ISMISM: New concepts for the Nineties

No.10: reelism

Reel (old style) n 1. contrivance for winding and unwinding line as required, esp in fishing. 2. lively Scottish dance of couples in lines, describing circular figures.

Once there was fishing, using a rod, reel and line, also known as angling because of its popularity with Anglo-Saxon races, their colonies and dominions. People caught fish, bragged about their size, took them home and ate them, or had them stuffed and joined clubs to boast to other members about their size.

Then non-Anglo-Saxon races took it up and reinvented it as trawling (from the Latin tragula, meaning "sneaky, unsporting, typical-bloody-foreigner dragnet"). With this they traversed the oceans of the world, removing several million halibut from the watery doormats of once-proud Anglo-Saxon dependancies, who blithely went on with their innocent "reelist" pursuits of lively dancing and describing circular figures (mostly large plaice).

Something had to give. Eventually a "fish war" broke out between Canada (reelist) and Spain (trawlist). Canadians, incensed by the sight of piratical foreigners pinching their fish (even though they were doing so beyond the laughably notional "200-mile coastal limit"). Canada complained that the Spaniards were, enragingly, catching the small fish which were by rights Canadian, a perverse inversion of the true angler's compulsion to boast.

Things got sillier. The EU fisheries people said Canada was acting "like a self-appointed Wild West sheriff" and its cutting of Spanish nets was an "act of international piracy". Huge, burly fishermen in Cornwall raised the Maple Leaf flag on their boats and talked about "the Spanish fishermen raiding our fishing grounds" back in the 1550s ...

It was the classic reelist dispute: grizzled Anglo-Saxon frontiersmen, close to nature, bearded, woolly-hatted and bovine versus smart-alec, garlic-scented, aria-singing sensualists of the Mediterranean, who'd steal your pollack from under your nose with the same alacrity with which they'd pinch your wife ...

It was time for the British government to step in. It was time for reelism. Priding itself on rationality, reason, logic and common sense, the Government refused to deal in lurid metaphors from boys' comics. Instead they said nothing. They wouldn't agree to sanctions against Canada. They wouldn't penalise Spain. Mr Major helpfully remarked that the preservation of fish stocks was an important objective for the world. The dispute was finally settled by Brussels.

Thus reelism: the nostalgic belief that fishing is a romantic pursuit for gentlemen rather than a matter of national livelihood and international asset-stripping; and that "realistic" attitudes to complicated disputes requires no more than sitting (in waders) on a comfortable fence, dangling a maggot.

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