I experienced a sense-memory this morning.

They aren’t unusual.  I won’t be the first person of a creative bent to marvel at the power contained in a single minute smell or sound.  Like the strength of a déjà vu – probably caused by something as mundate as a random transmission error between eye and brain, or misfiring synapse – these tiny things can trigger sudden expected responses.  Is it mundane?  Or is it amazing?

I was in the train station at Sheffield, where I catch a train most mornings to work in Leeds about an hour’s commute away.  Like most stations, it’s as much outdoors as in: everywhere you look you can see trees and grass banks through the pillars down the length of every platform, or stone walls built a few hundred years ago, or snatches of grey sky.

The trigger for the memory, I think, was earth.  Maybe a fleck of half-dried mud on someone’s boot, or a pile of mushy loam brought in from the rain outside.  For just a second that rich smell mingled with something else – maybe the wet, cool air, or a particular pattern of pressure across my face from the breeze.

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Twelve or fifteen years ago, my Dad took me fishing.  I think it was on the River Wye.  If I have the right river, the source of the bubbling water running beneath those overarching trees was about 150 miles away in Wales.  Dad was part of a club, or friend-of-a-friend to some Duke or other, who controlled fishing rights of the water.  Anyone else would have been poaching those trout.

We trudged maybe half a mile from the van to the riverbank.  In those days it will have been an NDT van – the company Dad worked for testing metal.  The white van had no seats in the back, but a working space big enough for tools and equipment.  My brother and I would sit on fold-down shelves, facing inward and bickering or joking, strapped to the inner chassis by black seatbelts and unable to turn away from each other.

The road to the river was muddy; it had recently rained.  Birds twittered in the trees around us.  At the river, which curved at either side, I examined the different fishing lures we’d brought with us: tufty red ones, tufty brown ones.  They were designed, Dad said, to look like flies so that the fish would try to eat them.

The rod seemed a work of art.  The pole was polished to a chestnut hue but made by Dad himself from, I reckon, split bamboo.  According to Wikipedia:

“Split bamboo rods are generally considered the most beautiful, the most ‘classic’, and are also generally the most fragile of the styles, and they require a great deal of care to last well.”

The handle I remember was cork – because it absorbed the sweat from the fisherman’s hands.  It squeaked as he slotted it onto the bottom of the pole.  The line, fed as everyone knows through the wheel on the rod, felt like nylon but may, knowing my Dad a little better now, have been varnished silk. 

The reel made a unique chattering sound that I’ve never heard since.  To turn it by its tiny handle, Dad had to make a delicate pinching gesture with his hand.

There was some teaching of technique that involved slow sweeps, a flicking of the wrist.  The line is almost invisible.  The ‘fly’ lands on the surface of the water.  Underneath is brown silt and smooth stones, mostly obscured by light reflecting off the surface.  The fly makes ripples, the line does not. 

We wait.

I don’t know if he thought I might be bored.  It was very peaceful.  Probably once or twice we heard someone walking a dog on the other side of the trees and bushes, but if there was any real disturbance I don’t remember it.

Dad drew in the line.  He’ll try another spot.

We wait.

Maybe it was here that he told me that he made the rod himself.  I’m amazed by this.  He said that he’ll make me one, too.  A shorter one.  I say yes please.  Because I don’t ever mention it again, the rod never got made.  I don’t mind this.

No fish.

Maybe we tried another lure. 

I had a go with the rod.  It was harder to balance that I imagined, probably twice as long as I was tall.  I flicked the rod back.  The line got caught in a tree, like in a Goofy cartoon.  Dad took back the rod and retrieved the line.

Later we landed a trout.  It wasn’t large.  I looked at its glistening scales and weird translucent mouthparts.  It gasped with the hook lodged in its face.

I asked if it hurts.  The answer wasno.

I asked how come?

Maybe I learned then, or learned years later, that there are no pain receptors in a fish’s mouth – or if there are, the fish isn’t capable of processing that kind of pain.  I’m not sure if this is the case.  I looked it up online.  See what this internet wanker has to say on the matter:

“i never had one complain when i am getting the hook out. next time i have one in the boat i will be sure to ask it. but why would you ask this? … it really don’t mater because we are on top of the food chain and there are some things you just have to over look … if you worry about these kinds of thing than you are not going to eat much.”

Still, whether or not the fish feels pain they soon appear to forget about it and carry on feeding.  We threw the trout back and it disappeared with a flick of its tail.

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My train arrived at 07:47 and departed at 07:51, direct from Sheffield to Leeds.

— db