Pike Priorities - What Do You Do?
Cliff Hatton poses a moral dilemma - Pike angler gets mobile phone call from potential employer who thinks the angler is busy at work...then the buzzer goes!
I was impressed! Not so much as a wisp of litter, no graffiti, and every kid’s tie knotted with a degree of thought. My tour of the school had been both enjoyable and enlightening; welcome proof that good standards are still to be found in Feral Britain. I wanted to work there!
With nothing to collect from the Head’s office and nothing to sign at this stage, the interview ended right there in the schoolyard.
‘Thanks for coming in today, Cliff, I’ll give you a buzz some time before next Wednesday pm. Are you likely to be at home next week?’
My eyebrows leapt in polite mockery ‘Hardly, Mr Cheema! I’m fully booked for the next three weeks! Tomorrow I’m in East London then Hornchurch for the following fortnight!’
I lied. Supply work had never been so slack for me, and in the boot of my car just yards from where we stood was a carrier bag crammed with herring and mackerel purchased that morning on my way to the school: tomorrow I’d be piking at a pleasingly neglected pit close to home and piking again on Monday, somewhere in Norfolk.
‘Ok, fine’ said the Head ‘I have your numbers. I’ll catch up with you one evening’
We joined palms then parted in opposite directions, mutually pleased with the meeting.
If the truth is to prevail – as it always should – I was harbouring serious doubts about my ability to become an integral part of school life: supply teachers have a cross to bear for sure, but their lot is mercifully detached from the burden of running a large and heavily responsible organization.
As a rule you just suffer six hours of abuse and threats then go home to the TV or a good book unencumbered by thoughts of electronic whiteboards, SATS, Key Stage 4 or the dreaded ‘plenary’…a word I dislike and distrust in equal measure. What it means I still don’t know, and swiftly enlightening myself through a brief liaison with the OED I see as too much effort to expend on such a singularly unsociable, sterile combination of otherwise friendly letters.
It can remain a mystery. I don’t want to know.
The following morning, Friday, only just saw me on the Point Swim for at 6 o’clock in December first light is still some time away; it is always surprising then to find coots and mallards honking into the darkness and busying themselves as they might on a late Spring afternoon. The Black Death would be hunched in the bushes on the island awaiting another opportunity to kill something and, hopefully, a pike or three was stirring with breakfast in mind.
To my immediate right and reaching out some 50 yards was a line of ancient, half-submerged branches, my downfall some years before when I resolved to properly tool-up for this snag-ridden swim. Keeping a hooked and powerful pike away from this jungle requires the angler to maintain frantic, relentless pressure with a long, stout rod and heavy line so my baits that morning were connected to 35lb braid and the meanest rods I could find.
Pretty they weren’t. Long, swivel-ended sea-floats set a foot over-depth and cocked on a tight line would tell any stories from below and finely-set buzzers would make damn sure of it: you don’t wait too long in this swim, you strike more or less immediately and start hauling with obscene enthusiasm.
So, by 6.30 two bright red beacons stood black against grey; erectile dysfunction magically cured by no more than a half turn of the Shimanos. I noted their proximity to the snags and wondered what properties gave pond-water the power to preserve so perfectly an organic substance like wood: why hadn’t those skeletal heart-breakers rotted decades ago? Why do universities spend good money on formaldehyde when snag-ridden pits all over the land are seemingly full of pure, free Cuprinol?
These and other fundamental, tricky questions have dogged anglers down the ages and me more than most. Coincidentally, take those snags…once your heavy pike-tackle sinks its talons into a chunk of tree you can steadily pull your scaffold-pole into a near circle without effect. You can tug, swear, tug some more, gnash your teeth, squint, then do a Nuryev toe-stand as you stretch forward and take in every last nanometer of line; with the bale-arm threatening to ping-off into eternity and the line screaming blue murder still nothing will give…then the identical twin goes off in a stuttering of Delkim.
One yard of line, two yards of line…you engage the pick-up and wait for the rod-tip to point the way…you strike and your Big Game Cuttyhunk parts like a strand of spaghetti. How, why does this happen? Had the rods’ roles been reversed nothing would have happened differently and you know this as well as I do. To merely shrug off the mystery as ‘one of those things’ simply isn’t good enough: there is a reason for everything and this particular phenomenon warrants nothing less than a public inquiry.
11 o’clock and all was well. No fish, but no discernable change to the world and for that I was grateful: anything could have happened. Then something did happen. A little tune began to play in one of my pockets and I fleetingly wondered what the bloody-hell was happening. It was, of course, my mobile phone, but its entirely unexpected intrusion briefly rendered me a confused, slack-jawed ninny, head a-twitching to pinpoint the source. The tune was new to me. How had my bog-standard little Nokia re-programmed itself yet again? I certainly hadn’t done it. Something else for The Inquiry.
It was Mr Cheema! Swivelling into the foetal position on the unhooking mat and absolutely desperate to shut out the cacophony of bird-honking I snapped into sensible-speak. ‘Good morning, Mr Cheema! You caught me on my break!’
