Tuesday 22 October 2019

Trapezoids, Owls and a Tumultuous Tenure

Tadah! and here we are moving towards “Full Fall”

Morning's at Seven; The Hillside's dew-pearled; The snail was on the wing and the lark on the thorn

or rather the other way round - etc. etc.

And that’s what a month of rain can do to the mood of a man and also the general health of a chalk stream.

Here's the stretch of the Upper Dever that was causing so much consternation just over a month ago,

Here’s the latest press on the plight of these special rivers. Monday’s Thunderer to be precise.

Well done everyone, keep it up. The fear of flooding will dominate the press again soon and a wet week in winter will once again be demonised rather than be promoted as a welcome default state in some valleys in the south.

In the village the spring ditch that borders the football pitch and emanates from the field known across the ages as “Spring Bottom remains dry, although good burghers have been busy clearing it out in preparation for it to run once again. If the spring does break it will be the first time since the winter of 2013/14. During my tumultuous tenure as football pitch groundsman that began in 2002 and was terminated in 2012 after the shape of the pitches marked out were betrayed by Google Earth.

From memory the terms "irregular" and "trapezoid" were invoked in the hearing.

I was not however stripped of my Hants FA Groundsman of the Year award 2011, a controversial win, which was judged by the head groundsman at the Madjeski Stadium whose name I forget.


The ditch ran most winters which caused one corner of the pitch to become quite soggy in March and April and I was unable to mark out a pitch. Several seasons an alternative pitch had to be sought to complete the final few fixtures.

Following the pitch marking fiasco I am currently not allowed near football pitch touchlines, although I am aware that all fixtures have been completed at the ground since 2014.

I’ve just been out with the dogs and once again there is a tawny owl hooting away in a tree on the other side of the river. I’d like to think it is the juvenile we hand reared with finest chicken last year but I doubt it. He was a miserable fecker, very grumpy who flew the nest without even a thank you flap of the wings.

We live in an owl rich environs with long eared, short eared, barn and little varieties all present within a mile of our back door. It may be the reason why the old school uniform in the local primary school that both our children attended had a large owl on the front.

For a few years the flat roof of our home was a favourite perch for a Little Owl. A voluble cove, he would regularly wake us up with his screeches and one of us would have to get up and bang the window to move him on. We don’t hear as many little owls around here as we once did.

I’ve seen a few hares this week. We still have a brace on the river bank but the field behind our home is once again playing host to several Leporidae. It’s only five acres in size but hares have always gathered there in numbers each spring to muck about and mate. It’s the only place I have ever seen a parliament of hares, nine or ten of them sitting in a wide circle oblivious to all else around them.

This week I have seen half a dozen via the medium of the bathroom window, which is encouraging.

In cold weather they move away to a sheltered depression in a hundred acre field that borders the road, on a frosty morning it is often possible to pick out a dozen or more hares in the small valley formed by the two shallow paps.

The two grayling fishermen that have visited so far have found it hard going, although two fish over two pound have been caught. The roach are proving to be particularly fickle but there are a few nice fish about on the bottom bends. There are also a few pike pushing double figures which could be fun on the fly once winter sets in. The Pike took a bit of a hammering from Tarka a few years ago so it is good to see a few mature fish about, although not too many.

There is also a sizeable pike in the flight pond.

I have been busting a gut cutting phragmites for a couple of days and it moved a lot of water when it shot out into open water to avoid the swish of my scythe. There are still a few small roach and rudd in the pond that spawn each year and will serve as dainties for Percy Pike, but all the bigger bream, tench and forty-year old carp went the way of the otters some years ago now. On a day for disturbing things I turned up on the tractor this morning and flushed two woodcock from the wood by the pond. We seem to entertain more and more woodcock each winter often when it is cold somewhere else east of here.

Returning to worries about the water. It is great that awareness of an aquifer under pressure is on the increase and also awareness of the role that groundwater plays in day to day life for millions of people.

Individuals, Organisations Associations and Trusts all have a part to play in calling out those who threaten groundwater levels in chalk levels, and it must be made priority number one on the list of “Things to do to protect chalk rivers”. Promoting a more sustainable use of a diminishing groundwater supply in order to help these precious rivers cope with increasingly dry conditions is of equal importance.

Yes the habitat restoration and yes the push for increased biodiversity, but woody debris and faggots in a chalk stream run dry are nothing more than a bonfire waiting to be formed and fired.

