Thursday, August 15, 2019

Leverets, Slurry and Puffing Like a Loon.

Right, back to the office.

Grass has grown, the fringe is a little long and then a tree fell down in high wind at the weekend. Well half a tree actually, a significant chunk of an ageing horse chestnut.

The wind seems to have blown constantly since we returned from Sardinia (Did I mention we'd been away?) which has made fishing, for those who have attempted it, decidedly difficult. Coupled with low crystal clear water and fish in mid season form with gimlet eyes keenly honed in on what is presented, this time of the year is always challenging.

A delicately presented Parachute Adams would be my fly of first choice fished on a longer line than one employ in May and June.

There is some succour to be had in that fishing will often pick up in September as those fish that do spawn have a final feed before making preparations to get jiggy in autumn.

Kingfishers have had a good year and each morning we disturb at least two as Otis, Moss and myself make our way up the river. Numbers of geese also honk and parade on the stubble fields behind our house.

We have Leverets on the river bank for the first time in my memory. There were a couple of hares hopping about the water meadows for most of the winter. Lepus prefer the fields and woods higher up the side of the valley and this pair can only have ended up where they are by coming through the wood and crossing one of three foot bridges.

That, or they swam across the river.

Several anglers have commented on the colour in the fringe and the range of wild flowers in the meadows. It does seem to be a good show this year particularly hemp agrimony in the top meadow and around the fishing hut and loosestrife in the fringe.

Unfortunately blanket weed has really taken hold. An insidious filamentous algae it thrives in water rich in phosphates and smothers the good weed like ranunculus and water parsnip. Not much lives in it and it is a sign of falling water quality and rising water temperature. It's the heaviest bloom of blanket weed for some summers.

Over on the Itchen ribbon weed is having the time of its life and each weed cut I have had to cut it back only for it to grow clear of the water within a matter of weeks.

I was over there swishing my scythe earlier this week and was dismayed to see this.

The next time the movers and shakers of the chalk stream world get together to talk phosphates and nitrates over coffee and fine biscuits could they invite this guy in the tractor along.

He spent a whole morning spreading pungent slurry onto a field sloping down to a water meadow ditch that leads into the main river. Farmers used to follow the weather but apparently no more. I was keenly monitoring the radar on a day to day basis, obviously for groundwater replenishment but also because we had two tickets for the first day of the Lords Test twenty four hours hence.

Twelve hours of rain had been forecast for some days. Forecasters were proved right and we await a refund for our blank day.

Some of the slurry that this guy could have chucked on another field or applied when rain was not forecast will have ended up in the ditch and subsequently the river.

While the mood is upon us, well done The Thunderer for their investigation the other week (3rd August) into water companies and their weasely ways with regard to the aquatic environment.

Keep it up.

Following our recent trip to Amsterdam where cycling had been a particular highlight we returned home and vowed to take to the pedals again.

Not the king of the mountains mamil lycra cult that seems to have taken hold over here, but normal bikes of Dutch design that you ride in everyday clothing in an upright position on a wide comfortable saddle often with a handy cargo box in front of the handlebars.

Research over the past few weeks has revealed that such bikes can be purchased with secret engines.

I get cross when I have to pedal up hills. Give me the flat hills of my homeland, or possibly the polders, over an incline anyday.

Hills are not fun to ride up on a bike.

With this in mind we are now the proud owners of a Dutch bike with a secret engine.

An ebike they call them.

It has a large cushioned saddle, a big rechargeable battery and a button that you can push to assist with the uphill bits. For my knackered knees it's a boon and you arrive at your destination (local shop, cricket ground, fish smokery, recycling centre) in a reasonable condition and not soaked in sweat, eyes bulging and puffing like a loon.

It's a trial period. If ebikes are not for us we'll move the thing on at the end of the summer.

If ebikes are for us we'll add another electric velocipede to the fleet later this year.

But for the moment, my name is Chris de Cani and I am an ebiker.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Grappa, Fags & Telling It Like It Is!

Un Momento, ancora una volta abbiaamo viaggiato molto.

I'll continue in the mother tongue as Google Translate just crashed.

A few days In Sardinia. The gulf of Orosei to be precise, about half way down on the right hand side and a repeat attempt to touch base with saline detective Monk Seal.

