Poems and Anecdotes
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, Preston or coaxed from his mother, 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.
The side window of H. Seed’s Hardware shop in New Hall Lane, 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 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 walked in through the open door, past the step ladders for sale and the stacked tins of paint and twenty minutes later, his pocket almost empty of his savings, the boy left the shop clutching his purchases and made his way back to the little terraced house in Caroline Street.
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 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 mops, 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 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. 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 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 of 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 when my undoubted angling skills would be proved! I was nothing if not an optimist!
And now, sixty years on as I look back and think of the few pounds that I spent that evening it seems, as each year passes, to be worth every penny. I didn’t just buy a fishing road and few bits of tackle that night. Nor did I buy a few years of pleasant activity. Unknowingly, that evening I bought a treasure trove of memories, a passage to adult hood and, ultimately, a bond with my father.
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 Lancaster 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 days 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.
I well remember on day at secondary school (Fishwick Secondary Modern) when I was about 14 when my school work and my hobby became one! Each week we boys went off for either a woodwork or metalwork lesson. I had little skill in either of these areas and so envied one of my friends, Les Churchman, who seemed to be able to produce glorious pieces of woodwork or metal work like some guild master craftsman; Les’ tenon joints fitted together perfectly, mine fell hopelessly apart no matter how much wood glue I stuffed in the joint. Mr Miller, the woodwork teacher would walk past my bench and shake his head in bewilderment at my efforts. I was a little better in metalwork and one day the teacher, a kind, gentle man named Mr Leach told us that we were going to use the forge, to bend metal and join pieces of metal together. We could choose what we wanted to make and he made a few suggestions – one of which was a fishing rod rest! My heart leapt, I didn’t have a rod rest and I knew that I would make the best rod rest that had ever been produced!!
My dad made me a tackle box so that I could carry my gear and had somewhere to sit and 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 see 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 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 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 disappeared into the boot of Ron’s old Ford Consul.
In Preston the anglers’ shop 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 looking 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 – 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.
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: “Where are you off to this weekend Beale?” or “Have any luck at the weekend?”. Fortunately, I had a talent for technical drawing and when I left school and took a job as a trainee draughtsman in a local drawing office: Mr Calderbank was one of my referees. 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 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: the gentle art gave me something else – something very personal and very much in my thoughts in recent months.
In my office and behind me as I write, 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 was not the easiest of women. So this time with my dad was 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 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, a growing up thing, 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 bonding. Today, 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 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 primeval twinge of excitement as I see his float drift 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 Seed’s hardware shop that spring tea time in 1958 would still be very much a part of me, instrumental in making me what I am today...........they were, undoubtedly, worth every penny - and more!