Friday, December 1, 2017

Postal Problems and Difficulties with The Duchess of Cambridge

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,

Stop right there festive Freddie as it's still many weeks away and it has long been a tradition in this house not to consider a modicum of tinsel until the business of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year has been attended to. I know some look to the heavens for guidance as to when to put the tree up and to the good book for a date to topple the thing but in this house the state TV channel's annual gong giving has always served as a marker for the opening skirmishes of Yuletide.

Only this year we have had to go early.

Not due to capitulation in the face of a relentless campaign by retail and media to get festivities underway sometime in September, but because the final day for sending stuff to Child B in Australia in order for it to arrive in time for Jesus's birthday is December the 9th, which is one day before Gary Lineker and Clare Balding dish out the gongs.

And it grates a tad.

As does the long list of things that we are unable to send to the Antipodes. I find shopping hard enough and normally once what I consider to be the ideal gift has been sourced a purchase is quickly made before doubt can set in. Of course this hasn't always gone well and can go a bit meatloaf (two out of three ain't bad) but when a list of prohibited items is introduced the process becomes even more complicated.

Ok dogs continue to be a controversial choice when it comes to Christmas, they are for life after all and quite rightly this festive rule holds when sending gifts to Australia. But it is not just a dog that the Australian's balk at receiving through the post. Erasers are out, so the stationary set was returned to the store and try the following for size:

"The importation of written matter relating to goods that purport to be for therapeutic purposes and containing any statements or claims that are misleading , false or extravagant "

Online analytics demonstrate that this house has a small band of followers in Oz who, judging by the previous statement, may well be in jeopardy.

Used or second hand bedding is a no no, paint brushes are out as are wooden clogs, chocolate is discouraged and locomotives are more than frowned upon.

All of which may/may not have featured on prospective presents for Child B had he been back in Old Albion.

Christmas shopping seems to have become complicated quite early this winter.

You are allowed to post cricket bats.

Playing Grade cricket for South Yarra recently, Child B bust his best bat in the nets. With the second day of a league game with Flemington imminent and his second best bat summoned from the bag, he made efforts to source another bat for backup.

Unfortunately a bat of equivalent quality in Australia is twice the price it is in the UK, so it was on the email to the chap up the road who has made Child B's bats for some years (Chase cricket - if you've a requirement for a bespoke bat give Dan a call) who is aware of his requirements. A new bat is now winging its way around the world for several hundred dollars less than a bat of equal quality in the Antipodes. It's common practice apparently and hey Theresa, when discussion over trade deals comes up with Oz it might be worth mentioning English Willow (not the Crack variety, although with The Ashes in mind a few phoney bats made from crack willow may not be a bad idea) as they can't get enough of a beautiful British bat on the other side of the world, they'll stick those sponsor labels on any bat. A Kookaburra sticker on an Aussie pro's bat doesn't mean that the bat was made in the Kookaburra factory.

In Other News.

Here's one of a recently cleared out spring ditch that has remained dry for the last three winters.

This valley and its aquifers now need rain, so come on Madam Water Cycle and all you weather gods, it's time to turn the taps on. There are spring ditches in this parish staring at a fourth consecutive year of redundancy.

I won't go on, but can we all agree that if it rains a lot in the South East of England in the next few months it will be a blessing and not the apocalypse that many in the media would have us believe.




While we're on the much diminished aquifers and over exploited groundwater supply, it was recently reported by OFWAT that there are numerous basic errors in the reporting of data by both Southern Water and Thames Valley Water.

"The trouble is the system incentivises water companies to report better data rather than improve performance, said David Hall, professor at Greenwich University. The reliance on self reporting also extends to information on water leaks and sewage. Thames Water is responsible for self monitoring the amount of sewage it pours into the Thames but only reports 61% of the actual volume according to the EA"

Here's the link to the BBC report on the weasels that are water companies and their dodgy data.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42184416

Private Water Companies?

Weasels! Weasels! Weasels!

Chainsaw work continues, and the battle with the forces of crack willow was briefly parked when a sycamore cashed in its chips and fell across the mill stream during a bit of a blow one night last week.

