Monday 30 December 2013

Tony Archer and the Disneyfication of the countryside

Another week and another load of trees fallen over? An overnight hooley two days before Christmas produced some of strongest gusts to trump their way through this valley for some years, as a result some substantial trees with their roots in sodden ground cashed in their chips and leaned in to kiss the earth. A couple of ash trees in the wood play sleeping lions with the mother of all beech trees that toppled over in October, a quartet of Christmas trees that once provided a warm roost for many a bird have crashed down and a couple of balsam poplars have fallen flat across the river, an occurrence that would draw rapturous applause in quarters where the dress code is fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes. Balsam poplars where planted by Bryant and May up and down this valley in the middle of the last century to provide a ready supply of wood for safety matches, and some people don’t like them. They were planted with a view to be harvested at a later date and I have seen some pretty murky stands of over mature trees where the sun never shone and not much grew, but the two rows here didn’t do much harm and the smell when the buds opened in spring is intoxicating. Over on the brief bit of the Itchen that I jump in and out of many Poplars were felled in the space of a few days last year in order that Victor Vole, Ollie the Otter and Dickie the Damsel fly receive their full dose of sunlight when away from the riverbank, actions that also gifted the neighbouring village an improved vista of the neighbouring M3 motorway and all it has to offer, which went down well.

But Hey Ho as long as Victor is happy.

Everyone’s a winner!

Despite protestations by the lady who sleeps on my left, the wind that blew earlier in the week across these environs has not been as voluble or strong for quite some years. Panel fences inevitably lay prone and wheelie bins wobbled over as peak wind speeds in this county were recorded at over ninety miles an hour. We lost power for half a day, not in a tin pot state coup kind of way; rather the lights wouldn’t come on. The neighbouring village was out for twenty two hours eventually hooking up to amps and ohms on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, a pole had bit the dust in the middle of the field behind our house and all the village’s electricity was piling into the earth. Ever helpful, the gamekeeper of the neighbouring estate who own the field was reluctant to provide access to the field in order that the gallant knights of Scottish and Southern Electric resurrect their poles and lines, but emboldened by the spirit of Christmas, said gamekeeper relented and drove the few miles from his home and flung open the gates allowing the power to return to the village,

Oh for a jolly farmer!

The power outage, as power cuts are now known, was relatively brief compared to the one that Mdme and myself experienced during the nineteen eighties. Michael Fish has squeezed many miles out of his performance, pre-hurricane in 1987, but for me The great storm of the last century was the winds of early 1990 which would undoubtedly be etched on our memories had Fish’s zephyr of 1987 not done for most wobbly trees. In 1987 I was living in Winchester as a student and subsequently slept through much of the blow waking in the morning to a call from my mother asking if the block of flats in which I was living was still standing as she had just seen a similar looking building on the BBC news lying on its side. The lights were still working so I got up, got in the car and after negotiating a few blocked roads I wiggled my way out of Winchester and returned to the North West of England as I had several loads of washing that needed attending to. Six months later I paid rent on a flat through weekend work in the middle river and spent many hours with a wizard of a riverkeeper planking up exotic wood that had been toppled in the estate’s ornamental garden. Slicing trunks of two types of walnut and a banana yellow acacia into inch thick planks for seasoning in his garden before assuming the shape of elaborate cabinets and chests during his retirement, he was quite a keeper and a very clever man.

Anyway, 1990 and Mdme and myself are living in a farmhouse split into flats. A first floor bedsit with no heating and windows that would regularly have frost on the inside. Burns night arrived and like all in the south of England we made preparations for a night of celebration. With the Haggis walked we settled down in front of the TV to view satellite pictures that had heralded a storm throughout the preceding week (Fish had this one covered) and then the lights went out. A high sided lorry avoiding the main road that was blocked by a fallen tree had caught the line supplying power to the farm house. We were the only house in the village without power and a low priority; subsequently we were without power for eight and a half days. Baths were taken in a tin tub in front of the fire previously used for grading fish and jacket potatoes cooked in the embers with the occasional trip to the chippy.

The river has risen but is nowhere near flooding, water is lying in the water meadows and low lying fields but no ditches are running and the briefest break from precipitation will free up the top layer of ground to soak up yet more rain should it be on offer. We are currently on a sabbatical from tinning as the lift in water is working wonders on the channel bed and sides, but once the level falls an inch or two it will be back in to shoo off what remains of the gunk that has built up in this river over the past twelve months.

Funny feathers are starting to visit this parish. For the first time we have blackcaps on our birdfeeders and with the thistles and diddy seeds done for in the wood we have today been invaded by goldfinches and siskin. A Boxing day bumble down on the common revealed the Short eared owls in fine form and eager to display their hunting routine late in the afternoon, laying water has concentrated the mice, shrews and rabbits in tight and high areas and the SEO, who are happy to hunt in the daylight, are relatively easy to locate to record their performance on camera.

Over on the Itchen, after four months of funny pills, Otis was reintroduced to the shooting environment with a twenty minute bumble about the meadows, flushing a dozen or more birds significantly raised his pecker and after four figures of purple pills he is almost back to the dog he was. At home flashes of water on the meadows are irresistible for dibbling ducks and few are currently visiting our pond.

A sure sign that we are having a normal winter is the appearance on the news of the County ground at Worcester covered in water. It sits in the valley of the Severn, a river that can rise many feet in a day and should flood most winters. My money’s on some pictures of damp conditions in the Gloucester region and the Ouse busting its banks in the middle of York at some point during the next ten days with “Outraged” of Tewkesbury demanding to know why this was allowed to happen. Some rivers are prone to flash flooding, chalk streams aren’t which is why houses such as the one over the road have stood in the flood plain for hundreds and hundreds of years without any problem, build houses in a floodplain of a river that is prone to breaking its banks and you are asking for trouble. Groundwater flooding is the real threat in chalk valleys and some houses that have cellars can acquire a subterranean swimming pool during periods of high groundwater, although houses continue to be sited in inappropriate areas, In a neighbouring village half a dozen houses have been chucked up in the last decade on a site locally known as “spring bottom” and are a shoe in for groundwater flooding should we have a very wet winter.

