Thursday 28 February 2019

Funky Claude and The Medium of Fire

Back to work and the perennial skirmishes with the forces of crack willow continues. Mostly small stuff on the non fishing bank that is starting to inhibit weed growth, we've been dropping it into the river and pulling it out with the tractor to burn on the fishing bank. We experienced the warmest winter day on record recently and feeding a fire became a sweaty business. I had planned to burn the fen where we were working in a few weeks time, I try and do it every year as it produces a much thicker covering of flowers indigenous to a piece of fen in a chalk valley, principally hemp agrimony, meadow sweet and willow herb which are a magnet for buzzing bugs and butterflies.

Half way through the morning, sparks from our (You'll note the shared responsibility) fire ignited the fen

and within five minutes a wall of flame was making its way down the valley, and at this point I'll resume the diatribe regarding an urgent need for rain in these parts. I had completely underestimated how dry the ground was, and urged on by the merest of zephyrs, much of the fen was completely burned off.

Which is great for the butterflies and all things that buzz, but because of the unplanned nature of the burn, I hadn't had a chance to thoroughly soak some fire breaks and a few hours later this resulted.

For Deep Purple fans with a penchant for an allegory,

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention are in the Fishing Hut. The establishment pictured on the left is the Gambling House, while I play the part of both Funky Claude and Some Stupid with a Flare Gun.

For the unallegorical, and fans of funk, the burned out shell is not the Fishing Hut.
This is all that remains of the birch clad shelter by the old stew pond used to store fish food. It was on its last legs but didn't deserve to suffer this fate.

The clay tile porch collapsed and yes, the hut did indeed die with an awful sound. Hissing mostly as red hot tiles pitched into the pond.

It was my error of judgement to be burning willow on the riverbank, fortunately I am blessed with an understanding and forgiving employer. I didn't appreciate how dry the ground was, but who expects a barbecue ban in February?

You never stop learning.

We need rain, lots of it.

For the river, of course, but also to keep me from burning any more buildings down.

Who will be our Stormbringer?

In other Fire news, an application has been put in for a new "waste to energy via the medium of fire" facility on the other side of the Highway to the Sun.

It's the mother of all incinerators that promises to provide power to a large part of Hampshire and it uses water, which is a worry for me.

There are many in the area who spend their days in a permanent state of agitation. Foam an ever-present at the corner of the mouth, fists are clenched and teeth firmly gnashed. It seems to have been the default state for many throughout the past two to three years but it could be a long process for a decision to be taken on Wheelabrator Harewood which may call for a more measured and considered response.

Unwelcome planning proposals regarding energy production and waste disposal have been made before in this parish, and have been rejected following a measured and considered response.

Clearly I like a fire, but I don't believe the Wheelabrator is a suitable development for this valley. It is an industrial leviathan that will loom large on the local landscape and an inappropriate development for this parish. I will respond accordingly when invited to do so.

Give Wheelabrator Harewood a google and draw your own conclusions. Please respond accordingly when invited to do so.

Back on the bank, Tarka's back with a bang. When the snow fell there were no sign of any otters, other than a brief visit to our bottom boundary by a beast currently billeted on Bransbury Common. The trout fishery a mile upstream has suffered with a herd of Otters since Christmas. Seems that they are now extending their territory to visit us during the night - the otters, not the good people at the trout fishery.

All sensible people agree that the warmest winter day on record is Bing Crosby's version of Mele Kalikimaka

Apparently Bing was pipped for the warmest winter day on record this week.

Buds began to swell, blossom broke and the Ceti's warbler rocked up. We've a dearth of geese on the upstream water meadow, which suggests that it isn't that cold somewhere else and there are many duck paired up. We've also plenty of roe deer about the place at the moment with a couple of quite senior bucks.

Despite calculations of algorithmic proportions late last year, our supply of seasoned split logs is running low and the log splitter has been fired up. We got through quite a nit of wood when the snow lay on the ground, but a morning with the splitter produced a pile that should see us through the rest of the winter.

Like a repentant Viking, I shall never lift an axe in anger again. Hydraulic log splitters are the future of producing fuel for the fire.

I do seem to have mentioned fire quite a lot in this post.

Oh yes, nearly forgot. This book has just been published.

George is someone that I bump into now and again when I am bumbling about on the short stretch of the Itchen that I fall in and out of.

It has taken him ten years to produce this book and it provides a comprehensive "state of play" of the Itchen above Winchester in the early part of this century. George is a tenacious and talented photographer and the book features many examples of his best work and highlights the incredible biodiversity that exists in a chalk stream valley.

It's an excellent and comprehensive tome that covers all aspects of chalk stream life and I commend it to the house.

Further details on how to obtain a copy can be found at

Tuesday 26 February 2019

Rigsby's Cat, Mozart's Mother and Skirmishes up The Valleys

Hallo zusammen, Wie komme ich am besten zum Burg?

