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Miss Villiers used to trill tunelessly when she wasn’t talking, and seemed to walk on her toes swinging her hands around as she went along. She was my form teacher when I was 13. One of the many random questions she frequently asked out of the blue and apropos of nothing at all spooked me slightly at the time, enough for it to be the only thing I remember her saying (so much for the expensive education!)

Miss Villiers asked us how we knew we were real. Hands flapping, she excitedly warmed to her theme, asking us each to imagine going alone into an empty sound-proofed room and closing the door. How did we know that anyone left outside really existed? Could it be that we didn’t really exist and they did? Maybe we didn’t really exist unless we were in someone else’s presence? What if we sang a song in the empty room – was the activity somehow invalidated because no-one had witnessed it?

I wonder what Miss Villiers would have made of mobile phones. They’ve melted the metaphorical walls of her horrible hollow room, and we can all be ‘validated’ 24/7 these days (even in company 😉 ).

Such musing arose from re-reading the essay ‘Back Again’ after half an hour’s stumbling guitar practice – I fell to wondering about ‘valid’ activities. For no good reason I can think of (except perhaps, that my Dad bought it for me – which is a very good reason now I think of it!), I have kept my guitar since my vain attempts to master the scale of C major when I had a few guitar lessons at school. I’m not particularly musical, and not in the least bit talented, but I’ve always loved the sound of classical guitar. A number of decades and strange quirks of fate later, I found myself at lessons again a few months ago, and have now almost mastered – I use the term very loosely – the lovely ‘Spanish Ballad’ (Anon, 17th Century). I find I relish the absorption in practice – the ‘walk’ up and down the strings to strengthen my fingers, and the sound of the tune emerging in spite of my clumsy beginner’s mistakes. But in the shadows lurks a sense that I should be doing something else, something useful, something productive – something valid.

I doubt whether my countryman grandfather had such nonsense in his head when he set off for a day’s fishing at the Shallow of the Chestnut Stream in Sinnington on a fine September day in 1922. In ‘Back Again’ he paints beautiful vignettes of nature (and even of the activity of fishing itself!) and is rewarded by his critics with heartily appreciative remarks – rightly so, I feel. Take his recollection of a close encounter with kingfishers some years before on a similar trip, for example:

Extract from 'Back Again' 1922 p3 Extract from 'Back Again' 1922 p4

…I never fish the Shallow now without remembering that moment of intense life and beauty – It was such a breathless affair! – as thrilling in its way as the stoop of a Falcon –

(Punctuationistas, please note – I probably agree with you, but that’s what he wrote a hundred years ago!  😉   )

TMP marvels at the fact that, apart from three years during the War, he fished at Sinnington  “…every season for thirty eight years past, and it is rather singular that the Chestnut Tree Stream has altered so little in that time.”

When we visited Sinnington in September last year a hundred years after ‘Back Again’ was written, it still seemed barely changed – a time-capsule village around a green, along a stream, nestling against a slope of heather-dark moorland. I don’t know how many more seasons grandfather was able to go to fish in this idyllic spot. Change was coming. He travelled to Sinnington by train on the Thirsk & Malton Railway. This line had opened three years after his birth, but by the 1930s, passenger numbers had dwindled to about 35 a week, and the line slowly died – finally closing in 1953, three years after grandfather’s death. Five years’ after he wrote ‘Back Again’, he would become a father for the first time, at the age of fifty-six.

But let us return to ‘Back Again’ and revel in an enchanting description of the autumn foliage over the stream:

To-day the roof was golden in decay and flecked with spaces of blue. …Once I knocked one of the hanging boughs with my rod and a shower of leaves rustled down around and upon me – floating down the water like little fire-ships.

The day’s activity resulted in a catch “…nearly two spans in length; a most noble fish for those waters.” In fact, TMP was so proud of his trophy, he was tempted to leave a record of his triumph, as he and his school fellows had done in years gone by:

extract from Back Again, 1922, trout

I wonder if two marks were cut into a rail near a stream in Yorkshire a hundred years ago – by a tall, slim man with a ruddy face, in his middle years, burdened with canvas bags bulging with fishing gear, and carrying a prize trout. If so, perhaps those marks remained for decades, slowly succumbing to lichen and moss, and the smoothing of hands, while the stream nearby flowed unchanging.

