Friday 26 July 2013

Gentleman’s Relish

A big hole filled with water, a compound of Hydrogen and Oxygen from which all life on earth emerged

You may recall that last year I apparently took leave of my senses, brought in a massive digger at not inconsiderable expense and consumed a quarter of my plot by excavating a bloody great big hole.

I could not describe Marcia’s reaction as magnanimous.  God, however, was beneficent and filled the hole with fresh, clean water.

My pond was so pleased with me for bringing it into existence; it gave me a big wet hug (oh alright, I fell in).

As a means to wash Dhobi, the pond has its drawbacks

Everyone, and I mean everyone who laid eyes on this wonderful example of landscape engineering said I was mad as a hatter.

‘Why on earth,’ they exclaimed, ‘would I use up a third of my expensive real estate by digging a hole?’

Marcia looked so crestfallen, they comforted her.  They assured her there was no shame in discovering her husband was a mental case.  They told her about the psychiatric treatment available for people like me which consisted of handcuffing the patient to a manhole cover and leaving them under a very hot sun until they came to their senses.  Occasional beatings would be necessary, they informed her sympathetically before reminding her that sometimes, especially when dealing with a man bereft of his senses, one has to be cruel to be kind.

‘So what are you going to do with it?’ Marcia had demanded back then.

‘I am going to stock it with fish’, I informed her.

To appreciate the reaction, you have to understand that the pond is two hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean and fifty yards from the second largest river in Angola, both of which, no-one could deny, were pretty full of fish so why couldn't Icatch them there?

‘Ah, but those fish aren’t mine,’ I said, ‘I want to catch and eat my own fish’

Marcia’s brother, commendably concerned about his sister’s future welfare, asked her if he shouldn’t take me down there and then.  Apparently he had a tow rope in the back of his car that would either serve to restrain me or whip me back to my senses.

I live in a poverty stricken fishing village full of expert fishermen so, if they're so clever and aren’t all rich, their advice was a mystery to me.

‘Nothing will live in that’, they said.

‘It’ll dry out’

‘It’ll be too salty’

‘Without a constant flow, there won’t be enough oxygen’

‘It will breed mosquitoes’

I had a couple of advantages over these people.  Firstly, I had seen ponds of a similar size all over Europe that were thriving eco-systems well worth fishing and, secondly, as an alcoholic recluse I could not give a flying toss what they thought.  I was, therefore, arrogantly immune to ridicule.

Living in Africa, I have had to give up so many things a Gentleman takes for granted.  Pubs serving an honest pint of real ale.  Wine that doesn’t taste like vinegar.  Romeo y Juliettas.  Branston pickle. Effective medical services.  Dry Cleaners that don’t melt suits.  Litter free and, God forbid, tarmacked streets.  Rye bread.  Butter. Vegetables. 7.65mm ammunition to end my miserable existence.  Camembert cheese.  Horseradish sauce, English mustard. Carr’s water biscuits. Patum Peperium. Thick cut orange marmalade. Melton Mowbray pork pies.

I think you have a general idea of what I want for Christmas but I was only joking about the ammunition.  I have a drawer full of it.  The trouble is that when I am deep in  my cups and have a go at shuffling myself off this mortal coil, I am too pissed to shoot straight and keep missing.  I have a couple of extra and pretty permanent partings and Marcia is ever so angry about all the holes in the walls.

I have to fly fish, though.  That’s why I dug my pond.  I blame George.  His beautifully photographed excursions along England’s rivers reminded me of just how relaxing fly fishing is as a pastime and God knows I need to relax.  I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed untroubled sleep.

I paid the kids with biscuits and such.  Bring me a bucket of live fishlings out of the river and you’d get a packet of genuine Middle Eastern Halal Jammy Dodgers or Kosher pork scratchings in exchange.  Try as I might, I couldn’t catch anything with the circular weighted nets they use here so I lent mine to them and they caught loads.  So in addition to packets of this and that, I gave them Coca-Cola and Fanta as well.

I dug the pond a year ago.  Two months ago (unable to sleep), I went for a walk to the pond at around four in the morning and discovered a local netting it.  These were the same sarcastic bastards who said it would never work and now here they were poaching my pond.  I wasn’t best pleased but have learnt from the ashtray incident so left no marks on his body and he hasn’t come back to me to reclaim his net.

I am not an eco-warrior or a marine biologist so I really have no idea what I am doing, putting my trust in Nature instead.  All I do know is that if you want Nature to work her mysterious ways, let her get on with it without interference.  So for a year I have been stocking and guarding the pond, not letting anyone take anything out of it.  I knew I needed to establish a breeding population so that the recently created system would be self-sustaining.  I trawled plants out of the river and introduced them to the pond to provide a more natural habitat.  I let the grass and other vegetation grow around the banks.  I was pleased to see Kingfishers hovering over it. 

