HARD CHEESE

“...tread lightly, lest  creation be disturbed  beneath your stumbling” #1.

A few years back, casting surf candies  from  the beach at Mapelane, I found myself in the company of some dude fishing right next to me. With a whole deserted beach to  choose from, selecting  that envelope of  tranquillity enfolding me in rhythmic casting, he came and planted himself at my shoulder where he  proceeded to blather away as if we were lifelong friends.  In less time that it takes a set of waves to spend itself upon the reef, I had unwillingly gathered  more irrelevancies  about his sordid job, life and  family than I ever cared to. Now really, though I acknowledge with bowed head that I be  guilty of many transgressions in this life, one thing I   have never even  been accused  of, is having ‘the common touch’.  Hell, mostly I go fishing precisely to get away from  socialisation and its unspoken obligations - against which  some say I have carefully cultivated a barely penetrable facade . Caroline tells folk that I am downright anti-social, but I think that is a little harsh.  It’s just that I prefer the sincerity of the company of wild creatures - frogs, birds, cicadae, lizards, anything....  What’s so wrong with that? St Francis of Assisi traded his way clear to sainthood on little more!  Be that as it may and however reluctantly, it seems I had found myself a brand new friend.

Anyway, after a while, when his store of pent-up confidences had finally been exhausted, he turned his  focus to  my fly-tackle, which to him, was worth nothing but derision. The rod was too flimsy, the reach of the cast too moffie - and the fly, no more than a bunch of preposterous feathers awol from the dressing room of a daytime-cabaret dance artiste.  “Real fishermen,” he told me, kindly, “use real bait you can smell, Scarborough reels and ‘proper’ rods.”

Being a fly-fisherman-to-the-core, which is to say, one in whose veins the milk of human kindness flows freely, I stoically  ignored old What’s-his-name, hoping that the curtain  of aloofness  drawn  between us would invite him to move away,  up the beach. No such luck!  My bare minimum of  monosyllabic response, rather than encouraging him to piss off, reassured him to did dig deeper into his store of bonhomie and good-fellowship. Clearly, he took my silence for concurrence - it appeared to spur him on.  I prayed fervently  for a rogue wave to lift itself up from the depth of the ocean and swallow him utterly, but, seemingly,  the unknowable will of our Lord was that I should squander my valuable serenity and fishing time tied to the  whipping post of this loose-lipped bait fisherman.  Like that other, long-gone humanist, that fisher from another time, I lifted mine eyes to the hills ( well, the sand dunes actually) and said “Nevertheless, Lord, not my Will, but thine”.   At that precise  moment, my new fishing buddy had a tap on the pencil of pilchard which he was washing in the waves at the end of his line. Tap-tap went his rod tip and he struck, setting the hook. As pleased as Punch, he reeled in a little three-spot pompano, barely 20cm long. One could have sworn that What’s-his-name  had just landed an all-Africa record. Whooping and hollering, he tore the sub-juvenile from the hook and turned to grin at me.  “Don’t you think the fish is undersized?” I asked quietly. “What fish?”  he responded, throwing it roughly  on the ground and in one fluid motion, crushing it’s head beneath his heel while simultaneously covering it with sand.  I don’t think I have ever seen a fisherman more pleased with himself. He beamed at me.  “What fish,” he repeated?  “Those Parks Board fishery-Ou’s,, you can see them coming a mile away,  and anyway,  they is  stupid,” he told me confidentially as he rebaited his hook and cast out, hoping for another.  I bit my tongue and said nothing. 

After a while, perhaps a half-hour or so, my involuntary companion’s rod dipped again and this time the brave fisherman hauled a hapless rock-cod from the waves. It was even smaller than his previous fish, hardly a keeper in anyone’s language, yet, undeterred, old What’s-his-face dispatched it in the exact same, flung-to-the-ground, stomp-its-head-in, cover-with-sand way.   I spoke up quietly, “Do you know there are minimum keeper sizes for all  these species of fish?” I enquired politely.  “Those Parks-Board ou’s, they’s can’t do nothing!” he told me conspiratorially.

I moved off a way, but my new buddy followed me up the beach as if attached umbilically, sticking to me like wet faeces to a wool blanket.  “You can use some of my bait,” he offered generously. I tried to ignore him, pretending he just wasn’t there, but where ever I relocated on  the beach just happened to be the exact spot where he wished to throw his next offering into the sea.  That man followed me around like an Australian cattle dog. The Lord works in mysterious ways.  Over the course of a couple of hours, the intrepid fisherman caught himself a half dozen undersized fish of different species, each of which he dispatched in identical fashion.  Eventually he was finished.  “The fishing’s kak!” he told me.  “I’m gonna pack it in and go back to the caravan, maybe play with the missus a bit,”  he said.

As he gathered his pieces together, I put down my rod, resting it upright in the branches of a dune bush and  walked on over the few paces to where he was gathered himself towards himself, disinterring the previously buried fish.  “ Not so fast,” I suggested, saying  “please allow me to introduce myself,” I extended  my hand.  He reached out to shake it, all friendly-like,  but in it, I held a laminated credential. It introduced me as an honorary ranger appointed in the service of the provincial conservation authority.  “In terms,” I told him, “of Ordinance 15 of 1974, you have committed an offence.  Actually, a couple of offences, and are liable to be prosecuted.  If found guilty,” I continued, my face wreathed in smiles as chummy as his own had been but scant moments before, “you may be fined,  have your fishing gear confiscated,  and the smugness eternally wiped from your face.”

The Lord works in mysterious ways!

#1. Kahil Gibran (The Rubayat of Omar Kayam)