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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Roar of The Guns Returns

Well here we all are in another year, Christmas was fun and thank you to family and friends for making it so but with the business done I'll make the perennial appeal for rain. Currently the river is lower than the end of season level, over on the Itchen the large pool below the bridge has developed a new feature, a gravel bar standing proud of the centre of the river big enough for a garden table and chairs. There was a piece in the paper this week by a chap who decried Joe Public's failing appreciation of the seasons and its weather.

Hear hear to that Sir,

We have been banging on about the same subject in this parish for a few years, and can I now propose a period of mourning for each dry week experienced in the south from November to March and a bank holiday for every hundred millimetres of rain to fall in the same period.

It's just a thought, but we really need some rain to fall in this valley.

Chainsaw work continues and the vista is a few days away from being complete, the rides have also been attended to in the wood that still plays host to a good number of woodcock and high numbers of increasingly bold Muntjac.

With the river retaining the clarity of late summer grayling fishing continues and it is not easy. One chap turned up to chase roach and was taken aback at the size of the fish that he failed to catch but could clearly see as they patrolled beneath his feet. A barn owl is about most days and even flopped through our narrow garden one afternoon this week. Seven Cormorants flew over one day this week which is a lot for this valley although nothing to the groups of graculus that congregate on the main river.

We have a few geese on the meadow upstream along with half a dozen swans, which I'll take following a few of our rambles about the county in the name of lengthening life.

Two days after Christmas saw Madam and myself in Titchfield for a walk along the Titchfield canal that borders the Titchfield Haven, a tremendous place pitched between Pompey and Southampton that has echoes of Bransbury Common, so well done Hampshire County Council for that.

We picnicked on the beach looking across to Calshot and the Isle of Wight with Brent geese to the left of us, to the right of us, in front of us on the water behind us in the field and above us in the sky. There were hundreds of the things.

A few days later saw us rope together for a seven mile shuffle in the Upper Itchen valley, a SAC and one of the most protected pieces of chalk stream in the world. Some stretches are stunning examples of how a chalk stream should be, so I was dismayed to find hordes of swans stripping ranunculus from what was once one of the most pristine pieces of chalk stream known to man. There is an awful lot of good river restoration work going on in the chalk valleys that is being stymied by the arrival of large groups of Geilgud. There's a conversation needs to be had (the opening exchanges may already be underway if the jungle drums in the west are to be believed) as they are directly impacting on chalk stream habitat. The odd pair is ok but thirty or forty on a beat can render the place void of life bar the big white birds.

I think you know what's coming, but yes we're back off to Dublin, on a £65 return flight from the world's best airport - Southampton.

We will once again be ensconced in one of the excellent Elegance rooms at the Fleet St Hotel, Temple Bar,

That's the Fleet St Hotel, Temple Bar

We will be there to take in Jack Whitehall after spending the day perusing the excellent shops the city has to offer and dinner at San Lorenzo's

That's San Lorenzo's one of Dublin's finest Italian restaurants.

We anticipate enjoying the experience so much that we have booked to return later in the year to take in the Dara at Vicar St as he makes preparations for his 2018 tour.

Back in the room.

Looking up not down, as we don't do ground game, shooting in this environs returned after a five year sabbatical following half the wood falling over and petulance and pomposity from one who withdrew favours regarding shooting on his land.

It wasn't the biggest bag, although we saw a dozen woodcock and fifty odd duck, but it wasn't about the bag. A tremendous morning with good friends bashing sticks in the wood, my employer's children and grandchildren manning the guns and all coming together for a long lunch and discourse on links between Alison, Gilbert and Sullivan and Basingstoke. A great day, a terrific advert for the sport and, for those who were unable to attend, one that will definitely be repeated,

Yes, we're back in the shooting game, and it feels goooood.

I'm loathe to mention the thing, but herefollows a bit about Brexit (if you've had enough of Brexit, scroll down to the vitriol regarding the continuation of Richard Madeley's career in various forms of media)

Please can we all agree to pull together and make the best of the situation we find ourselves in and end the chronic sniping and division

Last summer I was sent a link to an article by a baby boomer (we'll call him Rod) that questioned the appeal of sport and weren't we all making a little too much of this Olympic business in Rio?

