Wednesday, January 31

Bad hair day

Yawning into the mirror yesterday morning whilst attempting to steady the old razor hand, I had the sudden and unnerving experience of coming came face to face with Ken Dodd. Having neglected the barber these past weeks, my greying locks had come to resemble the coat of a badly groomed wheaten terrier.
It's strange how your perception of self image changes over time. Looking back to my teens/early 20s it was John Conteh (born same year) meets Phil Lynott (in neighbouring hospital). This subsequently morphed into Bernie Winters meets Bob Ferris (Rodney Bewes). Now it’s Diddy Man meets Johnny Depp. OK, the latter’s wishful thinking, but this latest image was enough to have me leaping into the motor and heading off down the A30 to Exeter, for a short back and sides.
Taking advantage of the first available establishment to host a platoon of ‘stylists’ and zero customers (good timing on my part, or the shop’s poor reputation?), I threw myself at their mercy and emerged 30 minutes later with what my till receipt termed a buzz cut; Notty Ash a distant memory.
The jury’s still out on the regional capital. A couple of years ago it was voted the worst example of a modern clone town in Britain. And yes you’ve seen it all before, but I’ve lived in far worse. Everyone appears to work for the Met Office or the University; the city centre - at least on the day’s evidence - being dominated by students. If those I met are typical, Exeter’s are the whitest, best groomed and politest I can recall. Very Richie Cunningham.

Sunday, January 28

Rook pie

After a hard day exploring ‘it’s great to come home to a real fire’ (wasn’t that how the old coal board advert went?). In our case, it’s a Calor gas fire - but a real one, non the less. Unfortunately, supplies are lower than anticipated due to my leaving it on overnight. The ground floor still hasn’t cooled; Mrs G’s vase of flowers were dead in the water, although the snowdrops I picked by way of an apology seem to have done the trick. Ordering replacement gas was a disappointing exercise in that there was no Hank Hill, propane salesman extraordinaire. One of the few regrets I have about losing cable TV is the demise of the King.

I’m starting to think my generosity with regards to our feathered friends might have been a mistake. There were several hundred (well, quite a few) starlings perched in trees surrounding our homestead this morning. What with the usual crowd, not to mention new arrivals in the shape of collared doves, the racket outside was a tad loud. It’s as black as the grave outside and they’re still sounding off; you don’t want to know what they’ve done to the garden furniture. I’ve a recipe for rook pie somewhere that can probably be adapted.

Saturday, January 27

Encounter with a deer

Fortified by a large wedge of Anna Del Conte inspired pear and almond cake, this morning found me banished to the shed for a session of plucking, skinning and gutting. Ah, life on the frontier. Redwings joined the flock of interested bystanders. They say you can’t buy friends, but a ten kilo bag of peanuts seems to work for me. What was once a favourite jacket is now relegated to what Mrs G. terms my ‘butchering coat,’ and I suspect that this is where the strange smell originates. On emerging, knife in hand, some two hours later, I look suspiciously similar to a character from a Jack Nicholson film. A messy business, but grocery bills appear somewhat healthier these days.
En route to the Kwik-E-Mark for my Ferreter’s Weekly, I missed a golden opportunity to fill the new freezer when a deer leapt from an adjacent hedge and landed, literally, in my lap. Hard to know who was more surprised. Chummy lost his footing, did a marvellous pirouette, fell face down in the mud, before struggling to his feet, and - from a static position - cleared the gate to make his getaway. Impressive stuff. Dramatic cloud formations over Dartmoor; wonderful views from the top road.

Friday, January 26

Woody woodpecker

Sub-zero temperatures have resulted in an emergency call to Jett Rink for heating oil, and a 50% increase to our bedding’s tog factor. Yet, despite being buried under the down of several hundred geese, my attempts to hibernate through the cold snap continue to be frustrated by that little red-headed sod of a woodpecker. As early as five he arrives on the beam, two feet from a comatose Gudgeon, and - afforded the enhanced acoustics of our 16ft high bedroom ceiling - launches into a forty-minute rendition of Ginger Baker meets Keith Moon. As our adopted buzzard now appears reasonably happy with his pole outside the kitchen and arrangements regarding the barn’s rodents, I’m hoping he’ll exert a little influence on young Woody and persuade him to bugger off.
Things appear to be moving along offshore with arrival of additional salvage equipment from Rotterdam and Rouen. Napoli’s bunkers are being pumped to the tanker Forth Fisher, although this is likely to take a couple of weeks. It’s reported that additional work to stabilize the casualty will be undertaken prior to the crane barge commencing work on the containers. If it wasn’t for the Napoli, we’d have had nothing to talk about this last week.
No longer occupied by the thoughts of metro-sexual man, and such dilemmas as how to wear a scarf a la Jose Mourinho, it’s with some embarrassment that I have to resort to Clinique products (a Christmas present from Mrs G., honest) in order to avoid that ‘just back from the North Pole’ scabby-faced look, prevalent this time of year. Morning ablutions used to take minutes, now - thanks to the time taken to apply necessary potions and lotions - I’m having to give breakfast a miss.

