Thursday, 12 May 2022

Valarie Singleton, The Future and Victorians

Hello Hello, 

We’ll start this chunk of guff revisiting the substantial conker tree that lost its top section when the wind blew last October. 

Here she is candles and all, 

Not quite the shape she was, but undoubtedly the last vestiges of a once great beauty,

Which is I'm sure something to which all present can relate. 

She’s demonstrating more pep and vim than the wisteria and my taytos, which were caught out by a hard frost on the last Saturday in April. The Mulberry hadn’t yet woken up, but that tree knows stuff.

We’ve drifts of wild garlic. One of the best shows for years and the stuff features in many meals throughout the week. 

I’ll fill a few big bags with leaves for freezing as summoned from the ice they add a slightly more delicate flavour to a recipe than the “in your face” garlic bulb. 

Cuckoo flowers are out and the cuckoo finally put in a turn at the end of the last month, along with the occasional swallow. The river remains low. With regard to rain and aquifer replenishment April was indeed the cruellest month. It was also quite cold and windy which I don’t think drew the eye of T.S back in the day. 

Cold arid conditions that also set my psoriasis off, apologies to everyone for the scratching,

Something that I think T.S also failed to mention. 

In the name of impending nuptials, last week I had cause to broadcast grass seed in the wood. Dry weather isn’t the best weather for getting grass going (Hants FA Groundsman of the year 2011 – never forget!) 

So I invoked the forces of the electric vehicle that will one day save the world. Filled a tank of water on the back and used a half inch 12 volt “live well” pump to water the seed in. 

Currently the sward develops at the pace expected by the Hants FA Groundsman of the Year 2011 (Remember that one?) 

This electric buggy is the future for short journeys, it's only flaw being that the roof is not a solar panel. I made the case to Child B (a planner by trade) that all inhabitants of the parish should have one. The oil burning pigs could be held in a pen up by the Highway to the Sun for when longer journeys are required.

but for short journeys of up to a couple of miles this thing is surely the future. 

Weed remains reluctant to grow and the river is gin clear presenting challenging conditions for the angler. The river is stuffed with soporific fish patiently waiting for a good hatch of fly. Bunched up in holes, with little cover from fringe or weed they are easily spooked, delicate and precise presentation of the fly is key. Time was when this time of the year would see substantial roach going spoony and cropping up in water that they would never consider haunting in the winter months. Spawning was the driver but very few roach remain now and Tarka undoubtedly had a part to play. 

Our resident pair of senior swans have claimed a corner of the bottom bends as their nesting site of first choice for this year. For years they have nested on the pond. Not sure why they have moved down river this year. It may be global warming, it may be impending ice age, we don’t know, but they are where they are. 

Mayfly appeared in the first week of the month, although only the merest  vanguard of  Valerys (Singletons) and fish have yet to acknowledge their/her arrival, although it won’t be long before mayfly pitch up in numbers for the annual festival of dry fly fishing. 

Valerie Singleton once walked past our house,

There, I said it. 

She did, 

It was a Sunday and at the time (Post Blue Peter) she was presenting programmes about money in the graveyard slot on BBC2. Pre Kinder, Madam and myself had just finished lunch, wine had been taken and we were washing up (pre dishwasher) Val sauntered by with a man, possibly her husband, possibly not - we couldn't say, but it wasn't Peter Purves as he didn't have a collie, or was that the other one?  In similar circumstances we touched base with "Old Tel" and the present Mrs Wogan a few years later and while Val had ignored our banging at the window, Terry and the "present Mrs Wogan" couldn't have been more gracious during our brief encounter on a narrow footpath in Kernow.  There were rumours at the time that Val had become a little "difficult" and her time at the Beeb was coming to an end. We had grown up Val her on Blue Peter, and she always seemed ok. 

When she passed our window she was at best indifferent, but I guess that's just Val  

The log splitter is crying out for some action, because yes we are already thinking about next winter and goodness with all trees coming into leaf (bar the Mulberry – see above) it is again apparent how the ash tree population has been devastated by the insidious ash dieback. 

