A couple of months ago I bought a Hot Tuna rucksack for Little Boots. It was blue camo with orange trim and immediately designated as “Epic!”.
We left the shop and were 10 yards away when the zip broke.

So we took it straight back & changed it.

The following day on rucksack number two a zip broke. (it was a different zip – the bag has three).

This time we took it back and since they had no other blue camo bags got a refund.

We tried to interest Little Boots in other bags, even visiting several shops, but to no avail. They just weren’t epic.

So a week later, against my very best judgement bought a third Hot Tuna blue camo rucksack.

Entirely predictably one of the zips broke. Unfortunately it was just over a month from purchase and so too long to be able to take the bag back.

Even if I could have taken it back there seemed little point as we would doubtless just end up with a fourth broken zip.

So I bought a heavy-duty zip and strong thread and spent three hours sewing it in.

Of course Little Boots was delighted and said it was better than ever. I should here mention that the original zips were branded Hot Tuna on the puller and so it wasn’t just a case of them having cheap generic zips.

Whilst the bag owner was chuffed I certainly was not and emailed Hot Tuna explaining the sequence of events that had left me cross and disappointed at their poor quality merchandise. Adding that I was also out of pocket and tired having wasted three hours.

I received an email back from Hot Tuna Customer Services:

“Thank you for your email.
We will endeavour to respond to your query at the earliest opportunity, normally within 1-3 working days.
During busy periods this may be longer, should you need to follow up on this case please quote the reference below:
Reference: CAS-xxxxxxxxxxx
Kind Regards,
Customer Services”

That was a month ago. Mid-way between then and now I sent a second email, received the same automated reply and nothing else.

Now compare this pathetic customer service the great service I got from Moonraker Knives.

I ordered a brass fitting from them for a little project I’m working on. The piece arrived swiftly but had slightly the wrong dimensions. Within hours of my email querying this they replied with an apology and said they would send a replacement out. It swiftly arrived and they told me that I need not return the original piece.

Now THAT is customer service.

Currently I’m reading a book that I heartily recommend and will review in full at some future point. Eric Hanson’s Stranger in the Forest (on foot across Borneo) is remarkably good for many reasons.

One small one that I enjoyed is that I learned something, actually two things. First, that you can create fire from bamboo. Now I have seen on TV people using bamboo to make a “fire plough” but I have never seen, or even heard of making a fire using bamboo and flint. Flint?!

You don’t believe me? This is the excerpt.

“Bo ‘Hok showed me how fire was made before the Penan discovered Bic lighters. He cut a two foot length of green bamboo with his parang and from his tin tobacco box produced a smallish flake of flint. He called it batu api, the fire rock. Holding the flint and a thin mat of tinder between his thumb and first two finger-tips, Bo ‘Hok vigorously struck the smooth surface of the bamboo at an oblique angle. To my astonishment sparks appeared. The tinder soon glowed red in patches and was then placed into a prepared handful of dried fibrous sago bark mixed with ash from burned leaves. This mixture, he explained, was tidak takoot angin, not afraid of the wind. Bo ‘Hok added wood shavings, blew two or three times, and within seconds we had fire,”

As someone who manged to light a fire using flint and steel for the first time last year (that’s flint and STEEL! STEEL, not bamboo. And another thing – it wasn’t exactly simple) I find this astounding. I just can’t see how this works.

Using burned (or part burned) leaves as part of a tinder bundle is also something I’ve never come across either. It makes sense though. Fire dogs (part burned logs) are quick to take when lighting a fire and something we put at the centre of a new fire at home. When we go to a campsite that has fire pits one of the first jobs, once we’ve set the tent up is to go scavenging around old fires for any fire dogs.

Using leaves like this is something I plan to try out soon.

We went away for a short break a few months back and for reading matter I bought the latest issue of Bushcraft Magazine along with the first book from my “to read” book stack. The mag included a piece by Lisa Fenton on The American Frontiersman this included such famed explorers as Henry Kelsey, Samuel Hearne, Alexander MacKenzie and Anthony Henday.

Coincidentally the book, which I’d nabbed without looking at, was Ray Mears’ Northern Wilderness.
The book and the article had plenty of common ground, both featuring Hearne and MacKenzie and others among the American mountain men.

