It’s the bizarre kind of fact a journalist finds useful for livening up a dull article.
I once worked on a magazine in Park Lane, London. At Christmas the printers used to take my boss to a well-known restaurant, Scott’s of Mayfair.
Ian Fleming ate potted shrimps there, often, apparently.
Anyway, as an erstwhile journalist of sorts, I was reminded this week of just how much more fun blogging is than – yawn, sorry, where was I?
Oh, yes. Writing for a magazine.
I no longer do freelance journalism – but – there is a slim chance, not one I’m relishing right now. Foolishly I offered a piece to a local magazine, a county magazine whose September issue runs to over 300 pages. Well over 300.**
You see, last Sunday we went shrimp fishing.
(I’m not typing shrimp- joined to -ing any more after entering it into Google and reading the result. Please don’t. Trust me on this.)
I wasn’t looking forward to it. A jaunt that required me to be at the beach before 9 am on a Sunday?
Saturday night the storms our fisherman said were due for the morning rolled through early. Rain fell in that power-shower way it does after thunder.
I went to bed early, fearing the worst.
By the time we reached the beach I was happy. The sun had got his hat on and we were both coming out to play.
Kevin, the fisherman, wasn’t hard to spot – the one with the tractor. A cheery, chatty chap, he took us up to look at the oddball vehicles parked in their ugly compound.
The vehicles are all used for shrimp fishing and some – another 007 connection? – are amphibious. But not sleek or shiny in any way at all. The reverse. And when Kevin said some of them have propellers but you can’t drive them like an amphibious vehicle – well, it all fell apart really.
We stood idly chatting while Christian, Kevin’s brother rolled a cigarette and mended his nets until Kevin deemed it was time to go.
Plans for the three of us to squeeze into the cab were abandoned – gleefully we grabbed a cushion each and sat on the tractors’ marine ply skirt, over the front wheels.*
As we rode into the sea it felt a bit weird, looking down and thinking – that’s the sea there – what if?
The water was only a few feet deep, judging by its distance up the big back wheels. But a memory floated to the surface that I’d rather had remained submerged.
When I was very little, we lived in a Lancashire town that still had annual Rose Queen processions. One year a girl fell off the float and under the wheels of the lorry. Gruesome.
Anyway, the first trawl was a little too fast to net us much, so we went a bit slower on the second.
It’s a wonderful feeling, sitting outside on a vehicle. We used to ride on Land Rover bonnets in Swaziland out in the bush, clinging onto the spare wheel for dear life, ducking to avoid thorny branches.
Sitting on Kevin Peet’s tractor chugging gently through the sea on a balmy August day is infinitely better, I can now report.
A murmuration made a magical sideshow (but a lousy picture) and as we came to a halt a flock of small birds with pale undersides flew into the air, creating an effect like a shattered windscreen. So pretty.
The two nets were disgorged into orange baskets, then into different mesh-sized sieves for sorting. It was sad to see the little flat fish puffing for breath as they landed the wrong side up (and sweet to see soft-hearted best beloved flipping them over as fast as he could).
But there’s one fish even the seagulls won’t touch. The Weaver fish. A black spike protrudes from its back.
‘That’s where the poison is, says Kevin.
It causes excruciating pain in your hand, or your whole arm and can even freeze your shoulder. One remedy, says Kevin, is to stick your hand In boiling water.
I hope he doesn’t mean that.
Anyway, it seems there isn’t enough for him to take back so we get a black bucket, three plaice and a huge pile of tiny shrimps to cook.
We rush back home and cook as instructed. Peel as instructed. Well, it works on a few.
There are too many. And many are too small, even for shrimps.
[Dear Americans: our shrimps are shrimps, your shrimps are prawns, they’re different. Shrimps are tiny. Prawns come in all sorts of bigger sizes.This is not scientific 😉 .]
Then the wind starts to rise. Oddly hot and humid. The trees shudder nervously and the clouds are coming in.
We adjourn inside.
And I think of the story of Kevin’s grandad’s brother who died when the fog rolled in as he fished from his horse and cart. Of the 2.30 mornings, out fishing for sea bass, grey mullet and Dover sole.
And resolve to buy more potted shrimps. And sea bass. And – now and again, maybe – a little Dover sole.
If you live anywhere near Southport, Peet’s Plaice in Churchtown has the freshest tastiest local fish, haddock smoked by Christian Peet over woodchips from barrels supplied by a Liverpool cooper (yes, there’s still a cooper in the docks) – and potted shrimps.
*(At our own choice and risk, I should stress, for Kevin’s insurance purposes!)
** Spurned! Because they didn’t like my pictures – and I sent them the better ones!