On Wednesday of last week an old fishing buddy of mine, Norman Smith, passed away. It came out of the blue and we are all still shaking our heads and wondering what the hell happened. Yesterday I joined his family and friends for a service at the cemetery of Coín which was given by a lay preacher of the Church of England. I sat at the back of the room and, at the opposite end separated from us by a glass partition was Norman´s coffin. On our side there was a large photograph of Norman. In this picture he was looking particularly pleased with himself and why would´t he be? After all he is cradling an enormous carp.

The preacher who officiated was called Caroline and her words were thoughtful and well chosen. She didn´t throw any more religion at us than was necessary to help take the edge off grief. I think that Norman, had he had a chance to hear it, would have heartily approved. Caroline knew that you can´t tell the story of a person´s life in a few minutes. If you tried this with Norman´s life you could be talking for hours and still not be done. And you would not only be talking if you were conjuring up memories of him, you would be laughing too.

When I arrived for the service, Norman´s son Stuart intercepted me. He told me that, on account of the heat, the tie and suit jacket I was wearing were not needed and so I put the tie in my pocket and returned the jacket to the car. This, again, would have been given Norman´s nod of approval. He wasn´t one for formality. At the service they said that the family once judged his old shorts and T shirt to be so full of holes that they were ceremoniously burned on the barbecue.

The ceremony in Coín was the first funeral that I have ever attended in which the weights of individual fish were reported. Some time ago Norman´s wife Maureen hauled a catfish out of the river Ebro that weighed 156 pounds and beat Norman´s best by a couple of pounds. I don´t doubt that she reminded him of this from time to time over the years. Who could resist that? Norman simply stated that this success was entirely down to his expert coaching. Later when we gathered for some tapas and drinks, his son Stuart told me that many years ago he went fishing with his dad on the Guadalhorce downstream of the bridge at Estación de Cártama. As it happens, he also trumped the old man when a huge barbel of over 13 pounds came up and slurped down his bait of floating crust. I don´t think that Norman would have been in the least upset by being upstaged on any of these occasions because what really mattered was that he was out on the river with people that he loved doing the thing he liked doing the most .

Fishing, unsurprisingly, was the theme of yesterday´s ceremony. As the preacher put it family and fishing were his two greatest loves, and in that order. She read out a fisherman´s prayer thing that she had unearthed from somewhere which offered the soothing notion that we might all end up supported in the mesh of God´s landing net. Norman might have laughed at that. I don´t think he would have taken it too seriously. To me God´s landing net came a complete surprise. I didn´t even realise he had one. At the end of the service we heard a track from Chris Rea. Again, appropriately it was “Gone Fishing.”

I know better than to attempt try to pen any kind of obituary. For one thing I knew Norman only for the last few years. There are many others who were fortunate enough to know him for much longer and who are much better qualified than me for this task. Others know him as a father, a husband, a grandfather or as a man who pulled them a pint in Norman´s bar back in the day.

Norman and I had occasional visits to each other´s homes and we fished together a couple of times. Most often though, Maureen and Norman and myself would get together in Villafranco and sink a few beers, eat a few tapas and while away a few leisurely hours. Bar Masía was our usual watering hole and so I was pleased that this should also have been the venue where his family and friends congregated after yesterday´s ceremony had concluded.

I always enjoyed Norman´s company because he was a natural yarn spinner. He had a sharp eye for life´s nuances and ironies and was very miIdly mischievous in his outlook. He was certainly never at a loss for a story to tell and he had an envious memory of detail. Some of his stories have been related in previous posts and I won´t repeat them here. One thing for sure is that he was deeply knowledgeable about fish and fishing and was vastly experienced.

During our Villafranco get togethers he spoke a great deal about his family and what they were all getting up to and yesterday I had a chance to put some faces to names when his children and grandchildren showed unto pay their respects.

I don´t think there is anything I can say that takes the sting out of losing him. For others, of course, the loss will feel greater still and so I offer my deepest sympathies to his wife Maureen in particular and to all of his family. Norman was, quite simply, a unique character and a wonderful man. There is a great big hole now in the lives of many people and no words of mine, or of anyone else will do anything much to fill it.

If God really does have a landing net let him lift it up gently. When he  looks into it he will see and a bearded face looking back out at him and think “I´ve never had one like this before!”



This was Norman´s first fly-caught fish. Things could only get better!

Gypsy barbel

Here is Norman´s wife Maureen with a huge gypsy barbel. Norman and Maureen were the dream team and enjoyed fishing adventures for many years.