From The Privvy – Chapter Two

Hoo Flung Dung?

My first sight of Hong Kong was when I woke up on a wet miserable morning, I looked out of the porthole in my cabin and saw mountains, there won’t be any carp lakes up there, I thought. I got out of bed, got dressed and went out on the deck. What a shit hole! Skyscrapers at the front and mountains behind, I saw a plane land on an airstrip that ran out into the sea and realised that I was looking at Kowloon. A quick walk round the deck to the other side of the ship and, "Oh no, it’s worse!" The mountains are so close to the sea they’ve had to build on them. A depression came down and didn’t go away for six months. As time progressed and I saw more of Hong Kong I liked it less, everywhere smelled and the food tasted like the more unpleasant smells I was subjected to.

I started at my new school and when I looked out of the classroom window I saw mountains. The whole place was one gigantic wart and how I hated living there. Just getting to school involved a bus ride to the central district, then a ferry trip across to Kowloon and finally another bus ride to the school.

My interest in the place was slightly increased when someone at school told me that they fished at PG Farm, "Probably a puddle", I thought. The following weekend I arrived at the pond with my tackle. It was circular in shape and about sixty yards in diameter. People were wandering about looking at the animals that were kept in cages around the site. In fact far from being a farm it was a small zoo of the worst kind. Even at twelve years old I could see the neglect that the animals were subjected to and it stank. The fishing was three dollars a day and as I was there and not being picked up until that evening I thought I might as well fish even if there was little chance of catching anything. I paid my money and was given a ball of bait, I later found out that it was flour and water paste. Despite having spent the previous two evenings looking and digging for worms I hadn’t found any so I was going to be restricted to using bread for bait. I was therefore very grateful to have an alternative, I knew that carp would eat par-boiled potatoes but didn’t really know what they were. So I now had two baits to use, even if there wasn’t a carp within five thousand miles.

I set up one ledger rod and one float rod, cast them both out and settled down for a long wait. Within thirty seconds the float sailed away and I struck, the rod tip wobbled a bit and a black fish of about six inches long was swung to hand. On closer examination it looked very much like a catfish so I called it a catfish and put it back. Ten minutes later the ledger rod sailed off, I struck and the rod bent over, something on the other end was pulling quite hard. As it came into the bank I could hardly believe what I saw, a common carp of about two pounds, I slid it up the bank and unhooked it. I looked around, the mountains weren’t so high, the air was fresher but the animals still stank! Five or six Chinese people were asking if they could have the fish by opening their mouths and pointing down their throats. I was horrified, eat a carp, never! I put the fish back and the murmur from the Chinese onlookers left me in no doubt that they thought I was mad. The float rod was now forgotten, maybe I could catch another carp. The ledger rod was re-baited with flake and recast. I put the rod on the Heron and tested if for sensitivity, as it buzzed the group of Chinese people fell silent they had never seen anything like it before. They squatted by the rod and when the next run came and the Heron buzzed they all jumped up and squealed with excitement, continually shouting encouragement until the fish was landed, another common of about a pound. The same disapproving noises started when the fish was returned. Again the rod was recast and the Heron set, the now growing audience fell silent until another run occurred, whereupon they all jumped up and started squealing again, they were enjoying it as much as I was. All too soon the day was over and I had to go, I had caught more carp that day than I had probably seen in my whole life before and as I packed up and looked around, the mountains looked no bigger than large hills, the tropical flowers smelled nice and with the full heat of a tropical sun on them the animals really stank!

I couldn’t wait for the next weekend, both my carp rods were made ready, the buzzer my father had built me had a new battery, with two rods I was going to slaughter them. Saturday came and I was there again. Within minutes of setting up I had caught a carp and a crowd began to gather giving a duplicate performance of the previous weeks crowd. At some time during the morning one of the crowd scraped about in a drain that ran into the pond and found a worm. So there were worms in Hong Kong! I quickly baited one of my rods with it and cast, within seconds I caught a snake. To be honest I thought it was an eel, until I lifted it out of the water. When I realised what it was I just left it hanging until it extracted itself from the hook. This event caused two things to happen, the crowd dispersed and didn’t come back and I stopped paddling in the water!

