Tuesday 18 June 2019

Me Matt Baker, A Hedgehog and The Triads

Ohayou everybody and all hail the power of the offload.

A chunk of angry guff about the lack of rain, dunderheads and weasels and it hasn't stopped raining since.

Clearly this marks me out as some kind of Influencer or possibly a See-er.

Rest assured that the Juju wood remains close to hand, runes will be regularly consulted and a doll of the CEO at Command Centre Central with accompanying pins sits on the coffee table.

The springs that ran dry a few weeks ago are now oozing once again but remain much diminished. This wet week has done an awful lot of good in this valley and our local weather reporter insists that the ground is now saturated,

it isn't and this valley could take quite a bit more yet.

The good people of Lincoln, some of whom currently entertain lampreys in the lounge, may disagree, but we have have become quietly conditioned to prolonged spells of dry weather that many would happily consider the norm.

The Weather wallah in The Thunderer chucked up an excellent piece saying as much, it's a pity it was buried on one side of a rear page and didn't feature more prominently.

Enough of the eau, we have sufficient for the next few weeks, but regular replenishment is a must if we are to continue to use our groundwater in the way that we do.

Fishing has become difficult. Brer Brown Trout will always become a tad subdued following the feast of mayfly. It may be a few weeks before they nibble regularly at dainties on the surface, while many will switch to sub surface feeding. We've a few pale watery olives and medium olives hatching most afternoons and one dry evening this week we experienced a small fall of sherry spinner, which is always a welcome sight what with the well chronicled decline of the blue winged olive population. Most fish currently fall to Klinkhammers, Parachute flies and CDC patterns. The catch records from twenty five years ago would be void of such names, with Greenwells Glory, GRHE, Wickhams and Terry's Terror very much to the fore. Different artificials imitating natural flies that have not changed across the ages. Careful presentation is always key, with an eye to how the trout will view your offering from below.

At this time of year we are scheduled to engage deep cover with the aquatic forces of ranunculus, water parsnip, water celery and starwort.

Only we aren't.

It's the June weed cut and there isn't much to cut. July could be a different story but bar tickling up a few bits of celery and parsnip that stand proud of the water that would affect the presentation of an artificial fly, it's a weed cut when we leave as much as we can.

Here's a tale of two ash trees.

The ash on the right is suffering significant dieback and will have to be felled this winter, its brother from another mother on the left bank is in rude health and demonstrates some immunity.

Hedgehogs are not trusted by labradors.

Every lab we have had has been driven doolally by their presence. Moss met his first hog in the garden this week which set him barking manically about the place.

I don't know what it is but labradors just don't do hedgehogs

Oh yes, remember the wrath of Lord Ludg and his impulsive scorched earth policy, when villages were raised to the ground and vast swathes of the county reduced to charred earth.

Well here's that piece of fen now. Alive with all things that buzz.

Common Comfry or Knitbone is a particular favourite at this time of the year.

Despite his Fireballs and thunderbolts, he's quite the conservationist is Lord Ludg.

On occasion I have been critical, both on here and in magazines, of BBC's Countryfile.

My main beef being that it had become lightweight and an hour homage to highlight things that used to go on in the countryside.

But well done Countryfile for their recent programme that highlighted the plight of the European Eel.

Anguilla Anguilla has had a tough time of it for a few years now with the number of glass eels returning from the Sargasso sea to european rivers significantly reduced. It was a mystery to many but Countryfile cracked the case and it turns out it was The Triads.

Glass eels are purchased from unscrupulous sources or caught in nets and transferred around half way around the world in suitcases to be baked in pies.

It was a new one on me and there must be other forces contributing to brer eels decline, but well done Countryfile and lay off our eels you no good Triads.

I can't believe I'm going to say this again, but well done Countryfile for their programme broadcast two weeks ago - the chalk stream special.

Ok there were whacky art piece features and mention could have been made of the importance of angling to conserving the chalk streams, but well done for bringing up the bagged salad brigade who pour their phosphates and pesticides into these rivers in the name of Waldorf, Caeser and Nicoise.