Returning to cricket, I caught the end of a bizarre first test match between South Africa and India. In which South Africa had reduced a world record second innings target of 448 to 18 from 20 balls with 4 wickets remaining. Unwilling to push gently for a win they shut up shop and played out for a draw with the final ball of the game being hit for a six. If it had been a team drawn predominantly from the Hindu Kush questions would have been asked.

Of England I despair, each morning Mdme and myself have turned on the radio around 5am. Short of a death in the family overnight there cannot be too many depressing ways to start the day. Ian Bell is the best bat in Britain with weakest mind, Nathan Lyon has just taken his first five wicket haul and passed a hundred test wickets yet he wouldn’t bowl his full quota of overs in our village side. There is one Antipodean bowler who can bowl at over ninety miles an hour and he has wrought havoc, England have four who can hit the ninety mark but none have been able to do so this series. Time to take a look at those diet sheets perhaps, if this performance is a reflection of a surfeit of mung beans, to quote some old french tart:

"Let them eat Cake"

or Steak

Just after Christmas, the front page of the paper that flopped into the box carried a picture of Countryside Alliance Chief, Barney White Spunner. The headline trumpeted an attack on the RSPCA and their expensive and fruitless pursuit of individuals in the courts. I don’t know too many of the details but £350,000 of money donated spent on one failed court case would have me asking if this was money well spent in the name of animal welfare. I must confess that I have met Mr Spunner, who impressed me greatly with his obvious concern for all things countryside, so I read on. Further into the piece he raised the issue of BBC bias and the rift that has opened between town and country over how the countryside is presented and perceived through the medium of all things gogglebox. Countryfile was the example given of a programme made by an urban elite with little idea of what goes on behind the hedges of those places we sometimes drive out to see. Countryfile was once a sensible programme on a Sunday lunchtime that I would take in with a pre prandial can of beer and a handful of pickled onions. It tackled heavy weight rural issues had a reasonably accurate weather report for the week and was watched by many people who worked in the countryside. Today’s programme in the “feel good” slot on a Sunday between Songs of Praise and The Antiques Roadshow has become a vehicle to further perpetuate the disneyfication of the countryside. Jeremy Clarkson on the car show on the other side has a better grasp of rural affairs than the current Countryfile team who seem to see the countryside as a place to visit and have a brief walk round in search of a hedgehog to tickle, or possibly don some lycra and take it all in on two wheels.

The signs the BBC were losing touch with the countryside were there long ago. From an early age I was forced to listen to the Archers, and after sustained immersion in all things Ambridge, I relented and admitted that it was ok. I was acquainted with the Eddy Grundys, Nigel Pargetters and Brian Aldridges of our village life and we were warned about the Nelson Gabriels of this world by our Scout leader,

An intermission:

In all my life I don't think I have ever met anyone called Shula, did it not catch on?


Sorry, another intermission:

Just googled “Shula” turns out there is a chain of steak houses across the pond bearing her name, good to know she turned out ok.

Anyway, I took in the Archers well into my mid twenties until the levy broke one summer when Tony Archer took himself off to wash his Landrover one afternoon in the middle of harvest.

At harvest time dirty Landrovers can wait.

I pushed the button on the radio and never visited Ambridge again.

How on earth Radio 4's Farming Today has survived is anyone's guess, shame it's only ten minutes long? For all those needing a field sports fix on a moving screen give "The Field Sports Channel" on Youtube a go, a regular and informative half hour slot on country sports and the environment in which they take place.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Paul Raymond, brainchild behind Trip Advisor

Survived another year, so with a nod to Paul Raymond,the brainchild behind Trip Advisor, time for a review; bar the nudity and inordinately expensive drinks.

In an effort to be current I'll sum the whole lot up in one hundred and forty characters,

And there I’ll break off,

Bake Off, Masterchef, Match of the day, Peppa Pig and much more besides, all have succumbed to Twitter’s insidious advance. Conversation has been suppressed, and comment on cake, chef or a goal has been reduced to a series of staccato statements unrecognisable from the ebb and flow of normal communication. I don’t know the bloke, but the bumptious bespectacled cove on Masterchef who can’t be trusted to judge the professional chefs, continually spouts a series of statements of no more than a hundred and forty characters, verbal tweets you might say.

The one light shining bright through a fug of bizarre tele-visual conversation?

Ant & Dec, kings of the jungle, although Phil and Kirsty come close for those accustomed to pavements.

Sorry got distracted,

The year in less than one hundred and forty characters:

2013 on this river? Well it began full of hope, but ended in despondency, and not a little despair (phew! Made it, with several letters to spa


I am aware that my exasperation at some of the shenanigans in these valleys of chalk may have bubbled to the surface on occasion during the past twelve months. Reiki, tai chi, green tea and a lady called Li have all been implemented to quell my anger and for those reasons I will not retrace too much angst ridden turf. If you’d rather skip the angry bits please scroll down to the short video of a man driving a train while singing, a clip which I have found soothing for much of my life.

For some of the guff that has gone on these parts over the past year see list below:

1: A water company pumped filtered sewage down the Bourne, a SSSI, throughout last winter in full face of the agencies deigned to protect them

2: Europe’s premier packer and bagger of salad fined £5000 for sending oodles of diesel down the same stream, £1000 less than a similar pollution incident 16 years before.