And if that weren’t enough in terms of odd coincidences, I had just the day before we left, finished watching a series on US PBS channel about the expedition of American explorers Lewis and Clarke.

I find this sort of history, both fascinating and awful at the same time. The European explorers were clearly men of resourcefulness and fortitude who achieved some amazing feats. However for me that is wholly tempered by the fact that these were not unpeopled lands and their ventures created the prelude to what feels a lot of the time like a genocidal wave of “progress” under which the First Nations peoples (and they were Nations) suffered massively.

I must confess I find it difficult to separate the two viewpoints.

As is often the case things become even more “real” when one has some personal peg on which to hang it. Mine is that some of my ancestors were called Field, which is the name of two of the members of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and they were doubtless of English stock. And of course many of these people sailed the Atlantic to get away from a society where they were the rural poor and counted for little more than slaves.

All of which was some quite heavy thinking for a jaunty weekend away.

Next time I will take a joke book and The Beano.

We went to a local country show on Sunday. It wasn’t great and mainly seemed like an excuse to extract as much money for as little reward as possible.
However there was some fun to be had. Little Boots tried shooting with an air rifle for the first time, proving to be a pretty good shot. Using a catapult was not so successful, but I wasn’t too bad, which has prompted me to get one out I have at home. I bought it ages ago and have used it about twice, but now plan to see if I can get proficient at it.

The best bit of the day as far as Little Boots was concerned was a stand where you could have a good old ping at some military-style targets using airsoft guns.

This was part of a stand being run by ex-SAS man Bob Podesta and we both enjoyed a session he ran on Fire-lighting Without Matches. A neat little variation on the wire wool and battery method was whipping the face off of a torch and poking the wool in the hole.

I also attend another session Bob ran called Knots You Need To Know. Whilst I was familiar with a couple it did clarify them in my mind (being entirely self-taught) to see someone else tying them. And of course I leant some new ones – The Alpine Butterfly Knot and how to tie a Double Figure Eight Knot off against a post/bar to support climbing/hanging weight.

It was the best thing in the show and of course Little Boots is now claiming to have been trained to light fires by the SAS.

As you will know, for me, the last day of the fishing season is thick with tradition.

This year Saint Xeno saw fit to allow a break with that tradition.

SDC10016

At 6lb 2oz this was a huge uplift in the size of my biggest Chub.

What a day.

Picture 097

Even at my advancing age I am still learning new things. And what is great is that as I pass some of these things on to Little Boots, I am being taught things in return – this weekend the difference between tundra and taiga was explained to me – I had some idea, but it was I confess a bit muddled.

Of course children become their parents’ teachers from an early age, in for example such fundamental knowledge as the joy to be found in simple things and the delight that the world presents to eyes that are unjaded. But there’s another stage where information that you have passed on comes back to you with bells on.

Here’s an example. Whilst camping together LB took charge of lighting the fire. Using a ferro-rod and scraper with a piece of cotton wool as tinder it was fairly simple to get a light, but since we’d camped out in an epic thunderstorm getting the fire to “catch” was proving difficult. So I explained a little cheat. By taking a ball of cotton wool and smearing it with Vaseline, a firelighter is created that burns longer and hotter than the wool alone. This quickly did the trick and as we watched the flames take hold I explained that if Vaseline wasn’t available in an emergency you could mash lip salve, or even lipstick into cotton wool to to get the same result.

This came back to me when Little Boots conveyed this information to my OH with the added suggestion that in a survival situation where you didn’t have cotton wool you could collect sheep’s wool from barbed wire fences. This was a great idea and innovation. Whether it would work I don’t know and we will have to test it, which seeing’s that LB loves to pick scraps of wool off of wire fences when we are out wombling, shouldn’t be hard.

So what have I myself learned lately? Well lots of things, most of them not worth knowing, but there are two that will be of use when are out wombling and having adventures.

The first is that in order to make as quiet as sound as possible when whispering do so only after completely exhaling. This does work, though I think maybe only marginally. The difference is probably more marked if you are short of breath from running or something. This tip I picked up from Dead Centre by Ed Kugler, which is the autobiography of a Viet-era US marine sniper.

