Thursday, 28 July 2022

BERNARD CRIBBINS


                                

Such a sad day for so many of us because Bernard’s death means we will be denied his extraordinary talents to make us laugh and cry … and cry laughing. Sue and I still fall about when seeing him playing the ‘hotel inspector’ in Fawlty Towers.

His story telling skills were unmatched by anyone and he was never recognised in the way many of us felt he should be. Yes, he was awarded an OBE but no one could doubt he richly deserved the title Sir Bernard Cribbins.

The joy he provided for us millions along with inspiring so many children was wonderful, not least in ‘Old Jack’s Boat’. He told me many times how much he enjoyed telling those stories and during his hundred episodes, grew very fond of his doggy companion, Salty, who in turn loved Bernard. But then, didn’t we all.

I first had the privilege of working with him in the mid ’70’s when I asked him to narrate our RSPB film about Robins. He spoke our star robin’s thoughts so amusingly that he had them rocking in the isles at the Festival Hall and for years the film became a prime time fixture on BBC1 at Christmas.

When creating our ‘Passion for Angling’ series for the BBC, it was a no brainer to choose Bernard to describe the adventures of Chris Yates and Bob James and it was his dulcet tones that contributed so much to the success of the series.


Following that up with Martin Bowler’s ‘Catching the Impossible’, I wanted Bernard to be Martin’s angling companion and because he is such a good angler, he never failed us when required to catch a particular fish. We all became great friends and would have included Bernard in every ‘impossible’ challenge but he was very busy at the time, chasing David Tennant’s Dr.Who round the film sets at night. Even worse, he was suffering from cancer and had to put up with chemo every week. How he managed to successfully battle big carp and twenty pound pike after all those challenges was remarkable.
As the years rolled on, he became a bit lame due to his habit of jumping out of aircraft with the Paras and getting shot at in Palestine. He loved the Paras but hated the bullets!

When he came to stay with Sue and I and our two children, we naturally became even more fond of him. Katie and Peter just reminded me that Bernard has been making them laugh and smile all their lives and are tearful at this news, along no doubt with so many of todays children. He was such a lovely man, so kind and generous, amusing too of course and I wish I had the space to tell you some of his stories.

Oh, alright, just one then. Bernard described playing celebrity cricket with Fred Trueman at Lords when a naked lady streaker ran onto the pitch and Fred said “That’s the only thing that’s swung all day!”… and of course, all told by Bernard in a perfect Yorkshire accent.

Bernard has been described as a creative genius and non of us could ever doubt that. His extraordinary variety of talents means he will be missed by us all and having had the privilege of sharing a tiny portion of his life, his passing brings tears to my eyes. Rest in peace Bernard and catch another one for me please.


Monday, 27 June 2022

I LOVE TENCH

 

                                 I LOVE TENCH


‘Amo, Amas, Amat’ are the few Latin words I remember and mean ‘I love’. So if like me you were unfortunate to suffer fifth form Latin lessons at school, then you would know that the latin name for these most iconic freshwater fish with red eyes is ‘tinca tinca’.
 


Tench live in some of our most beautiful countryside, thriving in lily decorated lakes, weedy canals and gravel pits, slow flowing rivers, even very small ponds and in recent years, these rotund, golden scaled, muscular fish have been voted our most popular fish. 


What’s more, their homes are havens for a rich and diverse wildlife and the enjoyment of sharing the wilds with nature is one of the most important reason for being an angler and as is often said, ‘there is more to fishing than catching fish’.

Tench have of course been a favourite angler’s quarry for centuries,
[I wonder if the Romans fished for them?] and I love tench, not just because of their beauty but because they can be tricky to catch, especially the big ones, and we all like a challenge don’t we?



What’s more, if we’re lucky enough to hook one, they fight like mad for their freedom and using their large rounded fins, they make it a proper contest before we’re finally able to admire them face to face. 




