Pens of the Earth: Fish of the Sea

Image courtesy of Pens of the Earth.

by Eileen Phyall

‘Plastic free,’ he said scornfully. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. You’d put us back to the 1940s.’

‘When there were no cars parked on this road and you played in the streets,’ Moira said. ‘When you could go fishing all day, sandwiches in a paper bag and a bottle of water.’

‘Yes, and you could take that bottle back and get threepence, which would buy you three penny chews. I suppose it wasn’t all bad. Not that I can remember the forties, I was a fifties child, but it was still pre-plastic if I’m honest, and only a few people had cars,’ he replied. ‘I remember being given a mug when Prince Charles was born. We used it to hold our toothbrushes.’

‘I was reading that it’s possible to get toothbrushes made of bamboo fibre. I’m going to get some for us.’

He pulled a face.

‘I swear you won’t know the difference,’ she said.

‘Okay, you go and save the world. I’ll get my fishing stuff ready.’

‘Yes and there were more fish in the sea then and no plastic.’

‘All that talk about plastic. It’s just hype. They don’t know what to make a programme out of next. It’s all a set-up for you gullibles to get wound up about. You need to do something useful.’

‘Like spending all night and day fishing, I suppose.’

‘Well at least that gives us some fresh food.’

‘Once in a blue moon. Most of it’s too small, or it’s huge lumps of seaweed that you catch.’

He went out, slamming the door, but she knew that a day’s fishing would calm him down. She was concerned, though, about how much they were disagreeing. It was affecting their relationship. They used to be so close.

He hated changing his habits. He’d rather sit on the beach all night than do something for the good of the planet or buy something that cost more money. Luckily she did the shopping and could choose to buy using her own containers that were used again and again.

He had moaned about recycling at the start, but was used to it now, and grumbled loudly about others in the street who put the wrong stuff in the recycling bins.

Last month he’d come home to tell her about the beach cafe that was offering a free drink if you filled a bucket with litter from the shingle. It was a new cafe that was very popular but, he said, too expensive. She’d looked longingly at it when she’d gone for a walk, but he always said a flask was cheaper and walked past.

Last weekend they’d collected a bucket on their walk. It was quite small and soon filled. She took out the bag that she kept in her pocket and filled that too. There was more rubbish than usual after good weather at the weekend. When they called in to the cafe to hand in their bucket, the owner was so impressed with the amount they had collected, he insisted that they deserved a drink each. He sat down with them and talked about his plans for the future. Bob was impressed. After, he said, ‘That’s a man of vision. We will go there again. It’s not that expensive for a good cup of coffee. I’m glad I found it.’

While he was fishing, she decided that she’d go to the new plastic free shop. Back to the forties indeed – no over-wrapping of veg and fruit, but with the bonus that you could pick your own selection. No three-for-two, just what was needed, some of the veg unwashed but that meant it kept better.

Meanwhile the fishing was going well, not too much seaweed catching on the line, the tide swelling nicely. Should bring in some reasonable-sized fish searching for food and he had the right bait.

He sat on his canvas seat comfortably dreaming about some of his really good catches. He was pleased that there was a ban on keeping small sea bass – it gave them time to breed, replenish the depleted stock. He could remember a time when the sea was full of fish. He used to come to this spot with his dad and they would catch enough fish to feed the neighbours as well as their own large family.

Mr Green next door had an allotment, so they would swop fish for veg, and even in days of hardship they would all eat healthily, not like his grandkids now, who wouldn’t eat fish unless it was battered and came out of a packet from the freezer. Moira fooled them sometimes by filleting the fish he’d caught and doing it in strips and covering them with batter. But they still liked to have fish fingers from the freezer like at home, and as for eating fresh fruit, well, that was a challenge.

The rod dipped on the stand, breaking his reverie. He caught hold of it and started reeling it in. It came easily, so that for a moment he thought it was seaweed after all. But it wasn’t. It was a sizeable catch. He hadn’t felt so satisfied for ages.

Once landed, he humanely killed it and silently offered up thanks to the sea. This would supply a couple of meals. Moira wouldn’t be able to tease him tonight.

His dad had taught him to gut fish on the beach, cleaning them and rinsing with seawater. That way the missus couldn’t complain about mess and guts in her clean kitchen.

He took his knife and made a deep cut into the innards of the fish. His knife hit something solid. To his horror, he saw a large piece of blue plastic. On inspection, he realised it was the almost complete remains of a cap from a plastic milk bottle. He felt sick, imagining that the poor creature had swallowed that thinking it was food. No wonder he had caught it. It probably had no real strength left in it.

He no longer felt such a great hunter. It was his race doing this. All the stories that he had poo-pooed must have at least some truth in them.

Plastic in the ocean is a fact, he thought. I can’t ignore it any longer.

He gathered up his fishing tackle and made his way home. Telling Moira what had happened later, he said, ‘I’m going to stop being such a doubter and help you fight this problem. We can start by having our milk delivered in glass bottles again.’

Moira smiled. All it took was one fish.

‘Well, we can have a good meal,’ she said, as she got the pan out, ‘Then discuss how we can work together on this.’ She leaned over and gave him a big kiss.

Well, he thought, things are looking up.


Pens of the Earth is about environmental tales from a positive Portsmouth – encouraging writers to celebrate existing environmental initiatives, and to imagine what might be.

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