Wednesday 26 March 2014

Yoinks! Grendel's Mor Cometh

Screened here for the first time, an avant garde production titled "Yoinks! Grendel's Mor cometh".

Filmed underwater, the piece is loosely based on Scandinavian epic Beowulf with all the actors a species of fish. The Grayling take on the challenging role of the Danes, a Brown Trout plays the lead, with further Brown Trout playing the part of "Geats" various. A rogue Rainbow Trout's portrayal of Grendel's Mother is a particular highlight.

With a musical score by the maestros of free jazz "The Nicholas Chientaroli Trio" hopes are high on the cusp of Cannes.

Last week the lady who sleeps on my left and myself went to work, came home, had our tea and then, post Pointless, for three evenings we travelled several times around the world.

It’s the sort of stuff that would set Cook and Columbus coughing but by the miracle of modern science we watched a series of live TV programmes from the international space station as it circumnavigated a turning Terra that made its seemingly unending way around the sun. To quote the Fast Show sometime in the nineteen nineties “Space is amazing!” The spacemen in this show came from all quarters of the globe,and who'd of thought the trouser of first choice for today's spaceman would be khaki staypress action slacks. I know ironing must be difficult in space but what happened to the range of silver spacewear that was promised throughout much of the sixties and seventies, lets work the Dan Dare look a little more with a little less Alan Tichmarsh.
Looking down on the shimmering orb on which we shuffle, division over race, religion, territory or any other differences for that matter, seemed somewhat irrelevant.

Enlightened Aliens, in an advertising campaign of the seventies, termed us all as earthlings, which I too was tempted to do throughout the programme as a “gosh this planet is fragile and why aren’t we all in it together vibe took hold” but I was reminded that the same said aliens saw the future of carb loading as a powder that when mixed with water turned into mashed potato, so had the wise aliens failed to grasp what a complicated soup life on earth is.

Sorry, that’s wrong

Viewed from space the earth is a fragile and isolated place with a limited shelf life, we are all earthlings and because we fail to grasp that fact, and continue to squabble and trash the rock on which we live, we can come across as a pretty primitive bunch, which is one up for the aliens, but outer space is not the best place to make a judgement call on the best source of mashed potato. An earth produced muddy Maris Piper produces the best mash and will continue to do so while Terra continues to turn, but they were right about the earthlings bit.

Back on earth, I have had a countryside and wildlife management student arrive, and for much of this week and the next two we will be tackling trees that continue to tumble over. The poplar across the river posed a unique challenge. Like my torso, weight was distributed in unexpected areas, and rumination was extensive over locations of crux, where weight was actually lying and the point at which to make the decisive cut. A series of props did for weight issues (you heard it here first, the prop diet is the next big thing) the decisive cut was tentatively delivered and the beast was slain. In the words of BA Barracus “You crazy fool!”

Or possibly his erstwhile "A team" companion Hannibal Smith “I love it when a plan comes together”

Each of the poplars that toppled over were riddled with woodpecker holes, some people are not so keen on balsam poplars, I can’t say they are my favourite species at the moment having spent much of this month cutting them up, but they do have a beautiful scent when the buds break in spring and our booming population of woodpeckers with the green variety very much to the fore will miss them this summer. We now have enough wood stacked up for the next couple of winters, the wood on the non fishing bank is an arboreal disaster zone on a par with 1987 and 1989 and it will take several winters work to return some form of order.

The river is back within its banks although the banks remain very spongy. Some beats on the middle river have already delayed the start of their season by up to a month due to damaged and dodgy banks, but things should be ok here for our normal kick off time. Each afternoon Olives have hatched and several fish have shown interest. Roach and Rudd in the pond have proved remarkably active with the afore mentioned countryside and wildlife student banging a bag full of silver fish out while breaking for lunch. We have ducks sitting on eggs, and his grumpiness Gielgud and his petulant pen have made their voluminous nest on the flight pond and currently guard one large swan egg. Heron and egret abound and are making the most of a falling river. The arrival of several intense types in four by fours, clothed in “real tree” and armed with long lenses suggest that there is a bird that requires photographing in the area. Not Miley Cyrus, or an errant Kardashian, but a funny chirper that Mdme and myself caught while pausing in the garden on Sunday morning to take coffee. Twas a funny tune that we failed to identify in lots more than one, but it didn’t sound that big, or tuneful. Consultation with our bird app, swiftly eliminated Condors, Ibis, flamingos and most forms of geese but from there on we were flummoxed. I tried asking one of the men with a big lens who was sitting in a bush but his reply of “indeed, it has been a poor potato harvest this year” had echoes of cold war spy speak uttered socco voce while passing in a park, umbrella in hand.

