New boots summed it up perfectly. He hated the bloody things, he liked his boots comfortable and old and with a secure familiarity and having had years of perfection polished into them daily.
He wanted nothing that needed learning, challenging or breaking in….. “Unless it was some fresh young flapper to be broken in for the Abbess down at the ‘Academy’. What!” he chuckled to himself at the thought and adjusted his tightening collar.
Quite forgetting the last few times the Abbess offered him a fresh Angel, he’d found he’d drunk a little too much fizz and could no longer perform, or in fact oblige, should we say? He preferred to block the memory out, and store it down deep inside with life’s other frustrations that fed his growing misogyny.
“ Never did like those newfangled foreign machines that were becoming all the blighted fad in Belgravia” he croaked out, at the very thought of conveyance by automobile, “Can’t trust them like an honest horse. Nothing like having a huge sweaty beast, succumbing to your commands and thundering between your thighs. And in any case…..”, like he’d said to the young lance Corporal stood ramrod straight, quivering to attention; just as he liked to find him.
The insolent young buck! He noted that wince on his face at the words “Huge Sweaty Beast” and the bead of cold sweat appear at the words; “Succumbing” and “Commands” and a nervous gulp and paling of complexion when he said “Thundering between your thighs”. However he ignored the impertinence, for now, and continued with a flourish and rammed the point home!
“How do you clear a ditch, or jump a bally hedge on four wheels….What?!” he scoffed mockingly
Can’t argue with that impeccable logic, he thought .Mind you Smedley Wallop had never cleared a hedge in his life, but had woken up in plenty of ditches, and much, much worse.
But the old wretch could stomach a Train, something about boshing around the old Raj, of sweaty servitude; and of spending happy days barking orders at anything on two legs, swarthy, with a dark complexion. The ‘Chuffety chuff’ reminded him of happier times in life..
Now pulling up at the station of Hampton Vale, with his new cane rod, trusty old creel basket and the barely used old landing net, he eagerly climbed down from his carriage and smiled at the day in prospect. He quickened his stride as passed by the church, lest that ‘bally anthem bawler’ cornered him again for a donation for the roof and bothered him about the state of his old organ. The church was next to the grave yard, that was next to the Dairy and there was very little else to Hampton Vale.
He had planned to break his fast at the Dairy and see if that young Molly was still serving. Seeing if her enormous milk jugs had got any bigger. When she bent forward pouring it was a magnificent view worth buying an extra serving, or two …..or four. “My goodness”, the sight of those jugs as she walked towards you! All a chap could think about, “And “goodness,” doesn’t come into it”!. He guffawed to himself.
But he felt he’d missed the best of the morning now and headed straight for the River to salvage something of the day first. Of this ‘His’ first day of the season ( not ‘The’ first day of the season by any normal measure).
He reluctantly crossed the road from the Dairy and pushed against the old wooden field gate set between two high dry stone walls. Below him across a rough, munched, and trodden cow paddock, some 20 yards away was the meandering line of the River Makewater and its cattle crushed banks. It wandered up into the dale above the village and there was said to be some fine fishing up there, above where the cattle would foul the water. But he’d had his adventure getting here and he liked to stay close to his creature comforts, and of course those enormous jugs that had been bothering his thoughts this past year.
Down here in the valley with one gnarly old tree, one remaining huge boulder; too big to clear and move when they made the boundary walls, and an inexplicable mound, about the size of a pigmies burial chamber and a few feet high, that sat between the two other features. Apart from these three objects grouped closely at the bottom of the slope, the area was desolate, surrounded by over grazed land that looked like a working model for a still distantly future battle of the Somme.
Most fishermen venturing from the station walked quickly straight past this stinking stretch, dismissing it as long past its glorious best and cursing that Dairy that was killing the land and the River too. Too many cows. They only had to walk just a few hundred yards further along the track to the grounds of Makewater Manor, with its sheep paddocks gently nibbled in this Capability Brown landscape, where those phenomenally clear waters wafted the thick beds of flowering Water Crow’s-foot that grew up from the beautiful gravels between fast rifles of free stone and deep clear pools. It was Trout stream perfection and worthy of the long trek from the south . The water flowed from clear springs deep beneath the hills that kept those flows steady and the water temperature rarely varied more than a few degrees. There always seemed to be a hatch on. Yet strangely even those huge clouds of Olive Uprights never ventured over the small wall to the stinking cow paddock where Smedley Rollup Wallop was now threading up his new rod.
