A clever title by a man with a name incredibly familiar to those of us of a certain age.
In A River Runs Through Me, Andrew Douglas-Home gets the details of where he belongs in this famous dynasty out of the way before launching out upon a curious but at times beguiling, and very funny, saga of a genteel life with salmon fishing at its heart. I am certainly glad that he provided footnotes to the many fishing terms he uses, but there are moments when I could have done with translations of his refined Borders lingo.
The times that I steered closest to exasperation was when Douglas-Home comes across as a minor character in a PG Wodehouse story, with a garrulous line of self-deprecatory sporting tales, but I came to see that as an effect of my own working-class perspective and the social gulf between us. At the age he was learning the art of fly fishing and admiring the fulmars soaring around the walls of Bamburgh Castle I was sitting by the Grand Union Canal, sheltering my gobbed on pellet of white bread that I used for bait, from ravenous pigeons!
But there is a charm in this book and points when heartbreak penetrates the carapace of the reserve, as well as an awful amount of information about fishing, mainly on the River Tweed. I learnt not only much about the craft of fishing, but also the history and the too-familiar saga of an amazing creature’s decline from abundance to scarcity. It was this note of shared lament that helped to draw me into his story, but he really hooked me into his world with his robust defence of Sir Walter Scott, poignant pen portraits of his family, and his hilarious thoughts on the litter scattering and poo-bag bearing visitors to his garden.
Although the salmon dominate this life in four seasons you might, as I did, find the author much better company than expected.
- A River Runs Through Me by Andrew Douglas-Home is published by Elliott & Thompson (£14.99). To order a copy go to eandtbooks.com
Ian Tattum is a priest in the Church of England who writes occasional pieces about the people who shaped the history of science and human and animal travel-real and fictional.