Wednesday 27 January 2021

Bank Work with Chris and Glenn from Squeeze.

A bit of tidying up after the previous chunk of guff. 

I’ve suffered several sleepless nights over my ineffectual efforts to explain the process of laying back a bit of bank, so I’m going to have another go. 

Management of marginal growth is key when maintaining chalk streams. In times of low water it can be allowed to grow out into the stream to pinch the river and maintain a rate of flow, in times of high water it can be cut back to maximise the amount of water the channel can take. This is why strong marginal growth throughout the length of bank is important, and an eye must be kept on shading and light as excessive shading by trees, willows in particular can eliminate marginal growth. 

Here’s one of my hay knife. 

Often seen on the walls of pubs (when they were open) It is the perfect tool for cutting cubes of sedge and reed. This clump has grown three feet out into the river and must be cut back. The hay knife is used to cut a line through the sedge and reed parallel with the river bank about eighteen inches from the edge, cuts perpendicular to the bank are then made with the knife 

and the grabs used to pull the cube of sedge and reed back on top of the remaining marginal growth.  I've banged a couple of sheets of tin into the river on the opposite side to push water along the bank being laid back to wash away any excess silt left behind once the sedge and reed has been removed. 

It’s a muddy business but it soon drys out and the sedge and reed grows through thicker than ever. 

As expected this stretch played host to dozens of brook lampreys who love the thick mud and soon settle down in the new bank. 

They are a primitive fish with no jaw that loses its appetite when it becomes a mature adult having spent its time growing up feeding on algae and organic matter in the mud. When I was student, I kept one called Lionel in a tank in the hope that he would feed on the algae and reduce the requirement for cleaning, but he didn’t take to the task so I returned him to the stream. 

I’ve more bank to lay back this week so expect more exciting lamprey facts in next week’s issue. 

Presented with a bit of bank like this most would drive a digger at it and make merry with the bucket ,which would undoubtedly be quicker and easier, but using the hay knife is a steady job and you don’t see the lampreys from the digger. 

Other things that I forgot to say that kept me awake at night included Glen Hoddle’s reveal as Grandfather Clock in The Masked singer. 

I was unaware of his break up from The Fast Show’s Chrissy Waddle following their number 12 smash Diamond LIghts and I’m not sure that Glen has chosen the right path for his fledgling solo career, 

it’s certainly a long way from Up the Junction, Labelled with Love and Take me and yours which remain three highlights of Glen and Chris’s canon of work.

Monday 25 January 2021

Bobbing about with Hagrid and Crustacea Various

It goes boom boody boom boody boom boody boom boody boom boody boom boody boom boom boom.  

Well goodness gracious me. 

When I first started chucking up guff for small coin back in the day, I was given the following advice by a magazine editor. 

 “If you have a deadline and your head is in a fug and nothing seems to be coming, just chuck anything down in order to get you going, more often than not you will take it out in the final polishing, but it will serve as a kick start to get you going” 

 It’s a little known fact but the opening few lines of this chunk of guff were written by celebrated lyricist Tim Rice as an opener for Jesus Christ Superstar to serve the same purpose. 

 And it’s worked again here so thanks Tim. 

Thanks also to everyone who has got in touch so far in 2021 and for not asking too many difficult questions.
It’s all go with the vaccine around here, my employer received hers at the weekend. 

