Wednesday, February 28

Lunch - oyster fest

Baking day. Whenever the pâtissier bonnet appears it usually results in yours truly receiving a red card and being banished from the kitchen. However, today’s dismissal could well have been influenced by my attempt to crack crab claws with a 5lb lump hammer. Dumb move; crab meat is still hanging from the light fittings, and the walls look like they’ve been hit by a frag grenade.

I must make sure to complement her bread and pastries, it appears that men who don’t talk to their wives are potential rapists. Comes to something when a chap’s natural reticence could land him with five years in the slammer. Puerto Vallarta is definitely off my list of holiday destinations.

Tuesday, February 27

Windy

The gales are back and birds are having a tough time of it; rain’s blowing horizontally, the clouds hurtle by. No low-flying Chinook today. Some of the fields are a quagmire, their entrances under a foot of water. The river is high and the weir looks and sounds quite dramatic. There’s plenty of fresh deer tracks, but the herd has disappeared from sight. Our wild rabbit in the garden has been joined by a pheasant. One of the few left over from last months shoot. Jackdaws and starlings are down in the grass. Two buzzards patrol the draw. Dartmoor's hills are just about visible; wood smoke on the horizon indicates life of sorts. All I can smell is the Memsahib, baking olive bread for this evening’s dinner.

Rebus and Chicken George

Market day and the sale of poultry. If you’re anything like me (a chicken is a chicken), then today’s auction of live birds was something of an eye opener. The breeding of exotic species is obviously on the up; many of the budgies for sale looked like they’d stepped direct from the slopes of a Peruvian jungle. And why not, we manage to populate our cities with all manner of colourful peoples, what makes the farmyard so different? Anticipating a rise in business the chipper had opened early, advertising a new line in man-sized burgers ‘with exotic toppings’ (curry sauce). Our itinerate fish monger was doing a roaring trade, matched only by the wild boar sausage stall. Not quite Borough Market, but an interesting and useful resource non-the-less.

I’ve skipped through my latest reading material - The Naming of the Dead. A friend that originates from Leith put me on to Rebus long ago. And over the years I’ve read ten novels in the series. They’ve irritated as much as entertained, given Rankin makes up for his limitations as a writer by constantly name dropping (be it a particular brand of whisky or semi obscure album track) in an attempt to imbue his character with a depth he’s unable to engender through his prose. The Leith Lad and I are of an age and of musical tastes that make it easy to identify with JR; we also spent memorable parts of our 70s patronising Edinburgh bars. Unfortunately, the author’s inability to move beyond the most basic of stereotypes and an irritating habit of laying it on just a little too thick eventually begins to grate. His latest effort - a feeble story set around the Gleneagles G8 - is nothing more than a blatant ruse to make up for the limitations of the plot. In real life Rebus would have been pensioned off long ago; the world’s moved on, even in Scotland. Rankin needs to stop taking the piss; it’s this sort of complacency that will frustrate their political aspirations… Much like his sharing a platform with Mary Belle.

Thursday, February 22

Folk music

Thursday's an important weekly event in that local newspapers publish detailed listings of forthcoming attractions. With Robbie and Britney both entering rehab, there’s been a downturn in touring acts. Fortunately, a resourceful management has secured the services of Brotherhood of Man. Heart of 70s glitz and glamour with three No 1 hits, the band still feature their original ‘save your kisses for me’ line up. Although I’m somewhat incredulous as regards the publicity photos (non of us have worn that well), I’ve ransacked the wardrobe for my platform soled boots and tank top in readiness for the big occasion. I’m confident my six mile return treks to the Kwik-E-Mart have left me supple enough to strut my stuff to such hits as 'My Sweet Rosalie', and to sing along to classic Eurovision opera. This warm up concert should put me in good stead for the following weeks headliners… Hi-On Maiden (Iron Maiden tribute band), Into The Bleach (Blondie tribute band), The Complete Beatles (yes, you’ve guessed it), and The Rollin’ Clones… Don’t knock it, tonight's a James Last extravaganza.

