Thursday 25 February 2021

Prescription Fishing, Chip 'n Dale and Trapanese

Evenin all, 

and what jollier evenings they are as with each passing day the day light lengthens and we tick off the days. February can now nearly do one and we’ll march through March to a sunlit release in mid April.

What a start to 2021 it has been. 

In river news the release of the annual report as to how things went in 2020 was delayed but following great effort and no little industry is with us now. 

Compiled by the Riparian owners association it is a  compendium of  the mutterings of keepers, managers and owners on the Test and Itchen and serves as a useful bellwether as to the state of play on the two rivers. Understandably the pandemic featured highly in most reports. Fishing proved to be a safe activity to undertake and helped with both mental and physical health. There are plans for fishing to be more widely prescribed. 

Noises regarding the introduction of Beavers to southern rivers are increasing in volume. 

I’ve a little knowledge of brer beaver and I don’t think he’s quite the thing required for our precious chalk streams. There are rivers in the British Isles where his presence could be of benefit but necessarily  in a low rolling chalk valley. 

Pickering beck and neighbouring becks prone to flooding when it rains a lot on the North York Moors are flooding less following introduction of schemes in the headwater that aim to delay the entrance of heavy rain into the river system. Wood and brash is piled up in feeder streams as rudimentary dams to hold water back. This is the role suggested by the man in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes that brer beaver could undertake. 

Chalk streams behave in a very different way. 

Human beings realised a long time ago that groundwater fed rivers had particular characteristics. Too polite to flash flood they are more benign in nature. Hatches and sluices have long been built to control river flow, manage levels and move water around the valley floor. Some sets of hatches are hundreds of years old. The current hatch on the mill house here on the Dever was installed in 1842 (I have seen the receipt) and it still works. 

Fifteen or so years ago more people in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes started appearing in the valley advising owners to rip all these hatches out. Where water was held back by a hatch a a short section of perched stream resulted which was not quite the fast free flowing stream that people in fine fleece and cutting edge walking shoes dreamt about. 

Today the argument for the release of Brer Beaver centres around its propensity to build dams and hold water back and create perched stretches of stream.

I have said it on here before, but wouldn’t it have been more sensible to assess each hatch and sluice, work out what can be achieved by its use in different levels of flow and use it in a way to benefit the chalk stream habitat rather than rip the thing out and let the beavers have a go.  There is a wealth of lost knowledge on how chalk streams were worked, managed, and water held up, let go and moved around the valley floor.  There was also a lot more water to cope with hundreds of years ago when these hatches and sluices were first introduced.  

Out in Canadia (where we last travelled to when we were able) they are well acquainted with the beaver. Stuck in a bar one afternoon while Madam shopped for craft goods I got talking to Chip and Dale (I think that was their names although I had a burst ear drum at the time. Beer helped) Chip or possibly Dale worked in a park we had caught the train out to earlier in the week where a river ran through it and there were beavers. I mentioned to Chip or possibly Dale that we had not seen sign of them in the park (beavers, not Chip or possibly Dale) and Chip, yes definitely Chip informed me that wrapping two feet of heavy gauge wire around bankside trees moved brer beaver on to easier gnawings and anyway, they didn’t go a lot on human activity. 

I’m not sure letting them go (beavers not Chip and Dale) on the Frome as was reported in the Thunderer last week is such a good idea and would question whether the Frome’s characteristics are suitable for the work of a beaver. 

The battle with the forces of willow and thorn continue over on the Itchen. A bramble rich section of the valley has been brought into line following several sessions of going bananas with a chainsaw. There are a few olives hatching over there but the weed growth is a long way behind what we have on the Dever. 

I’ve also been at the golden willow that I pollard each year and also the big bank of red dogwood. Both provide colour each winter if cut back before the buds break. 

The stream that runs from Spring Bottom to the Dever just above our top boundary continues to creep up. It runs through the allotments and I have a measuring stick by the bridge which I check each day when I make my way up there to encourage my broad beans. 

