In the town where I grew up, fishing and golf were the two local obsessions. Seldom did they go hand in hand, for the amount of time required to pursue either one with the devotion deserved rarely left enough time to practice the other. This weekend, that town is hosting the British Open golf championship. The media pictures look glorious, the links course groomed and cultivated to a point that has commentators salivating. I’m enjoying chipping into some coverage – half a follower, you might call me, lured by seeing shots of familiar places taken from unfamiliar angles. But when the camera pans away from the greenways, my eyes are distracted from Rory and Darren and Graeme as I’m diverted onto a stretch of beach, the rocky peninsula headland, the Skerries, and the sea. For ours was, and remains, a fishing household. Skills are being passed down to the new generation. R. has taken to the fishing, ‘hooked’ he is, heading out in the boat or to spin from the rocks with his dad (my brother) at every opportunity. Lately they’ve been in the boat, reeling in mackerel four to a line. I watch the short video R.’s brother has made of one trip. How his dad teaches him to remove the hooks by holding the writhing fish firmly in one hand, still on the line, balance the rod between his legs, and with his free hand, take the hook back through its mouth – the opposite of threading a needle. One quick crack under the gills and it’s placed into the bucket at the stern with the rest of the catch. I didn’t have R.’s stomach for it when I was small, nor his sea legs. But watching it transports me back…..
‘It’s like the rubby dubby they use to lure sharks, but worse. It ferments in those bins; a smell that could knock a grown man over.’ We were walking down the north pier of Portrush harbour. Dad held my hand tighter and quickened his pace as I squeezed my nostrils closed with my free hand. I tried not to breathe. It felt like a winding punch; a terrifying noxious smell, one with tendrils, an insatiable root system that might seed my lungs and begin to grow, colonising my body like an alien monster. ‘See those creels?’ He pointed to a pile of lobster pots, piled up at the side of the quay. I nodded. ‘The boatmen put some of the mixture in the creels and that what’s lures the lobsters in. Rotting fish guts smells like caviar to them.’ He slowed his pace as he approached a clutch of men in oilskins and rubber boots coiling ropes and rinsing their hands under a free-standing tap. I took a gulp of air, gagged, and held my breath again. ‘Any luck the day?’ Dad asked them. ‘Aye,’ was all one of them said, nodding at two flat crates of mackerel beside them. Some of the tails were still twitching. The sea was up and dad hadn’t wet a line that day. The biggest man, the one with a red face who once called at the house to have dad sign his passport application, reached into his tackle box and pulled out an old plastic bag. ‘Take a wheen home with you. I’ll loan you my knife and you can filet them and spare the wife.’ Little did he know ‘the wife’ was inured to the sight of a sink filled with mackerel guts.
It would be good to be home for the golf this weekend, but it would be better to be home to eat R.’s fish.