Tuesday 31 January 2017

Stop Driving People Into The Sea BBC!

Every evening this year at 6pm the BBC have forced the same small band of brothers to don swimming trunks and like a regiment of Reggie Perrins turn as one and march out into the freezing briny.

From a licence payer and one who wouldn't jump into water at this time of year clad in anything less than a minimum covering of 5mm of neoprene, Stop it BBC.

I know that waterboarding currently gets all the heat with regard to methods of aquatic torture, but this pushes it close. At the very least introduce a rotation policy so that the same bunch aren't subject this nightly barbarity which serves as an amuse bouche to the evening news. Yes a dancing bear and of course the bearded ladies and those swimming hippos were a lot of fun but this daily ritual of driving these same souls off the beach by way of a bit of a filler before the nightly news is at best medieval at worst downright cruel!


Chainsaw work continues, balsam poplar stumps have been burned, vistas have been created and my new saw continues to perform well. For five consecutive days night time temperatures dropped to between minus five and minus seven and a big fire on a clear frosty morning has been a welcome addition to the working environment. We are currently attending to the forces of crack willow that have taken up position on the top shallows, I last went at them about five years ago which is a little too long, three years is about the max as they can really impact on weed and marginal growth if allowed to run riot. It's the time of year for funny birds, and there is something up where we are working that I have yet to identify, it makes a funny noise that I'll not try to replicate vie the medium of the written word but as soon as I have identified it rest assured it will be writ large on here. There are many redwing and a flight of canaries that on closer inspection in good light proved to be yellowhammers. Child A also reported a bird making a funny call on her return late one night from work, too early for the Nightjar so with the amount of lurgy about the place at the moment my guess is an owl with a cold.

There now follows an appeal on behalf of the RSPDP (Royal Society for the Protection of Depleted Aquifers)

Crikes we need rain

I'll say that again for the sake of emphasis.


My new friend who is a big noise in the EA informs me that meetings are being held and there are concerns at a regional level on the amount of water currently held in the ground in this part of the world

Yet the media and public disconnect from what constitutes good meteorological conditions for a particular time of year increases daily: our local news programme has just declared the current week a wash out, with scattered showers forecast and spells of prolonged drizzle.


A position has arisen for a suitable candidate to fulfil the position of promoter for a wet week in winter in the South of England. The candidate shall possess excellent communication skills and be able to get a simple message across in words of no more than two syllables to a large audience with limited appreciation of the subject.

Last week, with a view to prolonging life, we walked six miles up and down the river Hamble. It is a place we have driven by countless times, watched cricket matches within a mile of its banks and yet it remained relatively unknown territory to us. Parking among the cravats and Breton sweaters much favoured by the Howard's Way set in Bursledon we headed north on the left bank, through a few marinas under the M27 then out into the marshes round a creek and into the Manor Farm Country Park where we encountered four hundred or so cross country runners charging at us down a narrow path. There were runners from across the county and while the leader was obvious it was difficult to determine when the last runner was due through in order for us to complete our trek.

We stood by the side of the path and noted the change in body shape and BMI as the field progressed until a chap on a bike sporting the requisite high viz whistling the theme tune from "Chariots of Fire" arrived chivvying along the endomorphic back marker.
It's a great place for a walk and surprisingly peaceful, placed as it is between Pompey and Southampton and its proximity to a very busy motorway, it just gets a bit crowded when Zatopek and Mary Peters et al turn up.

The chickens continue to present us with the gift of eggs with every other one a double yolker, production is increasing and I move their pen every other day as I have delayed their release into the paddock until the threat of flu has passed.

A friend enquired recently if I had caught the Andrew Marr show on Sunday, to which I replied I had cancelled my subscription to the show. After six days a week of despair at edicts being issued and rhetoric uttered in all corners of the globe, Sunday once again serves as a break from the outside world, so apologies to the Andrew sisters (Marr and Neil)

I really value a one day a week break from the grim madness that currently grips planet earth (and feel free to make a contribution here Tim Peake rather than putting all your efforts into blagging another free trip into space)and now a Sunday is spent immersed in the three W's.

