Something fishy!

The Fish Quay
The Fish Quay

I was most amused by a story from the deep south last week.

As you may have seen, a tourist in Ilfracombe in Devon complained about the smell of fish – coming from the fish quay!

I suppose it can only be matched by people who move to the countryside and then go ballistic about the presence of farms and animals.

The fishy smell story reminded me of a lovely tale from the little town of Hirtshals, the Danish town which I got to know well as the twin town to Hartlepool Round Table.

Hirtshals is right at the northern tip of Denmark and has a flourishing fishing industry.

Indeed, as you drive into the town, you will see the lovely welcome sign proclaiming Hurrah for Fisk (Hooray for fish) in celebration of one of their key money earners.

A friend there told me a cracking tale of a local trawler owner who had a run-in not unlike the tale from Ilfracombe.

The man concerned, who owned several boats and made a good living from hard graft as a fisherman, had a stern letter from his bank manager.

It wasn’t about his account (which was always well in credit) but about the fact that he had come into the bank’s premises on several occasions straight from work and smelling of the fish he’d been catching.

Rather than reply by letter, he went into the bank branch the next day and tipped a huge pile of fish onto the floor topped by a hand-made sign proclaiming: “This is where the money comes from.”

They didn’t bother him again.

Most of us Hartlepudlians who have lived our lives on the coast wouldn’t need reminding of the respect due to those in the fishing industry who work hard and in often dangerous conditions.

I grew up loving fresh fish and good seafood and, living here, we are lucky to have it on hand.

I often think that people who are not so fond of the fruits of the sea have never tasted top-class fresh produce, but only what is presented badly in some big city restaurants.

When I was a kid, my dad would often take me down to the fish quay on the Headland first thing on a morning.

I don’t think you can do it anymore, but in those days he was able to buy just-caught fish and shellfish straight from a landing boat.

His favourite trick was to put live crabs on the kitchen floor so that he could watch my mum run off in a panic to the living room.

Compared to less favoured inland towns, we have the bonus of being able to go to fish merchants like Hodgson’s in Whitby Street to buy fresh – and enjoy the lovely aroma.

One area where we are still lacking, amazingly, is a good speciality seafood restaurant, or a touristy stall where you could taste freshness.

Last weekend, I was in the little town of Ouistreham in Normandy and enjoyed half a dozen very fresh oysters at a harbour side stall at a fraction of the price you’d pay in a restaurant.

Start one of those in Hartlepool, and I’d be at the front of the queue most days!