Thursday 30 September 2021

Knopper Galls, Georgina and Automotive Eau

Hello, Hello, 

In the face of further production cuts and ongoing transport difficulties it now appears that this once bi weekly production of guff has now morphed into a monthly affair. 


The purchase price however remains the same. 

It’s just that I’ve had a lot on of late with the allotment. Potatoes are in sacks, many beans are in the freezer along with a smaller crop of tomatoes than I anticipated (damn you potato blight) and a big bag of frozen sweetcorn cobs. My shed carries the fragrance of the inside of an onion as two hundred and fifty six of the things hang on their ropes and cabbages, sprouts, leeks, swede and celeriac await their arrival in the vegetable spotlight. 

I’ve a cupboard full of pickles. From red cabbage through cornichons to Delia Smith’s runner bean pickle. 

Oh yes the river. 

The trout season is drawing to a close. Fishing picked up a little in September with a few fish falling to sedges, emergers and daddy long legs. The weed is in decline and has been pulled out in a few places by the reasonable flow which has caused the level to drop. Swallows exited stage left a few weeks ago although Madam and myself did see a few martins as we walked along a stretch of the upper Test in our efforts to prolong life. 

It’s a walk we always do in the Autumn as there is a superb spot for picking mushrooms, the location of which, if revealed on here would require the reader to print off this text and eat the evidence. 

A mushroomer never reveals his source, and we often take an indirect route to the field to throw off anyone who may be tracking our movements by way of gaining access to this fungal trove. 

Our home environs has also experienced a bumper crop of knopper galls.
A peculiar mutation that engulfs an acorn, it is caused by the gall wasp that lays its eggs in the acorn causing the mutation to the knopper gall. The tree remains unharmed by the wasp, but it seems that brer gall wasp has had quite a good year. 

I’ve also been at all the hedges with the pole trimmer (rechargeable, we're saving the planet here) and at this point could I make my annual case for the future of boundary demarcation to be fences and walls. I was a physical wreck after a week cutting these clipped arboreal leviathans, they seem to have grown more than ever this summer. 

I was kindly invited up to Scotland to fish the Tay for a few days in the name of bothering Salmo Salar. 

Murthly to be precise and the stretch where in 1922 Georgina Ballantine landed what is still the UK record salmon of 64lb. She fished and lived with her father in the little cottage by the river at the end of Caputh bridge. The fish took over two hours to land and was a few inches short of six feet long. A cast of the fish was made and can still be seen in the museum in Perth. After the cast had been taken the fish was presented to Perth hospital where all staff and patients dined on fresh salmon for a few days. 

She became quite an angling celebrity, however the captor of the largest salmon ever caught in the UK was denied membership to the Fly Fishers Guild because she was not a man.

It was the 1920's.... nuff said. 

Well done Emmeline for all you did, well done.

Anyway the Tay has experienced low levels all summer. 

It has been quite dry in the region for months, however our arrival was marked by eighteen hours of rain, a four foot rise in river level and all manner of rubbish riding down the river. 

On our last day I did manage to land a fish, that I had as over eighteen pounds but Donald the ghillie had around six. 

We drove north with a little trepidation as the petrol crisis (because that’s what it is) kicked in. We had enough to get all the way but would be running on fumes on arrival.
Motorway services north of Birmingham provided succour to our pistons and cylinders and we arrived on the Tay with half a tank of automotive eau, noting that once across the border there were no queues at garages. 

We filled up the following morning before fishing and we were the only car on the forecourt in Dunkeld. 

Driving south a few days later we topped up at Tebay. 

On reaching the midlands and on into the densely populated south, the signs began to appear. “No fuel at services” .

The M5 was fuel free as were many of the garages on the way to Devizes where I was to drop my host.

Our local town has doubled in size in the last twenty years yet the number of petrol stations has been reduced by over a half. 

Here’s the Barton Stacey services on "The Highway to the Sun" this morning.
A queue of traffic for very expensive petrol that often stretches back dangerously back onto the carriageway. 

On the same morning The Thunderer reported that people should prepare for a “Nightmare Christmas” 

As if people didn’t have enough of a bate to get in about. 

At which point I could chuck up a few thousand words on irresponsible reporting by the media (all corners) and its effect on the turn of events in the last five or so years, 

but will refrain, 

as I have some late broad beans (luz de Ozono I think) to freeze, which I find tremendously soothing. 

By the way, we once entered Barton Stacey services on a Saturday morning for a splash and dash of derv, as we were running late for a cricket match. 

The Top Gear team were parked up and filming the episode in which  the trio customise camper vans and drive them in a haphazard fashion down to the west country. 

The film crew were filming (because that’s what film crews do) with James May in his double decker camper van. 

Clarkson was not filming but standing mid forecourt among the pumps with a fag on, amiably chatting away to anyone who made an approach. 

