Wednesday, 13 January 2021

A Dearth of Wellies, Size 39 and The Alderman

 


Ho hum, pig’s bum, here we go again.

Happy New Year everyone.

Here follows this house’s first report from the first knockings of opening skirmishes in the sunlit uplands of 2021. 

Liverpool, hampered by injury, are clearly in need of the next Emlyn Hughes. There are no signs of snowdrops or bluebells, Spanish or otherwise. 

My quest to source Madam some size 39 replacement wellies from the house of Aigle or Le Chameau (we wear wellies a lot, forgive us our indulgence, Dunlop won’t do, we are a slave to our puddies) continues. There isn’t a size 39 high end franco wellie to be had in all these Isles. 

I don’t eat much fish, but I hear there are problems with supply, which was a common call from our anglers towards the end of last season, although many have since emerged from the shadows, 

the fish not the anglers, 

or Hank Marvin for that matter, 


and at this point I’d like to apologise to all the people who have attempted to contact madam or myself by phone during the past few weeks. Regular visitors to this parish will recall that the flight of Child A & B from the familial nest instigated a high degree of gadding about by Madam and myself. 

We were living for pleasure alone, 

But there’s a Carona on, and by way of succour for our curtailed travel plans, and instilling the feeling that we have been away, we have agreed to put our smart phones into flight mode for a few hours each day and don our travel neck pillows each night while abed, 

with my snoring playing the part of the drone of an airbus 380 jet engine. 


There’s a river, of course, the river. 

It’s in tremendous form, in the pink, both a pip and a dandy. 

Here’s one of the spring hole up behind the flight hand which once produced the sword of Excaliber (it’s on here somewhere) 

Current Status: Six springs bubbling away beautifully 


and a significantly higher water level than the same day two years ago which was a poor winter for rain. 

We have no grayling anglers, other than the odd one who lives locally, and at this point can I urge all present to support The Angling Trust. They do tremendous things for the sport and at the onset of each lockdown have lobbied parliament to permit people to fish, albeit at a limited level. 


Numbers of adult brown trout going through the motions of spawning have been very disappointing, possibly displaced by lumpen triploids that don’t worry about the rigors of spawning . It may be time to revisit the National Trout & Grayling Strategy introduced in 2015. I could be wrong but I know I am not alone in holding this view. 



Willow work continues, although at a reduced pace with Lord Ludg and The English retreating to their respective castles. The willow is on the non fishing bank. I wrap a two tonne strap around the intended limbs, attach the strap to the back of the tractor, introduce the saw, and then pull the felled boughs onto the bank with the tractor. It’s a lot of back and forth when alone. With one bod in the water, one on the tractor and one chopping up on the bank, the job is banged out a bit quicker. 

I've also reluctantly attacked some alders. 

I like Alders, 

there I said it, 

We have some particularly fine specimens that were unaffected by a disease outbreak a decade or more ago.  It's a hard wood that much of Venice was built on and when cut the wood quickly transforms from a light lime green to a vivid orange.


 
These Alders were drawing some of our rods' ire during the season so a few lower limbs have been removed to aid casting. 

Another half dead ash tree wobbled over in the wood last week, taking a couple of other smaller trees with it. There’s no rush to chop it up, and its not like we need the logs, so it can lie in state in the wood for a few months while I attend to the river. 



Although we got through a fair few logs over the Christmas period. 

It was a cold snap and our boiler gave up the ghost on the 27th and remained out of action until the 5th. The East wing was closed and the wood burner was fired right up for 24 hours throughout to heat the remainder of the house. Five baskets of logs a day disappeared but the house remained warm. 



It’s the mother of all wood burners, roughly two feet cubed, and is about fifty years old. With an unknown KW rating, it used to run half a dozen radiators.


In other news, we’re back in another lockdown, only we’re not. 

The Highway to the Sun remains as busy as ever and and large sections of town society ignore the sign at the door of local food emporia to shop alone in the local town food emporium..

The local school has been closed, only it hasn’t. 

