Monday, 01 March 2021

Week six of lockdown diaries featuring a short story, fresh start and a pheasant

Week six of lockdown diaries featuring a short story, fresh start and a pheasant

AUTHOR Julie Roberts lives in Ridgeway, Caversham. She is a member of the Chiltern Writers, who write a weekly piece of flash fiction based on six random words that should be included in each piece of writing. Last week they were: water, buddleia, ecstatic, burglar, wallpaper and radiator.

I ALWAYS decide on an opening word for these random writing exercises. This time it was water. I found when I started, this word had a dominant power over my thoughts. I succumbed: Here is what happened. It’s called

Raindrops and Sunlight.

WATER is a life resource of our planet. This is the simplest story: droplets of rain seeps down through the dirt, sand or shingle filling the streams, lakes and rivers that are nature’s drainage system to the sea. Clouds gather the droplets from the sea like a bucket and when ready drenches the land. It is a never-ending cycle of time.

But it is more complicated: On its journey it nourishes the soil, which in its turn feeds every living thing on Earth. From the highest mountain to the low hillocks of the lowlands water will eventually find the sea. Another never-ending cycle of time.

Water can also be our enemy. How much can, and for how long, clouds send forth their army of droplets fighting their way to the narrowest stream and the widest beaches! The deluge increases in volume, pushing ever faster until the mass becomes a wall. The droplets spread out across the fields searching for any pin hole in the sandbag barriers, a weak crack in a brick, a badly fitting door. The march of the droplets climbs higher, seeking any new level to help those behind them. They swirl becoming a killing mass.

Ice is fresh water, trapped in the northern and southern tips of our planet. And annually, in the summer, the ice edge slides or crashes into the salty seas of Greenland and Antarctica. But part of this loss must be replaced each winter or the stability of ice shelves and glaciers will weaken, break away and the oceans of the world will creep and rise onto the lands of the continents. Water World is a science fiction film and will not become reality.

Sun is our mother star. Earth takes twelve months to orbit this massive molten furnace that spews light and warmth to its rotating close worlds — Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars – known as terrestrial planets.

Earth, tilted on its axis, has settled in a pattern of four seasons — spring, summer, autumn and winter. Each producing temperatures like a sliding scale, warmth and cold in varying degrees.

But now our planet’s own natural protection is failing. A percentage of Greenhouse Gases are retained naturally for heat. But the quantity has increased beyond nature’s capability to use the excess gas, and this will, in time, become the killer and master of our world. The victory over this evil enemy lays in the hands of all humans.

So, between raindrops and sunlight the Earth has arrived at a stalemate: an equilibrium.

Our two elements that have ruled since the dawn of creation may decide to join forces and that may be the end of Earth’s humankind forever.Or maybe the ants will take over the world.

JANE MATHER lives with her husband Rev Dr James Mather and Thwaite, their “irrepressibly bumptious and, frankly troublesome” border terrier, whom they adore.

“HASN’T he filled out,” said Cheryl tactfully when she came to clean the outbuildings after a 12-week absence thanks to the coronavirus lockdown. “Your dog has put on weight — he is now 10kg,” said the vet somewhat more to the point when we had an emergency visit last week. Thwaite is fine, it was just me that had the panic.

The truth is that both Thwaite and I have put on weight. We have discovered choc ices. I eat the chocolate on the outside and Thwaite has half the vanilla ice cream. This is a disaster for both of us but worse for Thwaite who has increased his body weight by 10 per cent — horrors.

We are both off to boot camp with two walks a day with any other single person who is prepared to accompany us. I have recruited Christine from Gallowstree Common and Viv from Caversham Heights so far — any other offers gratefully received.

Now I have to tell you about Thwaite’s pheasant. It only became his pheasant once it got stuck in the holly hedge and he “killed” it. Actually, Caroline thinks it died of shock — poor bird.

Anyway, in time of war don’t pass up the opportunity of roast pheasant. So it was hung outside the kitchen door for six days. It died on January 22 and was hung outside the kitchen until Jan 28 but it was really cold so didn’t produce maggots or flies or any other horrors.

On the 28th, I plucked it, or whatever the technical term is for getting rid of feathers on the outside, and took care of the innards on the inside.

Thwaite took a great deal of interest in the feathers — they must have tasted gamey. I looked up a recipe using a clay cooking pot, covered it in two glasses of burgundy and Greek yoghurt and left it in the oven whilst I went upstairs to struggle with the local veg bookkeeping. Local veg got sorted and the pheasant was well overcooked.

Never mind, I trotted it round to my parents that night to find that they had already cooked sausages. In the end we had sausages and pheasant and my Dad (aged 83 and fighting Alzheimers with grace and humour) kept saying “What a party” and “Oh I am enjoying myself” and “yes, please” when offered the particularly leathery remains of the bacon which had been used to cover the bird in the clay pot.

“How long did you cook it for darling?” asked my mum, also aged 83 and recovering from a particularly nasty bad back. “I normally roast a pheasant for 20 minutes.”

