Red herring: Something fishy going on down the River Tyne


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The Independent Online

Silliness is traditional in newspapers at this time of year, but is it spreading to the real world? Should you be in South Shields on Thursday evening, you could find yourself partying aboard a boat in the company of 1,000 knitted herring.

Debbie Taylor, editor of literary magazine Mslexia, is launching her novel Herring Girl with a cruise down the Tyne. That's where the book is set, and Taylor wanted to push the boat out (her joke, not mine). She says it's a "historical crime mystery" which tells the story of Ben, a boy who wants a sex change, who during hypnotherapy sessions recalls a previous incarnation as Annie, a herring girl who died violently in 1898.

The launch coincides with the run of a play, Follow the Herring, which has prompted a community knit-a-thon, in which locals have been knitting their own herring. "It finishes the day before the book launch and I'm trying to get permission to get 1,000 knitted herring on the boat," she tells me. "They've said I can have a couple of hundred because they'll be left over but I would love to have a thousand."

If there has ever been a story about knitting, fishing and sex changes before, please let me know.

Gone fishing

Speaking of fish, have you heard of something called the Tunny Club? Apparently, in the 1930s, there was a craze for catching giant tuna fish off the coast of Scarborough every August. All the most fashionable actors and tycoons would charge up on their yachts or on special trains from London to reel in a whopper.

Now the Rupert Wace gallery in London is putting on an exhibition of photographs from the period, showing various celebrities dressed like matelots lounging on decks with their catch. Among them were Lady Broughton, an African big-game hunter, who slept in a tent on the deck of her yacht as she hated going below, and Lord Moyne, the Guinness heir, who wore a red flannel suit. The actor Charles Laughton and the aviation pioneer Tommy Sopwith had the bug, while Baron Henri de Rothschild preferred to fish for dab from his yacht Eros, letting his guests bring in the tuna. The craze died down almost as quickly as it started; and, by the 1950s, all the big tuna had gone, thanks to commercial fishing.

It reminds me of a scene in the phone-hacking play Great Britain, now running at the National, in which the newspaper tycoon invites his editors and a Tory minister aboard his yacht. They plot to make him prime minister while playing the tycoon's favourite sport – shooting fish. It's fiction, of course, but often the truth is stranger.

What's in a name?

Overheard at a London party: "Salman says I'm a terrible name-dropper." As I say, truth and fiction...

Raise a glass

This newspaper recently revealed that it would take 76 working days to read all the terms and conditions we blithely agree to in a year. One wonders how long it would take to read all the magazines available on the news-stand on any given day. Still, that doesn't stop new ones from popping up.

The latest is from smart Scottish restaurant chain Boisdale, which has launched Boisdale Life. The bad news is it's rather good – bad, because there isn't time to process the New Statesman, let alone the musings of Ranald Macdonald, Boisdale's bonhomous founder. The debut issue features a cracking piece called "Drinking with Keith Floyd", a warm recollection of the heroically pissed TV chef by his friend Bill Knott. We learn that Floyd and Wife Number Four, Tess, would start on the Johnnie Walker Black Labels at 10am – he with ice, she without – which they called "heart starters". And that when he dropped dead, five years ago, he had just had a blow-out lunch at Mark Hix's, before watching a Channel 4 documentary about himself. Apparently, he was perturbed they had left in his tirade against TV chefs, whom he described as a "bunch of c***s".

Personally, I'm with him on that, though watching Floyd as a child has been the ruin of my cooking career – I can't fry an onion without reaching for the corkscrew first.

O lucky man

Easily the most entertaining read of the week was a Daily Mail article asking: Is Ben Fogle Britain's unluckiest man? The piece outlined all the extraordinary events that have befallen the publicity-hungry reality TV star – carjackings, muggings, attacks by flesh-eating bugs – and wondered whether they could really all be true. Happily, his lawyers "very kindly put [the Mail] right", and confirmed that these events really had happened. Ben's own response was a terse tweet: "I am the luckiest person in the world." And then he was back to his usual self, boasting about being in the Amazon. What a trouper!

Loaded question

Loaded has appointed Julie Burchill to be its agony aunt. I'm not sure which is more surprising: that it's still going or that she is.