Sunday, 8 March 2015

What future does the countryside have without knowledgeable children?

Time spent with children, imparting knowledge and enthusing them is so important 
I was very lucky to have had a wonderfully “free” childhood, growing up in rural south west Worcestershire. During the holidays I would say cheerio to my mum and cycle off, usually armed with rod or gun under my arm and always binoculars around my neck. She usually had absolutely no idea where I was off to and of course mobile phones were unheard of, but she knew I would return when my tummy started to rumble!

I knew a lot of local characters, who almost without exception would chat to me and pass on their knowledge. There was the local Policeman, Sergeant Crump, who was a fanatical coarse fisherman and Chairman of the local fishing club. I would stand next to him as he directed traffic in the middle of the crossroads in the centre of Upton-upon-Severn, and talk “fishing”. He was always keen to hear what I had caught and would impart wonderful snippets of wisdom to me that had been gained from years of sitting quietly on the banks of the river Severn and its tributaries.

There was local shoot keeper “Laddy” Bishop (who also had numerous other jobs, some of which Sergeant Crump always showed a keen interest in!!) Laddy only had one eye (lost due to an incident with a firework) and drove his old wagon at speed along the narrow lanes, quite often leaving me wondering if he had actually seen me at all on my bicycle, as he shot past in a cloud of dust! Laddy taught me how to set tunnel traps and showed me the best place to set up a pigeon hide. He always had time to chat.

Then there was the Ledbury hunt staff. I have mentioned Nimrod Champion the Master, before on this blog. He was a bit of a hero of mine. But it was perhaps the terrier men and the guys who blocked up the Fox earths on the morning of the hunt, who taught me most about the ways of “Charlie”. Once again, I was always welcome to join them, as long as I was prepared to do my bit too and not just talk!

There was Fred Hawker – the local haulage man – Horses, Cattle and Sheep – you name it – he carried it. I would sit with Fred in the farm kitchen belong to the Giles family (honestly – they were the “farmer Giles” family and I was great mates with the two sons) and we would talk about every aspect of the countryside. Fred knew about everything and everybody for miles around – and if he didn't, I'm quite sure he made it up! I learnt a lot from Fred as he sat at that kitchen table (he always seemed to be there whenever I went round!), fag firmly attached to his lip, only removing it to partake of a good raucous laugh!

I was also incredibly fortunate that my parents were great friends with the Bursar of Malvern College, who also just happened to be a professional fly-fishing instructor. He taught me to fly-fish (not very well I'm afraid to report!), but perhaps more importantly, he taught me the ways of the fast flowing rivers such as the Wye, Monnow and its tributary the Eskley. He pointed out where the Dipper’s nest was, hidden away in ivy on the bridge and painstakingly showed me all the different fly that hatched and flew for such a brief period of time.

He also introduced me to the first chalk stream I had ever seen – the Colne in Wiltshire, and educated me about the abundant life that lived in its waters. I remember distinctly, that it was on this beautiful stream during a hot, humid, thundery afternoon (all the fish had stopped rising) that the “Colonel”, the name I always called him by, taught me how to make a trap out of a plastic bottle to catch Stickleback and other assorted creatures from the shallows. He always, always, had time to impart some new revelation, all of which I consumed voraciously.

I recently wrote about Sticklebacks and how to build such a trap in my “Species of the month” (See the tab on the top right of this page) and of course thought of the Colonel as I tapped away on the Laptop. These short pieces also go into my local “Church & Village” magazine and seem to be appreciated by the parishes.

So, I was rather saddened when the editor of the parish magazine E-mailed me to say that a rather irate, elderly man had rung her up to complain about the “Stickleback article”. The main point he made was “that rivers were private, and anglers paid thousands to fish in them and children should not be encouraged to go messing about in them”. She gave him a way of contacting me directly, but he has not done so.

At no point did I suggest breaking the trespass regulations and he does not seem to have given a moment’s thought to the fact that the river Itchen (The local river, which is indeed an expensive river on which to fish) rises just outside the village, and then flows through middle of the village as a small stream, well before it gets to a size suitable for the “paid for fishing beats”, thereby giving local children a perfect opportunity to explore the delights of such a river, without causing any disruption.

But also, where is the generosity of heart shown so clearly to me in my childhood by Laddy, Fred, Sergeant Crump and the Colonel, along with many, many, other country folk who took the time to inspire and teach me the ways of the countryside?

As William Blake wrote “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy”.

A moment experienced as a child can spark a lifetime's interest



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