Memories of the 1960s: Issue III – Toys. What are your memories?

There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.

This week: Wattpad and Memories of the 1960s: Issue III – Toys

Wattpad
Wattpad is a lovely website for writer and readers: it allows writers to share their works in progress and readers to read and comment on the work. All works are free. Some of my short stories and the first chapters of Too Bright the Sun and Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate are now available on wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/lazloferran

Memories of the 1960s: Issue III – Toys
This will be mostly for boys but I will add my memories of my sister’s toys.
I was born in 1962. The first toys I remember are a fluffy ball with a bell inside, a red, plastic American train and a ‘musical box’, about the size of a food can, with a crank on top. As you turned the crank, metal tongues were flicked inside, much like an African lamellaphone. It had pictures of the royal guards and Buckingham Palace painted on its sides. I don’t remember what the tune was. I also had a Playcraft plastic train set (see below). All these toys seemed to be around since a time before I could remember anything clearly.

Playcraft Train Set

Playcraft Train Set

The first toy I remember actually receiving was a motorised tank. My dad came home late one night (it was always late when he came home for a kid that was at nursery school!) and presented me with this thing that drove up and down a pile of books on its own! My dad showed me how to open a book and turn it upside down so that its spine formed the ridge of a hill. The tank could go over this too.

Then there was Lego. I had quite a small set of Lego, about enough pieces to fill a large biscuit-tin. But this included an electric motor! I seem to remember I broke the motor quite quickly but not before making a tank or two of my own. I usually made dragsters, biplanes, lorries, artillery guns and steam trains. I also had a car garage with a roll-over roof but I broke this quite quickly too.

My main love at an early age was toy cars. I quickly started to accumulate a large collection (eventually 240 vehicles) of Corgi, Matchbox, Matchbox Kingsize, Dinky Toys cars and trucks. I had bad luck with a Batmobile, a double-deck car transporter and a baby-blue Buick Riviera. After I had the Batmobile for only a few days, a rocket got stuck in the car’s insides. In those days, cars were all metal and riveted together. Repairing them was hard and, because of its complexity, repairing the Batmobile was almost impossible. My dad was an engineer so he took it apart and I had great hopes of him fixing it but he couldn’t reassemble it. The bits sat on a plate, on my window sill, for many years before I finally threw them away. The transporter’s tail gate/ramp broke. I wrote to Corgi many times, begging them for a replacement, but they never replied. The Buick disappeared mysteriously. I remember being asked if I wanted to swap it for something in his collection by the boy in the houser opposite. I refused. A few weeks later, the car went missing. I tore my bedroom and the house apart, hunting for it. I never found it. Even now, I suspect my sister. I don’t think it was the boy opposite.

Swapping was a very common way to accumulate cars then. I had a Bedford flatbed which I obtained that way. I was very lucky to have some rare items in my collection. From my dad, I inherited some old Grand Prix cars of the 1950s. These are worth a lot of money now. They are still in the loft. I was also given some cars by a friend of the family, who was about five years older than me. Thus I obtained some nice cars from the 1950s. My dad also made me a wooden petrol station for my cars. Some of you will remember a plastic petrol station, complete with a lift, which was available in toy shops. Mine was even better; it had a lift, petrol pumps, a ramp and a show room but all with more space than the plastic toy. I loved it. Does anybody remember Tonka Toys, or Matchbox Kingsize kit cars? All my Matchbox cars are still in a small suitcase, in the loft. Here is a video, taking you through the 1974 Dinky Toys catalogue

I mentioned the wooden garage, which my dad made. He also made a nice dolls house for my sister. She was two years younger than me. The dolls house front and back walls could be lifted off to reveal eight large rooms. Two were joined by an archway, a feature popular then on full-sized houses. There was plenty of miniature furniture available for a girl to buy with her pocket-money and some of it was exquisite but it was expensive. I think she quickly ran out of funds and the house was never fully furnished.

