Thinking aloud

This page is simply a space where I jot down my thoughts about life in general. No political debates here nor earth shattering ideas on how to fix the woes of this world, just the observations and views of an elderly angler. I jot down whatever is making me happy/sad/angry here. I guess I am a bit odd and have my own ideas so my views may not align with yours. That’s OK, we are all different and we are never all going to agree about everything.

21st September 2022

I see that just in this week alone Japan was on the receiving end of a typhoon, Nigeria subjected to floods and Puerto Rico devastated by a hurricane. I am simply not clever enough to argue one way or the other regarding climate change and while it looks and feels like the planets climatic systems are changing it is next to impossible for a lay person to be sure they know what is happening.

Here in Ireland we have had an unusually dry year with well below average rainfall in a country famed (notorious?) for long periods of precipitation. It appears there is a redistribution of water and some parts of the world are receiving more while vast tracks are suffering drought. I can see with my own eyes how insect and animal populations are decreasing at alarming rates but if that is directly linked to climate change I cannot prove.

To be honest I am dreading the coming winter and fear it will be a harsh one. The maps showing the gulf stream splitting and possibly even bypassing Ireland altogether is the stuff of nightmares. Who knows what that enormous change will do to our mild, Irish weather. Freezing conditions may lie ahead for us here and the country is ill equipped to deal with even moderate falls of snow let alone a big freeze.

I listen to scientists who are increasingly desperate for a complete change in our society to try and avert a global catastrophe but here we do not seem to be taking this seriously. Talk of ‘tipping points’ and melting ice shelves seem to go unheeded by governments who are only focused on growth and wealth. It is all a far cry from when I was growing up in a world with hope for the future. The current generation are marching towards calamity if the ‘experts’ are right, something that is very hard to come to terms with.

We, the peoples of this small planet, urgently require proper leadership. The old queen in England died a few days ago and the whole of that country stopped and mourned for day. Millions of pounds were made available for elaborate an immensely complex and expensive funeral. Why can funds and organisation not be found to begin to tackle the climate crisis? There is money to fight wars, pay bosses huge bonuses and bury dead monarchs yet none to prevent the destruction of the world we live on. Where are the leaders to take control of the apparently deadly situation we face today?

The dying days of August 2022

As this society spirals towards its end we shall witness ever increasingly desperate attempts to hold on to control  by governments. The banning of cash is much closer than most people realise and the reason for it needs to be understood.

Us oldies have all been so accustomed to using cash that the momentous changes in technology have largely passed us by, something we should be deeply ashamed of. The younger generations have embraced all forms of a cashless society, seeing only the convenience of tapping cards or phones to make a transaction. Herein lies the problem, like the junkie on a street corner Joe Soap is now hopelessly hooked on effortless payments. None of that nasty folding paper stuff, no need to count out the right amount or, heaven forbid, have pockets filled with dirty coins. Just tap and go, life is so wonderful in this age isn’t it? No, let me tell you it is not and the governments of the world are about to turn your life into hell.

Soon there will be an announcement that cash will no longer be legal tender. You will have a period of grace to spend or lodge all cash into bank accounts but after that you won’t be able to use paper money or coins. This will rapidly spread across the developed world with only the poorest countries retaining the old system. For many millions of people this will make no difference to their daily lives, it will hardly be noticed, for a start. Stock markets will rise as another piece of the totalitarian jigsaw slips into place.

The first signs that something isn’t right could possibly be a glitch in the technology, some payments not being processed or an outage which causes minor inconvenience. All this time there will be incremental changes to terms and conditions by banks, new regulations around the transfer of funds to and from government agencies and new tax laws which will be rigidly enforced. None of it seems to be sinister at the time of initiation. It will be later on when the arrests start that it will belatedly dawn on some that this was all a con trick. A black market of cash will survive on the fringes of society but anyone caught using it will be subject to harsh punishment.

One of the only ways the poorest in society can get by at the moment is by the use of cash. The beggar on the street, the junkie hustling a few dollars or a side job tending gardens to pay the rent next month are examples of the flow of money which is unregulated. This is money the ultra-rich and powerful want. That damn cash is getting on the way of them having all the money they covet. Total control is the aim, nothing less. Removing cash hands power to the elite and robs the poor of any ability to control their lives. It is yet another brutal step towards the creation of the underclass, those who scrape an existence solely to serve the ultra-rich. It might sound Orwellian but we are long past any hope of avoiding life based on those principles under which Winston Smith existed.

Of course our evil leaders will have their way and cash will be gone in a few years, consigned to history. If you doubt this just look at how the poor are now enslaved by artificially high energy prices across much of the western world. Covid-19 lockdowns gave the powerful a glimpse of how they can totally control the masses and now it is time to ramp up the pressure and squash the little guys down. This winter will see thousand die of cold and hunger, the death toll will continue to rise as the next pandemic (real or imagined) strikes us and the war in Europe will spread. I can see nothing in the eyes of the people around me to suggest they know what is happening. I wish there was hope for a better world but there is none, no fire of revolution in the fat bellies of the middle classes, no protests or strikes.

The glorious 12th of August, 2022

Like most other people I used to believe in the inevitable progress of the human race. That there would be ups and downs was a given, that challenges would be faced was accepted but that there would still be a trajectory towards a fairer, more just society. I no longer believe that to be true and I suspect many others are beginning to feel the same way. This is not some sort of vague feeling on my part, I am solidly and unequivocally convinced we are witnessing the end of our civilisation. While that sounds very depressing (and it is at times) having that clarity of thought removes so many doubts and fears which might otherwise paralyse me.

Ireland is mired in political dysfunction. The old civil war parties have nothing to offer but more corruption. The alternatives are untested in the arts of statesmanship. The Greens are in my opinion dangerously unhinged. The economy is a disaster with an unequal flow of capital to the rich at the expense of the poor. Services are being cut back and life is becoming harder and harder for the common folk. Our environment has been trashed. War in Europe, climate change, cost of living crisis and the rest are beyond the ability of our leaders to tackle. Basically we are all screwed.

I am fascinated by the rail strikes over in the UK. The RMT union leaders have suddenly become either popular heroes or utter scoundrels, depending on your politics. They are excellent communicators who come across as sensible, honest and realistic ordinary folk who just want a better deal for their members. In contrast, the Tory party appears not to give two hoots about anything other than other than the aggrandisement of their already wealthy friends. Are the first rumblings of revolution at hand? I think that is too much to hope for but at least there is some action. How I wish we had similarly inspiring union leaders here in Ireland.

In times of crisis we humans look to our leaders for guidance and wisdom. I see neither of those attributes in anyone in power right now. Moral bankruptcy abounds instead. I have said before that capitalism will be the death of us all and what we are seeing these days will, unfortunately, prove me right. The manufactured energy crisis is deliberately designed to squeeze the last few pounds out of people, to beggar them forever just to further enrich the bloated billionaires.

I personally have harboured a deep and abiding hatred of trade unions for almost all of my working life. I saw at first hand how they bowed to the bosses when my own father was seriously injured in a mill accident, how lads joined the union just so they would get a promotion and all the rest of the small injustices of an organisation which was not fit for purpose. Even an old dog can learn new tricks though and watching the unfolding standoff in Britain I am revisiting my hatred for unions and recalibrated my own views in light of the new realities out there. If those union leaders can galvanise popular sentiment and turn it into action they might just be the harbingers of a better society. That is an unimaginably huge task but we have little else to offer by way of opposition to the current corrupt systems and individual who push the levers of power. I will continue to watch with interest and pray someone in Ireland will emerge to give people like me some hope for the future.

Last day of July, 2022

And so the grinding of the Tory party’s wheels continues as they seek to replace one evil, debauched megalomaniac with another. The UK is fucked, plain and simple. I am out of it and my interest in the demise of a once great country is of interest only because I have family there who must now endure a fall into ruin. So much blame has to be heaped upon Argentina for this dismal future. I will explain.

Thatcher, the embodiment of evil, came to power and immediately the powers behind the Tory throne realise they had made a terrible mistake. The woman was out of control, had no conception of decency and was ruling by fear over an exceedingly weak cabinet. Plans were afoot for her removal when Argentina invaded the Falkland islands in the South Atlantic. Here was her opportunity to play the heroine, forge her identity in the public eye as the Iran Lady. With huge logistical and intelligence support from America the British armed forces pulled off a daring victory and Thatcher instantly became a national hero. She could do nothing wrong and the doors were flung open for her to decimate large parts of the country and sow the seeds of strife for years to come. Thatcher had gone from heading for the chopping block to political beatification in a few weeks. She, and by extension the Tories in general, were now unassailable.

Since then, the Tory party has spiralled out of control as it sees itself as above any laws, just as Thatcher had been. Utterly reprehensible individuals proliferated within their ranks, far right ideals were adopted as the truth and the politics of 1984 became a base line for their future plans for domination. All of this funded by a gaggle of billionaires, Russian spies and chancers with an eye on a quick buck.

There is hope. The first voices of true opposition are being raised and the necessary organisation of a general strike is in its birth throws. I have never joined a trades union. I disagreed with virtually everything they stood for and how they went about their business. Now, I see them as the catalyst for a revolution in British politics. A general strike is the first step on a long, long road and I wish them well as they start the ball rolling and hopefully, consign the Conservative leadership to their proper place, a prison cell and life sentences of hard labour.

19th day of July 2022

There are times when life just seems so difficult. So pointless, so lacking in truth and justice. These feelings are so common to each of us as individuals we may not even recognise them for what they are. Poor health, loss, financial difficulties and all the rest of life’s woes drag us down at times but most of us manage to find mechanisms to be more optimistic and happy, even if that takes some time and help from others.

I wonder if there is a bigger sense of pointlessness though, some kind of higher level which affects whole countries, continents or even the whole planet. Do we as a species go through cycles of optimism and hopelessness?

I deliberately stopped looking at the news from mainstream channels a long time ago, recognising them for what they were – simply propaganda to dumb the masses and feed us the selective views of the world that the rich and powerful wanted us to believe. Instead I chose to listen to other commentators, some with views similar to my own but the majority from people who are very different to me. I sought balance and a range of opinions, not just validation from like-minded individuals. I personally have a narrow range of interests (fishing, nature, blues music, soccer for example) but try to engage with a much wider range of topics, partly as an education but also to stretch my own thoughts and test my own deeply held convictions. This is not always a comfortable process and in this world of toxic media there have been some nasty surprises along the way. I guess that was always going to a happen and maybe I needed those shocks to keep me real.

Anyway, I took a break from just about as much news information as I could for a couple of weeks and returned to my usual feeds last week. With a new set of eyes/ears the feeling of despondency very quickly returned but more than that, I sensed that it was not just me who is feeling scared and unhappy about the way our civilisation is headed.

The current record temperatures across large swathes of the northern hemisphere are starting to ring alarm bells but for the wrong reasons. A potential loss of profit is staring the wealthy in the face and they are now wondering how they are going to keep the flow of cash heading their way in a world which is burning. I see protests on the streets but they are small and easily brushed aside, so the leaders are not overly concerned as yet. The farmers in Holland and Germany are blockading roads with tractors at the suggestion there should be a reduction in the number of cattle in the Dutch herd. That the herds in European need to be much smaller seems to be perfectly logical to me and in particular the ending of intensive farming globally has to be near the top of every agenda is not going to be considered by the farming lobby. Consumers just want the endless flow of cheap meat to continue and if that means the extinction of life on our planet, so be it! The thing is, I just got a sense that the farmers actually know that the way the operate must undergo a radical change. They do not accept how it is being done nor do they entertain the notion of a drop in living standards any structural changes to farming will bring, but they do comprehend the need for a new way.

An awful lot of the negativity we are living through at this time is based on the same realisation. We have to change, we must change and change very soon, but nobody wants to and we are paralysed by a fear of the future without the things we love. Capitalism and consumerism are outdated and dragging us to the very brink of extinction and we know it. Like an alcoholic sitting at a bar, we just want one more drink then we will stop, but as long as we are on that high stool we will just keep on drinking.

Of course the war in Europe is dragging us all down to some degree but the tanks are in far off Ukraine for now. How that is going to play out is hard to forecast but the fighting will most likely drag on for a long time to come. The west is showing signs of tiring already while Russia gropes for new friends and allies such as Iran. Is this how the war will spread? A slow creep across the Middle East and the Caucasus?