Wednesday, February 21

Suttree

Suttree was the sixth McCarthy book I’ve read this past couple of months. It felt the longest; perhaps a couple of chapters too long. Like any of this author’s stories, literary pretensions ensure it's not a lazy read; there’s reckoned to be over one hundred characters, some of which have multiple nick-names. The biggest compliment I can pay McCarthy is that each book I’ve moved on to after reading one of his has been very much an anti climax. For God’s sake, don’t take Suttree too seriously; don’t analyse it to death, he’s a hard enough act to follow as it is.
Story in brief… A piss-head and loser who may or may not have got his act together by the end of the final chapter. Humorous, in part. There’s characters in the book I’ve met, even a Gene Harrogate. I doubt any of us will eat water melons again. Didn’t enjoy the yarn as much as Blood Meridian, but wouldn’t pass it up. Non of McCarthy’s stuff appears as though it’s written with women in mind.

Market day

Steps back in amazement as the sun makes one of its rare appearances. Pleasant enough for me to undertake a foray into Holsworthy for the Wednesday market. An itinerate fishmonger plies his trade there, selling rather large line caught bass at £10 a time. A lunch of local crab, Welsh cockles and bottle of Viré Clessé . Best Burgundy I’ve tasted in a while, and which comes close to ousting Sharp’s Doom Bar as the ‘tincture of the month’. Holsworthy’s market has an excellent greengrocer, selling produce that puts our supermarkets to shame. £5.50s worth of vegetables will keep us healthily fed until the weekend, assuming we include the slab of belly draft and free range chicken from one of the two marvellous butchers. I’d love to do more research on our local restaurant scene, but with the quality of meals Mrs G. is turning out, fear they would only disappoint. We’re still some way from growing our own produce, although, even at this time of year, our neighbour’s vegetable plot boasts an enviable array of green stuff.
A flock of birds perch and stare through the open window. The colourful finches, doves and jackdaw are eclipsed alongside a woodpecker, so bright is his red plumage. Whilst making some headway in recognising bird calls, I remain intrigued by the eerie nocturnal sounds from round and about. Averaging only one clear night every two weeks, my star gazing ambitions have taken a back seat.

Tuesday, February 20

Big hair

I can't recall where I photographed this character, but he's an ostentatious little budgie.

What is it with people and produce… The grapes in the superstore were grown some several thousand miles yonder; just the thing to go with my after dinner cheese. Despite the countless individuals involved in their harvesting and the various trucks and boats that were used to transport them, they arrive on the shelves in pristine condition. However, before I can avail myself of these juicy wonders, an obese apparition clad in garishly coloured man-made fibres and attended by her snot covered offspring insists on molesting all 50 bunches before finding one that meets with her approval. Thankfully, the figs and dates avoided her inspection.

Monday, February 19

Fast food

Good looking birds that pair for life and most always perch close together. Nervous, reluctant to land in the garden, they choose to scoop peanuts on the fly.

Fear of crime in the countryside is a major concern to residents. However, relocating from South London affords a more critical perspective on the terrors of rural life. The most heinous assault on public safety to date (MSC Napoli aside) has led to a hunt for the teenagers responsible for keying cars outside our Quik-E-Mart. Kind of pales against the Uzi carrying neighbours of old. This is the first time since I was a kid I can recall not having to lock the door of our home or the car.
That said, there’s recently been much muttering at the bar of our local… The hill sheep of Dartmoor are under serious threat, not from the harsh climate, but from a new breed of determined and skilful sheep rustler. Hill farmers say flocks are becoming the target of thieves who manage to spirit away animals from the heart of the Devon moor from places up to five miles from the nearest road. The sheep are thought to be removed by lorry to illegal slaughterhouses and eventually on into the kebab shops of some far away Metropolis. I’ve told them to forget the Plod, this is a job for The Pale Rider.

Sunday, February 18

Reading triumphs again

A Stock Dove. Colourful, isn't he? I guess I could fit a suitable filter to the Box Brownie and warm these images up a little? What the heck, we're not National Geographic.

