When we were kids, eels were something that lived in the creeks and streams on our farm. Sometimes one would be spotted meandering, if the water in the stream was clear enough. They looked big but largely harmless. But at a certain age hunting and catching an eel became something that young blokes just had to do. Some sort of rite of passage, or whatever.
Dad must have passed through this rite of passage. He had technical knowledge and knew where to buy a barbless hook. “It’s so you can get the buggers off after you’ve caught them”. He also knew how to lash the hook to the end of a broomhandle.
Mum and Dad’s farm was dissected by creeks and streams, as most properties in that part of Taranaki are. Digging and cleaning drains with spades was a perennial task, until the backhoe digger was invented. One year a bunch of Mormon drain diggers was enlisted for the purposes of drain cleaning, whose efforts were assisted by a grandfather with a passion for high explosives.
Back in those days, Grandpa was able to wander into the back part of Newton King’s stock and station store in Stratford and buy gelignite, detonators and rolls of fuse. He had no qualifications, just heaps of “experience”. He knew how to make things go bang, but usually with a bit too much bang. Stories of him disposing of the corpses of large animals and depositing a large stump on the roof of the house beneath which my Nana was blissfully luxuriating in a hot bath were legend.
Grandpa arrived at home one day as the Mormon drain diggers had encountered some heavy going. Off to Stratford he shot, returning a while later with stocks of Alfred Nobel’s finest. Plugs of gelignite had detonators inserted and these were then joined together with cordite. The armed sticks of explosive were then spaced evenly along the length of the proposed drainage channel. A fuse at one end was lit. Observers retired to what was presumed to be a safe distance.
Whoomph! It rained lumps of mud and stunned eels. “The old bloke sure likes his gelignite,” muttered one of the Mormons, hand over his mug of cocoa to keep falling lumps of mud out.
This was the first occasion I had ever handled an eel.
I learned a lot about eels that day.
I learned that mothers had no interest in cooking them, despite a grandfather’s suggestion to the contrary and after personally delivering Mum with the largest one I could find.
I also learned one of the lesser known Laws of Physics: When you drop an eel into a hot bath that also contains your sister, your sister moves faster than the eel.