A full complement of staff attend each day, 52yr old Madam included, to educate fifty percent of their charges. 

With a nod to Dad’s Army it may be time to take the first aid kit off Private Godfrey and hand it to Private Fraser as this “would you mind awfully….” policy that has been implemented in the last ten months clearly isn't working. 


Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Chasing Rita Fairclough and an Incalcitrant Bough

Here we go with another everyday story of country folk, 

Which seems apt as we celebrate seventy years of The Archers. 

I say “celebrate” but I haven’t leaned my lugs to an episode for twenty odd years, but the Sunday morning hour long omnibus was a staple in our house for a long time. Tom Forest was still about, Nelson Gabriel was up to no good in antiques and his dad Walter kept wheezing things like “Roll the baby in the snow and all its aches and pains will go” and “Hello me old pal me old beauty” I can clearly remember the incident that saw me turn back on Ambridge. It was a hot day and Tony Archer took the afternoon off mid harvest to wash the landrover. 


While we’re on soaps I see Coronation St are also celebrating an anniversary. Again I was an avid follower at one point. Ray Langton came and went, Dierdre’s morrocan beau Samir unfortunate demise and I made a pilgrimage to the spot where Alan Bradley was killed by a tram in Blackpool while chasing Rita Fairclough. 

I wasn't chasing Rita Fairclough, Alan Bradley was chasing Rita Fairclough. I held no truck with Rita at the time. 

I don’t remember why we stopped watching the Street.  It may have been when they went to three episodes a week and it all became a bit much.

Through the soap, an reasonable analogy for 2020, we will now turn our attention to river business.


The river is in excellent order, flowing well and crystal clear, keep the rain coming please. We’re still whacking into the willows at the moment. Mostly crack willow that is starting to impact upon marginal growth and weed in the river through excessive shading. It’s a spongy business and the tractor has cut the ground up quite a bit when dragging the things out of the river. The Salix that we have been attending to this week would benefited from being pollarded a couple of years ago as they are now quite a substantial size. The nature of the tree is to twist and bend and grow into irregular shaped branches which makes judging distribution of weight in the bigger specimens a bit of a challenge, pinching your saw is inevitable with this stuff. Lord Ludg and myself (it was both of us) once managed to get three saws (two of his, one of mine) stuck in one incalcitrant bough, which helped to fill a morning. 

The bits of bank that we have attended to will look a little stark through the winter months but will green up rapidly in the spring. 


Spawning brown trout remain few and far between. There is the odd patch of clean gravel that could be the beginnings of a redd but nothing like the number of fish kicking up on the shallows ten years ago. The gravel is nice and loose and the height of water offers protection from avian predation, we just need spawning fish. 


The water temperature is still quite high for the time of the year and while this won’t impact upon the urge to spawn, as daylight length is the trigger factor for that business to start, it does mean that the weed in the river is still growing well. This week the local big fish water up stream from here cut masses of mare’s tail, which is unusual for December. 


Shooting in the locale took a brief hiatus in the four week lockdown. There are oodles of French partridge in the fields bordering the valley and there will be some big days in the second half of December. Big number days that, to my mind, don’t always shine a favourable light on game shooting. When we shot here at Bransbury, four days each winter, sixty birds was a good day and every one ended up in an oven or a freezer somewhere in the parish. 


Just finished writing fishing reports for publications various. Summaries of the season that serve as a bellwether to the state of play on beats up and down the river. In a year when the pandemic has been all consuming it felt right to record all things Covid and its impact on the season. Back in March, when we went into lockdown two weeks too late, the message seemed to be that three weeks of lockdown would be enough to see off the lurgy and the season would commence as normal. You will remember that three weeks became six weeks, the opening day of our trout season was delayed by four weeks, but open we did, and we got through the season without any real incident bar the collapse of gazebo during a storm on two anglers outside of their opening chota pegs of the evening. This summer Covid 19 along with Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse have highlighted the benefit to body and mind of a day on the bank with a rod in hand. 

