Friday, October 17, 2008

Mirth and Woe: Ground bait

Mirth and Woe: Ground bait

"Can we," one of my loyal band of readers asks, "have a tale of mirth and woe about squatting on a dingy riverbank with a ten pound crap plz?"

The answer to this, sadly, is a big, round "No", mainly because this would be a complete work of fiction, or, as they call it in certain political and legal circles, a "lie". And we're not at home to Mr Porky Pie, m'kay?

I admit we might be taking the odd visit from Colonel Exaggeration and Mrs Crank It Up For Comic Effect, but I have never – as far as I can remember – laid faecal ground bait.

However, there was this time...

…And it's struck me that there are a number of things I did in my childhood that my children never have, and quite possibly never will. A short list from the top of my head:

1. Swum in a river

2. Vomit in a river whilst other people are swimming

Having given the end away already, I might as well make the best of it:

The river in question is the River Loddon, which flows through Berkshire before joining the Thames at Wargrave. By the time it has reached my home village of Twyford, it is already a little bit scary and almost certainly fatal.

But if you know the right places, and given the kind of summer we don't have any more, there are a number of places you can bomb along for a swim. The ford at Land's End in Charvil being one – and many a reckless teenager's bike has been swept away after under-estimating currents – and the mill pond at Twyford being the second.

The great thing about the mill pond was that you could jump off the weir (such that it was) into the pond itself, which was easily deep enough to swim.

On a particularly good day, the weir – which only had a drop of about two feet on a gradual slope - would be opened right up giving the more adventurous or foolhardy a five-second white water ride down into the safety of the pond.

Anyone who went to the millpond for a quiet bit of fishing – the sport of twats – when we were there would be mightily pissed off.


As you can see, they've put railings up now. Which, of course, means you can now jump from higher up. Great work, The Man!

Any given summer day would see a small crowd of any number from myself, my brother, Matty, John, Squaggy and a few other hangers-on as we cycled down to the mill and diving straight into the waters. Then we'd climb to the top of the weir, jump off, rinse, repeat. For several hours.

Some sad old bloke trying to catch minnows at the low end of the pond would shake his head and move over to the main lake.

Of course, all this jumping in and out of rivers takes its toll on young bodies.

I myself had only eaten a bowl of rice krispies for breaksfast, two cups of tea, a bowl of tomato soup (Heinz, naturally) with half a loaf of bread and butter for lunch, before snacking up on a Marathon bar, a packet of crisps, a large bar of cooking chocolate and a bottle of supermarket own-brand red coloured fizzy stuff. Hardly anything, to be honest. I'm big boned, it's genetic, and it's me glands. I need a lot of fuel for this sort of thing.

"Grelp," I said, standing at the top of the weir as Squagg lined up his rubber dinghy for a bit of white water rafting.

"Lads... I don't feel too..." I continued, aiming at my pals as they bobbed around in the mill pond below, before the inevitable happened.

It wasn't exactly "Yaaaaaaaaaaaaarch!"

It was more of a "Fssssssssssssht!"

Two litres of 39p red-flavoured own-brand pop do that when it comes out the wrong way. Especially when propelled by half of the contents of Darth Vader's sweet shop on London Road.

Poor Squagg.


The pink and brown shower caught him full in the face as he shot open-mouthed with excitement – down the race of the weir.

The effect was immediate. I've never seen a boy puke in a rubber dinghy before. Nor have I seen a boy desperately trying to bail it out, before realising what, exactly, he was bailing out.

Nor have I seen such a mass evacuation from the water as the floating menace approached my luckless friends. Not since I'd seen Jaws, anyway, where Chief Brody runs down the beach, firing his pistol into the air.

But they were too slow and the current too fast, and soon my now former friends were covered in floating fssssssssssssht, scrambling up the muddy banks to safety.

I'd like to say they showed my all due sympathy for my illness.

They did not.

"One... Two... THREE!" – lengthy pause – SPLASH!


And, there, at the bottom of the lake, the minnows and the roach fed on the floating ground bait. And further down the stream, the pike ate the minnows. And Dippy Peter caught the pike, which bit him on the groin.

The circle of life. Bless you, Elton.

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