Monday, April 3, 2017

Mesomorphs, Kelpies, Nuggles and Prodnose

And there went March.... the browns, the funeral, the pomp, the circumstance, the ides n'all.

We are currently stuck on fast forward and the impending trout fishing season on the Dever is hurtling towards us at warp speed Captain.

Events get underway on the Itchen next week in anticipation of an early hatch of grannom of which there is currently no sign.

We are all up together at home and much has been achieved in these environs this winter but the time has run out for much needed rain and we must go with what we have got for the coming summer. So expect the river to be much diminished by August with bank side vegetation allowed to encroach on the river channel in order to squeeze the river and maintain a speedy flow as possible. Currently we play host to a handful of olives of an afternoon which inevitably draw the eye of the trout. The grayling are preoccupied with other things and some decidedly dark fish have begun there perennial flitting about on the shallows. Willows are waking up and we have ornamental cherry trees in blossom , mowers have been about their business and all manner of fowl are feeling frisky with the drakes, driven by seasonal urges, cranking up the brutality of their foreplay with each day.

Yes, spring is upon us and this week has seen the last campaign for the loyal orange saw as it signed off with "log week"

Think Flag day, Rag week or Comic Relief

A concerted effort to achieve high reward in a short space of time. Ok, we're not funding the purchase of a lifeboat or plunging wells into some parched corner of Africa, but there are log stores that must be replenished in order to keep three fires around here burning with seasoned logs throughout next winter and the one after. I once calculated that the wood burner in our home consumed between six and eight tonnes of wood each winter in order to maintain the flow of blood through our veins of an evening and warm a handful of radiators, the four hundred year old mill house has two open fires and little insulation. Logs have always been a big part of this job and you have to plan ahead with such things and as a result fallen timber is quickly fallen upon and is piled high throughout wood.

Wood that must be split.

Jump back a thousand years or so and my physical bearing would single me out as an archer, not for my propensity to flick two fingers at certain aspects of the outside world but a certain stance and gait that these days can only be derived by chopping a large number of logs .

My name is Chris de Cani and I am a Mesomorph,

There, I said it

Swinging an axe, or hodging logs - a term derived from a three year old child B ( a fellow mesomorph who could also be mistaken for one who strings a bow) who would often ask in his formative years "is you hodging logs again Daddy?"

I am no longer a hodger of Logs.

While fishing with my employer and her family an hour north of Inverness on the Carron last year. Postprandial conversation turned to logs and my employer decreed that at my great age and in such poor condition I should no longer be heaving the hodge and a tractor mounted log splitter must be sourced in under order to aid the production of fire wood,

And here it is,

We've called the thing Clarissa in honour of one fat lady who haunted this place for many years and had a force of personality equal to the twelve tonnes offered by this magnificent machine.

All rings, be they ash, oak yew or thorn have yielded to its irrepressible force.

A whole week of busting wood has passed and the world's best chooks now share their paddock with enough logs for the next winter and half the one that follows.

My spine is intact and my calluses few and after a few years I may once again resume my quest for the refined figure of a lancer or cavalryman, with the stoop of a foot soldier/hodger of logs a distant memory.

Here's one of Lord Ludgershall using the thing to trim his toenails.

Just got to stack the things up now (the logs, not Lord Ludg's toenails)

It's a life changing purchase and one for which my forty nine year old spine and I are very grateful.

There is a bend on this stretch of river that is particularly productive when it comes to putting fish on the bank, be they coarse or game. It lies a few yards downstream from a small weir that disappears during times of verdant weed growth. Above the weir for a hundred yards or so the river falls away quite dramatically for a gentile chalk stream.

Fifteen years ago, a conservation officer suggested installing further weirs in the fast flowing water above our weir. Five years ago a conservation officer suggested we pull out any weirs that remain along with several other since.

And at this point I could go on at length about decades of muddled thinking with regard to Fishery Management.

Last month our weir failed, and with an open mind and other tasks to undertake I removed the thing and in a clumsy attempt at science, monitored the situation.

Within a few days the roach had relocated to a location that demanded less vigorous fin work, and with an inch or two less water flowing over the shallows above the weir the grayling sought spawning gravels elsewhere.

I get the perched stream argument with regard to clean gravels and ranunculus and yes, some in stream obstructions need hauling out, but there is also merit in delaying the entrance of run off after rain in a chalk river valley. The notion that all weirs, hatches and sluices are the spawn of kelpies and nuggles is nuts. Assess each in-stream obstruction individually work out what ot can and can't do and operate it or remove it in a manner that is sympathetic to both flood defence and the aquatic environment.
Madam and myself have just returned from further rambles in the quest for eternal life and this week saw us bisect the Test Valley, climb a hill, get lost in a field of grass before bumbling about in the valley of the Anton in search of our car. I've fished a few times on the Anton and the lower river runs through a magnificent meadow that in this month many years ago would have lain underwater. The hatches and sluices to facilitate this still lie high and dry mid meadow and serve as a monument to the well of lost knowledge on how to manage and move water in a chalk river valley.

