Once upon a fishing trip
[Photo courtesy of EBM Photography: thanks Emma!]
Today’s post is a little lighter-hearted than the last one I published and it is a story I really enjoy recollecting. It is one I have shared time and time again with many armed forces personnel in my letters to cheer them up and give them a few memories when they are away from home on deployments. Interestingly, it is one story that always receives replies with crying-laughing emojis! Whether you just fancy a pick me up, to indulge in some Schadenfreude or are a lover of the outdoors, this is probably right up your street with a few laughs thrown in so kick back, take five and enjoy!
Once upon a time, there was a shy, studious, fifteen-year-old girl. She was definitely a more indoors girl quite often found with her nose stuck in a book. Outdoors to her translated into walking the dog for an hour, riding her purple bike to the park swings or playing crazy golf but as soon as it was getting dark or it was time to pee, it was time to go home (to a proper toilet). For her, that’s as adventurous as it got when it came to The Great Outdoors.
She’d joined The Brownies after advancing from Rainbows but quit with 3 badges when she realized she’d have to go camping. A sleeping bag on the floor in the cold Brownie hut gave her a panic attack let alone outside with bugs in all that dirt and damp. But in her other hobbies she did partake outdoors in carnival processions come rain or shine (mostly rain, this is England here) dancing her way along the streets baton-twirling and pom-pom-shaking and that was alright. It was only a couple of times a year and dance rehearsals were always indoors.
At school, she met a clever, wonderful girl who was kind and outgoing and they hit it off straight away. This friend, who we’ll call Miss W., was super outdoorsy. Her parents were, in the most endearing and complimentary sense of the word, 60s hippies who, apart from their clothing, hadn’t really left that era. So contrastingly, they spent most of their time outdoors successfully building and making things, being one with nature and all that and Miss W. was a Girl Guide always off camping somewhere and claiming her 300th badge for skills she’d learned. They were down to earth, fun and just game for anything.
So one day, Miss W. asked her friend’s parents if she could take her fishing on the coming Saturday for some good outdoor fun. After raised eyebrows, smirks and zero confidence that this was a good idea, they gave in to their daughter’s desire to have a go and agreed.
That fifteen-year-old teen daughter was me. Just in case you’re wondering.
Despite the outdoors being a little beyond my comfort zone, I am pretty much up for trying new things to see how I feel about them and if I might discover some new side to myself. Miss W. advised me to dress in old clothes and welly boots. I didn’t really have any old clothes, mum didn’t like us getting messed up and we binned or donated old clothes so I took the most worn cargo trousers that I had and some basic tops that I could replace if need be. The wellies were kind of newish.
So Saturday arrived and Miss W. and her parents picked me up and off we headed to Chichester Marina on what was a lovely late summer morning. Of course, late summer in England means it’s fucking freezing despite the sun shining and you need to be dressed for Autumn.
Mr. W.’s boat was a little wooden dingy. Pulled out the water you could see the weathered marks and sky blue paint flaking off but it had a black motor and a couple of wooden oars and looked pretty dinky and cute. There were three long planks inside for seating. After sliding it off the ramp and into the water, packed with fishing gear, bait, and edible goodies which Mrs. W. had prepared, we set out to find a quiet spot to fish.
Although we were pretty good swimmers having swam in the freezing sea and the local pool many a time after school, Mrs. W. insisted we wear the life jackets. They looked like they had seen better days and were rather flimsy but better safe than sorry.
Anyhow, we decided to stay around the rivers and lakes and not go out to sea.
And we were off! With the wind whipping up my hair, salty water spraying my face and the sun shining, this was a wonderful exciting start to the day and I closed my eyes for a second to snapshot this into my memory bank. This was me going into the great outdoors and this was going to be cool and give me new skills and experience. I totally had this and my mum really should have more faith.
