Sunday, 25 July 2021

Ping! Woodcock and The Best Boy Ever


And as if by magic the shopkeeper appeared, 
Well that’s what I was brought up to believe would be the consequence of something going Ping! 

Seems ping is all the rage now (wasn’t he a penguin back in the day?) and my NHS Pando App has pinged me four times in the past few weeks only to ping me back to say that while I may have been close to someone carrying the pox there is no need for me to return to my cave for an unkempt ten day period so please press on regardless, 

What’s that all about? 

Have I achieved “keyworker” status?  

Anyway, apologies once again for tardiness with regard to chucking up guff but most of my days are currently spent cutting grass and pulling bindweed. I can get round the river banks and paths thorugh wood and meadow in around two days but currently once the task is completed its straight back round to the first bits to start again. If I sat down and looked (contrary to popular opinion, I rarely sit down) I swear I could see the stuff growing. One evening last week I announced to Madam that I was going out into the garden to pull a few weeds.
Two hours later I returned indoors having given battle with the forces of weeds various. The next morning the white flag was raised to convolvulus whose legions had massed in the night to once again carry the day. 

I’ll whisper it quietly but wellingtons remain the first choice of footwear for anglers flicking a fly into this stretch of the Dever. The July weedcut is now done, I tickled up a few bits of ranunculus and hacked away at the insidious ribbon weed, but not much more than that. Blanket weed is about but not in the mob handed way it has been in previous summers, and to extend the “sotto voce” tone of the piece, the river is running well. 
Fishing remains tricksy, but it is July and one would expect nothing less. 

At which point I”ll repeat the mantra “ one fish in July is worth four in May” 

Mantra done 

There are sedge about and a trickle of olives but during the day many fish are now preoccupied with a sub surface menu of gammarus and nymphs various. 

And so to the register, 

John Woodcock, the esteemed cricket correspondent for The Times who died aged 94 last week was someone I had known for nearly thirty years.

He fished at Bransbury and brought unruly spaniels to beat on our small shoot many times. He had a rod on the middle Avon at Woodford and took me over there as a guest on numerous occasions. He had a great depth of knowledge of the chalkstream environment and my description of the Test being too polite to flood is directly attributable to himself. 

Up until last year he was a regular presence on the boundary at Longparish CC on match day, copy of the The Times in hand, chatting away with a procession of lurkers keen to make the aquantence of "The Sage of Longaprish", before moving on to the The Cricketers or Plough for a pint and further discourse with locals. 
Following success in the Village Cup Competion in the eighties, of which John was immensely proud, the club experienced a period of decline before rising like said phoenix from said ashes to once again climb the Hampshire League ladder in the new millennium. John was ever present on the boundary throughout. 

He was a smashing fella, Longparish through and through, and an entertaining chap to spend an hour or so with, be it on the boundary or in the pub. 
He was a great promoter of Child B's cricketing cause, who he insisted had swallowed the MCC handbook at an early age. Child B had several trials as an opening bat for Hampshire and on finally being selected to play for the county, declined the offer as he had an important Village Cup competition game for Longparish on that day, which speaks volumes for the atmosphere around around the club and also the Hants CC Colts County set up at the time.  

Longparish moved through to the next round of the compettion, Child B scored a hundred and all was well with the world. 

Hants U15 lost heavily to Surrey U15s. 

News Just In: Mariella Fostrup’s been on and requested spoken guff on John’s association with cricket at Longparish at 2.30pm for the “Life and Times” slot on Times Radio. 

And now the dog, 

This could be difficult. 

Otis has gone. 

Widely acknowledged as "the best boy ever" Otis has now exited stage left. 

Living to the great labrador age of 14 he now rests on the riverbank alongside the world’s worst spaniel and his uncle Zebo. He kind of fell apart at the end and the decision was not a difficult one.
As a working gun dog he was very good and excelled at picking up ducks in the dark but was probably shaded for the gold medal by his Uncle Zebo.

Socially he had impeccable manners with no side. 

By way of a Croft and Perry analogy, Zebo was a Captain Mainwairing who could be relied upon to deliver a “you stupid boy” look every time I missed a quacker. Otis was Sergeant Wilson writ through and exuded “my dear that’s a very pretty dress your wearing” 
Now we’re stuck with the private Pike that is Moss who will miss his Uncle Arthur. 