Half term and we've been away again, so forgive the following the piece, as I have to write something down somewhere in order to remember where I have been.

A visit to see Vienna this time, not Rigsby's cat, but the foreign capital city followed by a train trip to Salzburg for a few days.

Austrian Airways by the way! Super service. Our early morning flight put us down mid morning in Vienna and we were punishing the wurst by 10.00 am.

The Hofburg first, the enormous Royal Palace Complex, much of which was closed for cleaning. Unsurprising as they keep horses in the house. White ones famous for dancing, they were being readied for release as we passed.

Never the biggest fans of Echo and The Bunnymen we eschewed the the prospect of Dancing Horses being brought on to continue our explorations.

It's a grand old place is Vienna and occasionally has the feel of walking around among a series of giant wedding cakes.

Impeccably clean and tidy, even the metro had a medical sterility about it.

Out for dinner and the first of a few that I was unable to finish during our stay.

A slow cooked beef dish with carrots, many little green dumplings, an unidentifiable red vegetable and a moniker that I forget but definitely trumpeted Austrian Independence in 1955. A substantial repast that could have fed a family of four.

Pictures next.

The Leopold museum to be precise, principally the work of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

You can keep much of Schiele, he seems to have been a bit of an odd fecker, but Klimt has been a favourite for quite some time. When Madam moved into my student digs around thirty years ago my Jesus & Mary Chain Poster was replaced by a Gustav Klimt poster. The Smiths outside the Salford Lads Club was usurped by a poster of a work by a French impressionist whose name I forget.

Klimt's Death and Life was a particular highlight and much bigger that I expected, as I thought he only painted pictures the size of posters.

Here's one of Klimt with his cat, Vienna.

Taken a few years after he painted Death and Life, he's the same age as me here.

Culture done we ambled up to the opulent Rathaus,

and were surprised to find an elaborate and efficient outdoor ice rink that included bridges, one way systems, skate police and roundabouts.

After a light lunch we bumbled about the arcades

before taking in this statue of Disco Stu.

Goulash for dinner, a gargantuan portion in a Gasthaus with foaming jugs of beer and then to bed to make preparations for the two hour train trip to Salzburg.

Austrian trains are good, very good! A two hour trip half way across Austria at many miles an hour in reserved seats with a superb internet connection cost 13Euros each.

13 Euros Southern Rail, 13 Euros.

Upstairs on a train (It had an upstairs Southern Rail, another level) Is a great way to see the country. Snow started to appear and mountains hoved into view. We passed gargantuan piles of cut wood that would have Lord Ludg all of a slaver, snuggled the Danube for part of the way before moving into forest and small clear streams.

A twenty minute walk from the station pitched us up at a cosy billet. A first floor apartment in an old building that had a front, two sides and a back wall formed from the local alp.

Like every good Injun we headed for high ground to spy the land and caught the funicular up to the castle on top of the hill.

There's a Noggin the Nog feel about the place and it's more of a small village than castle.

The castle has witnessed much conflict in the thousand or so years that there have been fortifications on the hill. The torture room was particularly eerie, as the screams of the unfortunate soul having his toes tickled would have carried far across the whole town.

Down the funicular and quite the surprise, a rushing channel of water.

The Alm canal is one of the oldest subterranean aqueducts in Europe and was built to bring water from a wet region called Leopoldskron. It was completed in 1142, but is still in use today and carries water for several hydroelectric units that feed power into the city. It is drained once a year for maintenance work and tours for tourists, but unfortunately not during our stay. It empties into the river Salzach at several points in the centre of the city.

The River Salzach by the way,

quite shallow on its run through Salzburg and brim full of trout and grayling.

While we're on the river,


I don't agree with this kind of caper and if any of our regular fisherman at Bransbury think it would be a good idea to attach numerous padlocks to a bridge that I have built over the Dever in the name of love, please be aware that our bridges are carefully engineered to cope with a variety of weather conditions and any additional weight added to a single side may send it seriously out of kilter.

Wiener Schnitzel for dinner on our first night in Salzburg. A vast piece of battered veal that I just about managed to finish, the chips went untouched and we pondered eating from only the entree menu the following night.

Mozart is a must in Salzburg.

He was quite a guy from a very young age and has achieved cult status in these parts.

The two houses in which he lived are well preserved and provided a comprehensive introduction into his life with his family in the town. There are musical pieces played by all of the family members and vignettes of opera pieces from The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni and much more besides. I particularly enjoyed an exchange of letters between Mozart's mother and a big noise in the Viennese music world who a young Mozart had been sent to study under. Concerns were aired over Amadeus's work ethic and how he could achieve so much more if he put a bit more effort in, in short he was just drifting through life.

Well, well done Master Mozart, great drifting!

Unfortunately we do not have a photographic record of our visit to either of Mozart's abodes. The factors are a tad precious over the reproduction of images of Mozart's chattels and with my idiot proof Nikon slung over my shoulder I was followed throughout our visit.

