There were no fisherman in my family, so no older enthusiasts to enjoy that father/son, or older sibling bonding with, sat serenely on the banks of a quiet river, fishing – least not in the fishy sense; in fact not in many senses, apart from the odd rare guitar lesson or a rare trip to the mine to see the ponies… Oh, and besides the fact that I learned to take a hard punch in the face occasionally, courtesy of next-up-big-bro; which actually stood me in good stead for some of my later, teen wayward adventures… Alas, no fishing. That didn’t matter though. I wanted to fish. And so did a few of my pals. We didn’t have to do it properly, we didn’t need expensive rods, line or skills for making those lovely beady/fluffy flies. We procured a load of old cat-gut wire and some big old fish hooks – these were lethal and yes, occasionally they did have the blood out of our fingers! Okay, so ‘tiddlers’ were beneath us – catching sticklebacks in glass jars and amusing ourselves with them was no longer appealing – we had ‘bigger fish to fry’; or at least try to catch first… I think around that time Jaws was only just released, 1975? Though it wasn’t likely we’d be tackling such a creature – although, down the ‘pump’, you just never knew!
The ‘pump’ was a sort of mini valley with a small water course at the bottom. Steep, sloping sides meant that any moving down to the stream required a developed skill of bottom-sliding, or edging – too quick and you’d take off! It was a long way to tumble if you lost your grip on the grass as you made your way down. And dotted about the bank sides were trees, handy for steadying the journey if you calculated your route properly. Facing North on the descent, to the left was a huge drain gate that led into a dark tunnel that held its own mysteries… In winter time, or anytime the rain fell hard for that matter, the pump stream would flood and I mean flood – it’s hard to comprehend danger when you’re a child when the World has so many interesting temptations. Parents warned us not to go there with tales of strangers and of course, floods. It was said that over a hundred years ago, two twin children drowned in the pump, and we were told that on those dark nights at a certain time of the year, you would still hear their pitiful cries, and the rush of the torrent they’d succumbed to… Be that story fiction or fact, it’s logged and frequently called to mind – a well driven-in warning. I did learn later that those so-called pitiful cries were not likely those of the dead, but of cats yowing as they do when they’re sizing up to fight – and the torrent was most likely the wind. Still, it was enough to think about when the waters through the pump were swollen.
Convinced there were fish in those waters we tied on our hooks and laid our lines. Suitably baited with worms – although by the time we’d managed to attached anything to the hooks, the worms no longer resembled worms! Just a mash of slimy, juicy, earthy jelly for the most part. To the expert we would have appeared as fumbling know-nothings, aspiring to ensnare a fish just for the pure mischief of it – and with absolutely no hope of success. Anyway, we were going to catch fish, we were convinced. We chatted about the size it/they would be, could we find someone with a spare bowl or tank so that we could keep it/them? Well, we could hardly let it go could we after all the trouble we’d gone to? No, we’d keep whatever fish we had as pets, in suitable containers so as to admire our trophies as and when we liked.
Not sure about my friends but I for one, spent nights wondering and dreaming about our catch. Dad said that if we caught anything then he’d be a monkey’s uncle – had to think about that for a bit…? Mum just laughed. Both of them scolded me for having been at the pump in the first place. Come to think of it, the only park we had in the village was a complete wreck – the roundabout didn’t go ’round, the banana slide was laying on its side, just visible in the ever-growing and unmowed grass, and the swings didn’t swing – in fact they didn’t have seats or chains! Just the frame. Oh, the monkey bars were okay though, although small. So was it any wonder that we’d find adventure among the countryside? When I look at playgrounds these days, I always feel that we were cheated out of somewhere to play like that – that and just the slightest of urges to shoot down a slide, or, maybe just have a little swing?
We checked those lines day after day after day, replenishing the hooks with worms as often as we could. I’m afraid to say that the novelty was fast wearing off. Our imaginations needed new fodder every other day. Childish attention spans demanded a fast turnaround of things to interest us. We carried on playing over the pump, climbing, messing around, you know, just generally entertaining ourselves. However, fish were boring. Or at least trying to catch them was. What was to be the last time we checked the last remaining line – the others being somewhat neglected due to lack of enthusiasm – there, stuck firmly on the end of the cat-gut, was a big, brown, slimy fish! Wow! We had one at last! And just for a little while, our interest in all things fish was re-ignited. It was some kind of trout, I think, and about six or seven inches long… Not exactly Jaws, a bit dull and, well…just brownish and dead. We completely lost interest in this whole fishing experience. Thing is, we would’ve just put the fish back in the water, perhaps other fish would have chomped happily on its remains? But we didn’t. Now, I’m tempted to think that you know what came next? What actually became of the fish? Are you thinking that maybe we tossed it at one another teasingly? Stuffed it down one another’s backs? Played a strange game of tag with it? Actually, nothing of the sort… Well, we did throw it around a little… It did begin to look just a little tatty…
In the village, lived an old man, who just happened to hate the sight of us. He was bushy-grey-bearded, heavily clad in old baggy trousers and coats – even in summertime – and wore a cap that was just heaving to crawl off his head and live its own little existence in a bin or under a hedge somewhere! His beard was discoloured by years of nicotine and food – he certainly never washed, that was obvious! He was rotten! Hacky! Always unprovoked, he would cross roads and paths, diverting himself purposely to get us, although he was oldish and not quick at all, we avoided him with ease. It was funny but sometimes he’d get on our nerves. If we were playing somewhere and he turned up, sometimes he’d talk to us but then his wind would blow another way and he’d begin shaking his stick at us and telling us how he would feed us to his dog….and his sister – who incidentally, was just as scruffy! He would shout that his sister was a witch, he carried one of her eyes in his pocket so that she could see everyone he wanted her to curse, and, well, eat… Old scruff and his sister lived together in an old detached bungalow, with overgrown, weed-clad walls and paths, filthy black net curtains and paint work that curled and flaked everywhere… The roof missed tiles and the guttering, thick-set with moss and more weeds. Stains coated the height of the walls where years of rain had washed dirt down from those gutters. Honestly, he was a pest. And although provoking the odd adult into giving us a chase had its own appeal from time to time, this old man was simply annoying!
We put the fish through his letterbox…