Monday, 9 April 2018

Roads and things

I don't know if it is the norm elsewhere but down here in Dorset it has become very much the norm to close roads when work needs doing. Once upon a time, when road works needed doing a system of traffic lights was put in place allowing, throughout the work, one side of the road to operate pretty much as normal. When one side was finished the lights were simply transferred to the other side. This, as far as I saw, worked quite well and, it seemed to me, a good way of managing the works. 

All that has now changed, the whole road is closed. We are currently undergoing such road works on the A30 and there is a rolling programme of closures throughout the whole of April. Each closure covers several miles. There are diversions in place, however, it doesn't seem to have occurred to the great thinkers in the Council that the local lanes are totally unsuitable for modern traffic needs. There is, for example, a very large car storage facility just west of the road works. This is on an airfield and is serviced by large numbers of vehicle carrying lorries each day. These huge lorries carry eight or nine cars at a time. It would appear the storage site is also a distribution centre as the aforementioned lorries seem to both take in and out their loads of cars. Just imagine for a moment the utter chaos when one of these monsters goes along a diversion which is barely wider than the lorry itself. 

The old lanes of Dorset were never meant for such vehicles. when a car meets one of these vehicles the car must give way and reverse as it is totally unreasonable to expect such a large, loaded or even unloaded, lorry to reverse. Simply there is nowhere to go! Add to that the fact that the car meeting the lorry is, almost certainly being followed along the diversion route by a number of other cars and, bingo, you have chaos. Great planning! I suspect that the whole situation regarding these road is driver by the two modern great Gods …. Money and Health and Safety. I also suspect that the premier God here is Money. When a traffic light system is in place or, as sometimes used to happen, a convoy system there is money involved. When work is controlled by traffic lights it takes a bit longer to complete so, extra cost. When a convoy system is in place it requires extra staff in the form of drivers to manage it and, again, extra cost. This is, all conveniently, backed up by the second God, Health and Safety. 

Although the two systems above have been used without mass traffic casualties for years there appears to be great danger involved for the work force these days. In practical terms this means delays and disruption for all of the local residents and visitors using the area for the month of April, lovely. But hey folks, take heart, there are Council notices dotted around the place telling all whom care to read them that the Council is working hard to make life better for the people of Dorset and doing all sorts of wonderful things to encourage tourism, trouble is, it doesn't actually seem like it! As someone once said, "you couldn't make it up!"

This being a rural area we have, like all rural areas, large numbers of tractors operating around the place. I am sure the residents of Kingsley will be very familiar with them. However, the modern day tractor is quite a different beast from the ones of yesteryear. Today the driver is perched eight or ten feet above the ground in an air conditioned cab operating a system, which is computer controlled, in a vehicle which can travel at high speed. They are big, I mean very big, high, wide and fast. No longer the fifteen or sixteen miles an hour of the old tractors. These monsters really shift. The problem down here seems to be that, for the most part, they are being driven by people whom have had a brain removal operation. These people are almost always young men barely out of their teens. Add to that the fact that it is common place to see them propelling the said tractors, at high speed, with a mobile phone clamped to their ear. These tractors fill the lanes and if you meet one there is nowhere to go. If one or other or both vehicles are unable to stop the result is tragedy. Obviously the tractor wins, a car hitting such a solid mass has no chance. It feels a bit like taking your life into your hands when driving around the local lanes. 

Hardly a week goes by without a tractor encounter of some kind and they are scary. I am of an age where I can justifiably say I am not a boy racer, or, anything like. Experience tells me to drive carefully around the lanes, as mentioned, they are narrow and apart from the tractor menace they also play host to horse riders, cyclists, runners and walkers, but sadly the tractor drivers appear to be oblivious to all of this. Like all other rural areas we don't see policemen any more, I can't recall the last time I saw a police vehicle in our village. I guess if there were more police about driving would improve. I was talking about this to a police officer that comes beating with me and he gave me the figures for tractor related deaths in Dorset last year and, whilst I forget the exact figure, the number was considerable. If you come to Dorset be aware! 

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Save our pub

As some will be aware The Cricketers Inn is up for sale and won't necessarily continue as a pub.