He was a dog that was comfortable in any environment. He travelled on trains, the tube, the bus and several escalators. He lay in the church aisle at two funerals, stayed with us in pubs and hotels and considered the score box at Longparish Cricket Club his personal domain. 

He will be missed by many but not forgotten.

What a dog, we were very lucky to have you along for the ride. 

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Scaffold Ziggurat, Spotted Oddities and a Beaver Tail Stern

Been a bit busy in the garden again so I’ll repeat apologies for tardiness with regard to chucking up guff. 

I seem to be letting things slip. 

Anyway, for the last fortnight or so the parish has resounded to clangs and clunks akin to a ship yard as a ziggurat formed from scaffold is constructed over the burned out shell of the grade two listed thatched terrace that looms over the bottom bends. 

It will be with us for some time, a thatched cottage of a similar age that caught fire in a neighbouring village hid under such a cover for the best part of two years while wrangling was undertaken between owners, English Heritage and multiple wings of the local council. 

Last week we had just under three inches of rain in a twenty four hour period. A whole day of an exciting world test final at the Ageas bowl was lost and in these environs lots of long grass lay flat the following morning. The big orange topper was introduced to clear paths that could not be travelled on foot without the gift of soggy wet troos being presented. The river briefly carried some colour and cut weed hung up on shallows upstream dislodged and made passage downriver.
It’s clear now and remains in good condition for the time of year. Fish are now far more circumspect and several skulk on the bottom in deep water despite a reasonable trickle of olives from late morning on. 

It’s the time of year to tour the woods with paint brush painting crosses while crying “bring out your dead”.  

Ailing ash trees are easily identifiable at this time of year and goodness we’ve a few about that will need attending to next winter. It’s become perennial winter work for a few years now coupled with replanting other native hard woods to fill a few gaps for the next generation. 

Currently we are orchid rich. 

Oodles of the purple variety with the occasional spottet oddity in the long stuff. 

Bees are about and we have a bunch living in our garden shed roof that we are just getting along with; we go about our business and they go about theirs. We all seem to be rubbing along fine together at the moment.
Damsel flies are massing. Bumbling through the long grass, squadrons of the two inch things are dislodged and forced to take flight. 

I’m not so good on my damsel flies, but most are blue with the odd emerald offering. 

Some may be rare, some may be not, 

we don't know , we're down on damsel fly knowledge 
Last week we travelled north for forty five minutes to visit our one time neighbour for her ninety ninth birthday. Mr and Mrs Robinson lived next door when we first fell into this stretch of the river nearly thirty years ago. 

They couldn’t have been more different from our neighbour on the other side, the ribald force that was Mary Gunn, but they were nice people and good neighbours. Mr Robinson had been a big noise at Hampshire County Council and had a half rod at Bransbury for a few years and sadly died sometime around the turn of the century. 

Mrs Robinson remained in Bransbury up until a few years ago.
An indomitable force with echoes of Lady Sale, she could speak at length on the travails of England’s top order and the dearth of decent spin (as opposed to Elphy Bay's dithering on the way out from Kabul} 

We (Mrs Robinson, not Lady Sale) had regular and lengthy conversations on cricket of which she knows a great deal. 
She drove well into her nineties and up until a few years before her departure from Bransbury would undertake a weekly drive a short way down the highway to the sun to pick up Anne. 

Anne lived at the old Longparish railway station and was gifted in the dark arts of ironing. 
Anne couldn’t drive, and relied on the ironing money for things various, but as time progressed Anne became concerned about Mrs Robinson joining the dual carriageway to pick her up each week, an event which occasionally featured on the traffic news. 

Anne broached the subject of the arrangement coming to an end for health and safety reasons, and Mrs Robinson quickly came back with:

“Good grief Anne, I’d rather risk my own life on the A303 than have to do the ironing, I’ll pick you up this time next week” 

I picked Mrs Robinson up a few times. She had a doofer around her neck that she could press if she fell over. 