He was a clot most of the year, but on the first day of ‘his’ season he was beyond salvation. Steadfastly casting some bushy dry number he’d bought from some chap on the Piccadilly, straight up stream to where he anticipated, sat by the only rock he could see for miles, would be a monstrous Trout. After a few dozen swishes back and forth that made that new Calcutta split cane rod, sound pleasantly like madams riding crop. He came to his senses and remembered why he was swishing so. He released the fly with an unfamiliar jerk that catapulted it forward, and then ‘boinged’ back where it splashed down either 10 feet short of the rock, or just ten feet past his rod tip, by which ever measure you consider to judge the mediocrity on display here. It was quite simply, disastrous.
It was a disappointment to him also. “Blast!”. Looking down for the cause of his woes ( which is where they usually were..) His line had caught around the new reel he’d just bought from some chap down the Pall mall. “Arse”! He thundered. “How dare they call it a ‘Perfect’. “A complete bag of Shite!”.was how he harshly judged this new offering from those Hardy brothers of Alnwick .”Blasted Northern heathens” he grumbled aloud to no one in particular, but the cattle paused from chewing the cud and seemed to sagely consider his words a while, as his internal monologue escaped into the ether as it so often did.
As he struggled to clear the chaos around the “damnable reel” and calm his temper, the bushy dry fly on the water surface sped past him, gathering speed. When it could go no further to seemingly escape from this lunatic on the bankside it dipped under the surface, and swung around out of current. A small Trout, barely out of parr markings, saw this drowned shape about to swing past its nose, and made an inquisitive snap at it.
Major Smedley Rollp Wallop, couldn’t at first understand the commotion, he’d barely got the line free when that dashed rod swung around almost out of his hands, all a quiver. “ Be Damned” he cursed “What the blazes”?! as he swung round downstream, incensed, and looking to stare down the source of his latest frustration. His mood lightened as he reeled back his fly and found a small Trout flapping helplessly at his feet. Reminded him of one those of those sweaty little punkawallas and they’re pleading desperate eyes. “ Well I’ll be…” smiled the major. “Never look a gift horse in your jodphurs” he thought as he ‘boshed’ it on the head. “At least it fits in the bally basket, a few of those for breakfast with some relish, what?!” he chuckled to himself.
There was a gentlemens agreement on this stretch of the Makewater that ‘one’ would only cast up stream and only using a dry fly floating clearly on the surface to catch Trout. “Humph, Well it started that way when I cast it!” He shrugged, vindicating his actions to himself and wondered if that queer little Halford chap was so squeaky clean as he liked to make out in all this Bosh?.
As he got his wits about him, he realised, he was now after all comfortably beyond his customary blank session and feeling the optimism of the day ahead start to grow within him warmly, he was enjoying the sun on his face and being in the open air, he lowered his reserve and sank into the day a little more freely.
He got back into his few dozen swishes with his new “damned fine bit of Calcutta cane” in preparation for the final flourish and delivery. But he was enjoying the feeling of pumping his forearm up and down and working his wrist, it reminded him of something else he thoroughly enjoyed but couldn’t quite place it. And that sound like Madams riding crop was strangely soothing too.
Eventually he let one go and the same thing occurred again as if pre-ordained; say one thing for the Major general, he was consistent, even in his folly. The slack, the Reel; the tangle; the inexplicable’ boing’; the curses; the downstream drift; the drowned fly, and small hapless creature getting ‘boshed’. It was uncanny how he did it. Only this time, it was ‘boshed’ in a mild rage for its “Damned insolence”!
Two now in the bag!