We’ve had a few dry days in the valley this week but there is still a substantial amount of water still making its way down into the aquifers. There is a high chalk bank in our garden and if you put your ear to it (I do have one perfectly good ear) following a day of gentle steady rain you can hear the faint sound of water. 

Colour is on the increase with daffodils, aconites, catkins, red elf caps and much more besides heralding a brighter future. 

The wild garlic in our garden has also popped up. We use the leaves a lot in the kitchen, Spaghetti Trapanese being a particular favourite. A Sicilian dish it comprises a pesto made with skinned almonds, basil, garlic and olive oil. Substituting a handful of wild garlic leaves for a garlic bulb imparts a more delicate flavour. Mix the pesto through the pasta with some high end olive oil, add in some chopped up and seasoned cherry tomatoes that have been warmed for five minutes in the oven and top off with grated pecorino cheese. 

Spaghetti Trapanese, done!

Next week, winning ways with mushy peas.

Last week I pondered the possibility of a “Confessions of the world’s worst tractor driver piece” as a break from the usual guff. 

I wish I hadn’t. 

During the recent workshop purge I undertook an audit of all my digital photographs on my photo PC in my office. They start in 2003 and I have over one hundred thousand. Many thousand cricket photos have been handed over to our local club and are currently appearing on their facebook page in small tranches. The rest have been transferred to a very big hard drive storage thing that I don’t understand. 

I fully expect to live to over a hundred because I walk a lot further than Captain Tom did, but that may not now be enough time to go through and look at all of these photos. 

My four summers working on the farm occurred in the late eighties.

The internet had not been invented, digital cameras were promised for the new millennium along with hover shoes. I was encouraged to take photographs from a very early age, 

it’s a family thing. 

Early on with kids’ kodaks, through a nifty little Ricoh and a multi lensed Parktica to a Pentax ME super. 

We have a large chest in our bedroom that contains every photo I ever took on film. On my quest to source photos for the “tractor piece” I resolved to catalogue this haphazard jumble of evidence. I don’t know how many there are but our bedroom floor has disappeared. I have been on the job for over a week now and I’m only half way through the trunk. 

Apologies, almost forgot the quest to catalogue all forms of tinnitus.

Here's Sven on his giant Paiste gong:

Wednesday 17 February 2021

They Said It Couldn't be Done, Pike on a Wire

There has been no little incredulity and disbelief at claims in previous guff that I have spent time tidying up the workshop and tractor shed. Questions have been asked regarding what I consider to be “tidy” and have the forty year old pots of paint that I have treasured so much during my tenure on this river gone to the tip or a museum. 

They said it couldn’t be done but see the photos and judge for yourself.

The last time I tackled the workshop in winter I disturbed a grass snake hibernating under the work bench. No such fauna this time although plenty of flora on a damp patch that has developed on the end wall. 

The angler’s washroom has also been redecorated (with modern paint)
and my small office where I keep much of my fly fishing tackle and a PC full of photos has also been spruced up and reorganised.
It’s the garage at the weekend, a mountain of coarse fishing tackle, the detritus from Child A & B’s time at University and an upright piano. 

I seem to remember smashing pianos up being a thing back in the day with international competitions, so maybe I’ll get my eye in and then when the Pando is done maybe enter a few just to see how I go.
The tip in the local town currently operates on a book first basis. The vehicle must be registered and arrive from an address in the immediate locale. An Unregistered car or crossing the county line to dump trash incurs a charge as does the dumping of certain items. Plaster board – twelve pound. Asbestos – ten pound. Builder’s rubble – five pound. I had several boxes of old wall tiles to dump but kept my money in my pocket and headed for the woods. A hole was dug and the tiles laid out and buried in an interesting pattern that should get heads scratching on Time Team a few generations down the line.
 I’m also getting the chainsaw mill up and running in the coming weeks. There’s a bridge to be replaced in the wood. It crosses the outflow from the flight pond and is a short span. It’ll be a rustic affair with all the wood cut from a tree at home but it’ll do for this bridge.

