Thursday 12 May 2022

Valarie Singleton, The Future and Victorians

Hello Hello, 

We’ll start this chunk of guff revisiting the substantial conker tree that lost its top section when the wind blew last October. 

Here she is candles and all, 

Not quite the shape she was, but undoubtedly the last vestiges of a once great beauty,

Which is I'm sure something to which all present can relate. 

She’s demonstrating more pep and vim than the wisteria and my taytos, which were caught out by a hard frost on the last Saturday in April. The Mulberry hadn’t yet woken up, but that tree knows stuff.

We’ve drifts of wild garlic. One of the best shows for years and the stuff features in many meals throughout the week. 

I’ll fill a few big bags with leaves for freezing as summoned from the ice they add a slightly more delicate flavour to a recipe than the “in your face” garlic bulb. 

Cuckoo flowers are out and the cuckoo finally put in a turn at the end of the last month, along with the occasional swallow. The river remains low. With regard to rain and aquifer replenishment April was indeed the cruellest month. It was also quite cold and windy which I don’t think drew the eye of T.S back in the day. 

Cold arid conditions that also set my psoriasis off, apologies to everyone for the scratching,

Something that I think T.S also failed to mention. 

In the name of impending nuptials, last week I had cause to broadcast grass seed in the wood. Dry weather isn’t the best weather for getting grass going (Hants FA Groundsman of the year 2011 – never forget!) 

So I invoked the forces of the electric vehicle that will one day save the world. Filled a tank of water on the back and used a half inch 12 volt “live well” pump to water the seed in. 

Currently the sward develops at the pace expected by the Hants FA Groundsman of the Year 2011 (Remember that one?) 

This electric buggy is the future for short journeys, it's only flaw being that the roof is not a solar panel. I made the case to Child B (a planner by trade) that all inhabitants of the parish should have one. The oil burning pigs could be held in a pen up by the Highway to the Sun for when longer journeys are required.

but for short journeys of up to a couple of miles this thing is surely the future. 

Weed remains reluctant to grow and the river is gin clear presenting challenging conditions for the angler. The river is stuffed with soporific fish patiently waiting for a good hatch of fly. Bunched up in holes, with little cover from fringe or weed they are easily spooked, delicate and precise presentation of the fly is key. Time was when this time of the year would see substantial roach going spoony and cropping up in water that they would never consider haunting in the winter months. Spawning was the driver but very few roach remain now and Tarka undoubtedly had a part to play. 

Our resident pair of senior swans have claimed a corner of the bottom bends as their nesting site of first choice for this year. For years they have nested on the pond. Not sure why they have moved down river this year. It may be global warming, it may be impending ice age, we don’t know, but they are where they are. 

Mayfly appeared in the first week of the month, although only the merest  vanguard of  Valerys (Singletons) and fish have yet to acknowledge their/her arrival, although it won’t be long before mayfly pitch up in numbers for the annual festival of dry fly fishing. 

Valerie Singleton once walked past our house,

There, I said it. 

She did, 

It was a Sunday and at the time (Post Blue Peter) she was presenting programmes about money in the graveyard slot on BBC2. Pre Kinder, Madam and myself had just finished lunch, wine had been taken and we were washing up (pre dishwasher) Val sauntered by with a man, possibly her husband, possibly not - we couldn't say, but it wasn't Peter Purves as he didn't have a collie, or was that the other one?  In similar circumstances we touched base with "Old Tel" and the present Mrs Wogan a few years later and while Val had ignored our banging at the window, Terry and the "present Mrs Wogan" couldn't have been more gracious during our brief encounter on a narrow footpath in Kernow.  There were rumours at the time that Val had become a little "difficult" and her time at the Beeb was coming to an end. We had grown up Val her on Blue Peter, and she always seemed ok. 

When she passed our window she was at best indifferent, but I guess that's just Val  

The log splitter is crying out for some action, because yes we are already thinking about next winter and goodness with all trees coming into leaf (bar the Mulberry – see above) it is again apparent how the ash tree population has been devastated by the insidious ash dieback. 

Here’s a fridge door handle I made from a slice of ash. 

It’s the mother of all fridge doors and we’ve gone through a couple of plastic handles while hauling the thing open. Replacements come in at around forty pound a pop, so with a cost of living crisis on, I made a replacement from a slice of ash. 

Ludgershall and The English, wealthy and well fed pensioners both, who, in May are still lighting the fire, muttered their disapproval. They insist that all ash should be introduced to the wood shed. We had a fisherman arrive in a high end Morgan towards the end of last year and each of them made preparation to fire up the chainsaws. 

Oh yes, satellite technology is a great thing, 

I note that Ludgershall and The English are still lighting the fire of an afternoon. There is now a chimney pot monitoring app available that detects smoke emitted. I’m not saying they are being a little profligate with their stash of ash but…… 

We’ve wallahs coming out in a week or two to assess the presence of non native species in the valley. I will monitor the movements of previously wallahs along the riverbank as their tangerine high viz jackets won’t be conducive to stalking wary trout in gin clear water. 

