Malta Diary Memories of boyhood fishing days – another pleasure lost to today’s young generation?
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The sea is never far away in Malta and Gozo and is very much part of the DNA of its people, whether for enjoying summer days, seaside picnicking or swimming but also love of fishing, whether it is off rocks and jetties or whether from small pleasure boats known as “fregatini”.
When we lived in Malta, before going off to England in 1954, it was also a great part of my DNA. My father was a keen amateur fisherman and owned a “fregatina”. As the elder of two boys, I was his perpetual companion on each trip and this has left me nostalgic memories.
On week-ends and on his days off from then Primary School teaching, and naturally the whole of the summer holidays, and later, as the General Secretary of the Malta Union of Teachers, our daily trek was down to the sea.
Although from Sliema, at the time we lived in Gzira, a suburb off-shoot of Sliema and Msida and squashed between them, just a ten-minute walk away to the seafront. At the time, Gzira had a notorious reputation because Sliema Creek used to be packed with Royal Navy frigates, destroyers and mine sweepers and the Gzira seafront was packed with bars of ill-repute and was naturally a magnet for prostitution to cater for sailor shore leave.
Unjustly, children living in the suburb were disparagingly referred to as “the sons and daughters of whores and prostitutes”!
During his time off, my father would awake early, prepare the rods – then single cane bamboo rods and not today’s mechanical contraptions, fill a flask with hot coffee and prepare a bunch of sandwiches – and off we went well before sunrise and down to the front to board his “fregatina” and spend the day either rod fishing, or line fishing or using cork floats to catch grey mullets.
The cork floats were painted white and a fishing line with multiple bread-baited hooks was wound around the float which would be lined with a slice of white bread and this would gradually crumble in the water and attract mullet. The floats would be left to move with the water current and we would stand off several metres watching them while line fishing.
When a mullet was hooked, and sometimes two at the same time, the cork would tumble around crazily and my father would quickly row to it and haul in the catch.
On other days we would row around ships and buoys because these always attracted fish, from the food dumped overboard from the ships and the weeds and blisters attached to the buoys. My father would scoop the blisters off the buoy and then we would fish with them.
He also had a technique for scooping up sea snails off the sea bottom. This was a soup ladle strongly attached to a bamboo pole. He also had a glass-bottomed wooden box, would move into shallow waters and peering into the box would see the sea snails along the bottom and scoop them up with the ladle.
Through rod and line fishing we caught a variety of bream, bogue, a variety of different wrasses, horse mackerel, red mullet and garfish.
Sadly, all came to an end when in January of 1954 we left for England when my father re-entered the Royal Air Force as a Pilot Officer, then a Flying Officer and later a Flight Lieutenant, the only Maltese from RAF Malta to be promoted to Officer rank.
However, we returned to Malta in late 1956 when he was posted to RAF Ta’ Qali in Malta as the Senior Equipment Officer, until mid-1959, and we once more resumed our fishing hobby.
This period contained an amusing incident. We again took up residence in Gzira and often went fishing at nearby Manoel Island which was barred to the Maltese but as my father was a British serviceman, he had full access. I was aged 12 at the time and one day, accompanied by two boyhood friends, we went fishing at Manoel Island.
As we fished a military Red Cap (Services Police) appeared. The two other boys immediately ran off and out of sight but I stayed put.
“Why are you still here?” he barked.
Calmly I replied “Because I have a right to be here”.
Flabbergasted he blurted ironically, “Oh yes, we’ll see about that” and sternly marched me off to the guardroom and the Duty Officer.
I explained my father was a serving RAF Officer and we had a right to full access to Manoel Island.
Wearily, the Duty Officer sighed. “Are you telling lies boy, making this up?”
Luckily, a Maltese Police Sergeant was also in the Guardroom. He intervened.
“The boy is telling the truth. I know his father, his uncles and his family. The boy’s father is an RAF Officer.”
Deflated, the Duty Officer and the Red Cap – who was crestfallen – sheepishly allowed me to leave without any further ado.
Later, on his retirement and return to Malta while I stayed on in England for a while, my father bought a 24 foot Maltese “luzzu” and continued his fishing hobby for many, many years.
Sadly, such boyhood charms no longer appear to appeal to today’s youngsters because their satisfaction lies in television, laptops and ipads and nothing else matters.
“All he has are fish in the sea”
A person may have many plans and schemes but they mean nothing because, like fish in the sea, they have first to be caught to be realised.