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