Could a fish-in for pike and general bank chit-chat have averted the invasion of Iraq in 2003? Cliff Hatton seems to think so ….
In April, 2003, the United States with the backing of a coalition which included Great Britain, embarked on the invasion of Iraq.
You will recall that the strong possibility of that country’s leader, Saddam Hussein, possessing weapons of mass destruction was the catalyst to war.
Tony Blair was four-square behind the U.S President, George W Bush, but voices of dissent could be heard from various parts of Europe – France in particular.
President Jacques Chirac, you will remember, was reluctant for his country to get involved, preferring to allow U.N weapons inspectors more time to investigate the allegations against Iraq.
The impending war was seen and promoted by the U.S and Britain as part of the struggle against worldwide terrorism and was clearly going to set an example for other ‘rogue states’.
Talks and ‘negotiations’ – some would say of dubious sincerity – had been taking place for many months, but one revolutionary idea and it’s subsequent manifestation never made the headlines…….
Fishing for Peace
He couldn’t sleep. He just couldn’t sleep. For weeks, months, bed – time had been nothing less than an ordeal, a nightmare in waiting.
Once, not so long ago, the very sight of his great, puffy duvet draped across his king-size bed was enough to leaden the eyelids and anaesthetise the brain, but now Kofi Annan had problems – huge, possibly insurmountable problems that filled his every waking moment and all but the merest few of those spent in the sanctuary of sleep.
It was past 3am. The Head of the United Nations lay on his back staring up at the ceiling, his worried head cradled in nail-bitten hands, one leg dangling as though in readiness for something. He needed an answer
– no, not an answer, the problem of impending war was too great to be ‘answered’; he needed an idea, a suggestion to put before the men of power whose sabres were audibly rattling inside his weary, throbbing head.
As a drowning man is said to calmly surrender to the call of death, Kofi allowed himself to slowly drift back through the happy, heady years of achievement, promotion, acclaim; then further still to university, high school, his teenage years, old pals, laughter, adventure, endless summers spent fishing for bass with Tommy Errington and ‘Chuck’ Sanders. Nothing, then, seemed to present a problem – you just threw your tackle-bag over your shoulder, grabbed a bottle of coke from the fridge and headed for the creek where you’d fish, swim and laugh the day and your worries away……
With the speed of a mousetrap, Kofi sprang bolt upright in his bed then swivelled to join his right foot on the carpet. That’s it! He blurted, the picture developing rapidly before his saucer-eyes…That’s it!!
By Wednesday evening, five of the World’s most influential men were in possession of two more vital documents. Somewhat bemused, each of them had that day taken delivery of a black security-case containing an explanatory letter from Kofi Annan, Leader of the United Nations, an Ordnance Survey map of England’s Lake District and The Beginners Guide to Pike-Fishing, attached to which was a hand-written instruction to ‘read and digest’. The letter afforded the recipients the most solemn of assurances that their rendezvous on the secluded north bank of Lake Bassenthwaite would be both safe and secret.
At the bottom of the typed page he’d excitedly scrawled ‘Have a great day – AND SORT IT OUT!’
And so, on that historic Saturday morning in March, 2003, Saddam Hussein, George ‘Dubya’ Bush, Osama Bin Laden, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac disgorged themselves from the Renault Espace feeling just a little self-conscious in their one-piece thermal suits and moon-boots. Amid a menacing cloud of hatred, doubt and sheer disbelief, the motley ensemble shouldered their ruck-sacks and holdalls and discretely made their way down through the pine wood and on to the rocky shore of Lake Bassenthwaite.
Only the brick out-house that would answer to the name of ‘Mac’ spoke. As driver, guide and MC for the day, Mac assisted with the finer points of tackling up and made suggestions as to where each of the men should sit. Eventually they settled in a loose group on a shingly point, discovering very soon the age-old angler’s problem of bank-sticks and stony ground.
