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Modesty, Mackerel and Mr Murray

Boasting, gushing romantic posts and incessant updates are some of the most common reasons for ‘unfriending’ Facebook contacts, according to a recent survey.

This blog, therefore, may well lose me friends…or followers, depending on the slice of social media you are currently gorging, but damn it I’ll take the risk and trust in your good judgement.

I went by the catchy (pun intended) name of Marcus the Mackerel as a young fisherman, proud co-owner, with brother Andrew (pun number two, he’s now a vicar), of a twelve foot clinker built* dinghy and ‘Seagull’ outboard motor, fishing out of Robin Hood’s Bay on the north east coast, near Whitby, during school holidays.

Shoals of the perishers would pass this coastline every summer and the skill involved in catching them was minimal, but result magical. A line of six feathers on hooks with a heavy lead weight and Scarborough reel did the trick. Jig it up and down a bit and hey presto, six mackerel on the same line; just reel them in and admire their glistening beauty, miraculously emerging as they came to the surface.

What a thrill it was to be atop a shoal, hauling them up in such quantity that the bottom of the boat would soon be full of thrashing fish. We’d sell them on the quayside for sixpence each, gutting them as we made our way back to dry land with flocks of raucous seagulls in our wake, diving hungrily for the entrails.

I was reminded of my fishing prowess last night at The Depot, as I tucked into grilled mackerel fillets, which ironically I never liked as a youngster. At the risk of being immodest and losing friends and followers in their droves, they were cooked perfectly, served with wild rocket and lime pickle new potatoes and tasted delicious.

Cleverly matching them with an unoaked Chilean chardonnay and feeling very pleased with myself, I caught sight of the Facebook survey and thought I’d experiment with a bit of bragging - hence the blog and possibly the depleted following when my showing off gets the better of me.

Robin Hoods Bay in the sixties and seventies was a paradise for children and the Milton family spent many a happy summer holiday there, fishing, playing on the cliffs, roaming the cobbled streets of this old smugglers’ haunt and best of all eating the best fish and chips ever. Oh boy, those were the days!

So, as I tucked into my grilled mackerel fillets, I took quite a trip down memory lane: naming our small boat after the moon landing craft ‘Eagle’**; heading out to sea full of expectation and making a buck or two when we landed our prized catch.

It wasn’t all plain sailing as a sudden sea mist or squall could soon test your seafaring skills - or lack of them - and once or twice the coast guard was close to being called out by anxious parents watching through binoculars. The relief of getting back in one piece was part of the joy; all good thrills must include a certain amount of jeopardy after all.

Sticky orange and almond cake followed the mackerel and the tennis crowd (Wimbledon week in leafy SW London) mingled and made merry after an astonishing Murray recovery earlier in the day - two sets down against Fernando Verdasco and he pulls off a thrilling victory.

Now if ever there were reason for some serious boasting, Murray had due cause, but his post-match interview was a model of modesty as he gave due credit to the vanquished Verdasco, so he’ll be keeping his legion of loyal fans, unlike the bragging fisherman and smug restaurateur.

Truth is, however good the mackerel fillets (and they were good!), I’d gladly have swapped them for a portion of Robin Hood’s Bay fish ‘n’ chips of yesteryear, wrapped in newspaper, salt and vinegar aplenty and sea air appetite to the fore. Hard to beat and here’s hoping Murray proves to be in the next round.

*A method of boat building where the edges of hull planks overlap for strength, necessary in the tough north sea conditions  
** The first manned lunar landing craft used on July 20th 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission

Mark Milton is a partner at The Depot Riverside Restaurant & Bar.

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