That afternoon a girl that I knew from school bought her small brother to the farm to see the animals, she sat and kept me company for an hour and when she went she asked if I would be back the following week, I said I would and arranged to meet her. I caught several carp that day but still none over two pounds.

I arrived home and unloaded my tackle, something was wrong, when I untangled my bundle of rods and rod rests one of my carp rods had gone. There was no point in going back to look for it, as it just wouldn’t be there. The next morning I went to find a fishing tackle shop, it didn’t matter that it was a Sunday I just wanted to know if one existed. A rod and reel could be bought after school but not if there were no shops that sold them. Not only did I find a fishing tackle shop, but it was open. I bought a nine-foot American steelhead spinning rod and a Japanese reel that looked like a Mitchell 300.

A week later I was back at PG Farm, this time accompanied by two school friends, Tony who lived opposite me and Michael who lived at the university. I showed them how to set up their tackle for carp and we started to fish. It wasn’t long before I hooked one on my new rod and what a revelation, the rod countered every move the fish made. Every time it ran the rod eased over and the fish turned. It was such an improvement on my old rod that the very next day I bought another and just gave away the one remaining carp rod that my cousin had modified, the rod that I had once loved, I didn’t even want to look at again.

Linda, the girl from school, arrived at lunchtime and stayed for the whole afternoon, she was certainly keen on fishing, or so I thought! Between the three of us we caught about thirty carp but still none over two pounds. We arranged to fish the pond again the following week, but it never happened.

Linda had taken her brother to see the animals after school one evening in the week, one of the bears got out and bit her brother’s arm off. This was the end of PG farm and the end of our carp fishing for the time being. Despite the severity of his injuries surgeons in Hong Kong managed to re-attach his arm but he had to be flown to A
ustria for specialist treatment. He did regain some use of the limb but eighteen months later when Linda and her father left the colony, her brother and mother were still in the Austrian hospital.

Despite having lost my fishing again I didn’t feel too bad about it. I had considered fishing in the sea but wasn’t really interested. I had made some new friends and also discovered girls, Linda used to come and stay at weekends and in the week Amanda, the girl from the apartment above us, used to spend a lot of time in our apartment. I had really started to like Hong Kong, fishing had to a degree been forgotten about. The price tag was still on the second new rod that I had brought, but there was no point in even thinking about it, there wasn’t anywhere to go. It never occurred to me that the pond at PG Farm would still be there, as far as’ I was concerned it was closed and that was that.

One Saturday morning Michael, from the university, arrived very full of himself. He had just been told by one of his father’s friends that we could fish at Pokfulham reservoir. This was crazy, I had been living in Pokfulham for nearly a year and had never seen a reservoir. It was apparently behind the hospital, so off we went to find it. It didn’t take long, we found a track that ran through the trees behind the hospital and at the end of it a lake, not just any lake but a big, beautiful blue lake. As I looked across it a carp, much bigger than anything I had seen at PG Farm, jumped. My schoolwork was about to take a downturn that it would never recover from.

We found a sign with an address for permits and set off home to get organised. The permits ran from September to May, it was August, so there was plenty of time to prepare. The permits were obtained, ten dollars for nine months fishing, the three month closed season being at a time when the water level would be at its lowest.

I could never understand the look of disappointment on Linda’s face when I told her had somewhere else to fish, neither could I understand why shortly after that when Amanda came down Linda punched her straight on the nose. Girls, they were far less predictable than carp!

Our first trip was planned for the first day of the season, Myself, Tony, Michael and of course Linda, we would start at midnight. Six loaves of bread had been bought to make sure we didn’t run out of bait. We had pre-baited several swims and had seen carp of all sizes up to about ten pounds eating the bread. They would only take it from the bottom, never the top. We had told our parents that we didn’t have to go to school as it was a Chinese national holiday and as these occurred every two weeks or so they therefore had no reason to disbelieve us.