Major General Smedley Rollop Wallop tried again, determined to reach that rock without having to walk from the peak of this little mound where he imagined that he cut a dashing and commanding figure, should the young Molly come wandering along the lane. “What with my long stiff rod in hand, swinging it around, I must look like a bally conductor”. This time his extravagant swishing caught something behind as the precious split cane jerked backwards and refused to budge. “Can’t be a fish this time that high up in the air!”. ..he could hardly contain his wrath…. “Buggeration, Trouble and Strife” he roared and it echoed through the valley unsettling even the crows this time. He yanked his rod to obedience and the old gut instantly snapped, his fly was gone. “DAMNATION”! With rising annoyance he turned to face this latest imposition that was quite obviously harbouring the singular intention of ruining this day completely. “Damned farmer I’ll have his Guts! How dare he leave a tree there!”
A strange gnawing feeling deep in his belly needed satisfying, It could have been the missed breakfast that kept reminding him of Mollys massive milk jugs, or it could just be thought of those two huge flagons, so close now, just over the road, distracting him from the task in hand, but he was finding it hard, hard to think of anything else and decided he’d allow the young wench to distract him from his frustrations while he had his fill.
It had been an exhausting morning for the Major General Sir Smedley Rollop Wallop.RLC.
At the sight of that creepy old man entering the parlour yet again, Molly dodged into the kitchen reluctantly leaving a fleeting glimpse of her vanishing behind for the lecherous old swine. “ Damn” he thought,” Something about those buttocks reminds me of that quivering young lance corporal”. he could never quite put his finger on it… he never would quite put anything but his dirty thoughts on it in actual fact. Which he did more often than was healthy, or normal.
Mollys mother knew only too well her distress from the days when it was her own enormous jugs that kept him drooling back here year after year, he seemed a dirty-old –man even when he had acne. She sent Molly away on errands and dealt with the problem at hand herself this time.
Extra brandy in the milk punch she could little afford, but it bought some blessed peace as the old bugger usually fell asleep at the table drooling. And a bit of extra cleavage bent over sorting the coin out of his hand elicited that price of the extra brandy back, and maybe a little extra for inconvenience while he flustered desperately mesmerised by the unusual proximity her heaving breasts filling his vision.
A few times she bought the food late and as he was already nodding and lolling with his mouth open. This was priceless!
She deftly returned the slice of pie to the kitchen leaving a few crumbs of pastry on the platter and when the musty old bugger awoke, he saw the crumbs and thought he must have eaten it already, then staggered back to the stream unfulfilled and fleeced in every possible way.
“Best close up early today. she thought.
Waking up feeling somewhat befuddled and slightly disorientated noticing some last crumbs on his empty platter, he headed back down to the river in a determined effort to catch that massive Trout that he knew ‘must’ live by the rock.
He slumped down by the large boulder both to conveniently rest his back against it and to catch the warmth of some welcome sunshine on this old face and consider the moment. The old mother wasn’t so bad after all, he mused. Still had a bit youthful glint about her, a fine pair of jugs and a hint of experience too eh!. He opened his leather wallet and selected a new gut cast and set about working on it with the wet pad. He’d bought these from a chap in the Haymarket and had them ready for the actual first day of the season, but now it was a few months later when he finally could face a day by the water. Too damn cold and dark in late March. “Confoundedly idiotic bally day to open the season.” he’d often grumbled, before turning over for another blissful snooze and day lost.
They were a bit dried and curly, his guts, “damn glycerine is no damned good”, or the problem was applicator pad, or the guts themselves got the blame, or the cad that sold them to him, anything was considered fair game for contempt, but his own wasteful neglect. Whatever it was that was wrong with them, he knew that chap in Haymarket had now lost himself a most valuable customer.” That’ll teach the blighter” he grumbled softly to ease his frustrations.
Finaly he conceded he done what he could of a bad job and he raised himself a little for the task in hand and peered back over his shoulder towards the target, “Well damn It all”, he realised. “I could cast to that rock from here. He rested the rod and basket on the rock and set about the manoeuvre to turn his huge frame around in the opposite direction while keeping low under cover, crawling on his hands and knees, head down and bum loft, an unedifying sight by any measure, as he rotated a half circle to finally find himself facing the rock.