It didn’t happen often,  but an alert was sent to my phone and I would immediately attend emboldened with my medical knowledge learned in the scouts,  which chiefly centred around the recovery position, slings and tourniquets. 

Luckily none of the falls were too serious and no bones were broken, a result that she would immediately attribute to the water we drank from a shared borehole that she insisted could do for a kettle in a matter of months but had also given us all the bones of a rhinocerous. 

Anyway, ninety nine and counting she remains an indomitable force and held strong views on the recent tests between Old Albion and New Zealand, particularly Joe Root’ s reluctance to have a dart at Kane Williamson’s sporting declaration in the first test. 

It was good to see her on such good form and she retains a strong spark.  

It’s a substantial pile of familial bricks on the banks of the Thames in which she is comfortably ensconced.
The house has a boat house at the bottom of the garden beneath which sits a stunning Thames river cruiser with beaver tail stern. 

It’s quite the thing, 

Principally polished wood and brass, it brought to mind my own parents’ experiments with wooden boats. 

With myself off out of the place and my brother close to completing A levels my parents purchased a steam boat. A propensity to live for pleasure alone once the children have flown runs deep in our family line, and well done for that. 

A single cylinder steam frolic, they pop popped up the Welsh Dee, trailered it to the Lake District and glided along many canals. 

To quote Neil Diamond, it was a beautiful noise. 

A gentle click click of an engine that allowed one to creep up on all manner of riverside wildlife. The boiler had a built in kettle for beverages, a hotplate for bacon sandwiches and an added a frisson to the riverine experience of a highly compressed operating system that could go bang at any time reducing all aboard to a million pieces if the thing had failed to be properly maintained.
My parents moved it on a few years ago. 

As I said, it’s trailerable and quite an effort to get into the water. According to the steam boat register it’s currently bobbing about on the cusp of explosion somewhere in France.   

I don’t think I misremembered any of the previous guff, although I’m not providing any guarantees (see terms and conditions) 

Back soon.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Up Ashlett Creek Sans Paddle and Ding Dong Avon Calling

Christopher de Cani is neither unwell or away, he’s just been a bit busy in the garden. 

Apologies everyone, I know it's been a while, but on this slow walk back out into the light and a return to normality, life’s been a bit hectic, details of which to follow, But first the Mayfly. 

Goodness it’s been good on the Dever. The last knockings of May and the early skirmishes of June saw some very heavy hatches with spectacular dances between the beech tree and sycamore that tower above our garden, followed by some heavy evening falls of spinners in perfect conditions for brer mayfly. 

Which is a good thing and bodes well for mayfly fishing next year.

Olives are also about along with a few large sedge. Many fish have been caught and the local smokery is already running at full chat. However we are now experiencing the consequences of such gluttony with many fish now sulking, feeding only occasionally while suffering from piscine gout. The mayfly were late in appearing and are late in disappearing, the June weed cut is now underway and the mayfly are still pouring off.
Weed has done well and carpets of flowering ranunculus are the main feature of this stretch of the Dever.

When weed growth is as prolific as we are now experiencing the main flow of the river is pushed around and is often right under the feet of the angler flicking a fly. While attending to the fringe earlier this week I disturbed many fish that were hugging the bank due to the main flow being pushed into the bank by verdant mid river weed growth. 
Early this week I received a kind invitation to fish the Avon midway between its Nethers and its Uppers. 

I’ve been a few times before and its always a fun afternoon in good company.
Carrying a little more colour than the Dever, fish betrayed their presence with free rises during a heavy hatch of mayfly. Five fish, three on a mayfly and two on a klinkhammer as some fish were ignoring brer Danica and feasting on a steady trickle of olives.
I was keen to take in the river restoration work on the top beat that had been carried out a couple of years ago. It’s a sensible piece of work, void of the extremes of some re-wilding projects pushed in some quarters. 

In normal times half term would find Madam and myself off and away to foreign climes and living for pleasure alone. 

Well the Pando put paid to that so we went for a few walks instead.
Firstly down to Titchfield to follow the canal down to the coast at Hillhead for a picnic on the dog friendly beach. 
Secondly to the other side of Southampton water and a bumble along the water from Ashlett Creek to Calshot. 