English: Sinnington Footbridge Footbridge cros...

English: Sinnington Footbridge Footbridge crossing the River Seven at the lower end of Sinnington Main Street. The busy A170 runs close by. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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As I read CCF’s later essays, I’m getting a sense of strain and pressure. I’ve just read scanned and logged two more, dated 1931. The first is shorter than usual, ‘King Cups and Brown Water’- written very quickly and up against submission deadline, and ‘Remembrance’, which he actually wrote and submitted to the SES in 1923.
In 1931 CCF was 60 and struggling with the daily grind – including all the joys and difficulties of having a four-year-old son. He probably didn’t know it at the time (although I wonder if he was already wrestling with the notion) but he was to resign from the SES in 1933, as he felt he just could not continue to commit the time or energy to his writing. I think there are only three more essays left for me to read. However – I’m hoping the next session of sorting through the remaining miscellaneous papers might yield more…
‘Anticipations’ which I mentioned a couple of posts ago, was written in the spring of 1931, and delightfully captures its theme:

essays

He is, of course, anticipating a weekend’s fishing – what else! This city-dwelling countryman is joyfully looking forward to revelling in the restorative powers of his natural habitat.

essays

And who can blame him – he reveals that he is currently presiding as temporary Chairman of the Court of Referees in Hull “which is the only tribunal to allow or disallow claims, under the Unemployment Insurance Acts, to the out-of-work benefit, commonly called by the recipients (but not by the Court) ‘the Dole’.” On the day of writing the essay, he had heard – and taken all the notes for – 50 claims, and says his is an “an honourable as well as difficult position” in which he feels like “…a cat walking along a wall newly guarded with broken glass!” He is a solicitor, and is working alongside two barristers.
According to one of the many articles about the inter-war years on the internet, unemployment peaked at around 3 million in 1933 – while England was in the grip of the Great Depression – which was about approximately 20% of the working population. Many of those who had fought for their country were unable to find work.
CCF seems to have been a very altruistic and sensitive person, and being in such a position where “…it must always be borne in mind that every claimant is out of work, and that every decision of the Court is of very grave importance to him or her.” must have been a huge strain – indeed, he mentions his “tired brain and soul”.
No wonder he was looking forward to “getting away into the open air for some days, [and] to feel and hear the water rippling past my waders once more!”

River Dove, Ryedale Yorkshire

Not fishing but eating – a pause in our walk along the River Dove

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Imagine a little boy having pepper rubbed into his eyes. As bullying goes, it’s probably on a par with the famous fictional roasting inflicted on Tom Brown by Flashman – but it wasn’t fictional. The incident is briefly touched on by the sixty-year-old adult who was that little boy – my grandfather, author of the unsurprisingly titled essay ‘School Days’ written in 1931.
CCF prefaces the essay with some verse extracted from a longer poem:
Quote from School Days 1
and says he has “more vivid recollections of the masters who taught me than of the boys who were my companions at my various schools”. Interestingly, he names the masters, but the only boy’s name he mentions is his twin brother George. The older boy who bullied him and his two study mates is tantalisingly not named, even though he apparently “became a celebrated runner“!
Grandfather describes his first two schools with lovely whimsical anecdotes. The first was a small village school in Sinnington near his home, where he and his twin were sent when they were 11. They were taught by Reverend John Swalwell, MA, Vicar of Sinnington, who mixed the classics with farming and named his pigs Penelope and Agamemnon. CCF recalls he was “as happy in those eighteen months as I have been in all my life”, and he returned to fish in the River Seven at Sinnington regularly as an adult. (We visited Sinnington village last September before I’d read any of these accounts, and I believe I may have stood in the spot on the bridge where he would have cast for trout.)

Bridge over the River Seven at Sinnington

Bridge over the River Seven at Sinnington

Charles and his twin were then sent to boarding school at Bilton Grange in Harrogate, under the lacklustre headship of Mr Joseph Brown Griffiths BA. CCF’s main studies there seemed to be in bee-keeping which he describes in warm, fond recollections, but his “hum drum career” at the school was dramatically curtailed by an outbreak of Scarlet Fever. Grandfather was untouched by the disease even though he had:
“…spent most of two nights before we were all sent home in giving water to the fellows in our room who were ill. My twin brother George was the only boy who died, though two other boys in our room nearly did so; yet I, who slept with him at home until he became really bad, escaped the disease!”

