Our Man In Canada
December 22nd, 2003

The Angler of Manor Mill Dam

By Chris Marshall, Belleville, Ontario

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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 grow brighter.

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 content.

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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