Inevitably, fishing lured me back. Until the 1970s, the potential of Irish angling was almost unknown. The few who journeyed waxed lyrical about huge nets of roach and bream, great runs of salmon and sea trout, sea fishing where bass could be caught by the dozen, and mackerel so plentiful that they sometimes ran themselves aground.
I first visited Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, drawn by tales of vast roach hauls. I was there when Pete Burrell caught 258lb of roach in five-and-a-half hours to set a world record. It seemed every slow river was packed with roach and bream, every fast one contained trout and salmon, Best of all, you had the place to yourself.
Except, that is, on festival weeks, when hundreds of English anglers piled into Ennis-killen and surrounding towns, ostensibly for fishing but more often for the social whirl. Headquarters for the jokes, the songs, the card games and the mischief was the Killyhevlin Hotel. It was not unusual to go to bed at 3am, wander down to breakfast and find dozens of fishermen still yarning away.
The plum place to stay was in one of the Killy's dozen chalets, right on the side of Lough Erne. You could literally cast out of your window and catch fish. We would fish all day, then come back to the chalets and fish some more.
On my first visit, I shared a chalet with England international Ivan Marks, famous for his malapropisms. (He once asked why I had a fish distinguisher in my car, and on another occasion told me, in all seriousness: "You're trying to lead me up the garden wall, aren't you?") Then there was his close friend, Stan Piecha, the Sun's angling correspondent, and publisher David Hall, whose fishing magazine ran a column called Snide Rumours and Dirty Lies. He used to get sued quite a lot.
All three were very heavy smokers. As a non-smoker, it was unpleasant living in a perpetual fug. My clothes stank of cigarettes and so did my hair. It was made worse by the fact that the week-long event was sponsored by a cigarette manufacturer. I suffered in silence, but vowed that I would not put up with it the following year.
And so, when I travelled back 12 months later, my bag was filled, not with extra hooks and weights, but with a fiendish little device far more effective than any nicotine patch. The tiny triangle was pushed into the end of a cigarette - which exploded when lit, leaving the smoker holding just a filter tip and a few shreds of tobacco.
I started planting these in the packs left lying around our chalet. It wasn't long before nobody would take a cigarette from an opened packet. They cursed me, threatened me, but the air smelt sweeter. It was the perfect non-smoker's revenge.
One day, the others headed off on a competition. I cried off, pleading a hangover. But I spent the whole day spiking every cigarette in an unopened box of 200, carefully removing the cellophane wrapping, doing my evil work and glueing it up again with the tiniest dab of superglue. It was a piece of childish fun. Unfortunately, I hadn't checked our itinerary. That evening, we were scheduled for a press reception.
A very grand do it was too, attended by directors of Benson & Hedges, the local mayor and various dignitaries, the chief of police for the county, tourist board directors, the local MP and the Minister of State for Northern Ireland. I was supping away on a Bushmills when I saw Stan open a packet of cigarettes and offer one to the minister.
Everything happened in slow motion. Remember, this was Fermanagh in the 1980s. The minister drew on his cigarette, as did Stan. Because of my room-mates' suspicions, I had pushed the exploding device deep inside with a needle. Nothing happened for a minute or so.
Bang! The minister's cigarette exploded. Stan's followed seconds later. The sight of the pair holding their shattered cigarettes would have been delicious in another setting. I slid towards the door as Stan tried explain it was all a joke.
The story has become a local legend. Stan still smokes, but not near me.Reuse content