First Coppell, now it's Reading's Michael Sprott. British heavyweight boxing has long mirrored the glories of England football teams, both in their performances and the dearth of trophies. Lennox Lewis aside (and 1966), there hasn’t been much around on the scene since my granddad cheered on Bob Fitzsimmons in the late 1890s. Give big Frank his due, at least the lad was someone to get behind. My sole connection with boxing in recent years has been to hang one on occasionally in the Tom Cribb, a conveniently situated pub at the fringes of Soho - perfect for a livener when beating the retreat from Mrs G’s West End shopping trips. Other than Bruno, and excluding young Henry’s show stopper with Ali in ’63, it’s been a steady diet of Brian London, Jo Bugner, Richard Dunn and their modern day contemporaries. Last night’s fight was about as good as it gets, although a few bob on Sprott at 7-1 wouldn’t have gone amiss. Warren warned Harrison before the match that he needed a stylish performance to attract attention. And I guess the way he hit the deck earned him a 5.9 from at least one of the judges. I thought Sprott’s trainer, Jim Evans (74) was going to jump the top rope when returning to the ring, such was his elation. There’s talk of reintroducing boxing to the sports curriculum of our better schools, something which appears to be supported by middle-class mothers who fear their boys are turning into pansies and that there'll be no men around for their daughters to marry. Unfortunately, I’m afraid Harrison’s performance will have done little to encourage youngsters that boxing is a viable alternative to their fascination with small bore shooting.

Saturday, February 17

Fisherman, or rather - bird fishing

Poor man’s bouillabaisse for Saturday afternoon lunch. Poor man’s in the sense you need at least six willing participants to make it worth while constructing the whole shebang. That said, the pretendy version's none too shabby.

Friday, February 16

Plumbing

Fridays are usually busy days as everyone struggles to complete those necessary chores that will enable the weekend to become a guilt-free festival of footy, food and frolics. Top of this morning’s list was the unblocking of our downstairs lavatory which of late has begun to smell like high summer in the byre. Following several attempts involving a 13ft spring-loaded contraption I acquired from B&Q (who needs plumbers), followed by Mrs G’s enforced decontamination process featuring Stallone-sized canisters of industrial strength disinfectant, I gave up and called the landlord. Only then did it become apparent how far off base I was, as after much shaking of head and sucking of teeth he returned with a JCB and began digging in the neighbouring field. Not wishing to be conscripted into something that involved mud-filled trenches and a backlog of turds, I decided to skip class and retire to our local for a pint or two.
The nearest hostelry is a typical cob and thatch country pub that is considered something of culinary oasis in this neck of the woods. A popular venue, my past visits have involved tortuous struggles to the pump, followed by a five minute wait whilst the lady of the house finishes her chat with a friend at the end of the bar. Pub food everywhere seems to feature large portions of heavy duty nosh in the form of steak & kidney puddings, game pies and lots of sausage. It’s fun and nostalgic for the odd meal, but in this day and age it soon pales. The giveaway in most establishments are menus of such scope and variety that Anthony Bourdain and a Mahdi army of cooks would have problems coping. Why don’t they just limit the choice to five or so dishes of the day and cook fresh produce? There were several fish dishes on offer, none of which (I suspect) was fresh from the market. The guy next to me ordered a bream which smelt worse than that dodgy stall on Deptford market we used to avoid. I know, I know, what do you expect for eight or nine quid - and from a pub at that? All I would say is that it doesn’t compare to the freshly battered and fried variety you can get from a quality seaside chipper. And as to pubs, one of our past locals (Lemon Tree, Covent Garden) features an Asian lady they keep manacled to a wok in their basement and who turns out wonderfully inexpensive Thai food which shames the adjacent restaurant. Half of me is reluctant to bitch about pub food here: it isn’t as bad as I imply, and most of the punters seem to lap it up. The other half thinks they can do a lot better in return for my hard earned cash; it’s not the 1970s any more.

Tuesday, February 13

Worra yow looking at?

In an effort to do justice to my pigs feet, I decided to skive off to Exeter and purchase a small sack of beans. The old girl would turn in her grave if she caught me paying several quid for beans of any variety, but the whole process is devalued if you can’t get your hands on decent Italian or Spanish produce. Supermarket pulses might work well as Mexican strawberries of the refried variety, but you can cook them for hours and they’ll still have the consistency of chuckies.
The heavens opened whilst shopping, and as it was lunchtime, we ducked into the nearest hostelry available: Café Rouge. The Exeter management have done a great job of transforming this branch into a fairly authentic, seedy French bistro. The food’s pretty much the same as elsewhere in the chain (although today’s tomato, courgette and basil soup (Knorr minestrone) was quite good), but their dingy décor, gypsy violin music and aging male staff that shuffle between tables lends a real air of authenticity. I still think the cost of restaurant food is extortionate, but I guess there’s little you can do about wages and rent. If you want something slightly more original, try Effings - which is just along the street from CR. Clientele are a touch blue rinse, but the service is very good and the glasses are clean.