A winter of inflation, hunger and cold lies ahead for many of us. These will be testing times and that is before the weather of the next El Nino year lumps further misery on to already deflated and terrified masses. The magnitude of the pointlessness, the understanding we have all be betrayed and the utter hopelessness of the future will be so terribly hard on countless millions of people across this planet. I see the signs that the poor are going to be blamed for the woes of this world once things get worse. Protesters will be vilified, activists pilloried as fools and corrupt leaders idolised as heroes. I would dearly love to be more positive but we are a broken civilisation who cannot pull together, make the changes in political systems we so badly need nor change from our consumerism addictions. It is little wonder we are so collectively frightened, we have brought this on ourselves.

13th July 2022

As many of you who read this blog are aware, I am a keen supporter of Burnley fc. How I ended up following the club is a long and complex tale which I won’t bore you with but suffice to say I love Burnley and the way they can put us supporters through every emotion know to our species. One of the founding team of the Football Association they have been champions and almost been relegated from the football league. The football team are an integral part of the very fabric of the old mill town, itself almost a caricature of northern England.

The Turf

On the final day of last season Burnley lost to Newcastle United, the result condemning them to relegation from the Premiership. In truth, we had played dreadfully for most of the season and did not deserve to stay in the league. Soccer is now ruled by money, if you have wealthy owners the chances are you will buy the best players, pay them astronomical wages and win enough games to keep the team near the top of the league. This model works if said owners have so much money they don’t mind losing millions each season or you can attract a global following who will buy the endless merchandise to fund the excessive salaries and running costs. Burnley, while under the current ownership of an American sports company are not one of the big boys. The town is small and the appeal of traditional team with a working class following does not excite many people. So the trap door opened and down we went.

For many fellow supporters this was a tragedy. After 6 seasons at the top table we found ourselves facing a very different reality. Relegation inevitably means losing players as the bigger team circle like vultures over the wounded club, ready to pick off the best players at reduced prices. Football players have very short professional careers so nobody can blame then for taking any opportunity to move to another club and earn good money. We are in the middle of that gruesome process at the moment and some of our great players have already gone to clubs in the Premiership. I wish each of them nothing but the best of fortune. The rump which remains are under a new and exciting manager who now has the monumental task of rebuilding a team fit to compete in the second tier of English football. The Championship is a brilliant league to play in, competitive and exciting. I can honestly say I am looking forward to the new season much more than I have for many years.

me and Chris at Turf Moor

Why am I rabbiting on about this? As I mentioned earlier, the Premiership has become a monster which lives off vast sums of cash. The top teams spend almost unimaginable sums of money to be successful. In my opinion all that counts is how wealthy your owners are. That sticks in my craw. Surely it should be about the football and not about the money? It is only when you take a closer look at where the money is coming from that alarm bells begin to ring. Oligarchs and super wealthy sheiks seem to be the big money guys in football these days. Surely this is not a healthy situation for any sport? Once again it seems that the only thing that matters is money.

So my beloved Burnley are going to have to rebuild and the new manager has attracted a solid backroom team which is a good start. New, young and exciting players are beginning to be bought just as the seasoned professionals leave us. I hope our supporters are patient, there will many highs and lows over the coming months as big Vinnie molds and leads the youngsters through the shark infested waters of the Championship. Up the Clarets!

12th July 2022

The whole debacle of Johnson’s ‘resignation’ over in England feels like a microcosm of the decline of western society to me. Cheating, lying, profiteering and utter contempt for normal people have been the hallmarks of his tenure, hardly an edifying façade to present to a world where statesmanship is a sorely missed art. How all this posturing and gesticulating will play out can only be guessed but I for one will not be surprised if Alexander wriggles out of his commitment to resign and stays in power. Let’s be honest, the band of sharp elbowed crooks and charlatans currently vying for the top job make for dismal viewing. The whole rotten lot of them should be consigned to an institution where mailbags can be sown, at least they would be doing something less destructive in there.

That the British and Irish political systems are broken is beyond doubt. The big question is what can be done about it and how are the thieves and vagabonds of the political classes to be removed? Nobody in their right mind is considering bloody revolution but voters are faced with the impossible choice of who is the least worst. It cannot go on like this and there has to be a better way of governing countries.

I look enviously at some other European countries where political life is very different. I am not for a minute suggesting that Germany or the Nordic countries have everything 100% right but it looks as if their leaders at least possess some form of moral compass. I would dearly love to be engaged with politics here in Ireland, to feel I was making even a tiny contribution by voting for someone I could trust and believe in. To do my duty as someone privileged enough to have a vote by using it at elections. I cannot. Until there is a peaceful revolution and a complete change in the way countries like Ireland and England are governed I will remain an outcast.

20th May 2022

I can see there is the beginning of awareness that we are heading for a food shortage across the planet. It has taken war in Ukraine for governments to finally waken up to the fact we are going to be unable to feed the world’s population in the near future unless we drastically alter how we produce and consume food. Grain prices have shot up and virtually all daily essentials are on a similar trajectory. For now it is the very poorest in society that are going hungry but that will spread to those on slightly higher incomes as the months pass. People are dying due to escalating prices for the food they need and governments are unwilling to do anything meaningful to address this.

Here in Ireland we breed cows. That’s pretty much it, there is very little in the way of diversification and nothing in the way of cereals grown for human consumption. That this mono culture is totally unsustainable is quite simply rejected by the agricultural lobby who’s only aim is to increase the huge herds of beef and dairy cattle. When the realisation hits that this country must change its farming practices I fear it will be far too late. The damage to our environment is already so great it is hard to see how we can pull back from the brink. Faced with importing ever rarer and expensive cereals the Irish food system will collapse, at best leading to hugely inflated prices or at worst real hunger across the poorly paid.

Despite the dire talk in the papers and online the Irish government remains in the thrall of the farmers and will do anything rather than upset them. The future is not looking good.

15th April 2022

I launched my old boat today. A full month later than normal due to covid and work but at least the old gal is at her mooring on Lough Conn now. Even at my advanced age there is an excitement around the day my boat goes to the lake. The cycle of life has turned again to that point where spring is in the air and the anticipation of days afloat turns into reality.

We towed the laden trailer along the well worn roads, chatting about the fishing and general gossip around the town as the rain softly fell on the fields and old bog around us. Upon reaching the bay I donned waders while Ben readied the boat for launching. A perfect, still day was painted grey and felt warm to the touch. She slid off the rollers and out into the shallow water until the bow rope tightened and I pulled her back to shore. Wet oars in my hands, the bottom slippery and the ducks scattering as I rowed around to ‘my’ spot in the trees where I have parked the boat for many, many years. Drinking in the heady brew of gorse bloom mixed with damp foliage I tied her up and laid old tyres under her to keep her safe if the wind came up. I normally take her out for a few hours on days like this but I’m still tired after Covid so I let her be for the day.

Over the coming weeks I will spend a lot of time on this worn out old fibreglass craft, catching many fish some days and not a thing on others but I’ll enjoy my time on the lake. My boat makes me happy.

5th April 2022

I am no military expert but the war in the East seems to be destined for a long and extremely bloody series of battles. The world should never have allowed it to come to this but here we are and nobody has any idea how to bring an end to the hostilities. The stories of torture, rape and murder are beginning to be heard, a trickle of sordid facts which will turn into a flood. This is war and I am sure there are atrocities on both sides but the Russians have previous form.

Talking to people here in Ireland I get a sense that we don’t have a clue about Russia. There seems to be a general assumption that ordinary Russians are just the same as us. I don’t subscribe to this view simply because history has moulded Russia’s population through trials we cannot imagine. Generations have suffered unimaginable horror. Famine, revolution, pogroms, wars, propaganda and dictatorship have made a people who see the world in a very different way to most Europeans. The notion that the people of Russia will rise against Putin is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Yet that is what the west is hoping for.

Sanctions will have little effect in the short term. Some shortages on the shelves in Moscow or St. Petersburg and general price rises will hurt a little, but nothing that will alter the will of Russia to continue the prosecution of this war. The west will ramp up the supply of lethal aid to Ukraine to keep them in the fight, fearful that if Kiev loses Russia will turn on a NATO member next. The stakes are unimaginably high. I find it very hard to see how this proxy war ends, both sides have too much to lose.

Refugees have flooded into all European countries. We currently have about 300 here in our small town in the West of Ireland and have been told to expect many more. Temporary accommodation has been found but longer term housing is a huge challenge to a country where providing a roof over the heads of everyone is already beyond us. In short, we are in a huge mess and are sinking deeper into the mire with every passing day. We need leaders!

29th March 2022

My near total distrust of mainstream media means I, like so many others, follow people on social media instead. The appalling conflict in Ukraine has thrown up various people form all walks of life there to write blogs, post photos or even record podcasts describing what they are going through. Reading and listening to them is a humbling experience, my safe and comfortable life in Ireland is thrown into sharp relief when compared to their stories of loss, terror and deprivation. It also highlighted my own laziness.

I started to write this blog seven years ago with no clear plan or aims. It just felt right at that time to jot down some of my angling experiences, so I fiddled about with fonts and backgrounds then launched into my inoffensive (I hope) tales of lake and riverbank. I still get ribbed by my mates who inquire ‘are ye still writing yer little stories then?’ Yes, I am and the enjoyment I get from the writing is worth the effort and occasional derisory remarks. But I should be doing so much more and that is starting to itch me like a hair shirt.

Podcasts are easily consumable and pack quite a punch when it comes to getting information across. You can listen to them at any time and anywhere, be that when you are ironing or commuting. There is no good reason why I don’t use this blog as the base for a podcast series, only a lack of effort on my part has prevented this happening. These days you can use software to do the talking for you but that seems a bit pointless to me, surely you want to hear the words ‘from the horse’s mouth’.

With a little expenditure I could easily make videos of my angling exploits and do some fly tying tutorials. My excuse to date has been there are so many other excellent contributors in that space I could not see what I would add that was different. Add to that the time it takes to edit video footage and the whole concept has felt like a step too far for me, taking me away from what I love doing – actually fishing!

Maybe it is time to re-evaluate my position on both podcasts and videos. I lead a wonderful life here in Ireland and I know that many people are envious of my lifestyle. Not being a natural showman the idea of standing in front of a camera is pretty horrifying but it does not need to be like that and with a little creativity I could put something together which would spare the world from seeing too much of my ugly mug. I watch videos uploaded to YouTube and some of the filming is stunning. Others are mediocre but still manage to convey the messages of the creators. With some practice I feel confident I too can reach ‘mediocre’ level.

Where is all this leading? I will start working on a podcast over the coming weeks and IF I am happy with the test recordings I’ll post them on the usual platforms. Video is a longer term project but I will start to capture footage and reacquaint myself with editing. My reasoning for taking these steps is I am looking around at a world in turmoil and if even one person gets a few minutes pleasure from my inane ramblings then that can’t be a bad thing, can it? If my words or images encourage a few anglers to come over to Ireland and try the fishing here for themselves, so much the better. I know many anglers who love their holidays here and a few more who found a way to do what I did and move lock, stock and barrel to the Emerald Isle.

So, to sum up, I will work on expanding the claretbumbler offering in an effort to reach out to a wider audience by embracing sound and vision. This is not about self-glorification (heaven forbid) but a desire to share Irish angling experiences more widely. My fishing is unsophisticated, often old fashioned and frequently less than successful but hey ho, it makes me happy. In these uncertain times a little light relief from this quiet corner of the world may be of some sustenance to others.

Don’t hold your breath but I will start working on these plans this spring.

24th day of March 2022

I’ve noticed that the older I get the less willing I am to take chances. Is this normal? My escapades as a younger man got me into endless bother but also brought a range of experiences which shaped me as a person. These days I measure up the options and now plump for the the path of least danger. All bloody boring but as one’s physical body lapses into shambolic disrepair it is probably for the best.

For no particular reason I have been mulling this aversion to risk over lately. As someone who has led a life very firmly in the ‘JFDI’ camp it is a strange sensation to find myself dodging anything that seems to be a bit out of the ordinary. Procrastination has become my default position and I expend a lot of effort in body-swerving tasks which would entail dragging me out of my comfort zone. I can’t say I am happy with this attitude but it seems to be quite deep rooted now.

This blog was intended to be an exercise to see if I could sit down and write. Now in it’s seventh year it has grown like a new appendage on me and is a comfort in this mad world. I enjoy the simple tap-tapping of the keys on the laptop and the now well rehearsed methodology of pulling together a post. In short, I am in my comfort zone as I scribble down a fly pattern or the account of a day on the lake. A couple of half-written books require some focus on my part to complete but that takes some dedication, a marathon instead of a sprint. Shooting videos is another task which I promised myself I would undertake a long time ago but so far that too has come to naught. Excuses are plentiful, there is a weird pride in justifying to myself the reasons for not doing these things. I do genuinely want to do these things but not enough to actually start them. Am I alone in this muddled train of thought?