Despite placing one hand down sickeningly into a cow pat and jolting away in disgust, he let out only a stifled curse, when he boshed his head on the rock, and managed to contain his frustrations with a civil tongue for once; bottled now deep within him, where it could fester away and be added to with each new calamity of the day. Concentrating clearly on the prize ahead of him with steely determination, he imagined a three and half pounder, mounted up in a glass case looking magnificent above the Imation Adams fire place directly above the medal and impressing everyone with his prowess and guile. Unfortunately the only visitor he got in that crossed his threshold apart from the cleaner, was his man, Elliot, and the valet-come-butler was paid handsomely for the privilege.
He lazily knelt on one knee and keeping low above the boulder and prepared to cast. It took him back to the days with just his trusty riffle and a few precious last rounds, keeping cover from those damn ‘Mussy Wuzzie’s’ that surrounded the camp and all his men. When he’d single handedly picked them off one by one and saved the day. Well he would have done given the chance! It’s what he loved to tell people that he done.. Wasn’t his fault he’d always been in the wrong place when the fighting began. “Nobody would ever dare fight if I was in the vicinity” was his reckoning on this unusual aspect of his otherwise unblemished and uneventful military career. “Damned formidable I was in my Prime”! he sniffed and pumped his chest up.
Good Gawd it was hard to keep a straight face though, when he was given that meddle for “valour in the face of fire” by young Victoria. Somebody must have believed his story and let the damn cat out of the bag. “Kind of got a bit out of hand the old high jinx” he’d admitted to himself slightly embarrassed in recollection. But that little Bronze cross on its magenta ribbon meant the world to him. “For valour”, there it was cast in bronze, the proof was undeniable, and that medal was now the measure of him as a man.
He ceased the pretentious wafting now and made a determined assault on the rock, it was time to get serious for the esteemed and decorated Major General. His casts were finding their target, which was after all, now virtually under the rod tip. Full of confidence and triggered with expectation, he put the fly behind the rock, beside the rock, in front of the rock, he hit the rock itself, often, and even over-shot in his enthusiasm and the fly flew way over the rock. He thrashed that water like he’d thrash a insolent young cabin boy.
With each subsequent cast though he found his assurance was challenged and his confidence eroded. Rallying to the cause he changed tactics. “Obviously the wrong damn fly”, he looked around to see what was flying, like that little twerp Halford claimed to do in his bally books.
“ Books, be damned” he thought! “Ill write a bally book which will eclipse all his damned bally books, damned upstart”. He considered and filed the thought away as a future project and useful distraction for a man of standing… “unlike that bloody retailer Halford!”
All he could see was yellow flies buzzing around the cow dung, some butterflies near the nettle patch and the odd bumble bee traveling high above this blighted meadow, and some little black things buzzing around near the surface of the water. Nothing in his box resembled anything in the air. “ Oh Blast” he sagged a little, somewhat defeated, and he was getting damned uncomfortable on the one knee. He decided all those ‘Muzzie Wuzzie’s’in his head must be shot dead by now, and he could safely standup and become the hero of the hour.
Upstream of the stone something dimpled the water. Was it a slight bulge or a gentle sip? “Ah, the cunning old fox has slipped upstream a yard or two” he gruffly muttered and regained his appetite for the kill, picking out the biggest damned fly in the pouch to match the leviathan ahead. . “You won’t fool ‘me’ that easily, I have you bagged sir!....Your as good as on the taxidermist slab!” he boasted, slapping some extra relish on the word ‘Slab’!
He tried with all his might to cast the dozen or so feet needed past his rod tip. Unable to cast the extra yard needed with the “damned useless rod!”. The pent-up and festering frustration started to rise and multiply like in the very ground beneath Vesuvius!
He had bought it, the rod, from someone whom he now he realised, was some unreliable ‘Johnny’ down the Strand who told him it was a ‘Fiery Javelin’ or a ‘Scorching Lance’ of a rod, or some other bally nonsense. “Only way to deal with these Rod makers is a damn good thrashing” he reasoned, and he vowed to do that on his return to the capital. “I’ll leather the rascal till he begs for mercy”. The major general was enjoying where these thoughts and his internal monologue were taking him, it eased the tension a little and he rallied to the cause.
