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The Porthole Peeper
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A Life Afloat…
A multitude of flies sit on the top of the smooth and still waters, doing their job, feeding on the millions of microscopic creatures that we can’t see with our lesser eyes. Nature is a ‘dog eat cat’ world! All are hunters and all hunted; here today and gone tomorrow.
Water Boatmen skate in energetic zig-zags across the surface of the wash in the afternoon’s warmth. I’m not certain they touch the wet layer, so light on their feet they glide. Down in the obscure gloom below the summer’s still, reflective calm- a reef of miniature fish in their hundreds, dart backward and forth. Their tails are like motors, propelling them forward in one direction, then another.
A tide of more fish arrive to join the great cloud of energy, filtering in to a warm current which they follow along. They weave down the directional flow, as the first tributary of small fish exits into cooler depths at the opposite end of the stream. They swim along the fifty feet of submerged boat hull, attracted by the temperate waters, generated by a blistering sun’s relentless render upon what is now baking hot steel. Too hot to touch, it delivers the heat as efficiently as the element of a kettle, down into the depth of the drink.
An iridescent blue dragonfly struggles for flight with wet wings, it flounders.
Something lands on the flat, still, gently breathing, expanse. So begins a wave of regular increasing circles which move outward until they run out of momentum, sending the tiny fish darting away, an exploding cloud in all directions. When the threat is over they return and regroup. A black, open mouth, grey lips, emerges at the top, breaks through for a second, snatches at the little sperm like fishes and with a momentary splash, is gone! A bigger prize, but too small for my plate.
No one devours the fish in the canal, do they? Two local fishermen sound indignant at the thought of eating their catch, uttering in incredulity at the notion, “Eat ‘em? It’s just for sport! Only the Polish eat ‘em,” the pair grin, with a guilty look for their jest and lip- both know they are flirting rather too close to unacceptable boundaries.
But this basin is close to the salt water, only three loch gates from the sea, a broad open expanse of wash, whipped up by the wind, creating surf sufficient to rock the narrow boat from side to side. Gently rising waves make a wet, slopping sound as they break against the hull. You can become a little sea-sick on a blustery day, if like me you’re that way inclined. If a brisk wind gets up, the metal utensils hanging above the cooker clank together, a crude reminder that you live on a boat and not in a house.
Opposite me, neat rows of expensive yachts clink chains as they bob up and down in the marina graveyard. White, clean lines and tall masts, but no billowing sails. A special occasion, the rich kids bring out their parent’s cruiser for a test ride. A youthful girl leans out on the railing of one such yacht, standing at the helm like a figurehead, she shouts orders to the equally teenage looking captain, brandishing her arms around frequently, while they turn it in a tight circle, a frenzy of activity, but only to park their expensive toy, unadventurous, back in the parking lot.
One or two boats navigate the locks, out of the basin and into the sea bay but it’s rare to spot one, and when you do it always draws a small crowd who gather to see the spectacle, the opening of the lock gates! Observing all, I have a perfect view, a picture postcard, sat on an old rug enjoying the gentle summer breeze, upon the roof of my boat.
To be honest, I don’t understand the angling sport. I get that the hobby brings relaxation, escape from a busy schedule or a few hours or days’ peace from a wanting and needy family- I remember too, locking myself in the bathroom just for five minutes solace’, hiding from my little monsters! But, when it comes to the best catch, I prefer to hunt for my supper, to take home the bounty and cook it for tea. I love fish both alive and dead but after piercing them with a sharp hook only to set them free, where is the sport?
As to those ethical individuals of a vegan persuasion I am abhorrent, for when I was about eight years old, I caught flatties in the bay by treading. They lay resting on their side in the hollow of ripples in the sand. The first time I trod on one I jumped a mile in the air, but soon you get used to the flapping and rough texture underfoot and learn to keep your foot on it until you can grab the tail.
We learned how to tread fish from some young men who we watched one day on the estuary. Catching them up fast and throwing them onto the sandbanks by the dozen, like they were pro’s; someone said, “They’re collecting them for the chippy.” Me and my siblings were amazed as we followed and watched, then replicate their actions like mini clones.
Spearing fish with long sharp sticks sculpted with a pen knife, like Robinson Crusoe, was our next mission, but the fish always got away, sadly injured; a man suggests it is cruel so we stop. I learned to thread a fishing line through the flattie’s rubber looking kisser and out of the pulsating gill, soon a neat pile of gasping poisson, one on top of another which I carried home with muddy legs, triumphantly. Once back at my house I bashed them on the stainless steel sink to kill them, gutted them, fried them and ate.
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