Today we have been coppicing hazel a little further up the Mill stream bank in order to let in a little more light.

We seem to have several Waterail about the place, both on the river and pond and last week the geese turned up and even lifted off the water on our short shoot day which didn't go well with birds flying every which way but over the guns and a fox putting in an appearance on the second drive. We'll have another go just before Christmas and fingers crossed for a more productive day. Although there is no shortage of birds on the market. Five pheasant for ten pound were peddled by vendors various on Winchester market.
Heron are proving to be a particular nuisance at the moment and we have lost more spawning brown trout than previous years to their stabbing in low clear water.

Oh yes, almost forgot,

The dog















Apologies, that's Henry Moore's cucumber, now where did I put it,

Ah yes, here it is

The dog

Almost forgot, remember this?

Well we've another bridge to build early in the new year and while the Duchess of Cambridge was a delight when she deigned to open our last bridge after Lord Ludg called in a few favours a couple of years back (see left),

there's a new princess in town, so thanks for the offer of a return visit Kate but I'm afraid Princess Meghan has agreed to open our next crossing.

I trust this won't be the cause of any trouble around the family dinner table during the festive season.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thunderflash Cufflink and a Fear of Scanners

Here goes with another tranche of guff, and bare with me here because tapping away at a keyboard hurts as does standing up, walking around and bending over. It's been quite a week for chopping down trees and throwing wood around and plus I gave my ribs a bang while performing stunts with a chainsaw bouncing on a branch sticking out over the flight pond. A little like one of those funny videos when the gymnast gets it wrong on the asymmetrical bars with the addition of an orange chainsaw some wet chainsaw trousers and a gymnast approaching his half century. To the list of activities that cause pain we can now add breathing coughing and sneezing.

None of this discomfort was picked up on a recent MOT and well done the NHS for that. Chest Xrays revealed some lovely lungs while blood tests confirmed normal heart, liver and kidney function. The pumpy thing that squeezes your arm gave a reading of 120 over 80 the only thing of any real concern was the cholesterol reading of 6.2. Ideally the Doc had hoped for 5 but conceded that the National average was probably somewhere around 6. No pills or prescriptions just a little less red meat and we'll measure the thing again next year. It's the first time I've ever had such a thing measured and who knows, it could have been at that level all of my life. I forgot to mention to our doctor of twenty five years that for the preceding six days we had been living relatively high on the hog "en France" and why I mentioned it to madam on my return I don't know because vin rouge consumption has been trimmed and I am required to consume a small bowl of seeds and nuts sans sel that I have taken to eating after sundown as I am convinced that should I eat them in daylight the window sill would soon be crammed with concerned tits and finches eager to know why such provender has been diverted away from their bird table.

Anyway, now that we have established that I am lucky to have made it this far into November onto the week's movements.

As I've already said it's been all about the saw. Work around the pond is complete and we have pulled out in order to let the ducks find it during the day before our first shoot in ten days time. A few pheasants are always quite inquisitive of chainsaw work and on returning post lunch it is not unusual to find one or two poking around where we have been working in the morning. We have moved on to the settlement pond that used to serve the fish rearing ponds behind the fishing hut, it is only a splash but willow has been cut right back in order to make it easier for quackers to get on and off the pond and the margins planted up with sedge and reed. It's always been a bit of a mystery to me as to why we don't see more ducks in the bag on our driven days, Ok we only used to feed in one place and many ducks were drawn to spend a night on the flight pond but in a bag for a driven day of fifty it was rare to see more than one or two duck. Last year's resumption of driven shooting saw a small bag but half were duck, we had not only fed the flight pond but also the spring ditches up and down the valley which seems to have resulted in duck spending more time in the day in this part of the valley rather than just visiting in numbers for the night. I might be wrong but it will be interesting to see how many duck we put up in the air in ten days time.

It may now be prescient to suggest that the requisite photo of the dog is imminent.


















Nope, that's a chicken.

