One Million Prawns Can’t be Wrong by Colin Cotterill

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On Thursday we went to our local pier and celebrated National Fisheries Day. And you lot thought we lived a dull life down here on the gulf. When I say ‘celebrate’ what I actually mean is we sat in the midday heat and listened to speeches. And when I say ‘National Fisheries Day’ I don’t mean the actual day. That’s on September 21st and all the big fishy people are far too busy on that day to come to our little pier and give speeches. So we celebrated non-National Fisheries Day a week earlier. And when I say ‘speeches’ I don’t mean witty after-dinner repartee, I mean dull fact-fat monologues read from a grubby oft-used sheet. You’d think there’d be a lot of fish jokes in Thai, wouldn’t you? ‘This must be the plaice.’ ‘You’ll have to speak up I’m hard of herring.’ ‘Cod be with you all.’ But I guess it doesn’t work in translation. So we sat and they dirged and we took photos. And it was as if anyone who could speak was allowed to.

The head of regional police came to give a speech. It had nothing to do with fish. In fact it was a summary of road fatalities over the past year as a result of drunk-driving. I was hoping he’d tie it in to fish somehow, ‘A lot of people get drunk while they’re eating fish’, etc. But no. He had his traffic speech and he was going to give it, whatever the occasion. The head of the harbour patrol gave a speech but we don’t know what he said because he thought you had to have the microphone inside your mouth, a trait I believe he picked up from snorkeling. The mayor gave a speech. He was the only one aware that there were a hundred people sitting there listening. Admittedly eighty-five were boy scouts and guides misled to believe this was an educational visit arranged by the school. They were in fact seat fillers. If they hadn’t turned up, Jess and I would have had a row each.

Then the seas parted, the imitation part-time policemen saluted, the real policeman adjusted his toupee, the girl guides jostled, the boy scouts woggled, the fishermen yawned and an enormous black gas guzzler pulled up in front, blocking traffic for miles. Everyone was expecting the governor to step out of it but there had been a last minute change of plan and, instead, his great grandson in clothes far too old for him emerged. He wai’d the crowd who looked beyond him for the real governor. He was already at the plinth before word got around that this young fella was the second assistant deputy governor. Even though there was the word ‘governor’ in his title we sat before this child feeling not a little chagrined. His speech was mercifully short and it was obviously his first because once he’d completed it he punched his fist into the air, high-fived his aid, and smiled for the cable TV camera.

Thus we reached the highlight, nay, the only light of the day’s proceedings. The scouts and guides each grabbed a bloated plastic bag and walked to the jetty where they launched a million baby prawns into the warm water of the gulf. (999,361 if you subtract the three bags that split on the way, their contents lapped up by the ever vigilant fishing boat groupie dogs.) From the adjacent rocks we could see a huge shrimp cloud form below the surface, all waiting for that bold Lek Walenska prawn who would show them the way. Would they head east to the cooler depths to be eaten by sharks and rays? Would they travel north to mingle with the garbage spewed from river mouths all the way to Bangkok? Of would they travel for weeks down to the South China sea, only a fraction of their number surviving the trawler nets? The world was their oyster. Only the west was blocked to them. So that’s where they headed. A huge shoal of would-be prawn fried rice having weighed up the options…turned tail and beached themselves on the sand.

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