Wednesday 23 April 2014

A Refreshing Change in Tone

Well the Cettis warblers have turned up, a small bird with a big voice they are the ornithological equivalent of Katherine Jenkins. Walking up the river one morning, both Otis and I were roused from our early morning fug by a bird issuing its call to partners within six feet of our ears with a decibel count that could be close to a car alarm.

Recent weeks have seen a reduction in the amount of chain sawing, the carnage in the wood will wait until autumn as final preparations must be made for the impending arrival of the Trout anglers. Our regulars arrived for lunch a few weeks ago, tide marks on trees betrayed the highest winter water level which occurred around Valentine’s Day, and several expressed surprise at the river’s current level having retreated well within its banks. Last week I trundled around with the tractor and mower, last year at the same time of year I did the same and repeatedly got the tractor stuck and had to resort to a winch and the full gamut of swear words to extract it from the mire. This year the banks have dried out to such an extent that I hardly made a skid mark. I have said it on several occasions in recent years but during periods when it is unsustained by rain this river seems to drop at a far quicker rate than it did ten years ago. Water quality remains a problem in this river during the spring months with a large amount of brown gunk present that lifts from the river bed in the sunshine, before breaking up in broken water to add a milky hue to what should be a gin clear river.

Weed has been cut here in April for the first time in a few years, particularly on the top shallows where the ranunculus grew clear of the water by the second week of April. It was the same during the last “once in a hundred years” conditions in 2001 when ranunculus flourished throughout the summer, unfortunately it failed the following summer in the kind of “Boom and bust” scenario that Gordon assured us he had abolished, I won’t mention the brainless sale of a nations’s gold at a giveaway price and a vindictive raid on personal pensions.

Sorry, mustn’t do politics,

back to the aquatic environment.

The meadows are greening up, willows have gone furry and day by day the canvas is coloured in as spring moves into the valley. Swallows turned up around the fourteenth of the month although I have yet to see any swifts. Birds busy themselves with nesting including two pairs of Kingfishers at the top and bottom of the millstream, and we have a nuthatch with an eye to home improvement that bangs away at the back wall of a bird box. As expected the Trout are in fairly fine form, toned and torpedo shaped after a winter battling the current, and the grayling, after a brief period of spawning, are once again finding their fins, with the exception of one seriously senior fish that popped its clogs and came to rest on the weed rack in front of the house, 45cm in length it is the size of fish I would expect to find in the Itchen and is the biggest grayling I have seen here for a very long time.

Kingcups are having the time of their life following a prolonged soaking and the inky black flowers of sedge are putting in an appearance in the fringe. On our bottom bends, during last summer’s low flows we allowed the marginal growth to grow out a third of the way across the river in order to pinch the channel and mantain flow. In November as the river rose, it was cut back with a scythe in an old fashioned process called edging in, The marginal growth has sailed its way through the winter floods, and if the river’s discharge disappears again this summer it will once again be allowed to grow out across the river.

Unfortunately this can make fishing for our paying punters a little difficult and as a result we have installed two short platforms in the marginal growth to aid casting and landing fish. Twenty years ago there was no marginal growth on these bottom bends, mainly due to grazing. The remains of a large willow that toppled nearly ten years ago along with a few faggots and extensive replanting have restored the marginal growth which is now managed and as we found out during the construction of the platforms, brim full of brook lampreys. The bridge that crumbled in the floods has now been replaced, and clearer water reveals loose gravel that has shifted significantly around the river bed during the winter months.

