The last four weeks have been a fairly busy time for me - the run-up to The Liberty & Livelihood March, the March itself, game fishing in The Atlantic and fun & games at work. Still, nothing like a bit of spleen to liven up the website so here goes with a hint of a field sports theme (surprise....)!
May I take this opportunity of thanking everyone who donated conkers to me throughout late September and October. Sadly their efforts were in vain. We attended the conker championships as defending champions with a lot of money riding on us. Nothing like a bit of pressure to up the ante!
We fought hard in the first two rounds and won them convincingly. Sadly, we met the infamous Bentleys Bruisers in the semi-finals. With my two team mates registering a win and a lose against the BB hard men it was down to me. I selected my top conker, which had been hardening on a pc monitor at work and battle commenced against the foe.
After about three minutes our conkers were both intact and the competition was to be decided on a best-of-three hits basis. If this produced no clear winner then the conker in the best condition would be declared winner. My opponent and I both scored glancing blows with our first two blows but his conker had developed a nasty crack along its length, whereas mine was still in perfect order.
It was now down to our final shots, my opponent missed which left me the choice of an unsporting miss (and a win by default) or to attempt to smash his conker to bits. I chose the latter option and with a mighty blow I hit his conker square-on. When the dust had cleared, my conker had disappeared. My opponents was cleft nearly in two but was still miraculously clinging to his string by the slimmest of margins. The judges had no hesitation in declaring him the winner. This put the Bentley Bruisers into the final, a competition they won with consummate (almost embarrassing) ease.
So, no Portugal for us next year (see last year) but best of luck (and fun) to Bentleys
Hunting - The Liberty & Livelihood March
For those who might have been asleep over the past month, something major happened in London on the 22nd September 2002. The largest ever civil rights march in British history took place. The organisers of the march had arranged it to provide a forum for all the people in Britain (and their friends from abroad) to express their mounting concern over the plans of Herr Blair and his merry sycophants to introduce a "free" vote on the issue of foxhunting. I won't bore you with the relative merits of hunting versus other forms of pest control, if you are at all interested in the facts, check out the findings of The Burns Inquiry. A working knowledge of the facts about hunting is something Our Dear Leader seems not to possess. Instead, he reckons that that a mandate of 30% of the electorate (the average turnout in the last general election) confers upon him a divine right to exercise absolute control over his MPs and threaten to introduce the Parliament Act to steamroller a Hunting Bill through Westminster. This is something that would be directly against the express wishes of the Upper House. Even most of his place-men in the Lords have already voted against him on the matter of hunting and look set to do so once more in the future. Interestingly, I understand the Parliament Act is devoid of any real judicial legitimacy, but someone may care to express an opinion on this matter (hate-mail to the usual address please).
Anger and resentment from all walks of life over Blair's invertebrate handling of this particular issue has grown steadily over the last five years (it started when Noo Labour accepted a £1,100,000 payment in advance from PAL / IFAW). I understand that there is a very real threat of civil disobedience from a hitherto peaceful section of Britain. It is time Blair realised that there is now a very real threat that a whole class of law-abiding people will be criminalised and disenfranchised if this appalling law ever makes it onto the statute books. The March will hopefully serve as a barometer of public opinion for him.
I went up early with SWMBO and a few others (including Dave Toye who was stewarding) and joined a group for breakfast at a hotel on Sloane Street at around 8.15 am. The streets were empty and just for a short while I was worried that perhaps the 250,000 or so expected marchers would have left it up to someone else to come in their place. I needn't have fretted, however, because when we left the hotel at 9.30 am Sloane Street was a mass of (mainly) Red and Green banners proclaiming a wealth of messages about Blair, Labour, the RSPCA and all their motley cohorts . Things were beginning to look up.
We had elected to join the Hyde Park March and as we made our way through the arch at Bowater House the sheer scale of numbers became obvious to us. We were about 30 minutes early for the start of the march but nevertheless
we were about half a mile back from the starting gate. The whole of Rotten Row was a seething mass of good natured folk, all with a common cause (despite what that idiot Alun Michael said later on!)
