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!

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