Thursday, January 25

Raptors and bambi

A beautiful day with a clear, blue sky; the frost didn’t turn out to be too bad after all. Rabbits and deer ventured out from the trees whilst I was feeding the birds this morning; it’s all becoming a bit Disneyesque. A buzzard that sat watching provided the note of reality. He’s not exactly a sparrow-sized beast, and I doubt a handful of seed would keep him happy. Pecking order on the stump is a story in itself: there’s a couple of coal tits that fancy their chances, but the nuthatch is undoubtedly the boy - an intimidating beak, married to the bolshie demeanour of a Millwall supporter.
The saga of the MSC Napoli drags on. BBC Radio Devon continues to broadcast a stream of ignorance regarding both the grounding and the salvage itself. The idiocy of most callers (why aren’t we using Chinooks for the lightering) and the furore over the selection of site and progress of operations would be a lot more muted if they could wheel out just one individual who had the faintest idea of what he was talking about. Meantime, the opportunists appear to have drifted back home; are busy on their Ebay accounts, selling M5 steering wheels, motor cycles and oak barrels. Rumour has it that the lightering could take up to a year, and people appear undecided about the merits of turning it into a tourist attraction.
Must get on. Yours truly faces a busy day under the direction of Mrs G. A second fridge/freezer is being delivered to cope with the growing number of dead bodies in the shed. Am still recovering from yesterday’s six mile hike to the pub. The sooner my still and home brew apparatus comes on line, the better I’ll be.

Tuesday, January 23

Dave and Sue

So, it’s come to this: we’re a Dave and Sue. Yesterday’s Telegraph revealed that the target audience for local radio should be more clearly focused. D&S are a young-thinking couple in their early 50s. They emerged from a BBC study called Operation Bullseye, which concluded that older people are getting younger in their attitudes and interests. No shit! Literature distributed to local radio stations said: "Dave and Sue live in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural England". Dave is a self-employed plumber, Sue a school secretary, and both have children from previous marriages. They shop at Asda, wear T-shirts and fleeces, and grew up in the Beatles generation. They have lived through a period of change. One of their children has entered a mixed-race marriage, although the BBC calls this "mixed heritage"… Dream on guys, dream on. As soon as I pick up a wrench, Mrs G. reaches for the band aids. And whilst the thought of palming her off with an Asda fleece brings a chuckle, one of the nephews has in fact married an Asian Muslim. I might share birthdays with Steven Seagal and Bob Geldof, but I think I’ve worn a lot better - and trust me, the BBC are way off base with their profiling of our generation. We didn't grow up with anything as mundane as the Beatles, we grew up with The Stones, John Mayall, Jethro Tull, The Cream, The Doors The Who, Geno Washington, Jr Walker, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, Simon & Garfunkel, James Brown, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Otis Reading…. Keep the faith Radio Devon, and leave the old folks alone.

Monday, January 22

Blue Monday

The results of Sunday’s shoot are hanging, gamely, in the shed. Looks like it's pheasant casserole at the weekend. I’ve given up on plucking and am now skinning the little critters. To wet my appetite, Mrs G. roasted a duck for tonight’s supper. And in an effort to appease my conscience (and what conscience would that be, you ask), I’ve been purchasing ten kilo bags of bird feed to help maintain our resident wildlife over winter. Neighbour, Barnabas, tells me the fishing season begins in two weeks time: needless to say, the kettle's already being dusted down.

Scores of people have been beating a path to Branscombe, following the grounding of MSC Napoli. Containers continue to float ashore, and people have been reported as departing the area with BMW motorcycles and engine spares, in Toyota Landcruisers, white vans and a tractor. Inspector Wycliffe’s attempts to persuade local ‘treasure hunters’ to register their ‘finds’ in order to comply with salvage laws appeared to have been as successful as his ‘don’t touch, everything’s toxic’ ruse.

Today is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Yes, from here on everything gets even better. January depression stems partly from credit card bills and looking like a porker because you ate all the pies at Christmas. There’s no shortage of advice about combating the blues, top of which appears to be…

Look good, and don’t spare the make up
Realise that everyone else’s life is also shite
Try a good book and glass of wine
Visit Australia

If you’re a pissed, literate Boy George fan with loser mates and live down under, that’s about as good as it gets.

