Friday 30 January 2015

Golden Chunks of Auto Factor and the worry of Hans Zarkov

A beech tree this week and a big bugger at that, two main trunks and a crown that was one of the highest in the wood. We will be burning the last of these logs watching the FIFA world cup in Quatar, should it take place and no we won't be lighting a fire in the summer. We have a load of golden plover on the fields behind our home and most mornings I can catch a sight of them from the bathroom at some point during extensive early morning ablutions as they lift as one to another part of the field. The merlin is back and while I have yet to flush it from the ground up the river we have twice chased it for several hundred yards along the lane in front of the car, which was a surprise because we have been without wheels for ten days while our complicated car took to its bed with a fever. You don't go at today's modern motor with spanners and a wrench. They must be placed in a white room with subtle lighting, attended by lab coat clad technicians and plugged into a computer which will then ask the car how it feels. Once the therapy has been run through, the detox programme begins in which golden chunks of "auto factor" are pinned to the car's frame as a means of restoring its mood and a bill presented that bears comparison with a week in The Priory that runs well into four figures and leaves a yearning for Haynes manuals, boiler suits, tubs of jizer and king dick spanners?

From this you will have gauged the mood, but I must return to the river,

As the priory funds have been done on drive shafts and distributors,

and at this point I would like to highlight this week's announcement that the wealthiest 1% of the world's population have as much money as the remaining 99%, and it is only they who can afford to drive and maintain a car by the boys from Bavaria

Whither poor feeler gauge and tappets,

The river!....the river!

Oh yes the river,

We've had some damp conditions of late and with half an eye to the medium of fire the reed beds remain a tad soggy it may be March before I can don my super new fire gloves and sally forth with some phosphorus and tinder. Weed is having a high old time of it, water levels are what we would expect at this time of the year but an above average water temperature promotes weed growth. Olives trickle off for an hour or so most afternoons and both trout and grayling feed sporadically on the surface, which should mean fewer long and thin fish on the bank at the start of the season. I've a fencing task to attend to in order to secure a wood full of what many would eye as four figures worth of logs,

Yes the government's heating allowance has created a black market in logs,

whereas years ago they'd have turned to unused furniture and clogs

On re-reading this I may have picked that bit up on a board during a five day sojourn on the Amstel two years back, consequently this rubbish may need a bibliography.

That, or I'm making a subconscious bid to make this guff rhyme.

Returning to the heating allowance, I don't think I have spoken to many pensioners who have done the heating payments on fossil fuels.
Suppliers of kitchenware, garden machinery, short breaks, and vet's, all have benefited from the winter fuel payment, although Lord Ludgershall did blow his on a chainsaw........ which kinda counts.

I have a bridge to build, and one to repair, and at some point I must break cover from the wood and attend to crack willow on the river bank. There is hazel that is long overdue a coppicing, and gaps in the wood are perfect for the planting of some hardwood saplings.

P (remember that?)

I have nominated my saw for an award in the birthday honours list.

It's a Husqvuarna, there I said it, I am done with Stihl. I did the same with my brush cutter and now use a four stroke Honda. I do a lot with a brush cutter during the summer and each Stihl I've had has cashed in its chips after two or three years. Driven by a need for a quiet machine in order to listen to test match cricket through my Dr beats (headphones) I switched to a four stroke Honda and have not looked back. There's no chance of listening to anything while dealing with trees but with an eye to the brushcutter experience, and no little Nordic Noir I opted for a Husqvarna, a heroic saw that has balked at nothing this winter, and as my middle name is Alexander I feel bound to term the thing Bucephalus and when it finally fails it will be buried in the garden with full ceremonial honours.

And I'm sorry Bavarian Motor Works, your temperamental charge will not receive such eulogies but will be buried outside the garden walls,

This Husqvarna has heart, guts and spirit and is completely void of all warning lights and sensors

Turning to Sky (the television provider and not the thing that we live in fear of falling on our heads) the blurred lines of text that pop up on the television screen that I was assured were parish notices, are in fact promptings from sky plus!

Last week I discovered that we had Sky TV, this week I learn that we have more than the sky,

We have Sky and a bit more

Much of the final frontier apparently.

And now news from our plate tectonics correspondent:

This week we had an earthquake.

