Thursday, 19 January 2023

International Kidney, Fallow Deer and Brer Beaver

A belated Happy New Year everyone, 

sorry it’s taken so long but to quote Jack Lennon: 

Strange Days indeed, most peculiar mama. 

First morning of the year found Madam, Moss and myself once again bumbling about on the common. Puddles aplenty and a triptych of egret. The Great, the Little and The Cattle. 

Not seen a Cattle Egret before. A stumpy cousin of the other two, and who knows what shakras, portents and runes have been invoked regarding prospects for the new year following it’s presence in the valley on the first day of the new year, but we press on regardless through the month all the same. 

By the way, the Silver Birch pictured above stood and struggled in the centre of the common for many years. A favourite perch of the many avian oddities that dropped in, it was sad to see that it had succumbed to the wind, although it never looked like it was having a happy time of it despite it's array of exotic visitors. 

Muntjac currently mass in this part of the valley and our small garden currently plays host to a substantial, if slovenly male who nibbles daintily at any green shoots presented. Down on the common we took in the resident heard of twenty fallow deer. 

Out bumbling in Harewood Forest, Child A/Maisie (status - married and a few months shy of thirty years old – how did that happen) took in a group of fifty or more fallow.  

While we’re on the age of children and fallow deer, we recently had cause to travel up to the smoke for Child B/ William’s twenty eighth birthday (once again, how did that happen) Recently accustomed to living high on the hog we were directed to a michelin starred gastro pub to provide a celebratory lunch, where the star of the show was fallow deer, possibly from Hampshire served several ways, the centre piece of which was a piece of fillet. 

Anyway, enough social stuff, 

and that really is the sum of my social movements this past few weeks. 

There are days when the only communication I have is with Madam and Moss, Like Lord Ludg I’ve taken to popping into shops with little intention of making a purchase only to converse lightly with poorly paid orderlies on matters of the day. 

The river, yes the river. 

Well rain has done a lot of good. 

Not an exceptional amount as some would have us believe, but it is good to see spring ditches flowing and a bunch of big puddles in the field known across the ages as “Spring Bottom” 

There’s still no water on the football pitch and no flow down the road yet. 

If the new series of Dancing on Ice take the show out on tour I’d like to offer my allotment as a possible venue. It’s a serious frost pocket and digital equipment hanging from shed recorded several nights of minus ten degrees prior to the festive season. If anyone has a reliable source of International Kidney seed potatoes, don’t be a stranger, can’t find any anywhere and they seem to do quite well here as a first early. 

With all the rain I’ve held back on shifting silt as the river is doing a perfectly good job on it’s own. Most work has centred around planet chainsaw with several trees of all denominations cashing in their chips. The latest a couple of lanky Aspen that fell across the track at the bottom of the Andyke. 

News Just In: 

A tentative online order for International Kidney seed potatoes has delivered a surfeit of the things. Seems they got my order wrong and I now have half the UK supply of International Kidney seed potatoes. If any body needs any, don’t be a stranger, I’ve enough for several acres. 

Confusion reigned this week in the valley over a speech given by new EA chairman Alan Lovell in Hampshire. Years ago an Alan Lovell gave a presentation to keepers and owners regarding groundwater data and river flow in the region, in which hapless Alan stated that flows on the Wallop Brook had been particularly reasonable for the previous year only for a now retired and very venerable keeper on the middle river to stand up and reveal that the Wallop Brook had run underground throughout a significant length of it’s course during the period that Alan claimed all had been ok with regards to flow.

Several keeper’s remember the moment when the quality of Alan’s data was questioned. 

Seems there is more than one Alan Lovell. 

Fingers crossed the chap featured in The Thunderer this week is not the same said man, and the original Alan has taken a more creative course, as he seemed to be doing with regards to data presented. 

One thing that whichever Alan Lovell it was who gave the latest presentation got right was the need for anybody with an interest in the aquatic environment to lobby their MPs with regard to the dropping of EU standard environmental protections. Pre Brexit, EU law was used successfully to hold several to account over their trashing of the aquatic environment or a failure to adequately protect the aquatic environment.  

New son in law got in touch last week with a link to a newspaper article regarding Beavers in Hampshire, and he wasn’t referencing the scouting association. 

Apparently some misguided soul with far too much money and very little knowledge of the chalk stream environment has got themselves a couple of beavers and built a big pen on a water course not far from here. 

The aim is to promote them as the future of chalk stream management. 

