Friday, June 16, 2017

Beach Combing with Ming the Merciless

For those that have kindly been in touch,

No we haven't been away on holiday this week ,

although Madam is once again on the annual year 6 school residential trip to the activity centre at Calshot Spit, driving kayaks, building towers from crates and climbing up telegraph poles to stand on the top.

I have been at home, nose to the grindstone.

Two days to go before the end of the June Weed Cut and on this stretch of the river a bit of a non event bar a bit of fringing and tickling up ten yards of water celery. It may be a different story come the July cut. Mayfly continue to hatch, in comparative safety as it happens (are we still allowed to use this phrase Post Yewtree?) as few fish are interested in them anymore and many lie dogo on the bottom of the river after the excesses of recent weeks.

Note to self: If Buddha is right, and upon my demise I return to this earth as a Mayfly, don't go early on the hatching front.

What's the point of getting older if you don't get any wiser?

Fishing has steadied up a bit, as one would expect, but numbers of fish caught are well up on the last two or three years, with a senior brown trout of just over four pounds the biggest caught to date. Water quality remains reasonable and clarity is good, there is just not very much of it and bank side tree roots that are normally submerged stand proud of the water. Recent rain has done nothing for the aquifers and if a man in a van with a clipboard and toetectors tells you otherwise call him out as a Dimbulb before boxing his ears.

Recent rain has however done a tremendous amount for vegetation and most green things have shot up at an exponential rate. The wind that seems to have been blowing since the middle of March caused havoc with some top heavy willows that consequently leaned over a little too far and blocked the path through the wood and I was forced to fire up the orange saw and blunder about in four foot high nettles to resume access. Many of the bank-side willows have also dropped a little closer to the water and yes, some of those reaches that were identified by some as being too open at the end of the winter now exhibit vegetative growth that must be considered when casting a fly. Willow in water meadow will grow at an incredible rate and must be treated harshly in the winter as a result.

Here's one of the area that Lord Ludg went at with chainsaws the winter before last. Some substantial willows had become exposed to wind after a hundred or more Christmas Trees that afforded them shelter from prevailing winds fell over during floods. Exposed to the wind the willows fell in the river, we cut them back to the stumps and for a few months the area assumed an apocalyptic air.

It's almost impenetrable now. there's a Pheasant pen in there somewhere.

Bankside Willow management on chalk streams is very important. Crack Willow is the Ming the Merciless of the arboreal world and is on a quest to conquer this planet and the next. It will succeed if left unchecked and chalk stream biodiversity will be reduced as a result. I may have said it before, but chalk streams must be managed, they can't just be let go and if a man in a fine fleece with "Born to Rewild" embroidered on the back tells you otherwise, for the appropriate course of action see above re- man in van with clipboard and toetectors.

Hatches of Olives and Sedges are slowly building and one day this week during my early morning perambulations Otis and I came across a huge cloud of dancing olives, biggest I've seen since we were in Scotland on the Carron where there were many of the Blue Winged variety. The Fish may not care for too much for them other than as a nymph, but there are many Damsel flies around at the moment. Walk through the thick fen or lush meadow grass and squadrons of the malachite green insects take off.

While we are on meadows, marsh orchids are having a high old time of it.Theyseem to have appeared a little earlier than previous years and I can prove this by clever couple of clicks in my extensive catalogue of digital photos (approaching six figures) compiled over the last decade as I always get excited by orchids and rush up the river to photograph the first one that appears. "properties" buttons confirm that they have appeared nineteen days earlier than last year and twenty four days earlier than the year before that.

Now I could go on at length here about a theory I developed while walking about with my strimmer as to dry winters/depleted aquifers causing stresses that result in some parts of nature trying to get things done and dusted before parched conditions kick in towards the end of summer. I'm still mulling over the finer details, Orchids are renowned for the portential potential and I and may need to do more strimming to sharpen up my theory and hey I'll be called out as a crank once again, but what's new?

We've a goof of a Barn Owl about at the moment (the wise old owl thing is a myth).

It's feeding young somewhere nearby and hunts regularly in the morning and evening over the meadows and grass verge that borders the lane. We have seen numerous rodentia, from the smallest shrew through to ratus norvegicus, thrilled at their first experience of flight unaware of the grim end that awaits them at their destination which will not include walking on the beaches looking at the peaches.

