Wednesday 24 September 2014

The path of a trophy husband is riddled with clints and grykes

We have just experienced one of the most unproductive weeks for putting fish on the bank in my time jumping in and out of this river. Fishing must improve soon. The river is in fairly fine fettle with a reasonable level of water, the weed is strong for this time of the year, water temperature is not excessive so dissolved oxygen levels are not a problem. Hatches of fly are not quite what we would expect for September but a trickle of olives and a few sedge should draw the eye, and the grayling are feeding hard on all manner of bugs on the bottom of the river but the Brown Trout remain incredibly fickle. Many will rise to within an inch of a carefully presented artificial before falling away so tackle must be fined down as much as one dare. The few fish that do deign to rise, pick amongst the detritus that has blown from trees and forms a thin line down the centre of the main river's flow, with little fly on the water, it may be tree dwelling bugs that the fish occasionally take, in which case small and black should be the way to go. The brown trout in this bit of water always have a bit of a feed before falling out over spawning sites and then finally getting down to business, I just wish they'd get on with it.

It is both challenging and frustrating fishing, and is the brown trout equivalent of blocking out for a draw on day five of a Test, or parking the bus to take a nil nil draw.

Perfect presentation, fine tackle, maintaining a low profile and bags of patience are a prerequisite when fishing for fickle fish of any species, and this particularly canny bunch of brownies are no exception. But even the most perfectly planned and executed fishing trip can still prove fruitless, which is why it is the sport of "Fishing" and not "Catching" which provides little succour to an angler returning home with an empty bag, and I apologise on the fishes' behalf.

Three days on and the fishing has picked up immensely. Our kitchen played host to squadrons of Daddy Long legs and imitations of these accounted for seven fish over the weekend, we have also experiencced some reasonable hatches of sedge from midday onwards and three more fish fell on the Monday to a small black nymph fished fairly high in the water and four more on Tuesday to a weightier dark nymph pattern. The September bounce back may just have begun.

Up in the village that suffered from groundwater flooding last winter there is much talk about drains and ditches. Which is great, the spring ditch through the village is the Test Valley in miniature with multiple riparian owners. If one doesn't decide to join in and play ball it is a proper pain in the arse for the rest. Communication is everything, as is remembering that the ditches must be maintained every year, a few dry winters will provide a bit of a test.

Our local superstore is currently selling 150g of blackberries for £2, which means that this time next year Rodders we'll be millionaires as we have a bumper crop in the hedgerows around here, although the apple crop has failed completely.

Three mornings out of five this week Otis has enjoyed the benefits of a drive through McDonalds as the remnants of a brown bag full of egg Mcmuffins have been left in the middle of the lane. Don't get me wrong, I like a burger, and was once a regular worshiper at the altar of the golden arches. A forty eight hour bug in Madrid induced by the consumption of ghastly local sausage (the pan European menu description "village sausage" should always be preceded by the word "beware") rendered me unable to eat anything but Ron's crispy fries for a 24hr period, although the chap who lived on Big Mac meals for a month and subsequently suffered twenty four hour hunger pangs and malnutrition suggest that Ronald's finest fayre may be some way short of nutritionally complete. My point is, could the car that leaves the highway to the sun to dump his half eaten bag of McDonalds in the middle of the lane, please stop doing so and wait for a convenient bin.

Breakfasting this morning, Madam had a bit of a moment over the Ryder Cup teams propensity to display their wives in matching gear. She was quite adamant that if requested to do this she would not comply. I reminded her that I had not made myself available for selection this year, so she needn't worry. Some of the singletons in the photograph of the team disembarking down the steps from the plane may have partners who felt the same way and had been asked to hang back or leave by the rear exit away from the cameras. Statistically one or two could be in a same sex relationship and declined to wear the bolero jacket and pencil skirt. Why they were coming down the steps is beyond me. I am sure they expected something a little more commensurate with their status, such as one of those raised tunnels that is pushed up to the plane to provide an easy passage to the terminus, not down the stairs and a ten minute wait for a fifty yard ride in a bus driven by a bloke in a Tam o' Shanter.