Me Matt Baker adopted a suitably grave tone and the viewer was left in no doubt as to who the finger was being pointed at regarding increased nasties in chalk rivers.

Me Matt Bakker didn't mention that an investigation by Command Centre Central instigated after the Salmon & Trout Association invoked European Habitat Directive forcing the EA to act concluded

"discharges from Bakkovar's site at Arlesford are threatening the fragile Upper Itchen and Arlesford Pond"

The following didn't make the final cut either:

"The Investigation firstly exposed a failing in the factory's own sewage works. The sewage is now being tankered away and discharges should not restart. The headwasters of a chalk stream is not the right place to dump sewage"

I'd add that an area producing bagged salad for human consumption is not the right place to be playing fast and loose with the currency of tanker driver Poo Poo Pete (he empties our septic tank and wears a hat bearing this monikor)

The Salmon & Trout Association (who do great things) also pointed out that the environmental impact caused by the bagged salad brigade was picked up by private individuals and their own monitoring of invertebrate populations and water quality.

Command Centre Central's monitoring had not highlighted any problem.

The Salmon & Trout Association also expressed concern over the chronic impact of pesticide and phosphate use and the gradual rise in levels in groundwater and the aquatic environment.

Acute environmental impacts are all too obvious and get all the heat when it comes to a good news story,

Chronic environmental impacts creep up insidiously.

Since we arrived in this valley phosphate levels measured annually in our drinking water drawn directly from the ground have increased a little each year, while regular readers will be aware of a chronic decline in groundwater levels in this valley.

Once again,

Well done Countryfile, well done Me Matt Baker and three cheers for The Salmon & Trout Association.

Regular readers of this guff will be aware that I am Happy When It Rains.

Saw then three times at Brixton Academy.

The day that Madam reduced my "Automatic for the People" tour T shirt to duster status still stands as one of the darker days of our union.

Friday 7 June 2019

Dunderheads, Weasels and Coot Club

Dulce et decorum est pro pluerit.

In your face Mogg,

Fans of Wilfred Owen and Asterix will have gleaned that I am pleased that it is raining.

This week we received word from command centre central via the medium of television that groundwater levels are perilously low and preparation must be made to be a little more abstemious with the old eau.

Well better late than never eh lads.

The Riparian owners association have also been on with the same message, if a little underplayed, regarding, river levels in the coming months.

Regular readers of this guff will be aware that concern regarding groundwater levels has been a regular subject for some time, at least the last five years.

Unwilling to rely or trust groundwater level data gathered, we have relied on visual and anecdotal evidence which supercilious data fans immediately file under "the ravings of loons and cranks"

Which is fair enough, because yes my name is Chris de Cani and I am a crank.

But a crank who has spent twenty eight years walking besides and falling in and out of this stretch or river. Using whatever water is available to make this stretch of river as good (biodiverse) as it can be. I know what a full river is like to work with, I know what a low river is like to work with. I can look at springs without the aid of a spreadsheet and see how strong they are flowing. Ok, my eyes are not what they used to be but I can still take the lid off two boreholes not far from here and shine a light down to see where the groundwater level is. I started chucking this guff up some years ago following frustration over the unwillingness of policy makers, trusts and associations to listen to folk who spend their working lives working with the groundwater fed rivers. A "little voice" in debates that affect the aquatic environment in which we work.

Further qualifications for being a crank, the temerity to draw his own conclusions and then shout about it.

A voluble crank.

The fact that I have been chucking this guff up now for over a decade while the chronic depletion of the aquifers continues, makes me quite cross at times.

An irritable, voluble crank.

Regular readers will be aware that I occasionally get distracted, both at work and while providing a record of my movements here online. Occasionally subjects that have no relation to chalk stream life crop up, or I physically wander off out of the valley with Madam carer.

An addled, irritable, voluble crank.

