Friday 19 August 2016

A Previously Unknown Henry Moore in the Medium of Cucumber

Back again, albeit in an Olympic reverie.

But first we shall attend to Malham Tarn, where a press release, gleefully accepted by national radio, trumpeted the release of a hundred captive bred Water Voles into the Tarn to boost numbers of Ratty.

The News piece revealed that this centum of voles had been raised on carrots and apples, and I confidently predict that in the coming weeks a well meaning Joe Public will don walking shoes to fling all manner of fruit and veg into the Tarn to sustain the poor creatures

This release contradicts current thinking with regard to re-establishing populations of freshwater fish stocks, where the release of captive bred stock and supplementary feeding are strongly discouraged.

Why was this release of Water Voles made public? Why not wait a few years until the Tarn has been repopulated successfully and has a sustainable population of Voles, because hey kids, a lot of that first hundred ain't gonna make it.

I like a Vole, but I can't help thinking that the Malham Tarn lot have been let down by this press release.


We love the Olympics,

there I said it

it's good to emote, innit?

Rowing, Sailing, Boxing, Gymnastics the full gamut (even Equestrian) holds Madam and myself rapt.

The Football season ( a winter sport) started recently, and premiership matches screened live during the Olympics seem a little vulgar as hey Tony Cascarino (Is he still playing?) et al, these Olympics achieve much without the wash bag and headphone culture. During an entertaining half hour with Prodnose on a recent Saturday morning Roger Black revealed that Athletes rock up at the track in their kit and do not shower at the stadium after the event, which is one in the eye (or ear) for the old adage of scrubbing behind the ears.

Compare post event/match interviews of Olympians and Footballers and your Olympian is a far more rounded individual with a capacity for stringing sentences together, win or lose, in the depths of recovery from physical exertion. But then can we all remember that wiseacre Alan Pardew who, irked at the success of London 2012, sought to remind the British Public that footballers too are capable of Corinthian deeds, before head butting a footballer twenty years his junior playing against a team he was managing at the time a couple of weeks later.

Watch and learn Premiership footballers, you do not possess the god like status that you think your wage packet infers, that status is left for true Olympians, and hey Brian Cox, if you happen to find another planet somewhere, can we please, ignore the campaign for Planet Sheldon and name the thing Usain?

Or perhaps Planet Nick Skelton, as a gold medal at the age of 58 has isnpsired me to search for Pole vault poles on ebay.

Well done everyone, Well done!

Returning to Alan, the weed cut is on and having gone through much of the back catalogue of Desert Island Discs on my clever wireless headphones, I have purchased an audio book to occupy the few grey cells that remain during Poldarkian swishings with my scythe. I Partridge - we need to talk about Alan is a permanent fixture on my phone and is a work of genius, but today I have cut weed to a book that pushes it close.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentleman, I give you......

Toast on Toast, Cautionary Tales and Candid Advice.

I knew the book was out,

but like I Partridge, We need to talk about Alan, I wanted to hear the evidence from the horse's mouth.

If you were walking near the river sometime today and saw a chap up to his chest in water laughing his scythe off then this book was the cause.

Alan Partridge and Adrian Mole stand like beacons as true seers of their respective ages, and I'll confess to being a bit spoony over Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, Mighty Boosh, House of Fools, Snuff Box) he's a genius, and Steven Toast now run Alan and Adrian close in the race for a place at the centre of my heart,

Just outside family, close friends and the black dog obviously.

Returning to matters of work,

But before I do, I'm typing this blind, as the letters on the replacement keyboard purchased from Peking after I inadvisably marinated my laptop in vin rouge, have all rubbed off.

I used to get quite cross with Sting in his free jazz phase when he played a bass guitar with no fret marks, and once came close to taking him up on the matter when I passed through his garden on the Avon a few years ago on a business trip, but having banged out guff on a keyboard free of markings over the past few weeks I can concur with the Sting that it is a freer way of playing/typing,

I've never felt more alive, it's akin to riding a bike commando,

A practice also promoted by Sting during his Tantric sex phase, and a significant proportion of the cast of Carry on Camping.

August fishing is what it is, and as ever we look forward to September. Fish are being caught and a look through the book will confirm that with regard to numbers, catches are all that they should be for the season and well up on last year when water quality was significantly poorer. Many anglers have remarked on the dearth of big fish. Not one for a grey area or obfuscation I consulted catch records for the last thirty years in search of FACTS ( a word that seems to demand capital letters in the modern age) and the average size of fish caught each season has dropped these past two seasons.

We don't stock heavily, and brown trout introduced have rarely exceeded a pound and half in weight throughout the past twenty odd years. There are fish in the book of many pounds, the size of which have not appeared in recent seasons, and at this point it may be pertinent to examine where these "bigger" fish came from. First up, we didn't put them in. They were either derived from natural stock, or were canny stocked fish who matured in the river and hung around for several seasons (mixed sex) and spawned successfully.

