Monday, 15 April 2019

More fishing

Having watched a group of young people, all with their heads down, fiddling with tablets and mobile phones it occurred to me just how different life is today for our youngsters. As a result I got thinking about the stuff I and my friends did in Kingsley when we were of a similar age to the above mentioned group. I suspect the modern youngster walks very little and spends hours sitting with their gadgetry exercising only their fingers. It seems the newspapers are, almost daily, warning us of an obesity crisis among our youth. Trust me, there was no such crisis in my childhood days. Not least because we walked miles every day in order to perform some task or another, fishing, birds nesting, collecting nuts, blackberries, fungi etc. depending upon the season and or time of year. We left home after breakfast and, for the most part, did not return until tea time. Apart from all of the exercise we didn't have anything like the food available to us that the modern child enjoys, the war was not long over and rationing went on for quite a while. 

The fishing aspect of our activities, apart from the village pond, took place in the river at the back of the common and extended from Shortheath Common and Oakhanger all the way down to the rear of the Sleaford garage. That is a lot of walking, no doubt, amounting to many miles. 

Of course, we didn't do the whole length in any given day but we did cover long distances in pursuit of the wild brown trout which was plentiful in the river in those days. 

The other great joy, as far as the river was concerned, was tiddler fishing. This was done in the feeder stream which ran from, north of the village, behind Dean Farm under the B3004 and down hill towards where Mr and Mrs Waters farmed, before entering the river. It was the area behind the Waters farm which was the most popular with us as, in those days, it teamed with small fish. I suppose the close proximity to the main river contributed to this abundance. At the time my best mate, Lewis Batty, lived in the old chapel cottage. The cottage had a tinned roof lean-to and it was in this that we housed our collection of containers holding our fishy captives. The stream in which they had been caught was not a deep one, probably for the most part, about a foot deep. Not having lovely waterproof footwear available to us then we simply took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our trouser legs and paddled, this was in the summer months! In order to capture the tiddlers we used jam jars, bottles and netting, if we could get it. There was, I remember, a significant ridge worn away under the bank of the left hand side of the stream as it flowed to the river. Under this all manner of little fish would take refuge from our efforts to catch them. But catch them we did and we did so by pushing a jar into the ridge cavity downstream and them by means of a hand of foot slide the fish towards the jar causing the tiddlers in front to dart down and into the waiting jar. We caught dozens, in hindsight, far too many. There were bullheads, loach, (these we referred to respectively as dog and cat fish ), sticklebacks, minnows, small trout and very occasionally, fresh water lampreys.

It would interest me greatly to learn if there are still tiddlers in the stream and if so, do today's village boys go fishing for them. Sadly, I suspect the answer to both questions is a no, however, I would be absolutely delighted to be wrong on this assumption. The last time I visited Kingsley, a little over a year ago, I attempted to drive over and have a look at the river, a task that was always possible when I lived in the village, but found the way barred by military barriers. Not only that but whilst I was attempting to turn around a small detachment of rifle carrying troops came jogging up the path. It would appear the military has taken far more control of the common than in days gone by. Apart from occasional maneuvers, and they were very occasional, and the odd military radio lorry, not much was seen of a military presence. People used the common pretty much as they liked, is it still so? I am aware that the common is now designated an S.S.S.I and I wonder if that has had an impact at all? I would be very interested to learn the answers to these question, perhaps some kind soul will let me know.   

Wednesday, 13 March 2019


On Friday of last week my brother Don and I went to our local reservoir for our first days fishing of the season. It was a pleasant day, calm and quite mild. We got to our destination at 0800hrs and having paid for our tickets we pottered off to our usual fishing spot. We had been fishing for, I suppose, about five minutes when another angler appeared on the scene and came over to have a chat with us. All quite normal, most fellow anglers will stop to pass the time of day and to enquire as to the state of the fishing and to get an idea off what fly or lure the fish are being tempted with ….or not, depending on circumstances. So having observed the usual social niceties the newcomer moved along the bank a few yards down from where Don was fishing and began to prepare to fish himself. 

