14 July, 2017

Worth Every Penny!

New Hall Lane, Preston - Spring 1958: He had stood for several minutes in the late afternoon sun gazing intently into the shop window. Had any passer-by or keen observer of humanity taken note they would have known that it was not the first time that day that he had stood there. The money, saved from the few shillings earned each week from his seven days a week newspaper delivery rounds at Joe Unsworth’s newspaper shop in New Hall Lane, or coaxed  from his mother,  his dad, his auntie and his uncle was almost burning a hole in his pocket so keen was it to be spent.  And if any passing shopper had stopped to look and had followed the boy’s gaze they would have known at once the objects of his interest. The boy, however, was oblivious of passing shoppers, his eyes, heart and mind were solely concentrated upon the objects of his desire in the shop window.
Mr Seed's hardware shop - just as I remember it.

The side window of H. Seed’s Hardware shop in New Hall Lane, Preston was filled with fishing tackle – every item (and a few more besides) that one might ever associate with the gentle sport (some say “art”) of angling: rods, floats, reels, hooks, ledgers, line, nets; the boy’s eyes took in the cornucopia squashed behind the plate glass but his eyes kept returning to the green, red handled rod labelled “Special Offer”. The label informed the boy that the nine foot telescopic metal rod was made from the rust proof metal of an American Sherman tank aerial and that these telescopic rods were “all the rage” amongst the anglers of far off America. And the price? – a snip at £1/7/6. The boy had seen America on the black and white TV at home and at the cinema - a wondrous land of cowboys, gangsters and rock and roll; the place where the boy's pop heroes lived - Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, the Everley Brothers. "If this fishing rod is good enough for American anglers then it must be good enough for me", he thought!

The boy again did the calculation – rod £1/7/6, reel, 12/6, floats line hooks and lead shot about 9/0, bait tin 1/6, child’s river licence 7/6 and Lancaster Canal licence 5/-..............£4/3/0! He had plenty with the £5/0/0 that was positively straining to burst out of his pocket to be spent in Mr Seed’s small but magical emporium. At last, his decision made, he in stepped through the open door passing the step ladders for sale the stacked tins of paint and the brooms and mops, and twenty minutes later, his pocket almost empty of his savings, the boy left the shop clutching his purchases to make his way back to the little terraced house at 18 Caroline Street where he lived.

July  2017: That visit to Mr Seed’s – the first of many – I still recall with absolute clarity. I still remember him passing the rod to me and me trying to look knowledgeable as I weighed it in my hands. I can recall him advising me which types of float and what strength of line I would find best, what the most useful sizes of hooks were and how I should tie the line. As I stood in the tiny shop crammed with teapots, kitchen knives, packets of seeds, buckets, hammers and screws, my nose taking in the smell of paraffin, firelighters, candles and furniture polish I remember him asking if I intended to fish in the River Ribble?  As the Ribble was only a 20 minute walk up New Hall Lane and then down Brockholes Brow the answer was yes – so he suggested that I might need some ledgers as they were the best thing to use in that fast flowing and current filled river. Needless to say I spent another couple of bob and came out with a range of ledgers! And finally, I watched him completing the paperwork on the two juvenile's licenses that I needed – my full name, address, his signature, and an official stamp - his flowing hand seeming to my young eyes to be the very epitome of officialdom and importance. When all had been completed I stood in the shop holding my new rod and a large brown paper bag into which Mr Seed had put all the other items while he patiently wrote out a list of all my purchases into his receipt book. He took out his ink pad and stamped my receipt with his rubber stamp and wrote the date on it and signed it. Then he carefully tore out the page and handed it  to me, leaving the carbon copy in his book. I felt that I had joined an exclusive club!