It made the News and the epicentre was little more than a mile from the short stretch of the Itchen that I jump in and out of, I shall visit later this week to check for a river full of fissures and magma with an eye to shifting a few pumice stones to those cursed with rough feet.

I didn't feel a thing, I was in the bath at the time removing the stench of four hours of feeding a fire in the wood and there were no ripples that could be considered out of the ordinary, certainly no tsunami.

I missed a bigger quake in North Wales in the early eighties. We were fishing for sewin on the Afon Dwyfor at Llanystumddwy, a fabulous little river full of sea trout and salmon and available on a day ticket. I had been out all night fishing and had returned to the holiday cottage for breakfast, before hopping into bed to recuperate for the following night's fishing. Mid morning the earth juddered, some chimney pots toppled and I slept through the lot, it was slightly bigger than the one in Winchester this week.

After a day tramping the streets of Genoa earlier this year, I had emerged from the bath and was applying balm to my feet six floors up in The Bristol Palace hotel when the whole room wobbled gently for what must have been twenty seconds, as a tremor of four point something gently nudged the city.

From these three pieces of evidence we can conclude that the earth will only move when I am not wearing the full complement of clothes, and it needs a quake factor of four or more for my inbuilt bodily seismic sensors to register it.

And that's science.

Returning to the Itchen, and influenced by last year's floods and Spinal Tap's amp that went right up to eleven, the Command Centre Central have extended their measuring stick from ten to thirteen.
I imagine this was a decision reached following a series of site meetings, an application for a licence to move beyond twelve and into the teens and a party of at least four to install the thing, One of whom will have been a registered first aider, another will have completed a two day course on throwing a rubber ring to someone who has fallen into water and another will have watched from distance to provide a report on proceedings and also to summon assistance should any of the other three get into trouble as they approach the water. All will have worn gloves, waterproof boots with metal toes, buoyancy aids with whistles and the chap who screws the thing to the wall will wear a mask and possibly ear protectors. Back in the office will be twice the number of people who are out in the field because these guys require significant back up and much paper must be shuffled, meetings convened and brows furrowed in order that tasks such as this are completed,

I imagine that would have been the chain of events, but I may be wrong. One chap with a hammer may have turned up and had the thing done in five minutes,

I hope so

This week I was visited by a playwright. A professional writer now she has done with teaching, who also runs writing courses, has a writing partner and has been commissioned to write a play in which the aquatic environment features large and wanted to ask a few questions. Which we did for an hour or so, before I countered with an hour or more of questions of my own on the formation of words into something someone may want to read.

In a few minutes, the penny dropped that there is a bit more to this caper than I realised.

Planning for one, and something called a synopsis which, after an extensive search, is unavailable on ebay.

Currrently I will sit down to write guff with a wine at hand tapping away to put thoughts on paper.

For something a little longer this method does not apply.

Dialogue is difficult, each attempt I have made ends up with all the characters speaking in the same flippant tone five thousand words in. To counter this I must produce a detailed biography for each character and have a clear idea of where the whole thing begins and ends up.

I don't normally do planning or preparation, things tend to just happen.

It is going to take some time, but I shall give it a go. I hope she got what was required on the river front because I certainly learned a lot about writing lots of words that somebody else may actually want to read.

If I do ever get anything done,

and the clock is ticking with agents of Richard Madeley hot on my trail following messages sent regarding his work on the wireless.

If I ever get it done it may rock up on here, or it may just feature two thirds of the way up the totem pole of my time on earth that I regularly attend to in the back garden.

And now, with a nod to Chris Morris- News from the World.

The government announcement this week that fracking would not be considered in National Parks or areas where water supply is sourced from the ground, is welcome.
Is there an election imminent, will the next governments' sentiments be the same mid-term?

At least the lunacy of the "Race to Frack" has been discarded,

If we are to do this lets take time to make sure that it is carried out in the right places with the required diligence.

And so to Greece,

I wish,

I have every sympathy for the everyday Costas and Sophie.

