1946-50, The wonderful University years

The Sweet CheatAt Queen’s I came across a very talented conjurer who was a medical student. I believe that he had sat his finals at least four times. In those days there did not seem to be any limit to the number of chances one had to qualify. The reason for the repeated sittings was that he always passed his written examination but when it came to the Orals, where as the other students had a nominal 15 minutes he was in there for ages while the examiners went over the whole syllabus again.. They were not, like the students, aware of the scam, but they obviously had their suspicions.
When he entered the examination room he would arrive early, find his desk and then scatter granulated sugar in a wide circle so that he would hear the crunch of the invigilator’s feet and have time to palm his cogs before the man was close enough to discover the cheating. Years later he and his wife were the Toast of the Town with their joint conjuring and illusion acts and to be seen regularly on TV.
FISH BY THE HUNDREDStrangford Lough, to my eye at any rate, is one of the most beautiful inland seas I have ever seen with its variety of both wild life and topography, and the extraordinary access to the Irish Sea which is so wonderful to behold when the current is at its fastest. Sitting on a seat near the Ferry pier at Portaferry, watching the ferry and the other craft crabbing, up-stream, half across the tidal race, and then being borne at speed back down, gliding rather than sailing for the far shore is not totally singular to this estuary alone, but it is both uncommon and beautiful to witness. It is like a water-borne ballet.
At Portaferry is a Marine Biological Station affiliated to Queens and it was here that we stayed for a week at the end of Third Year to study the mysteries of triangulation surveying and a better place could not have been found, with the drumlins bordering the water and the clear sights from one side of the Lough to the other, from eminence to tower, from hill to shore. It was a week of hard work, it is true, with a little drinking, a great deal of horse-play, no parenthood – and fish, hundreds of fish
We were camping out at the Biological Station, or that was what it seemed like. With the war just behind us austerity was the order of the day and the accommodation was primitive. We ate at the local hotel and much of the diet seemed to be fish.
One evening four of us rented a boat with fishing rods and lines and were surprised, or perhaps I should say that not being a local and acquainted with sea fishing, I personally was surprised to find the bait consisted of coloured chicken feathers instead of worms or spinners. It was quite late when we set off and the Lough was bathed in a glowing sunset, with the trees and castle on the Strangford side silhouetted against the dying sun.
We left from the small slipway just South of where the Ferry-port is now and were careful to inch along close to the shore for fear of becoming embroiled with the whirlpools and currents of the race. Two rowed and two fished. Both were done in a desultory way because we were out for a relaxed row more than anything, fishing was an adjunct to keep the passengers happy, until, that is, the patron saint of fishermen, or maybe St Jude, the patron saint of the afflicted, took a hand just as I lifted the rod. From then on it was carnage. It didn’t start out that way, there were a few fish, often more than one at a time on the line, and then suddenly as far as they were concerned, it was as if I was offering a little something the others didn’t have, my feathers, clearly, were better than sliced bread.
I was catching lythe, a form of pollack; mackerel and a fish known locally as blochan, but I suspect it too, was a sort of pollack. I had reached a catch of about fifty, but the rowers were insistent we should see how many we could catch. I stopped at one hundred, I felt we had been excessive, but in those days fish were there to be caught and the word environment had not the hallowed meaning it has today.
We allowed the tidal race to float us back to the pier with very little effort from the oars and there, we were met by the fisherman from whom we had hired the boat. When he asked us what we wanted to do with the catch, in our magnanimity we told him he could do with it what he wished and then we headed for the hotel bar and the fishing story we had been honing ever since we had stopped rowing.
With my stories there is always a rider, in this case it was the uncouth remarks of the other students, couched in earthy terms, which put the final touch to the evening. When I, and my companions, started telling of our piscatorial exploits we were nearly lynched. We, or maybe I, had been stupid. I had not thought of the possibility that the fisherman would immediately try to sell our catch to the hotelier at a discount, ensuring yet more fish on the menu.

Categorized as General

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