Fishy goings-on in pursuit of Trophy
Thus far frustrated in his quest for diving's Holy Grail, the Bernard Eaton Trophy, Sturminster Parva Branch Chairman, Arthur Wallace, believes he finally holds the key to success: a frozen chicken and half a fish.
It's 2am. In a brightly lit chamber, deep beneath the streets of Sturminster, two men in white coats pore over a central table.
The older and more portly of the pair tries to prevent his hands from shaking as he struggles to perform a surgical operation of almost unimaginable delicacy.
The other man dutifully lifts a gleaming implement from a small trolley and passes it to his colleague. "Forceps."
"Electric carving knife!" Seizing what seems to be an ordinary domestic appliance, he energetically attacks the prostrate form on the table. The howl of the motor is almost drowned by the eye-watering rasp of steel teeth on bone.
"Six pound lump!" he barks and, raising the fearsome hammer high above his head, he brings it down hard on the object of his ministrations, with a sickening thud.
Breathing heavily, he steps back and mops his brow. "There!" he exclaims with obvious satisfaction. "What do you think of that?"
Martin, the Perpetual Novice, peers nervously at the table. He grimaces. "It's..er... very nice, Mr Wallace."
"Very nice?" retorts the Chairman of Sturminster Parva Branch. "It's a work of bloody art! And if it doesn't fool the experts, I'll eat my Bovisand bobble hat!"
"Yes, Mr Wallace!" manages the green-faced Martin. "Would you md if I... just got a little air?" Without waiting for an answer, he scuttles to the door, his hand clasped to his mouth.
Arthur strokes the form on the table affectionately. "By hell, Wallace," he murmers, "You missed your bloody vocation, you did."
The Chairman just had time to manhandle the Thing into a large preserving jar and swab down the blood-spattered table before he heard the first of the members arriving for the Extraordinary Committee Meeting upstairs.
Hurriedly, he scrubbed his hands clean, stuffed his white coat into a basket and heaved his considerable bulk up the cellar steps into the lobby of the Old Slaughterhouse, headquarters of Sturminster Parva Branch.
"Ah, there you are, Arthur!" Colin Mouldey was clearly less than pleased at being summoned to a meeting with no explanation and at such short notice. "What's all this in aid of then?"
"All in good time," replied Arthur. "Now, will you all be so good as to take your seats in the committee room. This won't take long."
The members shuffled, muttering, to their places.
Arthur stood on the podium and surveyed the small band of familiar and disgruntled faces. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "The sole item on the agenda tonight is... the Bernard Eaton Trophy!"
This was met by a chus of groans and catcalls. "Oh, for goodness sake, Arthur! Can't you leave it alone?"
"No, I can't!" snapped the Chairman. "I've never been a quitter and I don't propose to start now."
"You've already made us look completely daft in front of the 'ole village!"
"All the more reason to soldier on", Arthur retorted, "an' show 'em what we're really made of! Now just shut up and take a butchers at this! Martin, if you would step this way." An unhappy-looking Martin appeared from behind a curtain, carrying a tall, narrow object, covered by a red velvet cloth. "Thank you," said Arthur. "And now, voila!" He whisked away the cloth with a flourish.
There was a moment's silence, which might be attributed to shock. Then a long gasp of unadulterated horror, punctuated by screams from the female contingent. "In heaven's name, Arthur," demanded the normally sanguine Eric Trotter, "What is it?"
"It's a previously unknown marine life-form," replied Arthur, grandly. "And it's going to win us the Bernard Eaton Trophy!"
"But Arthur," whispered Mrs Mouldey hoarsely, rising unsteadily to her feet, "it's disgusting! It's an abomination! Why, I've... I've never seen anything like it!"
"Well, you wouldn't 'ave, would you?" Arthur retorted triumphantly. "It's previously unkno!"
One by one, the committee members edged slowly towards the jar, where the Thing bobbed gently in its bath of formaldehyde. It was, indeed, truly hideous. The rear end was fish-like - a vivid shade of pink and clad in scales. But its head resembled nothing more than a game bird's, with its pallid pimply skin and pronounced proboscis, or beak.
Eric frowned thoughtfully and drew on his pipe. "Exactly where did you find this... er... specimen? I mean, the Branch hasn't even managed to get in the water so this year."
Arthur smiled slyly. "Oh yes we have. During the floods!"
"You mean when we drifted down the High Street until the fire brigade rescued us, because you'd forgotten the boat keys?"
But Arthur was impervious to sarcasm. "Correct!" he replied. "And if you'd 'ad your eyes open, you'd have observed that I did not leave the boat empty-handed. You'd have perceived that I carried with me a plastic bag - an Iceland bag - containing a chicken and 'alf a salmon!"
"Oh, my giddy aunt," said Mrs Mouldey, sitting down suddenly. "You mean ... you made that horrible thing?"
"I certainly did," replied Arthur proudly.
"Frankenstein!" shrieked Dolly Rankin, the Social Secretary.
But Arthur smiled beatifically. "Carry on, insult me. But I promise, when I've presented our... find... to the Royal Institution, you'll be queuing up to kiss my feet."
Eric Trotter buried his face in his hands. "Tell me this is just a nightmare," he whispered.
For more in a similar vein the book Blackford's Diving Life and Times can be ordered from Underwater World Publications, price £7.50 (tel. 0181 943 4288).
Appeared in DIVER - August 1998