Sunday, January 21

Rash surgery

It’s taken four weeks for the jackdaws to pluck up courage: yesterday, they appeared in numbers. Like blackbirds, the food we provide seems less an attraction than the insects in the grass. Number one robin has no such inhibitions, he actually taps on the window if supplies are short. Either that, or he’s partially sighted and keeps flying into the glass. Accompanied by the jackdaws, our red chested hero looks like a minor celebrity surrounded by hired muscle. The elusive greater spotted woodpecker had the stump to itself for a while. His appearance was also a first, the colouring an attractive addition to that of the great tits and goldfinches; even more dramatic, now we’ve acquired a scope. I only wish the Box Brownie was a little more versatile.
Following news that her prized Jean Muir frocks are to become a thing of the past, Mrs G. has been cataloguing the contents of her wardrobe. Newly converted to on-line shopping, a succession of Parcel Force vans are beating a path to our door. I’m just impressed they can find the place, and a touch nervous that the bulk of deliveries might actually be down to my trying to finish off a Christmas bottle of Macallans whilst surfing the net.
It appears that sleet has arrived. Neighbours and their friends outside are keeping warm by re-enacting that scene from the Godfather: the one where Michael Corleone rubs out his opposition in a series of orchestrated hits. Lead is flying in all directions; the two pheasants scarper from the hedge, tin hats in place. I’m wrapped up warm, ensconced in my study, reading the Sundays; coffee and more apple cake at the ready, listening to the footy on Five Live.
Disturbing piece in today’s news - as if MRSA isn’t bad enough: Doctor chops off man’s penis!

Saturday, January 20

Apple cake

Peace and tranquillity returns to the homestead. Was that a blow, or what? - gusting to 80-odd knots in this neck of the woods; looks like they’re going to beach the abandoned containership, Napoli, after cracks opened on its hull. A tree down at the end of the road, and an accident blocking our alternative route, resulted in yesterday’s trip for victuals detouring via Cornwall. Everything now appears to be hunky dory, although we’re waiting for sleet to arrive. What with the fuel required to keep our Rayburn/heating functioning and my ongoing diesel consumption, our green footprint doesn’t look too clever. That said, the neighbour appears to have felled a small Brazilian rain forest in anticipation of a hard winter.
This morning’s stroll for the newspapers promised a soaking. However, once you reach the top stretch, the sun comes out and all’s right with the world. The sheep look a lot happier. Farmers are out with dogs, moving stock between fields. Hawks float overhead, looking for prey. In some countryside areas you can be stymied by the height of banks and hedges, but here the views are mostly unrestricted. It’s an unspoiled panorama of farms, punctuated by those edifices of stone that are our village churches. Their number presumes a much larger native congregation in days of yore; today they cater to bell-ringing enthusiasts.
Our local team is playing away this weekend, so it’s Five Live for the footy. As we speak, Liverpool establish a two goal lead over Chelsea. Mrs G. remains in the kitchen, baking apple cake and bread. My Godfather inspired meatballs in tomato sauce received the thumbs down at yesterday‘s dinner. I’m hoping to bounce back tonight with a Turkish themed supper, based around new season’s lamb.

Thursday, January 18

Resurrection!

Redemption, certainly. It’s been a tough time since the Liverpool mauling. But 5-1, I still can’t believe it. After Newcastle did for Spurs the weekend I thought we'd be Cup history. Chuffed for Bruce. I’ve a couple of Baggies coming to stay and needed the bragging rights.

Wednesday, January 17

Hillbilly life

This morning’s post brings a gallery invitation to attend a private viewing of the new Ray Donley exhibition. Having forsworn the champagne and canapé circuit for a while, I send my regrets. The smell of wood smoke from my neighbour’s cabin presages a cold snap. South-westerly winds return this evening, bringing large portions of sea area Biscay and Plymouth to the homestead. A hard frost, sleet and possible snow are expected over the weekend, justifying my decision to stock up on fisherman’s friends.
Our elusive greater spotted woodpecker appears on the stump; as do the two pheasants that have been hiding in the hedge, hoping to see out the remaining days of the season. Outside is calm, crows kaarr from the treetops. However, our reverie is interrupted by the appearance of a Boeing CH-47 Chinook from behind the tool shed. Low flying would be an understatement, as he leaves the tread from one of his Pirellis on the roof of my motor. Mrs G. who has a thing about helicopters encroaching on her air space leaps from the back door, suitable clad in Max Mara and Wellington boots, to wave the neighbour’s new 12-bore Browning and voice a few choice words. I wait for our boys in blue to deploy the chaff, but they decide on discretion being the better part of valour and drop over the ridge, out of sight.
Departing for my regular stroll to the Kwik-E-Mark for a pint of milk, I don my new hat. I fancied it gave me something of the look of Robert Duvall in his Lonesome Dove role, but after viewing myself in the mirror, suspect more than a passing resemblance to Jed Clampett.

