At the conclusion of an episode of Gone Fishing, the BBC television series with Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer, a day’s fishing in Yorkshire on the River Ure concludes with an exchange of gifts.
The programme had included an encounter with the cardiac surgeon who had performed Bob Mortimer’s triple heart bypass and an explanation of how the operation had taken place, so perhaps Bob Mortimer had felt a keen sense of his own mortality. Standing on a bridge, he said he had presents for Paul Whitehouse and gave him a bottle of vintage port and a paperback book, on the condition that the port would only be drunk and the book would only be read when Bob Mortimer died.
Paul Whitehouse’s response was an extraordinarily touching moment. He had said that when his father had heard that the series was to be made, he gave Paul his fishing rod and asked him to give it to Bob Mortimer. His father had died before the programmes were recorded.
Bob Mortimer realised the powerful symbolism of the gift, that this was something that was special to Paul Whitehouse’s father and was therefore special to Paul Whitehouse himself. It was if he were giving something of himself.
Knowing fishermen through the years, it’s painful to imagine them passing on their fishing rods. It would seem a recognition that they would no longer need them, that there would never again be an hour spent sitting on a river bank, that the times of tranquility and contentment were past and would not return. It would seem a recognition of mortality, of the coming of closing days.
To pick up a fishing rod passed on by someone whose days beside the water are over is to connect with that person. It is to stand in their place, to remember their memories. To pick up a fishing rod bequeathed by a friend is to continue in their tradition, to experience the sensations they felt.
Perhaps fishing, of all sports and pastimes, is the one that brings with it the sense of one’s own humanity. A sense of the passing seasons is inescapable, as is a sense of the natural elements. The hours spent in silent solitude are times when the only thoughts are your own, when the quietness brings a pondering, a questioning, an awareness of yourself. To stand on the bank with a carefully-crafted gift passed down from a previous generation would be to enter a timeless moment.