Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Sally Merison

Sally Merison, my employer and great friend for over thirty years has shuffled off and exited stage left. 

It was a swift demise, and at the end, very peaceful. 

Fading away peacefully on her bed looking out an open window on the Dever valley with the meadow, trees and associated sounds all around with a dog flat out beside her on the bed. 

I think we'd all take that.

An indomitable force until the very last, incredibly kind and full of fun, I and my family will miss her, for there was never a dull day in all of those thirty years. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything and feel very fortunate to have been in her employ for most of my working life. 

And now it becomes hard because there are so many memories and a fund of tales to be told. 

Which I may relate at a later date as currently things are a little “raw”

Funeral confirmed for 2.30pm Friday 9th September at Barton Stacey Church with a hooley back at Bransbury Mill to follow – all welcome. 

If anything changes, I’ll chuck the details up here. 

“Fin” for guff for a while, as there is much to be done and like I said things are a little raw, but I will be “back, back, back” at some point and in some form as Sally was a tremendous supporter of my written guff, which always meant a lot as she could bounce a word herself.

Bransbury Mill and this stretch of the Dever will never be quite the same again.

The Dever down to its' bare bones

Back home for a weed cut on the Dever that is down to it’s bare bones. 

This is my thirty first season on this stretch of the Dever and I have never known it so low. 

The signs were there back in March following a dry winter. It seems at this point the default position of the weasels charged with supplying water to the increasing population in this corner of Old Albion, is to cross lots of fingers, hope it rains soon and nobody notice the impact on precious aquatic environments or profits divvied out. 

It’s management of a groundwater resource based on pre 1950 models when “Madam Water Cycle” behaved in a different way, those who deny the climate is changing need tapping hard on the head with a large hammer and issued with a badge labelled dimbulb.

In this crowded corner of the UK we have to change the way we use our groundwater resource. On the introduction of a hosepipe ban in this region at the beginning of the month a vox pop piece on the subject by local TV news featured the cream of town Society aggressively proclaiming that they had a “F@£$ing right to wash her car” and a weasel from the local water company stating that currently there was plenty of groundwater for all. 

Which caused me to return to my habit of throwing shoes at the television. 

And at this point I could go on and get cross, and remind all present that the aquifers in this area have been classified as at the maximum level of abstraction if the aquatic environment is not to be impacted upon. 

A chalk river aquatic environment that is incredibly rare on planet earth and one that Old Albion has been charged with hosting just shy of eighty percent of the world's resource. 

Once again, if any other country, third world or no, behaved in a similar way towards such a rare habitat we would be very quick to condemn them as corrupt.


and also once again, we are increasingly led by loons.

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

And then we went to Ischia

Four days later, following an intensive clean up operation post wedding, Madam and myself bummed off to Ischia for a week, staying in an apartment in Sant Angelo where we did little else but eat, drink, read, swim and stare at the sea trying to comprehend what just happened in the past 6 months/2 years/ 7years. 

It’s an interesting island much favoured by much of Naples town society, which is only an hour away by ferry and the beaches can be a bit rammed, but it was just what we needed all the same.

Didn’t do much gadding about while we were there but we did experience some of the most spectacular thunderstorms we have ever found ourselves caught up in.

Thanks as ever to those who held the fort while we were away.

Child A's wedding

I was going to begin this chunk of guff with no little pep, vim vigor and a proclamation that we are Back! Back! Back! 

But a lot has happened in the past two months, 

So if we're all agreed I’ll proceed with separate chunks of guff in chronological order.

We did a wedding. 

After months of fretting, anxiety and no little hard work, Child A (Maisie) married Callum Aris in Kingsclere Church before repairing to the riverbank at Bransbury for a bit of a hooley. 