"The weir that Wickes built" on the Itchen during the flooding of 2013/14 is a prime example when a set of hatches could have come in handy and during a recent discussion with big noises from the EA the subject came up and I commented that " you'd have loved set of hatches under that bridge wouldn't you?

They agreed, but the general tone from any "expert" parachuted in to consult/advice is to rip out any in stream structure

Unfortunately many of these methods of flooding meadows are no longer relevant in this age as the amount of water flowing though southern chalk rivers is much diminished, if the desire was there it is questionable if there is enough water to run the things today.

Oh yes, almost forgot,

Madam and myself popped up to Basingstoke to see Prodnose midweek.

On an extended tour, he took the stage at seven thirty and departed at just gone eleven with only a brief pause for pints.

I'll have to declare an interest here as since Tel shuffled off he's my broadcaster of first choice, and I'll own that I've cropped up a few times as a "chiefly yourselves" with contributions during the past few years, although following John McGovern singing Whole Lotta Rosie in the manner of Brian Clough was a tough gig.

Forget the Daz, and also Pets wins Prizes (Dale Winton took it to another plane)

He's a lyrical force of nature and the show is the stuff of Vaudeville. High kicking full on entertainment from one with a large and varied canon.

He's added a few dates to his tour and if you get the chance to go don't pass it up.

A few week's remain of titivation and buffing up about the place before artificial flies start falling on the water. Most of the regular rods are rolling up for lunch this weekend, when I will be required to account for my movements throughout the winter months. It's always a fun day and I can guarantee that during our post lunch walk up the river somebody will remark that I have removed too many branches but by June the view will have changed to "you could have taken a bit more off that tree that I keep catching my fly on" It's a great time of year and the metamorphosis that occurs in this valley at this time each year never ceases to amaze.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Twenty Five Years, Possibly with Power to Add

This week saw me successfully complete forty nine years on this earth and the twenty fifth anniversary of my employment in my current position. It's my thirty first year working in the valley, three of them part time while studying at Sparsholt. I've a few contemporaries who have clocked up a couple more years as these kind of postings are thin on the ground and the sort you hang onto.

And at this point the piece could descend into a grim tale of lost water a meddling bureaucracy and a chronic decline, but I feel the occasion requires us to look up and not down. So here we are, thankful to have made it this far.

I was put forward for my current position by Brian Parker, head keeper at Bossington Estate, after a brief spell managing a hell hole of a fish farm not far from junction 18 of the M25. The highlight of our tenbure was popping up to the smoke to take in Pavarotti in the Park one evening after work (everything else was dreadful, they even diddled us out of £500 on our departure) and gladly accepted the offer of this employment.

The lady who sleeps to my left and I arrived here on a dark Friday night with a car piled high with all we owned, two dogs and a cat. The wood burner was already lit, the key was in the door and the lights were on, Lord Ludgershall was frantically completing some painting in the small hall and for the only time that I can remember in the following twenty five years ,he eschewed my offer of a drink stating that "he would have a glass of Madam's whisky over the road"

The next morning the cat disappeared which caused tears, as she was much loved and the first pet that we had. She reappeared a few hours later on the roof. Born and raised in a nearby parish she was as pleased as we were to be back in the old postal region. That pleasure remains and this place will always mean a lot to us. Married a few months after our arrival we have both gained and lost loved ones during our tenure, emotional tattoos that will forever be associated with our time living and working by this river.

The internet and mobile phones were lines on a drawing board and the GPO retained a reasonable reputation before they became the spawn of the Devil under their new moniker - BT. Rosemary Conley was all over the Hip and Thigh and we marvelled at the electronic miracle that was our Game Boy. On the river the regular rods only fished from Monday to Thursday with a full rod costing £600. The Mill stream remained fishable until well into high summer , Klinkhammers and Parachute Adams had not yet made it across the pond and a Daddy Long Legs was considered "not quite the thing" The river regularly ran blue in the Autumn as a treatment for trout with white noses and not many people wore safety gear when working with dangerous machinery.

Thank you to my employer and her family for the work, home, encouragement, guidance and friendship. It is very much appreciated and the last twenty five years have been a blast.

There, through with the nostalgia and emotional stuff, and I hope I didn't overdo it. We shall now attend to other matters,

Oh Yes,

The firm have stumped up for a fantastic trip to Italy in the spring, so thank you very much for that, and here's to the next twenty five years kindly gifted to us by ten thousand plus steps a day, the sustained consumption of red wine, dark chocolate, biffidus digestivum, and the full gamut of seeds and pulses that have caused us to leave the bedroom window open at night of late.

At the end of three months wielding my big orange saw, I may have lost many pounds and rediscovered muscles unused by summer work, there's a few bits of me starting to make a few funny noises and that's not another reference to our increased consumption of pulses and seeds, the willows are briefly in retreat, but will invariably consolidate their position and battle will be resumed in the Autumn.

