Tuesday 21 December 2021

Omicron, Jeyff Chaucer and Subterranean Passages

Apologies once again for tardiness regarding chucking up guff but it’s been a funny five weeks, undertaken in a fug and a haze. 

Which was a little bit of a surprise as I have been able to experience what was once deemed everyday normal behaviour before the pando took hold. 

I’ve been attending to fallen trees, often with Lord Ludg and The English in attendance. 

I’ve dug out the chainsaw mill and am currently planking away at some pine. I’ve hauled wood from the wood and have enough stacked up seasoning away for next winter, and the river is falling fast. 

I travelled down to Cornwall in the name of aimlessly firing shot at fast flying partridge. 

An overnight stay at somewhere with many memories. We visited this part of Cornall many times when the children were small. It’s a little more “chi chi” now, but the bones of the place remain the same.

The tide was well in on the beach that we used to visit whenever the temperature on the car read greater than eighteen degrees and it had not changed a bit, other than the over zealous implementation of exorbitant charges in the car park behind.

A week later I was in Newmarket for the day. 

I’ve popped in and out briefly, mostly in the name of all things greyhound and expensive vets, but had not been out and about on the gallops that surround the town. It’s an interesting place with a racehorse heart beat that echoes throughout the streets. Some of the stable complexes on the outskirts of town are incredible, the Godolphin pile of bricks is the stuff of James Bond. 

A week on we had our boosters. 

Following our first two vaccinations Madam and myself skipped down the road seeking a patch of grass on which to sit cross legged and lace daisies in to one another’s hair. Post booster we hurried back to the car in driving wind and rain to drive home pausing briefly in masks to stock up on essentials (mostly wine and cheese based). 

I’ll own I’ve been trying to chuck up some guff for a while but an impending feeling of doom and glom has prevented me doing so. Normally I’d put this down to the weather, football/cricket results, moving the Mark Rothko from the downstairs loo to pride of place in the parlour or the ineptitude and arrogance of “Our Great Leader”,

but there was something else. 

A looming presence, creeping creeping. 

Omicron, Omicron, Omicron. 

To quote Tom Rush “errr, the voice sounds familiar, and the name it rings a bell"


But what was Omicron? 

Alpha, Beta and Gamma get all the heat when it comes to all things Greek alphabet but wasn’t there a second cousin many times removed called Omicron? 

In no little turmoil I repaired to my chambers, put on my sleeping/thinking cap and reached for a book I occasionally consult to pour oil on mental cogs that are beginning to graunch. 

100 poems on the underground is a slender tome. 

It comprises a wide range of poems posted on walls around TFL’s subterranean passages in order to stimulate and inspire your everyday Joe/Jo on their daily commute. 

I have a fairly short commute which doesn't involve subterranean passages, but the following passage from Beowulf jumped out all the same.

The Coming of Grendel 

Now from the marshlands (Chinese market) under the mist mountains 
Came Grendel (Pando) prowling; branded with God’s ire. 
This murderess monster was minded to entrap 
Some hapless human (non mask wearer/anti vaxxer) in that high hall (night club, large restaurant, swingers party, although I understand they do sometimes wear masks at such events)  
On he came under the clouds (ventilation is key), until clearly
He could see the great golden feasting place (large Mc’Donalds on a wet Saturday morning) 
Glimmering wine-hall of men (Spoons at Sunday lunch time) Not his first raid (Spanish Flu, bit of a bug in the 1970s) was this on the homeplace of Hrothegar (Planet earth) 
Never before though and never afterward 
Did he encounter hardier defenders (vaccines: jab 1, jab 2 and the bleep and booster one) of a hall.

It is a well known fact (I think) that Grendel’s mother, whose ire was the equal of her son and sought vengeance for his death, was assigned the middle name “Omicron” 

Case closed. 

There is still a river and I do still work in and out of it, but for the moment, if you haven’t had the necessary jabs and are medically able to do so, please get it done,

We need to move on from this. 

Happy Christmas everyone and thanks as ever for reading the rubbish that I write,

 Oh yes, the “100 Poems on the Underground” features many other fine poems including one about teeth by Spike Milligan, an ode to thrips on his roses by William Blake and an illegible piece of nonsense regarding a parliament of fowls by the much overrated Jeyff Chaucer.

