Monday, December 22, 2014

Fallen Trees I Have Known

Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of "Fallen Trees I have known"

Mercifully abridged.

Aspen and ash this week as it didn't seem very festive to be subjecting Christmas trees to the shock and awe of my big orange saw and a denouement by the medium of fire.

Next week the arboreal holy trinity of oak, beech and willow, don't miss it!

Coming soon - Fallen Trees I have known TV

A thirty minute feature on a tree that has fallen over, with accompanying sound track by Keith Helt who always gets a little down when the days draw in and plays that tune that accompanied the Hamlet ads back in the day, over and over ad nauseam,

You could be forgiven for thinking that I have gone a little chainsaw crazy, no that doesn't sound right and wasn't that phrase used in the promotional blurb for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

What I am clumsily trying to say is that I will be looking forward to a break from dealing with chuffin trees that have fallen over.

The aspen and the ash were of a substantial size and much of the wood has been retained. They lined a ride that accommodates three guns on a shoot day and now it is opened up a little, should provide a wider field of fire. The oak and the beech that I must attend to in the New Year are enormous trees, and will provide a couple of winters' wood. The oak is particularly sad loss, an irregularly shaped leviathan it had three huge boughs that I would walk under regularly to feed the pheasants and was the kind of tree that a royalist king would choose to hide out in.

The ground's a bit sticky and charging around with a chainsaw or feeding fires cuts the surface up a tad, and much of the wood is a muddy morass but spring will heal all, gaps will be replanted with ash oak and beech and the pheasant pen will rise from the ashes.

Crack willow has had a high old time of it, brim full of schadenfreude at the plight of its near neighbour's, its time will come, and will duly be attended to by my terrific tangerine wood cutting machine.

Much of the field maple that fell on our home on Valentine's day has been burnt and its ashes scattered on the vegetable garden, we have a few months of burning balsam poplar and aspen before returning to another field maple. We seem to have a become a little log obsessed in recent months and a colleague of the woods has a magic moisture meter which can be a little distracting as it is pushed into various pieces of timber about the place. Results have been tabulated, and graphs produced, that demonstrate that our excellent field maple has a moisture content of 22%, some crack willow pushes 40%, a Christmas tree that lay prone for ten months is mostly water, our kitchen table recorded 10% while my own leg is void of moisture, completely withered, and the next item on the list for lopping off.

Enough about logs,

As predicted, ditches and drains have been attended to in fear of a winter like the last one, some done well, others driven at with diggers. It's an important annual job, a forgotten art, and boy does it show.

Of an evening, when the spirit of Terpsichire has failed to pay us a visit, the lady who sleeps on the left and myself like to take in the odd cookery show. Don't go much on Jamie and half an hour of Delia telling all how to cook an egg was perhaps not the best value for my licence fee. Mary Berry is a given, Gino's series in Italy was inspiring, and the Hairy Bikers are pretty good, if an updated version of Two Fat ladies, which was also very watchable, and one of whom used to haunt this place on a regular basis, but Keith Floyd remains a favourite.

Currently we are held rapt by the final of Masterchef - the professionals, and this week's final saw the contestants flown out to San Sebastian to cook in one of the top rated restaurants in the world. San Sebastian has become a mecca for foodies. We visited around ten years ago while camping and fishing a nine hundred acre lake near Biarritz. It's a beautiful place with back to back beaches and a bunch of locals who fish hard off the bridge over the river when the tide is on the turn. I forget where we took lunch, but I do remember it being very good, and it was not the restaurant visited by the finalists which was half way up the hill and akin to cooking with Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker. It was Sciencey stuff with much ambiguity over what was to be eaten and what was not. One dish featured a fork made from sugar, and at some point I am sure someone had tried to take a bite out of the table as there are appeared to be teeth marks in one corner. A peckish Madam swiftly raised the website and was on the cusp of booking a trip for the twenty course taster affair at Easter, before the price per head set her reaching for the delete key.

School is done for 2014 and as ever Madam returned laden with gifts from generous pupils. Thirty five years ago the bond between pupil and teacher was not so strong and nobody gave gifts, if they had they would have been eyed suspicously and held at arms length. With the climate of fear that pervaded in some classrooms thankfully long gone a friendlier relationship exists, and Madam will have spent much of the weeks preceding Christmas doing spelling tests with words like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Monty Bojangles Cocoa dusted truffles. Analysis of the hoard takes several hours and each gift is logged, and in the manner of marking, initial reactions noted,

Could do better,

Overwhelmed/underwhelmed,

See Me - Sauvignon Blanc is not red!

Child A and Child B have returned, having already conducted the opening skirmishes of Christmas food consumption. Child B's repast for a table of eight consisted of two nine pound turkeys, eight roast potatoes per head, three full size sausages each with a thick slice of back bacon wrapped around each one, a bucket of mulled wine and cider, many yule logs for pud, a selection of eight cheeses accompanied by a litre of port, before repairing to the tables and fleshpots of Cardiff for an evenings entertainment. High living for student, and we hold high hopes for the quality of Christmas gifts if these are the standard he is now setting himself. Child A and her pals did their perrennial £5 Iceland Christmas, we have no photos but imagine it was something like the adverts sans Kerry Katona.

With the two of them home again this year's Christmas message is don't touch the posh pork pie at the back of the fridge until the rest of the family have turned up, and if you read the label it says "extra large" and not "bite size" We have a hectic forty eight hours with family staying and visiting on both days, which is always fun, and then I'm going to chase some roach at the weekend by way of reflection, and contemplation particularly on Christmas's past and the madness that used to ensue in our house when we were growing up, a huge amount of fun with the principle protagonist my aged aunt, daft uncle and dad who would done the beards, hats and elf costumes for an afternoon of Christmas shenanigans that several of my mates would turn up to take in.

I also have a photo of the same aunt and uncle keeping wicket and standing at first slip as Child B set out on his cricket odyssey in the back garden, the combined age of the close in fielders nudged 165, which was quite remarkable considering there was only the one slip. Uncle Stan drew stumps a few years back but Aunty Joyce remains, but sadly no longer keeping wicket, dressing up as Father Christmas or dropping a burning Christmas pudding onto the carpet following a particlarly raucous welcome to the room. She's well into her nineties now, but flat out and full of morphine in a hospital in Yorkshire, which doesn't seem quite right for one of the best Father Christmases there can ever have been.


Thank you for all of the kind emails throughout 2014 and for reading this rubbish that I write,

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sleep sound, for tomorrow we march on Elstree!


First real frost and the outdoor fuchsia that remained in flower into the first week of December finally gave up and went off to bed. Forty eight hours of frozen ground has provided a definitive full stop to 2014 for those elements of nature eager to prolongue the party. On a personal note the stingers that up until the cold snap maintained their midsummer heat and brought me out in wealds for much of the week will not be missed. Bumbling about the wood dealing with the arboreal carnage that resulted from last winter's weather, even Otis approached the end of his tether as each evening he scratched away at the coconut mat to sooth stung puddies, the ladybird may make a case for a nettle, but currently they are the devil's own weed.

Initial estimates of the number of felled trees to be attended to have been revised and the stump count of forty feet tall Christmas trees that have been dealt with so far is approaching three figures. It's a hairy business and requires a little thought as to where each cut must be made, root-balls of over a tonne in weight flip back into holes and trunks that are bent over and whose tension is concealed by the upper branches of a neighbour who lies perpendicular and prone across its midriff, spring back spectacularly when an ill considered cut is made.