There he is, I was right

The dog

He's going to have to pace himself a little as last year he ran out of steam with one drive remaining. I might suggest a few stretches before we set out.



Just come back from the Itchen where I bumped into a tame local who has some clever cameras that have caught all manner of local wildlife out and about at night. he also informs me that a Hoopoe was sighted in the environs recently. I've never seen such an exotic avian in the UK but once caught sight of one when fishing in central France and also on the Ebro in Spain. There are also reports of a sighting in Basingstoke last week which I imagine is the same bird. They can't be confused with any other bird other than a Jay heavily into Punk Rock.

This week the end of season newsletter from The Test & Itchen Association dropped through the door (and into the Inbox)

Well done!

Supercilious preaching - gone

Aloof "sciencey" tone - gone

Cosying up to Big Business et al who put on discussion groups with nice biscuits while simultaneously trashing a chalk stream - hopefully gone.

It reads well, is informative and gets the right message across regarding the principle threat to groundwater fed rivers of over abstraction. It even calls out the water companies for the weasels that they are.

The message that effective habitat management over a fetish for preserving genetic lines of individual strains of a single species being key to maximising biodiversity in the aquatic environment of a chalk valley went unheard for a few years.

Once again, well done.

In other News:

Today we are told that our much loved Eurotunnel is to change. A smartly dressed and well remunerated team have, after much agonising and no little deliberation decreed that Eurotunnel will now be known as "Getlink"

Nothing to do with leaving the EU and a subsequent switch of destination from Calais to Cowes. It will depart from and arrive at the same two stations, the journey will take the same length of time and be undertaken on the same trains manned by the same people.

What times we live in.

And at this point after a similar amount of unremunerated agonising and deliberation in my slightly stained stripy shirt I'd like to announce that with a nod to Eurotunnel as was, I am implementing a similar rebrand, have cast off the shackles that is the moniker "Chris de Cani" and will now go by the name of Thunderflash Cufflink.

Same old bones, brain and bits but a more contemporary feel that should open a few more doors in the coming years.

Also in the news are the results of a survey that suggest that Silver surfers and Baby boomers are intimidated by supermarket self service check outs and self service scanning machines, and while we're on these hand held scanners why is that whenever I have a bit of a dicky back and am required to visit the principle fleshpot of local town society the scanner that always flashes once my card is presented is always on the lowest row.

Anyway

I don't believe that pensioners are intimidated by self scanning machines and if they are they are savvy enough to go to a till/checkout where they will be served by a human being and perhaps even the bonus of a chat, human contact which is important as the years progress and possibly a reason for some pensioners eschewing the scanner.






A bogus survey unworthy pf news coverage. Regular visitors to this parish will be aware of the house's views on some sections of the media, (and once again we look towards you Jeremy Vine), who take the view that

"if we're not frightened, they're not doing their job"

I like The Smiths and yes, Morrissey has said some pretty daft things across the ages, but he gets it right in his latest assault on the hit parade,

"Stop watching the news, because the news contrives to frighten you"

Ahem.....Pensioners

Don't fear the scanners, ignore bogus surveys and if you prefer to use a manned checkout that's absolutely fine too.

Come on UK News media, up your game.

Here's a few photos of the sinister forces of crack willow with which we have been engaged this week.

It's on a bend a hundred yards upstream from the fishing hut and I last attended to it six years ago. In that time it has grown to a size that its excessive shading has impacted upon marginal growth in the immediate vicinity and in partnership with another crack willow has begun to restrict light to the whole bend whihc has begun to affect weed growth.

It took the best part of three days to complete and it looks a little stark but margins will be replanted and it will soon grown up again in spring. A note has been made to attend to this particular specimen every three or four years. rather than six.

Last week we once again attended the Countryside Day which is the first day of the three day meeting at Cheltenham which heralds the opening of the National Hunt season.

It's a terrific place to spend half a day and there were many thousands in attendance. I didn't do very well in the betting stakes and I'll be the first to admit that I know nothing about horse racing but it is a fantastic sporting venue a great atmosphere and on this occasion, a fine warm day.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Winter Work Begins


And so the winter work begins.