If you are stuck for a last minute present give it a go.

Thursday 11 November 2021

Tree Failure, Stourhead and a Chronic Cognitive Decline

Well the wind blew hard the other Sunday and the mother of all horse chestnuts cashed in its chips.
Thirty years ago it had the perfect shape for a mature tree but several limbs had dropped since then and its figure had been seriously affected. But it still seemed reasonably healthy. Bizarrely it fell into the wind suggesting that it snapped in recoil after a particularly strong blow. 

It has taken the best part of a week to sort out with the many large limbs having to be hauled from the river with the tractor. The wind also did for three large ash trees which drew Lord Ludg and The English from their burrows, fallen ash acts like a magnet to these two. 

We also felled a large self set aspen. 

A fast growing tree it was beginning to loom over my employer’s house so it had to go. A rope was slung around it’s middle half way up and the tractor applied pressure to stop it falling into my employer’s bedroom as I delivered the final cut. This method has occasionally misfired in the past over calculations regarding length of rope used, but no one has been hurt yet, although Lord Ludg was tickled up by the top of a substantial Christmas tree a few years back when playing the role of tractor driver. 

Command Centre Central turned up to conduct a survey of the river via the medium of electro fishing. It was initially due to be undertaken in the spring of 2020 but that went the way of the pando.

The bottom section revealed a lot of big triploid trout that are being introduced to the river somewhere down stream and move up to this stretch through the winter. It has been a regular occurrence during the last three winters, a big noise from Command Centre Central fishes here each winter for grayling and had noticed their appearance and was one of the reasons that the survey was undertaken to see if the big Trips were impacting upon native fish populations. 

We await their conclusions. 

The top shallows were also surveyed where over eighty brown trout to a pound and a bit were caught.  The number of eels that were caught both yellow and silver was also a surprise and quite encouraging. 

The elephant in the room throughout the survey was the lack of grayling. 

In the seventies and eighties grayling were considered a bit of a nuisance in the southern chalkstreams. If it wasn’t a trout it was coming out and each autumn thousands of grayling along with pike, perch, roach and chub would be removed from this river. Any trout angler who caught a grayling was encouraged deliver the coup de gras. Yet each year the number of grayling remained fairly constant.

If you went through this river with electric probes this autumn to remove grayling, the population would probably crash or at the very least take a long time to recover. 

Cormorants have undoubtedly impacted on their numbers in the middle river, anglers no longer bang them on the head. Grayling did spawn on the shallows in front of the fishing hut in early spring this year but not in numbers seen just ten years ago (there’s a video on the “tube called you” somewhere) 

In 2015 following lengthy consultation the flawed National Trout and Grayling Strategy was implemented. 

Management of the chalk stream habitat in the seventies and eighties is often criticised for being too “trout centric” as I stated previously, if it wasn’t a trout it was coming out. 

Since the implementation of the National Trout and Grayling Strategy in 2015, we have seen a return to "trout centricity" the grayling is very much the junior partner. They can both thrive in a chalk stream habitat and yes both are salmonids, but the fact that one spawns in early winter and the other in early spring sets them apart and that isn’t being taken into account with regard to management of chalk streams. 

Winter fishing for grayling on chalk streams has increased year on year during my time falling in and out of this river. People now pay a lot of money and drive a long way to fish for the “lady of the stream” as they don’t exist in rivers countrywide. I had never seen one until I moved to this valley in 1986, let alone caught one, in my formative years it was a mythical creature. 

Every angler who fishes for grayling in this valley is a stakeholder in the chalk streams and has an interest in the condition of their habitat.

If the grayling population declines to the extent that it is not worth fishing for them, the number of stakeholders with an interest of keeping chalk streams healthy is reduced.  

Ten years ago people paid money and travelled many miles to fish for roach in this stretch of the river, The late great John Wilson wrote an article for Anglers Mail on the fish he caught here, Keith Arthur turned up in his van with Sky TV crew in tow to film a piece on fishing for the large roach. 

The roach have gone now, last week’s survey turned up no red fins. The roach fishermen no longer come and articles on their capture no longer appear in Anglers Mail or features on Sky TV, the number of stakeholders with an interest in looking after chalk streams has subsequently been reduced. 

