Joy was all smiles when I picked her up. She looked nice, with her long hair in a plait and some make-up. I guessed she’d made an effort for me. I pointedly hadn’t for her. I hadn’t shaved this morning and I’d put on an old hoodie and jeans with a hole in the knee. I was po-faced and reticent to begin with, but I began to melt. I was a sociable dude and enjoyed chatting, and Joy had a lot of gossip about mutual acquaintances. So long as I didn’t give her any actual encouragement, I should be OK.

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Chapter 14  Unadulterated Joy

But it wasn’t next morning. Monday was the hectic nightmare I thought it would be. On top of catching up, pinning Adam down to explain the cryptic post-its he’d left stuck all over my computer and desk, and getting ahead since I’d be out on my course next day, and writing and sending my column to Steve, I had a beginner’s workshop at four. There was also a cyber pile of comments on my last article to wade through. I always put my email address at the bottom so people could get back to me about what they’d read. Normally I’d get half a dozen or so replies. But my last piece had been about suitable autumn bait for carp fishing. I’d happened across a vintage fishing magazine from the 1930s online that talked about carp fishing with cheese, so I’d talked about that a lot. That seemed to have hit a chord. As usual, I got some well-argued, well-written and thought-provoking responses (usually way better than my column), some short and cheerful “thanks for the tip mate” replies, and the inevitable tirades telling me my article was shite, the whole magazine was shite and, what’s more, I was shite. Jesus. What was it with these people? If they didn’t agree, fine. Why did they have to work themselves up into a vein-popping frenzy and make it so personal? What kind of sad lives did they live? I sighed. The magazine’s policy was to ignore these abusive comments, but I often itched to take one of these dickheads on. Get them to justify themselves. I could set them an exam:

Question 1. “Tom Summers is shite.” Discuss this statement, supporting your point of view with at least ten actual facts. Look that word up in a dictionary if you’re not sure what it means.

Question 2. Tom Summers’ articles are read by more than 200,000 people each month. How many people read the vituperative garbage you write?

Question 3. Explain why you are such a pathetic moron in 500 words or less.

Yeah, I would really like to do that. But not today. I replied to a few of the nice emails, but left the others to rot for a while longer in my inbox. Nothing from Clive Ellis. And he hadn’t phoned me either. I was curious to find out what he’d have to say after his trip to France.

The workshop clients were clueless so the whole thing dragged on. And it hadn’t helped that I’d cut my thumb when sawing through the padlock on one of the boats. Yesterday’s user of it had managed to jam the bloody thing shut. Cretin. I nipped to the cottage to grab a sandwich for tea and then went back to the lodge for a late night with paperwork. Adam was looking smug when I went got there about seven. It wasn’t like him to be here so late.

“Joy phoned,” he announced. He looked remarkably pleased about it. That must be why he was waiting for me.

I groaned. “What did she want?”

“A lift tomorrow. Her car’s playing up apparently. And since you go through Overford on the way to Sean’s, she said she’ll be waiting at her fishery gates for you at 8. If you want her there earlier, just give her a ring. And she’s really, really grateful.”

“I don’t want her there at all!” I exploded. “Fuck it, Adam. Couldn’t you have told her I was dead or something? I do not want that woman in my car.”

“Sorry, couldn’t see how to get out of it.” Adam didn’t look remotely sorry.

Great. I’d be stuck in my car with Joy. Joy, who was still determined to get us back together. We’d first hooked up a couple of years ago. We’d known each other about five years now, meeting up at various fishing-related conferences and courses. Joy managed a trout fishery too. She’d made it very clear from the outset that she was interested me. So eventually, she ground me down. Joy was a pleasant woman, a year or so younger than me. She was attractive and bright, and I was just coming out of my post-non-wedding depression. She paid me attention and it was flattering. So we’d ended up in bed, on and off for a few months. It hadn’t been terribly exciting sex. Joy was hung up about her figure and wasn’t adventurous. But even so, it was infinitely better than no sex at all. We had some fun, and I was starting to get attached to her. But then she’d ended it. She’d been working for Guy Redditch at Hensbrow, but then got the chance to manage the fishery at Overford. So she decided she had to focus on the new job, and that meant getting rid of me. I was mildly upset about it, but it didn’t take too long to get over it. There had never been sparks between us. However, the irony was that she’d since taken a shine to me again. It had flared up during a water quality conference at Easter. She’d glued herself to me and even got herself into my hotel room, but I’d gently shoved her out. I wasn’t interested any more. And certainly not now I’d met Fi. Joy had rung a few times and asked me out to dinner a month ago, but I’d been politely cool.

