Fishing Lines: Ponds of delight become pools of despair

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The Independent Online
THIS has not been a good week. My wife is not speaking to me. My next-door neighbour ignored me yesterday. The chap who runs the paper shop has sent me to Coventry as well. It's all because of the new pond.

Well, it's not quite a pond yet. For a start, there's no water in it. It's just a hole . . . but quite a big one. The trouble is that the earth had to go somewhere and now Hugh, who lives next door, is convinced all those tons of topsoil will damage his nice new fence. I have not had the chance to explain that this earth is scheduled for a starring role in building the waterfall (of which more later).

Although the master plan for our designer garden has been ready for weeks, the prospect of shovelling those lorry loads of soil has been too daunting. But by a happy coincidence, contractors laying the lines for cable television have been working with earth-moving equipment. The chance was too good to miss. So for three nights this week, they have finished digging holes for cables and started digging holes for ponds. (Ah yes, that plural is one of the issues of my current marital strife.)

Our paper-shop man does not approve of the wheels of progress. Maybe he is worried that when cable reaches our little outpost in a few weeks, the villagers will buy even fewer papers. Maybe he just does not like the road outside his shop being dug up. Whatever the reason, he has made his views known by standing in the street, going red in the face and berating the workmen.

His explosions of rage have provided welcome entertainment for much of the neighbourhood and especially for holidaying schoolchildren, who have little to amuse them in our sleepy village. But it would soon have been forgotten - except he found out that I had invited his tormentors in, fed them and encouraged them to dig further holes. His fury has now switched from the workmen to me.

Which brings me to the reason my wife is playing Lysistrata. I say it was just a simple misreading of the designer's drawings. She says I planned all along to wipe out her herb garden and the rose arbours, and to build a lake rather than a pond. I will admit that I never liked the shrubbery, but the interpretation of metres for feet was a mistake anyone could make in the fading light. And anyway, what could be lovelier than a water garden?

Since repair work started on our house three years ago, we have been without a pond and without flowerbeds too. Building materials have cluttered the once-pretty cottage garden. My wife would have preferred garden restoration to exclude any watery features, but I argued that pond observation is a vital way of understanding fish behaviour, and anyway it's essential for a writer on country matters.

I won't get back the original stock of carp, tench and rudd that have now settled happily in friends' ponds, but frogs and toads still make their annual migration in the hope that water will one day reappear in the desert. How can I disappoint them? Rebuilding the pond (albeit slightly larger than the original) is an important gesture for conservation.

So will I get my redesigned ponds? Well, the children are on my side, though they probably think we're building a swimming pool. I may have to lose the breeding pond but get to keep the waterfall. This will mean that the O'Neills will speak to us again, though I suspect it will be some while before we get the correct newspapers. I'm expecting the Sunday Sport through the letterbox today as a punishment, if we get anything at all.