Right now, it's all about the groundwater.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

The Wirral, Lidl and Old Stew


I’ll just break off there to congratulate The One Show on the BBC.

One evening last week they tackled the subject of low groundwater levels, low levels of chalk streams and the reluctance of the relevant authorities to implement water saving measures at the start of the summer just passed.

The poor sap forced to front up for Command Centre Central was visibly squirming at the presenter’s line of questioning.

Well done The One Show, spot on.

Fingers crossed it’s a subject they return to in the future.

Trout fishing season has finished in these parts.

The season began with a bang, with many fish put on the bank but fizzled out from mid August onwards in ultra low water conditions. There are plenty of trout left in the river with some big 3n lumps that have arrived from who knows where. Sterile fish, they will continue to feed throughout the winter as their appetite will be unaffected by carnal thoughts. They could prove to be a problem for the few grayling fishermen who occasionally visit during the winter and tend to fish with lighter tackle.

The rain we have had in recent weeks has given the river a tremendous fillip. The level a little higher, the river is rattling along at twice the rate it was in August, and streams through the garden are once again running.

There is even a little water running down the Mill Stream which has assumed pond status for much of the last three years.

Springs are slowly reviving and the ground is soft, but the valley will easily cope with a month or more of rain.

The watercress that has been allowed to grow out and pinch the flow in the low water conditions of summer has now had to be cut back. An early frost will sometimes finish it off, but we remain frost free so far and as a result I’ve been in the river with the scythe and grabs.

Watercress growth can be quite prolific, but there is a flip side to allowing it to pinch the flow in low water conditions. It can smother good weed such as ranunculus, depriving it off light and causing it to die off.

There are a few patches where this has happened this summer and weed will have to be replanted in the spring.

Further apologies but I’ll just break off there again.

I’m banging this guff out on a new laptop.

The keyboard is a slightly different layout to the one that I am used to so there may be a higher count of misplaced commas, poor spelling and random ampersands.


The old laptop was seven years old and cashed in its' chips mid type.

It demonstrates sparks of life but not much information is relayed to the screen.

Under guidance from a Chinese teenager on the internet, I had the back off the thing and wiggled the bits about that she suggested, but to no avail.

Whither poor laptop. It had put in considerable service and was frequently soused with liquor, mostly of a scarlet hue, so it did well to make seven years, but I am much taken with the new number.

Made from girders in Scotland the new number goes by the name of McBook Air.

It is half the weight of my deceased HP and is very keen to promote the use of the &, the " and the number 2.

In other news we have a new Lidl opened up on the edge of town.

Aside from its excellent cold cuts, Wigig offers and Italian wine it also serves as a “holiday in a day”

We like to visit our local town store when the sun is shining and pretend we are back in Croatia.

It’s the supermarket of first choice in the Balkans, and when the weather was fine this summer we even popped a bag packed with snorkels, goggles and lilo in the car to make the local town store shopping experience even more Balkanic.

I'll just break off there to make an appeal on behalf of offended people in the North West of England.

Important talks were held last week between UK and Irish Nabobs regarding borders. The location chosen was deemed to be half way between the two capital cities.

The talks took place on the Wirral,

That’s "On The Wirral"

Not “In Wirral” “At Wirral” or “North West Cheshire”

The talks were held on The Wirral.

Oh yes, and if time was deemed the factor to determine a half way house for further Indaba between designated Binky Nabobs, then you could make a case for the Test Valley.

A flight from Dublin to Southampton airport (a destination that all sane people agree is the world's best airport) and a train or road trip from Londinium take about the same length of time and attract a similar bill.

I’ve been a tad tardy in mentioning them in recent posts, but this house’s association with The Fleet St Hotel in Temple Bar Dublin remains in place, whatever the final border agreement.

Negotiations between parties were reasonably swift. Portion control on Black Pudding was a brief sticking point, but agreement was reached and promises made to mention the old place a bit more on here.

That’s The Fleet St Hotel in Dublin folks.

The Fleet St Hotel.

An Addendum: The International bar.

Give it a google. It is quite the place.

With a rich history, you're never short of somebody to talk to.