Later that night…… I was feeling fine all day. Working from home I got through my tasks and was looking forward to a great weekend of ghillieing, fishing and then a night away with Helen to celebrate our birthdays (we are only a few days apart). Just before bedtime I began to feel a bit woosy, sort of light-headed. That was followed up by a coughing fit and the beginnings of a headache. Taking myself off to bed I hoped a good night’s sleep would set me right. I drifted off quickly but awoke at 1am, gasping for breath in the dark. This did not feel good and I felt worried, lying there in night with successive waves of unbearable heat/sweating closely followed by chills and uncontrollable shivers. Any thoughts of sleep were abandoned and I just closed my eyes and lay there wondering what was going on. By 6am I was pretty sure these symptoms indicated I had contracted Covid-19 and I took a test. Sure enough, a pair of bold red lines indicated I had succumbed like so many others here in Ireland. I got up and drank some coffee, the hot liquid easing the discomfort and making breathing a little easier. Over the next couple of hours I informed my work and cancelled the fishing I had so been looking forward to. The hotel were kind enough to push out the date of our arrival by a week so all is not lost there. The breathlessness cam and went, sometimes I could breath easily but an hour later I was gasping like a trout out of the water.

Of course it is a worry contracting the disease. In my sixties now I feel vulnerable and know of people my age who have died after contracting the virus. I’ll take it easy and hope to be on the mend in a day or two. Those few hours lying in the dark fighting for air were pretty sobering though. We all muddle through each day, concerned about the meaningless minutia without considering we are one more day closer to the grave. Now I have Covid it has got me thinking about mortality. We all pass away sometime but like to think we have a while yet on the planet. The pandemic and now the war have sharpened our collective views on death in a way not imaginable a couple of short years ago.

21st March 2022

The madness that is my springtime fishing has kicked off once again. From now until June I juggle work, family and fishing, trying to square circles on a near daily basis. Readers will no doubt be envious of me, and rightly so. Fortunate is the man who’s problems revolve around fitting in the maximum amount of angling! Weather, runs of fish, hatches of fly are all keenly observed and decisions made on where and when to fish. Add to the already heady brew my ghillieing commitments and it feels like I need the intellect of an Einstein to fit all the pieces together. With the help of God this will be the last year of full time employment for me as I plan to retire next spring (if Putin has not blown us all up before then).

Clogher Lake

I know I am probably an exception in my enjoyment of the outdoors but I do worry about the lack of engagement with nature by most people. We live in an age of information but knowledge and understanding of the natural world seems to be a rarity these days. What with all the pressures on our ever diminishing wild places I would have thought the general public would be slightly more tuned in to mother nature but the opposite is true. How do we get people to tune into the outdooors and engage more fully with nature?

When I was growing up every young fella had a fishing rod. Cheap, usually handed down by a parent or relative and often in poor condition it never-the-less saw frequent use as us kids learned not just to catch fish but about the wildlife in and around the water. Now you can flip open your laptop or scroll on your phone and find a level of detailed information on any subject in seconds. My point is that reading about it or watching a video is not the same as experiencing nature at first hand. That ‘immersion’ in the natural world is such an important connection and one I feel we simply must find a way of reinstating.

14th March 2022

I was too young to notice it, the Perfumo affair. It rocked the English establishment and brought down the government of the day. Christine Keeler became the pantomime villain because she was sleeping with a wrinkled government minister and a Russian official at the same time, potentially compromising the security of the nation. A supporting cast of colourful characters added spice to an already flavoursome dish which the tabloids served in great steaming dollops to a readership already scared half to death by the cold war threats of impending destruction in an atomic fireball. These days all we remember of course is the photograph of an apparently naked Keeler in a provocative pose on a wooden chair.

Fast forward to the English government of today. If you compare the unlikely pillow talk of a pretty young escort to the deeply entrenched symbiotic relationship between the English Conservative party and Russian oligarchs it appears to me we are in much choppier waters that we were in the sixties. The bottomless greed of the English privileged classes is matched only by the cold blooded power lust of the Russians. It is like some monstrous Tinder date – Boris swiped right and met his perfect partner.

You can legitimately argue we live in less morally restrictive times. Powerful men will always fall for pretty girls, it is one of the basic facts in this universe. Should a straying politician lose their job for having an a affair? It is debatable in my book. Should politicians lose their jobs for being bribed by potential adversaries, for selling the security of a nation to the highest bidder for personal gain? Absolutely they should. The almost total acceptance that the English government can be bought is utterly incredible to me, a sign of just how fatally damaged England has become. Never mind reds under the bed, they installed the electronics in No.10!

Why does all this matter? It matters because the west has seriously underestimated Russia’s potential for aggression. The west has been happily complicate in the wars in wars in Africa and the middle east but figured the bombs will never again rain down upon European cities. How wrong they were. The terrifying realisation that Russia has a long standing stranglehold on the leadership of England is sobering to say the least. We do not know just how much Russia has gained from buying the English upper class but the fact it has means we can never again rely on the famous ‘stiff upper lip’ which saw the country through successive wars.

My personal belief is that Ukraine will not be the last of Putin’s conquests and that he will bite off more of eastern Europe in his bizarre bid to rebuild a greater Russia. With the UK firmly in his pocket he knows he has little to fear from them.

10th March 2022

The images of the war in Ukraine are hard to believe. We here in Europe had fondly imagined another conflict on this continent was impossible, that nobody wanted to return to the horrors of the last century. Here we are though, the bodies lying twisted and bloody on the streets, soldiers dying in flaming tanks and politicians spouting words but not finding answers. It is all too familiar to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of 20th century history. We did not learn the lessons and are now paying the price.

When communism fell and the countries of the east awoke to their new found freedom the west thought they could relax. Profits could be generated by the big companies and they jumped at the opportunities to do business in the former USSR states. That there was massive corruption did not bother them one bit and they went along for the ride. As the new rich rose quickly to the top they found the west open to their excess and access to the highest levels of society was guaranteed simply by dint of being ultra-wealthy. It all seemed to be so easy, so natural for the ruling classes. Fat contracts were signed, the cash flowed into the top and the little people of the world got a few crumbs to keep them quiet. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course the whole glittering edifice was rotten to the core and the enablers who oversaw this new reality had their own agenda. As long as our consumerist society was getting more or less what the desired (buying their own houses on insane mortgages, cars, holidays etc) nobody would look at what was really going on. Putin’s Russian grew stronger as the Europe grew weaker. Western military spending dropped as the perceived threat from the east diminished. The Russian leader was lauded as a great man with a vision for a new Russia, a Russia which would become just like the western societies, share the same values and principles and stick to the international rules. Of course this was just baloney of the highest order. Russia is very different and Russian leaders even more so. The oh so common belief that we all hold is that other people are just like ourselves. This is quite simple delusional. Indeed dangerously delusional. People in the west are incredulous that Putin and his henchmen invaded Ukraine but we do not live in their world, aspire to the same goals or see other societies as we do.

The unimaginable bravery of the Ukrainian people is something I don’t think Putin had bargained on. He must have expected the Ukrainian army to put up a token resistance in the face of overwhelming odds then capitulate. Now volunteers are joining the fighting, hard men who know war and in many cases enjoy it. Losses on both side must be terrible. This is war so we will never know exactly how many are dying. Each side, of necessity, must exaggerate their successes and lie about their failures. I personally treat every video or report from the front with huge scepticism, in the fog of war it must be very hard to know what is going on. Many years ago I stopped watching any news on the BBC as they are just a propaganda lapdog for Westminster. However, I admit their coverage of the Ukraine war has been very good in my opinion. War reporters are special people.

The war rolls across the snowy steppe and European leaders grapple with the prospect of a wider conflict looming on the horizon. Germany will re-arm, a thought utterly beyond reasonable comprehension just weeks ago. The Finns and Swedes look towards NATO as a possible deterrent to a future Russian invasion. Jets and troops are beginning to arrive in the Baltics in token numbers for now but how many more will be needed there to dissuade a Russian attack? Moldova looks to be horribly exposed and is surely next on Putin’s shopping list. None of us were ready for all of this, we are totally unprepared in every sense. It is slowly sinking in that our lives have been transformed and what we knew as ‘normal’ may never return.

Refugees are pouring west to uncertain futures. Some have relatives they can go to and at least have a starting point to begin the recovery from the trauma of fleeing their homes. Others are not lucky and are at the whim of governments. Here in Ireland there is huge goodwill towards these scared and helpless victims and the hand of friendship will be eagerly extended. Our problems are more mundane, we lack sufficient housing for even our own so where we find roofs to put over the heads of our Ukrainian friends is a huge question.

Of course this crisis has been mana from heaven for the big companies and governments who have hiked prices to cash in. Fuel and heating costs have rocketed as the fat cats earn billions and the poor freeze at home or pay exorbitant prices at the pumps so they can commute or do business. As most of the price of fuel is made up of various taxes the governments are trousering vast sums which can then be filtered off to their benefactors. At what point do the population of a world like ours say enough is enough and revolt against the ultra-rich? I see no signs of it happening but I live in hope it will begin soon. I don’t believe this needs to be a violent revolution. Non-payment and removal of services, strikes and street protests led by respected figures in public life could effect a fundamental shift in the structure of our western societies.

First day of March, 2022

So Putin launched the attack which the west thought was impossible. Soldiers and civilians on both side are now dying because of Putin’s madness and the west’s inability to see beyond making money. Sanctions are the wests preferred method of dealing with this war while Ukrainians pay for their freedom with their lives. We all feel helpless and despondent, cheering on the brave but outgunned little guy and hissing at the cartoon baddie. We are in uncharted territory now, war in Europe was not supposed to happen in our modern world. A nuclear armed aggressor with an unhinged leader is a foe nobody wants to tackle but here we are facing the biggest danger of my generation. As always, the conscripts driving the Russian tanks will burn to ashes when the Molotov cocktails fly, the children will be dismembered by cluster bombs and the old white generals and politicians will finally sit around a big fancy table and hammer out a peace deal once the blood letting has become too great for either side.

As the Ukrainian forces gives their lives in defense of their country we can only admire their courage and thank the good lord it isn’t us facing the tanks. Will Putin use nuclear weapons? I personally think he is mad enough to do it but there is a lot of conventional killing to be done before he presses the big button. Even then, I imagine there is a complex series of checks that prevent one man ending the world. So for now the refugees flee westward and the cities of the steppe are gradually raised to the ground. Whatever happens in the Ukraine we as a global community must take a long had look at ourselves and figure out a better way of living. Once again, our leaders (with one notable exception) have let us all down.

21st February 2022

Looking East

The railway carriages are rumbling across the steppe, filled with refugees once more. Mothers and children, their pathetic suitcases huddled around them as they head off for uncertain futures behind the new battle lines. Once again the spectre of war looms large over the old, blood-soaked fields of Ukraine. Tank tracks churn the mud and snow just as the Panzers and T-34’s did 70 odd years ago. Who is right and who is wrong this time around? The answer is we are all wrong.

That Ukraine, of all places, would become part of NATO seems so ludicrous to me that I can scarce believe this will be the trigger for a new conflict. It is like prodding a bear with a stick for gods sake! So for me NATO are at least partially in the wrong. But so is Putin’s Russia. I understand they are very worried about NATO being right on their doorstep but a war is not the way to solve the problem.

Where will this all end? Bloodshed, innocent lives lost, arms dealers getting even richer. In short business as usual. Why do I say we are all wrong? It is us, the general public who allow or actively encourage the leaders who are making these deadly decisions. This is not going to end well for any of us.

14th Day of February, 2022

It is Valentine’s Day. Lord save us!!!! More plastic crap to persuade the gullible to part with their hard earned cash. The ‘buy some more things you don’t need’ industry require something to fill the gap in profits between Christmas and Easter, so step up St. Valentine. I don’t know too much about him and indeed there appears to be a bit of controversy about exactly who he was. It’s not just lovers he is the patron saint off, he finds time to be the PS for Beekeepers and Epileptics too. Anyway, the chap in question was one of two possibles, both of whom were martyred by the romans. How we got from the blood-soaked sands of the Colosseum to roses and prosecco is a testament to the advertising industry.