Ten o'clock came and went and still we didn't move an inch. The ranks were swelling by the second as thousands more ordinary folk (none of whom had a contorted expression a la Fatty Prescott) joined the ever-increasing queue to the start line. At around midday we finally made it through the starting line and made pleasant, if slow, progress up Piccadilly and into St. James' Street. Marchers were still queuing to get into Hyde Park in order to join the queue that was trying to get out of the park in order to queue all the way up to the finishing line. By now it was obvious that something of major historical significance was happening and we were all a part of it.
As we went past Clubland in St James we were invited into a score of hostelries but we had to decline due to time constraints. Outside the Institute of directors on Pall Mall, I bumped into John Jackson the Chairman of the Countryside Alliance. I introduced myself and we chatted for a wee while. He told me that he was delighted at the numbers who had turned out to be counted. Sophie Hill was perching on a plinth nearby ready to photograph the passing throng - she took some good photos apparently but I haven't seen any yet ( hint, Sophie!).
Further down the road we came into Trafalgar Square where the RSPCA was busy demonstrating that it knows how to spend money wisely when its purse-strings are tight. They had paid for a barrage balloon to be hoisted in the middle of The Square. This was being guarded by seven very nervous policemen!. We turned the corner into Whitehall and joined the March that had set off from Blackfriars. By the time we had gone through the counting line, 248,000 had already been through. Knowing how many more there were to come lifted our tired spirits immensely as we set off down Victoria Street for the train home.
At the East side of Parliament Square a very small, very noisy and very unruly counter-demonstration was being held by various anti-hunt protesters. There must have been at least thirty of them, excluding the steel band who were providing backing music to their antics. Their banners were offensive in the extreme and some were even racist. One girl who could not have been more than fourteen was busy holding up an effigy of a disemboweled fox with one hand while giving the marchers a one-fingered salute with the other. I spoke to a nearby policeman about this rather tasteless display. Sadly he seemed disinterested by the whole thing and was not prepared to ask her to stop. I must say that if the anti's can only muster this sort of number to a counter-protest then their days as an effective movement are thankfully numbered. One thing puzzled me, however. Some of the "anti" protesters were wielding Socialist Worker placards. Since when does Socialist Worker (Socialist Layabout judging by some of the placard wielding soap dodgers) have any intellectual franchise in the hunting debate. Indeed, if they want to claim any form of consistency then shouldn't they be campaigning against a hunt ban in the name of jobs for the working classes, a bit like they did during the miners dispute seventeen years ago? Or does being a Socialist entitle you to pick and choose your principles as the occasion suits ( a bit like Tony Blair, then perhaps?)???
We went to bed that evening with the feeling of a job well done.
At the final count over 400,000 marchers had been counted. I did hear an interesting story which claimed that the Police had used thermal cameras as part of their crowd-counting technique. This had put the numbers at over 700,000 - a fact that was reported immediately to Downing Street. Regardless of whether the big figure was a 4 or a 7, our esteemed Government would be foolish to disregard the crystal-clear message from this demonstration.
Immediately after the march, my friends in Kent began work on phase two of the campaign. To see what they are up to, visit the Foxhunters Website and take a look at what to expect along the roadside soon. Incidentally, if anyone wants any of these images printed off, I have recently received a disk from the website owner with full colour copies of all the banners. All you need to do is turn up chez mois with a rough idea of what you are looking for. A small contribution towards costs (toner, etc) wouldn't go amiss, either!
Fishing - Game Fishing in The Atlantic
The day after the March, we were up at 3.30 am in order to get to Stanstead for a 7.00 flight to Londonderry, where we intended to spend four days fishing and sightseeing.