Monday, January 15

Cormac McCarthy

Although an avid reader of western novels, after the first fifty it becomes increasingly difficult to find (a) an original story, and (b) someone who can actually write and who covers the genre. Rather belatedly, up pops Cormac McCarthy. I acquired No place for old men as an impulse buy along with several other first look books, and was sufficiently impressed to return for the three volumes that comprise his border trilogy. Hooked, my latest read has been Blood Meridian. I’m becoming familiar with his ‘life is hard and then you die’ style. And whilst the writer can be both obtuse and self-indulgent, Blood Meridian is an outstanding, apocalyptic odyssey of the violence, sadism and obscenity inherent in the 19thC west he portrays. Some believe it’s one of the best novels of the century, possibly the greatest from any living American writer. Not an easy read, managing his prose; and a second viewing is as rewarding. Mrs G. brought me just about everything he’s published for Christmas, just to keep me quiet.

Sunday, January 14

In praise of Sundays

A nuthatch with a taste for peanuts joined us for breakfast. Another new face on the scene; another tick in the book: Six birds that Gudgeon can actually identify. It’s my new consuming interest, along with brass bands and small, vicious dogs. Today is one of those seemingly rare, pleasant, nay even sunny days. Strangers we meet en route to the Kwik-E-Mart support beaming smiles; even the horses looked pleased with themselves. We returned home to substantial portions of the onglet that had been simmering in the Rayburn for a couple of days. Great stuff, providing you’re keen on anchovies and garlic.
As it’s Sunday, and as sentiment dictates, I accompanied the radio on a sing along with everyone’s favourite hymns, including a stirring rendition of ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ - in a style I like to imagine as Johnny Cash meets Jasper Carrott. I’m afraid that Pastor AJ Smith’s revival which followed was a big turn-off. No wonder the church has difficulty putting bums on seats.
Having flicked through the Sunday newspapers and found little of interest, I’m back to perusing this weeks Ferreter's Weekly. Apart from ordering a tube of Camrosa Ointment to counteract a nasty patch of dry skin on my person, I find myself strangely attracted to the DVD blockbusters on sale in the classified: ‘Ratting, with Albert and his Rat Pack’ and ‘Night & Day, with the Yorkshire Ratters.’ I learned a lot from the well documented and infamous rodent extermination programme of South London, but am told the critters here come in much larger packages.

Saturday, January 13

Rural motors

Apparently, the must have for city based 4x4s is a £7.50 can of spray-on mud. The attempted ruse enables urban school run mums to embellish their vehicles in an effort to convince environmentally conscious detractors that the motor has actually been acquired for more legitimate purposes. They could do us both a favour and lend one to me for a couple of days. The Gudgeon sports saloon has not been well received by Devon’s rural carriageways. It took about 48 hours to realise that low profile tyres and a tarmac-hugging spoiler didn’t cut it with farmyard slurry and rutted access roads. Given my inherent, self-effacing character, my suits and cars have always tended towards a shade of John Major grey. However, having acquired several multi-hued layers of Devon’s finest, said vehicle’s paintwork now resembles a German half track in full, Rommel-inspired, desert warfare camouflage.
Deciding on a suitable replacement has led to an inordinate amount of spondulics being spent on ‘car magazines.’ I could confidently compete on mastermind answering questions on vehicle specifications and retail prices, yet I’m still no closer to selecting a more suitable chariot. I can’t keep putting off the inevitable, as Gudgeonmobile is going to be irreparably buggered. But which way to jump? My first thought was for the biggest pickup truck I could find, preferably fitted with a top of the range surround sound stereo playing Willlie Nelson. On reflection however, I doubt Mrs G. would sit well with the spring suspension, nor having to share a bench seat with the hounds. I’ve looked at LR's Discovery, but truth to tell, it’s a fairly big beast for just the two of us; ditto the Landcruiser and similar. The new Freelander looks a good motor, but I’m not sure the man in me could handle the thought of driving a ‘compact’ vehicle, practical though it may be. Trouble is, there’s nothing that looks like a suitable compromise. I’ll have to buy another mag.