I was pretty sure her car was working perfectly. Shit. I’d been looking forward to an interesting and stress-free day out tomorrow. It wasn’t going to be that now.

Joy was all smiles when I picked her up. She looked nice, with her long hair in a plait and some make-up. I guessed she’d made an effort for me. I pointedly hadn’t for her. I hadn’t shaved this morning and I’d put on an old hoodie and jeans with a hole in the knee. I was po-faced and reticent to begin with, but I began to melt. I was a sociable dude and enjoyed chatting, and Joy had a lot of gossip about mutual acquaintances. So long as I didn’t give her any actual encouragement, I should be OK.

“What did you do to your thumb?” she wanted to know when she noticed the plaster on it.

“Cut it with a saw,” I shrugged vaguely.

“Not like you to be careless,” she observed lightly. “You’re very skilled with your hands.”

Was that a double entendre? I stared fixedly at the road ahead of me. I slotted My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days into the CD player, nice and loud.

“You and your funny music,” smiled Joy, turning it down.

See? We had nothing in common apart from fish.

Sean’s fishery was sizeable but a bit tatty. At one time I’d been envious of his large lakes and surrounding land, but he was on the sloppy side and these days the place was starting to look seedy. He was making money, hand over fist, but God knows what he was doing with it.

I pulled into the weed-ridden carpark with relief. An hour and a half of unadulterated Joy was more than I needed. And we still had the return trip to make.

We joined the others doing the microchipping course in the Portacabin that served as Sean’s lodge and shop. As well as Sean, Joy and myself, there was Percy Cutter and Gareth McLeod, both fishery owners too. They’d come from quite a way up north to be here. I’d met them both before and we all got on well. It was going to be a good morning. The guy from the chipping company, Harvey, was a large, cheerful man who clearly lived and breathed microchips for fish. His enthusiasm was infectious.

We sat around a trestle table beside Sean’s biggest lake. I nipped quickly in between Percy and Sean. Joy was two places away from me, so I didn’t have to worry about hands on my knee or incidents of footsie.

First Harvey told us about the microchipping system – how and why it had been introduced. Interesting stuff.

“And here are the chips.” He sprinkled a few sample ones on a sheet of paper on the table.

We all looked in admiration for a moment.

“They’re even smaller than I expected,” confessed Joy.

“It’s impressive, isn’t it?” beamed Harvey. “In time they’ll get smaller I expect.” He gave Joy an appreciative look.

“Mightn’t that make them awkward to handle?” asked Percy. “Well, tricky rather than awkward I suppose.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Sean, anxious to keep the morning on track.

“What do you think, Marcus?” Harvey looked at me. I was the only one who hadn’t said anything.

“I’m with you, Harvey,” I reassured him. “I think it’s extremely impressive. Definitely the way forward. I’m excited about introducing it at my fishery.”

Harvey smiled happily.

“Now, this is the device for inserting them into the fish.” He laid a smallish implant gun on the table. “The needle in there is as sharp as a scalpel,” he told us. “Absolute minimal discomfort for the fish. Very easy to use. The chip slips in here,” he demonstrated, “now it’s loaded, pull the trigger and bam! There we are!” The tiny needle had shot forward.

“How many times have you chipped yourself?” Gareth wanted to know.

Harvey chuckled. “I’m meant to be an expert so I’m not answering that question!”

“Could happen though?” Gareth persisted.

“It could,” nodded Harvey. “So be careful. Apparently, it can be a tad embarrassing explaining what’s happened to the nurse in the A and E department. All hearsay, of course.”

“Of course,” we all agreed, smirking.

Harvey passed the unloaded gun around for us to fiddle around with. Then he brought out the pocket-sized scanner and ran us through how that worked. Simplicity itself.

“So where do you insert the microchip?” asked Joy. “In a fin?”

“No. We suggest three different spots you can go for. The best for you fishery owners would be on the left shoulder – about halfway between the front of the dorsal fin and the lateral line. There’s a good layer of flesh there for the chip to go into, and there’s nothing crucial you can damage. And the same goes with the spot to the rear and left of the dorsal fin.” Harvey pointed these out to us on the rubber fish model he had.

“And the third place?” prompted Sean.

