Returning to the theme of Halloween, I was reminded of the contents of Arachno Vino by an extract from Robert Hughes’ A Jerk on the End – Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman. A jerk on one end of a line waiting for a jerk on the other – one of the classic definitions of fishing. Reflecting on the difference between ‘clean’ fly fishing and the use of coarse ground-bait he quotes a 17th Century recipe – human fat, powdered bones, “mummy”, cat fat and grave earth – everything but a Tartar’s lips and the liver of a blaspheming Jew. Fact is always stranger than fiction.
This short book is about much more than one man and his rod. The final chapter, Troubled Waters, is a succinct explanation of the consequences of industrial scale fishing, its environmental impact and our attitude towards conservation. I am indifferent to the plight of the fox; if the vicious little animal didn’t look so cute and wasn’t hunted down by toffs on horseback, would so many people care about its fate. Robert Hughes puts it plainly – It is easy to have respect for creatures somewhat like ourselves. The real test is to feel it for the immense majority of species that are totally unlike us. Serious concern for Nature must begin with recognition of its otherness. The “pathetic fallacy” – the habit of ascribing human emotions and impulses to non-human entities – is to conservation what a set of training wheels is to biking. It gets the kiddies going, but it has to be left behind. Otherwise, bad luck for the un-cuddly, the non-feathered, the wet, the cold-blooded and the myriad creatures that have more than four legs or none at all.
Robert Hughes died August 6th 2012; an intelligent voice sadly gone.