The roach disappeared in the space of five years, We need to start looking after the grayling. 

Popped up to Stourhead last week by way of lengthening life via the medium of left foot right foot. Didn’t do the house but walked down the valley where Peter’s pump is located that used to be the source of the Stour. The source is much further down the valley now, at which point I could get cross about the chronic decline of groundwater levels and how this corner of the country is increasingly “drying out”

But I won’t as it was a lovely day, with a picnic by the lake and the trees approaching “full fall”. There were a lot of people about and Moss covered most of Wiltshire in earnest pursuit of a twelve month old GSP for about ten minutes. 

I thought I’d been to Stourhead before. I’d been asked to produce some artistic willow arbors in the garden of Peter Brooke MP and had paused by a lake that I thought was Stourhead for a cup of coffee. 

Turns out it wasn’t as I had no recollection of the lake we visited last Sunday. The quest for the lake that I took coffee by now begins, as it was a very pretty “Estate Lake” 

Peter Brooke and his wife were good fun and kept the coffee and cake coming as I chucked up poorly constructed willow structures in their immaculate garden. The conversation turned to cricket, and he took me into his study, which was a small tower like structure on the end of the house and the stuff of Dumbledore. He was a couple of copies short of a complete set of wisdens. I mentioned that I knew John Woodcock fished at Bransbury and he had the full set and that was that, cricket chat was far more important than poorly constructed willow structures in the garden and I had to return a few days later to complete the installation (artistic parlance I believe) as the first afternoon was lost to examining a large collection of cricketing memorabilia. 

While we’re on all things MP. 

It is welcome that some form of legislation has been pushed through to hold the water companies to account and public awareness has been raised regarding the issue of raw sewage being sent down the precious river systems of these Isles, but much more needs to be done to hold the feet of these weasels that are water companies to the flame. Treated water needs to be of a higher standard and the range of testing increased to cover more parameters that may be impacting upon the aquatic environment. Investment in infrastructure needs to be increased and dividends dished out reduced. 

Once again fly tipping get a mention, here's one of the latest piece of furniture to be introduced to the parish complete with packaging.

Today's Thunderer featured another article on the ageing minds of the over 50s during the Pando,  with which I would concur.  You will remember talk of Brain Fug on here and an inability to get going with written guff.  Research is now being undertaken into this cognitive decline for this age group and I would like to offer myself up as a Guinea Pig if anyone out there needs one.  Ten years ago I could sit down after tea bang out my 850 word column for The Shooting Times, write a 1500 - 200 word Feature Article on some obscure rural subject for the same publication, write a couple of football match reports for the local paper, throw together a newsletter for the cricket club and still have time for a glass of wine with Madam before climb climbing the sunshine mountain to our bed in the sky following the News.  

I'd struggle to do that today after the last twenty months.  Ok I accept that a chronic physical decline sets in with time, behind this slipped chest and withered husk lie the last vestiges of a once great beauty, but I didn't expect befuddlement and inertia to take hold quite so quickly once I pitched into my fifties in a pando. 

Tuesday 2 November 2021

Bom Dia, Boa Tarde, Boa Noite!


Half term just gone and after two years of dropping the travel baton it has once again been picked up and stashed in the knapsack and we’ve headed for foreign shores. 

Porto to be precise, for five days of sun and a travel experience that was the equivalent of taking off tight shoes. 

We’d been booked to visit the Easter before last but then the poxy Pando struck. We vowed to return and gambled on booking some very cheap flights at the start of this year when we were are all ligging around in lockdown. 

We tentatively touched base with the friendly guy we had been due to stay with in 2020, but his three holiday apartments had been repossessed in autumn last year. A lovely fella, he had little left but hoped to get going again at some point.

New accommodation was booked and after several Covid scares at school during the two weeks preceding our departure, we filled in our Portuguese Passenger locator forms, printed off our vaccine certificates and headed for Gatwick. 

Currently only the north terminal building is in use with the South terminal mothballed. With reduced operating capacity we were through bag drop and security in a jiffy. The departure lounge had a few retail units closed and our usual restaurant of first choice for breakfast or coffee had also put the shutters up. 

