Fishing Lines: Phew, what a scorcher in Siberia
Sunday 18 December 2005
Off to the Flyfishers' Club to celebrate Alan Suttie's sterling efforts. He's been the prime mover in bringing life (and fish) back into the River Wandle, the Thames tributary that was the heart of the Industrial Revolution. But the formal dinner soon degenerated, and turned into an evening of tall stories - none of which could match the real-life adventures of Steve Edge, a designer for companies such as Marks & Spencer, Dior and Fortnum & Mason.
So this being (almost) Christmas, traditional time of some of the finest stories ever told, I can do no better than give you the tale of Steve and the Iceberg.
He had gone after salmon on Russia's River Varguza, where the fishing is great but the weather can be bitter. On Russian fishing camps, whisky-drinking is compulsory. But their Canadian guide said: "Enough of this faggot stuff," and fetched a dubious bottle of colourless liquid. He poured it into what Steve described as a two-pint wineglass, set it, Sambuca-like, on fire - and downed it in one go. "Anyone else man enough to try it?" he asked. Steve, being Steve, was first to try - and set his hair and trousers on fire, singeing much of his wild mop and burning off both his eyebrows.
The next morning, scorched but unbowed, he was allocated one of the real hot-spots. It's a scary place, right on a fast-flowing bend with a vast ice-wall opposite. Huge chunks of ice were floating downriver. Steve is a featherweight, so he was nervous about going much further than waist-deep in case he ended up in the Barents Sea. However, his determination to catch a salmon soon saw him edging deeper, until he was fishing almost to the top of his chest-waders.
It paid off, and he hooked a salmon. As he was playing the fish, however, a huge wedge of ice came floating downriver. Steve, who was facing downstream, didn't see it until too late. It knocked him right off his feet.
If his guide had not been nearby, Steve would have drowned. "In that cold water, they say you have a maximum of seven minutes," Steve was told. He was hauled out in agony, with five cracked ribs and bruises everywhere. He had lost his rod, reel, tackle and the salmon, but he was alive.
Somehow, he made it to the end of the trip. The flights home were hell, and when his doctor saw him, he sent him straight to hospital. Steve got to St Bart's at 9am for an X-ray and to have his ribs strapped up properly. When he arrived, the waiting room was already packed. But within a few minutes, the intercom called out "Steve Edge". Ignoring the angry stares of the early risers, he limped into the consulting room.
Curious as to why he had jumped the queue, Steve questioned the consultant. "This one's going on my wall," was the reply. "I see a guy limping, with five busted ribs, both eyebrows missing and his hair burnt, and his medical report says: 'Hit by an iceberg'.
"I've got to know: where the hell did you get hit by an ice- berg in London, yet get your hair and eyebrows burnt at the same time?"
A happy (iceberg-free) Christmas to all readers.
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