Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Old habits die hard.

It's at the turn of year when folk try to alter their habits, by making resolutions to stop smoking, drinking, or lose weight, and even as early as now, in the last stages of January, most of them will have fallen back into their old ways, but it took me back to a time in my life when I was a heavy smoker.

I smoked anything from sixty to eighty cigarettes a day, took my chance to have a good drink when the opportunity arose, and ate heartily at each meal.

I never put on much weight as my calorie intake was burned off quite easily with the hard graft of my work, and the reason I smoked so much was down to the hours we worked, spending most of my time on deck, risking life and limb, with very few hours sleep, hence the excuse to have a good dram whenever we could.
"Well,if we really needed an excuse that could have been it." lol

Never, at any time did I ever think of giving up any of my vices, including some I haven't mentioned here, and as far as cigarettes were concerned I always made sure I had more than enough when we set off on a trip, which is more than can be said for some of the shipmates I sailed with.

The incident I am writing about happened when I was crewing on a boat called the "Boy Peter," and we were fishing in "The Minch," a stretch of water separating the Outer Hebrides from the mainland, of the west coast of Scotland.

It was only our third day at sea, and two of the other crew had already run out of cigarettes, so knowing what it was like to go without a smoke, I gave them a cigarette now and then to tide them over until we landed in Mallaig, the main problem was that the fishing had been poor so we did not know how long it would be before we caught enough fish to warrant a landing, and the skipper being a non-smoker, was only concerned about making it a profitable trip, and didn't care either way whether we ran out of cigarettes or not.

With me helping the boys out of their predicament, my normally plentiful supply was nearing its end too, and I was becoming very concerned, because it was a long time since I had run short of cigarettes, and it might be a long time before we could purchase any more.

As luck would have it, after a four hour tow during the night the net came up with a large haul of dogfish, (about a hundred boxes.) I say came up, but that is the wrong term to use when speaking about dogfish, as they are so heavy in the net that it sinks as soon as you stop towing the net to the surface, unlike white fish that float the cod end.

We were rigged up for such an event as it was prawns we were fishing for which also are heavy in the net, and with a dog rope attached to the cod end (no connection to dogfish we were working with) we began to bring the fish aboard. During this time the skipper was in touch with the office ashore, to try and find out what the market was like, and when the word came back that it was favourable, we knew our cigarette famine was only going to last for another six hours, because as soon as we emptied the net we would be heading for the market in Mallaig.

An order was relayed ashore to have a carton of cigarettes (two hundred in a carton) waiting for us on our arrival, so with a bit more piece of mind I shared the remaining cigarettes with the crew, but even then, they were finished an hour before we reach land.

It might not seem long an hour, but when you are used to smoking a cigarette every ten to fifteen minutes, the withdrawal symptoms are not long in kicking in especially when you know you have no choice but to wait.

It was a more than welcome sight when the harbour at Mallaig came into view, and being smart I jumped ashore first to moor up the boat, leaving the other two aboard to complete the job, but as soon as I hit the quay the skipper was told to head for the ice factory where we could fill up, before we landed our catch.

The cigarettes had been left on the seat of the oil lorry, and gasping for a smoke I grabbed them, opened the carton, ripped open a packet, and realized that the craving had already gone,
I turned round triumphant, lifting the precious tobacco in my hands above my head to show the boys, who were stranded at the other side of the quay, below the ice chute filling ice, and lit one up blowing smoke as if it was giving me great satisfaction, but the truth be told, I never enjoyed that first cigarette.
It was an anticlimax, the desperation,the expectation, then having two hundred cigarettes in my hand, and having a smoke as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Not so for the other two who were shaking their fists at me, joking, but all the time jealous of me standing there with the only thing they craved right at this minute.

I often think about that moment in my life, when cigarettes meant so much to me, and how my body seemed to turn against them years later.

It was one evening, sitting watching the TV at home, that I seemed to take an instant dislike to tobacco, with even the smell of it turning my stomach, and the ashtray that never left my side, looked filthy, and disgusting.

There was no other explanation, than my body telling me it was time to stop, as I never had any intention of doing so, even though I used to get up in the middle of the night gasping for breath, and had reduced my nicotine intake by trying weaker tipped cigarettes.

This was the man who would not leave the house with less than forty cigarettes in his pocket, and a full lighter, would never have ventured to sea without three hundred cigarettes in his kit bag, and now at this moment, the thought of one made me sick.

For the first time since I started smoking, at the age of fourteen, I was without a cigarette, as instead of what most folk do when stopping, keep some handy, just in case, I gave a packet and a half away, and never bought any more.

I did worry how I would cope when I went to my local bowling club, where I drank on a Saturday night, on how I would survive the evening drinking and not smoking, as the cigarette was never out of my mouth during these occasions, although on saying that, they were seldom out of my mouth at the best of times, but at the club I sat in a company who passed their cigarettes out constantly all night.

Strangely enough the night passed without me wanting a cigarette, and I enjoyed my evening every bit as much, but what is more to the point, I have never smoked since, and that was almost twenty years ago.