Masks on all the way during the flight and then we landed in another country for the first time in two years. 

Onto the excellent Metro for a thirty minute ride to Trindade station and our apartment in the Baixa district of Porto. 

Up off and out the next morning we headed for the river. Rua do Alamada, the road on which we were billeted, seemed to be the DIY and Hardware quarter of the city. There were a dozen or more old fashioned hardware stores with a counter, behind which stood the store owner in a brown jacket with a bank of small fitted wooden drawers covering the wall and extending to the ceiling where many implements hung ready for retrieval and sale. 

Carrying on down to the river, and Porto is very hilly, we moved into the Ribiera district which features old cobbled winding streets with many cafes and restaurants. The river front in Ribiera until a few decades ago was quite run down in a Liverpool in the seventies kind of way, but has since been sympathetically buffed up and is now a great place to spend a few hours with a glass of excellent local wine or a big glass of Superbock gazing at what must be, with exception of my own efforts, one of the best bridges in the world. 

You’ll have seen it somewhere at some point and it is a bridge like no other. Ponte Dom Luis1, built by the business partner of Gustav Eifel, it carries the metro, pedestrians and motor vehicles on two levels and is reassuringly over engineered in the grand manner of the day with big bits of metal used in its construction and a million or more rivets. Eifel had a go at a bridge upstream, but it pales in comparison to his compadre’s and probably marked the point at which he made the successful switch to towers. 

Whenever we travel, we always research and book our first dinner of the holiday. If we have had a long flight and hunger is setting in vagueness can take hold, a decision cannot be made as to where to eat and an uncomfortable silence can descend. 

As a result we always pre book our first night dinner via the miracle of the internet. 

For our initial trip we had booked a table at Muu, a highly rated Porto restaurant where the menu is mostly cow based. Trepidatiously we touched base with them for our rearranged trip, concerned that they may have gone the same way as our initial accommodation booking. 

Fortunately they hadn’t, 

They’d muddled through on reduced staff and takeaway provision and would be delighted to have us over for the evening. 

It’s a small place with around a dozen tables and dimly lit, which we like towards the end of the day, unless we have to read anything which is when the clever phone and it’s inbuilt torch comes in. 

It is one of the best dining experiences we have ever had. The food, is sensational and the people who run the place couldn’t have been more pleased to see us. We visited again on our last night and it got quite emotional as they explained how pleased they were that people were coming from away to touch base with Porto again. 

Off out the next day to Livrario Lello. 

According to some it’s the third most spectacular bookshop in the world. 

Well I’d like to see what shop gets the silver and gold. 

We queued for thirty minutes to gain entry, and thanks very much for that JK Rowling. JK taught English in Porto in the early 90s. A difficult period in her personal life, her time in Porto proved to be the genesis of Harry Potter and there are several public spaces in the city that she frequented that provided inspiration for her writings. 

This book shop (that is still run as a bookshop) is dominated by the spectacular “Hogwarts” style central stair case and the stained glass windows and roof. It has Gringots style wooden carts running on rails set in the floor on the lower level which were used for moving books about the place.

Over the Dom Luis bridge on the Metro the next day to climb the steps to the Church of our lady of some such thing or other, whose forecourt affords some superb views of the city.

We hung around for an hour before descending to the cable car and a ride down to the Port houses that line the bank of the river. 

All the big names in the liquor are there along with some old boats that used to transport barrels full of port down the Douro.

All of the port is tankered along the road today but the Douro remains brim full of boats with many day trips and also the River Cruise Ships that berth just downstream from the Port houses.

Port was taken at one of the port houses, the white stuff which was very nice, before we headed back over the lower level of the bridge on foot to a riverside bar for a glass of vino. 

And this is where I had a bit of a moment. 

Sitting by the river, in bright sunshine with a glass of wine watching people pass by and taking in the overall setting is enough for me. Why some loons think this experience can be enhanced by the introduction of live music is beyond my ken. 

These guys turned up and banged out Sweet Child of Mine by Guns and Roses and the staple of most European city buskers, a poorly sung version of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah. 