“Here,” said Harvey, pointing to the area of soft flesh behind the anal fin. “We recommend this for koi carp or other ornamental fish because it won’t leave any visible blemishes to spoil the fish’s looks.”

“Oh, can the other two cause blemishes then?” Sean wanted to know.

“You may damage a scale slightly, that’s all,” replied Harvey. “With experience you’ll learn how to ‘wiggle’ the needle into place without going through a scale. There can be a tiny bit of bleeding if you use the rear left of the dorsal fin. It’s nothing serious, but it can cause panic if it’s your best specimen. Obviously, put antiseptic on the entry wound as a precaution. And that’s it. So over to you guys.”

“They’re not going to starting on my fish straight away, are they?” asked Sean in obvious concern.

“Don’t you trust us?” Percy chuckled.

“No, I bloody don’t!”

“Bit more training first,” soothed Harvey.  He handed us each a courgette and an implant gun and a few chips. “Away you go lads, and lady!”

We obediently microchipped our vegetables while Harvey watched and corrected the way we were holding the gun or the angle we had the needle at.

“Why courgettes?” I wondered.

“Because I hate them,” Harvey smiled. “I feel I’m getting vengeance on them. My dad grew them on his allotment and we lived on the sodding things when I was kid. Made me feel sick!”

“So no scientific reason then – you know, consistency, water content, swimming ability then?” I grinned.

“Nope. Just spite.”

Now we were deemed ready to start on the real thing. Sean had had a delivery of a dozen commons the day before and he’d put those into his small holding pond. He now proceeded to net them. A 12 pounder came out first. Sean lowered him onto the waiting mat and I helped him tip the fish gently out. I held the fish steady while Sean quickly loaded his implant gun.

“Shit!” he exclaimed nervously, not sure how to start.

“Don’t panic,” Harvey calmed him. “He’s a fine big fish, you can’t do him any harm. Remember the angle? Excellent. Go for it.”

I could see Sean’s hands were shaking slightly as he braced himself for action. Then he pulled the trigger. The fish didn’t even notice.

“Perfect,” Harvey congratulated him.

The others clapped. I carried on holding the fish while Sean dabbed some Klinik on. Harvey ran the scanner over to make sure the chip was OK. Then Sean fastened the landing mat around him and carried him carefully to the carp lake. The fish swam off happily.

Sean wrote down the chip number from the packet it had come out of onto a pre-prepared sheet.

“Great start. Who’s next?” 

I volunteered, since I was already wet and slimy. I had a 20 pounder, smashing scales on him. Percy steadied him while I chipped him. I felt a lot more confident than Sean clearly hadn’t, and I was pleased with my efforts. So was Harvey.

“Spot on. See? It’s hardly rocket science, is it? Just care, competence and knowledge.”

For whatever reason, I ended up as fish holder the entire time. I glanced at my cut thumb a few times. It didn’t seem to be going a funny colour. It would be fine. Fish slime was probably good for it.

Everyone did well in the chipping department. Joy was hesitant, but Harvey put his giant paw over hers and guided her through the motions. We all got top marks.

Once the fish were all chipped, it was time to eat. It was a pleasant lunch with excellent food. It must have added a good few quid to the course price, but it was a business expense so who cared. The only drawback was that Joy plonked herself next to me, to Harvey’s annoyance. He definitely seemed to have taken a shine to her. We sat around with coffee and cigarettes for a while afterwards and laughed over stories about our more idiotic clients. It was encouraging, although also deeply depressing, that we all had our fair share of morons.

I almost forgot my troubles for a while.

“Well, I’d better make a move,” said Percy, about two. “Thanks for the workshop.”

“Oh, can’t you stay another hour or two?” begged Sean. “I put twenty ghost carp in the small lake last week. I was hoping you guys might like to see if you can catch one. That’s why I suggested bringing your rods.”

I’d never pulled a ghost carp out of the water before and I’d like to. I knew Sean was a gambling man so I smiled and announced: “Twenty says I get the first one.” I dropped a twenty on the table.

Sean smiled appreciatively.

“Thirty says I do!” countered Percy adding his money and sitting down again. He fancied himself as a pretty cool carpist, but I thought he was too impatient.

“Me. I’ll get it.” Gareth added another twenty.

“Fifty on me.” Sean was confident. He knew his waters after all.

“I’ll come in for fifty too,” said Harvey generously. Well, he’d made plenty of money out of the three of us today.