I tell Helen I love her frequently, we enjoy romantic meals together whenever we can. We do not need some advertising high-heid yin to tell us we simply must book a table at an over-priced restaurant, send each other cards and flowers or any other expensive baubles on one particular day to prove our love. If the rest of the world would cop themselves on (as we say here) and ignore this nonsense I’m sure the world will still revolve and the good Saint Valentine (whoever he actually was) can rest in peace. The world needs all the love it can muster right now but rushing into a Hallmark shop is not going to help any.

Us two, heading of to a family wedding a while back.

10th February 2022

Less is more

Part of the awakening within me has been the growing realisation that the less you have of something the more valuable it becomes. While we all aware of this phenomenon to some extent it rarely intrudes upon or everyday lives and that is a pity. After a lifetime of acquiring things I am now downsizing and the feeling of relief when something else which I thought was important to me goes is a joy to behold.

My generation have been guilty of leading the charge to consumerism. It was not a conscious decision on our collective parts, we did not set out to become these monstrous creatures who devoured the planet, we saw nothing wrong in our ‘need’ for more things in our lives. Regardless of our innocence, the damage we and our children have wrought is been greater than the world wars of the last century. We lost our own sense of values along the way, traded them in for the shiny baubles the advertisers told us we really wanted. Led to the desert of consumption by the Pied Piper of marketing. Like the north American Indians we gave away our heritage and way of life for a handful of crap only to become hooked on the drugs of shopping and false hopes. Yes, my generation started all of this and look where it has got us all!

We all flowed the USA of course. It was like some mythical land of plenty where the women all looked like Marilyn Munroe and the men strode the face of the earth like John Wayne. The intoxication of western society which took place after the fall of Germany and Japan in 1945 has roots in entertainment. Civilisations were battered and bruised, millions of dead, horror and revulsion at the genocide, cities reduced to piles of rubble. America, largely spared the destruction, was now the superpower, wealthy beyond measure and flexing its political and creative mastery of the known world. Millions flocked there looking for a better life and in turn America exported an idea. The idea that anyone can be rich if you work hard enough. How would you know when you were rich? When you owned stuff of course. And so the spiral into our self-made destruction began as we bought the American dream.

As the pandemic winds slowly down and blinking in the light of a new reality we, the people of this world, have one clear idea of the future – let’s get right back to over consumption as fast as possible. One of the very few positives of the Covid-19 experience was the opportunity to see our lives for what they were and plan to make changes so we could lead a better life in the future. Instead abstinence from buying things just sharpened out appetite and honed our desires for more plastic crap from China. We has time on our hands to think about the important things in our lives but seem to have simply gone into a form of hibernation, reappearing now on the high street or shopping malls to spend our way to unattainable happiness.

Like so many others I watch those videos of the guys who downsize and go off to live in a tiny house or a converted van. I find the people themselves as fascinating as their projects. The beautiful young couples who’s perfect completions and catwalk figures attract millions of likes and follows, right through to the life scarred singles who just want their own company and a small existence away from the demands of modern society. I am not going to be that extreme. In my early sixties and of only mediocre health the thought of building a van or tiny house seems to be too much to ask. We are going to leave our current home this year and buy somewhere much smaller and take that opportunity to divest ourselves of many of the items we gathered over two lifetimes. My philosophy is loosely to get rid of what I don’t use on a regular basis or will have a need for in the future. That is one side of the coin but the other side is possibly more important. I have drastically reduced the amount of stuff I purchase. There is no point in chucking out items with one hand and piling up more stuff with the other. If I do require something new I actively look for another item or items I already own and move them on. For example, I wanted a new feeder rod for my coarse fishing so I looked at all my other fishing gear and found some salmon reels I have not used for years. I sold them on and that way not only funded the new rod but felt better for not materially adding to my extensive collection of fishing gear. I suppose I am trying to have my cake and eat it to some degree, I allow myself the occasional treat but it has to be paid for by getting rid of something else. This seems to be working fine and impulse purchases are a thing of the past for me. It is not just about money, charity shops are frequently beneficiaries of this approach. Most of my fishing tackle is already very old but serviceable so it will see me out. I value the rods and reels I own, they are not transitory toys that I’ll grow tired of after a season and replace with the latest models hot of the production lines in the far east. Are they less efficient, less stylish, less desirable, why or course they are. They mean more to me because I know them and care for them even through they are inanimate objects.

Transferring my humble approach to a much bigger stage, what would happen if we all adopted a similar approach, make do with less, recycle as much as possible and maintain rather than replace items? Obviously the need to produce more crap will reduce, thus impacting manufacturing and transportation. I am no expert on macro economics but this will lead to job losses and therefore the need to provide alternative uses for peoples time will be required. A significantly reduced working week, earlier retirement and a big increase in voluntary work options are just the tip of the iceberg. Civil planning for infrastructure will be impacted, JIT deliveries could be stretched until automation picks up the slack, the list goes on. As with all the great changes in society the will of the people is going to be the deciding factor, not governments. If enough people want to ditch consumerism it can be done. The big question is how do we actually get to the point where people wake up and stop buying excessively?

Advertising is a huge part of the problem form what I can see. We are all bombarded daily with advertisements, some obvious and others subliminal. This happens from a very young age so children grow up immersed in a world trying to sell them something. The days when advertisers targeted mothers so they would feel pressured into buying for their kids is long gone, now the infants themselves are directly targeted. Give me a child……………

While I admire and am interested in the van-lifers and tiny home owners I will be content with hanging on to some of the stuff I currently possess and simply refrain from buying much more. I genuinely believe this is a much more sustainable approach to my own life and if adopted by many others could help us all in an uncertain future.

29th January 2022

The new year has started but I fear any hopes of big changes to our societies appear to be further away than ever. I know I am moaning again but it feels like we are in some sort of bad dream where the inequality between rich and poor is reaching intolerable levels. To me it looks like the world has simply gone mad, a planet wide insanity has taken over. The headlines from this week speak of a senseless murder in Tullamore, Russian troops massing on the borders of Ukraine, more children starving and murdered in Yemen, Boris clinging to power despite his despicable behaviour. On the wider scale there is no discernible action on climate change, predictions of extreme weather events are coming true and water companies in UK and Ireland continue to pollute our waterways with no comeback. Billionaires become richer by the day while people starve or die miserable deaths trying to find a better life.

How do we change this around? The obvious answer is to hold our politicians to account but for me the whole political system is flawed and needs to be completely overhauled. The writers, activists and thinkers I listen too and admire will not enter politics and I can see why. Perhaps ‘politics’ as we currently know that set of institutions has outlived its usefulness and it is time to find a new system to lead and govern this world. Can you even begin to imagine what a new system of world governance would be like? I would love to be optimistic and say it will happen one day but on current form it is just an impossible dream. Lying politicians, corrupt leaders, purely profit driven businesses – none of these will change, no matter what the true cost to us all is. Perhaps the great ‘reset’ we are living in will make the big changes for us but in ways which are not going to be pleasant.

Covid was to me a wake up call on so many levels. The fear most of us felt as the new disease swept across the planet, apparently killing indiscriminately, was very real and it has left a mark on all of us who lived through the past two years. The coming food shortages, natural disasters and possible conflicts will be if anything even more challenging and as a global society we are nothing like prepared for the next level of mental and physical torture. In vain, I had hoped there would be an awakening in most people when they saw our reliance on materialism was all smoke and mirrors but the opposite is in fact the case. We could not wait to get right back to the negative behaviours we are addicted too. I cannot see that any lessons have been learned at all. Indeed, it looks to me as if instead of modifying our behaviours for the better we are worse now than before the pandemic.

What I find strangest is the compliance of the masses and the way the rich and powerful are never held to account. I have long thought this is because the majority of people have too much to lose by protesting. This beggars the question how bad do things need to get before people will risk joining mass protests? In these days of inter-connectivity and easy communication by social media it should be relatively simple to organise mass protests but there appears to be no appetite for it and the western government can continue to destroy the planet unchallenged.

18th January in the year of 2022

Why?

That simple one word question has been asked of me a good few times over the past couple of years. Fellow game trout and salmon anglers are bemused by my sudden and, to them at any rate, inexplicable conversion to coarse angling. I must confess it is something that intrigues me as much as them! Let me try to put into words the multiple reasons why I have fallen in love with Irish coarse fishing. Warning! I may ramble on a bit here so be patient with me.

A lot of anglers follow a sort of natural progression throughout their fishing career. They start off catching rudd in a local pond or skimmers in the canal. From there they may progress to the delights of float fishing for roach and aspire to catching tench or carp. Some go on to try their hand at trout fishing and from there the challenges of the might salmon seem attainable. I suppose for many people it is a question of geography, If you are brought up next to ponds and canals full of roach and perch that is where you are going to begin your angling odyssey. For me it was very different. The north-east of Scotland boasts some of the finest game fishing on the planet but there are no roach or rudd or bream, let alone carp or tench. It was trout that got me into fishing in a serious way followed by salmon in my teens. I was swishing double handed fly rods when most lads my age would have been trotting floats or legering cheese for chub. I missed out on those initial steps of legering for bream and such like pastimes. It was right in at the deep end for me.

A young and hairy me with the late Alistair Skinner with rainbows we caught in Butterstone lough near Dunkled.

Human nature and the closed mind of an adolescent male meant I grew to distain coarse fishing from early on. I read a bit about it and formed the opinion it was not real fishing, the catch looked like a bag full of tiddlers, there was no skill in it and most of all it was boring. Lads just sitting by the side of a muddy canal whipping in tiny silver fish was not real fishing I my book. It is funny to look back on how I clung to those utterly wrong views through virtually all of my life. I fished all over Scotland and Ireland, learned different techniques, landed countless fish and yet never once doubted my conviction that coarse fishing was dull and pointless. While all this was happening I was developing my own views of the wider world, traveled to far flung corners of the globe, met amazing people and grew to be open-minded and considerate of others opinions and life styles. Chris, one of my best mates, often tried to get me to try coarse fishing but I poo-pooed the notion. He regaled me with tales of his coarse fishing exploits as a kid in Somerset, the joys of catching the much prized tench from his local canal and the skills he learned to catch wily fish. It was all a waste of breath, my cloth ears and mind were closed and nothing would alter my long held opinions. I clung to my views like a drowning man to a floating spar.

Scotland gave me everything I could ask for in terms of fishing back in the last century. I fished famous beats, caught huge salmon and loved every minute of it. Loch Leven, the Fitty and the Meedies in Fife were my playground where I learned how to catch trout in all weathers and conditions. Holidays in Ireland brought me to the great lakes and a cornucopia of new game fishing. Thinking back to those times I really did not have the time to go fishing any more than I already was. Work was hectic and stressful, at home I was always renovating whatever house we had bought at the time and I was also a keen climber and hillwalker. Fitting in any more outdoor activities probably was just not feasible. Coarse fishing never crossed my mind. That situation did not change when I came to Ireland back in ’97, I had too much to learn and so many rivers and lakes to fish for trout and salmon. Try to picture learning as much as possible about the vast lakes of Conn, Cullin, Mask, Carra and Corrib, the little trout rivers and lesser lakes, the salmon lakes of Beltra and Carrowmore and the spate streams of the west. Throw in all the sea fishing and the complications of bait gathering, tide, finding marks etc. For nearly twenty years this absorbed me, drew in me in and completely dominated my thinking as an angler.

I have written before of how I stumbled into coarse fishing so I won’t labour the point again, suffice to say when I decided to catch a fish in each of the 32 counties I figured I had to learn some basics of roach fishing to have any chance of success. I’ll put my hand up and state that I didn’t fancy this one little bit. It was something I had to put up with, a nasty little task that had to be completed. I knew I’d hate it. I dusted down an old 12 foot rod I had used to trot for grayling many years in the past. It had landed me a couple of decent carp from an old pond in the Cotswolds too so I figured it was a good starting point. However the more I researched Irish coarse fishing the more I realised I had to be a tad more professional about this onerous task. Steadfastly refusing to part with a penny more than necessary, I bought some second-hand rods online along with a selection of used tackle. Grudgingly I built up a reasonable (in my mind) range of gear so I could fish the float, leger and feeder or cast light jigs for perch. Feeling as ready as I ever would I started my coarse fishing career one autumn day in 2019. It was a disaster and so were the subsequent trips over the next couple of months.

Lough Erril in Leitrim – I blanked here

Now on the face of it these set back should have cast me even deeper into the pit of despair but no, it had the entirely opposite effect on me. Here was me, a vastly experienced angler who could not even tempt a tiny roach to bite. I found that I was intrigued by this lack of success, eager to find out what I was doing wrong and, wait for this – enjoying the experience of learning something new. After four trips I had landed the grand total of one purely accidental pike. No roach, bream or rudd, not a single perch and definitely no tench. Those pesky little coarse fish which I had dismissed as too easy all my life were proving me wrong and I was thoroughly enjoying being in this uncomfortable position.

