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Sunday June 24th 2012

"Are you players or payers?"

This was the question asked of us as Catherine and I walked through a freshly mown graveyard and up to an ancient church on Thursday evening. It had rained earlier and in the calm and humid evening the smell of mown grass and summer flowers was heavy in the air.

An old-ish man was relaxed on a bench, against the wall of the church. It was he that he had asked the question. At first we were at a loss. The combination of a thick Scottish accent and the unexpected choice of words threw us for a moment. He didn't look as though he was there in any official capacity so we weren't expecting a factual interrogation, and in the heavily perfumed atmosphere of the graveyard the question did have seem to have definite philosophical ring to it.

Then we grasped what it was he was asking: We were at the church to hear the local choir go through its paces; he was asking if we were part of the choir or part of the audience, to be guided around to the main entrance to stump up our small entrance fee

In unison Catherine and I answered "Payers" and immediately felt as if we'd shrunk a couple of inches in stature.

The unarguable facts were plain: We were just the punters, sitting there passively; not creating anything but polite applause; consuming the efforts of the (rather good) local choir with one aim, to be entertained.

It would be much more worthwhile, wouldn't it, to be at the other end of the church? To be filling the space with sound, and creating something worth listening to.

Creating something always seems more valuable than consuming it. The artist is more valued than the critic. We all know who played Rooster Cockburn in the original version of True Grit (John Wayne, duh!), but none of us knows the name of the bloke in the third row: you know, the pale and lonely looking chap munching on pop-corn and picking his nose.

But what is the value of creation without someone to see it? Yeah, let's hear it for the audience! How good would The Duke be if no one saw his films? How good would Mozart be if no one heard his music?

Actually, they'd still be pretty damn good.

The creative act, the feeling of doing something and making something happen is worthwhile in itself. I really like singing in the bath and somehow I don't think an audience would make me enjoy it more.

Fly fishing (like singing in the bath) is a largely solitary pursuit. There's no one there to applaud a great cast or to cheer a landed fish. It's just you, alone. You are simultaneously creator and critic, striving to make something extraordinary happen and deciding if it was worth the effort. No one else matters.

Okay it's nice to get the kudos from showing pictures of big fish or videos of bent rods and needle loops. I did once get a round of applause from a tourist-filled pleasure cruiser on the Thames as I lifted out a decent pike, which was nice, but I think it made me blush more than anything else. If it was applause I wanted I don't think I'd have taken up fishing in the first place. But that's not why we do it. Is it?

We do fly fishing simply for the doing of it. The act itself is reason enough. We create own drama and our own aesthetic, and only we can say if is well done.

So, old man, ask me the same question when I'm walking towards the river, be-wadered and rod in hand, and I'll give you a different answer:



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