They've been let down by the chronically corrupt nobs at the top who appear to have built substantial villas in the hills instead of the bits of infrastructure for which EU money was allocated.
In two thousand years time when I can finally afford to retire (The sustained consumption of red wine and dark chocolate with the occasional phial of probiotic yoghurt suggest that this is a mere minimum) and transport links have led the world to mix its genes up (and here's where your holding civilisation back National Rail, Oh and are you sure about that genetic purity thing WTT) to the extent that the creed and the colour and the name don't matter

We will all be human kind (and kind humans hopefully) and the madness of this age will be long gone,

and all we will have to worry about is Hans Zarkov, and the possibility of the sky falling on our heads

Which is where you come in Flash Gordon and Asterix.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Beefeaters Twitch across the Sky pursued by a Fair Failed Fuckwit.

The lower Dever valley is a very special part of the south of England that I am fortunate enough to enjoy access to. In an increasingly crowded corner of the county parts of the valley resemble the land that time forgot. It is renowned for its colony of short eared owls, but plays host to many other species including all the other owls, hen harriers and much more besides. At this time of the year it is not unusual to receive rare winter visitors and it was with that in mind that I bumbled down the lower Dever earlier this month. There was a hen harrier about, inevitable owls, snipe of course, but then a glint of glass betrayed a phalanx of birders nosing at a great grey shrike, It was a first for me in this valley but there it sat perched atop a lone blackthorn, the avian equivalent of Vlad the Impaler. It sought mice and frogs to impale on the tree's thorns. Magpie and crow are held rapt by its cousin's grisly tree decorations, a fact not lost on French falconers who dubbed the bird "mat'agasse" the magpie killer, although the amount of meat hanging from this lonely blackthorn reinforced the bird's usual moniker of the butcher bird.

Opportunities to dress up are always welcome and the arrival of a pair of ravens in the valley instigated a wine fuelled internet search for a Beefeater costume, the self imposed curfew on internet purchases that kicks in at 9pm was fortunately reached before an appropriate garment could be sourced.

We have had some tremendous showers of rain this week along with some strong gusts of wind, although no trees have been toppled. The river is bank high and quick to colour and grayling fishing has been challenging, a few spring ditches have broken and are making their contribution to the Dever's discharge and ranunculus on the top shallows is doing very well and may well need a cut before the start of the season which is often an indicator of a decent winter's rain.

A substantial pike put in an appearance in shallow water on the flight pond, soporific with a belly full of roach and rudd it is well into double figures. Same old, same old where work is concerned as my big orange saw shows no sign of weariness with regard to its' work in the wood.

I have been joined in this task by Lord Ludgershall who has a similar saw and a vehicle that may be a little camp for some men of the woods, although he does remove his crown and ermine.
The camera has been out and a short film is currently under edit with the working title "Into the woods with Vidal Sassoon".

I'm not one for chain sawing on my own, it's a risky business and very occasionally the saw can kick and catch you out, and I am very aware that it is easy to become over confident particularly when carrying out the task for several days in succession so Lord Ludgershall's attendance is welcome, not least because he laughs in the face of the scam that is Dry January and insists upon a good lunch. Potatoes are cooked in the fire, and ox parts roasted above it and served with candles, crackers and beer, all to a soundtrack of Pavarotti's take on Ave Maria.

We have just received word of improved efficiancies at command centre central that promise to make the business of applying for fish movement orders all the more easier. I have had a few funny responses to applications in years gone by. It's their game, and it pays to play by their rules as things can get difficult if someone so chooses, but I once had an application to put fish in the river at Bransbury refused because it was deemed to be a particularly sensitive stretch of the upper Itchen, and a few years ago we were asked to fork out four hundred pounds to cull thirty pound plus fish for a health check in order to move a batch of their mates to the other side of a stew pond screen. The inner Osman was subsequently released and I reared up to my full height to highlight the pointlessness of such an exercise, as whatever was in the receiving water would be in the pond because it had the receiving water flowing through it.

But hey that's how we used to roll on these rivers.

Increased efficiencies should mean an end to this kind of caper, that seemed to proliferate when the whole business was taken out of regional hands and centralised in the name of increased efficiencies quite some years ago. Fingers crossed it works, because with regard to the spread of notifiable fishes, the licensing of fish movements is an important process that provides certain safeguards to populations of freshwater fish.

A crisis has just occurred,

Unbeknown to me we have been long term subscribers to Sky TV and have had in our possession a Sky remote control for many years

Who knew?