3: A report costing close to six figures by a company of international repute that promised to highlight what needed to be done to get the chalk streams in better shape was cocked up.

4: An in-line lake in the middle of a neighbouring town was allowed to spew algae and gunk into the Anton for much of the summer, a process that was easily avoidable.

5: The Salmon & Trout Association and Angling Trust invoked European law to call government agencies to account over their failure to protect the chalkstream environment, specifically the Hampshire Avon.

6:The impending National Trout and Grayling Strategy, the most muddled piece of thinking that, on this river, will achieve precisely five eights of F*** A**

7: We’ll leave for Len

I’d better stop there as the lady who sleeps on my left has just quizzed me over the large vein pulsing on the side of my head. For more information on the above list and much more besides, feel free to rummage around the rubbish written on here in the past twelve months. It is not the ravings of a man entering middle aged grumpiness, I tend to save that for the likes of Richard Madeley et al, it is genuine concern and frustration over mistakes that continue to be made, The disjointed and complicated cabal charged with protecting the chalkstreams have proved weak and inefficient in the face of big business and the bottom line and the fear remains that they will be powerless in the face of a thirsty shale gas juggernaut which looms like Grendel’s mother over the groundwater supply to these valleys.

to quote current parlance "come on guys, we really need to raise our game"

In the spirit of reconciliation and all things Nelson Mandela, if sensible hats are worn, things are done well and mistakes are minimised I will shout it form the rooftops.

I hereby resolve in a New yearish kind of way not to get too worked up about these issues in 2014 because the Tony Blair in me (a reccurring nightmare) suggests that "things can only get better", and anyway Ron the Reiki man says I should pay more attention to my chakras, particularly the one on the side of my forehead that has come close to bursting through the skin this past twelve months.

Coming next

A train

Brian Cant.

Pre Pokemon, Gameboy and skateboards this guy was manna from entertainment heaven for the pre pubescent of the seventies, Derek Griffiths played a part, but you sensed they'd done their money when Yuffy lifted a finger and a mouse popped out.

How much was Brian Cant paid for Chigley?and why was Yuffy reduced to making paper chains from newspaper and the test card so prominent throughout the seventies?

Fishing, yes fishing; there’s a pastime to sooth the soul.

On a personal note I fished the prettiest salmon river I have ever had the fortune to thrash to a foam and even caught a few fish on a fly. Coarse fishing was intermittent. A trip to France was postponed after one of our party fell seriously ill. But thankfully a blast of grays from a ray gun that would have left Hans Zarkov slavering got him back on the bank with a rod in his hand, and a recent foray across La Manche was done for by heavy rain and wind. At home the Trout fishing season was in the words of Ron Manager ( Ron is a man of many hats} "a game of two halves". May and June were productive with plenty of water and the height of the mayfly hatch was nothing short of spectacular, but a dry summer saw this river drop at a remarkable rate and the fishing suffered. Coloured water for much of the season reduced the opportunities for sight fishing and numbers for July and August were well down on recent seasons. Fishing improved in September but the poor water quality remained throughout the year. From January to March grayling fishing was hard work as decent winter rain lifted a river to bank high for the first time in many years. October and November saw considerable success for some, but numbers of fish around the two pound mark seem to be down.

This past few weeks has seen more chainsaw work as trees continue to fall over. I have also jumped in the river and started the tinning a few weeks earlier than normal. It’s an easy job when there is plenty of water but we don’t have plenty of water at the moment. It pays not to be too over- zealous, but it is possible to move rubbish and silt from different parts of the river by diverting flow using sheets of tin. Working downstream I move them every few days, any inverts dislodged are moved to another part of the river as opposed to being removed altogether if a digger is used. Some years there isn’t much to move, but after the poor water quality of the summer there is an awful lot of rubbish and grey crud that has built up where it shouldn’t, that is best moved on. In Nana terms, It’s the equivalent of a good scrub behind the ears with a rough flannel, and I will slowly work down the river reaching the bottom boundary around the end of February.

Recent rain has done little to the level of the river, I know it is an oft repeated mantra in these parts, but we really do need a lot of rain. The weather map at the start of the week was encouraging as waves of low pressure massed out to the west, long may it continue from this river's prspective.


Monday 2 December 2013

Time, Motion and the Dingleberry

Twenty odd years of time and motion study on how to minimise the number of times I pick up a piece of wood between it falling in the wood and passing through the doors of my wood burner have reached fruition. A study necessitated by a brace of hernias has revealed that stacking last winter’s willow (that is cropped on a rotational basis) on the non fishing bank in manageable lengths to dry through the summer, before flinging it in the river pre Christmas and dashing two hundred yards downstream to some shallows where it is plucked from the drink and chucked in the back of the truck before heading back to base and the saw bench and preparations for its day in the spotlight/wood burner. It’s ain't the best wood for burning, but piled high and a year in the sun puts some heat into the room, but the process of getting it from A to B has revolutionised my loins that are subsequently in mid season form.

Still on chain sawing, cracked Aspen were felled in almost the intended place. One had to go in the river to avoid taking out a bridge or getting lodged up against a neighbouring ash, the top of the other one tickled up a post and rail fence but no damage was caused, both were hollow from the base up to a height of twelve feet and were well on the way out. Around fifty years old, only one remains where five stood only a few years ago and it isn't showing signs of great health and may have to come down sometime soon. A new chain was purchased for the job which always speeds things along and all the wood is stacked for next winter. A nearby stump plays host to several substantial bracket fungus, the ones that look like a toilet pan from below, and I have left eighteen inches of the Aspen stumps proud of the ground to encourage more. A walk through the woods revealed a substantial beech had given up the ghost and is the next target for the shock and awe of my big orange saw.

