Tuesday 25 April 2017

New Season!! Just In! Everything On This Rale £5'!

And we're off!

Two days into the new fishing season and fish are already falling for a hawthorn in some of the heaviest hatches of the long legged black buzzer that I can remember, reaffirming the premise that hawthorn hatches are always heavier following a dry winter, and finally it has been publicly acknowledged that there could be water shortages in the coming months. Too late to do anything about it but hey finally it's out there.

The water is slowly losing it's winter colour but still carries a tint and spotting fish in the deeper stretches is difficult. We seem to have gained quite a few large triploid stockies in the past few months and a dozen or more of them huddle together in the shallow water in front of the fishing hut. The weed is slow to grow in the cold water and fish are easily spooked as the fringe has yet to attain its full height.

Grayling spawned successfully if on different shallows due to depth of water and inevitably a few senior fish washed up dead on the weed rack in front of the house.

There are few signs of silver fish in the pond getting jiggy although the water temperature is still quite low, but it won't be long. Not seen many pike in the spring holes either and the dearth of large females may be a result of predation by otters. Saw the first swallow today which seems a little late and I have yet to hear a cuckoo. We are inundated with Ducks, Mallard mostly but as yet no ducklings.

Wounds caused by our assault by chainsaw during the winter months are quickly healing and few scars remain other than the odd stump. The place changes with each day as buds break and more and more green appears. The fen and reed in the upper reaches that was attended to by the medium of fire is now unrecognisable from the black sooty patch of earth that it was for much of March. The benefit of setting fire to the thing is also clear to see.

Sadly we lost three of our excellent chickens recently.

Reynard inevitably, probably feeding cubs somewhere.

And now I've a score to settle, a balance to redress and must don the poncho, hat and cigarello of the Man with No Name, compile a playlist of spaghetti western music for my phone and run the spiteful thing to ground.

I'm not a fan of the fox, neither are our resident pair of dominant swans who keep all other swans away who abandoned their nest after both of their eggs were carried off while I was away.

I've just come in from shutting the chooks up and the mother of all hail storms is getting underway which will come as a shock to the Wisteria which is approaching mid season form and some clematis that seems in a hurry to get on with 2017. Would that it were rain although it's getting a little late for effective aquifer replenishment, although it may heal the cracks in the ground that currently give the paths and banks a mid July appearance. Cricket has once again broken out and parts of the Longparish CC outfield that lies a few yards from the banks of the main River Test are already brown.

In other news, Child A left home last week, and is currently housed in a super ground floor flat with boyfriend, a skip and a giggle away from Newbury High Street, the Kennet and Avon Canal and most of what this top town has to offer. It's also cut her commute to Thames Valley Police Command Centre Central in half.

Madam is quite envious as it's an area that she's eyed for some years in her perusal of online property porn, and I'd have to concur as we both like Newbury.

One day perhaps.

Child B is on the cusp of completing his degree and much of last week was spent reading through his final report. Which was a good read regarding the future of an informal settlement/slum in Mumbai which functioned in a remarkably efficient way.

And so to the election.

Do we have to?

Can't we just fast forward to a time when everything's ok again and people tell the truth and there is plenty of water flowing down this river.

Protecting the aquatic environment has slipped off the list of things that government needs to pay serious heed to in recent times, there's an austerity on (and don't forget why there's an austerity on). I have yet to read a manifesto that promises to stop pulling too much water out of the ground in this corner of England and sending it away to sea.

And then there's the French elections, which are another worry

There was fascist graffiti in places we visited in Italy last week that weren't there two years ago. How we created an environment in which such people consider themselves more relevant is beyond me, wasn't a previous generation required to deal with this kind of thing? Far be it from me to speak for my own generation but it is not a legacy that I would wish on the next.

Dons loin cloth, scratches head, waves hand at the outside world and retreats to cave, baffled at current state of affairs.

Monday 24 April 2017

Trains, Exploding Carts and Automobiles

Apologies for the tardiness in chucking up guff, but been away for a while.

Italy again,

Rome first, and an early morning flight from Terminal Five that we nearly missed due to the numerous overnight road closures in this corner of the country. What would normally be a forty minute breeze up what was once the motorway known as the M3 turned into an odyssey that at one point may well have seen us cut a corner of East Anglia. It seems a little early in the piece to kick off but can we all agree that much of the road system in this corner of the England no longer functions as intended.