This remote control, has just cashed in its chips half way through "Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages"

The remote control and Sky TV have now broken cover and my assistance has been sought over their repair. Which, with great magnanimity, I have agreed to do on agreement that we first deal with the more pressing matter of what business does Penelope Keith have in hiding villages, and when did she make the leap from bossy lead lady in the Good Life, to deranged despot.

Mrs Dooms- Patterson must be quaking in her boots.

The Sky TV lady on the phone has been most helpful and a new remote control is winging its way to us as I write, meanwhile our TV is stuck on something called QVC which is proving to be strangely addictive but may not be the case after five days of "It Cuts, It Dices, It Slices and all at incredible prices......."

This house is now teenager free after Child B turned twenty at the weekend. We are all grown ups now and the pressures that come with acting like an adult begin to press hard,

Which I still find difficult, but one day I may grow up.

Child B will be OK, he has just completed three weeks work with a planning company that was very grown up and for which he daily donned the sharp suit and pointy shoes of office, while Child A studies sociological issues incomprehensible to our befuddled minds. We popped out for a celebratory lunch at the weekend and it was Madam and myself who took to the booster seats in the back of the car.

BREAKING NEWS: Keeper causes upset at RSPB

News, Really?

Surely that's a given, in recent times.

Sunday afternoon and with wine on board, a belly fully of meat, and a mind to roam Madam, myself, child B and Otis set out for skirmishes on Bransbury Common. Access used to be restricted to people of the parishes that sit on its borders but now it seems that any old Jonny can rock up. As I have already stated, it is a magical place that has recently played host to a Fair Failed Fuckwit,

No, make that a Bar Tailed Godwit,

Or was that the beaky bird we saw in Scotland?

Just a minute, I'd better look this up,

Great Grey Shrike, that's the dicky

Now Birdwatchers and keepers have somehow migrated to opposite poles in recent years, at which point I would like to point out that many of my friends in the field sports fraternity have a spectacular appreciation of all things avian, excluding myself whose own shortcomings have already been exposed earlier in the piece. There are people who work and fish on this river who could identify a willow tit from a marsh tit in two seconds at a distance of fifty metres.

For many weeks cars have been parked just down the road by people driving many miles to take in the Shrike, along with complimentary owls and a hen harrier. On this afternoon there were no cars, so we set out for our post prandial parade confident that we would have the place to ourselves. We traversed the manor house with the intention of walking down the common, wading through the ford and walking back up the track that borders the wood on the opposite side of the river. A trek of a few miles in bracing air that promised to remove the fug of a good lunch. We soon encountered some fallow deer, which was a surprise this side of the A303, but they may have been the beasts that rocked up in the fields behind the house a few years back. As ever there were short eared owls and a surprising number of little egrets, a heron chased off a great egret, which was not on the bill and the hen harrier flopped about, golden plover lifted from the field bordering the common and a merlin flushed from the floor. With Otis giving of his best we negotiated the workings of a billion ants and approached the ford when it became apparent we were not alone. Massed on the opposite bank of the river next to the ford were fifty or so twitchers clad in real tree and armed with long lenses, the main body had formed up by the ford with pickets posted further along the bank in their efforts to take in the Shrike, and for the past ten minutes we had bumbled our way through their field of fire.

We were in a congenial state and retracing our steps would have been an admission of defeat, and meant a further ten minutes of shuffling back across their field of fire. So we pressed on regardless with our original plan of crossing the ford. Halfway across, the fug descended and it became apparent that either the river had risen or our wellies had got shorter, Child B, Madam and Otis looked to me for guidance, so in the spirit of Lou Nolan I urged us on toward the battery of long lenses with the cry of "Gentlemen, there are your guns". Boots soon filled with water and as we sloshed through the massed ranks on the other side, I am proud to say that all involved in the charge, got in amongst the guns, and made light of our water filled boots, before making our way to the wood a hundred yards away where wellingtons were emptied of water out of sight of the real tree crew.

We were perfectly within our rights to walk that way, and I think our "carry on chaps" air made that point perfectly, but with all those cameras it felt like a Norman Wisdom trip on the red carpet that drew little mirth, but distinct disapproval.

Which made us laugh all the more,

The Shrike's still there by the way, but is not tempted by the slice of sausage we leave out for it daily.