I first clapped eyes on a tench when still a schoolboy at Ely in the Fens. My pal, nicknamed ‘Purdy’ Hawks and I were very keen birders and fishermen, cycling long distances over that inspiring ‘land off skies’ to find wildlife.

 


Here’s Purdy with our two tawny owls called Archibald and Susie. We acted as the Ely bird hospital, these two owls falling out of the cathedral tower and brought to us for rehab. A few weeks later they fledged successfully but even after flying free they would float down to us from the nearby trees to be fed. Magic! 

 Back to our tench because when a farmer told us about a small pond off the beaten track that provided a home for tench, we were there as fast as our bicycle wheels would spin. 

The pools were dug long ago to provide clay for bricks, their banks now overgrown with willows, hawthorn bushes and brambles, the perfect home for the sadly now rare turtle doves and even a pair of long-eared owls. 

As we arrived with rods strapped to our cross bars, redshank and snipe jumped alarmed from their nest sites in wet ditches, so we were careful as we approached the water, forcing our way through brambles and stingers before a mysteriously dark pool magically appeared, separated into two by a thick strip of phragmites [latin again], from which sang several reed warblers. 

We were excited by the possibility of catching our first ever tench, so hurriedly assembled our ancient cane rods and threaded on little porcupine floats, adding a small shot that would rest gently on the muddy bottom. We’d scrounged some old bread from school, mashed some of it up and flung it beside the reeds before casting out a lump of bread flake. 

Our tackle and methods were basic but it wasn’t long before both floats slid below the surface and we were battling with fiesta little tench of about two pounds, maybe more as some were very plump. I remember our joy so vividly that it’s as if it was yesterday. 

We continued catching several more, hardly noticing the increasingly heavy rain and with the fishing so good, choosing to ignore it. But by the time we had caught enough we were throughly soaked and cycled back across the Fens to school, chilled but happy, our catch totalling thirteen tench.


My Box Brownie recorded some of them and no tench will ever be as memorable as our catch, shared with the best pal a schoolboy could ever wish for. I wonder where Purdy is now? 

 

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

TASTING TROUT

              

 ‘Variety is the spice of life’ and that’s never truer than if you’re an angler. So when our local Wimborne club offered us members a ‘Trout Taster Day’ to learn how to catch one, I jumped at the chance to learn about fly fishing and move closer to nature. 

Our location was one of the club’s trout lakes just a few minutes drive west of Wimborne at rural Winterborne Zelston, the village’s name identifying the source of the crystal clear chalkstream water that creates the perfect home for the many trout that, as we arrived, encouraged us with their swirls. Watching the cruising fish as they swam in a garden of colourful aquatic weed, it looked very beautiful - and the fish were big! 


Our tutor for the day was the renowned guide Mike Bilson. He’s fished all over the world for a wide variety of species, so we were lucky, indeed privileged to receive the best possible advice to help us get started. After essential health and safety instructions, most notably to wear glasses to protect our eyes, he gave us sixteen beginners guidance on the most suitable tackle to use, on how to identify what the trout might be eating, then how to cast the imitation flies to fool the fish. 


There’s a bewildering selection of invertebrate life in the lake, from damsel nymphs to cdc's, sedges, upwing olives, daddies, floaters and sinkers but learning the lingo is all part of the fun and some of the great books that were brought along for us to study will impart the knowledge we will need as we develop our skills. 


John Goddard was a god of fly fishing during his life and has written a few bibles in his time and of Peter Lapsley’s many books, ’Matching the Hatch’ is one of the most useful. 



Mike, and Mike Hirsh our chairman alongside him and our Game Secretary on the right, Paul Baker who organised the gig, said that the most suitable tackle for this lake was a 6wt rod with middle to tip action, a reel with a good clutch loaded with 30yds of backing and a weight forward floating fly line attached to a tapered leader of 9ft. Along with a few flies, this lot will cost you about £100, so it’s not too expensive to get set up and start a lifetime of thrills and if any further help is required, then Paul is always on call, when he's not catching trout!



