My daughter killed her first animal today.
I’m sort of a tiny bit disgusted, but mostly proud. Very proud, in fact. Normally I’m horrified when I see blog posts by frightening American women with lots of make-up and hair talking about how they’re proud that their 7-year-old daughter “harvested” their first deer. To be honest, this sickens me. There’s usually a picture of a sweet little girl holding a massive, fuck-off rifle (with some quite disturbing pink decals, presumably to make it more ‘princessy’, #letgunsbeguns), squatting in the forest with a deer with an eyeball blown out thanks to an armour-piercing round. My, those deer eyeballs must be tough with all their Kevlar armour…
Anyway, I’m not a parent who lets their children near dark forests, wild deer, or bloody great guns like some nutter. But recently, our Alice has been very enthusiastic on the subject of fishing. And I figured… hmmm…
I’m not a bloodsport person. I like nature to have its vital organs on the inside, unless I’m eating it. I get there is an adrenaline-thing about shooting guns and hunting wildlife, but unless it’s for your own survival, I’m not generally supportive of hunting for kicks.
Fishing though… that’s a bit of a grey area. Growing up in a seaside town, I invariably ended up casting a rod into the swirling shit-brown (and similarly odorous) waters of our pebble beach. I’ve been on boat trips for mackerel and pollock. I’ve done some deep sea fishing. I even went fishing for sailfish in Thailand. I didn’t catch any. I saw them jumping near our boat, and frankly, I’m happier that they stayed off our hooks, leaping joyfully in the Indian Ocean with the sailfish equivalent of gleeful abandon.
One of my guilty pleasures is to watch the daft, adventure-fishspedition, TV-nonsense that is ‘River Monsters’, much to Sarah’s disgust. I like it because it shows giant exotic fish, and because it has one of TV’s least charismatic presenters in Jeremy Wade, and because it always follows the same format. You can often just get 95% of the show’s true content in the last 10 minutes, the rest being a load of slo-mo ponderings by grumpy old Jeremy about bullshit myths concerning this weeks’ “monster”; there are usually some travel shenanigans, some bit where a voodoo priest blesses or curses the TV show, and a bit where Jeremy catches the wrong fish (usually a giant catfish of some sort). The last 10 minutes are where he actually catches the Macguffin fish-of-the-week, and are really the only bits worth tuning in for.
Sarah hates it. Sarah doesn’t like fishing. She’s vegetarian, and empathises with the fish. She has quite a good point as well. Fish don’t really like being caught. Fish hooks are horrid. Fish don’t like being suffocated, or being bashed on the head. There’s nothing really nice about fishing, is there?
But still, I yearn for the calm of the rod, and the swish of the line, and the gentle tranquillity of the river. And for some baffling reason I can’t work out, so does Alice. Alice thinks it’s a bonding, Daddy-daughter sort of thing. Alice thinks it’s a fun thing for kids to do with their parents, although as she puts it: “It’s more of a Daddy-son thing, and not really for daughters, but seeing as you haven’t got a son, and you’ve just got me, you might as well take ME fishing instead“. #letfishingbefishing
So, with an impending sea-side holiday, with Alice dropping massive hints she wants to go fishing with me on this holiday, I thought we should get this nipped in the bud.
There is a very nice and well-known Trout Farm about an hour from us in a beautiful chocolate-box village that is always full of Japanese tourists. I fucking love trout farms. Always have. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about a public trout farm where you can feed the fish into a frenzy. I love it. I love the boiling water, pretending the fish are piranha, the way they fling themselves out of the water… it’s something primordial.
Also, ever since quitting cigarettes, my brain has always associated cigarettes with fast-flowing trout streams. In the rain.
Fucking Christ on a Motherfucking Dildobike knows why I think this way. I never once – in the 18 years I smoked cigarettes – smoked a tab whilst looking at a trout stream in a downpour, a spring shower, a thunderstorm, light drizzle, or sodding monsoon; but the moment I quit, that was my brain’s own craving-avatar. That’s what my brain told me to do. So in the past, when the cravings got bad, I’d head off into the countryside looking for a stream, a bench, some fucking trout, and inclement weather.
So with Alice demanding fishblood, and me not thinking about cigarettes, today was the day we’d sort this out. We drove out to the trout farm, with me convinced that Alice would discover that in actual fact, fishing is boring, disgusting, cruel, sickening, painful, tedious, wet, everlasting, miserable, silent, and oooh poor fish.
The drive out was punctuated by me saying things like now, you realise that the fish has to die? , and that we might have to take its guts out. Nope. This went over her head. Oh, and thanks to some CD shelf rummaging before leaving, she now likes Todd Rundgren’s music on the basis of the fact that “he has a nice name”.
