Eric sees time fly by

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My old fishing records show that I once fished for 420 hours in a month. That's quite an impressive statistic when you consider I was supposed to have been at school for much of that time, and that a little matter of sleep had to be substracted from the other 300 hours. I'm not sure this proves very much, except that even at 17, I was a hopeless case who considered catching tench was more important than O-level Russian. Come to think of it, I still do.

That fishathon, however, pales into insignificance compared to the efforts of Eric Brown, a Manchester postman who claims to have spent 5,200 days on the bankside during the past 20 years. According to this week's Angling Times, Brown gets up at 4.30am, finishes delivering letters around noon, grabs his tackle and heads off for local ponds. He is quoted as saying: "I must admit I've lost a few jobs in the past when I've got up, decided the carp would be feeding and gone fishing instead of going to work."

Perhaps more surprisingly, Brown is married. His wife Diane even suffered a wedding cake shaped like a fish when they got hitched four years ago. "I don't mind him going fishing. I suppose it keeps him out of trouble," she says. I'm fairly certain that my wife would not be quite so understanding.

So what does a fisherman learn from spending large chunks of his life on a river bank? It's a good question. Though I've spent a week here and there fishing constantly, I've never fished as intensively as that mad month. Looking back, all I really got from it was the ability to handle a centre-pin reel better, poor results in my mock A-levels and a very short-term career (eel fisherman, but that's another story).

Depriving the body of sleep for long periods and trying to fish does strange things with your head. Some claim it allows you to enter a Zen- like state (the sound of one fin flapping) and achieve empathy with the fish. But it just gave me bags under my eyes and smelly jeans.

These profound thoughts have been sparked, not by nutty Eric, but by the latest book from John Gierach, probably the finest angling writer today. He puts down in words those things you try to say when people ask: "Whatever makes you go fishing?" (The more you fish, the more the question gets asked, though I suppose if you fish as much as you want, you don't go to many dinner parties and have to explain yourself anyway.)

In a chapter entitled "What Else is There?" Gierach writes: "Half the men and a few of the women I know who've wigged out in their forties wanted to run off and do what I do now, which is fish a lot and write about it for a living. These people, after a lifetime of working and striving for money, status, influence or whatever, wanted to chuck it all and become one with nature in some kind of particularly human way, which is the only way available to us. They saw this as a more or less direct route to truth and salvation, and for some of them at least, it was just that. After twenty-something years of listening to New Age sanctimony, I cringe a little at the mention of becoming one with anything, but I guess it's like saying you want happiness: corny but undeniably true." Nicely put, John. There's a lot more stuff like that in his latest book, which I'll tell you about next week.

Incidentally, Eric Brown might be one hell of a dedicated fisherman but he's also a bit of a fibber. If he's been fishing for the past 20 years, as he claims, and he's now 33, that means he was fishing five days a week at 13.

Another Lousy Day in Paradise by John Gierach, pounds 14.99, Excellent Press.