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New book a keeper for fans of life on the river
IT IS a rare gift to be able to write about a specialist subject, such as the work of a river keeper on the Lower Test at Nursling, and, at the same time, make it a book anyone can pick up and enjoy.
However, Martin “Donny’’ Donovan, has done just that with his book, Keeper, A Life Amongst Fishes and Those Who Catch Them.
As the book was published in America, the author begins his work with a chapter entitled, A Foreigner’s Guide to the Queen’s English, which contains a few words too robust to be mentioned here.
Explaining the meaning of “bivvie’’, Donny writes: “Short for bivouac. A temporary camp erected in the open air, which will inevitably fall down in the middle of the night.
“A ‘Toff’ is someone who often claims to have met the Queen Mother, rides a horse side-saddle, and is prone to getting a red nose when drunk.
While an “anorak” is a “foul weather jacket worn by boring and meticulous people, such as train spotters and birdwatchers.”
Donny recalls the 1970s spending most of his childhood playing in and around the river as the family home backed on to the Lower Test Nature Reserve, although the author does have harsh words about his schooldays.
“I hated Testwood School and vividly remember that the best thing about it was the day I left,’’ said Donny.
“The next best thing was the day before I left. The third, and probably the most important best thing about Testwood School was that out of many of the ancient sash windows you could look high across fields and meadows, through oaks and ashes and great copper beeches, and if the light was right, you could see the sparkling waters of the River Test.’’ Leaving school in 1979, aged 15, Donny obtained a job as a trainee yacht-rigger, based in an old railway carriage at Redbridge, earning a weekly wage of £28.
It was while Donny was visiting his grandfather, who lived at Furzehill, a few miles from Fordingbridge, that a chain of events began that led him to his life’s work.
“ G r a n d a d smoked continually from the age of ten until his death at the grand age of 92,’’ recalls Donny.
“If he wasn’t sleeping or eating, he was generally smoking.’’ During his visit, Donny read a story, in a copy of the Avon Advertiser, about the restoration of chalk streams, and as a result he was introduced to Ron Holloway, a keeper on the River Itchen at Martyr Worthy.
Although he remained working at Redbridge, for the next few years Donny worked as an assistant to Ron, learning about caring for the river.
Eventually, Donny fulfilled his dream and in January, 1998 he became a full-time river keeper on the River Test at Nursling.
The actor, Geoffrey Palmer, is just one the well-known names to have fished with Donny at Nursling.
“When we returned to the fishing hut we had a cup of tea and a sandwich and sat talking about the Nursling beat, salmon fishing, and the problems facing the fish at sea,’’ said Donny.
“Not once did he talk of television or stardom, not did he drop names or brag of his fame.
“He was quite content sat in a fishing hut eating a cheese sandwich and talking to the keeper about fishing things.’’ With his natural humour and knack of telling stories, together with his expert knowledge, Donny’s book is an entertaining and insightful read.
“Although I live only a few miles from Southampton, I do at times feel detached from the reality of the times in which we live.
“Has it really gotten to the point that politeness is regarded as condescending behaviour?
“When my friends and family find me enthusiastically immersed in the meticulous details of bridge building, weed cutting, or fly casting, they often tease and suggest that maybe I need to get out more.
“Maybe I don’t, maybe I’m better off where I am.’’ n Keeper. A Life Amongst Fishes and Those Who Catch Them by Martin Donovan, is published by Departure.