The man I put behind bars by Quentin Bates

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This is a little trip down memory lane for me, back to when I was a working trawlerman, or, as we on that particular boat preferred to style ourselves, Roughty-Toughty Hairy-Arsed Fishermen (R-TH-AF). It’s also the tale of how I put man behind bars, so read on…

The boat was a big, old one, a steel-hulled beam trawler built in the 1960s in a Dutch shipyard and sold to its British owner after it had already had something of a hard life. It was a fairly happy ship, most of the time. We’d spend seven or eight days at sea and there’d be a day or maybe two between trips. Most of us spent two or three trips away and then had a week at home to recuperate. No great shakes and it was pretty routine, at least when it wasn’t blowing hard.

It was about the time that I was starting to make a few extra quid writing articles and selling pictures, mostly to trade papers, then along came a bit of a jackpot. A politician, quite a prominent and outspoken one, was undertaking a tour of Britain and spending a week in various places trying out different jobs and getting to know how the great unwashed lived – and he was coming to us to spend a few days with us fishing off Land’s End.

We steamed inshore and the exalted personage was ferried out to us halfway through our trip, put on board from a small day boat that braved the breakers to deliver the man himself, along with his personal photographer, a TV journalist and a cameraman. It was crowded and there was no option but for a bit of hot bunking. The chef was in his element and the boat’s owner, who was also on board to chaperone his eminent friend in politics, ensured that the stores were a cut above the quality we normally had.

After four more days of fishing in some filthy weather, and with us and the eminent character being constantly filmed and photographed, the trip came to an end and we docked. As an aspiring hack, I’d done nicely for myself, taken a bunch of saleable pictures and interviewed the eminent personage (who now sits in the House of Lords) for a trade magazine.

There are no names mentioned here, not those of the crew, or the boat, or its home port, or the renowned boozer (reminiscent on a good night of the bar that Han Solo walks into at the beginning of Star Wars) a stone’s throw from that port’s quayside, or even that of the exalted personage who sailed with us. But anyone who knows his fish should be able to figure all that out.

Anyway, as part of the package, the exalted personage’s photographer took a group shot with my camera, with the politician (now a noble lord), the boat’s owner and the oilskin-clad crew lined up front of the wheelhouse. That photo found its way to the trade paper, along with all the others, and appeared along the top of a page with the crew’s names carefully listed – including me on the end in my greasy orange oilskins. That picture is still on my wall, a momento of my last few months as a genuine R-TH-AF.

But one of the lads – let’s call him Terry – had a guilty, half-forgotten secret. Terry was a tough little chap and could be a barrel of fun when the mood was on him. He wasn’t from the village but had washed up there and hitched up with a local girl who worked behind the bar in one of the pubs, not the famous one, but close. She was a short, magnificently upholstered lass and the eyes of whole trawler crews would stay glued to her vast and legendary bosom as she collected empties. After a week or two at sea, it was a battle to rip your eyes away from them, especially as she would considerately rest them on the bar between serving pints. Terry swore blind that pulling pints had made the right tit larger than the other, but they looked pretty even as far as most of us could make out.

Then one day the police came and collected Terry, and as far as I know, he never came back. It turned out that someone in his home town far to the north had seen the photo, and showed it to his wife. The first wife, that is, the one he’d forgotten to divorce before marrying the colossally-bosomed barmaid. It seems the aggrieved wife number one informed the police, who arranged for Terry to be shipped home to answer some awkward questions.

So that’s the tale of the man I put behind bars. Sorry, Terry (not your real name, obviously), if you happen to be reading this.

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