Not Worrel, Weekes and Walcott

but walks, wine and Wodehouse,

A brief word from Wooster:

"... in the course of a beano of some description at the Sherry-Sutherland, I made the acquaintance of Pauline Stoker.
She got right in among me. her beauty maddened me like wine.

"Jeeves, " I recollect saying, on returning to the apartment "who was the fellow who on looking at something felt like somebody looking at something? I learned the passage at school, but it has escaped me."

"I fancy the individual you have in mind , sir, is the poet Keats, who compared his emotions on reading Chapman's Homer to those of stout Cortez when with eagle eyes he stared at the Pacific"

"The Pacific, eh?"

"Yes, sir. And all his men looked at each other with a wild surmise, silent upon a peak in Darien"

Thank you Jeeves.

Hey Donald, i know it would be another white male in later life appointment, but you could really use a Jeeves

In other news, I'm a few weeks away from the 25th anniversary of my current employment. Protocols dictate that carriage clocks are de rigueur at this juncture but the well preserved form of the lady who sleeps on my left and my own withered husk, each born three days apart confirms the thesis that time moves at differing paces for different people and all aspects of horology are hooey,

or was it Astrology?

No matter, if we can all agree that one of the "ologys" is hooey we'll move on

To mark the 25 year event "the firm" have stumped up for, not a clock, but a fantastic trip to Italy where Madam and myself will both break new ground and revisit a few old favourites - report to follow.

Very exciting and thank you very much, the last twenty five years on a special stretch of river have been a blast and a terrific place to raise a family, thank you for having us for the last twenty five years.

Friday 13 January 2017

Something In the Air by Thunderclap Snow and the Met Office

Just finished my midday repast of jacket potato cottage cheese and sauerkraut, (the sustained consumption of which along with red wine, dark chocolate and regular gentle walking guarantees I will be dancing the funky chicken at the next millennium), and it has started to rain.

A weather event heralded throughout the week by a media who now seem to be using comics as a source for meteorological metaphors.

At the time of writing we are promised Thunder Snow, Power Rain and Menacing Fog as KAPOW! Storm Steve arrives in the West to deliver his deadly cargo of precipitation that will fall with a SPLAT! and a BDOING!

Seems the Meteorologists have now too taken the stance of "If we're not scared they're not doing their job" (and I'm pointing the finger at you for starting this Jeremy Vine) It's the first real rain we've had in the region for weeks so in the spirit of counter culture I have rented a village hall where all like minded people can meet for the launch of a new weather cult.

Think "Pagan lite" with all action kept above the waist line

The arrival of rain will be met with rejoicing, panpipe music, no little mead with every wet day declared a bank holiday.

There are many rivers in the South that are desperate for rain, but that story doesn't meet the demands of today's hyperbolic media. Springwatch Disneyfied the countryside, it now appears the media are Disneyfying the weather

and for that I blame Idina Menzel and her theme from Frozen,

Yes it's clearly Idina's fault.

Chainsaw work continues and to date we have managed to burn four of the big balsam poplar stumps that fell over four winters back. It's a steady business with each stump requiring a substantial amount of other wood as fuel for a fire hot enough to make any impact.

With one left to burn, we have several substantial willows to attend to on the river bank that will be felled and dragged to the remaining recalcitrant stump by the tractor and the vista will be complete.

Many moles have massed on the river bank and more hills appear with each passing day but we remain mercifully rat free, which is unusual for this time of year.

It may be that I move with more stealth as the years progress as I seem to be able to get a lot closer to a Muntjac than I used to. We have one who watches me split logs from behind a stick fifteen yards away and we regularly get within twenty yards of others when walking the dog. They used to be incredibly windy but seem to have become increasingly bold.

I recently received an invitation from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to a workshop on watercress in the headwaters of the Test and Itchen, I declined the invitation but well done the H&IOWWT (did I really just say that)
For a few years now we have allowed the cress to grow in during the second half of the season when often there isn't enough water to run a full river channel. It can help to pinch little rivers and maintain a speed of flow that limits the sinister siltation. It must be managed as it can choke a river and also smother good weed such as ranunculus and in the unlikely event of high water it can be cut back or pulled out, but it can serve a purpose for a few months of the year, although the first few frosts soon see it off.