Bush, however, had been supplied with a top-of-the-range rod-pod and soon had his 12′ 3lb TC carbons resting in the ‘Devcon 2′ bite alarms awaiting a run to his poly’ed half-mackerel. With characteristic smugness Dubya settled back in his chair and drew on a fat cigar, making no attempt to disguise his contempt for Saddam’s botched cast – sardines, he’d read only the day before, needed to be frozen for a good punch into the distance …..
By contrast, and despite their new-found differences, Blair and Chirac chatted amiably as they tackled-up, swapping tips and small items of end-tackle in a show of detante. Osama, up the bank a bit beyond Saddam, remained sullen and obviously uncomfortable in the company of three westerners who, quite apart from any ideological differences, looked credible in their green baseball caps.
Something told him that his own West Ham United bobble hat might not be de rigeur. Nonetheless, the Saudi cave-warrior was soon sitting comfortably behind his Armalites, snacking on a bar of Superdrug diabetic chocolate and actually quite keen to see one of his dollies lift.
By nine o’clock, all five were set up and looking – not withstanding the bobble hat – quite impressive and perfectly innocent; indeed, an old couple from the nearby rest-home strolled by, wished them all ‘Good morning’ and made the usual non-angler’s request for a salmon. Blair covered politely and used his diplomatic skills to hasten them on their way – there was serious talking to be done.
‘Now look, Guys, er….can we get together? Maybe we could gather round Saddam’s bivvy table?’
Despite appearances, all five had a very weighty political axe to grind, an axe jointly owned by millions of people of different cultures and faiths. Each was well aware of the awesome responsibility they carried and their obligation to defend their beliefs on behalf of their people.
The talks got off to a good start, Blair the first to throw his hat in the ring with an argument for parliament and democracy; would not Saddam expose himself to the will of his people? And if not, why not? He apparently had the adulation of his people, why not test their sincerity?
‘Over to you, Saddam’ said the British PM with a nod and the knitted brow of concern.
The Iraqi leader leaned forward, tugging down the brim of his trilby and clearing his throat, but before the first word could escape his lips Mac came crunching up the shore.
‘This gentleman is from the ‘Cumberland Water Authority,’ says he needs to see your licences’.
Exasperated, the five dug into their breast pockets and duly produced their counterfeit papers.
‘They all seem to be in order, gentlemen…. Now, before I leave you, can I just see your hooks? We have a barbless only policy nowadays, so I really do need to inspect your hooks …..could you just reel in for me?’
Anxious to be rid of the Jobsworth, Bush, Blair, Bin Laden and Chirac quickly winched in their rigs and dangled them before his bespectacled eyes.
‘They seem fine…..and yours, Sir? Can I see yours?’
Saddam remained seated, arms folded across his large chest and clearly annoyed by this intrusion.
‘I really must see your hooks, Sir, and I have the authority to stop you fishing if you refuse to show me them’
‘Now look here’ said Saddam ‘I’ve got two eel sections nicely positioned just above the drop-off – do you really expect me to reel them in now?’
‘I’m afraid so, Sir’
Blair and co. gave the bailiff their backing partly out of politeness but mainly to get him out of the way.
‘Come on, Mr Hus….er….Philpot, show him your tackle!’ pleaded the Frenchman.
Blair suppressed a laugh and backed up Chirac’s request, but Dubya took a sterner line.
‘If you don’t reel in, Saddam, we’ll do it for ya – there’s five of us!’
After much procrastination and the mumbling of many oaths, Saddam slowly wound in his baits and presented them in the palm of his hand to the bailliff.
‘As I suspected – barbs!’
The bailliff produced a set of long-nosed pliers from his trouser pocket, flattened the barbs and quickly went on his way ‘Thank you, have a nice day’.
‘Now then, where were we? Oh, yes, democracy and accountability’ Blair resumed, focussing on Saddam.’
‘Mr Blair, we have different systems, but ours is no less valid than yours and Mr Bush’s. My people love me, proof of which is that every last one of them does exactly as I ask.’
