Saturday, 1 August 2015

'Early Morning Run... Des The Fish'

"For me", he said, in a strong Yorkshire accent, "It's all about the fish, man." I'd only met Des 10 minutes earlier in a bar on Lumley Beach, Freetown. The sort of place where one expat quickly strikes up a conversation with another. A long way from home, you're instant blood brothers...

Early evening, the sun was setting. A cool breeze. High tide. Roy's Beach Bar. Des asked what I was doing in Sierra Leone. How long I'd been here. Working for an oil company, and about three months was the reply. How about you?

Des told me he was on holiday. Now that was strange. Few come here for time off. He said he'd come fishing for a few months. He didn't know when and if he was going home. He'd come to fish. Similar to Diamond Dave, he pricked my interest. Another character, a traveller, a misfit.

Des was a well worn pushing 60 type of fellow. He'd had an arduous paper round as a kid; this was for sure. A lived-in face. Hard earned lines. He had character. Long grey hair. An easy style. He laughed a lot. He also had a funny way of adding 'man' to the end of most sentences. Didn't quite work, he was from Sheffield, not LA. He smoked roll-ups one after another, I suspect this habit wasn't limited to tobacco.

He offered his abridged life story. The way guys do. Want to hear it? Well, he and his life partner had run a successful bed & breakfast in Sheffield for many years. A major falling out happened. In a fit of rage, he murdered her with a pickaxe. She's apparently under the patio. He said most people on the run go to either Spain or Venezuela. Instead, he chose Sierra Leone. He was keeping a low profile in a low-key Chinese guest house, near the beach. He spent his time fishing.

Now I know my first question should have been, why did you do it? Why a pickaxe? Messy? Instead, and I'm not sure why, I asked about fishing... and wondered too about the Chinese guest house...

Kidding, of course, he didn't say he'd killed her. There was no pickaxe, no patio. Had you hooked though? In fact, he'd split with his partner of over 30 years, sold the B & B, and decided to travel with his share of the proceeds. Mid-life crisis? I have two fail-safe checks. First, out of nowhere, and with no musical background, mid-life crisis guy takes up an instrument, usually the saxophone. You're in a house and see a horn on a stand near the fireplace, oh, oh.

The other key indicator is the urge to buy a big motorbike. Because this fellow is in his 40's/50's, he naturally buys all the accessories brand new; meaning ridiculously tight-fitting leathers, new clunky boots with a heel, and a big bright helmet. Now then, visit a house with a saxophone and a brand new Harley in the garage, there's trouble afoot. Only a matter of time, it will end in tears.

Turns out Des had the requisite bike. No saxophone. However, Des was an unexpected pleasure.

As my old Drill Sergeant used to say, you always have to expect the unexpected. He's dead now. Killed by a low flying pterodactyls a few years back. I miss him...

Des asked if I fished. Not really, but I was ready to learn. Sierra Leone is a lesser-known fishing haven. Fish everywhere and catching a Barracuda nearly half the size of your body is not unusual. I know....'how big'. Des said, let's start tomorrow, put a couple of 'rods, man' at the ocean's edge. Drink beer, check the rods every now and again. Anything not to like? The fellow below would have been 116 years old last week. He knew a thing or two about fishing.

Later at the water's edge, Des told me about an on-going dispute with his Chinese landlords. They wanted him out. He refused. He was paying $15 a night. He was going nowhere. He had his fishing gear blocking the corridor along with a double ring gas burner to make his bacon sarnies. The Chinese told him the stove goes. Des said, no way, man. He also had a hole in his roof and the rain soaked through his gear. He even suspected the place was the local knocking shop. He seemed to be the only long-term resident. I stood barefooted, my leather trousers rolled up to the knee, laughing with this mad nomad at the edge of the Atlantic, I considered taking up the sax...

I fished with Des a couple more times. The entertainment was first rate. Des stayed around four months I think, and then moved on, south to Liberia. We all need to know people like Des.

We had some excellent conversations sat with the 'rods'. I liked Des. He was fearless. I didn't see him again after he said he was going upcountry to explore for diamonds. He'd somehow bought all the gear from someone who was leaving. I advised him against mixing in those circles. I said, don't go, man. Catching. There's some hard folk and pitfalls all the way in diamonds, especially if like Des, you didn't have a clue. It didn't put Des off. The last time I saw or heard from him...

As they say, you can always tell a fellow from Yorkshire, can't tell them much though. I suspect he was probably cleaned out. Sierra Leone is a rough and challenging place. The Des's keep coming, a place for dreamers.