Friday July 27, 2018

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The Theft

Written by Norman Morrow

The 1960’s and 1970’s was a very different world where children enjoyed a much greater freedom than those of the new millennium.  Everything now is so structured with parents racing to and fro bringing the children to organised events.  When Otter was a mere pup, children organised their own activities using their imaginations and fledgling inventive skills, relatively free to explore their world and expand their horizons.


The Milk factory was just beyond the extent of where Otter was allowed to wander, a further fifty yards, the river.  How it came to be called the milk factory is beyond me, it was a small unit from which the milkman operated.  Was milk was bottled there, I will never know, I doubt it.  Sandwiched between it and the house on the corner, was  an open area full of interesting things to any young lad, broken milk bottle crates, timber, broken bottles.

Otter and his young friends were really excited when the rumours of rabbits being spotted in Duffy’s field reached their ears.  This was the next field to the field behind his house, both fields strangely isolated within the town, their owners yet to seek coin that would see their transformation into housing or other development. Rabbits consumed their thoughts and how to catch them was centre of their attention.  Their surveillance of Duffy’s field was a major military operation.  Headquarters was setup at the gap in the wall near the milk factory.  It was here that someone suggested that a milk crate would make a great trap.

There was never any problem playing in the open area beside the milk factory, the workers there did not seem to mind.  Securing a crate however was a different matter altogether.  Otter and two older children were assigned the task, one to act as look out, the others to get the crate. They were so scared of being caught in the act that the mission was aborted several times before finally Corporal Otter and Lieutenant Vincent entered the battle field.  Vincent grabbed the first broken crate and ran for the field. Otter had however spotted something, a spool of metallic tinsel, he grabbed the spool and ran for the wall of Duffys field as fast as his little legs could carry him. He knew he had done wrong in taking the spool, but was too afraid to take it back.

They never did locate any rabbits, it is unlikely that rabbits lived there in twenty years or more and so the milk crate was abandoned.   Otter however brought the spool home, it was too valuable to abandon.  Red and one side and shiny silver the other, it was used to make milk bottle tops. There must have been at least fifty yards on the spool.  Otter located his best spear and wrapped some tinsel around it transforming it into a mighty weapon, the weapon of a mighty warrior. The spool was hidden under a bush, Otter was sure it would not be discovered there.

Otter’s father looked very stern as he sat at the kitchen table, the tinsel spool lying on the table beside his cup of tea. Otter trembled, guilt etched clearly on his face, the evidence of his theft laid out in front of him.

 Before the question came, “I found it on the road outside the milk factory”. 

His father glared at him, “Son, that does not make it yours, do you know what happens to people that steal things. You will have to take it back to-morrow”

To-morrow never came, the subject never broached again and Otter lay low for many days, on best behaviour until the episode became a distant memory.
Otter was eight that summer and for weeks had pestered his father that he would be old enough to go mackerel fishing.   His father smiled but never once acknowledged the pestering, made no promise to fulfil young Otters greatest desire.
Otter hated porridge and to have such a large bowl put in front of him for his breakfast on his birthday was mean to say the least. His father cajoled him; “You’re eight now and need a big breakfast, finish that and you can have your present.” 

Otter stared at the pair of wellingtons; they bore little resemblance to the cowboy outfit that he had wanted for his birthday. Crestfallen and stifling back a sob he tried them on, there was nothing special about a pair of willies. Sensing her sons grief his mother put young Otter out of his misery; “They should keep your feet dry when you go fishing for mackerel to-day”.

Otter’s father grunted with each pull of the cord. Seagull outboard engines whilst reliable when running were a nightmare to start. Finally it chugged into life with a puff of blue smoke and soon the pier grew small behind them as they motored out into the bay. Otter occupying the middle clutched the seat with both hands in trepidation as he tried to find his sea legs. Soon colour returned to his cheeks and he relaxed, taking it all in, riding the waves with each rise and fall, reaching out over the side catching a splash.

His father handed him a hand line and explained how to fish it. Otter took in every single word, questioning everything, soaking up this new knowledge as though his very existence depended on it. His father readied his rod and Otter was gobsmacked when he noticed the red and silver tinsel that was attached to each of the hooks.  His father eased the throttle until the engine was at its slowest and released the line overboard, the heavy lead weight taking the mackerel flies quickly to the bottom and when reached, he wound in a yard or two.

This is trolling his father explained as they chugged slowly onwards, his father regularly raising and dropping the rod tip. Suddenly his father switched off the engine, his rod bending. He shouted “Fish, off you go Son and be careful, those hooks are sharp”

Otter did as instructed, loosened the lead weight and dropped it over the side of the boat, carefully letting out the line and the three mackerel feathers followed.  At first he struggled but soon got the hang of releasing the line from the wooden frame on which it was wound.  Meanwhile his father reeled in his line and with a final heave, raising the rod high he swung two shining mackerel into the boat at Otters feet.  They flapped around a bit before they were grabbed and tossed into the yellow fish box that his oldest brother had brought home from a trawler.

Laying his rod to one side he now assisted Otter, showing him how to jig the line up and down. When the take came Otter shouted out in the best tradition of his family, “Fish”, as though he had shouted it a thousand times.  Frantically he hauled up the line and though it cut into his tender hands he felt no pain. When the line suddenly stopped his father came to his assistance and grabbing the line he reached out and lifted bringing a single mackerel over the side, then a second and to Otter’s astonishment a third.  Otter reached down and grabbed the flapping mackerel, unhooked them and dropped them in the fish box.
Looking at his father with a cheesy grin; “Dad this is the best birthday ever”.

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