Monday, April 30

Joint tenants

Nesting in the barn's stone wall.

Insects




Despite the perpetual buzz, outside, I wouldn’t exactly say the place is alive with insects. Perhaps it’s early days and they’ve yet to arrive in force. Flies, wasps and bees currently hold sway. Having only my Ladybird book of insects to hand, early attempts to identify the little critters are hampered by a tendency for them to move at warp speed, and to decline my polite invitations to stay put long enough for either the magnifying glass or Box Brownie to swing into action. I’m afraid it looks like the jam jar and nail varnish remover if I’m going to progress.

Sunday, April 29

Promoted

Congratulation to Steve Bruce and the Board.

The woollies have gone

I’m gutted, the sheep have been relocated to the further reaches of the farm. I miss them. Had started to identify individual characters; begun speculating on their kebab to bodyweight ratio. Must admit, the meadow has been picked clean - which is more than I can say for the half eaten carcase that some carnivorous little mongrel has deposited on our back step.
A five mile saunter to the newsagent for Sunday papers confirmed my suspicion that BBC's weather forecast of ‘fine, sunny day’ was way off base: it’s freezing out there. And I’ve promised to BBQ; shrimp, pork ribs and chicken sit marinating.

Saturday, April 28

Weekend drivers

Well done Sunderland; though I would have been a little more pleased if Burnley could have stuffed ’em and guaranteed promotion for the lads. Let’s hope Wednesday experience an off day, even if they do have the playoffs in sight. Guess we could do the Baggies a favour. And it’s not often you see me rooting for Leeds: if they beat Ipswich, there’ll be something at stake for the visit to Derby next week.Busy afternoon at the Hacienda… The United match is being broadcast to the sheep, out back, whilst Mrs G. hangs washing and yours truly fires up the BBQ (explains why my socks always smell of pork ribs). Hitting the Kwik-E-Mart at crack of dawn was a sneaky move, as I didn’t then need to venture out late morning; Saturdays can be a real pain on the roads. The car park was knee deep in Range Rover Sports (visitors), supporting personalised number plates. And you know what they say about an ounce of pretension… It’s true, Sport owners drive like shit. I say owners, it’s hard to believe they give these things out as company cars nowadays.
My informal survey of vehicles in the area on a normal weekday…
Rover 25%; Peugeot 20%; Tractors and Land Rovers 15%; white vans 15%; pickup trucks 5%; heavy trucks 5%; Porsche Cayenne 5%.

Friday, April 27

Proper job

It’s back: the sun, that is. And the temperature’s circa 23° to boot! Cutting grass suddenly seems a whole lot more fun. I’ve given up on the B&Q strimmer: never buy pretendy tools for a man sized job. My battery powered model has been superseded by a 4-stroke Honda ‘bush-cutter’ complete with safety harness and handlebars from a Harley… proper job. The undergrowth is history (as are a number of Mrs G’s shrubs). Haven’t had so much fun in ages. As far as I’m concerned Obi-Wan can stick his lightsaber, young Darth would run a mile faced with this piece of kit.

Thursday, April 26

Decisions, decisions…

OK, first major decision of the day: do I spend my spare half hour waiting on everyone to ready themselves for departure by listening to Melvyn Bragg discuss the sixth century sexual politics of Sappho and her contribution to the rise of Greek and Roman love poetry, post Iliad; or do I review the match reports from last night’s game at Stamford Bridge? Erm...

Cheerio

Our guests go home today; back to be just me and the sheep - and the Boss, of course. Right now, I doubt I’ll ever eat another meal again. Definitely on the wagon for a while. Well, maybe after lunch at the Blunos place. Must admit, last night’s lemon sole - cooked by the outlaw, a poisson expert who taught Mrs G. the art of filleting - was excellent, even if we had to drive to Cornwall to acquire the fish. Actually, it was worth the trip just for those pasties we ate in Bude.

I will miss the company, but my chores have stacked up this last two weeks and I’m going to have to work like an indentured Eastern European in a chicken shed to get the place straight.