But an addled irritable, voluble crank who can see the chronic depletion of the aquifers in this valley all the same.

The chronic depletion of aquifers - a difficult state of affairs that Agencies refuse to acknowledge due to flawed data and Corporations hide at the back of the cupboard as there are dividends to be paid.

With the flame alight, I could go on,

And I shall.

This over reliance on data to gauge groundwater levels is not going well. The last time that water use was restricted it was found that several regions in the south should have implemented measures weeks earlier as groundwater levels had not been accurately measured. Our local water company is again under investigation by OFWAT over the accuracy of data collected regarding water abstracted and water discharged into waterways.

If a third world country or failed state was behaving in such a way with a precious national resource we would be very quick to condemn them as corrupt.

An even angrier, addled, irritable, yes irritable and increasingly voluble crank.

Leaving it this late to bring up the subject of water saving measures for the summer of 2019 is the equivalent of letting the tide come up as far as King Canute's ears before issuing the advice

"I don't think it's working my Liege"

The Thunderer reports today that The CEO at Command Centre Central -James "Dougal" Bevan was enticed out of the newly refurbished executive washroom to confront water companies over possible water shortages in some regions this summer after being lobbied by twenty environmental trust and associations concerned about the possibility of water shortages this summer.

There now follows a leaked transcript of the lengthy meeting between the two parties:

Dougal Bevan: So what is it about this water thing then lads

Weasels: Don't you worry about it Dougal, we have it all in hand, we'll just draw a little more water out of the well and and it'll be grand.

Dougal Bevan. Oh, that's grand then lads, grand. Water eh, tut.

The Thunderer reports the Weasels' (Several of whom are under investigation for the use of dodgy data - did I mention that?) reaction as

"They did not expect hosepipe bans this summer but they may need to take more water than usual from rivers and boreholes.

The Thunderer also reports Dougal Bevan and Command Centre Central's response as:

"We are taking action to minimise the environmental impacts should we have a repeat of last summer's weather.

Dougal Bevan: Well done the lads, well done. Now where was I up to in that nice new executive washroom.

Weasels! Dunderheads! and Numbskulls!

An angry, addled, irritable, voluble crank, now playing fast and loose with exclamation marks!

Regular readers of this guff may remember the spring hole that Lord Ludg and myself furnished with the sword Excalibur emerging from its central point.

Here's a photo of the same spring hole taken this week that The Thunderer are welcome to put into print or present to the aforementioned Weasels and Dunderheads. It may not fit in a spreadsheet or be computer compatible but a visual inspection will confirm that the spring hole has dried up.

In early June

For emphasis, here it is again.

This spring hole has not dried up in the twenty seven and a bit years that I have been falling in and out of this stretch of river. Even in autumn after the most arid of summers.

Once again, Weasels! Dunderheads! and Numbskulls!

I'll pause there to take ten minutes in the cupboard under the stairs. Things make sense under there.

Right, where were we?

Oh yes, I work on a chalk stream.

Have done for many years and it used to be full of these critters. An aggressive cove with a brood to protect they will displace duck. Years ago each autumn we'd have a coot shoot, there were that many of them.
Previous generations of keepers in this valley enjoyed them with a moorhen side for tea, a very dark meat they are an acquired taste. This specimen haunted our house boat in Amsterdam, but there are few left in this part of the valley.

Arthur Ransome would despair as Coot Club is no more.

The dabchicks have gone too.

A dabchick nest midstream on flowering ranunculus is a lot of fun and a staple in these parts most years in May. But with reduced flows (I know, I know) the weed is slow to grow and dabchick numbers are down.

Not because of the low flows, but because like Mother Coot, they are flightless aquatic birds.

At which point I'd like to return to the land of Mogg and issue the old lie in Latin that Tarka only eats eels,

but Google translate refuses to co-operate.

Moorhen just about get away it because they can get a few feet up in the air.