At the age of fourteen he was sent to boarding school on west coast – Rossall, where the headmaster was Henry Anselm James DD – and declares that the two years he spent there “completely altered my whole life”. He also seemed delighted to have become “a public schoolboy”!

It was a really tough environment, both inside and outside the school, and, as well as bullying, the boys endured harsh conditions generally. Grandfather’s time there was ended when the school doctor made him play football and hockey in winter conditions even though he was clearly ill. He contracted pneumonia which then became “slight tuberculosis”. In spite of all this, and being somewhat lonely, he greatly regretted having to leave:

Quote from School Days 2

TMP gives rich characterisations of the ‘famous men of little showing’ at Oliver’s Mount School, where he was also very happy:

Quote from School Days 3

Quote from School Days 4

Rossall and Bilton Grange still flourish as boarding schools and Oliver’s Mount School apparently became a girls’ school and was renamed.
These far-reaching reminiscences seem to me to show grandfather’s humanity and spirit. He remembers with gratitude all of the people who contributed so greatly to his education, and alongside, he recalls with savage clarity the “dreadful and most wretched memory” of being bullied “devilishly and mercilessly” (while grieving his twin). He states: “if I had not been a very strong boy indeed my sufferings would have broken me.” – and later regrets having to leave the very place where he suffered so greatly. Extrordinary.

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Well now. I’ve read, scanned and logged six more essays (‘Cats’, ‘The SES’, ‘Laughter’ and ‘A Dramatic Situation’ all written in 1929 and ‘Anticipations’ and ‘School Days’, both 1931), but I haven’t posted on the blog for a few days. I confess, I had become distracted by the temptations of daily blogging to the detriment of the main job in hand – namely reading, scanning, logging and researching the essays. But balance has now been restored.
So this is where I’m at now: ‘Cats’ and ‘Laughter’ are self-explanatory and a pleasure to read, but ‘A Dramatic Situation’ is somewhat darker. It is the story of CCF’s capture on the battlefield of the Somme in July 1916, told in the third person (he assumes the name of ‘Jim Strickland’), 13 years after the event. It almost has the air of a confession, particularly as he has written a slightly defensive note on the front of the essay:

Qoute from A Dramatic Situation 1

After all, it wasn’t the ‘done thing’ in those days to admit to feelings or talk through emotions – and the nation is suffering as a consequence, even now. CCF reports ‘Jim’s’ thoughts in a bluff, almost hearty style – almost like the ‘speech bubbles’ of a comic book character. The account is workmanlike, bare and factual. He describes ‘Jim’ waking up disorientated in a shell hole and blundering into an enemy trench, shooting, killing and being wounded and captured.
When the word ‘sobbing’ suddenly appears, we get an abrupt and shocking insight into the lonely terror countless thousands of soldiers must have experienced in the hell of the trenches:

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

On a lighter note, I had high hopes of finding out about the background of the Scarborough Essay Society when I started reading ‘The SES’ – but, although the essay is entertaining and interesting, it didn’t help much with my research! It does, however, show the great comradeship which existed between the members:

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

I have found another avenue of enquiry, though. Apparently ‘Paul Pry’ called the Society ‘out of abeyance’ after the War by sending a ‘judicious letter’ to the Spectator (it seems the response was so great that at least one other similar group had to be formed!). Frustratingly, that’s all I have though, and I suspect many man-hours of searching through Spectator archives would be required to yield any more information.
As is the strange way of serendipity, TMP mentions his ‘defective education’, and the next essay I read was ‘School Days’. Actually, I lie. It was ‘Anticipations’, – but more on both of these stories later… 😉
So – at last, here’s a post. I have actually missed making my little daily forays into the blogosphere (in a masochistic sort of way). However, I like to take time over what I write, although whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen. The benefit of entering the Family History Writing Challenge was derived from trying to write to a deadline, which is good practice. However, in order to post every day as required by the challenge – I simply wittered. So, while my grey matter’s been galvanised by entering FHWC, I am releasing myself from the challenge’s benign repression, with a positive and hearty metaphorical pat on the back!