In skirmishes on the bottom bends, Lord Lugg and I were delighted to be reinforced by the English, a newly retired cove with a penchant for a chainsaw (and clever coffee machines!) Ludgershall is convinced that the English covet the Ludgershall stash of logs held in the wood, and I was occasionally forced to don the boots of boutros boutros gali and the anorak of ACAS to mediate when they were at either end of a length of ash that each claimed as their own.

Thanks to you both for all of your help and, as ever, all the fun.

The river carries a little colour, because yes we have had rain, but ditches remain dry and shining a torch down a borehole used for watering the square at the cricket ground betrays a groundwater resource that is pitifully diminished.
After a two winter absence the Bittern is back and has been flushed from both the Flight pond and Mill Stream. Not heard any booming yet but there is time yet.

Pausing briefly,

I recently tipped several millilitres of vin rouge into my laptop. It didn't go well and a new keypad was required., The manufacturer quoted many pounds to resolve the issue, but fortunately I have recently made acquaintance with Ho! in China who was keen to provide me with 40 green plastic chairs. Ho! is a man of many means and has managed to source a replacement keypad for the price of a pint of high end lager in our local pub. Ho!'s friend Wot Ho! has produced a short film on a U shaped tube with instructions as to how install the thing and here we are once more, merrily banging away at the pills. The behind the scenes stuff seem to work perfectly, but front of house leaves a little to be desired as the signage rubbed off after a short period of taps and must now be re-applied each evening with one of Madam's craft pens, which adds a folksy feel to the keyboard experience.

Returning to the river we find some very dark grayling undertaking the opening moves of pre spawning foreplay. There seem to be a few big fish about a fact borne out by the number of slightly bigger fish caught this year. Dever grayling are not deep chunky specimens but they do have a certain elegance about their lines with few fish over two pounds. The Brown Trout are active and occasionally rise to the odd Olive in the afternoon.

Oh yes, the geese. These were a new one for me, three Egyptian geese (only two agreed to be photographed so don't spend too much time looking for the third)

I had to look them up (give them a google) but apparently numbers visiting these shores are on the up.

I'm coming to the end of my work with tin in the river, it's been a slow old business what with the low water but it is always worth doing on small streams and adds extra glist to the spring sparkle that these rivers should assume in a few months.
The Fishing hut has been treated with the clever cuprinol that has so far preserved this soft wood structure on stilts for twenty two years and preparations are being made to buff up a few bridges and seats. The rods have received their invitations to fish this coming season and will arrive for lunch and a walk up the river in a couple of weeks which is always a happy day when I will inevitably be accused of removing too many trees by some rods who will then ask me in June why I didn't take more off a particular branch as they keep catching their fly on it. It feels like the whole valley is on the cusp of waking up and a week of mild weather will serve as the flicking of a switch that will set in motion the remarkable transformation that is a North European spring.

Almost forgot,

Well done the EA for hauling Thames Water across the coals for sending untreated sewage into the Thames. With quite a fish kill and jonnies, tampons and bog roll passing through the swim it was a difficult one for them to wriggle out of, although with the concerns of shareholders and dividends paramount you can bet they gave of their best with regard to wriggling.

The opening line of the piece seemed a suitable place to bury bad news, details of the worsening situation now follow:

I turned 49 this week.


I don't know, as we have only just had the millenium and our fortieth birthday party was only a few weeks ago.

But these things happen.

The house tradition (as I'm not big on cake) has it that we refer to numerologists with regard to the significance of the number of years so its over to our friends at who teach us that:

Seven times seven is forty nine - Who Knew?

Buddha remained 49 days near the tree named Bo

The Virgin Mary was 49 years old during the ascension of his son Jesus

Moving away from our friends at ridingthebeast,com we find that Wikipedia has the number 49 as the natural number following 48 and preceding 50 which rings a few bells

While insist that the number forty nine is a combination of the vibrations of the number four and the number nine. Angel number forty nine is a message that a project or cycle is coming to an end as one door closes another one opens,

quite possibly that of angel number fifty

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Baile Atha Cliath and Further Movements

Well I've been back in the kaftan and Madam has once again been picking the guitar, Chattels of travel that provide succour in transit,

and while some at the airport may look askance at our early morning travel apparel and accoutrements, each serve as a reminder that yes, while our loins and ligaments allow we're off away once more singing our happy songs.

Another internet break away,

so named not because we booked it online, but because for a short while we get to enjoy the internet in a way more familiar to most people.

We marvel at YouTube , curse the iplayer because there are many things that we would like to catch up on but can't because it is not available in that particular country and thrill at being able to sit in bed and watch a film or TV series ( a dip into Series 4 of the IT crowd for me on this flying visit) before bed.