While wading through the workshop, I came across an old favourite of mine. A cutlery drawer Excalibur if ever such a thing existed, it is an old Victorinox bread knife that I had put on the bench some years ago following a handle fail. A restoration project that, like so many things, got put on the back burner. Some seasoned ash was sourced, a new handle fashioned and the trusty blade was returned to its scabbard and is remployed in hacking away at all things proven and baked from baguettes to barm cakes.
Heading outside we find that the weather has warmed up considerably. Last weekend the mercury didn’t rise above freezing and the ground remained frozen throughout the preceding week. This week the temperature has hit double figures, the frost has come out of the ground and the temperature is forecast to hit sixteen degrees in the south this weekend. There is more fly around in the afternoon and both trout and grayling occasionally look to the surface for sustenance. 

River levels continue to be everything one could wish for at this time of the year and I expect it to creep up further as thawing ground releases more water down into the aquifers. A wet week of soft and steady rain will only add to aquifer replenishment.
The water is also very clear for the time of year which betrays some significant lumpy salmo trutta that have made their way upstream to our bottom bends. Don’t know where they have come from, but one fish could be over seven pound, which is big for the Dever. No sign of pike mooching their way to the ditches yet, but it won’t be long. There will be plenty of water filled ditches for them to choose from, the bottom half mile that carries water from Spring Bottom being a particular favourite.

Back in the day, when “if it wasn’t a trout, it was coming out” keepers would target pike at this time of the year. “Wiring” pike was possible in small streams and ditches and required no little skill. In 1986, my first year on the river (twelve months full time work experience at Leckford) I was riding back to my digs at lunchtime with a keeper at the wheel of the Landrover. 

The road crosses the main river Test before running alongside Parson’s Stream, a small mile long carrier that spills out of what was at the time, a large flight pond near Longstock House but is now a put and take trout lake.
Ten yards along the road by Parson’s stream, the keeper’s gaze was averted from the road by a double figure pike sitting mid stream. Brakes were applied a many point turn completed and we returned to the hatchery for his wiring pole. 

Five minutes later we were creeping up the opposite bank. 

The wiring pole comprised a wire snare fixed to the end of a long thin larch pole. The snare was set and on hands and knees we poked our nose through the fringe dead level with the pike. Ever so slowly the wire pole was pushed out into the stream downstream of the pike. Mental calculations regarding refraction of light and depth of field were implemented and very slowly the wire was worked up stream towards the pike. The moment of jeopardy arrived when the wire had to be worked up around the body of the pike. Brush brer pike with the wire and it would shoot off at speed upstream. With great care the wire was worked along the body of the pike at an interminable pace to a point just behind the head. 

A brief pause, 

then the tension was shattered as the keeper exploded upwards and headed off back up the bank at a speed impressive for a man who had just turned forty. The double figure pike on feeling the wire around its neck bolted forward, the wire tightened and a double figure pike snared by the tail shot out of the water and flew over my head. 

The pike was deposited at the door of a retired keeper who lived a life well into his nineties sustained mostly by moorhen, pike and venison, washed down with home made hooch and home grown tobacco. 

Nobody wires pike anymore. Pike have their part to place in a chalk stream environment as do many other species that were once removed each year. But blimey catching fish on a wire was a task that required an incredibly amount of skill and a very steady hand.
If the glimpse of the workshop and tractor shed interior has caused any nefarious intentions to rise. Please be aware that our marital bed sits atop the workshop and next door to the tractor shed with several security lights in place and a clear line of sight from our window.

Which reminds me of another incident when working back in Leckford. We lived in Longstock in a large farmhouse the upstairs of which had been carved up into bedsits. Across from us lived the farm foreman who I got to know well and was good fun. 

He was also the UK conventional champion ploughman several times vying with a chap in Yorkshire who also occasionally claimed the crown. In true Federer/Nadal tradition one was good on grass and one was good on clay. 

