Those Summer school holidays have come and almost gone again. They were something all children used to look forward to and most considered the best time of the year. Nowadays, many have their pleasure clouded as they wait for the results of their various exams or prepare for the next step up in their education.

Although they are aware that it is too late to do anything about it now, the importance of reaching a certain standard has been so impressed on their minds over the preceding months it is difficult for them to ‘switch off’. At a time when they should be feeling carefree and happy and enjoying the break from the constant pressure it is no surprise to find them worrying and going over the errors they might have made and what they did or ought to have done and didn’t do.

Did You Know?

Looking back over the years, we all remember our summer school holidays as being dry, warm and sunny. Children have not always been fortunate enough to go away for a break. Even if their parents were one of the very few who could afford to it was unlikely father would be able to get the time off just when he wanted it. Most workers were given only one week paid holiday and that would usually be when it was most convenient for their employer and they were told they could take it. This especially applied in Rural areas where the summer months was the busiest time and most men had to work very long hours with very little to show for it.

For the youngsters there was always the odd outing to the seaside to look forward to. The Sunday schools along the Waveney Valley arranged with LNE Railway for a special train to pick up children from stations all along the line and take them off to Lowestoft for the day. They all took a packed lunch and as soon as they were settled on the beach many of them couldn’t resist rummaging in their bags to see what there was to eat. At about four o’clock everyone made their way to the Church Hall where tables, laden with all kinds of the food that young people liked, awaited them. During the 1930’s the ‘Oddfellows’ did much the same thing for the youngsters. Those were days that were never forgotten.

When it came to the time for pleasure and relaxing, the one place everybody in the Valley had to make use of was the river and large numbers of all ages took advantage of it. Fishing was a favourite pastime for many. Some had the latest sophisticated gear but many only had a cane and bought line, hooks, weights and float to make up their own rod. Those that could afford to add a reel found it made it much easier to cast out. Fishing was allowed almost anywhere along the river bank but all of those over the age of fourteen had to have a licence costing seven shillings and sixpence. This deterred a lot of teenagers and many couldn’t afford it. As always, there were those who thought there was little chance of being caught if they waited until the Bailiff had passed by the spot of their choice. They presumed he was unlikely to check on the same stretch of river twice on the same day. Needless to say, sometimes he did!

There were plenty of fish like roach, perch, dace and pike to fish for. Gudgeon were found in the shallows. Smaller children had great fun, armed with a small net on the end a cane and jam jar held on a string, they paddled and tried to catch them. These tiny fish often swam in small shoals against the tide and were almost at a standstill until one of the children approached, then they quickly scattered in all directions. The unlucky ones that were caught were carefully transferred from the net to the jam jar and were possibly destined to spend the rest of their lives on a kitchen windowsill.

The river was also well stocked with eels. This was evident when the sluice at the Bungay Staithe was opened and a large steel trap lowered into the water as it rushed through between two brick walls. Those that were caught were transferred to a net and enclosed in a purpose built box. This had sufficient holes in it so after it was safely secured to the bank and submerged in one of the deeper dykes, it quickly filled with water and sank. It was left there until it was collected for delivery to one of the larger towns or Cities.

Eels were in demand but they had to be delivered alive so they could be put in salt overnight to remove any ‘muddy’ taste. [Pike were also treated this way]. It was also necessary for them to be alive when they were skinned. Some men had other ways of catching them and usually only wanted sufficient for family and friends. Babbling was a method of tying several worms on the end of a line and then, when an eel swallowed them, it was heaved out of the water onto the bank.

The eels often made their way up the dykes and nestled down in the mud. Taking advantage of this, a couple of men might be seen making their way down to the river carrying two long poles and an old tin bath or a large bucket. They lashed something like a big table fork onto one end of the poles and as they worked their way along the bank of the dykes these were plunged repeatedly into the mud in an attempt to spear their prey. The eels sometimes helped when they gave away their position by sending a succession of air bubbles to the surface. It was quite hard work as the bath, containing water to accommodate anything they caught, had to be dragged along with them. On occasions they were lucky and managed to fill it but more often they only got a few or none at all.

Fishing is still a very popular sport but it is now very regulated and controlled which must make life more secure and comfortable for the fish. Even so, there are those that think being hooked by the mouth, pulled out of the water, weighed, then perhaps photographed before being thrown back is not the most pleasant way to spend Sunday afternoon. [To be continued]

valley lad – [FIFTY-FIVE]