My lungs are in much better order, and I never need to go to the window to inhale fresh air into them, but there are the odd occasions when a cigarette would be very welcome, although I know I will never go back to my old ways, (Well smoking anyway) as I know how severe the consequences would be now, and I will never need to fear being stranded at sea without them, not counting the fact that I no longer go to sea either, the difference being, the sea is in my blood, and the yearning for that will never go away.

(Above is a picture of Mallaig harbour)

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Freedom for a goldfish.

Traditional pickled herring with sourcream and...Image via Wikipedia

One of the benefits of being a fisherman was the fact that you knew how fresh the fish you were eating was.
Another benefit was that you could take home any type of fish you wanted, and any amount within reason.
So it was, when we had parties at the house I used to take home herring, prawns, and other white fish which made our parties very popular, with such good fresh fish dishes to be had. The other ingredients that make a party go with a swing were there too, but it was the prawn cocktails,(REAL FRESH PRAWNS, not the cardboard shrimps that supermarkets, and most eateries fob us off with now) pickled herring with new potatoes and butter, and the other dishes that I remember, not only because they made great eating, but also because I had to do all the cleaning of them before my wife cooked them. (fantastic fish suppers too if requested)

My wife at the time had a sister with two young daughters, one aged five, the other three.

One day at the fair they won a goldfish, which took pride of place in their home, sitting in a bowl at the centre of the table, where the girls would spend many a happy time watching it swim round and around.

The oldest girl Lorna, one day decided that it should have a bit more room to swim about in, so she emptied the bowl down the toilet, flushed the pan and ran to tell her mum of her generous deed, thinking the fish would end up in the sea.

She could not understand why her mum began to shout at her, when she was told of this deed, and even after it was explained to her that the fish was lost never to be retrieved, she was still unrepentant.

"It's all right mum" she said, patting her mum's back in a comforting way. "Uncle Donald will catch it and bring it back to us, he's a good fisherman."

Her mum could only smile, and I can only think it was seeing some of the fish I brought home that sparked the idea off in her mind.

I did for one minute think about buying a goldfish from a pet shop to replace it and confirm my nieces faith in my abilities as a fisherman, but then it crossed my mind that this might become a regular occurrence, and could cost me a pretty penny at the end of the day so I decided to spin her a yarn. (Me being a mean Scotsman ha ha.)

I told her that it had been cooped up in the goldfish bowl for so long, without seeing its mum and dad, that as soon as it entered the sea it swam away to find them, and one day while fishing I spied them swimming side by side happy to be together again.
"DID YOU Uncle Donald?" She asked, eyes agog.

Yes I replied, and your wee fish asked me to thank Lorna for sending it back to its mum and dad, then it wriggled its tail and swam away to join all the other goldfish in the sea.

Her reply left me quite stunned and speechless when she said, "Well we will have to rescue more fish from the fair,so they can join all the other goldfish in the sea."

Now how do you get out of that?

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Monday, 11 January 2010

Are there still plenty of fish in the sea?

This is the time of year when the Scottish fishermen are told by the European Union how much fish they are allowed to catch for the coming year, and the amount of days that have been allocated to them to achieve their quotas.

It is another stupid ruling thrust upon us since we joined this dangerous combination of countries, with the Scottish fishing fleet suffering more than any other country.

It is disgusting that this body, who allow their own countries to flaunt the rules, are allowed to have any say in the catching capacity of our boats, telling us that we are over fishing our stocks when they have all but exhausted their stocks, and are now after ours.

The Scottish fishermen have a better knowledge of the stocks of fish in the waters they have covered over generations, and with their own livelihoods at stake, they need no telling of how to conserve stocks, from people who sit at a desk and receive a steady wage without the worry of some idiot cutting their earning capacity.

I often wondered if mother nature had her own method of conservation, as various species of fish can change their sex, which might be their way of multiplying their stocks when the shoals begin to dwindle.

As early as the seventies we used to catch the odd "saith" with both roe, (female) and milt, (male) in them, and I thought it was a freak of nature to begin with, but as more and more were appearing, it was obvious that these fish did change sex.
The scientists might have known this, but it was never common knowledge among the fishermen.

During the cod fishing I used to look out for the cod doing the same thing, but after years of fishing, and gutting thousands of cod it never happened, until one year I opened up a large cod that had one half of its organs milt, and the other half a perfectly formed half roe.

I do not know if it fertilized its own eggs, I only know both parts seemed to be working fine.
After all the years looking, one appeared, then more came along, not as many as the saith, but enough to let us know that this was no freak of nature, nature was looking out for its own.

We might have been cutting down the shoals of cod but nature was fighting back, and I am sure when the lean times come, the fish are off hiding from our nets, in some deep parts of the sea we cannot reach, reproducing in their own way until the stocks are replenished, when they will branch out again, and spread back into the waters that are fished.

Mother nature can look after her own, without the interference of humans who know very little of her resources, and the Scottish fishermen are more than capable of looking after THEIR interests without interference from the European Union.

I suppose we men should think ourselves lucky that the human race needs culling rather than replenishing, or mother nature might put our status in jeopardy. HA HA.

Top picture: (cooked cod roe)
Bottom picture: (cooked milt)

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