The trip to the reservoir was not as easy as we had imagined, there was a small block of flats at the entrance to the reservoir where the people who looked after it lived. On the grass in front of it was a pack of dogs who let us get level with them and then surrounded us and started barking, this of course stopped us dead in our tracks. A Chinese gentleman dressed in his pyjamas came out and wanted to know what we were doing, after explaining we were going fishing we had to show our permits. Having checked them he told us just to walk through the dogs and we’d be alright. I didn’t believe him, I’d just been bitten in the bum when I stepped backwards, it was only a nip but served as a warning. Anyway, we pushed through the dogs and sure enough no one got bitten. Our chosen swim was at the far end of the reservoir, by the time we had got there and organised ourselves it was one a.m., a whole hour of the season wasted.

Hooks were baited with bread flake and cast, a few seconds later they were brought back in with bleak like fish attached to them. We continued to catch these fish for the next hour or so until we decided to make some bread paste. This solved the problem and it was Michael who caught the first carp it was about three pounds and like every carp I ever saw in Hong Kong a perfect common. I re-baited both my rods with paste and cast them out, sat back and waited my turn. Linda asked if my bite was still sore and if she should she have a look at it, "Of course not," I replied, "I might miss a run!" I always got my priorities right!

We caught several carp that night and continued to catch them every time we fished there for the next two years. With one exception every carp we caught was caught on bread paste and we only ever caught one bigger than about five pounds. During the two years that we fished there several things happened, some amusing, some strange and some very sad.

After the first year Linda and her father left the colony, she was replaced by Anne as my fishing companion. Anne’s father was a missionary and she had to be home on a Sunday for church, so on a Saturday night I would take Amanda for company. It’s no wonder fishing played such an important part in my life is it? By now I wasn’t even making a pretence of interest at school, I never did my homework, the punishment for not doing it was detention that I also didn’t do. The detentions mounted up and eventually I was caned and the slate wiped clean.

I noticed that there were about ten kids in the school who couldn’t conform. The teachers would always go out of their way to pick on and bully any of these kids, it wasn’t that these kids ever did anything very serious, they just threatened the teacher’s comfortable colonial way of life. I’m sure they saw them as black marks on their careers, in any event they didn’t know how to deal with them. Unfortunately one of them was me, as far as I was concerned the teachers were failures, between all of them they couldn’t say anything I could find any interest in. In fact school was just a prison sentence, punishment for being a teenager!

We were only ever allowed to do night sessions on the first day of the season, the rest of the time we had to wait until our parents fell asleep and would then sneak out. Michael and Anne would stay at my house on a Friday night and at about one a.m. we would meet Tony outside his apartment. On a Saturday night Michael and I would meet Amanda and Tony at the same place.

One Sunday morning on the way to the reservoir we saw two Chinese men sitting under a lamp post, there were a lot of large black beetles flying around the light, as they fell to the ground the men would pick them up and put them in a plastic bag. Every now and again one of them would pick up a beetle and instead of putting it in the bag he would just eat it. When offered I declined. Later that morning while fishing there was far more activity on the banks than usual. Chinese people were walking about with bags of beetles everywhere, at about lunchtime we heard someone wailing and to our left on the bridge that went over the end of the reservoir was a man holding his head and making a terrible noise. "I expect one of the beetles had bitten him back," said Tony, but he was obviously very distressed so we ran up to see what was wrong. As we approached we could see something in a filter pool, it was the body of his son, we all dived in and as we brought the boy to the surface two American sailors arrived and pulled the boy out. Someone ran for an ambulance and the sailors tried to resuscitate him, the boy coughed up a lot of water and appeared to be recovering, but w
e later learnt that he had died in the ambulance. If only we had looked sooner.

The bridge at the end of the lake was about thirty feet above the level of the reservoir and when standing on it you could sometimes see four or five very large black bass, they were easily into double figures and no matter what we tried we couldn’t catch them. A plan was made that couldn’t fail, it wasn’t exactly fair angling but as a last resort it would work. One morning as dawn broke we reeled our rods in and went and stood on the bridge, water spilled over the lip of the filter pool and dropped the thirty feet into the reservoir below. The area under the bridge was about ten feet wide with a sheer rockface on each side. We were only going to get one chance at this so everything had to be right. The water dropping into the reservoir was no more than a trickle and hardly disturbed the water at all, this couldn’t fail. Pieces of bread were dropped into the water below and were immediately attacked by hoards of the small bleak like fish. As they ate their way through it we topped up with more bread, the whole area was seething with small fish. It was at least an hour before the bass arrived, swimming slowly and majestically up the middle of the channel, until they reached the small fish. They then did what they had always done in the past, they just stopped on the surface and watched the small fish. This was it, within five minutes they would be gone. Making due allowance for refraction and wind I launched myself from the bridge and never taking my eyes from the largest fish dived straight on it. I grabbed it as I hit the water and for a brief moment we both plummeted down into the depths. The fish gave a kick and was gone, I surfaced and started to swim the thirty yards down the lake to a point where I could get out. Next time I would hold on much tighter. We never saw them in this area again!