Cranfield university in Bedfordshire was where I studied for my masters late in life. They took a battle scarred and world weary forty-something and turned him around. Although I undertook a manufacturing management course a lot of the curriculum focused on psychology. We students were constantly analysed and evaluated, a process which gave intriguing insights into one’s self. I became an object of fascination to the others there due to my unusual profile. In a nutshell, I am useless at anything requiring attention to detail, my brain is just not wired to cope with pages of figures or detailed text. On the other hand, I can envision the bigger picture in a way most others can’t and I am good at planning a route to achieve big goals. Infinitely adaptable, I thrive in situations where others become swamped and disheartened. I not only like new experiences, they are at the very core of how my brain works. My time at university left me with an appreciation of how complex our minds are and also what I need to concentrate on to keep me happy and maybe even sane. It only took me a short period of reflection to realise what was going on with me and my relationship with coarse fishing. Here was a new challenge, I had taken on something I knew very little about and had to learn a lot if I was to be good at it. So what if I blanked yet again, each time I ventured forth I was learning a little bit more. At a high level, coarse angling was stretching me and anytime I am out of my comfort zone it is a good thing for me.

Some of my fellow students at Cranfield (l-R, Phil, Robert, Anna, Neil, Wouter (RIP), Roy, Nick and Andy

As the weeks passed and I fished different venues the fish started to come my way. It was a period of intense learning for me and I soaked up the nuggets of information like a big Scottish sponge. Technical details of how to tie different rigs, various shotting patterns, bait selection and all the rest were greedily consumed by me both on the bank and at the keyboard. Confidence, the holy grail of all anglers of every code, slowly built within me. Self-belief is the cornerstone of good fishing and mine flourished even on bad days of wind and rain when the silvery roach hunkered down and refused my offerings. Being on a steep learning curve is my preferred space so going from virtually zero knowledge to being basically competent proved to be hugely enjoyable for me. For me, the act of amassing knowledge and putting it into action is a joy.

Turning now to the whole point of the exercise, the fish themselves, I am again ashamed to say I was totally dismissive of all coarse fish in the past. Coarse fish didn’t fight (I had never tangled with tench), you just threw them back because you could not eat them, they were slimy and so small they hardly put a bend in the rod. Coupled with that they lived in filthy water amid industrial settings. In truth some of those conceptions are not entirely false but I was missing a much greater truth. Coarse fish are beautiful and fascinating creatures. When I took the time to really look at the roach, perch and others I caught they took my breath away. The form and colours are exquisite, it is a joy just to see a silvery roach close up. Big, slab-sided bream, glorious golden rudd with those scarlet fins and the prehistoric looking muscular tench – they are all amazing animals.

The notion that coarse fishing would drag me to grim, post-industrial landscapes was of course utter rubbish and if I had given this even a cursory thought I would have realised that long ago. Hunting for roach and the others has brought me to some beautiful parts of Ireland, places I would never have set foot in had it not been for coarse angling. Being out in nature has always been core to who I am so days spent beside a lake or rural canal are a balm for my soul. While very different to my usual game fishing I love the vistas across the countryside and fishing beside old infrastructure like the canals. Old locks and bridges, the boats both new and old, fishing stands and arrow straight towpaths all hold an attraction for me.

Coarse fishing has given me the opportunity to meet new people who I otherwise would never have come in contact with. Fellas in tackle shops, IFI staff who patrol the waters, dog walkers who stop for a chat, kayakers and boaters who shout greetings as they pass by and fellow anglers. Each different, all interesting and friendly. The world view that all Irish people are great characters and friendly beyond measure, while not 100% accurate, is true in most cases. I’m not one of life’s great communicators but I enjoy the simple exchanges with other water users when I am coarse fishing. This was new to me as when out on a boat on the Corrib or wading in the river Robe I don’t meet many other humans. I thought all this interruption and need to talk would be a pain but on the contrary, I enjoy the interaction with others, maybe our enforced isolation during the pandemic has sharpened out need for contact with people.

Part of the mitigation as I saw it when faced with taking up coarse fishing was it could extend my season and allow me to fish all year round. Here we start game fishing in February and it ends at the end of September. While I have not done too much angling over the winter months at least the option is there for me. I like winter fishing, there is something very grounding about being out on the water’s edge in the cold. The fishing itself is slower alright but it is still possible to catch a few fish and perhaps I appreciate those hard won roach or perch that little bit more because of the challenge in catching them. At the other end of the weather scale it was a real plus to find coarse fish, especially the beautiful rudd, can be caught in the brightest and hottest of days when game fishing is a complete waste of time. How often have I fished on the western lakes for trout under a blazing sun with the surface like a sheet of polished steel? Now, when the huge yellow orb in the sky beats down on the auld sod I grab my float rod and go off to throw bread or maggots into still lakes dimpled with rising rudd. I have gone from cursing hot weather to looking forward to my days sitting by the reeds watching the float.

The diversity of coarse angling was a pleasant surprise to me. Different methods required agile thinking and the need to be endlessly adaptable. This is right up me street so whether it is making small adjustments to end tackle or trying a new venue, the whole panoply of multiple options keeps me amused for hour after hour. It was this, more than anything else, which captured my imagination. That need to try something different, embark on new experiences and see different places which fired me passion for coarse fishing. I will not be drawn into the competition side of the sport which some anglers love. Catching more fish than the other guys just doesn’t suit me so while I can but admire the pure skill some of these blokes possess it is not for me and I’ll keep muddling along with my ancient rods and secondhand wagglers. A few modest roach on a warm afternoon or a surging tench bending the rod as the light fades over the drumlin hills of old Ireland will do me. Mist over a winters canal, the wondrous sight of a lift bite, groundbait under my fingernails – I love it all.

I do understand why my angling mates find all of this bemusing. I was of an identical mindset before I took up coarse angling and I would not dream of trying to convince others they are wrong. In my book they are not, there is no ‘right’ or wrong’ here it is just I have found something which ‘floats my boat’. While I personally find coarse fishing hugely enjoyable others will not, such is the way of the world. We are all different and must make allowances for the other person. In many ways this also sums up my attitude to life, be passionate about what you do but leave space those of a different view.

10th January 2022

Changes

Followers of this blog will be aware that now, in the early months of 2022, Helen and I are in the throes of moving house. This has been a long time in gestation, a process which was obviously further delayed by Covid and all the chaos that brought down on our collective heads. Now though we have the bit between our teeth and the game is afoot. Big questions have to be answered now, no more delays can be brooked. As the days lengthen at a glacial rate we must quicken our decision making and get on with it.

At our ages (I am going to be 63 this spring and Helen will attain 54 if we are both spared) this is planned on being our last house move so we want to get it right. Sure we could always sell again if we were unhappy but that feels like way too much hassle to both of us. The thing is, this will be much more than just a simple house move for us, we want to make some radical changes in our lives at the same time. The reason I am writing all of this down is I suspect many other people might be in a similar state of mind these days.

Something changed in me over the past couple of years. Possibly the pandemic had something to do with it but I suspect it was more of an age thing in my case. I suddenly and unexpectedly fell out of love with work. After a shaky start after I left school I found that I enjoyed my job very much indeed and my time in manufacturing was, when taken as a whole, a hugely enjoyable experience. From my mid-twenties onwards I made good money and loved my jobs. The idea of retirement was something for other people and when I commenced working for myself as an Interim Manager it felt like I had hit the jackpot. Now I could just keep on working and nobody could tell me to retire when I hit 65 (as it was back then). Retirement was simply not something I wanted and instead I made my plans around working into my seventies if not longer. As others made detailed plans for quitting work at the soonest possible time I was actively trying to manage my life so I did not have to stop work.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, over the last two years or so I started to revaluate this commitment to working into old age. You might think this was based on the feeling I had ‘done enough’ or felt less valued or any other excuses. In fact the turnaround began when I thought deeply about the way I was over-consuming and giving very little back to the planet. I don’t see myself as some sort of an eco-warrior, just a man who thinks western society has gone down the wrong road of consumerism and must change. As these ideas came to coalesce it was but a short hop to looking at my strange desire to work until I dropped. When I asked myself the simple question, ‘what are you working for’ the answers surprised even me.

Just blurting out ‘money’ was not going to be good enough for me once I started to examine why I didn’t want to retire. Many people will cite things like they enjoy being part of a team, they have mortgage/tuition fees/loans to pay off or that they feel it is morally wrong for fit and healthy people to stop work when they should continue to contribute to the economy. I subscribed to none of the above. I just loved the day-to-day challenges of my job. It would be disingenuous to suggest that I did not have financial motives too but all along they had been secondary to me. Unexpectedly, once I set off on the road of close examination the whole pack of cards very soon tumbled down and my near life-long beliefs turned to dust. I’m not an overly dramatic person so I just devoted time and thoughts to figuring out what I actually did want if stopping conventional work was actually an option.

For me, it was important to figure out what being retired would look like. I have seen work colleagues die soon after starting the retirement they had looked forward to for years. Some people require a rigid structure to their lives and when that is taken away they really struggle both mentally and physically. If I was serious about retirement I had to make sure I did not fall into the same trap. Fishing was obviously going to be a big part of my life but some aspects such as tying flies are already beginning to slip away as my eyesight fails. So it was best not to plan on long days sitting making trout flies for all and sundry.

While all of this was swirling around my grey matter the house sale returned to the top of the agenda for us. We had talked about selling up some years ago but didn’t follow though, this time it would be different. But where will we go? Here was where all the different strands began to come together (at last says you). If I am to retire it made sense to use the opportunity to change the way we live, to become more sustainable and less dependent of the outside world for everything. I could almost hear my brain drop a gear and press the throttle, this was as close to an epiphany as I am ever likely to be. Our finances came under microscopic investigation and I calculated when I could retire and how much we should have to live on. Some changes would have to be made but basically the spring of 2024 makes the best sense for me to hang up my boots. I’ll admit that while I was working I had been paying into a pension so that makes the whole process a tad easier than it could otherwise have been.

I have long been at odds with western culture. The sea of greed and commercialism we swim in is toxic and unsustainable. The difference now was life had given me a hefty boot up the derriere in the shape of this house move. It is time to piss or get off the pot! Here was our change to change our lives in a positive way. Like sunshine slowly appearing from behind a cloudy sky the vista of a life without regular work began to shine on our consciousness. A host of different and incongruous parts started to coalesce into definite lines of thought and what had so recently been the certainty of a long working life no longer felt right to us.

What followed were any hours spent in deep discussion as Helen and I grappled with the what, where, when and how to make fundamental changes to our lives. The actual house itself and any new one we would move to became secondary considerations as we looked at all facets of our lives and what we really wanted to do in the future. For example, late I life I found a passion for learning to play the guitar while Helen similarly discovered she was a talented artist. These and many more parts of our lives which we hitherto paid little heed to suddenly became much more important when framed in the context of ‘what do we really want to do’ rather than ‘how much money do we have’? Selling up and moving to somewhere smaller would therefore also be the springboard to a differ lifestyle for us both.

We have both been vegetarians for many years so the next logical step seems to us to be growing at least some of our own food. I will hasten to say neither of us aspire to a ‘good life’ type of existence. Hard labour every day, knitting our own clothes with the wool we shear from our own flock of sheep etc are not what we have in mind. We do however want to buy a smaller, more efficient house which is less of a drain on us and the environment, build a green house and raised beds so we can grow some produce and perhaps go as far as have a few hens so we can access fresh eggs. From that you can see that finding a new house means finding one with a large secluded garden, one where we can build a greenhouse etc.

Over my lifetime I have lived in London and Glasgow, spent a lot of time in huge cities across the world and at the opposite extreme built a house amid the green fields of west Mayo. While I fully comprehend life in a small town in rural Ireland is not for everyone I personally have found that life here suits me and meets most of my requirements. The trick now is to be more self sufficient and less reliant on work/state/others as far as possible while still living in or close to the town. As I near the culmination of my working life the choices before me look clear enough and I have decided on a path out of employment at the most opportune moment and am happy to be in a place where I am comfortable.