Rod didn't get sport.

I get sport,

Most U11s get sport,

Once the game is done, the result stands. Winners and losers, we are where we are, now on to the next game.

Arguments over the result of a match long gone achieves precisely five eighths of F*&% A88

We are where we are (that phrase again) and there is niw a requirement to pull together and make it work.
A win for one doesn't mean that the other must automatically fall into line with the other's way of thinking. After a General election, opposition isn't eliminated, it has a part to play in proceedings and in the case of leaving the EU will aid in quelling the voice of the jackboot and nasty nationalist brigade who seem to be under the illusion that they have required more relevance.

Putting my purple of hat of positivity on (currently in post so I'll don the green cap of fingerscrossedity) 2017 is a year to come together for the common cause in a patriotic (not nationalistic or far right) kind of way and make the best of where we are.

Continuing to pick over the bones of a referendum result and vilifying the forty odd percent who voted the other way (I'm looking at you Alison Pearson et al) achieves nothing.

Stop looking back, move on, make this thing work and trust in the next generation, because in my experience they're a pretty clued up bunch

Happy New Year and sorry for banging on, but Richard Madeley is currently on the television in the next room working his way through planet earth's resources of the word "I" and "me" so I had to find something to do as he always makes me cross.

Poor Judy.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Over and Out for 2016 - Phew!

With the season now upon us (take note shops and radio 2 breakfast show who herald the onset of festivities earlier with each passing year) I feel a carol coming on (not you Vorderman!)

But soft, an adjust of approach and apologies, but the long run is marked.

Recently I was made party to a series of emails regarding river business, a proposal had been made (an excellent and enlightened one ) and opinions were being sought from a range of interested parties. It was a "reply to all" fandango and a private one at that so I won't pick over the bones too much in this piece,

But twice during the ethereal exchange it was suggested that a particular generation of keepers had had a negative impact on the river and the sooner they shuffled off the better.

With the spectre of raising a bat to fifty fast approaching I declared an interest and opted out of further discussion regarding the matter, opting instead to sit seething, occasionally popping outside to furiously dig holes in the garden,
it's a practice I picked up from Alan Partridge and his Forward Solutions and it never fails to quell an ire.
Each generation considers itself more enlightened than the last, failing to consider that circumstances at the time were probably very different when compared to the present day.

It's a cheap shot, and the chap who made the assertion should know better.

When I bounced into this valley in the mid 80's priorities were different. Throughout my three years at Sparsholt studying fish farming and fishery management we were instructed that following some highly publicised famine in Africa we were going to feed the world via fish farming. I still have the T shirt from the fish feed company with the slogan " I can feed millions" across the chest. The fishery management tuition was also vastly different from what we undertake today.

I can only speak for myself but cast out onto the river bank alone with only my contemporaries and prospective bride for countenance I would seek succour from agencies and trusts who purported to have a handle on how things should roll along in a chalk valley.

We were advised to fence banks in one year and remove fencing a few years hence. A nearby estate won a senior conservation award for restoring hatches for flooding meadows, a few years later there was a push to remove all hatches from the river system. A six figure report by a company of international repute to formulate a plan for the implementation of habitat directive was cocked up and recommendations made for some beats (including one I am charged with looking after) were clearly nonsense, and derided by any as such.

Faced with such a chaotic lead, is it any wonder that a generation of keepers came to the conclusion that those in higher places clearly had no idea as to how to proceed and opted to trust in their own judgement.

Currently there are some good things being done on the chalk streams.

Today I manage the fishery in a very different way as to how I did thirty years ago,

You never stop learning,

But then it is a very different river from thirty years ago.

Biodiversity has undoubtedly increased, while flow, water quality and fly life has decreased. The river goes up and down a lot quicker than it used to and angler's expectations of a day on a chalk stream have changed. The number of oversize fish tipped in has reduced. Many keepers have bent with the wind and adapted to a changing chalk stream habitat. It's no a surprise that a supercilious tone emanates from some quarters, twas ever thus with a certain bunch of coves brimful of internet enlightenment who once filled my inbox with messages mentioning dinosaurs.
And hey,

I'll chuck it in again,

Following a visit from the senior fishery management strategy maker for the south east we received a glowing report for the way we went about our business.