And I thought security at the airport that serves the Highlands and Islands was the worst experience about flying.

I don't know how this happened but Child A turned 24 this week. Things may have gone awry when I was putting the clocks forward or we are all just ligging about in an episode of Quantum Leap, but I am sure I picked up her from the school bus stop only yesterday afternoon.

Further evidence of Quantum Physics and the failure of organising time with an eye to daylight management:

Child B has finished his studies at Cardiff University and will once again be plundering our fridge.

Which can't be right as he only started secondary school last week and he must be doing things arse about face as isn't he currently revising for his O levels?

And if further proof were needed that the world has turned on its axis and is now spinning the other way, in a few weeks time The lady who sleeps on my left and myself will have been married for twenty five years.

Twenty five years married,

How did that happen?

Now I've oft called to book the likes of Sam Fox, Chris Evans and Kylie Minogue over their interpretation of time, two of the above were once older than me and played significant roles in an older woman fantasy throughout several of my teenage years,

I'm older than the pair of them now.

From this we can conclude that time moves at different speeds for different people.

My own withered husk and addled mind points towards a life lived on fast forward,

While Madam's seems to have been stuck on pause and stands as a testament to taking marriage one day at a time.

Twenty Five years eh?

We are where we are.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Lake full of Vendace Surrounded by Bleached Peacocks

Apologies for the following photos and accompanying text bearing no relevance to my place of work, but half term has just passed and we've been away again, and I'll just break off there

I am aware of the whispering in corners as to how much time Madam and myself spend in other places but whisper away, as Madam and myself are currently operating under a mandate of once the work is done we're living for pleasure alone.

Mandate by the way, an unusual men's fragrance from the 1980's that preserved many a young buck's chastity - dreadful stuff.


Italian lakes this time, Maggiore to be precise and a place that we visited a dozen or more years ago when children were small and we were camping in Switzerland and crossed the Alps via the Simplon Pass in search of warmth and cheese that tasted of something.

Gatwick was a trial and Milan Malpensa was a bit of a faff what with us landing in one terminal and the hire car being at the other forcing us to endure the interminable free bus ride with the spawn of Emerson Fittipaldi at the wheel that at one point may well have seen us skim Turin on two wheels.

Embedded in an apartment on a piazza named after that chap famed for his biscuits, a few yards from the shore in Pallanza and the ferry terminus that offered access to all that the magnificent Maggiore has to offer. There were restaurants nearby, a super bar within a stone's throw of our door where we took apperitivo each evening watching sparrows undertake their evening ablutions in a nearby fountain.

And so to our movements.

Borromean Islands first, Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola Superriore.

A forty minute ferry ride put us on Isola Bella, the summer retreat of the Borromea family. A stunning villa the size of which belies the fact that it was the principle summer drum of a little Italian Fella and his brood,

the ballroom alone is the stuff of the hall of the mountain kings.

Unlike many big old houses it is brim full of original objects and furniture,

the enormous windows are still thrown open and on a warm day a gentle breeze permeates the whole house.

Out in the gardens we came across a herd of bright white peacocks which added to the ethereal feel of the place.

The gardens are terraced and immaculately kept with views to all sides of the lake.

Isola Superriore next, also known as island of the fishermen. No big villa just a few small streets and a handful of boats casting nets into a lake brim full of fish. We saw many big ide, bream and roach and a new one for me the mythical Vendace. In Harry Potter terms it's the Hippogriff of the UK freshwater fish canon. A Coregonid, (freshwater whitefish cousin of herring) that is now only present in a brace of lakes in Cumbria it is a little like a grayling without the fancy fin. They don't get that big but this lake was full of the things as was the pond with fountain beside our apartament, and they even made the menu at some of the Trattoria on this island along with pike, zander and perch.

On to Isola Madre and another of the Borromea Familia's pads.

More understated this one, with an extensive collection of puppet theatres the scenery for which had been run up by the chap in charge of La Scala.

There were the requisite white peacocks and a pair of males provided some sport as they fought on the lawn

A large cyprus tree stands outside the villa held up by multiple hawsers. It toppled over in 2007 during a tornado and rather than go at with chainsaws and the medium of fire in the manner of Lord Ludgershall and myself the Borromea employed helicopters, winches and substantial funds to stand the thing up again. It's a fine tree, but the hawsers grate a tad.

