Friday 30 November 2012

Henry the Green Engine

Winter has now begun and birds various have flocked to the valley. Hundreds of Pigeons are hammering the rape in the adjoining fields and the jolly farmer has deemed it necessary to scatter pigeon bangers across the parish, which won’t do much for the neighbouring Partridge shoot. Fifty odd Greylags make regular sorties along the river line and the afternoon trees play host to hundreds of Finches and Siskin. On the radio the perennial Metro Sexual Tit has put in an appearance, garnered with an O level in hyperbola he declared on the lunch time news that the country was in the grip of a nationwide flood crisis, implying that survival was not a “given”. After retrieving my sandwiches from where they had been thrown an “angry from Bransbury” email was fired off to the radio station concerned.

Pictures on the left should countenance any fears of impending doom. This river is barely flooding, there is plenty of space in the aquifer for many more weeks of rain, The amount of rain that we have received during November is nothing special and far from being the wettest winter month on record.
Some rivers have flooded, but some rivers are meant to flood. The Ouse will always break its banks as it passes through York, The Severn and upper Thames jump at the chance of letting it all hang out on pasture in the flood plain.

Up close and personal, the force of a river in flood is an impressive sight. Further forays in the name of further education, found child B and myself heading West on what used to be the Great Western Railway. Departing from Swindon to Cardiff on a cattle truck of a train we stood in the buffet car taking in the flooded fields and swollen rivers that passed by. After ten minutes Driver McGhyver announced that we would be taking a detour, there were puddles ahead and our journey would now take in the sights of Bristol and beyond. Ten minutes later we stopped in a tunnel. The “screaming oojahs” had passed through our house during the week and child B, already nervous at projected delays to his arrival for his interview was now going green and looking like he was about to redistribute his breakfast amongst the occupants of the crowded carriage. Further complications arose as we recalled Rev Awdry’s fable of Henry the Green engine who was bricked up because he didn’t want to come out in the rain, mental plans were made to abandon a day that was going from bad to worse, but thankfully after fifteen minutes our journey resumed, a direct result of a sound thrashing from the Fat Controller or puddles that had been mopped up, we shall never know, but we rattled into Cardiff to be met by torrential rain, eighty thousand rugby fans and a very impressive University.

On our return a day of rain had added colour to the river which had risen an inch and the puddles on the road were of a substantial size. Forty eight hours later the river had dropped an inch and had cleared enough to reveal trout spawning hard in the increased flow

and weed that was cut in October resuming its growth. A few dry frosty days and the river has crept up a tad as the latest deluge has worked its way down into the aquifer to increase the groundwater flow. Puddles lie through the wood and footprints and prod holes betray a few Woodcock that have moved into the woods in recent weeks. There are also a few Snipe about on the top water meadow making the most of the flashes and splashes and the Egret has returned to mooch about in the streams through the Mill house garden.

When the water is on the rise it becomes apparent that the folk who built and laid out this mill knew what they were about. A puddled channel, half a mile long and gun barrel straight bar a kink near the top, maintains a height of water in front of the house four feet above the natural level of the river to spin the wheel. It was dug by hand hundreds of years to drive a Mill that has stood in the water meadows on no foundations and not flooded in recent memory. The hatch in front of the house, installed in 1846 and a hatch at the top where the mill stream leaves the main riverl gives complete control over water levels and flow down the river and mill stream. The EU’s Water Framework Directive will recommend the removal of some hatches up and down the river, and in some cases the river will benefit, on this stretch of the Dever the removal of these two hatches would have a detrimental effect on the main river as most of the water would trundle down the man made channel. For ninety percent of the time we leave the hatch at the top open, with any surplus water pushing down the Mill stream, subsequently for much of the year the man made channel is too wide for the amount of water flowing down it, and deposition of silt occurs.

Over the years we have done our best to improve the Mill stream through the planting of marginals on both banks cutting back hedges and trees to allow light into the channel and introducing a few sexy wiggles on the way along with a series of casting platforms. This has speeded up the flow in the top two thirds of the channel, improved weed growth, fish habitat and biodiversity as a whole. Ducks in particular enjoy the sanctuary of the overgrown far bank.

The bottom third in front of the Mill is a typical piece of impounded stream, slow with silt, but not void of life. This is the only section that would benefit from the removal of the hatch in front of the house, it is man made and half of it has a concrete bottom, it never will be a classic piece of chalkstream so does it merit the attention of the chalkstream restoration squad? it is an impounded piece of water and has been for hundreds of years, alongside the need to maintain and improve chalkstream biodiversity runs a requirement to recognise the historical status of some of the sites on the chalkstreams, used correctly these two hatches give control over the water in the valley in the half mile immediately upstream, as they have done for hundreds of years.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Get a grip Dave!