His reply was SO friendly and helpful ‘Yes, I guessed I would at this time! Have you got a couple of minutes?’ Well I didn’t have a lot of choice…‘We had a staff meeting yesterday evening, Cliff, and it was decided that further interviewing wouldn’t be necessary…the staff liked you and I think you’d agree us two hit it off qui…’
At that moment a staccato buzz stabbed me in the other ear and I turned to see my nearest rod nodding in its cradle. THE HORROR! What to do? The situation was impossible and for a few seconds I listened deafly as I watched my float sail along the snag-line. What to do!! I eventually blurted something apologetic, switched off and scrambled over to my rod. What must the Head have thought?
With astonishing mental dexterity I figured that an intelligent man raised on reason might conclude that his addressee had been cruelly waylaid by an attack of the ballroom-blitz: what else could precipitate such an urgent departure? Yes. That would do. I was excused. No problem.
I tightened into the unknown and felt a hefty kick followed by a truly arm-wrenching shock to my expectations: this could be The Beast, I thought. With hideous desperation I pulled and pumped and reeled and hauled not daring to give an inch and within a breathless, sweat-inducing minute a furious upper-double was brought over the rim of the net, there to twist itself immobile like a web-bound housefly.
With my means of support and the vision of Mr Cheema back in the frame, major net and jaw surgery was not a welcome prospect; merely kneeling in my Buzz Aldrin All Weather Restraint Suit was problem enough. Nonetheless the fish was miraculously free within two minutes and back among the spinner trees soon after.
Eh? What? Who? Me? An evil-eyed cormorant rose smoothly from the depths anxious, apparently, to see who had called. Well it certainly hadn’t been me so getting the hint in rock form the bird sank to its neck and pushed off on another mission.
Another one for The Inquiry: How come certain moths have developed the ability to scramble bat-sonar; squirrels the skill to do the Rubik’s Cube and ants the expertise to actively farm aphids yet timeless evolution has failed to waterproof the cormorant? To this day it has to wait for a nice breezy morning to hang out its washing, hour after arm-aching hour perched like some shameless avian flasher. You’d think all that Cuprinol would do the job.
The time taken to land, unhook and return my fish had been – I cunningly figured – commensurate with a fully comprehensive and well-rounded trip to the ‘bathroom’. Sure of my ruse I collapsed back into my low chair and after a full five minutes of delving, slapping and clenching I located my mobile tucked tightly down a narrow, bottomless pocket within another narrow, bottomless pocket. I hadn’t known of this hidey-hole until that moment so how my phone had found its way down there in the first place was beyond me. Once it had been pinched, pushed and generally cajoled back into the fresh air I composed myself, thumbed my way back to ‘received calls’ and hit the return button.
If not once!
A nanosecond before the Head announced himself I noticed with alarm my other rod still in position and watching over half a sea-fish. Of course, had I not been about to engage in a life-changing conversation the bait would have lain dormant and very likely unseen within a mass of rotting leaves and mud in a pike-free reservation or, not impossibly, within the dark belly of an ancient milk churn. But, naturally, my sincerest grovelling apologies for cutting short my earlier call were reduced to incoherent babbling as an impetuous esox rocketed off with a mouthful of mackerel and trebles.
Again…what do you do? You can see your coil of bottle-plastic rising and falling like a coil of bottle-plastic has never risen and fallen in 40 years of piking; the braid is slithering like a black mamba through the rings of the nodding rod. The buzzer is screaming to be turned off and a highly confused, highly educated Head Teacher in a distant office is trying to make you a much-needed job offer.
‘Hello! Cliff! Hello!’
A tiny man in the palm of my hand was shouting up at me.
‘You there, Cliff?’
Fearing sensory overload I dropped my shoulders and took a deep, controlled breath whilst pondering my life-long attraction to Shit Street. At length, I responded.
‘Mr Cheema…I’m terribly sorry, I have to leave you for a minute. Can you hang on, please? Please?’
Mr Cheema agreed and doubtless strained his ear for a clue. The day was windless and my venue remote. He would then have heard the rasping buzzer; he would have heard the incessant honking of the Lesser Grey-Legged Noisy Bastard and the excited shrill of grebelings; he may have perceived the clunk of the bale-arm, but there’d have been no mistaking my breathy cry as the rod sprang straight and fishless. I tossed the rod into the undergrowth and galumphed back to base for the phone.
‘Hello again, Mr Cheema, I really can’t apologize enou…’
‘Did you just shout “Bollocks”, Mr Hatton?’
I couldn’t and didn’t deny it; I simply froze unable to think of anything to say, but Mr Cheema broke the ice. ‘Cliff. Are you by any chance pike fishing?’
The ice was about to go permafrost but with timely intervention the Numskulls in the Brain Department reminded me that 56 years in a cruel, demanding, tax-paying world had earned me the right to be frank (or Reg or Norman, yes, I know) so my reply was decidedly monosyllabic. ‘YES’. Then it occurred to me: how had the Head of a secondary school sussed not only that I was fishing, but pike fishing? Head Teachers of Asian origin don’t pike fish do they, I thought. He came back at me.
‘Should’ve given it longer!’
So here’s another one for The Inquiry: how come Mr Sanjit Cheema, BA(hons) Cert Ed (1988) the bloke who’d interviewed me less than twenty-four hours before turns out to be the secretary of his local angling club and all booked-up for four days on Clatteringshaw’s Loch? Figure that one out.
Oh, and I got the job.
Cliff Hatton, December 2009