I had read an article in The Field some time ago about how specimen Tuna were being taken off Donegals Northern Coast using rod and line and I was sorely tempted to get involved. I hadn't been game fishing seriously for
about two years when I went with Phillip Lucas off Antigua after Tuna and Spearfish. Once I knew who wanted to come all I had to do was charter the boat, book flights, hotels and hire cars.
Ryanair flew us over the North West of Britain on a crystal clear day which provided an unexpected opportunity for aerial sightseeing - The Cumbrian Fells are particularly spectacular from 20,000 feet). The flight was only about 1/4 full so we stretched out and prepared ourselves for the week ahead.
We landed in Londonderry at around 8.00 am and made plans for the day. First stop was The Bushmills Distillery, about thirty miles North East of the airport. We were given a tour by a lovely lass whose knowledge of whisky was matched by her enthusiasm for drinking the stuff, which makes her alright in my book. After the tour we were given a courtesy tasting of various whiskies. I was volunteered as a taster by Janie and was sat down with three other guinea pigs in front of eight glasses of various malts. I must say that Bushmills is a pretty vile drop when taken neat but comes alive if watered down well.
If you ever go to Northern Ireland, make sure you drop in on the distillery for an hour or two, your time will be handsomely rewarded. Having gulped the last of the whiskey down, I got to my feet rather unsteadily (very unsteadily, actually) and we headed out to the car to aim for The Giants Causeway. This wild part of Northern Ireland definitely deserves its title as one of the wonders of the world, the initial view from the National Trust shop is a little disappointing but as you go down the hill and turn into the bay, the true splendor of the site hits you.
Janie remained slightly unimpressed, likening the towering hexagonal columns of basalt to something you would find at the Horsham Builder Centre!! After about ninety minutes sightseeing with all the other grockles we decided to head back to the NT shop for lunch.
Recharged, we headed due west and to Rathmullan House, our base for the next few days. This turned out to be a bit of a find , being listed in both Irelands Blue Book (which is always good news) as well as the Karen Brown Guide ( never heard of it, but its meant to be rather top notch). We were welcomed and shown to our rooms - we had a stunning view of Lough Swilly from our bed and our friends had a slightly quieter view over the lovely gardens.
I decided to go for a walk along the beach and was rewarded with some of the most spectacular views I have seen in years. I eventually returned to the hotel and we dressed for supper. The meals at Rathmullan House are awesome - large portions of excellent quality food cooked by expert chefs. The wines weren't too bad either!
Day two dawned and we had an early cooked breakfast and set off for Downings to join the Rosguill, our charter boat for the next few days. We were greeted by our skipper, Michael Mcveigh and off we set. The day was crystal clear and there wasn't a breath of wind to be seen anywhere things were looking up indeed! The first few hours were spent reeling in mackerel to be used as bait for the rest of the day. We filled our keep tanks up and headed out to The North Atlantic and to the Tuna.
The next six hours passed far too quickly. Michael set up our lures - gigantic steel coat hangers with a pyramid of garishly coloured squid trailing behind, the last of which concealed a razor sharp hook that wouldn't look out of place on Len Claphams meat rack!. As you can see, Freud would have had a field day with the fishing tackle we were using.
We trolled back and forth about 15 miles off the coast all day but nothing was biting. Throughout the course of the afternoon we sighted several flocks of gannets circling above the surface of the water - a sure sign of shoals of fish beneath. Where there are these size shoals, the tuna won't be far behind. We were fortunate enough to witness the spectacle of large tuna "bursting" (pronounced "busting" apparently). This is where the fish get too enthusiastic about their food and jump clear out of the sea, quite forgetting that they were not designed to be airborne. Up close, this is quite something. All day we looked and waited but nothing sizeable took the bait. Frustrated, we turned for home in the early evening and wished ourselves better luck on the morrow.
The weather forecast had deteriorated overnight and we woke to leaden skies and a fresh breeze. Extrapolate this 15 miles out to a sea with nothing between your boat and the Antarctic and one arrives at the conclusion that oilskins are the order of the day.