My sister was an ace at Marbles. Again, we were both blessed with fantastic marbles, inherited from a great aunt or uncle. These were Victorian antiques. Some were made of white glass with lovely red swirls but my favourite had no stripes or twists inside but was filled with tiny blue bubbles. Although we were given half each, my sister soon began to win all mine from me. We would play on the carpet, in the garden and in the school playground. Not only did she eventually win all mine but she soon started beating everyone at school. Her collection became enormous and I could only stare with envy at the standard sized marbles and the bigger ‘alleys’ and ‘half-alleys’. I remember you could buy marbles in the shop for a couple of shillings but they were never as nice as our antique ones. My sister also had a pink, plastic dog on wheels with pushing handles. It looked for all the world like a mini-pram from a distance. She also had a cuddly toy bear, which she called Poodly-Woodly. I would often hide it which upset her but I would always give in and tell her where it was in the end. Once, while on holiday in Sidmouth, Devon, I threw it out of the window, onto the hotel roof. She couldn’t find it for days. When I finally showed her where it was, she told my parents and they made me retrieve it! I don’t think I ever hid it again after this.

Of course my sister also had plenty of dolls and she had Tiny Tears – the doll that cried! You fed the baby water from a miniature bottle and then she would cry when you turned her over:

Tiny Tears baby doll

Tiny Tears baby doll

I probably became bored with Lego around the age of ten so my dad bought me a Meccano set. I think it was about Set 5. I didn’t really get on with it though. I tried to build a crane from the plans but as you progressed, the nuts from earlier components would become loose and you would have to go back and tighten them all. In the end, it was like a house of cards.

In about 1969 or possibly 1970, a new phenomenon appeared in the UK toy car scene, Hot Wheels. I immediately ordered a set from Santa but I was disappointed. While the track was flexible, the joiners were inexplicably made from brittle plastic and broke very quickly. Within weeks, the track was useless and in the UK at least, you could not buy joiner replacements. However, I got lucky. My nextdoor neighbours had a Matchbox Superfast set. This was Matchbox’s answer to Hot Wheels and was virtually identical. The crucial difference was that the joiners were flexible. I was stuck with a load of Hot Wheels cars and no track. But the cars would run on Superfast track. So, after some negotiation, I managed to persuade them to part with it. The result was many happy days running amazing tracks down the stairs from the landing and out onto the porch. Below is a picture of Matchbox Superfast cars:

Matchbox Superfast cars

Matchbox Superfast cars

One novelty, I should mention was American remote-control cars. When I was about five, our next-door neighbours’ father regularly traveled to America. After one trip, he presented his two sons with these remote-controlled cars. I can’t be certain but I think one was a Cadillac. These were way ahead of what we had in the UK – positively futuristic. We didn’t have remote-control until about 1980, when I did finally get one. American toys always had a mystique for me after seeing these two cars in the 60s.

After cars, I progressed to trains. Horny and Tri-ang trains were the thing. In 1968 the two companies hadn’t yet merged. I saw the Tri-ang Princess class pacifics of a friend’s train set and I had to have one of my own. My dad chose the Hornby Flying Scotsman set. It had a lovely big, green steam engine, a tender, three standard carriages and a pullman carriage and about twenty feet of track. At first, I just laid it on the carpet but it was soon clear this was not a good idea; the cat couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the train every time it came around the track.
“You need a proper, permanent track base,” my dad told me.
‘Great!’ I thought. ‘Maybe the loft? Or all round the landing!’
The problem was that we lived in an ultra-modern challet house. It had a long, sloping roof so the loft was tiny and only about four feet high at its highest point. The landing was no good either.
Imagine, then, my horror when my dad bought home something door-sized! I had to build my whole set on a door-sized fibreboard panel which measured three feet and six inches wide by six feet and six inches long! My dad fixed it to the wall at waist height, in the study, and left me to it. To this day, I don’t understand why he couldn’t give me a panel four feet wide. Just another six inches! The amount of heartache caused by the missing six inches! First of all, I needed a mainline set, two tracks, one inside the other, because the Flying Scotsman is a mainline train. But this made the inner curve about 18 inches radius. Hornby didn’t make curves this tight! Even the outer curve was hanging over the edge of the panel. My dad had to screw a two-inch wide strip to the side so that the track fitted and I could have a station platform. For the inner track, I had to buy flexi-track, which was very expensive.