Ashlett Creek nestles between the Fawley oil refinery and Fawley power station which is not something that the Ashlett Creek tourist board would possibly seek to promote. However, by the old tide mill and marina accessible by boat only at high tide, the refinery and power station are invisible and our “holiday in a day” commenced.

It’s an easy flat walk for us oldies and brim full of interest.
Fawley power station is currently being decommissioned including the 650ft concrete chimney stack that has stood sentinel over the Solent for sixty years. Myth has it the thing is the highest point in Hampshire, it's not, but its aid for navigation cannot be underestimated. Every ship, cruise, freight or naval, that rounds the Isle of Wight heading to Southampton must receive the advice over comms, “Just head a bit right of the big chimney” 
Part of the Fawley site is now used for the manufacture of wind turbine blades. There were many piled up on a vast expanse of hard standing waiting to be transported by pontoon to their offshore destination. The two mobile cranes detailed to manoeuvre the things onto the barge have 90 tonnes of ballast on the back. The blades are collosal, why we don’t see more wind turbines with a blade down is beyond me as the stresses on joints various must be immense. 
On up across a swing bridge and the marshes to Calshot a place that Madam knows well. Formally a centre for seaplane activity the place now operates as an activity centre and velodrome that year six of the local school visit each year for a residential week of activity. Madam has attended in a supervisory/having a go at lots of fun activities role for many years. 
We had a picnic on the beach and both commented on the dearth of big ships entering Southampton water, one oil tanker made stately passage but the usual procession of banana boats, car transporters, container ships and cruise ships was absent. 
It was good to be out, and we had a nice picnic in the sunshine on the beach but Italian lakes it ain’t. 

Continuing our slow walk out into the light, life has become a social whirl with a series of garden based meetings with friends and wines of all colours consumed. 

I’ve always been a firm proponent of the “awkward silence” when in company.
I find it adds a certain “frisson” to the occasion and the recent flurry of social events gave several opportunities for its implementation as regular visitors to this house will know, we haven’t really done anything over the past year other than keep our heads down emerging intermittently to shake a fist at an increasingly frustrating world. 

Neither social occasion seemed the place to offload so we stuck to drinking vino and talking nonsense while trying not to offend. 

I think we pulled it off, although the flurry of invitations has now dried up so I may have let myself down somewhere.

Friday, 28 May 2021

Val-Deri Val Dera, Mayfly and Knitbone

Cygnets, goslings, ducklings and pheasant chicks and Derek Nimmo

All put in an appearance in the valley this week. 

Although the Derek Nimmo bit proved to be a falsehood as a lunchtime google confirmed that he is no longer with us, it must have been a Derek Nimmo lookalike just passing through. It was a brief highlight of a particularly slow day (The possibility that the parish had been visited by celebrity, not the confirmation of the unfortunate demise of Derek Nimmo) which is just about how we roll around here at the moment. 

The miserable Guilgud (after AA Mole) has become even more grumpy following the appearance of his sole heir, and today while strimming I saw him a long way from the river chasing off another male swan through the Christmas trees. With it’s many twists and turns it is a tricky stretch of river for swans to lift off to assume their lumbering flight and I have seen them take off from dry land before. Years ago an old dog of ours managed to grab a mouthful of tail feathers as one slowly gained height across the meadow. 

We are still well down on swallows, swifts and martins. They normally turn up in time for an easy meal at mayfly time which is now in full swing. At which point I could ramble off into eight hundred words about the “magic of the mayfly” an angle for feature pieces that is regurgitated ad nauseam with slight tweaks each year in the angling press. I was once asked to write more features on subjects along the lines of “The magic of the mayfly” or “Winning ways with worms” It all seemed a bit Walter Scott to me or possibly Walter Gabriel. Instead I sent in a fifteen hundred word feature piece on how Poldark couldn’t use a scythe properly and would do well to keep his shirt on during the sharpening process due to potential hazards, which was duly published and drew mixed reviews. 