Not bad for a bunch of small minded dinosaurs.

What will the current movers and shakers regarding chalk stream policy be remembered for ?

Well they've a fixation with genetic purity which is all a bit odd, and to my small mind, born out of some remarkably muddled thinking.

and they'd like to be regarded as the ones who gave woody debris to the world, they didn't, some keepers were using it before they could even raise wood

They have undoubtedly changed expectations as to what one can expect while fishing a chalk stream, so well done for that, but there is a complete failure to address over abstraction and water quality - the two principle threats to these rivers.

Come on all you trusts and agencies, to use contemporary parlance you're regularly" mugged off" on these issues. It all seems to get a bit cosy over the fine coffee and posh biscuits at some of these meetings with big business and corporations.

If the river dries up or becomes a fetid phosphate filled ditch, what will we have to fall out about.

With the current state of bate swiftly attaining the status of "fine" I shall now attend to the FA.

For several years I served on the committee of our local youth football league. The FA representatives who occasionally attended our meetings were everything I expected.

Ted Croker clones: blue blazer, gold buttons, grey staypress action slacks, side parting who enjoyed the status of sitting on committee

Following the revelations regarding the behaviour of some youth football coaches there has been a call to have a look at how the FA operates.

Hear hear to that!

At one meeting we spent more time sorting out who sat next to who at the end of season dinner than an issue I raised over the particularly poor quality of the pitches assigned for that years' junior cup finals; rock hard and elaborately bouncy they subsequently reduced each game to a lottery.

Fines from the adult Sunday leagues in the area have filled the county FA's coffers to the tune of six figures, and well done local town society for that, but there it sits. Grass roots facilities, addressing the issue of players dropping out of football between U16 and U18 (and yes, the way local town society conducts itself on a Sunday morning has much to do with that) training of officials, incentives for ex players to become officials.

During my time serving my local club we were required to fund raise and seek sponsorship for all kit and equipment. We paid to attend FA coaching courses but did receive a ffree poster to put up in dressing rooms championing the "Respect" campaign which was a joke because if the likes of Ferguson and Mourinho give it little credence it has little chance in the lower levels.

The FA has much to address and has been letting the "beautiful game" down for far too long.

The signs were there when your correspondent was declared Hants FA Groundsman of the year for 2011. A quick deco at google earth would have revealed the pitch was not quite the shape it should have been and the awarding of such a trophy to the incumbent of the groundsman's shoes was a farce.

Enough of the long run so we break for drinks and bring the spinners on.

What a shame about Anthony Gill.

Always entertaining, inevitably irascible it seems surreal that I won't be reading his reviews on the weekend. I never met him, although I know keepers who did, as he liked his fishing and all said what a top bloke on the bank he was. His final piece for the paper regarding the onset of his cancer was particularly poignant, made even more so with good friends going through a similar experience.

The coal face of the NHS is manned by some remarkable people from many nations who are perpetually frustrated by meddling bureaucracy.

Recently I had cause to accompany a neighbour to our local A&E.

It was Sunday night post Songs of Praise and a fall had occurred, it was nothing to do with Songs of Praise but a head was bumped and a large gash resulted.

Madam was magnificent and administered first aid (she's trained in the art) until the blue lights arrived. A blue light delivery of the patient and myself (with the opening salvo of the evening's wine already on board) to our local A&E and the patient joined a four hour queue of trolleys in a corridor before her head wound was attended to. Thirteen stitches later she returned home an hour before dawn.

Yesterday I paused for conversation with a newly retired local farmer. He'd recently had a stroke and ran me through the chain of events. Sunday evening (again!) he'd felt a little peculiar while watching the TV (again, nothing to do with Songs of Praise) he shrugged it off (he's a farmer) and braved it out through Countryfile (who doesn't) before confessing to his wife that he couldn't lift his left arm. Off to the same A&E where it was confirmed he had suffered a stroke. Apparently time is everything with a stroke, and if a particular drug can be administered within a certain time frame the patient will be up and about and dancing the funky chicken within a week.
He missed the cut off point for the administration of the drug while waiting in the corridor.