He would just have to make sure he got as close to the water as he could, with this now useless piece of junk in his hand, and sidled along the river bank into the squelching mud where the cattle had been drinking, never once taking an eye off his target. While casting he was aware of an icy dampness flooding into his right Brogue boot. Still short in his casting and knowing exactly where the “lunker” was lying in wait, he inched further upstream along the bank a foot or so and the left brogue now flooded too as he bitterly cursed every rod maker in humanity for ever for the misery his feet were enduring and the prospect of that long homeward trudge, but he was committed to the cause now. Sacrifices had to made, “and that Rod maker certainly will be when, I get my hands upon him”.
There was that dimple again! His heart was pounding now, he was forgetting to breathe and becoming light headed. The fly landed in a tangle of loops and drifted down stream and an eager mouth from within grabbed at one of the passing knots. He struck hard. Mercilessly hard in his panic, and a skinny silver Grayling, hooked firmly in its flank was yanked clean out of the water and was now heading towards a space between the old majors eyebrows. With his Brogue boot sinking lower into the boggy ground at the effort of his strike, he involuntarily lurched to the side and the projectile little fish cleared his shoulder and landed in the meadow by a cow pat far behind him.
”BUGGER! AND HELLS BLASTED TEETH”! he boomed as the frustrations of the day exploded on this axis. It was heard even in the dairy , where Molly coldly shivered at the sound of that voice and her mother allowed a wicked little grin to spread.” Gawd, I hope that’s the old bugger stuck in the bog!” she mused.
Major General Sir Smedley Rollop Wallop VC was having a decidedly bad day as he squelched across that field, indignant with rage, and filled with a murderous intent to that little silver fish flapping helplessly in the open air by a cow pat.
Finding itself in a new element, after all the weirdness that morning on the gravels with all the males jostling around her, those strange cramps deep within, and then all those eggs appearing and now this. Finding herself in an instant , in some strange new element where thrashing her tail madly kept her stuck in exactly the same spot. She was have a decidedly bad day too, that was about to get much worse.
He looked down as he had at so many ”Damn natives” and “Swarthy Johnnie’s” that had decided to make his life a misery, and had felt the urge rising within him, to just crush them all under his boot until he heard their miserable bones crack.
Instead he picked the little creature up in his hot dry hands and was about to administer a good ‘boshing’ on the skull to teach it a lesson. The first downward smash of the priest caught him square on the thumb knuckle. “BE BLAZES AND DAMNED TO HELL!” reverberated across the valley. The cows ceased their munching and looked alarmed for the source of the strange cry, the crows in a mild panic, took to the air in a ‘cawing’ cloud of flight. Across the road in the Dairy, Mollys mother gave a little shudder and delicious grin, as her wicked imagination ran amok, an explosion of laughter grew within her and escaped. Soon Mother and daughter were bonded in tears and chuckles, that then descended to absolute hysterics when they soon heard, “ LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO, YOU’LL PAY FOR THIS FISH!” as he pounded the poor creature three times to make sure, and then, panting, exhausted from his effort tossed the broken little creature further up the meadow, safely away, to where it could do no further harm to him that day.
Three pounds on its head and one on his thumb; three and half pounds he realised this strange connection to his ambition for the day, and felt a slight gnawing of guilt and embarrassment that he’d allowed himself to get slightly out of control, two emotions that so seldom had surfaced in the long life of the distinguished Smedely Rollop Wallop.
He looked at his drowned fly and the gut length, it was knotted to buggery and beyond repair, he wanted to bellow aloud but all the roar was spent from him now, his head was humming and a weariness shrunk him, he just longed for his bed and no more thoughts, no more frustrations this day.
Under the shade of a Hawthorn bush in a rough arrangement of tweeds, lay the crumpled old major general, his chest rising and falling, and his rod and bag clumsily strewn to the side. With no ‘little man’ to keep him ship shape and Bristol fashioned, chaos always ensued and disaster usually struck..
A snoring figure with beetroot complexion and huge silver bushy side burns, and on those thick rolled whiskers the remnants of milk punch congealing dry into a cheesy, curdling crust in the late afternoon sun. Unsettling dreams of Nanny, and riding crops and young milk maidens troubled his slumbers and made him cough, stutter aloud and gently curse and mumble. A cloud of yellow dung flies had discovered the cow pat covered boots and knee socks at the other end of this beast and were circling the stench and looking to lay eggs. Their strength built up for this effort by feasting on the heads and thoraxes of the early morning hatches of caddis flies caught by the bankside, when the river was alive with feasting little fish, back when the major general was still in his bed oversleeping and dreaming of giving, or of receiving, a damn good spanking.
