Ray sat in the covered cockpit of his inshore fishing boat. In front of him the Sunday newspaper in his hand a mug of strong, hot, sweet tea. In half an hour the tide would be high enough for him to cast off from the harbour wall and out into the Wash for a day’s leisure fishing.
The gulls shrieking out their warnings, the chinking of wires against metal masts and the gentle lapping of the incoming tide against the boats and harbour wall were the only noises breaking the Sunday morning silence.
In the well of the boat stood buckets of bait, peeler crabs, lug worm and cut up scraps of oily fish. His rods were secured to the side of the boat. He had lost rods overboard before and these days took no chances.
His reverie was broken by the sound of his name being called he looked up to see Ian who’s apparel told Ray that he also was away for a day’s fishing. “Best you feather a few mackerel today Ray,” he called, “I’m lighting old smoky and I’ll squeeze some fillets in for you. Herring to if you get any and fancy some bloaters or kippers.” “What wood are you using?” enquired Ray. “Oak what else would I be using?” replied Ian.
After a few minutes of exchanged badinage the two men parted to go their own ways.
The tide was within minutes of being high enough for the small boats to escape down the channel and out into the open Wash. Ray tidied away and secured all the bits and pieces laying around It was deceptively calm and warm in the harbour on this May morning but out in the open sea it would be a different story.
Finally he started the small diesel marine engine and waited for it to settle to a steady beat before slipping the ropes, putting the engine into gear and gently opening the throttle. Skillfully he maneuvered his boat away from the wall and headed out into the channel.
He pulled on his navy blue jersey with the leather shoulders and elbow pads over his faded blue denim shirt. Under his jeans he wore a pair of very thick tights that no fashion conscience lady would be seen dead in. On his feet was a pair of well-worn non-slip deck shoes. To complete his attire he rammed on his head the kind of cap he always associated with Ernest Hemingway, one of his many idols.
Sheltered in the enclosed cockpit and lulled by the steady beat of the engine his mind wandered freely. He was the happiest and most contented person he knew. His stone cottage facing out over the marshes. Two rooms up stairs plus a bathroom. His bedroom at the front and a studio with the all-important Northern light at the back.
Downstairs one large room, kitchen, sitting room and dining room all in one and again at the back his all-important office come work room. Behind the workroom looking out over the marshes was a small courtyard with a gate opening directly onto the crisscross of marsh paths. From the courtyard he often listened to the song of the high flying Nightingales.
High flying, he thought, once I had ambition to be a high flier. He had trained as an architect and started his own business and by the time he was in his mid twenties he was experiencing more success than he had thought possible.
It was then he met Gwen a petite, attractive, raven-haired lady whom he was later to marry.
At first she had been a delightful companion but as time passed by another side of her nature came more and more to the fore. Gwen was becoming an out and out control freak she either got her own way or she made his life a misery. She decided on holiday destinations or point blank refused to go. She took it on herself to make all the major decisions usually without even telling him. When Ray had commented that this couldn’t go on because their outgoings were too high for his business, successful as it was, to endure she had rounded on him and said it was up to him to earn more and her job to set their lifestyle. After which she had had a three week long sulk and then gone out and commissioned a new ten thousand pound kitchen to replace one barely two years old.
It had taken just twelve months for Ray to realise that Gwen had to go and a further eighteen months to pluck up the courage to start divorce proceedings. He was taken to the cleaner’s big time but he wasn’t resentful. It was, in his opinion, a price well worth paying.
He hadn’t seen Gwen for twenty years but she still seemed to find it necessary to send him vindictive letters from time to time.
The boat was now free of the harbour channel and was pitching to and fro in the open sea. First he would go to his line of a half a dozen lobster pots. Just a hobby number given to him by a grateful client too old to tend them himself. A lobster and a couple of crabs would be good he thought but just one of either was a more likely outcome.
He had sold his business to pay Gwen off and instead had taken to renovating and designing the interiors of cottages bought by incomers to the “Chelsea-on-Sea” coast. He designed, planned and did most of the necessary work himself. Mercilessly charging an outrageous price for his top quality workmanship. As far as his clients would allow he tried to restore to the original but this, of course, did not suit all. Still he told himself in every architect there is at least a few good blots on the landscape.
In the early years of his new found freedom his hobby had been painting. He sold his canvasses spasmodically though a local gallery. As time went on he had started to get commissions usually for portraits of people and pets. This had helped him to put together the cash needed to buy the stone cottage he had been renting. As time went by he had added a boat, a Triumph TR2 which he had had lovingly restored and a Landrover. His boats had always been called Liberty and the current one was Liberty IV. He remembered it had been, literally, a toss up between Liberty and Freedom and the coin coming down tails had decided Liberty.