But thankfully made a complete recovery all the same(he's a farmer)

I've had great faith in the NHS up until now,

My own recent bumps bangs and hernias have always been well attended to by staff from many nations, some of whom didn't appear old enough to be let loose with the knives.

But crikes it all seems a little stretched at the moment.

Oh yes, it's Christmas, best lighten the mood.

The river remains close to its end of summer level and we need much rain,

No that's not lightening the mood.

Oh yes, Otis returned to the field of shooting last week picking up a dozen or more birds on a local shoot. A fun crowd, I learned of a game farmer who was charging £160 for a Turkey and had lengthy discourse with a pig farmer who sends his sows for slaughter in Germany bringing the carcasses back to a butchers block in the UK because it comes in twenty five percent cheaper than the slaughter house a few miles up the road.

This isn't lightening the mood either

Vista creation continues with Lord Lugg, which isn't exactly soothing and my back has been playing up, but the view from the loo in my employer's pile of bricks improves with each week.

Yes the mood's definitely turned a corner there.

A keeper from downstream whom I have known for thirty years dropped in this morning. After twenty five years employment the estate on which he works grants an employee six months leave. He'd just returned from two month antipodean odyssey and had popped in to drop off a Christmas card, completely forgetting that he'd sent an identical card two weeks ago in the post.

Mood on the rise, good old Neil.

Child A and Child B are both in residence and the flag on the roof flies at the appropriate height. We have a house full of people for seasonal festivities and both fridge and larder assume the status of "well stocked"

All will serve as balm to a year that has overflowed with poison and spite and seen too many good people exit stage left.

Mood kind of restored,

Oh yes the perfect restorative for the season

thanks for reading the rubbish that I write.

Merry Christmas and here's to next year.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

News Just In From The Sofa

Live from the settee, I can report that sport has seen me pile on a few pounds these past few weeks. Successive Saturdays (think Frankie Bridge et al doing the conga) have begun with Test Cricket until late morning a brief pause to undertake tasks assigned or pop out for messages, a flying lunch before back to back rugby matches, an early evening of dancing and then off to the jungle. This kind of thing would never have happened in the day of the Test Card, It's the stuff of students and I'm on the cusp of signing up for a course......

Possibly of tablets, as it's been an emotional roller coaster.

Not the sport, I've a lifelong habit of that kind of thing and am relatively inured to all but the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the sporting arena. No, two glasses into the dancing and I'm unable to control my Tourettes and a succession of "F$£K you Ed Balls" comes flying out whether we are in company or alone.

Thankfully he has failed to make the final and will now return to politics where others can take up the cause of my heckling.

I am normally comfortable with The Jungle and we all delight in the tremendous talent that is the Ant and the Dec, but this year Prodnose has entered the fray and my nerves were in shreds with each passing episode. Since Old Tel shuffled off Prodnose is my favourite broadcaster (and is only on once a week, come on BBC) I'll own up to a dozen or more contributions to his show via the medium of email ( as I did to Tel in his final years) but have always declined the invitation to ring in and make a personal contribution as I'm afraid I'd be incoherent and lose the power of speech as its quite a skill taking your ease on the radio, which is partly what makes Prodnose such a genius of the airwaves.

I didn't go much on him on the TV and I'm not sure a life in the Jungle requires the same qualities as king of the airwaves and each evening I watched peeping through my fingers hoping that he didn't give off too many sparks, because when he goes he goes, albeit eloquently.

If the term "pin headed weasels" is uttered you can be sure that things have taken a turn for the worse.

To my relief, he's out now and set up on the beach. The sooner he's back on the radio on Saturday mornings the better.

While we're on the Jungle, Madam and myself would like to pitch an idea to Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame. I know he visits this parish from time to time and it occurred to us the other evening while in wine on the sofa that an animated "Creature Comforts" type of film centred around the animals in the bush tucker challenge could have legs. The toads and frogs would bemoan the star status of the spiders, the eels would be in the Hello/OK magazine demographic and would be star struck at every celebrity who entered their tank. There would be a lonely crocodile, a camp snake, rats with a fear of he who should not be named (Gino DeCampo who famously caught and cooked one on the show)
The story centres around a Witchetty Grub who lives in fear of the SS ( Stacey Solomon) who eventually catches up with Brer Witchetty during a bush tucker challenge, at which point I'll issue a spoiler alert.