I didn’t approach as we had a cricket match to get to, plus the fear of the whole shebang being blown sky high when Clarkson stubbed his fag out.

Wednesday 8 September 2021

September Succeeds in Its Efforts to Have Us Forget Summer.

Lawks a mercy, it’s September! 

Are we sure about that, and if so, how did that happen? 

Did I miss August and July? 

Maybe Bernard Williams was on to something after all with his theories regarding the ninth month. 

Looking back on here it appears I was present for some of it but there are definitely gaps. 

Have we had the mayfly? 

To mangle a quote from the great Graham Taylor (for football read life) 

“In life, time and space are the same thing” 

And by way of getting the old ball rolling again here’s a few more quotes from the great Graham and possibly also Bernard when in wine. 

“To be truly happy we must throw our hearts over the bar and hope that our bodies follow” 

“Shearer could be at 100% fitness, but not peak fitness” 

“If it stays as it is I can’t see it altering” 

“Very few of us have any idea whatsoever of what it is like to live in a goldfish bowl, except, of course, for those of us who are goldfish” 

I think five quotes is enough from the much missed Graham Taylor and wizard of Watford FC and his assistant Bernard Williams. 

Turning to a subject more germane to the piece we will now attend to the river. 

After a frenzied May and June (I do remember that) and July and August going missing, as we have now established we currently find ourselves in the month of September, when fishing on the Dever always picks up. It has been relatively lightly fished with many rods taking a much needed holiday or touching base with family and friends they have not seen for some time.
The recent warm spell has sent most fish to the bottom during the day emerging as the light fades to slash at sedges who muster in reasonable numbers. There are often a few sedges about when Moss and myself undertake our opening skirmishes of the day, with the odd fish taking on the surface. But once the sun is up, fishing has been difficult with fine presentation key. River levels are the best they have been in September for some years, weed continues to be verdant and the insidious blanket weed that is the blight of warm low water conditions, has been slow to get going.
There’s a Great Egret on the river some mornings and we’ve a lot of duck about. They normally push off to the stubbles at this time of the year for a feast of fallen barley. There are plenty of barley stubbles in the valley this year, maybe the harvesting efficiency quotient of the modern combine is now so high that very little grain is left behind in the field. I’ve been topping the meadows this week, a gear lower on the tractor than normal as the growth is so much taller and thicker this year. All the important seed heads had formed and there were plenty of mice and shrews scuttling away from the oncoming tractor. One critter conspicuous by its’ absence is brer grass snake. Not seen one all summer (that I can remember) and they normally do quite well around here, maybe it’s been a bit too cool or wet this summer. 

There now follows a short piece on why the much lauded “beaver’ is not quite the thing required on a southern chalk stream. 

If a Beaver is a good thing for a Chalk Stream then my cock's a lobster: After Hugh Falkus

Short piece concluded. 

We may need a little more explanation as to why that is so at this point –ed 

On rivers with different characteristics to a chalk stream, Beavers and their dams may have merit in delaying the entrance of heavy rain to a river system prone to flash flooding. On southern chalk streams there have been systems of hatches and sluices used to move water around the valley via networks of carrier streams for aeons. Where the beaver would take down a tree with its teeth to form a dam to hold water back the riverkeeper has a series of hatches to which he can introduce or remove boards in order to control water level. It is possible to hold water back or let water go. Fifteen years ago there was a push from Command Centre Central to rip all these historical hatches out, and many have exited stage left, in the name of creating a “wilder” looking river channel. Perched streams (holding water back) were not to be encouraged and what did all these dunderhead keepers think they were doing with their funny ways with boards. Bob Beaver, despite his propensity to create perched streams is now being championed as the saviour of aquatic habitats and fighter of flooding, which may be half true on some river systems, but not the southern chalk streams where man has managed the flow of water for a variety of reasons for thousands of years.
I have said it before, but there is a big bucket of lost knowledge on how sets of hatches were used to move water around a chalk valley. Rather than issue the edict “rip out all the hatches and let the beavers have a go” Asses each set of hatches, work out what is achievable with a given amount of water and determine whether it is of any benefit to the river in the current climatic conditions. 

Fashion Tip: 

If beavers do appear in the chalk valleys of the south as they have done following illegal introductions to other rivers. Davey Crocket hats (fake of course) will soon be “de rigueur” in the fleshpots and gin palaces of Stockbridge. If a population ever became established on the common there'd be permanent puddles on the High St.

In Pando news, I continue to be pinged. 

Probably about a dozen times now, all swiftly followed by an NHS App message informing me that I do not need to isolate (We continue to test twice a week due to Madam's pedagogue status and all have come back negative)

It seems terribly efficient and I’m sure the system was created for the common good with nobody lining their pockets in an opportunistic way at the expense of an unsuspecting electorate 

One day I was pinged after spending a whole day by myself on the allotment, which was either bizarre or exciting as the App may now be so clever that it also detects tomato blight, lumbago and chronic lethargy.