Saturday, 28 April 2012

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Night time visits to the orchard revealed the planets in a strangely bright alignment. Was this an omen? We were to leave before first light, chauffeured by Dr. Bobski. But before first light, up and cooking bacon in the Aga, I answered the phone to an apologetic Frau Bobski.
“The good Doctor is ill.”
“Not shamming?”
“Not shamming.”
“Then wish him a speedy recovery.”
“You will still go?”
“Of course. We must.”
The vehicle was loaded. The forecast was as good as we would get . The time was our own. And, most importantly of all, the seed of an idea was planted, had germinated and was growing into an adventure – a question mark which needed an answering exclamation. Without our chauffeur, we drove in a mist – layered dawn as far North as we could get - Yeddingham. North of here could not be guaranteed to provide a depth of water. So the daily depth surveys on the Environment Agency’s website showed.
The Derwent, North to South. That was the idea. There is only one man to call with such ideas – the Companion. His answer is always yes. So it was.
“By canoe.”
“You don’t have a canoe.”
“We’ll buy one.”
Adventure is bought cheaply at your local Decathlon. For a couple of hundred pounds we equipped ourselves with a canoe, paddles, life jackets and two large waterproof stow bags. We were immediately impressed with the inflatable canoes over the solid kayaks. More practical, we reasoned. We won’t have to buy a roof rack. We were even more impressed by the young lady who helped us with our purchases.
“How far can you go in a day?” we ask.
“Depends how hard you paddle.”
“Well, what will be our likely speed?”
“Probably about walking pace.”
“2 and a half miles an hour....”
“Or thereabouts. Plus rests.”
“Two miles an hour then,” said the Companion, “times, say, ten or eleven hours. Twenty odd miles.” “Ten hours?” The young lady raised one eyebrow. We liked that.
“Have you done this before?” she asked.
“No,” we chorused.
Up went the eyebrow again. We liked that.
And so to Yeddingham. Two innocents, against the mighty Derwent. The publican at Yeddingham (The Providence Inn – or The Prov as it is known and recommended) kindly let us launch from his camping ground. As we pumped away with the hand pump to inflate the canoe, a local emerged to quiz us about our intentions. Previous adventures with the Companion have been magnetic to nutters – the man about to jump from a bridge over the M5, the Ostler who’d been everywhere and done everything, even when our prompts became ludicrous. There’s a long list. Would this very early morning acquaintance be added?
“I’ve had a few personal problems, “ he began.
A lightning exchange of glances between the Companion and I. Not a propitious start.
“But I’ve given up the drink now, and the weed............... more or less anyway.” He coughed through a rollie. “Now, I’ve got me van, and if you two need picking up anywhere, just call, and I’ll come down in me van and get you.” He gave us his tradesman’s card. Flabbergasted by this dawn act of kindness, we spluttered an astonished thank you. “Good luck,” he said, got in his van and went. No addition to the list, then.
Our maiden launch is into a straight black line of Derwent, running west through a deep cut in the field system, more a dyke than a river. Within moments, the river transforms our world to a new, magical perspective. Mist lays in patches on its surface. Ahead of us, the fizzing blue neon of a kingfisher whizzes away, waits for us, then shoots off again. Short eared owls, give up their perches and wearily flap away - big birds, normally unseen. Buzzards mew above. Their cry sounds to me like the cry of the bird world’s wimps. You’d think buzzards would be the hard men of Britain’s skies. But they get pushed around something rotten by Rooks. And the rooks’ mocking cries are flung after the buzzards’ departures. Outlined in a patch of mist is a deer, come down to the river to drink. A roe buck. We are quiet, paddles amidships. We glide towards him. When we are about twenty feet away, he makes off. Because of the river banks, we are looking up at him. It feels like a rare intimacy.
The OS maps tell us we should soon start a long loop south and south east, and when we meet the River Rye, flowing in from the right, we feel like pioneers who’ve reached a new frontier. We pee, in celebration. We are making four miles an hour. Take that, Decathlon girl.
Now we are in what really feels like a river. It is the colour of hot chocolate. The banks are ill defined, willows breaking up their line. Then, suddenly, a park bench, noticeably more litter, and we are going through Malton. Some fishermen ask us how far we’re going. When we tell them, they say “hope you’ve got some beers aboard.” We haven’t. A smart arse calls to us: “you’ll have to paddle faster than that to get in the Olympics.” We wave. Then we rehearse what should have been our rejoinders. They stick, like the muddy river around a log, to a very dense knot of obscenities.
Beyond the town I say “you take the gun”. This is a code. It comes from Ejnar Mikkelsen’s epic Two Against The Ice – the tale of two explorers who return to Scoresby Sound in East Greenland in 1910 too late for their ship, and thus are forced to overwinter there. The story is dominated by their extreme hunger. At one point, one of them says to the other, “you take the gun”, unable to trust himself not to shoot and eat his companion. We get out of the water, drag the canoe up the bank, secure it, and become immediately shivering cold. We eat a few snacks and plan a brew up for the next stop. Once paddling again, the effort warms us. But any stop, and we are immediately freezing. At Hutton, the skies darken. We pass under the incongruous suspension bridge there. Someone’s folly. Reaching Crambeck seems to take forever. Woods close in both sides of the river. The water is dark, evil looking. “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came,” I say. The Companion answers with a mad increase in paddling tempo, and begins to sing. This would be ok if the paddle strokes matched the rhythm of his song. They don’t. We are both honestly tiring, though neither of us will admit it. We stop and brew on the Trangia stove. The hot black coffee is like nectar. To cheer us, under the black sky, and ominous vale, I tell the story of the curse of Kirkham, as we approach it. No male heir shall ever inherit happiness . We ponder that as we pass the demesne of Howsham, on the market for five and a half million, curse and all.
Now we are in weir land, and across three, we break our virginity in porterage. Such a gentile sounding word. The reality is so different. Moving like old men, we struggle with fine motor skills and strain our shivering muscles to hoick out the boat and pull it beyond the weir. “Never again,” we pant. “There’s got to be an easier way.” We had forgotten to open the drain plug. Weirs two and three, and we keep the boat in the water, and hold onto it with a line from the bank. Much more efficient, though the force of the water down the weirs threatens to pull us in. We stumble about, shaking with cold, just about managing it. By weir three, we are thinking “maybe we should shoot it.” But we are new to all of this, and discretion seems the better part of valour.
Between Scrayingham and Stamford Bridge, the river is overgrown. Fallen trees all but block it. Debris and scum collects around them, so that our progress is terribly slow, and consists not of paddling, but of manhandling ourselves through dense webs of branches, snapping here, pruning there, ripping our faces with evil branches snapping back into us. We worry about the integrity of the inflatable, and wish, amongst all our other junk aboard, we’d stowed the brush hook.
After ten hours paddling, and twenty six miles of river we come to Stamford Bridge, site of the first battle of 1066, and the end of our battle with the river. We are all in. We just about manage to get ourselves and the boat out of the river and we discover the drain plug. But we’re too cold to take any joy in the discovery. We just need the Missus to appear in the car before we both go down with hypothermia. Our shivering is extreme. God knows how we manage it, but we deflate the canoe and transport it and all our kit half a mile up a footpath to the road. When the Missus appears she grumbles about our inconveniencing her. She does not realize how far gone we are. Ten more minutes of waiting and I’d have been calling an ambulance. But we recover, and now ready ourselves for the rest of the river another day.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