If you start the month of November working in this valley without a busy winter pending then something has gone awry. Every keeper has at sometime been asked at the end of a summer if they have the winter off.

We don't, and at this time of the year the next six months work are clearly laid out and winter work muscles that have grown flacid on a summer of strimming, mowing, weed cutting and fiddling with fish must now be stretched out once more as preparations are made for the next trout fishing season.

Crack willow puts on up to six feet of growth in a summer in this valley and must be attended to if their bid to take over the world is to be halted. Many will have bowed their heads with the increase in weight on their branches and many lie prone and would put down roots and grow up again if left where they lay. This past week we have already attended to a dozen ash trees that were marked out as having the dreaded dieback, with several more to do this winter and the next. Two bridges are approaching the end of their days and we have a few days driven shooting to prepare for. Normally we'd be flighting duck on a dark wild night at this time of year. But wild dark nights at this time of year have been few and far between for the past three years and while the pond has been fed and hides prepared no bismuth has been blasted into the fading light. This summer phragmites growth in the pond has been prolific and rather than cut it back now for flighting there is a case to be made for leaving it until February or March in the hope that we can drive a few ducks out of it on one of our driven days rather than flight the pond in the evening.

The river remains very low and I apologise for mentioning it already but this part of the world really needs rain.

Here's one of that gravel bar on the Itchen which has appeared for the last two winters.

The Itchen has a similar requirement for serious groundwater replenishment this winter .

The level of public awareness of the depleted groundwater resource in the South East of England remains on a par with the diminished groundwater resource itself.

As I write it is raining and I can hear a gutter overflowing. There are still many leaves to fall and this may need attending to, but I will proceed with caution as it was on this day a few years ago that I set out to undertake a similar task and ended up in casualty after falling through a roof. The body's a couple of years older now but the brain's slowly catching up in the wisdom stakes.

At this time of year thirty years ago keepers would have knocked the fringe off and edged in the margins on the river in order to make electro fishing operations more effective and to prepare the channel for increased winter flows.

It's a bit different now and while the fringe undoubtedly benefits from a bit of cut and collect it can be left until the river's discharge starts to increase. Allowing cress and marginal growth to pinch what flow remains keeps gravel cleaner in a low river. Edging in and digging back too early can lead to increased deposition on spawning gravel due to a reduce rate of flow. It also provides cover for the ever increasing number of grayling fishermen (and stakeholders in the chalk stream environment with a shared interest in preserving these important rivers - the more people willing to stand up and put in a word for these rivers the better)

Nowhere is the lack of water more evident than in the Mill Stream. It is a long time since it has remained fishable throughout the season. I can make a rough guess as to how long it's flow will last in summer by the number of notches the old hatch on the house is open. Eight notches at the end of April would see it fishable until a few weeks after the June weed cut. For the past three seasons there have been no notches in April and the hatch has remained closed at the beginning of the trout season. For the past two years I have had to put a plastic sheet across the front of the hatch in order to stop the few leaks that spurt from between the boards in order to maintain sufficient water height on the mill stream to run the stew pond and streams through the garden. As a result the mill stream is effectively mothballed for the summer and will be cut back when/if increased winter flow allows. The reed growth is lush and is easily cut back but once again with an eye to a driven day shooting, it is currently being fed with barley in order to up the number of wild duck in the air on a shooting day.

For the past two days we have been attending to crack willow that has dropped down behind the flight pond over the course of the summer. It has been bumped up the list of matters that need attending to as it is an area that we would like pheasants to be on a shooting day. So we will get the disturbance out of the way earlier then step back for a few weeks in order for the pheasants to return.

It's quite a tight spot to be taking down big boughs of willow and in scenes reminiscent of Last of the Summer Wine our trio have been forced to invoke the forces of ingenuity in order to get the job done.

We've come across a few swan mussel shells on the bank. There is a small population in the pond that grow to about four inches in length. Not many critters eat swan mussels and it is probably an otter touching base with a pond from which he has already removed fifty forty year old carp to sixteen pound and numerous bream to six pounds or so.

