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A Shout From The Attic: The June Years - 4

...We spent the hot afternoon shielding our eyes from the sun, watching fishes sport with us and our inducements, and talking
extravagantly as if we were the only ones alive in that green world of the high summertime glow in a deserted meadowfield in the heart of holy Suffolk, when earth, sky, God, man, and boy met in a lustrous celebration of life and its blessings
attended by a peace that no spell can bind or break...

Ronnie Bray recalls a memorable fishing trip.

Fishing with Sam

I have only fished once since I was a pole net fisherman in the duck pond of Greenhead Park in distant days when I was a boy
and the prize was minnows an inch or two long, that we called sticklebacks because of the sharp spikes along their backs, and
that was a day’s fishing with little Sam in the stream by the bridge in the field next to the Old Mill House where he lived
with his baby brother, and his parents, my good friends Keith and Caroline Vugler, for whom I occasionally babysat.

I liked spending time with the Vuglers. Keith and I became friends when we went to the School of Nursing at Saint Audrey’s Hospital in Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1970. Keith was a musician who had been in the pop music industry and had performed in many places round the world. Equally at home on the double bass as on the piano, his wit and easy humour made him an excellent companion. It was, he said, his compulsion to give something back to the world that had given him so much that led him to become a psychiatric nurse.

Caroline was a beautiful young woman from Saffron Waldon. She was kind, talented and the kind of mother every child ought to have. Their children called them Keith and Caroline, and that did not seem out of place in their relaxed and bright
household.

Their home was an old flourmill that sat beside a now sluggish weed-stilled stream that had once propelled the decaying
undershot wheel and ground wheat into flour. The mechanism occupied the back part of the composite of industrial and
domestic premises that oozed old world charm with its low head-bumping oak beams, duck or grouse doorways, sloping broadboard upper floors, and a fundamental cottagy charm that swept visitors backwards at lightning speed a couple or more centuries into a pastoral idyll that probably never was, but seemed to have been in the sun soaked days of a blueskied summer in Suffolk.

The odd fusion of present charm and the evocation of the Arcadian manners of past generations of millers enchants those whose poetic souls are unrestricted by the demands of reality to see what exhausting drudgery milling really was, and how its impinged on each of the miller’s household, from youngest to eldest, to keep the mill stones turning, maintaining high standards and hitting deadlines for demanding customers, and always so much to do in the hustle and bustle that characterised the lives of agrarian workers in those harsh times and from whose obligations the mill and its operators were neither immune nor excused.

Mills, like most worthwhile crafts and enterprises, required continual close attention from skilled eyes and hands, and
conferred no repose until the creaking wooden mechanism was put to rest for the night. Only then, when the persistent
rumblings slowed to a halt and there was no more need to shout to be heard, did quiet come to that place.

One day, the mill, having been brought to a standstill the previous night, slept on undisturbed, its giant undershot wheel
letting the rushing water break against it, but the drive was locked and the great axle beam did not turn that day or ever
again, nor the grinding stones roll one over the other crushing the hard won kernels into flour for bread and pastries, for
the mill was put from use by the march of progress, and the fruits of the field taken to more modern, less wasteful factories
run by sleepless steam engines and ground with greater precision into finer, more useful and better quality flour, and a way of life silently passed into antiquity. Flour dust settled for the last time on the Old Mill, the miller and his family either retired or went to work for someone else, the cornfat rats sought a reliable supply of provender, and eventually the farmer who owned the mill and the land on which it rested let it as a residence.

Now, it was the home of the Vuglers, but not as happy as it had been, for Keith and Caroline were amicably talking of
divorce. It was at this time that I went to visit them in a summertime warm day and found the family in the throes of being split, their futures uncertain, and their lives standing as still as the dead mill as they thought what the future might hold.

It seemed like a good idea for Sam and I to go fishing. He had a boy’s fishing rod with a float, hook, and reel, and we took
some doorstep-sized wads of bread from the bread tin in the whitewalled kitchen, and set off out of the mill house, across
the brown field path to where a small brook was straddled by an unpretentious brick-arch bridge without parapets. Before the water coursed under the bridge, it widened into a little pond about ten feet across and three clear feet deep to its sandy bottom.

The fish were visible to Sam and I as we sat on the grassy bank to lure the prizes onto our hook. Sam was maybe five or six, bright-eyed, inquisitive, and intelligent with all the typical politeness of English children. We spoke of fish and of this
and that, but nothing that broached the sombre world of my diminutive friend. Sam knew little about fish, and I knew less
than he did. We knew that they should find the bait irresistible, get the hook caught in their lips, and then be hauled wriggling ashore and then … well, we didn’t know quite what came after that what with neither of us ever having caught one, but we figured that we would cross that bridge when we came to it.

The fishes came; good sized ones of five and six inches long, flashing silver in the sunlit stream. These were experienced
fish who came and sniffed at the pellets of bread that we had made by soaking bread in water then squeezing the water, and
most of the life, out of the paste into round balls that we impaled on the hook before lowering it gently into the water.
The fish were not, it transpired, bread eaters, except when shards of our pellets dissolved from the hook and fell free to
the bottom, then the fish ate heartily, but we were not deterred. We switched to Plan B, but when we had dug up a couple of reluctant earthworms and threaded them onto the hook, the fish also turned up their noses at meat on the hook.

Nevertheless, Sam and I enjoyed our time together. Sometimes, families breaking up have pressing concerns and often little time for their children and then it is easy to be with such children, and Sam was one and we talked of fish and other burdens that squeeze a young boy’s world at times, but he spoke nothing of his parents, and neither did I.

He had the confident warmth of unselfish children that makes them candid, honest, and congenial. Such souls are exquisite
butterflies that summon our life’s summers even as the calendar proclaims a different season, and such a soul was Sam.

We spent the hot afternoon shielding our eyes from the sun, watching fishes sport with us and our inducements, and talking
extravagantly as if we were the only ones alive in that green world of the high summertime glow in a deserted meadowfield in the heart of holy Suffolk, when earth, sky, God, man, and boy met in a lustrous celebration of life and its blessings
attended by a peace that no spell can bind or break, and that is forever locked within the secret chambers of my heart, and,
I hope, still has meaning for a man who once was a beautiful dark-haired boy who on that hallowed day turned the key in the lock that loosens the door to admit life where there is deadness, and makes room for joy by sweeping aside the pain of heartbreak. I hope too that Sam remembers our non-fish fishing day – remembers it, and is still glad.

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