Of Learning, Teaching and Fishing

I just got home from a week in England. A number of things strike me as I look back on a wonderful few days.

  • There is nothing like true friends. And my friends Tim and Liz are the living embodiment of both ‘True’ and ‘Friend’.

  • If there’s anything I like more than watching cricket in high definition with any one of the five dogs in my life (my four plus Tim and Liz's dog Becks) curled up beside me on a couch, I haven’t experienced it yet.

  • Somebody needs to invent a better way to negotiate a house sale. The current system takes too long, creates too little and costs too much.

  • Negotiation means getting inside the other person’s head and seeing it from their perspective. When you’re certain you’re being dispassionate, and you still have no idea what they’re looking at, it’s time to move on.You’ll never get a deal done you can live with.

  • Success takes four elements:

  1. The desire to achieve

  2. The knowledge to achieve

  3. The humility to acquire said knowledge

  4. The perseverance to work at it for long enough that 1, 2 and 3 matter

The last of these I learned by watching Tim and Liz’s teenage son Will over the last few days.

Some years ago they bought a beautiful house in the English countryside, on the shores of the River Test. It’s an idyllic setting with swans gliding by in dappled sunlight against a background of verdant Hampshire farmland. Standing by the water’s edge you can watch the Mayfly’s hatching. Most Mayfly’s live between 30 minutes and 24 hours. Watching one being born puts a good deal of life into context.

As the sun begins to settle in the sky, fish begin to break the surface. Trout mostly, I think. I’m no fisherman.

Will has the most important exams of his life coming up next week. So naturally enough, this week his first priority was to catch a fish. There’s probably some deep rooted psychological explanation for why some teenage boys divert their attention to anything other than that which their parents wish for. I don’t know what it is. But I was exactly the same.

For most of three days, and until long past the sun went down, in fair weather and foul (we had a good deal of both) Will stood on the banks of the river Test casting various forms of inducement towards the fish. He is an inveterate innovator and at fairly regular intervals he would reappear, grumbling about his lack of success, but with a new idea to try.

On the third day I had to be up in London and so missed the sight of the next door neighbor - a wily and experienced fly fisherman - climbing over the hedge to give Will two hours of personal instruction.

Will learns better from experience than being taught - another trait we share. But he enthusiastically accepted the guidance and the lessons. At almost ten o’clock that night he could still be seen by the dim outline of his white hooded sweatshirt in the last wisps of daylight and the first signs of moonlight, casting and recasting.

I saw him only briefly the next day. He paused long enough to cook us a phenomenal English breakfast - a skill he learned from and shares with his Father - before returning to the river banks with vague promises about Latin revision thrown over his shoulder. I left late that afternoon, and as he came to say goodbye I hugged him and wished him well next week. He was distracted. Not, I knew, by the first person indicative perfect of “I have caught a fish.”

It’s an hour to Heathrow from the house, and then ninety minutes of queuing, checking in, unpacking, repacking, searching, questioning, walking, browsing, queuing and questioning before you find yourself actually sitting on a plane. Two and a half hours all told. Long enough for the world to change.

As I settled into my seat my phone buzzed with the arrival of a new email. It was from Will. Untitled, it took an age to download. Long enough for the announcement that we had to turn off our phones. It would wait, I thought. I’ll see it when I land.

Suddenly, it opened. The attachment that had struggled to reach me through the eddies and currents of the world wide web lay, splendidly, in my hands beneath a caption that read simply:

‘caught at 18:55’

Prendi piscis.

Yes, you did, Will.

Yes, you did.