Lord Ludgershall had his ten days ago, enoblement allows you to be bumped up the list apparently while we the unwashed must wait our turn, that or he’s been lying about his age these past few years. The local town theatre has been turned into a jabbing suite while the Novichok two’s favourite cathedral delivers the tincture to the sound of furious organ playing, which adds further protection against the virus apparently.
Flooding has once again been in the news, and while some rivers will always flood, it’s what they do, some of the damage has been quite severe. I don’t remember the Mersey ever flooding like it did last week but the Dee flooded regularly during my time growing up in the area. It’s tidal below the weir in Chester and big spring and autumn tides would smother the weir and the water would rise up around the bandstand to the road. We used to camp with the scouts most summers near the 18th century Llanerch bridge over the Clwyd at Tremeichion. The bridge was washed away last week and I don’t recall that ever happening before. The scout camp by the way, was all a bit “ Lord of the Flies” and pre health and safety. We would travel to the site in the back of a scout leader's cattle truck. Stopping at traffic lights was always good fun as forty boys put their eyes to the slots in the side peeping out at the surrounding cars shouting “help, they’re taking us to market” We also used to go to away football matches in the back of a removal van, kicking a ball about in the back as went. Seems people trafficking was ok back then.
At home the river is full but not in flood. Gravel is clean, weed is growing and a few olives put in an appearance each afternoon. There are many fish and the solitary grayling fisherman from just up the road (sorry Martin, not odd) had to fish through the chunky triploid brown trout that now turn up each winter. We had snow on Sunday, an inch at most and Madam and myself headed out early with the hounds in order to be the first foot prints in the snow. Only we were a little late, half the village had risen at dawn to trudge up and down road and path in the name of exercise. 

 On Saturday I was engaged with the forces of crack willow over on the Itchen and half of Winchester seemed to have driven out of town to park on the road and make their way along the footpath on the opposite bank. 

There’s an awful lot of gadding about going on following the advice to “stay at home” but then the mantra is continually pushed that schools are closed and they aren’t, which has started to make a vein throb on the side of my head because for five years or so it has been ok to make statements that are not based on fact, truth or are made with the belief that just because I have said this it will surely happen,

 But we are where we are, it is our own creation, 

 intentional or otherwise. 

 Breathe, breathe,
Oh yes, my new favourite programme that provides succour and soothing in these anxious times, 

give "Giant Lobster Fishermen" on ITV4 a go. 

Despite the bold claim, the fishermen aren't all that big. 

Neither are the lobsters really, and are they a true lobster? but the travails of the fisher folk of southern Australia in their quest for lobster is quite the distraction. Set at the start of the pandemic, the market has crashed, lobster are a bit thin on the ground. corners are cut, danger is everywhere and risk to both body and bank balance is high. Boats break down and crew fall out while wives worry at the wharf. 

Giant Lobster Fishermen everyone, you heard it here first, 

just don"t expect hoards of Hagrids bobbing about in undersized boats with crustacea.
The snow has all but gone now although it remains very cold. More rain is forecast for later this week which is a tremendous thing in these parts. This winter has seen a lot of the right rain, steady, not too heavy with minimal run off. I’ve some bank to dig back this week. There’s a few areas of the river where the marginal growth has grown out into the river and needs to be checked.
If I was pushed for time I’d hire a mini digger and do the job in a day, but I’m taking the old school route and digging out the hay knife for a few days of “laying back”. 

Sedge and reed that has grown out into the river is cut into cubes with the hay knife then pulled out with a pair of grabs and laid on the remaining marginal growth. It’s a steady old job, very muddy and quite physical, but it makes a good bank with a thinner strip of marginal growth. It’s surprising what you find in bits of  bank, I once worked with a keeper who came across some live ordnance that fell off a plane exiting Chilbolton airfield during WW2 and another who found what remained of an old musket. I’ve never come across anything other than old bits of oak, faggots and broken pots. On several occasions I’ve come across a concentration of brook lampreys, numbers of the things about six inches long in a two to three foot section of bank, not enough for a surfeit, but plenty enough of them. 

I'll try and take a few pictures as reading this back I don't feel I have explained the business of laying bank back very well.  

Wednesday 13 January 2021

A Dearth of Wellies, Size 39 and The Alderman


Ho hum, pig’s bum, here we go again.

Happy New Year everyone.

Here follows this house’s first report from the first knockings of opening skirmishes in the sunlit uplands of 2021. 

Liverpool, hampered by injury, are clearly in need of the next Emlyn Hughes. There are no signs of snowdrops or bluebells, Spanish or otherwise. 

