“Are you any good at swimming?”
“Yes, I’m very good”
“Hmm, I’m not bad. Will you be my best friend?”
It would appear that swimming ability was how I chose my friends when I was ten. Vicky’s arrival at school was mysterious. There were stacks and stacks of Harrods boxes on a bed, but no one else was about. I found this very cool and retro somehow. I think it reminded me of Mallory Towers or whatever sickly book I was reading in preparation for boarding school. I was also somewhat impressed and curious by the sheer number of flesh coloured bras that were also strewn on the bed. Whoever this girl was she was seriously grown up.
The boxes were soon explained by the fact that her parents lived in Indonesia and so her uniform had been sent ahead. I’ll never understand quite why she needed that quantity of bras though.
Vicky tells me that when she entered the room I thrust my hand into hers. I announced myself boldly and without any sense of coyness, shame or dignity. None of these characteristics went down well with the other girls at first but Vicky was always my friend.
She stayed with me one half-term and joined us on a family fishing trip to some stocked lakes. We had a casting lesson and I was a little annoyed that she was a bit better than me at it. I caught the first fish though.
She was with my father when she caught hers. For some reason he believes that you should always eat your first fish. In general no one in my family kills a fish very often. It’s something reserved for special occasions. I broke the rule for my vegetarian physicist.
Vicky was apparently traumatised by my father bludgeoning the shiny, flapping rainbow trout. I had been administering fishy slaughter since I was a toddler so I was fine.
She didn’t come with us again but I think she remembers the day fondly, she certainly has been interested in my fishing although somewhat distantly.
Years later, when I got my first proper job, I was greatly comforted to learn that Vicky would also be living in Leeds. To southerners, the north can be scary. I remember London friends saying things like, “You’re moving north are you? Well I suppose it has got a lot better”. I think many southerners still believe that the north consists solely of blackened factories and mills. A bleak land inhabited with men wearing flat caps and whippets. The wee, skinny dogs somehow demonised into Satan’s beasts by the fearful southern imagination.
It’s not like that at all, obviously. I love Yorkshire and am forever mesmerised by is greenness, its bleakness and overwhelming charm.
Being of a firm fishing mindset I sought out a fishable river. Because of how I was brought up, this meant finding a chalk stream. I found one and it’s beautiful. It runs clear and has random smears of bright healthy weed which harbour many trout and huge grayling. It is however, generally far windier colder than anywhere have been in the south and the fish are hungrier. Looking upstream you can see a large factory or mill. To me this seems perfect. It’s a tougher, northern version of the Test. It’s also the first place I have fished regularly without my family and somehow it feels my own.
Vicky and I have grown very close since being isolated from our southern sisters. Bringing her to my river seems an apt confirmation of this. The trip was also significant because she was soon to be returning to the south. Vicky was there, “because I’m trying to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do before I go”. I’m touched that a day’s fishing made her list.
“There won’t be any killing will there Polly?” She is clearly still troubled by my father’s well meant bludgeoning.
“No, none at all, strictly sport”. I saw her whole being relax as we trudged past cows to get to the riverbank. “Phew. Seriously, you won’t use that dodgy, killing, mallet thing”.
I was nervy, for me fishing with an audience is a bit like trying to pee in public, I get stage fright. After a few dodgy casts into a likely spot with a green nymph on I caught a little gleamer of a trout. I could relax as we had achieved what we had set out to do.
I sought out more esoteric sport and spotted a rising fish tucked into the opposite bank. I explained to Vicky that if I had the right fly on, and if I cast perfectly to him, I should catch it. She watched transfixed as I cast over the fish again and again with various flies. He refused my fly after a particularly lovely cast again. “The bastard!”, she said with the same vitriol I had only heard her use in reference to a certain of my ex boyfriends. I chuckled and changed my fly again. I’m used to piscatorial rejection. I wish I could be as nonchalant when it comes to men. I cast once more and it went for it like a rocket. Vicky whooped and hopped up and down on the bank with sheer excitement.
“We shall call him Reginald” Vicky announced as I released him back into the water with a flick.
We sat on a bench together, slurping donuts just like we did as children. We discussed, as we are now experts on all things northern, the fine nuances in West Yorkshire accents and dialects. When I arrived I couldn’t tell the difference between a Yorkshireman and a Lancastrian. I have come a long way.
I am conscious that twenty years after our first outing together, we are now women. We have proper grown up jobs. We pay the taxes and bear the scars of broken hearts. Vicky is married and has just had a gorgeous baby boy. I’m getting married this May. Nothing has really changed though.
Vicky left the river early and as she went we hugged. It suddenly struck me that this was our final time in the north together. I felt a little bereft. I cheered up instantly as she turned back towards me and said, “They have rivers in the south don’t they, let’s go again. No killing though”.