Fishing for trout has become increasingly difficult as it always does towards the end of the mayfly. Hatches of mayfly have been a little disappointing of late. We've not seen the mass raves of dancing mayflies getting jiggy in the evening that we have in recent years. This may be due to the wind that seems to blow persistently each day with the dance taking place in discrete sheltered areas rather than out in the open above our garden table. Currently numbers of fish caught are up on previous seasons and there are plenty still bunched up on bends. There isn't much weed to be cut in June bar tickling up a few patches of water parsnip and ribbon weed.

Reading this back, I seem to have gone on, and got quite cross so I'd better push off and do something a little more soothing. Clint Eastwood may have been on to something when he promoted talking to trees.

Here's Clint offloading via the medium of song.

Consider yourself suitably soothed

Apologies again, that may not have been soothing for those who can carry a tune.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Going Clip-Clippety-Clop on the Stair

Goedenvond everybody

and in your face Tamas Lukas, Sabrine Zwitch and Booking.com.

Half term again and with the spirit of Ted Dicks upon us (Google him kids, he was very much the Ed Sheeran of his day) and a perennial quest to live for pleasure alone, we're just back from four days on house boat in old Amsterdam, where we may/may not have seen a little mouse with clogs on going clip clipety clop on some stairs.

Turns out that this second boat we booked was not some empty vessel floating about the ether, an online marie celeste if you will. But an actual genuine, bona-fide electrified, six car monorail,

What'd I say?


I appear to be increasingly distracted, now where were we,

Oh yes,

An actual house boat that exists in real form with hull, mast, brig and poop deck.

The tale of woe instigated by Tamas and Sabrine (You guys) continued throughout the first twenty four hours. Shorn/scammed of our billet on the canal ring, we were booked to stay on a boat in the docks a short ferry ride behind central station.

Arriving by rail at Amsterdam Centrum, we learned of a twenty four hour transport strike. The ferries and metro were not running and we could either swim for it or take a considerable taxi trip around the extremities of the port to our boat billet in Amsterdam Noord.

A thirty minute "High season" taxi trip later we pitched up at our boat. A comfortable craft, it was one of six moored in an old boat yard. Since our last visit five years ago, Amsterdam Noord has received the gift of a new metro link and a twenty four seven ferry service across the bay (strikes permitting) to Amsterdam central. Brimful of Hipsters, Cats and Dudes, we adapted with ease to pontoon society in the commune in which our boat was moored.

On a previous visit we'd had a memorable meal at a restaurant in the canal ring. It was a few steps away from our original phantom booking and a table was reserved many months ago. With ferries not flowing and the metro out of order a road tunnel under the Amstel had been designated as "bikes only"

The continuity guy has been on and pointed out that I have not mentioned that we had hired bikes.

We hired bikes.

Not all of these, just the two

Cycling in Amsterdam is a little different to cycling over here. It's a part of city life as opposed to a lycra cult.

Under the tunnel we went pedalling furiously in our evening finery.

I'll break off there to say that concern has been expressed regarding the previous film in which we are seen cycling sans helmets while using mobile phones on the road.

To which I'll counter - there was a glass and a half of rose on board the pilot of each bike, which I think trumps the previous concern regarding safety. We're living the lives of sailors with rum coarsing through our veins.

A thirty year old unopened bottle of bacardi at the back of our kitchen cupboard stands as testament to our dislike of rum so we went for another glass of grog beginning with the letter R

Up and out across Dam square, along many canals (mostly the wrong ones because google maps failed to keep up with our pace so furious was our peddling) to Seasons restaurant which was closed for the night.

I'd booked the table on "The Fork" three months prior

Note to self:

Additions to lists of websites to avoid using when living for pleasure alone

1.Booking. com
2. TheFork.com.

Booking.com are currently sponsoring the ICC world cup, which is the stuff of Stanford 20/20.

TheFork.com were not particularly concerned.

Booking.com don't seem to fussed about running a secure website, passed from pillar to post doesn't come closewhen registering a complaint.