Are we fit to Frack?

Mark Lloyd Chief executive of the Angling Trust said:

“Fewer than a quarter of our rivers are currently in good ecological condition and the rest suffer from widespread pollution and over-abstraction. The Environment Agency is struggling to tackle these existing problems, and faces the prospect of losing 1,500 staff. Our wildlife and fisheries need another major risk to water quality and an additional demand for water like they need a hole in the head”

Well said Sir, and thanks for reinforcing views held on this poorly written journal for the past twelve months. They’ve made some encouraging noises on the dangers of over abstraction too. The clue is in the name, if you are an angler, get on and join, they are doing really good things for all things angling,

Today in a heavy handed and opportunistic piece of big stick politicking, Flashy (who has done some good things of late) invoked the spectre of Percy Putin, and how we must frack, frack, frack if we are not to fall under the weight of the Russian Bear.

Well in the words of the rabbit in the Cadburys Caramel advert, “Slow down Mr Bee/Cameron/Flashman”

Only frack if it’s safe to do so, is sustainable and there is no impact on groundwater or the aquatic environment, there cannot be an environmental price to pay for shale gas exploration particularly with regard to groundwater supplies in the South East of England. A race to frack is a frightening prospect for some, with the prospect of the required due diligence for applications being watered down by government.

Midway through the month, squeezed in between the anniversary of Julius Caesar cashing in his chips and the day commemorating the chap who chased all the snakes out of Ireland, sits a day when the historical events organiser took a day off, it also happens to be my birthday. By coincidence it also used to mark the end of the coarse fishing season ( No longer, but that merits a few thousand words on its own) and teenage frustration was only exacerbated by a pile of new fishing tackle that I could only play with in the garden for three months. In previous years to mark the passing of another year the day’s activities have included a variety of activities, from sledging (tobogganing, as opposed to verbal abuse dressed in white) through to fish and chips while watching the boats in Lymington harbour. This year we tripped south to visit child A and in twenty degree heat had a picnic on common land just back from the beach, we would have had a barbecue but no garage on the way down had any charcoal in (The accompanying photo is a little misleading in that there were many other people doing the same and I was not required to sit on my own and rejoined the main party once the photo had been taken). This is on the back of the wettest winter on record (if records are to be believed) Three weeks ago the piece of common land had been underwater and crabs were cock of the walk. In recent times several have joked about the possibility of hosepipe bans this summer, which just about sums up the current appreciation of water supply in the south of England. A few successive dry months and yes, the groundwater supply may need some form of protection, all of that water that went whizzing down the roads and rivers is now on Neptune’s ledger, and all we are left with in the south is the stuff that is soaking into the ground. Statistically, (which is what weather forecasting is all about, there’s little science here) the threat of a hosepipe ban in the south is reduced this summer but possible protection measures for a precious groundwater supply should not be ruled out, after the long forgotten low flows of last October the “get out of jail” card of record rainfall has been played by the chalkstreams of the south, this cannot be relied upon every year, we may have had a lot of rain but it will not keep us going forever, a dry six months and the chalkstream environment could once again be back on its knees.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Social Experiments in a House Coat and Big Slipper

Film free this one, and not through lack of effort. Several attempts to gain coverage of sub surface life have resulted in four hours of footage featuring flotsam and jetsam hurrying away downstream. The river is stuffed with fish but as soon as my underwater camera is introduced to the margins they scarper. It’s fairly discrete and slightly larger than a box of matches having initially been designed to ride on top of a skateboarders helmet, so it may be problems over image rights, in which case I need an aquatic agent.
Plans are afoot for a fantasy epic “The Life of Pike”, in which our hero, a ten pound pike, is trapped in a spring ditch by falling floodwater with only a shoal of Roach for company. After a 227 day journey up and down the ditch to seek their escape, the two species bond, enlightenment is attained and the pike plumps for a diet of bugs and beetles while the roach promise to nibble each others fins from time to time.
An 18+ rated feature, in which "The lady of the stream" gets jiggy in the sunshine and preliminary titled "Grayling Gravel Grinders" is also in the pipeline.
Unlike my land based camera this one is obviously not “idiot proof” It’s a dark place underwater, and while chalkstreams may look clear from the surface, they are far murkier when viewed from side on, and time definitely does not fly by when searching through four hours of film for the briefest glimpses of fish: I seem to have lost a week to underwater footage, March only started yesterday and now the ides are only two days away, making today the twenty fifth anniversary of the internet, which I am sure only started around eighteen months ago.