Looking at the much bigger picture, while I am busy changing my life how does the rest of western society change its ways? I confess to becoming increasingly depressed by the lack of action by most people and the complete and unshakable faith in our capitalist systems. Making as much money and acquiring as much stuff as you can is not sustainable but nobody wants to change. What is it going to take for the majority to waken up? We see the mass extinction of species right before our eyes, we pollute and degrade every part of our beautiful planet in the name of material gain. The rich get richer and the poor live and die in squalor. I have spent most of my life as a small cog in the vast capitalist system  so it is too late for me to make any impact. Indeed it will take a fundamental shift in everyone’s priorities to change our collect futures. I had naively hoped the shutdown of societies due to the pandemic might allow people the space to re-evaluate their lives and make positive changes but in fact as economies opened up again we all returned to our old ways of excess with gusto.

Some of you will read this and think, ‘hey, it’s OK for this old guy with his pension and a house, he has choices, I do not’ or something similar. I understand that fully, I would have said exactly the same a few years ago. On reflection though I suspect it is actually easier to make big changes when you are younger. As an example, I read the other day that your average 3 bedroom house in parts of Dublin are selling for €1 million Euro. You can buy a small house with a half an acre of land in the west of Ireland for €200k. You don’t need to work ever again in that scenario! Leave the rat race, relocate out of the city and give up changing your car every year or sending your kids to expensive schools. Forget the globe trotting holidays, the designer clothes or the €500 meals in the best restaurants. Even if you can’t do something as drastic as that just raising a few vegetables in your back yard or on the balcony of your flat helps a little. Maybe ten million tiny steps like that will add up to a significant change.

Although I cannot be politically active while I am working it is something I am planning on doing once I retire (I currently work for the government so am contractually obliged not to take part in politics or express any political views). Don’t expect to see me chained to railings or standing in front of a tank! I can write letters and join political pressure groups, that sort of thing. Once again, if we all did a little bit it amounts to a lot. Governments are only interested in getting your vote so only when that is under threat will there be any real action. From what I can see western governments are only paying sustainability lip service or as an excuse to raise taxes.

So there you have my current take on life, the simple act of selling a house awakened at sleeping giant within me and has set me on a different path. 2022 looks like being one of transformation and hopefully a very different lifestyle beckons from 2023 onwards. I urge you all to take time to reflect on your lives and perhaps make some changes, however small, to focus less on material and more on spiritual aspects.

Christmas

Late December 2021

My well documented dislike of Christmas annoys a lot of people and I can see why. As someone who has spent a lifetime ruffling feathers the small matter of my lack of enthusiasm for this particular annual holiday feels like the least of my character flaws. I didn’t enjoy Christmas as a kid and I sure as hell dislike it now, so I guess I have been consistent if nothing else. I feel I should explain myself just so you can understand where I am coming from. I don’t expect many people to agree with my point of view but it is genuine and to me it has merit.

What is Christmas these days in the west? To many it is first and foremost a religious festival. Christians of all flavours celebrate the birth of Christ over 2000 years ago, they attend their churches, say prayers and often help out people who are less fortunate. Although not a religious person myself I can see the importance of this and wish those individuals nothing but the peace and happiness they deserve. To have a strong faith, to be able to worship free from persecution and to reach out to others in need with solace and practical help are virtues to be cherished. Even as an unbeliever the power and beauty of a midnight mass in a small Catholic church in Ireland was a moving and solemn experience which I recall with a warm fuzzy glow. If that was Christmas I could get on board with it. But that is not what Christmas means to most westerners, far from it.

The idea of giving presents is as old as humanity, indeed, is it one of the markers which made us stand out from the other animals as we developed all those millions of years ago. To give something you have to another person who needs it is a strange thing to do in the world of Darwinism. It goes against the whole survival of the fittest theory and suggests compassion, caring and perhaps even an understanding that we are stronger as a group. You can easily picture a group of cave-dwelling early humans huddled around a fire and by the flickering light one reaches across to hand a piece of meat to a fellow member of the tribe who has nothing to eat. That simple gesture echoes across the void of the centuries until we arrive at the twenty first century. Presents in the present day if you will.

The great evil of our generation is consumerism and Christmas is right up there near the top of the list of offenders when it comes to over consumption. There are a small percentage of our communities who live in poverty, scraping an existence in dire circumstances. People who have fled abusive relationships, those who struggle with mental illness, people who have fallen through the cracks of society and are living on the very edge. To them, the notion of a present be it ever so small has meaning and value because they have nothing. A blanket for someone who is cold, a meal for a man who is hungry, something practical for those in need. These small acts of kindness, while far from addressing the underlying issues are appreciated.

For the rest of us, the lucky ones who by accident of birth live safe, warm, comfortable lives, presents, and especially Christmas presents, have become a grotesque metaphor for our throwaway society. Shopping mania spreads across the globe as people search for presents to gives loved ones. I find it incomprehensible how this happens, how educated and intelligent human beings succumb to the advertising industry and launch themselves into a frenzy of spending on things nobody needs. Who really needs a talking fish? Or more jewellery, the latest mobile phone or a pair of slippers? The thing would be laughable if it were not so sickeningly destructive. Factories in ‘developing’ countries churn out the rubbish to feed the monster that is Christmas shopping, using up the earths scare and ever dwindling resources so aunt Ethel can buy little Johnny a plastic gizmo he will toss away after a couple of days.

Another side of this horrible fiasco is the wanton waste of food. How many millions of animals are reared and then slaughtered so we can put great lumps of meat on plates for that ‘special’ dinner? A huge proportion of this excess food is simply wasted and thrown out with the rubbish. Can anyone please explain to me in what way is this ethically or morally responsible? It is a crime in my book, it is that simple. Maybe in the past, when food was scarce and appreciated, killing that chicken or pig which you had carefully reared all year for the Christmas dinner really did mean something. In these days of full supermarket shelves we just chuck another pre-packed joint of meat into our trolley, blissfully uncaring how, where or under what conditions the poor creature was tortured before dying to provide another few mouthfuls as part of some disgusting display of over consumption.

We are living in dire times, like passengers on some liner waltzing to the band as the ship slowly slides under the waves. All the talk of climate change is falling on deaf ears. Do you think that anyone will decide not to waste so much this Christmas? There is not a cat’s chance in Hades that will happen. The shops will swell to bursting point as sharp elbowed women and scowling men jostle to grab that ‘must have’ gift. In these Covid times we all have an added excuse to splurge on ourselves and others.

This will all end. We cannot keep using up our earthly resources on crap such as Christmas presents. The whole house of cards will come crashing down as our societies come under mounting pressure. The shopper’s halcyon days are drawing to an end. How will history judge us and our wastefulness? Very harshly I fear.

In this house we will have a nice meal on December 25th if we are spared that long. We don’t eat meat so there will be some lovely vegetarian dishes to tuck into. We will drink some wine and chat in front of the fire and consider ourselves extremely lucky to be able to do so. There won’t be any presents, instead we are making donations to charities. It will make not a jot of difference to the planet because we are only one small family but imagine if millions of people stopped the annual waste that is Christmas? Something to think about………..

What I am going to do when I grow up

Early December 2021

Sixty three. That’s how old I will be on my next birthday in April 2022. It hardly seems credible that I am this old, what the hell happened to my life? Where did all those years go?

I guess we all ask ourselves these questions as we get on a bit. It’s only natural to look back and feel life has slipped past all too quickly. One minute we are in the first flush of youth then before you know it life is just a series of painful ailments wrapped up in insecurities. Taught, muscular bodies are superseded by sagging, wrinkled frames. They say that youth is wasted on the young and I tend to concur with that train of thought. I know that my ‘teens and twenties were mis-spent and far from fully appreciated. I certainly had no idea what I want to do with my life. It is hard to know if such lack of forward planning is a good thing or not. Indeed, you could make an perfectly legitimate argument that very little in life can be planned. Powerful outside forces over which we have no control often make huge differences to our life’s trajectory. Imagine living in Europe in 1939 for example. You may have planned to become a banker or a hairdresser but when Hitler invaded Poland all your plans went up in smoke (sometime quite literally).

Growing up in working class Aberdeen my horizons were very limited and though bright enough I completely lacked any direction. No thoughts about what I wanted to do after school entered my head, even when we were subjected to what was euphemistically called ‘careers advice’. As I was good at technical drawing, art and English there was a push to get me interested in architecture. Nobody seemed to see that I was (and to this day remain) hopeless at maths. As maths is the cornerstone of designing buildings even I could see this was going to be an issue. After a succession of poor exam results all thoughts of further education for me were abandoned and I drifted into manual work in the papermills as soon as I exited the school gates for the last time.

There I was, working on the machines and thinking no further than my next fishing trip or night out with the lads. Only an enlightened personnel manager who persuaded me to go to college saved me and ultimately completely changed my life path. You see, it was an act by someone else who radically changed my fortunes, someone I had no control over. Who knows what would have happened to me if I had not attended college? As a result I went on to go to university, was able to secure management roles, work abroad, afford to buy a flat then a succession of houses and all the rest of the paraphernalia of my existence to date. We are all the same, we think we are in control but I am not convinced that we are.

Like most people my age who I have talked to, I still think like a younger version of myself. I don’t see me as an old man. My declining physique plainly shows the effects of aging but my brain whizzes along just as it did as a mere slip of a youth. Experience has knocked off some (but not all) of the rough edges in my personality and while I retain a healthy temper it is much less evident than it was a young man. There have to be some positives from getting older! Life dished out the usual level of hard knocks along the way and at times I have been wealthy then extremely poor. I’ve owned big fancy houses and been homeless, driven shiny new cars off the lot and made do with old bangers. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster I guess but I think I can say I lived a full life and have been very, very lucky so far.

Some things change of course. In my teens I loved nothing more than to go to music gigs and festivals. My love of rock music took to all manner of strange venues where my heroes tried hard to deafen us all. Alcohol was consumed in prodigious amounts (I was never into the drug scene) and the day after a gig was usually spent in bed nursing a monumental hangover. Once I had recovered sufficiently I would most likely take the bike out for a spin to finally clear my head. Now, the very thought of drinking like a lunatic and throwing a powerful motorbike around bends gives me the collywobbles. The camaraderie of young men is such a powerful force, one that society has never really come to grips with in my opinion. I know that when I was in my teens and early twenties I had to be with my mates as often as possible. I saw the same thing with our lad, Mark, that fixation of being with his crowd was an amazing driver in his life. Looking back, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what that need to be part of the group was all about. It is not like we were running around in some sort of a gang or anything like that. We just met up to go drinking or to go to concerts or hiking in the hills. Girls came and went but the lads all stuck together. I recall one day Gus told us he had proposed to his girlfriend and she had accepted. We were all dumbstruck! It was the beginning of the end and gradually the lads met prospective wives and drifted off from the group. The social dynamics of this change would be fascinating to study.

I finally met someone, got married, moved away and started a different life too. I morphed from the devil-may-care youth into a respectable manager with all the trappings that go along with that. The days turned into months and the months into years, marriages failed, jobs changed, houses were bought and sold. In the blink of an eye I went from being a bright and forward thinking young man to and old fella who walks with a limp and smells of damp fishing clothes. Knowing then what I know now I would have made a few changes. School was very difficult for me and I hated it but I gave up too easily and if I had applied myself more I could have done better. I lacked the foresight to see what possibilities there were for me and that played out as drifting into a line of work I was not really suited for. College and university were abstract thoughts to me. Beyond walking past the buildings in town I had no idea at all what life could be life studying there. I certainly could never imagine studying something I loved and progressing on to employment in a field of my choice. I should have worked harder at school, everyone told me so at the time but I paid no heed. I just wanted school to be over and to this day one of my happiest memories was walking out of the school gates for the last time.

I find it interesting to think about the changes in me and the world around me over my lifetime. Born in the last year of the 1950’s I was far too young to appreciate the ‘60’s and the immense social changes that decade brought. I can recall Kennedy being shot, Vietnam and the Beatles on the grainy black and white telly and lots of other historical moments as I grew up in that cold house on the north side of Aberdeen. London, which was ‘down there’ seemed to be the centre of the world. Football just meant Aberdeen FC, the Dons, and I was brought up going to Pittodrie to watch them with my father. The game back then was a riot of crunching tackles amid muddy pitches played by guys who weren’t far removed from the punters on the stands. Look at how that has completely changed!

Homophobia was endemic, racism accepted and distrust of Johnny foreigner seen as a badge of honour. I was taught that we Brits won both world wars and that Churchill was a hero. Having studied 20th century history I have come to the conclusion the red army bled Germany dry at unimaginable cost to themselves and thus created the victory for the allies. To me Churchill was a marvelous orator but some of his decisions led to needles loss of life. I remember watching his funeral on telly. In fact I was living through the end of empire and the start of the descent into the decline which led to the current sad state of affairs in the UK. I left Scotland in ’97 but returned to the UK for a spell between 2005 and 2008. Ireland has many deep rooted problems but I’d still rather live here where we seems to be a more tolerant society.