We were back in our Dublin Dacha , which we are duty bound to mention is the excellent Fleet Street Hotel in Temple Bar Dublin for some more stand up comedy. The Elegance rooms are a particular delight as are the staff. Thirty minutes after entering our room there was a knock on the door and I was greeted by a smiley lady with a silver salver bearing all the clothes that I had left behind on our previous visit (David O'Doherty) We had also been thoughtfully put in a room with an open plan wardrobe enabling me to keep track of all my garments throughout our stay. Thank you once again for having us.

I'll not repeat the tale of how a one hour plane trip to Dublin is a cheaper trip than the one hour train trip up to Londinium, but the premise still holds and so it was that Madam and myself were once again back on the banks of the Liffy for a day in this tremendous city.

We caught this chap taking advantage of two sign posts on Grafton St to produce a piece of art with clingfilm for a canvas.

and well done for that

Lunch at a hipster cafe followed which comprised some unusual soup and unusual craft beer.

With a nod to the nuts that is Fifty Shades, if a blindfold had been applied it would be difficult to distinguish one from the other, but sustenance was attained

so we toddled off to take in the late Amy Winehouse's Fishing Tackle shop of first choice.

Located in Temple Bar, there are pictures of la Winehouse displayed in the window and also inside of her fondling rapalas and squeezing Flying C's

She'd have loved Vince Headley's

Who Knew?

An excellent early dinner, the highpoint of which was a lamb shank that may well have been cooking for much of the week before a great Jack Whitehall gig at the 3 arena.

Jarlath Regan was the support act and he's well worth a watch.

The 3 arena by the way,

the best arena I've been in, although I've only been in two or possibly three as wasn't there a chain of shops called arena whose business was TV rentals or peddling posters, I forget which,

Anyway ( I seem to be saying this more and more)

Wembley Arena and The Gmex in Manchester didn't do it for me. The stage is a million miles away and I fell asleep watching The Cure at Wembley. The 3 arena is like an indoor kop with few seats on flat ground and a far more intimate feel than the two arenas mentioned previously (Wembley and the Gmex, not the TV rental or poster emporia although on reflection one of these have been athena)

Ladies and Gentleman I give you the next Arthur Askey,

Jack Whitehall is going places,

you heard it here first folks.

A lazy breakfast followed by a bus back to a plane to take us to what is now widely acknowledged as the world's best airport, Southampton. Off the plane and into the car in a matter of minutes and home twenty in twenty more, it's easier and quicker than going shopping in Basingstoke, let alone tripping up to the smoke for a show.

P Fin

No, No it really is,

We're already booked in to return to take in The Dara's run at Vicar St which serves as preparations for his next big tour in 2018 and are considering popping over to do our weekly supermarket shop.

Southampton airport is the best and easiest airport in the world.

Back home now and we currently cling to the skirts of Storm Doris.

Our friends in the North seems to have had a particular time of it.

We've a couple of christmas trees down and a poxy willow across the release pen fence but nothing too dramatic. Child A has just returned from her shift at the Thames Valley Police Control Centre who had quite a busy time with calls concerning trees down across roads.

I seem to get the call in these environs if a tree goes over the road, which I or my boss don't mind. I'm not sure a tree on some roads is a 999 event and maybe a sad sign of a dwindling sense of community in some parts, the chap in the Thames valley area who dialled triple nine regarding the delivery of the wrong cake for his daughter's birthday party demanding somebody be held account is just one example of callers she has to deal with who don't seem to understand the meaning of the word emergency.

What times we live in.

Child B reports from Beijing that his attempts to visit the Great wall were thwarted by station closure. His chosen point of departure was shut for the following three years in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Maybe I'm a little harsh on the chaps who run the rails in the South of England, our trains ain't so bad after all.

Apologies, let me put that another way

Our train service would be significantly improved if it was handed over to Hornby or possibly Lima or Lego.

Given the title of the piece I ought to make mention of the river. Storm Doris didn't make much of a contribution and the hatch in front of the house retains its end of September status of fully closed. At this time in 2014 it was open 18 notches and we were getting rid of water.

Forget the figures and ignore the media, we need a month of rain in this corner of the country.

This week we have been planting trees, singular specimens positioned to maximise their form and shape. It's the stuff of Capability Brown and what with vistas an 'all I am sure I have gone off piste somewhere and put a sorbus where a fagus should have been (the Latin labels didn't help)

The water meadow upstream is currently inundated with swans. I counted over forty on a recent bumble about and a few of them look in a bit of a sorry state. A cold snap could see a few cash in their chips, we've seen this before and there seems to be a cycle of boom and bust in this valley's population of swans.

Two weeks of the Grayling season remain and the winter has been quite productive. Half a dozen fish around the two pound mark but this will rise in the next fortnight as females bulk up prior to spawning.

Apologies a brief bit about football,

Claudio Ranieri sacked ?

I would expect nothing less from a game/business that, in the top flight, is as distinct from the real world as the moon is to mars.

What times we live in.