The Test Valley has one of the lowest infection rates in the country, the numbers are only a little above Cornwall, but it’s on the cards we’ll still be affected by virus protocols at the beginning of next season. We know what to do now, the summer has demonstrated that we can fish safely, 

just sans gazebo. 

Oh yes, It’s Christmas, 

this

  
 
Thanks as ever for reading the rubbish that I write, Happy Christmas and see you on the other side in the promised sunlit uplands of 2021.



Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Positive Portents, Jack'ern and The Mummers


Right, decorating done, its back to the business of chucking up guff.

The river is in tremendous form, bank high with good flow tickling up the gravels. Not too many redds being kicked up but there’s still time yet. The ditch that feeds up to the field know across the ages as “Spring Bottom” already has water in it and all portents are positive and point towards a reasonable recharge of aquifers this winter. 


Higher water on spawning gravel reduces the impact of “Jack'Ern” spiteful stabbings, which is a tremendous thing, as they can do a lot of damage in low water with their indiscriminate sword work. Numbers of little egret always increase at this time of the year, and we’ve already three or four regulars. Cormorant numbers are also on the rise, although all sighted have been passing through and not pausing to fish this stretch of river or the pond. 


 Trees are still being attended to, with Lord Ludg and The English mustered as wingmen. Into the river this week to give battle with the forces of crack willow that have put on six feet of growth this summer. The riverbank might be a bit spongy in a few months time and not accessible by tractor, so the saws’ attention has been hastily drawn to bankside work with a controlled retreat to the wood planned for January/February. 

 Oh wait a mo, the jungle’s on, I’ll be back in a bit. 

 It’s a shame they couldn’t claim their annual beano to Brisbane, but it seems to have worked out well in Wales. 

 If it is Wales. 

 In my youth I hiked, yomped, camped, canoed and fished in the area that they claim the castle to be in but I can’t for the life of me place the thing. 


 Maybe it’s a new build, as a brief look back in time confirms that it is nearly forty years since I was down that way. Often with the scouts, but also with my Dad and his mate Jim fishing the Wirral Anglers water on the Clwyd and Elwy, and hey Chris Packham some of those critters in the cages are more famous than the celebrities. Several of the snakes are represented by their own agents and if a few eels do escape to the countryside, well done old Anguilla, as the Clwyd and Elwy used to be full of the things but since the collapse of the European eel population they are a bit thin on the ground. One week long scout camp on the Clwyd proved particularly productive, and I remember one night when a sea trout angler slowly creeping his way up the far bank in the early hours was startled as he swung his torch across the far bank. The solitude he sought had been broken by twenty odd scouts sitting shoulder to shoulder in the dark on a high bank swinging in eels for introduction to a waiting frying pan. 

 

I’m supposed to be writing end of season reports for bods various, but while we’re on TV. 

 Mortimer & Whitehouse have a Christmas special, 

 And the dancing’s a draw too. 


 Madam and myself used to enjoy a bit of hoofing back in the day and were often the last to leave the floor at some such do or other.

 And at this point I’d just like to put it out there, that I too have won a dancing competition in Blackpool. 

 It’s not something I have ever really talked about but there I said it. With each passing year I find it important to share such information for the ages. 

 Yes I was a champion dancer in Blackpool. 

 It was twenty three years ago and I was in Blackpool for the weekend on a pink ticket with friends. A varied itinerary had been drawn up by the group leader for the two days and Saturday afternoon found us taking in the jelly wrestling at one of the Golden Mile’s premier emporia. 

Michaela McManus v Kendra Nagasaki grappling in jelly for an interminable hour. If memory serves, Michaela took the tie by two submissions. On completion of the gelatinous grappling the band struck up and the dancing commenced.  I threw myself into a variety of shapes on the dance floor and half an hour in received a tap on the shoulder. They were picking out a few dancers to take the stage for a competition, the crowd would judge who was to pick up the prize. 

Emboldened by energy drink (Brown over Bitter) I threw myself into the competition, chucked in a few forward rolls with the occasional handstand, scored well with the crowd and the laurels were mine. 

 Six bottles of Asti Spumante. 



We left the establishment heading for the sea seeking another ship to launch. 