By popular demand:


Decide if you are making red (spicy) or white (very full of chicken flavour and rich and creamy) and follow relevant instructions for your choice
Ingredients are given in CAPITALS so you can see at a glance what you need
Fry PANCETTA on quite a high heat in a large frying pan. You can see when its done as it starts to turn colour. Don't overdo it.
Red version - you can now add sliced chorizo if you want.
Chop at least 2 ONIONS. Add to the pancetta and transfer to a lowish heat, cover and fry in OIL till translucent, soft and sweet.
Add LEEK, sliced, and fry
Red version, now add SWEET AND HOT SMOKED PAPRIKA (about a teaspoon or so of each)
White version - omit this.
Add RISOTTO RICEto cover all the other ingredients
White version, add two further chocken stock cubes
Stir it all in together. Leave to cook gently, uncovered.
Simmer until the rice is cooked, being careful to stir just enough that the thing doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. You need to keep an eye on it and turn it over occasionally or it will burn.
White version, thinly slice a SOFT CHEESE, ideally Taleggio / Brie, and add the thin cheese slices, spreading them over the surface and mixing them in to melt in with the other ingredients. You can use Parmesan but it won't be as good.
Season with salt and pepper, tasting to test the seasoning. Don't overdo the pepper. You can't get rid of it once its in.
Red version will benefit from a squeeze of lemon juice and a swirl of olive oil to finish
White version, just a swirl of oil. If you're feeling really indulgent, or if you have used Parmesan rather than a softer cheese, then add a swirl of CREME FRAICHE.
Serve with a good crisp salad, mainly greenery.
And plenty of wine.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


  • L'Appartement
  • Panj é asr‎
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • The Wicker Man
  • The Time that Remains
  • The Visitor

'Tis the gift to be simple
'Tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
It will be in the valley of love and delight

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right

Saturday, 7 April 2012


Skydiving has moved on a bit since I last jumped.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


Why don't birds collide?