Here’s a fridge door handle I made from a slice of ash. 

It’s the mother of all fridge doors and we’ve gone through a couple of plastic handles while hauling the thing open. Replacements come in at around forty pound a pop, so with a cost of living crisis on, I made a replacement from a slice of ash. 

Ludgershall and The English, wealthy and well fed pensioners both, who, in May are still lighting the fire, muttered their disapproval. They insist that all ash should be introduced to the wood shed. We had a fisherman arrive in a high end Morgan towards the end of last year and each of them made preparation to fire up the chainsaws. 

Oh yes, satellite technology is a great thing, 

I note that Ludgershall and The English are still lighting the fire of an afternoon. There is now a chimney pot monitoring app available that detects smoke emitted. I’m not saying they are being a little profligate with their stash of ash but…… 

We’ve wallahs coming out in a week or two to assess the presence of non native species in the valley. I will monitor the movements of previously wallahs along the riverbank as their tangerine high viz jackets won’t be conducive to stalking wary trout in gin clear water. 

At which point I will again make the point that not all non native species are invasive. 

Victorians rolled Brer Brown Trout out to much of the empire and beyond, where it now sits on the bucket list of many a travelling angler, having adapted, thrived and contributed to conditions presented.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Fangio, Bins and Billy's Islands

Apologies, completely forgot about this, 

Thanks to those who did for chivvying. 

Errrr what have we been up to? We went to Italy after Easter, 

Hotel Belvedere on Isola Pescatori, Lake Maggiore to be precise. 

We rose trepiditously early in the morning on our day of departure. Certain newspapers (the same trouble makers who have promoted much of the chaos throughout much of the last decade) had trumpeted lengthy delays at airports, missed flights and a generally chaotic travel experience. 

Well the form filling the week before was a bit of a ball ache but Heathrow was a breeze; strapped and sucking sweets with the plane ready for take off ten minutes before we were due to depart. 

Landing and leaving Milan Malpensa and our return to Heathrow were a similar experience, the only short delay, when collecting our cases from the carousel due to a shortage of baggage handlers in terminal 5. 

No car hire this time, just a forty five minute transfer to the ferry terminal at Carciano, where a five minute ride would set us down on Isola Pescatori.

Only complications set in. 

Unbeknown to us (and around fifty others who arrived at ferry terminal Carciano) Passengers could only ride the ferries if they were wearing an FFP2 grade face covering. The blue and white ones that we have been wearing for the best part of two years and which Hatt Mancock’s mates made an awful lot of money out of in supply, would not suffice. 

So myself and many others trudged the mile and a bit into the centre of Stresa to purchase FFP2 masks, probably from the brother of the man in the ticket booth in Carciano. Seems it wasn’t only Mancock’s mates up to their eyes in it over the supply of PPE. 

Anyway, masks fitted we boarded the ferry an hour or so later than anticipated and soon settled down to take on board Aperol Spritz sitting on the roof terrace of our Hotel Belvedere bedroom looking out across the lake to Isola Madre and Pallanza beyond. 

Isola Pescatori can get quite crowded from mid morning on, but by 7pm the ferries and crowds have gone and we were deserted on this beautiful island with a handful of restaurants still open. First night nosh was on the very western point of the island in an establishment dripping in wisteria that we could smell from fifty yards away.
Most restaurants serve “fishes of the lake” several of which, vendace in particular, are very rare in the UK and are protected. Maggiore is thick with the things and several restaurants on the island have their own fishing boat to guarantee supply. 

During our visit, Lake Maggiore was six feet lower than it should have been, there were also two fire fighting planes taking water from the lake to drench a neighbouring hillside that appeared to be smoking. Snow melt will help but like many of us they are desperate for rain in northern Italy. Six feet of water in a lake that is forty miles long and often several miles wide is an awful lot of water to go missing. 

Out to Isola Bella the next day. 

Formally known as Isola Inferiore (Isola Pescatori was Isola Superiore) It is basically just one massively elaborate palazzo with equally elaborate gardens. Understated it ain’t, spectacular it is, and is quite the thing built by Billy Borromeo to impress back in the day. 