I like the Ryder Cup, it is an exciting format of the game and I am reminded of the time I listened to the last knockings of the "War on the Shore" at Kiawah Island while conducting my own war on the shore on a pretty stretch of the Middle Hampshire Avon, I was fishing as a guest of a national newspaper cricket correspondent and caught fish all afternoon that were rising to hatching mayflies, yes mayflies in the middle of September.

Like Macrame and the correct use of a washing machine, a round of golf is beyond my capabilities, but once a week when the children were small my "big night" out was an hour hitting balls at a barn owl that regularly hunted across a nearby golf driving range before stopping off for a beer at a pub half way home where coincidentally the aforementioned cricket correspondent drank most evenings. He knew his bashing spoon from a mashie niblick and passed on several useful tips regarding my elbows as well as inviting me out for a few games, which I always declined as I was sure to be found out for the golfing charlatan I was and still am somewhere in the course of eighteen holes. Child B developed an interest in the game and showed some promise although more measured eyes than mine picked out that he played a lot of cricket. At a young age I took him up to the driving range on a midweek evening and gave him a basket of balls, we had the place to ourselves and I had already worried the owl, when the proprietor arrived and asked us to leave. No children under the age of sixteen were allowed on the range and despite our protestations and a ten year old who was hitting a seven iron 150 yards, we were forced to abandon our baskets of balls. I briefly pondered teeing up a ball and smashing it with my three wood through his office window, but I probably would have missed the building. I still see the miserable toad in the supermarket and a quick scan of the contents of his trolley suggest he probably lives alone, but he must wonder why some bloke goes out of his way to inconvenience or impede him each time he encounters him in the aisles.

Never forget, NEVER FORGET..... cue creepy laugh ed.

Child B went on to play lots of golf with his mates at the many driving ranges and courses in the area that actively encourage children to take up the sport.

Child A continues to tour and has just sent words and pictures from a stunning part of Slovenia. Google confirms that there is some superb fishing for trout and grayling in the rivers of northern Slovenia and some big carp in Lake Bled. A closer look may be required sometime soon.

Chided from various quarters over the past twelve months I have recently been trying to write something a little longer. It may turn up on here, it may turn up somewhere else in a few years time or it may be buried in a field and its precise location recorded in a safety deposit box should I suffer a premature demise at the hands of henchmen dispatched by Richard Madeley or some other cove I have irked.

The target figure for words is over six figures which if my maths serves, is about what was chucked up on here in the last twelve months. Punctuation is a problem for the master of the misplaced comma and f*&6 knows what semi colons are for? and then there are the fruity bits, I was once asked to write a few thousand words of erotic fiction but I struggled and the denouement was premature and done and dusted in a couple of sentences, which may be a little too raw for some; fruitiness is obligatory apparently.

I like a good read. I don't like a bad read, which is why I jump ship after a few chapters at the first whiff of flakiness, but a good read that you can return to time and again is one of life's great comforts.

I couldn't write a good read,

neither can Richard Madeley or the Archduke Rio Ferdinand but it doesn't seem to bother them,

After a recent epiphany, when scallops were consumed for the first time after a lifetime aversion to eating fish (they are my friends) I am more willing to take leave of my comfort zone, although experiments with mussels that tasted like licking a harbour wall, were a setback. So with an open mind I struggled on with a book that I suspected to be bad. The closing chapters confirmed my suspicions and a second epiphany occurred.

I could write a bad book, there are lots of bad books on the shelves so why not mine?

Further research over the past few weeks has revealed that many bad books are over a hundred thousand words long, I don't think the word counter on my pre war version of Microsoft Office goes up that far so the project may require some funding for a more up to date version of Microsoft Office, (2007 would do, any offers welcome). There are even people who know of spelling, punctuation and grammar and, for a fee, will go at your writing with lots of red pen, so further funding may be required.

Sitting down to write the thing is a challenge and there is much advice out there on the "writing process" most of which hinges around discipline (not my forte) shutting yourself away (forte) research and knowledge of subject (er?)

Ignoring all advice I turned to my favourite tome and drew inspiration from Dotore Iannis, who each evening set out to write the history of Kephalonia only for a goat to eat his writings when his back was turned.

For the goat, read Windows Update, which has shut down my computer mid flow each evening. My ancient version of Microsoft Word is a little tardy when it comes to auto-saving and each evening's opening gambit designed to draw the reader in, is all that remained following Windows Updates' intervention.

