Later this week, I’m off to Shropshire to spend a few days fishing with my older brother Pete. We used to fish together as boys – those times are amongst the very best of my childhood memories. He has lived in Canada for the past 45 years and comes back to England for a few weeks each summer to enjoy the kind of fishing he has missed ever since he emigrated. We’ll use float rods with light tackle to catch roach, chub, bream and – best of all – carp.
I’m looking forward to it. Well, I think I’m looking forward to it. Mostly I’m looking backward to what happened at the end of our first day’s fishing last year:
“One more cast,” I said. “I want you to see me catch a fish.”
“OK mate. Take your time,” said Pete, standing behind me on the jetty.
He lit a Benson and Hedges as I flipped the line out and waited for the float to settle. After a couple of minutes a fish began to nibble the bait and the float trembled and bobbed. Then came the bite. The float slid away under the water. I lifted the rod and struck. I felt the tug of the fish as it pulled against the line. It wasn’t a big fish – about an 8 ounce carp – and I reeled it in easily. As it came to the bank, I slipped the landing net underneath and lifted it clear of the water.
Pete came forward and peered into the net. “Not bad little brother,” he said as I took the hook out of the fish’s mouth and released it back into the water. “Not bad for a youngster.” Then he pointed beyond my rod tip; “Your float has come off.”
I followed his gaze and sure enough there was my float, no longer attached to my line, floating freely in the water. “Damn. That’s a good float. It cost me £2.99. I’ve been catching fish on that all day. The clip must have come undone.” It was only a couple of feet beyond my rod tip. I stood up and leaned forward as far as I dared, to hook it with the rod tip and bring it back to the bank. It was just too far for me to reach. I flicked out some line to lasso the thing instead but it didn’t want to be caught.
Pete soon tired of my incompetence. “I’ll do it,” he said in an older-brother sort of voice, taking my place on the edge of the jetty. “I’ll use the landing net.”
“That’s no good,” I said. “It’s even shorter than the rod. You won’t reach.”
“I’ve got long arms,” said Pete as he flailed the net in the general direction of the errant float. Not long enough, I thought as the net fell at least two feet short.
I voiced my doubts: “That’s never going to work.”
“I know what I’m doing,” said Pete. “If I drag the net back towards me it will create a current and bring the float closer in.” He leaned forward, extending the landing net as far as he could, dropped it into the water and dragged it back. The float moved obediently shoreward – about an inch shoreward.
“It’s working,” said Pete. “I just need to create a stronger current.” He repeated the movement several times. Pete is neither a small man nor is he in the first flush of youth (both of which statements – in fairness – could also be made about me). I was feeling grateful for his efforts to retrieve my float but at the same time I had an indefinable premonition of imminent catastrophe.
“I’ll steady you,” I said as Pete thrashed the water with increasing violence, apparently in the hope of creating a friendly tsunami that would wash the float ashore. I grasped the belt of his shorts firmly in my left hand and planted my feet wide apart on the jetty behind him. “O.K. I’ve got you.”
Pete seemed to take these words as an opportunity to test the laws of physics. He lunged forward in a manner reminiscent of a geriatric (and considerably overweight) Superman launching himself from the top of the Empire State Building. Sadly, I could not contain his super-hero powers and the belt wrenched free from my grasp as he did a swallow-dive into the water.
Fortunately it was only three feet deep and he quickly stood up. He turned back towards me, his water-logged hat drooping like elephant’s ears around his face. A sodden cigarette dangled lifeless from his lips. “You stupid bastard,’” he declared in a rather sharp (and, I thought, unnecessarily accusatory) tone.
But I had held on to Pete’s belt a fraction too long and the forward momentum that had catapulted him into the water had also dragged me to the very edge of the jetty, where I now teetered, windmilling my arms in an effort to shift my centre of gravity back over dry land.
I should not have laughed. I really should not have laughed. It was unkind of me. More importantly, hysterical laughter is not conducive to self-preservation. I lost the battle to maintain my balance. Soon, I discovered that I too was unable to fly and in seconds I was standing beside Pete, waist-deep in the lake. He handed me the float. “Here you are. I told you I could reach it.”
We waded to the jetty and heaved ourselves out of the water. I was laughing so much that I could hardly stand up. I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard that it made me cry and hurt my chest. Eventually I caught my breath long enough to speak.
“Thanks for saving my float, Pete. Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m alright. But my wallet was in my pocket and everything is soaked: credit cards and all my money.”
“The money will dry out,” I said. “I’m pretty sure of that.”
I tried to recall what I had in my pockets. Some coins, a credit card (they would be OK, I thought) and my pocket watch. I pulled the watch out. It was dripping wet but still keeping time. Somehow I had got away without any damaging anything.
“Look at us Pete. We should have a picture of this.” I reached for my iPhone, my hand instinctively remembering where it was: in the zipped pocket of my shorts. The cost of retrieving my float had just gone up by £173.
Some things are priceless.