Anyway the mayfly is on. Steady hatches from late morning through to late afternoon and the fish now know what they are. Some significant lumps have fallen to a mayfly dun this week and tomorrow I will make my third trip to the smoker. Over wintered fish are in surprisingly good condition. With the high number of fish in the river during the winter just gone one would expect a few thin fish to be put on the bank, but so far all trout have been fully finned and torpedo like in shape. This week the sun has shone more often and the wind has dropped significantly, which has made flicking a fly a far more comfortable and satisfying experience. Wind and heavy rain are the nemesis of the mayfly. High wind can result in egg laden females struggle to get back to the river to deposit their load. Heavy rain can see them deceived by a wet road where they will crash land mid carriageway in the mistaken belief that it is a body of water. I have yet to see a mating dance by the beech tree at the end of our garden but I don’t think it will be long.
Grass has really pushed on of late and mower and strimmer have both been whirring and banging keeping the banks and paths in order. The long grass in the meadows that we leave until the orchids have finished is around twelve inches high and dotted with cuckoo flower,knitbone and king cups. While strimming and mowing my new clever noise cancelling headphones have been a revelation. While listening to podcasts, radio and talking books via the magic of the Bluetooth pixies, I no longer need to have the volume turned up to the max. Turn the noise cancelling feature up to high and all noise from the outside world melts away, it really is clever stuff although it does take a little getting use to. 

Before making preparations to go at the grass with the four stroke strimmer the other day, I popped up the road to the garage to fill the petrol can. Passing the small car park by the allotments at the end of the road, I caught a group of ramblers mustering to complete the four mile circular walk that now features in many walking guide books. It was a welcome sight and another baby step in the slow walk out into the light and normality. Petrol purchased I returned home put on my strimmer trousers and clever headphones and turned the noise cancelling feature up to max. The pando has caused my mind to skip and slip around a bit and I suddenly remembered that the compost bin that takes the food waste unsuitable for chooks would benefit from a layer of grass clippings to aid the composting process. It wouldn’t need much and the small strip of grass between the Mill house and the road would provide just enough clippings before I set off with the strimmer.
Still in strimmer troos and clever headphoned up I dragged my small rechargeable mower (we’re saving the planet here) out of the shed and made my way over to the grass. Two turns in the rambling group, suitably roped together, pass by. All twenty have their hats on the sides of their head, are all smiles and waves, which send me into a reverie centred around the benefits of walking with regard to mental health throughout my third pass with the mower. 

Five times up and down and I guessed the grass box must be nearly full. The collection part of the machine was removed and a close inspection revealed that it was completely empty.
That’s odd, I thought, the cutting height is set correctly and it normally fills up after five turns.
Removing my headphones to don the headgear of a rechargeable lawn mower technician a light bulb moment occurred. 
 The battery on the mower was flat, I couldn’t hear the rechargeable mower wasn’t whirring due to the clever headphones. 

I had just been pushing the dead mower up and down. 

I don’t know what the Val-deri Val-dera brigade thought, a very quiet mower or possibly a silly old fool, 

we don’t know, but the next edition of the rambling guide book may well be amended to “and at this point of the walk you will pass an old Mill house on the river Dever. There has been a mill house on the site for at least a thousand years. The current workings on the sluice by the road were installed in 1842 by a local Andover company. If you look closely at the wall on the end of the house you will see the initials of several of the previous mill owners and the year in which they were in residence. The area around the mill is rich in wildlife and an important example of a rare chalk stream environment. Fed by aquifers and springs that impart their unique character, they have been managed by man for hundreds of years. Occasionally local pagans can be seen outside the Mill in late spring muttering in tongues while wheeling small machines up and down in an attempt to appease the goddess of the springs. Pagans believe that this process delivers a soothing massage to the goddess of the springs who will reciprocate with a bounty of water throughout the summer.” 

Well that’s what I told them when they came past again ten minutes later.

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

The Bridge Over the M3 at Fleet Services and Some Noise Cancelling Headphones.

What to write? 

This is getting hard. 

It’s been a while I know, but as we walk slowly out into the light now much of the madness has passed, a fug has once again descended. Time was when I could bang out multiple chunks of guff for platforms various of an evening

Damn this poxy pando!
Yes there is weed and yes there is water and the river carries a sparkle that only occurs at this time of year. Mayfly are putting in the occasional appearance and fish are slowly coming round to the idea that they may make a reasonable meal but other than that not much new to report. Swallows are about and Lord Ludg raises a glass to a squadron of swifts each evening from his garden throne but brer swift was a tad tardy in putting in it’s opening appearance. 
A warmer week has resulted in a more verdant locale. 