The second tip comes from another book, but one that is several worlds away from the aforementioned biography. Wanderings With The Woodman by Hugh Brandon-Cox. It’s a romanticised ramble through an English countryside that’s long gone, if it ever existed at all. The tip here is how to estimate the height of a tree – it goes thus – Stand with your back o the tree. Walk away from the tree, stopping from time to time to bend over and look through your open legs back at the tree. When you get to the point at which you can just see the top twigs from between your legs, mark that point by pushing a stick into the ground. The distance from tree to stick is the height of the tree. Of course you need to know the length of your foot or your stride in order to measure this distance. This seems like a simple method and I was prepared to accept in on trust until I read a couple more things later in the book. Firstly that pike go to sea to spawn and at that time estuaries are full of them. Whilst I admit the pike is not a fish I know much about I am very sceptical of that idea. The second thing is something I do know quite a lot about – wood and fire. The author quite rightly says that Ash is one of the best fuels and also, quite rightly that it will burn when green (that is freshly cut). But he says this is because it is so dry. This is not correct. Whilst it is not as wet when cut, as say sycamore, it is not especially dry. No, the reason Ash will burn when freshly cut is because is that it contains oil, it is after all a relative of the olive. So I am therefore a bit doubtful of the veracity of the tree height method.

That said, having found out a little about the author I won’t discount it entirely.

I think a field test is called for.

Over the weeks of the school hols Little Boots has crossed off a few more entries from the National Trust “Things To Do” list.

I queried one ‘Go Bird-watching’ (number 44).

“We’ve never been bird watching”, I said.

“But we’ve watched lots of birds”, came the reply. Woodpeckers and nuthatches were cited and true enough on a walk a couple of years ago we’d spied a nuthatch and earlier this year we were very close to a woodpecker (a Lesser Spotted one we later discovered – barred back) and watched him for some time as he searched a tree for food, just a couple of yards from the path where we stood.

“And the Wagtails” added Little Boots.

Immediately my mind went back to late May when, taking advantage of the only dry day of a soggy Bank Holiday weekend, Little Boots and I set off for a womble. We took a route that was new to us identifying trees and plants as we went. Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness books have made knowledge of trees and such pretty cool indeed. Cutting across a field and over a railway crossing brought us back to more familiar territory. With a view to making some casts of animal tracks we explored the waters’ edge of a couple of old gravel pits. This did not yield any good prints, but LB did find some coins no doubt dropped by some bivvying angler. Almost enough to buy a bag of elastic bands, since weaving them into bracelets was the latest craze. We wove back towards the village before joining the riverside path. Insects, mayflies mostly, were visible in the sunlight hatching and dapping the water’s surface as they completed their cycle of life. Whist we ambled along I showed the munchkin some mayflies clinging to reeds as the sun dried their wings. This wasn’t deemed very impressive, and so I explained Duffer’s Fortnight, which did at least raise a snort of amusement.

By now we had reached a bridge and stopped beneath it for something to eat a drink. Not that Little Boots needed the latter, having been sipping all along from a long-wished for camelback. It had been my hope that we would see a fish rising to take a fly. A Brown Trout perhaps, I knew there was at least one in here, or more likely a Chub.

That wasn’t to be, but we did see something pretty amazing as we stood eating and contemplating the river. A pair of yellow-chested birds, their long tails hanging down, were perched on reeds that stuck out from the opposite bank. We watched them flitting back and forth searching for hatching flies and acrobatically taking them on the wing. At one point one came within four feet of us, spinning and hovering at the same moment as it snipped its target from the air. Occasionally one of the birds would disappear up under the bridge. “There must be a nest up there” said Little Boots. I agreed, adding that I thought that they might be reed warblers.

How wrong I was. When we get home I looked them up in our bird book and found that they were in fact Yellow Wagtails. A summer visitor to this country the book said and that “Observers of the yellow wagtail are lucky to get within 50 yards of this extremely cautious bird….The nest is particularly difficult to find even when parents carrying food for their young are watched. Rather than reveal the nest site, the adults will refuse to deliver the meal until the danger has passed or the intruders have gone away.”

When I told LB this it was met with a widening of the eyes that always greets something special.

Even more special I now realise, having subsequently read that their numbers are on the decline.

 

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