fishing lines : A dab hand at fancy dress

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The Independent Online
MY FRIEND Ian Sturrock once went to a fancy-dress party as the Menai Straits. He wore a sack, to which he attached rusty tins, seaweed, shells, bits of driftwood, used condoms and dead crabs. To complete the tableau, he put a kipper under each arm. He didn't win a prize or even get many dances. But he said that everyone looked at him. He was well pleased.

I always admired Ian's madcap ideas. When a Sixties pop group of whom he disapproved visited his home town, he turned up at their concert and threw snowballs at them from the balcony. In June. (He had climbed Snowdon, collected the snow and kept it in a cool box.) When he was poor, he made a crossbow, shot seagulls and curried them.

But even Ian would have been staggered at the total looniness of the Australian Neil Wilson, the man who wanted to be a fish. Wilson has just been found dead at Toolondo, near Victoria. Strangely, he did not drown, but suffocated in the fish-shaped bodysuit he had made from heavy green plastic sheeting. Unfortunately, he had clearly not read as far as chapter three in How To Be A Fish, because in the costume he had forgotten to put in ventilation slits.

He was discovered by a passer-by in a field close to Wilson's favourite reservoir, "where he was a familiar sight at the water's edge, swinging from a rope while pretending to be a fish", my cutting says. I'm afraid I can't tell you any more. That's a shame, because this intriguing tale clearly raises more questions than it answers.

For example, what sort of Australian fish is known for Tarzan impersonations? Neither the definitive Freshwater Fishes of the World nor Fishes of the Indo-Pacific makes any mention of this unique species. Even the renowned climbing perch (anabas testudineus) does not descend by using convenient lianas.

Wilson was 49, so he wasn't a callow teenager spurned in love by a girl called Sheila Pike. And given his aberrant behaviour, which makes the Newbury road protesters look like right-wing Tory MPs, it seems improbable that this was an environmental message - some sort of kooky backlash against growing pollution as the spawning grounds of the Australian blue salmon. Perhaps the answer is simply that he was Australian.

There are, I will admit, other possibilities. The explanation for his rope-swinging could be that Wilson was trying to emulate a feat that many fish can perform effortlessly - jumping several feet clear of the water. Trout, salmon, pike and even sea giants such as shark and marlin can take a wider view of life by taking to the air. It's not as easy as it looks. Next time you go to the pool, ignore the strange glances, the shouts of the lifeguards and try it yourself. Wilson, encumbered by his fish suit, would have found a salmon leap even harder - hence, perhaps, his Australian rope trick.

Yet this doesn't explain why he should want to become a fish in the first place. I can only surmise that Wilson was a keen angler, desperate to discover what baits fish were taking or perhaps determined to capture the legendary giant of a local billabong. There is no doubt that too much fishing can addle the brain, as my wife is fond of pointing out. Maybe Wilson, frustrated by his inability to catch fish, decided: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

The ability to understand the behaviour of a trout or a tench would be invaluable to an angler. But while I've often yearned to see what was happening underwater, I've never actually wanted to turn into a fish, a sort of reverse "Little Mermaid". You can understand someone having gorillaphilia, wanting to be a lion or having a thing about eagles. But a fish fixation?

Still, I suppose Wilson died happy, in the knowledge that he had taken one significant step in his metamorphosis - having the brain of a fish.