They arrived in a pink Nissan Micra at nine a.m. on Tuesday morning. I pranced gaily out on to the road, in my dressing gown, to meet them. I don't know if any of the neighbours saw us, but if they did, they have thus far generously declined to comment. The car was swiftly emptied of enough angling paraphernalia to open a small shop, introductions were made, and then it began.
Vikings. I always thought that they came to other countries to take things away, but I was wrong, at least in the modern context. It was a misconception of mine, and one of which I fervently wish I had not been so forcefully disabused. Modern day Vikings bring things with them, you see. Under the guise of friendly greeting, they cunningly uncork a bottle of Gammel Dansk at 9.15 a.m., insist that it is good for you, and that it is a Danish tradition. Of course you cannot refuse, so you imbibe the dreaded brew, and thusly are you transformed from innocent and welcoming host, into helpless victim. Whoever it was that said; “ a drowsy numbness drained my sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk”, got it wrong. They were obviously so pissed that they confused Gammel Dansk with hemlock. I bet a Viking gave it to them.
So the three of us toasted each other with strong drink at 9.30 a.m. My wife looked on in disbelief. Then we had another toast. Lars might have proposed a third, but I can't remember. I do remember not being able to see properly after the first one, on account of the tears in my eyes, and the hacking cough. Still, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so the saying goes. Maybe that's what Lars was getting at when he said it was good for you. After that we just sort of hung around in a daze for the rest of the morning. It was decided at some point that we'd go and try to catch some sea trout in the estuary that afternoon, as a prelude to some proper river fishing over the next two days. In the emails preceding the visit I had neglected to mention to Lars that we might do some swoffing, so upon hearing this he delved deep into his neatly ordered collection of fly-tying materials, began concentrating, and dashed off some shrimp patterns. I was amazed at the speed at which he tied, Gammel Dansk not withstanding. He needn't have bothered though, because shortly after beginning to fish he thought better of it and fell soundly asleep in the sun. I persevered, as did Paul. I caught nothing, but Paul said there were fish all around him, and, allegedly, he even hooked one. I suppose I just must have been too far away to see all the frantic action, assuming I didn't just dream the whole thing up, of course. Later, enlivened by a productive afternoon in the salt, we woke Lars up, and the three of us had an impromptu stone throwing competition, as a spontaneous reaction to the quality of the fishing. Hey, it was all go out there, make no mistake!
After dinner and a few drinks, and some Gammel Dansk as well, Paul and I decided to try to catch sea trout in the dark. I have fished in the dark before, but this was a whole new ballgame; because I'd never tried fly fishing in the dark whilst drunk and standing among seaweed-covered rocks. Let me tell you, it gives your sense of balance a whole new slant on things. I very kindly allowed Paul to fish further downstream of me, where the rocks are bigger and covered in even more seaweed. I think he enjoyed that. Realising that the whole idea was perhaps ill conceived from the start (because we caught no fish), we gave up and went back to the house for a night-cap. Four hours and most of a bottle of Glenmorangie later, I decided that I needed to go to bed because I couldn't speak to Paul any more. I hadn't had enough of speaking, you understand, it was just that my tongue was having an argument with my lips, and the only noise I could make sounded like the noise a car makes when you try to start it, with an almost flat battery, on a very cold morning.
The next day we hit the Upper Tummel. Actually, to be truthful, we didn't hit the Upper Tummel until about 5 p.m., because we had to wait until about two in the afternoon for Paul to wake up, and he only did that because Lars kicked him in the ribs repeatedly. We all caught some fish, although they were mostly on the small side, even for Scotland. My biggest would have gone about six ounces, but it was good and challenging fishing, in a stunningly beautiful location, and I think we all enjoyed it. I spent some time watching Lars roll-casting in some very tight spots, and not really having watched a seriously competent fly caster before, I was mesmerised by his technique. It was a joy to behold. We got home about 11.00p.m. After dinner, a few drinks, and some Gammel Dansk, Paul and Lars tied some flies. Lars was using Paul's fly-tying kit, which caused him a few problems, because while Lars' kit is perfectly organised, Paul's is the very embodiment of chaos. Despite Paul's kit, Lars tied a very neat and beautiful black lure, and then Paul retaliated with a Terminator of epic proportions. Hands moved at what seemed like relativistic velocities, fur, feather, and silk swirled into the air around him, and only a pair of demonic eyes surmounted by a sunburned dome were visible through the maelstrom. It was quite scary, actually. I understand why the Terminator has two different sides now. It is not, as Paul says, so that you can fish it from both banks of the river, and show the fish the other side; it is because each time Paul reaches a hand into the carnage that is his tying kit, he can't find any more of the material he used five seconds ago. We spent some time allowing the rich and gloriously technicolour horror that is the Terminator to percolate deep into our souls, and then they said it was my turn. I tried hard, honest, but the fact is, I am a genuinely crap fly-tier. Lars took pity, and showed me how to wind a hackle properly, and then how to do a whip finish, but the thing I tied was still an abomination. My only regret is that I was too pissed by then to remember any of what he told me.