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Off masks; and let me applaud a brother, [and] a fellow countryman…’ enthuses  ‘Paul Pry’, and ‘Sigma’ concurs, although with more restraint ‘… it is longer than T.M.P.’s average, but not long enough’ while ‘Agricola’ keeps it simple, stating ‘A beautiful corner of England beautifully described.’ All twelve critics were delighted by TMP’s 15-page submission of July 1928, ‘A Corner of England – Douthwaite Dale’.
CCF’s fellow SES members are right to praise him so wholeheartedly (although ineveitably, one or two can’t resist a niggle – this is an essay society, after all!). This essay is serene and evocative and is from the heart of a countryman who truly understands the land and the seasons. A countryman ‘in exile’ living in Leeds – and perhaps that is what lends the writing such gentle power. He welcomes us to share his delight in his beloved Yorkshire landscape, but it’s a wistful reminiscence, written in a city terrace.
‘” Let us stroll over to Yoadwath bridge and watch the fish rise” This has been the standing summer evening invitation and custom of our house for two generations past…’ So grandfather accomapnies us on a walk along the River Dove – evoking rich pictures of the scenery, and remembering companions over the years.  The narrative detours to take in Douthwaite Hall, and he tells us that the estate belonged to the Shepherd family for centuries, until sadly the last Squire of Douthwaite, William Shepherd, became a reclusive eccentric and let the Hall – and it’s unusual ornaments – fall into ‘ruin and decay’ (‘them’ in the first line refers to rabbits, hundreds of them!):

Quote from A Corner of England 1

Tired and ready to return we head home, grandfather lingering a little behind us:

Quote from A Corner of England 2

His little son, my father, did ‘grow up to be a … fisherman’. However, he didn’t fish as much as he would have liked, I think. In the early days of my engagement, dad taught my fiancé (now my husband) about fly-fishing and how to cast. Oddly, lessons took place in the garden – not a drop of water, never mind any fish, in sight. 😉

I couldn’t resist inserting a bonus pic:

Surprise View at Gillamoor, North Yorkshire

Surprise View at Gillamoor, North Yorkshire

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I’ve finally got back to reading and scanning the essays (80 down, 13 or so to go!) and I was well rewarded today – what a cracker! Called ‘An Ancre Trout’ (written in 1928) it’s the cheery tale of a sunny Sunday on the Somme in June 1916.
Grandfather is roused from a snooze by his captain, Norman, as a fellow soldier – ‘Cossack’ – has sought him out for his fishing expertise. Cossack proposed a fishing trip as “… it seems a pity to miss a good chance of trying for a decent trout” – much to the interest of grandfather’s fellow subalterns (or ‘the Children’ as he calls them!). So off they jolly well trot, with a makeshift rod and line, for an afternoon’s sport.

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

After heroic struggles by both hunter and quarry, they landed a whopper.

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

How I wish I’d known my grandfather. How about that – going fishing while you’re under enemy fire. The hunter hunted.

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There was a hint of Autumn this morning.
I imagined grandfather standing in the doorway, sniffing the air and scanning the skies for his beloved swifts or snipe, then leaving Atora suet out in his city garden (which I believe was a small shared area at the front of the house) for his favourite robin.
Got a bit sidetracked today, by Tom Parrington, grandfather’s uncle by marriage. Quite a character, it seems – born and brought up on a farm which later became Middlesborough, was MFH of the renowned Sinnington Hunt, and celebrated a golden wedding anniversary with his first wife followed by a silver wedding anniversary with his second wife (Miss Hugill, my grandmother’s aunt)! Old Tom is much written about, and fondly remembered by my grandfather in his essay ‘A Halcyon Day’ (1911). The essay is a touching and amusing account of a visit to TP’s for lunch, and to see (and be roundly teased by!) Dorothy, my grandmother, but there is also a beautiful description of ‘The Old Gentleman’. And I’ve finally found out how to insert extracts from the essays, so here it is:

     

…and here is the Old Gentleman himself:

Tom Parrington

The Old Gentleman – Tom Parrington, and the crop he’s holding in the portrait

 

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