I've a few bruises and a lump the size of an egg appeared on the back of my hand one afternoon following further skirmishes, but nothing can be done bar blast on and keep going bananas with the chainsaw. Access is solely on foot and softwood such as this won't last beyond another twelve months as it soaks up water like a sponge and quickly rots. We have enough wood stacked for the next two winters already so much of it is being burnt in the wood with a small percentage left for the bugs and fungi. The pheasant pen beneath the fallen trees is a complete right off and will have to be reconstructed from scratch but all the wire intermingled with roots and branches is an additional complication as it soon takes the edge off the saw if it comes into contact with the chain.

NEWSFLASH

Pixie Lott, has just been voted out of Strictly at the quarter final stage.

NNNNOOOOOOOO! how did she ever come to be in the dance off? She is one of the best that has ever been on the programme,

Why Len, why?

Sleep sound, for tomorrow we march on Elstree.

Note to self: It is a TV programme proffered, and not a genuine dance contest,

and that's from a hoofer who has won in Blackpool, albeit it on a stage in a nightclub on a Saturday afternoon, after the wrestling with a new age routine that included a series of forward rolls and headstands, but that's for another day.

More news as we have it.

but now, a formative piece of Nordic Noir



See the genesis of Wallander

Having maintained that cormorants find fishing the Dever a tricky business, Graculus is now making a concerted effort to master the art. Three flushed from a tree on the island in the flight pond. Late evening perambulations confirmed that it is not being used as a roost, but I have seen Noggin the Nog's budgerigar flighting this valley most days in the last two weeks.

Currently the river level is ok, spring ditches have yet to break through but a glimpse down a well in the middle of a water meadow revealed a reasonable level of groundwater and springs would be expected to break early in the new year. Last winter shifted a lot of gravel in the river, over on the Itchen a substantial amount was thrown up and out of the back of the main pool and a large gravel bar that remained weed free throughout the season, here on the Dever the experience was similar but on a smaller scale and brown trout spawning this month have found digging their redd a relatively easy business and in some cases they have shifted twice as much gravel as would be expected.

And so to the perennial task of providing reports to various quarters on what has occurred in this valley during the past twelve months. The river's riparian owners association produce an annual report to which most keepers contribute and also serves as a bellwether to thinking on all things chalk stream. October 2013 saw this stretch of the Dever on its knees with record low flows and much guff being spouted by the complicated cabal laying claim to be saviours of the chalk streams, which led some who tread these banks to a state of despair. The "get out of jail" card was played and a wonderfully wet winter recharged aquifers and restored a sparkle to chalk rivers that had been absent for some years. In among the sogginess of last spring a damascene moment occurred and after a succession of visits from those up to their ears in promoting river restoration strategies a refreshing change of tone was all too evident. The pendulum had swung away from the extreme "rewilding" that some were vociferously promoting, and for man to step back and undertake a watching brief, and there was acknowledgement that management by man can be of benefit to the chalk stream environment. Keepering they used to call it, and provided it is done well, with a sympathetic eye to both flood defence and biodiversity, chalk rivers will continue to flourish. The winter floods may have been bad news for some but they had the added benefit of providing a little clarity to the thought processes of those charged with implementing habitat directive and river restoration strategies in the chalk stream environment.

BREAKING NEWS

Child A and some such thing she's written is now a feature on Google Scholar, which I'm sure was some form of 1980's canned lager. These long words which are beyond the comprehension of Madam or myself, are also to be published in some journal, which we will both read but not understand but clutch with maternal pride.

She's a day younger than George Ezra and all he can come up with is three chords and a rumbling bass baritone on the One Show, although I have heard say he has some ability........... but is he on Google scholar?

Not a bit of it,and he had a 24 hour head start, Well done Maisie!

Here's Chris with some news from the envrionment.

In 2015 for the first time, any brown trout stocked into this river must be triploid as the National Trout and Grayling strategy is implemented. Substantial reaches of the Test and its' tributaries have been stocked with triploid brown trout for some years now, others have a record of stocking with diploid trout for even longer. Surveys are regularly undertaken on this river to provide an assessment of fish populations for EU habitat directive. Included in that survey is an assessment of whether each brown trout in the sample is considered to be wild or stocked and numbers of each duly noted. Why is this counting of "wild" brown trout being undertaken, how accurate is a visual assessment of a brown trout's provenance and do the results of these surveys demonstrate that there is a significant difference in the numbers of brown trout receiving a "wild" classification between that stretch of this river that has been stocked solely with triploids and that stretch that has been stocked with diploid brown trout. If results for this river do support a successful strategy, why isn't it being shouted from the rooftops to nullify the naysayers?

Recently the Wild Trout Trust newsletter was thrust under my nose and I was held by the back of the head, threatened with woody debris, and ordered to read on

A few quotes jumped out,

"Wild broodstock schemes: fraught with issues and, in all probability not the solution to more fish in the river"

Maybe not always, but in my humble experience they can work, but success is site specific, influenced by habitat management plans and should not be discounted

"WTT is not against stocking - we recognise that many clubs would fold if they could not stock. WTT is not a pro triploid lobby"

The WTT may not be anti stocking but several of its members are, I have received the emails after the words "rearing fish" and "stocking" appeared amid this written rubbish a while back. Stocking is required in some rivers to provide income streams from angling in order to implement habitat directive.
The WTT have come across as a pro triploid lobby for a very long time and I have heard them make many noises to that effect.

"Triploids rise(if anything) slightly better than their diploid counterparts"

Apart from the supercilious nature of this statement, there are many who would dispute it and also attest that triploids have a tendency to shoal.

There's a National Strategy been formed on the back of this, which is perceived by some as a bit of a bugger's muddle, but I won't go on, and indeed can't, as upon my release, the newsletter was used to light the fire that evening, but suffice to say the vein on my temple threatened to throb and I almost repaired to my cave to shake my fist angrily at the outside world,

but refrained,

and sat down to read something a little more lucid (Prostate Years, Moley always serves as a restorative on such occasions) and make preparation for emails brim-full of internet enlightenment for this piece of impertinence regarding the WTT.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tackling Trees with Laced up Loins

It's time to tackle the trees. All those that tumbled over last winter have lay prone in the wood throughout the summer and now that the stingers are in retreat I have started on the tangle of forty, forty feet Christmas trees that have flattened the Pheasant pen. About half a dozen maintained a semi erect stance and these have had to be felled first in order to make the place safe but it will take many weeks of going bananas with a chainsaw before any inroads are made. All the Christmas trees that lie prone have been uprooted as opposed to broken off and calculations must be made as to where weight lies and when a stump and root is likely to flip back into the hole from which it was removed. It's a hairy business as anything or anyone left under a root ball weighing several tonnes will not escape. There are also several substantial aspen around the flight pond and a couple of decent ash. We already have next winter's wood stacked at home , balsam poplar mostly with a smattering of ash and oak, and we will have more stacked through the wood by the end of this winter. It's a familiar tale further up the valley where others have made a start on substantial numbers of Balsam Poplar that cashed in their chips during last winter's blow. Some of the better wood was taken away to where I don't know but the French have a particular penchant for balsam poplar with 30% of the country's hardwood sourced from the species.

In the river, trout have been slow to start spawning although one female who performed for ten minutes on camera and weighed around a pound and half had scooped out a redd eighteen inches deep which suggest that the gravel is lovely and loose as a result of the high water of last winter. Here she is for a minute or so. Musical accompaniment was to be by The Variety Theatre and Vascos Morais and their groundbreaking piece of Free Jazz - Scaffolding made of bones and diamonds, however an ongoing dispute over the length of piece to be used has delayed the release of the soundtrack so here's a short silent film.