We’ve popped in for pints several times, occasionally with an accompanying bowl of stew drawn from a vat at the end of the bar that has been bubbling away for aeons, and may well have had a walk on part in James Joyce's Ulysses. It's a tremendous place to waste away an hour or so

Saturday 5 October 2019

Hedges, Home Brew and a Letter

Ave all,

Yay!, it’s been raining,


Which is bad news for some quarters of these Isles, who currently entertain eels and other aquatic fauna behind the sofa. But for this drought stricken corner of the country it is manna from heaven.

You will note the use of the word “drought” because that is the term finally being used by Command Centre Central to describe the summer just passed. I was sent the following link by a visitor to this parish. Have a read, not sure why but there is a significant change of tone of late regarding groundwater levels this summer.


Anyway enough of all that, I think I have used up my annual supply of the words “chronic”, “depletion” and “aquifers”

But I’ll just say that I have not yet had any replies to my queries to Command Centre Central listed in the previous post, they will be put up on here the minute they drop in the mail box.

Trees are on the turn and we have heavy dew each morning. Damp conditions are proving perfect for funny funghi although I’ve not picked any mushies yet this year. The Leverets that were born in the long grass in the meadow are now fully grown and have yet to find a way off the premises via one of three bridges. Grass has enjoyed a late flush and mowing between the showers has been a harem scarum dash up and down the bank before the next band of clouds sweeps in from the west.

This week I have mostly been cutting hedges,

which seems particularly apposite as The Fast Show celebrated its twenty fifth birthday recently. I have said it on here many times before but fences and walls are the future of boundary demarcation, hedges have had their day. I am a physical wreck after tickling up some of the leviathanic hedges that loom about this place. Forgive the product placement but the hedges were cut with a Stihl FS 85 electric pole trimmer whose battery has a life of one hour. Which is a blessing as the twenty minutes it takes to recharge is mostly spent flat out on the Physio’s table.

This crow has been hanging around for a few weeks. It’s a bit of a loner and I keep finding him/her in the fisherman’s toilet. I am sure there is a technical term for birds that hang around toilets but I’ve called him/her Upstart.

Upstart also feeds with the chickens who do not seem particularly bothered by him/her. Previous encounters with crows in the chicken pen have escalated quickly to violence with our chooks administering a battering to the overgrown blackbird.

We’ve two new additions to our flock. Light Sussex Hybrids, they are very sociable but a little abstemious when it comes to popping out eggs.

We've a bumper crop of hops this year. They seem to do well in our garden and up the river and I have used them in a home brewing capacity.
Many years ago when children were small, I formulated a plan to make a brew entirely from ingredients sourced within a few yards of our door. The water came from the aquifers beneath our home, the hops from the garden and the barley from the field behind. Barley was soaked and the garage swept out for the barley to chit. The chitted barley was then cooked over a fire made of wood from our log pile and malt extract was produced. I don't remember the source of the yeast, but it may have been from something long forgotten at the back of the fridge. The brew was formed and introduced to the fermentation vessel. Bottling the beer a few weeks later I was pleased with the clear amber brew. A few weeks later the first glass was poured. Beautifully bright and clear with a slight spritz and bright white head it looked like beer,

But it tasted of the garage floor.

Further home made alcohol capers to follow, I've had a few.

For many years we have taken the local newspaper. It’s an easy read and provides an insight to the antics of local town society. For ten years I contributed match reports and photographs for both football and cricket matches. It wasn’t a difficult brief. The word count was fairly low and one week I managed to get all eleven players of a football team mentioned in a one hundred and twenty-word report. It was produced in the local town, there was a dedicated sports editor, who I knew well, and between five and seven pages of sport. Maisie undertook her year ten work experience at the paper. Shadowing a reporter, one afternoon they received word of police cars massing in one part of town and raced down to live report on a drug bust on one of the more edgy estates in town. Despite the population of the local town increasing substantially over the past ten years, the market for the paper is deemed to be diminished and the newspaper is thrown together many miles away from here on the south coast. There is no dedicated sports editor and the five to seven pages of sport have been reduced to two, occasionally one if one of the local pizza emporia has an offer on and they take out a full page ad with money saving coupons.

Anyway, the reason for my rant regarding the local rag, is the letter page of this morning’s copy.

Normally the haunt of sofa prime ministers promoting their take on the way forward,

today there was this letter from Nigel, a manager at Southern Water.

I think you may be stretching it a bit with the “Positive Feedback” Nige

Something's afoot.