway viaduct was constructed on the gravel bed of the river’s original course.

 

Go back a thousand years and you would find a very different Idle. Indeed was a tributary of the River Don back then, cutting a wide swathe across the isle of Axholme. The only remnant of the old river can be found at Lindholme Fisheries where the main body of water is actually part of the old course of the Idle. It’s maybe the best part of a hundred yards wide at that point.

 

The man who changed the map of North Lincolnshire was Dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden.  He diverted the Idle’s course so that it would discharge into the River Trent. The point where it was diverted is called Idlestop and the four miles of river, flowing Easterly through Haxey and Misterton to Stockwith is completely man made.

 

My old man used to say that if you could catch roach on the Idle you could catch them anywhere. It stuck in my mind and I spent several years haunting the banks but more particularly in the 1970’s when it contained some top class roach.

 

It was a frustrating river. Full of eels in summer, meaning you couldn’t present a static bait without catching them and there would be rafts of floating weed everywhere that made bait presentation and playing fish difficult. Landing big fish was near impossible. The Environment Agency (or Severn Trent Authority as it was then) puts a huge amount of effort into weed cutting each year and they are obliged to remove this weed afterwards, unfortunately the regulations do not state where it must be removed so the weed is allowed to drift the entire length of the river until it comes to the weed stop at Haxey Gate.

 

In winter you needed no more than a light shower for it to flood and I’m not exaggerating when I say that 22,000 acres of land would be submerged for weeks on end during winter, making access to the banks very difficult.

 

The best fishing was concentrated into a few short months between the time the weed disappeared and before the floods took hold. Long dry winters were brilliant, okay the fishing was rubbish but at least you could fish!

 

It was on the Idle that I began setting targets for myself. In my first season the goal was to catch a one pound roach, which of course I managed. The next season the bar was raised by four ounces and each year after until I found myself fishing for a 2lb roach.

 

I succeeded on a late summer’s day from a swim just below the first field at Misson. There was a pump stationed here for irrigating the fields and corrugated metal sheeting had been placed to divert floating weeds away from the inlet. Over time this had scoured the river bed and created the perfect crease swim.

 

That summer I had caught well on the Trent using hemp but I was struggling to make it work on the Idle. In those days if I wanted to make something work, like hemp, it would be the only bait I carried. That way there was no easy alternative. You didn’t give it an hour and then switch. You gave it your everything or went home.

 

So I’d feed carefully and run a stick float through and through to no avail for a couple of hours, maybe more, and I was feeling pretty exasperated. Sitting down for a drink I pushed the float up 18 inches or so and laid on in the edge. When it slid under I spilt coffee everywhere but at least I hit the bite and this was no 12 ounce fish. It was a right lump and as I played it in the clear water I could only marvel at the depth of its flanks as it twisted and turned.

 

On the scales it went 2lb 4oz, a lifetime ambition achieved and what a way to do it. Moreover, what a place to do it. A favourite swim on my favourite river

 

I was never to catch another ‘two’ from the Idle. I did have a clonking season up at Bawtry where the average size of fish I caught was 1lb 6oz and included umpteen between 1lb 12oz and 1lb 14oz but never another ‘two’. I look back now and wonder about my scales, because others frequently claimed they caught them but it doesn’t matter. I’d had the one I really wanted although I did see a fish roll in the swim I fished on the day Prince Charles and Lady Dianna married and that fish, I swear, would have gone 3lb. I have never in my life seen a roach anywhere near as big.

 

And then came the dredgers. The heart and soul of the River Idle was ripped out of it in the name of flood relief. The largest pump in Europe was installed at West Stockwith and even though it is recovering to some extent the quality of fish you catch is but a pale shadow of what once was a roach angler’s paradise.

 

Today I fish the higher reaches and catch barbel. I have access to a swim that has given me a hundred pounds of hard fighting river bream and I can even catch carp if I want to. I sometimes catch chub for fun on floating crust but it’s the roach fishing I miss.

 

So while all this was going on I was living another secret life, that of a rock concert promoter. It all began when I went back to school in 1973. A change of job with good prospects required me to obtain certain qualifications so it was the old day release and night school for me.

 

Well, attending a college is a pretty exciting thing to do, especially when you’re a mad keen lover of music. The Doncaster Technical College had always had a pretty adventurous entertainment scene. Because it had no concert hall of its own the Ents committee used to rent out the local Top Rank and stage concerts there. I suppose the two biggest names this humble ‘night school’ had ever attracted were Yes and Pink Floyd.

 

My first job when I enrolled was to find out how on earth could I get on the committee. Imagine getting backstage for nights like that?

 

Getting in was easy but whether the really big acts weren’t available that year or whether I’d joined a pretty lacklustre bunch, I don’t know, but the two biggest acts we headlined with that year were Argent and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Still, I learned the ropes and loved every minute.

 

Come September I had risen to the heady heights of Social Secretary and the world or rock was my oyster. My first concert was a disaster. I’d negotiated for Queen, ended up with the Edgar Broughton Band, who failed to show, and I got Ace, who had just released ‘How Long’. Paul Carrack remains one of my favourite vocalists to this day and I went along to see him only last year, but what a come down. It could so easily have been Freddie Mercury.

 

And then the Top Rank Closed.

 

Scuppered and without a venue to operate in I contacted a local nightclub called the Outlook and brokered a fantastic deal. I even got the place for free.

 

And so began a whirlwind of rock nights that ranged from the obscure to the sublime. When I left the college the club invited me to stay on and run the nights off my own back. Can you imagine being in charge when the supporting act is Talking Heads and the headliners are the Ramones? Or bringing back the Talking Heads and having Dire Straights support them?

 

A decade after being heralded as a star of Woodstock with Ten Years After, Alvin Lee was about to launch into an American tour with his new band Ten Years Later and wanted a secret warm-up gig, so we welcomed him in. What a surreal night that was. The proposed headliners, John Ottway and Wild Willy Barratt simply refused to go on last and opted for the support roll. Fifty quid we paid Alvin’s band. He brought three great trucks of gear.

 

And then the punk explosion took off. What nights we had. The Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Damned, Ultravox, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs, Sham 69, Ian Dury, Billy Idol, Dr Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Flamin Groovies and others too many to name graced our stage.

 

In between we had ‘heavy’ rock bands like Motorhead, Frankie Miller, Judas Priest, Heavy Metal Kids, Groundhogs, John Cougar Mellencamp, The Scorpions and Whitesnake plus reggae bands galore. How much better can it get for a music fan? I was meeting and greeting every one of these acts, hanging around for the sound checks, getting the albums for free, and just for good measure I could get my name on the guest list at almost any gig in the land with a single phone call to an agent.

 

As you might imagine, I filled my boots!

 

It was good to help out the odd local band along the way, more to give them a leg up than anything, and that led to gigs at The Hammersmith Odeon, The Rainbow, The Marquee, The Music Machine, Dingwalls, The Nashville plus The Hope and Anchor. I also spent time in recording studios and radio stations.

 

And through it all I managed to keep my feet firmly on the ground thanks mainly to those incredible Idle roach.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this article more extracts from Tales Of The Riverbank can be found here

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