Cycling along the canal tow path in the drizzle, wet leaves plastered on the path and drifting on the oily black water – a bleak and mournful sight.
Crows heave themselves reluctantly into the damp air as I go by, croaking in protest, before landing heavily on the black arms of the lock gates, beaks dripping, feathers gleaming.
There are the train tracks, the factory backs, the crumbling remnants of long dead industry, and there are the fishermen.
Sitting on the sodden grass, hunched under huge olive drab umbrellas that remind me of the shells of enormous tortoises, staring into the chilly depths as if contemplating suicide.
None of the fishermen look happy.
They squat on tackle boxes like portable naughty steps, peering mournfully at the still water, waiting for someone to tell them Not To Do It Again and allow them to go home.
They must have been very, very naughty boys, is all I can think.
No-one gets a bite.
Little orange floats sit still in the water.
None of them bob.
I want to ask them why they do it. Do they hate their partners so much that they’d rather sit outside in the cold and wet for six hours, just doing nothing? Is there a deep seated spirituality to the pursuit that I’m just not getting?
I think not. The nearest thing to spirit in these blokes is the tins of Kestrel Super Strength that lurk near at hand.
I’ve seen these sportsmen necking Special Brew at eight in the morning. They all smoke roll ups. There’s more in their dark depths than perch and bream, I can tell you. Look into the black heart of an angler and you’ll see scenes that would make a Hieronymus Bosch painting look like an episode of The Tellytubbies.
I think of stopping, asking one of these sad men why they do it, but I fear he’ll just look deep into my soul before toppling slowly forward into the inky water without a sound, the canal sucking him down into it’s reeking, rotting belly.
I cycle on, past the derelict buildings and the mills converted to student accommodation, up through the council estate where the fishermen live, past the car lot that sells nothing but fucked motors, on and on until my own factory looms large.
I wheel my bike inside, still thinking about those fishermen. My work is incredibly dull but I have to come here – if I don’t work I don’t get paid. The fishermen… it’s their choice.
I push my bike past clattering machines and howling idiots and I wonder which is more intelligent here, man or machine.
I kick open a door and wrestle my bike in, down a corridor, through another door, getting quieter, the tick tick tick of the freewheel now the only noise apart from a distant rumble of the huge machines, more felt in the gut than actually heard.
I stash my bike in the quiet dark under a stairwell. I’m a bit early so I sit on the steps for a minute, catch my breath.
Christ, think of all the other things you could be doing with your time instead of sitting on your arse, staring into a canal, staring at the end of a fucking stick and drinking tins?
I start to peel off my cycling things, lay them over a radiator, then start to pull on my work uniform.
“Now then Luci.”
“Fucking Hell!!!” I topple over whilst trying to pull my trousers on.
“Scare you did I?”
I look up. Scorcher is fettling with a light switch, a tool belt slung at his hip. Scorcher is the work’s resident bullshit artist, a liar of professional quality.
I struggle to my feet, say, “Yes, you scared me. Why the fuck did you wait until I’d got my fucking trollies round my ankles before saying anything?”
He shrugs. “I thought watching you with your pants down were a bit weird. Thought I’d better make me presence felt.”
“But you’d already just watched me with fuck all on! You could have spoke up before I got my cock out!”
“Yeah, there is that. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing.” He pulls a screwdriver from his tool belt and starts to work.
Then he says, “Any road, what were you thinkin’ ‘bout, sat there? You looked all… ponderous, like.”
I sit back down on the steps and watch him work. “Fishermen,” I say. “Or more specifically, anglers. Why the fuck do they do it, Scorcher? What makes a grown man park his saggy arse by the side of a canal and just vegetate there? Of all the activities a bloke with time on his hands could be doing, angling seems to me the most pointless.”
Scorcher drops a couple of screws into his pocket and wags the screwdriver at me. “That’s where yer wrong, Luci. Yer angler, well, ‘e’s an ‘unter, yeah? Fishin’ is one o’ the few legal ways yer average bloke can pit ‘is wits against nature these days. It’s the thrill o’ the chase, the element o’ chance, it’s delvin’ into the natural element of a creature an’ seein’ if you can master it. It’s what us ‘umans bin doin’ since time immemorial, like.”
I open and close my mouth a bit. Philosophy isn’t usually Scorchers strong point so he’s caught me off guard.