Friday, January 12

Indulgence

A break in the clouds. Sunshine would be nice, but let’s not be too greedy. And talking of indulgence… Whilst the cost of living here is arguably lower than London (no restaurants, fewer drinking companions), I’ve quadrupled my diesel consumption. Mrs G. is picky when it comes to food: a forty minute drive to a favoured grocer isn’t unusual. The one and only time we’ve utilised our local butcher, memsahib developed mild food poisoning after eating their sausages. Accordingly, yours truly is now despatched to far off Crediton, location of her butcher of choice: AJ Cox. I head off with instructions for a pound of mince, returning a couple of hours later with rolls of brisket and shoulders of lamb, pork pies and pasties. Tonight, she’s roasting a selection of partridges and pigeons, accompanied by various fruit jellies and sauces, the freshest of greens, and mounds of designer potatoes. And I get to eat it! OK, so I miss our Italian deli in Lewisham and the Serrano ham from Borough market, but life here aint so bad. The production line from her bakery continues unabated. Haven’t a clue about today’s issue, other than it contains oats and honey, and goes very well with a piece of Devon Blue.

Thursday, January 11

Utlity prices

Talking of dipsticks. A salutary lesson to other slackers who fail to keep abreast of utility companies; who blithely ignore repeated warnings to check alternative suppliers… Over recent years, British Gas has periodically written to advise that, having reviewed our account, we need to increase the monthly direct debit payment to reflect our rising consumption and/or the increase in prices. Mrs G. occasionally nagged me to go online to check alternatives, but all I seemed to determine was that there might be the odd thirty quid a year saving. Not worth the bother. However, cost of gas is only half the story. Having moved to a new home without mains gas, I duly requested a final bill for the old hacienda from our erstwhile friends in Reading. I say Reading, the people we deal with these days are probably in Mumbai. Anyway, to cut a long story short, they’ve just sent me a cheque for £750 to cover the credit balance that remained in our account. Can you believe that? Seven hundred and fifty smackeroos. I rang up to confirm the figures, and they’re correct. People wonder why they’re always a bit short at the end of the month. It’s because some robbing b------ has your money in his bank account, earning interest. And it’s purely because you’re too lazy to keep an eye on the little buggers. I’ll never again use British Gas services, and neither should you.

Storm

I wish I could adequately describe the maelstrom-like nightmare that greeted us this morning. It was never this bad in the Shetlands. My treasured Weber BBQ is two fields away, garden table with it. The Greenfinches are clinging beak and claw to the branch outside my window. There’s a tree down across the local highway, so I guess I’m staying in; not that I could actually stand up outside. This must be the reason we purchased all of those tins of baked beans and cases of bottled water: marooned in the homestead. Suppose there’s two rooms full of unopened packing cases that I need to investigate. Being the smart cookie that she is, Mrs G. packed her belongings in clearly marked boxes, itemising everything on a master inventory. I just threw whatever of mine came to hand into the nearest box available. And of course, I now can’t find a thing. Spent two weeks looking for my walking boots before locating them at the bottom of an old golf bag in the shed. Trying to find the manual to fix a problem with my computer would be a fruitless exercise.

Wednesday, January 10

Low flyers

On the back rise of the draw we look out upon there’s a line of trees some forty feet high where the larger birds roost. When the limbs twist and turn in the wind, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the tripods from War of the Worlds. A great story by Wells, one I’d always associated with the 1953 film: until, that is, the short scientologist who used to fly F-14s turned up on the scene. And talking of aeroplanes… I was chastised by Mrs G. yesterday for falling down on my promise to relocate to a homestead outside of recognised flight paths. Having assured her that none of the aircraft overhead were flying below 42,000ft, two Harrier jets arrived on the scene, passing within inches of the thatch whilst travelling at warp factor six. My subsequent entreaties with regards to supporting the training efforts of our boys in blue seemed to fall on deaf ears, having to spend the rest of the afternoon picking up straw from the garden.

I am becoming increasingly hacked off at all of this carbon emissions guff. I know it’s the fashionable issue of today and that this time next year it will all be forgotten, but it’s still a pain, having to listen to a succession of plonkers spouting dubious science for what is, in reality, our dream come true: good old Blighty with a Mediterranean climate. No need to sell up and move to some breeze block pastiche in Torremolinos. Listening to José Manuel Durão Barroso’s speech this afternoon I could only shake my head… Liberalise European energy markets! Dream on. This is just another ruse to extort or steal more of our hard earned cash. Must rush, Big Al’s Country’s about to start. Guess what, he’s playing Dolly bloody Parton again.

