Coastlines: Two books worth the read

It was good to meet Poppa Mike at Crimp House recently.

Not to tread on his toes but, for a ‘change of tides’, this column is about a couple of books.

Mate Kenny around the road knows of my penchant for piscatorial activities so he said, “Got a couple of books for yuh to read.”

The first one was called, ‘Cod, a biography of the fish that changed the world.’

I thought, how on earth can a codfish change the world? Seems it was down to its popularity as a food source and sheer abundance of the various cods in the waters of the North Atlantic, North Sea, Norwegian waters and the Pacific. In the earliest times it was a useful food source but it didn’t keep, so to sustain the populations, it had to be constantly caught. This was no problem as boats didn’t need to go far to fill their barrels.

Changes came as demand grew, with more and more vessels targeting cod, so fishing pressure was a factor, with longer voyages required to get the fish. Sound familiar? Along the line of time, it was discovered cod would keep if salted and dried, so it allowed fishers and importantly explorers to embark on voyages under sail, for weeks, instead of a mere day or two. Where before the fish spoiled and went off after just a few days, now expeditions much further afield could be undertaken.

Thus the New World became reachable and opened up to colonisation. Then things really developed with merchants building enterprises on the sale and supply of cod, it sustained people making expeditions into the hinterland and brought wealth to many. Pressure on the resource changed things yet again and the book details the cod wars that occurred throughout the centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. The premise that cod changed the world is very ably demonstrated by Mark Kurlansky and should you be able to access a copy of ‘Cod’ you’ll likely enjoy the read. To also please the epicureans amongst you, this fascinating hymn to the cod even contains some recipes both ‘ancient and modern’ in its ‘Six centuries of Cod Recipes,’ section.

In my own book,

‘Fishing, a Thread:’ I wrote I don’t really know why I got involved in fishing, however in this next tome, I think that question is answered.

‘Fish, Fishing and the meaning of Life,’ is a skilfully produced anthology, selected and introduced by Jeremy Paxman. A rather lofty title with shades of Monty Python but it’s not entirely frivolous. It will take you through prose and the odd verse from Pliny down through the ages, via English writers across centuries and on to the New World’s American fishing scribes. It includes some very wry and funny writing.

This book reflected all of the positives embodied in my understanding of this fishing business, along with covering off, often humorously, the occasional setbacks and odd difficulty encountered in the quest to secure a fish. There are descriptions of olden time methods and fine portraits of streams and their environs. Above all, it allows the reader to identify with the passions of the angler writers across aeons, who have expressed their feelings and thoughts in such wonderful words. It’s not something you might sit down and read end to end, however you’ll love dipping into its waters and will be taken with the skills and understandings of both these two wonderful books.

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