Saturday, 10 September 2011

Night Fishing

It is dark outside the tool shed, the light from the doorway creates a very solid space as if bounded by glass. A little further up the track pier cottage is putting on a similar display, its rear windows casting light, soft footed into the damp grass of the garden. A breeze is knocking the pier gate against its wooded latch ringing out a tone that would not be out of place in amongst the chants and gongs of a Buddhist temple. Beyond the gate the bay is silent, night has returned to the northern reaches of the hemisphere. The endless light of summer has ended and the oystercatchers now spent, no longer echo their calls into twilight but huddle on rocks in the blackness amongst the kelp.

I lean my fishing rods just out of the light under the whale jaw bones, the arch above the doorway, and set my tackle box down on the tractor’s mud guard. The whale bones came from a small bay on the northwest corner of the island, other parts of the skeleton were scattered around the settlement. One such vertebra lived in the small yard at the rear of my neighbour’s cottage, still holding much of its oil* it sweated a foul odour through the warmth of spring and summer. Eventually we dropped it off the pier back into the sea, it haunted the bay for a week drifting with the tide along the strandlines and then it was gone.

Inside the tool shed the work bench is a mess, things left over from other jobs crowd the surfaces. There is no repetitive production here, every job is new requiring its own compliment of tools its own mess and often experimentation to repair, remould and return into service. The ribbon of water that surrounds us deters waste and the disposal, fixing something often requires less effort than bringing its replacement to the island and disposing of the old.

I clear some space, half-heartedly returning tools to draws, shelves and reuniting others with their shadows painted on the board above the bench. At the rear of the shed a smaller room of shelves holds the island’s collection of things that may be useful; there is no one person to say what these things may be useful for, so it is at best a collection of things thought useful by past and present members of the community. There are the prosaic items common to all tool sheds nails screws, nuts, bolts, wire, old door handles, taps, pipe, paint, plumbing fittings and then there are the other things. I am looking for corks amongst the candles, seat belt webbing, dissected hot water bottles, rings of keys to unspecified locks, bits from a fish finder, bits from a tractor and divan bed legs complete with castors.

I am not entirely sure who began the wine bottle cork collection. One ex-resident of the island told me that when his young son had been unable to sleep through the night the local midwife had advised him to put a couple of corks in the child’s bed. I find the catering sized tin of olives that now hosts the collection of corks, it still holds enough to guarantee a quiet night in an orphanage. So I rifle through the remnants of other peoples evenings sat around the fire drinking wine and talking or eating. I find a large champagne cork that once flew marking some celebration or other perhaps a birthday or the launch of a boat and wonder who would have tracked it down to bring it here.

I fish out four corks that kind of fit together to make two pairs or two fishing floats which is the real reason for my visit to the tool shed. I drill a hole through the length of each cork a little more accurately than those left by the cork screw and then glue the pairs together. A long bolt that used to hold a bed together serves as a spindle and I slip a pairof corks over over it and then fasten the bolt into the chuck of a drill. The drill is clamped to the vice on the bench; I find gloves although not a matching pair, goggles and a mask. When I turn the drill on the corks spin and I have a lathe. Using coarse sandpaper I roughly shape the corks until the body of a fishing float emerges. I stop the drill and check the float for cracks, it is all good. With a change of sand paper to a finer grade I start the drill and begin the process of smoothing, another change of sand paper and the surface looks clean cut again.

With the shaping complete I remove the float body from the drill and spindle and then slide it over the thinnest piece of cane I could find in the garden sheds. The cane tapers, its thickest end is a little larger than the drill used to make the hole ensuring the stretched cork grips the cane. Rolling the cane under a Stanley knife blade scores it deeply enough, so when forced it will snap cleanly. I score a couple of centimetres up from each end of the body and then snap it away. Mixing glue up with cork dust that has gathered in the vice makes up a filler to pack out any gaps left where the cane meets the cork. I repeat the process with the other pair of glued corks.

It is not late when I leave the shed but the darkness out beyond the door well is impenetrable, I turn the lights off and step out into the night. Pier cottage is no longer sharing in the display, leaving the route of track as something to be recalled from memory or discovered under the dim glow of my mobile phone. I clutch the unfinished floats in my pocket and shuffle off into the night.

Image Above Right: Floats drying above the rayburn

Image Below: A mackerel on the line


  1. Clever!
    Love the Erraid time lapse. What a beautiful Island.

  2. Brilliant!

    I make my own floats too but have now moved onto an 'ultra sophisticated' sewing machine motor lathe and sharpened screwdriver to turn my champagne corks into floats :-)

    You live in a very beautiful place Paul.