Remember Jack and the Beanstalk? This kid Jack wanders off to market to sell his cow, the only possession of any value his desperate family owns and, instead of returning with some cash for selling the thing, he returns to his distraught mother with a handful of beans. What an idiot!

According to the version I remember hearing as a child, his poor mother did a lot of weeping when Jack revealed what he had traded the cow for some magic beans. There was no mention of her yelling or swearing at him or giving the stupid boy a thick ear, which he probably deserved. Instead the poor woman chucked the beans out of the kitchen window and then just stood there and cried, such was the misery of her situation. In fairness it should be pointed out that the mother was at least partly to blame for the calamitous turn of events. What was she thinking when she put everything she had of value in the hands of a naive child? And clearly Jack wasn´t the sharpest tool in the box. By all means send your child off on an errand but don´t give him your credit card!

Thankfully though everything worked out well in the end for everyone except the Giant. Jack and his mother ended up with heaps of gold and jewellery and all that.

As a kid I thought the story was pretty cool, especially the bit about Jack climbing up the giant beanstalk right up into the clouds. But now the whole thing looks decidedly dubious to me, at least as a morality tale, if that is what it is supposed to be.

In life we are rarely rewarded for making snap decisions when the odds are so high and how many of the people flogging “magic” beans will turn out to be telling the truth? The chances are they are going to pull the wool over our eyes and make a quick buck at our expense.

Now, when I look at the story again I feel sorry for the poor giant who got himself killed when he had been far away in his castle minding his own business. And then the kid helps himself to all that gold and it is just taken for granted that the listener will agree, without questioning, that the acquisition of material wealth is a necessary prerequisite for that happy ending even if, as it happens, all that loot belongs to somebody else. It seems like living happily ever after doesn´t come cheap.

It is interesting how perceptions of something can change after many years have passed.  Imperceptibly, our way of looking at the world changes. Jack is not a hero anymore, at least not to me. He is a dumb kid who just got lucky.

Many years ago, on the bank of the River Wey in Guildford I was shown some magic beans of my own. My brother showed them to me. They were shiny and wriggly and they flipped around until you threw them into the river to grow a little more. They were minnows and gudgeon and miller´s thumbs and little perch. We caught them in the river and, although they were only a couple of inches long, they pulsed with vitality and colour. And these were the beans that took root in both of our lives and have since grown into an enduring love of rivers and fish and the wild things that we come across.

I realise now that, like Jack, we could only get these beans by trading. Time spent fishing is time that could be spent, in the eyes of many, on something more “important” or “useful.” Everything you do in one place and at one time means, necessarily, that you cannot be somewhere else doing something else and the hours we have spent at the waterside are now well beyond counting.

If you are a fisherman yourself, you don´t need me to remind you that we come across treasures all the time – the turquoise blur of a kingfisher slicing the sky, the crimson flank of a rainbow trout, the butter belly of a brown trout whose dark spots are individually embedded in a pale halo of scales like diamonds set in jewellery.

In my local river, here in Andalucía, I catch wild carp and gypsy barbel whenever I have a chance. If you look at either closely you will notice, particularly as the sun reflects from their scales that, that each is individually unique, like a miniature shield hammered into shape using the raw materials the river itself has provided.

Is all of this treasure enough?

It is for me.