You can take it as read that the M25 was a mess and the trip to Gatwick took an hour longer than usual. The Easyjet flight to Olbia was delayed by over an hour. Inter rent the hopeless hire car company who we had trouble with in Milan took forty five minutes to hand over the keys. Picking the case up to pack in the car I tipped the entire contents out across the car park as I had forgotten to do it up after retrieving documentation and on leaving the airport Google maps failed, all navigation was lost, and we we circumnavigated a roundabout for several minutes before formulating a plan.

After a spectacular three hour drive through the mountains we pitched up at an apartment on the beach in the small town of Santa Maria Navarrese. Situated on a twelve mile wide plain hemmed in by the mountains and the sea, the only way in is by the two main roads over the mountains or by sea to the port of Arbatax. Most of what is put on a plate or tipped into a wine glass is produced on the plain.

We didn't have a duff meal or glass of grog all week, and can report that Sardinian Cannonau is a tremendous drop of grog and the locals can really work a tomato.

Up into the mountains first to clock up a few steps and spy the land
before driving along the Orientalale Sarda or the SS125 up to the village of Baunei for lunch. The mountains climb up to six thousand feet and most winters are topped with snow.

Hence the neatly stacked wood piles. The road is nuts and gets quite hairy at some points and also features regularly in the Giro D'Italia as both a climbing stage and descent.

To the beach in the afternoon. A spectacular strip of sand edged with verdant woodland and a crystal clear stretch of sea teeming with life. Each morning before breakfast we would take a snorkel, goggles and a handful of bread to feed fish to around eighteen inches in length that massed around some rocks in front of our apartment.

And so a pattern was set. Activity in the morning, good lunch, beach in the afternoon and out to dinner at night.

A walk to a prehistoric site one morning took us through some scrub that had been subject to the medium of fire a few weeks before. It must have been quite a burn with a few isolated dwellings looking a little singed.

Sardinia is covered with piles of rocks hand made around four to six thousand years ago. The Nuraghic civilization chucked up many stumpy little three tower complexes, often on a hill.

Well preserved, managed and maintained they litter the island.

There were also the remains of an earlier Dolmen,

And Menhirs By Toutatis!

Several evenings a week the chairs are dragged out from the 11th century church in Santa Maria Navarrese and people gather for a postprandial recital.

They have a programme that runs throughout the summer.

Could have been Puccini, Verdi or Rossini,

We don't know

I'll own that many subjects are a blind spot for this house. Classical music would be up there in the top ten, although we did see Pavarotti in the park.

Half an hour of this quintet coupled with some decidedly glugable Sardinian grog definitely aided digestion.

Captain Corelli would approve, or was that another island we've been to?

Tortolli next, a functional town with a supermarket that we needed to visit and a famous sprint finish on the Giro D'Italia.

Sardines or Sardinians as they prefer to be known are the longest lived people on planet earth. Several Asian cultures may dispute this and question the criteria for classifying a longest lived group of people, but a higher percentage of people on this island live to a hundred years old than anywhere else on earth.

Each month's qualifiers are photographed and asked to reveal the secret to their longevity.
The results are then displayed on the wall of Tortelli library.

Here's Raimonda who attributes her longevity entirely to tomatoes.

Riata insists faith has a part to play

Eugenio puts it down to fags

Mafalda Hebden, the local Grappa and Horology

Maria, furious knitting or possibly ectoplasm

And Giovannina, a hundred years of telling it like it is.

Whatever it is,

and by the way it has nothing to do with cycling any of the local stages of the Giro D'Italia, such activities would finish most all sane people,

they're on to something.

And then, all too soon, it was time to go home.

Not by blue lilo,

but back over the mountains to an Easyjet flight delayed by two and a half hours and chaos on the M25

Thanks to everyone who held the fort at home.

Our quest for Monk Seal?


We even managed to smuggle one home.

River news to follow.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Forty degree heat, Plagues of Insects and a New Pharaoh

And so it came to pass that a plague of peacocks, admirals and fritillaries was cast down, covering the face of the earth.

Damsel flies too,

but they have a more Arthurian feel about them and don't fit in with the current biblical tone of the piece.

Yes we are butterfly rich.

The aforementioned trio are joined by many meadow browns and much more besides.

The place is alive with the things along with several different species of damsel fly. Walk along the bank and the neighbouring piece of fen or meadow erupts with colourful winged insects. There are also several broods of very young pheasant chicks that scurry into the long stuff as we approach.