Springwatch are about to begin their series along the lane on Fishleigh Estate, and the production team are holding open house at the community centre. Although we’re surrounded by our own wildlife haven, it may be an opportunity to solicit one or two tips on watching, identifying and photographing little critters.

Guess we should then return to our quest for a new home. Three viewings in five months (and none worth an offer) isn’t exactly putting ourselves about. Home information packs arrive 1st June, so there’s a good chance we will see more properties on the market. Personally, I doubt HIPs will be worth the paper they’re printed on: just another £3-500 to contend with. Thursdays mean that local weeklies and their property pages are on sale: my afternoon taken care off.

Wednesday, April 25

Boys' toys

Visited the Dartington factory yesterday: guess what I bought? Haven’t played marbles in years; more years than I care to remember.

Tuesday, April 24

Winkleigh Cider Company

Our downfall this past week. Specifically, their dry, still cider (which is first class). It would be nice to report we smell faintly of apples, but the atmosphere in the local hostelry is so pungent, our aroma is more akin to being fireside at a scout camp. The pub goes overboard on the Vicar of Dibley theme, yet everyone appears to enjoy themselves in a loud sort of way. Our visitors always love it to bits. Truth to tell, despite the teuchter front, there are more minor public school accents on display here than in the back office of a city bank.
Today’s expedition began with the morning chicken auction at Hatherleigh, before moving on to the delights of our cavalier town. I don’t know why we endeavour to arrive in Torrington at lunchtime, the town’s establishments serve some of the worst food in the south west. Bernard Mathews chicken nuggets would rate as haute cuisine; it’s bars an epitaph to the worst example of 1970s pub food. Staff mean well and are very hospitable, but most would struggle to run a greasy spoon in a lay by on the A1. Memsahib has harboured misgivings about the place since she witnessed a bar maid stirring her G&T with a chewed biro. As it happens, we settled for very acceptable fish cakes in a nice looking place on the high street. But then they spoiled it by serving Buckfast in the wine spritzers.

Monday, April 23

Being English

A breakfast of tea, toast and marmite, with a mix of Radio 4 & Five Live (the world and it's troubles). Turn off the wireless and walk out back… survey what the morning’s delivered; feed the birds. April showers: a respite from the wasps and flies (another visit to Ike Godsey’s?). The damp, cool air is delicious. In just a minute or two, that world outside our homestead has ceased to exist. We inhabit a different place; another planet.

The sheep have migrated to the top meadow. Chaffinches and blackbirds sit on the fence or rummage for worms about the garden. Nuthatch, woodpecker, dove, jackdaw, magpie and green finch move amongst them, competing for food. The coal tit and gold finch have returned. A lone swallow soars and the buzzard circles. A pheasant barks from amongst the culm grass. Crows line the tree tops in the gully.

O, TO be in England
Now that April 's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge-
That 's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower-
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Sunday, April 22

St George's day

Eating everything in their path. This view from the bedroom could be replicated at any window in the barn. We remain seated outside, in the sun, reading the Sundays; all suffering a surfeit of Bambi, expertly roasted (I thought) by yours truly. The side order of broiled black pudding and bitter orange & chilli jelly was the clincher. I foresee major fasting and an enforced exercise regime around the next corner. Meantime, the lads here have increased our availability of free-range chickens after leading an escape from the coup. Sheep and birds are congregated around the back door, fascinated by the sight of Mrs G. potting her geraniums.
What can I say… Birmingham 3 - Wolves 2. Back on top, and a big bonus in Colin Doyle’s pay packet. Bruce was ecstatic, but knows it will probably all come down to the trip to Preston.
Amongst weekend articles preceding St George’s day and bemoaning the fate of our white working class, Observer’s Graham Norwood notes that foreign billionaires are taking over areas of central London, pricing out indigenous Brits that gravitate to the less desirable areas of Wandsworth and Clapham. At some stage, the English worm will turn - though I suspect we'll all be the poorer for it; genies and bottles spring to mind. Upcoming elections will be a good pointer to the actuality of what's in the minds of voters, be it here, Scotland or France.
Back in the real world, fire-fighters from neighbouring towns and villages battled to overcome a blaze on one of the local farms this week, freeing 70 bullocks from an almost certain roasting. Worse was to come… the pub ran out of Tribute.