On to the ferry for a late lunch in Stresa at a restaurant in the central piazza that we had first visited nearly twenty years ago with Child A and Child B. At the time we were camping in the Rhone valley in Switzerland near Brig and we drove over the Simplon Pass for a day out in Stresa where the air temperature was ten degrees higher than in Brig. 

Isola Madre the next day, a far more understated Isola and our favourite. We arrived on an early ferry and there were no crowds in the house or garden. 

It has some stunning views and vistas.  The drawings of how the island was laid out to terracing having been converted from agricultural land by Billy were particularly revealing.

On completion and before the planting had become established, it must have look like a bit like  a terraced Fort Boyard out in the lake, with Billy playing the Leslie Grantham or possibly Tom Baker role.

Palanza for lunch and another establishment that we had visited before. We were billeted in Palanza when we visited six years ago and there is a waterfront café that chucks up some delicious savoury pancakes washed down with a knock out Nebbiolo. 

Back to the island for more semi solitary isolation and some surprisingly good steak in the hotel restaurant. 

Over to Intra on the next day. Six ferry stops away it is an interesting town and an easy place to lose a few hours as there are lots of shops.

Intra also serves as one end of the line for the car ferry across the lake to Laveno. We boarded as passengers for a twenty minute trip for a ride up the bins in Laveno. We rode the bins six years ago when there were crazy fools at the top throwing themselves off a ramp in the name of competitive hang gliding.

No hang gliders this time but we took Aperol at the small café at the top, gazing with wild surmise on the snow covered alps to the right and Lake Como off to the left with Maggiore and Billy's islands laid out in front. 

Home the next day. Through no fault of his own our pre arranged taxi was an little late meeting us at the ferry terminal, but no matter, with the spirit of Fangio invoked this old guy hurtled us up the hairpins on the hill in his Alfa Romeo away from the lake to Malpensa, delivering us to the door of the terminal ten minutes faster than our outbound transfer.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Bridges, Bittern and Michael Fabricant


Apologies regarding tardiness etc, etc But the lark is on the wing, the snail is on the thorn and the hat is currently worn on three hairs. 

Well not entirely. 

The lark is undoubtedly on the wing and the snails descend the sheltered wall in the garden to target thorn, and my mildly hirsuite status guarantees that the hat currently sits on considerably more than three hairs, 

double figures easily. 

It’s just that we haven’t had enough rain this winter. It’s an old story writ large in these chunks of guff across the ages, but we didn’t get the old eau between October and March and now the valley enters the impending spring and summer with what we have. All things Flora are waking up and taking a sip following their winter hiatus which is a tremendous thing to see after the dark days of winter but August could be a bit of a struggle. 

Work has largely centred around getting ready for the impending trout season and also getting a few things “wedding ready” for Child A’s nuptuials. Bridges have been buffed up, including a complicated operation on the bridge over the millstream which included the use of props, jacks and possibly a trebuchet at some point, but it’s all done now and we are ready for the return of our regulars next week. 

There has been a bit of fly about, mostly midges with the odd olive, but no sign of any hawthorn yet. The river is bursting with fish, although they are quite skitty due to slow weed growth. The odd one has a dot of fungus on their nose which is to be expected at this time of the year. I was quite surprised to see a few large grayling cash in their chips and rock up on the weed rack in front of the house. Senior fish cashing in their chips post spawning is not a new thing, it’s just that I’d not seen many senior fish through the winter just passed, they must have been hiding up somewhere: they were all pushing two pound. 

Up in the air, there’s been a Bittern about. Not seen it myself but there have been several substantial bits of glass paraded up and down the lane by the birding community in their quest to record it's prescence. An osprey also passed through a few weeks back, and the ceti’s warblers have turned up to resume their annual row. No swifts swallows or martins yet, but they can’t be far away. All things allotment are going to plan and we are currently engaged deep cover in “frost watch” This time last year we had a week or more of frosts that devastated the fruit trees, wisteria and much more besides. I covered my plot with the mother of all tarpaulins that lent a Salisbury plain training ground feel to the piece. 

