Spinning out a therapeutic line

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The Independent Online
I HAVE a great deal of sympathy for Murphy Jensen, cruelly dubbed the Stephen Fry of the tennis circuit. Jensen, you may recall, failed to turn up for his mixed doubles match at Wimbledon. When his family and worried officials eventually traced the American, it transpired that he had gone fishing.

A spokesman for Wimbledon police said afterwards: "He has not behaved in the way you would expect of a tennis professional." Personally, I reckon his action shows that he's far less in need of a psychotherapist's flat couch than most of those cold-eyed footstampers. In fact, Jensen was merely using a more intellectually satisfying (and far cheaper) form of therapy.

This may seem a little odd to non-anglers. If Jensen had merely put on a pair of white shorts, turned up at Wimbledon and flailed away for an hour or so, he would have pocketed more than all but two UK fishermen earn in a year. Instead of the acclaim, the autographs, the glamour and the chance to play at the world's most famous tennis tournament, Jensen preferred a landing net to a tennis net.

In fact, his aberrant behaviour is entirely in keeping with most anglers' reactions to stressful situations. Research on angling behaviour shows that 65 per cent go fishing to get away from it all. The same statistics also show that 86 per cent find fishing is relaxing, 35 per cent say it helps them unwind and 32 per cent like to feel close to nature.

Perhaps most relevantly for Jensen, 62 per cent enjoy the challenge of fishing, 27 per cent feel it is a healthy thing to do and 16 per cent angle because they like to win. You see? Why does the man need to be running round in a heatwave, hitting a ball with the gut of a cat? If he goes fishing, he gets all the things that tennis provides (except the money) and none of the hassles.

The trouble is, this need to get away from it all doesn't always manifest itself at the most convenient times, and it's often misunderstood by those who do not have the security blanket of a river and a fishing rod to fall back on.

My life seems to have been dogged by such situations.

Back in my schooldays, after revising hard and heavy for A levels, I decided to take the morning off and go fishing. It was a lovely Thames morning, the roach and dace were biting freely and all those exam worries vanished away . . . until my companion Jim said: "I thought you had a Russian exam at 2pm."

Fishing time bears little relation to real time, but there are occasions when the two converge - and this was one of them. "Bloody hell," I yelled, grabbing my tackle and piling it into my box. There was no time to cycle home, wash, change and catch the bus. So I pedalled to school, my tackle on my back, fish slime on my trousers, wearing my fishing parka with a big albatross painted on the back (don't ask). I still arrived 40 minutes late for a two-hour exam.

It was one of those schools where wearing The Uniform was considered at least as important as academic achievement. It might have been slightly less of a problem if I had worn my cap - at 18, for God's sake! The adjudicating master gave me a look that did not translate easily into Russian. To make it worse, I smelt of fish, maggots, an hour's cycling.

I didn't pass Russian.

Now, of course, I realise what I should have done. Simply stayed on the river bank and told the masters later, as Jensen did, "that I wanted to sort out my life and what was going on."

It's interesting that Jensen even brought his therapist to England with him. The fact that he had packed his tackle along with his tennis rackets showed that he was in need of psychiatric help before a ball was served. Strangely, my first reaction when I heard the news was not "What a fruitcake, but - I wonder where he went fishing?"

Something similar happened this week. Valerie, a lovely French girl who is staying with us for the summer, was showing off her family pictures. One showed her sister standing in front of a stream that had definite trout possibilities. Rather than noticing her attractive sister. I said automatically: "What's the river? Are there any fish in it?"

My wife, who knows me rather too well, said: "See? I told you he wouldn't notice her." But I feel Jensen would have done the same.

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