Thursday 8 January 2015

Freedom of Speech in a Modern World

Only through freedom of speech can tolerance be attained

"One defeats the fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself"

Eric Arthur Blair

Saturday 3 January 2015

I'm Morethan Freeman, Thank you for listening

Happy New Year,

and so to the eighth year of chucking out this guff that initially served as a reminder as to what I should be doing from one working day to the next but has warped into something slightly different and provided me with a new avenue of life and work. Thank you to all who continue to drop in and to the many unexpected people who have been in touch personally. Our annual report from the statistics wallahs demonstrates that the number of visits will pass the quarter of a million mark early this year and in one month during the flooding last winter ten thousand dropped in at some point to look at wet fields and soggy prose. Fifty four percent of visitors were male and forty five percent female, one percent were not sure or declined to be pigeon holed. One hundred percent of visitors were below the age of one hundred and five with a distinct lack of Pisceans and Librans. Ninety eight percent read this written rubbish in English, and there are regulars in many parts of Europe who subject this farce to google translate, heaven help them all. Ninety percent of visits come from the UK, twenty percent of them from London, five percent from Southampton and lots from Guildford, Reading, Bristol, and Swansea, there is scant interest in the North East of England and we have yet to receive a visitor from the Orkneys, but just as soon as we do, rest assured, you will hear it here first.

But that's enough of the stats until this time next year.

On to the guff!

Having read that bit back let's just revisit that one,

with the coffers bare following festive fun, and HMRC tugging at my coat, this Website is now up for sale,

I am sure those viewing figures compare favourably with Take the High Road (I feel we are on pretty safe ground here with our dearth of visitors from the Highlands and up) and they were sponsored by Brooke Bond Tea. I'm not against product placement, and could easily pimp a tea bag or two,

I'm Morethan Freeman thank you for listening (Seamless)

Oh Yes...


I think that's the international symbol of impending product placement

At this point I could go on a bit more about trees I have known and provide stats on quantities of petrol and chain oil used, and number of fires started in the past few weeks, but won't as we're done with stats. We have had a very cold spell and also some rain so, so far so good as far as this winter is concerned, all is as it should be and springs should break sometime in the first few months of the new year. On the stretch of the Itchen that I fall in and out of on a reasonably regular basis, two winters of burning have visibly increased thickness of the phragmites and fen, and reduced the number of nettles,

I could demonstrate with photos and talk at length about reduced eutrophic conditions concluding with some form of "index" to prove the point,

but I won't as it is obvious even to these dodgy eyes.

Further capers with the medium of fire to follow later this winter.

Trotting over the Christmas period was productive. The river is in reasonable condition and carrying little colour. The roach proved a little elusive but the grayling made up for their absence. Nothing enormous, with the biggest probably just over a pound and a half but plenty of fish and a couple of hours with my thirteen foot float rod sending a red and a white maggot down the river at a depth of three feet produced over a dozen fish on three consecutive days. I have a soft spot for float fishing, and maintain that it is possible to achieve a heightened level of mindfulness by concentrating solely on a single red dot sailing away downstream as the outside world recedes.

I may have been hypnotised.

Just before Christmas we received the 2013 annual river report from the River's riparian owners association, which caused some confusion, and questions were asked as to whether we are about to experience last year's flooding this year, has the economy really recovered and can we do the Olympics again?

I am informed that the report for last season, 2014, will be out sometime soon.


A brief pause while I deliver grapes and strong cheese to Madam, who lies prone in her latest diaphanous nightwear on the sofa. Think the Cadbury's flake girl in knee length salmon chiffon. She's not contemplating crumbly chocolate but perusing ideas for her hand made cards. She makes some rather good ones, that are much admired, and is always on the lookout for sales. She needs to up her marketing strategy which currently consists of carrying a cardboard box around in the back of her car and waiting for people to ask if they can have a look.

She can be contacted by email at or writing to:

Rachel in her shed, Bransbury Barton Stacey Winchester SO21 3QJ.

All information correct at the time of publication, terms and conditions do not apply, subject to availibility, credit card charges apply, you have not been charged for this call

Sorry, takes a while hand feeding grapes, one by one.

