I have been a teacher for 32 years, a head teacher for 17 years and, at the age of 56, this much I know about fully reopening school, why we all now need a garden and my angling addiction.
It is the Saturday morning before we reopen Huntington School fully. I am sitting in a caravan watching the sunrise. Whitby Abbey is all but visible to my left and I have just kidded myself that, through the binoculars, I have spotted a pod of dolphins out in the North Sea. The sky is cloudless and sunlight is piercing through the windows. A small fishing boat is returning to the harbour with its catch. My coffee tastes great.
I am not sure I have felt so calm for a long, long time.
School is all but ready for the most extraordinary start to the school year. My colleagues have been remarkable, constantly thinking and rethinking how we can set the site up to balance the two competing priorities: to teach our young people well, whilst minimising the risk of contracting the virus.
We will, of course, have made mistakes in our exhaustive preparations. Some of the measures we have implemented are destined to require a tweak or two. But I know we will be respectful, honest and kind to each other as we work through this coming week. We are at that point when we just want to get on with it. And I trust our young people to return to school impeccably. We have all been away far too long.
Driving here the scenic route from York, across the North Yorkshire Moors, it was not hard to grasp why the new series of All Creatures Great and Small on Channel 5 has been such a hit. As the Telegraph review says, the programme “has returned to soothe us in these chaotic times”. Post-pandemic, people have a yearning for the countryside. The most important feature of a new house? Where before it was central heating, now it is a garden.
On the way home from the caravan on Sunday, I will stop for an hour and fish my beloved Yorkshire Esk. This desire for a simpler life, closer to the natural world, is something I reflect upon in a tale from my new book, An Angler’s Journal (if you have an angler in your life and you are looking for a Christmas stocking filler, you can pre-order a copy here!).
In “Addicted” I capture the moment when I became hooked on game fishing and explore why capitalism as an economic system is faltering.
I have valued experiences over possessions for a long time now. People come to realise that material things really do not matter at different times in their lives. I reached that moment when I was relatively young. I suppose growing up in a family where it was all we could do to make ends meet explains why I have never really worried about accumulating stuff.
Shopping is not a hobby. Something inside me shrivels up and dies if I have to visit the local designer outlet. So, when it comes to my birthday, my family face the enduring question: What do you buy the person who has everything? Or, more precisely, what do you buy the person who doesn’t want any thing.
I all but gave up fishing for a couple of years in my mid-teens when I attempted to become a golf professional, but took it up again in my 20s, focusing upon coarse fishing whilst enjoying the odd foray on the sea. Then, in my early 30s, my wife bought me a full day fly-fishing lesson with Bill, an assistant at the Arnfield fishery, near Glossop in Derbyshire. Because I had fished before and had a decent grasp of what to do, I picked it up quite quickly. That said, I spent the first hour fruitlessly thrashing the rod back and forth; the more effort I made the more often the fly line curled down feebly, just beyond the boat’s prow. Bill was a patient expert. He talked about rhythm and timing. He demonstrated how to cast effortlessly.
I do love being a learner, especially when the teacher is as good as Bill; always listen and don’t be shy to ask for advice. He knew we would catch on a black gnat pattern fished on the surface. I was briefed on the merit of Gink to keep the dry fly afloat.
In time, I managed to cast a decent enough distance. The black gnat was visible amidst the cut on the water. I thought it was like watching a float, or a piece of bread crust. Without warning, a swirl. The line ran out and I struck like I was trying to drive the hook home into the bony mouth of a double figure pike. Nothing. Bill mentored me gently: “No need to strike, just lift up and away from the fish. Do that and the hook will be set.” So that is what I did. Three hefty rainbow trout later, I was addicted to game fishing.
A day’s fishing is the best of birthday treats. The Covid-19 pandemic has helped people realise that a world built on capitalism – which depends upon people purchasing stuff they do not need – is not a sustainable model. Many people now know that they can survive quite nicely without visiting the shops. And a silver lining to the pandemic cloud has been a huge spike in fishing licence purchases.
Long may it continue.
Illustrations © Marvin Huggins