Wednesday, January 31
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
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
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
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
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
Monday, January 22
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
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
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
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
Wednesday, January 17
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
Sunday, January 14
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
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
Thursday, January 11
Wednesday, January 10
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
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
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
Saturday, January 6
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
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
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
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.
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
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.