The Localism Act provides a mechanism whereby we can have the pub listed as an "Asset of Community Value" which will protect it for a period allowing time for us to develop a plan to perhaps purchase the pub and run it as a village enterprise.

If you'd like to support this idea please do two things:-

1) Contact parish councillor Claire Millhouse (or the Clerk Karine Nana Yonko) and let her know your thoughts.
2) Support The Cricketers Inn by eating, drinking & socialising there

Monday, 19 March 2018

Robins

Several weeks ago I noticed that a particular robin would pop up in my feed shed almost every time I was in it. At that time it would hop around and flit from one point to another whilst appearing to be curious about what was going on. For a wild bird it was quite fearless, in that, it would come within a yard of me in, what is, a fairly closed in environment. I began putting odd bits of food down for it and soon we had a regular cycle going on. 

I feed my animals twice a day and, therefore, open up the feed shed at regular times in order to do so. The robin usually arrives a few minutes after me and has got used to eating whatever I dropped on the floor for it. This progressed until the little bird would fly into the shed and sit quite near to me, clearly, waiting for food. I began whistling to it in, what can only be described,as a most un-robin like way. None the less my robin was clearly intrigued by the noise I was making as it would cock its head to one side in, what I took to be, a listening pose. One day, as a result of pouring rain, I put my usual offering to the bird on the base of an upturned plastic tub inside the shed. He quickly realised what was going on and began feeding. 

This has now progressed to a daily ritual, but now the robin sings to me. Upon arrival it sits on the afore mentioned tub and makes a delightful little twittering noise. This is nothing like the normal robin calls which, for the most part, are quite loud and fairly penetrating. The little chap sits making these noises and cocking its head from side to side watching my every move. I respond by getting some bread,which I keep for the purpose, from a polythene bag. I break it up into small crumbs and scatter it on to the bin. Whilst this is going on the robin will fly to a spot a few feet away and wait until I have moved back and then it will feed. This has now been going on for about couple of months each day repeating the routine. The robin and I have now progressed to a situation where it will come within about a foot of my hands whilst I am breaking up the bread. As soon as I move back it will feed happily and allow me to remain within a foot or eighteen inches of it. Any sudden movements and it will fly a short distance away, but, within a couple of minutes it will resume feeding again. 

I am of the belief that the twittering noise is to get my attention and, perhaps, as near as it gets to a request to be fed. It would appear progress and the birds confidence seem to build in weekly stages. Each passing week there is a willingness on the robins part to allow me closer to it. Yesterday it came within six inches of my hand. I have no idea if the little bird is male or female, I wonder if it is female, as in the last few days it’s visits are not quite as regular and seem to be only once a day rather than the normal twice.Perhaps it is sitting on eggs somewhere in the garden. Each year we have been here we have had, at least,one brood of baby robins. Some years two.In addition to all of the above I now have two more adult robins which appear at the feed shed. Not yet on a regular daily basis but several times a week. Word is obviously getting around that food is available. I must say, it is a great delight to be able to get so close to a wild bird and to gain its trust and I eagerly await the arrival of my little robin at each feed time.

All of this stirred a memory in the old grey matter as I recalled that my grandmother had a tame robin when I was a child. She at the time was living in the last cottage along the Straits, the house farthest from where I lived in Rose cottage. I don’t recall the details of how granny’s robin became tame or how long the process took. However, granny’s little bird would actually come and feed from her hand. She would take a chair into the garden, just outside the back door, and sit there motionless with food in her outstretched hand and the bird would fly down. It perched on her hand and would remain until it had enough food. It was, if you like, granny’s party piece. 

So, I am hoping to be able to achieve the same result with my robin and each day appears to be a step in the right direction. I, of course, have no idea if I will actually achieve the hand feeding but I will keep you posted. 

Just an update on the wild rabbits which I wrote about previously, they are alive and well. Apart from the odd sighting in my field, I found masses of rabbit tracks in the recent snow. Actually, many of the tracks came right up into the garden and I could see much activity in the earth mound behind the polytunnel which they seem to have colonised. 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Kingsley Partish Council Cancelled

The March 2018 Parish Council Meeting, originally scheduled for the 22nd, has been cancelled.

The next monthly meeting will be on Thursday 26th April 2018 at 7:30pm at the Kingsley Centre.