We don’t get any choice in whether they play or not, we must just sit there mid drink gripping the arms of the chair increasingly tightly. All my hard stares, shaking of my head and audible sighs seemed to only make them try harder. In the unlikely event that I require music to enhance this particular experience, I will get out my clever phone, don my clever headphones and listen to a song of my choice, sung by a competent musician without bothering anyone else. 

They are an international menace and must be stopped. 

Anyway, for the remainder of our stay we just mooched about Porto. There are many view points to visited, shops to be shopped and little lanes to get lost in for a few hours. 

And then all too soon the shopkeeper appeared and it was time for us to go home.

Onto the Metro and back up the line to the Aeroporto where for a while it all went wrong. 

Earlier in the week we had filled in our passenger locator forms on the YouGov website, booked our day two Covid tests and received confirmation emails of both. At bag drop we were asked for our papers and we handed over what we had and prepared to retrieve the relevant documents from the You Gov website via the medium of clever phone. 

Only we couldn’t. 

The You Gov website refused to accept our login details, had no record of us ever having used the website (despite us having submitted many forms on the thing over the years, from Tax returns, through licensing to paying fines) It had recognised us forty eight hours before, but now it didn’t want to know us. Half a dozen other parties were in the same boat and then the website crashed. For forty five minutes we desperately tried to retrieve our forms, the confirmation emails with reference number would not suffice. 

And then an angel in orange appeared who went by the name of Lara Amaral and worked for Easyjet. 

Sensing our distress, she disappeared for five minutes to make a call, before taking our phones and somehow conjuring up a couple of UK Passenger Locator forms for us to fill in again. Which we did, we were then whisked through security and passport control to our plane, where we were the last to board. 

Apparently they had made last call announcements over the tannoy for Mr Dickeni, but we hadn’t been able to hear them due to a poor PA system and our poor hearing. We did however hear the person running along the passport queue shouting for Mr Dickeni. 

A terrific trip, and as I said previously, something akin to taking off tight shoes. 

An Addendum: Day two testing for travel into Old Albion. These must be paid for. Both Madam and myself were required to take a lateral flow test on the Sunday for her return to school, they are provided at no charge. Foreign travel requires a lateral flow test or PCR test to be taken within two days of entry to England, the test must be paid for by and purchased from a government approved provider our school lateral flow test would not suffice. 

On Sunday (our day two and the day before Madam returned to school) Madam and myself sat at the kitchen and went through the ritual of taking a lateral flow test and reporting the results to the school and the NHS website. Two minutes later Madam and myself sat at the same table took another lateral flow test, exactly the same as the one we had taken for school purposes, but one with which we had been required to hand over money, and reported the results.

Which is nuts. 

Is anyone up to their eyes in making vast profits during a time of national crisis again (see previous guff on PPE), while the remainder of the populous have been urged to act in a particular way for the common good.


Tuesday 12 October 2021

A Curate's Egg of a Season and Is it Me?

Well that’s another season done. 

My thirtieth on this stretch of river. 
A curate’s egg of a season with a superb start and fantastic mayfly, but a mid to late summer when most fish refused to rise despite a trickle of olives and sedge and the river holding a reasonable condition. 

But hey ho, that’s fishing. 

We continue to bumble about at the weekends in our quest to extend life via the execution of the required number of steps. Upper Itchen looked good and seems to be benefiting from a reduction in the number of swans. The upper Test had a particular late season sparkle about it too, but the clearest water we came across was in the Basingstoke canal at Greywell.
As clear as a chalk stream spring hole, which is what it is. 

Goodness knows how the parish got its name cos grey it ain't.

The Greywell tunnel, one of the longest in the land, collapsed in the 1950s and remains blocked. Water emerges naturally from the chalk through which the tunnel was bored, and tops the canal up at a steady rate throughout the year. Having lost its navigable status the tunnel now plays host to large colonies of bats various. 
Back home, we await peak fall although most trees are on the turn. The Lime tree at the end of the lane that briefly assumes the hues of Coleman’s mustard carries a jaundiced air and the liquid amber has half a mind to don its deep burgundy autumnal smoking jacket.
The aspen continue to rustle in the merest zephyr and last week the king of all conker trees shed a limb that took down our power lines. 