This week's trek in the cause of extending life took us from Wherwell across the Common through Chilbolton up on to Chilbolton Down to the Observatory and back down again. Sited on the fringe of Leckford estate where I worked full and part time for four years on the edge of what was the Chilbolton airfield, we once visited the Observatory during my three years studying Fish Farming and Fishery Management.

I don't know why, but I do remember that it was permanently linked to Metoesat the weather satellite and that the two funny blocks on the outside shoot rays back and forth that measure the rain.

I think that's right, I'm not sure why we visited as there were no fish,

There weren't any at the Harwell Nuclear place either when we visited in the name of Farming Fish and Managing Fisheries.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monsters of Rock, In Rock and a Belted Galloway

Still going about my business, chainsaw in hand much willow has been conquered along with some stubby little thorn that fought back hard in a recent campaign claiming one pair of neoprene waders and a slow puncture to the front wheel of the tractor.

Even in gloves my hands bear the scars and each evening I attend to various punctures and splinters with little sympathy and only vin rouge for succour.

There's a few more weeks to go of this kind of work with the bottom bends requiring attention and a large tree falling on to the Pheasant pen that we hope to make use of this year. Bashing about on the top shallows has betrayed a brace of Water rail but the small bird with the unusual whistle remains elusive. The Kelly Kettle provided some drama one morning. Fired up for the first time I wandered away to attend to a fire when I hear a loud pop. Turning to the direction of the noise I saw the kettle was a few feet from where I had left it. Closer inspection revealed that I had forgotten to take the cork out of the kettle part, the kettle had boiled and because I had jammed the cork in hard to prevent any spillage during transit pressure had built up to such an extent that the cork had now joined the list of space junk orbiting the earth and the kettle had shot across the ground in recoil. A new bright orange silicon cork has now been purchased and a lesson learned. I'm also making steady progress with the perennial problem of shifting silt, a task that is made all the more tedious due to the low water conditions, more on that later - apologies in advance.

A few people have been bothering the grayling with mixed results. One chap had a handful of fish all pushing two pound and another managed to put a venerable roach of a pound thirteen on the bank. We had some funny foam in one of the streams that flows through the mill house garden although nothing on the main river so something must have entered the mill stream. We had a surprise road closure recently (which caused chaos and don't we normally get informed about such incidents) to attend to potholes and bumps and unusually it rained in this valley a few days later so it may be something to do with runoff from the road.

I'll just break off there to attend to Stonehenge.

Since I first set foot in this valley in 1986 there has been talk of burrowing underneath the thing to hide the nearby Highway to the Sun and restore a little tranquillity to the heap of blue stones. Back then you could rock up after a night at the pub, park on the side of the road and take your ease on the heel stone for some post pub contemplation.
To my mind, it was built for this very purpose

The tunnel proposal is once again under consideration and if it does ever happen the jingoists will declare a great feat of engineering to rival any wonder of the world at which point our Swiss friends may emit an


We've put more holes through some of our Alps than we have through some of our cheeses."

We once drove up the Rhone Valley from Montreux to Brig to stay on a camp site on an alp with a swimming pool filled with glacial melt water where sleep was an impossible dream due to a field full of cows wandering about in the dark with bells around their necks.


Half the journey up the upper reaches of the Rhone was subterranean with some of the highway burrows many many miles long.

And hey Montreux how about some embers by the lake putting smoke on the water and fire in the sky or failing that a few Funky Claudes promenading on the shore or possibly running in and out?

For a particular generation your town could be the new Graceland.

Oh yes, Stonehenge.

A five minute piece on local TV this week revealed it was once within a few yards of a brace of aerodromes. One black and white photo displayed Getafix and friends undertaking rituals with Tommy Sopwith doing bunny ears in the background, the runway was very close by and rumours abound that a few stones were clipped on landing in high winds which caused a few crustys with trowels to look askance but let's not forget that several generations took the whole thing down and put it back up again in their own eye and several stones retain Victorian foundations.

It may now not be what our Neolithic forebears perceived and the whole reason it gets all the heat with regard to all things prehistoric is that it is visible from a very busy main road. There are some equally impressive remains from prehistory at the other end of the British Isles that receive far fewer visitors and at this point I'd like to offer the premise that the builders of Stonehenge chose the location in the knowledge that one day a busy highway would drop from two lanes to one thus slowing traffic down in order to gaze upon their skills with stone.

It's a trick not lost on Anthony Gormley who has made a mint out of erecting his most prominent pieces by busy roads, The Angel of the North a prime example.


rather than a tunnel, as the Swiss, Austrians and Italians have this one taped, I propose we extend the dual carriageway up to the stones and make them the centre piece of a large roundabout. The current alignment of the stones lend themselves to this and it is one thing we do increasingly well in this country where we are blessed with many and while the Swiss may counter the miracle of our short tunnel with a Romansch "Ahem" they will have no comeback to a roundabout to end all roundabouts, because they don't do good roundabout. Those who wish to view the stones can drive around the roundabout as many times as they please and those who just need to move on to a holiday, cricket match or relatives can pass straight on by.