Monday, 26 February 2018

2017/18 Shooting season

As I write, towards the end of February, it hardly seems possible that yet another shooting season has come and gone. I seem to recall, as a child, I was told time gets slower as you get older, it seems to me to be the other way around. Be that as it may, yet another season has passed and during all the days I was beating there were only two or three which were wet. Mercifully they were only part days of rain. Believe me, there is nothing worse than starting a day in the rain and continuing to get wet until it is time to go home many hours later. Not good for man or dog. It all becomes particularly unpleasant if the guns stop for lunch. What this means, in practical terms, is the beaters hang around in their cold and wet clothing trying to dry out, knowing full well they are in for a second soaking when the guns return and shooting continues. Fortunately, the keeper on the shoot I go to most often has made a rule that the guns shoot through and lunch at the end of the day. This has been a great success and it also ensures that guns are not handled by people whom have had the odd tipple with their lunch. Say no more! So, for the most part, we had dry days and many of them were sunny and very pleasant. Of course, nothing is ever straightforward, as,on sunny days the pheasants are not in the woods, they are out along the hedgerows dusting and basking in the sunshine. All this means they have to be driven back into the woods and on to the flushing points in order to be presented before the guns. This all takes time and a lot of walking but in the sun it is rather a nice way to spend a few hours. 

Bertie, my young Lurcher, was a year old at the beginning of the season. This was as I planned it because I wanted to be able to take him beating and to begin the job of teaching him his part in the shooting calendar. Any Lurcher worth his salt wants to work and the selection of a puppy from working stock is just the start of the process. During the weeks and months leading up to the season, basic obedience has to be taught and a good standard achieved. There is absolutely no point in arriving at a shoot with a dog which is out of control, the most likely outcome of such a situation is to be sent home by the keeper. A bad dog can very quickly ruin the day's shooting and that would not be a good thing for man or beast. Fortunately, Bertie was receptive and took well to training, he was a quick learner and, I am happy to claim, puts a lot of more experienced dogs to shame. He comes back when called, he stays when told to do so and I can drop him in the down position with a hand signal and at long distances. All of which commends him to shoot keepers. There is always a worry with a new dog that it might be gun shy. Some dogs hear the bang of a gun and are gone. This is something which, as far as I am aware, is with them for life and, I think, incurable. However, thankfully, Bertie does not suffer from that problem. 

Lurchers are by nature, and for the most part, quite clever dogs. I say for the most part as, with any breed or strain of dog, there are always the idiots which appear to be beyond training. The makeup of a proper Lurcher usually includes Greyhound and Collie. The Greyhound being the fastest dog and, therefore, providing speed and the Collie being brainy and providing intelligence. Together these two qualities should make for a very good working dog and, trained well, usually do. One of the biggest matters to overcome in the shooting field, when working a Lurcher, is the fact that they are gazehounds. This means they hunt by sight and not by scent. Working by sight has its benefits but it is also desirable for the dog to use its nose as well. Bertie took to locating and flushing pheasants by sight as though he had been born for it. Which, since he was brought into the world for hunting, is not that surprising. However, it has taken most of the season to train him into using his nose as well. This, really, is just a question of regular and frequent contact with the pheasants in cover where sighting is difficult if not. impossible. The nose, therefore, becomes an essential part in both locating and flushing the birds. Well, don't you just know it, at almost exactly the moment when the penny dropped and Bertie got the idea that nose equals pheasants the season came to an end. Fortunately, dogs have a very good memory and my expectation is, at the beginning of next season, Bertie will pick up pretty much where he left off. So what do we do now and until October when it all starts again? Well there will be a bit a rabbiting and chasing the odd grey squirrel. Training never stops and most days when we go out there is a session of training, all of which is, wrapped up as a game and a fun thing to do. Also long summer walks to keep us both fit, well assuming that is, that we get a summer. 

