I’m currently reading a book I know I bought but can’t remember why. It’s a kind of fisherman’s memoir and the only reason I can think it appealed to me is that though I’ve never fished in my life, fishing does have a palimpset presence in my history.
My grandfather was an avid coarse fisherman and during the war, when my father was away on active service, my mother bonded with her father-in-law in an unusual way. She’d go and sit with him on whatever forlorn canal-side and watch him fish.
She would have made the perfect fisherman’s companion: silent, reflective, and aces at remembering to bring along a thermos of tea. I don’t think my grandfather realised she was actually itching to have a go with a rod herself. She was in her seventies when she went to Croatia for a holiday, bought herself a cheap rod and caught a small sea bream. Her first and only fish.
So I’ve been reading Luke Jenning’s Blood Knots. As a schoolboy he was taught to cast a fly by a young teaching assistant called Robert Nairac. This was a name that rang bells for me, from the 1970s. It was a time when I was deep in the fog of sleep-deprived motherhood and not following the news very closely, but I did remember that Robert Nairac, a young British army officer, was abducted by the IRA and executed. His body has never been found. He became one of The Disappeared. Another was Jean McConville whose body was only found in 2003. Her crime was to have gone to the aid of a soldier injured in the street outside her house. She was also accused of having been an informer against the IRA though no-one seems to have asked how a widowed mother of ten would have the time to be any such thing.
Anyway, Robert Nairac, perhaps too much the maverick for his own good, paid with his life. He was awarded a posthumous George Cross, Jean McConville has at last been laid to rest, and The Troubles rumble on with a new generation who don’t always know why they’re out on the streets. I’ve heard kids were making a daytrip of it last week, going into the Ardoyne area to throw a few Molotov cocktails. I’ve heard it called Recreational Rioting.
And all this is a very long way round the houses to say, I recommend most highly Blood Knots by Luke Jennings, published by Atlantic Books. Not only is it a treat to read, it’s also printed on very nice paper, which has given me a sharp pang of paper envy.