At which point could I question all those trusts, associations and dimbulbs who promoted the removal of all hatches and sluices on the chalk streams in the quest to eliminate “perched streams”  Hatches and sluices that had for years done the job that can only be described as “Beaver Plus” and managed by an animal with a bigger brain and capable of more sympathetic management with regard to what water goes where. 

Beavers may be of benefit to the headwaters of river systems prone to high levels of direct run off following heavy rain, where their wooden dams delay the entrance of heavy rain to a river system, but in chalk valleys this is not a problem, 

So come on all you Trusts who purport to have great knowledge of the Chalk Rivers, who, over the years, have promoted the cause of letting water go rather than holding it up. Stand up and say that the UK’s rivers vary greatly in characteristic and Beavers may not be the answer for all.

Wouldn't it have been preferable to raise knowledge of how to use those hatches and sluices to promote the aquatic environment and biodiversity rather than rip the things out altogether.  There's a wealth of lost knowledge on how to manage water in a chalk valley, and those guys who built most of those hatches sluices had a lot more water to manage than we do today, 

but no, chances are it could be over to you Brer Beaver.

Thursday, 15 December 2022

Johnny Cash in the Attic and Ally McCoist's Absolutely Bingo

Hello again, hello, 

Thank you Neil, It’s good to say hello. 

This corner of the internet seems to have been neglected of late so herewith is a brief resume of movements completed over the past few weeks, interesting or otherwise. 

Well the river is on the rise and springs are definitely a little more moist but keep it coming please. Preparations remain underway for next summer and I've been pulling cress and introducing flowing water to areas of river where an awful lot of muck has built up during the summer. It’s the equivalent of a giving a small child a good scrub behind the ears or a grandparent moistening a handkerchief to rub vigorously at a mark on the same said small child. 

We’re currently on hiatus from precipitation and the temperature has struggled to climb above freezing for a few days, in horse racing parlance the frost is well and truly “set in the ground” 

While we’re on sport the football’s been quite good. Ok this house was highly critical when “fingers” Blatter awarded the world cup to Qatar and yes this guff has been chucked into the ether for quite a few years. But football in air conditioned halls has been a good watch with few dead rubbers. Raised on Ron Jones and Brian Butler I am quick to pick up a poor pundit and spent much of the group stage matches on ITV playing Ally McCoist’s “Absolutely” Bingo.

The rules are as follows: choose ten numbers between one and a hundred. During the game to which Ally will be providing professional insight (and from one striker to another he wasn’t a bad footballer) each time he utters the word “absolutely” mark the minute in which he made the utterance and if it matches your selected number apply the marker and a life supply of toilet rolls could soon be yours. 

I think somebody had a word during the round of last sixteen matches as Ally didn’t utter a single “absolutely” which could draw the eye of the bet fixing wallahs, but he chucked a few in during the quarter final commentary by way of balance. 

And while we’re on punditry, and apologies if I’ve gone off on one here but it’s been a while, what’s going on with Sky cricket? 

Two years ago we were instructed on the art of bat on ball by chaps in tight trousers surrounding a plinth, hand on hip squeezing out every last drop of machismo and testosterone available to their ageing glands. 

Today, for the terrific series in Pakistan (quite a result by the way) we are instructed by a louche bunch kicking back on low slung sofas and scatter cushions in an attempt to infer a Joan Bakewell cerebral feel. Stuart Broad has been dandified and affects the tone of the dishonourable member for the eighteenth century while delivering analysis. Kumar Sangakkara continues his quest to become what hw would describe as the “thinking man’s” pundit while Ian Ward has been tidied up significantly. 

Further news from TV land I was caught out by the listings the other day when clicking on “Classic Cash in the Attic” with the expectation of finding the black clad country crooner banging out Jackson in a small venue, only to take in a moth eared bunch attempting to convince Joe Public that those dusty chattels in a box in the loft could be worth a few pence. 

The frosty fields and dusting of snow betray a large number of Lepus on the fields behind our home, it’s hard work making a scrape on such hard ground. There are many muntjac and roe deer many of whom wander up to the strips of maize because food is getting a little thin on the ground. 

It was quite a surprise to learn of the passing of Nick Fisher the other week. His TV show “Screaming Reels” was ground breaking as fishing programmes go as was some of his radio work. He wrote on fishing matters in The Shooting Times for many years, ceding alternate weeks of his 850 word column to your correspondent for a number of years. 

He was no age and has gone far too soon.