Up the lake to Cannobio the next day.

Roads this time in a funky Fiat 500 that was good fun to drive. We soon mastered the practice of horn and finger as a means of communicating with fellow road users when confronted with the innumerable grey areas that are a feature of driving on Italian roads. It was a very easy car to park, which is just as well as parking can be a problem in many of these lakeside towns, it took us twenty minutes to find a space in Cannobio on a quiet midweek day, but it was worth the effort as it is a pretty place, very laid back and a town a few miles short of the Swiss border to which we would like to return.

Back home for lunch then a short walk to Villa Tarranto. Another big pile of bricks, this time on the mainland. Originally built by the Saveloy family famed for their shiny orange sausage.

Apologies, postprandial notes a little hard to read

The Savoy family and their associated hotels

It was moved on to a Scotsman around a hundred years ago who continued the work of the orange sausage dynasty and planted many things. The place is now owned by local government as it was handed over on the death of the Scottish chap in the 1960's . The house is now government offices and the gardens are a botanical affair, superbly laid out with different collections of species clearly labelled for Joe Public to understand. The Dahlia walk had yet to get going, but the collection of Acers was a highlight as were the magnolias and the unusual trees.

The next day we crossed the lake by foot on the car ferry to Levano

where we were hauled up the local alp in bins.

The bins deposited us nine tenths of the way up the alp and we completed our climb in thin air summiting around midday.

Sandwiches were taken and we were joined by a young lady with a big bag and I don't think it was anything we said

but after ten minutes she threw herself off the mountain,

With oxygen and time running out we began our descent and came across, and I may need some help here, as I know the collective term for larks is an exultation and for starlings the murmuration, for our friends the crows it's murder and geese are always a gaggle so if I've got this wrong forgive me as there's no clever sub editors here.

On our descent we came across an Infinity of Buzz Light Years. Fifty odd helmet clad men and women with wings on their back bumbling about in a narrow space on top of a mountain bumping wings and speaking in tongues

it may have been some kind of lemming worship

or possibly an Icarus cult

as one by one they threw themselves from this three and a half thousand feet summit out into the abyss.

Inevitably human nature kicks in and we tried to save the first few souls,

but were warned off by a guy in high viz replete with walkie talkie (do people still call them that?) who informed us that it was an international Hang Gliding competition and could we please stop shouting "Don't do it, nothing is as ever as bad as it seems"

Our oxygen bottles had run out and we were forced to the bins to descend. halfway down we passed a line of ascending bins full of cyclists with bikes hanging off the outside of the bins, and it dawned that all those fold up planes had made it up the mountains in bins too. Well done the cyclists by the way, get a lift up the thousand odd metre mountain in a bin and just do the downhill bit, who needs gears?

Stresa on the Saturday, a town that we visited twelve years ago, crossing the Alps via the Simplon Pass from our campsite in the Valais in search of sunshine and cheese that tasted of something.

It being the weekend everywhere was busy and the islands that we visited midweek that were quiet were now rammed with many Milanese,

security on the ferries had also slipped a bit.

Stresa was all that we remembered, if a little busier. We found the shop where Child B had purchased a faux Shevchenko Inter Milan shirt, the stall where Child A had punished the Gelato and the Cafe in the square where we took Pizza for lunch. A Margherita (Child A and Child B's pizza of first choice at the time) cost five euros back then, on this visit the price had rocketed to five euros fifty cents, so we withdrew our custom and took beer on the other side of the square.

Home the next day (It was only a few days, all those who say I should be working) from five days of thirty degree heat to rising winds and plummeting temperatures.

I have sunburn on my nose, am carrying a few extra pounds (weight! not money, definitely not money) but am replete following another splendid trip. It's a stunning place to spend a few days, and Milan Malpensa is a cheap place to fly to, food was terrific, gardens were stunning and all bar the parking was incredibly laid back,

Here's one of the Parking ticket committee

We've visited this country a few times in recent years and our grasp of the lingo now results in us being presented with the German version of the guidebook for whatever attraction that we are about to visit. I consider this progress, if not assimilation and we have subsequently put in a cheeky offer on this house.

It included the words "all that we have, benign labrador, at least two chickens and a whisky jar full of coppers" but we expect the vendor to question the positioning of the decimal point in the offer's final figure,

but we await a reply.