Recent rambles have seen us conquer the Basingstoke canal from Odium to Dogmersfield, cutting back across Dogmersfield Park to take in some nice lakes and several enormous piles of bricks. Full of fish we took lunch on bench behind a platoon of carp fishermen who'd struck camp for the weekend.

A wet and windy day and an impending televised six nations game saw us stay a little closer to home and trek from Whitchurch towards Tufton then on up the Test Valley to Laverstoke Park and then back again.

Aside from the beautiful scenery and some voluble cattle,

Here's a Belted Galloway owned by South African former F1 star Jody Schechter,

and by way of balance,

here's some chooks, sans belts, owned by Hants FA Groundsman of the year 2011 (opened a lot of doors for us did that)

It was clear that high up the valley the aquifers are depleted and in desperate need of replenishment.

And at this point I will fall off the wagon and attend to groundwater levels.

Here's a photo of a ditch that should have water in it,

Further dry ditches

And here's a field that should have a half acre splash of spring water that feeds through previous ditches to the river that I fall in and out of.

The Test and Itchen River Report for 2016 was rolled out this week. Featuring reports from most beats on both rivers plus other guff regarding the two rivers (including poor prose from your correspondent) A piece from Command centre central described the impending renewal of the abstraction licence to send supplementary water down the Candover Stream during periods when the Itchen's discharge dropped below a specific level. The Upper Itchen is deemed an uber environmental area which must be preserved at all cost. However it has come to light that the cone of influence caused by this groundwater abstraction (cone of influence from groundwater abstraction- think digging a hole in super dry sand, the deeper you go the wider the rim of the hole at the top) is impacting upon other river catchments, principally the Upper Dever Valley. Quite rightly the EA have recommended that the amount of water permitted to be drawn out of the ground to sustain the Itchen's flow be reduced on the new licence, quite wrongly the local water company has asked for it to remain the same and a portion of it be siphoned off to supplement local domestic supply. Many times on here (and elsewhere ) I have pondered why the river seems to fall away at a faster rate than it did twenty years ago, seems I wasn't half the crank I was made out to be by some. Well done the EA for fighting the cause, but I fear it will be like popguns against Polaris missiles in the tussle with the water company in the current political climate.

In the sustained pursuit of additional years Madam and myself have just returned from another weekly six miler, coincidentally among the depleted aquifers of the upper Dever Valley, on a tour of tracks that I knew from the years that legal coursing events were held on the same ground. Two or three would tale place each winter with three eight dog stakes and a rich mix of people would assemble from all corners of the UK to run their dog. From the ermine clad with trainers (dog trainers not reeboks) through life boatmen, farmers, architects to Mr F*7%ing Younis ( so called because each sentence was littered with F&$%s) with his beard full of henna in a Shalwar Kameez. My employer ran the show and before each meeting the place would be reconnoitred to limit the inevitable chaos that ensues when allowing dogs to run after things in open fields. The two farms were alive with hares and on each recce you'd expect to see up to a dozen bumbling about with many more hunkered down hidden away in their scrape.

On this mild morning when you would reasonably expect to see the opening gambit of the Hare's mad spring shenanigans,

we didn't see a single hare,

so well done Mr Blair for that, that hunting bill really worked our for the hare didn't it?

Cardiff yesterday and a flying visit to touch base with Child B who is in his final year at Uni and about to push off to China for three weeks, seven days of which are a course field trip to Hong Kong.

Cardiff grows on us with every visit and I think he'll miss it if he ever leaves. The Victorian arcades host a plethora of interesting independent shops and places to eat. Madam Fromage is a tremendous place to take sustenance

Otis was much taken by the pooch boutique opposite peddling bespoke leather dog beds with marble dog bowl holders,

We didn't go in but his dream remains

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stop Driving People Into The Sea BBC!

Every evening this year at 6pm the BBC have forced the same small band of brothers to don swimming trunks and like a regiment of Reggie Perrins turn as one and march out into the freezing briny.

From a licence payer and one who wouldn't jump into water at this time of year clad in anything less than a minimum covering of 5mm of neoprene, Stop it BBC.

I know that waterboarding currently gets all the heat with regard to methods of aquatic torture, but this pushes it close. At the very least introduce a rotation policy so that the same bunch aren't subject this nightly barbarity which serves as an amuse bouche to the evening news. Yes a dancing bear and of course the bearded ladies and those swimming hippos were a lot of fun but this daily ritual of driving these same souls off the beach by way of a bit of a filler before the nightly news is at best medieval at worst downright cruel!


