There's a gentle symmetry inmy fishing car breaking down terminally this week. Like the old song about "My Grandfather's Clock", it has gone to that great Saab garage in the sky on the very week that 22 years of Fishing Lines comes to an end.
The Saab, a loyal but mistreated servant, had good reason for failing to pass Go after 211,000 miles. But I must have written even more words than that. Working on an average of 700 words (there were times this column ran much longer) for 50 weeks a year over 22 years equals more than 750,000 words. Just on fishing.
Well, not always. It's true that there has always been a watery theme, but the subject matter has been, shall we say, fluid, ranging from the memory span of a goldfish to trimethylaminuria (a disease that leaves you smelling of fish, an incurable condition that my car suffered for years); from my springer spaniel's death (readers even sent me pictures of their dogs to console me) to George Melly; from dinosaurs to Princess Di.
Actually, the last-named column, due to appear the day after her funeral, was the only one that never got past the censors. Too delicate a subject to mock, I was told.
This column has managed to insult several other august names, from the Irish Tourist Board to the RSPB. I'd like to apologise now to all those I've offended, whether deliberately or accidentally – except People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; they're just buffoons.
There have been a lot of good stories along the way. My favourite? The one about a secretive angler who had been fishing for a record carp on the same water for 12 years. The next day, the lake's banks were worn flat by the tramp of television cameras and tabloid shoes trying to interview him. Funny, but he never sent me a Christmas card.
Many thanks to all those who have written or emailed, and especially to those who come up at shows or conferences and say that they always read the column. Not any more. I'd like to think they will block the road outside 'The Independent' tomorrow morning, waving placards and demanding my return. But fishermen are notoriously apathetic.
Sadly, I've become a victim of the bean-counters. Being the paper's longest-serving columnist (leastways, I don't think anyone else can claim to have written 50 weeks a year since September 1986, a month before the paper even came out) is no hedge. If you count beans, you count very small ones, too.
So where now? I guess it's time to work on that much-delayed book of these columns. Maybe I'll also write those articles I've still got on file and put them on my antique fishing magazine website (classictitles. com, for those who can't live without the column). We'll see.
But how to end it? A touching obit to the Saab? (Rust in peace.) Or maybe the way that the old pirate station Radio London signed off in 1967. It played the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" and intoned: "Radio London is now closing down."
So drag out your old Sgt. Pepper album tonight, open a bottle of decent claret, take the phone off the hook and play track six, side two.
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