We have yet to have anyone fish for grayling in 2017. The last chap who had a go was a big noise in the Environment Agency who enjoyed a productive day but commented on how high the banks were to which I replied it's not the banks that are high it's the river that's low,

much too low.

I would like to have taken him over to the Itchen where the gravel bar that stands clear of the water grows bigger with each passing week, and ask him if he believed the figures he was shown regarding river levels and discharge, but I didn't because it was Christmas and he was quite a nice chap. But instead informed him that there was less water flowing down this river than when I first started work here nearly twenty five years ago. The book will show that then fish were caught from the Millstream which remained fishable for much of the season, this is no longer the case. The hatch on the house was opened wider during winters twenty odd years ago to let water go, this is no longer the case. There are jobs that I now have to do differently to compensate for lower flow, I could go on, (and often do, interminably) but will leave it there, but can we all agree that this river's flow is diminishing as the years progress.

With some trepidation Madam and myself have resumed contact with HMRC and submitted forms relevant. You may recall that we spent the first half of last year giving battle with the revenue collectors after they insisted Madam had not filed a return. She had, and we were forced to invoke ministers and parliamentarians in order for them to relent and accept that there had been a problem at their end regarding their clever website. The wounds are still quite raw and this year paper copies, screen shots and photographs have been taken at every turn should the unfortunate experience be repeated.

Earlier this week I was summoned to Madam's chambers (which also doubles as the living room when I am tied to the kitchen table chucking up guff) to take in Rick Stein's series at 7pm on BBC2. To use contemporary parlance, Rick's lucked out and got the gig of taking short breaks in most of the European cities that we have visited in recent times.

Bologna (still one of our favourites) first.

My employer and one fat lady frequented Rick's place in Padstow many times and can confirm (my employer, as all fat ladies have left the room) that fish is Rick's thing.

It's all about the pasta in Bologna and Rick's fish free programme (bar a can of tuna) had us reaching for the tablets as we will be in Italy later this year and wondered if we could tag on a couple of days in La Rossa before returning home. Flight checks were made and instead of the usual "there are twelve other people looking at this flight" it flashed up there are four thousand and three people currently looking at this flight" It may have been an error or Rick's programme has done more for the food capital of Italy than the town tourist board,

Bologna could be quite busy this year.

Rick was in Lisbon the next day and we were again reminded of a tremendous time in a top city albeit with fish very much to the fore, some top trams, a bonkers outdoor lift and some wine glasses from a department store called Pollux that we somehow managed to get back to blighty in one piece,

one of which I am about to drain of delicious Douro before signing off.

And finally, news just in from Chick 'O' Land,

We have received the gift of egg and on the morrow the full family shall gather at the table in the manner of Tom and Barbara to share in the harvest,

Well done the chickens!

Oh yes, Happy New Year!

We've already done that one - ed

Sunday 8 January 2017

The Roar of The Guns Returns

Well here we all are in another year, Christmas was fun and thank you to family and friends for making it so but with the business done I'll make the perennial appeal for rain. Currently the river is lower than the end of season level, over on the Itchen the large pool below the bridge has developed a new feature, a gravel bar standing proud of the centre of the river big enough for a garden table and chairs. There was a piece in the paper this week by a chap who decried Joe Public's failing appreciation of the seasons and its weather.

Hear hear to that Sir,

We have been banging on about the same subject in this parish for a few years, and can I now propose a period of mourning for each dry week experienced in the south from November to March and a bank holiday for every hundred millimetres of rain to fall in the same period.

It's just a thought, but we really need some rain to fall in this valley.

Chainsaw work continues and the vista is a few days away from being complete, the rides have also been attended to in the wood that still plays host to a good number of woodcock and high numbers of increasingly bold Muntjac.

With the river retaining the clarity of late summer grayling fishing continues and it is not easy. One chap turned up to chase roach and was taken aback at the size of the fish that he failed to catch but could clearly see as they patrolled beneath his feet. A barn owl is about most days and even flopped through our narrow garden one afternoon this week. Seven Cormorants flew over one day this week which is a lot for this valley although nothing to the groups of graculus that congregate on the main river.