It's just a thought, and remember you heard it here first.

Don't be a stranger Nick.

Back at work, it rained the wind blew, the river didn't flood and no trees fell over. Normal stuff for November along with the requisite media over reaction to a weather event that is not a hot day in summer. We continue to nurture a burgeoning urban based generation whose understanding of the seasons extends no further than the decision as to whether to sit on the pavement or in the shop to take Mocha Cocha Latte and pastry on board.

The river has risen an inch and there is now enough water on the spawning gravels to accommodate sexually mature brown trout. Although they are particularly thin on the ground . What hens we have are fattening up nicely and redds are beginning to be dug, but cock fish are few and far between. Ten years ago the weeks preceding spawning would see cock fish charging about in shallow water aggressively competing with fellow cocks over any fat hen who kicked up a redd.

Walks through the wood betray a number of Woodcock which suggests low temperatures in the east, I put three up this afternoon while bumbling about with a bucket full of corn.

I'm slowly putting the river to bed. Years ago this task would have begun as soon as the trout season ended with the fringe knocked off, edged in and weed cut in order to carry out and complete electro fishing before all present were summoned to the hatchery for egg picking duties. Today I still knock the fringe off and edge in, although not as hard as I once did. It helps maintain the maximum marginal growth and remains a viable habitat for beasts of the bank throughout the winter. I also engage the forces of Willow with my big orange store (If you want a mention on here Stihl you'll have to offer some incentives)


It makes sense to prepare the river for winter only when there is sufficient flow. Leaving as much cover as possible to decrease the impact of avian predation on fish in shallow water until the river starts to rise. Once the river is on the rise and carrying a little colour then the fringe can be attended to. With spawning done and the trout off the shallows the willows can then be engaged. Sympathetic management with an eye to both habitat and flood defence by a full time keeper. Could a contractor or part timer be allowed such flexibility. The decline in the number of full time keepering jobs on the chalk streams is both a concern and short sighted,

fingers crossed it's a fad.

Chainsaw work has begun and the solemn procession of one (Still waist deep in Wodehouse and one of the trees we must address is a beech) that is the ermine clad Lord Ludgershall has presented for work in the wood via the medium of sedan chair. We are currently employed in the business of Vista creation. There's three months of chainsaw work and myself and all the woodland creatures are honoured by his presence. Poplars at the moment, young trees that didn't look very well. Dissection by chainsaw confirmed the diagnosis with rot set in at the base, which was a shame as we only planted them twelve years ago

Is it me or are the papers obsessed with the ageing process at the moment. My weekend papers that I perused on the sofa between cricket, rugby, dancing and jungle where full of "Life after fifty " features and with the event a mere sixteen months away for Madam and myself, we are told that we will embrace lycra, ride more bikes, discover yoga, go to University and achieve a level of life wisdom that Confucious would covet. There was no mention of more time on the sofa in front of sporting events, a bad back, creaky knees, embracing the postprandial ziz and completely forgetting why you have gone upstairs.

Cheltenham last week, the perennial trip on countryside Friday with fifteen to twenty thousand other souls to take in some tremendous racing at what is now a tremendous sporting venue. The new work is complete and my ire at being charged five pound for a pint and five pound for bacon roll was tempered a week later when on the 18th November we entered the legions of shiplap sheds that serve as the Winchester Christmas market where sausage from the Teutons and a thimble fill of Grimm gluhwein was on offer for a comparable price.
I bumped into Child B and one of his associates by the Cheltenham parade ring. Over the course of the following four races our fortunes took different paths. Child B picked three second place horses on each way bets and was 55p up when I left him, his mate backed one winner while I dipped out after two races to conserve funds as Madam had one of her card club days on the morrow and I had been made aware of the need for ready funds for the event.

River reports are written and dispatched (sent to the intended recipient as opposed to being put out of their misery, although....) and final deadlines for magazines before all involved down tools for the Christmas break are impending. I'm supposed to be chucking some other guff together but things don't seem to be progressing as intended.

Easily distracted?


and the internet doesn't help here with minds that are prone to drift. But a bit of a break from deadlines and questions and the shame of failing to produce feature pieces promised may serve as tinder to chuck up further guff.