Heron are also causing havoc in the river in the current low water and at this point I'll refer you to current method of leaving summer marginal growth and tree growth along the river until levels are on the rise and spawning as done as any cover that will inhibit avian predation is to be welcomed.


While we're on avian predators. Here's a short clip taken on my far too clever phone of Kingfishers at war. I've come across half a dozen violent confrontations this summer. I was a little bit slow with the phone but for the first two seconds you can just make out the pair in the water, each trying to drown the other.

In other news, Madam and myself visited Mottisfont to take in the much talked about Kaffe Fasset exhibition.

It was very good, and come on Nana, up your game with regard to quilting!

This was my favourite although the photograph doesn't do justice to the detailed work with needles and scissors,

And this was Madam's.











Turns out we both like squares but can each appreciate differing hues.

And during the public inquest as to the secret of our attainment of seventy years of marriage I shall eschew the standard reply of "a bit of give and take " and offer up the afore mentioned line regarding squares.

We have already established that for the Flemish, Christmas has already begun.

There is an unwritten de Cani rule that the "C" word is not mentioned before November 17th (a rule that, in these lawless times, is increasingly flouted)






Anyway, we need one of the dog.

Here he is channelling his inner Bing Crosby to herald the impending season.

Didn't we just do Christmas?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Gilded Octopedes Dusted with Snow

Apologies but there now follows a report and pictoral evidence of recent movements over half term,



there is of course a photograph of a dog.










France again.

Lille first for two nights.

We've visited before, but only to park the car under the station to catch trains to other places.

This time the car was parked in its familiar berth and we headed on foot for the hotel.

Unfortunately I put in a request to Google maps for a route to our billet by car and for a brief period we were trundling our cases along the ring road after a twenty five minute walk we arrived at the hotel only to spy the station car park we had left twenty five minutes ago a five minute walk away at the end of a super smooth pedestrianised street.

Lille is a terrific place to spend a few days.

Typically Flemish there is of course a square and a tower with a clever carillon and numerous bells that belted out "Ode to Joy" every fifteen minutes.

Lots of little streets and some incredibly smart shopping were all ignored as we headed first for the river and the Citadel built by the Sun King's favoured mover of earth and piler of bricks - Vauban.

It's an impressive construction and it still plays host to over a thousand soldiers as its impressive defences are still considered current despite being hundreds of years old. There is a very nice walk of just over a mile around the outside that follows what serves as a moat, which is full of fish and teeming with life.

Shopping next before food which on one night was extremely good, on the other exceptional, and if you are ever in these parts book a table at Aqui Ba Pla ( you heard it here first folks) We booked four weeks in advance as it's a small place run by a young couple plus one who are undoubtedly going places. It was one of the best dinners we have handed money over for.



Here's one of somebody running away from the circus,



Here's the hotel where IMF chief Dominique Straus Khan donned pantihose and mask to host exotic soirees.




and a dog observing me and my mid morning coffee

(this dog feature is increasingly reminiscent of the weekly inclusion of the cuddly toy on The Generation Game's conveyor belt)

Forget Finland Iceland and Norway. Since the increase in popularity of serried ranks of shiplap sheds peddling glue wine tinned sausage and associated Teutonic tat there has been a shift in the claim to be the home of Christmas.

It's already Christmas in Flemland and forget your Magi, wandering star and virgin birth on straw in a stable. This year's Christmas message has been cleverly encapsulated in a golden octopus entombed in plastic and sprinkled with snow.



A purchase was made, Christmas is ours and once again this house is breaking new ground.

After two nights it was onto a very fast and comfortable two storey train that dumped us on platform 11 of Gare Du Nord in Paris.

We were based deep in the fleshpots of Montmartre, a skip and a giggle away from the Moulin Rouge.

Hotel located and luggage left, it was off up to Sacre Coeur for a sandwich in the sun and a quick spy of the land. It was very busy and despite our fondness for the things we eschewed the Funicular and took the steps as Madam's clever wristwatch reminded us that we had been sitting down for an hour on the train.