So what am I going to do when I grow up? With a scant few years at best left to me it is high time I got my shit together. Having recently commenced a new job with the public service I have a clear line of thought regarding employment. This new job feels weird as I am used to short term contract work and knowing I will be doing the same thing for the foreseeable future is both scary and comforting in equal measure. The fundamental shift in priorities from work first to self first has been developing within me for a few years. Working excessively long hours, extensive business travel and high-octane decision making were all well and good for the younger Bumbler but now I am refocusing on what I want to do. Maybe that alone is a sign I am finally growing up.

For me personally the next year will be one of continued change. This process started in May of this year with a family death and it has been a rollercoaster ever since. I suspect similar things happen to most of us, periods of stability are rudely interrupted by times of change. As an individual I am lucky to be adaptive and flexible so the ongoing upheaval is something I can not only cope with but actually enjoy. Helen and I are slowly evolving plans for our future together, plans which should allow us both to grow over the coming years. As with all plans there is nothing cast in stone but at least the broad outline of what we want to do is coming together.

So what is on this list? The biggest item is to make firm plans for my retirement. Helen is a lot younger than I am so she is looking on enviously as I plan an end to fulltime employment. We are in the middle of the process of downsizing to a much smaller house and once that odious task is complete we will have a much clearer view of the financial implications for us. I am finding downsizing to be problematical, I hate throwing stuff away! The past few months have seen me selling off items I can no longer justify hanging on to and that will continue but I can’t say the process is pleasant.

I took up learning to play slide guitar a couple of years ago and plan to continue along that dusty road. I have loved blues music since I discovered it in my teens so playing a few old classics brings huge joy to me. Arthritis is beginning to affect my wrists so there will need to be compromises but I’ll keep going with it as long as I can. A couple of half-written angling books have yet to be completed too and my photography skills badly need to be upgraded. In short, I want to swap my money focused lifestyle for a much more creative one. This change is not earth-shattering by any means, many people come to the same conclusions later in life. Perhaps this too is a sign of being a grown up.

We are also in negotiations over getting another dog. Nessie, my beloved rough collie passed away in 2017 and I have been pining for another dog ever since then. Once we have settled into a new home it will be time for a new dog to come into our lives. A dog brings so much into your life and we have agreed we will look out for a rescue animal when the time comes. Sadly, the animal rescue facilities here in Ireland are overflowing with abandoned dogs these days, another symptom of our throwaway society. What kind of dog? Probably a mongrel this time and most likely one with a hard luck story that we can give a second chance to. We will see what is available when the time comes.

Obviously I am planning more fishing. I’ll be working a 9-5 job until I retire so time spent with rod and line will of necessity be limited. Add to that the need to settle into a new house and all the jobs that is going to entail and you can see this boy will be too busy for much angling during 2022. As BTO used to sing, ‘I’ll take what I can get’! The odd Saturday and occasional short evening sessions will need to suffice for the upcoming year.

Once I retire though there will be no stopping me. There are so many places I want to visit and so many different types of fishing to try out here in Ireland. I know one hell of a lot about fishing here but it is only the tip of a very big iceberg. I hope to do more ghillieing too. I enjoy meeting other anglers and taking them out on the lakes here. At this stage it looks like I would have lots of spare time on my hands when I retire but talking to relations who have already packed in working they tell me they are busier than ever!

So to answer the question I posed at the start of this post, I plan to be a retired angler/ghillie/blues player/fly tyer. Pity that wasn’t one of the options my Careers Advisor offered me all those years ago. I would definitely gone for it!


5th day of November, 2021

A general ramble over the issues of transport here in the west of Ireland and my reflections on my old car.

With transport being such a perennial issue here in the west of Ireland any thoughts of buying a car take on bigger implications than you might otherwise think. Public transport is shockingly absent and so owning and running your own car/van is pretty much vital. This subject is in my mind now as I am in the process of changing one old banger for another old banger.

I clearly recall the whole process of buying my VW even though it was long ago, back in 2008. I was in London and had just finished up at a job there. Huge changes were afoot as my life swivelled on to a very different axis. My decision to return to Ireland had already been made but I needed to buy a car as my company Passat had to be returned when I departed the job. So there I was, packing up the flat in London and with no car sitting outside on the driveway. My heart was set on finding a diesel engined Honda Accord. They were lovely cars to drive and the big 2.2 litre engines were bullet-proof.  I scoured the local garages for one then ranged further across the metropolis but without finding a good example of the exact Honda I wanted. Online searches didn’t help much until I found three Accords for sale up in Sheffield. I would not have bothered travelling up north if there was just a solitary car to look at but with three to pick from I figured at least one of them would be a good ‘un. I was soon on a train clattering north out of St Pancras and through the grim vistas of Golders Green and Tottenham. I love travelling on the train so the journey was a treat for me.

To cut a long story short, one of the Accords had been sold and the other two were rubbish with dented panels and oily engines. Disheartened, I  bought a stale sandwich and ate it sitting on a bench in a small park watching the ducks paddling in the Victorian pond. What to do? I recalled passing a second-hand car lot near to Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday football club, so I toddled off in that direction. My return train was not for another couple of hours so I took my time. Sheffield is not a beautiful city, or at least the bits of it I saw lacked any architectural grace, but it was obviously an industrial powerhouse back in the day. Traffic whizzed by on busy roads as I negotiated the cracked paving stones and dodged the dog poo.

The car lot was smaller than I had remembered with maybe thirty cars parked close together. On the bright side, the prices displayed on the windscreens were within my budget so I perked up and paid close attention to the job in hand. Any Accords here? No, no Hondas at all. A silver Ford Mondeo initially caught my eye but I found some fault with it (I can’t remember what it was) so passed that one by. This process went on for a while as I examined and rejected the old cars one after the other. A green Golf estate looked OK but I drifted off to look at something else before returning to it once again. I know a bit about cars, I am not an expert and certainly lack any formal training in the motor industry but I have messed about under the bonnets of them over the years and have picked up a few basics to look out for. I went over the Golf in detail and in truth could not find anything obviously wrong. Another chap came over and asked if I was buying the green estate. Slightly flustered I blurted out ‘yes, I think so’. ‘Looks like a good one’ he said and off he went to check out a people carrier further down the row. As if by magic the salesman appeared and we started the usual dance. Questions asked, partial answers, the game we all play when in negotiations. I asked to hear the engine running but once the keys had been found the old battery would not turn her over. I was now in a quandary, everything else was checking out fine but without hearing the engine running I would be taking a huge risk in buying the car. The owner of the lot turned up and so we went inside the port-a-cabin which served as an office. Over a coffee we chatted.

Just up the hill from where we were sitting drinking awful instant coffee was the largest VW dealership in Yorkshire. They had no interest in old trade in’s so this guy would buy them at good prices. The Golf I was looking at had been bought new from that dealer and the owner had gone back to trade it in for another car. The log book looked good and the car had been meticulously serviced by the main dealer, including a recent timing belt change. I haggled on the price once more and we agreed a number. A deposit changed hands and the deal was when I returned the following week the car would have passed the MOT. I had gone to buy a Honda but here I was buying a Volkswagen I had not even heard running.

I made the same journey the following week and the dealer was good to his word. The car had been tested and starting fine so we shook hands and I turned left out of the lot, heading for the nearest filling station as the fuel tank was empty according to the gauge. Soon I was on the M1, rolling south in light traffic and taking in the details of my new ride. Everything seemed to work when the appropriate buttons or switches were pressed and the journey to south London was uneventful. So began a long and, in the main, happy ownership of the German estate. I am a great believer in maintaining cars so when it was due an oil change of something minor broke or wore out I had it fixed. Over the years there have been problems but that is just normal. The turbo’s are a bit weak on the old Golfs and my one blew two turbos over the years. The electric windows are also poor and I had to change them 3 times in total. Apart from that there was the inevitable flywheel change when the duel mass one disintegrated at 200,000 miles (who ever dreamt up such a useless invention was an idiot). She got a new clutch at the same time even though it was barely worn. Apart from that it was just the usual brakes and suspension parts which wore out and had to be replaced. All in all it was a reliable car and she did me well for that last thirteen years. Not bad for a car I bought with the intention of changing it after a couple of summers!

So here were are in late 2021 and the old gal has done 330,000 miles. A faulty ABS means it is no longer economical to keep repairing her so it is time for a change. I have been looking around for a few weeks but nothing had excited me. You see I wanted a cheap run-around which will last me a couple of years and then buy a good car after that. This is centred around my retirement plans. Brixit has scuppered the idea of getting my brother-in-law’s old car on the cheap. The second-hand car market has imploded here now that VAT is payable on all goods coming into Ireland from the UK. As every used car in the country comes from Britain prices have sky-rocketed and very few cars are coming on the market now. Many dealers used to make weekly trips to the big auctions in UK and bring over a few cars to sell on at a profit. Nobody is doing that anymore.

Later…

Anyway, the search continued and something did indeed turn up for me. I am a great believer that what is for you won’t go by you. I examined a Renault above in Glenisland last evening and bought it, so wish me luck. As is the way of things when dabbling in old cars this one requires a small job but it should be cheap to fix. I’ll get that done and sort out tax and insurance before sending the faithful old VW to the scrapyard. I know it is just a bunch of metal and plastic bits but somehow we get attached to cars, especially after owning one for so long. There will be a mix of emotions on the day she heads off to the breakers 14 years after driving her of the lot back in Sheffield.

The whole question of private transport looks like a minefield to me. I am fully on board with the need to cut emissions but from where I am sitting it hard to see any meaningful progress out here in the sticks. A derisory public transport system, no real infrastructure to support electric cars let alone hydrogen powered vehicles and little to support the use of bicycles is our lot. It feels like there is a lack of joined up thinking, we are all encouraged to be more green in our use of transport but at the same time there are no options for us to avail of. Given that providing infrastructure is a long term commitment this gap between expectations and reality is set to continue for a long time yet. Would I buy a new electric car if I could afford one? Probably not, simply because there is such limited charging points in the country. I fully accept that at some point I’m going to be forced into switching to a greener car but a huge push to provide the support services and at the same time a massive reduction in prices of vehicles must take place first.

Railways fell out of favour in Ireland much as they did in England when Beeching swung his shiny axe in the early sixties. Mile upon mile of track was ripped up, stations closed for good and trained staff let go. Now, large tracks of Ireland have no access to the railway and that is particularly true of the north west of the country. I am luckier than most in that the main line from Westport to Dublin passes through Castlebar and I can get to the capital by train. It is very expensive and the service is limited but at least I have that option. It has always looked to me that building more railway lines would be a huge benefit to the whole country but I am not a transport planner so I expect there are good arguments against such an expansion.

Most people in rural Ireland are less fortunate than me and they have to travel to the nearest railway station to catch a train. The existing rail system basically radiates out of Dublin so many journeys need to go into Dublin first before catching another train to the final destination. The tram system in Dublin has been a huge success but it came at an immense cost to the tax payer and I doubt if any other Irish city would contemplate such a scheme. It is difficult to image any significant improvements or extensions to the existing rail system and we will just have to live with what we have for the foreseeable future.

Large parts of Ireland are flat, just like in Holland, yet very few dedicated cycle lanes exist. Some excellent works have been carried out to create a network of greenways, paths which have been upgraded for pleasure on foot or by bike. Many of the old towpaths beside the canals have been given this treatment and are a wonderful amenity. More could be done though, much, much more. Compared to the huge costs of new roads or railways cycle paths are a cheap and effective use of scarce public funds. The benefits in terms not only of economic activity but health seem to make a compelling case to build more cycleways in my opinion. I am hopeful that the success of the greenways will encourage more projects like them to be started. With my dodgy knees and ankles I should be the last person in favour of more cycle facilities but there is a need to get bikes off the roads and on to dedicated cycle paths.

As you can no doubt gather from the above, owning a car is a necessity for us folks living out here in the west. A simple commute to work for me which is just a 76 kilometre round trip, can only be undertaken by private car. Bus and train timetables don’t match up to my working hours and I’d have to hang around waiting for transport for far too long to make it feasible. It would also be prohibitively expensive, so instead the short hop is done behind the wheel. Don’t run away with the idea I am a huge fan of cars, I am not! I wish there were alternatives but there simply are not at the moment. Call me an old cynic but there is too much money wrapped up in current car manufacturing for there to be out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to personal transport. The switch to a different power plant in the same format of metal chassis running on 4 wheels on a strip of tarmac doesn’t seem that radical somehow. This world is home to vast numbers of super intelligent people, why can’t we come up with something better?