Despite underlying anxiety during the preceding six months regarding preparations. Everything went to plan, and for the final forty eight hours we always seemed to be half an hour ahead of where we needed to be (there were many spread sheets, Maisie likes a spread sheet) 

and with Madam and Maisie in Kingsclere with bridesmaids various William and I kicked back with a beer before departure confident that all was “good to go” for our return from the church, 

only for the wind to pick up and blow four vases of flowers and accompanying water across neatly prepared tables with high end linen. 

Emboldened by beer we didn’t panic, 

instead opting to employ six rolls of kitchen towel, while crossing fingers and walking away to undertake Father of the Bride and Head Usher duties. 

Luckily Richard (dizzy pig master extraordinaire and caterer for the day) and his team did some extra dabbing as William and myself high footed it up to Kingsclere. 

I met Maisie and Madam at The Bel and Dragon on Kingsclere High St, where they had stayed the night before, and proudly walked my beautiful daughter up the High St and then on up the aisle for an appointment with her beau and the vicar. 

Service passed without real incident, other than a marriage,

before we all headed back to Bransbury for a reception by the river.

More people turned up in the evening 

and music of some sort of genre was played loudly late into the evening The whole day was a tremendous success and far better than we ever could have imagined. The sun shone throughout, the vicar did jokes, the pig spun sublimely, the corks popped continually, the drummer hit the right beat and none of my bridges fell down under intense use or heavy traffic. 

It really was a memorable day enjoyed by all who attended. Madam and myself couldn’t be more proud or pleased for our daughter and new son in law and also our son for having a go at ushering.

Thank you to everyone who did so much to make the day such a success.

Monday, 25 July 2022

Further Apologies, been a bit busy

Apologies everyone for continued tardiness with regard to chucking up guff. 

Child and her Beau's nuptials are careering towards us and time is precious so this kind of literal caper is going to have to take a brief sabbatical. 

Here's the latest parish notice 

Through the marital machinations Madam and myself hope to head out to Italy for a period of recovery. 

I'll be back back back after that, 

providing there is still a river to keep, 

Here's one of the Dever sent in by a reader the other day a few miles up the valley at Stoke Charity. 

Why mention was not made of the requirement to go easy on the old eau a couple of months ago is beyond the comprehension of many who work on the chalk rivers. 

But I guess the continued imbalance between a powerful private water company and an underfunded environment agency will have something to do with where we find ourselves, 

that and a frustrating ignorance of Joe Public to be more "water wise"

Back in a few weeks 

Meanwhile here's the testcard with state music accompaniment 

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Apologies, Tardiness but Guff (of sorts)

News in Brief: 

Once again apologies everybody for tardiness in chucking up guff. 

I’ve had a lot on and also been gadding about a bit, plus there’s the impending nuptials for Child A on August the 5th which currently seem to be rushing towards us at apace, we also lost a good friend and fisher who’d been ligging about the place for over thirty years.

First up the fishing. 

Mayfly went well and was all that it should have been. Water levels are a worry and with the June weed cut now done, it was all too clear when raking down the cut weed how little energy the river currently possesses. Sedge seem to have gone early and each morning there are several bumbling about the place having made it through the night.

Most mornings as Moss and myself parade along the bank, I see one or two fish rise to a sedge, the same fish descending to the bed of the river to nibble on gammarus and other sub surface dainties from midday on. 

We may be nymphing a little earlier this year. 

Plant wallahs arrived the other week to undertake a survey of all that grows along the riverbank, keeping a particular eye out for invasive non native species. 

We’ve Japanese Knotweed down by the road bridge that has been there for a decade or more and monkey flower and orange balsam all put in an appearance and seem to muddle along quite well. 

I’ve pushed the line many times, but not all non native species are invasive, although I used to deliver fish to a stretch of the Rother in Sussex where Himalayan Balsam was king to the detriment of all other flora. 

Apologies forgot this was supposed to be brief. 

Popped up to Lords for the first day of the Test. 

You may be surprised to hear that that's me in the middle, Child B on the right, long time family friend lost to the antipodes on the left

Lower Tavern stand this time. which was a first for me. Seventeen wickets in a day may cause a county cricket pitch inspector to twitch, but this is Lords. 