Upstream from here the water meadow has dried out and once again plays host to this season’s lambs. The grazing is patchy in parts with significant deposits of silt killing off grass but will be all the more fertile in springs to come. On the same piece of water, plans are afoot to tackle the stretch of river that left unmanaged for a significant number of years, restricted the river’s flow to such an extent that it caused the local Put and Take Trout Fishery to flood releasing many large Rainbow Trout into the river, one with a penchant for free jazz is featured on here somewhere, but there is a report of a twelve pound fish being hoiked out in March by a Pike angler a quarter of a mile downstream from here.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a group in Romsey, who as part of The Romsey Festival are aiming to raise awareness of the chalkstream environment through a series of workshops and a piece of environmental artwork by Trudi Lloyd Williams in the town’s municipal park. Last week I met up with Trudi and group co- ordiantaor Mavis, in Romsey to answer a few questions about all things chalkstream, but not art, The lady who sleeps on my left may have skills with pencils and pens and a shed full of stuff to implement her talents, but I am missing the drawing and painting gene, as was frequently pointed out by my secondary school art teacher Mr Jones. Arriving at the town's memorial park behind the Abbey, it took me a moment to get over the colour of the river water, but was soon distracted by clouds of grannom on both the carrier streams that pass through the park. Contact was made at the bandstand, Mavis demonstrating particular magnanimity to a chalkstream environment that had driven her from her home sometime around Christmas,

She had yet to return to her home.

The idea is to raise awareness of this special river that runs through the town and demonstrate how the way that people lead their lives in and around the town can impact upon it. There is a fine line to be drawn between informing and preaching, but anything that aims to make people more “water wise” gets my vote, just don’t ask me to draw a fish.

If you are in Romsey during the festival get on down to the Memorial Park and show your support.

This week I took the first step of twelve on the road to recovery from a surfeit of shenanigans in the chalkstream environment. My exasperation may have become apparent over the past two years, and on occasion even bubbled over into despair. It seems trite to compare this process to a recovery from addiction, but forgive me if I suggest that this winter saw rock bottom reached and a corner turned. Twice in the past fortnight we have been visited by significant “others” from the complicated cabal charged with restoring the chalkstream environment and attaining the standard required by EU Habitat directive.

In a refreshing shift in position, the supercilious tone that emanated on occasion from other quarters of the cabal seems somewhat diminished and successive afternoons of sensible discussion on chalkstream management were a welcome surprise.

River Restoration Strategies are a good thing, but this river was let down to the tune of nearly six figures, by a two year report that cannot be relied upon to recommend a course of action for significant stretches of this river. A strong report would have provided the strategy team with a substantial tool with which to persuade riparian owners and keepers of particular restorative courses of action.

On a personal note I was particularly upset by the reports findings as for the two stretches of river that I look after it intimated that I had not been doing my job properly. On the second of recent visits the conclusion was reached that the report's findings were wrong, all is well on this stretch of river and we had in fact been doing some good things.

Not that any endorsement was needed, press on regardless was tattooed across this arse at a young age.

River Restoration isn’t all about Victor Vole, Dickie the Damsel Fly or preserving genetic purity, it’s about the whole kit caboodle. Man is a part of the chalkstream environment and has been for thousands of years, he has an important role to play in it, so long as he takes care to do so in a sympathetic way.

Thanks for coming out, and the refreshing change in mindset and tone is most welcome and encouraging, but lets just take it one step at a time.

On a lighter note, I was contacted by somebody who enquired as to why Trout liked Olives, and did it matter if they were soaked in oil, brine or stuffed with a Jalapeno. Images of green and black olives bobbing downstream sprung to mind and I will now take a closer eye as to what the anglers are using on the end of their line when they record their catch as falling to an olive.

Monday 21 April 2014

A trip to Italy, at a fraction of the cost of Coogan's jolly

Questi Giorni quando vieni il belle sole

La la la la............ etc etc

On days like these when skies are blue and fields are green

Some months ago, after half term getaway plans were scuttled by fallen trees and flooding rivers, Madam mooted the idea of a Trip to Italy (Yes Coogan and Brydon, the truth's out, we know where you get your ideas from) Rome was investigated but apparently Easter’s quite “the thing” in Rome and hotel prices are subsequently hiked. Florence was mentioned, but the Italian match fishing schedule was consulted and from my point of view, nothing was on (I once visited Firenze as a teenager and spent the whole day watching a fishing match oblivious to all that the Medicis had put on for us) The Naples and Amalfi box was already ticked, Venice would be visited out of season and we have big plans for the Italian lakes later in life with a comfortable car and an ipod full of Matt Munro. Over a cup of tea and a slice of fruit cake a switch was flicked and flights booked for four nights in Genoa, birthplace of Christopher Colombus, on the Italian Riviera.