Chirac interrupted ‘I can not believe that your people were happy to invade Kuwait, Mr Hussein – did you get their backing before going in?’
Before he could respond, the British Prime Minister sprang to his feet…..
‘Osama! You’re away!’
I’m a what?’ stormed Bin Laden, insulted.
‘You’re away……right hand rod!’
Breakthrough in Discussions
Slamming his cheese and Branston sandwich on to the bivvy table, Osama was out of his seat in a flash and racing up the bank. Rod held firmly under his right arm, he watched in excitement as loop after loop fell off the spool and snaked their way along the rod-rings ….
‘Hit it, Osama! Hit it now!’ Bush screamed ‘ Go on, whack the mother!’
Blair was more restrained but eager to back the most powerful man on Earth.
‘Er, yah, perhaps George is right, Osama, perhaps you should strike before it drops it’
Chirac disagreed. ‘Per’aps we should give it a little longer….see how things develop’.
Osama Bin Laden took his hand off the reel handle, lowered the rod and turned to face his advisers.
‘Whose fish is this?’ he enquired, allowing his message to sink in before returning to the matter in hand. In what was patently his own time, the Saudi warlord engaged the bail-arm and slowly took in the slack. Faster now, and stretching forward on one leg, Osama Bin Laden tightened into the fish and struck heavily.
‘Is it a good ‘un?’ asked Blair.
‘I think it’s a treble’
‘You mean a double…..He’s going well, could be a twenty…….’
Bush thought of a joke and laughed it out loud –
‘Just as well you ain’t part of the No First Strike agreement, Ozzy!’
Blair’s and Chirac’s eyes met and rose to the heavens, then turned to those of Saddam whose right hand rose and gesticulated, ever so slightly but enough. The Europeans smiled broadly but quickly searched the pebbles at their feet for composure.
‘I’ll get the net!’ Announced the Frenchman, grateful for the thought.
Before long, twenty-six pounds of ‘Musky’ – as Bush called it – lay on the unhooking mat.
‘Allah be praised!’ exclaimed Bin Laden and slapped Chirac’s back in thanks for a good netting job.
‘It was nothing – you did all the hard work! Now let’s get this fish back and break out the coffee – Saddam! Get your flask out!’ For a second Bush looked alarmed but quickly subsided on seeing the Aladdin logo .
And so, with one good fish to their credit, the five leaders gathered together more closely, this time in the shelter of Blair’s brolly. He delved into his pocket and, to everyone’s amazement, pulled out a tin of Old Holborn and a Zippo lighter.
‘Yeah , I know….but you guys can keep a secret, eh? Cherie’d be livid – not to mention the Health Minister …..but I just can’t resist a fag at times like these’.
He passed the tin around and soon the group was back in conference.
‘Osama, what exactly motivates you and the guys in Al Qaida? Why do you oppose western standards so vehemently? What spurs you on to such extremes?’ Blair continued ‘What is it about America that repulses you so much? If you could change one thing today, what would it be?’
‘I’ll tell you that right now’ came the reply ‘Bloody Mc Donalds!! I can’t go anywhere in this world without seeing bloody Ronald McDonald grinning down at me! I hate him! He drives me crazy! In my home town, Riyadh, we used to have a wonderful little drinking-house – The Sword & Camel – but now it’s a bloody McDonalds! Our bus-drivers don’t know what’s going on any more! What’s happening to this world!?
All eyes turned to Dubya, but Dubya was miles away peering under the shell of the brolly …. ‘Thought I had a lift just then….hold on, I’ll just go and check’.
Osama’s question was left hanging impotently in the air as Bush crouched by his nearest rod, tentatively pulling his line back through the Devcon and feeling for resistance.
Chirac turned, solemn-faced, to Osama as though to further the debate, Bush or no Bush.
Bin Laden intensified his concentration in forethought.
