Wednesday 24 March 2021

An Old Horse Brim Full of Pep, Vim and Vigour

Three days in from having my jab and I’ve spent the last forty eight hours with a Helen Reddy earworm, 

“I am strong, I am invincible, I am womaaaaan” 

It kinda fits and to quote another songster from that era 

“two out of three ain’t bad” 

The twenty four hours following the deed were a tad peculiar but today we find ourselves brim full of pep, vim and vigour. 

This Oxford jollup is quite the tonic, I also have hair, the wrinkles around my eyes are definitely in retreat and my times over the hundred metres have come down significantly. 

The thing was administered to madam and myself at Basingstoke Fire Station on Sunday afternoon. Questions were posed by navy girl Donna and the thing put in my arm by soldier boy Ezekial. Thank you to everyone who are going to such great lengths to dish this thing out in such a safe and jolly manner. 

Up the river the grayling have been getting jiggy all week. Not in the large numbers that we witnessed six or seven years ago but perhaps half a dozen getting together on most shallows in conditions perfect for spawning. Haven’t seen many two pound plus fish, but plenty in the pound to a pound and half bracket. Big senior fish occasionally show up in April on the hatch in front of the house. Exhausted at a great age by the rigors of spawning they often succumb to fungal infections of lesions to the body caused by cutting a redd. 

The fishing hut received it’s annual treatment last week. 

It is twenty six years old this month and formed from softwood so an annual treatment for such an edifice standing in a damp environment is a must. It’s a high end wood treatment by the people at Cuprinol. It is very watery and may contain alcohol, although people who know about paint and like alcohol, and I’m looking at you here Lord Ludg, may know better. More of a protective stain really, but it seems to work. We’ve used the same stuff for the last twenty six years.

Treatment complete I tentatively reach for the spirit level to ascertain whether the thing remains level. There is no base, its stands on four stilts made from Telegraph poles, the peg tile roof weighs just under a ton and how the thing hasn’t gone on the wonk at some point is a constant source of surprise for me and many others. The site is inaccessible to machinery and the four eight foot long telegraph pole stilts were banged into the ground by hand with the mother of all post bumpers (the one I hit myself on the head with in February last year – it’s on here somewhere) I was a bit stronger back then and it took two days to bang the telegraph poles seven feet through the ground and on into the gravel.  How the thing ended up a uniform shape is also a source of constant amazement.

Anyway, it is level, treated and good to go for the impending trout season. 

A few weeks ago we received the sad news that a great supporter of this house had passed on. 

 Graham Mole lived in Winchester and had a long career in television and journalism. An Angling Trust ambassador, we first touched base early in the millennium regarding a piece he was writing for a national newspaper regarding something that I can’t quite remember but may have been hunting related. Here’s something he wrote for Trout & Salmon magazine ten years ago regarding some old horse who plods the banks of the Dever.

I was aware of his work from articles he had written in the angling press as he was also a life long fanatical fisherman. 

During the opening skirmishes of our first conversation I mentioned that I was currently contributing a few bits of guff and photos to local papers, mostly the sports pages regarding local football and cricket.

His sage advice was “Chris, always try and write about a subject of which you have some knowledge”
And while some may contest the claim, here we are chucking up guff on chalk streams having eschewed all things cricket and football.

Graham was a source of great encouragement and a supporter of this guff. Latterly he lectured in journalism at Winchester University and pushed a few students in this direction as an example of I know not what, but possibly why its important not to chuck up anything too "off the wall" if you want to get ahead in journalism. He was a member of the Portsmouth Services Fly Fishing Club and compiled the Wessex Waters river report for Trout and Salmon magazine with sporadic references to this guff (there was a monthly “what’s the scoop” email to a few in various valleys) He fished here a few times each year at the weekend and invariably arrived with a bottle of wine and a story. He was a gentle soul, entertaining company and will be much missed in these parts by both myself and my employer. 

Go well Mr Mole. 

Wednesday 10 March 2021

Stove Pipe Hats a Squeaky Pig and the Towering Inferno

Over a third of March – done! 

Come on spring. 

I cut grass last week in an attempt to hasten the onset, and we’ve fired up the wood fired oven outside during a sunny spell for some souvlaki and a brief bit of day dreaming about Greek beaches and tavernas. I’ve paused my quest to catalogue a lifetime of photographs. On grey days the process turned me a tad maudlin so I’ve pledged to complete the task when all the madness is through.