Looking up, not down we clambered back on the bikes (cycling sans lycra can be a tremendously uplifting experience) and we pitched into a superb restaurant that chucked up three courses for a fair price, so we cycled home happy.

Back on the boat, we took late night pegs in the wheel house sans shoes to watch a superb sunset. On descent to our cosy cabin the crampons on my socks failed and I fell down the stairs, banging my head on a bulwark, breaking a part of my idiot proof camera and throwing red wine and glass all over the white wall/bulwark.

With a pulse detected, focus switched to the white wall and the problem of red wine stain. While in recovery I remember white wine being applied, to the wall not myself, and plans were briefly made to visit a paint shop and spend the day redecorating the barge, before the spirit of bleach was invoked and a cheap bottle of old alkaline sourced the next day.

The wall/bulwark was restored to its former glory, but then what to do with the bleach?

The commune in which we were moored was a wacky affair with pulses and craft beer very much the order of the day. Thomas Crappers were composters and all waste water was run through some elaborate eco treatment affair to which the addition of bleach would be the effluent equivalent of Chernobyl. So it was smuggled off site the following day and disposed off responsibly.

The next few days turned out to be free of incident and centred around exploring Amsterdam by Velocopede.

Which was tremendous fun particularly the cycle ferry that runs constantly across the river.

Boarding and disembarking was very much the stuff of the peloton.

With a nod to cultural guff, the Rijksmuseum was very busy with queues of over an hour for entry. We'd done most bits of it on previous winter trips. Vermeer's milk jug, Big Rembrandts and The Potato Eaters seem to stick in the memory, although that last one may have been the chips and mayonnaise I had for lunch.

So it was on down to the Stedelijk museum at the other end of the museumplein for two hours of excellent twentieth art.

Plenty of Picassos,

here's one of a lady friend (Pablo's not mine, never seen her before in my life) with a fish on her head and blue breasts.

Bacon,Chagall, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Rothko and a few by Van Gogh.

Bits of Bauhaus furniture and photos from Man Ray, Ansell Adams and others.

We've also visited the Van Gogh museum on previous trips and of the three on the plein, the Stedelijk is our favourite.

Back to base to meet Maisie and Callum who had come out to act as rear gunners in the cabin situated aft for a few days.

It was great to pipe them aboard.

We did our own thing during the day - they are of an age and level of physical fitness when a lot can be crammed into an hour. We have a requirement to sit down every so often (in your face fitbit) normally to ascertain where we are in relation to home or lunch.

We took breakfast together before regrouping for drinks and dinner in the evening which worked well and it was great to have them along.

Here we all are in an Eritrean restaurant.

You will note the elephants at the window.

The restaurant rates very highly on many websites as a place to eat in Amsterdam

A shared meal is served in an upside down dustbin lid and eaten sans cutlery with pancakes that could double up as napkins if required.

It was a tremendous repast that will live long in the memory, we hope to return one day.

Bothering the substantial Zander that inhabit the water in Amsterdam Noord with a fly proved unproductive so I targeted the silver fish by the boat with a float.

Returning home one evening we disturbed a twenty pound plus grass carp that was nibbling away at the algae on the pontoon.

In TV news we can reveal that Van der Valk is returning to our TV screens. Barry Foster hasn't aged a bit. Very much the Killing Eve of its day we caught a scene being filmed in which our hero is bludgeoned to the ground and flung in the canal.

Cycling everywhere was a particular highlight of the trip. A good bike that is safe and easy to ride came in at just under ten euros a day and we became quite attached to our steeds. Back home we are now considering seeking out a couple of Dutch bikes for use on local lanes.

There I said it, my name is Chris de Cani and I am considering a career in cycling.

And so despite the best efforts of those wretches Tamas Lukas and Sabine Zwitch et al we enjoyed a terrific four night break on a house boat in Amsterdam.

Up yours you no good lowlife deadbeats. A further thousand curses on your icy souls.

Apologies for the travel news, but at this age I do find I have to write things down.

River news to follow, and there is much to discuss.