My train set days were not to be the paradise I had envisioned. The motors never ran smoothly and consequently I was constantly oiling them and cleaning the track with ‘track cleaner’. The problem was so acute that I converted a coal wagon to carry the cleaner. But the solution was too expensive so I had to substitute it with thinners and white-spirit. Unfortunately, this made the plastic sleepers brittle and they would break off. I had an elaborate plan for the set I would build but I never finished it. I found that toy trains are bloody expensive!

After trains, I progressed to model aircraft. Aircraft would quickly become my greatest love, but at first, my experiences with models were frustrating. My dad first whispered of rubber-powered wooden models when was about seven. I didn’t understand what he was talking about but after he brought home an Airfix Hawker Sea Fury and built it for me, I could see the attraction of a model that could fly.

My father brought home a Keil Kraft, rubber-powered Hawker Hurricane. The box contained balsa wood parts for the whole airframe but they weren’t even pressed out, as later kit parts would be! The box clearly said ‘Ages 10 and above’ and I was 7! It was too much! I struggled for a few weeks before consigning the kit to its box. Its unclear whether it was my father’s ambition or my own which would plague my early aircraft building career but the trend continued. When I was ten, Airfix had just released the first two aircraft kits at 1/24 Scale, the Hurricane and Spitfire. These were huge. I never was so impressed by the Spitfire as others; I thought then and in fact still think that the Spitfire is a bit ugly. I wanted the Hurricane. I think it cost £7.49 which was a huge sum at the time but I remember carrying the enormous box proudly home. Again, I wasn’t really old enough to build this kit. I managed to build the thing but it took months and frayed my nerves.

Other toys I remember from the 60s include toy guns. Although I refuse to touch a real gun these days, I had two Western style pistols, one a long-handled black one with an imitation pearl handle and a shorter barreled one. I also had a Winchester rifle. All fired caps. I had a battery torch which had a green and a red filter for the lens. You could shine a normal beam or flip over the filter and then everything in the room would turn green or red. I had a Mamod steam roller and several traction engines of a different make. I had a plastic friction-drive Comet airliner, whose make I have tried, and failed, to discover (please let me know if you remember this and know what it is). Another curiosity, which my father brought home in shrink wrap pack, was a tiny, a Lone Star die-cast American diesel engine, along with some plastic track. It was just a push-along engine but later, I understand, the company used tiny electric motors. I loved it. but with about twelve inches of track and no carriages, it had limited play value. I had a Scalextric set, which was almost as old as me. I guess my dad must have bought it as soon as I was born! The cars were Grand Prix cars from the 1950s! I cannot omit mention of my finest toy; an Ever Ready London Underground set. My grandparents ran a combined Chemist and record shop in the 1960s and Ever Ready gave out 500 toy train sets of red, London Underground trains as a promotional gimmick. I inherited this. It wasn’t that much fun to play with because it only had a single circle of track but it looks great. It’s still in its box and the box is in good condition. When I last checked, one of these sets went at the auctioneer, Christies, for £500. That was ten years ago. If anybody else has one of these, let me know.

While I continued to work my way through the Airfix model aircraft range, my father moved me on to control-line aircraft. These were model aircraft whose control was by means of two steel wires which led from a handle, held by the owner. This system was much like the system used by aerobatic kites. The main difference was that these aircraft flew round you at speeds of up to 100 mph. For some reason, which is beyond my comprehension, my dad chose to buy me the fastest and most sensitive aerobatic model Keil Kraft made. It would be fair to say it was a competition only model. Not only that but the only model engine my dad could lend me was far too powerful. The result was a monster; far too fast for even the most expert control-line flier to handle. When he powered it up for me in the field and let it go, it flew straight into the ground. And I mean, straight into the ground! I never had a chance. I was left with a bag of bits. Consequently, he bought me a smaller engine and we modified the design to make it a bit easier to handle. I rebuilt the model. It still didn’t last long but long enough to teach me the basics. I wanted more and progressed to a Focke Wulf 190 and eventually a Focke Wulf TA 152.
I ended up flying radio-controlled aircraft and even designing my own. My love of aircraft has never been quelled and that passion informs some of my thrillers, such as Attack Hitler’s Bunker! My love of technology led to me writing about Die Glocke (the Nazi Bell) in my subscription novel Rip.

