Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The may-fly are rising

Back at the other place I feel at home last weekend (the primary one being my part of London).

Either side of a day-trip to Hay, we spent a fair bit of time watching the trout rise to gorge on may-fly. The river was fair boiling.

The experience reminded me of a book I haven't picked up for years and which I really should pick up again: A Cotswold Village by J. Arthur Gibbs (this village being just upstream of my home village). He had modest ambitions in writing it: to 'touch on every branch of country life with as light a hand as possible - to amuse rather than instruct'. It's written in a delightful, old-fashioned literary vein, quoting liberally from a canonical set of nature poets all, I would guess, within the grasp of an educated man of those days (written in 1899). It also has something of an elegiac feel, heightened by the knowledge that he died at 31.

A Cotswold Village does have historical and social interest too. But at bottom it's simply a very relaxing, escapist read and as such can be highly therapeutic. One of its themes is the relief afforded by simple country pleasures to the man of business cooped up in the city. It achieves much the same itself.

The may-fly originally struck a chord (despite my not being a fisherman) as, in the course of a chapter on fishing, he describes the excitement of receiving a telegram in one's City counting house or dusty chambers containing the thrilling news that the may-fly were rising, and then flying westwards on the first train out to partake of the fun. It was a telegram (or rather email) I often yearned to receive and act on during my counting house days.

I looked up what editions were available on the web and discovered to my surprise that it had been almost completely scanned in to Google books here (also just found it provided in full here). My reason for checking on available editions is that the first one I read had been scandalously sanitised.

The editors had excised recollections of hunting and reflections on local politics in the belief that modern readers would be either bored or offended by these passages. Arthur Gibbs was unreflectingly enthusiastic about killing foxes and affectionately patronising about what remained of the radical politics of the local weavers. Objectionable or not, I'm not sure what else we should expect from a man of his class, time and tastes and it's his book after all.

It's not worth rehearsing further why this bowlderising wasn't a good idea. Anyway, I put it down to this edition being printed in Stroud - at the time a place renowned locally for its abundance of home-grown weed and rainbow-clad hippies. Anyway I haven't found it for sale anywhere. Good.


worm said...

I love books like that, I recently found a whole collection of them in my local oxfam - all obscure books written by foresters, gamekeepers, poachers and the like in the early decades of the last century - they make for an excellent read just as you are going to sleep, leaving you to drift off with bucolic visions of an earlier, simpler life

To see a dappled trout rise to a fly in a whiskey-coloured brook is one of life's great little pleasures

Gaw said...

I guess that's one of the pleasures of being an enthusiastic reader - you can experience these things vicariously and thereby enjoy their comforts. Sometimes I feel very lucky.