Disclaimer: any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely appropriate!
Billy gave a playful pull on the cord of Ians anorak, and the two of them tussled into a mock wrestle on the slippery pavement. "It’s bloody freezing" shivered Ian, "We must be mad!"
It had been Billy "golden whatsits" Booners idea that they would fish the Xmas match. They would not have been around if the normal initial date before the New Year had been fished. High water had made that a wipe out, and now with the river returning to a normal level, a bitter cold snap had descended and the ground was coated in a dazzling white cloak.
They heard the rumble of the coach in the distance, and spotted the haze of black cloud rising above the din. Round the corner came the coach, like a scene from a 1920’s film, big double bumper and art deco lights blinking. It was the Club coach, a donation from a long forgotten servant, made good again and again for the infrequent club outings. It shuddered to a stop, beside them, sliding the last few feet, and the doors grated open.
"Come on boys" a voice echoed from the back of the smoky haze, " want us all to bloody freeze to death?" That was Badgie, a club stalwart, organiser and God of all things technical about fishing. The boys climbed on, looking at the mixture of faces along the aisle. There was Mick, immaculate in a Burberry jacket and matching scarf, red faced with the exertion of climbing on the coach a few minutes earlier. " Got your rod today Mick" said Ian as he made his way through, those in the know smiled at the joke. Jinty leant forward and with a wink, said "Fish, there’s meant to be some fish where we are going lads, that’ll be just great for a change"
A giant of a man at the back of the bus, rolled with laughter, announcing his presence to all and sundry "And some carp" said the big man appropriately named Rok.
"Lets get going" before the tea and coffee gets cold" said the only female on the coach, Lin.
The lads squashed into the rear of the coach, alongside a deeply tanned man, drinking Tiger beers ( at 7am!) named Kev and a smaller chap in an anorak with a lucky mascot attached to his fishing creel, white and woolly it was.
Of they set, the heater going full blast heading towards the Thames at Henley.
The coach finally made it down the hill and parked up alongside the clearing river. Mist rose steadily from the water, but the tree branches still refused to loosen their icy coating. A small chap, bundled of the coach first, mumbling under his breath about "Another bloody blank, I suppose." just loud enough so that the rest could hear.
"Chin up Stephen," they all chorused, you caught one at the last Xmas match "remember!"
The numbers jangled in the bag, only one man allowed to control this high tech lottery equivalent, the Boffin AKA Dr Eun. Each man drew his peg number under his watchful eye. Kev, forgetful of his long plane journey, clicked his fingers, but the manservant failed to materialize, so he drew the peg himself, after another swig from the bottle, supposedly filled with beer. One by one they claimed their number hoping it would be the ticket to the belated Xmas hamper and a bottle of the finest port.
Half an hour later they were on the bank, with the exception of Badgie, who still had three journeys back to the coach to make to collect the rest of his tackle, and a latecomer with a Welsh accent and pink hair. Everyone knew that Great Poker Catcher, as he had been nicknamed after a collector and sampler of sheep in the frozen Valleys would be there eventually.
The whistle blew, or would have if the eminent man in the Burberrys had remembered it, as it was the match started with the shout "Bloody Committees fault"
Billy and Ian were pegged next to each other, and after being ticked off by Rok the enforcer for throwing lumps of ice at the chap in the anorak, started to assemble their tackle. They decided on breadflake stretpegged down the margin, with a change to maggot feeder if no bites were forthcoming. All along the river different tactics and methods would be applied to wheedle out those few fish that were mad enough to feed in the frozen condition.
Jinty, took his time setting up, every now and again he would rummage into his bag, bringing out a small pair of binoculars to scan the horizon for any members of the paparazzi that might want to photo and report any fish he caught.
Stephen, was meticulous in his preparation, tying the same knot four times whilst keeping below the skyline and changing his feeder type until it matched his dappled green camouflage jacket.
Kev cursed and shouted for some unseen person called "Thypansoonmytamasoon" to fetch some more "beer." He would awake later but be frozen to the bank.
Lin, never even got going. A youngster appeared after being dropped of at the bridge, and wanted to go skating and to Mcdonalds before contemplating fishing.
Eun, the Boffin, studied the fauna and calculated the number of swans that would be around next year given a 3 month mean temperature of 35.5F
Rok, appeared to be playing with a small boat, that chugged backwards and forwards the far bank, wobbled and magically upturned itself, depositing what looked like gobstoppers before returning the same way. ( Billy and Ian watching in the next swim chuckled and murmured " It’s finally happened, downhill all the way now")
Mick brushed the dirt of his jacket, then took a cloth, spat on it and started on his boots. He had forgotten his rod.
Lin buttered the bread, before she finally started to tackle up.
Badgie still had 2 journeys and 4 rods to go.
The whistle blew "It WAS the Committee, honest!" and the fishing squad started to pack away their gear. Eun, the Boffin of course was the netsman, ennumerator and recorder for posterity of the results of the 123rd West Wycome Xmas Match. It was a peaceful job today. As he walked along the bank he was met by generally smiling faces and empty nets, until he came alongside the fast asleep Kev. Lifting the net in anticipation, he decided not to weigh the numerous empty bottles, although his estimate was close to 15lb.
Badgie looked furtively around as the netsman passed. He had both hands wrapped in a white handkerchief, liberally spotted with blood.
Another new Club member, Dr Peter Fallin had. And after emptying his wellies, he counted his toes between chattering teeth.
Jinty, in a daze, mentioned being unable to fish as he was distracted by the fine looking Southern sheep, much woollier and robust than the Northern ones he was use to. A sort of Essex breed is how he described them, eyes glinting.
Great Poker Catcher, had indeed managed to hook a fish, and a big one. He had maneuvered it to the net, then after catching sight of him, it had crashed away as if demented, breaking his line. They debated the subject of fish intelligence late into the night.
At the last swim, Eun was met by a beaming lad, holding his net up to show a magnificent chub that pulled the scales down to an even 4lb. The only catch of the day. "I’m Lima" said the youngster, "and whilst my Mum was making the coffee I caught this one".
It was quiet in the coach home, at least until they reached the warmth of the Royal Standard for a few brews. Last in was Lin, on her shoulders a smiling youngster, in one hand a bottle of port, the other a box of Quality Street. They all burst out laughing.
Graham Elliott - 2000