Tengisgol considers ’Peripheral Shutdown’

An ancient toll bridge

The noise of the modern world will melt away and, with my feet in the water, I shall fall into a roach-fishers rhythm as if I were always a part of that landscape; before cars, aeroplanes and computers were even dreamt of

What happens if I fall in?” I hollered toward the skipper through the driving, horizontal rain (I was not experienced in these matters).”Don’t worry at all” he shouted back over the spray coming across the deck, “we’ll do a figure of eight, which will bring us back to where you went over, and then we’ll have you out before peripheral shutdown…” followed by a ‘double thumbs up’ for added reassurance.

It was a bitter cold, late-November day and I was perched precariously on the port bow of a yacht, at a rather wild angle (or so it seemed), somewhere in the Solent. I wasn’t convinced at all by what I had just been told and, when we later gave it a try with a buoy thrown into the sea, it took us a good thirty minutes to hook it back out again. Had that been me overboard, I was beyond saving. 

Later, warming by a roaring fire in a pub in Cowes, the skipper explained what he’d meant. Apparently, if you do go into a cold sea, to keep you alive the body quickly shuts down its extremities (i.e., limbs) and preserves the inner core for as long as it can (heart, lungs, brain etc.). Try putting the words ‘peripheral shutdown’ into a modern search engine and you’ll find the results make rather more gruesome reading, not unlike how the skipper described but considerably more graphic. Since then, however, over the last thirty years or so, the expression has (for me at least) taken on a different meaning, becoming a useful metaphor for something else. 

This world is just so complicated, so ‘noisy’…with automation, robotics, artificial intelligence…the words that ring in my ears like tinnitus. Young people, so enthusiastic and full of energy, dreaming up ‘integration’ and ‘implementation’. My cynicism echoes back in return; I imagine the Saucepan Man weighed down with ever more pots and pans (I’d have to explain that one, ‘offline’ as the kids say).

I just can’t cope with all these complications. I want to wrap a long, favourite scarf five times around my head to close it all off. Surely therefore, when time is my own and allotted to fishing, this is why I choose the simple beauty of a split cane rod, and a hand-made centrepin reel, and allow my thoughts to drift. Who were the craftsmen and women that made my rod? What was happening in their lives I wonder, and what were they thinking, what were their complications? It certainly wasn’t automation or robotics. Perhaps it is an over-simplification (and lazy) to think their lives were, in fact, less complex. No doubt they had their worries too, as they planed that cane section toward perfection, or tensioned the silk with hardened fingertips as it tightened the ring down tight against the grain. I guess they were just different worries to mine but worries, nevertheless.

None of this means that I won’t use modern tackle, and my general rule is not to handicap myself with split cane and ’pin if doing so will compromise my fishing but, for sure it doesn’t grip my soul in the way artisan tackle does. The rod and reel in front of me now were crafted sixty, maybe seventy years ago, and I’m checking the ferrules are clean and will go together neatly tomorrow when I am on the bank. I’ve already inspected the reel to ensure no grit is impeding the rim and I added a little oil to the spindle in readiness. I’m not a ‘wizard’ with the ‘pin, but I know my water, and tomorrow my favourite float will run off the rod tip and the current (helped by a little rain) will pull it towards the ancient bridge where the roach have lived since the days when a toll was paid to cross the river. This Aspindale is quite capable, with a flick of the wrist, of hooking the waiting roach twenty or thirty yards away. The noise of the modern world will melt away and, with my feet in the water, I shall fall into a roach-fishers rhythm as if I were always a part of that landscape; before cars, aeroplanes and computers were even dreamt of.

My favourite float & a shimmering roach

That weekend on the Solent was my only sailing experience, and I’ve stuck with fishing ever since, although it is something I feel I could return to. The chaps I was with were out of the city, rough lads from the east end of London that had made good (financially at least) trading ‘Dollar-Yen’ (and suchlike) for a large American bank. I was the token poor lad, brought along to gather sails and hold the ropes. This was the eighties; greed was good, in all its forms (for those guys at least) and I sometimes wonder what happened to them. I don’t think I’d fancy going out with them again though. Maybe they got swallowed up in their own excess, drowned in a sea of Dom Perignon or some dreadful outcome involving fast Italian cars. It would be nice though to think that one at least saw some light and escaped. 

I can imagine, perhaps, a classic wooden cutter, turning to the wind with the noisy harbour left behind and nothing but the open sea ahead. No-one in sight nor sound as far as can be seen or heard. A weather-beaten Breton cap pulled down and shielding eyes from the sun, staring to the horizon, thinking about just the weather and no more, his own peripheral shutdown. I hope so. Perhaps he’s heading toward a quiet little cove to throw down an anchor, take out his journal and scratch out his first piece for the ‘Scuttlebutt Raconteurs’ or similar, just as I have now scribbled my first piece for the ‘Piscatorials’. Tomorrow, on the river, I too shall be in peripheral shutdown, for a while at least.

Writing & Images Tengisgol summers end 2021