Tuesday, January 9

Pork chop supper

I’m not going to mention rain again; boring subject. That said… I spent part of this afternoon standing at one of the top gates, looking across to a distant Dartmoor. The rain was billowing past, drenching anything in its path and flooding the track. Yet all I could think of were the climbing trips we made to Derbyshire as teenagers (it always rained back then). They were good times; and I must admit that, despite the wet feet, I was - as my old boss used to say - as happy as a pig in shit. Long may this honeymoon period last.
Talking of Black Harry… I saw a coffee pot for sale in the local charity shop window yesterday that is identical to the one he gave us for a wedding present. Am tempted to return and buy it; I’m bound to break the original one day. Where else can you acquire a Royal Doulton coffee pot in mint condition for £5.00? Come to think of it, ours is still in mint condition. Lack of use. I guess very few people have time for that formal style of coffee pot anymore?
Mrs G’s kitchen currently resembles a battlefield. Looking rather fetching in her mechanic’s overalls, she has oven number two stripped down and laid out on the floor. This major service was sparked when the extractor fan had the temerity to drip rancid grease on her latest culinary triumph. As the air was rife with expletives when I put my head around the door, I thought it prudent to retire to my study and go without afternoon tea. I trust the Homer Simpsons are still on tonight’s menu.
Today’s local radio phone-in appeared to be dominated by the 'no queers here' brigade. It precedes this evening’s protest outside parliament by Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, demonstrating in advance of the Lords sitting on new anti-discrimination laws. I thought we were long past this sort of thing, but the thought of gays rogering each other in local B&Bs appears to have hit a nerve.

Monday, January 8

Country & Western

Despite the inclement weather, I continue my up and downhill treks to the Kwik-E-Mart for a Ferreters’ Weekly. Given the quantity of food I’m putting away, such exercise is mandatory; and 6-7 miles in the rain proved to be a good test for my new poseur hunting jacket - which did, in fact, turn out to be water proof after all. Just as well, the forecast for this week remains windy (circa 60 knots) AND WET.
Dinner here can be early and tends to be accompanied by Alec Benford, our local shit-kicking guru from BBC Radio Devon. He’s an ex-plod of the Wycliffe variety who plays a one hour country session (Big Al’s Country) starting at just about the moment you’re shovelling down the first potato. Unfortunately, Al only appears to have two CDs at his disposal, both of which feature Dolly Parton - and as big a fan as I am, a little more variety would be welcome.
Talking of country music, this morning’s pony express brought us a present from friends in the Smoke: a Jools Holland CD, Moving Out To The Country. As an enthusiast of Holland, this latest offering sounds well up to scratch, with the Rhythm & Blues Orchestra backing a good collection of old timers, like Bob Geldof. I’m listening, whilst prostrate in front of the Calor with yet another Cormac McCarthy novel. Am half way through Blood Meridian, reckoned to be one of his finest. If you like western violence this is well worth a read. Quality writing for a change.

Sunday, January 7

Loosing the battle

The gales are back, and there’s a bit of a breeze blowing through the barn. However, whilst the programme of returning to my usual lithe form seems to have been put on hold, we still feel an obligation to venture outside. Armed with my Ladybird Book of Natural History, we set off across neighbouring fields to explore woodlands surrounding the farm; wearing our £100 wellies, naturally. If you’re into fauna and flora, insects, birds, or - judging by the sets - wildlife of every shape and form, then this is the place to be. Returned home suitably ravenous. The Boss is working her way through another acquisition from the £2.00 bookshop: Sophie Grigson’s Country Kitchen. Baking like a Hovis shift worker since the day she arrived, these latest recipes have pushed the production line up another gear. This evening I was detailed to test her latest batch from the Rayburn, including a sage & sunflower seed loaf - that I’m pleased to report is surprisingly good, especially with the home made soup (am OD’ing on lentils, barley and yellow split peas). Whilst game to try almost anything, at the same time I’ve been assigned this important role, am also striving to finish the remnants of my Christmas consumables, not least, a giant panforte, bags of fruit jellies, the two boxes of Hazer Baba, and cakes of são tomé chocolate. January’s going to be a hard slog, getting back in shape.

Saturday, January 6

Sushi

Having bribed Mrs G. to unpack and tune our sole surviving TV so that we could take advantage of the festive programming, I suppose it gives some sense of satisfaction to report the extent of our viewing stretched as far as twenty minutes of The Great Escape and ten painful minutes watching The Vicar of Dibley. If the writers and actors from the latter were a football team, they’d be West Ham. With only four channels available (Freeview arrives in 2009), I suspect our future interest in the medium will be limited to that of the odd FA Cup match.
One of my best discoveries since arriving has been Radio Devon’s answer to John Peel. The guy goes by the name of David Lowe, and his featured artist of the evening is non other than the great Russ Conway (local lad, born in Bristol). Would you believe old twinkle fingers is currently playing the bloody West Ham anthem, ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles.’ For tonight’s competition you have to name either of Russ’s two, number one hits. As you all know, they were ‘Side saddle’ and ‘Roulette’, but I can’t get through on the phone. There’s a Val Doonican CD at stake.
The security restrictions that surround flying have all but extinguished my enthusiasm for foreign travel. However, reading Giles Coren’s review of his short trip to Tokyo in today’s Times would tempt even the most reticent of adventurers to rush along the M4 to Heathrow. Lost in Sushi describes his eating exploits in the Daiwa sushi bar and other local restaurants. Given my dire experience with sushi, I can only imagine the quality of food he was putting away. Unless I catch it myself, we’re somewhat limited on the wet fish stakes in the immediate area (no itinerant white van man from Grimsby of a Thursday morning; no Borough market). Waitrose in distant Okehampton do a nice line in farmed barramudi and attractive looking mahi mahi. Am going to have to spring for another tank of diesel and look this Rick Stein chap up, in Padstow.