Roll VT



Most winters we will have fish spawning throughout November and December but they need to get a move on this year if it is to be a similar story. The mild weather and trickle of olives for a few hours in the early afternoon may prove a distraction, and a few frosts would be of immense benefit in order to let all flora and fauna in the valley know that winter is here and it is time to switch off, each evening this week our bedroom and bathroom have been invaded by blue bottles who have no business being about at this time of the year, and who I am forced to pursue like a low budget batman in my underpants, sans utility belt and mask and armed only with a towel for flicking. While we are on the weather the opening skirmishes of the media's battle with winter way have already taken place after a wet week saw several newspapers sending junior journos to stand in puddles and speak of an impending watery Armageddon. Rivers flooding in winter should not be news, unless the circumstances are exceptional, a wet month at this time of the year is welcome in this valley and many others and should not be paraded as news. If it's still p&^%$£"g down in March then it will have been a wet winter and worthy of mention as a wet winter. We seem to have lost our way a little with our understanding of the seasons and the weather.

A cormorant has taken a liking to the flight pond and on several days this week I have seen up to a dozen flighting up the main river valley. Grayling fishing has been surprisingly difficult particularly in coloured water following rain, sub surface explorations with my clever camera revealed good numbers throughout the river in all year classes, and in clear water on sunny days several fish have risen to olives but the slightest deepening of colour and they have refused to play ball. I have also made my first forays with the fly rod in pursuit of pike, there are a brace of fish in front of the house in the mill stream one of which is a double figure fish. I'm a little new to this game, and would normally reach for a spinning rid and Mepps, but I am curious after several keeper friends spoke with great enthusiasm about pursuing pike on a fly. They occasionally get caught on mayflies, but proper pike flies are about the size and appearance of a sparrow in a high viz jacket. Casting such a bundle of fluff attached to the necessary wire trace takes a bit of getting used to, although shortening the leader and using some of the soft plastic wire which can be knotted and negates the requirement for clunky snap swivels makes the cast a little more fluid. In clear water the pike will move a long way across the river if they are in the mood, as the smaller fish in front of the house that weighed about six pounds.

Well we woke up this morning to the news that a company called "Indeass" is to invest £650 million pound into shale gas exploration in order to feed its chemical fire somewhere in Scotland. In my haste to Google this chemical giant of which I had not heard prior to the news reader's burblings, a slip of the keyboard led me to a disturbing backwater of the internet's rich pageant, before I ascertained that the company wanted to have a shufty about the shale in the vicinity of their principle site for alchemy in Grangemouth, and not the few sites owned by shale gas exploration companies in this valley. Fingers crossed they pay due diligence to the safeguards required to preserve water supply and the environment. Promises have been made to that effect, but all that talk of a race to frack by Flashy a few months back and the attempt to ease EU constraints on shale gas exploration gave me the willies,

still does.

An oft repeated mantra but, I've said it before, if shale gas is sought in a chalk valley and things don't go to plan, it will be the equivalent of pissing in a fast diminishing well, and while we may temporarily have solved an energy deficit, a water deficit could result along with a cocked up chalkstream. 80% of chalkstreams on this blue planet are in the UK, principally in the South East of England, if a third world state trashed a unique habitat in the name of economics, we would quickly condemn it as corrupt.

If we are going to do this thing lets make sure we do it properly eh? with no talk of a "race to frack"


And apologies for further politics but I find the recent fire in Mr Rochester's room a depressing affair. I can't believe I'm saying this, but well done to the beast of Bolsover for jabbing your finger and I concur!! The chap who laced my loins back together a few years ago was possibly spawned on Galafrei although the spelling of his name, Dr Hu suggests otherwise. The lady who sleeps on my left will attest my loins have returned to mid season form and not by some sonic screw driver plucked from the glove box of the tardis, but a skilled surgeon with very soft hands from South Korea. My own moniker hints at a transient existence over time, and well done Den for speaking up.

On a local level I caught sight of a car covered in purple and yellow stickers being attended to in a hand car wash by a bunch munching unusual sausage and talking in tongues..

which seemed a little ironic.

In a two week period we have swung from a successful and amazing pan european project to land a washing machine on a speeding comet, to prehistoric mutterings of repatriation

The colour purple is beginning to frighten me a little, so I'm off to take in the dancing.....Pixie's my tip.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Angry Black Cats at the Gates of Zell

Half term and Madam and myself conquered Le Manche and swept across the Polders intent on reaching the Rhine. Midway up the German part of the Mosel to be exact and a room on the river at a place called Zell. I'd visited before on my first trip abroad on a state secondary school trip that also took in Amsterdam and included fifty twelve year olds being taken to several wine producers for a few hours wine tasting,

school trips were a little different then,

the Amsterdam leg of the journey included being let off the leash after tea and a game of street football in the red light district with an exotically dressed opposition.

Anyway, to misquote fans of Galatasaray , welcome to Zell. A pretty town halfway between Trier and Koblenz that seems to exist for pleasure alone, principally the production of wine, and as we awaited our host to grant entry to our apartment we joined forty other visitors in the town square sipping glasses of wine at two euros a pop produced from grapes grown on the hill behind (Dublin take note) Riesling wouldn't be our grape of first choice and the sun doesn't shine long enough to get any oomph into the soupcon of red produced but the dry Riesling we quaffed wasn't half bad and didn't have the gloopiness of some of the Riesling we have drunk at home, and so the pattern was set.

Burg Eltz is a spectacular castle in the middle of a forest that stands as a testament to hedging your bets or backing both sides in times of conflict, perfectly preserved it is inaccessible by road. A trek of many miles through impenetrable forest may have had its part to play in its preservation as Madam and myself set out in inappropriate footwear to test its fortifications and after an hour emerged blinking from the forest to join the throng who had caught the bus halfway up the other side of the hill. It's guided tours only, and the multilingual chap who showed us around was a bit of star. Lunch was taken in the castle refectory and comprised two bowls of green soup with a frankurter hidden within, a pint of Pils and a large glass of wine all for the price of a pint and a half of Ireland's best froth on the same afternoon a week before. Returning through the forest along the banks of a stream a similar size to the Dever we spotted trout and tell tale signs of anglers at work. Always at spots where trees had fallen over, light had entered the stream and ranunculus flourished, the tunnel shaded by firs bore few signs of life. We missed the Oktoberfest at Cochem by minutes but took in yet another pretty town and popular destination for the elongated Rhine River cruisers that wouldn't last five minutes with the slightest chop on the water.

Trier traffic was a trial, and we bailed out in favour of the park and ride. The half timbered buildings in the medieval square are impressive, as are the two cathedrals and the odd palace but the perfectly preserved Roma gate and cloisters that housed modern loos serve as a reminder that the valley was first planted with vines almost two thousand years ago by a Roman empire establishing a foothold after giving battle with goths and visigoths various.

Koblenz the next day which sits at the point where the Mosel feeds into the Rhine, and Madam and myself paid nine euros each to travel an hour by train down the valley. A scenic ride and popular with both locals and visitors it will no doubt draw the eye of Michael Portillo at some point in the near future. Koblenz played host to further invaders as a cruise ship retracing the steps of the US 82nd Airborne division in WW2 took in the town, Koblenz was bombed heavily during the second world war and while parts of the old town are well preserved, there are obvious gaps, Three years ago, 45,000 people were evacuated following the discovery of a two ton unexploded bomb in a muddy bank of the Rhine.

Lunch was taken in a cafe that provided the perfect nutritional storm of bread, beer and cake (there's no tea here) before we headed to the river and a ride on a cable car that lifted us across the Rhine. A pretty park played host to a draughty museum and a free viewing platform that provided a perfect view of the city and the point at which the Mosel meets the Rhine, which is marked by an imposing statue of on old Kaiser who bore the unassuming nomenclature of "William the Great"

Back behind the gates of Zell, which are guarded not by a many headed hound but by a statue of a large black cat on the third roundabout. Schwarze Katz is the most well known wine from the village and further glasses were taken at a variety of Gasthauses which were proving to be a distraction from the small shops and tiny streets although one display of dusty old Leica and Leitz caught the eye.