Once Mike had taught us enough to make it more likely that our casting would result in the fly landing on the water instead of the hedge, we were each promoted to our personal instructor for one to one coaching. The club’s Game Secretary Paul had masterminded the event superbly and had pulled together a large team of volunteers to ensure the day was a success. So when twenty of us ‘students’ arrived in perfect sunshine, we were able to admire an immaculate fishery along with a host of willing guides and their tackle. 

Many of the clubs trout fishing stalwarts had given up their day to help us in our faltering steps to become fly anglers and the quality of Mike Bilson’s instructions and our guides was proven by the fact that everyone caught at least one lovely rainbow trout and all were big enough to put a serious bend in our rods. One lucky tyro even caught a monster of eleven pounds! The smiles of triumph from both young and old made it a delightful day for us all. 



This is Willam's very first trout. He was very happy of course, as was his grandad Brian Heap, our club President who takes William fishing as often as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

My personal guide was Iain Scott, the club’s deputy chairman and we had a really enjoyable couple of hours talking club business while swopping fishing stories as he helped me in trying to fool a fish by tying on a thin 'tippet' of 5lb line. I was keen to catch one on a dry fly because the excitement of seeing the swirl of the take is a top adrenaline rush, but in the end we lowered our sights to a slightly sunken gold head nymph and it was only moments before a surging take tightened the line and battle commenced. 



The fish put up substantial resistance and was big enough to not only provide my wife Sue and I with two substantial meals but the crystal clear water and rich fly life of the lake ensured it was very tasty. So if you want to try tasting trout, buy your club day ticket costing £20 and you’ll have hours of fun and with luck, take home two big fish and enough delicious meals for a week.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

                    SHARING SPRINGTIME

Enjoying our sunny garden with close friends on Sunday reminded Sue and I how privileged we are to own this little patch of southern England and all the wildlife that lives here with us.

one of our almost hand-tame robins
Our few hours together also reminded us of just how important it is to share the joy of all these wonderful spring colours, so I thought that penning a quick blog and adding a few happy snaps taken during this last week might be appreciated by those who love gardening.
tulips provide a glorious burst of colour after the drab winter rains

 planting them in our gravel garden is knee crunching
it's been a very good spring for brimstones, though we fear for them during these recent hard frosts

commas have been fewer this year, though always a colourful treat



our wooded patch and the pond close to the house which the visiting otters use as a swimming pool



sun worshiping

the little stream runs through the heart of the garden past camellias and magnolia stellata

Our two acres of woodland, flowers and shrubs is unashamedly designed, not to be neat and tidy [God forbid!] but to provide a home for the most diverse collection of critters that we’re able to attract.
 we are blessed with many jays, this lady was enjoying her sunbathing by lying on a log outside our kitchen window - lovely birds aren't they



foxes are about most nights, tidying up spilt grain

   male sparrow hawk named 'Fancy Dan' because he was always bathing in the stream
Our remarkably tame pair of sparrow hawks actually nested in a birch tree right in the middle of the garden and raised a chick, so I was able to invite friends to come and take pics of them while they remained so obliging.
flowing water provided Dan with a perfect bathroom - he was a very smart boy  © Mike Read

the chick close to fledging into nearby branches   © Jane Adams


Fancy Dan's daily bath time was followed by hours of careful preening  © Mike Read


 

amicably sharing bird food - we called him Prince Willhelm the Second as our previous one went awol

So in reality our garden is a little nature reserve that in turn provides us with an escape from the realities and horrors of the world that all of us are suffering right now. There’s a lot of madness out there but within our sanctuary we can enjoy mental and physical renewal and while we’re at it, do our bit for the climate crisis.

