I could have bought the man a pint on the spot. "That's right, get me a bloody fish," I said to Si�n. "Only I'd like to be with you."
"When are you free?" he asked, apparently unfazed by the breaking of his cover.
"Any time, any time at all," I said eagerly, unwilling to work through the whole process again. "Midnight. Three in the morning. Whenever you like."
"Are you mad?" said Si�n, outraged. "The river's full of keepers after dark. Midday on Sunday, when they're stuffing themselves with food and reading the papers. That's the time."
He promised to call me when conditions were right, and three nights later he did. My small son took the call, and when I came in he said, "A funny old man told me to say the chickens is on the nest." I waited confidently for him to ring again. "Are you ready to pluck the chickens?" he was whispering to me hoarsely a few minutes later. I was getting tired of this Celtic circumlocution.
"You mean go up the river for a salmon," I said. I was treated to the barking laugh again, then he told me to call at his house the next Sunday at 12:30, not before, he explained, or I'd bump into them all coming out of bloody chapel. The Welsh, except for backsliders like Si�n, are an intensely religious people. Poaching was no sin, but poaching on a Sunday! A different matter entirely. "Bring your car," said Si�n, and the old warning lights began to flash in my head. Wasn't there some law about a car being considered legally part of a poacher's equipment, and hence liable to confiscation? "I expect I will," I said guardedly. I needn't have worried, in fact. I looked it up later, and it's only under Scottish law that happens.
He wasn't there at 12:30, of course. That would have been too straightforward. A tiny, ancient lady sat alone in the kitchen. "Bwrw dda," she said, twiddling shyly with her hearing aid. I had to confess that I did not have the old tongue. "Saes?" she said. "English?" No, I said, but the Welsh language had gone entirely from where I lived in the industrialized south.
"Si�n will be in soon," she said. "He's got to be here soon to make the gravy. I can manage the chops myself, but he's got to make the gravy. How old do you think I am?"
"Sixty?" I ventured politely.
"I'm 83 years old and I can't make the gravy anymore!" she pealed triumphantly. "Here's Si�n coming now."