Using smoked mackerel to make a kedgeree had a certain logic to it. We had lots of mackerel, a smoker, a bag of basmati rice and three hungry teenagers and an eleven year old who were all enthusiastic when it was suggested.
The mackerel were caught over the course of one of those August afternoons when the sun finally beat back the clouds and the sky was blue and light, clear and impossible, settled over the bay. It was the afternoon of the fishing competition, the Jack Tobin Cup, put off from the weekend of the festival in respect for Jack the old man who would come down to look over the pier, leaning arms against the stone wall, watching whatever was going on and his boat with the fluttering skull and crossbones pendant.
We had lunch on the beach sausages cooked on the fire and then went to the pier to watch the competitors go off. Cars crowded around the Butter House, smart Land Rovers and Mercedes disgorging eager anglers togged up in bright gear holding expensive rods, and battered indeterminate vehicles held together with gaffer tape down from the hills and brown round the edges out of which climbed old men in green and grey clutching their mackerel lines.
Boats started to pull into the cove and up against the pier. There was a man with a loudhailer taking a note of who was on each boat and making sure that everybody was wearing a life jacket although the old men from the hills did not seem to need them. People clambered onto the boats clutching their lines and sometime after the due start time of three o’clock the boats streamed out into the bay and the sun with the man on the loudhailer reminding them they needed to be back by six.
We followed sheepishly twenty minutes later with a detour back to shore to get the petrol tank for Montbretia. Out in the bay the boats of the competition fleet had taken up favored positions without there being any great consistency. We could again see gannets circling the air and we motored out until we were under them and they were plummeting down and hitting the water twenty yards off the bow of the boat, so close we could see the scoops of water drifting from their beaks as they rose back into the air.
Two lines were quickly dropped off the back and there was a quiet ten minutes as we pulled them and released them back into the water during which time the gannets had moved on. Then one the kids called out “I’ve got one!”. I tugged at the line and felt the familiar pull as the fish at the end of it struggled to get back to its place in the shoal. We pulled the line in and soon there were fish spilling into the bottom of the boat. Ten minutes later all was quiet again and there were ten or so fish in the bucket. Looking out over the back of the boat some of us saw the brief black flash of a fin out of the water and that was it for our view of a porpoise.
We moved back closer to the shore and Owen Island where the gannets had gathered again. A few minutes after the lines were in and we were pulling them out again another rush of fish in the boat. By this time we had been out for an hour so and some of the competition fleet was starting to head back all pausing for their favoured spot off the point from Owen Island. We followed them and caught another line full of mackerel. Over the hour and a bit we had been out we must have caught forty dish altogether, a lot of them were too small to be worth keeping but there still at least twenty in the bottom of the bucket. We decided to come back in so as to avoid the rush of the returning competitors.
Having left the bucket of fish somewhere cool we went back to the pier to watch them come in. The boats were bunched at the pier, people clambering over the sides, buckets and trays of fish being lifted up. Some of the boats, those that had not done so well, held back. C186, the green fishing boat from the pier, with more than ten lines on it had only caught nine fish.
There was a quick counting of fish over the concrete of the pier, 255 for one boat more than 300 for another. The large Pollock were put to one side and a set of scales produced and the biggest weighed. Once the counting had stop people crowded round the crates of mackerel all clutching well used plastic bags and hands slick with shit, blood and scales shoveled the fish into any open bag that was put near.
No sooner was a bag full and it was taken down to the water so the fish could be filleted. The sharp flash of knives being passed around heads bent to the task and the gulls flitting as close as they could to pick at the scraps.
Back at Arundels the small marquee had been moved down close the road and a band started to play in the sun. The crowd moved up from the pier to the pub and an orderly scrum gathered round the bar to get in the pints before the prize giving. Getting a round in the glasses and bottles were handed back through the crowd for the rest of the family.
Outside the band was playing Proud Mary and the people spilled across the road. Passing cars were forced to slow down or come to a stop and bemused started faces looked out as the prize giving started.
As each winner was announced everyone on the boat had to come out before the prize could be hand over and the photographer from The Southern Star took his photo. Willhem won the competition with his boat catching more than 300 fish. He took the cup back into the bar and filled it with whiskey and lemonade and after that each man who walked through the door was obliged to take a mouthful including the irritable gentleman with a beard who was trying to find the owner of the Fiat that was blocking in his car.
Once the prizes had been handed out we drifted back to the Cottage and I filleted the mackerel on the stones at the end of the lawn, set up the smoker and twenty minutes later the fish were smoked. Once they were done I peeled away the skin my fingers slippy with the oil from the fish.
Back in the kitchen I fried off and onion and some garlic in the new pan I had bought from The Good Things Café, whilst cooking a bag of rice. I was able to find some curry powder in the cupboard and stirred in a tablespoon of this into the onion and then stirred in the cooked rice. The pan was full and the rice and onions had to be turned carefully. I added most of the mackerel and stirred this in as well the fillets breaking down as they were turned in the rice. When we were almost ready to eat I laid the remaining fillets over the rice and decorated the dish with quartered hard boiled eggs, sliced lemon and parsley.
We ate it all by the fire on the beach a half moon silvering the water and the noise from the pub a gentle murmur behind us over the bay.