This valley now plays host to a herd of Otters, and the big fish are the first to end up dead on the bank and last November/ December there were significantly fewer sexually mature fish kicking up redds in this stretch of river, which is a worry.

While many will wax lyrical on the merits of apex predators, this one is starting to impact upon the fish population of this river valley. It is not just the big trout that end up half eaten on the river bank, big pike, big roach and big grayling have all been hit hard these past two years, and in the lake the fifty forty year old carp were killed in a space of a couple of winters along with a shoal of bream weighing between five and eight pound.

Don't get me wrong, Otters should be present in this valley, but Unlike Hugh Finty Tittingshill, Tarka doesn't do sustainable fishing and we are currently heading towards a situation where the fish population falls to a sufficiently low level that the Otters are forced to move elsewhere for a viable food source and face their principle present day foe, the motor car.

There is a sensible conversation that needs to be begun , (don't expect any organisation ending in the word "Trust" ( Angling Trust excepted) to put their head above the parapet) and not on social media or the internet, and reading this back I anticipate the customary anonymous emails, so I'll get my response in early in that I am immensely proud that biodiversity has increased substantially on this stretch of river during my twenty five season tenure, Otters included, but for some aquatic environments in the UK, a burgeoning Otter population has fast becoming the elephant in the room.

Moving on, and with a nod to Esther Rantzen, who I once had the pleasure of meeting (I seem to have picked up a name dropping habit in recent weeks) and can confirm is a very nice lady and a sharp cookie to boot, here's a photo of an unusually shaped salad vegetable,

Ladies and Gentleman I give you,

Cucumber by Henry Moore.

If anyone would like to buy this unique work of art in the medium of cucumber by the leading sculptor of his age, please send several thousand pounds to:

Vegetables are far more comfortable in their own skin now we're out of Europe


Friday 12 August 2016

Butterflies, Olympics and Green Gyms

Well fishing's slowed up a little, but not to the extent that it did midsummer of 2015. There are bits of algae present and blanket weed is on the rise, but then it is August. Compare the photo on here twelve months ago featuring foam and cloudy water with the current state of play and it is clear that water quality was being impacted upon upstream in 2015 and whatever shenanigans were going on upriver are now diminished or have ceased.
Many fish concentrate on feeding subsurface with daytime surface feeding fish rising sporadically to a steady trickle of olives and hatches of sedge that build from mid afternoon on.

And at that point I'll break off to attend to some of the nonsense currently employed by media regarding the Olympics.
Despite the best efforts of the written press in recent months, I predict that many will welcome a sporting event that, the Russian bear aside, manages to bring unity to a disparate world, and hey naysayers over the last few weeks in the written press, good luck Rio (not you Ferdinand you lucked out years ago) I am sure the games will be a great success. If ever a year needed a lift with a few life affirming tales then it is 2016 and I hope the Olympics and Para Olympics will deliver on that score wherever.

But somebody add some barley straw or introduce tench and lillies to the fetid pit that Tom Daley and his compatriots are required to tumble into.

In the middle of the night a twenty one year old called Adam won the first medal for Old Albion. A dedicated individual who hadn't lost a race for two years, I was made aware of his triumph via Madam's phone, who, ever the newshound had wired it up for BBC news alerts.

Bleary eyed over breakfast (we couldn't get back to sleep) we discussed the merits of smart phones and tablets in the bedroom, but agreed to hold hands and watch the highlights of the race later that day.

Which we tried to do on three occasions,

but rather than show the one minute race in its entirety, the BBC prefer (and I blame Eddie Butler for this fad, after setting slow motion rugby players to poor prose) we are treated to super slow mo vignettes as the commentator delivers his piece (with much editing and several takes) Look at the camera we've got and didn't our commentary go well?

Hubris doesn't come close,

Adam's achievements could never be improved by some digital sexing up of the pictures and audio. Just show the thing as it happened in real time with live commentary, warts an all and then step back and say well done.

The red button is worth a push, as it offers several sports sans commentator and pundit, which can be quite refreshing at times.

Anyway, we've a meadow full of butterflies, drawn to hemp agrimony, that like much of the other vegetation is a foot taller than previous years. The willows have also enjoyed 2016 and have put on substantial growth, although one of the eight year old cricket bat willows has shed all of its leaves and cashed in its chips, which is a little surprising as willows thrive in this parish.

There are rumours of some funny raptors about. I have seen a ring tailed hen harrier with my own eyes, and the merlin is a given, but four chaps with cameras were waiting on the bridge over the A303 for a honey buzzard that has taken up residence in Harewood Forest and there is talk of goshawks getting jiggy in the valley. One of our regulars described a bird that could have been such a thing up near the flight pond, and I carry my camera in readiness, but have yet to confirm the sighting, although I was distracted by the butterflies (see photos).