We have a few geese on the meadow upstream along with half a dozen swans, which I'll take following a few of our rambles about the county in the name of lengthening life.

Two days after Christmas saw Madam and myself in Titchfield for a walk along the Titchfield canal that borders the Titchfield Haven, a tremendous place pitched between Pompey and Southampton that has echoes of Bransbury Common, so well done Hampshire County Council for that.

We picnicked on the beach looking across to Calshot and the Isle of Wight with Brent geese to the left of us, to the right of us, in front of us on the water behind us in the field and above us in the sky. There were hundreds of the things.

A few days later saw us rope together for a seven mile shuffle in the Upper Itchen valley, a SAC and one of the most protected pieces of chalk stream in the world. Some stretches are stunning examples of how a chalk stream should be, so I was dismayed to find hordes of swans stripping ranunculus from what was once one of the most pristine pieces of chalk stream known to man. There is an awful lot of good river restoration work going on in the chalk valleys that is being stymied by the arrival of large groups of Geilgud. There's a conversation needs to be had (the opening exchanges may already be underway if the jungle drums in the west are to be believed) as they are directly impacting on chalk stream habitat. The odd pair is ok but thirty or forty on a beat can render the place void of life bar the big white birds.

I think you know what's coming, but yes we're back off to Dublin, on a £65 return flight from the world's best airport - Southampton.

We will once again be ensconced in one of the excellent Elegance rooms at the Fleet St Hotel, Temple Bar,

That's the Fleet St Hotel, Temple Bar

We will be there to take in Jack Whitehall after spending the day perusing the excellent shops the city has to offer and dinner at San Lorenzo's

That's San Lorenzo's one of Dublin's finest Italian restaurants.

We anticipate enjoying the experience so much that we have booked to return later in the year to take in the Dara at Vicar St as he makes preparations for his 2018 tour.

Back in the room.

Looking up not down, as we don't do ground game, shooting in this environs returned after a five year sabbatical following half the wood falling over and petulance and pomposity from one who withdrew favours regarding shooting on his land.

It wasn't the biggest bag, although we saw a dozen woodcock and fifty odd duck, but it wasn't about the bag. A tremendous morning with good friends bashing sticks in the wood, my employer's children and grandchildren manning the guns and all coming together for a long lunch and discourse on links between Alison, Gilbert and Sullivan and Basingstoke. A great day, a terrific advert for the sport and, for those who were unable to attend, one that will definitely be repeated,

Yes, we're back in the shooting game, and it feels goooood.

I'm loathe to mention the thing, but herefollows a bit about Brexit (if you've had enough of Brexit, scroll down to the vitriol regarding the continuation of Richard Madeley's career in various forms of media)

Please can we all agree to pull together and make the best of the situation we find ourselves in and end the chronic sniping and division

Last summer I was sent a link to an article by a baby boomer (we'll call him Rod) that questioned the appeal of sport and weren't we all making a little too much of this Olympic business in Rio?

Rod didn't get sport.

I get sport,

Most U11s get sport,

Once the game is done, the result stands. Winners and losers, we are where we are, now on to the next game.

Arguments over the result of a match long gone achieves precisely five eighths of F*&% A88

We are where we are (that phrase again) and there is niw a requirement to pull together and make it work.
A win for one doesn't mean that the other must automatically fall into line with the other's way of thinking. After a General election, opposition isn't eliminated, it has a part to play in proceedings and in the case of leaving the EU will aid in quelling the voice of the jackboot and nasty nationalist brigade who seem to be under the illusion that they have required more relevance.

Putting my purple of hat of positivity on (currently in post so I'll don the green cap of fingerscrossedity) 2017 is a year to come together for the common cause in a patriotic (not nationalistic or far right) kind of way and make the best of where we are.

Continuing to pick over the bones of a referendum result and vilifying the forty odd percent who voted the other way (I'm looking at you Alison Pearson et al) achieves nothing.

Stop looking back, move on, make this thing work and trust in the next generation, because in my experience they're a pretty clued up bunch

Happy New Year and sorry for banging on, but Richard Madeley is currently on the television in the next room working his way through planet earth's resources of the word "I" and "me" so I had to find something to do as he always makes me cross.

Poor Judy.