More mire for the BBC to beat its brow over as Dave Arch suffers a dodgy orchestral performance at Wembley, particularly during Denise’s Charleston. Will Bruce be issuing an apology after next week’s dance number two as opposed to the usual eulogy to the ear muffled maestro?

Fishing on the Frome was fun. A substantial stretch just below Dorchester and a little larger than the Dever, it was dropping after rain three days prior and had just about got itself back within its banks. Trotted maggot accounted for sixteen grayling including a fish 47cm long that I estimated to weigh around two and a half pounds.

Even the smallest fish gave considerable battle on a stick float fished on two and a bit pound line and the big fish tail walked twice before succumbing to the net; hook a big grayling on the Dever and they are more inclined to chug around on the bottom . My host hooked a six pound salmon on double maggot on a size eighteen hook that leapt twice before throwing the hook quashing the myth that salmon do not feed in fresh water, the water was coloured and I can’t imagine that a red and white maggot drifting slowly by would invoke Salmo Salar’s aggressive instincts. I picked up a couple of trout, but grayling predominate and it would be no surprise if a British record fish is caught from this river this year or next.

The Water Framework Directive meeting was interesting, well presented and informative. Further meetings/summits are promised from various parties over the coming months and for one not used to sitting down indoor under electric light for any length of time, I can feel a serious case of “meeting fatigue” coming on.
In essence, previous surveys conducted in the name of the WFD have deemed the Test and Itchen to be in a “failing state” reports will be issued to relevant parties as to the work that is required to bring the rivers up to an “improving state” in the coming months. Compliance is currently voluntary, and the whole shemozzle relies heavily on keepers and riparian owners buying into the idea. In terms of Fishery Management, there are some very sound principles proposed, with a dusting of the daft, “black and white” thinking that needs to be a little more grey, although not fifty shades, and to use current parliamentary parlance, those who walk each bend of the chalkstreams each and every day in the name of riverkeeping are still viewed in some quarters as “a bunch of plebs” whose opinion counts for nought. The Directive is EU derived, and fines are promised to those countries who have not reached the required standard by 2015, but it remains to be seen how the failing economies of the southern EU meet the criteria of the Directive when their coffers contain five eighths of f*** a**.

The Lanes around here are regularly clogged with those seeking to have their photo taken hugging an Ash tree before the lot are wiped out by Christmas, and my mate Ash continues to lament the fact that little concern was shown over his fungal infected feet that he has had to bear for several years, and will not now meet the medico for fear of being prescribed a course of burning at the stake.
We now have a couple of baskets of eggs in the hatching troughs, a little later than most years and the fish in the river have started kicking up their redds. Invasion by Swans is imminent and thirty plus make forays upstream from the common, causing consternation amongst the Indian Runners who had claimed this domain as their own.
On the Itchen, some large Grayling have been taken from the top pool on some super fast sinking nymphs that may also have drawn the eye of a few Salmon that also currently reside in the pool.

The week was finished at Cheltenham with the Countryside race day the warm up to Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup. For several years we took Greyhounds and run them behind a lure on the finishing straight around lunchtime as one of many pre race country sport demonstrations. The long wet grass sometimes caused problems and on more than one occasion I was reduced to chasing a Greyhound with a lure in its mouth trailing a hundred yards of string back down the straight in front of a cast of thousands, while my employer tried to explain where it had all gone wrong from the commentary box high in the stand. For the past few years a parade of hounds and other demonstrations has sufficed

Friday saw clouds on Cleeve Hill and drizzle on the wind. Racing seems to be fairly recession proof as a large crowd turned out for a Friday afternoon over the jumps. Two races in, neither of the horses that I backed finished as the going proved to be quite heavy, the second ridden by teak tough Tony McCoy who was recently kicked in the face by one of his steeds receiving thirty stitches in his fizz and a touch of plastic surgery, the very next day he rode two winners.

At the height of the cold war there was a myth that if the bomb ever went off, from the resulting rubble and dust the indestructible Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones would rise to exclaim:

“I saw the lights and I thought we were on”

to the list of indestructible survivors I would add my wobbly Spaniel who would wobble from the fall out held on a lead by Tony McCoy.

Before the start of the third race I was standing next to the parade ring taking in the next lot of horses and earwigging an interesting debate between a man and his wife over bets placed on the next race. Sir had been dispatched to the Tote to place Madam's bets, drink had been taken on board and during the short walk from parade ring to bookie he completely forgot his beloved's selection. The money was placed on the wrong horse and five minutes before the start of the race she was berating him for his uselessnes.