Saturday, April 21

Old yak coat

Some of the girls are looking a little ragged. Resembles a coat I was particularly fond of, circa 1970. They now have us completely surrounded; which is probably just as well: whilst the Honda's been doing a sterling job, the meadow out back is close to a foot deep.
Respite from the sun is in sight, but not today. Although it's raining in Scotland, here we’re running out of sun block and lip salve (in April?). Still, the BBQ quest continues… Yesterday’s fare included N’Orlins shrimp (5/5) and Caribbean pork kebabs (1/5), together with char grilled peppers (2/5) and rice & beans (3/5). Our guests appeared to enjoy the food - and who wouldn’t, in this environment. It’s a tough life, down at the Ponderosa; Bob Marley and laissez les bons temps rouler.

Friday, April 20

Foodeaze

We had lunch yesterday at the Foodeaze in Exeter. It features an open-plan kitchen, marshalled by celebrity chef Martin Blunos (big walrus-moustached lad with two Michelin stars). This mini food mart is believed to be the first of a chain he is helping to promote, and which features a range of ‘International’ dishes alongside a selection of daily specials. On yesterday’s evidence, they’re putting quality staff and effort into the start up. We plumbed for a first course of asparagus and hollandaise sauce, decorated with mixed leaf salad and poached egg. At just £3.50 it’s a steal. Given the Latvian chap and his fellow chefs perform alongside customers, using ingredients from the hall, it has an attractive foodie atmosphere. Between the four of us we ate Churrasco, hand made fresh Pasta, and Sushi - the latter prepared by an authentic-looking Japanese guy with a nice line in knives. Everything was good and not much more than £5-6 per dish. As there’s a two course special for less than £10, the restaurant is great value. It’s not often you can sit alongside a Michelin starred chef and watch him knocking out baguettes and burgers. Highly recommended: you’ve got to jump in there whilst Blunos still fronts the place.

Wednesday, April 18

The early worm

Bought it! It’s a pity that pictures don’t have soundtracks. And yes, I appreciate it’s possible; but I’ve not yet found time to incorporate the necessary technology into the blog. Here, the dawn chorus extends through to mid-day. Is particularly striking just now. I’ve been doing my best to match birds to sounds and am coming along reasonably well.

However, the arrival of friends from the north has distracted me from my studies, affording another week of gluttony and a perfectly valid excuse to bunk off work. As both guests are foodies, I’m busy barbequing various dead critters. Although my technique can best be described as competent, it’s hardly Argentine asado. Think we'll take today off to review another restaurant.