We eventually found a spot to drop the makeshift anchor and her dad started preparing the lines. I took one look at the wiggly contents in the bucket and another glance at her dad sticking a hook through a little wriggler and decided, whilst trying not to gag, that her dad could perform that task for me. God, gross. Poor worm.
He told me how to cast the line. I mean I thought you just fling it but apparently fishing comes with its own lexis, so we cast the lines and then had to just wait.
And wait some more.
Excitement is starting to dwindle.
[Ripple. More ripples. They go bigger and bigger until they join the big patches of water and disappear.]
[Slight wave. Boat is bobbing.]
Sun. Sun is shining. It’s chilly but sunny. Good job I brought my fleece.
[There are a few white wispy clouds ahead.]
[There are trees and reeds in the distance.]
There is literally no one but us here.
God, what if we got into trouble and there was no one to rescue us? Which way was it again back to the marina?
OK, think positive thoughts. Don’t attract negative crap. It will be fine.
Just be patient.
Oh for the love of God how long does this take?!
Losing my mind here!
I’m so bored!
*Deep breath in and big sigh on the exhale*
This must be what a man’s Nothing Box feels like. That apparent vegetative state on the outside where they aren’t doing or thinking anything yet are miraculously still breathing.
I look around. Everyone seems content and relaxed.
I should have bought a book.
I start talking and laughing with Miss. W. but then Mr. W. says we’ll scare off the fish so we need to be quiet.
I can do quiet normally.
I can spend 8hrs + in a library totally content, relaxed reading and researching in silence but this?
It’s been 2 whole hours and what if I need to pee? There is no loo here and we are far out from the marina. Do you just hang your arse over the side of the boat and go in the lake? How does that work for girls?
Why aren’t there any fish?
How is this relaxing?
I feel stressed. There are no fish and soon I will need a wee.
OK, Mrs. W. just looked at me so smile. Pretend this is totally fun and you’re having a great time. Nod head to support this lie.
My back aches. My legs are stiff.
I can’t even imagine doing this in bad weather!
Why did I think this would be fun and relaxing? I can’t even lie down and sleep.
Oh for crying out loud where the hell are the fish at?
Is this supposed to be an adventure? It’s just so … err slow. And nothing is happening.
Why am I mentally talking to myself?!
Mrs. W. suddenly breaks the silence and interrupts my mental trail of whining to ask if we would like some tea and sandwiches. Thank God we have an interlude — something to do! Eat. Yep. I could do that.
I could also see if I were to fish on a regular basis I’d end up fat. Just stuffing my face out of boredom. I’m that person who tucks into the sweets before we leave the driveway to go on road trips. And obviously, road trips mean anything longer than 2 hours in the car.
So out of the hamper come the sarnies and the flask and here we are in our little dingy drinking tea and watching our lines do absolutely nothing. Oh how British! And 20 minutes later we’re done with food and it’s back to waiting.
And worrying that the two cups of tea I just drank would be wanting to come out of me in the next hour along with the cup I had at breakfast and we had no loo.
After a few more minutes of mental torture thinking I am not going to survive the next hour and wondering if these life jackets would hold out enough to swim back to the marina, my line starts pulling!
I wasn’t sure at first if it was real. You know that episode when Donald Duck is in the desert and he’s dehydrated and he starts seeing mirages? It wasn’t hot but I’d been staring at still waters, not drunk much water and nothing had happened for hours so it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that I’d dreamed the line pulling.
It took Mr. And Mrs. W. yelling at me to reel in for me to realise I had actually caught something. Well, I didn’t really do anything, the rod just sat there doing the work. But in this most significant “don’t fuck it up because this is the only bite you’ve had in 3 God damn hours” moment, I am aware that one does not know how the fuck you reel in.
Handing the rod to my friend’s dad seemed like the wisest option. After some tutting and the brief glimpse of annoyance had passed he handed it back to me having demonstrated the basic mechanics of reeling in, he then yells excitedly, “now give it a big yank!”