In a triumph for drunken blundering a tense race ensued in which the horse that the husband had mistakenly chosen beat his wife's initial selection by a head.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Pictures that move in a U shaped tube

Last Sunday we experienced continuous rain from two in the morning until midday, a dog bowl left outside indicated that around two inches had fallen. Within twenty four hours the media was awash with advice on the highest hill to head for and plans to build an ark. The river here rose a few inches and for the first time in several years I had to monitor the hatch in front of the house at intervals throughout the morning, tweaking it open inch by inch to let excess water go while maintaining a regular river level. Twenty four hours later the river had returned to the level it was at on Saturday and was of sufficient clarity for a trio of Frenchmen to bang out a dozen Grayling.

The water meadows are spongy and there are puddles, but the aquifers and springs are not so excessively full that it is time to start pairing up animals and heading for the hills. Rain from now through to March does the chalkstreams the world of good. The flush through of water that this stretch received on Sunday is the equivalent of a long overdue scrub behind the ears by an enthusiastic aunt. For two and a bit years this river has gone unwashed with diminishing winter flows leading to a build up of all sorts of gunk in the river channel. The foam on the water at the end of broken water the equivalent of the tide mark on the side of the bath and a sign that some of the nutrients and organic matter built up in the river in the past few years have been washed away. The weed will love it, ranunculus in particular, and with a few wet months there may well be weed to cut in April for the first time in many years.

A couple of sharp frosts have sent leaves a tumbling, the large Mulberry ditched its duds in one night, and a line of leaves flows steadily down the river, the bugs and beetles that fell with them providing an exotic meal for both Grayling and Trout who still show little sign of moving onto the shallows to spawn. The Oaks cling onto their leaves and maintain a weak shade of green, and the Amber opposite the fishing hut is spectacular in the right light.

There are plenty of Pheasants in the wood along the river and the field behind our house seems to be holding a lot of French Partridge. The jolly folk on the neighbouring estate drove it “en echelon” for the first time while we were in Lisbon, not sure how they got on but there still seem to be plenty about for the next time through.

All the funny fungi are up, I haven’t picked many mushrooms this year but some of the other fungal oddities that put in an appearance each autumn seem to have done quite well. I am hopeless at identifying anything but an edible mushroom and I have a “Fungal App” for my phone, that the youth of today seem to find quite amusing, although I am still in the dark over most.

My favourite is a bracket fungus that appears each year on the stump of an immense ash tree that was felled a decade ago at an age of one hundred and seventy years plus. It doesn’t look much from above, but from below, to my eye, it resembles an Armitage Shanks toilet pan.

Concern was shown in a recent newspaper article over birds in the garden exceeding their recommended daily alcohol intake of four units and “giving it large” on fermenting Rowan berries. With the failure of the grape crop in our garden, the blackbirds around here are having a fairly abstemious time of it. Normally at this time of year we can expect an almighty row to break out in the garden as wobbly blackbirds kick off after a morning gorging on grapes brim full of grog.

It has taken a while, roughly seven months, but with the spirit of John Logie Birdie I have finally managed to add moving colour pictures to this rubbish that I write. They may be fuzzy and squinting undoubtedly helps, but they are definitely pictures that move, with just a hint of colour; further channels to follow after consultation with Lord Reith. Meanwhile a few minutes of Grayling spawning on the shallows by the fishing hut. The following film has been clasiifed 12 by WH Smith and the people who do Harry Potter.

3D next, so get some funny glasses.

On the subject of Lord Reith and the travails of the BBC, why are they kicking Danny Baker? He may be irritating to some, but to many he is the best broadcaster in Britain, his Saturday morning show is a brilliant and breathless two hour show that features no music, just irreverent chat with Lindsey and listeners. My personal favourite of recent weeks the randy dog who fathered several litters of puppies in his neighbourhood and was identified as the sower of seed by his propensity to wear a hat.

Brilliant, the best broadcaster about.

Why BBC, why?

Sunday 4 November 2012

Frank Bough and further failing economies

Half term, and the lady who sleeps on my left and myself continue our tour of failing economies of the European union.

Lisbon this time, four days in a Portuguese city situated on an important corner of Europe that seems to be have been ruled by all bar the moonies. For a couple who live several miles from the nearest streetlight and for whom a noisy night is an owl hooting on the roof, Lisbon gives a great change of pace for a few days. Noisy, vibrant and with loads to see and do we walked miles and collapsed into our seat on the plane home.

Like Greece, it’s cheap, welcoming and a lesson in how far things can quickly go wrong under a government guilty of hubris and high on cheap euros
A capital city hosting a failing economy can be a dicey place to spend a few days, we avoided Athens, Bogata and Mogadishu for that very reason. But in Lisbon a resigned air to the economic situation hangs heavy amongst all but the students who rioted gloriously on the third day of our stay. The screw has been tightened by the government and the senor on the street faces a hefty bill for the profligacies of those who held power in the past. Several Lisboeta that we spoke to bemoaned a government that raised taxes on a monthly basis while continuing to live a gilded life funded by the state, no sign of the futile nationalist movement that is currently gaining ground in Greece, just students and a few others chucking pies at the politicos who don’t appear to be joining in where the austerity measures are concerned.