Tuesday, April 17

Football’s a monopoly

The game is being monopolised and there are no surprises anymore… yawn, yawn, yawn. Tony Francis with another predictable once-a-fortnightly piece about the dominance of Manchester United and Chelsea, et al. What’s he trying to say? If only we could cap players’ wages and rid ourselves of the Ronaldos, Ballacks and Rooneys of the world, replace them with a few more honest, workmanlike DJ Campbells to even out the competition, it would be so much fairer? Yep, we’d all queue for games that - whilst losing some air of predictability - would probably feature yet more middle ranking talent trying to kick the crap out of each other. He still hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that punters watch football to be entertained; spend big bucks for the chance of seeing a world-class talent perform. Even years ago, we all jumped at the opportunity to watch MU - just to see Best run the wing; half a dozen seasons at Pittodrie, and all I recall is Zoltán Varga. Ask most of the characters you know why they gave up their season tickets, and pound to a penny it’s because the lads were fed up watching mediocre football. They didn’t so much mind losing, as not being entertained. And nowadays, one of the principal reasons many supporters hang on to their ticket is for that handful of times each season when the big guys drop by.If we hived off the top four into a European super-league, chances are their Premiership monopoly would be inherited by Newcastle, Villa, Tottenham and Everton. And English football would be much the poorer for the loss of our top players to Europe; their performances off limits for supporters at Fratton Park, Riverside and The Valley. If the most that Bolton and Everton can aspire to in the immediate future is that of supplanting Arsenal for the fourth Champions League place, then so be it. You don’t think Reading and Portsmouth fans derive as much pleasure from securing a top six finish as do the MU guys from winning the league? Who can deny the excitement and drama of Charlton’s current battle with Wigan, Sheffield and Fulham. Wait until Keane’s Sunderland hits town next season.
Three out of four in the Champions League semis, and yet Francis is distraught because the odds are stacked against Watford. It's the 'everyone must win prizes’ mentality again. This FA Cup Final will be a landmark game: the first new Wembley final. It now has a match most non-partisan fans would want. OK, substitute Chelsea with Liverpool and it is.
What’s Francis’s problem anyway?.. we're expected to plunder our savings to applaud these lopsided events in the company of inebriates, or analyse them in newspapers and on television as though they had some cultural significance. Oooh, get him. Talk about knocking the punters that keep you in work. We'd better abandon this notion that the English leagues are a fraternity. The top end patently couldn't care less about the rest. Yes, and your point is..? This is the sort of guy who probably thinks Grammar Schools are a crime against humanity; that Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose should be disbanded, and everyone forced to shop at the Coop; that if only Microsoft, Google and Apple could be put out of business, Psion would attain its rightful place in the world...

Monday, April 16

Racing days aren't over

Life can be cruel. Whilst appreciating that bits were starting to drop off the old frame some years ago, you still like to kid yourself. Accordingly, I’m having a lot of fun motoring around this part of the world: an improvised rally course at every turn. However, all it take is some smart-arse with a Cosworth engine to reinforce the fact you’re not 22 anymore. Following this afternoon’s performance, I’m out a set of tyres.
It dawned on me there could be something to this sheep racing business, so I’ve put in a little effort with the neighbour’s lambs. I’m not sure if there’s a steeplechase event at the local meet, but I’ve taken to incorporating two of the chicken pens into their circuit of the field, just in case.
Being out on a shopping expedition today, I missed the swallows arrival. Fingers crossed, they’ll stick around long enough for me to take a couple of snaps with the old Box Brownie.

Sunday, April 15

Sunday lunch: roast lamb

I don't like to harp on about food, but yesterday’s revelation that the average pub spends £1.16 on ingredients for the meals they produce is totally believable. It’s worse than school dinners. In general, pub cooks are a dismal lot; the dishes they produce (sorry, defrost and warm up) little more than a parody. There’s an advert for a cook in this week’s local newspaper which gives an idea as to the quality of talent that’s being recruited. I quote: ‘no experience necessary, training will be given.’ I don’t expect them all to hire Anthony Bourdain look-alikes, but if these so-called gastro-pubs are limited to a choice between some spotty-faced oik from the local labour exchange or a migrant from Poznań schooled in boiled beetroot and cabbage, then I guess I’m wasting my time.

Friday, April 13

Aintree it ain't

Having finishes my chores for the day, I’m hiding out in the office, mellowing. I suspect the post duty bottle of IPA might have contributed to my relaxed state. This afternoon’s more sedate duties include reviewing our two local newspaper’s property sections for the latest arrivals on the market. Truth to tell, I’ve seen so many house details in recent weeks, I’ve kind of lost interest. Am listening to an old Joe Cocker album, recalling days past - the 70s in particular. It seems years since there's been a TV series that's enthused my drinking friends as much as ‘Life on Mars’. Forget the limp wristed plonker, Tyler: Gene Hunt was the boy of his day. There was always one Gene in the gang. Actually, there was often a Tyler too, even then. None of us recalls the latter, but few forget the former. God, they were fun. Unfortunately, the Hunts of the world subsequently joined AA and/or discovered religion; became a real pain in the backside. I’m off to the races. Or at least, what passes for racing in this part of the world. £10 on woolly jumper in the 3:30?