Having made it through another night we rose at dawn for a spot of walking and fishing, pausing to take in a few of the boats that chug up and down this stretch of the river that is a vital transport link in the pan European canal network that links several major rivers. A procession of coal moves from southern Germany to industry in North East France, and one ninety metre long craft that passed under the bridge appeared to be skippered by children. Further up the Mosel several seek to locate large carp or the odd silur, but there was little evidence of their work on this stretch although a fish finder may reveal more on such a large river with few features. Trotted sweetcorn, a couple of rod lengths out, accounted for several good chub and roach. Cormorants fishing in your swim kill the mood, and a few hundred tonnes of coal moving through your swim makes your float bob about a bit, and then came a first for me.

Fishing in slightly shallower water a little closer to the bank, my bait tripped along the bottom and I caught several fish I failed to identify, which irked me a little. Identification was sought via google, that revealed the small fish was a bottom dwelling round goby and an alien invader working its way through the river system and impacting on native fish populations. It's passage across Europe was aided by the pan European canal network created by linking up several of Europe's rivers in the last century to further economic development. A public information board at the bottom of the river details two other such invaders and a species of native caddis that has all but bit the dust as a result. It then goes on to explain that such things while regrettable are a necessary sacrifice when weighed against the development of the economy and reads as follows:





"In reality, one finds just a modified structure of the aquatic life communities. Whether such changes are understood as loss of enrichment for the life communities depends on the point of view of the observer, on economic interests, and on the goals that we pursue in nature conservation."


It's a little different from the take on alien Invaders in the UK and heaven help us if such a board were put up on the bank of a chalkstream. The take on EU Habitat Directive and River Restoration also seems to differ from our own. The pretty streams that tumble into the Mosel are not chalk streams, but the rules regarding light, weed and biodiversity still hold, as was confirmed during the opening leg of our expedition to the castle where weed flourished wherever light penetrated the tunnel of trees and were marked by anglers' tramplings. EU habitat directive has afforded the UK's chalkstreams a greater level of protection than our own agencies and laws and if I was a member of a Mosel fly fishing club I would be banging the EU habitat directive drum a little louder.

Are all corners of the EU implementing Habitat Directive as diligently as the UK?

If not, why not?

Filling the boot of the car with Sauerkraut and Bitburger which, if my translation of the promotional label is correct, will, when mixed in the correct proportions, combine to form an elixir that guarantees everlasting life, we drove through Belgium as fast as possible, and returned home with no little trepidation, as exactly twelve months ago we returned from a failed mission to fish the Marne that dissolved in a haze of bubbles. The rain had begun to fall and the first trees had fallen over, principally the mother of all willows that blocked the bottom bends and took a week to remove.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Euphoria followed, so we skipped home, pausing only for pints

Recent rain has added a taint to the river that continues to maintain a reasonable level. Weed has been cut back and the fringe knocked off to a height that still provides a viable winter habitat for creatures that enjoy such spaces. A few olives continue to put in an appearance and fish that have no interest in spawning continue to fill their boots. Twelve months ago several keepers in the upper reaches dropped to their knees to pray for rain or, inspired by all things "strictly", jigged around with the odd ronde to invoke rain gods to fill the river. A wet winter would be welcome as it is undoubtedly an aid to performing the task well, and in my capacity as water supply manager for these environs, recent records confirm that there is sufficient space in the ground to accommodate significant precipitation.

Planning ahead (a rare occurrence in these befuddled parts) much of this winter will be spent chainsaw in hand dealing with trees that tumbled over last winter. The forces of crack willow who,after last winter's out of bank experience, can lay claim to the upper hand, will once again be re-engaged and forced to bow to the shock and awe of my saw to promote biodiversity in the chalkstream environment.

The newspapers from yesterday and today, carry the tale of a Swedish Navy feverishly hunting down a secretive soviet submarine that has bumped into one of their archipelagos. Principle evidence for invasion by the Russian Bear is a reported sighting of a shadowy figure by a bay,

who, it has now been revealed, was a pensioner fishing for trout.

Here on the Dever we keenly anticipate a visit from NATO's Baltic Fleet to inspect our fun bunch whose days of peeking for Ivan have long been been replaced by an ambition to put a fish on the bank.

There's no secret submarines here.

A few Fridays ago I was kindly invited to lunch by a lake further down the valley with optional fishing. I've bumbled along several times in years gone by to talk shop, take a ribbing for rubbish that I have written and touch base with keepers who I may not have seen for an entire season. As ever there was exasperation at guff emanating from the complicated cabal who lay claim to the title of saviors of the chalk stream environs, although fewer grumbles than previous years. Food was fantastic although I didn't do much fishing: too busy chatting or ear-wigging discourse on best methods for fly fishing for pike, which I will be implementing sometime this winter.

Thanks for the invite, it's always a great day and a great opportunity to talk.

Two Sunday's ago The lady who sleeps on my left and myself combined a trip to hang curtains and rail in Child A's new digs, that she shares with three others ( one of whom is a semi professional wrestler - and there's an exotic tale of items that have entered my washing machine to be told another day) to take in Lee Mack at the Guildhall. Prior to Mr Mack, who Madam and myself both greatly favour, particularly on WILTY. and while curtains were being chucked up, I popped next door to a beautiful British pub to take in England's Euro qualifier against Estonia with some of Fratton's finest. I'll admit to feeling a little under-dressed sans the requisite ink, but a first half passed without incident both on the pitch or in the pub, and I didn't mention the home town team who have experienced a spectacular decline in recent times. Six years on from winning the FA Cup they languish in the bottom division of the football league, which will make some in Southampton smile, but the people of Pompey could be forgiven for asking,

What happened there?

Lee Mack was ill, but still brilliant and soldiered on, dealing efficiently with the inevitable hecklers before exiting stage left after just over an hour.

One week on and Madam and myself have just returned from thirty six hours in Dublin to take in Dara O'Briain at the Vicar St theatre, a tiny venue that sold out in minutes once the dates were tweeted on Twitter six months ago.

Pick your spot, and it is possible to fly to and from Dublin from our local airport in less time, and for fewer pennies, than the train ticket from Winchester to Waterloo and back. A fifty minute flight dropped us off in Dublin in time for breakfast at O'Brien's where a homeward bound Hibernian took an immediate, and understandable, shine to Madam and made great play while I punished the bacon and white pudding.

Relinquishment from imagined clutches was swift and decisive, and we headed into the heart of Temple bar to ditch our cases before tackling the town where we found the pin we dropped on Google maps stuck smack in the middle of O'Connell Street.

It's called the spire, is very high and there is much mischief to be made with statues a camera and attention to depth of field, that I won't chuck up here for fear of offending.

Later on while Madam rummaged for smalls on Grafton St, I entered Peter's pub for a post prandial pint, the cost of which shook me somewhat and endorsed a burgeoning suspicion that this city was not the cheapest place in which to hang my hat. However the chat was great, the decor comforting, more seventies sitcom than the clich├ęd "Irish bar" to be found in many a city, and after a five minute discourse mostly on the merits of Italian beer, the conclusion drawn was:

"who'd a thought a bunch of fancy cooks and bottom pinchers could come up with some good beer amongst all that bunga bunga"

the price of my pint of froth was soon forgotten.

Which may have been the plan all along.......Doh!