Monday, February 12

Trotters

It’s blowing a hoolie outside (wonder what this place looks like in summer?). A rabbit has called my bluff: disregarding my subscription to Ferreter’s Weekly he’s set up home out back. I’d be minded to look for a suitable recipe, were it not for our weekend visitors and the parcel of treats they brought from the Black Country. The fridge is laden with pigs’ feet, brawn (that's hogs head cheese to you, Texas boy) and black pudding; not to forget large portions of Dudley’s finest pork scratchings. Two grand’s worth of bridge work and I’m chomping on scratchings! I’ve already decided on the pig's jobbies fate; brawn replaced smoked salmon for today’s lunch; supper being the black stuff with bubble and squeak. Do we live life in the fast lane or what? Memories of The Ivy are fading fast. An old friend from Baton Rouge surfaced last week, so I’ve been developing a new fusion cuisine for Black Country meets the Cajun palate. Actually, it’s the same old stuff, but with lots of celery/onion/green pepper and a slurp of Tabasco. Thankfully, Mrs G. manufactures a mean roux.
Given the company there was much talk over the weekend regarding our judicial system and the problems faced by young Reid at the home office. Of the issues raised, foremost (to me) remains that of the intelligence of many of our black perps - and the opportunities missed through the incompetence of our state schools system, much of which stems from the sort of plonkers we train as teachers. Unfortunately, so long as society condones and finances illegitimate kiddies to the extent they do, this will remain a never-ending problem. I recall my Irish friends reminiscing about their early years in England, and the relief they experienced when the brothers arrived. I bet it’s the same relief our Afro-Caribbean friends are feeling, now the Muslim community has filled that slot. When the Government has solved our single parent problem, I assume they'll move on to takle arranged marriages.

Saturday, February 10

Sunshine today?

Early morning and the rain has ceased. Good news for our weekend guests? I wont become too complacent, it will no doubt return mid-afternoon. Little sight or sound of aeroplanes. What a difference to the old locale - one every 1.75 minutes being forecast for the skies over South London. Maybe BA’s new charges for baggage with dampen enthusiasm. Rather that, than the growing moral blackmail of climate change. If the numbers planning to fly to California for LA Galaxy's trials and an opportunity to play with young Beckham are to be believed, we’re about to shave another zillion years from earth’s sustainability.

Friday, February 9

Soul man

Rain, rain, rain… Guess this is why we invested all that money in waterproof clothing. I sure as hell wont be going walkabouts on the moor; some of the farm's field entrances are fast approaching ‘top of the Wellington boot’ level. Unfortunately, non of this prohibits my having to drive to distant Crediton for weekend supplies and a liaison with our man from Carruthers, agents to the gentry. Despite what Kirstie & Phil would have you believe, few sane people get their rocks off viewing other’s property.
Entertainment today comes via Radio Stoke, and features a recording of last Friday night’s Northern Soul programme, courtesy of Mary Fox - playing classic soul and Motown. It comes to something when you have to go all the way to the Potteries for music, but then I had some fun in Stoke and Hanley back in the late 60s. Radio Devon is out of bounds until noon as their show is hosted by an awful woman who effects a pig-like snorting sound when excited. The sad thing is that she probably heard Sandra Bullock do it once in a film role and thinks it’s sexy. It’s not! Yuk.