It was the start of a love affair which lasted throughout my teenage years. Several of my friends were keen anglers and I was desperate to join them. As the months passed my knowledge, my fishing tackle and my trips to the waterside built up, and with my friends Mick Cunliffe, Bas Laycock and, my best friend, Tony Clarkson (who lived a few doors away from me and went under the nickname Nebber, because of the flat cap he always wore) I journeyed by bus far and wide in the search for that elusive giant of the deep. Despite all my efforts, my reading of the Angling Times and my slowly improving skills, however, the dreamed of submarine monster never took pity on my hook! It was rare that we returned home without having caught anything but in reality what we caught was rarely more than a few tiddlers. Size, however, didn’t matter! Something deep inside stirred my soul as I watched the float drift in the current or squeezed my eyes together to concentrate upon the end of the rod, waiting for the merest tremble to indicate that some bright finned leviathan was feasting upon my maggot, worm or bit of cheese sandwich! It was the same feeling that primeval hunters must have experienced as they tracked ancient beasts with their spears and stones – and throughout each school day or each week my mind was driven by that ancient hunting instinct; I couldn’t wait to be free to indulge my instincts and seek out the giant fish that was just waiting to surrender itself to my skills! Every time I walked down Brockholes Brow or caught the Ribble bus to Brock my optimism knew no bounds – I was bound to catch something that would put me on the front page of next week’s Angling Times. But hours later as I packed my gear away on the river or canal bank, my maggot tin empty and no silver finned monster in my keep net, only a few little perch or roach or minnows to return to the water I was never disappointed. It merely confirmed to me that the next expedition would be the one – the time when my undoubted angling skills would be proved! It was written in the stars, I knew, and only a matter of time before I would be struggling to land some huge fish, my rod bent double while other anglers watched on their eyes open in amazement as the fish and I fought to the death! I was nothing if not an optimist!
On the banks of the Lancaster canal near Lancaster - my rod rest in pride of place!

I spent innumerable hours sitting, rain or shine, on the banks of the Lancaster Canal or the River Ribble. I would catch the Ribble bus to Brock and sit all day in the rain on the bank of the  canal or in the school holidays I would travel further – to Garstang. A family relation was the village doctor in Garstang – Doctor Jackson – and he lived at the surgery there. His house backed onto the River Wyre, his land running down to the banks of the river and he had fishing rights so I would spend summer holiday days and Sunday afternoons there feeling very privileged to fish this well known trout stream. I rarely caught anything of note but have many happy memories of long summer days spent in the shade of the trees watching my float swim in the current waiting for that twitch of a bite and the surge through my body of that primeval hunting instinct!

And now, sixty years on as I look back and think of the few pounds that I spent that evening in Mr Seed’s shop it seems, as each year passes, to be more and more to be worth every penny.  I didn’t just buy a fishing rod and few bits of tackle that night. Nor did I buy a few years of pleasant activity. No, unknowingly that evening I bought something of infinitely more value - I bought a treasure trove of memories, a passage to adult hood and, ultimately, a bond with my father.

I well remember one day at secondary school (Fishwick Secondary Modern) a few months after that fateful afternoon when I had walked into Mr Seed’s shop to begin my angling career. It was a day when my school work and my hobby briefly became one! Each week we boys went off for either a woodwork or metalwork lesson while the girls did cookery or needlework. I had little skill in woodwork or metalwork despite my best efforts and I so envied other boys who seemed to take it all in their stride – especially one of my pals, Les Churchman. Les could, it seemed to me, at the drop of a hat, produce glorious pieces of woodwork or metal work like some mediaeval guild master craftsman. Les’ tenon joints fitted together perfectly, they could hold up the world if needed while mine wobbled and fell hopelessly apart no matter how much wood glue I stuffed in the joint. With a few deft flicks of the wood plane Les could produce a beautifully flat and smooth surface while my efforts simply produced a lump of wood that resembled a range of mountains covered in stubble! Mr Miller, the woodwork teacher would walk past my bench and shake his head in frustration and bewilderment at my efforts. He was not wrong, I was, truly, a lost cause; a budding carpenter I was not. I was a little better in metalwork, but still nowhere near the league of many of my peers - especially Les, who I was convinced could have turned out magnificent and intricate wrought iron gates for Buckingham Palace during just one metalwork lesson had he wished to do so! One day, however, the teacher, a kind, gentle, quietly spoken man named Mr Leach told us that we were going to learn how to bend metal and join pieces of metal using heat. We could choose what we wanted to make but he made a few suggestions – one of which was a fishing rod rest! My heart leapt at this! - I didn’t have a rod rest and I knew in an instant that I would make the finest rod rest that the world had ever seen; it would be the envy of the entire fishing fraternity! Well, I don’t suppose that it ever reached those heights but it was a perfectly respectable result and, boy, was I proud of it! When I took it home I couldn’t resist showing it off to Nebber and all my other fishing friends. My dad gave me some red oxide paint, from a tin that I think had fallen off the back of a lorry (like so many of the things that my dad possessed) to paint it with so that it wouldn’t rust.  And when I next sat on the river bank my rod rest was in pride of place, stuck firmly into the soil of the river bank leaning out over the water with my rod safely resting in its beautifully shaped end – all my own work! I almost felt like hanging a notice on it saying “I made this rod rest”! Had computers and mobile phones been around then I would have filled social media with pictures of my wonderful rod rest - it would have gone viral, the social media trend to end all trends!