Joy reluctantly joined in with a tenner. She found it hard to part with money, as I knew from prior experience.

“So, one hundred and eighty quid for someone!” beamed Sean.

“Any rules?” demanded Percy.

“We all use the same bait,” replied Sean. “And we draw for swims, but frankly, my fish move around a lot, so they should all have an equal chance. One rod only. Microbarbs.”

Twenty minutes later we were all in position. I’d drawn a good spot, between trees on the west-facing bank. I cast towards the small island in the centre of the lake. I liked islands. They were a good feature to fish to. I should bring up the subject of building one in our any-method lake with Adam again. If only he were more of a fisherman. He saw things purely in terms of profit. If it wasn’t going to bring in more money, it wasn’t worth doing. An island would make fishing more interesting, but not necessarily more lucrative.

Sean gave us each a kilo of Hot Spice boilies. I catapaulted two-thirds of mine out to just in front of the island. I noticed Sean and Harvey baiting up as well, but not the others. Percy wanted to get stuck in straight away, Gareth just couldn’t be bothered and Joy was as parsimonious with her bait as with her money. And these were free boilies!

I cast out. Nothing happened for about an hour. But I was content. I’d brought my iPod so I plugged myself in and enjoyed my funny music while waiting for a bite. Gareth got a run but lost his fish. Percy reeled in and cast out again at least twice, impatient as ever.

I’d just lit a cigarette when, of course, I struck, and a fraction of a second later, I heard a cry as Harvey did too. Assuming they were both ghosts, the race was really on now to bring mine in before he got his on the bank. And I’d cast a lot further out than he had. But Harvey had admitted that he did very little fishing these days. He was going to be a bit rusty. With any luck he’d make a mistake and either lose his fish or not play it properly. I spat my cigarette out and concentrated on my rod. I lowered it and played out some line, then raised it and reeled my fish in a little. He felt like a good sized fish, maybe 30 pounds or so. I played him for a good ten minutes. Who cared if I lost the bet? This was brilliant fishing. He broke surface a few times. Yep, it was a ghost carp. It was strange to see such a pale body. And I’d been right, he was a big guy. 

He was crafty. He let me bring him in to within about two metres of the bank, and then he shot off again. Three times he did that, even after all the playing I’d done. But I stuck with him and tired him out. Gareth came over and netted him and we lifted him out together. And there he was. A silvery, shimmering ghost on my landing mat. He was stunning.

I looked up. Harvey was just netting his fish. I gave him a cheery wave. “Loser!” I shouted. “Bring me the money!”

I poured water over the ghost. Sean hurried along with his chipping equipment and scales.

“Well done, you bastard,” he grinned. He inspected the ghost. “Bloody nice fish aren’t they?”

“They are. I’m tempted to get some in,” I admitted. “Can you email me your supplier’s details?”

“Sure thing. Now then.” Sean knelt down. “Steady him for me? Cheers.”

I placed my hands gently but firmly on the smooth body. Sean chipped him within seconds, and then scanned and noted the details. We fastened him securely in the landing mat and weighed him.

“He’s the biggest of them. Well done, Marcus! Thirty-four pounds, 11, no, 12 ounces. He’s put on 4 ounces since he went in.” Sean was pleased.

“Yeah, well you’ve got natural fed lakes, like mine,” I told him. “Always plenty of food and good healthy conditions.”

“Quick photo?” I asked Sean.

“Sure.”

I poured more water over the fish and then I handed Sean my phone. He shot off three or four photos of me posing with the ghost. Then we put the fish back in the water. He took a few seconds to reorientate himself, then glided off slowly and confidently into the water, as though nothing had happened.

I looked at the photos. One was blurry, one cut my head off, one was pink – Sean had put his finger over the lens by mistake, but the last one was good. I looked surprisingly unmoronic and the fish looked beautiful, if unimpressed.

Fi would like to see a ghost carp. So I sent her the photo with the message: Isn’t he handsome!

We fished for another hour or so. I landed a 15 pound mirror and a 17 pound grass. He put up a hell of a fight, as those fish always do. It was an excellent, and lucrative, couple of hours fishing. Everyone caught something, even Percy, although his was only a 2 pound roach! He wasn’t impressed.

So I was sorry when it was time to collect the chipping kit, with an extra side order of chips for Julian, and head off, and not just because I had Joy as passenger. It had been a good day.

© Rorie Stevens 2012

 

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