The seasons turned and the years swept past. Lots of years. Over a period of centuries, the oak had witnessed the footpath become a trail, then a cart track and more recently a road. It had seen the travellers on the route, first strangely dressed soldiers then friars and monks, later farm labourers and villagers. The most recent development was that the track had been coated with tacmacadam and motor vehicles had replaced the horse drawn carts.
On a very hot and sunny afternoon in the 1930's, one of these noisy vehicles, a van sign-written with the words "Surrey Trout Farm", clattered to a halt right beneath the oak tree. The driver stopped the engine and alighted from his cab to the sound of hissing steam, which was pouring from under the bonnet and obscuring the front of the vehicle. He removed his cloth cap, wiped his brow and scratched his head as he considered his options. This time he had made only a mile before the engine had overheated again. The fish he was in the process of transporting were on their last legs. Although only inexpensive coarse fish, they did not deserve to die for such a stupid reason as a burst radiator hose. The driver noticed the lake at the bottom of the hill and decided that his first priority was to save the fish.
The oak tree watched - the clock ticked some more.
It was pitch dark down this country lane. Jason swung the BMW into a tight curve, then flipped his headlights on to full beam, dropping a gear as he approached the brow of a hill. The CD player was blasting out the latest rap tunes at full volume. Jason was tired and the loud music was an attempt to keep him alert. A badger was suddenly in his headlights. He went into auto-pilot, pulling the steering to the left and hitting his brakes hard. He was travelling too fast though. There was no avoiding the huge oak tree and, although the impact was not a hard one, it was obvious that some serious damage had resulted.
By the light of his one remaining headlight, Jason checked out the damage. The car was in an awful state. The nearside wing was crunched badly into the wheel arch and the car could obviously not be driven further that night. As if to compound his misery, Jason discovered that his mobile telephone had a flat battery and that he had no means of charging it with him. Damn. He consulted his map and found what he feared most. He was miles from anywhere. Anywhere civilised anyway. The nearest village he estimated to be at least eight miles away. If he tried walking there it would be around 2 am before he arrived and he still wouldn't be sure to gain assistance from anyone. Especially at that time of night. He decided that his only option was to stay with the car until daylight and hope that a passing car would give him a ride. He settled down for a very cold and uncomfortable night in the car.
Some June dawns are pleasant. Others are not. This was one of the latter. Stiff and unrested, Jason emerged from the car and checked his expensive gold watch. 5 am. In the light of the new day, the car looked a forlorn thing, wet with dew. Jason kicked it in frustration and started off down the hill. He noticed a building, a farm or whatever, across the valley and decided to try there for help. No obvious route lay in that direction and despite wearing a rather expensive pair of shoes, he decided to cut across country to reach it. Not a good idea. By the time he was halfway across the first field, his shoes and trouser bottoms were soaked from the wet grass. As he neared the small lake at the bottom of the slope, wet mud replaced the grass. The mud had been trampled by farm animals and was that disgraceful slush that is almost liquid. At least it formed a path here however.
Keeping as close to the edge of the disgusting slime as he could, Jason found himself on the bank of the lake. Not too much of it was visible as there was a lot of very thick undergrowth, but here and there he stopped and studied the water, with obvious interest. Jason, you see, was a carp angler. Not that he would ever admit as much to his customers, should they ever ask, which they did but rarely, though he always expressed an interest in trout fishing. Carp fishing, he felt, did not quite suit the image he wanted to portray, whereas trout fishing did.
Stopping at a small gap in the bushes, Jason couldn't help but to squeeze through to get a better look at the lake. Here he could hear the sound of flies buzzing. Lying at his feet in the marginal weed was the decomposing corpse of a great carp. The thing was truly huge. Jason had seen carp of thirty pounds and had even caught some himself of almost this weight, but this beast dwarfed those. It was at least twice the size of any other carp he had ever set eyes on.
The sight of this monster had removed all traces of Jason's displeasure at his plight and had thrown him straight into 'angler-mode'. To his left was a tree with fairly strong boughs and without any thought to his clothing, Jason was soon leaning out across the lake from a height of twelve feet. He was looking down into shallow water which shelved off deeper toward the right, where a clear and straight bank suggested a dam. Lily-pads were covering half the shallows and the glare from the water obscured any further vision. Reaching into his top pocket, Jason produced a spectacle case bearing a designer name. He was unwilling to take his eyes off the water for a second and fumbled as he donned the polarised driving glasses.
There. Five huge shapes in the water. Carp. Gazumping great carp. Every one of them a monster, the smallest of them being of at least record-breaking proportions. Another group of monster fish could also be seen further out. This was incredible!
You have to realise that at this time, carp-fever in the UK was at it's peak and a whole industry had grown up around that one species. Big carp were commanding a lot of money. A thirty pound carp was fetching several thousand pounds, an upper forty pounder costing a hell of a lot more. Jason instantly realised that he was looking at a huge amount of money and his brain automatically went into overdrive. Given the chance, carp anglers would queue up to be allowed to fish for specimens of this size and they would be prepared to spend vast amounts on day-tickets for the privilege. Another part of Jason's brain was sending messages too. If handled correctly, a new carp record holder would gain wealth and prestige from the capture and - something that money could not buy - a form of immortality. His name would go down in the record books. He would achieve fame! Jason saw in his mind neat rows of angling statistics with his name at the premier position. The fishery owner too could gain great wealth, if he had a good head for business. And Jason did have a good head for business.
Jason climbed down from the tree and, as he replaced his glasses, noticed that his hands were shaking. He had to compose himself, he had some smooth talking to do.