While I am on about it, it seems to me there is a lack of equality between the rich and poor when it comes to our transport carbon footprint and what we are being told to do about it. The super-rich jet around the world, run about in huge, environmentally damaging vehicles and consume a disproportionate amount of resources. Yet Joe Soap like you and me are constantly bombarded with diatribe about cutting our travel or else we will be responsible for the collapse of society. Is it just me or is that a tad unfair? Maybe the rich should lead by example? Something to think about when you are sitting in the next traffic jam.

Update, the old girl went off on the back of the breakers truck one rainy evening in late November ’21. The replacement Renault runs fine but it is just not the same………

Update, early 2022. The Renault I bought is running OK. It requires some small jobs but nothing drastic so far. It will do for a couple of years hopefully

3rd November, 2021

Random thoughts on the injustices of life

2021 has been a fairly bad year for so many people. As it rolls toward its end I have been reflecting on its passing and how life has altered for me and those close to me since last New Year. I am generally not a great one for introspection or delving deeply into spiritual matters but with so much happening in the world which is either directly or indirectly affecting me a little spent exploring how I am feeling is probably no bad thing. An awareness of your own mental health is important and yet it seems that middle aged men are especially bad at addressing their emotional well being.

I don’t, as far as I know, suffer from depression but I know many people who face an ongoing battle with that debilitating affliction. Through tough times I can usually keep fairly positive as long as I feel I am working towards something better in the future. Inertia is hard for me to deal with so keeping busy is key to me. Getting outside, even if just far a walk around the local lake or woods is a great tonic and even just messing around fixing up broken items lurking in the shed has a positive effect on me. I admit to feeling envious of others who can cycle, run or take other strenuous exercise, things that are denied to me by dint of my arthritis. It would be very easy to dissolve into maudlin just thinking about the loss of my ability to go climbing or hillwalking but I have grown to accept that over the years since the arthritis set in during my forties. I spent so many days in the hills that I have a store of memories to reflect on, enough for one of my age to be happy with.

On the other hand, the injustices of modern life are difficult for me to accept and the total failure of the capitalist system deeply angers and frustrates me. At its core, capitalism is about consumption and how to make money from it. For decades now we have been hearing that we cannot continue to consume the resources of this planet in the way we have been. There are too many of us humans and we are destroying the eco systems around us which we need to survive. How then do we balance capitalism which depends on over consumption with the need to become sustainable? Something has to give and I for one do not see an end to the capitalist system any time soon.

So why am I so odd and railing against the status quo? I guess you can put it down to the rantings of an old man who never made it to the corridors of power and so could not make a difference. Instead I have spent my life reading and trying to educate myself. I don’t get my information from YouTube like many, nor the mainstream press. Instead I have been slowly building my views over a number of years of life experiences and reading modern history. Since the industrial revolution there have been discernible patterns in western life which keep repeating themselves and when combined with the advances in technology these forces appear to me to be at work again. The worry is that now, with our planet on a knife edge, we are in the middle of a breakdown the likes of which we as a species have never witnessed before.

Capitalism, along with its siblings empire and discrimination, was provided with a sudden boost, creating a new rich class who used their wealth to create more wealth for themselves. Think about this, where else in nature do you find a species who hoards some much they cannot use it all? I have read that the indigenous peoples of North America saw ownership of excess as a very bad thing and if a man had more of something than he could use he would give it away to someone who needed it. Contrast that to today’s world where amassing money and goods is everyone’s aim in life. There is a saying in Ireland that you never see a tow-bar on a hearse, meaning you can’t take your worldly possessions with you when you die. Yet so many of us want to be rich, to join the small cadre of super wealthy. We look up to the rich, admiring their wastefulness. I can well imagine if I lived in a Victorian slum the luxuries of the mill owner would appeal.

Think back to the mid-eighteenth century. Great inventions by genius minds kick started a quantum change in western society. The agrarian based economies of western Europe rapidly changed to industrial ones, drawing workers from the land into the cities which expanded at prodigious rates. The industrial revolution brought many benefits to humanity but also a great deal of misery. Men, women and children laboured in horrendously dangerous and unsanitary conditions to work in the mines and mills, all to create ‘things’ for sale. This made the rich owners more money. The rich got richer while the poor got slums, rickets and early death.

The great war came along and the factories switched to making the tools of destruction, increasing the owners wealth while the poor were marched off to die in the mud of Flanders or the fly infested squalor of the Dardanelles. By the end of the conflagration America was a superpower, Russia was run by communists and many of the old houses which had ruled Europe for centuries had crumbled and fallen. The brave new world promised to the survivors failed to materialise though and the European soldiers returned to unemployment, disappointment and hunger. The inter war years were a time of change, boom or bust and a moral abrogation by the worlds rulers as they watched the far right grow in strength. In 1939 the world descended into total war and we went form the cavalry charges of the Polish lancers that autumn to the A bombs falling out of the blue skies over Japan in ’45. Once again, vast fortunes were amassed by the ruling classes while the troops and civilians were slaughtered. See the common thread here?

The end of the British empire, the inextricable rise to ultimate power by the USA, the gulags on the steppe, Israel’s bloody creation, mutual butchery in Africa; since the end of the second world war the grim list of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man has rolled ever on. Vietnam, with it’s images of flaming napalm coating children, was my first awakening to the realities of war. My grandfather on my mothers side fought at Gallipoli and was too traumatised to ever talk about it. My father’s elder brothers all fought in the second world war and they too could not bring themselves to discuss what they had witnessed. Yet the hungry beast that is violent conflict salivates in the corner, biding his time before the next conflagration engulfs the planet. Armament factories will buzz with new life while the hospitals and cemetery’s fill with the broken bodies of the heroes once again. To me at least it appears the nations of this world have learned nothing from Auschwitz, Stalingrad or the Somme. War makes a few people incredibly wealthy and supports many others in the supply chain. The man in the street will profess a hatred of war but once he has feasted on a diet of propaganda he will soon come around and go off to die at the front just as his forefathers did. China flying sorties over Taiwan, the rattle of the AK-47’s in East Africa, the simmering cauldron that is the Middle East, which one will be the spark to set the whole world alight? In August 1914 the west slumbered, unaware that when the Austrian Archduke’s car took a wrong turn and put him in the sights of Gravilo Princip the world was about to change for ever. Are we currently similarly somnolent?

Of greater concern from my standpoint is the damage to our environment. The speed at which the world is warming is incredible. I am not in any way an expert but from what I have read the temperature of the world fluctuates naturally over lengthy timescales but we are witnessing these changes over decades instead of hundreds of thousands of years. Creatures are hunted, poisoned, tortured and abused by humans everywhere. We destroy their habitat, intensively farm, net the fish from the oceans and grow them in cages where they swim in their own waste. The insects which are so key to life are disappearing as we humans kills them with pesticides. Politicians utter polemics but don’t actually take any action. Protesters are labelled as extremists and treated like criminals. All this as time runs out. I am thankful for the life I have led but fear the next generation will not be so fortunate. Catastrophe is around the corner.

So what are we, the collective masses of the human race, supposed to do to avert the disasters barreling towards us? I am but a lowly worker and lack the wisdom required to source a silver bullet for our ills. I don’t believe there is a single answer but rather a complete change in how we all behave. Our lust for the transient joys of the consumer lifestyle needs to be dramatically changed for a start and that alone seems to be an impossible dream. The latest car, the new version of mobile phone, food intensively farmed so we can eat cheaply, buying clothes when our wardrobes are already bulging, the list goes on and on. Our political system blocks any change. What politician is going to say to potential voters they cannot have what they desire? People, aka voters, want the status quo. They do not want to hear the luxurious lifestyle they currently enjoy will have to radically change. Take something as simple as water. We here in Western Europe just take it for granted that clean, fresh water is available by turning on a tap. What if water was rationed? It is not impossible this will happen in some areas soon as water sources dry up soon anyway. Or how about planning authorities stop granting permission to build houses on flood plains? What if there was a cap on how much money you can own and the rest goes to poorer people? It is hard to imagine any drastic measures becoming a reality and that is why I am so negative about the future. Change comes from the top and the people in charge don’t want any change. They are not going to give up their gilded mansions.

I can only comment on Ireland as I live here. Maybe some of my ideas would find resonance in other countries, maybe not. Some basics have to be addressed here if we are going to have a future. For example, agriculture here is based on raising beef and to a lesser degree dairy with sheep on poorer pasture. Ireland is green these days because of the endless fields of grass grown to feed the cows. This is not sustainable and is hugely damaging to the environment. Land has been drained and leveled then slurry (cow excrement) is sprayed on it. Over the years all trees and natural woodland has been felled, bogs drained and watercourses straightened so the use of land for cattle can be maximised. Ireland now produces far more beef than it can consume and this is seen as a great benefit to the country as the excess beef is sold abroad, thus increasing exports. We need to ween Irish farmers off the dependence on beef. The way for this to happen is simple, we, the consumer need to eat less meat. Meat should be a luxury in my opinion not a cheap meal. Yet we are addicted to it. When the first locked eased here in Ireland where do you think the longest queues formed? The fast food joints. People just wanted to chew on mechanically recovered meat.

It is not just beef that is a problem. The 19th Century saw people cleared off lands so that the owners could put sheep on the ground. At that time sheep were very profitable animals and they could subsist on poorer soils. So the people went and the sheep appeared, dotting the hills with white as they chewed at the already sparce vegetation. The trees and shrubs were eaten, leading to erosion and loss of biodiversity. Nobody cared as long as they were making money. Now, the price of wool is so low it is not worth the effort to shear the animals and hill farmers often only survive at all due to the handouts form the EU. Again, it is time to rethink the whole sheep industry here and make sweeping changes. Pigs are intensively farmed, a disgusting business which should have no place in a caring society. Their contribution to pollution is terrifying and whole water systems have been poisoned by piggeries. The same applies to chicken farming. The days of a few chucks pecking around the farmyard are a fantasy, the vast flocks of barely featherd birds are the reality of modern poultry farming. I am old enough to recall when chicken was a luxury and it needs to return to that.

Salmon farming must be outlawed, period. The utter cruelty is beyond the pale and has to be stopped. Cheap salmon is just lining the pockets of a few Norwegian millionaires while the wild fish teeter on the edge of extinction. Politicians seem to be under some sort of spell when it comes to salmon farming, believing the lies from the owners and send grant money their way to build more and bigger farms. Wild salmon are seen as expendable and the sporting industry is even less desirable.

A fundamental change in our political system has to be a priority. We simply can not continue to suffer under the current vacuum of ideas and leadership. Our view of the world has to radically change and to do that we need to deconstruct the current political systems and replace them with a new way of leadership. We must find a way of encouraging the brightest and best in our communities to enter politics so they can learn to be leaders and not just slaves to party politics. What if we banned all political parties and only individuals could enter parliament? Imagine voting for people of huge intellect and integrity who would place the higher good of all in priority and not just the financial benefit to themselves and their friends. Imagine a turn around from wanton greed to reduced consumption and waste of scarce natural resources. Image a compassionate leadership who value not just money. At this point in time all of this sounds an impossibility but that is because we are all conditioned to simply accept the madness of capitalism. We simply do not need all the goods we buy, we do not need to work long hours to make enough money to but things which are transient,

The whole rotten edifice of the capitalist system is based on making money and you make money by selling stuff. It is therefore better that the things you sell do not last, that way you can sell more when the original wears out. The inherent redundancy which is build into modern goods must be addressed if we are to live sustainable lives on this small planet. We know how to build things which will last a long time but chose not to because we make less money that way. this has to be changed around so we buy goods because they will last a lifetime and not fall apart within a year. Take modern cars as an example, they are engineered to have a life expectancy of only a few years before something major breaks down. By then it is supposed that you will have bought the latest model and the original car goes off for scrapping. The waste in this cycle is staggering but we don’t see it that way, we just want to buy a new car. We are the problem here, not the manufacturers. We do not demand a car will last for 20 years, we want a new one with the latest useless gizmos every two years. It feels like we are now caught in a trap of our own making. We buy stuff which meets our demands meaning it is not going to last and will have to be changed soon. Only when we, the consumer demand longevity as the most important selling point will manufacturers respond.

OK, enough for now. I will put some more of my thoughts down over the coming weeks and months so feel free to take me to task over my ideas.