Chalkstream - Charles Rangeley-Wilson, the Medlar Press
Reviewed by John Bailey
If you live on the coast like I do, you learn to treat Bank Holidays with a great deal of suspicion and eventually leave them alone altogether. The best thing to do is stock up on supplies, lose the car keys and lie low until Tuesday morning dawns. This, though, has been the worst May Bank Holiday Sunday that I personally can ever remember. It has rained non-stop, pelted down from morning to night. And it's cold - just a handful of days off June damn it and I've had the heating on and the woodburner belching. I've just tried to get into the local market town for a bite of lunch and found it teeming with a bedraggled army of soaked tourists. It's the sort of day you want to get drunk and go to bed on. A day with no redeeming features.
An hour ago I picked up 'Chalkstream', Charles Rangeley-Wilson's offering of 2005. He gave me a copy, at the Game Fair as I remember, and all I've done in the past is flick through it admiring some of the rather fine black and white photographs. But at three o'clock, after a bowl of canned soup, I sat down and really absorbed it.
I notice my name is in the list of acknowledgements and though I can't think why, the fact made me pleased. The first time I've been pleased this entire sodding day. I then turned to page 171 and the section on East Anglia. Charles has really chosen well here. The works he has selected pieces from I'm absolutely relishing. And so many surprises. To be honest, I didn't even know Nick Zoll writes. Certainly not as beautifully as the extract here suggests. But the whole section is great. I love the essay called 'A Day on the Nar' Written seventy years ago it's still fresh as a daisy.
The section on France is exquisite - there's something so nostalgic about 'A War Interlude' from that under-rated writer G D Luard. Well found, Charles.
And now I've just finished powering through the section on Wessex. You'd think this could be clichéd but Charles has really dug around and come up with some super, unexpected stuff. I love 'The Day Big Roach Went Mad'. It was written in 1955 by, of all people, F A Mitchell Hedges. And I thought the guy had only gone after the world monsters in his career. Mind you, he didn't have a bad day on the Avon - "The bag numbered one hundred and sixty-seven roach, nineteen of them over two pounds - the largest turned the scales at over two and three quarter pounds, seven perch, none under two pounds and the largest just on three pounds, eleven dace up to fifteen ounces and two grayling." I could do with a day like that.
I've also just noticed that Charles inscribed the book to me back then, presumably I was too busy or pissed to notice at the time. "To John, one day we'll fish together and catch a ten pound Norfolk sea trout!" The bugger. He caught one only a year or so ago of eight pounds from a creek that I told him about. God, the luck of that man! But you can't really hold it against him. He's a great writer, a good photographer, a really good fisherman and well-off. You'd hate him if he wasn't so bloody nice. So, really, the book is a triumph, perhaps a minor one in the scale of things but it will certainly do for me on a day like this. It shows what can be done when men of talent team up together. Jon Ward Allen is an old mate, too, the boss of Medlar Press and he's really sniffed out a title or two in his time.
So what a nice, elegant book. It saved my day. It's quite dark now, prematurely so of course, and I'm sufficiently enlivened to think about going out for a drink. The tourists might have gone back home now. Or perhaps they're stuffed in their tents and caravans. I should read this through. I've got a feeling that my tenses are all over the place but, unprofessionally and unapologetically, I just can't be bothered. You'll have got my drift that this is a book very well worth buying indeed. It costs £30 but that shouldn't put you off. It's about a pound a page and as you'll probably read the book twenty times that makes it better value than the petrol to get you to Norfolk on a wet Bank Holiday weekend.
To buy online at Amazon click here
For more information see the Medlar Press website
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