God, I hated fishing. To it’s credit, I gave it a go, but just couldn’t see the benefit of sitting by a stinking river for hours on end where - suddenley - nothing happened. I could enjoythe privacy of my own bedroom, thank you very much, and at least derive some sort of pleasure from the experience.
While my brother and Matty next door still wasted their time down the gravel pits and the mill pond, I had bigger fish to fry. And I still had my groundbait catapult. It was ace. Solid metal handle, top quailty rubber and a lovely big pouch, just right for launching a handful of bait into the middle of the stream. But bollocks to that. It also took a nice, big stone, and when I could, Nige’s lead shot from his fishing box. Launched at a distant target, it was lethal.
I took my find to non-fishing Cookie’s house. He was impressed, and within minutes, we had returned from the local fishing shop with a matching pair. There would be hell.
Now, Cookie was my best friend. He was kind, compassionate, always listened to your problems. A true mate. He ran a local animal charity from his bedroom. But woe betide any of God’s fluffy creatures that dared venture into his back garden.
Any number of homemade traps and snares were primed at any one time, carefully crafted in his toolshed with top quality materials, and placed with due care by spirit level and theodolite in the garden for maximum bloodletting. Many is the afternoon I’d go round his place for egg and chips to find some poor mouse or bird bludgeoned to death by some contraption fashioned out of elastic bands, piano wire, a few bent branches and a cricket bat with a breeze block nailed to it.
A lovely, expensive catapult was a new weapon for his armoury. Armed with stones, lead shot and a bag of nails, we went up Bluebell Woods to practice.
Within hours, the air was rent with pinging metal and rocks, and a target nailed to a tree was peppered with ammo. We found that a pouch of several stones was inaccurate, but would spatter nicely like a shotgun. However, a medium-sized stone could hit the target with great accuracy from a good thirty or forty yards. We proved this with a line of bottles we found in a bush, soon to be reduced to a pile of shattered No Deposit, No Return glass.
Over the next days of that fine summer, we honed our skills, until one day, Cookie the animal lover decided it was high time some of the local vermin should become closely acquainted with the art of the catapult. Vermin being any bird or animal that crossed the borders into his garden.
Birds proved to be a problem. We soon found that firing a single stone, straight up into the air, didn’t have the accuracy we would have hoped for. Besides, those darned pigeons seemed to see them coming and dodge out of the way, dropping a curly one on our heads by way of revenge. After fifteen minutes of frustration, and not one twitching corpse littering the garden, it was decided to switch to buckshot.
Handfuls of stones were loaded into our respective weapons, and as the first bird flew over, we let fly.
Missed. Bollocks. Try again.
We reloaded, just as a huge v-shaped formation of geese came over from the gravel pits on their way to the Thames, a few miles away. We couldn’t believe our luck. Goose for dinner - there was a happy, smiling, benevolent God out there who would reward our endeavours. Was there, my arse.
We took aim. We let off simultaneous volleys at the geese. We watched our stones arc into the air, miss the birds by several hundred feet and fall to Earth. To Earth in the farmer’s land behind Cookie’s garden. Farmer’s land which consisted of row after row of tomato-filled greenhouses.
“Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ!”
There was a cacophony of breaking glass which seemed to go on forever. It seemed that the entire nursery was falling apart, pane by sickening pane.
It was all too much. We legged it.
Cookie’s mum and dad were both respected members of the community who did their bit for church and charitable causes. Innocents from a dying, more innocent age, he was still coming to terms with the fact that AA Men didn’t salute you any more, while she didn’t understand frottage, thinking all the world’s problems could be solved with a slap-up tea. As such, we were basically dead meat, with the evidence red hot in our sweaty palms, and it was only a matter of time before we would be fingered.
There was only one thing to do. Destroy!
The bands were cut into tiny pieces of rubber and shoved down the toilet. For six agonising flushes, bits of rubber sat there, mocking us as we waiting for the tank to fill, and for an irate, shotgun wielding farmer to kick the door down and fill us with lead. Then there were the metal handles. To the garage, where we beat them with hammers, crushed them in a vice and smashed them into little pieces. And then we threw them into a bucket of battery acid, just to be on the safe side.
It was the local police constable, not a stranger to my not-so-good self, investigating alleged criminal damage to some local greenhouses, and would we know anything about it?
“Not us”, officer, we lied, “we’re too busy doing homework.”
“So you know nothing of two youths messing about with catapults then?”
I may as well have that Jack in the Box hat on with a sign saying “It was me! Run me downtown and bugger me senseless in the cells!” If you’re going to lie, make them whoppers.
“Pffffffff.... us? We can’t stand fishing, that’s cruelty to animals that is. Would you like to contribute to our wildlife charity?”
He went away, not entirely convinced, but just to be on the safe side, we went over to the farm a couple of weeks later and offered to help him out, “for nothing, like, mister, it’s a school project on ...err.. market gardening” as guilt got the better of us.
“Thanks, lads”, said Mr Johnson, “You’re a credit to the village. Not like those little bastards who smashed my greenhouses. If I get them, I’ll skin the little shits alive and feed them to the pigs. No-one will ever find their bodies.”
I haven’t seen Cookie for a few years, come to think of it.