Belfast Telegraph

I’m angling for a daddy role with my super boys

By Frances Burscough

Bringing up two kids alone is a monumental test. It tests your stamina, your resilience, your imagination, your ingenuity, your patience, your empathy, your willpower, your strength — not to mention your bank balance — to the very limits.

But for a mother of two boys there’s an extra challenge too — attempting to replace, or at least replicate in some way, the presence of a father figure. That alone tests all of the above, plus a few more inner qualities you didn’t realise you even had.

For me at least this has certainly been the case.

And never is it more apparent, or challenging, than in the school summer holidays. Let’s face it, the leisure activities that appeal to a typical woman such as myself just don’t cut it with teenage boys...unless of course they’re gay, or in touch with their feminine side, which neither of mine are in the slightest.

Sauntering around the shops admiring the summer collections doesn’t do it for them. Neither does lying on a sunbed attempting to tan, or pottering around the garden, or planning a seaside picnic or catching the latest chick-flick at the local multiplex.

Add to that list of no-no’s all the things they loved to do when they were little — the circus, the funfair, trips to the zoo or to the theme parks etc — which are now strictly out of bounds for cool teens with street cred and kudos to consider, and the result is a very narrow repertoire indeed.

So when I discovered an activity that we all enjoyed, and which appealed both to their inner male hunter/gatherer instincts and to my love of the beautiful briny sea, it was both a relief and a revelation.

As a tomboy in the 1970s I’d always loved fishing with my dad and three big brothers. While mum and my sisters were doing girly stuff at the weekends, we’d pack up the van and head off to the canal or the pier where we’d spend hours trying (and usually failing) to coax fish from their murky depths.

I was only little at the time and I couldn’t handle a rod of my own without blinding someone in the process with low-flying hooks and weights, so my brother Chris made me a small-scale replica rod from a bamboo pole and some cup hooks. It was my pride and joy. It gave me hours of pleasure, not least for making me feel like one of the boys. And one day I even caught a fish.

“Oooh What kind of a fish is it?” I asked Chris excitedly.

“It’s a tiddler” he replied.

“Wow! A Tiddler! Fantastic, I’ll look that up in my wildlife book! But it must be a baby one, because it’s so little!”

Recalling those cherished memories from so long ago, and remembering so many blissful hours I’d spent in the school summer holidays bonding with the boys, casting lines in and out, watching, waiting, hoping, and fantasising about “the one that got away”, I set about on a mission to find me and my boys a fishing vessel we could call our own for a few hours at least.

I didn’t have to look for very long or very far. On Bangor Pier I found me a handsome boatman, and an even handsomer boat.

The Blue Aquarius and the BangorBoat Co. take trips out into the bay twice a day, morning and evening, throughout the summer and early autumn. And believe me, it really is an experience everyone should have, especially kids with time to kill and parents who’ve run out of ideas.

Brian, the captain, provides all you need from the rods, reels and tackle to all the know-how of a salty sea-dog with decades of experience. He “reads” both the weather and the position and behaviour of the abundant sea-birds and then sets off in search of a shimmering shoal, while the boat is followed faithfully by its two most constant companions, Sally and Sammy, Bangor’s most tame and friendly sealions.

During our first three-hour trip, my kids and I reeled in nine mackerel and two whiting. Others on board caught even more and were so satisfied with their catch that they threw a few fish up into the air and caused an almighty feeding frenzy amongst the squawking gannets and herring gulls. One even landed on the hull and tried to steal a fish from the line as we were hauling it in while the boys yelped with laughter. Afterwards, as we headed home to light a barbecue for an alfresco smoked mackerel supper, Finn my (aptly named) young fisherman son, proclaimed that it had been “the best thing he’d ever done...ever. Ever”.

I can’t tell you how great that felt.

Of course it’s a monumental learning curve, which sometimes feels almost impossible to conquer single-handedly. But at times like that I feel like I’m finally glimpsing the glorious summit.

Belfast Telegraph

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