At the airport, the customary routine of spreading the contents of my camera bag across several benches in order to remove a bottle opener and corkscrew was run through, much to madam’s ire as her first question on entering any airport is always “did you take your penknife out of your camera bag?” My relationship with the world’s airport security has now reached a stage where gifts are expected and we subsequently spent a large part of our stay in Genoa seeking out an appropriate penknife or corkscrew that we could present to security on our return, flowers and chocolates simply would not do.

In a ground breaking venture between two football teams, initiated by Tony Pulis that bridged the Cotswolds divide, the hotel in which we were due to stay was titled The Bristol Palace Hotel. A grand old lady that many had said would seem a tad tired. The paint brushes had been out prior to our arrival and both madam and myself describe it as one of the best we have stayed in. Our room on the sixth floor allowed us to take in a spectacular eliptical staircase made of marble that rose through the centre of the building, a stunning piece of construction that despite its flimsy design remained in place throughout our stay.

After a brief lunchtime sharpener of Prosecco and a few bits of meat we sallied forth into an interesting city with surprises at every corner, due in part to the complexity of the substantial medieval quarter. It’s little surprise that Colombus proved such a whizz at navigation, half an hour in with our map clutched tight, we turned a corner expecting to find sea and instead found a hill, where we hoped to find a Palazzo a Council building stood, after a few hours confusion we checked the map’s title to make sure it wasn’t the one of Turin.

Not content with seeking out corkscrews at the airport the East German secret police are also breaking new ground in the world of Lingerie and Nightwear,

while followers of The Mighty Boosh massed outside one store hoping to catch a glimpse of a recalcitrant ape.

On the waterfront, Marlon was conspicuous by his absence but “The Bigo” had been chucked up, not in his honour, but as nod to the importance of the port. Erected during the city’s tenure as European city of culture it was designed by Renzo Piano and is reassuringly over engineered, it is inspired by a ship’s derrick that lifts loads into the hold. The structure dominated the harbour and included a lift of sorts that purported to be the finest view in Genoa, and did indeed provide a great view of the water and boats, even for one not so comfortable with heights.

Aside from the spidery crane, the main feature of the waterfront is the aquarium. I don’t normally do aquariums, I like fish and have visited some pretty poor aquatic emporia over the years, but this one was just about ok.
Housed in waterfront wharf buildings and a redundant container ship, it too was erected during Genoa’s tenure as the European city of culture and claims to be the second largest aquarium in Europe. There were the usual eels, rays and sharks, along with some oddities such as flying fish and a trio of massive Manatees that I had yet to tick off in my Eye Spy book of fish.
Jelly fish were good, and a tribute to Darwin and his thoughts on evolution were a surprise in a town gearing itself up for a week long nod to the Resurrection , but all were bested by a pod of dolphins assembled from rescue cases from various water parks around the world, Unsuitable for release back into the wild they now had the best part of a large container ship to swim around in,

Madam thought she had stumbled across the world’s biggest Plasma screen TV and waited patiently for Pointless, but it was a side viewing window for the gargantuan tank and the two dolphins who sped into view were immediately christened Xander and Richard

Emerging blinking into the sun we wandered the streets of the medieval quarter for the remainder of the day, taking in all manner of shops some of which were marginally bigger than our airing cupboard. A dog friendly city, they are frequent visitors to shops, sometimes on a lead, sometimes not. A dachschund we encountered on the second floor of a department store contemplated a purchase in the haberdashery department, which in the grand scheme of things didn't seem too remarkable until you consider that the only way it could have got up to the needles and pins department was via the escalator.
and one senior Labrador had been trained to man the till in a chi chi home-ware store.