Food and genes

Scientists have at last uncovered the closest living relative of the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, the most feared and famous of all the dinosaurs. For the first time, researchers have managed to sequence proteins from the long-extinct creature, leading them to the discovery that many of the molecules show a remarkable similarity to those of the humble chicken. Of course, I knew it all along: you only have to clock the chickens eying up my barbequed goat to appreciate something’s amiss. And it’s a nap selector that the neighbour’s pony is descended from a woolly mammoth. Dress Mrs G. in a fur bikini, and violà: Raquel Welch.

I might not have the old neighbour or his Harley anymore, but my new buddy next door loves to make sure I’m up of a morning. There’s nothing quite like the sound of his cocking the Remington outside my bedroom window to stir you into action; picking oneself up off the floor becomes a little tedious.
The blackbirds have taken over the garden of an evening. It’s great, I’d missed the two from back in the smoke as they’d been with us for years. There are also tits nesting in the roof flashings, sneaky characters they be. And despite his reticence to appear in public, Fang, upstairs in the loft, has been kind enough to drop off a selection of docked lambs tails at the back door - just in case we were short of victuals.

I doubt very much that we’ll go hungry the weekend. Having checked fridge number two this morning for 'use by' dates, I’ve got 48 hours to consume a steak, some groaty pudding, 2lb of pork sausages, half a deer, a brace of faggots and a sack of minced lamb. Giles Coren and Edwardian diets spring to mind. Thankfully, I now know my current propensity to gain weight has nothing to do with gluttony, and is due entirely to my genes. And if you believe that, you’ll believe I’m descended from Roddy McDowall.

Thursday, April 12

Love thy neighbour

So, complaining about the folks next door has reached epidemic proportions. There’s an old adage relating to people's ability to choose their friends, but not their family. To a greater or lesser extent, neighbours fall into a similar category. I’ve been fortunate with the people next door. Apart, that is, from that old slapper who came home each evening at half past midnight and insisted on running out her Led Zeppelin collection.However, it would be wrong to deny the driving force behind our relocation to Devon’s rural hinterland was that of the growing number of people living in South London, and the increase of intrusions into our daily life. Aeroplanes overhead, ‘queuing’ for Heathrow; vehicles using the street as a rat run; the git next door that spends ten minutes every morning warming up his Harley; the couples who always chose to break up outside your bedroom window at two a.m.; the drunks that disrupted your sleep every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. It’s all basic stuff and nothing special as a one-off, but cumulatively… Well, life’s too short.

Wednesday, April 11

Fresh fish

I know it’s a fashionable dish, but I’m still unconvinced on the Sea Bass issue. Chummy here was line-caught off the coast of Cornwall yesterday, yet I have to admit that he’s not the most exciting fish I’ve eaten. Guess I just don’t get it: sea bass, that is. My Scandinavian friends have always ridiculed our poor taste in stale cod, although - provided you’re prepared to put yourself out - we don’t do too badly. Billingsgate aside, Borough Market always served well. That said, as fresh as it was - and top notch quality too - nothing ever compared to the fish I ate in Aberdeen. OK, so the chilli crab in Singapore was something else, those little soles in Den Helder were exquisite, and the turbot at Scotts never disappointed: but whether haddock or lemon sole, you just can’t beat that off-the-quay taste. Well, maybe occasionally… There’s a crummy little Thai restaurant off of Weshheimer that I used to visit with a buddy, and where we were frequently entertained by a German acquaintance of his. It did the greatest fried fish I’ve eaten. Of course, we only ever ended up there after a long night of partying - so it could have been wishful thinking on my part.

Romans 1, Lions 7

See, all that the navy had to do was to wait until after last night’s match at Old Trafford for the whole sorry hostages episode to be forgotten; placed in perspective.