Ditches have been attended to throughout the parish, and the take that some have on the task is wide and varied. Diggers have been out and about, some more sympathetically than others. Some ditches through the village that may stand dry for a year have been scraped back to their original profile, which is great, but once vegetation re-establishes itself they should be cleared out and strimmed annually rather than attended to mechanically each year.

The spring ditch that runs for a mile across the valley floor and remains wet for twelve months of the year, has been attended to with some sympathy and water is getting away while a viable winter habitat remains
although some ditches remain unattended to, which is a bit of a worry.

On the short stretch of Itchen that I fall in and out of, the spring ditch that we dug back with hay knives and grabs last year is working as it should, a firm path exists for access, a mushy margin is present throughout it's length, and there is a clear channel to take winter flow away, sympathetic management with an eye to both habitat and flood defence,

Good Job! High five, whoop whoop!

River keeping they used to call it, although others may now lay claim to the practice by another name.

Pre Christmas deadlines for writing stuff, shone a light on my indiscipline with regard to such matters and a change of course was called for. With two dicky knees and a brace of hernias, the graffiti is on the wall trumpeting the fact that I may not be physically capable of jumping in and out of a river as a form of employment until the age of sixty seven, and a life on the state pension. There's no plump private pension here, all the money is done on short breaks and living for pleasure alone, which may provide sepia tinged memories in old age but may not put the quality of sausage in the pan to which we have become accustomed. I have long held dreams of working in retail, I am confident I could work a customer service desk and microphone so the orange and beige of B&Q may beckon at some point, but as a source of extra income I am encouraged to seek payment for written rubbish which can be carried out sitting down while in wine.

As part of this quest for income through words I have been presented with a concentration hat.

When it is worn I must not be fiddling about on google, checking emails or wandering off to pop grapes into the mouth of the lady reclining, outstretched and robed in the previously mentioned diaphanous night
gown, and it is open season for all in the house to chide and taunt in order to drive me back to my tasks at the table.

When it is removed, the default state will resume, and I am permitted to bumble around at will without fear of being prodded with sticks or shooed from the room.

Can we please desist from making state funded executives redundant, awarding a six figure payout before re-employing many of them months later in a similar department.
The paper today states that two hundred million pounds of public money went this way last year in the NHS alone, but well done HMRC for trying to fund this year's profligacy, I don't mind filling in a form so that I can pay tax on the small amount of moolah I make each year from chucking written rubbish together, but come on old fruit, you've some sauce to ask me to pay not only for the last tax year but also the next six months in advance, without any prior warning.

Shirts off Backs: One size available, Chest 42in neck 16.5, a range of styles and a timeline of collars from the mid eighties on. £10 a pop.

All money raised goes to HMRC, to fund cash hand out racket for State funded executives ( NHS, BBC add any letters that you see fit} made redundant before cropping up in another department

When this kind of state funded racket comes to light in another country, we are quick to condemn it as corrupt and question the conscience of those making the rules and dishing out and receiving the unmerited hand outs.

Which, I'm afraid, brings us around to the rails, and the National Rail Network.

On the first Monday of this month I could fly to Dublin or Edinburgh and back from my local airport for less than the cost of catching a train from my local station to London Waterloo and back. Parking is cheaper at the airport and the travel time is the same.

If I can, I avoid the UK rail network,

Can't afford to use it, and don't find it much fun it when I do,

If I do go into London I will drive as far as I can up the motorway before catching the excellent tube service. A procession of car transporters moves cars from midland manufacturers down the M40 and the A34 to Southampton docks and the fare for a trip from my local station to Inverness for my fishing trip to the Carron last May would have taken 10 hours 40 minutes and cost three hundred and eighty eight pounds, I could have flown to and from New York in less time and for less money.

I'll ride the rails in Europe, our recent train journey in Germany was a delight and very good value, as it was when taking the train from Lille to Paris. Child A's travels on the trains around Europe was unbelievably good value with great service, and in her thirty days away she never had a problem finding a seat or a bed.
The rail network in the southeast got itself into a bit of a pickle over the festive period but well done the chief executive for eschewing his six figure bonus and opting to live on his six hundred and something thousand per annum salary alone,

Worth every penny,

It's the gravy train with biscuit wheels and don't expect the Carne clan to be coming to a food bank near you anytime soon

As ever, we are increasingly led by loons!



a little idealistic,but remain....

Morethan Freeman, thank you for listening.