The invention of the internet coincided with the onset of my fringe going into retreat and withdrawing over the horizon that is my forehead,


“does the internet cause hair loss”

confirms that this is purely coincidental

The inventor of the internet was “outed” recently during round two of Pointless (In this house anyway). The chap, whose name I forget, came up with the idea while working at SERN (Self Employed Resource Network) and managed to couple the task of promoting and developing the expansion of self employment with the invention of the internet, so well done Sir!

Mdme and myself have taken to spending the winter teatime slot shod in comedy big slippers with accompanying house coats while taking tea on padded trays on our knees (the trays are on our knees, we are not kneeling down) taking in all things Pointless and Egghead. The round two revelation on the internet’s invention, led to a discussion as to what life was like before it entered our lives.

I wouldn’t be doing this for one.

Previous rails against authority, were conducted over the phone, by letter or in person. In a filing cabinet somewhere at Command Centre Central, is a handwritten letter from myself highlighting concerns about over exuberant gravel jetting that would prove to be too aggressive an action for some spawning gravels, they promised to keep it on file.

We used to go to the bank with forms and pieces of paper, visit garages in order to replace our car, use cefax, brochures or a travel agent to find somewhere to go on holiday, walk aimlessly around shops, visit car boot sales (something currently being revived by our local town society as “EBay Live!”) look things up in books, buy encyclopaedias. I was recently asked to pitch five hundred words for a website on the delights of visiting Melbourne. Best times to visit, things to do, places to see, recommended restaurants, hotels and the best means of getting about. No plane ticket was proffered, Melbourne would be experienced at our kitchen table, where Wikipedia and the internet would be my guide and provide me with all the information I need. If you ever read a travel review on the internet, have at the back of your mind that the writer may not have actually visited the destination in question and the piece may have been written from the other side of the world.
Born fifty years later Alan Wicker’s life may well have been very different and he could currently have been on the cusp of thirty years service and a commemorative headboard from Bensons for Beds.

Our list of ways that the internet has changed our lives extended all the way through to the “head to head” round of Pointless at which we point we decided to try twenty four hours without the internet, a “No Download” day; not quite the alcohol equivalent of “Dry January” but a small social experiment to which many households are becoming increasingly prone.

Drumming our fingers through Eggheads, I was picked up on my personal appearance so I repaired to the bathroom for some non digital ablutions, with a simple book and wine served in a plain glass,

this wasn’t the time for cut glass or goblets.

On returning to the lounge, sans internet, we took in another social experiment whereby people have resorted to making their own clothes.

Titled “The National Sewing Bee” it is remarkably addictive.

Hard times, funny ideas or Amish influence, has given rise to a new movement who furtively pass patterns and speak a language that can only be uttered while pinching pins between the lips. For many years sages have predicted that psychological damage caused by home-made clothes worn during the nineteen seventies will be the next scandal to rock today’s society. Many of my own ancestors were/are particularly proficient with patterns and pins, and I remain convinced that my younger brother’s experience of being clad in a range of unusually checked trousers (Rupert the Bear was quite the thing then) twinned with loosely knitted tank tops in horizontal pastel stripes has directly led to him residing for all of his adult life in urban conurbations.

Where there are shops.

He recently featured in the TV programme “Mind the Gap” about all things Metropolitan and, as Evan Davis quizzed him on the capital’s “Crossroads” project, (I think that’s right, although no mention was made of a motel) he exuded a confidence that can only be derived from “store bought trousers”

Although I should add that “Child A” who, throughout her formative years regularly donned dresses created by the same seamstress, remains unaffected, principally because the designs were quite good, well made and “Child A” genuinely wanted to wear them.

The Internet free experiment extended up to the ten o’clock news, when my phone pinged with a text reminder that an item I was watching on eBay was about to end. The social experiment was curtailed, and conclusions drawn that life is very different with the internet, we live in super fast changing times and home-made checked trousers made from flammable man-made fibres is a phase in fashion that need not be revisited.

Social Science Experiment, Done!