The Fen that we fire annually along with the spear bed around the pond continue to provide superb cover for all a manner of wildlife, plenty of Pheasant, and what look like some probings by snipe in some mushy spots along the periphery. Trout continue to spawn, and egret continue to stab away, there is only one heron about but four Little Egret climbed up off the middle shallows one afternoon last week; bright white against the blue sky like seagulls pushed off a bag of chips at the seaside. Further carnage was caused in the stew ponds when the first sharp frost deposited a blanket of leaves across the electric fence rendering it ineffective, in no time (I check the fence daily) the otters were in and twenty half eaten fish were dead on the bank in the morning. The very same day I was contacted by a photographer who had been snapping away at the cute little critters downstream from here, fantastic images and far better than the blurred guff that gets put up on here, but boy did those otters look full up. It was only twenty 4lb Rainbows that were probably destined for the smoker but with each fish worth a tenner it was a fairly “high end” meal for two/three that they enjoyed, and they didn’t finish any of it. Otters are fast becoming the “elephant in the room” where the aquatic environment is concerned.

On these beats grayling fishing is in hiatus as the bulk of the Brown Trout go about their business on the redds, at which point I would like to issue a reminder that this stretch of river has been stocked with diploid Brown Trout for over thirty years. The most recent survey of its middle reaches classified over half of the Brown Trout as “wild”...... whatever that is. From 2015 we will be required to stock with sterile triploid fish, a pointless exercise on this stretch of river, and one that I predict will be scuppered by the EU sometime in the next ten years, bringing about a ban on stocking Brown Trout that certain quarters have pushed for and others have predicted since the turn of the century. A substantial stretch of the middle river has been stocked soley with triploids for quite a few years now, if survey results on that stretch of river demonstrated a substantial increase in spawning Brown Trout it would be broadcast from the roof tops.

Returning to the grayling fishing the final rod to cast a line, an innovator at the fly tying vice, produced a pattern based on something he had found online that was banging out fish on some creek across the pond. Provisionally titled the “dingleberry” it was fished on the surface with half a skimpily dressed fly on a hook with the bend and barb removed, attached by what many coarse fishers would call a hair rig. If you have a dog and it has spent the day eating too much grass you will know the look, as you will if you have a camper van that drags a smart car behind. It seemed to represent something on the surface as it fooled a couple of grayling.

Woodcock are in the woods and a few snipe spring from the banks of ditches when flushed by Otis’s bumbling. He is still off his legs, and despite fifty days of posh pink pills his sore feet remain. He looks a million dollars with a shiny coat and sunny disposition, but five minutes on hard ground and he is limping on three legs. The pink pills have stopped and next week he goes under the knife to run some tests on the peculiar lumps that keep cropping up between his toes.

Europe’s premium washer and packer of bagged salad and leading grower of watercress, who last year sent oodles of diesel down the neighbouring Bourne, for which they received a derisory fine, held their annual meeting on what to do about saving the chalkstreams. Several attended and the oodles of publicity that graced both national and local press pointed the finger of the chalkstream’s travails and increased levels of phosphates at those using dishwasher tablets that drained into a septic tank and soakaway . There were some big names in the house and call me a cynic but there didn’t seem to be mention made in the minutes of any discussion on the contribution to the phosphate loads of the river caused by the production of watercress. Maybe the biscuits are good.

The report earlier this year by a company of international repute following a two year survey of the Test and Itchen river systems, is now unavailable. Its publication online in March drew howls from some quarters at inaccuracy and error. It is now being rewritten by those who commissioned it, the company were paid close to six figures. After some quarters have spent much of the past decade discrediting those who have been in long term employment on the chalkstreams it wouldn’t be too difficult to chuck together a thousand words discrediting those currently making policy in theses valleys. But I don’t think that would contribute much to the argument, another time perhaps

In the next few years the chalkstreams face an increased threat from further groundwater abstraction as the potential for shale gas exploration is explored. The recent publication of the HS2 report stated that water supply from an already depleted groundwater reserve in the Chilterns would be impacted upon, potentially well into the 2060’s an environmental impact that must be tolerated in order to forge closer links between the north and south. Environmental impact does not seem to overly concern our current governors, if push comes to shove the trashing of a chalkstream will be a price worth paying if it aids the economy. For the Dever, Anton and Bourne in the Test Valley, read the Chess, Misbourne and Beane in the Chilterns.

It may be time for the plethora of interested parties who claim interest in the chalkstreams to face up to the real threat facing these rivers and stop worrying about length of grass, genetic purity or the "Godhead" Victor Vole and focus on the the threat of increased abstraction, else the next generation of policy makers may not have much of a river left on which to issue their lofty edicts.

If you are a fishermen or have an interest in the Aquatic Environment, get on and join The Angling Trust, they are a beacon of light that has emerged from the maelstrom of confusion and obfuscation during past twelve months and are doing great things.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Maybe Lord Sutch was on to something after all

Four days away from home and on the river four trees gave up the ghost, is there a link? The cherry tree in our garden that, for twenty years, hosted a swing plus a ball on a string for cricket practice, crashed to the ground as its roots lost their grip in a sodden bank. It’s a thin bit of soil with solid chalk not far beneath so it was no real surprise. When rain falls after a prolonged dry period it is possible to hear the water making its way down through the upper levels of the chalk in the bank to which the cherry tree previously clung.