Up the river a bittern dropped in for a few days. They like the flight pond and all of its phragmites and silver fish. I’ve not seen one for a few winters and it seems to have moved on although I listen out for it when out at dusk. There are also a pair of ravens building a nest near the bottom of the Andyke. The noise they make when flying is quite soothing and very similar to Moss’s squeaky pig with which he tries to distract us from the television. They are often poking about on the riverbank in the morning, (the ravens, not Moss and squeaky pig) I assume they are after leatherjackets that also draw the eye of the crows. 

Most afternoons sees a small number of olives hatch with the occasional rise from a trout and this week it has been possible to fire the fen and reed on the upper bends. 

The reasons for doing so are well documented on here somewhere but centre around reducing eutrophic conditions eliminating nettles and providing perfect conditions for agrimony, loostrife, vetch, knitbone, willow herb and other fancies that all things that buzz and flutter enjoy. I’ve also been pollarding golden willow, duffing up dogwood and putting timber treatment on the fishing hut. 

I haven’t had a haircut since December and things are getting out of hand. Shampoo consumption has significantly increased as Madam has also gone un-coiffed since December. While hers increases stylishly in length, mine expands like a ball with intermittent curls, I have also taken to wearing a stove pipe hat on occasion for added effect. 

Last week fire once again visited the parish. 

Last summer the football pavilion was hit by lightning and was turned to ash and dust in the space of thirty minutes. I was on the allotment at the time and the U13s were turning up for training as it burned. It was a sad sight to see and the comment “I think we’re going to need some new bibs, balls and cones lads” carried a certain poignancy. 

This week the substantial thatch on the other side of the paddock on the opposite bank on our bottom bends went up in smoke. I was once told that it was one of the biggest bits of thatch in the Test Valley and it sat atop a terrace of four cottages built in the early eighteen hundreds that were listed. 


 Sixteen fire engines and over a hundred firefighters attended the scene and it was still being doused with water pumped by a legion of pumps from the river twenty four hours later. A dozen or so people lived in the four houses with half a dozen dogs, cats and other animals. The alarm was raised at four o’clock on the Sunday afternoon. 

Nobody was hurt and some possessions were saved. It is such a shame for the small community that lived in the houses as there is no other alternative accommodation available in Bransbury. It will be a long time before anything emerges from the ashes. 

A smaller property in Longparish that caught fire a few years ago took nearly two years before it was habitable again. The Barracks was a distinctive terrace that dominated the village and will be missed by many. The incident made mention on the telly box and is all over the internet news sites.
Here"s one of the Stockbridge Red Adair. 

He drives the Stockbridge fire engine when he is not driving a tractor on a farm. I've mucked about with him on many a river bank, lake side, football pitch and cricket pitch in the last twenty odd years. He's a lot older than me and has been a retained fire fighter all the time that I've known him and as you can ascertain from his posture, seemed very relaxed about the way the fire was being fought. 

There were no other reported incidents in Bransbury for the remainder of the week.

I have just completed the 2021 census online. 

There are a lot of questions and filling in the form 11 days before it is supposed to be filled in has added an air of tension to the house. Going through the form with Madam the penny quickly dropped that nothing is a “given” We ticked the “married” box but who knows whether we will be on the 21st of March. The not particularly religious option was taken but what happens if an epiphany occurs around the Ides of March. We gave our current abode as our address on the 21st, but as we have learned previously, man’s great fire can have other ideas and who knows if the gender that either of us identify as is fluid and subject to change in the next 11 days. We have created our own census form (Madam is quite clever at this kind of thing) and we will wake each morning ticking boxes fro the next 11 days just to make sure none of our circumstances have changed before the 21st March. 

Madam is now back in full school as opposed to half school (they were never closed and have received the gift of a pay freeze for their efforts) and hopefully things move forward. She is tested twice a week for the pox and as an acquaintance, I too am tested twice a week. On Wednesdays and Sundays we bond over tickling each others tonsils before pushing the thing up our nostrils to waggle it about somewhere behind our eyeballs. 

You’ll never feel more alive.

Results are sent in to the YouGov website and so far nothing to report. Case numbers in this area have fallen to a very low level comparable with the end of last summer so fingers crossed we are on the way out and nearer the end of this poxy pando than the beginning.