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Chutney part two

As the shooting season progressed and, every time, the beaters wagon drove past Maurice's smallholding mention was made of his incredible chutney. Pete was well and truly hooked and continued to express his amazement that such a production could have taken place, right under his nose, involving a friend of his, and he remaining completely unaware of its existence. As we approached Christmas of that particular year and thoughts turned to the traditional beaters pre–Christmas food, my brother told Pete that he would bring along a jar of the famous chutney to share with us all. Famous, that is, because by now we had elevated the phantom chutney to new heights. Maurice had won the gold medal for chutney at the Bath and West Show, undoubtedly a great achievement. This we told Pete had resulted in a contract to supply chutney to Waitrose stores throughout the country. Again Pete expressed his amazement at these achievements and told us all that he had not seen Maurice for many months… just as well really, in the circumstances. However, Pete continued to accept, without question, that Maurice was a leading maker of fine chutney and doing very nicely at it. The beaters pre-Christmas feast is really just an extension of the normal mid-morning drinks break that takes place on every shoot day. The difference being, on the pre-Christmas day beaters tend to bring additional festive bites to be shared and some of the guns also donate various goodies for our delectation. The keeper's wife, who normally provides the refreshments for the beaters, also puts on a special spread for the occasion. It was, therefore, nothing out of the ordinary that Don had offered to bring a jar of chutney for the event. He did an incredible job, having produced an extremely realistic label for the chutney jar. Apart from mention of Dorset's finest chutney there was a list of ingredients and mention of the awards which had been bestowed upon the completely fake chutney within the jar. 

What was not mentioned on the label was the fact that Don had liberally laced the homemade chutney, he had produced, with a very strong chilli powder. It was hot, very hot! Knowing what was in it I abstained. Some of the more enthusiastic chutney eating beaters generously spread their cheese and biscuits with the lethal mix. Not, however, before Pete had been enticed to sample a small portion of the stuff. With his usual protestations of not being one for spicy or fancy food out of the way, and, having been persuaded that it was, after all, Christmas Pete got stuck in and his reaction was as swift as it was spectacular. The fiery mix hit his pallet nearly taking his head off, he choked, he coughed and his face changed from its normal colour to an alarming shade of red. He dived for the hedge to expel the chutney from his mouth. Whilst several others within the group had experienced the undoubted heat they had managed, in varying degrees, to put on a brave face and spoke warmly of the excellence, of this, one of Maurice's finest chutneys. It took Pete most of the day to regain normality, during which time, he made it very clear his first taste of chutney was quite definitely his last. He could not begin to understand why anyone would want to eat such stuff and how it had achieved such acclaim was quite beyond his comprehension. The pre–Christmas episode long forgotten, the season continued and the chutney joke carried on, Pete still blissfully unaware that the whole thing was a complete farce. 

The season ended and that was that. In the autumn of the same year the new season began, as they always do, and the chutney joke was soon up and running again. Pete was again told of further successes which Maurice and his chutney had achieved throughout the summer. As previously, he accepted all this nonsense without question. Each time we passed Maurice's place the chutney was always mentioned and so we continued for several weeks. Then, the inevitable happened, one morning Pete arrived for beating as usual and received the usual greetings and was asked how he was. "Well", he said, "I am ok but I had a very embarrassing experience in the week. "What happened", we asked. "I bumped into Maurice and congratulated him on his chutney success but he said he didn't know what I was talking about." replied Pete. "I said, you know all your awards and sales at Waitrose but he said are you mad, I don't know what you are on about". "So", went on Pete, "I said Derek told me all about you and your chutney and then Maurice got quite funny and said he didn't know anyone called Derek and nor did he bloody well know anything about chutney". Pete it would appear persisted saying that he had seen and tasted a jar of the chutney. Where upon Maurice told him he was talking complete rubbish, actually he used another word, but you get the point. "I was so embarrassed" said Pete.  "What's going on he asked?" Quick as a flash my brother said, "I think old Maurice is not paying his VAT or taxes and he doesn't want you to know about his chutney business".  Pete pondered this for a few moments and then said "Oh well that would explain why he was so queer with me". That was that, the explanation was accepted without further doubt and the whole matter not mentioned again. Clearly, Pete knew Maurice better than we did and was perfectly happy to assume, the somewhat sinister explanation, completely accounted for Maurice's strange behaviour. Due to age and ill health Pete no longer comes beating and, as far as I know, still believes the chutney tale. As for the other members of the beating team, well, they all have a bit of a giggle each time we pass Maurice's place.