Although they left Madam alone and she was able to sneak this shot of Mozart's mother.

And then, all to soon, it was time to catch the train back to Vienna for our cheap flights back to Blighty.

Two tremendous cities, we prepared for an arctic blast, but enjoyed a heat wave throughout our stay that brought the locals out sunbathing on the riverbank in the afternoon.

Apologies again for travel guff but, as I said, I have to write something down in order to remember things.

River stuff to follow.

But not just yet, as we returned home on the Thursday in order to attend sporting events on the Saturday.

Maisie's beau, Callum had kindly sourced some tickets for the Wales v England Six Nations game in Cardiff.

We'd visited William (Child B) in Cardiff when six nations games had been on before and had an idea of what a big deal it could be, but this was something else.

One of the best sporting events Madam or I have ever attended.

Cardiff do rugby matches well, and ok the result went against Old Albion, but what a game. English and Welsh mixed up alike, I'll own that myself and the tremendous brace of welsh lads seated on my right had opened discussions on the course the remainder of the evening should take in order to bond further, but the lady on my left reminded me that I was of a certain vintage and ought to be making tracks.

With the late kick off we had planned to stay the night somewhere and drive home the following morning. One night in a room in central Cardiff on match day comes in at a similar price to a high end washing machine, so we looked a little further afield, opting for a room a few minute's walk from Treforest Station south of Pontypridd and twenty minute ride into Cardiff Central.

The train ride back up to the Rhonnda after the game was great fun and undertaken to a chorus of a hundred welsh men and welsh women singing

"You can stick your F&% Chariot up your arse,
You can stick your F££4 Chariot up your arse
Stick your F$%^ chariot
Stick your F£$% chariot
Stick your f$%£ chariot up your arse!"

Oh yes, they can really sing in the valleys,

If you've an opportunity to watch international rugby in Cardiff, don't pass it up, it's one of the great sporting experiences.

It was quite a half term.

Monday 4 February 2019

Dry January and The Cheese of Pepys

Good evening everyone and welcome aboard HMS Sniff and Cough.

Currently we wallow in convalescence from a bug that may well be the worst ever experienced by human kind and produced a volume of phlegm that science insists is not possible from a single human head.

Fever, the shakes and shouting at the moon have all played a part in a medical episode that is only now, ten days in, approaching its denouement.

Anyway, that's enough about me. Before the screaming Oojahs struck we busied ourselves with one of the biggest ash trees that we have had to fell this winter. It was in a sorry state and had shed several, limbs during the previous two years.

It was once a fine specimen that hosted a particularly comfortable high seat.

It was only going one way and it came down with quite a crash with the main trunk splitting down the middle.

The Logistics of getting the thing out of the river were always gone to test our simple minds. But with a nod to the pyramid makers and the excellent people at Kubota, levers, fulcrums and orange tractors were invoked to pull the thing out in chunks.

It only took Lord Ludg and myself three bitterly cold mornings to deal with the brute, and all hail the miracle of neoprene waders. When I first started on the river I remember having to carry out work such is this in a pair of plastic Ocean waders and everything was numb in a matter of minutes.
You don't feel the slightest chill in neoprene, although I mislaid my neoprene socks so my feet, clad only in the rubber of the boot, required defrosting by the fire during a brew break.

Cold weather has drawn the geese and a few snipe to the water meadow upstream, although there is no sign of the Leucistic greylag that pitched up last year. There have been a few twitchers furtively twitching on the Common although I have not heard of anything unusual being recorded so far this year.

And then it snowed, quite a bit in some parts. The smart M3 failed to function and several people from the village spent Friday night in Fleet Services.

We had around four inches in the Dever valley with night time temperatures falling to minus seven degrees. Basingstoke was carnage. We saw the trapped traffic on the local news on Friday and thought nothing of it, it doesn't take much to bung Basingstoke up. But a Sunday morning trip to the fleshpots and emporia of Doughnut City found main roads still strewn with abandoned cars, frozen roads and a foot of lying snow. The weight of snow had also brought several trees down onto the road.

It was only a short trip to Home Bargains for some stockpiling. Salt & Vinegar Ringos, Brillo Pads and cheese triangles mostly.

The Ringo's won't last the month and we'll probably have to stockpile some more, or else switch to Cheese & Onion, but in the grand manner of Pepys and his Parmesan, the cheese triangles will be wrapped and buried safely in the garden until the heat has dissipated from current events.

School was closed on Friday, so Madam was rewarded with a three day weekend. Saturday saw us complete a tour of the parish in breathtaking conditions.

Here's one of Moss, the only spring present in this photo is the spring of a loopy labrador experiencing snow for the first time.
There should be a spring spouting forth somewhere about where he is standing.

Oh yes, the field in the middle of this photo is Spring Bottom, still sans spring.

Dry January doesn't have a restorative effect on the guts of the Dever Valley. Fingers crossed for a flooded February and a Moist March.