“My best mate were an angler,” he continues, jabbing idly with his screwdriver at some loose wires. “Stumpy Stan. He were the one who explained what it were to be a fisherman, a stealthy ‘unter of pool ‘n’ pond, river ‘n’ stream. It weren’t enough to just drop a line in an’ wait. No, Stan knew you had to think like a fish, put yersen in it’s mindset, like. Yeah, he lived for fishin’, did Stan, until that day…”
Scorcher fiddles around with the light switch a bit more, pretending to be preoccupied. I roll my eyes.
I say, “Come on then, Scorcher. Let’s have it.”
He turns back to me and scratches himself behind the ear with his screwdriver.
“Yeah, poor old Stumpy Stan. Best fisherman in West Yorkshire, until that day. He just went too far an’ ended up payin’ the price. He got one ‘ell of a nasty shock I can tell you!”
I try not to grin. “What was the price, Scorcher? Did he lose his tackle?”
“Aye! How did yer know that? Not just that though – he lost his fucking leg ‘n’ all!”
I pretend to cough, hiding a laugh. “His leg?? Go on then. What happened?”
“He were out all weathers, were old Stan, droppin’ a line into every body o’ water from Barnsley to Bridlington. Keen, he were. Mad keen. But there were this one fish, famed it were, a great pike that lived in t’ Leeds Liverpool canal. It were known as The Tiger, coz o’ the stripes cross it’s back an’ that it were a vicious bastard ‘n’all. Reckon it were two yards long an’ some ‘undred pound in weight. You wouldn’t ‘ave thought a pike could get s’ big, but it ate owt that cem ‘is way, from other fish to frogs to ducks an’ geese. Some reckon they even saw it drag a fuckin’ swan down once! Any road, Stan got it in ‘is ‘ead that he were gonna catch this ‘ere Tiger, so every day fer a month you’d find ‘im down t’ canal, pole in ‘and, watchin’ the ripples for any sign o’ that monster fish. He were a pole fisherman, were old Stumpy Stan. Didn’t believe in no fangled reels. He said they were cheatin’, did Stan. It were just ‘is pole an’ ‘is line an’ ‘is wits, that’s all Stan needed. So anyways, one day he were out there, line in’ t’ water, when there was this great disturbance, o’ summat massive pushin’ through the water, right towards his line! Well, Stan were ready. Poised. He watched that float bob once, twice, then a third time. An’ it were on that third bob that he struck, pullin’ wi’ all his might, an ‘e ‘ad it ‘ooked! But gettin’ is ‘ook in that fish, well, it almost proved the last thing old Stan ever did.”
Scorcher managed to get the light switch off the wall. He blew into the back of it, checking it over with a critical eye.
I throw my hands in the air. “Fuck me, Scorcher! Come on! What happened then? What the fuck did The Tiger do to old Stan to make him lose a fucking leg??”
Scorchers shrugs. “Well, when old Stan pulled back wi’ his fishin’ pole he pulled it straight up in t’ air. Hit a fuckin’ over’ead power line, didn’t ‘e? Them carbon fishin’ poles don’t ‘alf conduct ‘lektricity good. About a million volts went down that pole, right through Stan an’ out through his fucking shoe. Blew his fuckin’ leg to bits. Daft old cunt.”
Scorcher tucks the light switch into his pocket and puts his screwdriver back in his tool belt.
I say, “So… so a giant pike didn’t eat his leg?”
Scorcher blinks at me. “Course not, y’daft twat. A pike couldn’t eat a bloke’s fuckin’ leg.”
“But… but did he have the Tiger on his line then? Did he catch it?”
“How the fuck should I know? It weren’t like he were gonna try land a fish with his fuckin’ leg on fire, were it? Besides, his fishin’ pole were blown to fuckin’ atoms! You don’t fuck wi’ ‘lektricity, Luci. It’s a fuckin’ killer.”
I nod my head thoughtfully. “Aye, you’re not wrong, Scorcher. You’d know all about electricity, what with your job… Hang about! You’re a fucking machine assistant! How come you’re helping the maintenance department out?”
He shrugs. “I’m not. One o’ me light switches at ‘ome is fucked, so I needed a new one.” He winks at me. “It’s not what you come wi’ that counts, but what you go ‘ome wi’.”
Scorcher wanders off, leaving a hole in the wall full of fizzing wires.
I wonder if I put my hand in there, would it blow my leg off too?
I don’t risk it.
Instead I go to my desk, sit down, stare at a dull, grey screen for eight hours…
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