He saw coming up on the port side the marker showing the beginning of his row of pots and carefully brought the boat alongside. He hooked the marker and wound the rope round the windlass. The first four pots came up empty except for a few peelers which he threw back. The pots were freshly baited and thrown back. The fifth pot had a medium sized crab, enough for a decent supper for one and that was his total catch. Not good, not bad. There had been many a trip when he had come back empty handed.
He set out for a spot where he thought he might encourage a few Mackerel to attach themselves to his silver papers.
It was over twenty years since his divorce and now in his late forties Ray reflected life had been good to him. He lived alone but was not lonely. His pleasures were simple his painting was still one of them, albeit a lucrative one, some evenings were spent in one or several favourite pubs. I suppose my only worthwhile hobby is fundraising for the lifeboat, he mused.
He throttled back the engine and dropped the anchor his Mackerel rod had been prepared with a line of silver lures. Before starting he heated himself a mug of Bovril. The line of lures was dropped over the side and after a few minutes retrieved and three Mackerel dropped into the fish box in the well of the boat. Ray continued this for nearly an hour and had nearly a full box of some thirty Mackerel.
He weighed anchor and set off for a wreck site where if he were lucky he could add some variety to his catch. He liked to cook and fish provided a large part of his diet
In his long narrow front garden he had hard standing for his Landrover and carefully covered TR2 and nearer to the house on the West hand side a bench in a Wisteria covered arbour. Tucked away between the arbour and the cottage was a neat stack of logs.
On the East side next to the arbour was a herb garden. The rest of his food was, as far as was possible, bought from local farms and growers. Ian his friend with the smoky was, for instance, the son of the local baker. Lobsters and surplus fish were traded with a local restaurant for a meal or two and plentiful cooking advice. He was at one with his community, they understood and approved of him and he understood and approved of them. He had no women in his life apart from the local lady who did his cleaning and laundry. Even she had, at first, been a reluctant addition and intrusion on his life but once she had started he wondered how he had ever managed before.
Once again he throttled back the engine and decided to fish on the drift. He baited one rod with peelers and the other with lugworm and started what was to be several fruitless hours of fishing. Eventually he retrieved his lines for the last time. Packed away and set off back for the harbour.
His life was idyllic that is it was until a few weeks ago when after a period of feeling lethargic he had gone to see his Doctor. He had referred him to the local hospital who had, after a couple of weeks, told him he had a tumour and that it would be terminal and no they didn’t know how long he had.
After joining the other small boats in the harbour channel he wondered just how many days like this he had left. One thing was for sure it wasn’t enough.
A still and warm late spring afternoon found Ray seated at the bench under his arbour. On the table two traditional wood and net lobster pots, one now repaired one sad, forlorn and damaged awaiting Ray’s attention. In front of Ray stood an opened bottle of quaffable red wine and by its side an accompanying glass.. Ray mused is that glass half full or half empty? He picked up the bottle and topped up the glass “problem solved”, he said to no one in particular, life’s too short to wonder and then shuddered as he realised the implication of the thought that had flickered unbidden through his mind. He looked at the newly repaired lobster pot, maybe not as neat as an old time fisherman could do but neat enough he thought. He raised his face to the sun which was now shyly peeping through the wisteria covered arbour; he searched the sky, unsuccessfully, for the Nightingale whose song was delighting the afternoon. With a contented sigh he pulled the other pot towards him, picked up the twine and netting needle and set about the needed repair.
It had been on his return from an extremely successful fishing expedition that a second home owner, a grockle in local parlance, had drawn up in his ostentatious Bentley, “hey you there!!” yelled the man in his ‘I am important’ voice as he climbed from the badly parked convertible “those lobsters fetch them here a tenner for them.” Ray looked up to source of the ill mannered command and said quite quietly “not for sale”.
One of the two large lobsters was destined for his evening meal together with a singleton crab. The other he would exchange for a few scallops and a handful or two of local mussels with Greg, the chef, owner and a fellow jazz lover, of the aptly named The Sole Plaice,. A fruits de mere supper with Ian and later maybe with the busy Greg should his evening service permit. Must remember to stop off and buy a couple of bottles of a crisp Muscadet he reminded himself.
The Bentley owner was freely telling the world what he thought of the locals in general and Ray in particular, an opinion which the locals in general and Ray in particular chose to ignore; in much the same way as they usually ignored the behavior of a fractious and badly reared child.
Ray had not let the ill mannered exchange spoil his day, Muscadet bought he headed towards Greg’s restaurant and struck the expected deal with the bonus of the two lobster pots which he was now repairing. Life, he thought, doesn’t need the “I ams” and then chuckled as he joked to himself unless you’re a cat or dog.
Tonight he would feed Ian fruits de mere and they would no doubt reminisce and put the world to right in the way that only alcoholic inspired clarity could achieve.
Tomorrow he had a pet portrait painting to deliver DV, Deo volente.
*This as far as I have got with this story at the moment I am (attempting) to write a prequel