This is a pike caught by my father on 31 July 1950. It has occupied pride of place in my parents’ home ever since, and has aroused much comment over the years
I well remember the day, with Dad puffing and groaning as he wrestled it into the house, up the stairs and into the bath – for it was still very much alive and kicking, and Dad had a couple of broken ribs at the time, which explains why he wasn’t at work that Monday. He had gone off on his motorbike to a local pool expecting a few hours of peaceful angling, observing the water voles and other wild life and thinking maybe to catch a perch or two, but certainly no excitement or strenuous exercise.
Fate decided otherwise, however, and the Big Fish in the Small Pool discovered his days were numbered. Landing an uncooperative 18-pound fish without a second pair of hands to hold the landing net or the gaff demands a certain amount of skill, strength and luck at any time, but when you have two broken ribs causing pain at every movement and affecting your breathing it becomes a huge effort. My father has always been a hero to me in this respect simply because he succeeded despite the odds.
Fortunately he had an old sheet with him to wrap his booty in and prevent it from leaping back into the water, which required another little fight with a desperate opponent. After doing a little victory dance, he faced the next hurdle, which was to get the trophy home. This was the catch of a lifetime for a coarse angler, and he knew immediately that he was going to have the fish stuffed and mounted. That meant it had to stay alive and undamaged as long as possible so that the taxidermist could do a good job.
As I mentioned earlier, he had gone on his motorbike so now he had to pack his fishing tackle into the sidecar and manoeuvre the metre-long pike in on top. Any pike has a baleful glare and this one had every reason to be furious. No wonder it fought back! Actually, being placed into the bathtub on arrival must have been quite a relief for the poor beast.
In 1950 I was a little girl, known for being inquisitive and impulsive. My father gave me and my friends very strict warnings not to go near the pike, as it was very dangerous. Crestfallen and disappointed, we begged to be allowed to see it, and persuaded him to let us have a peek at the monster, which seemed like a crocodile thrashing about in the bathtub. We stood well clear and were very impressed indeed. Mom was a tad disappointed that we wouldn’t be getting any of the delicious pike flesh for our dinner, and opened a tin of corned beef instead (rationing was still in force in the UK at the time).
The pike stayed in the bathroom until the next morning, when Dad took it away to Mr Betteridge the taxidermist, a little old man with twinkly eyes behind metal-rimmed glasses, as firmly rotund as one of his own products. I was allowed to accompany my father a few weeks later when the pike was ready for collection and had a great time in the workshop admiring all the wonderful specimens of Mr Betteridge’s art, from tiny birds such as wrens and tomtits to foxes and even a deer.
There was a short discussion at home about where to keep the large display case – as I said above, the fish was a metre (39 inches) long and the case added a few inches at either end – but finally it was placed on the only surface available large enough to take it, on top of the piano, where it continued to glare balefully at me as I practised my scales and arpeggios.
After a few years, I surrendered my ambitions as a musician and the piano was replaced by a unique piece of furniture designed by my mother with a special section to house the fish and glass-fronted compartments to show off her glass and china, as well as providing general storage for all kinds of other things. She could have made a fortune with her design, if G-Plan hadn’t cornered the market two or three years later. But that’s another story