I had always yearned to walk in the shoes of the fisherman. First I had to persuade the fisherman to give me his shoes, or at least to lend them to me. But he was a surly and cantankerous fellow, as fishermen often are, especially when trafficking with landlubbers, and I certainly lubbed the land. In fact, it was precisely my lubbing of the land that made me long to walk in the shoes of the fisherman. I reasoned – acutely, I think – that wearing a fisherman’s shoes while walking about peering at birds, I could broaden my landbound lub by attuning myself to the denizens of the deep (fish) and those whose domain was the sky (birds). It might be argued that simply wearing a fisherman’s shoes was no match for plunging into the briny depths and swimming about with all those myriad befinned creatures below, but I am a cautious man, and I did not wish to run before I could walk, as it were, though that is possibly not the best analogy to make.
It has been my experience that most people are open to bribery by herring, but this ploy would obviously not work with a fisherman. By following him about for several weeks, and closely questioning his local kiosk-owner, I discovered that the fisherman had an unquenchable thirst for Squelcho! Using my underworld contacts, I was able to obtain half a dozen bumper multipacks of the canned fizzy drink, and one morning, shortly after he had returned from a night-fishing expedition, I loaded the cans on to a cart and trundled it down to the foul and reeking wharf where I knew the fisherman liked to lollop about.
He proved to be a very canny fisherman, and drove a hard bargain, but eventually agreed to let me borrow his shoes until midday, on the understanding that I would then bring him a further half dozen multipacks of Squelcho! I had no intention of submitting to such extortion, but nodded agreement. I would worry about the consequences of reneging on the deal later. For your edification, I wanted to reproduce a verbatim transcript of our exchange at this point. Unfortunately, the tape I made, on a cassette recorder concealed in my bomber jacket, was wiped later that morning when I was engulfed in a terrific electrical storm (see below).
And so I set out to walk in the shoes of the fisherman, and to look at birds in the sky. I had not counted on the happenstance that the fisherman’s feet were several sizes smaller than mine. Walking in his shoes was an agony, but I persevered, repeating my mantra “I am not a milksop! I am not a milksop!”. I walked in the shoes of the fisherman away from the wharf and over Sawdust Bridge and along Yoko Ono Boulevard and past the important roadworks at the Blister Lane Bypass and through the Acre of Mud and along the perimeter fence of Poxhaven Aerodrome and under the viaduct and up, up into the Blue Forgotten Hills. All the while I was keenly watching the skies, and I saw several birds.
The first was about 5.7 inches long, with a wingspan of roughly 9.6 to 11.2 inches and a weight somewhere between 0.63 and 1.02 ounces. It had a black forehead and a blue-grey crown, nape and upper mantle. The rump was a light olive-green, and the lower mantle and scapulars formed a brown saddle. The side of the head, throat and breast were a dull rust-red merging to a pale creamy-pink on the belly. The central pair of tail feathers were dark grey with a black shaft streak. The rest of the tail was black apart from the two outer feathers on each side which had white wedges. Each wing had a contrasting white panel on the coverts and a buff-white bar on the secondaries and inner primaries The flight feathers were black with white on the basal portions of the vanes. The secondaries and inner primaries had pale yellow fringes on the outer web whereas the outer primaries had a white outer edge. My ornithological education had been brought to a premature end because of the war, but I knew a linnet when I saw one. I jotted down “linnet” in my birdbook, together with a note of the date and the weather and the fact that I could barely think straight due to the stabbing pains in my feet, shod in the fisherman’s shoes. I tucked the birdbook back into my pocket and screamed “I am not a milksop!” several times at the top of my voice.
Shortly afterwards I had to take the birdbook out again because I spotted a second bird. This one was larger than a European robin, and it had a white rump and tail, with a black inverted T-pattern at the end of the tail. Its plumage – plumage! – had grey upperparts, buff throat and black wings and a face mask. It had a whistling, crackly song, and its call was a typical “chat chack” noise, just the the same as its flight call. Cursing the war that put paid to my avian studies, I wrote “bunting” in my birdbook, and added a brief pen-portrait of the fisherman whose shoes I was walking in, with increasing difficulty, and much anguish.
The third bird I saw that day, up in the sky above the Blue Forgotten Hills, was about 7 inches long, weighed roughly 1.1 to 1.4 ounces, and displayed a light green body colour (abdomen and rumps), while its mantles (back and wing coverts) displayed pitch-black mantle markings edged in clear yellow undulations. The forehead and face were yellow with blackish stripes down to the cere. It displayed small, purple cheek patches and a series of three black spots across each side of its throat (called throat spots). The two outermost throat spots were situated at the base of each cheek patch. The tail was cobalt (dark-blue); and outside tail feathers displayed central yellow flashes. Its wings had greenish-black flight feathers and black coverts with yellow fringes along with central yellow flashes. Its bill was olive grey and its legs blueish-grey, with zygodactyl toes. I scribbled down “nightjar” in my birdbook, and collapsed to the ground, memories of bombs and artillery fire in my head and excruciating spasms of agony surging through my feet. I took off the shoes of the fisherman and made my way back to the wharf in my socks.
The fisherman was sitting on an upturned barrel, surrounded by drained and crushed Squelcho! cans. As I approached him, swinging his shoes by their laces, I realised I had not yet thought up a stratagem to avoid having to pay him off with another half dozen bumper multipacks of his favourite fizzy drink. But as things turned out, I did not have to, for of a sudden we were engulfed in a terrific electrical storm (see above). I escaped unscathed, probably due to the stylishly conical gutta-percha hat atop my head. But my cassette tape was wiped, and the fisherman was struck by lightning, several times, and, quaking like a jelly, toppled off his barrel, and over the edge of the wharf, and into the sloshing sea, into which he sank, remorselessly, emitting squelchy sparks, remorselessly.
I tossed his shoes into the water. They were no good to me, being far too small. But I had walked in the shoes of the fisherman, observing birds in the sky, so I had succeeded in realising one of my greatest ambitions. A lubber of land, I had communed, simultaneously, with creatures of sea and sky.
Only later, back at home, glugging from a can of Squelcho! and browsing in an illustrated treatise upon birds, did I learn that I had seen neither a linnet nor a bunting nor a nightjar. The birds I had spotted were a chaffinch and a wheatear and a budgerigar. Clearly there was only one thing to do. I would have to fish the shoes of the fisherman out of the wharfside water, and cram my feet back into them, and go walking again, away from the wharf and over Sawdust Bridge and along Yoko Ono Boulevard and past the important roadworks at the Blister Lane Bypass and through the Acre of Mud and along the perimeter fence of Poxhaven Aerodrome and under the viaduct and up, up, up into the Blue Forgotten Hills, looking at birds in the sky, this time writing their proper names in my birdbook, all the while walking in the shoes of the fisherman.