January 2013

Back on the book front and I’m just reaching the end of Josie Drew. The last few pages are made up of a series of lists: Full Bike spec., Equipment spec (panniers, tent, sleeping bag etc.) Kitchen kit, Clothing, Washbag/First Aid, “Other Paraphernalia” and finally bicycle tools and bicycle bits.

Clearly cycling around the UK coast requires a fair amount of equipment, both for the individual and the bike. It also provides you with the means to carry much more gear than you could on two legs. That said, I guess you’d still want to keep the weight down as low as possible, and Josie does include a few items that I don’t think I’d add to my burden, not least of all an Oxford minidictionary

I must confess to an inner trainspotter that loves lists of kit which people take with them on adventures. There’s a foreign fishing one somewhere which I can’t trace (Charles Rangeley-Wilson? John Bailey?).

Sad I know, but this sort of inventory is something I can’t help finding fascinating. This may have started with The Usborne Outdoor Book I mentioned a few posts back, which has lists of kit for cycling, camping, exploring, plus cooking and clothing inventories for doing so. It also has two emergency kits which is perhaps not surprising because the book is made up of material from three smaller guides. What is interesting is that the two kits vary quite a bit. But then I guess that depends to some degree on the activity and the environment to and in which the kit is being taken. There are common items – torch, penknife, safety pins, matches, needle and thread, string, scissors, first aid supplies.

Another book I have mentioned in the past, Practical Outdoor Projects by Len McDougall includes a “Soap Dish Survival Kit” which includes some, but not all of these items and adds compass/map, fishing line/hooks and tweezers, plus “Your choices of other survival equipment”, which kind of backs up my point about activity and environment, but also opens the door to all sorts of crazy possibilities.

As an aside, Len’s suggestion to use a plastic soapdish to keep the gear in as a good one, because they are a handy size, robust and relatively waterproof.

Not long ago I read Country Hearts by renowned angler Fred J Taylor (whispers – it was a bit rubbish) and it tells of how, after getting lost in a wilderness area, he used to carry “a small bag of survival equipment. It holds two disposable lighters (in case one gets lost), a very sharp penknife, a stub of candle with three vesta matches embedded in the was, a magnifying glass, a small compass, a sacking needle and a length of waxed twine, two nails, a big safety pin, half a dozen aspirins, a small roll of adhesive tape and a miniature bottle of Scotch.”

(I’m puzzled by the nails)

Of course Fred did go fishing and hunting in the US and Australia, where it is easily possible to get into a difficult and potentially life-threatening situation and I assumed that he only took bag on his trips to the Aussie Outback, or American Backcountry, and not on, say, a trip to the Hampshire Avon. But then again perhaps he did. After all, experience has taught me, emergencies can crop up anywhere. Indeed, it’s there very nature to do so.

When we go for a wander in the woods, or fishing, or whatever, I’m not particularly prepared, but I usually have a small first aid kit with me, always a knife of some kind and often some string. The latter is rarely deliberate, but I somehow have a knack of accumulating bits of string in my pockets.

Being out in the snow recently did make me think I should put something a bit more organised together. But the danger is in getting carried away. You could end up with a mass of stuff, like some demented prepper. Simplicity is the key.

So what, I’m thinking, should I include in this kit?



The other day I spotted this sticker and took a quick snap. I had no idea what “Defend New Orleans” was all about and am still not much the wiser, although I have established that it’s a clothing brand.

What puzzles me though is how the sticker ended up on a canalside bollard in the home counties, when the brand doesn’t appear to have any outlets in the UK.

Still, as I’ve often said. strange things happen by the water.


The week before last week, as the Christmas holidays petered out, I picked up, from a local charity shop, Slow Coast Home by Josie Dew.

Humorous travel books are pretty much a genre in their own right and I do own a fair number of them. Consequently I was a touch surprised not to have heard of the author, who has a number of books to her name. Even more so as she seems to be quite well known, particularly in cycling circles; certainly in the book people keep recognising her. I’m currently about a third of the way through it, although on the page Josie hasn’t got very far in her journey around the British coast.

Whilst on a visit to a wartime museum in the Channel Islands she writes of a display including some rather patronising instructions to housewives on the timings for Hay Box Cookery. Although plainly something culinary I had no idea what this actually was. But by astounding coincidence the same day that I’d read that, I bought this book, purely because of the look of it’s cover and the fact that it was in practically mint condition.


The 1958 second print of a 1953 book by Jack Cox, “Editor of Boy’s Own Paper”, Camping For All is an absolute hoot. A good deal of it reads as being very Cholmondley-Warner , but there are some things of interest, both historically and for those who like to camp in a rather more basic fashion than most do in these gadget-ridden times.

All that aside, it also told me what a hay box is and how to make one – though I don’t suppose I ever shall. Basically it’s exactly what it says – a box (made from wood) that’s filled with hay and is used to keep a lidded cooking-pot of food warm (or hot even) for an extended period. The book describes it as a 2ft box constructed from 1/2 inch pine, with a tightly fitting lid held shut by a hasp. It can be lined with felt, but must be “Lined generously with newspaper, then a nest of old hay is made” This must be old dry hay as new damp hay might spontaneously combust. “The nest is made so that a dixie or cooking pot full of hot cooked porridge or stew can be placed directly in it from the fire covered with a hay-newspaper lid and then the wooden lid is closed firmly. The food will keep hot in a good well insulated hay box for 24 hours and longer. Even used to keep supplies of hot water available during the day.”