My dad made me a tackle box so that I could carry my gear and had somewhere to sit, and in the months and years that followed Nebber and I would often go off with Ron, the local chip shop owner. Ron’s shop was on New Hall Lane near the end of my street and just a couple of blocks away from Mr Seed’s hardware shop. When I looked on Google maps recently I saw that it is now Harvey’s fish & chip shop, so the trade lives on half a century later! Ron was a keen salmon fisherman and after he closed the shop late on Saturday night or during the school holidays we would speed off in his car to arrive in the early hours at the River Lune near Lancaster or Tebay. Ron was an expert and it was rare not to come back with a salmon or a few trout that he had caught. Nebber and I might get lucky and bring a couple of trout home but it was the excitement of staying out all night and coming back in the early light of dawn, and doing this “man thing”, that was the draw! I still smile when I recall how once we all three hid in the moonlit bushes on the Lune riverbank when the inspector came along checking fishing permits – which we didn’t have! Ron had a large salmon hidden beneath his coat as we, poachers all three, crouched unmoving in the moonlight until the inspector passed! Then salmon quickly disappeared into the boot of Ron’s old Ford Consul.

Another fond memory of those years are the fishing trips that I went on with my dad and Uncle Joe. Neither my dad or Uncle Joe were really fishermen in the real sense although my dad, as I explain below did get into it later. These trips with my uncle were to take part in the twice a year fishing competitions organised by the men at Emerson Road Mill where my uncle (he was a tackler), and my mother and auntie (both weavers) worked. These fishing matches were not serious, few of the men were fishermen, in reality they were simply an excuse for all the blokes to go off in a coach for the day and sit by the canal bank after having spent 2 or 3 hours in a nearby pub and then, as darkness fell, going off into Morecambe or Blackpool to drink many more pints before falling off the coach when it arrived back in Preston and  staggering home in the early hours. And then of course, the match having taken place and winners declared it was necessary to have two more evenings of heavy drinking when prizes would be presented. An upstairs room in a local pub would be booked, sandwiches or chicken in a basket (remember that!) would be laid on, my mother and auntie would dress up in their finery and we would all enjoy a night out, cheering on those who had won the respective matches. Of course I had to wait until I was about 17 to take part in all this, but I still remember these ventures with huge affection - I was growing up.
Christmas at Emerson Road Mill in the early 60s. My Uncle Joe who was a tackler stands
in the middle of the men at the back with a beer in his hand. My Auntie Edna wearing a
"crown" sits just to the left of the man pouring his beer. My mother is just peeping out to the
left of my Auntie. The Emerson Road Mill Fishing Matches were highlights of the year -
at least for publicans of Lancaster, Morecambe, Blackpool and the surrounding areas!

In Preston the anglers’ shop in those days was Calderbank’s, tucked away in Moor Lane just outside the town centre. So, wanting a new rod more suited to my burgeoning skills, I decided, when I was about 15, to make the trip to this mythical anglers’ Mecca. One Saturday morning I stood outside gazing at the treasures, my eyes huge at the beautiful kit on display – this was a definite step up from Mr Seed’s general hardware shop! All the labels and price tags beautifully written in a copperplate hand and, to my amazement, all prices were in shillings – no pound signs used! I could see rods that my maths told me might cost £15/0/0 – a fortune to me - but the price would be marked as 300/-. Clearly, this was the Harrod’s of the angling world where only the angling elite ventured; just the place for me, I had no doubts!  Clutching my few pounds I opened the shop door – the name over the door told me that the proprietor was one Cyril Calderbank – and stepped into this Aladdin’s Cave. I stood, my fingers running along the beautifully varnished rods, my eyes admiring the delicately whipped and richly coloured trout and salmon flies – this was truly an angling wonderland! Then a movement behind the counter and a quiet “Can I help you?”.........and to my complete amazement, and no little horror, there stood my Technical Drawing teacher from Fishwick Secondary School, Mr Calderbank.
Me as a 17 year old in 1962 at an Emerson Mill fishing
trip presentation evening with my auntie (left) her next door
neighbour Mrs Keane and my mother (at the side of me!)