Tuesday, April 10

Market day

Swelled by visitors overstaying the Easter break, Tuesday’s market appeared to be doing buoyant trade - especially in the bedding plant stakes. Given the rising temperature and abundant blossom, fields full of lambs and song birds on every corner, my guess is that spring has most definitely arrived. I have to say, the girl (at the market) who specialises in wild boar and obscure breed pigs sells some bostin black pudding and outstanding smoked bacon.
If what I read is correct, global warming could have a catastrophic effect on the great grandchildren of residents in Papua New Guinea. At this precise moment however, all I can bring myself to do is marvel at the blue skies and reach for another cold one.
Lying prostrate, out back, reading yesterday’s match reports, I am surrounded by a swarm of wasps that appear attracted to the heat of the barn’s wall. Having been reliably informed these chaps live in underground nests of up to 10,000 workers, my fervent hope is that Chateaux Wasp sits at least two or three fields away.
The drone from wasps, bees and flies can, at times, mask the sound of the birds; but funnily enough, they never seem to bother you. Likewise, as someone who’s suffered since day one with various allergies - and I say this fingers crossed (it’s early days) - 2007 could be my healthiest year to date. Given I’m up to my ears in countryside, one can only assume these past problems have stemmed more from city pollution than grass or tree pollen. It’s saving me a fortune in anti-histamine tablets.

Monday, April 9

Khyberesque defeat

My God, it’s like a scene from The Sundowners outside: flocks of sheep in every direction. I’m starting to feel like a poor man’s Robert Mitchum. The little critters didn’t seem too impressed by my lording it out back with a lunchtime doner - it’s amazing what you can do with a packet of Lloyd Grossman pitas and yesterday’s leftover barbequed lamb. I know it’s non too subtle, but - having tried them all (including an additional four brands of bottled chilli sauce this past week) - you can’t beat Encona for that touch of authenticity. Also saves on eye drops from the chemist.
I walked down for newspapers this morning only to find the place deserted. Guess everyone’s away for Easter, though why you’d leave this place is a mystery? Some 60,000 people travelled to Bournemouth over the weekend to enjoy the unseasonable weather. Sixty thousand! - what a nightmare.
I’ve given up on today’s wireless, everything’s given over to the navy hostages scandal. The closest analogy I can think of is Carry on up the Khyber, when Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond orders the boys from the 3rd Foot and Mouth outside to put the frighteners on big Bernard Bresslaw and the Burpa gang. Unfortunately, when they raise their skirts, instead of terrifying the natives with a display of large todgers and hairy knackers, all they can muster is the latest line in M&S knickers. I’m afraid we lost this one to the Iranians, big time. Someone needs to tell the MOD to stop digging, the hole’s deep enough as it is.

Sunday, April 8

The smell of cordite

Considering the amount of Czechoslovakian beer that was consumed last evening whilst entertaining visiting sibling, I thought it rather brave this morning to be heading off into impenetrable bush with bandy net and jam jar in hand. Another idyllic day on the Ponderosa; I’m making the most of life whilst the sun shines. After so many years of owning a listed building, this rented accommodation lark is relatively stress free: maintenance and repair are the landlord’s responsibility. Instead of spending public holidays laying floor boards, I can sit in the sun with a guilt-less cold one. I say relative… being off the property ladder at present is equivalent to fifty grand a year being deducted from the pension fund. Then again, my dream could come true: Breaking News... 2007 property prices crash 30%.
I continue the naturalist quest, now able to confidently identify at least six birds, three types of butterfly and a beetle. I can also confirm the names of those two strands of irritant that interfere with my ability to drink al fresco: (a) vespula vugaris, and (b) the Tachinidae - or more specifically, the Alophora hemiptera. An aging, would be Gerald Durrell, that’s me. One thing does concern a little… given the billions of tadpoles currently wriggling around the pools out back, what exactly happens when the resultant army of frogs hits town?
Following a Hitchcock-like plague of jackdaws at the homestead, our neighbouring farmer decided enough was enough and opened up with the Remington. After the smoke cleared, chummy here was strung over the highest tree as a deterrent. I'll be interested to see how effective this is.

Buns

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a law was passed that limited consumption of hot cross buns to proper religious ceremonies such as Christmas, Easter or funerals. Fortunately, as it’s Easter, I’ve been allowed to taste-test Memsahib’s latest batch of stickies. I thought her smoked salmon filling was a nice take on the format.
Yesterday’s visitors necessitated a quick run to Okehampton for additional supplies. Access to Oke’s supermarkets can be a pain at the best of times - and stands as a perfect example of why retailers build out of town. Throw in bank holiday visitors driving camper vans… and snafu. Doesn’t it piss you off that there’s never any police around these days, directing traffic.