‘Osama’ started Chirac. There was a heavily pregnant pause.
‘What did you have your fish on?’
‘Tail, half or head?’
‘Tail – cut at an angle to expose more of the guts…..more scent’
Saddam sniffed and nodded his agreement ‘Maybe groundbaiting for pike would be successful? It works for other species, why not pike?’
‘Indeed’ said Jacques Chirac ‘The salmon-canning outfall on the River Doubes is teeming with pike – I think you have a good point!’
‘If there was, he’s dropped it, Tony’.
Bush rose to his feet and looked at his watch ‘Y’know, I could murder a Big Mac’.
He returned to the shelter and eyed the incumbents before seating himself – ‘Where were we?’
‘Oh, we were just discussing the merits of ground-bait for pike, George, that’s all’ Said Chirac, with a wilting look.
‘Listen’ Osama Bin Laden said meaningfully ‘The values held so dearly by people of my persuasion should not be so alien to Americans and Europeans like yourselves, men of a certain age who grew up at a time when it was safe to leave your front door key dangling inside the letterbox; when policemen commanded respect through their presence on the streets and their firm-but-fair manner. And do you not remember feeling very naughty when you first uttered the ‘F’ word at – what – fourteen years of age? Your toddlers use this foul language nowadays and who can blame them? The ‘F’ word and worse is commonplace on your television screens nowadays! And honestly, while we all enjoy a sneaky viewing of a ‘bluey’, do you think it right that your TV companies should fill your living rooms with the sights and sounds of hardcore pornography two or three times a week? Do not millions of children have televisions in their bedrooms? In HIS country, Great Britain, the judges…the judges…..I can’t quite get my head around this……the judges reward criminals!! Murderers – some as young as ten – come out of prison after three or four years having received education, three good meals a day, entertainment, PAID employment ….I can’t believe it!! O.K , I understand if you don’t agree with chopping off their hands, but at least SHOW your criminals you mean business!! Otherwise, they just keep on doing it!! In my country, you could stroll around town all day with a $100 note sticking out of your back pocket and nobody would steal it!! And as for burglary, muggings and car-theft, why not lock them up and forget them for ten years? They’ll never do it again!! He’s no better! – The French are just as crazy, though you, Mr Bush, are somewhere nearer the mark on that score’. Osama went on.
‘Do you see? Forty years ago, our countries had much in common; we had values, standards, morals. But whereas we have preserved our ways and our dignity, YOU have allowed the over-influential perverts and weirdos in the media to dictate the very direction of your nations! Precious few of your politicians have had the guts to stand up and be counted, to say ‘this is where we draw the line’. Do you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if your anglers had devised a way to make fish hook themselves! You’ve lost it, you’ve no principles any more …….’
The three westerners sat silently, thoughtful, reluctant to concur with what they knew to be true. So powerful had been the Saudi’s argument they were disinclined to retaliate as well they might, but they were thinking ahead of themselves and each time an opposing thought came to mind, logic would slap it down again.
There could be no justification for the bestial terrorist attacks around the world, no excuse for those who wilfully shed the blood of innocents, no forgiveness for the misery visited upon so many. Nothing – absolutely nothing – could validate the foul deeds perpetrated by the extremists. But there was a reason.
Hadn’t he, Blair, squirmed in his armchair as ad’ after ad’ for gratuitous, shallow, bullshit products like hairspray, lipgloss, burgers and fizzy water bombarded his and his childrens’ senses? Was not Jacques Chirac – the man from saucy France – in truth, appalled by our ability to view images once confined to the darkest thoughts of the darkest minds, most of which comes from Europe and America? Didn’t their blood boil on hearing of yet another serial-mugger receiving 60 hours ‘community service’? What on Earth were they presiding over?
Saddam Hussein lifted his tired head to find himself sitting with four familiar faces under a large, green umbrella on the banks of a windswept lake somewhere in northern England. Mentally pinching himself back to reality, he straightened in his seat, surveyed the landscape and suddenly remembered that he was in fact fishing.
