Thursday, 26 July 2007

"There's no such thing as a free lunch".....

Well I beg to differ, and I'll have to prove it cos I've left my lunch and my coffee flask at home!

A good way into my walk and it dawns on me why my rucksack is lighter than usual. Those lovely sandwiches and that flask of 'camp' coffee is still sitting on the counter in the kitchen. I do however, have my small compact brew kit with me. This consists of a good sized titanium mug, and inside, a small meths burner, lighter, folding spoon, knife and some meths. I've got a bottle of water with me, so I'm all set for a free lunch!

First off, a nice hot drink. Heat your water, chop up some pine needles, pop them in and let steep for a while. What can I say? It's hot, and piney! To be fair I'm rather missing my camp coffee. Apparently pine tea is very high in vitamin C. I don't know about that, but it's brought the cup up nice and clean!

There's lots of way to prepare free food, but when you've only got one pot/ cup then a soup/ stew/ pottage is your best option. I need to make a stock so that it isn't just a cup of water with some leaves floating around in it. This is 'cat tail' (Typha spp) and it is quite versatile. The root contains loads of starch, roast it on a fire and then suck the white fibres inside (spit them out afterwards). I'm going to peel and cut them boil in the water a bit then squeeze them out leaving a nice starchy, potatoey stock. At the base of the leaves where they join the root is a tight section of green. This can be stir fried, but I'm going to slice it like leeks and add it to the pot.

Next, stinging nettle. The tops are the most tender. Tear them up roughly with the back of the knife, once cooked they lose their stinginess, honest! You can use these when cooking at home, boil in stock, drain, mash, add a dab of butter and serve like spinach.(Nice on toast!) A basic soup can be made , prepare as above, but leave in stock, reduce slightly then add cream.

Under the Beech trees, I found some Ground Elder. Most people think this is a weed and it can be a nuisance in gardens as it grows so quickly. It was introduced into Britain by the Romans as a vegetable but has lost favour due to its invasive the 1500's John Gerard wrote complaining that, "Once taken roote, it will hardly be gotten out again, spoiling and getting every yeere more ground, to the annoying of better herbes". I know what he means, but if it's a pest in your garden my recommendation is to eat it!

Dandelion, most plants with white sap are to be avoided as they are often poisonous, this is one of the exceptions. You can make a coffee substitute with the dried and roasted roots (used during the world wars when normal coffee was unavailable), but this is a lengthy process and I was happy..issh with my pine tea. The leaves can be used in salads, they are often a little bitter and it is better to use the young ones or cover the plant for a few days so that it turns pale and becomes milder. I'm putting only a couple of leaves in as they have the side effect of making you want to take a leak!

Nasturtium isn't strictly a wild plant, this one was poking through onto the tow path from someones garden, so I counted it as wild. Hot and peppery the leaves make a good salad plant and will also add a herb effect to my 'cup' lunch. The flowers are edible too, (great for decorating salads) I'll add a few bits for colour.

Hawthorn hedges are everywhere. In spring when the buds are just beginning to open is the best time to pick but any time of the year is OK if you use the smaller tender leaves. Really good with cheese sandwiches. It is too early to use the berries, in autumn when they are red you can simmer them with a few crab apples and make a nice Hawthorn jelly to go with Lamb.

There is lots of green and peppery flavours in the cup, now for a bit of garlic. In spring I would use wild garlic (often found in Bluebell woods), this time of year though 'Jack-by-the-hedge' , 'garlic mustard' or 'hedge garlic' as it is called is a good alternative. Not such a strong taste as wild garlic but very nice on sandwiches and in cooking. This one is a bit ropey looking, but I'm hungry.

This is a brilliant plant...Fat-hen. Silly name, but a truly delicious to eat. The leaves cook like spinach, the stems taste like asparagus and the seeds can be used to thicken soups and stews. It can even be eaten raw. Once you recognise it, you'll realise that it grows everywhere, especially on disturbed ground by fields, tracks, building sites and the corners of gardens. It has a long growing season and as long as you don't pull it up by the roots it will continue to grow providing yet more food. It has often been relied upon in times of famine, either as a crop in its own right or as fodder for cattle and hens, hence the name. Since Anglo-Saxon times it was important enough to have villages named after it. In old English it was called 'Melde', there is 'Milden' in Suffolk and 'Melbourn' in Cambridgeshire. This is the final ingredient to my 'pottage'.

A quick simmer, and it's looking...very green! Tastes alright, a bit bitter could do with salt, not as good as sandwiches, but then it was free!

Stomach satisfied, but a slight tangy, bitter, peppery aftertaste. What's for pudding?

Handfuls of Blackberries and.....

