Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in September ’15
Last summer, my great friend Hazel came to stay with us and turned up in the early evening with a huge bag of fresh Mackerel which we cooked on the BBQ. They were absolutely delicious. There is something about the concept of ‘from-sea-to-plate-in-less-than-an-hour’ that greatly appeals to one’s primal hunter-gatherer instinct, and as we sat in the evening sunlight feasting on the delicate, lemon-seasoned flesh, I made a mental note to arrange a trip for this year and last week, Jasper, Lily and I went fishing, prompted by an advert for mackerel fishing in Charminster. The weather forecast for the following day was hot and sunny, so we got up early, packed a picnic and drove to the coast.
Lily was so excited she could barely stand still as I smothered her with factor 60.The sky was cloudless blue and the dazzling sun glinted on the waves as the little boat chugged into the harbour to collect us. We chatted to the other passengers, a friendly American couple and made a futile attempt to converse with a rather forbidding looking German couple wearing identikit t-shirts, shorts, white socks and sandals. After a bacon roll and a cup of tea at the café, we boarded the boat and sailed out to sea. 20 minutes later, the skipper turned off the engine.
‘Teeming with mackerel here,’ he announced cheerfully as he let down the anchor.
After briefing us on how to use the fishing rods, we baited our lines and cast them into the sea.
Five seconds later, Lily gasped with excitement as her rod dipped and jerked. Jasper helped her to reel in one of the biggest mackerel I have ever seen. There were triumphant cries as suddenly, every rod, apart from mine, started twitching in unison. Before long, everyone had at least half a dozen mackerel in their personal bucket. The skipper reeled my rod in and checked the bait, before looking puzzled and handing it back to me.
A wind whipped over the sea and the little boat swayed and rolled slightly.
My stomach roiled uneasily and I was assailed by nausea as I cast my line again.
‘Look Mummy!’ said Lily. I turned her around to see her scraping bloodied fish guts into a carrier bag. The American lady peered at me in consternation. ‘Are you okay sweetie? You look kinda green.’
I staggered slightly, trying to keep my balance as the boat rocked from side to side beneath me.
‘I’m fine thank you,’ I said stoically, attempting to look nonchalant as I cast my wretched rod for the umpteenth time.
‘My bucket is full!’ declared the German smugly.
‘I could fill one right now,’ I thought miserably as the skipper handed him another one.
‘Poor Mummy hasn’t caught any fish,’ said Lily.
She held aloft a half eviscerated mackerel ; its guts slithered out of its belly and plopped onto the deck with a dull splat. I tried to quell the rising nausea by envisaging waterfalls, freshly cut lemons and buckets of ice.
‘Look Mummy, this is where the fish poo is stored before it comes out,’ trilled Lily, dangling intestines in front of me.
I leant over the boat and solemnly committed my bacon roll to the deep of the English Channel, or would have, had not a seagull swooped down and devoured a chunk of it from the water, making me feel, if possible, much worse.
My knees felt weak. I slid down the side of the boat.
Jasper, predictably, was shaking with laughter.
I wiped my clammy forehead with a shaking hand and wondered if this is what it feels like to die.
‘She is sea sick!’ boomed the German man.
‘Vy go fishing if you haf sea sick?’ said his wife.
The skipper handed me a bottle of chilled water and urged me to drink some.
Lily deftly unhooked her umpteenth mackerel and deftly despatched it with a whack over the head: ‘Poor Mummy hasn’t caught any fish AND she’s been sick. Why are you laughing Daddy?’
‘Wow, she looks really terrible!’ said the American man in an awed voice.
‘Are you alright?’ Jasper finally asked, bending down beside me and struggling not to laugh. I squinted up at him through one eye and opened my mouth to deliver a profanity. My vocal cords seemed to have seized up because I only managed a feeble croak.
What seemed an eternity later, I staggered off the boat and sagged with relief at the feeling of the ground beneath my feet. After a cup of very sugary tea, the feeling of imminent death began to subside and I tottered to the pub on the harbour with Lily and Jasper, who were apparently starving.
After a few minutes, the waitress came out to take the order.
‘What’s the day’s special?’ asked Jasper.
‘Oh, you’re in luck,’ she said. ‘It’s our “fisherman’s friend” special: a fresh mackerel and bacon bap.’
Oh Cod…. ◗