Angling Vagabond – A Glorious Boyhood

If I have one complaint about this book it’s that it finishes too soon - and somewhat abruptly. A sign of a good book - leave the reader wanting more! I hope the author sees this volume as no more than the opening salvo’s of a full angling autobiography. Dave Park (known to all on the AnglersNet forums by his nom de plume, Vagabond) is a much travelled Ichthyologist and I’m sure must have many more piscatorial tales to tell from around the globe.

Whilst, ostensibly this book is an angling memoir, in many ways it could be viewed as a social history of rural England during World War II - through the eyes of a school boy! Certainly the values of the day are laid bare - and many of the stories would send the ‘PC Brigade’ of today into paroxysms of disapproval. (Letting a 10 year old go out shooting game and collecting birds eggs, for example!). Fishing, during times of rationing, was a means supplementing the diet (or the purse) so a 2lb crucian - rather than being revered and returned is sold for cat food. A 14lb pike is strapped across the handlebars of a push pike and a muddy tasting 4½lb tench is a meal for the family. The austerity of the period is also reflected in the tackle - nearly all of it hand made - and I’m including rods, reels AND hooks - a highly precious commodity, in this list, as well as popguns capable of firing acorns to a range of 50yards. How many primary school age kids of today could do the same?

Angling VagabondMy dictionary lists ‘scamp’, ‘rascal’ and ‘scallywag’ as three alternative meanings for the word vagabond and these are perfectly apt for the escapades of young Dave. The stories are divided between Dave trying to avoid ‘leatherings’ from his disapproving parents with their ‘chronic religious mania’ at the Sussex home to the more benign influence of his grandparents in Norfolk where he spends much of the war. Early days catching ‘liggies’ (bullheads) and newts act as kindling for a fire that is stoked in East Anglia by ‘The Best of Uncles‘, John - who not only takes him fishing but gives him his first proper bits of tackle.

The latter chapters give the first hint at Vagabond’s subsequent wanderlust. Dave is now at Grammar school but takes every opportunity to bunk off and go fishing. On leaving he gets a motor bike and so takes his first trips further afield. Sea fishing, trips to Devon and Eire start a lifetime of angling globetrotting - tales of which I hope Dave is planning to commit to print!

All in all the book is an enjoyable romp through the English countryside - hugely readable, surprisingly difficult to put down and very engaging. A snap shot of a by-gone age - it is illustrated throughout with cartoons by Cliff Hatton who’s style reminds me of the late Norman Thelwell. Make sure you have a couple of hours at your disposal when you first pick it up to read!

Trafford Publishing, ISBN 142516244-4

Review by Chris Plumb, 2008

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