Dining in a covered arcade at the unimaginatively titled but highly recommended Europa Restaurant we were served and entertained by Charles, a genial cove of Nigerian descent with a razor sharp wit and fluent in ten languages. He ran through half of his repertoire during our short stay and ought to be employed in the United Nations. The food was ok, but Charles was the highlight of the evening, as he thanked our country for colonising his in the Nineteenth century providing him with the opportunity to learn the beautiful English Language.

The next day we shuffled along Via Garibaldi, a remarkable street of palaces built by the nobs in the sixteenth century, to Palazzo Rosso, which was red and adorned with something called “Stucco”. Elaborately decorated inside with gilt, fancy frescos and spooky cherubs, the paintings weren’t up to much and the main drawing room was closed for restoration, so a chap in a smart jacket who spoke six languages and possibly worked at the Palazzo, asked us if we had a head for heights. In a pan european mix up of languages “Si” was confused with “No” “Bonjour” and “Uno Cerveza Por favour” and we were whisked up to the roof. Not to a window with safety rails looking out from under the rafters but a small platform precariously perched on the ridge of the six storey Palazzo where, if I had opened my eyes, I would have taken in one of the finest views in Genoa.

Next, an afternoon perusing downtown Genoa , where there are big shops and every ten yards a beggar on his knees in the middle of the pavement with his hand held out. I am sure terrible circumstances have led them to this way of life, but several old boys spent all day on their knees on cold concrete. Five minutes on my knees and the agonyometer soon starts to rise, as an opening gambit to getting your life back on track try standing up to shake your plastic cup. One chap lay face down in the street for much of the day which added to the drama of the begging experience, before we saw him strolling past our hotel later in the evening with several bags of shopping and a slightly scuffed nose.

The crusades feature highly in many of the churches, and the Genoese flag mimics the flag of St George. One small church in the shopping district had enough Knights templar imagery to cure Dan Brown’s erectile dysfunction at a single stroke,

Should he ever suffer from such a condition,

Which I am sure he doesn’t, as he’s virility personified on the inside jacket of his books......... Grrrrrr!.

The next day we embarked on our first funicular ride up to the Castellatto, more of a big lift really that raised us to a part of town where we sipped coffee in front of what we were assured was the finest view in Genoa. Ten minutes of sipping revealed that there was a significant generation gap in this part of town as the whole place was populated by Grandmothers wheeling grandchildren along the short promenade.

With a twitch of the eye (it was very strong coffee) we moved on to our next Funicular, a proper train type, rack and pinion affair that we honoured through the medium of song. As our ascent commenced our lung bursting “Jammo, Jammo, Funiculi, Funicular” drew mixed reviews from the remainder of the carriage which consisted mostly of casalinga and kids on their way back from school. We curtailed our rendition after the first verse and peered down at our shoes for the remainder of the journey.
After ten minutes we were at the top of the hill, and in eerie silence, we took in a veterinary surgery and a house with a garden whose occupier, when hanging out her washing, contemplated the finest view of Genoa.

We descended in silence, bar a brief burst of Torno a Surriento which seemed to upset some, who were understandably proud of their home town.

More shopping for Madam so I exited stage left and headed for the home of The Doge, The Palazzo Ducale, and with the furniture cleared out, now an art gallery hosting some swirly if disappointingly undisturbing pictures by Edvard Munch which was ok if a little limited. Downstairs, two hours flew by in a exhibition of photos by Gianni Berengo Gardin, a Genoese photographer who took photos when skill was required and cameras were not idiot proof. He turned down a proposal to join Robert Cappa et al at Magnum (nothing to do with Tom Selleck) preferring to work off his own bat; principally in Italy but also in other areas of Europe.
Beach shots of England in the seventies were fun, and his lengthy secondment with the Italian Rom Community encapsulated his championing of minority cultures,

but the stuff he produced in the 1960’s while attempting to demonstrate the inhumanity and brutality of Italy’s mental institutions proved more evocative than some of the swirly stuff in oil trumpeted upstairs and outside The Ducale on posters and banners.

