Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Crustacea are not to be trusted


The July weed cut and in a diminishing discharge, today’s clearing down of cut weed has taken twice as long as during the June weed cut. Fishing is also twice as hard, with gin clear water and educated fish, a fish off the top in these times is worth four fish in May. Many fish will only look up during the last hour of the day and stick to sub surface dainties for sustenance on sunny days.

The fringe is bursting into bloom with monkey flower, loosetrife, forget me knots and many species of mint most prominent, while along the edge of the river cress creeps out providing a welcome squeeze to the flow. Blanket weed is putting in an appearance although not to the extent of recent seasons, and ranunculus that this time last year was dying off in what was a pretty sick river, is still in pretty good nick. We have a huge Pike on our bottom bends that spends much of its time lurking in the shade of various willows and on the flight pond where lilies flower and fledgling Kingfishers dive in gin clear water for Roach, Rudd, Perch and Bream fry,

Here for the first time is a short feature showing life in the pond,

We are contractually obliged to provide a musical score by Nicholas Chientaroli Trio in their chosen (if not mastered) medium of free jazz,

for which I apologise,

Take it away Nicholas

Two, three, four



The principle weed in the pond is canadian pondweed, many aquaria will sell the stuff as an oxygenator, and on this bright sunny day the bubbles of oxygen it produces via photosynthesis can clearly be seen. Most with a modicum of CSE Biology will be aware that the stuff will switch to respiration when the sun goes down and the bubbles will be full of carbon dioxide which will reduce the dissolved oxygen content. Low pressure also reduces the ability of a body of water to hold onto oxygen, which is why fish with a high oxygen demand in weedy water in warm weather with thunder in the air can find life a struggle, although these Perch appear to be in mid-season from.

No large fish now remain in the pond, fifty double figure carp and a similar number of bream to eight pound have been dragged out by the Otter. For the fish populations in this river and those charged with their care, Tarka is fast becoming “the elephant in the room”

A decidedly dopey swan also hung around for a while before disappearing last week, and today one of our chooks, who obviously didn’t attend the Tufty Club, cashed in her chips on the road. I’m not normally one for road-kill but this was a young bird with jugs like Jordan and had led a good life, so into the freezer she went. The winter barley in the back field has been cut and most nights draws the attention of the owls of this parish, most of whom visit the sycamore tree ten yards from our bedroom window at some point of a night to conduct a reverie of screeches and hoots.


One month ago a Biosecurity alert flashed through the ether warning of the presence of Signal Crayfish in the middle Itchen. A non native species and carrier of the notifiable disease “Crayfish Plague” it is bad news for any populations of native crayfish. Provided it is not stressed a Signal Crayfish can cope with a dose of the pox, the native crayfish has no immunity and can succumb quite quickly. Populations of native crayfish in the Test and Itchen are few and far between, but if one is found, and powerful people are employed full time to seek them out with their traps and baits, security are summoned and pickets posted. I have only ever seen two native Crayfish in this river system, one in a stew pond on the middle river and the other in the middle of Whitchurch twenty five years ago. The signal crayfish was introduced to Europe from America in the 1960’s and into the UK in the 1970’s to replenish native populations of crayfish that had succumbed to the plague, unfortunately it was not known at the time that most signal crayfish were carriers of crayfish plague. At college during the mid 1980s when famine was all over the press and fish farmers were going to “feed the world” crayfish farming was promoted as a prime business opportunity and many lakes were seeded with signal crayfish. Successes were few and far between and yields were much lower than those promoting the schemes promised, one of the characteristics of the signal crayfish being that if it doesn’t like the pond it is in it will get up and walk and find a body of water more to its liking. I once worked on a fish farm on the River Chess that was riddled with the things, a large hatchery sat at the centre of the site and once a week eggs would be treated with the fungicide malachite green (since banned after it made the ears fall of some mice during trials in the US) the ponds that received the water flowing out of the hatchery were void of crayfish, they don’t like malachite green, so they climbed out and walked off to another pond.

A chap who had a contract with British Airways to supply flight meals for the nabobs in first class, regularly set traps in the gravel pits surrounding the site. Fishing one gravel pit for Tench early one morning I swung in a dozen or more signal crayfish that the chap later told me that at over 20cm in length would be too large for first class BA who despite being accommodating towards hand baggage had strict rules on oversized freshwater crustacea.

The chronic advance of the signal crayfish offers little succour for the native crayfish which may well suffer the same fate as the Dodo sometime this century.

I may be leaving myself a litle open at this point bit I should point out that I don’t dig crustaceans in any form,

never have, never will.

It’s spiders for some, latex and rubber for others but show me a crab or any of its associates and I am on the back foot. A scuttling habit that betrays their shiftiness they possess claws that can sever a limb in a trice.

Crabs are not to be trusted.

The lady who sleeps on my left will confirm that I once woke screaming following a surfeit of cheese, convinced that a six foot lobster had taken up residence under our kitchen table.

