Monday, 28 February 2011


Some of the first things to emerge from my new workshop have been some handmade trotting floats for catching Grayling, the lady of the river. There's something very satisfying in catching fish on tackle you have made yourself. Certainly beats using some of the soul-less plastic rubbish found in most tackle shops these days.

Grayling mostly feed on the bottom of the river preferring gravel bottoms where the current stirs up lovely fresh water shrimps and other aquatic insect life for them to munch on. Usually you can catch these beautiful fish using a fly fishing technique known as Czech Nymph-ing where you basically bounce a fast sinking nymph type fly along the bottom of your chosen swim and feel for the characteristic bite through the line.

Trotting a float down river is so much more relaxing though. The very first time I tried this baby on my local stretch of the River Derwent at Darley Dale in Derbyshire (that's a lot of D's), I chose a relatively slow moving strech of water that dropped off to a deep swim just before a sharp bend. I adjusted the distance of the float from the bait so the two maggots on the hook just grazed the bottom as the rig drifted downstream naturally with the current. They take a lot of shot these floats which helps keep the bait down near the ground. This first batch are made using balsa on cane stems. The next lot will be made from cork I think. More of them in a future post.

The first fish, early that cold February morning, was a Brown Trout, accidently as it's out of season at the moment, but a good size. This was followed steadily through the morning by no less than seven Grayling, all a decent size, one at over a pound and a half. Very pleased with that and my little float.

I didn't have anything to put these Avon style floats in so rather than buy a box I decided to make one and craft a marquetry beech veneer front and plain beech veneer back to spice it up a bit. A few coats of varnish later and it's not turned out too bad. The others will be better though (I'm going to make quite a few).

I'm not usually bothered by the weather but I prefer to go fishing when it's at least not pissing down with rain all day. I'll have to grab an afternoon this week if I can, weather and work permitting.

Anyway, here's the next in the chicken gang line-up, Violet. This hen is probably the friendliest chicken of them all and will regularly jump onto my knee for a chat and some corn.

She was in charge at the start and made no bones about keeping the others in check with a peck or two. She's much more subdued now Louis (official name Louis the First)  is in charge of his hareem on his side of the orchard, but Violet is still the boss of the hens.

Friday, 25 February 2011


Being self employed means you on a constant rollercoaster, time-wise and financially. When you're busy you tend to work the clock round, trying to grab bits of time to yourself when you can, but at least you're solvent and worry less about money (providing your clients pay you!) When you're not busy, like now, the day stretches ahead like a long dry river bed. Some jobs loiter just on the horizon, teasingly close but unconfirmed so not worth the paper they're printed on yet.

I've been thinking about jumping ship from my little business for a while now. I could see things changing well before the 'recession' hit. Obviously it just couldn't go on as well as it had been going. The bubble had to burst eventually.

Like a lot of people though, I have been a bit slow in changing track. The plan had been to set something else up, completely different to what I'm doing now, which would hopefully have been up and running by the time my current work dried up (which is related to the construction industry!!!)

When the work was coming in thick and fast there was never any extra time to embark on such an enterprise. Now though, over the past few months, I've found myself with much more 'free' time to dwell on, well, what now?

I found out last week that a really nice guy I used to work with years ago had passed away after a long battle with cancer, just at the kind of age you'd be at when contemplating retirement. When you could finally do some of the things in life you've always wanted to do but never had the time, cash, or freedom to achieve. This chap did do a lot of cool stuff though when he was here but it still seems very unfair that he went so early when he'd planned to do so much more. Nice guy, sadly missed.

Sad events like this make you think about not wasting precious time and about spending the time you do have in doing things that are rewarding and that you enjoy. Not easy to do I know when you're on the treadmill.

So now, for the time being, whilst the work dribbles in, I can be found in my new hovel - the 'workshop'.

This used to be my old vespa shed but has recently been filled with timber and tools. Insulated with bubble wrap and clad in ply so nice and snug inside.

So many ideas buzzing inside my head about what I can make in here. I've already begun making handmade fishing floats and float boxes to put 'em in. Also loads of 'prototypes' line the workshop shelves and sketches for various bits of furniture are pinned to the wall.

I've always enjoyed working with timber but have never really had the space. Now I do, the screwfix and machine mart catalogues have become the new porn! I find myself looking at various technical and potentially lethal looking electric chop-saws, planers, routers, table saws etc., with unhealthy interest. I am officially over 40!!!!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Mud and Oomska

So much rain has drenched the plot just lately that I squelch and slip my way to the chickens morning and night in a gloomy mood. This isn't helped by being harassed by the sheep, turkeys and chickens on the plot opposite who baaa, cluck and squawk for at me from behind their fencing. I occasionally catch one of the owners leghorn hens in the orchard looking for my chooks food as it has learnt (very clever those leghorns) how to negotiate the wire fencing that surrounds my birds little garden.