What are your memories of toys in the 1960s?

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Memories of the 1960s: Issue I – Fishing. What are your memories?

There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.

Last week I took a long walk next to the Grand Union Canal near Ware in Hertfordshire. It reminded me of my fishing days in the 1960s and I wondered if fishing could still feel the same. It occurred to me to try and write about the 1960s and I decided to try it. Each post will be entitled Memories of the 1960s and followed by the issue number. Here is the first:

Fishing in the 1960s
Don’t get me wrong; I couldn’t fish now because I have long since become vegetarian and I could not possibly hurt a fish by tempting it to take a hook into its mouth. But the nostalgia for those almost-lost hazy summer days of my youth is a powerful intoxicant.

I cannot possibly hope to equal the success or effect of Mr Crabtree and his stories. For those unfamiliar with him, Mr Crabtree was the wonderfully avuncular central figure in a series of cartoon strips for one of the daily papers (Mail, Mirror or something like that, I can’t remember). In it, he taught a young boy to fish and these stories were wonderfully and evocatively illustrated. You could almost smell the ground bait and ginger biscuits. But here we go:

I first came to angling, or course fishing as fresh-water fishing is called, through my father. I think I had tried sea-fishing, in Sidmouth, and didn’t like it. But I knew my father was taught to fish by his father so I wanted to try.

One Christmas, the usual toy car presents were supplemented by a very long and thin package. It turned out to be a solid fibreglass rod, about six feet and six inches long, longer than me!

It came with a small reel – I think it was a tiny Daiwa open-faced reel – some line, a few hooks, some lead shot weights and some floats. That weekend, my father took me on my first trip. I can’t remember where we went but I soon discovered that the three brothers next door all fished and they took me to Rickmansworth Aquadrome, a large lake and one of a string along a valley.

The lake was well known for its high yield of fish and I was soon catching some. I quickly found that I needed other equipment; a rod-rest, for holding the rod to release your hands to eat, a bait tin, a landing net and a folding seat to mention a few. These were soon joined by more floats and ledger weights (flat or cylindrical lead weights).

A typical fishing trip would go like this:

Woken by alarm at 3 am (that’s right!) on Sunday morning. Make breakfast quietly, get maggots out of fridge, quietly, and pack bag. At 5.15, watch Gone Fishin’ on BBC1 for 20 minutes and then get ready to leave. Walk 5 miles to Chesham tube station. Catch ‘milk train’ to Rickmansworth. Walk mile to Aquadrome. Climb around locked gate (locked until 9 am) on bridge with all your tackle and shimmy along large pipe under bridge until you could climb back onto bridge and reach lake. Walk fast (sometimes run, if it was a nice day and there were lots of other anglers on first train) to best swim. Fish until you started catching or moved to another place. Drink lots of soup, tea or orange squash and ginger beer. At midday, with hot sun blasting away all thoughts of school on Monday, eat cheese and tomato or chicken sandwiches. Fish until about 5pm when light starts to fade. Father or whole family arrived and ate a picnic while you told them about, or showed them, if you had a keep net, what fish you had caught. Taken home in style, in the back of an Austin Maxi, complete with hydro-elastic suspension. Have bath, watch TV until you go to bed, very content.

In fact, I never had a blank day, a day with no fish, at the Aquadrome, even though once, I was only saved by a lucky miller’s thumb, a sorry looking fish, only one up from a stickleback. It was a highly competitive place, every angler competed in an unofficial match. The bailiff, who didn’t seem overly bothered about making you pay the 50p ticket, would walk around telling you:
“Such and such has caught five tench two swims down!”
A swim was the area of water adjoining the bank, which you had chosen to fish.