Culture done, it was time for food. A restaurant was identified via the internet and we set out on our quest. After an hour bumbling about little streets, Madam’s ire, fuelled by no little hunger, brought about a relatively bloodless coup. I was required to relinquish my role as navigator, maps were handed over and I subsequently followed on a few yards behind as Madam forged a path to a restaurant titled Il Genovese.
We entered silently and took in a menu that we struggled to decipher; me through poor language skills, she, sans spectacles following skirmishes earlier in the piece. As if by magic the shopkeeper appeared who guided us through a simple Genovese menu while informing us that a group of journalists would be arriving soon to whom he would demonstrating the preparation of the green pesto for which Genoa is famed. A chaotic few hours ensued, which included journalists hanging from stairs, much flashing of bulbs, a queue of people waiting for a table and some of the finest Italian food that Madam and I have ever tasted. Two courses, top wine plus coffee for less than fifty zobs. With earlier navigational misdemeanours a distant memory, we returned to our hotel arm in arm, having booked a table for the following night, remarking that it knocked spots of some of the puffed up eateries to be found close to our home environs.

On our final day we did the food market which was a riot of colour, smells and food. Hams a hanging, buckets of pine nuts and towers of tomatoes, one small stall peddled a single big blob of gorgonzola which visibly relaxed towards the edge of the counter as we took a ten minute break for a one euro cup of top coffee, (yes one euro, Messrs Costa, Starbucks and Nero)

We caught the bus to the airport, handed over our gift of a corkscrew that we had carefully sourced in the city’s medieval quarter and, on a two hour flight, reflected on a city that had surprised us both. Yes there were some grubby bits, the odd bit of bunga bunga and some buildings are smothered with political graffiti, but it is an interesting place to spend a few days, with a rich heritage, an enormous medieval warren, fabulous palazzos and fantastic food. Compared to other Italian cities it is great value and yes it does have some great views.

I’d go again. But stay at the Bristol Palace hotel. it's something else.

To the extent that Bristol Palace are now our football team of first choice.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Apologies, Normal Service Will Resume Shortly

Sorry about the lack of updates,

Not an April sabbatical but a brief period of tail chasing and a trip abroad, more of which to follow.

But first here’s Mike with the obituaries:

The Tree on Hairy Hill

There is a hill that borders a straight stretch of the A30, that for years played host to a tree that stood sentinel for miles around. A distinctive landmark for those who knew in which direction to look, that I nearly toppled while learning to reverse a tractor and trailer while employed as corn cart at the age of nineteen on the estate that farmed the hill. The venerable chap whose instruction I was under advised that “ yon tree can be seen from half of Hampshire” which in my enlightened nineteen year old way I instantly dismissed and reversed on regardless, but he wasn’t far wrong, and now it lies prone following what was for trees, a spiteful winter.

A triumvirate of saplings are vying for succession, but I will have long cashed in my chips before their profile is visible from this valley and beyond.

One Fat Lady

A regular visitor to these quarters, and a good friend of my employer, she may not have been to everyone’s taste, but she wasn’t a bad old fruit and who needs anodyne?
A source of great encouragement and advice when it came to words, she even gave this written rubbish the odd mention in books, we also shared a common bond over black pudding and a wide range of foods that many would have us discard.

Sue Townsend

Dear Mrs Townsend,

I am writing to tell you how much I have enjoyed reading your books.

I too am partial to putting words into sentences and once attended a writer’s retreat holiday at which you were to appear. Unfortunately due to an overbooking I was moved to the group hosted by a second cousin of Jeffrey Archer, as a result I was unable to tell you this in person.

From an early age, books were forced upon my brother and I by my mother, who held sway at a library in the provinces, and kept her numbers up by taking home twenty to thirty books a week for our various pets, who had inadvertently elected to join the library.

It was in one of these piles of books, sandwiched between the dog’s bed and the goldfish tank, that I first came across your work, discarded by a dog who would look at nothing but a Daphne Du Maurier.

Moley is brilliant, and is read over and over again in this house,

Thank you very much,

I (along with many others) remain, Madam,
your most humble and obedient servant

C.A de Cani

Fishing, The River and for me The "Trip to Italy" (Coogan and Brydon take note) to follow