Fishing for Fat Lava

“Fat lava” is a term used to describe ugly German ceramics, usually vases, from the 60s & 70s. There is a European Directive that all antique shops must have a large brown Fat Lava vase in the corner for gathering dust and walking sticks. The term is now used as a interweb search key for pretty much any German ceramics from 50’s to 80’s whether or not the glaze is lava-like, thick, fat or thin, bubbly, cratered or drippy. As a result of the success of a new invasive species in Germany, Cheapus Vases Ikeas, Fat lava vases are now all migrating across the channel to make a last stick-stand in a corner of what will be forever, Retroland.

Having fished for 40 years I can describe the seven stages in the life-cycle of an angler. A year collecting Fat Lava has demonstrated to me that there are many parallels between anglers and those that Fish For Fat Lava (FFF)

Seven stages of the life-cycle
1. The Tyro
In order to keep child or adult busy he is sent out with bent pin or with small change for the good of his or his parent or partner’s health. “It’s good that he has an interest. It gets him away from the computer”.

In this first stage all that matters to the new FFF  is to catch something, anything, no matter how small, eel like, wretched or broken. Eventually some poor, down on its luck or dying fish or discarded vase is hooked and our hero brings home the first trophy and is now, inevitably, addicted.

If it is a fishy fellow then the angler will delight in having provided for his family’s table, albeit usually this first catch is a bony, scaly, creature tasting of mud that will end up in the cat.

If it is a vase then it will take pride of place on the mantelpiece where it will slowly reveal its shortcomings. The crack, “Bugger, missed that”, the chips, “Do you think anyone will notice?” and then with the discovery that dog-shite brown is not the most desirable colour and that this is one of 200 billion vases of a pattern still made today.

2. Greed
All that matters is quantity, the angler is now in a feeding frenzy, it matters not a jot what species or size of fish is caught all that matters is mine, mine, mine.

The FFF will now behave no better than a loutish London looter.

Fat Lava vases flocking together prior to their northward migration

3. Shooting fish
Stage 3 is the discovery of the fish farm, stocked lake or pond. The angler buys his day ticket and thinks he is in heaven until in time he realises that every day will be exactly the same. He will always catch fish. This is too easy. Hell!

For the FFF the stocked lake full of open-mouthed rainbow trout is of course the Ebay or Etsy fish farm. The FFF cannot fail to hook vase upon vase all he has to do is to pay the ticket price.

more stuff

4. Big fish
The angler now changes his target. He will stop at nothing in his quest to bag the biggest fish of any species.

The FFF ignores all small fry in pursuit of a record-breaking floor vase of back-breaking proportions. If he is successful the problems have only just begun. Once the vase has been winched into the rest home and duly revered it will begin its slow inextricable journey to the shed or garage, perhaps dwelling for some months or in some cases, dust gathering years, in the hall, being lanced by umbrella wielding visiting toreadors.

5. The Specialist
The maturing angler will by now have discovered the more challenging quarries. He will dedicate his very existence to the pursuit of perhaps one or two of the most elusive species. The Carp Angler. The Barbel specialist. The Bass fisherman. The Salmon man.

The FFF will only collect vases by Grümler-Breulich ignoring all other piss poor pots in the process.

6. The specimen hunter.
The angler will by now have selected his holy grail. This must be done with great care. What is important is the difficulty of the quest, it must be a mission possible but highly improbable. The dry-fly caught salmon over 50 lbs is probably a safe enough bet or the mythical carp “Carmen” in the secret lake (coarse fisherman always name what can become lifetime friends).

The FFF will perhaps choose the obscure vase in the faded black & white catalogue, only made to order (perhaps never made), from a little known factory on the banks of the Dreisam or perhaps a studio vase made on the last day of February 1963 in the old factory annex and signed by Stephi Grafdahl using her left hand while her right was in plaster after the langlauf accident.

During any of stages 2 to 6 anglers will at least once calculate the value of their catch in terms of a formula:
E (easy money) = (price per lb x weight in lbs)
but few will be tempted to sell at the backdoor of a fishy restaurant.

Many FFF will metamorphose into commercial FFF. Trawling the potting grounds and either filling, warehouses, garages and living rooms or providing stock straight to the ever hungry Ebay pot farm.

Small brown vases

7 Enlightenment
The angler will revert to the simplest of pleasures, a day of changing light on a remote hill loch where sardine sized fish are the norm and where a herring sized brown trout is an ancient myth. Or a couple of mackerel for tea from a leaky old rowing boat in the Minch.

The FFF will enjoy the dusty vase from among the endless stalls selling children’s clothes at the sunny flea market, or while enjoying an evening walk through the wealthy streets of a German city he may chance on a poor vase crammed, unloved in the corner of a cardboard box containing the previous tenant’s worldly goods. This magnificent source of delights is called Sperrmüll , bulky unwanted goods left very, very tidily on the pavement for collection by the council or anyone else who is quicker. Think of it as a skip full of treasure but without the skip.

It is at this stage that both angler and FFF may find pleasure in sharing their experience and in encouraging others through the sometimes difficult earlier stages of the life-cycle. The angler’s library is vast but for the FFF a handful of books and reference CD’s and a blossoming of interweb resources reflects a sport in its infancy, played exclusively I suspect by sad boy infants.

Enlightenment will not typically be found in the Junction Pool on Tweed or in the expensive minimalist clinically clean posh antique shops where you have to ring a bell and you are only let in if they like the cut of your jib.

What really matters is that on every cast or at every market stall there is always  uncertainty and always a possibility.

Brown trout from Mullin-y-Carty


2 responses to “Fishing for Fat Lava

  1. Absolutely love this! What a fantastic way to describe the life cycle of a WGP collector. I think I’m somewhere between a ‘Big Fish’ and ‘The Specialist’ for now… Emma

  2. Lacking the extensive fishing background, I used a simplified categorization for collecting in the essay on the left of this page:
    Elsewhere on the site is “To Buy or Not to Buy” for those who want to develop an eye and a philosophy.

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