The sun was low over the horizon when the old majors nose twitched at the smell and he came back into consciousness cursing his luck for snoozing near a cow pat. “Blasted farmer” A rock had buried into his back and felt like a deep bruise now and as he shifted to rise his neck was also cricked and stiff. He hated to think what his mouth tasted like and it was so dry. A navies sock? A wrestlers jock strap? He would kill for his pipe now.
The pipe, he left the bally thing with the ‘backy’ pouch on the table by the door as he rushed out in the morning. He should have known then what day faced him, when he realised on the train and just given this day up as lost, there and then..
He looked at the river, the surface now oily and slow in the warming light with swallows skimming the ripples. He shivered with cold from dampness that had crept up into his clothes and he moaned with his many pains. He considered setting up a new gut leader and fly for one last brave effort, but he was convinced the rod was useless and some bounder was going to pay for this lost sport and his wasted journey. He thought of Brandy, the pipe; of dry socks; a fresh pressed night shirt; and then clean sheets and dreams of nanny, and decided that was his safer and better option.
Major General Sir Smedley Gaylord Rollop Wallop MBE RLC VC and Bar, squelched back to the train station his sodden Brogue Boots rubbing his thick ankles raw, and the now heavy damp tweeds itching appallingly, as two small clouds of yellow flies dogged his steps, circling his ankles. Desperate to lay their eggs in the most desirable residence for miles around: the major generals crud, blood and bullshit covered knee socks. And they accompanied him and his misery along the street to the railway station and even joined him on the train.
He paused and was about to toss the rod behind the dry stone wall opposite the Dairy, it would be one less thing to encumber him, but remembered he had a thrashing to deliver with it, his recollection becoming clearer with his rising temper. “Hot Torpedo, my arse!” he grumbled,.
“Hadron…HADRON, that was the binders name”, he remembered, his rage further rising at the memory of the very fiend himself., “Hard on! No it was Hardon”!, His internal monologue again escaped into the air, this time reverberating out and ricocheting down the one street of the peaceful village and out across the graveyard to disturb the dead themselves.
”HARD ON! I’ll GIVE HIM BLASTED HARD ON,….THE CAD!”. he cursed rather too loud to be sensible, but cared not; he was on the war path intent on blood and this was his final battle cry!. “HARDON, BE BUGGERED!” he screamed, then stomped past the grave yard to a conveniently waiting train and dozens of small yellow flies struggled to keep up.
Behind a nearby curtain Mollys mother hearing these words finally lost the plot. Crumpled into hysterics and fearing her sides would burst and her jaws would crack from laughter.” Mercy me please make it stop” she begged as she convulsed, crying into yet another helpless hysterical fit.” Please just make it go way” she pleaded when hearing those final words, and considered the very real prospect of dying in a useless heap of helpless laughter.
Behind him back on the surface of the river an insect struggled into the surface film, from its back two pouches unfurled quickly into the air, as two milky grey, sail like wings, hoisted up above the little Galleon and it bobbed along the current, its legs now clear and its tails laid out behind it ready and waiting. For a few seconds it paused, a captive of the flows. And now in the growing gloom, safe from all those birds of summer that come to feast on the England’s flies in the daytime; Now near dark its wings finally dry, it flutters and lifts up; up away from the surface of this recent watery home for an all but brief new life of costume changes and dancing and mating and sex and then death, it would possibly experience more in the next few days than Smedley Rollop Wallop could experience in a lifetime. Next to it another popped up, and another ahead, and to the side, and behind. And in the next few hours thousands of these Blue Winged Olives hatched out of the River in this valley, they are joined early in the gloom by some small sedges. And as the Major general stumbles off that train at Paddington station, back in the valley the River Makewater is frantic with activity, and with feeding fish.
Molly’s mother struggling to sleep feels her strangely sore ribs and then remembers the source of the discomfort and fights back the giggles and tears once more.
It had been, after all, a most memorable day.