A year ago, Hambleforth was an ordinary village. If it was famous for anything, it was probably best known amongst the coarse fishing community for its remarkable carp lake. One fine August morning a year ago, this lake became remarkable enough to be known around the world.
John Aikin’s family have lived around here for as long as anyone can remember, probably since the Conqueror fetched up on a beach not far from here. As long as he left the fishing alone, it’s doubtful John’s Saxon forbears would have noticed the change in ownership. ‘Fishing’s been the biggest thing for Aikin men for as long as I can remember. Coarse fishing mind you, none of that fly nonsense round here’ says John. And indeed, he’ll talk about the struggle he and his ancestors have waged against the wily carp, Queen of Rivers, for as long as you’ll let him, assuming that any right thinking man will be as enthused and dedicated as him. ‘I’d been after the Pig all summer’ he explains. ‘The Pig is the biggest fish in the Mill. Fifty pounds they say. Never caught him myself. Seen him, mind.’
So, after a few fruitless visits to the lake, John headed down on the 4th of August to the Mill, armed with some new groundbait and tuna. He wasn’t prepared for what he saw there. The surface of the lake had assumed a dome shape. It was curved upwards to a maximum height of about five feet in the centre, coming down to normal level at the edges. Stunned as he was, he knew that it was several hours until the post office opened, which in the absence of a police station counted for governmental authority, and so, not wanting to waste the morning, he started casting. ‘It was just like normal. In fact, better in some ways, because the sun came through the water like a fish tank and you could see them swimming about. No Pig though, that morning.’
Sam Cherton opened up the village post office as usual that morning. A little after 10, John Aikin stopped by. After exchanging some small talk, mostly about what was biting, John went to leave, but then turned back. ‘Sam’, he said, ‘you might want to put the sign in the window for a minute and come and have a look at this.’ Together they walked down to the lake. Sam stood for a minute. He noticed that the surface of the water was rippling in the light breeze blowing, just like it normally would, and, like John, that the sun picked out the fish swimming close to the surface. It reminded him of nothing so much as a giant jelly turned out onto a plate. He could find nothing to say. ‘I’ve got nothing to say, John’ he said. ‘Never seen anything like it. Who do we tell?’ ‘I thought you would know’ said John. ‘Bugger me John’ said Sam, ‘if I can’t put a stamp on it I’m lost. We’d better get Colin over from Longton.’
Baffled, both men retreated back to the Post Office and rang the Police Station. It didn’t escape their notice that there were a number of fishermen calmly sat around the lake fishing away as if nothing unusual were happening. In fact, this set a pattern throughout the rest of the day, as more and more people arrived, starting with the local police, fire service and GP, on to local councillors, county councillors, MP, army, GCHQ and research scientists from Aldermaston. At this stage, the remaining fishermen who had tried to hold onto their prime lakeside seats by shushing and glaring at the increasingly excited villagers were moved on and the area cordoned off with police tape. As night drew on, the surface of the lake glittered with reflected blue light from the emergency services vehicles parked up nearby. Men and women used every scientific instrument they could find to probe the lake’s secrets long into the night, and as the dank grey light of early morning came on the scene it revealed several rows of satellite trucks squatting on the adjoining rugby field. The world’s media had come to see this most baffling of lakes, from a distance mind as the boffins were still interrogating the hummock shaped water feature and they would not let anyone else near.
‘I heard them chatting between themselves’ said Bill Easton, volunteer fireman. ‘One of them was all for hiring a canoe or rowboat and heading out to the centre. Someone else pointed out that they would as like just slide off. I could tell they were baffled. Some would argue very loudly about what they thought it was, others would gently shake their head and stare out into it. Then they all packed up and hared off, probably back to their lab or something.’ By this time on the second day, what could be described as special interest groups were starting to appear: UFO enthusiasts, New Age hippies, Druids, Socialist Workers, Pro and Anti Hunt campaigners, Atlanteans, Anglo-Israelists, Truthers, Birthers and people protesting about the nearest A&E closing, all jostling to get their placards seen by the TV news cameras. The village bakery had long since sold out of sausage rolls, the local roadside snack bar was in meltdown, vegans were going hungry and runners were being sent to the industrial estate in nearby Concreton for supermarket baguettes and hot drinks. Enterprising hawkers set up trestle tables from the back of their dowdy estate cars and began selling hastily printed up t-shirts, scarves and sparkly spinners, wands and torches for the kids who dodged in and out of the trucks and police tape, repeatedly killing each other with cap guns and flashing swords and being reborn to fight again.
As this day dragged on people started to take a furtive glance at their watches followed by a scan of the horizon, as if to say ‘this is all well and good, but if I’m still going to be here tomorrow, something had better happen’. No word had come from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the whisper being that the verdict was ‘no military application or threat’. Mainstream science was still baffled, but unwilling to pronounce or investigate too much for fear of not coming up with a believable and non paradigm threatening answer. Fringe science however, was making hay while the sun shone. Alien spaceship at the bottom of the lake pushing the water up with an antigravity forcefield? Check. Local gravitational anomaly caused by Mother Earth kicking back against climate change? Check. Disruption caused by building works for the new palace long planned by the King of the Faeries? Check.
By the end of the week, all the satellite trucks had gone. Some local print reporters were still kicking around and Dave’s Snax’s was seriously considering hauling his trailer back to the layby on the A281. ‘Be holiday traffic on there soon. Things are cooling down here. Maybe I should hook up.’ he told Bill Easton, his brother in law. Bill nodded his head in agreement. ‘Those townies will be on their way soon’ said Bill. ‘TV men all gone already. One of the Queen’s corgis got run over yesterday, by some pop star. They’ve all gone back for that. Fishing will start again soon, mark my words.’ Dave nodded and went back to his trailer to unhook the gas cylinder and load up. By this stage, a handful of New Agers in tents, one of whom seemed a little more commercially minded than his cohorts and was selling small perfume bottles topped up with lake water for its ‘magical mysterious properties’, a local policeman, two or three estate cars with flustered families stopping off on their way to or from holiday lets and some tattered ‘Police Do Not Cross Line’ tape flapping in a desultory manner in the summer breeze were all that was left of the human circus that had descended on Hambleforth.
A year later, there is still one dedicated Faery acolyte camped out near the lake. ‘He’s quite friendly’ says John, corkscrewing his finger round his temple, ‘but mad as a box of frogs. He doesn’t mind us fishing, and we don’t mind him camping out there, he’s quite respectful of the lake and all. Clever chap, but something’s definitely been in the oven too long.’ The villagers of Hambleforth have come to accept their convex carp lake, and are most happy that the rest of the world seems to have forgotten about them. ‘We get a policeman from Concreton every week’ says Sam, ‘but all he does now is get a sausage roll from the bakery and then bugger off. He knows if anything had happened he’d get to hear about it. The lads are all down there keeping an eye so if that spaceship does take off he’ll know soon enough.’ He gives a hamfisted wink and breaks into a wheezy cough that goes on longer than he would have liked, then wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘And they’ve worked out how to get a boat out there. Young Timothy that were, thinking of that ferry in Lord of the Rings. They’ve stuck a swimming pool lane divider right the way across and the boat holds onto that to stop from sliding off. Genius.’
Almost back to normal then. Except for the lake, which has maintained its unnatural shape since that morning. Fish continue to swim in it, ducks on it, and the rest of the world goes about its business as well. Even John, in his business of trying to catch the Pig. ‘Have you got ‘im yet then?’ Sam asks him every morning. A rueful shake of the head is the only answer.