Monday 25 March 2013

A little bit of sunshine would be nice

One afternoon, this time last year, I spent a sunny half hour without my jumper filming a dozen or more grayling making their opening dashes across the shallows in preparation to spawn. Principle concern was over the amount of water and the fact that several of the fish had their backs out of the water. In complete contrast to last year the wind chill is minus something or other, my thermal vest with “I feed millions” on the front delivered free with a tonne of fish food is close to being worn out and there is a stoat at large still clad in winter ermine lest the snow returns. Water levels are good, a little above average, but not yet exceptional so I shouldn’t complain. A few days of sunshine would make a huge difference to both mind and mood and buds currently reluctantly breaking on hawthorn would joyously unfold; a flick of the spring switch would bring a few mild sunny days and birdsong would inevitably be delivered with a tad more gusto than the current reluctant chorus , that said it is often quoted that we are statistically more likely to experience snow at Easter than Christmas but a few days of warm sun as opposed to prolonged grey and gloom would certainly lift the mood.

Bridges have drawn the eye in the past ten days. Most winters one must be replaced, but this year has seen one reach the end of its life and three others in need of a face lift. Green oak purchased from the local saw mill but plucked from a far flung corner of Europe is the material of choice, and banging the posts through three feet of gravel with a bumper doesn’t get easier as the years progress. The fishing hut stands on four eight foot lengths of telegraph pole that I drove seven feet into the ground, by hand, twenty years ago before my chest had slipped. The hut weighs a bit, with over a ton of tiles on the roof, and it remains level (I check every year) When they next need replacing I will get a nipper to bang the bloody things in while my wasted muscles give instruction from distance via megaphone.
Banging square posts into gravel by hand can be a tedious business. Putting a four faced point on the end rather than two reduces twisting as the post goes down into the earth but it is still necessary to stop every few tonks to twist the post one way with the two hands while gently rotating it the other to bring it back on line; go through the gravel seam and the post can disappear, rub against a root and a rakish angle may result. When you walk over the thing every day, any anomalies grate, there’s no photoshop for real time viewing and I am very grateful to all those who paint pictures of the fancy bridge over to the fishing hut and make it look level, but if you bang a post in that is likely to remain in situ for a decade or more it pays to take the time to get it straight and get it right because every wonky post draws the eye and serves as a reminder of a job bodged.

The accompanying photo of a newly constructed bridge has not been touched up or subjected to soft focus.

Surface feeding fish are few and far between in the current conditions, although most appear to be in reasonable knick. There are quite a few rainbows in the river between a pound and four pound in size which suggests that the neighbouring "big fish" water lost a few during the festive floods. Rainbows don’t count on this stretch so some of our early rods could be taking home a bigger bag of fish than anticipated. Water on the meadows through winter often results in poor Hawthorn fishing and wind may be welcome in late April to blow a few on to the river from surrounding higher ground where the larvae will not have been affected by pools and puddles. Weed is growing well and ranunculus in particular looks to be having the time of its life in the strong flowing water, bets are off on the likelyhood of cutting weed in mid April.

There are a few funny birds around, plenty of duck and geese with an eye to pairing, and one small tweeter that makes a funny noise whenever I approach that I have yet to see beyond a sideways silhouette; more people in the valley are reporting having seen a Bittern. The Common land below this stretch often appeals at this time of the year and is currently fairly inaccessible to all but the most persistant of intruders due to the amount of water lying about. Emboldened by a belly full of beef and fortified with Fitou I sallied forth on a Sunday afternoon to conquer the common and record any species I may find, think Dr Livingstone without the elephants, porters and accompanying caravan but with a glass of wine on board.

Owls are always about on the common day or night, one obdurate barn owl tolerated me to within ten yards of his perch before he flopped off and flapped away. The local school at which the lady who sleeps on my left has worked for many years and which both Child A and Child B attended, has an owl as its emblem, nobody knows why, but it is particularly apt as the village and the surrounding countryside play host to every single species of owl native to the British Isles.
A Curlew was making its distinctive call somewhere on the common but it remained invisible despite some super silent creeping by yours truly in muffled wellies before snow flurries drove me home for tea.

The roads around here are in a bit of a mess, the little lane that is both entrance and exit from this diminuative collection of dwellings is pocked with holes. For thirty yards the route traverses the bank of the river with a hedge bordering the other side, holes big enough to swallow a swan cannot be avoided and subsequently it is a rocky road to town.

The Von Trapps, at home.

Once while camping in Switzerland, when Child A & B were not very old and I could comfortably pass for Ewan Mcgregor, we crossed the Alps into Italy via the Simplon Pass. They save their holes for their cheese the swiss and we enjoyed a stunning ascent in spring on superbly maintained hole free Swiss roads that had seen far harsher conditions than we have here this winter. On the Italian side of the hill the contrast could not have been more stark and much of the budget for road building and repairs appeared to have been siphoned off somewhere. The same was true of roads around Naples and the Amalfi coast where we briefly sojourned recently, mistakingly ticking the “car hire” box to take on a lawless road system where anything goes,and good luck on your quest for your final destination. It is with this in mind that much of our menu currently carries an Italian theme, as every pop to the shop brings back memories of our bone jarring entrance to Domodossolla or bumping around the bay of Naples.

And here’s the thing:

Roads can be made from hard surfaces that take a long time to wear out, the principle drawback of such surfaces is road noise at speed and a harder ride. The same sections of our little lane have been repaired many times in the past decade, the fifty yard stretch over the spring ditch by the football pitch is repaired annually after each winter; the same old holes patched up with soft tarmac each year.
Rather than resurface with blackstuff and gravel why not go for something harder, it isn’t the fastest road (or it shouldn’t be) so road noise shouldn’t be an issue and I’d take a harder ride if it meant avoiding holes in the road that I enter wondering if I will ever make it out the other side.

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