Friday, April 6

Chaffinch

Mrs G., training one of her elite team of attack chaffinches.

Chili

I don’t need an alarm, still less a cockerel - not with this little character roosting out back. Though I suspect it’s her flamboyant mate that does all the squawking. All I wanted, after a late night watching the opening round, was a decent lie-in. Then again, today is Good Friday (i.e. it will be busy out there). And I’m out of diesel; Mrs G. wants compost from Ike Godsey’s; I promised to cut the grass… An early start may just serve. I just wish the farm cat would focus less on the wood mice and more on our early risers (as if he’d be up hunting at this hour): there’s eight jackdaws practising their line-dancing routine on the roof. Could be worse, it's a lot quieter since the geese bought it. Truth to tell, should never have eaten chili for supper: bad night’s kip.

I guess my love affair with chili started back in the early 70s. In those days it was cutting edge culinary pretension, along with Chinese curry and fondue. Every pub menu of consequence featured chili con carne. It’s probably the dish that did most to spark men’s interest in cooking. Much like vindaloo, I’ve never really seen it as a ladies dish. Every guy believes his version is the best. And in truth, mine’s superior to most. In the early days I used to return from foreign trips with a suitcase full of Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Chili Kits. Then, gradually, the quest began. I think my best period was during a middle-eastern phase - caraway, cardamoms and even rose water began to feature. These days I’m back to the basics…

• 2lb of chopped steak (not mince, unless you’re a geriatric invalid without teeth).
• Process one onion and 3 garlic cloves into liquid paste and add to meat .
• Throw in a couple of finely chopped and de-seeded red & green chilis, for colour.
• Toast, then grind cumin and coriander seeds and bung in the pot.
• Add Mexican oregano (quite different to Italian).
• Hot smoked paprika (the stuff from Murcia is good).
• Adjust with cayenne if required.
• Sea salt & black pepper (freshly ground).
• Add carton of passata (Italian), can of beef consommé and ½ can of flat beer .
• De-seed, toast, re-hydrate and process a mix of chipotle and habanero peppers
• Let it run for an hour or two, then thicken with flour if necessary.

(Quantities are a matter of taste, exerience and experimentation)

Thursday, April 5

Anemone

Mrs G's favourites. At £1 a bunch, they're a steal.

Augusta

Who saw The sky at night 50th anniversary programme, earlier this week? It was on about midnight, so you were probably all in bed. This is a great series, primarily due to the most eccentric man on TV, Sir Patrick Moore. His trousers have about six inches to go before they meet the chin; it’s probably why I like him. If memory serves, my grandfather also wore his trousers two inches below the nipple line; it was almost de rigueur for gentlemen of such mature stature. And whilst fashions change, I appreciate the effort Moore takes to maintain those standards.
The principal reason he came to mind was because my waistline is now three inches larger than last summer, and I’ve had to buy a set of bright red braces to support my outsize jeans. The initial response was to blame Mrs G. and her new found interest in baking. Truth is, however, that despite my six mile walks to the Quik-E-Mart and the homeward treks from the Dog & Duck, I’ve been sadly remiss on the exercise stakes. Obesity has less to do with food - unless you’re a greedy little porker - and everything to do with daily exercise. I noticed a huge difference when the mutt turned up his toes and I stopped the twice daily marathons. Since then, I’ve kept the heart surgeon at bay by supplementing my day to day meanderings with a three game/week routine at the golf club, and the odd trip to the gym. Unfortunately, other commitments in recent months have led to me to kicking the clubs into touch, and I appear to have swollen as a consequence.
Not one to ignore the writing on the wall, and with Augusta in the offing, I fetched up at our local golf club yesterday; the first game in five months. And I have to report it was not a pretty sight. It’s hard to swing like Tiger when you’re the shape of Stan Ogden. Fortunately, friends from my recent past were not around to witness the collapse of what limited skill I possessed. All I could do after stumbling from the 18th was to head for the clubhouse and order a cold one. I should feel guilty, planning to spend a good part of Easter slumped in front of the box watching The Masters, but I won’t.