Craic costs

A surfeit of bacon, cabbage and mash was taken in the early evening with wine and no dark brew before Madam and myself sloped along to Vicar St to take in Dara O'Briain and a night that will live long in the memory. Lee Mack may have been ill, and the Portsmouth Guildhall may not posess the conviviality of Vicar St, but I doubt given the same stage Mr Mack could top "The Dara" who, eschewed the option of a warm up act, and completed over two hours of razor sharp stand up working the room magnificently. If you get the chance to see his UK tour next year, don't pass up the opportunity.

A euphoric Madam and myself, linked arms and skipped home, pausing briefly for pints.

Trinity College the next morning, an oasis of tranquillity and a buff library that could draw the eye of some I know for more than a week. A lightening lunch next before a flight home to the river, and a week of work before heading off to the Moselle next week to resume our 2014 tour of the axis powers with five days of chub chasing, wine tasting and Germanic japes (report to follow).

It may seem like a lot of gadding about but , but to quote Prodnose,

" we only walk this earth for eighty or so summers at best"

and in footballing terms Madam and myself would hope that we are five or ten minutes into the second half so forgive us a "redbull" moment with our frantic running about.

Or perhaps it was just a calendar cock up when booking the comedy tickets many months ago.



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fences and walls, the future of boundary demarcation

Plenty of fish caught last week including several off the top. The dry spell of weather has broken and the first significant rain has fallen for a few weeks. Gaps in the weather invoke a trickle of olives and some fluttering sedge that fish are finally taking an interest in, along with good numbers of trout, several large grayling of well over a pound have also been put on the bank. The weed remains in fantastic condition in a reasonable flow fro this time of year, there are a few gaps in the bars which is not weed weakened by low flow, high temperatures and the proliferation of filamentous algae but we have had swans at work and the finger of blame for most of the gaps in the weed can be pointed firmly in their direction. Recent misty mornings have also revealed the stunning results of the labours of legions of spiders in the meadow where silver webs are draped liberally from every point in what must be the very image of hell for an arachnophobe. This week a squadron of graculus strafed the valley for the first time this autumn, we haven't been bothered much all summer but the unmistakable shadow of Noggin the Nog's parrot cast an ominous shadow on any fish of less than a couple of pounds in weight who will be an easy meal to a lazy bird. On this stretch this is the last week of our trout fishing season, and a time that traditionally sees me cutting all the hedges around here as the next few weeks will be hastily taken up readying the river before stepping discretely away and averting my gaze as the brown trout get jiggy. I fully understand the environmental boon that is a flourishing hedgerow, but as this broken body eases into a hot bath dosed with embrocation, liniment and a glass of wine for succour, there is a case to be made for fences and brick walls as the future of boundary demarcation.

Earlier this year, this small splash in a puddle bordering an insignificant bay of the great lakes of the internet, featured a short piece of filmic flim flam.
Sans Free jazz, it starred a Brown Trout that fed hard on mayflies for over forty five minutes; although the film was mercifully edited down to ten. Our hero still remains, she has a distinctive mark on her left flank, and has sat in front of the fishing hut for much of the season and regularly gave a repeat performance of the filmed feasting. It has seen more artificial flies than any other fish in this river, is a little more circumspect now and decidedly camera shy. She is well over three pounds and will spawn on the shallow upstream from where she lies, if she stays where she is for the remainder of the winter she will be an easy target for stabby avian predators, if she drops back into deeper water she will be a sucker for good old tarka who stalks this valley in increasing numbers and apparently only eats eels; which if true, let's draw up a couple of columns with tarka's travails and merits on one side and anguilla anguilla's on the other. The european eel is a remarkable creature that deserves far more than the role of otter fodder.

To return to our heroine, if she makes next year she will be a fine fish of over four pounds and as wise as wise can be, and will hopefully continue her run in front of the fishing hut, if a vice and feathers were staked to the bed of the river she could tie every fly in the book. To pop a few balloons, she is a diploid brown trout probably stocked several years ago at a few ounces, been subject to a significant amount of natural selection, although many will insist she is wild (whatever wild is in this river) As of next year we will not be permitted to continue with this practice after the implication of a National Strategy that was driven home by supercilious twerps befuddled in the fug of muddled thinking that prevailed in these valleys and many others five to ten years ago

Regional strategies will always be the way where rivers are concerned.

Apologies for returning to this thorny issue, I will calm down, adjust my loin cloth and retreat to my cave with fist waving accordingly.

Or perhaps not,

Last week, I received another badge of office to wear alongside, Riverkeeper, Fishery Manager, Fish Farm Manager, Biosecurity Manager, Assistant Biosecurity Manager, Live Animal Transport Manager, Keeper of the Aquatic Medical Records, Keeper of the SSSI, the Man who went to mow a meadow, keeper of the keys and resident fruitcake.


Following an annual visit from Environmental Health to poke and prod at the borehole, I have been appointed the Domestic Water Supply Manager for these environs.
My duties are to regularly check the water supply and keep records of inspection for an annual audit which will probably read as follows:

cleaned teeth in the morning and evening, cup of tea tasted ok,

writ 365 times.

I must then produce a map clearly showing the site of the borehole and keep it on file, lest I forget its location, In the event that I suffer a complete black out I must keep written contingencies of action to be taken should the pump fail or the well run dry, which will read as follows:

Use bottled water until problem has passed.

For taste, our water supply is the envy of all who visit, it is as hard as nails and the purchase of expensive kettles and irons is a pointless exercise. It is a steady ten degrees celsius and completely untreated. It currently supplies water to four people, there is no evidence of contamination in extensive records stretching back many decades, but Environmental Health would prefer it to be treated,

It will remain untreated

The chap was probably paid a salary that attracted the highest rate of income tax and we bowled along famously during a two hour inspection of the site, and how we laughed as we worked our way through a sixteen page form and what appeared to be the mother of all box ticking exercises, but with two sites a few miles from here owned by an oil company with fracking reasonably foremost in its mind (not heard too much about that of late, Oh yes, general election pending) closer monitoring of groundwater may not be such a bad idea.
My daily toilet has now assumed a more scientific air and the moniker of Domestic Water Supply Manager coupled with the requisite high viz and size nine toe-tectors may serve to open a few doors when I have to knock hard on some Fracker's door asking for an explanation as to why my cup of tea has taken a bit of a turn.

Last week Showbiz came to stay, and big budget stuff at that. Confidentiality clauses were produced and far be it from me to spoil the result of the next series of "Britain & Ireland's next top model" but I remain tantastic and have high hopes of a contract.

Confidentiality is paramount in circles such as this, what goes on in showbiz circles stays in showbiz circles, so once you have read this written rubbish please dispose of it by any means. A dozen or more crew, make up, hair, gofers, a particularly humorous cameraman with a fund of tales and a host of assistants with cameras, a witty director, a lovely stills photographer for the subsequent book and a star of the show who has been described as TV royalty and was absolutely charming.
It will be on the TV sometime next year, and if you have visited here and half recognise the place in the background, the bridges were made to look level during the edit which is why it may seem slightly unfamiliar.

Last week the family name cropped up on the Sunday politics show, the forename however belonged to my much cleverer younger brother, who gamely endured so many fishing holidays in his childhood despite having no interest in the sport. He is a bit of a whizz with planning transport systems in and around London and was in debate with a couple of politicians on a magical ride called the Bakerloo Line. I didn't understand much of it, and when we last spoke, the best I could proffer in acknowledgement was brief speculation on Andrew Neil's hair.