Mrs. W. mirroring his excitement squeals, “how big is it? What have you got?”
(And my mind totally isn’t in the gutter writing this but I digress …)
Heart now beating a little faster, I’m a little excited myself and under pressure with all eyes on me in the centre of the commotion.
I think to myself, this is my moment! This is it! Right here! I am totally awesome at fishing! And I yank back the rod and out of the water flies a bass fish.
It continues flying, it zooms past my head, past Miss W.’s head and is aiming directly … oh shit
… for Mrs. W.’s cleavage!
And… we have a bullseye!
The little dingy boat not having seen much action up until now was thrown into full swing as screeching Mrs. W. with flailing arms and legs jumped up and down trying to remove this slippery intruder from between her rather buxom lovelies.
Amidst laughing I made a mental reminder not to wear a low cut top the next time I go fishing.
Suppressing a snigger, Mr. W. stands to counteract the dingy from capsizing and commands Mrs. W. to sit down before we all go overboard; he is also trying to get the fish off the end of the line.
Mrs. W. is still flapping, as is the fish.
Miss. W. is laughing and trying to calm her mum down and I am still holding the rod in absolute hysterics and am a lost cause.
I cannot focus for tears streaming down my face and raucous cackling escaping from my throat. It was a brilliant comedy sketch!
After a few violent rocks of the dingy, gasps and screams, Mrs. W. was freed and took a seat to steady her nerves, the laughter ceased and Mr. W. just glared at me and attended to the line which now resembled tied shoelaces.
And we lost my fish in all the boob and splash drama. Somehow he got away and was probably swimming off for fish therapy over his near-death-by-boob-asphyxiation-experience.
(I’m sure most homo sapiens would love to go out like that! Should think itself lucky)
Now the action was over the air seemed a little err tense. In return for my apology, I got the evil eye from Mrs. W. and Mr. W. told us girls to be quiet. Trying to repress the laughing which looked similar to me having a stroke, I sat quietly and stared at the floor of the boat. Occasionally darting my eyes to my friend Miss. W. to check she was also trying to quash the laughter.
I kept replaying the scene that had just unfolded in my mind and each time had to stifle the laughter and shakes that my body wanted to unleash. I needed a distraction or it might be a while before I’d be allowed to hang out with Miss. W. again. We waited a little longer to see if the other lines would pull but there was nothing. I guess my bass fish had warned the other fishies and they’d all scarpered with the noise and movement we’d made.
Disappointed and with an edgy tone, Mr. and Mrs. W. decided we should head back to the marina and call it a day. Mr. W. stood to start the motor but it spluttered and then stalled.
He tried again.
Again, it spluttered and then stalled.
Shit. Don’t panic. This probably happens all the time. Keep calm. He’s going to tell us this is normal.
40 minutes of cussing, sweating and looking worried, Mr. W. finally got the motor to start and we turned around to head back to the marina.
I exhaled the large breath I was holding and deleted the will I was mentally preparing.
Halfway back to the marina Mr. W. comes up with an impromptu idea to turn the so far rather unsuccessful fishing expedition into a not completely wasted trip altogether. He decides we should pull up to the river bank and go for a walk in the woodland area up ahead. We can explore a bit.
I check in with my bladder if it can hold out for a bit longer. Begrudgingly it says, “oh alright then if you must” and we all chime yes and Mr. W. aims for a small opening between bushes alongside the river.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve much experience with rivers. I have just this one experience. But as we drew near the water became shallow and in its place was a thick gloopy sludge.
Mr. W. suggests that we girls should jump on out, grab the line, pull the boat in and tie it up.
Right O’ then. Sounds simple enough. That’s four instructions. I think I got that.
Four instructions …
[Insert dramatic pause here]
Turns out it wasn’t actually that fucking simple.
