A Shaggy Fish Story from Waterlog Magazine
The sign at the lodge gate says ‘Priorywood Retirement Home’ but this thirty-five acres of rolling countryside with its stately mansion, is known locally as ‘Whisperer’s Hall’. The security check is friendly enough, but there is a professional thoroughness when the contents of one’s car boot are examined, and you’re told that the use of any photographic equipment is strictly forbidden.
There is no way of approaching ‘The Hall’ at anything less than a few miles an hour as speed bumps inhibit progress every hundred yards or so.
On my visit, glancing left and right, I noticed that the livestock in the fields on either side were not always behaving ‘normally’. An old lady, surrounded by ten enormous bulls was having an intense conversation. A little further on, a gentleman in a deckchair was surrounded by a flock of sheep and laughing heartily at some ovine joke! Half a mile before the entrance to the hall, there was a vast chicken run, the inhabitants of which were gazing attentively up at a cockerel perched on the arm of a gentleman in tweeds who seemed to be explaining some complex problem.
Matron Gubbins was waiting for me on the steps of the hall and offered a firm handshake. “Let’s have a little chat before your meeting with Cyril.”
Her office was a shrine to past residents. A mass of photographs lined the walls, each one showing an individual with an animal. A man in a bowler hat and pinstriped suit with an orang-utan. A small gentleman in a kilt holding a ladder next to a giraffe! A little girl with three bears. Matron smiled and said, “Oh yes, we’ve had some wonderfully talented people spend their final days with us, many before my time of course.”
There was a pause in the conversation, so I put on my most sympathetic expression and asked quietly, “Is it still all right to speak with Cyril?”
“Yes,” she replied, “young Jason is getting him ready now, but we don’t want any more of those silly headlines.”
“Absolutely not,” I replied, my mind racing back to my research and those old press clippings.
The puns were unstoppable. ‘Whisperer Has a Whale of a Time’. Then there was
‘Whisperer says “I’m not shellfish . . . I’ll tell the whole story” ’. . . and even ‘Oh My Cod,
He’s At It Again!’
As we moved out of the office and towards the lift, matron said, “Cyril will be ninety next
year and we all feel he deserves a restful retirement.”
“Of course,” I said, confirming that I had received the message loud and clear. On the third
floor matron tapped lightly on the door and a friendly voice called, “Come in . . . do come
At last there he was. Cyril Limpet, the legendary Fish Whisperer.
He was swathed in white towels and seated in a high backed leather armchair. Standing
behind him was Jason his carer, with a limp but protective hand on Cyril’s shoulder.
“Excuse the strange attire,” Cyril said, “but the Doc’ only allows me to spend a couple of
hours in the pool these days, then to stop me skin going funny Jason here has to oil me
down, don’t you Jason?”
“I most certainly do, dear,” said Jason, and with a final pat on Cyril’s shoulder, glared at me
and minced out of the room.
“Don’t you mind him,” said Cyril. “He’s a bit possessive but means well. Now then, I’ve very much enjoyed our correspondence. You dug up a lot of the stuff I’d forgotten. That sea lion on the beach in Skegness! Dear oh dear, he was a miserable sod. Didn’t have a good word for anyone! And as for that shoal of cod off Yarmouth, I’ve never known such a happy bunch, I still smile at some of their stories!”
“Cyril” I said, “I have one really important question.” There was a pause, and Cyril said,
“Oh yes . . . go on then.”
“They call you a Fish Whisperer but do you actually speak to fish?” Cyril smiled.
“Well that’s the fifty thousand dollar question isn’t it?
“People don’t realise that most ‘Whisperers’ don’t say a word, they just have the knack of understanding what an animal is ‘saying’.
“The ‘Whisperer’ thing was a press invention. I told them time and again that I simply communicate. I can hear what fish are on about and most of the time they can hear me. I was really happy doing what I did. I wasn’t too good in fresh water, except with carp . . . Clever buggers they are! But I could understand anything that swam in salt water. I enjoyed helping people understand the fishes’ point of view.”
“So why give it up?” I said “You were still a relatively young man in the 1960s.”
Cyril looked sad for a moment but then he smiled and said, “Silly really, but I couldn’t stand them taking the ‘Mickey’ all the time. Everywhere I went they seemed to know the story.”
I waited a moment and said “The story?”
Cyril gazed into the distance. “I’ve not told anyone this for over forty years,” he said, “and I shan’t tell it ever again.”
He took a deep breath and a calm seemed to settle over him as if he was about to free himself of a troublesome burden. “Bridlington,” he said with a far away look in his eyes. “Lovely spot in those days. Not many knew that about two miles out and only twenty or thirty feet down, there was a population of squid. I happened on them by mistake. They were right chatterboxes!
“Wanted to know how I could hold me breath so long. I told them it was a secret I’d learnt from a pearl diver from Sri Lanka. I don’t know if they knew where that was, but it shut ’em up for five minutes! I used to go and see them fairly regular but on one visit, I noticed that one of the older members of the group was missing. None of them knew where he was, said he’d just gone off on his own. I looked around for a bit, went up for air twice, but eventually found him just sitting on a rock looking a bit forlorn. He said he hadn’t been feeling the ‘full shillin’ for about a week and he reckoned he was about to die and could I help him get home. I was about to try when I glimpsed a movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a bloody great shark! ‘What do you want?’ I said. ‘Not you mate,’ he said, ‘but you appear to be standing between me and my lunch!’
“I have no idea why, but I decided to try and appeal to his better nature. I explained that the squid was very ill and just wanted to get home to die. I pointed out that if he had an ounce of compassion in his soul he’d help him. Well this shark looks at me, then at the squid, and after what seemed like a lifetime says, ‘Come on then . . . jump on. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The squid heaved himself up on to the back of the shark, told him were he wanted to go and off they went. I followed a little way behind but just when I thought all was going well, another shark come towards us from the opposite direction. Apparently his name was Nigel and he stopped for a word with my shark. ‘How you goin’ then Brian?’ he says. ‘Not so bad,’ says my shark. ‘Yerself?’ ‘Oh you know, some and some,’ says Nigel. ‘Ere what’s that on your fin?’ ‘Well I’m glad to have bumped into you,’ he replies. ‘Why’s that?’ says Nigel. Well my shark pauses for a moment, looks back at me, then looks at Nigel and says ‘Here’s the sick squid I owe you!’”
Cyril Limpet, the legendary Fish Whisperer, looked me straight in the eye and waited for my reaction. I did my utmost not to laugh but when I tried to speak I completely lost it. I laughed. Cyril laughed too, in fact we both laughed till we cried. Eventually, wiping a tear from his eye, he said, “Why did I give it up? Who’d take me seriously after that?”
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