My own particular record was 122 fish, all in, and that remained a record for about six months, I seem to remember. I kept a log book and measured the depth of every part of the lake using a plumb on a line. I mapped the lake meticulously and became adept at ‘thinking like a fish.’

The only bait in town then was maggots. Hemp and sweetcorn hadn’t really been discovered. Of course, all the fishing books told you to use bread; bread was a time-honoured bait, used in the earlier part of the century by everyone but by the 1960s, fish had encountered maggots and they were addicted!

I used to breed my own maggots. I well remember leaving a breast of chicken in a shed on some nearby waste land (sorry Mr Thame, if you are still alive – you must be 122!) while we went on a two-week holiday. Maggots will normally grow from birth to full size, and form chrysalises, by this time so it was a stupid oversight on my part. By the time I came home and checked the box, the stench was terrific and the maggots were the size of prawns! As usual, I washed them, which entailed washing them in a bucket of soapy water, drying them by rolling in a towel, washing them a second time and placing in a tin or plastic container of clean, dry sawdust and then put them in the fridge! My mum went ape! Later she calmed down and said that they actually smelled okay. They were in a tightly sealed box so there was no risk of their escaping. In those days you bought sawdust by the sack load from the nearest timber merchant for about 50p per sack.

I made my own ground bait; the mixture of bread crumbs and other stuff you throw in the water to conceal yourself and attract fish. I would practice lobbing it into a plastic hoop at ranges up to 60 feet in the back garden. Later on, I bought a maggapult; a catapult designed to hold maggots or ground bait. With that, I practiced hitting the target right across a field -perhaps 2-300 feet away. It was all pretty technical stuff.

At the end of my sting at the Aquadrome, I had progressed to a 12’6″, orange, fibreglass fishing rod and a Mitchell Black Prince reel. I was using Bayer fishing line which was ultra thin and strong (I remember mine was 1lb or 1.5lb breaking strain). Somebody offered me a Billy Lane Match Rod, which was old, still fibreglass, and had two alternative tops, one for float fishing and one for ledgering, and two alternative butts. My landing net was a collapsible thing with very course mesh, handy for travelling but a bit abrasive for the fish. Technology had moved on, Micromesh was in, and I a keep net about 12 feet long, big enough to hold the large number of fish I was catching.

I had many amazing and weird experiences at the Aquadrome. An ancient willow, of about a metre’s girth, fell into the water right next to me. I was soaked but glad to still be alive. I remember several times sitting so still that water voles actually sat on my feet to wash themselves. Another time I was concentrating very hard on fishing when I felt a twig fall of the tree above me. Nothing unusual about that but then it started to move! I cautiously put my hand on my head and picked off… a five inch long stick insect! I had no idea if they could bite or were poisonous so I put it on a bush and left it.

Another strange thing which actually happened to me was when I almost pulled off a woman’s skirt. It happened like this: I was fishing on a bridge over the canal, next to the lake for a change, and cast out my float using the 12’6″ rod. Now that rod had a very whippy action and, combined with the excellent new Mitchell 401 reel I had bought, only one step down from the ultimate Mitchell Match, meant that the float, hook and maggot went much further than I expected, partly because I was 15 feet up on a bridge. The result was that it landed somewhere near a passing narrow boat. I didn’t know quite where but I soon found out when an old woman, sitting in a chair and sunning herself on the boat’s deck, suddenly started screaming and pulling on her skirt. I could see it was mysteriously lifting off her. I knew I had snagged it. What to do? As the boat moved further away, I simply let out more line until the boat was almost out of sight. Bayer line is very expensive so there was no way I was going to break the line at my end. Just when the line almost ran out, I decided to yank it hard. I know the hook came out because it came back to me, bent. I saw the woman standing up and shaking her fist at me so I presume she still had her skirt on.

The strangest thing happened in the stick insect swim, which was ‘V’ shaped and between a spur of land and the shore. I had been fishing there all day on a Saturday, quite a good day’s fishing as I recall, and was back there at 6am the following Sunday morning. However, when I reached the spur, it was sealed off by bed sheets, hanging from a clothes line strung between two trees! I saw a policeman poke his head out between the sheets and asked him when I could fish. He said, “Not today. Dead body in the lake.”