Miss. W. jumps out first and I follow suit taking a last look at my squeaky clean virgin wellies. Miss. W. takes the line and off she goes …
Tries to go …
Doesn’t go …
Is fucking stuck …
Is now fucking sinking!!!
Oh my God! I’M fucking sinking!!!!!!
Miss. W. is starting to panic and waves her arms around frantically shouting to her dad, “We’re sinking!”
Calmly he says just keep moving and don’t panic. Just raise one leg up and keep going like that in big steps.
Every time she tried to pull her leg out of the mud, her body weight shifted to the other leg sinking her further in and she couldn’t move!
I carefully and quietly wriggled my toes and pulled my leg up but it didn’t budge. Fuck!
Okay, you know how they tell you never to panic because you lose oxygen faster? Oh no wait, that’s when you’re underwater. What was the sinking sand thing?
Don’t flap or move too much because you’ll sink faster… was that it? OK. Stay calm and don’t move, Charlie. This is absolutely the best thing to do.
I could no longer reach the boat but I was also far from the riverbank. Nervously I just observed Miss. W. and tried to do the exact fucking OPPOSITE because clearly what she was doing was getting her further into trouble. Thigh-high trouble.
By now, about 15 minutes had passed, Mr. and Mrs. W. had lost their patience and were shouting commands at us …
So here we are on a glorious Saturday lunchtime, neither of us can fucking move and we are kind of impacted in mud. From the dingy Mr. W. is shouting at us to move up to the bank, Mrs. W. is yelling to “GET BACK IN THE BOAT AT ONCE AND STOP MESSING ABOUT!” Miss. W. is wailing for help and has now dropped the fucking line to the boat and I’m just taking in the scene, sniggering and shaking my head at the sheer luck we’re having whilst suppressing my angst of actually drowning in mud. Mrs. W. gives me a disapproving stare with that “it’s not bloody funny!” tone.
We must have looked a right comedy act to spectators.
After a bit of a disagreement between Mr. and Mrs. W. it is decided we will just get in the boat and go bloody home. They seem a little pissed off and less like their normal hippie, happy go lucky selves.
Mr. W. tries to give his daughter an oar for her to pull herself out the gloop with but she can’t reach. She’s grappling around and swaying, her legs still totally submerged. The feeble attempts to get the oar just leave her exhausted and I’m also now thigh-high in mud thinking we need to start doing something fast.
In sheer desperation Miss. W. decides she can make a jump for it! She can wriggle her feet as her wellies are a little slack and she can just jump out of the wellies and climb up the riverbank. Before we can stop her she assumes a squat position the best she can then with arms outstretched propels herself forward with all the force she can muster…
But her legs don’t move
and all I see is the slowest fall forward as if someone just slow-mo-ed the entire moment
with the loudest face slap I’ve heard, as her entire body just hits the mud face first! Her feet are more horizontal rather than vertical but still deep down in the mud.
The three of us just stand frozen on the spot mouths wide open.
I’m thinking that must have seemed better in her head.
The silence is immediately broken by my outburst of laughing. I’m trying to ask if she is ok but all that comes out is just howls of laughter. All that panic and nervousness that we’re going to die just breaks into full-blown laughter and as Miss. W. tries to stand upright, the sight of her wearing a head to toe mud pack on the front just sets me off again. If I weren’t cemented in place nor on a riverbank, I’d have collapsed on the floor in hysterics.
She was mega pissed off now! She was furious and had had enough cussing me and the mud and wailing she just wants to go home! And here I thought they were outdoorsy folk!
In a huge rescue mission, her dad climbed out the boat and placed the oars on top of the mud. He walked along those like planks and one at a time pulled Miss. W. and I out and put us into the dingy. He didn’t say much but moaned a little. He probably was regretting getting out of bed that morning.
Unfortunately, despite our rescue by the brave Mr. W. our wellies had fallen victim to the evil sludge and were now gone. On being pulled out, the boots had been sucked down and were gone. I didn’t have any other shoes. Pleading for him to go get them, Mr. W. once again laid down the oars, sat on them on his knees and reached in to pull them out. Our savior!
