Missing Sid and his liquid lunch : Fishing lines

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The Independent Online
MY most memorable trips round a supermarket were with Sid, my fishing companion for several years.

Extraordinary chap, Sid. Though he was quite stocky, I never saw him eat anything. At first it was his dislike of those cholesterol-loaded foods that constitute the average angler's diet. While I tucked into a Little Chef Early Starter with extra toast, Sid would say: "No, I don't really fancy anything today." But I soon learnt that he never fancied anything to eat.

On the bankside, he turned down far more tempting fare. I was single and fancy-free then. While few girlfriends were tempted by the dubious delights of a February day on the Thames or Kennet (after a while, they wouldn't even come in July), I could often persuade them to pack me off with a decent lunch. But it made no difference. Smoked salmon, chicken salad, Harrods game pie, Christmas pudding: he scorned the lot.

It wasn't meanness. A non-driver, Sid never forgot his share of the petrol. He freely gave me hooks, floats and line. He just didn't seem to like or even need food. When I couldn't persuade my current paramour to prepare a picnic, we always stopped en route to river or lake. While I stocked up on sandwiches and fruit for my bankside lunch, Sid headed for the drinks counter. He would buy a dozen beers, a half-bottle of whisky or gin and a few tonics (though never lemon because that was too much like food). In the winter, he switched to scotch or brandy.

Off the riverbank, he was a picture of sobriety: chairman of the Round Table, leading light in the Chamber of Commerce, boss of a medium-sized company. Away from it all, he became the amiable drunk he was never allowed to be in his working day. Sid was the perfect fishing companion because he always caught less than me, admired my catches effusively and didn't spend the day chattering about nothing. He would talk occasionally at first, then rarely, then not at all.

His tackle basket contained a beautiful mahogany box he had made. Lined with green felt, it held a half-pint glass, a whisky tumbler and a hip flask. I never saw Sid drink from a can or bottle. He had even designed a tray with adjustable feet that ensured the glasses and bottle did not spill on uneven banks.

In deference to his Scottish ancestry, he would sip beer and whisky together. He fished in a desultory way, supping away until he became gently blotto. Gradually, his casts became fewer and fewer, less accurate as he polished off his liquid lunch. Eventually he couldn't see his float, or saw seven of them at the same time. Finally, he put the rod down and fell asleep. I normally woke him in time to pack up and stagger back to the car to continue his sleep.

Sid never caught very much. (In fact, fish were a bit of a nuisance because they interrupted the steady procession of alcohol from hand to mouth.) But he always claimed to have had a great day's fishing.

I don't know what happened to him. He moved to the West Country somewhere and we lost touch. But I was reminded of him when I studied the 1994 National Angling Survey, released this week, and discovered that 40 per cent of salmon and trout anglers spend more than £20 on food and drink for a day's fishing.

Fascinating, that. Even with extra toast at breakfast and a pub lasagna afterwards, I don't think my sustenance bill ever topped £20. The only time I've had a packed meal of a value remotely approaching that figure was at the Gleneagles Hotel. Halfway through a day's salmon fishing on the Tay, I opened a wicker basket supplied to visiting anglers by the hotel, and discovered salmon and cucumber sandwiches with crusts cut off, a hefty slice of beef wellington, a rich assortment of other delights and a half-bottle of decent wine. It was quite the best fishing lunch I've ever had, but such tucker is as rare as salmon in the Serpentine.

Yet if the survey is to be believed, almost one in two trout and salmon anglers enjoy such fare every time they fish. That seemed ridiculous - until I remembered Sid. What would he be quaffing now? Three, four bottles of good claret? It only takes a few like him to distort such figures. My old school friend Big Dave, for instance, who once ate three chickens on the way home and now weighs a healthy 40 stone. But while such mavericks may play merry hell with statistical data, I wish there were more like Sid and Big Dave around. And so, of course, do the supermarkets.

National Angling Survey 1994, published by HMSO, £4.

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