Thursday, May 25, 2017

Breakdown, Recovery plus Scouts and Guides



Hello everybody, here goes with another thousand words of guff,

But first an appeal.

We all see them. Sitting silently with pleading eyes in all weathers at the entrance to shops. Shabbily dressed, pleading, desperate for offerings. We all pass them by, quickening our step or averting our gaze. A silent minority whose plight we all seek to ignore.



This bank holiday weekend spare a thought for the AA salesmen, whether outside your local supermarket or in the foyer of the motorway services. Stop when they hail you and show some compassion and feign interest in their plight.

The Big Issue gets all the heat when it comes to rattling a cup at Joe Public but spare a thought for Roadside assistance packages and Free Onward Travel.

AA street salesmen, the forgotten few.

Well that's the appeal box ticked to preserve the charitable status of the house, so on to the fishing.

Mayfly is in full swing and last evening while prone in a bath I was joined by a hundred voyeuristic mayfly who danced outside the window throughout my ablutions. There have already been some good falls of spent and fish rise to both dunns and spinners from early afternoon on. Most beats are booked and guides and scouts parade up and down Stockbridge High street persuading their clients that this Mayfly fishing is a damned difficult business. It's a perennial four week festival of dry fly fishing on a chalk river at its sparkling best and on some beats more fish will be caught in one week in May than throughout the whole of August. Last week we had two inches of rain which freshened things up a bit, but the lift in water a few days after the rain fell that is indicative of aquifer replenishment never came and all of what fell was claimed by the top layer of soil and its plants and vegetation, but it was a start and two inches of rain a week from now until the end of June should have an impact.

So fingers crossed for the weather forecast,

News just in from Mr Schaffenacker, dry for a while,

As you were everyone.

Popped up to the Carron to flick a fly at Salmon for a few days last week. You may think it's a long way to go for two days fishing, but it is a very special bit of river and one that I could never afford to fish on my own fishing budget so it is always a very welcome invitation. There is a house, a merry band of four rods willing to share and Margaret the Magnificent comes to cook each evening (scallops the size of your hand with a ring of black pudding atop - now that's a starter!).

There wasn't much water this year, the two inches that we had at home missed the north of Scotland, and fish were holed up in pots and gullies, clearly visible from above as they stuck two fins up to even the most carefully presented Black Francis.
I was woken each morning by nothing more than a cuckoo outside the window and the occasional bleat of a sheep. No fish were caught but a tremendous trip all the same. Thank you once again for having me.



On the way home I purchased the necessary gifts for the ever officious security team at the airport that serves as a gateway to the Highlands and Islands (they never send a thank you card, even for the 110ml of shampoo I handed over last year) and returned home.

Where Madam had kindly held the fort and undertaken every dog walk and other associated outdoor tasks in torrents of rain

The grass has grown a lot and all trees bar the Mulberry and Ash (many of which are not in the best of health) are in full leaf, rain has caused bank side willows to nod a little towards the river making a few of those lies that were called out as "far to easy" at the fishing lunch in April a little more tricky. I won't be cutting much weed on either the Dever or Itchen in June, although it may be a different story in July. I have yet to see a brood of duck which seems quite late, although several are sitting and today I saw my first snake of the year, taking a siesta in the early afternoon sun after feasting on frogs in the flight pond.



I was also invited up to the top of the Avon for an afternoon. Always a fun trip there were many mayfly, much weed and I caught fish off the top in a river that was short of water and a little more murky than one would normally expect.





And then we woke one morning to the madness in Manchester.

It's a tremendous city, and one which I frequented many times in my youth, drawn with friends to the fleshpots of Affleck's Palace off Oldham St and its ready supply of ripped 501's and fancy shoes and jackets, yes I was quite the thing once, what with the ear ring positively piratical.

I am the father of a young man aged twenty two and young woman of twenty four who are on the cusp of embarking on the adventure that is the oft complicated but ultimately rich soup of life.