Very early the other morning, I was sitting in the Lappa and I saw a Fish Eagle dive and scoot low over the water trailing its talons creating a V shaped ripple across the surface before soaring away clutching a fish.  So when Marcia came home and said that because she had been delayed at the bank and had been unable to go shopping, there was nothing for tea, I said, ‘No matter, how do you fancy fresh fish?’

‘Fresh fish?’ she exclaimed, ‘Where are you going to buy fresh fish at this time of night?’

I sensed a degree of skepticism but I have always been a little sensitive by nature.

‘I am not going to buy the fish, my Darling, I am going to catch them’

Now I was sensing derision.  I can take derision in the work place or a bar, it isn’t anything a quick smack in the mouth can’t resolve but we’re talking about my wife here so I was pretty bloody crushed.

The other thing that wives do so well and unconscious derisionists don’t, is dig the knife in.

‘I’ll heat up some beans and rice’, she informed me with ill-disguised impatience.

You have to excuse her.  I know, as I suspect many of you dear readers know as well, what it is like to come home after a hard day’s travail to a cold kitchen.  But I honestly thought she would bring with her the ingredients I needed to prepare a delightfully romantic dinner for two (two and half, Alex including Alex) so, as all good husbands would do, I pulled out my rod determined to satisfy her.

She wasn’t impressed.

Considering it is over seven foot of telescopic whippy yet permanently stiff carbon fibre, I was chastened to say the least when I trudged through the countryside toward the banks of my pond.  The ever loyal Charlie, my dog, dogged my heels and made a nuisance of himself, barking joyously at shadows, of which there were many.

After a couple of disconsolate casts, I was delighted when Alex appeared clutching a plastic bag containing a few cold beers for me and a couple of stims for him.  You see?  She may think I am mad but Marcia still loves me.

‘Can I have a go Daddy?  Pleeeze?’

‘Sure son, fill yer boots’, I said handing him the rod before knocking the top off of a beer.

‘Alex! Lift the rod up! You’ve got one!’

‘Keep the rod up and just reel it in gently,’ I advised him.

‘This is fun, Daddy!’ he said as we landed the fish, ‘Can we do it again?’

‘Oh yes!’ I said badly in need of some marital bliss, 'Just do whatever you did again!'

And he did.  Twice more in the time it took me to finish another beer.

‘How many fish do we need, Alex?’ I asked him, selfishly keen for both food and nuptials.

‘Four, five, three, ten!’ he said, counting all three.

‘Do you want to show these to Marcia?’ I asked him. ‘Shall we give these fish to Marcia to fry up for dinner?  Do you think that one fish for you, one for Marcia and one for me is enough?  That’s three fish.  One, two, three!’

‘One, two, three,’ he repeated, counting out the haul. ‘One each!’ he suddenly exclaimed demonstrating a greater mastery of division than addition.

There is something special about catching your own dinner and I could see that Alex couldn’t wait to show his Mummy what he had caught.

‘We eat these tonight, Daddy?’ he kept asking me as we made our way back.

‘Yes, son, we eat these tonight, with rice and beans I guess.  Are you sure you don't want me to help you carry the fish?' I asked him noticing them slipping out of his grasp every two paces to end up floundering in the dirt.
'I can do it, Daddy!'
'I know you can, son.  Look, you've got more fingers than I have, just stuff one finger each into the gills of the fish and they aren't going anywhere.'

‘I don’t want gindungo (the local hot pepper sauce)’ he told me after we had covered a few more paces thus, ‘I want tomato ketchup’

‘Tomato ketchup sounds good to me,’ I told him as I stumbled along after him.  Bugger me, the fish hadn’t even stopped flapping, yet he was busy deciding just how he was going to eat them.

Anyone who has ever rented plant knows that the day rate, along with the relocation, is eyewatering but it was worth every penny to see the expression on Alex’s face as he handed these three fish over to his mother. 

That's a battered old 12" pan and not a bad fish supper..
If I haul out 2,997 more of these, I might just break even.

Four years old and he’s already put food on the table.  Fish caught in his Mad Dad's pond.




  1. I knew there was some reason to have kids. Mine became a percussionist. An vocation I encouraged as by this time his mother & I were divorced and he resided with her. I have no great expectations of him bringing me fish in my old age. (which is fast approaching).

    1. Mean. Real mean.

      Divorce your wife, move out and encourage the boy to take up drums.

      I wish I had thought of that!

      Buy yourself a cheap tent, a camping stove, a few pans and some rations and take the boy fishing.

      Maybe when he gets older and you a lot older, he'll remember and bring you a few fish.

  2. Replies
    1. What was really wonderful is that both Alex and Marcia proclaimed the taste of the fish as Wonderful.

      Imagine, the fish were still damn nearly alive when they hit the pan and had grown up in water clear of pollutants and artificial feed.