My quest to source Madam some size 39 replacement wellies from the house of Aigle or Le Chameau (we wear wellies a lot, forgive us our indulgence, Dunlop won’t do, we are a slave to our puddies) continues. There isn’t a size 39 high end franco wellie to be had in all these Isles. 

I don’t eat much fish, but I hear there are problems with supply, which was a common call from our anglers towards the end of last season, although many have since emerged from the shadows, 

the fish not the anglers, 

or Hank Marvin for that matter, 

and at this point I’d like to apologise to all the people who have attempted to contact madam or myself by phone during the past few weeks. Regular visitors to this parish will recall that the flight of Child A & B from the familial nest instigated a high degree of gadding about by Madam and myself. 

We were living for pleasure alone, 

But there’s a Carona on, and by way of succour for our curtailed travel plans, and instilling the feeling that we have been away, we have agreed to put our smart phones into flight mode for a few hours each day and don our travel neck pillows each night while abed, 

with my snoring playing the part of the drone of an airbus 380 jet engine. 

There’s a river, of course, the river. 

It’s in tremendous form, in the pink, both a pip and a dandy. 

Here’s one of the spring hole up behind the flight hand which once produced the sword of Excaliber (it’s on here somewhere) 

Current Status: Six springs bubbling away beautifully 

and a significantly higher water level than the same day two years ago which was a poor winter for rain. 

We have no grayling anglers, other than the odd one who lives locally, and at this point can I urge all present to support The Angling Trust. They do tremendous things for the sport and at the onset of each lockdown have lobbied parliament to permit people to fish, albeit at a limited level. 

Numbers of adult brown trout going through the motions of spawning have been very disappointing, possibly displaced by lumpen triploids that don’t worry about the rigors of spawning . It may be time to revisit the National Trout & Grayling Strategy introduced in 2015. I could be wrong but I know I am not alone in holding this view. 

Willow work continues, although at a reduced pace with Lord Ludg and The English retreating to their respective castles. The willow is on the non fishing bank. I wrap a two tonne strap around the intended limbs, attach the strap to the back of the tractor, introduce the saw, and then pull the felled boughs onto the bank with the tractor. It’s a lot of back and forth when alone. With one bod in the water, one on the tractor and one chopping up on the bank, the job is banged out a bit quicker. 

I've also reluctantly attacked some alders. 

I like Alders, 

there I said it, 

We have some particularly fine specimens that were unaffected by a disease outbreak a decade or more ago.  It's a hard wood that much of Venice was built on and when cut the wood quickly transforms from a light lime green to a vivid orange.

These Alders were drawing some of our rods' ire during the season so a few lower limbs have been removed to aid casting. 

Another half dead ash tree wobbled over in the wood last week, taking a couple of other smaller trees with it. There’s no rush to chop it up, and its not like we need the logs, so it can lie in state in the wood for a few months while I attend to the river. 

Although we got through a fair few logs over the Christmas period. 

It was a cold snap and our boiler gave up the ghost on the 27th and remained out of action until the 5th. The East wing was closed and the wood burner was fired right up for 24 hours throughout to heat the remainder of the house. Five baskets of logs a day disappeared but the house remained warm. 

It’s the mother of all wood burners, roughly two feet cubed, and is about fifty years old. With an unknown KW rating, it used to run half a dozen radiators.

In other news, we’re back in another lockdown, only we’re not. 

The Highway to the Sun remains as busy as ever and and large sections of town society ignore the sign at the door of local food emporia to shop alone in the local town food emporium..

The local school has been closed, only it hasn’t. 

A full complement of staff attend each day, 52yr old Madam included, to educate fifty percent of their charges. 

With a nod to Dad’s Army it may be time to take the first aid kit off Private Godfrey and hand it to Private Fraser as this “would you mind awfully….” policy that has been implemented in the last ten months clearly isn't working.