acers, birches, camellias and rhodos thrive on our moist hillsides

 
Over the forty years that we’ve been lucky to live here, we’ve planted dozens of trees and even more valuable to combat climate change, we’ve wetted the land by digging seven ponds large and small, along with a wooded marsh, then cut a stream to link all the springs from the groundwater together so that freshwater flows from end to end through the garden.
our marsh provides a home for dozens of amorous frogs in the spring


stock doves and many others enjoy a wash and brush up in our crystal clear streams

our minnows are spawning outside the office as I write, early April being their crucial time

Many birds enjoy bathing in this clean water, stock doves, sparrow hawks and buzzards to name a few, and our minnows spawn in them, providing food for visiting kingfishers.
our colourful kingfisher called Kevin, a regular so he had to have a name
 


our main pond requires lots of weeding and dredging but is a magnet for passing ducks

Wetlands capture more carbon than forests, so even a small pond is a little contribution to saving our planet. What’s more, by storing water we reduce the risk of drought or flooding and provide a trickle for our beleaguered rivers.


little egrets are frequent visitors now, though always a pleasant surprise as they were once so rare

otters are a mixed blessing as they trash our aquatic ecosystems, though I'm always delighted when they come as having otters in your garden has got to be one of the great privileges of life.

Even better, by providing water, we’ve created attractive habitat for herons and kingfishers, even egrets and otters, and along with nesting mallard and our colourful native fish, we delight in zipping dragons and damselflies and uncountable invertebrates.
an emperor dragon egg laying, a daily delight in the summer


 

 beautiful demoiselle, a frequent summer visitor, along with the banded variety

four-spottted chasers are occasional visitors in the early summer

magnificent golden-ringed dragonflies are rare here and this one was snatched by a passing hobby!



So if you have a garden, however small, dig a pond!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To counter the increasing threat of drought, we’ve created a dry garden with gravel and planted lots of invertebrate friendly plants and these have attracted squadrons of buzzers, though that will be a story for another time and once the rain stops, maybe spring will return and we can glory in some lovely warm sunshine.

our patch created for bees and butterflies and called the B&B - of course!


 
visiting silver-washed fritillaries are always a treat.

a carder bee enjoying the nectar from a glorious blue salvia

roses round the door - this is albertine, an old but delightful variety - the bees love 'em too  

To help the bees and butterflies, we have also let our 'lawn' by the cottage grow wild and within a few years it's become a wildflower meadow with a surprising variety of plants, including three species of orchid along with snakeshead fritillaries and all of them without our help at all. Ain't nature wonderful if you give it a chance.
spring is sprung in our little meadow in sunny Dorset

southern marsh orchids are the most common with a few spotteds and pyramids as a bonus

the buzzers love all these blooms


 

up to 160 blooms and spreading fast, one of the joys of leaving a garden to grow wild and free

As of yesterday, we can bring more good news, because following on from my previous blog about successful reintroductions of once rare birds, our star osprey CJ7 returned to Poole Harbour yesterday from her winter sojourn in West Africa and if her mate ‘Catch 22’ returns to join her soon, we may well have the first successful breeding pair of ospreys in Southern England for nearly two hundred years … and when the nest site is only six miles from our door, news doesn’t get any better.

CJ7 building her nest on Easter Day in 2020  © Birds of Poole Harbour

The exciting reintroduction of ospreys to Dorset has been made possible by the hard graft of the Birds of Poole Harbour team and the long term vision of Roy Dennis. It was in the mid '70's that Roy and I made a film on ospreys for the RSPB, even travelling to Africa to film them in the Gambia, so below is a pic from one of our Scottish nests, a picture that we hope will be replicated by success in Poole Harbour this summer.

A Scottish pair of ospreys successfully raising two chicks - fingers X'd it will happen here soon

And when we're not admiring ospreys or the graceful red kites overhead ... and not got our heads down planting treasures in the garden, we’ll have to keep our eyes on the skies in the hope that the   white-tailed eagles glide from the Isle
of White over our heads and add to the joys of life in sunny Dorset. Aren't we lucky!
amazing - a white-tailed eagle gliding over nearby Poole Harbour  © Birds of Poole Harbour