Anyway, a restorative breakfast and a smooth passage through Terminal 5 security (take note you muggers in Inverness we'll resume battle in a short while) saw us pitch up in the eternal city. A thirty minute transfer during which I am sure we were being towed by the car in front as our noses were touching it's trunk and our driver managed to answer both his morning emails and texts during our journey we pitched up at a fantastic third floor apartment a block back from the Tiber in Trastevere.

Reading this back it seems that I may have become a little traffic centric early in the piece, but there was a marked difference between the lock down of the UK road system and the lawlessness of a southern Italian city that left me hankering for the open road.

The road to Zell springs to mind where we cruised along at just under three figure listening to "I Partridge" in our quest for chub on the Mosel.

It was some time since I'd last been in the City, and two weeks after I last departed the pope was shot, so fingers crossed you make it to May Francis. For the lady who sleeps on my left it was a new one and like good scouts we swiftly scaled one of the seven hills named after biscuits to spy the lie of the land.

Our descent took us into St Mark's square and I was minded to look out a hawker in the portico that surrounds the place who thirty five years ago sold me a copy of Led Zeppelin's "In through the Outdoos" (the signs were there at the time of purchase) and a vinyl copy of Thin Lizzy's - Black Rose that I only discovered on my return home was sung in German. Needless to say he wasn't there, but a lesson was learnt and I avoided any further musical purchases in the Vatican.

The Pantheon,

Trevi Fountain,

Spanish Steps,



and Capitol boxes were all ticked in a day and there was a feeling that this tremendous city could assume a theme park feel as you moved from one attraction to the next which is a shame as there is so much more to it than a series of sights to be ticked off. Yes the old stuff, but raised on all things Gosciny and Uderzo
I took Asterix as my guide and when presented with the Circus Maximus could picture Obelix driving his chariot hard around the bend to victory to Casear's chagrin.

It may be a coping mechanism as there was some pretty grim work pulled in the arenas in years gone by.

Anyway, I had no rod, which was a shame as a skip and a giggle away from the Vatican the Tiber is teeming with fish,

We watched fifty odd carp crashing about in the shallows under a bridge one morning, but only saw one chap fishing and he was chasing zander with a spinner downstream towards the island with a hospital on it.

There's a tale to be told about the trash in this town, and each morning I presented bags to a corner of the square with an Alabama 3 earworm and a fear of being fitted with concrete shoes and tipped into the Tiber for a bag placed in the wrong bin at the wrong time.

We ate at some superb Trattoria in Trastevere for very little reckoning but I mistakenly purchased the world's most expensive glass of beer while in a reverie on exiting our church of some such lady or other which happened to be adorned with some incredibly ornate mosaics.

Oh yes the football. Here's Italian Sky TV's version of Jeff Stelling introducing a Champion's League tie.

The Gentlemen do not offer up a seat and the show starts with a close up of La Stelling's foot. The camera then heads north up her form before finally resting on her face. Who knew that Benny Hill was big in Italy or that Bunga Bunga was so rife in the beautiful game?

After three nights we were done with the roads of Rome and it was off up the road past the Circus Maximus for a two minute ride to the Termini and a train that arrived on time, completed the hundred and eighty mile journey in one hour and forty minutes and cost just over nineteen euros for each of our complicated seats in Business class ( I hadn't intended to book Business class but such are the machinations of the internet)

Yes Italy does good train.

Into Firenze and a shabby chic apartment with a picture window looking out over the Arno. No fishing planned on this visit, but there were Carpistes in residence under one bridge.
The half acre of marijuana had been mown off/harvested and there were many people in town. But with previous in this tremendous town we knew of a few quieter spots to see out the storm of day visitors. Food as ever was superb, this was no time for adventure and we stuck to three places for lunch and dinner that we knew to be excellent.

And then it was Easter, and they quite go big on the event in these parts.

It started on Saturday night when Madam and myself were roused from a postprandial slumber by a procession passing below our window with drummers horns and many men dressed up like Timothy Claypole in Rentaghost.

It was the opening gambit of The Scoppio del Carro (give it a google) which comemorates a particular Florentine who was first up the wall of Jerusalem in the very first crusade. For his efforts he was given three flints that were held in the family church just down the road. The bishop of the family church along with several descendants of the wall Jonny then lead the procession through the narrow streets and deliver the flints to the big bishop in the Doumo, more of whom later.