And well done Wendy Craig for that, we revisited a few episodes when we last experienced a broadband connection capable of delivering such a service, could have been rural France, Seville or that Croatian island an hour off the coast of Split, I don't remember exactly but it was definitely in Europe.

I didn't appreciate how clever Butterflies was as a child of Primary school age, and at this point can we all tip a tile to Dolly Parton.

Dig deep, and you'll find that this gal made a significant contribution to the backing track of three decades or more.

Cricket can be all consuming at this time of year for three parts of our family, although Child A did attend a cricket match last weekend if only to ignore match proceedings and gas with friends on the boundary, which is part of the charm of club cricket, and I too find myself increasingly distracted by the social scene on the boundary and miss large chunks of the game. Fortunately Madam is the scorer supreme (The Hampshire Cricket Leagues' scorer of the year 2014 sash hangs from the post of our bed) and fills me in on matters I missed while giving forth elsewhere when we get home. A regular visitor to the ground is a former Times cricket correspondent, he's lived all his life a few yards up the road and even in his ninetieth year shows a keen interest in all the Longparish sides.

He's brim full of knowledge on many subjects including fishing, particularly on chalk streams that he has lived on all of his life. He kindly took me to a stretch of the Avon on several occasions where he held a rod and he fished many weekends at home on the Dever and even filled in on the beating line on shoot days a couple of times with his spaniel Googly.

We attended his 70th birthday party , his 80th birthday party and earlier this week his 90th birthday party, we hope to be invited to his 100th birthday party as ten minutes in his company on the boundary remains one of the highlights of any game of cricket wherever it's played.

And so to the Duke of Wewstminster, not the pub, but Gerald Grosvenor who passed away this week

For a few years we stocked his two acre garden pond at Eaton Hall with our home grown three pound brown trout for his children to catch. On the first occasion I was given a tour of the estate by the deer manager, who had a meat processing room that Waitrose would envy and a narrow gauge railway circumnavigating the estate to transport the seven hundred or so fallow culled each year.

I didn't meet Gerald on that occasion, but I was well acquainted with the estate as, each year during my formative years our cub scout and scout troops undertook a sponsored walk about the premises to raise money for I forget what. However our paths did cross once when a quorum of my fourteen year old friends travelled south via back lanes from Tarvin to Llangollen to sojourn in my parents caravan for the weekend.

To celebrate crossing the Anglo Welsh border my introverted friend chose to pop a wheelie down the middle of the B Road on which we were travelling , at which point the Duke of Westminster rounded the corner ahead in his green range rover causing my friend to abort his wheelie and the duke to swerve his range rover and wag a finger.

I met his wife once when I was 17. I was charged with presenting her with a cheque for the Save the Children fund after a group of us were sponsored to push a supermarket trolley from Cheshire to London, and she was radiant throughout (the presentation, she didn't come on the trolley push)

It will have been written many times, but he did an awful lot for Field Sports

If confirmation were needed that a certain sector of the UK's urban population is increasingly disconnected from an everyday tale of country life (and hey Archers I'm including you in this) then an article in a newspaper last Saturday espousing the virtues of "green gyms" shall serve as exhibit A, B or C in any case presented.

The writer (or his house) paid money to join a "Green Gym" for a week, where the group undertook physical work in the outdoors in simple clothing, breaking occasionally to connect with the rest of the group through easy unpressured conversation. Accommodation and provisions were simple fayre, often taken in the field. Courses are being run throughout the year, and are reasonably priced at £600 pp.

I believe people pay good money for mindfulness classes in which they are encouraged to clear their heads (and their purse) by concentrating on a single spot while sitting in a yoga type position.

I've said it before, and I predict a wicker fishing basket will be the next yogic accoutrement required to attain the third level of enlightenment,

but fishermen who fish the float or the quiver tip have known this for some time.

On several occasions last year, four or five people paid money to lift weights and be shouted at by a man who had travelled many miles in the name of "Boot camp" exercise, while Ludgershall and myself chopped and stacked logs on the other side of the fence,

you could have helped us out for free and we wouldn't have been anywhere near as shouty.

Last winter Lord Ludgershall and myself spent many months in the woods attending to trees.

This year Professor Ludgershall and myself will be running a series of short courses that promise to promote mental clarity via the medium of gentle cardio exercise, moving wood and ribald conversation

Refreshments and lunch provided each day and will be taken outdoors.

Packages are individually tailored to the client's needs

Standard package - £200 pp per week (I think that's reasonable)

Gold package - £300 pp per week - includes proper coffee/posh teabag, "non jacket potato" lunch option and scented candles

Please note, accommodation not included in either of the above packages, there is a Travelodge just up the road.