Donald MacInnes: Delicious memories of apples, fishing and treetops

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The Independent Online

Who was your favourite uncle or aunt? For most of us, there is always one who seemed to strike the right balance between authority and fun.

Mine was Arnold Merry, my grandfather's brother. He and his wife emigrated to Canada before I was born, so they always seemed a glamorous, if distant, presence.

Every Christmas they would send a box of Red Delicious apples. These vivid, scarlet treats, which seemed in my small hands to be as big as basketballs, would be stored under my gran's sideboard, to be dispensed only in instances of extreme good behaviour. Even now, whenever I see a Quentin Tarantino film, any mention of his fictitious Red Apples brand of cigarettes sends my mind back to that box of shiny delights. Another reason to idolise my uncle was that he taught me how to fish. When they retired, he and Aunt Jessie moved back to Scotland to live in Spean Bridge, in the Highlands. When I visited during the summer holidays, my uncle and I would drive into the mountains and take his little boat out onto the loch, to spend hours fishing for brown trout. I don't remember him ever saying much during these trips, beyond showing me the right way to tie on a fly, land a fish or knock it senseless against the hull of the boat. He would also show me how to read the treetops first thing in the morning. If they were swaying too much in the wind, the water would be too choppy to fish; too little and the water's stillness would betray your line to the prey. I recall my mother and sister coming along on one trip and both exclaiming how the water on the loch was so flat; so beautiful. "Like a mill pond!" gasped my Mum. My uncle and I exchanged knowing glances; shared derision at their devotion to the aesthetic over the practical. What did they know?

Two years ago, I found myself driving through the Highlands on family business and stopped along the way to stand on the shore of one of the lochs where I had fished with Uncle Arnold, by then long passed on. I stared out over the water, lost in the past. Quite honestly, if the midgies hadn't been swarming as thickly as my memories, I would probably still be standing there, smiling like a fool.