Galleries Lafayette next for a quick coffee and a marvel at the interior, and at this point I'd like to raise a petition to shift what remains of the bones of Bonaparte under the golden dome of Les Invalides to the Galleries Lafayette and its equally impressive interior and substantial cone of helium balloons.

On to the arcades around Opera where Space Invaders and Pac-man had been replaced by winged foxes with d├ęcolletage embellished by sapphires and diamonds.

Which gave these old covered alleys a contemporary feel.

Up the Champs Elysees to the Arc and a climb of the stairs for a second spy of the land. The view is terrific, but the true entertainment lies in watching the traffic circumnavigate the roundabout on which the Arc sits. It's not as lawless as some Italian Cities we have driven in and there is a kind of order it's just that some of the order seems to relate back to the world of carriage and horse and a few white lines may help,

the same holds for the wide open plains of Place de Concorde which is void of "Give Way" signs and just nuts!

Late afternoon and Madam's clever wristwatch insisted that we sit down and take wine on board, which we duly did somewhere around Opera.

The following day with the continental breakfast on board it was on to the train to Les Invalides to pick over the bones of what remains of the "Little Emperor" We stayed near the golden dome on our last visit and were aware that if we used the Eiffel tower as our guide a reasonable lunch could be sourced fairly easily.

Unfortunately the top two thirds of the Eiffel Tower had been removed for maintenance and many steps were added to Rachel's clever wristwatch during our blind bumblings and at this point could I point out to the "Big Noises" of Paris that most lighthouses have a horn that sounds during fog to aid navigation

Anyway we found the river and the planned route was rejoined.

Franprix are a company who have an extensive stable of small supermarkets in the centre of the city. For the last five years they have done away with the fleet of fifty lorries that supplied their premises each day from their distribution centre to the north and now use the river to replenish their stores. The monster truck used to unload the craft was something to behold but the combined emissions from the monster truck and the boat were significantly less than the fifty odd trucks that used to trundle into the city each day. A small crowd gathered to take in the unloading process which took place a skip and a giggle away from Eiffel's tower.

Yes the HS2 and come on the Northern Powerhouse and Midland Engine but shouldn't the UK be making more use of the Grand Union Canal.




Late afternoon and Madam's watch once again advised us to sit down and take wine on board, which we did, this time down by the river.

Last day and we headed for the Musee de Picasso to tick the "culture" box and also because both Madam and myself lean towards the more modern stuff over a dimly lit "Old master" and plus there were some bits by Giacometti which are always worth a deco.

Unfortunately two of the three floors of the Picasso museum were closed so we headed instead for the nearby Musee des Arts et Metiers, which is a terrific place to spend a couple of hours.

All manner of things are on show from Victorian wallpaper making machines, spy cameras in bowler hats, guns and cravats, Bleriot's plane, and even a room of famous bridges that include a small section given over to significant bridges of Britain in which I was disappointed not to feature.

Wallace and Gromit would love the place,

Here's one of a vidi printer.

A precursor of the tremendous force that is Jeff Stelling. Such things were employed to convey football results as they happened on a Saturday afternoon, because believe it or not kids once upon time all football league games used to end around 4.45pm on a Saturday with the only live football experience the FA Cup Final whose coverage began at 10.30am on each team bus making its way to Wembley.

These are all spy cameras, bowler hat, cravat and all.

The machine on the right is a cinema projector, the machine in the middle is the cinema sound system.

Tales of the Unexpected - Da Da Da, doobydoo Da Da Da

Madam even found a super computer (IBM 7030 also know as Stretch - I googled it) which her Father may well once have had the manual for somewhere in his briefcase.

It's a super museum give it a go if you are ever in these parts.

Here's one of me in Chanel,

The town hall with Olympic rings,

And then it was time to go home, four days is about enough for this bunch of bumpkins in this full on city, but we'll undoubtedly return.





River stuff to follow soon.

but by way of a preview here's one of Otis trying to take down four figures worth of drone,

He doesn't do drones






Stay tuned to see how it ends.