The remainder of the weekend passed with much more incident which is best not discussed here. 

Unexpectedly we found our ship to launch in the Imperial Hotel where an uber rich bunch of tax dodgers from the Isle of Man, who’d hopped over for pegs by helicopter, didn’t take to our impromptu mummery.


 Our rendition of Celine Dion's “My heart will go on” in an abridged adaptation of Titanic, with a mobile cloakroom hanger doubling up as both "ship to launch" and "doomed leviathan". Your correspondent stuck to the prow in the Kate Winslet role as it toured the halls of the Imperial. 

In house reviews were mixed, although in mummery circles it is still considered a ground breaking piece of work. 

 But this was all a long time ago. 

 More river news next week, which will probably centre mostly around saws.




Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Bees, Bottlenecks and Classic Dom


Ave all. 

Here we go again. 

Last week the wind blew the rain fell and several arboreal leviathans toppled to the ground. All in the wood, two of them ash that had been on the cusp of cashing in their chips for a few summers, the third a golden willow that had been dead for a while. The first ash we chopped up provided four pallets of logs. 


The trunk was a little too big for the 28in Husqi and will lie in state in the wood, providing habitat for all manner of bugs beasties and funghi. We are encouraged to be a little less tidy in our management of woods water and gardens in order to promote biodiversity. 


This arboreal leviathan had been a popular stopping off point for woodpeckers, and a bunch of bees had taken up residence in a hole half way up the main trunk. 


Not very good at identifying bees and who knew there were over two hundred and fifty varieties in the UK alone. They looked and behaved similarly to the mason bees that enjoy the thatch on the cricket pavilion, although the abdomen may be a little darker. 


 They didn’t seem too bothered by the chainsaw disturbance and went about their business on the three days it took to deal with the tree. 


The large golden willow trunk has also been left to the bugs and beasties. 


This substantial ash fell over fifteen years ago and continues to play host to all manner of life, decomposers mostly slowly returning it to the earth. 


The rain has been hard, heavy and provided a welcome early winter fillip to the river. The hatch on the mill stream is already open (it remained closed from August 2013 to January 2019 due to low water) and the main river is carrying colour and close to being bank high. It doesn’t make for easy grayling fishing but a few are booked in to have a go as quite rightly, fishing with one other buddy is a permitted activity in these bizarre times. Today, on the way to deliver barley to the flight pond, I paused to question The English about his movements and my eye was drawn to a couple of dozen olives dancing above our heads. It had been a mild day and in clearer water they may well have drawn the eye of the grayling as they broke free of the water.  


This honeysuckle in the hedge is clearly confused by the mild conditions and is throwing flowers again

There are plenty of duck about, mostly mallard but some widgeon are whistling their way up and down the valley in the evening. It couldn’t be anything else and it’s a bit of a surprise as, like teal, they don’t usually turn up until the weather gets very cold. 

Strange times.

Buried deep in today’s edition of The Times is the news that flea treatments harm “river life” . The insecticide Fiprinol was detected in 98% of water samples taken with the average concentration five times the safe limit. The River Test was singled out as one of the worst affected rivers in England & Wales, The highest concentrations of Fiprinol, a nerve agent, were immediately downstream from water treatment works, suggesting that the Fiprinol is entering the river via domestic waste water following the washing of pets or their bedding. In tests high levels of Fiprinol have been shown to impact upon aquatic invertebrates and there are calls for Fiprinol to be banned.

Good news! approval has been granted for a tunnel beneath Stonehenge.

Two miles long it will begin at the Amesbury roundabout and end the other side of Winterbourne Stoke. The proposal has been mooted for over thirty five years. A bugger of a bottleneck, the dual carriageway drops from two lanes to one as it passes the stones. Any movements to the west during our time here, be it for business, sport or travel, have always had to factor in Stonehenge. The pressure put on the surrounding lanes and villages as people have a light bulb moment and head off piste is immense. 


Why they built the thing so close to the road in the first place is beyond me, and at this point can we all remember that a lot of it was  taken down and moved around in the early 1900s. 

