Saturday, January 20

Another case for nationalisation?

Dignity, one of Britain’s biggest funeral providers, delivered a heavy profit warning yesterday.

January food – the cook never sleeps

The January weather has been atrocious. It’s winter: this is what weather’s supposed to look like – why sweaters and waterproofs were invented. Continuous brew-ups and hot meals alleviate the misery. To date there’s been pork chops mit sauerkraut, Morcilla de Burgos and butternut squash, casseroled duck legs and carrots, slow-roast belly pork with fennel, braised ox-cheeks and onions, mutton curry (accompanied by six-pack of zero-alcohol lager), poached brisket with seasonal veg, frittatas and souffl├ęs, sirloin steaks with baked potatoes smothered in sour cream and chives, vegetable soups, veal scallops and mushrooms in cream sauce, groaty pudding … The cook, Mrs G. never sleeps. It’s a tough ask on my part but someone has to eat the stuff.

Above my pay grade

“Social mobility is creating dustbin Britain,” says Matthew Parris. After intimating the residents of Jaywick Sands should be melted down like so much horse glue, this is his attempt at reclaiming liberal ground? In his article Parris focuses on the disparity in life expectancy between London and distant seaside towns (this time Blackpool rather than Clacton). Self-reinforcing pockets of depravation, he contends, are a result of the “ambitious, brave, energetic and talented” moving south; ergo, those left behind … “I would never use a word like residue,” he writes. I guess it’s a common enough fallacy among the meritocracy. Parris merely recycles the trope without suggesting a way out beyond early years education and meaningful apprenticeships – and in his defence, maybe there isn’t one “that we can afford in a competitive world”?

I promised myself I wouldn’t read Parris any more. Yesterday, however, the absent friend who has been missing for 45 years knocked on our front door. It was great to see him, to catch up, and as you would expect there was lots of reminiscing about our teenage years, mutual friends and neighbours from that time. How half of us got out and were scattered to the four winds and half stayed put. From what I hear (he keeps in touch) it’s not a nice place to live and hell-bent on its downwards spiral. I’ve no answer either. Education would help but there’s a relatively small pool of truly inspirational teachers – and unfortunately none will go within a hundred miles of the place, there’s not enough money in the world that could bribe them.

Tuesday, January 16

Hunkering down

Not the best of weather: gales and heavy rain, thunder and lightning. A succession of forlorn tradesmen through the door: boiler engineer, plumber and sweep. On the plus side our heating is now working and my stove is back in action. Walking today is out of the question, so I’m busying myself trapping and dispatching various critters that trespass on the yard. While the lad next door is handy with a gun, I feel the need to do my bit. Truth to tell there’s lots that needs addressing but, idler that I am, nothing that can’t put off for another day/week/month. Pity the poor neighbours with horses and hounds to exercise.

An old friend called. Though I haven’t seen him for 45 years we’ve continued to correspond. His appearance always triggers memories, not necessarily from that far back, recalling absurd and difficult moments. “A spit of recollection over the fires of mingled shame, pain or remorse.” Things you wish you’d left unsaid. Thankfully we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter back then.

Sunday, January 14

Like being a kid again

Out on the moor this morning; getting back into the swing of things. Misty, the sky its usual fifty shades of grey. For once I was not alone, hills dotted with files of Sherpa-like walkers carrying large packs (DofE?). I’ve mentioned before the problem I have walking on concrete in the city, the knackered knees and ankles. Bogs and mires, however, are a forgiving medium. More so today when the ground gave way while traversing a steep slope. You disappear over the edge and curl into a ball, hitting the ground at 60rpm, gambolling downhill at a great rate of knots before coming to rest in a muddy pool at the bottom. I could only get up smiling: it was fun, like being a kid again. I know, I know, hardly the same adrenalin rush you get scooting down the Swiss Wall on a pair of skis. But then I was never Jean-Claude Killy.

Staying warm in the Highlands

“Keeping warm at this time of year often means that people that live in the Scottish Highlands pay about £400/year more in electricity charges. The risk of fuel poverty is greater because, due to the absence of mains gas, they are excluded from accessing competitive tariffs. Residents often ‘ration’ their fuel consumption by heating just one room in their property.” Why would you be so profligate as to gratuitously burn your hard-earned money and heat more than one room?