Chainsaw work continues, balsam poplar stumps have been burned, vistas have been created and my new saw continues to perform well. For five consecutive days night time temperatures dropped to between minus five and minus seven and a big fire on a clear frosty morning has been a welcome addition to the working environment. We are currently attending to the forces of crack willow that have taken up position on the top shallows, I last went at them about five years ago which is a little too long, three years is about the max as they can really impact on weed and marginal growth if allowed to run riot. It's the time of year for funny birds, and there is something up where we are working that I have yet to identify, it makes a funny noise that I'll not try to replicate vie the medium of the written word but as soon as I have identified it rest assured it will be writ large on here. There are many redwing and a flight of canaries that on closer inspection in good light proved to be yellowhammers. Child A also reported a bird making a funny call on her return late one night from work, too early for the Nightjar so with the amount of lurgy about the place at the moment my guess is an owl with a cold.

There now follows an appeal on behalf of the RSPDP (Royal Society for the Protection of Depleted Aquifers)

Crikes we need rain

I'll say that again for the sake of emphasis.


My new friend who is a big noise in the EA informs me that meetings are being held and there are concerns at a regional level on the amount of water currently held in the ground in this part of the world

Yet the media and public disconnect from what constitutes good meteorological conditions for a particular time of year increases daily: our local news programme has just declared the current week a wash out, with scattered showers forecast and spells of prolonged drizzle.


A position has arisen for a suitable candidate to fulfil the position of promoter for a wet week in winter in the South of England. The candidate shall possess excellent communication skills and be able to get a simple message across in words of no more than two syllables to a large audience with limited appreciation of the subject.

Last week, with a view to prolonging life, we walked six miles up and down the river Hamble. It is a place we have driven by countless times, watched cricket matches within a mile of its banks and yet it remained relatively unknown territory to us. Parking among the cravats and Breton sweaters much favoured by the Howard's Way set in Bursledon we headed north on the left bank, through a few marinas under the M27 then out into the marshes round a creek and into the Manor Farm Country Park where we encountered four hundred or so cross country runners charging at us down a narrow path. There were runners from across the county and while the leader was obvious it was difficult to determine when the last runner was due through in order for us to complete our trek.

We stood by the side of the path and noted the change in body shape and BMI as the field progressed until a chap on a bike sporting the requisite high viz whistling the theme tune from "Chariots of Fire" arrived chivvying along the endomorphic back marker.
It's a great place for a walk and surprisingly peaceful, placed as it is between Pompey and Southampton and its proximity to a very busy motorway, it just gets a bit crowded when Zatopek and Mary Peters et al turn up.

The chickens continue to present us with the gift of eggs with every other one a double yolker, production is increasing and I move their pen every other day as I have delayed their release into the paddock until the threat of flu has passed.

A friend enquired recently if I had caught the Andrew Marr show on Sunday, to which I replied I had cancelled my subscription to the show. After six days a week of despair at edicts being issued and rhetoric uttered in all corners of the globe, Sunday once again serves as a break from the outside world, so apologies to the Andrew sisters (Marr and Neil)

I really value a one day a week break from the grim madness that currently grips planet earth (and feel free to make a contribution here Tim Peake rather than putting all your efforts into blagging another free trip into space)and now a Sunday is spent immersed in the three W's.

Not Worrel, Weekes and Walcott

but walks, wine and Wodehouse,

A brief word from Wooster:

"... in the course of a beano of some description at the Sherry-Sutherland, I made the acquaintance of Pauline Stoker.
She got right in among me. her beauty maddened me like wine.

"Jeeves, " I recollect saying, on returning to the apartment "who was the fellow who on looking at something felt like somebody looking at something? I learned the passage at school, but it has escaped me."

"I fancy the individual you have in mind , sir, is the poet Keats, who compared his emotions on reading Chapman's Homer to those of stout Cortez when with eagle eyes he stared at the Pacific"

"The Pacific, eh?"

"Yes, sir. And all his men looked at each other with a wild surmise, silent upon a peak in Darien"

Thank you Jeeves.

Hey Donald, i know it would be another white male in later life appointment, but you could really use a Jeeves

In other news, I'm a few weeks away from the 25th anniversary of my current employment. Protocols dictate that carriage clocks are de rigueur at this juncture but the well preserved form of the lady who sleeps on my left and my own withered husk, each born three days apart confirms the thesis that time moves at differing paces for different people and all aspects of horology are hooey,

or was it Astrology?

No matter, if we can all agree that one of the "ologys" is hooey we'll move on

To mark the 25 year event "the firm" have stumped up for, not a clock, but a fantastic trip to Italy where Madam and myself will both break new ground and revisit a few old favourites - report to follow.

Very exciting and thank you very much, the last twenty five years on a special stretch of river have been a blast and a terrific place to raise a family, thank you for having us for the last twenty five years.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Something In the Air by Thunderclap Snow and the Met Office

Just finished my midday repast of jacket potato cottage cheese and sauerkraut, (the sustained consumption of which along with red wine, dark chocolate and regular gentle walking guarantees I will be dancing the funky chicken at the next millennium), and it has started to rain.

A weather event heralded throughout the week by a media who now seem to be using comics as a source for meteorological metaphors.

At the time of writing we are promised Thunder Snow, Power Rain and Menacing Fog as KAPOW! Storm Steve arrives in the West to deliver his deadly cargo of precipitation that will fall with a SPLAT! and a BDOING!