With boots and girls rescued we head back to the marina—no detours this time. We were going straight home. Everyone sat silent and pissed off.
We had no fish. Mr. W. was caked in mud all down his front and wearing mud sleeves to his shoulders, I had mud up to my thighs and some splattered on my arms and Miss. W. was practically wearing a mud mask all over from head to toe and on her entire face!!! Looking at our sorry selves I just wanted to laugh. The entire trip had been an absolute fucking disaster and I thought it was one of the best and funniest weekends ever! I was having a great time!
But the drama wasn’t to end there.
As we were approaching the marina we realised the boat was filling up with water.
There was a hole.
Could this trip get any worse?!
It seemed it could.
Peering at the water steadily filling up inside the boat and up to the marina in the distance, I tried to calculate how long we had. But who am I kidding? I could never do those stupid IQ questions calculating how long it would take a driver to cross at some intersection going at thus speed blah blah blah. All I knew was that in shoe-shop distance, it was a lot of shops still to go. (Guesstimate based on average width highstreet shop and I’m blind in one eye so basically, I had no idea and it was far)
The sun was no longer shining, it was now overcast and there was a real chill to the afternoon. The wet mud was cold and heavy on our clothes. We quickly used our mugs and anything we could use to scoop out the water and just hoped we’d make it back to the docks. I prayed the motor wouldn’t conk out. Get us to the ramp, come on!
Luckily, we managed it. We were undesirably lower being more underwater than when we’d originally set out but we made it. We jumped out and dragged the boat out of the water. Mr. W. would have to do a repair job on that later. Thank God we didn’t go out to sea and luckily we didn’t need to test out the life jackets. We’d never have made it back.
We locked up the boat and trudged, leaving a trail of mud, to the front of the yard just as the marina security guard passed us. He took one look at us and burst out laughing, “Gordon Bennett! What the hell happened to you lot??!!”
I burst out laughing but the others were not really seeing the funny side to it. They just grumbled that we had a spot of bad luck. Well, they say it comes in three: fish, mud and hole in the boat. I think we were now safe on land.
We got a hose and rinsed ourselves off with cold, icy water, used the facilities as my bladder was near bursting point, got in the car and they dropped me straight home. Silence all the way as the rain started pouring down. I slept so well that night and felt so relaxed. I guess venturing into the Great Outdoors does work for relaxation!
Although we stayed friends for a few more years after that, and although her parents forgave me for the fish incident and all the laughing, I never got invited fishing with them or anyone else for that matter again!
So what did I learn about myself?
Well, I’m probably useless at rescuing someone and knowing what to do in a survival situation so best to go with people who could rescue me and/or I need to read up and learn some basics. And if you are that person tagging along with me, I’m either going to annoy the shit out of you and/or we’re probably going to run into a shit stream of bad luck so be prepared for like, everything! Oh, and I’ll laugh if you fall on your face but I’ll be right there doing it with you and if we need to kill animals or insects that’s your job.
OK, I know. You’ll be leaving me at home.
Despite it being totally disastrous, it was one of the best memories I have. I’m not an outdoorsy girl and mum did know me better than I thought but sometimes just getting back to nature and having a go really is rewarding and gives us moments like these to treasure. I cannot get through this story without creasing up in laughter regardless of how many times I write or tell it. Moments like these test your character but are also what life is all about, even if they go totally tits up. You get through it and have one hell of a story to share afterwards.
I just want to say a big thank you and shout out to my friend Miss. W. for taking me out of my comfort zone and letting me spectacularly ruin her fun outdoors weekend! It was one of the best weekends ever and I’ll never forget it. I hope you have fond memories of the day as well. You’re the best, you inspire me and awe me with your skills and this post is dedicated to you, lovely lady and all the awesome women who do the whole outdoors thing!
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