It is very hot and while I make my way up the bank in the morning Moss and Otis mostly chart a route up the middle of the river. For much of the two days of clearing down at the end of the weed cut, Moss ran up and down the river with weed in his mouth

while Otis adopted a static position midstream and had to be cleared of cut weed every few minutes.

For three days it has been very hot.

Tuesday saw a high of 39.2 Celsius under the parasol in our garden and I watered the greenhouse in just my shorts.

Thursday peaked at 40. 8 Celsius and I briefly considered watering the pots in one garment less.

Heathrow makes great play of its "record temperatures" which often seem to be several degrees down on measurements taken in our sheltered sun trap of a garden.

I've no reason to doubt the clever digital machine.

If GCSE physics serves, measuring air temperature is a fairly simple science that invokes the power of seaweed and pine cones so in your face Heathrow airport and Cambridge Botanists,

our back garden was the hottest place in these Isles the other day.

Or was the seaweed pine cone thing about rainfall?

No matter, we've had a little bit of that too. Spectacular thunderstorms in the night triggered by the heat. The showers have been fairly intense and have done nothing for the river but my broad beans did swell a little.

It will come as no surprise that fishing in these conditions can be a tricky business particularly from late morning to early evening.

There is fly about, but in bright light and low clear water fish get a very good look at what is a natural offering and what is an artificial.

Fish have been caught, including some considerable lumps,but one fish in the bag at this time of the year is the equivalent of four in late May.

Fish are at their most active first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but most lie dogo on the bed of the river for much of the day.

If you are on the river in the afternoon, linger over lunch, perhaps have a zizz and conserve energy for coming off the final bend in the manner of Coe and Ovett to take the line later in the evening.

We also have a few of these. Small pods of grayling around four inches in length. Two year old fish at a guess when spawning must have gone well. It certainly didn't three years ago as there is a dearth of fish in that age group.

The local news wallahs have just reported that our local water company and command centre central are warning of the possible implementation of restrictions on water use.

Come on the Weasels and Dunderheads, this was all too obvious at the start of summer.

Which is probably why they were petitioned in April by twenty trusts and organisations over concerns about water supply following a sixth dry winter in succession.

To recap, The Weasel's response fifty days ago was

"We do not expect hosepipe bans this summer"

The Dunderheads chipped in with:

"We are taking action to minimise the environmental impacts should we have a repeat of last summer's weather"

Once again,

Weasels! Dunderheads! Numbskulls!

Zero replenishment of the aquifers in the past fifty days was not the most difficult prediction to make.

Our aquifers and groundwater deserve better than shady dividend obsessed private water companies and an underfunded environmental protection (because that's what their remit is) agency.

For the allegorical among you it's a Sher Khan and Mowgli situation. With Sher Khan the private water companies, Mowgli the beleaguered Environment Agency and Man's Great Fire the Groundwater of the South East of England.

Who will be our Baloo?

Come on Baggy, get with the beat.

Once again, our precious groundwater supply is in the hands of Weasels, Dunderheads and Numbskulls.

And on that note.

The age of the Johnson is upon us and this particular member has been picking his team.

The Pharaoh has banished the cove Gove to the plains of Lancaster and his place as Environment Secretary filled by a fruit farmer from Cornwall. The newly appointed Viceroy for India, formerly the right honourable member for the 19th century has called for a return to imperial measurement. Jake has also distributed a list of words that he doesn't want people to use, called for the return of 2 star petrol and for all members to promote the many uses of a dead whale.

Prig was not on the list,

and if you're reading this Jake, the temperatures listed earlier in the piece come in at around four pecks and a bushel shy of a perch.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Weed, a Kaleidoscope of Colours and The Munchies

Hell's Horses it's hot.

The air temperature may hang around the mid twenties but the temperature inside my neoprene waders as I thrash away at verdant weed growth with my scythe must be double that. For the supporters of the sous vide cooking method, a slice of sirloin steak in a plastic bag secreted in my shorts should achieve medium rare status in a little over two and a half hours.

It's one of the more challenging weed cuts I can remember. There is plenty of weed but no water. Blanket weed is also having a high old time of it. A filamentous algae, it likes low warm water and phosphates and can swamp weed like ranunculus and water celery. It will also quickly occupy any areas of dead water. Raking down early next week will be an interminable business. Twenty five years ago I would rise at six and have much of the business done by mid morning (there is no data or graph to confirm this only anecdotal evidence) Next week it may take the best part of a day and a half. Graphs and data don't demonstrate a decline in the discharge of the Dever but anecdotal evidence suggests that the principle reason it will take me this much longer to clear weed down next week is that there is less water flowing down this river than there was twenty five years ago.

