When a brother falls we pour out a bit of Colt 45 and bow our heads for a moment of silence...so crack a beer and read on.
Benson, England’s best-loved fish, died on July 29th, aged about 25
PETERBOROUGH, in the English Midlands, is a red-brick town, best known as the midway point on the line between King’s Cross and York. But from the bottom of Kingfisher Lake, just outside it, urban toil seems far away. There, all is most delightful silt and slime. A push of your probing nose sends up puffs and clouds of fine mud through the water. A riff of bubbles rises, silvery, towards the surface. The green reeds quiver, and sunlight ripples down almost to the depths where you are lurking, plump and still.
Such was mostly the life, and such was the address, of Benson, England’s most famous fish. Her actual place of birth, as a wriggling, transparent fry prey to every frog, pike and heron, was never known. But at ten, when she was stocked in Kingfisher, she was already a bruiser. And there, among the willow-shaded banks, she grew. And grew. At her peak weight, in 2006, she was 64lb 2oz (29kg), and was almost circular, like a puffed-up plaice. Bigger carp have been seen in Thailand and in France; but she still amounted to a lot of gefilte fish.
In her glory days she reminded some of Marilyn Monroe, others of Raquel Welch. She was lither than either as she cruised through the water-weed, a lazy twist of gold. Her gleaming scales, said one fan, were as perfect as if they had been painted on. Some wag had named her after a small black hole in her dorsal fin which looked, to him, like a cigarette burn. It was as beautiful and distinctive as a mole on an 18th-century belle. Her lips were full, sultry or sulking, her expression unblinking; she seldom smiled. Yet the reeds held fond memories of her friend Hedges, her companion in slinky swimming until she, or he, was carried away in 1998 by the
waters of the River Nene.
Abandoned, she ate more. She devoured everything. Worms, plankton, crayfish, lily roots, disappeared down her toothed, capacious throat. She was a one-fish Hoover, motoring through the food-packed sludge and through rich layers of sedimentary smells. But she was offered daintier and more exotic fare. Cubes of cheese, scraps of luncheon meat, bread crusts, Peperami, dog biscuits and tutti-frutti balls all came down invitingly through the water. She sampled most of them.
Of course, she was not fool enough to think they came from heaven. Carp are cunning, a very fox of the river, as Izaak Walton said. She could see the lines, and at the end of them the trembling shadows of Bert, or Mike, or Stan, spending an idle Sunday away from the wife with a brolly and a can of beer. Often she continued to lurk, roiling the mud to conceal herself and basking in her own scaled beauty, as carp will. On hot days she would rise to the surface, glowing and tantalising, with a lily-leaf shading her like a parasol. She played hard-to-get, or the One That Got Away, nudging the line before drifting down towards the dark serene. But then, just for the hell of it, she would take the bait.
The first hookings hurt like hell, the whole weight of her body tearing her tongue like a razor blade. But over the years she got used to it, and her leathery mouth would seize the bait as a prize. Hauled to the limelight, she was admirably unphased. This was, after all, the homage beauty was owed. She would submit to the scales and then pose for the photographer, unmoving, holding her breath. She had her picture taken with Tony, owner of her lake, who confessed to the Wall Street Journal that he had “quite a rapport” with her; with Ray, who caught her at two in the morning, disturbing her beauty sleep; with Matt, of the shy smile and the woolly hat; with bearded Kyle, for whom she looked especially dark and pouting; and with Steve, who ungallan
tly told Peterborough Today that she felt like “a sack of potatoes” and was “available to everyone”. She was not, but at least 50 others held her, or gripped her, for a moment or so. Uncomplainingly, she nestled in their arms before she was lowered to her element again.
These men had a knowledgeable air about them. They might have been a secret society, meeting at odd hours in hidden nooks around the lake. Each had his spot for anoracked meditation. When they spoke, it was of wagglers and clips, spods and backbiters, size 14s and number 8 elastic. Dates and weights were bandied about, an arcane code. For a while, Benson imbibed the philosophy of a gaudier and more complex sphere, heard the tinny music of their radios and stared into the dazzle of the day. There was much that she herself might have imparted, of the mystery of reflected and inverted things. But her anglers needed to get home to the football and their tea.
The fatal nut
Greed probably undid her in the end. She was said to have taken a bait of uncooked tiger nuts, which swelled inside her until she floated upwards. Telltale empty paper bags were found on the bank of the river. Or she may have been pregnant, with 300,000 eggs causing complications, or stressed after so much catching and releasing, those constant brushes with extinction. On the line between life and death, at Kingfisher Lake, she breathed the fatal air and did not sink again. And there she lay, like Wisdom drawn up from the deep: as golden, and as quiet.
Who is Carpface and did he commit this crime upon humanity?