As if to balance my karma over the woman on the boat, a car drove over my rod a week later and squashed it, making it useless. It only cost me £12, about 12 weeks pocket money then, but I was still very upset. The Aquadrome was getting too busy and it was time to move on.

About this time, I discovered two things; Ivan Marks and the Boxmoor section of the Grand Union Canal. Ivan Marks was at that time the British Angling Match Champion, a working class hero if ever there was one. He looked like a toothy John Lennon, complete with flat cap and a big grin. Boxmoor was a narrow valley near Hemel Hempstead. It not only had a lovely quiet stretch of canal but also a tiny, concealed lake called Pixies Mere (I kid you not!).

Ivan Marks had started a shop called Marks and Marlow with a mate and their first rod was a black beast, the first carbon fibre fishing rod offered for sale in the country. It was called the Persuader. I had to have one! I saved my pocket money, did two paper rounds and bought one of the first. It came, personally signed by Ivan Marks. It was so light you could swear you were holding only a pencil in your hand if you closed your eyes. It was 13 feet long!

I discovered Boxmoor by accident. I had started going out on my Dawes Dapper, a no-gear bicycle, to find new places to fish. The rods and landing net were tied to the cross bar, a bag was on my back and the seat was slung around my neck! Most good places were south so I headed north, into unknown territory. I tried the Grand Union Canal near Hemel Hempstead, one wet and miserable day in February. I hadn’t actually started to fish; this stretch of the canal was filled with pianos and rotting, sunken barges. Then I reached a lock and a boatman offered to take me on board, complete with my bike.
“All you have to do is open the lock gates for me,” he shouted. “Here is the key!”
He passed me a giant piece of iron, bent into a shape like a car jack. I put the bike on board and started to wind down the lock sluice. Once this was done, I could push open the gate by hand. We traveled like this for a few miles before there was trouble. When you wind open a sluice, the weight on the handle seems to get heavier with each turn. When you wind it closed, it goes faster and faster. This time, I must have been tired because it got away from me and whacked into my elbow, sending me sprawling. For a while I couldn’t feel my arm.
“I better go home I think,” I told him.
He let me off and I rode along the tow-path, one handed. I had almost reached my turn off when, what with all the weight on the bike, I lost my balance and rode straight into the canal!
“Shit!” I thought. “Deep shit!”
My dad had sacrificed a lot to buy me that bike so there was no way I was going to leave it fifteen feet out in the canal. After hauling myself and my stuff out and peeling off my trousers and shirt, I dived back in and down to the bike. I found it in the silt and dragged it along the bottom until I reached shallow water and could haul it out, all with one hand.

I took all my clothes off and rung them out.
“Are you okay?” called a woman from her back garden.
“Fine!” I replied, because that’s what you did then. You didn’t make a fuss.
I was freezing as I rode home. The wind chill, combined with the wet an my fatigue became too much for me about a mile from home. I had already ridden about 10 miles but I stopped at a phone box and reversed the charges to get my dad to pick me up. He was very angry with me for some reason.
“You’re always falling in water!” he said. This was totally untrue. I was pushed into a lake by a next door neighbour once, many years before. Perhaps he was just concerned for me!

A few weeks later, I tried riding the other way, west, and discovered a place where the boats turn. A wide basin, in the middle of nowhere, called Cow Roast, was to prove my Nirvana.
I baited it for a week, riding there each day and throwing in as much ground bait as I could afford. When I began to fish, small fish came out in streams. And then I caught a very large fish. I wondered what it was. It fought like a carp. When it broke surface, I saw the gorgeous brown colour of a Bronze Bream. It was the first I had every caught. People say bream don’t fight but these ones fought like devils. It would often take me twenty minutes to land one of these giants and then I would be surrounded by gawping locals.
“Niver seeen nuffin like ‘at!” they would say.

When my parents arrived, they couldn’t believe their eyes. It took both my father and I to haul up the keep net. It weighed about 100 pounds. The biggest of those bream weighed about 5 pounds! Whoppers! I had so many lovely days there. I began to lose interest when other anglers discovered the spot. It became too busy for me.