Highly embarrassed, I managed a stumbling “Oh, Hello Sir” and tried to explain what I wanted, the words tumbling over themselves as my tongue failed to keep pace with my spinning brain. It had never occurred to me that Mr Calderbank was the Cyril Calderbank.  Although I had long known that his name was Cyril I had never put two and two together and arrived at the requisite four! What a tale I would tell when I got to school on Monday morning! Mr Calderbank, however, soon put me at my ease and kindly showed me the rods that I might be able to afford and explained the benefits of each – and from that day on I became one of his regulars. From that point hardly a Tech Drawing lesson went by without a whispered aside from him as I left the room at the end of a lesson: “Off anywhere interesting this weekend Beale?” or “Have any luck at the weekend? Fortunately, I had a talent for technical drawing and when I left school applied for a job as a trainee draughtsman in a local drawing office: Mr Calderbank was one of my referees. I got the job and in the months that followed whenever I visited his shop, he would ask me about my work and the night school courses that I was attending to gain my ONC. One day when I was about two years into my new career he invited me back to school to talk to the boys who were about to leave to tell them about my work and what it might offer them. As I stood in front of that class of boys in Mr Calderbank’s room telling them of my life as a trainee draughtsman I really felt as if I was moving up in the world. Little did I know then that in a few years time I would change career and spend the rest of my working life like Mr Calderbank standing in front of classes of children as a teacher.

And still today, as then, I like to believe that it was my fishing hobby that somehow gave me that first little chance, and helped me to enlist the support of Mr Calderbank in getting my first job. But there was more, much more: the gentle art gave me something else – something very personal and very much in my thoughts in recent months.
Dinkley, just as I remember it

In my office and behind me as I write this, sits an urn containing my father’s ashes. Since they came into my possession I have pondered long and hard what to do with them. There are a number of options but one that keeps returning is Dinkley, a remote and beautiful area popular with local fisherman on the edge of the Trough of Bowland  between Preston and Blackburn.  The upper reaches of the Ribble flow there and as my teenage interest in fishing grew my dad, slowly became part of it. He bought a cheap rod and a few bits of tackle and on summer evenings when he was not on the road in his lorry we two, often with Nebber, would take the half hour drive to Dinkley. For me this became an increasingly important part of my life. I had had few opportunities to do things with my dad and in all honesty our home was often filled with arguments mostly inspired by my mother who, sadly, I knew, even then, was not the easiest of women. So these evenings with my dad were important and although we rarely caught anything of note it was, I think, hugely enjoyable for both of us. For dad it was an opportunity to have a quiet couple of hours and to have a few cigarettes while my mother was not present – she had been a smoker all her life but had given up and was pressuring (nagging!) dad to do the same, so a couple of hours on the river bank was an opportunity for him to catch up with his “fix”. I, of course, was sworn to secrecy and again, this was important – having a secret with my dad was, I suppose, another of those growing up things, a man thing. These trips were events for which I will be forever grateful. In a small way they made up for the many nights when, as a long distance lorry driver, dad had been away on the road and I had listened to my mother’s continual criticism of him.  In modern terms I suppose we might call it father and son bonding. Today, however, they are treasured memories, and for that reason alone I think my dad’s ashes will be scattered one day at Dinkley. 

When I left home as a twenty one year old to attend teacher training college in Nottingham my love affair with fishing gradually waned. The rods and tackle lay dormant until my own son and I went to try our luck for a few years but slowly life moved on. It was not, however, in vain. Still today, if we walk along a river bank or pass an angler sitting there with today’s hi-tec gear my heart beats a little faster. I cannot stop myself from peering into his keep net to see what he has caught, I cannot pass without again feeling that same primeval twinge of excitement as I see his float drift in the current and he waits, still, concentrating, looking for that little tremble or dip of the float. The old instincts are still there and in recent months the old memories have, with my possession of my father’s ashes, been stirred. I could never have imagined that the few pounds that I spent in Mr Seed’s hardware shop that spring tea time in 1958 would still be very much a part of me, six decades later, and be instrumental in making me what I am today. They were, undoubtedly, worth every penny - and more.......... and, that's not all! You see, whenever I go into the shed at the back of my garage here in Nottingham, amongst the cobwebs, the garden tools, the bits of old electric cabling and the off cuts of wood, amongst the sun loungers, the BBQ stuff, the step ladders and the half used pots of paint there, tucked in the corner, stands my proud piece of metalwork, my rod rest; still with its red oxide paint, albeit faded now, but still unquestionably the best rod rest the world has ever seen!

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