What drives another young person of similar age to plan and commit such an act is beyond my comprehension,

There is evil afoot.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Further Dimbulbs and Worms, plus many Weasels


Just been watching the weather from the local wing of state TV

When did " it will be sunny"

become

"there will be some brightness"?

Why not add "with no little contrast" if we are trying to up the word count.

Dimbulbs!

Anyway, good evening everyone and here's the latest news from this parched part of this once great Isle.

The river continues to fish its head off with the first knockings of the Mayfly producing many fish. It's just the odd Mayfly presently but shuffling about in the gravel with my fine net confirm that there are many larvae in the gravel on the cusp of hatching.

Many fish are falling to "small brown jobs" on a size 14 and a few have been pricked and lost although not nearly as many as the opening weeks of last season. The river continues to carry a little colour and an increasing amount of foam on the water in the first few hours of the day is indicative of a river that has not benefited from a good scour during the winter months. We have had a few heavy showers but aquifer replenishment at this time of the year requires days and days of steady rain as all the plants are now wide awake and slaking their winter induced thirst.
During recent skirmishes in the Bourne Valley in the name of prolonging life through plodding, Madam and myself came across an expanse of pasture, recently cultivated and re-drilled with grass. In the absence of moisture no germination had taken place and with no roots to hold the thing together and provide some form of cohesion the ten inches of tilled soil bore the consistency of sugar.

One heavy shower could see much of this field end up in the Bourne.

What times we live in,

I remember farmers in Cheshire cultivating slopes in a particular manner in order to prevent losing soil, it may even have been mentioned in O Level geography and I 'm sure other cultures are all over the "hanging on to your top soil on slopes in times of sudden intense rainfall" conundrum.

On a couple of occasions it has been suggested by experts that I fling a load of breeze blocks into the river to provide an easy lie for developing brown trout. Apart from the look of the thing and the inevitable accusation of fly tipping, our developing trout do well enough for easy lies. It doesn't take much, a stone the size of a fist is ample for a tired trout in search of an easy meal in this river.

These Trout would seem to concur and are doing well enough without a delivery from Buildbase.

It's started raining now and while the garden and grass are grateful, public and press attention will turn away from water shortages but the aquifers around here will receive little of the rain that falls. It takes an awful lot of steady rain at this time of the year for aquifer replenishment and much of what has fallen in recent days will not get further than the first few feet of soil. I could still walk up our river banks in six inch stilettos if I so chose without any real fear of sinking a heel.

Last week saw me resume my practice of throwing things at the television. A local news feature on river levels featured a weasel from a water company insist that aquifer levels were not causing concern and that there had been adequate replenishment this winter.


Well for "not causing concern" read "couldn't give two ticks about the river, all we are concerned with is providing domestic supply as cheaply as possible in order to maximise profit"


Weasels! Weasels! Weasels!

I'll now proceed to jab my finger a bit.

Who caused the foam problem in this river two seasons ago?

Whose name was on the side of that van sending brown water pumped from a hole they had dug in the road down a ditch into the river in June?

Who put up the signs on bridges crossing a chalk stream and SSSI advising people that raw sewage had been pumped into the river and please wash your hands and dogs if they come into contact with the water?

Who is opposing the reduction of the abstraction licence for the Candover stream arguing that rather than reduce the impact to the aquatic environment we should carry on as we have and they'll have the water for domestic supply?


I could go on and frequently have but,

Oh sod it, this will have to suffice:

Weasels! Weasels! Weasels!

Returning to the river, which our water man would insist is running at a normal level, despite features such as this appearing midstream.

This kind of thing happened in the summer of seventy six, Ernie Mott, a keeper on the middle river at Leckford took full advantage and famously grew his tomatoes for that year in the middle of beat fourteen, or possibly twelve.

I've a mind to emulate old Ernie, so If you see a Poly tunnel in the middle of the Itchen below Easton bridge, or some growbags in the middle of the Dever in Bransbury you'll know what's afoot, just don't scrump my tomatoes.

Worms

Which brings me onto the roach, who like a worm but have currently gone spoony and moon about in shallow water in preparation for spawning. There's a few lumps in evidence but nothing to match the fish I saw spawning three years ago which I put at over three pounds.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Weasels Worms Dimbulbs and their impact on Groundwater Supply

Week one,

Done.