Later that day I was to experience the best moment of my young life. The fishing was understandably quite slow after my diving display, so we decided to move to a swim half way down the bank for a couple of hours before we went home. The swim was a small area of long grass hidden behind some bushes. As we pushed through the bushes onto the bank we saw we had disturbed a couple, not just any couple though, my headmaster with what was obviously a Chinese prostitute. He murmured smothering about botany samples, but I knew then that he was just a dirty old man with a fresh air fetish.

One afternoon we met for the first time another angler at the reservoir, it was Michael’s father’s friend. He was Chinese and fished with three handlines, nothing strange about that? Read on. He told us that he had caught a lot of carp up to about ten pounds from the reservoir and showed us his bait. It was a very hard black paste with small hard lumps in it.

"What’s that?" I asked, Crushed peanuts" he replied. I lifted the ball to my nose, it smelt worse than the animals at PG Farm, "Don’t eat it", he said "Its got shit in it". I had no intention of eating it, in fact I couldn’t give it back quick enough, "If you want some I’ll show you how to fish with it" he continued, pulling in one of his handlines. His end tackle made it very hard for me to suppress a grin. He had a lead of about one-ounce in weight fixed about a foot from his hook, his hook was a spade end. The loose end from the knot had a piece of matchstick tied to it about an inch from the hook. He moulded a ball of bait around the piece of matchstick and threw it as far as he could out into the lake, he then pulled the line almost tight, put the handline on the ground and put a large rock on top of it. I returned to my rods and informed Michael very quietly that his dad’s friend was completely mad, his hook wasn’t even in his bait, so if a fish was stupid enough to eat it he couldn’t possibly hook it and anyway it wouldn’t go near the bait with that lump of lead on the line. I sat by my rods feeling very glad that I had read "Still Water Angling". Two hours passed and every time our new friend pulled in his handlines and re-baited I rolled my eyes and made it quite clear to Michael and Tony what I thought of his tactics. His eyes never left his lines and I didn’t notice when he hooked one, until I heard a big splash. As he grabbed the fish we went to have a look. It was a carp that was bigger than any we had caught. "About nine pounds" he said and put it in his basket. How could this be I thought? Obviously Chinese carp aren’t as clever as English ones.

Eventually we were due for some home leave and in July 1964 things were packed, was quite excited, we were going home for a few weeks. Not just home, Japan, Hawaii, California and New York on the way.

Michael was staying at our home and a few days before I left he suggested that we fished at Pockfulham reservoir for the night. It was the closed season but no one ever walked round at night, the dogs had long since stopped barking at us and so we decided to go. The tackle was sorted but when we went to the kitchen for some bread, there were only a few slices. We found some flour and tried to make a combination of bread and flour paste, the finished ball of bait was far too wet and so we added various powders that we found in the cupboards until we had dried our ball of bait. I can’t remember what we put into it but it included custard, chocolate powder, caster sugar and blancmange, a very unlikely combination and I thought it would be a waste of time going, but Michael was keen.

We set off at about Eleven thirty that night and had just two bites, I caught them both. A carp at least as big as the one we saw caught on the handline and one of the big black bass. We crept back into my apartment at about six thirty that morning, Michael fell asleep in an armchair, but I sat and wondered why those fish had eaten the bait? Perhaps the bigger carp in the reservoir were so hungry they would eat anything, but then why hadn’t we caught them on bread and what about the bass? It had never gone within a yard of a line, but had made a mistake over a stupid bait. Had I been clairvoyant I would have been wondering who had been using hard nut meals on a hair rig with a fixed lead in 1964.