My friend Jonah has moved to Hasting, I join him Bass fishing
Sea fishing in Hastings is looked down on by fly fisherman, as being ‘chuck and luck’ a second class kind of fishing that compares poorly with the noble art of trying to cheat an animal with a brain the size of a sugar puff. I quite like it. Sitting on the beach, watching the waves break on the shore, listening to the sound of a stolen car doing doughnuts in a dogging car park.
In fishing there are two kinds of bad luck, the ‘one that got away’ kind and my kind. Where early success leads to massive expenditure in search of never to be repeated landing of a fish worth eating. It was all the fault of that first lucky fish. I've spent many hundreds of pounds on fishing gear, I've got rigs for lots of different kinds of fishing, I’ve got luggage bought with fishing in mind, and wish lists for even more shit. It all started in Hastings.
In the south of England there is a town, a bit like Gabriel García Márquez's ‘Macondo’, forever separated from it near neighbours. No high mountain pass, no thick jungle, just the solitude of an economic divide that's lasted a hundred years. With its shitty transport links, and dead-on-its-arse fishing port, Hastings is probably the skuzziest seaside town the south of England has to offer. I love it. In Hastings I'm almost fat enough, my head is almost closely shaven enough, but I'm a little under-tattooed. Just down the coast Brighton has become a suburb of London with house prices to match, a sort of English San Francisco. With four trains an hour you can commute to London in under an hour. Hastings has one train an hour if you’re lucky, and it stops everywhere along the way, covering the same distance in two hours. Except on a Sunday when you'd suffer the hell-world of a 'replacement bus service'. That's a Sunday afternoon [and possibly evening] you'll never get back.
Something, most likely the low house prices, drew Jonah to Hastings in the noughties ‘it’s a town on the up’ he said with the optimism of a man who’s just bought a crumbling shit hole in a dying town, ‘its really going to take off when the new high speed rail link comes’. He wasn’t the first to fall for this fairy tale; the same sentiment is in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. Published 1914.
Hastings is the end of the line, a kind of reverse Shangri-La. A place where people who have taken-the-hump can make a home safe in the knowledge that whatever form their disenchantment takes they’ll find either like-minded souls or at least the anonymity offered by coastal degradation. When all the money was gone and his followers were whittled down to a few 50-something’s living in their mum’s garages, Alistair Crowley made his home in a guest house here with just a bag of heroin and his demons for company. His fishing exploits remain unknown.
One noted Fisherman and outdoorsman who did come from Hastings is Edwardian bullshitter Archie Belaney who passed himself off an Ojibwe called ‘Grey Owl’ even going as far as being sent by the Canadian government to meet Queen Victoria. Proper bullshiter. Whether he fished the pier or by the dogger’s car park is unknown
Away from the piss stained mini-vegas of the seafront with it’s slots and fried chicken you’ll still find mumbo-jumbo merchants selling crystals and incense, and those empty café’s posh girls open to get rid of that burdensome inheritance. Otherwise it’s all poundland, charity shops, and greasy cafes. Bait is an unbelievable price.
The tourist board seems reluctant to celebrate Crowley and Grey Archie and instead use legends of witches, smugglers, and abundant heroin to draw people in. Social security offices in the north of England (Liverpool) have hit upon Hastings as a way to massage their figures into a more fiscally pleasing shape. They'd make magical ‘discretionary payments’ to the jobless junkies that were standing in the way of their performance related pay, buying them a ticket to Hastings, transferring their claims to the Hastings office, and registering them with the drugs outreach team. The dole office people got their bonuses Hastings got their junkies.
You might think that fishing is just sitting around all day, and you’d be right, but it all starts at very specific times. Time and Tide wait for no man. A second lunch had meant we were late for the incoming tide. I’d had to run back to the kitchen to get my Sushi kit, before we could set off
Jonah: " What are you doing? You've just got to go for the fun of it, if you catch anything it’s a bonus"
Mrs Jonah: "You want to be more like him, he’s got a positive mental attitude"
Having made our way past the parade of street drinkers we're finally on the beach with our cheap arse fishing gear enjoying the reflected lights of the fast food joints that line the shore. This was back in the day when I at least had the excuse of not knowing how to cast, I managed one of the most ungainly and shortest range casts in the history of fishing and was about to wind it in and start again but Jonah would have none of it. Admonished to 'just pour some coffees' I was recovering from pouring scalding coffee out of his comedy flask on to my hands and trousers when I looked up to see that in his excitement he'd lost the power of speech and, hyperventilating, was pointing and the tip of my rod. Even if you've never fished the difference between the tide bouncing the rod tip up and down and an actual fish yanking it about is obvious. I leapt to my feet and started to 'pump and wind' pulling in an eighteen inch long Sea Bass! I was later to learn that beginners luck had sent the bait to exactly the place where Bass come in on the rising tide, despite my incompetent efforts to launch the bait over the horizon the bait had splashed down just beyond the first breaker. After the Bass had been rendered senseless with a rock - no sandy beaches in Hastings - we put some more bait out and spent the next hour or so chatting with passers by all of whom remarked that I was now the fishing champion of the area as nothing that big had been pulled out in months, coincidently the same number of months that Jonah had been resident in Hastings. With every passing fisherman’s congratulations Jonah’s mood darkened. The tide too had turned and we called it a night. It was the first and last fish I ever caught in Hastings.
After the next day’s victory lunch with Jonah's mood showing no sign of improving I remembered to quit while still ahead and packed my bag for the train home. As she dropped me off at the station, Mrs Jonah smiled brightly "don’t worry babe, he'll get over it, green was never a colour that suited him."