Hawthorn was early, heavy but brief and as always has served as the flicking of a switch where our brown trout are concerned and many fish now lie up on the fin seeking further surface dainties. Fishing isn't easy, stealth is required not to spook fish in low clearing water, but many fish were caught in the first week including two lumps of three pounds. All fish appear to have over wintered well. We now undertake a two week hiatus before the river erupts with mayfly. Weed remains slow to grow possibly due to a cold river, we've also had a bit of the ugly brown algae that is now a regular occurrence at this time of the year. Lifting from the bottom of the river on a sunny day it breaks up as it passes through broken water adding a murky tint to the river. It is always more prevalent after a dry winter, a wet winter (or what was once considered normal winter) acts as a Grandmother's flannel to a mucky grandchild, providing a good scrub behind the ears and ridding the river of the insidious brown gunk.

Some swallows have turned up, few in number they have yet to nest on the special platforms we erected under the eaves of the new workshop. Kingfishers are nesting a few yards beyond the ash tree on the opposite bank on the top shallows and the mill stream already plays host to millions of minnows over which this pair and the pair nesting near our bottom boundary, will undertake daily dog fights as they both lay claim to the minnows to feed their young.
Cuckoo flowers are out, but no sign yet of a cuckoo and marsh marigolds provide a gaudy backdrop to both the river bank and the meadows. Last week we had three frosts, the third a particularly hard one for the time of year that saw temperatures bottom out at minus four degrees half an hour before dawn.

My dahlias and potatoes have turned black and the spectacular wisteria that adorns the end of the Mill House has given up its flowers, we can only wait and see as to how the apples and pears will be this year. Reynard still stalks the parish and I am diligently shutting our remaining chooks up each evening who reciprocate with an egg each day.

Cricket has broken out and this past weekend saw two games where spin held sway, the ball raced to the outfield and runs were easy to come by. The pitch and outfield are redolent of late June or early July, and this at a ground on the banks of the main River Test where we normally struggle with puddles in the opening games and runs are hard to come by on a verdant track that is doing a bit. There is a small borehole that we use for watering the square. It is of simple design and it is possible to take the top off and make a visual assessment of the ground water level, which I am sure you will understand, I do quite a lot.

It is frighteningly low, the cricket ground could take two weeks of constant heavy rain and the puddle in front of the pavilion would fail to form. There are winterbournes and spring ditches across the region that are bone dry and will not now run this year. The signs were there at the turn of the year and I am told that at Command Centre Central there were meetings, but we are now in May and still no warnings about the almost inevitable water shortages this summer. The way we use our groundwater supply in the South East of England is no longer sustainable, pulling it out of the ground and sending it away to sea is a wager with Madam Water Cycle that we are currently losing heavily. More treated water must be returned to the aquifer as close to the point of abstraction as possible to push the odds a little more in the chalk stream's favour.

Recent perambulations in the name of extending life saw us parking the car in Micheldever Wood. A stunning stand of predominantly beech, it is carpeted with billions of bluebells at this time of the year and draws quite a crowd.

Leaving the wood and climbing up onto Itchen Down you crest a hill with a broken down wind pump at the summit that marks the boundary point between the Dever (and subsequently the Test) and the Itchen Valley. Rain falling on one side will enter the aquifer and make its way into the Dever, rain falling on the other will enter the aquifer and make its way to the Itchen, probably via the Candover Stream.

Only now it doesn't quite work like that.

The Upper Itchen has a slightly higher environmental classification than the Dever. Water is abstracted from the aquifer to maintain a minimum flow down the Candover stream to provide succour to the Upper Itchen in times of low flow. It's an operation that has been undertaken for some years, but recently the Environment Agency has noticed that the Candover stream abstraction has been taking water from the other side of the hill that would otherwise have ended up in the Dever (Feel free to check back through this guff for the number of times that I have stated "this river seems to drop at an increasingly alarming rate during prolonged periods without rain)

The Environment Agency have quite rightly stated that this can't continue as we are not yet at the stage where we have to choose which chalk streams we want to keep and which ones we must trash in the name of providing water for domestic supply, and have requested a significant reduction in the amount of water permitted to be abstracted and sent down the Candover stream during dry periods. Our local water company however has objected and state "if you don't want the water on the original abstraction licence to maintain river flow, we will have it for domestic supply".

