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This week’s blog features two middle-aged legends from West Yorkshire.
Prime Ministers, it seems, can get away with being rude about Yorkshire folk. If I tried that I might be heading back down the M1 sharpish, minus my passport to God's own country. So after much deliberation, I’ve decided to refrain from referring to them in print as a couple of old codgers. I do not want to risk their wrath. The legends are Harry Lodge of Wakefield and Thornhills’ very own Donald Pierson.
I first met Donald back in 2011 at the Leggers pub located on the Dewsbury Arm of the Calder & Hebble canal. A site meeting had been arranged to discuss various improvements works on the Dewsbury Arm plus the upcoming Dewsbury Canal Festival. The meeting organiser turned out to be a young, fast-talking, up and coming project officer by the name of Rebecca Dent. Yes, the very same Becca who would in 2013 become the Trust's national angling development manager.
As client manager of more than 250 angling club customers, I try my best to keep in touch with as many contacts as I possibly can, as often as I reasonably can. I must have phoned Donald a couple of years back, I think around the time of his forthcoming 86th birthday. He had been a little unwell but his dedication to angling club duty as ever shone through. In a quote which I doubt I will ever forget Donald announced to me in no uncertain terms:
"I have told them John, I have laid it on the line, I have given them five more years to find a replacement, then that’s it for me, I am definitely stepping down."
I met up again with Harry and Donald just the other day which stimulated this blog. I had seen and heard Harry Lodge at the top table of various NFA conferences and competitions over the years but we had never really properly met until I took over as national fisheries & angling manager in late 2009.
Harry had famously been the event organiser for the 1981 world championships held on the Warwickshire Avon at Luddington. The weather Gods let him down on that occasion and the river was bank high, but another great Yorkshireman, Dave Thomas from Leeds, came to the rescue and did England proud by becoming world champion.
Harry had literally dedicated decades to the development and progression of Wakefield Angling Club, driving and increasing its membership from 250 to 2500 at its peak and being at the very heart of its junior development programme. Quite rightly, both Harry and Donald are concerned as to where the next generation of club administrators will come from.
In a chance conversation with Harry three or four years back, the subject of vegetable growing happened to come up. Harry indicated that one of his biggest regrets in life was that he had never grown vegetables to show standard.
To cut a long story short, I agreed to help mentor Harry in working towards entering his first village show at the age of 80. It’s never too late to start. Guidance on suitable varieties wasn’t too onerous but working out accurate sowing dates for a location 150 miles north of my plot was an interesting challenge.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Harry swept the board in his first competition. I of course claim that his success was entirely due to expert coaching but all unbiased observers have rightly put the success down to Harry’s natural horticultural talents.
The other day, Harry has the audacity to state that he thought I was a somewhat better vegetable grower than I am a fisheries scientist. Whilst many of my loyal readers no doubt concur with Harry’s observations, I would rather not comment.
Its Becca’s 22nd birthday coming up again sometime very soon. I did, I have to admit, contrive to fail to remember the previous two 22nd anniversary dates. To have forgotten once was unfortunate, twice was certainly downright carelessness, but a hat trick definitely has the potential to permanently jeopardise a good working relationship.
Fathoming out what would make a memorable gift isn’t, at least in theory, too onerous. Becca’s tastes are simple enough, she just likes the best of everything. Now when I was young, I used to think that all the best things in life were just too expensive. However, as I slowly grew wiser, I worked out that the real problem is that I just can’t afford them. So armed with a maximum birthday budget of a fiver, I now have just a few more days to get my thinking head on and come up with a memorable high quality gift whilst keeping within budget. If anyone has any clever ideas, please let me know.
John Ellis, national fisheries & angling manager
The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.