Wednesday, February 7

Reading material

As my spectacles are well past their sell by date, I was unable to decide whether it was snow or ash that was falling on the homestead yesterday afternoon. Vision has been impaired since the muckspreading season started and my eyes began to water. Cancelling all thoughts of nocturnal star gazing, I retired to the sofa and my book of the week. Friends often ask what one does, at the back of beyond, during winter: the answer of course is that you read a lot. In fact, I’ve ploughed through a fair selection of reading material this last couple of months - thanks primarily to the generosity of Mrs G., the £2 book shop, Amazon on-line, and my pick and mix selection from the front table at Ottakar’s (books on sale that they can’t sell). I’ve even augmented my usual material with the odd Kazuo Ishiguro (Never let me go). For most guys, reading Ishiguro is like having your teeth pulled; and is a perfect illustration of why boys fail English Lit. However, I’m not called Mr Perseverance without cause, and stayed on, doggedly, through to the end. The story is a potential classic: humans cloned for body parts. But instead of the poor saps ganging together and striking back - a kind of Blade Runner meets the X-Men - it drones on about adolescent relationships and other such guff. At the end, when our two protagonists confront the baddies, they meekly accept a slap in the ear and drive off into the sunset. What they should have been doing was retrieving the 10 gauge from the back of the motor and despatching our wicked step sisters to the hereafter.

Tuesday, February 6

Return of the alarm clock

My early morning call - aka the woodpecker - making one of his rare public appearances. Following on from the latest outbreak of bird flu at Bernard Matthews, I’ve been casting a jaundiced eye at my feathered friends. Short of including a sachet of Lemsip with their feed, I guess there’s not a lot we can do. Spending this morning chiselling bird droppings from the top of the oil tank did little to endear me to the sparrows that roost above.

Sunday, February 4

Taking the fun out of comment

At the outset (of this blog) I determined that (unlike my other incarnations) it would be devoid of politics and prejudice, and that I would endeavour to steer clear of the temptation (for it) to become a vehicle of gratuitous offence. However, I have to tell you guys that after reading the newspapers this morning it isn’t easy. YOU try waffling on for a paragraph or two without slipping into the grumpy old man default; see how difficult it is. I’m off for a walk across the moor and a pint or two at the local to help me regain my equilibrium.

Saturday, February 3

Heavens above

Assuming it’s a given that global warming means our progeny can eventually kiss their ass goodbye, my thoughts have turned to identifying potential avenues of escape. However, despite years spent following the adventures of young Kirk to his final frontier, it appears I’ve still a limited knowledge of the stars and planets that surround us. Whilst light pollution in London dissuaded me from looking, here, the heavens are ablaze. I’ve purchased a kiddies book of the universe as a primer/refresher, and am endeavouring to distinguish my red giants from my white dwarfs. You have to be keen at this time of year as it's bloody cold outside (-1°). Still, binoculars, torch and notebook at the ready, I go stumbling about in the dark, gazing skywards.

What I hadn’t bargained for was the noise: it sounds like the set of a Stewart Granger film out there. I’d already come close to being mowed down this afternoon by several large red deer that were going somewhere in a hurry. And from what I’ve read in the newspapers, suspect the authorities are trying out their little wolf experiment in this area, prior to a full scale launch across Scotland. What with the owls in full cry, it became patently clear that Saturday night was party night for our local wildlife - and that I might be more usefully engaged back inside, watching match of the day.

Only one point from today’s game. I suppose it’s better than a slap ’round the ear with a dead squirrel, as we say in the country.

Pogácsa

Continuing the pig theme… In these health obsessed times, this could be one of the most politically incorrect dishes I’ve seen in a while: pork cracklin’ flavoured scones.

Friday, February 2

Tripe

As a native of the Black Country, charcuterie remains close my heart. Regretfully, outside of our trips to gay Pari’ there’s little opportunity these days to chomp on such delicacies as crispy pigs ears, trotters a la Del-Boy, or snout & chips. Even decent brawn is a rarity. Thankfully, between Mrs G’s fading copy of the late Jane Grigson’s thoughts on dead pigs bits, and occasional trips to Boulogne, I manage to sate my porcine cravings. Tonight’s Friday treat is Tripes à l’Espagnole - or tripe in tomato sauce to you and me. A pan of the squelchy stuff has been merrily bubbling away since the sun went down, filling the barn with such mouth-watering smells that I’ve had to open a bottle of something special.

Deer

This character is a regular visitor.

Country views

OK, so we’re short on coffee shops and delis, but you have to admit that our garden here is one up on the place in south London.