Fishing Lines: Weight on big Dave's mind

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THE WEEKLY magazine Angling Times, clearly stuck for something to write about, is looking for the biggest (that is, fattest) fisherman in Britain. In this worthy quest, it has unearthed a 28st tub of lard called Ray. But the chap is a mere stripling compared to Big Dave. When I sat next to Big Dave at school, he was just overweight. But over the years, he has packed on the pork remorselessly until he is now 44st.

Even at school, his legendary appetite was showing. One term, he won an art prize paid in cash. Dave bought three roast chickens, and ate them on the way home. It wasn't just food: he was probably the Milk Marketing Board's greatest undiscovered asset. As milk monitor, he secretly put aside a crate daily for personal consumption, and tucked into 12 pints a day.

Not surprisingly, this unusual diet soon paid dividends and he got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. To be fair, he was embarrassed about his weight, but he never did a lot about it. When your favourite snack is chicken and chips, dieting comes well down the list of new year resolutions. The succession of old bangers I had as a junior reporter groaned when Big Dave was a passenger.

One day, after fishing on Southend Pier, we persuaded Dave to check his weight on scales that went up to 20st. The needle careered past the limit and the writing telling dullards how to put a penny in the slot and lodged somewhere between one and two stone, where it jammed. "There! I knew I was losing weight," said Dave.

My mother liked Dave, but dreaded having him round for tea. It was like Apaches coming to visit. He hoovered up everything. She usually had to go shopping the next day. And his packed lunches on fishing trips were like those Christmas hampers that you give a family to last for weeks. His food generally weighed more than his tackle.

We lost touch a little after school. He would have made one hell of a sumo wrestler, but went into insurance instead. I visited him occasionally, even had a few meals with him, but it was like Jack must have felt when he climbed the beanstalk and saw the table laid out for the giant. His freezer (an outsize one, of course) was stuffed with outsize packs, the ones where you think: "How big does your family have to be to buy one of those?" But it was all for Dave.

Every time I saw him, he was a little bigger. At one stage, he was 35st, the second biggest man in England. By coincidence, the biggest man, John Robinson, was a 37st West Ham fan and Dave supported Fulham. The teams were scheduled to meet in the Cup final, so I had this idea of photographing Dave and John together, with a Sun-style caption on The Big Match. I suggested it to Dave.

"How big did you say this other chap is?" he asked. "Thirty-seven stone," I replied. "I'm not being photographed with a big fat bastard like that," he said.

It must have been that occasion which made Dave think about dieting. He slimmed right down to 32st. But it didn't stay off. He is, amazingly, still alive, living in Cardiff and working in insurance. Furthermore, he is up to 44st, so big that he has to go through doors sideways.

I don't know if he still fishes. I didn't enjoy angling with him much. However large a fish you caught, it looked tiny alongside Big Dave.