Anyway, Geoff was woken in the night by a noise. Looking out of his bedroom window he spied two shadowy figures siphoning petrol from his car. After quietly opening the window he reached under the bed for his shotgun (you could keep them under the bed back then) and fired off both barrels into the night sky, which woke us up then another two and another two as the would be petrol thieves fled in to the night. 

It was a bit different back then. 

Chucking up this guff and thinking back to my time at Leckford, it may finally be time for a "Confessions of the world's worst tractor driver" piece. 

I'll give it some thought. 

Apologies, almost forgot the odyssey to break new ground in the world of tinnitus, 

Here's our good friend Yaybahar in a shed somewhere with his take on the piece: 


Thursday 11 February 2021

Errol Flynn, The Theramin and The Saw

Well that’s nearly half of February done, anyone else counting the days? 

2020 was a bit of a bummer, but goodness the opening skirmishes of 2021 have proved to be a bit grim. 

All mirrors in our house have been reversed as Errol Flynn, prancing rapier in hand I ain’t. 

My glasses are broken, hearing’s as bad as it’s been, more drink is flowing through my system than Cock Hanmatt (Presented "What Not To Wear"  in the 90s if memory serves), would like and my coiffure would qualify for a place in the Jackson Five, 

I have attained peak Jack Duckworth, 

Google him kids, he was very much the Errol Flynn of his day…..wait a minute 

In river news, Spring Bottom gives forth gloriously and the river level slowly creeps up which is a sure sign of significant groundwater recharge. I’ve a bridge to build but am currently holding off, as in these strange times with a head full of fug and an increasing requirement for "les frisson" it could end up looking something like this.
 These kids are crossing the Po on their way to school. 

They’re perfectly safe as the photo predates the stocking off Wels catfish by some Teutonic anglers back in the day. The cats grow to an enormous size now and have impacted considerably upon the biodiversity of the river. Some rods present a bait not far off the size of a small boy in their pursuit of il pesce gatto. 

While we’re on school, Madam is in full attendance at the local primary in her twenty first year as a HLTA (Don’t know what it stands for I just nod knowingly and afford the title the reverence it deserves) Half of her charges are in school, half are at home. The half at home receive three hours of online education a day via something called “Teams” Don’t ask me what Teams is because I work outside with my hands and have no requirement for Teams.

Anyway, a few weeks in, it became apparent that security protocols on the Teams meetings had been compromised and one of the eight year olds had somehow managed to set up her own Teams network on the school account for the rest of the class. 

While paying lip service to the education placed before them, the class were talking behind teacher’s back and mucking about in a separate online playground. They kept it up for a few weeks before they were rumbled. 

All very innocent, but away from the webcam all adults raised a smile at the ingenuity and ability of children to adapt to whatever situation is presented. 

I may have been telling tales in class there, so please forget you read the last hundred words or so, 

or at the very least print them off and eat/burn the paper. 

I believe this is how social media works. 

This is social media, right?

It’s been at or below freezing for much of the week but we have missed out on much of the snow. A dusting at best ,the wind has been wicked which has made it feel many degrees colder. 

At which point I’ll return once more to school, where Madam must work in a classroom with all the windows and doors open and no heating. The thermometer in the classroom has hovered around zero degrees all week. Madam teaches in clobber that we bought for a February trip to Vienna and Salzburg a few years back and the fifty percent of the class who attend each day are wrapped up with blankets on their knees. 

Schools are not closed 

Fortunately when it gets this cold I can keep out of the river and head for the workshop. The place has never been so tidy and everything from pencils through drill bits to chainsaws is pin sharp. The little trailer with wide wheels has been cleaned out, tractor buffed up, chainsaw trousers ironed and waders polished. Outside a few snipe have turned up along with a few geese on the top water meadow although not as many as previous winters. There are at least two great egret about and at the weekend the war on willow moves to the Itchen before returning to the Dever next week with some troublesome withies on the mill stream. 

Thank you to everyone who got in touch following the last chunk of guff. 

Mostly Mark Nicholas based but also a significant number of washboard fans. 