As I write, Madam is outside in the dark furiously digging a hole in the garden. It’s something she picked up from Alan Partridge and his response to an acrimonious divorce in an attempt to quell ire. 

Michael Fabricunt’s comments this week regarding teachers and nurses have driven her to this task. 

To recap: Wiseacre Fabricant, in defence of “our Great Leader’s” latest mugging off of the general populace, suggested that nurses and teachers were kicking back in a communal room with a glass of bubbles after a hard day at a complicated coal face throughout the pando. 

We only have one spade, so in support of Madam the following was fired off to my local MP who I consider to be a very good constituency MP 

"Apologies, me again,

Michael Fabricant's intimation that teachers and nurses were meeting up at the end of a shift for a cheeky glass of bubbles during the pandemic is deeply insulting.  

My wife, an educator, spent much of the first lockdown teaching offline to the children of key workers, and online to the remainder who were confined to their homes. PPE provision was initially inadequate, she is in her early fifties, an age that we were told at the time was an increasingly vulnerable age group.  It was a stressful time, the staff room was out of bounds and a cheeky glass of fizz at the end of the day after a day in a draughty classroom could not have been further from her, or her colleagues’ minds.  They were confined to their bubbles for nourishment and all ate lunch at their desks, sans vino.

In the second lockdown, (or was it the third) she remained in the classroom, unjabbed (not through choice) as fifty percent of the parents claimed "key worker" status and we were told that infection from children was very low (A claim now completely debunked after Covid 19 ripped through schools, children and staff alike, from last October to the present day) Restrictions on the staff room remained and the number allowed inside limited to four, sans vino.

Again a cheeky glass of fizz at work at the end of the day was the last thing that my wife or her colleagues contemplated. It was an incredibly stressful time, in which she and her colleagues felt deeply let down by government, who it now transpires paid little heed to the restrictions they were implementing to Joe public.  

Fabricant confirms that he is a cypher on society and in the current climate of "cancel culture" should be put firmly back in his box. 

Yours in anger,


A reply (within minutes) 

"Sadly I have no control over what that man says.  I can only apologise for his ludicrous comments." 

 Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP Member of Parliament for Romsey and Southampton North  Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Homer's Odyssey with Madam Marge, Child A and Child B

March 16th marked a couple of milestones for my good self. 

I attained increased venerability by passing the great age of 54 and further venerability by passing thirty years of falling in and out of the Dever at Bransbury. 

Good grief! how did that happen? 

The fact I began falling in and out of chalkstreams even further back in 1986 makes my old knees ache even more. 

There now follows an in depth analysis of my thirty years at Bransbury, the good bits the bad bits and the indifferent bits, a warts n’all expose of life in the Dever valley if you will,

Only there won’t, 

because I’m supposed to be writing that somewhere else via a different medium while I can still remember stuff, but I may need a bit of a hoof up the @rse. 

Anyway, thirty years. 

Here’s one of Madam and myself with Child A who was born on the first day of my second June weed cut at Bransbury. 

She’s named Maisie because there was a good hatch of Mayfly on the day. Child B was born eighteen months later and had a lucky escape as Madam went into labour at the end of a long shoot lunch in January and I made a lengthy case for naming William - Aconite or Wolf’s bane, on the grounds that more doors would be eased open later in life than the other option on the table at the time – Snowdrop. 

Madam and myself consider ourselves very lucky to have had our time at Bransbury. She has worked at the local primary school for much of that time and is now entering the phase of Mums turning up at school who she once taught in class. I was put forward for the position by Brian Parker who was the head keeper at Bossington at the time and a good friend of my employer and her family who had a rod at Bossington. 

At which point I realise I need to go back a bit further to establish my connection with Brian (you’ve not done this for a while have you?– ed

I left Cheshire in 1986 to pursue a career in fishery management. 