They were back up in a jiffy and goodness the chaps and chapesses from Southern and Scottish Electric were good to come out in the middle of the night to deal with their errant amps and ohms.
It’s happened before and will no doubt happen again as the spur that leaves the electrical main line to feed this house and the mill house over the road was routed through some trees that were probably in situ just before electricity was invented.
Few trout currently show any inclination to spawn. 

Which is a different story to twenty years ago when cocks would now be undertaking the opening skirmishes in their battle to secure the best spots on the spawning gravels. We’ve a river full of lumpen triploids who roam in gangs, have no horse in the spawning race and will feed hard throughout the winter much to the chagrin of those targeting grayling.  

Your natural diploid trout will go off the feed going into and coming out of spawning, and are less likely to displace the lady of the stream from feeding lies during the winter.
At which point we could chuck up a few words on how that Trout & Grayling strategy implemented in 2015 is going, but despite it being a principle reason for me first chucking up this guff, I shall refrain other than to say we continue to be increasingly led by loons. 

We do have a few grayling, and they did spawn reasonably successfully in early spring which is a tremendous thing as they remain very much the junior partner in the afore mentioned Trout & Grayling Strategy. A few grayling anglers who have fished here for many years will arrive in the coming months and it will be interesting to hear their take on the grayling population which I have as “slightly improved” on the past few winters. 

Last week we ran out of oil.
It was our own fault, we filled the tank up when the oil price hit rock bottom sometime around the start of the pando and then forgot all about it. We use around a thousand litres a year and having filled the tank with half as much again it completely slipped our mind as at the time we clearly considered fifteen hundred litres an endless supply. Oil’s on order but it will take three weeks to arrive as apparently there is a shortage of drivers (who knew). 
We'll get by, we had eleven days over Christmas last year with the boiler down. The mother of all wood burners has now been fired up a little earlier than usual and we are off into our substantial stash of logs.
Ash mostly with occasional beech and thorn all of which has been seasoning for two years. The majority of it comes in with a moisture content of ten to twelve percent giving a very clean burn. Wind the other week blew over a substantial willow in the wood. It’ll be burned in the wood as there is so much ash to be cut and stacked up there is no need to store inferior logs that are the stuff of Salix.

In harvest news it’s been a bumper blackberry season.
We have far too many in the freezer, unfortunately we have a dearth of apples so must rely on others for the other major component of a our Sunday dessert. It was a little poignant this year stripping the brambles of their trove. Otis loved blackberries and he would delicately pluck the lower fruit with his front teeth and wolf them down in numbers. He didn’t care for peas and would eat around any that appeared in his bowl at tea time. 

He was quite a deft eater was Otis, 

unlike Moss who can catch a crispy yorkshire pudding tossed in the the air and smash it to a million pieces with one chomp.
We’re also coming to the end of a super crop of late raspberries and have tried our first leek. The new potatoes that I planted for consumption during the festive season are in flower and may have to be consumed on bonfire night instead. The wind that did for the willow also did for my sunflowers and runner beans. We’d had enough of runner beans and have twelve months supply in the freezer but the sunflowers were much admired and in their prime. I kept most for the birds but a large bunch did end up in the font in church during the harvest service.
Last week "our great leader " sloped up at conference with a sombrero on his head and a stuffed donkey under his arm and lauded the fact that wages were on the rise (inflation was also on the up but he offered assurances that its control was in hand) and welcome one and all to the sunlit uplands, it’s all gonna be great. 
I had mowing to complete which I find a very soothing task. I drifted slowly off into a reverie as the grass was topped. 

Wages for the public sector have been frozen. 

Madam, a Higher Level Teaching Assistant of over twenty years standing has had her pay frozen for five of the last six years.

There was an austerity on, remember?

Inflation is on the rise so in effect public sector workers on frozen pay are worse off with each year without a defrost of annual salary increases. 

If wages rise to a level in some sectors such as retail, delivery, hospitality where the hourly pay rate is higher than some of the lower pay scale public sector workers (dustmen, teaching assistants, carers etc) who have had their pay frozen could thsi lead to the departure of people who were only recently termed “key workers” from the public sector to higher paid jobs in retail, hospitality delivery or other sectors who are trying to attract workers with the promise of higher wages.
Is it me.