For the record, they are as follows

Monday : "A trophy husband must tread a difficult path that is riddled with clints and grykes......"

Tuesday : "The door closed silently behind me and I was locked in the kennel with only a bitch in heat for company............"

Wednesday : "The chainsaw buzzed noisily in my hand as I hung on to the tree with my other, Six feet below in four feet of water I could just make out the shape of my stainless steel spectacles being pecked at by a million minnows........."

Thursday : "Deep within my mother's womb I could just make out the Archers theme tune, little did I know that even before my birth I was being brainwashed by an everyday tale of country folk........."

This may take some time.

Oh Yes, Well done Scotland, a little faith restored especially with sixteen year old voters engaging so well in political debate, and what a turn out!

Now how about the United Kingdom attending to UKIP sometime soon.

Thursday 11 September 2014

A Damascene Moment on a Journey through Free Jazz

Following excessive demands with regard to back stage riders, The Nicholas Chientarolli Trio are no longer on the books.

It was good while it lasted Nico and best wishes for the future,

but three bowls of Smarties?

Come on!

The following film features many fish, who perform in the manner of Pans People (unpaid Nico, unpaid!) to the new king of Free Jazz,


Keith's anthemic piece is titled "Caoquias ou Lamaraouais" and may have been inspired by a broken cathedral ( google translate does not confirm this)

You heard it here first (keep practising Keith, it's coming along great)

Seasick Steve and his three string transwonder have nothing on this guy, Keith can pluck all six strings with some proficiency, although to quote EM (Morecombe not Forster) not necessarily in the the right or expected order.

Take it away Keith,

A one, a two, a one two three four

For those who have fished here, this was mid afternoon on the inside of the bend on Wells' Ride where all the sensible Brownies line up around the outside of the bend.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

A spit roast and hurling a bird without wings

Back from Corfu, having endured conditions not seen since Tenko as we were corralled in the midday sun at the airport while Spiros finished his fag before allowing us on to his bus to transport us across twenty yards of tarmac to our tangerine plane that would lift us back to this river.

The snorkelling was great but hopes were not high after Madam's first forays with the mask led her to declare that there were no fish in this part of the Ionian. It transpired that she had my mask on which is a prescription piece for my duff eyes so she probably thought it was quite cloudy too. The few weeks prior to our departure I had heard intermittently the same statement from the odd angler so I entered the water under a black cloud but emerged smiling as there were masses of fish willing to play up to the camera. This corner of Corfu that sits under the gaze of Pantokrator has steep cliffs and small beaches, freshwater seeps through the cliffs into the sea and several spots can be quite refreshing as chilly spring water spurts from cracks into the sea. I've half a mind to get the snorkel and mask out and film a few fish in this river, the water is just as clear and with a live link to a big screen in the fishing hut it may be a way of demonstrating that there are far more fish in the river than some may think.

Extra stocking is not the answer, it is not unusual for fish stocked in August into this river to lie dogo for several weeks before putting in an appearance sometime in September, too many fish in the river over winter used to result in a lot of thin fish the following spring although the result now is more likely to be fatter Otters. While we were away one of our regulars caught the biggest fish so far this season, a fat hen of five and a half pound that had been in the river several seasons, there is one that may be bigger that sits directly opposite the fishing hut and has moved up from the bottom bends sometime in the past month. Reports of tricky fishing abound from the headwaters to the middle river, weed is in pretty good shape and the water level is ok for the time of year, it's just the fish that are not playing ball but I am reasonably confident this will change sometime in the coming weeks. Number of fish caught per hour of fishing effort always increases through September and early October, and several seasons have seen big fish who have been circumspect throughout the season make a mistake in the final fortnight.