In cricket news this week, we can report that Kevin Pietersen was brilliant with William at Lords. He still has the signed bat and photo taken as he made his way back to the pavilion, 

William has the bat signed on the way back to the pavilion, not Kevin.....although 

Bunking off school back in the eighties, five of us caught the train to Old Trafford to take in Lancashire against Northants in the County Championship. It rained for much of the morning and the start was delayed until 5pm. For most of the afternoon we hung around the nets where, despite being on opposing sides, Kapil Dev bowled to Clive Lloyd and Graham Fowler faced up to Neil Mallendar. I have the photos somewhere. We saw five minutes of play before we had to head off home. 

Ian Botham didn't want to have his photo taken, Mike Atherton is a nice guy and Graham Thorpe doesn’t like being a little fella. 

On arrival at one Lords Test with William I read the match programme over coffee and noticed in the player statistics that Thorpe had listed his height as five feet eleven inches which caused an eyebrow to rise.  Ambling around the ground before the start of play, we paused by the half constructed media centre as the players made their way back from the nets to the pavilion. Thorpe passed a few feet in front of William and I inexplicably blurted out, 

“You’re not five foot eleven. I’m nearly five feet nine and you’re a few inches shorter than me” 

The brilliant left hand bat, whose place was under threat from the up and coming and much taller Kevin Pietersen shot me a very old fashioned look before heading off to get changed. 

A few years later when he was between jobs I stood next to him during the lunch interval near the Harris Gardens. I managed to keep my mouth shut on that occasion and I don’t think he remembered our previous encounter.

This week’s musical contribution comes from Craig and Charlie Reid’s formative years. 

Pre Proclaimers the Scottish pop combo had a more “Indie, underground” feel and went by the name of Extreme Tinnitus. 

Here they are on the theramin and saw. 


Pretty good eh? 

I am often asked, 

“Chris, what’s it like to suddenly lose eighty percent of your hearing in one ear” 

Complicated tunes on the theramin and saw constantly played in the affected ear, comes swiftly to mind. 

Sunday 7 February 2021

Derek Guyler, Mark Nicholas's Mane and January done!.

Well that’s January done. 

Now move on February we’ve had enough of Poxy Pando now.

Working alone since lockdown and have long conversations with myself throughout the day. On occasion bitterness has descended and discourse has descended into full blown argument with the occasional blow.

Apologies but this chunk of guff is photo free following a camera fail, so here's a short clip of Derek Guyler that some people may find tremendously soothing in these trying times. 

I’ve been cutting reed and sedge back on the non fishing bank for much of the week, opening up the channel as the river continues to rise. I can’t emphasise enough what great condition the river is in. The rain we have had has been “good rain” not to hard but steady and prolonged allowing the ground to soak up as much of the stuff as possible. There is no doubt that I will be cutting weed in April which is always a good sign and cutting hard again in June once the sun has come out. 

Fishing letters have been dispatched inviting our regulars to return in the middle of April although how we will be returning is difficult to say. Who can predict what the Pando situation will be by then, but the protocols we put in place last season seemed to work and may have to be implemented again at the start of this season. 

We’ve had quite a few enquiries regarding fishing this summer, a few wait in the wings for season rods and many days at the weekend are already filled, it seems people are making plans for the summer and fishing is high on the list of things to do. We have tentatively booked a couple of flights to some sunshine towards the end of the summer holidays. Fingers are very firmly crossed but the flights were booked with a national airline which we hope will provide some security that the company won’t go down the pan, and also they were very cheap, but goodness we’ve missed our trips away. 

Well done the vaccinators by the way. An indie band of 90s vintage and who knew their influence would reach so far, but well done for rolling out such a brilliantly efficient operation. I’m told that receiving the jab is quite an emotional event and well done too to the science for coming up with the jollup so quickly “at cost” in the first place. 