While we are on London, Madam, Myself and Otis headed to Das Capital last Sunday to take in the tower and the million ceramic poppies that are currently being installed in the moat to mark the centenary of World War I. Otis has never been to central London before but with the spirit of Ant & Bee he boarded the train at Richmond and plodded up the South Back without batting an eye, crossed Tower Bridge took in the Poppies, which make quite an impact, negotiated the huge crowds, enjoyed a picnic on a bench with a couple of tramps and their bottles of booze (me - bottle of beer, madam - Pimms and lemonade, mit cheese,apples and crisps) before heading down the other side of the river across the wobbly bridge and back to Waterloo to return to Richmond.




If Leslie grows tired of having Mr Carlton-Hayes under his feet around the house and urges him to reopen his bookshop. Kevin Pietersen is a shoe in for the role of assistant now that Moley's no longer with us. He's shifted a few units judging by this week's furore.

He's selling a book, and he's selling it very well!

Coming to a charity shop near you six months hence.

The Bake Off final is nigh and while it is amongst our most favoured viewing, (the French version we caught last year during our sojourn in Champagne has added a comedic twist) I do have a little grievance. The wine police undertake an interminable quest to quell my excessive consumption through their unit system and suggestions on safe limits, and throughout my time as a smoker I was continually warned of the risk of premature birth, to the extent that I gave up on the 18th November 1991 the day after Terry Waite was released. I don't know why I remember that as it has no relevance to why I gave up, and neither did the fear of premature birth. but Juju, chakras and feng shui will confirm that a period of rebirth on this date was writ large in several pieces of wood, a stiff back and a misplaced bedside table.

If, as we are increasingly told, we stand on the cusp of an obesity crisis then let's chuck up a few pointers on portion control.

It is not unusual to see the cream of our local town society plonk themselves down in a Cafe Nero or somewhere similar and do their entire "recommended" daily calorific intake at a single mid morning/afternoon sitting, and return daily to repeat the process, and if indeed we are heading into the critical state on the obesityometer, where is the onus on the proprietor to sell cake responsibly and do his bit to stave off this obesity crisis.

When the contestants chuck up their wares for Ming the Merciless and Mary, perhaps somebody could pipe up that the cake presented should feed twelve, or display a "serves 12" caption at the bottom of the screen, or a brief bit of blurb preceding the credits asking us all to eat cake in moderation, as a little guidance to those who have lost their way with regard to portion control.



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The path of a trophy husband is riddled with clints and grykes

We have just experienced one of the most unproductive weeks for putting fish on the bank in my time jumping in and out of this river. Fishing must improve soon. The river is in fairly fine fettle with a reasonable level of water, the weed is strong for this time of the year, water temperature is not excessive so dissolved oxygen levels are not a problem. Hatches of fly are not quite what we would expect for September but a trickle of olives and a few sedge should draw the eye, and the grayling are feeding hard on all manner of bugs on the bottom of the river but the Brown Trout remain incredibly fickle. Many will rise to within an inch of a carefully presented artificial before falling away so tackle must be fined down as much as one dare. The few fish that do deign to rise, pick amongst the detritus that has blown from trees and forms a thin line down the centre of the main river's flow, with little fly on the water, it may be tree dwelling bugs that the fish occasionally take, in which case small and black should be the way to go. The brown trout in this bit of water always have a bit of a feed before falling out over spawning sites and then finally getting down to business, I just wish they'd get on with it.

It is both challenging and frustrating fishing, and is the brown trout equivalent of blocking out for a draw on day five of a Test, or parking the bus to take a nil nil draw.

Perfect presentation, fine tackle, maintaining a low profile and bags of patience are a prerequisite when fishing for fickle fish of any species, and this particularly canny bunch of brownies are no exception. But even the most perfectly planned and executed fishing trip can still prove fruitless, which is why it is the sport of "Fishing" and not "Catching" which provides little succour to an angler returning home with an empty bag, and I apologise on the fishes' behalf.

Three days on and the fishing has picked up immensely. Our kitchen played host to squadrons of Daddy Long legs and imitations of these accounted for seven fish over the weekend, we have also experiencced some reasonable hatches of sedge from midday onwards and three more fish fell on the Monday to a small black nymph fished fairly high in the water and four more on Tuesday to a weightier dark nymph pattern. The September bounce back may just have begun.

Up in the village that suffered from groundwater flooding last winter there is much talk about drains and ditches. Which is great, the spring ditch through the village is the Test Valley in miniature with multiple riparian owners. If one doesn't decide to join in and play ball it is a proper pain in the arse for the rest. Communication is everything, as is remembering that the ditches must be maintained every year, a few dry winters will provide a bit of a test.

Our local superstore is currently selling 150g of blackberries for £2, which means that this time next year Rodders we'll be millionaires as we have a bumper crop in the hedgerows around here, although the apple crop has failed completely.

Three mornings out of five this week Otis has enjoyed the benefits of a drive through McDonalds as the remnants of a brown bag full of egg Mcmuffins have been left in the middle of the lane. Don't get me wrong, I like a burger, and was once a regular worshiper at the altar of the golden arches. A forty eight hour bug in Madrid induced by the consumption of ghastly local sausage (the pan European menu description "village sausage" should always be preceded by the word "beware") rendered me unable to eat anything but Ron's crispy fries for a 24hr period, although the chap who lived on Big Mac meals for a month and subsequently suffered twenty four hour hunger pangs and malnutrition suggest that Ronald's finest fayre may be some way short of nutritionally complete. My point is, could the car that leaves the highway to the sun to dump his half eaten bag of McDonalds in the middle of the lane, please stop doing so and wait for a convenient bin.

Breakfasting this morning, Madam had a bit of a moment over the Ryder Cup teams propensity to display their wives in matching gear. She was quite adamant that if requested to do this she would not comply. I reminded her that I had not made myself available for selection this year, so she needn't worry. Some of the singletons in the photograph of the team disembarking down the steps from the plane may have partners who felt the same way and had been asked to hang back or leave by the rear exit away from the cameras. Statistically one or two could be in a same sex relationship and declined to wear the bolero jacket and pencil skirt. Why they were coming down the steps is beyond me. I am sure they expected something a little more commensurate with their status, such as one of those raised tunnels that is pushed up to the plane to provide an easy passage to the terminus, not down the stairs and a ten minute wait for a fifty yard ride in a bus driven by a bloke in a Tam o' Shanter.

I like the Ryder Cup, it is an exciting format of the game and I am reminded of the time I listened to the last knockings of the "War on the Shore" at Kiawah Island while conducting my own war on the shore on a pretty stretch of the Middle Hampshire Avon, I was fishing as a guest of a national newspaper cricket correspondent and caught fish all afternoon that were rising to hatching mayflies, yes mayflies in the middle of September.


Like Macrame and the correct use of a washing machine, a round of golf is beyond my capabilities, but once a week when the children were small my "big night" out was an hour hitting balls at a barn owl that regularly hunted across a nearby golf driving range before stopping off for a beer at a pub half way home where coincidentally the aforementioned cricket correspondent drank most evenings. He knew his bashing spoon from a mashie niblick and passed on several useful tips regarding my elbows as well as inviting me out for a few games, which I always declined as I was sure to be found out for the golfing charlatan I was and still am somewhere in the course of eighteen holes. Child B developed an interest in the game and showed some promise although more measured eyes than mine picked out that he played a lot of cricket. At a young age I took him up to the driving range on a midweek evening and gave him a basket of balls, we had the place to ourselves and I had already worried the owl, when the proprietor arrived and asked us to leave. No children under the age of sixteen were allowed on the range and despite our protestations and a ten year old who was hitting a seven iron 150 yards, we were forced to abandon our baskets of balls. I briefly pondered teeing up a ball and smashing it with my three wood through his office window, but I probably would have missed the building. I still see the miserable toad in the supermarket and a quick scan of the contents of his trolley suggest he probably lives alone, but he must wonder why some bloke goes out of his way to inconvenience or impede him each time he encounters him in the aisles.

