Gerry Farrell: My September trout is the one that got away

Gerry Farrell with his brood of reluctant anglers at Coldingham Loch
Gerry Farrell with his brood of reluctant anglers at Coldingham Loch
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Tony Bennett still sings a song called September Song with a lyric in it that always gets me: “Oh it’s a long, long while from May to December/ But the days grow short when you reach September/When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame/One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.” It gets me because my dad used to sing it to my mum around the house when he was my age and she would join in. Now they’re not around any more except in my quite frequent and pleasant dreams of them and at 60, I feel that I’m in the September of my own life.

Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At this age, you may have a few more aches and pains to worry about. But you worry a lot less what other people think of you and that’s very liberating.

Gerry endured a long wait for a cab at Edinburgh Airport

Gerry endured a long wait for a cab at Edinburgh Airport

I notice my own mood swings more than I used to. I have my Grumpy Old Man moments – these are usually extremely pleasurable outbursts of irritation at some trifling habit of the young, like sitting in foursomes at pub tables, all looking down at their phones, posting photographs of their gastro-pub sharing platters onto Instagram. But no sooner have I reached Peak Grump than I find myself strangely charmed by my own grown-up children’s similar behaviour.

To celebrate the September of my life and the acquisition of my precious bus pass, they clubbed together and took me for the weekend to one of the most beautiful places on earth, the wonderful Coldingham Loch, just an hour and a quarter up the A1, turn left at Pease Bay.

The delightful thing about this was that they all came to join me in my favourite pastime, tormenting trout with artificial flies. This was astonishing in its own right because my daughter Hannah was the only one I’d managed to brainwash into fly fishing. The three boys gave it up years ago. Now here they all were to celebrate my birthday, in a cottage with no wifi, all self-sacrificingly ready to wrap up warm and come out in the boats with me. My only chore was get the shopping from the list they sent me on a shared Google doc, which included items like “square sausage, normal sausage, abnormal sausage” as well as juvenile additions like Jelly Babies and Haribo Star Mix. My offspring range from 24-31 years old. Reader, they regressed.

Getting them out of bed and into the boats before lunchtime was a chore. Thinking that making them all a cuppa would encourage them to get up and dressed was a terrible mistake. There they sat in our cottage, cupping their hot tea in both hands, with blankets round their shoulders, looking more like people who’d just been rescued from the water than people who were about to go fishing on it.

I had to use underhand tactics to get them out the house. Gareth and Carmel who run the loch had just come into a litter of cocker spaniel puppies. They’d kept two and this pair had just reached Maximum Cuteness. “Quick or we’ll miss the puppies” did the trick. In a matter of minutes they were down at the loch side, rolling around on the grass with two floppy-eared fur balls bent on tearing my favourite fishing hat to pieces.

The weather was glorious – which isn’t always great for fishing – but a few fish were caught and released. My brother turned up at lunchtime because it was his 57th birthday that day and we ate a very small, very cheap cake in his honour. All too soon I was driving my kiddiwinks to the station and left to my own devices in the cottage. Phew. What a relief. I hadn’t actually realised I’d gone back to being a dad and they’d quite happily turned into my children again.

As the light started to fade, I took a boat out on to the loch on my own. Fish flirted with me; they were on briefly, then off again. Then just as the sun sank beneath the horizon, my floating midge disappeared in a swirl and the line screamed off my reel. I fought this fish for 20 minutes and never saw it. My trusty Sage 7-weight, which has landed 10lb rainbows, bent into a U-shaped hoop, the rod tip yanked down to the rod handle. According to my laminated map of the loch, I was anchored over the deepest part, 87 feet, so this fish didn’t run away from the boat and jump like a normal feisty fish. Instead, he ran towards me, under the boat, and dived like a submarine, pulling the tip of my rod under the water.

I’ll never know how big he was because I made one schoolboy error. I visualised that fish in my landing net and I was determined to heave him up and get a look at him. So instead of letting him run, I tried to stop his bucking and plunging. I clamped the line against the rod handle and . . . ping! My tiny little fly sprang out of the water and hit me on the nose. I burst out laughing.

My kids were gone. I was the only fisher on the loch. I hadn’t even glimpsed this leviathan. Even you, faithful reader, will be assuming I made this story up. But that September trout I never caught will swim around in my head for the rest of my life.

Airport’s taxi stance leaves me (very) cold

There was a time when any black cab driver could take his chances and drive into Edinburgh Airport to find a fare

But the folk who run our new, improved Edinburgh Airport wanted a bigger slice of the action than they were getting from our cab companies so they put the job of providing black cabs to the airport out to tender.

Whichever black cab company paid them the most money got the gig. Turned out that was City Cabs. They pay a truck ton of money for the privilege of servicing the tens of thousands of travellers who arrive and depart Edinburgh so you’d think there would be a steady stream of City Cabs queuing up to take this captive audience home. Not a bit of it.

We got off the flight from Budapest at 10.30 and we were standing in the cold of the airport’s deeply inhospitable concrete car park for the next hour as two harassed City Cab attendants in fluorescent tabards tried to use their superpowers to magnetise a fleet of City Cabs out of the city to the airport – where they have a monopoly.

We shivered there for an hour. Apparently 13 flights had landed in 45 minutes, which is some kind of record. All I know is that a modern airport ought to have cabs on tap.

The cabbie who eventually picked us up told us that things were going to get better.

“How?” I asked. “Well the airport’s been sold to some big multinational and they’re taking all these sub-contracted services like taxis under one roof.”

“Isn’t that the way it used to be?” I asked. “Aye,” he said.