I climbed up to the top tier of the new Edrich stand to touch base with Child B and some of his cricketing mates, both English and Antipodean. It’s a terrific view and to my poor peepers from high up  the pitch did seem to have a tinge of green that wasn’t being mentioned on the radio. 

It’s always a terrific day out and a very special and unique sporting venue. Thanks as always, for the invitation. 

Had cause to pop up to the borders for a few days. Embedded deep cover in Kelso on a mission to visit many beats on the Tweed and their ghillies by way of research and customer service.

Every river we crossed on the way north - the Lune, Ribble, Eden, Esk, Teviot were all down to their bare bones and while beats such as The Junction on the Tweed, Hendersyde, Lower Birgham, North Wark and Sprouston will always produce fish, few flies were being flicked. 

It was an enjoyable few days spending the day chewing the fat with venerable ghillies on such a renowned river during the day while  enjoying the fleshpots of Kelso by night, but goodness so many rivers need rain. 

Wedding preparations are proceeding apace and we are currently sourcing a gilded barge to deliver the newly weds to their reception on the banks of the Dever. Ebay is currently being uncooperative and apologies again to whoever is fishing on that Friday, but you are welcome to join us for a drink at any point. 

 And while we’re on fishing on Friday, planet earth lost one of the “good ones” a few weeks back. 

Taken too soon at the age of sixty one, he fished here with his father when I first started falling in and out of this river. A medical student at the time, his father was a political advisor to several health secretaries including Ken Clarke and Edwina Currie, had a fund of tales and would regularly “off load” while tackling up; the gift of a watch for Michael Mates MP instigated some particularly humorous invective as he put his rod together. 

Possessed of a tremendous sense of humour, he too was taken too soon at a similar age to his son. 

Justin, or Professor Justin Mason as he went by at Imperial College Hospital London, was equally loquacious and humorous on arrival at the river, and conversation would cover the full gamut of subjects of the day from daily gossip to deep dish, it was not unusual to spend twenty minutes in the yard chewing the fat before fishing. 

Both he and his father were talented anglers and appreciated the social aspect of a day on the riverbank, never fishing “too hard” and always pausing for a beer. 

Justin, or “The Prof” as he was known in some quarters signed off my last three passport applications, he was a great supporter of this house and always insisted that I should write something with hard covers, my reply always went something along the line of 

“But Justin, books are really long, my mind tends to wander after a thousand words or so”

One of the nicest and cleverest people I have known and completely without ego, he was someone I was proud to call a friend.

He will be missed by many who bumbled along a bank in his company. 

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Valarie Singleton, The Future and Victorians

Hello Hello, 

We’ll start this chunk of guff revisiting the substantial conker tree that lost its top section when the wind blew last October. 

Here she is candles and all, 

Not quite the shape she was, but undoubtedly the last vestiges of a once great beauty,

Which is I'm sure something to which all present can relate. 

She’s demonstrating more pep and vim than the wisteria and my taytos, which were caught out by a hard frost on the last Saturday in April. The Mulberry hadn’t yet woken up, but that tree knows stuff.

We’ve drifts of wild garlic. One of the best shows for years and the stuff features in many meals throughout the week. 

I’ll fill a few big bags with leaves for freezing as summoned from the ice they add a slightly more delicate flavour to a recipe than the “in your face” garlic bulb. 

Cuckoo flowers are out and the cuckoo finally put in a turn at the end of the last month, along with the occasional swallow. The river remains low. With regard to rain and aquifer replenishment April was indeed the cruellest month. It was also quite cold and windy which I don’t think drew the eye of T.S back in the day. 

Cold arid conditions that also set my psoriasis off, apologies to everyone for the scratching,

Something that I think T.S also failed to mention. 

In the name of impending nuptials, last week I had cause to broadcast grass seed in the wood. Dry weather isn’t the best weather for getting grass going (Hants FA Groundsman of the year 2011 – never forget!) 