The three year HND course at Sparsholt (which is now a degree course) required one year of work experience before acceptance onto the course. I and many others undertook this work experience on twelve miles of the Test at Leckford where we still have many friends.  Current Riverkeepers on the estate Rob Goldsworthy and Neil Lucas took up their full time positions during my year of work experience, following the sudden demise of Kim Debenham and the exit of Mike Perry brother of John who I would later work with at the Houghton Club. Paul Giles current green keeper on the Leckford Golf Course started around the same time.  Handbag (Andrew) helped Peter Crouch on the shoot, before exiting stage left to play with oil rigs, pork products and many other things before returning to work on the river following "Young" David's retirement.  

Young David (David Fakes) was a much respected riverkeeper and is a very clever fella with wood. He built most of the huts on the estate,  with a minimum number of nails. His Dad (Old David) was also a riverkeeper and lived to a great age, mostly on a diet of moorhen, homegrown tobacco and the occasional pint.  

I worked on both the farm and the river at Leckford throughout my three years at Sparsholt was employed part time on the river in return for continued free accommodation in Charity Farm House, the upstairs of which was split into student bedsits with the long suffering Mrs Duncan living downstairs. 

Madam moved in with me at Charity Farm House during my second year at Sparsholt after her three month sojourn in Canada. We’d known each other since secondary school but didn’t get together until late on in the sixth form. 

On completing my studies I was put up for a job at The Houghton Fishing Club which lasted six weeks. 

It was a funny period at “The Club”, Mick Lunn was about to retire, Ray Hill was taking over, there seemed to be a considerable amount of rancour about the place and Madam and myself didn’t qualify for the tied cottage made available to the previous keeper because we were not married (This was 1990????). 


Philip Gaye, one of Mick Lunn’s friends who owned Franklyns fish farm in Arlesford whispered “sotto voce” that he needed a hatchery manager at his site on the river Chess at Chesham.

Hands various were shook, and we left the Test Valley for fifteen months where I managed a hatchery importing 1.2 million rainbow trout eggs from Willie Baird in Ireland. Picking a couple of hundred thousand up every eight weeks from Luton airport packed in ice, before hatching them out in vertical incubators and growing them on to 2oz. They were then transported to Franklyns where they were grown up to 15oz before being returned to Chesham for packaging, processing and directed towards their point of sale in Waitrose. 

It was ok for a while, but fish farm work is not very stimulating. At the time the hatchery was supplied by a million gallons a day of spring water that just poured out of the ground (it doesn’t now, give “over abstraction of the River Chess” a google) At the time bottled water was just beginning to boom and somehow it was established that the water bubbling out of the ground at Chesham had pretty much the same chemical analysis as Perrier (Don’t think that all Highland Spring water necessarily comes from the Highlands it just needs to be the right numbers on particular water parameters) The site was subsequently sold to the leading bottled water company of the day and I was charged with off loading a substantial amount of hatchery equipment, which is where Brian Parker and Guy Robinson come in. 

Guy was head keeper at Leckford, (His son Daniel, who Madam occasionally baby sat during our days at Charity Fram House, is now head green keeper on the estate golf course) Guy and Brian are good mates and they both produced fish for restocking on their respective estates. Alerted to some bargain hatchery equipment, principally super discounted hatchery troughs and vertical incubators, they arrived with a trailer and Brian let me know there was a job going at Bransbury. 

He’d been there there the previous Sunday with his young family (two sons both now employed as riverkeepers, Brian and Guy are now retired) to have lunch with my future employer who informed Brian that my predecessor was on his way out and had he any idea of anyone who may be suitable. 

The interview went well and thirty years later here we are still, making preparation for the next thirty. 

You can take it as read that it is a special bit of river that has changed a lot in thirty years, principally with regard to a declining quantity of water and increasing phosphate levels, but also in many other ways,

but I’ll leave that for another day. 

I feel very fortunate to have employers that I can genuinely call good friends who have been very kind, generous and understanding throughout our time here. 

It’s all about the fishing (It pays my wages, the shooting was for skips and giggles) many rods have fished here for decades, aeons even, and they too have become old friends who it is always good to welcome back, be it in the summer or the winter. My employer and myself often comment that we are lucky to have such nice people plod the banks from day to day (she may express it a little more eloquently), it’s not always the way on other stretches of the river.

