John Bailey: Following mother’s mantra

John Bailey's grandfather, left, with a good haul of pike in around 1895. John Bailey's grandfather, left, with a good haul of pike in around 1895.

by John Bailey
Thursday, February 7, 2013
11:19 AM

Today, exactly one hundred years ago to the day, my mother was born. She appeared on February 7, 1913 – even before the outbreak of the Great War.

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She entered into a fishing family. My grandfather was an enthusiast and, as he died in 1935 I never actually met him but I sometimes feel there is a bond there somehow, deep within the brotherhood of fishing.

His exploits fired me as a child, told to me by my maternal grandmother. She’d light up when she remembered his captures of roach, pike, Trent barbel and, later on, when his fortune was made, the gigantic tunny from the North Sea.

Mum never fished or really understood any of its charms but that doesn’t mean that my angling life doesn’t have a lot to thank her for.

How many times did she haul herself from a pre-dawn, warm bed to drive her pacing child to Holkham, Gunton or Felbrigg lakes? Letheringsett I could cycle to myself in those happy days when the kids of Holt had so many places they could cast a float!

How many sandwiches did she make in the history of my school holidays, spent dawn till dusk bankside? How many times did she listen to my stories, console my tragedies and acclaim my triumphs even though none of them really meant anything to her?

How many presents do I have to thank her for and even now still use from time to time? My B James Mark IV Richard Walker cane carp rod springs to mind. Nearly 50 years on, it’s still an excellent tool for big barbel. And how many times did my maggots escape in my mother’s laundry room or outhouse and I was forgiven despite the fog of droning mayhem!

As a kid, when taking fish for the pot was acceptable, she strove to make my pike, perch and eels edible though in Uni days, when I was in my sea trout prime, she accepted those far more readily.

To ensure her supply, she once stood alibi for me when I’d nearly been nicked for poaching. That’s 40 years back but I’ll still keep quiet about the location if you don’t mind. I also owe my career, whatever that exactly is, to my mother. I’m a true believer in wisdoms being handed on from one generation to the next and, dutiful child that I was, I always took her experience on board.

My mother’s mantra was always to live a life that makes you happy. Money is fine, she’d say, providing you’ve got enough.

You can never have too much happiness, though. It was my mother who typed out my very first articles back in the mid ‘70s. As it happens, they were nature-type rambles for this very paper.

In those days, the Eastern Daily Press paid in guineas and probably the same amount now as I’m paid in pounds!

How she deciphered my barely legible handwritten scrawls I don’t know but I can never remember a single typo.

My mother encouraged me to follow my calling in life. Be a water bailiff, she’d tell me, but do it well. That’s the key. She always insisted that you must work hard and you must always do your very, very best. Following your star should never be an easy ride.

I always realised my mother was a woman who had lived through two world wars and lost close family in both. She took life and its gifts and privileges extremely seriously and I learnt from that.

Her own death, over 35 years ago, was also inspirational. In part, her bravery was extraordinary and though her pain lasted over two years, she thought only of others through it. At the end, her final lessons to me were that life really is to be lived, to be made the utmost of every day you are gifted it.

That’s how I’ve tried to honour her. Staying with angling, it doesn’t really matter if it rains, snows, sleets, blows or swelters.

You are lucky to be living the day. Bag up or blank, it is fishing that is the thing, not the outcome.

I can’t celebrate my mother on anything but a fun note. During the freeze of 1963, not much more than a toddler in truth, I fell in.

It was a Saturday afternoon I remember and a friend and I rummaged together four old pence and he was despatched to the phone box to summon the cavalry.

My father answered the call. “Did you have a son called John Bailey?” my clod of a friend asked. My father staggered under the weight of the past tense.

“Well, he fell in,” my idiot friend continued. Now it was heart attack time. “And he says, can you come to pick him up early?” Mum and dad breathed again.

Yet again, it was my mother who arrived to pick up her only son, his hair frozen into ice fingers pre-dating Edward Scissorhands.

So happy birthday mum. I guess you will be remembered by more North Norfolkians than me alone.

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