Straining his eyes, he suddenly jumped to his feet, stood in disbelief for a second and shouted ‘Shit!!’. The leader of the Republic of Iraq sprinted – as if from blocks – to where just one rod reposed in its’ rests, the other jerking and scraping it’s way into the lake.
‘Go get it, Boy!!’ hollered Dubya.
‘Gosh, it must be a big one, yah?’ added Blair, then ‘Bugger me, I’m away, too!!’.
‘I’ll get ze net!’ exclaimed Chirac.
For a full five minutes, the men who inspect troops and wave from balconies forgot their problems as their rods arced and their reels screamed; Blair’s fish bore deep, straightening the rod and draining the colour from the PM’s face. Convinced he had almost lost the fish at that moment, he pulled-on the kid gloves and told himself not to be hasty ….
‘Oz– roll me a fag, will you? Thanks – er…have one yourself’
‘Thanks, Tony! But keep your mind on that pike!’
A Preemtive Strike
Fully ten minutes elapsed before the French President slipped the net under Blair’s prize, all forty-nine inches of her. The group was ecstatic.
‘You have a rest, Tony!’ ordered Saddam as he went in through the gill with the forceps ‘And you, Ozzy, keep that trace taut!’
At 35lbs, Mac later informed them, the fish was truly exceptional for this part of England and would most certainly qualify for a prize rod from one of the mag’s …. ‘Might I suggest a little celebration?’ he ventured, producing a bottle of lake-chilled champagne.
‘Here, give it to me’ said Dubya, grasping the bottle by it’s neck then shaking it vigorously, Grand Prix style…‘Wait for it! Watch this mother go! We’re gonna have ourselves a Goddam gusher!’
The most powerful being in the Universe gave the neck-wire three deft twists, squinting in anticipation, continuing to excite the bottle’s contents, confirming the unspoken sentiments around him…..
In a last-moment act of recklessness, the excited President shifted in his seat and swung the bottle through 180 degrees to ‘confront’ Saddam.
‘This is what I call a magnum!’ he exclaimed …..and shot the Iraqi straight in the eye. Adding insult to injury, the spumy ejaculate followed through into Saddam’s lap, filling the well of his canvas seat and soaking his nether regions to the skin.
Outraged and embarrassed, the fuming Arab sprang to his feet and glared down from 6ft 1inch into Bush’s close-set eyes.
‘And you talk of ME having dangerous weapons!! A thousand curses on you, Mr Bush!’
Nobody but Dubya saw the going of Saddam. For the full five minutes it took him to stomp back along the stony shore and into the pines, Blair, Chirac and Bin Laden maintained the foetal position of horror and sheer disbelief, not daring to open their eyes for fear of confirming the reality of the situation.
Talks Break Down
‘I’ll get my coat’ mumbled Bush, and by the time the seated-three straightened to face the World, the President had gone.
The Frenchman turned to Blair. ‘Well…zat’s…’ow you say?….buggered zat!’
Bin Laden stood, re-lit his roll-up and announced his departure.
‘I’m off’ he said, and struck out in the direction of Skiddaw.
He’d disappeared from view before, at last, one of the Europeans broke the silence. It was Blair.
‘Fancy a pint?’
‘Oui…Come on, let’s reel in ze baits and hit Bassenthwaite….zere’s a leetle purb zat Beel Bryson recommends…..
And that was that. A bold and unique attempt to avoid conflict had gone horribly wrong, but I think Kofi had the right idea. If that ballistic cork and the torrent of foam that followed had gone just a few inches either side of Saddam, things could have turned out very differently.
Returning to the airport in the Renault, there’d have been leg-pulling and the good natured insults and banter known to anglers worldwide; they’d have instructed Mac to pull into a Greasy Spoon for a fry-up no doubt, and argued over whose turn it was to flash the ash.
I still have faith in the idea.