Rather surprisingly, our two ladies decided to accompany us for the morning. Even more surprisingly, they did us proud, both of them landing massive hauls of mackerel. They decided not to accompany us in the afternoon - the swell was building and the barometer was dropping like a stone. We dropped the girls off and they spent an afternoon visiting PortSalon, a small village which has the curious distinction of possessing the second most beautiful beach in the world (I wonder where the most beautiful one is, anyone care to venture an opinion???).
We headed back out to sea and to the infamous Limeburner buoy, scene of many a shipwreck. By now the boat was pitching quite viciously in the short sea. Nonetheless we baited our hooks with live mackerel and dropped five lines overboard to wait for the big fish to come. The waves were flecked with foam and one of our party was looking a little green and off his food. I was disappointed when my famous ham & marmite reviver was thrown back in my face, some people are so uncouth!
We dropped some lighter tackle to see what else we could find lurking about on the shoals - all told we picked up several Pollack, two nasty thornback rays, a nice spur dog, far too many dogfish and I was even fortunate enough to land a 3 kg turbot which impressed Captain Mcveigh no end.
At the end of the day we decided that our luck simply wasn't in and we began to haul the lines inboard. No sooner than we started doing this than a monster tuna burst the surface less than 60 yards away, just inshore from our bait. A spectacle which alone was worth the charter fee. These gigantic fish move at speeds in excess of 30 knots (some have even been recorded at 50 kts I am told) and generate enough momentum to leave the water by 3-4 feet. Ours didn't disappoint us in this respect . Its enormous, muscular frame leapt like a prize salmon in pursuit of its next meal. This was game on. The fish was estimated at 7-8ft and 500-600 lbs by the experts and I would have given my eye teeth to catch and land it. Sadly this was not to be. Our lines remained static and we eventually decided to head for shore once more.
The wind had got up throughout the afternoon and we decided to repair inside for coffee and more Mr. McClean's delicious fare. One of our number elected to stay outside in order to stave off the effects of the mal de mer and got a soaking for his pains . Silly boy ended up with pneumonia a day later. All I can say is that it wouldn't have happened if he had eaten his food up like a good lad!
Ultimately defeated by the wily tuna we headed back to the hotel for a hot bath, a slap up meal and the plane home. We made a promise to ourselves that we will be back next year to take on the king of game fish once more.
If you are at all interested in coming along early next September, let me know and I will keep you in touch with our plans. Costs shouldn't be more than £350-£500 for the expedition of a lifetime , depending on numbers and how long we go for.
Shooting - The biggest gun in Sussex??
Unfortunately I have mislaid my CD of photos of the above piece (that's what you tell all the girls. D.T.). I hope to write about this next month, if I can find the damn disc.
Unfortunately I didn't make it onto the mushroom walk this year, my pencil case needed an urgent wash and I simply had no alternative but to get it done that afternoon. Perhaps Mr. Toye would care to offer his thoughts and photographs on the afternoon. There again, might I solicit an article from one of our thousands of readers??? (Jonathan may be providing a report shortly. D.T.)
Ardingly Autumn Show.
I love going to shows at Ardingly, there is never a shortage of livestock to inspect (actually there was an acute shortage this year thanks to those nice people at DEFRA) and gadget vendors to bait. I particularly like the gadget vendors because the majority of them are trying to flog some wonder tool that you never knew you could do without (until you actually buy one, that is). A few hapless inventors caught my eye and I gave them a grilling. One stand in particular caused a raised eyebrow or two. This was the stand belonging to Ladder Safety Products. Hello, I thought, here's an opportunity not to be missed as I gazed in wonder at a gentleman nine feet up a ladder with only two small tubes to support his weight.
I engaged him in conversation and he explained that his gadget was a major breakthrough in ladder safety (hence the company's name, I suppose) and would I like to buy one? Nice direct approach!