I replied saying this this one was in the oven for an hour and a half — no wonder it was a bit charred round the edges. No-one complained when I suggested I take the remains home to Withy Copse and Thwaite has been feasting on it ever since. So it really is Thwaite’s pheasant.

GILLIAN NAHUM lives in Henley with her husband Steve. She is a boating enthusiast and founded Henley Sales & Charter in 1992.

YULETIDE festivities may have been somewhat subdued but I was delighted to receive a playful paddle wheel-driven catamaran complete with picnic, snorkelling gear and hound. And I was not the only one to receive a boat for Christmas as I sold two boats in the week prior to December 25th.

As arms are duly vaccinated our lives are newly injected with a fresh sense of optimism for a sunlit spring with plentiful boating opportunities.

I had managed to squeeze in a sales trip to the frozen north in mid-December when I was lucky enough to enjoy four days of peace and luxury at the Storrs Hall Hotel. Normally when I have some business excuse to spend time in Cumbria I enjoy a comfortable and convivial stay with friends. However, on this occasion I felt moved to abide by the government guidelines and adhere to the “no overnight stay” ruling in tier two.

My disappointment soon dissolved as I settled into a bedroom tastefully decorated with antique furniture — so much more interesting than the corporate beige which dominates hotel décor these days - complete with desk, comfy bed and, more importantly, a lake view.

As you can imagine Storrs Hall has received some of the Lakeland greats during its 220 years of offering hospitality since Sir John Legard, a Yorkshire landowner crossed the pennines to build his mansion within 17 acres of lakeside land in the 1790s.

It was he who built a boathouse there to house his sailing boat The Victory as well as the Temple of Heroes dedicated to Admirals Duncan, Nelson, Howe and St Vincent. In 1804 the gout ridden peer moved out as boating became too painful and sold the “Capital Mansion and Estate, well worthy of the attention of any gentleman who wishes to possess one of the most desirable small properties in the kingdom”.

It was in fact bought by a Mr Watts who was John Constable's uncle. However, he flipped it, as we would say in modern parlance, offloading ownership to John Bolton, a local lad who made good as a Liverpool merchant. He apparently enjoyed not only sailing but also moonlight boating and great regattas.

I arrived back in time to greet our Dutch suppliers, who had decided to skip the post-Brexit paperwork, and sneak in on December 17/18 with the latest iteration of the fabulous PTS 26 built to order for another discerning Chichester harbour-based customer.

We will be launching her at Northney Marina on Hayling Island in March, by which time life should be looking a bit more normal.

The arrival of a container at Beale Park boat store was a first. I was kitted out in my winter warmers as this truly amazing lorry arrived to offload the container. It put our gantries to shame.

Loading a fantail into the container was a little less elegant as we heaved a ton of boat and battery up a pair of planks and into the container, before Andrew slid along the polished bamboo floor wearing an elegant head torch to strap the boat down.

That same morning another first took place at the yard, as I glided silently in through the gates in my new all-electric “spaceship”.

BMW don’t need me to tell you just how fantastic it feels to be driving along in complete silence, with no further need to comment on rising fuel prices, and garages now seem to me as redundant as relics of a bygone era.

Talking of bygone eras and relics brings me on to some excellent news.

Rumours of the sale of the Hobbs — Wargrave Road boatyard buildings and facilities were finally confirmed and I feel that we in the traditional boat sector should commend and congratulate Adam Toop for his investment.

Adam is a hard-bitten enthusiast who has indulged his passion for craftsmanship and nautical beauty since being a successful telecoms professional brought him enough spare cash to dream.

A few years ago Adam agreed to be the custodian of Bill and Penny Rose’s wonderful collection of Thames craft and ephemera.

The Wargrave road site will be home to the Rose Toop collection and will have a number of newly created moorings for Adam’s own boats with a few additional moorings available to rent by owners with other important classic boats which complement the collection.

Some of you may have met Adam in his smart blazer atop a Pashley bicycle at the Thames Traditional Boat Festival, where he is co-chair alongside the redoubtable Lady Judy McAlpine.

Bill and Penny Rose are known to those of us of a certain age as the face and the power behind the original Phillips, and subsequent Bonhams, classic boat auction. I still use the auction catalogues to research boats which cross my path knowing that Bill and Penny did their research very thoroughly.

I first met them in 1987 when I was working for Neptune Yachts and my boss was hoping to sell his beaver stern Taylor Bates Sapphire.

We had used her to create the mould tool for what became known as the Sapphire Launch. The first boat out of the mould was Scarlet Lady, which lives now in central Henley and still looks as elegant as the day she came out of the mould.

Entertaining and enjoyment with friends afloat should be back on the agenda this coming summer, and we may find ourselves able to frequent the sorely missed summer events such as the Thames Traditional Boat Festival, the royal regatta and the Henley Festival, to name but a few of the highlights of our local calendar.

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