Of great interest during our stay was the Portuguese plod, our first encounter was with the parking department on our opening skirmishes into the heart of the city where we came across thousands of pounds worth of Bentley Continental being towed away by the vehicle removal department, it may well have belonged to a prominent MP, but it became a recurring theme throughout our stay as we bumped into the same team wrapping a chain around the chassis of an executive Mercedes or Lexus before hauling it away.
At other times Porto plod were indifferent to what was happening all around.

I have never received so many offers of drugs (hard and soft, day and night) on the street as I was during our stay, but in the last twelve months I have felt more threatened in parts of London and Paris than I have in Lisbon.

There was comedy, Chief Wigham style, when police tumbled out of their den on a blue lighter only for their steed to fail on a flat battery, and an electric police car designed for use in the pedestrianised commercial district assumed “interesting feature” status for several hours as it too lost all power.

Every supermarket checkout is manned by armed police who are not there to help with packing and several have been issued with segways with flashing lights that they leave leaning against the nearest wall prefering to smoke and walk. If all hell did break loose over the state of the economy I am not convinced the police are motivated enough to restore order.

Apart from the much maligned Lisbon treaty, Port is synonomous with the country but having spent four days shuffling round the streets of its capital I would suggest that with a little organisation they could grout their way out of most tight corners. One row of tiles behind the sink is the tiling equivalent of the Gordian knot for this correspondant, but this lot think nothing of tiling a whole five storey house! All tiles level and set in place for decades. If I was having a fancy bathroom fitted I would make sure that the tiles were stuck on the wall by a man from Portugal.

There were many other highlights. Trams are undoubtedly the future of transport and I shall be looking to trade our car in for the latest model soon after Christmas, one female tram driver multi tasked beatifully as she managed to eat a yoghurt, place bids on ebay while transporting fifty bleary eyed passengers across rush hour roads.

The Spar with a bar and hooker was an interesting twist on the local corner shop and like home the newsagents had no copies of the Shooting Times at eye level but plenty of Teta, Penthouse and Playboy on offer at counter level.

During our trip to the castle we watched a primary school production re enact the Jesuits being driven from the site in the middle ages, great fun with swords and spikey helmets very much to the fore, no blood was spilt but an awful lot of history learnt.

The fishing rod made the trip, but the size of the Tagus and constraints of time resulted in only a few hours feeding mullet in the marina. The locals fish with hefty tackle for all manner of species, and I was seriously undergunned with my travel rod and waggler, although further up the lagoon I would have fancied my chances if time had allowed.

Throughout our stay Cruise ships stopped by, disgorging several thousand much needed visitors to the town.

No corner is complete without a bi-toothed beggar rattling a superbock glass in your face but leave your cruising trainers on deck and rock up in your leather shoes and ask one of the many street shoe shiners to buff up your bumpers if you want to help out.

On our return, the Dever had risen several inches and there was standing water in the meadows. We have had several inches of rain and it looks like the river could receive a much needed scrub behind the ears this winter. The BBC was twisting its knickers further over what it may or may not have done over the last forty years. Does no one remember Frank Bough and a scandal that scarred a generation of Grandstand fans and ruined fond tea time meories of Nationwide, Alan Clark MP who first took up with his future wife when he was 26 and she 12, or 13yr old Mandy Smith who started a sexual relationship with a man 34 years her senior,but because it was good old Bill Wyman was given a positive spin by the tabloids of the day. As Miss Smith said in a recent interview "if it happened today, he would have gone to jail" which is just how far things have moved on, and with my optomistic head on the circumstances in which sexual predators like Sir Savile thrive, no longer prevail.

I, along with a cast of thousands, have received invitations to discussions on a “Chalkstream Restoration programme” which seems a fairly sensible idea. There was an attempt to draw up a list of best practice for the chalkstreams over a decade ago, which fizzled out as too many failed to buy into the advice it offered.
An invite has also arrived to a “summit meeting” on the plight of our chalkstreams chaired by the chairman of the “cross party committee for angling” in Stockbridge which I can only assume will be on the roof of The Grosvenor Hotel, it being the highest point on the high street. Oh yes, and a very kind call to chase some super sized grayling on the Frome.

Ash Trees are getting a lot of press of late and why was there a need to import ash trees in the first place? The woods around here are full of self set seedlings and the last time we planted any ash trees we visited a neighbouring copse and thinned out a few saplings for transplanting elsewhere. I am not convinced that disinfecting wellies and wiping our dog's feet will have much effect and neither will a mass programme of burning, some trees appear to be resitant so the solution may come from mother nature rather than man, who is often guilty of bigging up his part in this kind of caper.