In our post-COVID world the media hacks and journos desperately scramble for the most apt metaphors and similes to frame the global experience and the ways in which we have to reshape our lives. They come easily at the moment: metaphors seem to be everywhere we look, as things appear to be working the other way around – the recent pandemic appears to be framing the global experiences that emerge from it – the local river in spate carrying the muddy waters of confusion; the river vegetation flattened by that spate perhaps representing some hackneyed view of humanity, bending but not broken, and so on…
but from all the chaos, confusion, fear and media hyperbole have sprung two very contradictory yet appropriate words in one simple phrase: ‘new normal‘.
Weirdly, I am perfectly calm and level amongst all of this. That isn’t to say that I’m some zen-draped centre of peace or a guru of calmness; in fact, it’s only due to my simple outlook on life that I feel this way, because I’ve been in this state before. We all have, and we all will be, in every season of every year to come.
Come the end of every March, just as COVID was locking down the country, and indeed the world, Spring arrived suddenly once again from amongst the cool mornings and drizzly days, swithering like a chameleon between its noun form and its verb form. With that change came all the connotations it carried – springing the trap of winter, having been sprung from whatever dark, wintry cell had constrained it for so long until it arrived again finally at our doors, across our fields and hills, in our gardens and running through our rivers and streams on its journey to the depths of our seas.
Strangely though, all that newness always seems somehow balanced by a lingering sense of déjà vu and familiarity, a strange feeling akin to seeing the face of a work colleague every day yet not being able to recall with any certainty the colour of their eyes.
After the privations of winter, everyone talks about spring and summer as being ‘new’, the world ‘renewed’ again, but although all things bright and beautiful might be poking their way to the surface once more in shiny green freshness, when it happens year after year I can’t help but feel I’ve seen it all before.
With the arrival of spring I usually take my first proper walk of the year around Mynydd Dinas, and on reaching the far side of the hill am immediately transported into a living simile. The dirt track that rings the hill has a smooth, beaten look to it where others have beaten me to it and followed it into the tunnel of overhanging trees, already thickening with bright new green foliage; and that track itself could have been any number of tracks locked deep within the memories of mind and muscle, memories that slid, shiny and bum-beaten down into brambly hidey-holes that in turn resembled setts or rabbit runs, the hiding places of younger days.
As is often the case, where nature comes up with a design, mankind will often follow. Over on Mynydd Emroch, a set of four wind turbines now stand, windflower-white, against the sky. Their heads spin in the breeze, turning to follow the direction of the wind, and it would almost be possible to believe the presence within them of “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as Dylan Thomas put it, if only we could, for a moment, forget that all those internal workings, the bearings and cogs and wiring, that create this illusion of life.
It’s easy to see the world so figuratively and, often, thus is probably far more desirable than to look at it in a literal sense, especially when we are confronted by tragedy and turmoil as we have been recently. There are issues and concerns aplenty in the literal world, and I spend enough time there on a day-to-day basis anyway. Even now, nearing my forties, when I step out of the front door on a spring morning or an autumn evening, there are so often echoes of all those great childhood books I read and loved: ‘Watership Down’, ‘The Wind in the Willows’, ‘Swallows and Amazons’, ‘Brendon Chase’, ‘Tom Sawyer’, all the books I’ve now done my best to introduce to my own daughter in the hope that she too will often find herself carried along by life’s great narrative.
So what is the point of all this ruminating? I hear you ask. Well, I suppose the point is that new normal is not new at all. There is no such thing as ‘normal’, in fact, only variations on what we know and see and feel and remember. Things change all the time, are always in flux, and those same things will turn out alright in the end. They always do, and when they do, they will carry with them all those echoes of the past and all the promise of the future.
This was at the forefront of my mind as the school term, with its unfamiliar format in very familiar surroundings, petered out on Friday 17th July 2020. The lifting of lockdown restrictions meant that Dai and I were finally able to travel to a beach other than Morfa, and so it was that Pink Bay was chosen.
Venue: Pink Bay. Friday 17th July 2020, 8.40 p.m. – 12.40 p.m.
Weather: winds 13 mph south-westerly, pressure 1021
mb, temp app. 15 degrees.
Tide: Low of 2.7m at 3.33 a.m. on a 8.2m high tide – two days after lowest tide of the cycle.
Moon phase: Waning crescent – 11% visible.
Method: Up and over rig at longer range, two hook flapper fished at 20-80 yards.
Baits: squid, bluey, sandeels, mackerel, frozen prawns, large shell-on prawns.
