26 May 2021, The Tablet

The spirit of fishing

The spirit of fishing

Grayling – Thymallus thymallus
Photo: Alamy/Nature Photographers Ltd


Fish are mysterious, and as well as its aesthetic pleasure and emotional satisfaction, angling has always had a spiritual dimension

People entertain widely differing notions of what constitutes perfection. The Victorian sybarite Henry Luttrell’s idea of Heaven was, according to his friend Sydney Smith, “eating pâté de foie gras to the sound of trumpets”, whilst Terry and Julie (in the Kinks’ classic song) only had to gaze across a dirty old river at a “Waterloo sunset” to feel in Paradise. In my new memoir, The Lightning Thread: Fishological Moments and The Pursuit of Paradise, I trace a narrative arc over six decades of a passionate quest for the ultimate piscatorial fulfilment. I have fished in some forty different countries (from Iceland to Tahiti) and am still counting – Ubi piscis, ibi Arcadia is my motto.

But first, a little context: for a couple of years from the age of six I was brought up by a Scottish governess, Miss Lauderdale – a stern Christian Scientist in tie-up brogues, who never drank anything more potent than hot water. She once bade me pray on my knees for forgiveness because I had said I did not like cornflakes (it is only coincidental that my opening chapter is entitled “Wittgenstein’s Cornflakes”). Daily Bible study was a familiar chore, and I came to absorb much of the colourful King James version, with its details of the foreskins of the Philistines and Job’s horse that “saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha”. My early Christian faith did not survive 10 years of compulsory school chapel (though I have an abiding, secular affinity for ceremony, and bondieuserie), but I have never lost my fascination with the Book of Genesis.

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