Earlier this week we listened to a BBC Radio 5 live reporter interviewing a remarkable young man who had trodden on an IED and subsequently lost both legs and his genitals. His marital relationship had failed and yet he bravely campaigned for soldiers sent to the front line to be given free deposit accounts at a sperm bank, in the event of anyone else incurring a repeat of his injuries. Truly an inspirational young man,

The opening gambit from the inane reporter:

“So, how did it feel to lose your legs?”

An Interview by rote,

brainless and insensitive, the young man merited much more.

If you come across the young man’s campaign I urge you to give him some support, if you come across the Radio 5 live reporter, slap him several times across the face with a fillet of fish , fresh or otherwise (he will be aware of the significance), and then ask him how he feels.

Away from the media and all things internet, the river is slowly fining down, silt and sediment lie across much of the banks and thousands of footprints betray all manner of creatures that have coped with the recent flooding. Plenty of voles the obligatory otter, lots of little egrets, masses of moorhens and coot and the odd waterail on steeper banks below the middle bends. On the water meadow above, many puddles remain and finally the geese have turned up. Not in the numbers that we have experienced in recent winters and far later than normal but a smattering of greylags and canadas nonetheless. There are many duck in the valley mostly mallard along with a reasonable flush of wigeon who have taken up residence on some flooded meadow. I had expected to see more snipe than we have, although temperatures may not have fallen far enough to push them this way and they have an extensive choice of suitable sites at which to poke and prod for dainties.

Oak is on order to replace bridges that are currently nudging their way around the Needles. Constructed of French oak they may well be making their way back to the place of their birth. I don’t follow the “timber index” but green oak does seem to be remarkably good value at the moment when purchased direct from the sawmill.

The sturgeon that escaped from Romsey’s World of Water has been repatriated after a several week sojourn on the flooded forecourt of a nearby garage; other escapees remain at large although reports of large shoals of neon tetras on the middle river remain unconfirmed.

In line with resolutions made around the New Year I have again made efforts to keep this a little lighter, but now that floodwater is subsiding, how long before we see a chap clad in the finest fleece and cutting edge walking shoes with clipboard in hand pop up to state “Gosh those floods were great” and tush tush to management of waterways. In three months the problems that beset the river valleys of the South and South West of England will be forgotten and the goons who have been conspicuously quiet this winter but whose policies were partly responsible for events of recent times will walk among us once more spouting further guff on the best way to manage river systems.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Naked from the knees up with a slice of Half Moon

With my cricket head on, and bearing the hat of office of our local club, we received an urgent message from our county board urging all clubs who have been affected by the flooding to get in touch no later than the 5th of March, as ECB funding for a big bag of sponges may be available for clubs who get their applications in early.

Why March 5th?

Hampshire will be affected by groundwater flooding well into April. Tewkesbury may be drying out and the carp cleared from the outfield of the county ground at Worcester, but chalk valleys have some way to go yet. The small borehole on the edge of our square threatens to spout forth like “Old Faithful” in Yellowstone Park and plans are afoot for a six foot fibreglass model of the “Mannekan Pis” in Brussels to stand at square leg on match days. Principally to move water away from the square, but also to don the umpire’s garb on match day and adjudicate on run outs through a series of carefully placed lights.

On this river the main river flow is making preparations to return to its original channel, and as a result I have been able to mount an assault on the substantial trees that currently litter the meadow. In the wood a stand of twenty odd Scots Pine, each one about forty feet high, have all blown over. A warm roost for pheasants and much more besides, they have now assumed the guise of ground cover and will be tackled next winter.

On a rare sunny afternoon, while hacking away at a poplar that had cashed in its chips in the meadow, fish fed sporadically in an eddy off the main current. An underwater camera was introduced to the margins, with a deftness that would have delighted the Milk Tray delivery man, and the footage is premiered here in glorious technicolour(forty five minutes edited down to just over one minute) and features fish in fine form, if a little camera shy. Preliminary titled “When Trout Attack!” production was unfortunately completed too late for this year’s Oscars ceremony, but fingers are firmly crossed for next year.

We can but dream, David Attenborough give up your shoes!