Below the bottom bends the mother of all willows fell in the river, three feet across at its base it may have been pollarded years ago as a quartet of limbs, each a foot and a bit across climbed to a height of more than thirty feet, as result four trees with a three foot wide bum blocked the river and water was backing up so it all had to come out. Willows can be fickle when they are felled as twisted limbs make it difficult to calculate where the weight lies and deciding what is leaning on what can be tricky. Cutting up a similar sized willow a few years ago that had fallen over from soggy ground to span some water that was beyond wading, I dealt with the upper branches and was left with a single trunk across the river. Perched side saddle on the trunk above the middle of the stream I began to cut rings off the end of the trunk, a critical point was reached,a ring dropped off, and slowly, as if emboldened by a little blue pill the trunk began to rise as the remaining stump and root headed for the hole from which they came.

Elevation was reasonably sedate. At roughly thirty degrees I flung the chainsaw to the bank and with the tree passing the forty five degree mark I made my move and leapt for safety. It’s ramrod straight now a magnificent specimen that shoots each year, but extreme sports enthusiast would pay for such an experience. Dryad tears fell, plus a few from crows, over the demise of some lanky Aspen that had previously dominated the skyline from our kitchen window, but had, in reality, been threatening to give up the ghost for a few years.

The rain of recent weeks is fantastic and has lifted the river to a level where trout can now access the spawning gravels, a few hens have gone early and kicked up redds and shed eggs without the requisite cocks present so their efforts may have been in vain. The extra water and added colour has also provided a little respite from the heron and egret that continue to haunt this valley. The Otter is at work again so batteries have been beefed up on the lines of electricity that surround our stock ponds that contain our stock fish for the next two seasons, plus a couple of hundred Rainbows that will soon travel south to the smoker for Christmas. Saprolegnia, the fish fungus that resembles fluffy cotton wool, continues to be visible on many of the fish in the river, mostly cock fish, hopefully the extra water will help lower stress levels that can aid its onset, but it is the worst it has been in the autumn for many years.

Grayling fishing has been ok, results have been mixed with weather influencing proceedings. The rain of recent weeks has raised the river a few inches and last week a fish of just over two pound was reported. The biggest bag so far? twenty plus fish in a day on nymphs bearing a hint of pink or red. Some however have struggled. The roach however are conspicuously absent, which is a mystery, and for my centre pin, a worry.

There are a few duck about, mostly mallard and the hides are all cut and ready to go, the phragmites that surrounds the pond is the thickest it has been for many years and will provide some challenging picking up but it is effective cover that some duck have taken advantage of during the day rather than pushing off to another pond.

On the Fracking front, the threat remains. Energy companies beseeched parliamentary committee to cut current planning and environmental restrictions required by the application process, in short a request to bypass the EA and get on with it, Flashy bellowed pretty much the same to the EU after they implemented legislation that required any application for shale gas extraction to carry out an Environmental Impact assessment before any fracking takes place. Prior to this an applicant could carry out an environmental impact assessment up to two years after the process had started, when the damage could already have been done, which beggars belief.

Why must the chalkstream environment increasingly rely on EU directive over our own governors for their preservation?

I have not previously entertained the thought that Russell Brand and myself could be bedfellows, but I share his view that there is no political party that I could currently vote for. The Conservatives are a tad too Toad of Toad Hall, blundering on in haste without the required thought and gravitas, Labour can’t be trusted with the purse strings, (Why did you sell all that gold Gordon? And yes, please help yourself to my meagre personal pension that Tony told me to take out) Nick Clegg & Co are insipid, indecisive and possibly impotent, no good ever came from any kind of national party no matter how strong their feelings, and I am uneasy over the initiation ceremony for inclusion to The Respect Party that requires semi naked submissive behaviour in a dimly lit room before enlarged images of Rula Lenska And Saddam Hussein

Maybe Lord Sutch was on to something after all, or perhaps it’s time somebody came up with a “Bugger the politics, we are all in this together so why don’t we just be sensible” party.

In a recent re-organisation of the NHS (that we pay for) hundreds of NHS executives were handed six figure golden goodbyes that amounted to a total of £170 million pounds, many were re-employed a few months later in similar positions elsewhere in the Health Service on a salary commensurate with their previous position

Contrast this with the current appeal to raise £180 million to aid those devastated by mother nature in the Philippines.

I have said this before, but if these shenanigans occurred in the public sector of a third world state, we would quickly condemn it as corrupt.

I apologise for getting political, it may be an age thing, and perhaps this kind of behaviour is an accepted way of getting on in life that has passed me by, but what happened to morals?

A BBC executive (that we pay for) given a seven (yes seven, they used to spell this figure out on the football results in my youth if a team ever scored that many goals) figure golden goodbye before gaining employment elsewhere in the corporation after a spot of gardening leave, had the neck to go on national radio and defend his position on the grounds that it was his contractual right, who on earth is drawing up these contracts and putting their signature to them?

Loin Cloth?....check
Guide to surviving on your own in a cave?......check
Rails and Ravings to fire at the outside world?.....check

We are increasingly led by loons

Saturday 2 November 2013

As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared

Half term and big plans for Mdme and myself are scuppered by vet’s bills; we do not have pet insurance. The flight money was done on spot pills for Otis, so we headed for Euro’s tunnel and a short drive for some champagne and pate forty minutes south of Reims. Fishing rods were in the hold as the Marne and Aube were on the doorstep and would provide an opportunity to chase some barbel and chub should the mood allow.

Bad weather was forecast and we swept south occasionally tacking into the wind to gain ground but in the words of Manilow, “we made it through the rain” pitching up in a one bedroom gite in a little village made up of a dozen producers of champagne, a church and a few farms, which was nice.

The Marne however wasn’t, making preliminary moves to flowing through the fields it was unfishable with the tackle that I had stowed away, the Aube was the same and having just chugged out a page of words for a magazine on how great the barbel fishing could be at this time of year “en France” sub surface schadenfreude bubbled to the top in my swim of first choice, so the rods were packed away and the target changed to shopping (not my choice) graves (I wrote gravy on my list but it was misread) food and vineyards.

