Sunday, 9 May 2010

POLESTAFFS

Every Estuary salmon fisherman knew what was the polestaff. It was, and no doubt still is, the stout pole shod with metal attached to the shore arm of the seine that is planted firmly in the mud or sand by the shoreman. Being the shoreman was something of a challenge and an honour. I was never so honoured. The job required strength and cunning. By some tides the swing of the net would be so heavy that one would see the shoreman fighting to keep control of the net and being towed along the mud. My skipper would regularly bid the shoreman take care by telling him to remember Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank was in fact his great uncle who had been drowned in the Estuary while fishing. His leg had become tangled with the line and his body was later found with one seaboot off and one seaboot on. There was moreover one in the village who had so twisted his leg while working the net that he was never able to go after the salmon again.

Polestaff is such an unsatisfactory word, it was not like our ancestors to be tautologous, that I wonder if it might be a corruption of pikestaff. Pike is of course an Old English word, an Anglo Saxon word. It is the same pick as in pickaxe. It was one of Shakespeare’s words: (“Trail’st thou the puissant pike?” Pistol asks the disguised King Henry the Fifth.) The polestaff is every inch an inverted pikestaff with its metal clad point. Well I just wonder that’s all!

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