Although the title of this post is ‘Chichester’ the essence of this postcard image has nothing to do with the location and everything to do with the intense stare of the Edwardian lad as he looks down into the still water longing for (or fearful of) ‘the bite’.
“I fish for rain, but I only ever seem to catch snow.”
― Jarod Kintz
I relate to the lad standing in the picture – isn’t that often the way that we get into an image? We inhabit it, make associations as a result of looking at it, we attach a memory or two to it and in some unconscious way make it our own. An image as a prompt to a whirl of free association: Derwent / colour works / Steven Ballington / maggot / creel / Shakespeare / root […] endless associations.
That lad, hat pushed back, not caring if the photographer with all his gallumphrey of kit has set up home next to him and is taking his photo: watch the rod, stay focused, was that a nibble, did the tip just quiver???
Perhaps you’ve been there? Have you been hooked by fishing? It’s not something I do now but there was a time, around the age of the lad in the postcard, when I’d get my day license and pint of maggots from ‘Vickers’ – Matlock’s toyshop and gift emporium and purveyor of fine maggots (what a sideline!) and then, loaded down with tackle, head off with David ‘Tommo’ Tomlinson for a day of studiously NOT catching fish.
We’d choose unlikely spots; my favourite was just below the outflow of the Via Gellia Colour Works in Matlock Dale, where the dye-stained water flowed bloodily back into the Derwent from a tunnel that held as dark a fascination for us as the fish in the river.
We chose there (I now suspect) because we were making sure that there were no fish about to complicate our day.
You see what those fishing days were about was eating sarnies outdoors; they were about bonding, relaxing, and tale tales (we’d make up fabulous stories about the people ‘trip-trapping’ over the footbridge above us). We fished in the shadows beneath that bridge countless times.
The days were about the sandy banks and how the sand felt damply cold on the warmest days; they were about ‘kit’, about the creak of the creel as you sat down on it, and precious floats or lead shot, the hook, line and sinker of it, all those pocket-money-precious packages of delight and mystery.
We hadn’t a clue how to fish, no-one had showed us anything. We just had a go, and happily un-fished our days dipping a line into the water or pulling it out of a tree.
The magic – for there was indeed magic – was in our proximity to water. It felt wild, even mildly perilous, by the water. We weren’t reckless or stupid, we could swim, but there was always something about the muscularity of the river that commanded our respect and something approaching awe..
I think my fishing period lasted two or perhaps three summers. The odd stickleback or minnow was unceremoniously hauled out into the air, and as rapidly as possible dispatched back to the water with a huge sense of relief that we’d not actually killed it. On a couple of memorable occasions I caught grayling, heck even the odd iridescent trout… but always it was the location, the closeness to water that really held my fascination.
Gradually the tackle fell into disuse and, if memory serves, I sold the lot to fund another ‘pre-girls’ teenage passion, model railways!
“I suspect, on some level, all of us who consider ourselves “outdoors-people” — whether we fish or hunt or birdwatch or gather mushrooms or hike or photograph — are romantics at the core.
“We experience something transcendent in those environs, something we idealize in our hearts and minds, something that illumines a spark of the divinity within us.”
― Joe Webb