Apparently “It is a first class method of preparing porridge overnight.” Gruugh!

It seems like hell of a thing to take on a camping trip in a decade when car ownership was far from common. I have visions of it being lashed to a luggage rack on the back of a motorcycle sidecar.

All very Wallace and Gromit.

hay box

mahonia 002

Owing to endless rain and the consequentially swollen rivers I had not been fishing for over a month. But this lack of activity had at last really got to me and I thought I’d try a small river I know.

It was my hope that since it was not a grand watercourse, even if it was double its normal flow it would not be completely unfishable. So last week I slipped out of the house in the dark, caught a train and was at the waterside as the sun came up. The river was running very high and much faster than normal, but I thought it was worth trying.

The experience was odd and a spot I knew so well was very different, yet still familiar. If I can make a crude analogy it was like bumping into a good friend who’d spent a long afternoon in the pub. I fished all morning, but only landed three fish – a brace of grayling and a brown trout, though one that was a good size for the river. All seemed much larger, until netted, owing to the strength of the current. A couple of fish I hooked and lost seemed bigger still, but that too was probably due to the force of the flow. Many times I struck at what may have been bites or just the capricious effects of the swirling water.

Despite a strong sensation that something interesting was soon to happen, at midday I packed up, because Little Boots had some friends coming round for the afternoon. A jay scoffed at me from the treetops as I left the water, but it had been a good session I reflected as I strolled back to the railway station. I’d caught fish, good fish, spent a good few hours in air both fresh and filled with bird sound and flight. But what will make the memory linger is the overwhelming scent of Mahonia flowers from a single bush. Its smell pervaded the whole of the park I walked through on my way to and from the river.

Heady stuff.

(Apologies for the quality of the photo, but the light was quite murky twenty minutes before sun-up.)


We never had much money in our family when I was growing up. I think that’s why this book means so much to me. Someone we knew was acting as an agent for Usborne books and I saw this one. As an outdoors child I really wanted it, but it was vetoed on the grounds of cost. The reality was probably that it had to be ordered, because my parents never denied us books. So it arrived as a present a few weeks later and I was absolutely thrilled.

I’m surprised that it remains in such good condition because I read the thing over and over. As its name suggests its “a complete guide to the outdoor activities of walking, hiking and camping”, with sections on cycling and orienteering, plus a big section at the end on first aid and dealing with outdoor emergencies.

Like I say I was an outdoor kid. We all were – playing in the woods and fields, damming streams, scrumping, sleeping in tents in the garden and cooking food on little fires. But I was probably more so. I was the one that took it a bit farther. When we made a house out of snow (snow walls, boards across the top, snow on that) I was the one that retreated indoors for hot food only long enough to grab my plate and take it back outside to eat in the icy den.

When I look back now I realise that though we were poor, I had a very rich childhood. This book reminds me of that every time I look at it.

All manner of media, be it magazines, newspapers, TV or whatever run 12 month retrospectives at this time of year. They are often, it seems to me, just lazy fillers.

Bloggers do tend to put in a bit more thought and effort, and that’s something I shall try to do as I look back at my five best things from 2012. They are not numbered because I don’t want to rank them, except the last one, which will always be first.

Fishing – Since the summer of 2011 when I fell back in love with angling my life has been greatly enriched. This has continued and I’ve had some great sessions this year, particularly the opening day of the season and have even caught the odd respectable fish. But what has also been great has been passing on my (limited) skills and, I hope, a big dollop of passion to the next generation. Little Boots is already an effective angler, and now two young friends have joined in. Teaching my brother has not been so successful.

Camping – Rediscovery of another old love that had been allowed to fade. We managed only a couple of short trips this year but they were great, even the second one. A week too late in the year, we woke to cold driving rain. Striking camp and stuffing the car with wet gear was not a good experience. Nevertheless we will be going a lot more next year. Probably with a small bottle of rum.

My Ukulele – During the last part of this year, I have begun to learn to play the ukulele. Notice I didn’t say I have been learning to play the ukulele. The truth is that I rarely make anything that sounds like music, but know that if I keep plugging away at it I will do. There’s no belief that I will ever be any good, or even anything approaching competent, but that’s not the point. It’s fun, it has given me a touchstone (swapping chords, etc.) with Little Boots who’s learning the guitar and for reasons I find difficult to express without sounding trite, a house with instruments in it is a richer place than one without. And if that weren’t enough, the arthritic aches that were increasing in the fingers of my left hand have utterly gone.

Freedom – After a couple of years where I have struggled to find both time and energy not to mention interest I decided that 2012 would be the year when I got back on top of my allotment. But it wasn’t to be. A bad shoulder and the wettest summer on record holed those plans below the waterline. So I let the thing go. And to be honest it was one of the best things I could have done and something I should have done ages ago. The weight off my mind was alone worth it.

Little Boots – Where do I start? And once started, where do I finish? Some things just can’t be put into words.