His progress was hampered because he was carrying something heavy and the rain had affected his glasses, so that he had only the most general view of his surroundings. The lack of any close range detail meant that he continually stumbled over tussocks of grass and slipped in cow dung. Even at a range of fifty yards or so, I could hear him swearing fiercely as he struggled with what I could now see was the petrol tank for our outboard engine. Not for the first time, I was struck by the fact that Murphy seemed to spend a lot of his time carrying heavy things and cursing at them.
I went to warn my two colleagues that our day's fishing was about to get under way and that unless they wanted to receive some insulting, if accurate, observations about their general slovenliness and capacity for wasting the day, they should leave the breakfast table and at least look as though they were preparing to go out in a boat.
We were Murphy's guests for a week's mayfly fishing on Lough Corrib - as we had been every year for a number of years. He grew up here and his extended, if long-suffering, family continue to offer us the sort of hospitality which is beyond reason and defies description. If, for example, you should stand still in any household for longer than three minutes, you will be required to eat a light snack consisting of a side of ham, or two small chickens with all the trimmings. Murphy plays a number of roles in his general capacity as host.
They include boat-handler, ghillie, chief critic and turf accountant. It was in this last capacity that he had invented the complicated betting system which had cost me some of my holiday money the previous day. I wanted him to explain it to me again while Richard and BG made themselves ready.
Feigning great weariness, he pretended to satisfy himself that I had attended school until at least the age of ten and that the British and Irish ways of arriving at the sum total of two plus two were approximately the same, before explaining.
"There's two pounds for the first fish. There's two pounds for the biggest fish and there's two pounds for the most fish. Right? So unless you win one of those it's going to cost you six quid. Plus, of course, the 50p it costs you for each time you strike at a fish, but miss it. And less the pound everybody gives you for every fish you catch that's too small to be a 'keeper'. Now d'you think you can remember that for an hour or so?"
That was pretty much as I had understood it from the previous day, but then the fishing had been mysteriously extended by increments of ten minutes until Murphy had won the 'most' and the 'biggest'.
It is a very particular method of fishing, where live mayflies are skewered on small brass hooks before being 'dapped' on light nylon line, from sixteen-foot rods. When a fish takes the fly, it is essential that the rod tip is dropped and the angler waits for approximately twice as long as he thinks is necessary before striking. Any other procedure will cost 50p. The problem is that 'takes' range from a soft, sucking-in of the fly that you will certainly miss unless you happen to be looking directly at it, to a heart-stopping crash, as a bar of amber and gold explodes out of the water in front of you.
Try counting to five after that.
BG led the way down to the boat carrying the mayfly boxes on top of the picnic hamper which had been provided for us by Murphy's sister. We were taking something of a risk in allowing him to carry the food, but he was the only one of us strong enough to lift it. BG is a big man whose real name is Alex, but some years ago, after he had tripped over and broken the thermos flask, Murphy compared his nimbleness unfavourably with that of a Baby Giraffe and the name has stuck. In truth, the soubriquet suits him very well and he is not offended by it.
He was spared from all but the most general abuse because Murphy had caught sight of Richard's new fishing bag. Purchased at considerable expense from a London store noted for the quality of its merchandise, the satchel had a 'designer label' look and it would not have been out of place worn as a lady's accessory at a fashionable point-to-point. In short, as far as Murphy was concerned, it was exceedingly Uruguayan and so was anyone who would buy such a thing. Did it perhaps contain a make-up set, he wondered, or maybe some waterproof lipstick? Clearly it was a joke that was going to run and run and one to which we were going to be treated for the rest of the day. Why Murphy has taken to using 'Uruguayan' as a pejorative nobody knows. We do know however that asking him would be a completely pointless.
When we finally motored out into the Lough, we were met by conditions that made me fear for our safety. In addition to the driving rain, the high wind had produced a big swell with breaking waves which, every ten minutes or so, were big enough to break over the gunwales. We all prayed that BG would sit still and Murphy opined that if we ate the food immediately, we would have another three inches of freeboard. Plainly, fishing was going to be impossible because the mayflies were instantly reduced to tiny, tattered rags and they submerged immediately the wind allowed us to bring them into contact with the water. We were probably going to drown and if we did not, then we would certainly die of hypothermia.
Murphy disagreed. He sat in the stern of the boat, looking like a half-tide rock, with his corduroys acting as an enormous sponge and insisted we fish. We could not stop catching trout. We returned any number of them and of the twenty-three 'keepers' we took, we retained seven; the biggest of which was just under four pounds. Playing a four pound, wild brown trout from Lough Corrib is the angling experience of a lifetime. It is as exciting as accidentally peeing on an electric fence in the dark.
Murphy won all the money owing to a sub-clause - which any fool should have understood - about the fish he had returned to the water, which were over twelve inches in length and therefore eligible to count.
We were too exhausted and content with our day's fishing to care.