Don’t get me wrong, it is a tremendous thing. The year that the farmer who has the field on the other side of the road built a replica henge out of straw bales increased the traffic further and I have visited in the middle of the night as a student drinking beer with mates sitting on stones trying to tune in to the vibe.
 

It could be done so much better and taking the traffic away and putting it underground will only enhance the piece. Great play will be made of the engineering miracle of the tunnel but Madam and myself have travelled through numerous tunnels in Europe of far greater length. Many times we have sat stuck in traffic near Solstice park trying to head west and one of us has sighed and muttered, “when are they going to dig that bloody tunnel???” 

Just get on with it.

It will not come as a surprise to most visitors to this house that when at work my addled mind is not always on the job and prone to drift. Irked the other day by the internet and some dimbulb troll who thinks that because he/she is online, all filters are off and comments can be abusive, unkind, ill informed or just plain false
.


 
Which led me to ponder what would have happened if we’d just stuck to landlines, dial up internet connections and the post. 

It took a bit of effort to make an abusive phone call, any unkind or abusive comments made on a dial up connection would have to pass through a period of buffering during which the red mist may recede, and I don’t member any abusive or unkind letters dropping through my post box. The internet and mobile connectivity have undoubtedly changed how we live our lives in a very short space of time, but, and I’m looking at you here Tim Berners-Lee, when the internet was invented and Tim first piped up with his initial “Ahem, attention everyone, I think I’ve got something” he could have added the rider “I’ve called it The Internet, it could be a tremendous thing……but it might not be for everyone”

In today’s ding dong news,   

Ding Dong the Dom has gone!

Here's his ebullient cousin Lyle in The Simpsons. 

 

A staged exit from the front door of No.10 with a cardboard box full of contempt for the common man and a mobile eye testing kit,

Classic Dom

Antagonist and Duper in Chief 

He should have gone in April. Our own MP who does good things from the back benches said as much in her reply to an email I penned in mid April. 

 “ I have no doubt as to the immense damage the PM has done by refusing to sack Cummings.  He is seldom so out of step with public opinion, and I assume is hoping people have short memories.  It is awful.”


 

Monday, 9 November 2020

Exmoor and Feature Status for an Excavator




Not for the first time ,we must open this latest chunk of guff with an apology.

 

It has been noted by several visitors to this site that I have once again drifted into tardiness with regard to chucking up guff. 

 

Ok the fug, 

 

I have got an allotment and also a long list of decorating jobs seems to have presented itself.

 

Apologies, I’ll try and keep up.


Promise  

 


We also went away at half term. 


A week on Exmoor with the dogs and very few other people. 


Unable and unwilling to fly away, we decided to do something different so took a house by a river for the week.  Withypool was the place and a perfect base for walking. The moors border the village and five minutes walk saw us climbing steadily past free range ponies. 



Moss did most of Exmoor in the first morning, Otis was a little more staid in his progress but covered every mile that we did, which ain't bad for an old dog. 


The house sat on the banks of the river Barle. Our first walk was curtailed by stepping stones that were underwater. Our drive to a walk starting at the Tarr steps was doomed due to the height of the water of a ford on the Barle. Five days into our stay, and after quite a bit of rain the Barle was half way up the garden and heading for the house.  It’s a pretty river the Barle but it has few manners, unlike a pretty chalkstream. 

 


We saw plenty of red deer and a couple of hen harriers but no sign of the beast of Exmoor, although we did see a black goat. The mythical beast has been roaming the moors for decades ( beast of Exmoor, not the black goat) and how long before Jeremy Wade rocks up having exhausted all avenues when it comes to frightening people about fish. 

 

Ahem, 


the internet in Withypool, a forty minute ride away from petrol stations, secondary schools and supermarkets, was ……..superb!

 

The mobile signal in Withypool is non existant. 

 

This can present unique challenges. 

 

Particularly with online security.


Midway through our stay the penny dropped  that we had forgotten to transfer some money from our savings account before our departure.  