Weren’t the Winter Olympics great! A fantastic effort by team GB considering the number of winter sport venues that we have/don’t have. The use of Mclaren F1 technology made a significant contribution in the sliding sports and the skin tight outfits of sliders and skaters played their part, although the genesis of their design lay in the disco’s of the 1980’s; The finals of the four man bobsleigh featured a team who, in dim light could easily pass as a Hot Gossip tribute act. A record medal haul that relied on a particularly un-English response of imploring others to fall over or crash in order to bump up the GB medal count; and now the Para-Olympians are having a go, inspirational stuff!

Apologies, but it has been drawn to my attention that something titled "LinkedIn" has been making many proposals on my behalf. I know nothing of their ways or their intentions so please ignore any requests of friendship/ marriage or possible provision of services.

The Internet, Eh?............Tut.

There is still plenty of standing water about and the soggy grass is taking on its first flush of green growth. We are inundated with Little Egret and it is not uncommon to see a quartet of the funny birds poking around in a puddle. No Bittern yet, and it may be that his yellow legs are not long enough for usual wading haunts on the flight pond this year. Hares are starting to congregate for their annual conference in the back field, I counted six when cleaning my teeth the other morning.

Briefly on teeth,

Mdme and myself are fairly fickle when it comes to all things orthodontic, there’s no brand loyalty around our sink, and we’re suckers for an offer where teeth products are concerned, but this week we have already purchased three tubes of the stuff. The first was lemon flavour that came with the Queen’s blessing but had no mention of any citrus twang on the box. The second came with a nod and a wink from Holly Willoughby and turned out to be infused with all things menthol, performing the dual role of buffing up your molars while keeping your sinus’s phlegm free and instigating a bizarre dream that culminated with me reclining naked from the knees up bar a powdered wig and wellies on a Chaise Longue working my way through a green packet of long brown cigarettes.

No Holly, No!

The third saw a return to trusty mint. The experience has led myself and Mdme to develop a degree of brand loyalty but when did these new flavours that were probably pushed as an exciting new concept in toothpaste technology, come about?

I don’t like them, and I don’t trust “non mint” toothpaste.

Recently I was summoned by village elders to give a photographic account of my activities over the past twelve months. A difficult crowd with no qualms over throwing things or turning their backs on a speaker, I relayed a tale that had seen record lows and highs within the valley, facts that were confirmed by a succession of Septuagenarians and Octogenarians who, over a cup of tea and slice of half moon, recounted how they had not seen flooded roads such as we had in January and February at any time during their long lives.

On the Itchen the threat of direct flooding from channel flow has receded but the threat of groundwater flooding has increased substantially and will remain for many weeks. A brief bumble up the Bourne Valley revealed a plethora of private pumps moving water away from property and personal effects, and one road remains closed out of this village as over a hundred yards of road has been transformed into a winter bourne, the head of which continues to creep further and further up the valley indicating that substantial amounts of water are still making their way down into the aquifers. Numbers of chalkstream riparian owners who are blessed with chalkstream bank have swelled as 2014 has progressed. The Test is rising several miles north of its usual point of entrance at Ashe and the Dever appears much further up its valley where a blue tractor and yellow combine harvester emporium stands defiantly in the way of the Dever's early progress to the sea. We are several bits of bridge missing and they are probably bobbing about in Southampton water bouncing off the Liners, so a few repairs will have to be made in the coming weeks,

To bridges, and possibly liners, they were big bits of wood.

Recriminations over flooding are already underway, the first of many predicted. A Put and Take Trout fishery is taking issue with the owners and managers of the stretch of chalkstream directly downstream from their bottom boundary. In line with current thinking from on high as to how chalkstreams must be managed, a Fancy Pants Fishery Management Consultant on a flying visit advised the syndicate to alter their channel management practice and allow it to grow in. In recent momths this reduced channel has forced water back up through the fish rearing ponds at the fishery, releasing hundreds of substantial Rainbow Trout out into the river, a “non native” species that either of the aforementioned from on high are too keen on. The fishery is thousands of pounds worth of stock down, and in efforts to appease their neighbour the fishing syndicate now speak of dredging and diggers, actions that could have been avoided had the marginal growth been managed year on year. Old fashioned “Edging in”, a process carried out each autumn with a slasher or scythe and can be done with a sympathetic eye to both marginal growth and flood defence. It featured on a list of actions issued from on high in 2013 that must cease in order to save the chalkstreams. There is the possibility of an over-reaction in the coming months to channel management, but rather than going at ditches and drains with a digger every five years, annual management practice with hand held tools by a chap in green trousers will prove more effective in finding the middle way that must be trod between habitat protection and flood defence.