Wednesday, April 4

You have to die of something

My turn to cook supper, yesterday evening. Roast leg of goat. Poor relation to lamb it may be, but still, that taste..! So many memories. Given I’d spent 24 hours marinating the joint, and an afternoon watching it slow broil on the pit, it was always likely to be a bit special. Throw in a dish of rice and beans, crispy salad, and Mrs G’s mango salsa; some ice, fresh limes and a bottle of JC. Then sit back and watch Liverpool carve up the opposition. Just like the old days.

A article in today’s Guardian purporting to précis a recent environmental report suggests that air pollution in our big cities could be as damaging to health as the radiation Chernobyl survivors were exposed to. Out of the ten bullshit tips offered to people to improve their situation, the only practical one appears to be GET OUT OF TOWN. Preferably, to any location facing into the winds that blow off the Atlantic. I knew there was some reason we moved here. You have to laugh: doctors are warning women that half a lamb chop per day increases their risk of cancer. So the poor girls in London switch to nut cutlets, only to be irradiated walking to the tube station.

Tuesday, April 3

Hog dogs

Hot on the heels of the neighbour’s whinnying pony, we’ve now been invaded by a flock of sheep - all sprouting lambs. I guess something has to keep the grass down, out back.

A quick trip to Ike Godsey’s this morning, for a 4lb lump hammer (don’t ask) and some bird seed. You wouldn’t believe the speed with which a flock of budgies can get through ten kilo bags of peanuts. Today being market day, I couldn’t resist a visit to the auction. They were knocking out impressive looking (live) chickens at £4-5 a time; ducks going for a song (or at least a quack). Came away with a fresh crab from our itinerate fishmonger; some faggots and hogs pudding from the rare-breed butcher. Haute cuisine, country style.

Talking of hogs… Who saw the piece on ‘Uncle Earl’s Hog Dog Trials’ in today’s Telegraph? As you know, wild boars currently roam Dartmoor, attacking old ladies and their Yorkshire terriers. Young Levi Jones and his mutt could well be the answer. The trials were named for Earl K. Long, born back in 1895. He was Louisiana governor three times between 1939-60, and an avid hog hunter. Uncle Earl was also known for his relationship with New Orleans stripper, Blaze Star. Paul Newman portrayed Long in the 1989 film Blaze. Anyway… It appears that hog dog trials are what passes for ‘family entertainment’ in these parts. Family men like Clem O'Bryan, the event founder. Clad in overalls and a white cowboy hat, a half-chewed cigar stuck in the side of his mouth, Clem confirmed the trials were ‘a chance for families to get together to share our heritage.’ And who would argue the point; certainly not me, not with the gents featured on the promo.

Monday, April 2

House spiders

These guys have been company since the day I moved in. However, they’re being massacred by a rival team of arachnids from the bathroom. In any event, I’m told that as soon as he’s served his purpose, the male of the species is eaten by the female - so the lad’s on to a loser, whichever way you look. Being an ignoramus from the city, I have difficulty telling one bug from another. However, thanks primarily to my Boy’s Own book of creepy things, I'm making an effort to rectify this limited grasp of natural history. Chalked up another on the tick list today: the Peacock butterfly (Inachis io). Colourful little character, just out of hibernation.

Dinner

Ah, Miller Time. I wonder if they still run the advert? No matter where in the world you live, or what your circumstances, Mondays are still a pain. However, having completed my allotted chores, paid the bills, driven half way across Devon, returned, fed the birds and thrown a golf ball at the neighbour’s cat for crapping in my daffs… it’s time for a cold one. What else can you do on a day like this - the sun is blazing. And yes, I do have Boomtown Rats playing in the background - it gets run out at this time of day, every Monday. Mrs G. is busy in the kitchen, marinating a piece of skirt in lime juice. Any time now it faces the firing squad, before heading in my direction.