I checked out this wondrous tool and to my surprise I was actually very impressed with it. The support is called an Ankalad and the company even has a website to promote their products. The salesman explained in layman's terms that the purpose of the Ankalad is to triangulate support for the ladder and make ascending ladders a safe experience. The support can also turn a ladder into a free-standing unit that requires no wall or other structure to lean against. This hit home with me as I am always falling off ladders when I am up them. I was so impressed I bought one there and then! (I bought one at the Game Fair in Broadlands. Works very well. D.T.) The only problem now is that I don't have any excuse not to trim my hedge!
While I am ranting about our government, I read an interesting article by Jonathan Miller in The Sunday Times a few weeks back:- Basically diesel is expensive if you buy it from a petrol station but it becomes very cheap (and probably very illegal!) if you make it at home. Read on for more information:-
Jonathan Miller: My recipe for cheap driving
Our farm was once a refuge for smugglers - shadowy men and their brave, clever ponies. They ran brandy for the parson and baccy for the clerk, transporting it up the Arun and Wey valleys into London. The local legend is that they stashed the contraband in what is now Mrs Miller's closet. Watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by. Smuggling and revenue avoidance flourishes when governments get too greedy, which is perhaps one reason for the popularity of diesel cars, especially in the countryside.
As a convert to diesel motoring, I have not yet succumbed to the temptation of cheating the revenue man, although it is easily done. News filters through to me that the authorities in Wales have arrested motorists running their diesel vehicles on cooking oil. One supermarket in Llanelli confirmed it sold more cooking oil than any other branch in the country.
I am aware of the sensitivity of raising such issues, but this seems to be another example of Welsh folk lagging far behind their English brethren in developing techniques for defeating Customs & Excise (I have no information on Scotland). There are two reasons to doubt that the Welsh have fully thought this through. It is hardly prudent to drive around trailing chip-shop pongs; further, it is not very good for the engine. In any case, the bottom line surely is that the Welsh perpetrators got caught and will doubtless have the book thrown at them, as there is no persecutor as
remorseless as a revenue man scorned.
The moral of the story is never to commit a crime when all the officer must do to apprehend you is draw breath and catch himself thinking of a deep-fried Mars bar. Customs men may not be imaginative but they have all spent enough time around ports to recognise something fishy.
At my house the cooking oil is unsuitable for putting into my car as it is extra virgin olive oil, which I like to mix with some Italian balsamic vinegar for my salads. I bring it back from the Champion supermarché in Calais instead of beer - as far as I know, Customs has not yet put a limit on the amount of olive oil you can import for personal use. As this elixir is already considerably more expensive than the diesel I buy from the local filling station, it would be wasted as motor fuel. But as everyone around here knows, if anyone wishes to cheat the revenue men there are more effective ways.
In the sticks, dodging the excise on motor fuel is a long tradition and it's easy. All of us farmer types have big tanks of red diesel with which to run the machines. Some country folk, I do not doubt, fail to resist the temptation to also fill up their cars with this stuff, which the last time I bought any cost only 22p a litre. This is not, however, a strategy without risk. There is a chance of getting caught, especially if you get grassed up by one of the spiteful, jealous neighbours in which the countryside specialises. Red diesel, which is sold as tractor fuel, really is cherry red. Customs merely has to dip your tank and you are busted.
For years, the favoured technique for taking the dye out of red diesel was to filter it through a 50-gallon drum filled with compacted fiberglass roof insulation. I am informed that this technique worked well until the powers that be ordered a change in the dye from a powder to a solution that resisted the traditional removal technique. This, however, is not the end of the story.
A man who drives a fuel tanker tells me that to produce high-quality diesel motor fuel, known in the trade as gas oil, all you have to do is mix home heating oil with tractor hydraulic oil, in the ratio of three or four parts home heating oil to one part tractor oil. If customs men ever dip, all they find is nice proper diesel. Eureka! And your diesel engine runs like a top.
Hurrah for something interesting on the website for once!