Friday, January 5

Exeter on a bad day?

Pictures such as these are part of the reason we headed south-west. Listening to Chubby Brown spouting platitudes about global warming the other day had me choking on my scone. What’s the bloody point of our conservation effort when the guys in Xiamen are steaming hell for leather in the opposite direction. Good luck to them, they’re only pursuing a little of the good life. But why penalise my four-litre run-about just because we’re getting decent summer weather.

Pheasant Pie

We’re still chomping on pheasant - tonight’s repast consisted of yesterday’s leftovers. Give the Boss her due, the remains were sautéed with onion, apple and black pudding (had to drive all the way to Torrington to find a butcher selling some worth eating - cost of black pudding = 0.75p, cost of diesel and parking = £5.00). Placed in a pastry case, topped up with thickened stock from the bones, and baked at gas mark whatever. Throw in a pot of potatoes and jar of pickled walnuts… All part of the New Year's healthy heart, fitness programme she has me on. A walk for the Saturday morning papers should ease the conscience.

Parking

The cost of local car parks dominates our local radio station phone in. I can only marvel at (1) the availability of public car parking spaces in Devon, and (2) the reasonable fees they charge - £1.40 for a couple of hours. Anyway, leaving aside the necessity of raising money for local services, two developments will eventually render this debate redundant.
The first of course is the onwards march of out of town retail developments. Not only do they provide much needed employment, supermarkets allow communities to return town centres to their natural state: pubs, estate agents, building societies and charity shops. More importantly, Waitrose, Tesco and their ilk remove the need for sad looking men to be seen shuffling along behind the wife, laden with shopping bags. Is there anything more humiliating? As least with out of town venues you can sprint across the car park before anyone recognises you.
Like it or not, town centres of the future will also be shaped by the growth in on-line shopping. Now that retailers have built suitable platforms and customers have learnt to trust the process of remote shopping, what dipstick will waste time and money driving into town and traipsing around shops. Town centre stores rarely sold anything you were looking for; if they did, it cost more than anyone could afford - or more likely, was out of stock. The internet provides us with competitively priced goods, whilst saving the planet the trouble of coping with all of those exhaust emissions from shoppers driving into town (that’s if you ignore the convoy of courier vans delivering online goods).
Coming to a market town near you… My nightmare scenario envisages that, ten years from now, the pavements of rural streets will be full of fashionably attired poseurs, sitting outside smart cafes, paying ridiculous prices to sip Starbucks and chomp on Danish. Parking fees won’t even make the radar.

Thursday, January 4

The Pheasants are history

Thought I’d better do something about the dead birds hanging in the shed… And discovered it can be quite therapeutic, sitting on the floor, out back, in my £9 jeans and £100 wellies, plucking pheasants. It took longer than anticipated, but I managed a reasonable job. Filled a fair sized sack with feathers, before handing the two corpses over to Gil Grissom (the memsahib) for one of her autopsies. I’ve a sneaky feeling they’ll turn up on tonight’s table, surrounded by Camargue rice and a savoy cabbage.
As it was a pleasant day I strolled down to the Kwik-E-Mart for a newspaper and pint of milk. Contrary to my earlier assumption, the return journey is actually seven miles and not five; and at times - usually about the six-mile mark - I fondly recall the convenience of Mr Owodunni’s corner shop, situated a mere fifty yards from our old homestead in South London. Then again, I wouldn’t have the sort of views I do now, across the fields to High Willhays on Dartmoor.