Friday, 4 November 2022

Wind, Conkers and a Triumph Dolomite


still here. 

Just been a bit busy that’s all, or should that read just been trying to keep myself a bit busy. 

A few things have happened, most of which I have already forgotten.

Oh yes, the wind, that was it. 

It’s blown quite hard a few times in the last month with trees various cashing in their chips. One Sunday evening before the clocks went back the valley was plagued by mini tornadoes. Some were caught on camera, ours went pictorially unrecorded, but for a few minutes the rain was going sideways outside our kitchen window and the sky assumed a spooky hue. 

We had ash across the road, ash in the river and an old fruit tree fell across a Bransbury resident’s drive. The English’s extensive vegetable garden with high end raised beds was also smashed to pieces. 

For many years the failed old fruit tree formed part of a ground breaking garden feature that included a maroon Triumph Dolomite beneath it’s boughs. An old boy called Bill Goddard lived at the residence at the time along with his donkey called Conkers. The fruit tree was fairly ancient and in the ten or so years that Bill and our time in Bransbury coincided, the Triumph Dolomite never moved once, he just strimmed around it once a fortnight. 

The neighbour to Bill’s semi detached donkey and dolomite haven was a man of a similar vintage called Mac. They were both hard of hearing and if their choice of TV programme of an evening did not match up, volume wars would break out with various soaps turned up to eleven and easily audible on the south bank of the river. They also both enjoyed a drink, bursting into renditions of popular standards that included “That’s whisky that way” and “The old Wooden Cross” Bill was a lone wolf throughout the time I knew him although fearsome Mac’s paramour was a lady in the village called Win whose hair colour changed with the wind, Mac also had a very angry German Shepherd called Otto who I still have nightmares about. 

We’ve hoiked the ash out of the river and the ash on the road was dealt with in fading light much to the frustration of a member of local town society of a certain age. The Highway to the Sun was also affected by tree failure, said member was trying to get back to town and why had I chosen the last hour of the Sabbath to fell a tree onto the road and didn’t I know that Songs of Praise was on? 

I informed him that we had experienced some unusual weather conditions in the last hour and assured him that I would be as quick as I could, he could always catch up on The Antiques Roadshow on Iplayer. 

A fairly fit looking cove, who seemed to know nothing of Iplayer, he then sat in his car with steam coming out of his ears as I leisurely attended to the toppled timber in fast fading light. 

I'm just guessing Sir, but I'd say you live alone. 

Chainsawing in fading light by the way, not to be recommended, especially with a couple of glasses of wine on board and a belly full of roast beef and roast potatoes. I walked up the road in the morning to find I’d left a lot of gear behind following manoeuvres the previous evening including one pair of gloves, my chainsaw helmet and a five litre can of chain oil. 

In other tree news, the same cyclone sent a substantial willow into the top pool on the Itchen. Immediately below the road bridge the flow is quite high, weed had been cut and it had all become a bit of a tangled mess. Careful approaches upstream were made in waders with chainsaw in hand and each cut limb floated downstream to a point where it could be pulled out with the Jimny. A steady job, I was joined halfway through by Pat, the keeper who looks after the opposite bank. 

A welcome addition to the party as it is a tricky spot to be on your own and I am of an age. 

As is always the case when keepers meet, chat develops. 

Sans hearing aids (me not Pat, Pat doesn’t need them, although…) we waded into the middle of the river to stand on a gravel bar at the tail of the pool for increased conviviality and to reduce the number of times I was required to shout across the river “I can’t hear you Pat” Conversation ensued on a wide range of subjects from the "deep dish" to the nonsensical before our eye was drawn to movement on the bank. An Otter was bumbling it’s way along the fringe, it passed under the Jimny before sliding into the river. It then swam upstream gliding within six feet of us before fishing in the pool for a few minutes. 

It knew we were there, I swear it winked at us as it passed but wary of us it most certainly wasn’t, a cocky fecker I’d suggest that it was an old juvenile/young adult. 

Wind has been accompanied by welcome rain in the last few weeks. It’s a good start to the winter and there has been enough flow to aid the shifting of the large banks of watercress that were allowed to grow in to pinch the flow in late summer. The task is normally aided by a few hard frosts which sap the watercress’s strength, but hard frosts have yet to materialise. Allowing watercress to grow out into the river inhibits other weed growth, so it is always good to get it gone when it’s usefulness has passed. 

Attending to another fallen tree in the wood last week I was surrounded by head high nettles that are still hot and could also do with a hard frost to encourage them to wind their neck in. 

