Sorry its late.
The following has been written with one fat finger on a phone in my neighbours garden in the falling snow with little wine while my neighbours watch Flog it!
If I am found frozen in the morning "sans pulse" please erect a telegraph pole in my name in a forgotten field and mark it with a pile of broken BT broadband hubs....no flowers.
And so it begins, the fighting season and the annual clash with the dark forces of crack willow. All shall yield to the shock and awe of the saw and victory will be mine Mwahahahahaha!
Willow management is key on a chalkstream the size of the Dever, although it was not mentioned at the Water Framework presentation and chalkstream summit. In these parts a rotational cutting back of Crack Willow has a beneficial effect and bumps up the all important biodiversity. A few years ago I was asked to look at a stretch of river a few miles upstream from here that had not been submitted to the shock and awe of the saw for some years, Crack Willow had formed a triumphant arch over the entire stretch of river which was void of weed and marginal growth and few fish had chosen to make it their home. Two months of Willow management (going bananas with a chainsaw) let in light that saw weed return and biodiversity increase, some Willows will be cut back each year, others every two years and a few afforded the treat of a third season.
At home much of the one year old willow has been bundled into faggots and floated down river to help mend an over-widened bank on a bend. Two Large Hawthorns had cast a shadow over the bend,the marginal growth had thinned and the bank was open to erosion. The Hawthorns have gone and the faggots have been staked on the original line of the river bank and planted up with sedge from the Millstream
I have been accompanied for the past three weeks by two students studying countryside management at nearby Sparsholt college. Good company and full of ideas, they have taught me much about the potential of the Iphone and its apps, the urban dictionary and what the happening country dude/ho should be wearing bankside. We have achieved much during our time together, the war on willow has finished a week earlier than expected, and they carried out much of the work on the bank repair and made a great job of it to boot!
Midweek, my employer and I were summoned by the village elders to give an account of our activities. A potentially difficult crowd, we were warned that if they started talking loudly amongst themselves mid presentation things were not going well and, at the close, the thumb may well be pointing down. An hour of chat and power point pictures seemed to go well enough and we received several nice comments at the end, including one elderly lady whose husband had looked after a neighbouring stretch of river for eighteen years in the sixties and seventies. Sadly the estate in question no longer employs a full time riverkeeper and the river has slipped into decline, so it was interesting to hear her talk of how that particular stretch of river used to be.
We have had the odd Grayling fisherman in attendance and all have caught fish. Despite being bank high the river remains fishable, clears fairly quickly following rain, and the Grayling and Roach continue to co operate. Through the village the spring ditches are at a level that have not been experienced for a few years. Water is rising in fields to the east of the village and a few ditches could do with a bit of a clear out but although high, the groundwater is nowhere near the level that it was in early 2001.
Over on the Itchen similar water levels are being experienced, the spring ditch is flowing strongly although surprisingly coloured. It winds its way through the middle of Easton and may also act as a point of drainage for direct run off. On the main river the top pool continues to hold Salmon although I can see no sign of redds or spawning fish.
Heavy snow has tidied things up a bit, and the place looks a picture,the springs that feed this river resemble black satin ribbons as they slice through the pristine fields that flank the valley, all manner of things hammer away at the few pheasant feeders and all and sundry are missing the easy larder of the three acres of maize that would have been in the parish had we been shooting this year, Oh for a jolly farmer etc etc.
Child B made the most of the snow, following 18th birthday celebrations a house full of hungover dudes/hos woke to blizzard conditions and no clear exit strategy to their homes. Much of the day was spent dragging half an upturned car roof box containing said dudes/hos behind a Peugeot 207 up and down the road until Ivan and his snowplough arrived mid-afternoon to re-open the road.
Family celebrations on a snow filled weekend undertook more conventional sledging practice on the hill two fields behind our house, albeit in the same roof box that managed to accomodate three generations; all made it safely to the bottom of the black run despite a lack of helmets, life jackets and several hours of risk assessment. The rain that fell in the weeks that preceded the snow is working its way down into the aquifer freeimg up space in the upper soil for any snow melt or rain that will inevitabvly come. The river has dropped a few inches during the cold snap and is back within its banks.
The Indian runners that live on the bottom island have taken a bit of a pasting of late, with half a dozen vanishing in the night. No sign of feathers or footprints in the snow or mud, the finger is being pointed at a human fiend tempted by some of the fattest well fed ducks in the valley. The few that remain are understandably a tad jumpy and we make great efforts to bed them down for the night in an old kennel situated near the island. They seem to respond to my proletarian tone and I can shut them in most nights, my employer however has experienced problems. If it's my northern vowels that bring them in, it may pay her to adopt her best Bradford accent when calling them to bed.
This current piece of poor prose is penned in the dark from a bench in my neighbour’s garden, snow is falling softly on the ground and ice is beginning to form on my glass of red wine. Welcome to BT broadband in the country. Our home internet connection is not the sharpest, Child A who currently resides in an urban environs is quick to point this out on her home visits, but now it is currently defunct. After several hours on the phone, Sanjay is very sorry, but this house will be sans internet for two weeks or more. A man with an open reach will visit in a few weeks and if the problem is found to be of our own making we will be charged a hundred pounds or more. After a decade or more of poor service from BT we are resigned to our situation and feel a tad “mugged off” (studentspeak picked up in recent weeks). We are the furthest property from the exchange and must expect poor service. Thirty yards from this property is a BT pole connected to a different exchange that enjoys an imperious Internet service as does the rest of this small village. Five years ago BT took the decision that it was best to replace the twenty nine telegraph poles and one and half miles of cable to maintain this ancient telegraph spur than connect us to the other exchange thirty yards down the road.
In the grand scheme of things, no internet is no biggy. The lady who sleeps on my left and I are relearning the art of conversation, a little hesitant with a hint of staccato rhythm, it is back and forth conversation all the same. Child B has started to notice things and occassionally look up. On current performance BT and their poles and lines must be under threat from the mobile companies and the air borne pixies that deliver the internet via the magic of fresh air.
At home, following my triple pike with tuck, salco and flop from the roof (Olympic legacy?) the wrecking ball has been booked and a substantial redesign is planned for the out buildings that house the tractor and all the other gubbins that are necessary for looking after a chalkstream and rearing a few brown trout.
A mile from here Flash Gordon only has twenty four hours to save the earth and a few acres of solar panels are currently being installed to help him in this task. For some reason Scottish power supply the parcels of electricity to the people of this parish and for several weeks they have been busy connecting the field of panels to the amps and ohms at the substation a few hundred yards from here. This has involved a surprise road closure that lasted for two weeks and a host of funny machines moving up and down the lane in the middle of the night. Investigations as to how the work is going and when our exit route from the village will be restored are invariably met with a chippy reply and a few verses of “O Flower of Scotland”
Culloden still counts for some in certain quarters.