The case is currently with the Minister of Environment ( I think, although it may require the Minister of Magic) and the Dever waits to see if it will get back a small proportion of its groundwater supply that for some number of summers has been sent down the Upper Itchen.

We headed over the hill and down into the Itchen valley, passing through parched fields and a piece of down land where Hambledon CC, who Longparish had played the previous day, played an England side in 1772.

We once again managed to turn a six miler into a nine miler as we got lost in Micheldever wood, as all bluebells and beech trees look the same following a good lunch with the map in the bag due to over confidence through wine.

Returning down the Dever Valley we popped over to the bridge at Weston Colley to take a look at water levels and read the old water depth gauge in the upper reaches of the Dever.

I know my eyes are not what they used to be, but the gauge didn't seem to be there,

which may be an indication as to the direction the Minister of Magic's thumb will point regarding the return of some of the Dever's groundwater.

Private Water Companies eh?

Tut.

Weasels! Worms! Dimbulbs!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

New Season!! Just In! Everything On This Rale £5'!


And we're off!

Two days into the new fishing season and fish are already falling for a hawthorn in some of the heaviest hatches of the long legged black buzzer that I can remember, reaffirming the premise that hawthorn hatches are always heavier following a dry winter, and finally it has been publicly acknowledged that there could be water shortages in the coming months. Too late to do anything about it but hey finally it's out there.

The water is slowly losing it's winter colour but still carries a tint and spotting fish in the deeper stretches is difficult. We seem to have gained quite a few large triploid stockies in the past few months and a dozen or more of them huddle together in the shallow water in front of the fishing hut. The weed is slow to grow in the cold water and fish are easily spooked as the fringe has yet to attain its full height.

Grayling spawned successfully if on different shallows due to depth of water and inevitably a few senior fish washed up dead on the weed rack in front of the house.

There are few signs of silver fish in the pond getting jiggy although the water temperature is still quite low, but it won't be long. Not seen many pike in the spring holes either and the dearth of large females may be a result of predation by otters. Saw the first swallow today which seems a little late and I have yet to hear a cuckoo. We are inundated with Ducks, Mallard mostly but as yet no ducklings.

Wounds caused by our assault by chainsaw during the winter months are quickly healing and few scars remain other than the odd stump. The place changes with each day as buds break and more and more green appears. The fen and reed in the upper reaches that was attended to by the medium of fire is now unrecognisable from the black sooty patch of earth that it was for much of March. The benefit of setting fire to the thing is also clear to see.



Sadly we lost three of our excellent chickens recently.

Reynard inevitably, probably feeding cubs somewhere.

And now I've a score to settle, a balance to redress and must don the poncho, hat and cigarello of the Man with No Name, compile a playlist of spaghetti western music for my phone and run the spiteful thing to ground.

I'm not a fan of the fox, neither are our resident pair of dominant swans who keep all other swans away who abandoned their nest after both of their eggs were carried off while I was away.

I've just come in from shutting the chooks up and the mother of all hail storms is getting underway which will come as a shock to the Wisteria which is approaching mid season form and some clematis that seems in a hurry to get on with 2017. Would that it were rain although it's getting a little late for effective aquifer replenishment, although it may heal the cracks in the ground that currently give the paths and banks a mid July appearance. Cricket has once again broken out and parts of the Longparish CC outfield that lies a few yards from the banks of the main River Test are already brown.

In other news, Child A left home last week, and is currently housed in a super ground floor flat with boyfriend, a skip and a giggle away from Newbury High Street, the Kennet and Avon Canal and most of what this top town has to offer. It's also cut her commute to Thames Valley Police Command Centre Central in half.