At which point I will again make the point that not all non native species are invasive. 

Victorians rolled Brer Brown Trout out to much of the empire and beyond, where it now sits on the bucket list of many a travelling angler, having adapted, thrived and contributed to conditions presented.

Thursday 5 May 2022

Fangio, Bins and Billy's Islands

Apologies, completely forgot about this, 

Thanks to those who did for chivvying. 

Errrr what have we been up to? We went to Italy after Easter, 

Hotel Belvedere on Isola Pescatori, Lake Maggiore to be precise. 

We rose trepiditously early in the morning on our day of departure. Certain newspapers (the same trouble makers who have promoted much of the chaos throughout much of the last decade) had trumpeted lengthy delays at airports, missed flights and a generally chaotic travel experience. 

Well the form filling the week before was a bit of a ball ache but Heathrow was a breeze; strapped and sucking sweets with the plane ready for take off ten minutes before we were due to depart. 

Landing and leaving Milan Malpensa and our return to Heathrow were a similar experience, the only short delay, when collecting our cases from the carousel due to a shortage of baggage handlers in terminal 5. 

No car hire this time, just a forty five minute transfer to the ferry terminal at Carciano, where a five minute ride would set us down on Isola Pescatori.

Only complications set in. 

Unbeknown to us (and around fifty others who arrived at ferry terminal Carciano) Passengers could only ride the ferries if they were wearing an FFP2 grade face covering. The blue and white ones that we have been wearing for the best part of two years and which Hatt Mancock’s mates made an awful lot of money out of in supply, would not suffice. 

So myself and many others trudged the mile and a bit into the centre of Stresa to purchase FFP2 masks, probably from the brother of the man in the ticket booth in Carciano. Seems it wasn’t only Mancock’s mates up to their eyes in it over the supply of PPE. 

Anyway, masks fitted we boarded the ferry an hour or so later than anticipated and soon settled down to take on board Aperol Spritz sitting on the roof terrace of our Hotel Belvedere bedroom looking out across the lake to Isola Madre and Pallanza beyond. 

Isola Pescatori can get quite crowded from mid morning on, but by 7pm the ferries and crowds have gone and we were deserted on this beautiful island with a handful of restaurants still open. First night nosh was on the very western point of the island in an establishment dripping in wisteria that we could smell from fifty yards away.
Most restaurants serve “fishes of the lake” several of which, vendace in particular, are very rare in the UK and are protected. Maggiore is thick with the things and several restaurants on the island have their own fishing boat to guarantee supply. 

During our visit, Lake Maggiore was six feet lower than it should have been, there were also two fire fighting planes taking water from the lake to drench a neighbouring hillside that appeared to be smoking. Snow melt will help but like many of us they are desperate for rain in northern Italy. Six feet of water in a lake that is forty miles long and often several miles wide is an awful lot of water to go missing. 

Out to Isola Bella the next day. 

Formally known as Isola Inferiore (Isola Pescatori was Isola Superiore) It is basically just one massively elaborate palazzo with equally elaborate gardens. Understated it ain’t, spectacular it is, and is quite the thing built by Billy Borromeo to impress back in the day. 

On to the ferry for a late lunch in Stresa at a restaurant in the central piazza that we had first visited nearly twenty years ago with Child A and Child B. At the time we were camping in the Rhone valley in Switzerland near Brig and we drove over the Simplon Pass for a day out in Stresa where the air temperature was ten degrees higher than in Brig. 

Isola Madre the next day, a far more understated Isola and our favourite. We arrived on an early ferry and there were no crowds in the house or garden. 

It has some stunning views and vistas.  The drawings of how the island was laid out to terracing having been converted from agricultural land by Billy were particularly revealing.

On completion and before the planting had become established, it must have look like a bit like  a terraced Fort Boyard out in the lake, with Billy playing the Leslie Grantham or possibly Tom Baker role.

Palanza for lunch and another establishment that we had visited before. We were billeted in Palanza when we visited six years ago and there is a waterfront café that chucks up some delicious savoury pancakes washed down with a knock out Nebbiolo. 

Back to the island for more semi solitary isolation and some surprisingly good steak in the hotel restaurant. 

Over to Intra on the next day. Six ferry stops away it is an interesting town and an easy place to lose a few hours as there are lots of shops.

Intra also serves as one end of the line for the car ferry across the lake to Laveno. We boarded as passengers for a twenty minute trip for a ride up the bins in Laveno. We rode the bins six years ago when there were crazy fools at the top throwing themselves off a ramp in the name of competitive hang gliding.

No hang gliders this time but we took Aperol at the small café at the top, gazing with wild surmise on the snow covered alps to the right and Lake Como off to the left with Maggiore and Billy's islands laid out in front. 

Home the next day. Through no fault of his own our pre arranged taxi was an little late meeting us at the ferry terminal, but no matter, with the spirit of Fangio invoked this old guy hurtled us up the hairpins on the hill in his Alfa Romeo away from the lake to Malpensa, delivering us to the door of the terminal ten minutes faster than our outbound transfer.