I’m having an eventful time of things lately to put it mildly, with life approaching the sort of chaos usually reserved for my tackle box. Fishing time is tricky- although I keep squeezing in short sessions with lures. I've also been busy at the desk this month for two quite big developments: Firstly, I have a column in the newly revamped Angling Times (now in magazine format). Needless to say, after a decade of working at it I'm thrilled to bring my slightly unhinged take on angling to the table on a weekly basis.
But equally, I'm also proud to be a part of issue six of the superb quarterly Fallon's Angler, which happens to be a special tribute issue to the late Fred Buller. Indeed, besides losing several too many music and comedy icons this year, fishing has also had a rough ride, with Jan Porter also passing this week. Both he and Buller really got the mind ticking over in my formative years as an angler. Perhaps for different reasons, but both were true one-offs who took quite unconventional ideas and made them mainstream.
Talking of mavericks, my main task this week is to give you my verdict on infamous angling character Mike Daunt’s rather intriguing book The Bounder, which I have just completed. Not for the faint-hearted, this autobiography follows the madcap life of not just an angler, but a soldier, philanderer and hedonist supreme, from London to Kenya and back, via the River Tweed and the jungles of Borneo. For better or worse, no punches are pulled or details of any kind spared. There is fornication as well as fishing. And for those prudish types who didn’t like the occasional curse words of my own recent work “Crooked Lines” this is a whole different level of “colourful”. But it is certainly compelling.
It is this candid, open-as-a-fridge-with-the-door-ripped-off nature that I love best about the book. It’s rather like eavesdropping on that fascinating bloke in the corner of a waterside pub. You know, the one with the "caught it, drank it, shagged it" look on his face, who speaks about theatre in Cold War Berlin one moment and tench fishing the next. The one who, at any minute, is capable of revealing some outrageous detail to make the whole boozer fall silent and sane mortals whisper to each other “Jesus Christ, is this guy serious?” Whether it is the sordid details of “swinging” London in the sixties and seventies or the sudden appearance of a man’s severed finger, it’s all in the mix.
The fishing adventures are a constant, but tend to form the subplots in the book alongside Daunt’s unfailingly mad-as-a-box-of-frogs life. So this is not a fishing book per se, but the sport is quietly prominent in its own way. His first ever fishing trip is beautifully rendered, for example, in the midst of a turbulent childhood and perhaps the most mismatched mother and father in the history of parenting (the one a kind-hearted but fallible bohemian, the other an emotionally retarded dictator).
As a kid who went to state school, with its well-meaning but downbeat teachers and leaking temporary classrooms, I always find tales of how “the other half” live as fascinating. But I’m never sure I envy the “privilege” of bullying, endlessly stupid rules and having to watch out for the school letch with a taste for young boys. There is a delightful mischief, but also moments of genuine misery, in the section on school days. Innocence and depravity are both present. Catching secretive common carp is one thing; catching two of your teachers hard at it in the bushes is quite another.
Forbidden from joining theatre school, the author is then dispatched to the army where, in spite of a rebellious streak, he manages to not only fit in but thrive. The adventures with the Headhunters of Borneo were among the most fascinating in the book, complete with the most eye-opening and astounding details. Depending on your tastes, the warts-and-all details will make you laugh out loud or wince (or in my case sometimes both on the same page).
Curiously in fact, The Bounder features some very famous names (Chris Tarrant, for instance, writes a foreword that declares both a deep fondness and sense of the absurdity of the author's life, while he also fishes and boozes with screen legends) but you suspect it is “Daunty” who has probably had the wilder ride. And while some readers might find leaps between subjects and eras a bit of a jolt, this pattern is perhaps only an appropriate reflection of the random, hedonistic rollercoaster of his life.
Perhaps the quality I didn't expect with a book of this title were the sudden moments of fragility. Whether it's a tragic family secret or an untimely disaster, beyond the bravado and the hedonism The Bounder is also unexpectedly touching.
As for the fishing side of things, the keen angler will perhaps enjoy the latter stages of the book best of all- and in particular the keenly-observed relationship with the late Hugh Falkus, an enigmatic man who is by turns funny and kind, rude and cantankerous. No spoilers here, but there are some great moments of mischief and more than a dash of controversy along the way. A small world too, because of course Falkus co-authored the classic Freshwater Fishing with Fred Buller, who has just passed away.
Whatever your own take on Mike Daunt's wild life then, The Bounder is a risky, unrepentant but never dull romp. For my money, I'd compare it to a bottle of high-proof India Pale Ale: Rather strong and more than a little fruity for some tastes, but if you like this kind of brew you'll find yourself happily sipping away until the whole bottle is gone. You'll can find it for £7.99 at John Blake books HERE.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
More news and views to come shortly from me anyway, along with recent adventures in lure fishing; the sea is calling once again and while the fish have been small enough for "The General" (below) to hold thus far, there is some hugely exciting sport on the way.