To begin with, Dai was exhausted due to the 5 o’clock starts that had been foisted on him by the Welsh Government’s woolly decision to open schools for the last few weeks of term whilst leaving the logistics largely up to schools themselves. Weeks of marking out, lugging around, socially distancing classrooms and sanitising everything with or without a pulse in his immediate vicinty had Dai reaching for the spinning tackle rather than the beach gear, as a yomp to the beach loaded wih all his beach accoutrements would have half-killed him. He did, though, bring his bass rod, as I have an extra Ian Golds rod holder screwed onto the leg of my tripod,
Handy little things they are.
so if it all went belly-up with the lures at least he’d be able to fish a bait.
In fairness, in his position I’d have wanted to fish the lures too, not just because he was knackered but because he’d had a spot of luck, winning some brand new Drift shads in a competiton held by the Saltwater Angler Youtube fishing channel.
Very nice indeed. Can see us picking up a few with these!
If you haven’t seen him before, check him out here:
Well worth a watch in those slack periods between sessions. Dai obviously wanted to try out his windfall and brought some of them along to the session, kindly giving me a pack for my tackle box. To be fair, they look like cracking bits of kit and will be a very handy addition to the lure bag the next time we’re out together on the artificials!
You don’t even want to know how long it took us to get him into those bloody waders!
If I were a fish, I’d eat it. But then, I’d probably be one of those cod with a huge belly, so that’s no surprise.
Anyway, down to the nitty gritty. I pootled to the water’s edge, got set up and cut some bait ready to fish while Dai wandered off with the lure rod to flick a shad around in the surf. Despite the small tide, conditions looked really fishy and I thought we were well on for it, but the hoped-for fishfest didn’t really start in earnest until an hour and a half after I’d started, with a bootlace conger eel, taken at range on a big bluey and prawn cocktail.
Slimy bugger. Better than a blank though!
After this first fish I had an inkling of which way things would go, as we’d had a similar session around the same time last year (also written up in the archives of this blog) and so it was to prove with a bigger strap conger of around the 2lb mark just over ten minutes later.
A hideous creature – holding an eel.
The fish gave a good account of itself, so I was slightly surprised to see how small it actually was when it hit the beach. I wasn’t complaining though – fish are fish after all. No fancy metaphors there, just a blank session avoided.
I managed a little variety twenty minutes after this with a dogfish. Dai helped me unhook the pesky bugger as he had the forceps clipped to his smock, and it’s a good job he did. As he was returning it to the water for me he checked the nasal flaps and this diminutive “doggie” turned out to be a baby huss – another species for the year’s tally! Happy days! Considering he was so knackered, he turned out to be the most alert out of the pair of us!
Another species for the year. Get in there!
Another strap soon followed as Dai tackle up the bass rod to get in on the increasing action. The fish had all come at range so far, so he wasn’t hopeful of being able to reach them wth just the little bass rod. However, with just a little thumb nail sized chunk of mackerel flicked out no more than twenty five yards or so, Dai’s rod hooped over as something abslutely nailed the bait and took line from the reel. We both thought bass, as you would, but neither of us was disappointed to see a lovely small-eyed ray slip up the sand, the best fish of the night at 6lb 2oz. It just shows that you’ve got to be in it to win it! Well done mate!
Lovely. No, not him – he’s a bloody yeti! Cracking fish, mate!
Another little huss for me rounded the session off and we called it a night for the long walk back to the cars, our chatter making the journey seem much shorter than it actually was despite our tiredness, and stopping only when Dai spoted a little common lizard on the sand path and helped him on his way into the verge.
So there it was – nothing new. In fact, a very similar story to last year, with me taking a few eels and Dai taking the one big fish of the night, making this session something of a simile for its predecessor.
As I said at the start of this post, things come back around; they always do.
8.40 – first cast
10.18 – bootlace conger eel on range rod, taken on bluey and prawn cocktail.
10.30 – 2lb strap conger taken as above, on bluey and prawn combo.
10.50 – baby huss taken at range on mackerel bait.
10.55 – 1.5lb strap conger eel taken on bottom hook of flapper rig on prawn bait.
11.25 – Dai took a 6lb 2oz small-eyed ray very close in on a small chunk of mackerel.
11.35 – baby huss taken on the range rod on prawn bait.
12.40 – session ended.
FISH TOTALS FOR 2020
Number of fish – 49 (3 conger eels, 1 dab, 7 dogfish, 1 flounder, 2 huss, 4 small-eyed rays, 3 smoothhounds, 1 tope, 27 whiting)
Number of species – 9