All perfectly normal and acceptable. This chap did not introduce himself and we had not met him before. After a few moments he began telling us his fishing life history: where he had fished his best catches, places to avoid, it went on and on. All the while, of course, Don and I were trying to concentrate on our casting and presentational skills and, of course, trying to catch some fish. Eventually our companion began to fish himself but the chatter went on ….and on …and on. In short he didn't stop, hardly taking the time to catch his breath. We were treated to his theory as to the best fly to use at this time of the season and a constant questioning as which flies Don and I were using. We then got advice on the weather and he shared his doubts with us that none of us were likely to catch a fish that day. One wondered why he had bothered to turn up since his forecasts were so pessimistic. However, turn up he had and we were the lucky recipients of his company and angling wisdom! 

Time passed, and having heard Don and I talking to each other our "friend" began calling us by our Christian names. Very nice. The chatter went on and on. The dismal forecasts got more dismal with every half and hours that passed. I seriously began to think it was time to throw myself into the water and try and catch a fish by hand. I didn't voice my feelings but a few moments later having told us that we should all remain positive and try and make the situation a little humorous he actually asked if we had access to a wet suit. This, obviously, provided the humour he felt was lacking and he chuckled away whilst making similarly silly, and very humorous suggestions of a similar nature. 

One of the joys of fishing is the peace and tranquillity it provides, yes, it is good to catch a fish but there are usually plenty of other things which contribute to the pleasure of the day. The bird life being one. Where we were has a very healthy water bird population and amongst them are Great Crested Grebe. They are fascinating birds and I can happily watch them for hours. When they dive beneath the surface of the water it is always a bit of a challenge to predict where the bird will eventually resurface. It is quite amazing how long they are able to remain submerged. Also, at the time of year in question, there is the song of blackbirds and thrushes and various other smaller resident birds to cheer up the day with. That is, of course, if you can hear them undisturbed. By now our new found companion, let's call him Wally, was still chattering away on subjects which he clearly felt he was an expert . I don't really know why the name Wally came into my head, but on reflection I think it fits just right. By now Wally was beginning to get on my nerves and I seriously considered moving to another area. I changed my mind feeling that if Don and I moved on Wally was just as likely to follow us, probably in the (mistaken) belief that we may know something and were off to a better spot. 

All of a sudden I was into a fish which after a few minutes I was able to land. Wally became even more animated by this event. What fly had I used, how was I presenting it, did I pull it through the water slowly or with speed? The questioning was intense. Wally's predictions of doom regarding his chances of catching any fish became even more gloomy. Then, as things often happen, he hooked a fish. I went over and netted it for him reasoning, that if he actually got a fish, he might just shut up. No such luck we were now into the numbers game again, he was, he told us, very unlikely to catch a second or third fish and so on and so on. Don then got a fish and Wally hooked and lost another one. Sometime later I caught a second fish and the questioning from Wally began all over again. I'm afraid I had had enough, it was time to go home. Wally seemed quite surprised that I was not going to stay and try and catch three more fish which is the day limit for that fishery. Don decided to remain and I left him in the dubious company of Wally who was still rabbiting on. I wished him farewell and he said he hoped to see me again I smiled and thought I hope I am spared that delight. Well, you can't win them all ! 

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Jack Russell Terriers

Having written about my new puppy last month and touched upon Jack Russell, his terriers and The Jack Russell Club of Great Britain I thought it might be interesting to have a look at the present situation regarding "The Breed"? I put the word breed in inverted commas as I doubt very much if such a breed actually exists. A type, certainly but a breed I doubt it. 

As I understand it, a breed of anything has to have certain characteristics which remain true throughout any mating which may occur and all of those characteristics have to be present in each and every breeding. So, if for example, one selected a male from anywhere in the world and crossed it with a female of the same breed the resulting progeny would be the same as the two parents. Having had a considerable amount of experience in breeding terriers and, in terriers generally, referred to as Jack Russell's, I know that quite often the expected puppies differ from the parents, sometimes to an alarming degree. I don't know what the criteria is for establishing a breed. I would imagine a breed only becomes established when a particular group of animals breed true, consistently, over a number of years. I doubt if that is the case with many of the, so called, Jack Russell type of terriers on the market today. 