Twenty four hours after landing from Corfu I was required to remove my water keeper's hat of office, light my lamp and don my Florence Nightingale outfit in order to administer first aid in the field. The most common injury I am required to deal with is a fly stuck in some part of an angler's anatomy. If fish are rising or the angler has travelled a long way, three hours in the local accident and emergency ward often doesn't appeal, so come on Chris get your pliers out. It often happens mid season when fish are not as free rising and anglers switch from dry flies to a sunken nymph. A weighted nymph takes a different trajectory through the air to a dry fly especially if there is a breeze and there is a case to be made for a novice angler to don a helmet and goggles when switching from surface fishing to sub surface fishing to avoid multiple piercings. On this stretch of the Dever sub surface fishing is not permitted until half way through the season, a decade or more ago I was called to remove a large Montana nymph from the eyebrow of a regular rod in early May when a Hawthorn should have been his fly of first choice. He couldn't avoid my gaze during the ten minutes it took to remove the illegal fly from his brow, although I could probably have done it in just under two. Ears are tricky as are lips. Cheeks and neck depend a lot on skin tone, age and the use of night creams and moisturiser, I once plucked an Adams Irresistible from a weathered old General's neck who was keen to get back to the river, a lifetime of campaigning had loosened his skin somewhat and it is the only time I have suggested that we may need to go to the workshop to put his head in the vice.

To remove a barbed hook from a face the hook must be turned to push the barb out through the skin. The barb is then snipped off and the remainder of the fly removed. Some anglers will not flinch and one brave chap even implored a teenage child A, who, at the time struggled with scissors, to have a go at the Grey Wulff stuck in his outer ear, as I was out of town and a heavy fall of sherry spinners was underway. Others will pace our kitchen for many minutes before settling down in the chair sometimes fortified with liquor. The chap who had a weighted nymph stuck hard in his cheek last week repaired to the local A&E as I don't think he had much confidence in my methods.

I may have omitted to mention that Otis has been rattling around full of pills for quite a few months, he has a funny infection between several of his toes that is proving difficult to get rid of. Sometimes he is the Black dog with the Black dog as the pills can suppress his mood, but the last month has seen him perk up significantly. With the children away at University he now receives the full focus of Madam's attention and has been gifted a basket full of his favourite balls. His Uncle Zebo was the cleverest dog I have ever known who Otis has always compared with unfavourably in the intelligent stakes. He likes a laugh and buggeration is definitely his thing, but we have noticed of late that when we watch tennis, he gets a tennis ball out of the basket, when Rory is pictured addressing his ball a Slazenger special is presented and during a recent one day international he fielded a chewed up old cricket ball from a dark corner of his basket. Ok he struggled with the athletics and also the yachting so we have drawn the conclusion that he only does ball games, although he misread the Hurling and presented us with a miniature rugby ball which may have its roots in knowledge of posts after a lifetime of cocking a leg.

But Hurling, what a game!

Somehow Hurling has passed me by.

I caught the recent All Ireland Championship final between Tipperary and Kilkenny on the Gogglebox and could not take my eyes of the action. Men with big wooden spoons run flat out while balancing a ball on said spoon before flicking it up to fire it fifty yards into the goal, and all while the opposition are trying to take you out with kicks and sticks. It's brilliant and seems to follow similar rules to Quidditch, Eighty thousand screaming fans packed the stadium for the game which ended in a draw so they will all come back again on September 27th to go through it all again. I am hooked and have set my phone to remind me of the fixture, a habit that Madam increasingly encourages me to do in other areas of life as she says that I am becoming ever more easily distracted.

Child A is currently in Budapest, having already visited Sofia, Bucharest and Timisoara, four cities in her first week riding the trains of Europe, with three more weeks to fill she may well run out of Europe at this rate. Madam and myself are very envious and we are plotting her progress on a map fixed to the fridge door with a magnet with a photo of Child A marking her current position.

Child B has returned from the carnage of a cricket tour to Devon and postponed his return to Cardiff as Barrack Obama was briefly in town and South Wales was shut. Barrack popped into Stonehenge on his way home which was also cleared for miles around. I remember two occasions when US Presidents visited this valley to flick a fly, a few spooks were posted at either end of the beat, but the surrounding villages were not evacuated and the North Atlantic Fleet did not nose into Southampton water.

Last weekend while Madam was playing with her friends over card, paper, envelopes and pens I popped over to France to pick up supplies for ourselves and the cricket club's impending presentation evening. I would classify myself as a veteran of such trips and paid little heed to stories in the press of people climbing into cars to gain entrance to Blighty, but pulling into the mother of all Auchan's I was slightly perturbed by the thirty odd chaps fresh up from the Horn of Africa hanging around the car park. They weren't offering a car care service or after fifty po for looking after your car as was the case when parking your car in Liverpool during the eighties. I don't know what the answer is but it is pretty desperate stuff.