I think the guy who owns this plot has abandoned his livestock. They never seem to have any water or food and generally look neglected. This bothers me so much I've been buying extra corn for his birds and a loaf of bread every other day for the sheep which they greedily devour. I really need to have a word with this chap to see if he's going to let this continue but I know I'll come across as a 'nosy neighbour' and probably offend him.

Anyway the weather is so grim I've dug out some more pics from summer to cheer me up and show what the plot CAN look like in a bit of summer sun...

...when the orchard has more lush grass and clover than the current quagmire of mud.

By the way here's the next profile of the chicken gang - Fran.

Fran was also one of the original four birds. Always the one with the most investigative personality, I knew I'd have my hands full with this one. Before the arrival of the roosters, she was relentlessly picked on by the two red hens and was definately the bottom of the pecking order so I've always been very protective of her. Nowadays she receives 'special' attention from Louis, the cockerel in her coop and has risen in the ranks, picking on the younger bird in this troop. She still gives me the runaround at dusk, always the last one in this bird, eeking every last ounce of light from the day.

Here's some shots of her sister hen, Claudia, shown previously, with her little brood last May. Hard to believe that less than a year on they are fully grown and have characters of their own.

This one is from the very night they were born...

The protective Mum...

Claudia would lure them outside once I'd added the little run I'd built for them...

Little monkeys...

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Chicken Gang

So here's an introduction to my chooks. I name all my birds. It's only right that I do since they all have such individual characters and personalities. Since keeping chickens myself I now have a healthy respect for poultry and a genuine concern for how they are kept and their general welfare. So much so that when my partner came home with an Asda chicken for Sunday lunch last week I refused to eat it on the grounds that it wasn't free range or corn fed. I just had the veg. I don't think I missed having a few slices of chicken on my plate. I'd have no pleasure in eating a bird that had no quality of life not now I know how poorly broilers and battery hens are kept. I must point out that my birds are egg layers only, not for the table, no way. That would be like eating a pet or a small child.

Anyway here they are. I'll post one at a time over the next few weeks.

This is Claudia. She is one of the original four birds I bought from a breeder up the road. She's a Maran Hybrid and the largest of the original four. I got four hens to start with (I designed the coop to hold up to ten) to see how we got on. Two Maran Hybrids and two Baker Browns which are your typical red hen. All were POL (point of lay) so were fairly mature and started laying within two days of arriving which was fantastic. Cracking open that first egg and seeing the difference in colour, BRIGHT orange, and the white making a perfect circle in the frying pan. Amazing.

Claudia is the one hen who has managed to actually lay two eggs in one day! She is also the only one of my hens so far to lay a 'double yolker'.

I went for hybrids mainly because they were supposed to have had things like broodyness bred out of them. Claudia was the exception here though as she used to constantly get broody and just sit for days, even weeks on end in the nest box in a catatonic trance.

I eventually gave in to her and managed to get some fertilised Copper Blue and Copper Black Maran eggs from a guy on the plot opposite for her to 'sit on' and satisfy her maternal instincts. I even built her a 'maternity unit' dubbed MASH, where she could raise her brood.

More of that to follow...

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Trouble At Mill...

I went to another allotment committee meeting last night and caused another argument... Honestly I don't think I'm cut out for politics. Maybe my people skills could do with polishing up. I tend to blurt out what's on my mind especially if I'm particularly annoyed or wound up about something.

Last year I had the dubious honour of being elected onto the committee perhaps in the naive hope that my contribution as the youngest member might help to effect some improvements to the site.

Those of you who are or have been on a waiting list for an allotment for literally years, look away now...

Believe it or not this is a 'live' plot and has been allowed to stay like this for years whilst people wait for a chance to grow there own veg. O.k., it's winter but some of the plots look like this in the height of summer too!

Piles of rat infested rubbish litter some of the plots...

And poultry is kept in the most appauling conditions, even in greenhouses where they bake in summer and freeze in winter.

Why is this allowed to happen? Because the committee really does not want to know, like an aquarium full of toothless sharks - they have no bite. Saying that some of the members are threatened with eviction if they break the rules but not everyone is required to adhere to them. Some can do what they please whilst others seem to be picked on, usually the decent sorts who don't make much of a fuss. Selective rules. Very unfair.

There's also been another spate of thefts, tools and equipment mainly, but sometimes produce too (how bad is that, actually stealing someone else's food?). It is largely recognised (though not proved) that the culprits are other members. I've set some tempting traps to see if I can catch them myself (not mantraps or pits with pungy sticks I hasten to add, tempting though that may be)...

I wonder how many of you have these problems on your site, whether you are a disenchanted part of a mock committee or just a gardener wanting to grow some veg for your dinner.