Having spoken to a number of enthusiastic terrier breeders over the years, and I mean real enthusiasts, not puppy sellers, it would appear, in general terms, they have to resort to the addition of out breeding periodically to maintain the type they desire. This could mean using, for example, a Lakeland Terrier or Fox Terrier in order to enhance particular qualities or strengthen a desirable characteristic. Having seen firsthand the vast array of farm yard terriers on the market, being sold under the heading of Jack Russell, I am unconvinced that any such "breed" actually exists. Since last month's article I have had the opportunity to have a look at the web sites of The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain, The Kennel Club and The Parson Russell Terrier Club. Sadly, I am more confused now than I was before I started. The Kennel Club actually attribute, what they call, a Jack Russell to breeders in Australia. It would appear their standard for the breed was formulated by Australian breeders whom, the clubs literature tells the reader, took their terriers with them when they emigrated. The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain's breed standard is actually accredited to The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. Why they were unable to formulate a breed standard of their own I find mind boggling. Especially as they claim to have put together the true standard in England forty years ago. 

They also claim Parson Russell Terriers are now so rare as to almost have disappeared. But most incredible of all they claim the "true working Jack Russell Terrier" is, "Safe, where it always has been, long before the Sporting Parson bought one, in the hands of real working terrier men and women". Well, there you have it a type of terrier existed that was working long before Parson Russell obtained his first terrier, no doubt about that. However, it was not known as a Jack Russell terrier "long before the Parson bought one", it may have been called a Bill Smith or Brain Jones terrier or, indeed,any other name you care dream up but the type of terrier now known as a Jack Russell did not become named as such until the Rev Russell's terriers became the object of admiration and were unheard of before that event. One would think, indeed, expect a club claiming to represent a breed would, at the very least, not make such basic errors in its publicity material. The point they also appear to make regarding working terriers is a valid one but working terriers of the Jack Russell type were by no means unique to the Rev Russell. They were quite wide spread within the country community. Times were different as were attitudes and the landed gentry and rich hunted all manner of animals with all kinds of dogs. Much of what they did in those days would today be illegal and many of the species they hunted are protected. But, hunt, they did and they used the best type dog for the job and or the species they were pursuing. The Sealyham Terrier which originated in Wales was used to hunt fox, martin, polecat, badger and pretty much anything else that would provide some sport. It was quite similar to the Jack Russell terrier type in its shape and size and was quite different from the modern version, 

The Kennel Club Sealyham which is short legged and square headed and probably couldn't chase its own shadow has no resemblance to the original terrier. Mrs. Alice Serrel, also of Devon, kept and bred a working type of terrier which was as near as could be to the Russell type. Her terriers were also required to run with hounds and, therefore, were long in the leg. It doesn't take much time or effort when researching the Jack Russell Terrier to realise the fact that the, so called, breed represented a type of working terrier which had been for many, many years popular throughout the west country and elsewhere. Used to bolt foxes, this type of terrier had to keep up with hounds and walk to the meet and back again. Sometimes the hack to the meet would have been forty miles and that's before hunting started. What all this boils down to is the fact hunt terriers had to have a huge amount of stamina and short legged little ratters would not have managed such a heavy schedule, often,several times a week.
Back to the Rev. Russell, he bought his famous terrier Trump from a milkman in Acton ! He also much admired the terriers bred by Devonshire couple Tom and Rubie French and would have appear "to have bought a number from that couple. The Rev. also admits, in one passage of a book I have,French often used Beagle, Whippet and Bulldog to add, correct or enhance various characteristics he desired in his terriers". So no breed there then, just a type.
Having researched, over a period of many years, the life and times of Jack Russell and read most of what is written about him I feel I have a fairish idea of the man and his character. Unlike many hunting parsons of his era he did not neglect his flock and, although not a rich man, he was kind to those in greater need than himself. Particularly so with the local gipsies. I have no doubt he would not have been impressed with all the fuss about a group of terriers masquerading under his name. Furthermore and, perhaps the greatest irony of all, the Rev. Russell was not named Jack, his name was,in fact, John.