For several years, I took the village kids fishing at weekends. I had an elderly Volvo at the time: a chugger, but clean and reliable. At first, it was merely one or two youngsters, but eventually the expeditions became so popular that I had to rope in a few dads to help with transport. We didn't just fish the local river, either. We tried trout-fishing at Grafham reservoir, sea fishing at Southend and Poole. We drove to the Trent, the Severn and the Thames. The Volvo, while still reliable, became less clean. Parents with teenage boys will understand why.
Still, the youngsters got better at fishing. Those who had once been excited by a single fish could soon catch 10, 20, 50. Their water craft improved and so did mine, because they kept asking questions I couldn't answer. I had to learn the difference between starwort and hornwort, milfoil and water crowfoot. After a trip, I often found all four in the boot.
For some of the lads, our excursions had an added benefit. Those who had refused to read a thing at home started to devour the fishing books I gave them. Their English marks perked up, and their parents asked if I could sharpen up their maths too. Top anglers were generous with their support. Bob Nudd, Ivan Marks, Ian Heaps came along and presented the trophies to the awed kids.
We even went to Ireland and Holland in that trusty Volvo. The Dutch, who have strict laws governing the state of cars using their highways, stared in amazement at the rust-speckled monster. On the way back to England,we were stopped at customs. But one whiff of the fishy smell from nets, boots, clothing and tackle discouraged further investigation. The aroma, like a favourite after-shave, stayed with the Volvo for the rest of its life.
Times change. My daughters started to grow up. Sloping off every weekend was no longer possible. The Volvo went terminally sick after an au pair, unable to find where the oil went, put two pints of Castrol's best in the brake fluid cylinder. My wife banned tackle from the smart Saab that replaced Old Faithful. The youngsters discovered girls, moved away, got married.
And there the story might have ended. Oh, my daughters humoured me and learned to fish with fly and float. I still made desultory trips with a few stalwarts (kids no more). We reminisced over those trips, like the day the Volvo got stuck axle-deep in a muddy field for five hours, getting two rescue vehicles and even a tractor stuck in the mire before two Land Rovers dragged it clear.
Occasionally I took the children of friends fishing. Generally they had no tackle, or a useless six-foot rod with line like rope and a float you could attach a boat to. Two such lads came out with me recently. I asked my elder daughter Amber if she wanted to join us.
The boys weren't too keen but they had little choice. What they didn't know was that Amber was quite accomplished at certain aspects of angling. Far from being a drag, she soon proved she could fish better than either of them. Disdain turned to admiration.
And here's the point of the story. Ben was so impressed with her prowess that he vowed to emulate it himself. "Watch this, Amber," he called. Preparing himself for a stupendous cast, he braced himself, heaved mightily... and threw himself into the lake.
On the journey home, he asked Amber out. But she hasn't yet reached the stage where a lad's devotion is measured by his ability to fling himself head-first into a pond. She turned him down.
While siding with my daughter and sharing her chuckles when we got home, I secretly felt mortified for Ben. That was me, aged 13, thinking that the way to a girl's heart was to show how far he could cast. The time has come to revive the fishing club, and teach a new generation of lads the facts of life. They might not get the girl, but they'll be able to outcast her.