While working part time at a leading saltwater aquarium on the south coast that once boasted the largest tank (aquatic not artillery) in Europe, my phobia was picked up on at an early stage. Three weeks in I was asked to pick up a hammer and secure some floorboards in a raised floor behind one of the displays, Hammer raised I homed in on a nail protruding from the floor, only for the boards to part and the mother of all edible crabs (at least two feet across) was thrust towards me from a “colleague” concealed beneath the floor. I fled through the public aquarium, arms flailing while the mother of all crabs with a four inch nail protruding from her left claw was an attraction for quite some time, until the nail worked its way out.

No, crabs are not to be trusted, and positions must be defended with sufficient force.

Around the turn of the century, in an unintentional incident of carpet bagging, instigated by advice to opt out of Serps, Mdme and myself received a four figure windfall. Brief consideration was given to saving the money, paying off debts or investing wisely, which were swiftly dismissed, and the bunce blown on a three week trip to Sri Lanka to watch some cricket and sit on the beach. Not an official tour, we rocked up at Colombo with a six year old and eight year old to take in teeth in temples, orphaned elephants and a cricket crazy country. We hooked up with a tuk tuk driver called Jai who transported us everywhere and insisted we sit with his mates in the old Test Ground at Kandy for a ticket that cost fifty pence. Our hotel sat on top of the hill, had a swimming pool full of frogs and was surrounded by chattering monkeys. A spider as big as my hand resided briefly behind the loo in our room before it was carefully relocated outside at Madam’s request. Two weeks later we were ensconced in a bothy on a beach near Galle when, with night time ablutions complete, scuttling from underneath my bed came a crab, Madam returning from her toilet was unperturbed and bent down to relocate the errant crustacean when from over her shoulder came a shoe travelling at pace, that smote the invader and reduced it to a hundred pieces,

High on adrenalin standing on the bed fists tightly clenched and pumping, I was slowly coaxed back to planet earth. Child B, a budding cricketer was impressed with my throwing accuracy, but deep down the fatherly advice that I desperately want to pass on was that crabs are not to be trusted.

To carry on with cricket, Mdme and myself enjoyed the fourth day at the Lords Test. We are very fortunate to be chucked a couple of tickets by one of the regular rods, and one, both or child B and friends have been rocking up in the Member’s friends stand for over twenty years. I keep an unused ticket for the Ashes Test in 1993 in my wallet. I was due to attend but Mdme went into labour with Child A and I took in the game from the maternity ward, the ticket is regularly produced as evidence in discussions with Child A over sacrifices made over the past few years. In a West Indies Test Child B and myself were recruited as back ground eye candy to Channel 4’s pre match coverage and had to sit on a picnic table on the nursery ground next to a big West Indian man and a chap in stripey blazer and feign cricket based conversation, while Channel 4’s “stars” sallied forth on the issues of the day on the principle picnic table. Mike Atherton, Michael Holding and Simon Hughes all came over for a chat once a wrap had been called, and Mark Nicholas sailed by summoning subordinates, make-up and hair.

Top tier of the Warner stand is the goal, but seats are not allocated so a queue forms from 8am of members and friends. Once your seat is secured it is yours for the day a Duchess could dump her tiara on her seat in the Warner Stand and pootle off for a circuit of the ground in the knowledge that all will be in order on her return. Champagne corks are popped from 9.30 am onwards and many have dozed off by the start of play.


The men’s loos in the Warner stand have some of the few urinals at Test grounds that provide a clear view of play, I once relieved myself next to Brian Barwick former CEO of the FA, at the time I was on the committee of Barton Stacey Football Club and was particularly irked over the FA’s decision to ban any reporting or recording of Under 8 football results, while he battled to maintain a steady stream I struck, and in full flow, berated him on the FA’s position and also on their “Respect” campaign that grass roots clubs were earnestly trying to implement while the professional game paid it lip service. Barwick’s response of zipping up his flies and exiting stage left seemed a little unsatisfactory and I was more than a little pissed off, although the few drops spilt on his decidedly pricey shoes served as some recompense. I could go on, and have a fund of tales of brief encounters with all manner of celebs and sportsmen. Cricket highlights include an ugly double hundred by Graeme Smith that was not the most intriguing day’s cricket but a young Andrew Flintoff who never gave up despite Smith’s turgidity was an inspiration for a young Child B, and ticking the box that you have seen Tendulkar, Lara, Pietersen, Murali, Warne, Ambrose, Kallis may bore the next generation but may also serve to keep a flame burning in later life. The atmosphere at South Africa’s reintroduction to Test Cricket in 1994 was unforgettable, and the tension times ten that comes with watching Ashes cricket contrasts completely with the conviviality of the Lords crowd.

It is one of our favourite days out, and this year was no exception as the result hung in the balance for much of our stay throughout the fourth day.

Graduation day for Child A last week and a proud day for Madam and myself as Child A picked up her first class gong with honours. Sandy Toksvig head honcho of the establishment wore a hat and gave a brilliant speech. We returned home, pausing only for excessive consumption of Italian food and wine at one of Winchester’s finest Trattatatoria, The final pieces of the postgraduate study jigsaw are falling into place and will commence once a four week tour of Europe is completed.

Not on an open top bus,

but with a friend on an inter rail ticket, beginning in Bulgaria and ending on the beach in Croatia.

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