2008-01-26 00:00

A lot of old-time Natal surf anglers called themselves shad sammies, so the name had no racial stigma attached to it as far as I was concerned. It was a bit like calling a German a Jerry, you know. Indeed, it had a bit of boastfulness about it; suggesting these were the real experts at the craft, and to this day, for example, if you put a bright red wine-bottle cork just above your sardine bait to keep it off the sandy bottom, that is known as a sammy bung. You still see a fair number of old-time shad sammies about, you can tell them by the old-time wooden centrepin reels they use, but both are rare. Today pretty well everybody uses an engineered metal reel with a clutch and a gearbox and clever little gewgaw which makes it impossible to get an overwind when you cast. An overwind with a centrepin reel means a hundred metres of nylon line lying in a great tangled mess on the beach before your dismayed eyes. A centrepin beginner could spend the greater part ot his fishing day disentangling such a heap, like a vulture’s nest.

Now Marimuthu was not called Sammy just because he was good with the shad and didn’t get overwinds, he is Mr Narayasamy, you see, so there was a double origin of the name. He and I at the age of thirteen were taken by his grandpa, another Sammy, to a clump of bamboo to cut our choice of canes for our first shad rods, shown by the old bloke how to lay these canes in the corrugations of the carport roof with bricks to keep them down for a year- seasoning — and meanwhile to find a nice piece of oak or jacaranda and turn on a lathe a seven-inch reel with the front hub of a bicycle wheel for a ballrace, hacksawed to make it the right width. Everything we made ourselves, bought three hundred yards of line, flax in those days, and set about the skill of casting, on a football field. An overwind with wet flax kept you busy for an entire weekend. For this reason there were not the great crowds of holiday-makers having a crack at the shad on the angling beaches, it was just too difficult, only the locals for sport and the unemployed for protein were there. We made an integrated community of strangers, in a way. Almost a club, at times. So for reasons of prestige we were reluctant to switch to fixed-spool mechanical reels. But Sammy knows he’s got to, and pretty soon, because at 80 he’s started getting overwinds with his old wagon-wheel his bad coordination and it’s terribly embarrassing and he gets terribly grumpy. What’s up, Sam? I ask. Chrunken veins, says he. My veins chrivelling up inside my body. Man, that’s dreadful, say I, have you described these symptoms to your doctor, and what’s his diagnosis? He says I got Phlebotractitis, says Sam, he gave me very powerful medication, but it doesn’t work. I manage not to laugh, I mean this doc has a wry sense of humour, hey.

Well, anyway … Sam’s granddaughter, now, she’s chirpy, twelve years old and too too pretty, like a rosebud. Also enthusiastic about everything. Savi, say I, how about a nice adventure today? She lights up instantly. Ooo! she says, what? Well how about going to the bamboo clump and we’ll choose a couple of nice sticks and split them with a good sharp knife without cutting off our fingers and make a nice big kite with left-over decorative Christmas paper? I mean a real, proper aerodynamic kite that flies like a plane. Eek! says Savithri, and we’re off! This kite will have no long streamer hanging behind it for stability, producing drag. It is a hang-glider, inherently stable, it won’t dangle downwind at 45°, it will fly more or less straight overhead because it’s a flying machine in every part.

Some people just have a feeling for materials. My auntie has got too fat for her raincoat, says Savi, why don’t we use it instead of paper, then we’ll have a real hang-glider? So we do that, then blow me down, she says You can’t stick plastic with our glue, I’d better sew it, and she does, on her ma’s electric machine. She’s used it before all right, you can see that. We use up all the raincoat and come up with a kite one-and-a-half metres wingspan, and we take Sam’s shad tackle and tether the kite to his line and it flies almost dead straight up, no ducking about in the air, and when all the line is out the kite is at 1000 feet, aviation altitude, and it’s exactly at that point that Sam arrives. Popeyed. Gasping. My my my tackle! he cries. Whatwhatwhat? Oh come on, Sam, say I, the kid needs it for her education, man. Why don’t you just give it to her, hey?

After a bit he smiles, slowly, and braces up. The phlebotractitis is cured.

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