So I invoked the forces of the electric vehicle that will one day save the world. Filled a tank of water on the back and used a half inch 12 volt “live well” pump to water the seed in. 

Currently the sward develops at the pace expected by the Hants FA Groundsman of the Year 2011 (Remember that one?) 

This electric buggy is the future for short journeys, it's only flaw being that the roof is not a solar panel. I made the case to Child B (a planner by trade) that all inhabitants of the parish should have one. The oil burning pigs could be held in a pen up by the Highway to the Sun for when longer journeys are required.

but for short journeys of up to a couple of miles this thing is surely the future. 

Weed remains reluctant to grow and the river is gin clear presenting challenging conditions for the angler. The river is stuffed with soporific fish patiently waiting for a good hatch of fly. Bunched up in holes, with little cover from fringe or weed they are easily spooked, delicate and precise presentation of the fly is key. Time was when this time of the year would see substantial roach going spoony and cropping up in water that they would never consider haunting in the winter months. Spawning was the driver but very few roach remain now and Tarka undoubtedly had a part to play. 

Our resident pair of senior swans have claimed a corner of the bottom bends as their nesting site of first choice for this year. For years they have nested on the pond. Not sure why they have moved down river this year. It may be global warming, it may be impending ice age, we don’t know, but they are where they are. 

Mayfly appeared in the first week of the month, although only the merest  vanguard of  Valerys (Singletons) and fish have yet to acknowledge their/her arrival, although it won’t be long before mayfly pitch up in numbers for the annual festival of dry fly fishing. 

Valerie Singleton once walked past our house,

There, I said it. 

She did, 

It was a Sunday and at the time (Post Blue Peter) she was presenting programmes about money in the graveyard slot on BBC2. Pre Kinder, Madam and myself had just finished lunch, wine had been taken and we were washing up (pre dishwasher) Val sauntered by with a man, possibly her husband, possibly not - we couldn't say, but it wasn't Peter Purves as he didn't have a collie, or was that the other one?  In similar circumstances we touched base with "Old Tel" and the present Mrs Wogan a few years later and while Val had ignored our banging at the window, Terry and the "present Mrs Wogan" couldn't have been more gracious during our brief encounter on a narrow footpath in Kernow.  There were rumours at the time that Val had become a little "difficult" and her time at the Beeb was coming to an end. We had grown up Val her on Blue Peter, and she always seemed ok. 

When she passed our window she was at best indifferent, but I guess that's just Val  

The log splitter is crying out for some action, because yes we are already thinking about next winter and goodness with all trees coming into leaf (bar the Mulberry – see above) it is again apparent how the ash tree population has been devastated by the insidious ash dieback. 

Here’s a fridge door handle I made from a slice of ash. 

It’s the mother of all fridge doors and we’ve gone through a couple of plastic handles while hauling the thing open. Replacements come in at around forty pound a pop, so with a cost of living crisis on, I made a replacement from a slice of ash. 

Ludgershall and The English, wealthy and well fed pensioners both, who, in May are still lighting the fire, muttered their disapproval. They insist that all ash should be introduced to the wood shed. We had a fisherman arrive in a high end Morgan towards the end of last year and each of them made preparation to fire up the chainsaws. 

Oh yes, satellite technology is a great thing, 

I note that Ludgershall and The English are still lighting the fire of an afternoon. There is now a chimney pot monitoring app available that detects smoke emitted. I’m not saying they are being a little profligate with their stash of ash but…… 

We’ve wallahs coming out in a week or two to assess the presence of non native species in the valley. I will monitor the movements of previously wallahs along the riverbank as their tangerine high viz jackets won’t be conducive to stalking wary trout in gin clear water. 

At which point I will again make the point that not all non native species are invasive. 

Victorians rolled Brer Brown Trout out to much of the empire and beyond, where it now sits on the bucket list of many a travelling angler, having adapted, thrived and contributed to conditions presented.