Never forget, NEVER FORGET..... cue creepy laugh ed.

Child B went on to play lots of golf with his mates at the many driving ranges and courses in the area that actively encourage children to take up the sport.




Child A continues to tour and has just sent words and pictures from a stunning part of Slovenia. Google confirms that there is some superb fishing for trout and grayling in the rivers of northern Slovenia and some big carp in Lake Bled. A closer look may be required sometime soon.

Chided from various quarters over the past twelve months I have recently been trying to write something a little longer. It may turn up on here, it may turn up somewhere else in a few years time or it may be buried in a field and its precise location recorded in a safety deposit box should I suffer a premature demise at the hands of henchmen dispatched by Richard Madeley or some other cove I have irked.

The target figure for words is over six figures which if my maths serves, is about what was chucked up on here in the last twelve months. Punctuation is a problem for the master of the misplaced comma and f*&6 knows what semi colons are for? and then there are the fruity bits, I was once asked to write a few thousand words of erotic fiction but I struggled and the denouement was premature and done and dusted in a couple of sentences, which may be a little too raw for some; fruitiness is obligatory apparently.

I like a good read. I don't like a bad read, which is why I jump ship after a few chapters at the first whiff of flakiness, but a good read that you can return to time and again is one of life's great comforts.

I couldn't write a good read,

neither can Richard Madeley or the Archduke Rio Ferdinand but it doesn't seem to bother them,

After a recent epiphany, when scallops were consumed for the first time after a lifetime aversion to eating fish (they are my friends) I am more willing to take leave of my comfort zone, although experiments with mussels that tasted like licking a harbour wall, were a setback. So with an open mind I struggled on with a book that I suspected to be bad. The closing chapters confirmed my suspicions and a second epiphany occurred.

I could write a bad book, there are lots of bad books on the shelves so why not mine?

Further research over the past few weeks has revealed that many bad books are over a hundred thousand words long, I don't think the word counter on my pre war version of Microsoft Office goes up that far so the project may require some funding for a more up to date version of Microsoft Office, (2007 would do, any offers welcome). There are even people who know of spelling, punctuation and grammar and, for a fee, will go at your writing with lots of red pen, so further funding may be required.

Sitting down to write the thing is a challenge and there is much advice out there on the "writing process" most of which hinges around discipline (not my forte) shutting yourself away (forte) research and knowledge of subject (er?)

Ignoring all advice I turned to my favourite tome and drew inspiration from Dotore Iannis, who each evening set out to write the history of Kephalonia only for a goat to eat his writings when his back was turned.

For the goat, read Windows Update, which has shut down my computer mid flow each evening. My ancient version of Microsoft Word is a little tardy when it comes to auto-saving and each evening's opening gambit designed to draw the reader in, is all that remained following Windows Updates' intervention.

For the record, they are as follows

Monday : "A trophy husband must tread a difficult path that is riddled with clints and grykes......"

Tuesday : "The door closed silently behind me and I was locked in the kennel with only a bitch in heat for company............"

Wednesday : "The chainsaw buzzed noisily in my hand as I hung on to the tree with my other, Six feet below in four feet of water I could just make out the shape of my stainless steel spectacles being pecked at by a million minnows........."

Thursday : "Deep within my mother's womb I could just make out the Archers theme tune, little did I know that even before my birth I was being brainwashed by an everyday tale of country folk........."

This may take some time.

Oh Yes, Well done Scotland, a little faith restored especially with sixteen year old voters engaging so well in political debate, and what a turn out!

Now how about the United Kingdom attending to UKIP sometime soon.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Damascene Moment on a Journey through Free Jazz

Following excessive demands with regard to back stage riders, The Nicholas Chientarolli Trio are no longer on the books.

It was good while it lasted Nico and best wishes for the future,

but three bowls of Smarties?

Come on!

The following film features many fish, who perform in the manner of Pans People (unpaid Nico, unpaid!) to the new king of Free Jazz,

KEITH HELT

Keith's anthemic piece is titled "Caoquias ou Lamaraouais" and may have been inspired by a broken cathedral ( google translate does not confirm this)

You heard it here first (keep practising Keith, it's coming along great)

Seasick Steve and his three string transwonder have nothing on this guy, Keith can pluck all six strings with some proficiency, although to quote EM (Morecombe not Forster) not necessarily in the the right or expected order.

Take it away Keith,

A one, a two, a one two three four



For those who have fished here, this was mid afternoon on the inside of the bend on Wells' Ride where all the sensible Brownies line up around the outside of the bend.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A spit roast and hurling a bird without wings


Back from Corfu, having endured conditions not seen since Tenko as we were corralled in the midday sun at the airport while Spiros finished his fag before allowing us on to his bus to transport us across twenty yards of tarmac to our tangerine plane that would lift us back to this river.

The snorkelling was great but hopes were not high after Madam's first forays with the mask led her to declare that there were no fish in this part of the Ionian. It transpired that she had my mask on which is a prescription piece for my duff eyes so she probably thought it was quite cloudy too. The few weeks prior to our departure I had heard intermittently the same statement from the odd angler so I entered the water under a black cloud but emerged smiling as there were masses of fish willing to play up to the camera. This corner of Corfu that sits under the gaze of Pantokrator has steep cliffs and small beaches, freshwater seeps through the cliffs into the sea and several spots can be quite refreshing as chilly spring water spurts from cracks into the sea. I've half a mind to get the snorkel and mask out and film a few fish in this river, the water is just as clear and with a live link to a big screen in the fishing hut it may be a way of demonstrating that there are far more fish in the river than some may think.

Extra stocking is not the answer, it is not unusual for fish stocked in August into this river to lie dogo for several weeks before putting in an appearance sometime in September, too many fish in the river over winter used to result in a lot of thin fish the following spring although the result now is more likely to be fatter Otters. While we were away one of our regulars caught the biggest fish so far this season, a fat hen of five and a half pound that had been in the river several seasons, there is one that may be bigger that sits directly opposite the fishing hut and has moved up from the bottom bends sometime in the past month. Reports of tricky fishing abound from the headwaters to the middle river, weed is in pretty good shape and the water level is ok for the time of year, it's just the fish that are not playing ball but I am reasonably confident this will change sometime in the coming weeks. Number of fish caught per hour of fishing effort always increases through September and early October, and several seasons have seen big fish who have been circumspect throughout the season make a mistake in the final fortnight.


Twenty four hours after landing from Corfu I was required to remove my water keeper's hat of office, light my lamp and don my Florence Nightingale outfit in order to administer first aid in the field. The most common injury I am required to deal with is a fly stuck in some part of an angler's anatomy. If fish are rising or the angler has travelled a long way, three hours in the local accident and emergency ward often doesn't appeal, so come on Chris get your pliers out. It often happens mid season when fish are not as free rising and anglers switch from dry flies to a sunken nymph. A weighted nymph takes a different trajectory through the air to a dry fly especially if there is a breeze and there is a case to be made for a novice angler to don a helmet and goggles when switching from surface fishing to sub surface fishing to avoid multiple piercings. On this stretch of the Dever sub surface fishing is not permitted until half way through the season, a decade or more ago I was called to remove a large Montana nymph from the eyebrow of a regular rod in early May when a Hawthorn should have been his fly of first choice. He couldn't avoid my gaze during the ten minutes it took to remove the illegal fly from his brow, although I could probably have done it in just under two. Ears are tricky as are lips. Cheeks and neck depend a lot on skin tone, age and the use of night creams and moisturiser, I once plucked an Adams Irresistible from a weathered old General's neck who was keen to get back to the river, a lifetime of campaigning had loosened his skin somewhat and it is the only time I have suggested that we may need to go to the workshop to put his head in the vice.