But like I said, EA and Water company monitoring of groundwater levels in this valley do not reflect this chronic decline.

Which remains a worry.

Over on the Itchen ribbon weed is very much king and last week I went bananas with the scythe in order to keep it in check. Water levels over there are also low.

Back on the Dever the meadows remain unmown as orchids continue to appear. I don't like to fire up the topper until they have finished.

The top fen is a kaleidascope of colours and the place is alive with butterflies, damsel flies and many other critters with the munchies that fizz about the agrimony, meadowsweet, loostrife, willow herb, comfrey and further flora.

Our garden continues to play host to the mother of all hedgehogs. Each evening she crashes her way through the undergrowth like a miniature boar to seek liquid sustenance at our pond. I am told that in prolonged dry spells nursing hedgehogs can sometimes abandon their hoglets to source some of the old eau. A self preservation instinct as a certain amount of water must be taken on board in order to prevent dehydration when producing a ready supply of milk for her brood.
While scraping our current crop of second earlies at the sink the other day, a harvest that is frequently described as "failed" I caught sight of an adult grass snake easing her way around the pond. Regular readers will know that we often entertain grass snakes in our garden and our crap cat will occasionally bring a baby wriggler in through the patio doors of an evening.

Last winter, or was it the one before, memory wise one does seem to blend into the other of late,

where was I,

Oh yes,

Tidying the workshop I disturbed an adult grass snake around 30 inches in length hibernating under the work bench, which made me start a little.

Anyway the reason for all this spiny shrew and reptile talk is that hedgehogs and snakes are quite tolerant of each other. Hedgehogs have some inbuilt immunity to snake venom. (You may want to have a look at that one Pfizer) Ok the snakes in our garden are of the harmless variety but brer hedgehog hasn't read the I spy book of snakes so how is she to know that the Bransbury Nagini is not about to give forth of the old venom.

A splash of water in a garden will provide succour to all manner of beasts not just those of the aquatic variety.

Yes garden ponds are a good thing, the more unkempt the better.

Ours was hewn from solid rock by minors,

not miners


Years ago when children were small and Madam worked some weekends in a retail emporia in return for a discount card and entry to a company share scheme (The shares financed the deposit for a house purchase) Time had to be filled while mother was away so I came up with the idea of a couple of small ponds in the garden. Two fibre glass models were bought on the local black market for just over ten pounds and the project was up and running.
It's a small garden but sites were decided upon and spades were put in the ground. Ten inches down we hit the chalk. The fibre glass ponds were just under three feet deep so it was out with the peck, shovel and the metal beach spades from Fowey and at the chalk we went. I the foreman, the two primary school children the workforce chipping away at the bedrock. We were against the clock as candles and canaries were out of the question as it would mean a breaking of the bedtime curfew, but by four in the afternoon we'd chipped enough chalk away for both the ponds to be fitted.

That was twenty years ago and one of the ponds remains valid and teems with life. The other sprung a leak after I fell off a ladder standing on frozen ground while cleaning windows, but that's another story with echoes of Buster Keaton.

Referring back to canaries we've the odd parakeet about at the moment. They pop in now and again and are easily identified as a flying "T" with an irksome screech. Fishing is hard work, even for July. Most fish are soporific during the day feeding occasionally. Concentrating their efforts on a sub surface repast they will occasionally be drawn to a well presented parachute or klinkhammer. They are easily spooked in low clear water and perfect presentation is key.

Well the cricket ended well.

We didn't attend, we've tickets for the Test later in the year, but goodness England have got the hang of the fifty over format.

Fitbits will confirm that Madam and myself trod over twenty thousand steps on the day of the final, most of them pacing around the settee and in and out of the kitchen in order to get both TV and radio coverage.

The 2005 Ashes series has a huge impact on a generation of junior cricketers, It certainly did on the junior cricketer who lived in our house.

Fingers crossed this world cup success has a similar effect. The football season is nearly upon us and I fully expect a Pardew moment when, after the roaring success of the 2012 Olympics, Pardew spouted in a TV interview

"yes, yes the Olympics were a great success with some tremendous sporting behaviour but let's not forget the noble game of football and its great sporting tradition"

Only to be sent to the stands three week into the season for headbutting a player on the touchline.