Back home Madam had hardly registered my absence and was cocooned in her shed, which Otis has also adopted and stands sentinel at the door preventing anyone from entering. For the cricket club do I must cook a pig. I have done a few before and set the seventy kilo beast spinning on a spit at home some six hours before its presence is required at the perennial bash. It is then loaded on to a trailer and transported to the neighbouring village. The key is to take time fixing the animal to the spit as there is little scope for adjustment when cooking is underway. I may be tempting fate here, bit it is a relatively easy and economical way of feeding a large number of people and the only disaster we have experienced to date was a pork dripping incident on the A303 during transit. The evening takes the theme of the season's principle Test Touring side which this year was India, subsequently the hall will be decorated with Indian Flags and bunting, there will be blow up tigers and inflatable elephants and a life sized cardboard cut out of Kylie Minogue in a sari will greet the throng; last year's theme was Australian and we haven't been able to source a cut out of Mahatma Ghandi in budget but Kylie will pass for Indira Ghandi if we keep the lights low.

I don't like to promote stuff or advertise and believe it or not this pile of rubbish has received enquiries, mostly to do with erectile dysfunction and hair loss but enquiries all the same. As an alternative to lager we put on some draught beer from a micro brewery in Winchester. King Alfred's is the name and their "Saxon Bronze" is what some old boys would term a great "session beer" It is really good stuff. The pig came from just up the road too.

The depressing nature of the news continues and I finished Louis de B's Birds without Wings half way through the holiday and will read it again later this month.Ten years after everyone else but that's just how we roll around here, we're only just done with Pokemon. Captain Corelli is often one of the set texts for A level, Birds without Wings will surely follow suit, it is a very good book and I commend it to the house.

At school in the eighties Gerard Manley Hopkins and Jeff Chaucer were forced upon us ad nauseum, although Ted Hughes, George Orwell and Wilf Owen were ok, as they had some relevance, but Chaucer should have been bunted into touch at the meeting when alchemy and the four humours of Hippocrates were removed from the science curriculum .

We didn't study history at our secondary state school, it wasn't offered as an O level or A level subject which is probably why de Bernieres' books now appeal. The view at the time seemed to be what's the point of history? All relevant historical teaching came at home via Ladybird books and Asterix the Gaul. Instead we were subjected to a social experiment called "Humanities" that strived to combine History, English, Religious Studies and the opening gambit of sex education, oh and we'll teach it an open plan area with four or five classes at one time, in a rowdy atmosphere that merited a strong showing of stewards.

Allied to this was MACOS

which stood for Man! A Course Of Studies!

the highlights of which were herring gulls regurgitating fish for their young, the lifecycle of the Atlantic Salmon and Inuit shoving their elderly out on the ice once they have passed their period of usefulness. I don't know if I am any more humane for having studied humanities or more aware of Man having studied his relationship with herring gulls and Atlantic salmon although I experience an increased empathy with old eskimoes. I, and several of my contemporaries, would have lapped up a proper history lesson or a book by the de Bernieres of the day.

The language and emotion of GMH and E.M Forster may also prove alien to many teenage boys and nobody understands Chaucer, it may well be James Joyce written backwards. Orwell was particularly relevant at the time because of the Warsaw pact and the cold war, and subsequently his books were the only ones on the curriculum that I read, and still read, for fun. Homage to Catalonia while fishing in Spain made mention of an atrocity during the Spanish civil war a few swims down from where we fishing which was spooky.

Louis de Bernieres' books may not appeal to all, but Birds without Wings and Captain Corelli (forget the film) are historical novels that highlight the folly of extremism and the merit of tolerance and humanity, are relevant to today's society and if a teacher picks over the bones of either of the books with a class of all denominations it can only do good.

Bugger Chaucer (which I think may have happened at some point during the Nun's Priests tale) and Gerard Manley Hopkins too, education is everything
but let's get kids reading the right stuff.

This has been a broadcast by the children of librarians forced to read in a house full of books from an early age party,

or CLFRHFBFEA for short,

Freedom for Tooting!