Seems the Meteorologists have now too taken the stance of "If we're not scared they're not doing their job" (and I'm pointing the finger at you for starting this Jeremy Vine) It's the first real rain we've had in the region for weeks so in the spirit of counter culture I have rented a village hall where all like minded people can meet for the launch of a new weather cult.

Think "Pagan lite" with all action kept above the waist line

The arrival of rain will be met with rejoicing, panpipe music, no little mead with every wet day declared a bank holiday.

There are many rivers in the South that are desperate for rain, but that story doesn't meet the demands of today's hyperbolic media. Springwatch Disneyfied the countryside, it now appears the media are Disneyfying the weather

and for that I blame Idina Menzel and her theme from Frozen,

Yes it's clearly Idina's fault.

Chainsaw work continues and to date we have managed to burn four of the big balsam poplar stumps that fell over four winters back. It's a steady business with each stump requiring a substantial amount of other wood as fuel for a fire hot enough to make any impact.

With one left to burn, we have several substantial willows to attend to on the river bank that will be felled and dragged to the remaining recalcitrant stump by the tractor and the vista will be complete.

Many moles have massed on the river bank and more hills appear with each passing day but we remain mercifully rat free, which is unusual for this time of year.

It may be that I move with more stealth as the years progress as I seem to be able to get a lot closer to a Muntjac than I used to. We have one who watches me split logs from behind a stick fifteen yards away and we regularly get within twenty yards of others when walking the dog. They used to be incredibly windy but seem to have become increasingly bold.

I recently received an invitation from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to a workshop on watercress in the headwaters of the Test and Itchen, I declined the invitation but well done the H&IOWWT (did I really just say that)
For a few years now we have allowed the cress to grow in during the second half of the season when often there isn't enough water to run a full river channel. It can help to pinch little rivers and maintain a speed of flow that limits the sinister siltation. It must be managed as it can choke a river and also smother good weed such as ranunculus and in the unlikely event of high water it can be cut back or pulled out, but it can serve a purpose for a few months of the year, although the first few frosts soon see it off.

We have yet to have anyone fish for grayling in 2017. The last chap who had a go was a big noise in the Environment Agency who enjoyed a productive day but commented on how high the banks were to which I replied it's not the banks that are high it's the river that's low,

much too low.

I would like to have taken him over to the Itchen where the gravel bar that stands clear of the water grows bigger with each passing week, and ask him if he believed the figures he was shown regarding river levels and discharge, but I didn't because it was Christmas and he was quite a nice chap. But instead informed him that there was less water flowing down this river than when I first started work here nearly twenty five years ago. The book will show that then fish were caught from the Millstream which remained fishable for much of the season, this is no longer the case. The hatch on the house was opened wider during winters twenty odd years ago to let water go, this is no longer the case. There are jobs that I now have to do differently to compensate for lower flow, I could go on, (and often do, interminably) but will leave it there, but can we all agree that this river's flow is diminishing as the years progress.

With some trepidation Madam and myself have resumed contact with HMRC and submitted forms relevant. You may recall that we spent the first half of last year giving battle with the revenue collectors after they insisted Madam had not filed a return. She had, and we were forced to invoke ministers and parliamentarians in order for them to relent and accept that there had been a problem at their end regarding their clever website. The wounds are still quite raw and this year paper copies, screen shots and photographs have been taken at every turn should the unfortunate experience be repeated.

Earlier this week I was summoned to Madam's chambers (which also doubles as the living room when I am tied to the kitchen table chucking up guff) to take in Rick Stein's series at 7pm on BBC2. To use contemporary parlance, Rick's lucked out and got the gig of taking short breaks in most of the European cities that we have visited in recent times.

Bologna (still one of our favourites) first.

My employer and one fat lady frequented Rick's place in Padstow many times and can confirm (my employer, as all fat ladies have left the room) that fish is Rick's thing.

It's all about the pasta in Bologna and Rick's fish free programme (bar a can of tuna) had us reaching for the tablets as we will be in Italy later this year and wondered if we could tag on a couple of days in La Rossa before returning home. Flight checks were made and instead of the usual "there are twelve other people looking at this flight" it flashed up there are four thousand and three people currently looking at this flight" It may have been an error or Rick's programme has done more for the food capital of Italy than the town tourist board,

Bologna could be quite busy this year.

Rick was in Lisbon the next day and we were again reminded of a tremendous time in a top city albeit with fish very much to the fore, some top trams, a bonkers outdoor lift and some wine glasses from a department store called Pollux that we somehow managed to get back to blighty in one piece,

one of which I am about to drain of delicious Douro before signing off.

And finally, news just in from Chick 'O' Land,

We have received the gift of egg and on the morrow the full family shall gather at the table in the manner of Tom and Barbara to share in the harvest,

Well done the chickens!

Oh yes, Happy New Year!

We've already done that one - ed