Together they stumbled towards the stile, the gnarled old hands of Jim, known to his friends as "Jolly," reaching out to lift his grandson Peter over the wooden slats and into the field of sun dried grass. Holding hands they continued across the open space until they spied to their left the first traces of the practically dried up riverbank.
"My God!" exclaimed Jim" then regretted his strong words, " It really is just a trickle now, who would have believed it" Some areas of the ditch held stagnant water, linked only by the pampas grass that had somehow continued to flourish where the stream used to be. Peter looked up at his grandfather, still sprightly despite the fact that he would be eighty years old this coming year.
Jim had been a Millennium baby, born in the year 2000, so it was easy for the family to calculate his age. The two of them shared a close friendship, sometimes excluding others. Peter just loved the stories his Gramps would tell him about his schoolboy days and the toys and transport they used. He was careful not to laugh when Gramps would tell him about using a bicycle and physically making his own way to school rather than working at home and using the hyperterminal link to have his work marked and set.
Jim sat down beside the ditch, Peter joined him, sensing it was not a good time to interrupt. "It was here I caught my first barbel," he finally said, eyes glistening,
"If you look closely past that bed of nettles you can make out where the other stream joined this one. It was a quite a river then, up to eight feet deep in places, with fast runs between beds of ranculus and deep shadowy slacks. I was just thirteen at the time and I had watched an old gent baiting the area with chopped worms, a bait that was used in the olden days when they weren’t so very scarce. I waited till he had gone and then using an old fashioned fixed spool reel and carbon rod cast in his spot.
" I’ve seen those rods and reels, you’ve got them in the garage" shouted Peter. "That’s right, and they will be yours eventually, just a shame you will have no use for them" replied Jim.
They rose from the grass, Jim’s knees creaking, despite the liquid fluoride injection. He led the way down the trickle to the old oak tree, split by lightning even before he was born. " Under that tree the water used to wash back creating an eddy of spectacular proportions. On a day when the river was flooded and came over the bank you could almost guarantee that a chub would be waiting to pick up a piece of bread or a bunch of maggots." Seeing the query on Peters face he continued "Maggots were the grub stage of the house fly and were one of the most popular baits around. Of course once the decision was made by the New Tories to irradicate them and the potential danger the flies could cause by transferring the E strain virus between humans, you wouldn’t have seen them in your lifetime. Bloody good bait though!
"Must stop swearing," he thought, he wasn’t hard up, but the fine for bad talk had doubled these past few years and he didn’t want Peter to pay the price of his slip-ups.
Jim released the catch on his freonbag, and took out a hot meal carton for them both. Pulling the tag immediately heated the food in one section and chilled the textured fruit mix in the other. They sat down again and Jim continued his stories.
" You see, over 60 years ago this stream was linked to the Thames, the small stream we paddled in yesterday, then it was a mighty river that even the largest of today's water skippers could sail down. This river had a lot of good fish, not a many as in my Father's day, but the selective breeding program introduced by the Network Association of tackle dealers had made available to affiliated clubs, those were the ones that only purchased tackle from them, some genetic strains of fish that put on rapid weight. To many anglers it was a truly wonderful time, Barbel to 35lb, Chub over 10lb and even Roach touching 7lb were caught. With the working week down to 30 hours and the closed season finished years before it was the first time the sport had more fans than skeeterball or visual golf.
"You’ve told me about the old closed season Gramps and how the naturally spawning fish were so disturbed that they simply stopped breeding, but what on earth happened to the Superfish?"
" Well it was wonderful, to be honest, initially, and so successful that most clubs joined in with the program. The man in charge of the program then, who you know as the Grand Master of Parliament now, was hailed by the Angling press as being the saviour of fishing. Mind you, of course, as we know now, he actually owned the Press!
The main source of trouble was the fish being sterile were not going to reproduce and once they were the main source of supply for the clubs, the price of fish started to go sky high. With the increased money available to genetically modify the fish, the scientists inadvertently developed a strain that actually needed no food to grow.
Of course this wasn’t realised until they had been introduced to nearly all the waters and then it was realised that the new strains just simply wouldn’t take an anglers bait.
People went back to skeeterball and other virtual sports and the whole industry collapsed."
"There must have been a massive outcry Gramps?" "Well there was initially but our Grand Master was a clever manoid, he concluded that with no fish around, the rivers were not really important anymore and he could add the water available to electro produced artificial supply and offer fresher water at a cost reduction to all homes and businesses. What he did was simply please the masses at the expense of a few. More votes followed when he eventually ran for Grand Master."
In the moments that followed, while Peter thought over what he had been told, Jims mind ran back to the days he had spent on this stretch of bank. If only man had been satisfied with leaving things as they were. Swans had floated across the water, nymphs had risen from the depths, changing into the most spectacular mayflies before one's eyes. Grass snakes had slivered through the damp vegetation, sometimes startling the rodents that came to steal the bait at the fisherman's feet. Robins in winter would fly around, daring you to ignore them, and grab the maggots that fell by your feet. It seemed a lifetime ago, and he knew that it really was. A lump caught in his throat. Peter would never ever know of that life.
"Come on lad" he said with difficulty, " Lets get back before curfew time"
Together, holding hands they headed back towards the style. The moisture on Jims face couldn’t have been rain, - it had not rained for six
Graham Elliott - 2000