.....some choice wild strawberries. Who said there was no such thing as a free lunch?....

Wednesday, 25 July 2007


I've been tagged by 'Secret Agent' , it's a "Five things" MeMe. So, here goes.....

Five things I was doing 10 years ago.

1) Worrying about what I would be doing in ten years time.

2)Driving way too fast down country lanes in the dead of night with the spotlights ablaze.

3) Thinking I was getting old.

4) Sleeping in a wood in mid winter on a protest camp against the new toll motorway.

5) Enjoying getting out of chairs without grunting and eating what I liked without getting fat.

Favourite snack food.

1) Bacon sandwiches with tomato ketchup. Preferably while camping or kayaking.

2) Chips (UK) with salt and vinegar from a proper chip shop.

3) 'Peperami'.

4) Pork scratchings.

5) Scotch egg.

Five things I would do if I were a millionaire.

1) Buy land, put a covenant on it so that it can never be built on, plant a forest and, smile.

2) Pack a hammock, sleeping bag and cashpoint card. Start walking, see what happens...

3) Make sure the bloke who lives rough by the canal is alright.

4) Buy land in Greenland. With all this global warming, it's the next property hot spot (you heard it here first!).

5) Buy a jet pack.

Five songs I know all the lyrics to.

1) Zoolook by Jean Michelle Jarre.

2) Cars by Gary Numan.

3) 'Billy, don't be a hero', don't know who it was by. It was about a soldier going off to war and being told by his fiance not to be a hero 'come back and make me a wife'.

4) 'Jewelled' by 'Propaganda'. Always remember this as it was played on the opening titles of the rally report on BBC. Yes, I know, most of these are instrumentals, but I can hum them perfectly!

5) Can't remember anymore titles let alone the lyrics.

Five bad habits. (only 5?!)

1) Driving way too fast down country lanes in the dead of night, with spotlights ablaze.

2) Unpredictable and sudden bouts of grumpiness.

3) Videoing everything....if it's not on video it probably didn't happen.

4) Ignoring signs; 'slow down', 'keep out', 'quicksand', 'weir', 'bull in field', 'MOD property', 'deep excavations'.

5) Ignoring good advice....who'd have thought it, motorbikes are dangerous!

Five things I like to do.

1) Drive way too fast down country lanes in the dead of night, with spotlights ablaze.

2) Skim stones.

3) Play the keyboard so badly, and so loud that the cats run away and the koi hide at the far end of the aquarium.

4) Camping in Wales......or anywhere.

5) BBQ with friends.

Five things I will never wear again.

1) Lucky pants (underwear) can push your luck too far.

2) Size 'small'....why did I worry about being skinny? (Good old days!)

3) A frown....'don't worry, be happy!'

4) Ill fitting swimming trunks. When I got out of the pool, they didn't.

5) A uniform. School uniform was the bane of my life. Never again will I be bullied into wearing anything so uncomfortable. Nowadays it's cotton or nothing, you don't want me to answer the door to you on a 'polyester' day!!

So, I have to name five people....



Blue the spa girl.

Angela Marie.


Please don't feel obliged, I know some of you have been tagged previously or might not want to be bothered and that's fine by me.

Monday, 23 July 2007


The great thing about a kayak is, when the road stops, you don't have to! With a large part of Britain sinking into the sea after our two months of rainfall, I decided not to let it get me down and went exploring instead.
Some car parks near the River Tame seemed a good enough place to start as they were relatively shallow.

I felt sorry for the owner of this nearly new Nissan. We had spotted it the night before when we came down at one in the morning to watch the main 'bulge' of flood pass through Tamworth and then only the topmost of the roof was showing.

I checked the prices on the ticket mention of kayaks.

The water was only up to the top of the wheels here but I wanted to get to the far side of the old bridge up ahead. A drainage channel goes from left to right up by the arch and the current was whipping by. It was so low under the arch that you would have to lie down to get underneath, the thought of getting trapped put me off..... I headed off onto the other car park. This one was a bit deeper and led over to the high bridge where the River Anker and River Tame join.

On the surface all appeared calm, but there was a confusion of eddies and current that were really unsettling. I took a break hanging onto this sign.

The kayak kept bashing the tops of signs and bollards as I paddled off into the parkland. I was glad to reach the deeper water.

Now, which way to go?

NOT that way! It looks quite choppy and then I noticed the saplings being ripped from the ground!

This way I think. I've got the world to explore.....waterworld...

Sunday, 22 July 2007

A river runs through it.....

When I arrived at the canal at Drayton Manor it looked rather more full than usual! At the marina there was a lot of fuss and panic. People were rushing about loosening off the mooring ropes to prevent the longboats from flipping over.