Madam is quite envious as it's an area that she's eyed for some years in her perusal of online property porn, and I'd have to concur as we both like Newbury.

One day perhaps.


Child B is on the cusp of completing his degree and much of last week was spent reading through his final report. Which was a good read regarding the future of an informal settlement/slum in Mumbai which functioned in a remarkably efficient way.

And so to the election.

Do we have to?

Can't we just fast forward to a time when everything's ok again and people tell the truth and there is plenty of water flowing down this river.




Protecting the aquatic environment has slipped off the list of things that government needs to pay serious heed to in recent times, there's an austerity on (and don't forget why there's an austerity on). I have yet to read a manifesto that promises to stop pulling too much water out of the ground in this corner of England and sending it away to sea.

And then there's the French elections, which are another worry

There was fascist graffiti in places we visited in Italy last week that weren't there two years ago. How we created an environment in which such people consider themselves more relevant is beyond me, wasn't a previous generation required to deal with this kind of thing? Far be it from me to speak for my own generation but it is not a legacy that I would wish on the next.

Dons loin cloth, scratches head, waves hand at the outside world and retreats to cave, baffled at current state of affairs.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trains, Exploding Carts and Automobiles

Apologies for the tardiness in chucking up guff, but been away for a while.

Italy again,

Rome first, and an early morning flight from Terminal Five that we nearly missed due to the numerous overnight road closures in this corner of the country. What would normally be a forty minute breeze up what was once the motorway known as the M3 turned into an odyssey that at one point may well have seen us cut a corner of East Anglia. It seems a little early in the piece to kick off but can we all agree that much of the road system in this corner of the England no longer functions as intended.

Anyway, a restorative breakfast and a smooth passage through Terminal 5 security (take note you muggers in Inverness we'll resume battle in a short while) saw us pitch up in the eternal city. A thirty minute transfer during which I am sure we were being towed by the car in front as our noses were touching it's trunk and our driver managed to answer both his morning emails and texts during our journey we pitched up at a fantastic third floor apartment a block back from the Tiber in Trastevere.

Reading this back it seems that I may have become a little traffic centric early in the piece, but there was a marked difference between the lock down of the UK road system and the lawlessness of a southern Italian city that left me hankering for the open road.

The road to Zell springs to mind where we cruised along at just under three figure listening to "I Partridge" in our quest for chub on the Mosel.

It was some time since I'd last been in the City, and two weeks after I last departed the pope was shot, so fingers crossed you make it to May Francis. For the lady who sleeps on my left it was a new one and like good scouts we swiftly scaled one of the seven hills named after biscuits to spy the lie of the land.

Our descent took us into St Mark's square and I was minded to look out a hawker in the portico that surrounds the place who thirty five years ago sold me a copy of Led Zeppelin's "In through the Outdoos" (the signs were there at the time of purchase) and a vinyl copy of Thin Lizzy's - Black Rose that I only discovered on my return home was sung in German. Needless to say he wasn't there, but a lesson was learnt and I avoided any further musical purchases in the Vatican.

The Pantheon,

Trevi Fountain,

Spanish Steps,

Colliseum,

Forum

and Capitol boxes were all ticked in a day and there was a feeling that this tremendous city could assume a theme park feel as you moved from one attraction to the next which is a shame as there is so much more to it than a series of sights to be ticked off. Yes the old stuff, but raised on all things Gosciny and Uderzo
I took Asterix as my guide and when presented with the Circus Maximus could picture Obelix driving his chariot hard around the bend to victory to Casear's chagrin.

It may be a coping mechanism as there was some pretty grim work pulled in the arenas in years gone by.

Anyway, I had no rod, which was a shame as a skip and a giggle away from the Vatican the Tiber is teeming with fish,

We watched fifty odd carp crashing about in the shallows under a bridge one morning, but only saw one chap fishing and he was chasing zander with a spinner downstream towards the island with a hospital on it.

There's a tale to be told about the trash in this town, and each morning I presented bags to a corner of the square with an Alabama 3 earworm and a fear of being fitted with concrete shoes and tipped into the Tiber for a bag placed in the wrong bin at the wrong time.