Looking up and not down we find that the excellent “Back” by Simon Blackwell is currently embarking on its second series. Would I lie to You continues to maintain a high bar on a Monday night and the giants of south Australia continue their quest for lobsters. Pooch Perfect is not for me although Madam, Moss and Otis are riveted, but Repair Shop is very soothing and serves well as balm to the current conditions and then there is the cricket. Looking down and not up we find that Talksport 2 will be providing the radio coverage and will be bound by the agreement to proclaim “Live! On Talkpsort 2” at least fifteen times an hour. 

At which point we'll take a break for further washboard


 Looking up and not down (I am advised that I may have over done this one) we find that live coverage of a Test series will be returning to free to air TV. Ok it’s Channel 4 and we may have to suffer Mark Nicholas, but the audience will be many times over what Sky’s coverage would draw. 

The last England Test series to be shown “free to air”? 

England v Australia in 2005. 

We were glued to every minute (Child A/Maisie not so), be it on radio or TV.

Child B/William ten years old at the time and just embarking on his cricket odyssey, would watch each over then dash out through the patio doors to his ball on a rope hanging from the limb of the cherry tree in the garden, play a few shots then dash back in for the next over. Many of his mates were equally inspired and cricket achieved an equal status with football for them. My aged aunt and uncle, now sadly departed, were similarly infected by cricket and sucked up “free to air” coverage as did a couple of old boys in the village who I used to touch base with over a pint in the village. They all lamented the loss of “free to air” coverage and saw Sky subscriptions as an unecessary/unreachable extravagance. 

Well done Channel 4 for stumping up and good luck with whoever has to do Mark Nicholas’s hair, as you have it on good authority that he can be quite the diva. It’s on here somewhere, I won’t go on but William and I were asked to fill in as “eye candy” on a bench behind Nicholas and co (they came close to succeeding Pan's People) as they undertook their live pre match preamble at the Lords test in 2004.
Job done, Atherton and Holding (very much the Babs and Brightman of the troupe) pottered over for a natter, 

Nicholas, with no little flounce, strode past muttering about hair spray which induced a knowing smile in Whispering death (Babs) and Athers (Brightman)

And we'll break there for further washboard, this time a tutorial for those who may wish to have a go at home


 It was a convincing win for England with hundreds for Strauss, Vaughan and a double for Rob Key, the half hour watching Brian Lara in the nets was mesmerising and somehow Ashley Giles was awarded man of the match for his nine wickets which must have irked Rob Key. 

Tickets were for members friends in the Warner Stand with no allocated seat, so we woke early to catch the train and join the queue outside. Passing through the turnstile and making our way past the Nursery ground, William suddenly said “Dad, Dad, it’s Gilo, it’s Gilo” 

and there he was, Ashley Giles, 

future man of the match, 

in scruffy jeans, T shirt, old trainers with a big rucksack with a bat handle sticking out of the top walking in through the gate by the indoor cricket school. He could quite easily have been dismissed as an unwashed back packer fresh off the plane from bumming about Asia, and he certainly didn’t seem too concerned about trying to bottle up one of the greatest batsmen who has ever taken guard (and I’m not talking about you Shiv “The Crab” Chanderpaul who also managed an ugly hundred”) 

Shortly before the close of play we made our way to the exit, 

Passing the Nursery ground, I said “William, William, that’s Fred Trueman” 

And there was Fred making his way to his taxi, pipe in hand muttering “I’ll see thee” 

Quite the capital D, he didn’t have many overs left in him and William replied 

“Are you sure he was a bowler” 

Love a day at Lords and we’ve been lucky enough to attend Test matches many times over the years, but I won’t go on (apologies, think I promised that earlier) 

Reading this back, I miss watching live sport (Yes, despite the numerous errors I have read this back) it’s nearly a year to the day that Madam and myself pitched up at Twickenham to take in England v Ireland in the Six Nations where Madam managed to clear a significant section of the East stand midway through the second half with her coughing, because yes, the general populace were worrying about this Pando thing even then. 

Captain’s Log: Starship Old Albion 

England v Ireland at Twickenham - 23rd February 

National Lockdown - 23rd March 

That’s all your Honour, Case Closed.


 Normal photographic service to be resumed next week.