I tried the King Richard Lake, near Basingtoke, with a friend and between us we caught over 240 tench, another lake record.

But it was Pixies Mere that attracted me most. An older fishing friend had to get me in because it was ran by a very private club; you had to be recommended. It also had the biggest tench in the home counties, or so the rumour went! If I may, I would like to extend my memories into the 1970s because the essential ethos of fishing hadn’t changed yet.

Summer 1976 – the hottest summer on record.

We had 13 weeks of unending sun. I also discovered sweet corn as a bait and by now I had acquired a proper fishing basket. I must have looked the part the first time I rolled up to fish Pixies Mere. Imagine the scene:

It’s August, 1976, 7pm, dusk. We open the gate in the trees and see a lake with the magical name, Pixies Mere. It is about the length of two football pitches and the western end, to our right, is divided into two arms. It nestles among the trees which concealed it, mostly willows which hung down to weedy, fertile water. The swim we want is in the fork between the two arms and can only be reached by a perilous scramble along a rough path on the side of the bank and then traversing three planks of wood over boggy ground.

The dragon-flies are out in force, nightingales are singing and there is the occasional ‘plop’ of what we think are large tench. The lake is a mystery, it’s all a glorious mystery.

I try to set up my fishing seat, full of tackle, on a mud flat, barely half an inch out of the water. It begins to sink and so do my feet in my wellington boots. The flies are attracted to my face but I don’t care. From under my cap, I survey the swim with the experienced eye of a veteran.
“I will go over there,” I suggest, pointing to the left.
“Okay. I will go right,” whispers my accomplice.
Quietly, we rig up and sit down. It’s almost completely dark by the time he gets a bite. We are using large floats, crow-quills we have made ourselves and painted with Humbrol fluorescent pink.

His float whacks under the water and his line sings in the air as the big fish races away from us. He hauls on the rod and it bends over double, looking as if it will break. Soon, the reel is screaming and the battle reaches its climax. Slowly, ever so slowly, he works the fish around some lily pads, past a bed of rushes and close to where I have submerged the waiting landing net.

By the time I lift the net, encircling the tench, it is exhausted and gasping for breath. Tench are very powerful fish. They have thick, olive green bodies with large, rudder-like fins, which can often be red. In the mating season, and in August some still are mating, their bellies are crimson, to match the colour of their bead eyes.

I marvel at its beauty and he puts it back. My friend has caught tench before but I haven’t. We fish on. It is now completely dark. The lake is closed up at 10.30, just in time for last orders in the pub at its side. My parents will be arriving to treat me to a pint of cider. I am only 14, but nobody cares about such niceties in this day and age, the summer of 1976.

Finally my float, jabs out of site.
“Steady,” my friend tells me. I cannot believe the strength of the fish on the end of the line. It is like having my sister pulling for all she is worth. I swear quite a lot and steer the fish around some of those lily pads and start the perilous haul to the net. Finally, it is safely inside and my friends drags it onto the mud. I drop my rod and gawp, wide-eyed at the beautiful fish. We weigh it; 4 pounds and 8 ounces. Not a giant but the most amazing fish I have ever caught. A few weeks later, I caught my biggest, a 5 pound four ounce beauty. We were the first to try sweetcorn at that lake. For a whole summer, we caught the biggest. The tench could not resist us.
When we can finally no longer see in front of our faces, we have to call it a night. By torchlight, we pack our stuff and then I hear my father’s voice calling across the lake:
“How do I get out there?”
I tell him and fifteen minutes later, he reaches me, feet soaking wet. He doesn’t seem to care.
“Show me then!” he demands, when I tell him we have caught eleven between us. He is as amazed as I am when we see the lovely olive green and crimson fish in the net. I can hardly believe such a beautiful creature swims in English waters.
Wearily, we follow him to the pub, where my sister and mother watch over two pints of gloriously sweet cider.
What a day!

I hope you enjoyed my description of course fishing in the 1960s. What are your memories?