We ate at some superb Trattoria in Trastevere for very little reckoning but I mistakenly purchased the world's most expensive glass of beer while in a reverie on exiting our church of some such lady or other which happened to be adorned with some incredibly ornate mosaics.

Oh yes the football. Here's Italian Sky TV's version of Jeff Stelling introducing a Champion's League tie.



The Gentlemen do not offer up a seat and the show starts with a close up of La Stelling's foot. The camera then heads north up her form before finally resting on her face. Who knew that Benny Hill was big in Italy or that Bunga Bunga was so rife in the beautiful game?

After three nights we were done with the roads of Rome and it was off up the road past the Circus Maximus for a two minute ride to the Termini and a train that arrived on time, completed the hundred and eighty mile journey in one hour and forty minutes and cost just over nineteen euros for each of our complicated seats in Business class ( I hadn't intended to book Business class but such are the machinations of the internet)

Yes Italy does good train.

Into Firenze and a shabby chic apartment with a picture window looking out over the Arno. No fishing planned on this visit, but there were Carpistes in residence under one bridge.
The half acre of marijuana had been mown off/harvested and there were many people in town. But with previous in this tremendous town we knew of a few quieter spots to see out the storm of day visitors. Food as ever was superb, this was no time for adventure and we stuck to three places for lunch and dinner that we knew to be excellent.

And then it was Easter, and they quite go big on the event in these parts.

It started on Saturday night when Madam and myself were roused from a postprandial slumber by a procession passing below our window with drummers horns and many men dressed up like Timothy Claypole in Rentaghost.

It was the opening gambit of The Scoppio del Carro (give it a google) which comemorates a particular Florentine who was first up the wall of Jerusalem in the very first crusade. For his efforts he was given three flints that were held in the family church just down the road. The bishop of the family church along with several descendants of the wall Jonny then lead the procession through the narrow streets and deliver the flints to the big bishop in the Doumo, more of whom later.

On Easter Sunday morning the drums strike up earlier and an even bigger procession makes its way through the narrow streets, this time followed by a wooden cart many hundreds of years old drawn by four of the biggest oxen that I have ever seen.

Three chaps hang on to the rear of the cart in the name of health and safety and rudimentary braking and there is much hoing and lowing as the parade makes its way through town. The cart is laden with fireworks and with every other Italian it passes sparking up a fag it is a miracle it doesn't go off before it reaches its destination outside the doors of the Doumo and Campenile.

There is a mass in the Duomo that is relayed to the tens of thousands of people outside and at eleven the Bishop lights a torch from a fire formed from the flints that were collected the previous evening and sets fire to the tail feathers of a dove (artificial) that seems to have a rocket up its arse

as it flies at great speed along a wire suspended over the aisle out through the great doors and smack into the side of the cart which explodes with a roar
and fifteen minutes of the loudest fireworks I have ever heard follow and a five figure crowd drawn from many nations stood only a few yards from the cart bomb unite as one and hands are put over every ear.

It is the stuff of the Stotts and equally nuts.

But it was an Easter Sunday that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Recuperating following grog in the afternoon the drums and horns returned below our window as the flints were returned to the family church in readiness for next year's explosions.

Florence done, it was on to another excellent train although much busier it being a holiday and Venice not far up the line but it was off at Bologna for us and another of our favourites.

Much quieter than Rome or Florence although no less stunning it has a very relaxed feel about the place and with the miles and miles of arcades the ancient wonky towers and some superb places to eat why it is not busier is a mystery.

Dogs are allowed in Butchers

And they move the old stuff around from time to time, although on seeing this we did finish our morning coffee quite quickly in anticipation of something falling down behind us.

Here's the pair of those thousand year old towers on the wonk,

And here they are from the spot where some chap stood during construction and said "yeah they look straight"

And then all too soon it was over and time to come home. It was a terrific trip kindly funded by the firm to mark my twenty five years employment. Thanks very much, the trip and the past twenty five years have been a blast.