Our online savings account required a PIN to be generated and delivered to our mobile phones. 


The PIN self destructs in five minutes. 


Our attempt to transfer money required a dash to the highest point on Exmoor to get the PIN followed by a careering journey down the lanes to the laptop to enter the thing in the box. 

 

It couldn’t be done. 

 

Here I am on the highest point on Exmoor explaining my predicament to the bank. 

 


Lynton and Lynmouth were the only urban areas that we visited. 


There were a hundred crazy fools in the sea with surf boards on a day when it hammered down for hours. The river rose quickly, but the culverts and levees coped easily with what must have been a fraction of the flow on the August day of the disaster.


 


We rode the funicular and sang our songs. 


All the windows and doors were open and numbers were limited. It’s powered by water which is plentiful in these parts . Ballast tanks beneath the cars are filled with water at the summit and emptied at base camp, the increased weight of the car at the top pulls the lighter car at the bottom up the slope. 


Top chips by the harbour and sausages for the dogs before returning to the isolation of the moors. 


 

By the end of the week, the Barle remained in a fine bate. The colour of cocoa, the Tarr steps were almost submerged. 

 


At home, the Dever was also on the rise but remained well within her banks. The first pair of grayling anglers had a great day, with clear water allowing sight fishing for grayling to two pound. Triploid trout were a pain, with some huge lumps taking time out of their day. No sign of any fish kicking up redds yet, but there is still plenty of time. 

 


Over on the Itchen, this happened. 

 

Seems the campaign by the fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes brigade to replant the river has switched from ranunculus to Kubota. 


It has been there all week and they are struggling to get the thing out. This part of the Itchen is a SAC, A designated special area of conservation, higher than an SSSI.  The form filling and risk assessments that are required to carry out this work are extensive, if you knock your cup of coffee over you have to stump up an explanation. 


 

I don’t know how it happened and best wishes to the digger driver, I hope you’re ok.


 It could be a while before the thing is hauled out and it may well acquire “feature status” with catch records next season reporting the location of capture as “just behind the Kubota. 

 

Poor Geoffrey Palmer. A keen angler, I met him once. 


Not here on the Dever but at some nearby lakes.  


A sudden shower sent most sane people scurrying for cover and I ended up underneath an oak  tree with Geoffrey Palmer.  As lugubrious as you would expect, we chatted for five minutes about fishing before the sun came out and we went our separate ways, he to the lake, me to the fishery office. To touch base with a mate. He was quite a good fisherman by all accounts. 

 


A second sad loss this month was Jim Glasspool. 


During his tenure as secretary of the Test & Itchen Association he gave a great deal of time promoting the cause of the two chalk streams and sat on many committees representing the interests of the two rivers. A chemist by trade, who worked high up in the petro chemical field, he promoted the use of phosphate test kits that have been used so successfully in holding the feet of water companies and bagged salad producers to the fire. 

 

His predecessor was Peggy Baring. 



Scion of the banking family, and Christine Hamilton times ten, she is fondly remembered by many keepers and owners alike. 



In the late eighties I was undertaking eleven weeks work experience with the EA’ s predecessor the Nationl Rivers Association. 


As part of my remit I was given a company car, an unlimited “Overdrive” card to buy petrol and dispatched to the county in order to ascertain who actually owned which bit of river, because, 


yes, they really didn’t know.  


First stop was Peggy Baring, who invited me up to her big pile of bricks just outside Basingstoke.



Presented with coffee and biscuits I sat down on the sofa with Peggy and we pored over maps. She couldn’t have been more helpful, she had a soft spot for keepers and prospective ones and was very generous with her time.  I was twenty-one years old at the time and was unnerved by Peggy’s flatulence.  It was not mentioned throughout our two hour meeting, but it was regular event and seemed to coincide with the chiming of the grandfather clock at the end of the room. Two hours with Peggy and I had eighty percent of the task in the bag. 

       

Ding dong The Donald’s gone,

 

And a predictably petulant departure with echoes of The Duce.


The man who made America grate again


Please can we all agree to resume stepping forwards rather than backwards.