  3. Nice looking pond you dug there, Tom! And the fish - well it seems to me you are crazy, as in crazy brilliant. Well done!

    I know - it's been too long a while. But it's reassuring to know people like you are filling the void, even when digging a hole, with delightful reading material...

    1. Phil! Where the hell have you been man? Are you posting again? You dropped of the radar for ages.

      I am going to try and follow your avatar to your blog.

      In response to your blog, it helps to be crazy living here.

    2. OK, I clicked on your name, Phil, and got this as your latest blog post:

      "Thursday, September 15, 2011

      We've Moved!"

      Where did you move? Angola? (not the Angola where I live, I mean the louisiana State Penitentiary).

      C'mon bro, start swinging the lead again!

    3. I blog (well, used to anyway) on WordPress. The link is here:

      I'll see what I can do, but there's been scant time for me to write lately. That will leave you with plenty of time to write. And fish...

    4. So I went over there. Witty post. The kind of post we all miss.

      Two things:

      Firstly, you last posted in November 2012

      Secondly, you post the pleb's picture and say Justin Bieber is pretty?

      Dear oh dear, Phil, whatever pills you are taking, they are not working.

    5. Oy! Well since we're on the topic of crazy - that post was not written by me. I have guest bloggers that have privileges to write blog articles if the spirit moves them. So that article you just read was written by a woman.

      Now I know I'm always in danger of losing my man-card, but I'd prefer to lose it of my own doing, not because some lovely woman decides to write a guest entry.

      I can always add you as a guest writer. I'm sure the place could use a bit more testosterone.

      Hope all is well in your world!

  4. Well done Alex! Great story Hippo :)

    1. Can you imagine the fun a boy like Alex would have in Cairns? And how much fun his Dad would have if the bars served Bundaberg?

  5. They look suspiciously like yellow eye mullet. Can you tell me they are not? Please?

    1. They are called Tainha here, Sarah, a freshwater river fish. I haven't a clue what the Latin name is. All I know is they taste great and rise to a fly.

    2. OK, since I always like to give you a 'no shit' answer, I just checked with Marcia and she says these fish live in both the river and the sea, She says these are tiddlers and, if not thrown into a frying pan, grow to ten times this size.

      I shall do some research and get back to you.

    3. I don't know about yellow eyes, I've eaten them now so I can't check but the word on the street is that Tainha is Mullet.

      'The mullets or grey mullets are a family (Mugilidae) an order of ray-finned fish found worldwide in coastal temperate and tropical waters, and in some species in fresh water'

      I got that last bit from wikithingymejig. I guess I have the fresh water kind.

      Man, you are good.

      I can't see a Mullet growing ten times that size though, can you? I reckon I need another chat with Marcia about this but thinking about it, they were fingerlings when they were introduced to my pond and slightly less than a year later they were this size.

      Not even my hair grows that fast, not that I would cut it into a Mulllet...

    4. Yeah that's them! (Mugilidae)
      There's a few species here, the main ones are yellow eye, who have yellow eyes, derr, and the sea mullet who have a kind of cataract over their eyes. Sea mullet is the best here, really oily, gorgeous fish.
      I can't see them growing so big either. We get them fore arm sized at the biggest. They spawn at sea but then go up river, which means the sand bar must be open. High tides and lots of rain. Fresh to salt ...
      I can almost smell them cooking. So yummy.
      Cool. I always like meeting a fellow mullet fiend.

  6. I bet they tasted bloody fantastic too.

    1. The meat just fell off the bonés, Addy. Easiest fish I ever had to filet. The thing is, Alex caught them.

      Next time, I will steam the fish over white wine rather than fry them and serve them with boiled new potatoes covered in melted parsley butter and salad.

      Marcia never believed for a second we would catch fish so she prepared rice and beans.

    2. For your next trick you'll have to turn the water into wine, (and then steam the fish over that). But seriously - how brilliant. Brownie points all round.

  7. "Go catch supper, Son" That sounds good to me.

    A friend (small, petite, female) recently dug a pond; maybe a bit smaller than yours. It's basically for watering young Chestnut trees, but someone put a big male Carp into it and promised to deliver a female in time. I don't think Carp are particularly easy to eat (although I believe the Chinese enjoy them). I tried to encourage her to put Ecrevisses in too, but she came up with some logical excuse not to; shame.

    1. I wouldn't mind knowing what the logical reason not to stock ecrevisse was as I intend to stock them in my pond. There are plenty in the river further upstream apparently.

    2. I honestly can't remember, but I came away thinking she was wrong anyway.

  8. Not to worry Tom, we are organising the Christmas hampers, my only fear is that customs and DHL will snaffle them before they get through.

    You pond may be a bit small for this but here is a cheats way to fish:


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