To remove a barbed hook from a face the hook must be turned to push the barb out through the skin. The barb is then snipped off and the remainder of the fly removed. Some anglers will not flinch and one brave chap even implored a teenage child A, who, at the time struggled with scissors, to have a go at the Grey Wulff stuck in his outer ear, as I was out of town and a heavy fall of sherry spinners was underway. Others will pace our kitchen for many minutes before settling down in the chair sometimes fortified with liquor. The chap who had a weighted nymph stuck hard in his cheek last week repaired to the local A&E as I don't think he had much confidence in my methods.

I may have omitted to mention that Otis has been rattling around full of pills for quite a few months, he has a funny infection between several of his toes that is proving difficult to get rid of. Sometimes he is the Black dog with the Black dog as the pills can suppress his mood, but the last month has seen him perk up significantly. With the children away at University he now receives the full focus of Madam's attention and has been gifted a basket full of his favourite balls. His Uncle Zebo was the cleverest dog I have ever known who Otis has always compared with unfavourably in the intelligent stakes. He likes a laugh and buggeration is definitely his thing, but we have noticed of late that when we watch tennis, he gets a tennis ball out of the basket, when Rory is pictured addressing his ball a Slazenger special is presented and during a recent one day international he fielded a chewed up old cricket ball from a dark corner of his basket. Ok he struggled with the athletics and also the yachting so we have drawn the conclusion that he only does ball games, although he misread the Hurling and presented us with a miniature rugby ball which may have its roots in knowledge of posts after a lifetime of cocking a leg.

But Hurling, what a game!


Somehow Hurling has passed me by.

I caught the recent All Ireland Championship final between Tipperary and Kilkenny on the Gogglebox and could not take my eyes of the action. Men with big wooden spoons run flat out while balancing a ball on said spoon before flicking it up to fire it fifty yards into the goal, and all while the opposition are trying to take you out with kicks and sticks. It's brilliant and seems to follow similar rules to Quidditch, Eighty thousand screaming fans packed the stadium for the game which ended in a draw so they will all come back again on September 27th to go through it all again. I am hooked and have set my phone to remind me of the fixture, a habit that Madam increasingly encourages me to do in other areas of life as she says that I am becoming ever more easily distracted.

Child A is currently in Budapest, having already visited Sofia, Bucharest and Timisoara, four cities in her first week riding the trains of Europe, with three more weeks to fill she may well run out of Europe at this rate. Madam and myself are very envious and we are plotting her progress on a map fixed to the fridge door with a magnet with a photo of Child A marking her current position.

Child B has returned from the carnage of a cricket tour to Devon and postponed his return to Cardiff as Barrack Obama was briefly in town and South Wales was shut. Barrack popped into Stonehenge on his way home which was also cleared for miles around. I remember two occasions when US Presidents visited this valley to flick a fly, a few spooks were posted at either end of the beat, but the surrounding villages were not evacuated and the North Atlantic Fleet did not nose into Southampton water.

Last weekend while Madam was playing with her friends over card, paper, envelopes and pens I popped over to France to pick up supplies for ourselves and the cricket club's impending presentation evening. I would classify myself as a veteran of such trips and paid little heed to stories in the press of people climbing into cars to gain entrance to Blighty, but pulling into the mother of all Auchan's I was slightly perturbed by the thirty odd chaps fresh up from the Horn of Africa hanging around the car park. They weren't offering a car care service or after fifty po for looking after your car as was the case when parking your car in Liverpool during the eighties. I don't know what the answer is but it is pretty desperate stuff.

Back home Madam had hardly registered my absence and was cocooned in her shed, which Otis has also adopted and stands sentinel at the door preventing anyone from entering. For the cricket club do I must cook a pig. I have done a few before and set the seventy kilo beast spinning on a spit at home some six hours before its presence is required at the perennial bash. It is then loaded on to a trailer and transported to the neighbouring village. The key is to take time fixing the animal to the spit as there is little scope for adjustment when cooking is underway. I may be tempting fate here, bit it is a relatively easy and economical way of feeding a large number of people and the only disaster we have experienced to date was a pork dripping incident on the A303 during transit. The evening takes the theme of the season's principle Test Touring side which this year was India, subsequently the hall will be decorated with Indian Flags and bunting, there will be blow up tigers and inflatable elephants and a life sized cardboard cut out of Kylie Minogue in a sari will greet the throng; last year's theme was Australian and we haven't been able to source a cut out of Mahatma Ghandi in budget but Kylie will pass for Indira Ghandi if we keep the lights low.

I don't like to promote stuff or advertise and believe it or not this pile of rubbish has received enquiries, mostly to do with erectile dysfunction and hair loss but enquiries all the same. As an alternative to lager we put on some draught beer from a micro brewery in Winchester. King Alfred's is the name and their "Saxon Bronze" is what some old boys would term a great "session beer" It is really good stuff. The pig came from just up the road too.

The depressing nature of the news continues and I finished Louis de B's Birds without Wings half way through the holiday and will read it again later this month.Ten years after everyone else but that's just how we roll around here, we're only just done with Pokemon. Captain Corelli is often one of the set texts for A level, Birds without Wings will surely follow suit, it is a very good book and I commend it to the house.

At school in the eighties Gerard Manley Hopkins and Jeff Chaucer were forced upon us ad nauseum, although Ted Hughes, George Orwell and Wilf Owen were ok, as they had some relevance, but Chaucer should have been bunted into touch at the meeting when alchemy and the four humours of Hippocrates were removed from the science curriculum .

We didn't study history at our secondary state school, it wasn't offered as an O level or A level subject which is probably why de Bernieres' books now appeal. The view at the time seemed to be what's the point of history? All relevant historical teaching came at home via Ladybird books and Asterix the Gaul. Instead we were subjected to a social experiment called "Humanities" that strived to combine History, English, Religious Studies and the opening gambit of sex education, oh and we'll teach it an open plan area with four or five classes at one time, in a rowdy atmosphere that merited a strong showing of stewards.

Allied to this was MACOS

which stood for Man! A Course Of Studies!

the highlights of which were herring gulls regurgitating fish for their young, the lifecycle of the Atlantic Salmon and Inuit shoving their elderly out on the ice once they have passed their period of usefulness. I don't know if I am any more humane for having studied humanities or more aware of Man having studied his relationship with herring gulls and Atlantic salmon although I experience an increased empathy with old eskimoes. I, and several of my contemporaries, would have lapped up a proper history lesson or a book by the de Bernieres of the day.

The language and emotion of GMH and E.M Forster may also prove alien to many teenage boys and nobody understands Chaucer, it may well be James Joyce written backwards. Orwell was particularly relevant at the time because of the Warsaw pact and the cold war, and subsequently his books were the only ones on the curriculum that I read, and still read, for fun. Homage to Catalonia while fishing in Spain made mention of an atrocity during the Spanish civil war a few swims down from where we fishing which was spooky.

Louis de Bernieres' books may not appeal to all, but Birds without Wings and Captain Corelli (forget the film) are historical novels that highlight the folly of extremism and the merit of tolerance and humanity, are relevant to today's society and if a teacher picks over the bones of either of the books with a class of all denominations it can only do good.

Bugger Chaucer (which I think may have happened at some point during the Nun's Priests tale) and Gerard Manley Hopkins too, education is everything
but let's get kids reading the right stuff.

This has been a broadcast by the children of librarians forced to read in a house full of books from an early age party,

or CLFRHFBFEA for short,

Freedom for Tooting!