Sunday, December 31

Dinner

We are finally venturing out and about. You can walk for miles without meeting anyone on foot; acquaintanceships to date have been limited to sheep dogs, and nods to men on tractors or quad bikes. The reality of country v supermarket food was brought home again this morning when our neighbour dropped by with a couple of birds, and specific instructions to let them hang for 4-5 days. The dead parrot and his mate are now in the shed doing a fair impression of Saddam. I get to play the pheasant plucker. Thankfully, Mrs G is a good hand when it comes to eviscerating dead animals and birds. On the odd occasion I’ve been a naughty boy she’s actually made one or two threats along those lines towards my person. And I foolishly considered giving her a Laguiole Damascus for her next birthday.

Saturday, December 30

Bit of a blow

In more ways than one. Here was I, thinking the weather had moderated... Having finally dozed off listening to a triumphant Alex Ferguson eulogising over his prize Portuguese waif, I was somewhat taken back to see the garden bench pass by. By bench, I mean a solid beech job that takes two of us to lift. It was rapidly followed by the largest of my two ladders and a brace of potted shrubs. Given I'd been advised by a gleeful neighbour that the windows were ripped from the front of our barn in ‘a bit of a blow’ last year, I naturally lunged for the twine and tent pegs, intent on securing the remainder of my belongings to the mud patch that masquerades as a lawn.
Leaping outside onto a bed of stone chips I managed to lacerate my stocking feet, before hopping off into the static BBQ and stubbing my toes, finally falling backwards over subject bench. This of course led to lots chortling from the memsahib, who - as with similar incidents - waits until I’ve hospitalised myself before lending a hand. Given she’s cooking my favourite for dinner, I adopt my best martyred look, and retire to the shed with a small glass of antifreeze and a copy of Ferreters Weekly.

Birds

One of the first things we saw on arrival was a thousand strong flock of Starlings performing the most outlandish aerial manoeuvres over neighbouring farmland. Fair takes your breath away. On a much smaller scale, there’s a tree stump outside the study window that’s utilised as a bird table. Wren and Robins aside, the locals here appear far more wary than our old friends in the city. Watching requires a little more patience and concealment. There are a number Blackbirds, as always; Collared Doves, Sparrows and Magpies. However, first in line for any food remains the Chaffinch, closely followed by a Greenfinch, and a trailing army of Tits - the Great, Blue, Coal and Marsh variety. I’ve yet to see our Greater Spotted Woodpecker, but I can hear him, remodelling one of the beams at the back of the barn.

Celestial bodies

Last night’s storm appears to have blow itself out. And for the first time since our arrival, the sky is ablaze with stars. This was just one of the many interests that we’d hoped would benefit from a move from the city’s ambient light. And let’s face it, anything that encourages repeat viewings of the Doctor Strangelove of TV astronomy is a bonus. Following last month’s discussion of the earth’s evil twin, he’s moved to celestial orchestras. Alan Hovhaness, maybe?

Friday, December 29

Hosepipe bans

Are now a thing of the past. The evening and tonight’s forecast: rain, becoming heavy again after midnight, accompanied by further gales. It’s the little differences you notice. At our new homestead, rain doesn’t necessarily fall from the clouds, it more often moves from left to right. Today on the moor the deluge seemed to come from the ground, bottom upwards, ascending the hill at 50-60 knots. Neighbouring sheep - stoics that they are - seemed to take it in their stride. Air continues to roar along the arroyo below us, driving rain into the stone and cob walls. The barn is overwhelmed with that familiar damp, earthy smell. Outside is littered with thatch. God, I love this place.

Thursday, December 28

New home

Well, I’m back! This time in another county, or is it country. Pleased to be here. Whilst the difference is stark, I couldn’t be happier. We’re holed up in a barn, in the West Country. After only two weeks the city is a distant memory. The first thing that strikes you is the air: so clean, so fresh. That, and the darkness. The nights are as black as a Newgate's knocker, a complete contrast to the morning frost. We share our residence with barn owls. Lie awake, listening to the calls; picturing the hunt. There’s food in abundance, the Boss has been busy incinerating game birds of every persuasion. No TV, but a serviceable wireless; the internet, of course, and a substantial library. As soon as the medicine is unpacked, we’ll be set for winter. Talking of medicine, I purchased a couple of gallons of anti-freeze this afternoon - you can buy Jose Cuervo a lot cheaper. Motoring is becoming expensive.