The final few miles of our passage across the vast open spaces of the Ardenne had traced the denouement of the German advance in 1914. We were ensconced in Sezanne and a mile away a block of pink granite a hundred feet high had been put in place on top of a hill to mark the point at which The French General Foch and the British Expeditionary Force had halted the German advance setting in motion four years of stalemate that did for millions. It’s an odd looking monument, art deco in design, but en silhouette from down on the plain it comes over as a giant ostrich poking its head above the hill. The battlefield is superbly explained and the Commonwealth war graves in Sezanne mark men from all corners of England who cashed in their chips at the battle of the Marne, immaculately kept the two French men who tended the site were keen to provide us with any information we may require and a brief tour of what was what.

Having had a day doing the battlefields and graves we repaired to our billet for coq a vin before a fire ignited with wine corks soaked in petrol (recommended by our host) to take in the French version of “Bake Off” Paul Hollywood is very busy so the French opted for their own man, a middle aged cove with bouffant hair and immaculate indigo nail varnish, in the sub/dom relationship required for judging cakes a raddled Marie Berrie played the former. The baking didn’t look up to much, which was surprising, but the show has the potential to fill the Pan European game show void left by the demise of It’s a Knockout. Champions League Bake Off has potential, although I don’t think Stuart Hall and Eddie Waring will be up for hosting, it has to be Hollywood and Berry, although if Hannah Barbera pitch an animated version expect a call from an agent representing Ming the Merciless.

The next day we did Epernay, centre of champagne production and home to an avenue of elaborate champagne houses which was in complete contrast to the little white vans and small producers in the vineyards surrounding the village in which we were encamped. There are many miles of tunnels under the champagne houses where their bounty is produced and stored , but the bloke at the end of the road where we staying, who produced and stored his stuff on site and had no need of marketing or advertising to shift his stuff, kept it in a barn, we blundered around his vineyard one afternoon and had a bottle of his best pink bubbles which to our artisanal tastes was on a par with big name stuff that we have been fortunate enough to have tried in the past.

A visit to Reims confirmed that the Marne was not receding, so it was off to the cathedral, a magnificent structure that knocks Notre Dame de Paris into a cocked hat. On eyeing its structure I mused on the possibility of a smaller version of similar design by the river, built of steady oak and copper nails, it would serve as a second fishing hut, but cold water was splashed on my face and shops were visited. We had both left our glasses in the car, so after an hour food was taken on board at the most visible brasserie in town,

Details can be found here:

On the third day, a brief look at some tributaries of the Aube confirmed it was higher than the Marne, barbel fishing was off, so we went shopping for Wellingtons. In a remarkable twist in footwear development, the French currently lead the way in wellies, a boot that found it's genesis on the feet of Napoleon’s conqueror.
A trip to Gam Vert, (the French equivalent of SCATS who remain the finest retail experience in the south of England) saw the purchase of some wellies by the company who currently shoe the Duchess of Cambridge for off road duties. A steal at a third of UK prices, they are lined with the finest feathers and provide the confidence required to carry one’s own in royal company in a muddy environment, should the occasion arise.

While walking around the nearby town of Sezanne, we stumbled across a remarkable shop. Directly opposite the bread shop and two doors down from an iron monger stood New Angel Cyno Protect: purveyors of the latest female fashions for life in the country, machine guns, stab vests, security equipment and an extensive line in dog food and flea treatments. The shop seemed deserted but in the finest tradition of Mr Ben, as if by magic the shopkeeper appeared, a bottle blond siren clad completely in leather, high heels and sunglasses; a remarkable store for a small town in the middle of nowhere, and for the budding assassin with a dog to feed and a requirement for evening wear, a one stop shop. We left scratching our heads but I am sure the guys in the New Angel Cyno Protect marketing department have a plan.

A review

Stung by criticism that I only watch films that feature submarines and read books in which a mandolin must play a prominent part, I purchased an audio book for our short stay away, a cross-over medium that I felt dealt swiftly with both. I chose an audio book that featured neither Submarines nor Mandolins. The title?

I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan


Read by the man himself it provides a life lesson to us all. In the spirit of reconciliation, I may even send Richard Madeley a copy for Christmas

Champagne done, we returned home, across the Marne which was even higher, to a chalkstream that was not, but had been breached by several trees that had fallen over in my absence.

Child A completed the Great South Run in awful conditions in which Police warned on local radio for the public to keep away from the coast which was unfortunate as the three mile finish ran along the front at Southsea. Thanks to all who chucked money in the pot the final total is undisclosed but Child A's contribution to the BHF currently stands at many hundreds of pounds.

Well done Maisie, a record for the half marathon in this household, no one else in your immediate family has ever run that far

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Somebody ask Dave Arch to dance

Hello and welcome to another edition of Mushroom Monthly, or if the ratings are good Fungi Fortnightly, but first an appeal.

If anyone is interested in providing a home for a failing laptop please get in touch. Two documents of several thousand words exiting into the ether and miserable experiments with social media have soured my view of all things IT and I am seriously considering a return to pen and paper,

but that makes my hand ache so one more chance technology, don’t screw up again.

If anyone has received any messages via social media containing pledges of undying love I apologise, evil forces have entered my hard drive and are seemingly convinced that I need a date with someone or something, they may also have eaten my documents to sustain them in their campaign as there are flatulent noises emanating form the depths of my keyboard that would suggest a troubled bowel so the last load of words it gobbled up may not be sitting so easy.