On Thursday we tried the lower Tummel. Lars woke Paul up earlier than usual, so we started fishing much sooner, at four p.m., instead of five. The lower river is a much larger affair than the upper, and has some lovely long pools and runs. Despite a chilly downstream wind some Yellow May Duns were coming off. I have Lars to thank for that entomological nugget. I'd always called them “yellow things” before, same as I refer to brown things, grey things, black things, and green things. We fished for a bit, and then stopped for a freshly brewed pot of coffee, thanks to Lars and his primus stove (I had no idea it was possible to carry a whole fishing tackle shop to the river, as well as a hardware store). Then we got down to it and fished hard for a good while. We were hoping for an evening rise, but it didn't happen. We sat down on the banks to compare notes. I'd had a couple of good pulls, Paul had fallen asleep, and Lars had caught a trout. Paul and I wondered if we could have some more coffee, but Lars said there was no water left, whereupon we looked at each other and Paul said, “ I know where we can get some!”. Lars declined to drink the Tummel, even after it'd been boiled for a while, but Paul and I thought it made very good coffee, in fact coffee was a much better use of it than as somewhere for fish to live. We left the river feeling deflated, and puzzled. We learned later that there had been a home international competition on the river on Saturday, and the Scottish team had won it. The team consisted of five local anglers, and they only managed ten fish, so we took some small consolation in that. Back at home, Paul and I stayed up late again, and watched a video about fishing in the South Island of New Zealand. That was the fourth time I'd watched it, and any appeal it had, had worn off. Why are fishing videos so dull, and why do they insist on using that awful elevator music?
Friday was Paul and Lars' last day. I felt terrible about the lack of fish, and was determined to do something about it, so I suggested we pay a visit to a flooded sand quarry that I discovered a couple of years ago. Not long after I discovered it, I found out that it is privately owned, and so is the fishing. After they'd mined it out, the owner landscaped it, and threw in some small browns from a nearby stream. They have grown on a bit since then… I suggested that we should only take one rod, because that way two people could keep a look-out. We travelled in the Pink Thing, which gave Paul and Lars an excuse to argue about Paul's taste in music. I'll listen to any old rubbish myself. We parked off the road in a quiet lay-by, and I told Paul to hide his four –piece down his sleeve. It sounds a bit excessive, I know, but the owner of the quarry knows who I am, and where I live. Trying not to look like Poachers, we sauntered across the road, and melted into the trees. Within minutes of getting to the water's edge a huge brownie appeared. Galvanised into action by the sight of such an enormous fish, Lars threw caution and reputation to the wind, and had a go. Then Paul had a go, and then I had a go, and then we left. Blanked, again. We snuck away, heads hung low. There was a delivery truck parked beside the Pink Thing. I have no idea what the driver must have thought, but he witnessed three guys, one with a shaved head, one wearing sandals with his trousers tucked into his socks, and another looking very sheepish indeed, creep furtively out of a wood, climb into a pink car and drive off with a cheery wave.
And that was that really. We visited my local river, hoping to fish for a bit, without permits, but it was running high and dirty, so we couldn't, even though I could tell Paul and Lars had gotten a taste for illicit fishing.
A couple of hours later they left, headed south. It took me three days to fully recover.
Oh, and thanks to Paul, I now have a serviceable double haul.
Hasta la Vista, Darlings. Mwah, mwah!