Done a bit of planking. Ash and Beech mostly for seats, benches and bridges. The beech was one that Lord Ludg and myself dragged up the road with the tractor around four years back. The ash came down the same summer in the wood. 

In poultry news, the chooks are now holed up in a chicken run.

We like having them wander around the place, during the pandemic they acquired celebrity status and featured on several social media platforms as people paraded along the lane in the name of exercise and the chooks duly performed. Our island status affords us protection from some serious fish diseases that prevail on the continent, but island status affords us no protection from avian diseases and annual patterns of migration. I don’t like locking up the chooks, but it is a big run on grass and if it helps to minimise the impact of avian flu this winter then it seems the responsible thing to do, 

that and we do like the eggs, and haven’t they got expensive of late? 

I think that’s it, not much else to report regarding the future, other than the usual query about the development of Hover Shoes (Bleep and Booster assured us in the 1976 Blue Peter annual that we would all be wearing them by now) We currently have the odd rod arrive to bother grayling, and I am instructed to make preparation for another summer on the Dever at Bransbury, which would be great, but at the moment everything still feels a tad odd.

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

A Gentle Return to Guff and the Price of Pollock.

Right, I’ll have a go at guff. 

Still in a state of stasis to be honest, my prophetic powers are much diminished and the immediate future remains unclear. 

A position that many people have had to deal with throughout their lives, so I’m not going down the “poor me” route as we have had a good run for many decades kicking back riding the gravy train with biscuit wheels. 

Madam and myself were due some upheaval. 

But matters following demise (and I’m relatively new to this game) do seem to take a long time to sort out. It may be down to Pavlov’s dog, Schrodinger’s cat or some disgruntled corgi who belonged to the queen, we don’t know, but cogs do seem to turn interminably slowly.

Anyway, I have assumed “caretaker” status and am just keeping things ticking over. Normally at this time of the year with the trout fishing season coming to an end, I’d sit down with my employer to discuss impending winter work. Bridges to be built, trees to be truncated, banks that require repair, machinery that needs replacing, any changes required for the next season and what money needs to be spent where. Minutes would be taken on the back of an envelope and several cups of coffee drunk in preparation for the switch from summer to winter work. 

Perennial work of cutting hedges, pollarding willows and putting the place to bed for the winter are a given, but beyond that, who knows?

The river remains low although fishing has picked up, as it often does towards the end of the season. Watercress is allowed to creep out from the bank, squeezing the river to maintain as high a rate of flow as possible. Weed has also been allowed to grow clear of the water in order to give the fish population a little cover from predators who will fill their boots in low water conditions. Recent rain has done little for the aquifer, this valley needs months of precipitation to get itself back in reasonable order. Ovine experiments have ceased in the field behind our home and just last week it was put to the plough. The soil bought to the surface by the angled passage of the share was decidedly dry, 

once again we need an awful lot of rain in these parts to restore some sort of normal aquatic order. 

Well we’ve lit the fire. 

Log rich and with heating oil prices still high (down to five times what we paid in May 2020 as opposed to ten a few months ago) we’re burning high end, super seasoned wood as fast as we can. The “ying” of the current energy crisis is countered by the “yang” of the onset of the ash dieback. We’ve the mother of all wood burners, and fired up to the max, with judicious shutting of doors on unoccupied rooms in the east wing, it will just about heat the whole house. For numerous reasons we’ve given up drawing a bath, sticking to the shower and click the boiler on for an hour each day to heat a tank of water. Things may be different should circumstances change and a cold snap arrives, but we are fortunate to be in a position where we have limitless logs and a massive wood burner, many will not be so fortunate this winter. 

On a similar note we have two chest freezers full of produce from the allotment, plus a small potato clamp and several strings of onions. I don’t know where the current crop of clowns who run the shitshow into which we have been thrust get their inflation figures from, and ok my addled brain and it’s ability to do maths, but the price of some foodstuffs is rising at a rate way beyond stated inflationary figures – Madam’s frozen fish of first choice (Pollock in bread crumbs) has more than doubled in price in the space of a month and her preferred accompanying condiment (Heinz tomato ketchup) is not far behind.

Wine’s going up too, which is a worry. 

I think that’s it, there is probably a lot more I should chuck in, but for various reasons, (principally a fuzzy brain) I will refrain. 

Back soon, hopefully with a little more pep, vim and vigour. Philomena Cunk will help.

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.