Wednesday, January 3

Wellington Boots

The one thing I’d expected from rural life but had done zero to address (pressure of time, prior to moving), was the question of mud. Surprise, surprise, we find ourselves living on a small island, surrounded by a sea of brown squelchy stuff containing a smattering of cow pats and other assorted droppings. And as hard as I try to protect them, the old loafers just aren’t cutting it. Mrs G. finds it highly comical, watching me tiptoe around the yard like a poor man’s Rudolf Nureyev.
Determined to find suitable footwear, I set off this morning in search of a local store that sells country-type clothing. Two hours later, I’m in a plush looking establishment surrounded by sufficient weaponry to equip a small company of SAS troupers for a mission behind enemy lines. Wellington boots, I announce, rubber things. Dunlop make them - or did, last time I purchased a pair. This way, Sir, smiles the charming lady, pointing to a wall full of boots of every conceivable shape and colour. Now I’m confused. Show me a boot and I’ll take it. Dazzle me with 30 and I’m reduced to a gibbering idiot.
To cut a long story short I settled for the first pair that I tried, dutifully following the lady back to the till and taking out a £20 note in anticipation of the damage. I suspected something was amiss by the look on her face, although it didn’t match the look on mine when she told me they were £105. A hundred quid for a pair of Wellies! The world’s gone mad. I’m still sitting in the kitchen six hours later, staring at them. I just can’t bring myself to wear the boots outside, they’re the smartest things I own.

Westward Ho

The Halifax/Guardian managed to fire up today’s BBC Radio Devon listeners. If figures are to be believed - and having compiled and disseminated statistics for a living, my advice is to take them with a pinch of salt - the south-west has seen more internal migration than any other region in Britain over the past decade. Whilst 1.1 million individuals left the region - many presumably to live and work in London - they were replaced by 1.4 million arrivals. Arrivals who were probably escaping London, having become disillusioned with living in the capital. Over the same period, London’s population also increased. Although three quarters of a million Londoners deserted the capital (10% of its population), over 900,000 arrived from overseas. Figures were further boosted by 500,000 net births. As you would expect, the two regions with the highest population growth also copped for the largest increase in property prices.
What I think incensed my fellow Devonians however, was a tongue-in-cheek piece in today’s Guardian entitled Way out West. Leo Benedictus suggested a number of reasons why people should think twice about moving to the south west. Locals are variously categorised as hippie charlatans, racists, Lib-Dem voting losers; inbred, upper middle class hooligans; supporters of rubbish football teams; purveyors of crap, pretentious food; petty nationalists; and producers of cheap, poisonous alcohol (cider)…
Many of the callers who rose to the bait, rebuffing the article and praising Devonians were people who’d moved here in recent years, profuse in their praise for the friendliness of the native population. Listening to them discussing issues related to the report, it wasn’t difficult to discern a particular theme.
Whilst individuals move home for a variety of reasons - employment opportunities, quality of life, retirement, returning home, etc. - the figures cited above give a clear idea as to why internal migration will grow, and how the British population can only become increasingly polarised over coming years. Cities such as London and Birmingham will continue to experience white flight, migration that will be further exacerbated by British demographics. Last year saw the van of our baby boomers turning 60 and beginning to retire. Over the next 10-15 years, hundreds of thousands of boomers will sell their homes to city bankers and lawyers, and move to more congenial locations. Although a number will head for Spain and Portugal, far more will gravitate to the south-west, to Wales, Yorkshire and many other points rural. And whilst the desire to experience a better quality of life will be the principal driving force, so will be the wish to live amongst their own.

Monday, January 1

2007

A new year, a new life; albeit, a wet one. What else can you expect, this time of year. Before lunch, Mrs G decided we required fresh air to aid our recuperation from last night’s festivities - cue a trip to the local.
Be wary of road signs in this part of the world. Basis once bitten, twice shy… This time I took the trouble to pace the route. You can walk for 30 minutes before being confronted with the first sign that indicates just one mile to our destination. Eight hundred yards later, another sign confirms the same destination as one mile from there. This game goes on for a total of three signs, during which time I begin to think we’ve walked all the way to Okehampton.
To put the record straight, it’s close to 2.5 miles to the pub; and the same distance back, naturally. Five miles for a beer - even if it’s Cotleigh's: you have to be keen. Given the newsagent is a similar five mile return walk across the moor in the opposite direction, a person can get through a fair amount of shoe leather.
The quality of any lunchtime session tends to be measured by the number of leaks required to get home; three stops usually indicates a good time was had by all. Avoiding the Subaru crowd whilst afoot on single track roads adds further spice to the journey. This afternoon the gale-driven rain was moving on a right to left, 90 degree trajectory. Needless to say, we arrived home suitable drenched. I’m now stretched out in front of the Calor with a large one, listening to young Coppell’s boys give West Ham a spanking. Echoes of Patsy Cline emanate from the kitchen - this usually indicates more dead critters are being subject to the Rayburn treatment.
If I’ve one complaint about our new life in the wilds, it’s that the days are too short. No sooner am I up and about, it’s time for dinner, and so to bed. Surely the Government can do something about it - they screw with everything else.