Reading this back, I’m welling up, so I’ll stop there, 

Only to say It’s been a tremendous thirty years, a fun place to work, a great place to call home and a great place to raise a family, Thanks to everyone who has done anything to make that happen.  

More river stuff to follow, unless I finally get on with that other stuff I’m supposed to be chucking up.

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Eunice, Cunis and a Mediocre Spell of Bowling

It doesn't feel quite right to be chucking up inconsequential guff in these troubled times, 

But I’ll have a go 

Forgive me if it turns out to be principally picture based or takes a bitter twist at some point.

Where to start? 

Storm Eunice/Eunis was a significant event. 

The name of the storm brought to mind an anecdote about John Arlott who, when called to describe the Australian bowler Bob Cunis’ bowling performance at the end of play for the day said “it was a little like his name, neither one thing or the other” 

Anyway Storm Eunice spelt her name a little differently and definitely had a bigger impact on the day than the efforts of Cunis on the third day at Adelaide. 

All Hampshire schools were closed for the arrival of Eunice so Madam and myself hunkered down for the day waiting for Eunice to depart. 

The bulk of the blow occurred from midday to mid afternoon and when we emerged around tea time to take Moss for a walk we were met with a scene of arboreal devastation. 

Four fair sized specimens had fallen in the river and twenty or more substantial ash trees had crashed to the ground in the wood. You can take it as read that half a dozen shallow rooted Christmas trees had wobbled over, as always happens in even the merest of zephyrs.

All trees in the river where hauled out by the gutsy orange tractor over the weekend and processed the following week. 

The trunk of an ornamental cherry that had been ailing for over a decade (variety unknown, but possibly Kubota) was saved for planking and the rounds and limbs put aside for the wood fired oven, as I am told, that like apple, it is a good wood to cook over.

In other food news, I've been planting mushrooms.  Shiitake plugs drilled into the trunk of an oak that fell over in 2013 that was too big for my chainsaw at the time, and Portabella spawn in among my asparagus beds.  I don't know if it'll work but we're having a go. If anything happens I'll let you know.

The carnage in the wood will not be attended to this winter, despite Lord Ludgershall and The English expressing an eagerness to get “balls deep” in an orgy of ash, the river must be attended to as the impending Trout season is only six weeks away. 

We’ll clear the path through the wood then attend to the ash in the wood in October when the nettles have died down. 

I had cause to pop up to the local “Big Fish Water” this week and over coffee enquired whether anyone had fished on the Friday when Eunice was in town. 

Incredibly six anglers had turned up to flick a fly at brer rainbow trout, one even optimistically buying two tickets. I don’t think the tank of a tarpon fly rod that I purchased to fish for catfish in Firenze would have been capable of punching a fly into the face of Eunice.

River levels are low and we need rain. 

Fortunately it is forecast for the next few days but it is getting a little late in the winter now. 

The spring ditch that runs around the football pitch that I used to tend (Hants FA Groundsman of the year 2011) is dry.  Three times during my ten-year tenure of marking the pitch and putting out the flags an alternative venue had to be found in March to complete the season as said ditch had made one corner decidedly soggy. 

To return to a familiar theme for the house, there is no spring in the field known across the ages as “Spring Bottom” 

It’s a worry but rain between now and the middle of April will help.

Well in the overall scheme of all things current, it is small beer.

As long as the rain that falls is not of the “purple” variety and the sunlit uplands promised by some are not illuminated by a man made source rather than that of old Sol. 

And at this point Jakey, and your brief to implement all things referendum, I'd ask you to remind your Ruski friends whose ill gotten rubles may/may not have been cleaned through your now EU based Investment company, of your father misquoting Pope on the front page of The Thunderer back in the day 

“Who breaks the wings of a butterfly on a wheel" 

Oily Fecker is Jakey, 

Apologies for a bitter end, but as all present will attest, it’s difficult to look up at the moment, and anyway, I've taken against the supercilious (Phew- Ed)

Two years of Pando and now this, 

F*&% You Mad Vlad! 

F*&% YOU!