Confused by the jargon used in the Enron case? Frustrated by P/E ratios and other stock index gobbledygook? Well help is at hand, take a look at this website provided by a thoughtful young man who has drawn an object of beauty to guide us all through the financial maze. You will be glad you did!
Does anyone remember Sid Waddell the darts commentator? He was the Northerner who used to come up with such gems as "Unlucky Darts Jockie" or "Jockie you require one hundred and twelvety". A friend of mine has compiled a list of his better known sayings - Mrs. Malaprop would have had a field day, read this little list and enjoy.....
"Bristow reasons . . . Bristow quickens ... Aaah, Bristow."
"Jockey Wilson . . . What an athlete."
"That was like throwing three pickled onions into a thimble!"
"He's about as predictable as a wasp on speed"
"Look at the man go, its like trying to stop a water buffalo with a pea-shooter"
"The atmosphere is so tense, if Elvis walked in, with a portion of chips.......you could hear the vinegar sizzle on them"
"Big Cliff Lazarenko's idea of exercise is sitting in a room with the windows open taking the lid off something cool and fizzy."
"It's like trying to pin down a kangaroo on a trampoline"
"Well as giraffes say, you don't get no leaves unless you stick your neck out"
"His eyes are bulging like the belly of a hungry chaffinch"
"That's the greatest comeback since Lazarus."
"It's the nearest thing to public execution this side of Saudi Arabia."
"His physiognomy is that of a weeping Madonna."
"He's as cool as a prized marrow!"
"Under that heart of stone beat muscles of pure flint."
"He looks about as happy as a penguin in a microwave."
"The pendulum swinging back and forth like a metronome"
"His face is sagging with tension."
"The fans now, with their eyes pierced on the dart board."
"He's been burning the midnight oil at both ends."
"That's like giving Dracula the keys to the blood bank"
"As they say at the DHSS, we're getting the full benefit here."
"He is as slick as minestrone soup"
"There hasn't been this much excitement since the Romans fed the Christians to the Lions."
"The players are under so much duress, it's like duressic park out there!"
"This lad has more checkouts than Tescos."
"John Lowe is striding out like Alexander the Great conquering the Persians"
"When I see Steve Davis I see two letters... C S... Cue Sorceror"
"By the time of the final on Sunday he should be fit to burst!"
"There's only one word for that - magic darts!"
"Keith Deller's not just an underdog, he's an underpuppy!"
"I don't know what he's had for breakfast but Taylor knocked the Snap,Crackle and Pop outta Bristow"
"Even Hypotenuse would have trouble working out these angles"
"Steve Beaton - The adonis of darts, what poise, what elegance - a true roman gladiator with plenty of hair wax."
"If you're round your auntie's tonight, tell her to stop making the cookie's and come thru to the living room and watch these two amazing athletes beat the proverbial house out of each other"
"When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer..... Bristow's only 27."
"Eat your heart out Harold Pinter, we've got drama with a capital D in Essex."
"If we'd had Phil Taylor at Hastings against the Normans, they'd have gone home."
"He's playing out of his pie crust."
"They won't just have to play outta their skin to beat Phil Taylor. They'll have to play outta their essence!"
"Darts players are probably a lot fitter than most footballers in overall body strength."
"There's no one quicker than these two tungsten tossers... "
"Look at him as he takes his stance, like he has been sculptured, whereas Bobby George, with his bad back, looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame."
"He's playing like Robin Hood in the Nottingham super league"
"Phil Taylor's got the consistency of a planet ... and he's in a darts orbit!"
"The atmosphere is a cross between the Munich Beer Festival and the Coliseum when the Christians were on the menu."
"Jockey Wilson, he comes from the valleys and he's chuffing like a choo-choo train!"
"He's like D'Artagnan at the scissor factory."
"Steve Beaton, he's not Adonis, he's THE donis"
Coming next month:-
The immortal memory.
Simon McClean 29th OCtober 2002 last months MR's
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