Many of the boats were upping stakes and leaving....All these things should have set alarm bells ringing in my head, but no. Off I went paddling merrily ever onwards....

After a while, I noticed the river on my left was getting kind of....big! Still, it seemed to be a way off still, so I carried on. Paddling began to get increasingly difficult. There was definitely a current forming. I didn't think much of it at first, you often get a bit of movement if the locks are being used a lot.

Then... all of a sudden the water acquired a peculiar 'glassy' look, really odd, a bit like the when a bathtub is about to overflow... The level raised and the towpath disappeared underwater. The canal started to cascade over the sides and the slight current increased to a running speed. Sensing danger, I got the camera out. After quickly snapping a couple of shots, I decided it was time to go!

The river had risen so much it had met the canal and now the two were one. Paddling furiously downstream, I picked up quite a speed and was relieved when the flow began to abate. Even when I was back on still water I carried on at a great knots, scared that the river might catch up.

I was so glad to get back to the car. I quickly loaded up, and just in the nick of time. The water was rising and the small fish under the car weren't a good sign. Hastily scooping them back into the deeper water, I made my escape......

Rain, rain, rain.....

It just gets worse.... It's been raining for weeks and weeks! Yes we have the occasional one off sunny day, but then it's straight back to the incessant rain. Tamworth, a few miles from my house is particularly badly effected.
This is the view from the old bridge. There should be a park, football pitch, a small stream with a footbridge. According to a soggy notice stapled to the gatepost, 'Tomorrows football practice has been cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch.' I think 'waterlogged' is an understatement!
A truce had been declared among all the little animals scrambling onto the few remaining patches of dry ground. Some were late, too busy admiring the spectacle from the bridge!

Wartime defences were no defence....

A deep rumble echoed from under the arches of the old stone bridge as dark waters surged through, swirling out forming powerful whirlpools which had no problem pulling large logs beneath the surface.

No skating in the park today. A warning sign declares that 'suitable protective clothing should be worn at all times'....not sure what I could suggest!

Under the high main road bridge, the water was almost above head height!

These huge Sweet Chestnuts were having their lower branches torn off by the sheer force of water.

A mile or so from Tamworth is the community of Fazely. Here the river is held at bay by a polder, but it wasn't coping and the river was beginning to win. The environment agency bought in pumps....

.....but it wasn't up to the job. Worried residents gathered in groups while a bigger replacement was sort.

I'd be worried too if only this loose earth bank was all that was between miles of floodwater and my house! GOOD LUCK!!!!....

Monday, 16 July 2007

Hilltop bunker....

I came across another nuclear bunker today. It's not particularly obvious from the road (it's in that grassy bit in the middle of the photograph). There is a footpath here and it was the concrete plinth leftover from the aircraft lookout point that gave it away. These nuclear observer bunkers are always high up, this one is on the hill above the River Trent near Elford.

This bunker seems quite intact, although the three padlocks and the lock over bar were missing.

To the side is a concrete step, still in one piece, these always seem to get vandalised first (probably used to try and break in!)

Next to the hatch is the secondary vent shaft (the bit with the louvres) and on top of this is the circular mounting plate that the GZI (Ground Zero Indicator) would be fitted. This was basically a pinhole camera affair with holes facing each of the cardinal points. In the event of a nuclear explosion, the exact point of impact could be calculated. Unfortunately for the operator, the photographic paper had to be retrieved manually by opening the hatch! (Who's got the short straw!)

This is the FSM pipe (Fixed Survey Meter). The cover plate would be unbolted and a plastic dome put in its place. From inside the bunker a metal rod would be raised with a small ionization chamber on it (Plessey PDRM82F), this would measure the amount of radiation.

The main ventilation shaft is at the opposite end of the site. This also housed the BPI (Bomb Power Indicator). Simply a baffle connected to a tube which led down inside and operated a bellow fixed to a meter. It all sounds very basic, but this is deliberate and follows the reliable 'keep it simple, stupid' principle.

The extra bit on the side of the vent indicates that this was a 'master' post. Linked to HQ via radio.

Wooden louvres don't seem right somehow, maybe there's a reason.

Underneath the peeling green camouflage paint, there seems to be an odd silver layer. Is this to reflect blast energy?

It looks as if someone has got into this recently. It looks disturbed and the 'Halfords' lock and zip tags aren't military issue!

On closer inspection you could see the clasp had been hacksawed. This must have taken absolutely ages.

The other locking loop showed all the signs of bolt cutter damage. Distinctive vee cut ends and stress marks on the remaining bit.
I ran some candle wax into the crack of the hatch, this way I'll know if someone has been in. I'll pop back soon...