Ten minutes later he was striding up towards the farmhouse, repeatedly calling 'Hello' as he did so. Not that the occupants of the house could have been in any doubt that they had a guest arriving, two scruffy black and white mongrels were baying their heads off.
Twenty feet from the farmhouse, the front door opened and Jason was confronted by a character that the Archers would have been proud of. I swear. Dressed in Wellington boots over a pair of striped pyjamas, a wax jacket of unthought of vintage and topped with a battered trilby on his head. To cap it all, his first words were "Arr. An what would you be wanting then?"
Jason could not believe his luck. The farmer, Mr Scroter as he introduced himself, was straight out of Bill and Ben and was helpfulness personified. Apologising in a thick burr as his two mutts leapt over his new guest, Scroter led Jason inside to the kitchen where he pulled up a chair so the young man could dry his feet in front of an old wood burning stove. Looking around, Jason felt he had gone back to a previous age. He sat sipping at a cracked mug of tea, in a kitchen that might last have seen a coat of paint in the 1950's. The farmer was not of the 'gentleman' variety, that much was apparent. Jason told his host of the car accident and omitting only his experiences at the lake, described how he came to be there.
Mr Scroter apologised that he had no telephone but offered to take Jason to Barnbridge, the nearest town, as soon as his son had returned with 'the car'. It was two hours later that a vehicle could be heard pulling up outside. By that time Jason had established his credentials, explained that he was a property developer/estate agent and had Scroter eating out of his hand.
It turned out that the Scroter's only transport was not exactly a car but a twenty year old Datsun flat-bed pick-up truck. What the car dealers call a 'utlility'. Scroter junior parked it outside the door. He was a thick looking, heavy set boy. Jason him won over in an instant by promising him a drive of his BMW once it was repaired. After a rather greasy fried breakfast, the farmer and the yuppie left the house.
Seated in the cab section of the tatty rust-bucket, his suit getting less stylish by the minute, Jason made small talk, saying how he admired the view. He waited, then dropped his bait in front of Scroter when the farmer had started the vehicle's engine.
The hand-brake came on again with speed. Scoter turned in his seat and looked incredulously at the younger man beside him.
"What, so you think that them townies would want to live out here do you? And that you could get permission to build a little estate here, is that right? Estate? Is that what you call it?"
Jason elaborated, his silver tongue turning on the charm that had earned him so many riches in recent years. Yes, Jason was sure that he could develop the little farm into a select housing development, but of course he would have to invest a lot of work into the project to make it suitable.
The farmers eyes narrowed a little. "What would you do with it then?" he enquired.
Jason pointed, "Well, we would have to bulldoze that slope there to level it out a bit, probably fill in the pond for a carpark and put in an approach road over there. Of course it all takes a lot of money". He paused for this to sink in, then continued "The only way it could really go ahead was if our people got the freehold at a reasonable price to start with. Why, were you thinking of selling?".
The farmer guffawed as he put the pick-up into gear. Oh yes. He was thinking of selling all right. They continued their chat as the truck bounced its way down the narrow track to the main road.
The lack of a telephone at Scroters farm meant that the solicitors took even longer than usual to complete the sale. Finally however, the deal was done and Jason dictated a letter to his secretary suggesting that he and the Scroters meet to finalise the deal, handing over the keys etc. Scroter telephoned his reply from Barnbridge and suggested the Chinese restaurant in the village as a meeting place for the following Sunday afternon at 2pm. They could have a meal and celebrate the conclusion of the sale.
Jason arrived at Barnbridge at 2.30. He had no real desire to sit and eat greasy swill with the sweaty peasant, but he had to attend for the final signing and to collect the keys. Even so, he would have sent a proxy but for the fact that he wanted to go up and look the lake over again as soon as the meeting was over. He had spent the past few months dreaming of this and had his rods in the back of the car, ready for the first session on HIS lake. Ha! The carp record was his for the taking, it was just a matter of time. Perhaps, just perhaps, it was even to be today.
Hoos Schezwan Golden Star Eating House was easy to find, being the only restaurant in the one-horse town that was Barnbridge. It obviously doubled as the local chippie, a few customers with newspaper plates were hanging around outside when he arrived. A side door led to the eat-in section and he entered to find that Scrote and his boy had already started without him.
"Oh, there you are, I though you'd gotten lost" said the bumkin as he entered "We've started without you".
"No, no problem" replied Jason. "But I'm afraid that I can't stay and eat with you. Time pressures and all that. I have the forms here though, so perhaps we could just do the signing" Jason produced the documents with a flourish "and I can get on my way. If that's alright with you?" He cocked an eye at the farmer.
"Oh arr. Well if you're in that much of a hurry I s'pose so. Here're the keys" He produced a small bunch. " Now, where do I sign?".
The signatures were signed, the keys handed over and the documents exchanged.
Jason looked at his copy and smiled the smile of the content.
Scroter looked exactly like one of his pigs, a trickle of grease running down his chin, his big red nose shining. "And that's it. You are now the proud owner of Scroters Farm. Let me shake you by the hand".
His huge callused paw enveloped Jasons neat hand and shook it like a terrier with a rat.
"Thank you Mr Scroter. Nice doing business with you. So" Jason studied his copy of the documents. "Now I own 16 acres of smallholding including" he read from the paper "all the buildings, the land, the lake and including all fish, fowl and fauna".
"Ho!" exclaimed Mr Scroter." Not many fish there now though eh Jamie". He elbowed his son. "Me an' Jamie 'ere, we drained the lake a few weeks ago and sold all them fish to Mr Hoo here. Didn't see no point in wastin' em, what with you just going to fill it in an' all. Some right bigguns in there an' all, there were".
Farmer Scroter looked down at his plate, then stuffed another forkful of carp and rice into his mouth.