I settled my rod
on the opposite side to Mike's, and the long vigil commenced. Sometimes we
could see the shore, a quarter of a mile distant. At other times it was blotted
out by billowing curtains of rain that swept in from the mainland. Gulls
visited us from time to time but decided swiftly that we were an unpromising
At long intervals
came false alarms. An inch or two of line would creak out, and the rod tip
would bob a little. "Just dogfish," I told Mike, as he thrust eagerly
forward from his fish box.
last week, he wass thinking that his skate wass a dogfish, indeed, but it wass
a 212-pound skate," intervened Hamish, who had sleepily emerged from his
nesting place in the doghouse. Mike needed only this much encouragement.
Snatching up his rod, he cradled it, as if willing a skate to hang itself onto
the end of the line. "There's something there!" he bellowed, and leaned
back into the strike with all the bone-crushing effort that had struck terror
into the hearts of opposing forwards in his Rugby past. Had there been a
200-pound skate below it would have been removed from the bottom a lot more
swiftly and economically than the Swede had managed to shift his.
But all that came
was the sound of rending fish box, and Mike was flush with the deck. He picked
up a piece of wood. PROPERTY OF SCRABSTER FISHERIES LTD—RETURNABLE, it Said. He
hurled it into the sea. "There wass no need to do that, whateffer,"
complained Hamish. I was glad to see I was right when Mike reeled in a small,
writhing, green-eyed dogfish.
About the seventh
hour by my reckoning, Hamish went into the doghouse and heated tomato soup. He
passed mugs of it around, saying, "Fishing is inclined to be slow today,
boys, isn't it?" It was the most accurate thing he had said all day.
"We have to be back at 6:30 for the weighing," he said. I had forgotten
that this was meant to be a competition. Now, as well as not catching any fish,
we were going to have to sneak ashore. I was glad I wasn't wearing a
were first in. The angry man in oilskins who had allocated us to the Delightful
was standing on a truck beside a weighing scales, evidently waiting for us to
swing our loaded fish boxes up to him. "Be back in a minute," called
Mike. We made a fast break for the car, changed our clothes swiftly in the
murky light of the quayside and were across to the hotel and into our first
Glenfiddichs before the second boat had arrived.
Soon the bar
began to fill up with red-faced men, their oilskins steaming in the comparative
warmth. Almost without words passing, whiskies and wee heavies began to
circulate among them. Bouncing on his heels, his tie neatly tied, his hair
combed, Mike inquired of their success in the manner of a curious tourist.
"The bloody fish is all gone out from it whateffer!" a wet Orcadian
snarled at him. One look around the room told us that we were not alone in our
fate. "Russian trawlers, that's what it is," offered a small, hairy
man. We all drank to that and growled our agreement.
bloody navy doing about it, I want to know," contributed the barman. We all
had a good alibi. It could still be a good night.
Then, with the
last comers, some appalling news arrived. There was a woman. A small, redheaded
woman. She came from England. She had just weighed in 120 pounds of fish.
Like a lynch mob,
the anglers moved slowly out of the bar, across the lobby and out into the wet
night. At the pier-head, in the yellow glare of lamps, was a small knot of
people. On the lorry stood the small redheaded woman, only just taller than the
sack offish that stood beside her. The lynch mob stopped in their tracks. They
couldn't face her at close range. "Go on, Alistair," said somebody to
the small hairy man. "Go and see what she has."