Tuesday 13 December 2016

Wet Places - a Beginning

I must apologise. Some of my recent posts have been a bit joyless I think. So I'm going to try and write something a bit more upbeat...

Across its various incarnations NQS has changed. It has become less and less a diary type blog, vicarious birding is nowadays mostly off the menu, and cycling, fishing and pitiful nostalgia are regularly in the mix. Fair enough perhaps, change happens. But unfortunately I suspect also that it's getting a bit more moany. So, in an effort to lift the tone to somewhere sunnier I thought I would try and explore my love of watery places, and see where that leads...


In 1964 my mother was a young, divorced single parent living in Roydon, Essex. Providing for two small children meant a hectic life, so she would have appreciated the Sunday invitation from a friend in nearby Broxbourne. While the women nattered and minded the toddler indoors, the little boy could be entertained in the garden. The boy was a handful, but my mother's friend's husband had a plan. Perhaps a spot of fishing might keep him quiet? The garden ran down to the River Lea, and that afternoon I caught my very first fish. Four bleak and a perch.

Or should I say they caught me?

One by one, as each was swung ashore, it was plopped into a bucket of water. I was five years old and, although I can vividly picture the scene, what I cannot do is genuinely evoke the emotions. My mum tells me I was absolutely ecstatic, eagerly dragging her out of the house to view my little bucketful of triumph. I'm sure she's not exaggerating, because I was never quite the same again. From then on, every single body of water I encountered drew me like a magnet. Ditch, pond or stream, all I could think about were the mysteries that lay beneath the surface. Yes, it was I who had been hooked.

Aged six, we moved to Harlow New Town. Hardly an oasis. I remember only the odd netted stickleback. Then at nine, after my mother remarried, we moved to Kenton, near Harrow in the NW London suburbs. Not far away was Barn Hill Pond. To get there involved a twenty-five minute walk, initially through residential estates, then over a railway footbridge, across a field and up a scrubby slope to the top of a modest hill overlooking Wembley Stadium. There lay boyhood heaven...

This is Barn Hill Pond as I remember it, so I'm guessing the photo dates from the mid/late '60s. My favourite fishing spot was half way along the left hand bank. (From the Brent Museum and Archives website)

Hardly an inland sea, is it! Admittedly the water level is very low here. Early '60s? The leaning tree in this photo is just a stump in the image above. I remember the stump. (From the Brent Museum and Archives website)

I spent many a happy day here, fuelled by rampant optimism and marmalade sandwiches. Often there would be four or five boys around the pond, drowning worms and swapping insults. The early arrivals would have dragged out one of the two milk crates to sit on. Very occasionally someone would catch a fish...

A Barn Hill monster. Or two, rather...

With hindsight, Barn Hill Pond was a bit tenth-rate in many ways. On a nice day it would be busy with families out for a stroll, dogs plunging into the water and, if you were unlucky, oafish members of 'the Little Kingsbury' coming to see if they could nick some fishing tackle...

But it was water. And it had fish. It was a lowly but important step along the road that has led me to love watery places my whole life...


  1. Gav, I wasn't around in the Barn Hill era, though brother Phil might have had a go. I've a picture somewhere of that other local pond we used to fish. I'll send it along.

    1. Thanks Ric. I fished there with Phil at least once. We must have been about 12 or 13 then. Someone I fished with at Barn Hill hooked and lost what we always reckoned was a catfish. His reel wouldn't give any line and the fish just smashed him up. My memory is telling me that was Phil.

  2. Replies
    1. But I thought you loathed nostalgia Steve? ;-)

    2. It ain't what it used to be Jono...

    3. Moany some of your posts maybe, I still like reading them. Good stuff, keep it up and please keep advising your Twitter followers when you've written a new one!

    4. Cheers Steve. Rest assured, there will be more!

  3. Gav,
    Why did you start this post with an apology? It's your blog, write what you bloody well like! If you create a theme where others are drawn to comment - job's a good'n! Remember, it's not mandatory that anyone reads this stuff, let alone agrees with it. The beauty of social media is we all now have a voice - doesn't mean anyone will listen. Being brave enough to place an opinion into cyber space is always likely to create issues - there's always someone who will find fault. Be proud of your convictions and remain true to the rules which guide your life - being an individual is the greatest gift our democracy bestows - enjoy it to the full - Dyl

    1. Hi Dyl, did you think I'd gone soft? It's not a real apology, as in 'a regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure' to quote one definition. It's just a polite acknowledgment that I've detected a trend that I appreciate might be getting wearing for some readers because it's getting wearing for me when I review recent posts. Yes it's my blog, but I'm not writing this blog just for me. Never have. To my mind that is part of the attraction of blogging: you can be self-indulgent if you want, you can sound off if you want, you can seek to entertain. I like variety in blogs I visit, and try to offer likewise here.

      Mind you, If I ever do need to print a real apology I will do so. That too is part of who I am.

      Have no fear Dyl, I am quite able to both voice an opinion and defend it. On occasion I have written posts that I absolutely know present a controversial view, and if someone reads it, disagrees with it, and then actually takes the time to write a comment to say so, I welcome it. I enjoy a debate. Hopefully I will never intentionally be rude to anyone who makes that effort, and a well-reasoned argument might even teach me enough to change my view. It has been known. I can also take criticism, and if I genuinely am at fault I'm quite able to hold my hand up and say so. Thanks for the pep talk though, much appreciated!

    2. A great read Gavin, my kind of nostalgia and I agree with Dylan.