It was a lovely day, and we had one of our picnics on a bench overlooking a fast-flowing river complete with ducks, swans, fragrant reeds, and the flash of trout in the shallows. I really fancied a Marlboro.
We entered the farm. We fed the fish in the ponds before slaughtering any of them. Cups of food are very cheap, and the thrill of feeding a ravenous shoal of trout is an enthusiasm I want Alice to share with me. And she did, gurgling and shrieking with delight at the trout flailing at the fish food.
Eventually, after much trepidation, and me trying to put her off the whole thing (as I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to manage dispatching a struggling and innocent trout), I took Alice to the fishing zone. We read the rules. I spoke to the chaps in the fishing hut, hoping they’d turn us away due to lack of experience, or to age limitations. No. They let us in. They gave us a rod without a reel, with a fixed line complete with needle-sharp hook. This was it. I had to kill an animal now. I couldn’t back out.
We walked to the fishing pond. Alice, this is serious. You cannot muck about now. You have to be quiet.
We went to the ‘easy’ pool. The fast-flowing river section was a little too much for us. The easy pool was shallow enough to see the large shoal of dopey fish. This would be too easy. The fish are practically queueing up to be caught! It’s almost cruel not to catch them…
Trout are stupid. They’re fish. They can’t drive cars, or screw together Ikea furniture. But they can nibble bait without getting the hook caught in their mouths. Numerous fish grabbed the bait, but were savvy enough to not get hooked. Time and again, I struck at fish that seemed to suck the hook into their mouths, but the fish spat the bait out after taking a morsel. The fuckers. They were winking at me as they did it! They were all sniggering at me in their fishy voices.
And then… I GOT ONE. Wriggling and slimy, but I landed it and one! two! ….three! sharp blows with a small wooden club finished it.
I was sort of elated. That was… well, that was sort of fun! This is what ‘Muricans are always going on about. Hey, give me a rifle, I’ll blow anything away now!!
“Can I have a go now?”
Yeah sure, let me put the bait on… now let me hand this to you… just ease it into the water… just dangle it there… let them come to you… you might have to wait fo-
“I GOT ONE! DADDY! I GOT ONE!”
(EDIT: Alice has since told me, in quite a gloating voice, that she is now a better fisherwoman than me because it took me longer to catch a fish. She had also told all of the staff we met at the fish farm. She also said it loud enough for all the Japanese tourists on the bus by our car to hear. She also told the petrol station lady. And on the way home she gloated about it again. She has also told our friend who is staying for a few nights. And Sarah. And my brother-in-law. And Nana. And my mother and brother who came over for a meal the following day. So, on the basis of an easy, no-reel rod, in an easy pool, my daughter out-talented me. Yeah? We’ll see about that on holiday, missy. The gloves are off…)
Alice landed the fish. I held it down. She then enacted the killing of Joe Pesci’s character from Martin Scorsese’s Casino with the wooden club. After a few inelegant whacks on the fish’s skull, and worried that things were going to get a bit mushy, I then took the bat from her and finished off the still-writhing fish. And there was I thinking Alice would be too squeamish to watch…
Gutting was also something I thought Alice would be too squeamish about, but no, she caught a glimpse of a bucket full of fish innards, and decided it was too good to miss. Me, in parent-mode, felt this was an opportunity for some summer-holiday education. (bleurgh!)
Alice, come and have a look at what is inside a fish. Look, there’s its liver, there are its guts…
“Can I hold its still-beating heart?”
Damn. I knew she enjoyed Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom a bit too much the other week.
Then she told me she wanted to eat the eyes of the fish, because according to Bear Grylls, they’re the most nutritious bit. She told me that very loudly. Then she told the chap gutting our fish. She also told the on-site fishmonger who filleted the fish, and the person operating the till at the entrance of the fish farm. She continued to ask me to join her in eating fish eyes all the way home (“but HOW do you know that you don’t like it unless you try it?” Well, I know for one fucking thing – I don’t like having my parenting food-logic thrown back in my face by my own 7-year-old because I won’t eat raw fish eyes), and after getting home, throughout me trying to skin, cook, and serve the fish in a curry, I was asked by a pleading, whining voice, that she MUST have the eyes reserved solely for her.
As I write, the eyes are still in the fish’s face. The fish heads are in the fridge. I haven’t told Sarah there are fish heads in the fridge. It’s her birthday tomorrow. She will be the first up, and will probably want her morning milk for her morning coffee. She does not want to see decapitated fish heads staring back at her. I cannot fuck this up. I must set the alarm to go off early and make up some sort of excuse. I’m not a monster.