Christmas is a time for memories - particularly recollections
of early childhood. For most of us those memories are good.
Mine go back to rural Yorkshire and the years during and just
after World War II. I remember the endless frustration of
anticipating through days which seemed to crawl with exquisite
slowness towards Christmas Eve, the magic of those short,
twilight days when the sun barely cleared the southern horizon,
the hoar frost on my bedroom window refracting the streetlight
from the road at the bottom of the garden. Then there was
Christmas Day with hordes of aunties and uncles and cousins
descending on our house, where we always had a big party
with silly games orchestrated by my Uncle Jimmy - and the
laughter carried over into Boxing Day. Good memories.
And as my hair grows whiter and my joints creakier, they
However, there was one thing which cast a shadow over the
festivities. I wasn't allowed to go fishing. Now, don't
get me wrong, I'd never have given up the delights of
Christmas Day, but the ban extended to Boxing Day as well.
And, as much as I enjoyed Boxing Day at home, there was
another, more attractive option available.
I was one of those kids lucky enough to know an adult angler
who treated me like a fellow angler rather than just another
kid. His name was George Hinchcliffe, and every year he
invited me to go pike fishing with him on Boxing Day.
George was the archetypal ancient angler - sparse white hair,
walnut skin, deep-set blue eyes, and rumpled, antediluvian
tweeds. He lived on his pension in the last of a row of
stone cottages at the edge of the village. He took me
fishing with him occasionally. These outings were the
highlights of my year. My teachers would never have
recognised me - I listened to everything he said, and
followed his suggestions without question. I was in
awe of him.
On Boxing Day he always went pike fishing.
"Best day of the year for big pike," he proclaimed.
And I believed him. He was infallible.
So there I was - every Boxing Day - stuck at home being
polite to aunties and wimpish cousins - knowing He was
out there - his gaunt frame hunched on the bank of Manor
Mill Dam in the frosty amber light of midwinter - the
unmoving water like a black mirror before him, its enigmatic
surface broken only by the erratic meanderings of his float.
I could feel the electricity of his concentration - his
elemental communion with the ancient, immense pike which
stirred in the depths. And I wanted to be there with him.
That was getting on for fifty years ago, George is long gone,
and my own hair is now as white as his was then. But Christmas,
and Boxing Day in particular, always conjures the same
images - woven inextricably through the soaring voices of
the traditional carols, through the holly and the ivy,
through the warm gleam of lights on the snow, through the
fellowship of family and friends - images generated more
by the imagination than experience-the quivering float on
the dark water beneath a sky heavy with the promise of snow,
the lonely figure huddled in an old army greatcoat, leaning
over the long bamboo rod, the line glistening with ice, the
hands tight with anticipation, the blue eyes alert and
Even now I still want to be there with him.
And here, so far removed in space and time, I still toy with
the idea of going down to the water on Boxing Day, even though
the first skimmings of ice lace the margins of the Bay. After
all, there's nobody to order me to stay at home and be nice
to my aunties any more.
But I know I won't go. It's not so much the cold that deters
me, but rather that I know instinctively that any attempt to
actually relive those memories would surely destroy them, and
I am more than content to keep them as memories.
The dream is enough. ~ CM
Credits: Painting of Derbyshire Lane, Yorkshire, UK is by Geoff Kersey.
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