On Easter Sunday morning the drums strike up earlier and an even bigger procession makes its way through the narrow streets, this time followed by a wooden cart many hundreds of years old drawn by four of the biggest oxen that I have ever seen.

Three chaps hang on to the rear of the cart in the name of health and safety and rudimentary braking and there is much hoing and lowing as the parade makes its way through town. The cart is laden with fireworks and with every other Italian it passes sparking up a fag it is a miracle it doesn't go off before it reaches its destination outside the doors of the Doumo and Campenile.

There is a mass in the Duomo that is relayed to the tens of thousands of people outside and at eleven the Bishop lights a torch from a fire formed from the flints that were collected the previous evening and sets fire to the tail feathers of a dove (artificial) that seems to have a rocket up its arse

as it flies at great speed along a wire suspended over the aisle out through the great doors and smack into the side of the cart which explodes with a roar
and fifteen minutes of the loudest fireworks I have ever heard follow and a five figure crowd drawn from many nations stood only a few yards from the cart bomb unite as one and hands are put over every ear.

It is the stuff of the Stotts and equally nuts.

But it was an Easter Sunday that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Recuperating following grog in the afternoon the drums and horns returned below our window as the flints were returned to the family church in readiness for next year's explosions.

Florence done, it was on to another excellent train although much busier it being a holiday and Venice not far up the line but it was off at Bologna for us and another of our favourites.

Much quieter than Rome or Florence although no less stunning it has a very relaxed feel about the place and with the miles and miles of arcades the ancient wonky towers and some superb places to eat why it is not busier is a mystery.

Dogs are allowed in Butchers

And they move the old stuff around from time to time, although on seeing this we did finish our morning coffee quite quickly in anticipation of something falling down behind us.

Here's the pair of those thousand year old towers on the wonk,

And here they are from the spot where some chap stood during construction and said "yeah they look straight"

And then all too soon it was over and time to come home. It was a terrific trip kindly funded by the firm to mark my twenty five years employment. Thanks very much, the trip and the past twenty five years have been a blast.

Monday 3 April 2017

Mesomorphs, Kelpies, Nuggles and Prodnose

And there went March.... the browns, the funeral, the pomp, the circumstance, the ides n'all.

We are currently stuck on fast forward and the impending trout fishing season on the Dever is hurtling towards us at warp speed Captain.

Events get underway on the Itchen next week in anticipation of an early hatch of grannom of which there is currently no sign.

We are all up together at home and much has been achieved in these environs this winter but the time has run out for much needed rain and we must go with what we have got for the coming summer. So expect the river to be much diminished by August with bank side vegetation allowed to encroach on the river channel in order to squeeze the river and maintain a speedy flow as possible. Currently we play host to a handful of olives of an afternoon which inevitably draw the eye of the trout. The grayling are preoccupied with other things and some decidedly dark fish have begun there perennial flitting about on the shallows. Willows are waking up and we have ornamental cherry trees in blossom , mowers have been about their business and all manner of fowl are feeling frisky with the drakes, driven by seasonal urges, cranking up the brutality of their foreplay with each day.

Yes, spring is upon us and this week has seen the last campaign for the loyal orange saw as it signed off with "log week"

Think Flag day, Rag week or Comic Relief

A concerted effort to achieve high reward in a short space of time. Ok, we're not funding the purchase of a lifeboat or plunging wells into some parched corner of Africa, but there are log stores that must be replenished in order to keep three fires around here burning with seasoned logs throughout next winter and the one after. I once calculated that the wood burner in our home consumed between six and eight tonnes of wood each winter in order to maintain the flow of blood through our veins of an evening and warm a handful of radiators, the four hundred year old mill house has two open fires and little insulation. Logs have always been a big part of this job and you have to plan ahead with such things and as a result fallen timber is quickly fallen upon and is piled high throughout wood.

Wood that must be split.

Jump back a thousand years or so and my physical bearing would single me out as an archer, not for my propensity to flick two fingers at certain aspects of the outside world but a certain stance and gait that these days can only be derived by chopping a large number of logs .

My name is Chris de Cani and I am a Mesomorph,

There, I said it

Swinging an axe, or hodging logs - a term derived from a three year old child B ( a fellow mesomorph who could also be mistaken for one who strings a bow) who would often ask in his formative years "is you hodging logs again Daddy?"

I am no longer a hodger of Logs.

