Hello and welcome to my new monthly column in The Session. My name is Jonny Banister; it’s a great honour to be asked to write for The Session and share my thoughts with you guys.
I was going to write about my last fishing session before the big freeze but, after much thought I decided I would like to do something on a more personal note. Hopefully some of you will stay with me for the year, so with that in mind I would like to build a platform and tell you a little bit of how I have got to this stage in my life. We can’t reinvent the wheel but we can do is try and inject a bit of magic in the future, but for me the important thing is to keep it real.
I have often been known for letting personal influences affect the way I write, so why should this column be any different. You see, I have said it so many times I am a massive believer that there is always so much more to a story than I turned up and I concurred, the end! Nothing disheartens me more than ‘look how good I am.’
The very fabric of life’s ups and downs, the twists and turns, affect every single living day, including the way we fish and the outcome of our fishing. It doesn’t always go right; in fact more often than not it doesn’t.
Hopefully my early ramblings will make sense as my mini journey unfolds through the year. My column may turn out to be an eclectic diary piece or a full on fishing story, who knows? I have considered myself the wild card in the lineup. But before all that I would like to take an ungraded opportunity to introduce the real me, and how my fishing life started and what has led me to this present day point.
My fishing life started so long ago that I can barley comprehend where the time has gone, and then on the other hand it all seems like the blink of an eye. I knew it all back then, lying in the long grass on the canal bank, puffing on a Benson and dreaming of the girl next door. Every now and then the float would dip sending my heart into another dimension. The local colliery band would provide the backing
The summers lasted forever and life was full of promise. And everybody was fit and healthy and nobody seemed to worry about anything. I guess I am just describing all of our childhoods, wherever it may have been in this country or the world.
In the early years I had started to perfect my fishing techniques with great white hunter prowess, but in all honesty I really didn’t have much of a clue what day of the week it was let alone how to fish properly. But on the canal and adjoining stream it didn’t really matter as there I became master hunter of Bull Head Gudgoen and Stone Loach and shopping trolleys.
I can’t really remember when my life started to change as I was still fairly young, but change it did. Although I didn’t realise at the time I was in for a lifetime’s battle. I always had trouble reading and writing, but in my own JB style I managed to get round it by playing jack the lad or the charmer, or anything else I could think of, but one thing is for sure the older I got the worse it became.
One of the defining moments for me was not being able to tell the time. We hadn’t long been moved down south and I remember the teacher saying to me “Banister what time is it?” and in a flash I said “home time soon so I don’t have to listen to you drone on all afternoon you boring bugger.” And of course I was removed from class and as soon as I was out the door I was on the bike and heading off to the river some 8 miles away.
In truth before its abolition I had seen the cane more times than I care to remember. But I never wanted it to be that way, I felt helpless as the more the other kids learnt the wider the gulf became, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Now don’t think for one minute that I am condoning any or glorifying any of this, because I am not, but what I didn’t know at the time was I was acutely dyslexic, and in some respects I still am. Luckily there is help now for the young uns – something we never had. Now some of you are probably wondering what this all has to do with fishing, well the truth is in my world everything!
When it was finally time to leave school at 15 for accidently burning the kitchen down, Dad asked me what I was going to do with my life; “I am going to be a fisherman” I exclaimed. “Good boy” he said “there is a washing up job at the local hotel, I have told them you are 16 and you start Monday“. And that was that.
The next few years came and went in a heartbeat and, although I didn’t know it, my life was about to change significantly. In my early twenties I came across a book called “The Gentle Giant” written by an author called John Bailey. I fumbled through the first few pages and I was mesmerized at how a book about Roach fishing could be so captivating and so un-obviously magical.
Its influence on me was so great that it shook me to the very core. I loved the book so much I had to read it at whatever cost. Every night of my life I would sit fumbling through the words slowly getting better and stronger at reading. I read it back to front and front to back.
That book is still the only book that I have ever read all the way through to this day, in fact I have read it many times, and ironically I can’t remember what hardly any of it is about, but to me that doesn’t matter. I once nicked a book off my good friend and ex colleague and now editor of Crafty Carper, Jerry Bridger called ‘Scar Tissue’ by Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It sits on my mantle piece wherever I live, as a reminder of my battle and, after 7 years I am still only on page 38.
John’s book had such a profound effect on me and my life. It was Johns’ command of the written word that offered me hope, and to some extent a life line and, in some ways salvation. I would read a chapter and I would be brought to the edge of tears it was that powerful. I know this sounds mad it’s almost as if he wrote that book for me.
Seriously, still to this day I have never met John and he too works for Hardy & Greys as a consultant! I once talked to him on the phone and, as I expected he was well spoken, knowledgeable and exquisitely charming. Funny enough he was a school teacher – I best keep my school past quiet. I still carry my dog eared copy in the hope I will bump into John one day and maybe ask him to sign and message the book for me, although I have no idea what I would want him to say.
I have had people in the past tell me the same thing that my work has also had a profound effect on their life, but it’s hard to see it on the other side of the coin. You never know if people are being nice or respectful. I once wrote an article in Carp Addict called ‘The little secret’ and with that story I had people writing to me and coming up to me at show saying it had affected their lives, in the same way John had done to me.
I spend a lot of time these days with under privileged kids, and the physically and mentally disabled. Mainly because I never had a level start in my life and it’s like the old saying you only have to save one and your work is done. Maybe I was saved.
I titled this short introduction into my life ‘Never Stop Believing’ because I know every one of us goes through personal battles in life. As I said, anybody can write about the spoils and the highs, how many times do people write about the time their Mum or Dad was diagnosed with cancer and went fishing, then spent the whole session sobbing, why not have that as part of a story? Or the day every cast went up a tree. It happens and it happens to the best, and I believe that’s what really allows you to get into the veins of the author, How many times do you read, “I went fishing, caught a forty, how super am I, the end” well for me it leaves me cold. Maybe it’s because it’s very difficult to write about one’s failures because we are worried we will lose face.
At the end of the day we are all human beings and luckily for us we are glued together by our beloved sport. I was told I would be a wino by the time I was 25 on a park bench by my teachers. By the time I was 25 I was practising to read and write reading JB’s book. A few years after that I was assistant editor of Big Carp, then editor of Carp Addict, then a features editor of Carpworld and in 2010 the first person to represent Carp angling on BBC 1 with over 7 million viewers with Griff Rhys Jones. It’s a far cry from a young lad who would look at the pictures in comics and could barely read a word.
I could never have told anybody any of this a few years ago, but I am now happy with who I am in my life. So thanks for bearing with me and reading my story. Next month I will take a more main stream approach and please feel free to contact me throughout the year at Jon.firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear from you.
There will be people out there reading this that have faced personal battles, life battles that knock you down, where you think you can never get up. My best mate and Dad once said to me, “it’s not what you do when you get knocked down, it’s what you do when you get up that counts“, do you know something I never stopped believing, and I don’t want you to either.
I would like to dedicate my first monthly column to John Bailey.
See ya next month!