Mushroom picking is currently spectacular, with a couple of pounds of white diamonds plucked from secret sources twice a week, they are making an appearance in most meals but what looks like a fair haul shrinks in the pan with flavours concentrated far more than a shop bought button and a sauce as black as your hat that’s great for dipping. There are many other fungi about, the rump of a senior ash in the garden that when felled was estimated at 170 years old plays host to six different types, and a golden willow stump opposite the fishing hut is ringed by what look like golden chanterelles but I am not brave enough to try, they don’t crop up on my super safe list of things to chuck in the pan so I may need to take advice. This year’s spectacular show of fungi make a strong case for not being too neat and tidy when going bananas with a chainsaw, don’t burn everything and leave some dead wood lying around for the fungi.

Our first grayling fishermen have arrived and sport has been good, most of these guys regularly fish the river at this time of the year and all have remarked at how low the level is. There is some wobbly footage on here of grayling spawning on the shallows opposite the hut, two weeks after that film was taken water preservation measures were put in place. Today the river is even lower; if grayling were spawning on those shallows today a pound fish would have its back out of the water. Water preservation measures don’t achieve much at this time of the year but boy do the chalkstreams need some rain. The grayling are in tip top condition and have provided good sport to those engaged in the opening skirmishes with most rods landing a dozen or more fish.

Somebody ask Dave Arch to dance. He has mooned on from the sidelines in half a headphone every week for a decade a more without the merest whiff of an “excuse me” He's obviously aching to have a go so please somebody ask him to dance,

and why can’t I share power between my iphone and ipad via icloud negating the need for a charger.


Carnage is being caused in the low clear water as heron and little egret stab away at anything that moves on the shallows. Little Egret are not difficult to spot, like a Leeds fan in the middle of The Stretford End, their bright white figure renders them highly visible and I estimate that there are half a dozen or more in the valley at the moment taking advantage of a river that is brim full of fish. A few fish are showing signs of white fluffy saprolegnia infections, which is a worry, any scars incurred during spawning or scrapes from a misplaced stab will soon become infected and there may be a few sick fish about through the winter.

The Autumn colours are slowly coming to a peak and most trees seem to have coped well with a summer where liquid refreshment must have been a bit thin on the ground, as green turns to gold thoughts turn to winter work and this winter will see substantial chainsaw work both on and away from the river but only after fish have finished spawning, any cover from avian predation on the shallows at spawning time is welcome, with his big wings and floppy take off “Jack’ern” doesn’t like taking to the skies through foliage so the more cover the better, although once spawning is complete the one and two year willow whips had better look out.

I was recently invited to an afternoon on a lake in the middle river valley, an annual event attended by a parliament of keepers who feasted well on curry and beer before some chucked fluff on the lake. Conversation over food inevitably turned to work and from all quarters came a despondency about some of the guff currently being peddled in the name of chalkstream management. Breaking popadums in a quorum with a combined time on the river of well over a hundred years, the underlying feeling was that fishing was viewed by some as not the best way forward on this river and sometime within the next ten years we would be required to dress up as “Dickie the Damsel Fly” to conduct tours of a strangled chalkstream. Somebody pondered what people would pay for a guided tour of a chalkstream habitat and even in a condition that most book sellers would term “slightly foxed” fuzzy brains drew the conclusion that jobs would be lost and the river would suffer. There is an anti angling undercurrent in some quarters, a particularly short-sighted view point as it is only angling that can provide the income for the implementation of EU habitat directive. You could make a case for over-zealous practice in the past in the quest to put on some decent dry fly fishing, but the pendulum must not be allowed to swing too far the other way. A sensible comment was made from on high at the start of the year about changing the angler’s expectation as to what he can expect on the day, it may not be the big bags of big fish of old on super short grass, but it is still possible to put on a day where an angler can pay for the privilege of premium dry fly fishing for trout, a brace to take home if required with minimum impact and the enjoyment of a day in a unique environment where biodiversity is on the up. It will provide far more income and keep these rivers in better order than a day out with Dickie the Damsel fly.

Thanks for the invite to the lake, a smashing afternoon with good food and company. I apologise for my clumsy casting those fish were a long way out for one used to fishing little rivers.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Twitter and Facebook, Help!

Somewhat akin to entering a disco at the onset of the slow dances, I have finally given in and set up a Facebook and Twitter account.

Several years ago I compiled a top ten of fads that would pass in the night. Social media featured high, with confident predictions of death by inane teenage chat.

Loose women were up there somewhere, along with the tagine cookbook and MK Dons.

Well Loose women is dying a death, MK Dons remain anonymous, but we did have slow cooked lamb with cous cous for tea.

My late father in law was a clever cove who worked in computers and twenty five years ago demonstrated to the lady who was then not sleeping on my left, and myself a new invention called a “mouse” he had it on loan from the development guys at work and after a ten minute demo sold it to us as the future of personal computing, I was unconvinced and argued the case for clumpy keyboards and all things “dos” which was an early marker as to my ability to predict the next big thing.

The twitter address is @TVRiverkeeper

and the brick of the facebook wall is titled Testvalleyriverkeeper

Feel free to follow if you feel suitably inclined, but keep an arms length from the man in front and break step on the bridges.

I do not know what twitter and facebook look like so have been unable to capture them with my camera, so inspired by a photo of a mushroom on an earlier post, here’s some photos of Ena Sharples.

With these fat thumbs, expect some teething troubles

Sunday 6 October 2013

Mushrooms are magic but we could do with some rain

It has been a fabulous few weeks for mushrooms and the few sites I visit in the local environs have been littered with my favourite fungi. Otis accompanies me in my furtive scuttling for white diamonds, he ain’t no truffle hound and is more than a little flummoxed when we take an indirect route home in an effort to conceal our source. There are plenty of puffballs about along with some shaggy inkcaps, I don’t care much for puffball, having eaten a surfeit once on scout camp, although the ink caps are ok when young but must be eaten straight away as they don’t store beyond a day.