Last weekend Madam and myself moved south to Sway. She to score a cricket match, me to walk dogs and just be somewhere else talking to different people. On the edge of the New Forest the ground is surrounded by substantial oaks all of which were pretty much in full leaf and several weeks ahead of the oaks that live along this river valley. 
This week’s cricket, a home tie against Alton, fell to the weather, which was a shame as Child B had fled the capital in order to take part. We ran him home on the Sunday morning and visited the outside area of a Lebanese restaurant in Fulham, or possibly Chelsea, for lunch. The mighty repast was mostly meat based with the occasional chickpea and today, with a view to extending life, we felt duty bound to undertake a “meat free Monday” 

Which was nice (see Fast Show) 
Oh yes, a life changing moment. 

While working with machinery I always wear ear protection especially so now that one of my ears doesn’t work and I need to look after the one that does. I will often listen to soothing music, talking book or podcast piped in from my clever phone. My new clever phone monitors decibel levels delivered to my ears and got quite cross a few times while strimming this spring. A pair of noise cancelling headphones have been purloined and the clever phone is happy. The noise cancelling feature means that I can listen to said soothing music at a lower level and the good ear is thus protected.

That’s noise cancelling headphones everyone, get them if you can,
Apologies should have put P at the beginning of previous paragraph to indicate product placement. 

P: That’s noise cancelling headphones everyone. 

In weed news, the Dever is full of the stuff. Ranunculus is in flower and holding water up well, banks are becoming soft and mushy and the June weed cut will, for the second successive year, be a heavy one, which is as it should be and why it is the longest designated weed cutting period of the summer.  
In fly news, the fly are slow to put in an appearance, which may be temperature related. Mayfly are just beginning to show and last week we had several days of heavy hawthorn hatches which points to things happening a couple of weeks later thsi year than one would expect. 

In Beaver news, we have no beaver in the Dever valley, for which some continue to give great thanks. 
In Tarantula news, we have no tarantula in the Dever valley, for which we also give great thanks. There were tarantula on “Cruising with Jane McDonald” last night and they were not doing the dance.

Sneaky feckers (Tarantula, not Jane McDonalds per se), they hide in holes popping out to pounce on prey; although Jane McDonald hiding in a hole, leaping out to deliver a killer blow or possibly belt out some ditty classified as"easy listening" could be equally terrifying.

I’ll stick with the rabbit as my hole dwelling demon of first choice. The nemesis of the allotment, he can be dealt with reasonably effectively, doesn’t offer a deadly bite and, if cooked long enough, is the food of the gods. 
On the allotment the taytos are up and suitably ridged. Broad beans promise much and strawberries bear flowers. The one struggle has been runner beans. I had great success with “Tenderstar” last year but this year three packets of seeds have failed to germinate and rotted in their pots. I’ve now gone back to the safe pair of hands that is “Enorma”. 
Driving up the M3 to deliver Child B back to the smoke, Madam commented that the last time we had driven up the M3 we were 51 years old and both my ears worked. 

We’re 53 now, we’ll forget the ears. 

Pre Pando, we’d pound up the M3 many times a year on the way to somewhere else or just to visit bits various of Das Kapital. 

I never imagined I’d feel nostalgic for a trip up the M3. 

In its interminable transfer to “smart motorway” status it was the stuff of Dante. 

Last Sunday as we delivered Child B back to the smoke, we took our time, idly rolling along cheerily pointing out sights that we had not seen for sometime. 

The short deceleration lane at Junction 5 to Odiham, the brown sign to Birdworld and the bridge over the motorway at Fleet services being particular highlights. 

We’re going to try the M27 soon, which is in the throes of attaining “smart motorway” status which may instigate further traffic based nostalgia in the months to come. 

Got there in the end, 850 words plus, which used to be like falling off a bike back in the day.  
One step. two step, one step two step, one step two step, slowly we walk back out into the light (after Bill Hicks)