Case of Tay and sympathy

fishing lines
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The Independent Online
IT WAS all lies. Those stories that I told about my wife stopping me from going fishing: untrue. The yarns about her complaining because I put maggots in the fridge: creative story telling. All that stuff about her whingeing because I am occasionally forced, in the course of my work, to go to places outside the UK, such as the Great Barrier Reef, Ecuador, and the Bahamas: not a word of fact in it.

Those anecdotes about her finding household tasks for me whenever I voice my intentions of going fishing; the moans over another cased fish mysteriously appearing on the walls; the tales of her unreasonableness in demanding more space in the deep freeze when it was full of deadbaits, peeler crabs and frozen lugworm - all mere canards. Even that wonderful account about me using the feathers from what I thought was an old hat for fishing flies was just a figment of my imagination.

On the contrary, she is and has always been an impeccable and understanding wife who has put up with my often outrageous behaviour with scarcely a murmur. I would like to declare officially that, despite provocation to make Mother Teresa curse and swear, she has at all times been a paragon of wifeliness, subjugating her own pleasures to allow me to indulge a time-wasting, expensive, unproductive and in essence useless hobby.

You may wonder what has brought on this change of heart. A leopard, as they say, never changes his tailor. Guess away, and you'd be wrong. Next month is my 50th birthday. Traditionally, your friends turn up on such occasions, drink your best malt, insult the au pair, fall in the pond and give you presents like stolen 50mph road signs. I've been dreading the inevitable "surprise party". Asked what I wanted to do, I said: "Go fishing somewhere warm, exotic and preferably alone, with no forwarding phone number." That suggestion, surprisingly, was defeated on a 3-1 vote, the treacherous children siding with my wife.

So I'd resigned myself to The Party. Over the past few weeks, I have quietly been moving the better wines, whiskies and breakables into the loft, and slipping the dogs and plants the occasional glass of Chablis, to prepare them for what is to come.

But this week, my preconceptions were shattered. My wife announced that my birthday present was not to be the new washing machine my heart desired so much, but three days' fishing for salmon on the Tay. This river offers probably the finest salmon angling in Scotland. I will be staying in an excellent country hotel and fishing one of the best stretches. Furthermore, she has booked a ghillie for three days, so I will have a local expert on tap to put me on the best spots.

"I've even booked the entire stretch for three days, so two of your friends will be able to fish as well," she said. Friends? What's this? "Well, I've invited up your best mates and their families to join you and celebrate your birthday."

Hmm. The bad news is that most of my friends fish, and generally a lot better than me. Confronted with a prime bit of the Tay, they will be out of the door in their waders while I'm still pulling on my woolly socks. As host, I can hardly tell them to go for a long walk while I work my way through all the best pools.

It appears that my wife has also made the mistake of inviting my more active friends, and not following those words of wisdom that advise, once you are over 40, to invite only friends who are older and in worse health than yourself.

Still, even if I don't get any fishing, I've got the consolation that they won't trash my house.