DESPITE ITS peaceable and contemplative image - both mossy-backed myths, by the way - angling is really one of the most dangerous of all the nation's popular pastimes. Minor accidents involving hooks or flying lead weights may be the stuff of cartoons but there is also the ever-present risk of drowning. According to the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents, there were 17 such deaths among fishermen recorded in 1997 (including those at sea), and that was a quiet year. The annual average is something like 30.
You'd think that some form of Personal Flotation Device would therefore be de rigueur for fishermen, but many anglers like to demonstrate their mastery over the elements by spending 50 weeks of the year behind a city desk and then wading up to their oxters into an unfamiliar torrent. To admit vulnerability by donning a PFD would not be macho. It would be like fishing in a condom.
One of the latest buoyancy aids to appear on the market is the Englands' Doctor's Jacket. It looks just like the normal waistcoats we fishermen love for those numerous pockets where we can stow spools of nylon and squishy sandwiches. At hip and nape, the clip-points for a landing net were another nice feature but I was less keen on the lateral zips for shortening the vest, which proved fiddly. Unless you are a Japanese tourist, this unassuming beige garment is no fashion statement. But it does have hidden depths.
Correctly assembled this jacket could save your life if you take a tumble in water, because its sensitive cartridge will trigger a 24-gram cylinder of carbon dioxide to inflate a bladder that provides over 50 newtons of buoyancy, also designed to turn you safely onto your back in case of unconsciousness. There's a toggle for manual override, too, and a tube for oral inflation (to top up the air during a prolonged immersion). All this is incorporated unobtrusively, and the waistcoat is light.
There's only one way to test manufacturers' claims, however, so before a large party of spectators I waded into the River Tweed and flung myself face down upon its autumnal currents. (There are no depths to which I will not descend, to get a story.) The first reaction upon a cold ducking is to open your mouth in shock: this can be dangerous. Here, the water was 47F and I had swallowed more than enough during four or five seconds before there came a kind of cappuccino whooooshh and 12 litres of blessed air did indeed inflate the jacket and turn me over so that I could paddle myself towards shore. Cheated of disaster, the crowd's applause was feeble as it dispersed. But I felt triumphant: and right now, beige is definitely my favourite colour.
The Englands' Doctor's Jacket costs pounds 145. Details from: Englands, 524 Hagley Road West, Quinton, Birmingham B68 0HZReuse content