While fishing with my employer and her family an hour north of Inverness on the Carron last year. Postprandial conversation turned to logs and my employer decreed that at my great age and in such poor condition I should no longer be heaving the hodge and a tractor mounted log splitter must be sourced in under order to aid the production of fire wood,

And here it is,

We've called the thing Clarissa in honour of one fat lady who haunted this place for many years and had a force of personality equal to the twelve tonnes offered by this magnificent machine.

All rings, be they ash, oak yew or thorn have yielded to its irrepressible force.

A whole week of busting wood has passed and the world's best chooks now share their paddock with enough logs for the next winter and half the one that follows.

My spine is intact and my calluses few and after a few years I may once again resume my quest for the refined figure of a lancer or cavalryman, with the stoop of a foot soldier/hodger of logs a distant memory.

Here's one of Lord Ludgershall using the thing to trim his toenails.

Just got to stack the things up now (the logs, not Lord Ludg's toenails)

It's a life changing purchase and one for which my forty nine year old spine and I are very grateful.

There is a bend on this stretch of river that is particularly productive when it comes to putting fish on the bank, be they coarse or game. It lies a few yards downstream from a small weir that disappears during times of verdant weed growth. Above the weir for a hundred yards or so the river falls away quite dramatically for a gentile chalk stream.

Fifteen years ago, a conservation officer suggested installing further weirs in the fast flowing water above our weir. Five years ago a conservation officer suggested we pull out any weirs that remain along with several other since.

And at this point I could go on at length about decades of muddled thinking with regard to Fishery Management.

Last month our weir failed, and with an open mind and other tasks to undertake I removed the thing and in a clumsy attempt at science, monitored the situation.

Within a few days the roach had relocated to a location that demanded less vigorous fin work, and with an inch or two less water flowing over the shallows above the weir the grayling sought spawning gravels elsewhere.

I get the perched stream argument with regard to clean gravels and ranunculus and yes, some in stream obstructions need hauling out, but there is also merit in delaying the entrance of run off after rain in a chalk river valley. The notion that all weirs, hatches and sluices are the spawn of kelpies and nuggles is nuts. Assess each in-stream obstruction individually work out what ot can and can't do and operate it or remove it in a manner that is sympathetic to both flood defence and the aquatic environment.
Madam and myself have just returned from further rambles in the quest for eternal life and this week saw us bisect the Test Valley, climb a hill, get lost in a field of grass before bumbling about in the valley of the Anton in search of our car. I've fished a few times on the Anton and the lower river runs through a magnificent meadow that in this month many years ago would have lain underwater. The hatches and sluices to facilitate this still lie high and dry mid meadow and serve as a monument to the well of lost knowledge on how to manage and move water in a chalk river valley.

"The weir that Wickes built" on the Itchen during the flooding of 2013/14 is a prime example when a set of hatches could have come in handy and during a recent discussion with big noises from the EA the subject came up and I commented that " you'd have loved set of hatches under that bridge wouldn't you?

They agreed, but the general tone from any "expert" parachuted in to consult/advice is to rip out any in stream structure

Unfortunately many of these methods of flooding meadows are no longer relevant in this age as the amount of water flowing though southern chalk rivers is much diminished, if the desire was there it is questionable if there is enough water to run the things today.

Oh yes, almost forgot,

Madam and myself popped up to Basingstoke to see Prodnose midweek.

On an extended tour, he took the stage at seven thirty and departed at just gone eleven with only a brief pause for pints.

I'll have to declare an interest here as since Tel shuffled off he's my broadcaster of first choice, and I'll own that I've cropped up a few times as a "chiefly yourselves" with contributions during the past few years, although following John McGovern singing Whole Lotta Rosie in the manner of Brian Clough was a tough gig.

Forget the Daz, and also Pets wins Prizes (Dale Winton took it to another plane)

He's a lyrical force of nature and the show is the stuff of Vaudeville. High kicking full on entertainment from one with a large and varied canon.

He's added a few dates to his tour and if you get the chance to go don't pass it up.

A few week's remain of titivation and buffing up about the place before artificial flies start falling on the water. Most of the regular rods are rolling up for lunch this weekend, when I will be required to account for my movements throughout the winter months. It's always a fun day and I can guarantee that during our post lunch walk up the river somebody will remark that I have removed too many branches but by June the view will have changed to "you could have taken a bit more off that tree that I keep catching my fly on" It's a great time of year and the metamorphosis that occurs in this valley at this time each year never ceases to amaze.