It’s true!

“To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world…”

Tuesday, January 9

Changing of the guard

What with the furore in Hollywood and the Cabinet reshuffle, it seems we’ve had our day. Older white men, that is. I guess it’s fair enough … Been one hell of a party, though, and I suspect we had the best of it. Recently watched a rerun of Charlie Wilson’s War on the box. If you were around in the ’80s, the film is a reminder of what passed for corporate entertainment back then. Hard luck, Toby – you were born too late.

Monday, January 8


Woke at 8:45 this morning; 9.0 hours/night appears my January ideal. Internal lights have been burning all day as it’s so dark, the homestead is enveloped in mist. Out in the yard laying mole traps, repairing damage from woodpeckers and badgers, cleaning up following recent storms, building a bonfire ... chopping wood. It keeps me out of trouble. Unusually quiet (no wind) – a pleasant 2°C. Snowdrops have begun to surface.

Saturday, January 6

That Meritocracy thing again…

Although the film (I, Tonya) sympathises with the ice-skater Tonya Harding at times, she is not portrayed as a heroine. What her story provides, though, is an insight into some of the issues at the heart of America’s cultural divide. These days, it is common to explain Trump’s rise to power as a result of anger about economic inequality, joblessness and the decline of the middle class. In part, that is true. But my own travels around the US last year have left me convinced that what is really going on today is not just an economic saga but a culture war. Over recent decades, a deep resentment has built up among white working-class voters about the way that the elite has used a myriad of subtle cultural symbols to patronise, scorn or ignore them. What happened to Harding in the ice-skating world is just one example of that clash but you can see many others during the rise of Trump … If you do not have the education in America to be articulate, you feel a sense of almost daily humiliation. To put it another way, the clash in modern politics is not just about the “haves” and “have nots” in an economic sense but between those who have control over the culture. Being “educated” creates snobbery, which is deemed acceptable among the elite, partly because it is presented in the language of meritocracy. Trump’s genius has been to tap into this resentment that so many felt – and feel. 

This was Gillian Tett in today’s FT. It’s a yawn in that it must be the zillionth article I’ve read telling the same story. I believe most everyone now accepts the rationale behind the Trump (and Brexit) phenomenon, the rise of populism throughout Europe. What I haven’t read much about, given both sides are digging in, is where we go from here. I can’t recall a time when so much was up for grabs and there were so many ways for the cards to fall.

Raising kids in the Badlands

I worry increasingly about the walk to school taken by my 13-year-old daughter. In September, my son will also attend a local high school, and already my wife and I are nervous about him having to walk past kids from other schools, through other postcodes, in his new uniform … Central to this chasm between rich and poor is crime and safety. Overwhelmingly it’s the poor who are the victims of crime. Mayor Sadiq Khan has presided over the highest knife murder rate since 2008 and the police have given up attending what they see as ‘minor’ crimes, including burglary and assault – crimes which don’t seem so minor when you are the victim. It’s time the government, mayor, and Met stopped fighting among themselves – and started working to ensure ordinary Londoners feel safe again. 

Suspect you’ll have to suck it up, Mr Piggott. Until Sadiq Khan adopts a Giuliani-style zero tolerance approach things will only get worse. I appreciate there’s an argument that NY’s problems were really solved by a rapidly expanding economy (jobs) rather than police action, but given the stratospheric expansion of London’s economy in recent years you can hardly adopt the same rationale. Robin Hood taxes to close the chasm between rich and poor also has its limits. My only suggestion would be to send your kids to a self-defence class and hire John Creasy as their bodyguard. Or return to Suffolk.

A whinge

As best I try to avoid playing the grumpy old man, Gudgeon wouldn’t be human if I didn’t bemoan the unwelcome changes that diminish our life. While I understand everyone has to turn his toes up at some stage, Brian Matthew’s absence from my Saturday mornings is a hole that will never be filled by Tony Dickhead.

And talking of dolts… If you insist on giving everyone prizes you might as well reserve space for Congo the painting chimp.