Scotland and fishing. Synonymous words indeed.
My teenage grandson Stan, a keen fisherman, had come to stay. He was booked for local North Sea fishing trips but this year had his eye on more than mackerel and cod. He wanted to learn to fly-fish and was dreaming of carp, bream, roach, rudd, perch, brown trout and salmon. This challenge required careful thinking and planning. I’ve flown kites, ridden horses, cycled, and scuba dived but I’ve never fished in my life. Think lochs. Think salmon. Think boats. Think reels. Think licences. Think rivers and rights. Think big money.
So where to dip our novice rods? – The Kingdom of Fife, Tayside or Perth? Applehill, Butterstone, Frandy or Orchill? Sound local knowledge came from Arbroaths’ fishing tackle shop – Geordie’s Pond in Angus.
Think inexpensive. Think small stocked ponds. Think skylarks, and warblers. Think bragging and laughter. Think huge skies. Think fish. At £7 a day we were spoiled for choice.
We hatched a plan and on day two, with a packed lunch and plenty of sun tan lotion, we drove along the winding coastal road, past the turn off for the old fishing village of Auchmithie and along towards Lunan Bay. As we rounded a corner ‘Smiley Fish’ road-signs and arrows indicated we were close to our destination and fulfilling Stan’s ambition.
Our first glimpse of Janet was of an older woman skillfully whip-cracking her line backwards and forwards into the deep blue pond. She had poise and confidence. She claimed she’d recently returned from Tasmania where she’d won the silver medal at the Commonwealth fly-fish and was delighted at the prospect of sharing her joy of fly-fishing with an enthusiastic teenager.
Before I knew it I found a rod placed in my hand and I was part of the action. We began in a nearby field casting the lines without hooks. The tic-toc action of moving the rod rhythmically backward and forwards was mesmeric, and challenging. Too far back and the line hooked in the hawthorn. Mayhem! Too much effort and it landed in a heap at your feet. chaos! Carefully cast and with the right rhythm it landed straight ahead. Success!
Finally when our arms were getting weary we were allowed to graduate to the pond and, with great ceremony, hooks and glittering iridescent flies were attached to the lines. Using the same tic- toc technique we cast and observed the hooks taking the lines down beneath the rippling surface to lure any lurking fish.
The sun shone, clouds spun overhead and skies expanded into infinity.
The whistling, rhythmic sound of lines being cast was spellbinding and exhilarating. The subtle technique of moving the fly to attract the fishes’ attention totally absorbed us.
Local fishermen encouraged us with stories about monsters they’d caught and ones that got away; moorhens came to investigate and the hours slipped by.
Sadly that day the fish weren’t biting but somehow that didn’t matter. It was such a rewarding experience to learn a new skill and enjoy fishing with my grandson.
Janet retreated into her caravan and monitored our progress from a distance. We never actually saw her ‘silver medal’ and as one fisherman remarked drily “One can never be certain about things that people claim”. However, we still believed we were coached by a winner and the encouragement she gave to two novice fly fishers was outstanding.
As the sun finished its downward descent and the swifts started to gather I asked Stan, “What would you like to do tomorrow?” He looked at me in utter astonishment. “ Why, fly fish of course” he said and smiled with pure satisfaction.
So, we did.
Down by the harbour we have a small Interior Design shop. There are beautiful cushions and throws in heather hues and autumnal colours. I get a real buzz out of mooching around. It doesn’t take much to imagine myself curled up in an armchair in front of a baronial hall log fire under the watchful eye of a portrait of Gladstone.
A short walk away is the High Street and here it’s a completely different ambience. Charity shops are scattered liberally all the way up to the main Square and, with the closure of the lingerie shop, the butcher, the Drop in Cafe and the big Co-op there are more charity off-shoots sprouting in the pedestrian precinct.
From designer chic to outgrown hand me downs, I’ve always believed you can tell a town by its charity shops, volunteers, the range of their goods and the type of customers they attract. In Arbroath there’s massive support for the Heart Foundation, Marie Curie and Cancer Research and further up the High Street the PDSA have their own loyal, if smaller, following
Charity shopping has become one of my regular outings. There are always unusual articles for sale. This week there’s been an influx of Chinese plates and spice jars; a reflection on the very strong links this area of Scotland had with China, India and the Far East. When the jute trade was at its height, many locals sailed out of Dundee for a very different life. (I’ve heard there’s a graveyard in Calcutta where many local Dundonians are buried and it’s on my list of places to visit when I next go to India.)
As the seasons roll by the merchandise changes. It’s not predictable and often reflects local house clearances. Before Christmas there were bone china tea services galore and then a few weeks later there were shelves of of cut glass sherry and whisky tumblers. Mid-Summer brought out Father Christmas suits – “People like to shop for Christmas things early” said the assistant when I asked why there was a ‘Jolly Christmas’ window complete Christmas trees and baubles in August!
You have to be quick and decisive in our charity shops. Last month I saw an old copper kettle priced at seven pounds. I hesitated. My all singing electric kettle is going strong and merely needs plugging in. This one would require maintenance and copper needs frequent cleaning. Overnight I thought how beautiful it looked and warmed to the idea of polishing it. But alas when I went back it had already gone to another hearth in Arbroath.
My daughter on the other hand was much more decisive. Doodling around the local charity shops she found a solid silver tureen ladle with a 1906 hallmark for £6.00. She bought it immediately and everyday family meals now have a certain splendor.
I find charity shops allow me an intriguing insight into the lives of the town’s residents, who are moving on in one way or another. There’s a poignancy to see objects that were the pride and joy of old ladies, pieces that were cleaned or polished religiously and kept safely in glass fronted cabinets, now ending their life languishing in the front window of the Heart Foundation. But then I think how much charities benefit from these donations and how objects are often bought and treasured by people looking for something a little unusual.
My friend Ann was walking past the Oxfam shop when she spotted William Gladstone staring gloomily out of a plate in the window. The Victorian Prime Minister was part of her family tree and here he was, painted on a beautiful china plate, exactly like the one her family had hanging on their wall when she was a child. The price tag said £2.00. The assistant smiled and said, “it’s a bit expensive but if you really like him I wonder if you’d be interested in Mrs. Gladstone? She’s in the store room!”
I’m delighted to report that Mr. and Mrs. G have been re-united for the princely sum of four pounds and now hang happily side by side with a view of the North Sea.
Recently I was looking for a cummerbund for my grandson who is about to step out in his great grandfather’s dinner jacket. A casual enquiry at the Heart Foundation resulted in an invitation into their back room where boxes of labeled and tidied articles were waiting for focused shoppers. Out of the first box tumbled a vast array of neckwear; funereal black ties, exotic night-club dazzlers; thin shoe-lace styles, kipper ties, and a psychedelic selection from the 60’s. The next box had dozens of bow ties: bow ties that clipped, bow ties that hooked and those devious ones men or their wives tied manually. Finally, success, a scarlet cummerbund surfaced and is currently being worn in the Home Counties with a vintage dinner jacket companion
It’s the stories behind these objects that fascinate me. Where have they been in the past and where do they go?
Let’s look afresh at our High street and encourage those loyal volunteers and the enthusiastic shoppers. They are keeping our streets alive and until we find other ways to revitalise and reinvent shopping patterns let’s give our favourite charities our full support.