Earlier this week forecasters predicted that over the last forty eight hours a deluge would deliver a week or more’s worth of rain, 80mm was mentioned at one point as headlines in papers and online became ever more hyperbolic. Well it may have rained to the west of here and possibly in the north but we have hardly had a drop and dust still lies along the edge of roads that some said would be underwater this weekend. I don’t know when the fear of rain became a major media topic, we used to be quietly resigned to the fact that it would rain now and then.

I wish it would, this river could have done with 80mm of rain. It wouldn’t have flooded as the valley currently has a huge capacity to soak up anything that falls. There are some gravel bars that are high and dry on our top shallows that won’t see spawning fish this year and the water supply to our stew ponds has almost dried up. The cress is growing out across the river helping to squeeze the flow and imparting a sexy wiggle to the line of the river, but it will disappear at the first sign of hard frost and the river will drop further.

Daddies abound and squadrons of the things bumble about our bedroom of a night. Fishing has picked up no end in the last few weeks with many anglers departing with a brace or more. Not a lot of aquatic invertebrates, just the odd pale watery rising vertically early in the afternoon. Nymphs and emergers have taken most fish. Flashy and splashy nymphs spook more fish than they catch when the river is this low when plain and drab wins the day, while CDC emergers cover a multitude of bases including many small beasties mixed in among the steady line of leaves that make their way down the centre of the river. The grayling are in tip top condition and are present in all year classes with a few fish over two pound. Most in pursuit of trout are picking up the odd "lady of the stream" both on the surface and below, the roach however are proving enigmatic and are not holed up in the spots that they were a few months ago although this may be down to the low water.

The Phragmites around the flight pond has had a good year, it seems several feet taller than normal or I may have developed a stoop. Chez nook for a Bittern should one happen this way again this winter, it will need quite a bit of cutting back if it is not to take over the pond completely. The water is crystal clear and full of roach rudd and bream, but the duck currently prefer the river at night. Pheasant feeders are out and corn is regularly scattered on the rides in the meadows and woods, there are a few birds picking up on the idea of an easy meal but many hang out on some of the stubbles that still line the valley.

We recently travelled north to Cheshire to visit parents who had very kindly run up a pair of curtains for our bedroom. A dash up the motorway was completed in half the time it used to take me in my 850cc mini-van twenty five years ago (it once took me nine hours), before the Newbury bypass, M40 extension and M6 toll road were constructed. Leaving the M6 at junction 16 we were struck by the fact that much of the remainder of our route across the Cheshire plain had been placed in a 30mph zone. Now this may be to allow the motorist ample opportunity to take in the latest development of former farm buildings that have been natified and dipped in the latest line of heritage paints, but it can double the time it takes from the motorway to destination which, with a bit of back end drifting on roundabouts and a judicious attention to the racing line through specific bends we could previously complete in twenty minutes. On this occasion it took us forty minutes to travel twenty miles, in the previous forty minutes we had covered fifty miles or more. It is not an urban route, our school bus tanked up five miles of it every day at close to fifty miles an hour causing the carriage works to assume a phosphorescent glow and most passengers experienced weightlessness on cresting the Duddon bump before entering the Clotton bends to find fifty cows plodding off for milking and a road surface covered in pats, most days we made it to school. Maybe the plan is to push the traffic elsewhere but half way along the route is Crewe station which is a key stop on phase 2 of HS2, you may get from the capital to Crewe in a matter of minutes but from there on it will be an interminable journey by car to your final destination, marginally quicker than by bullock and cart.

Unless the clincher for HS2 is the announcement that the hover shoes we were promised throughout the sixties and seventies by Lesley Judd and Valerie Singleton et al are finally ready for distribution and once you arrive at your HS2 station of first choice, a click of the heels will transport you to your final destination. We can but dream.

Was the script for Downton Abbey written by text message or twitter?

I'm sorry, did I say that out loud?

I am sitting in the kitchen while the lady who sleeps on my left reclines lazily in the lounge enthralled by the popular period drama. From here it sounds like a series of statements issued in a staccato manner. Did they really talk like that?

I once caught a glimpse of the Downton's out popping at pheasants which resembled Orvis or Roxtons at London Fashion week.

Not my thing, but then in the words of 10cc, "life is a mulligatawny"

or possibly "minestrone"


We also travelled west along the M4 over the bridge and into Cardiff to visit Child B who is currently enjoying the haze of first year student life. The journey along the M4 highlighted how the M40 A34 M3 north-south route has become a vital transport link to the economy of this country as a booming car industry transports lorry loads of cars to the container ports of the south, along with lines of mobile homes and trailers for export to goodness knows where. Didn’t see one car transporter on the M4, I bet we saw 40 on the M40, if I had been ten years old with nothing to do in the car I would probably have counted them.
Cardiff is great, and we shall return to explore the revamped Tiger bay area, I may even put a rod in, Child B is currently ensconced fifty yards from the Taff, (although I am not sure he has noticed yet) a river that I believe contains some seriously senior barbel.

Child A is entered to run in the Great South Run on October 27th. Previous winners have included Mo Farah, Joe Pavey and Paul Radcliffe, or was it Paula? if a prerequisite for success is an androgynous name then child A may need to think again or perhaps enter as "Child A" although hopes at home are high despite her feminine moniker. She is running for the British Heart Foundation a worthy institution whose services I and many others may have to call upon one day. If you would like to sponsor my daughter in her quest for athletic medals follow this link where she can be sponsored via the magic of internet pixies and their sorcery