Tuesday, July 31

Summer returns, again

Not a single cloud in the sky! I’d begun to wonder such days would ever return to the Ponderosa. Speckled woods and meadow browns abound. The appearance of a green woodpecker makes it another first for the yard; the bird’s colouring providing partial contrast to that of my face, which - under yesterday’s mistakenly benign afternoon sun - has taken on the appearance of an uncooked beetroot. Swarms of hover-flies and grasshoppers emerge from the undergrowth to join our patio frogs.
Ever the trooper, Memsahib has declined the offer of a sun-bed in favour of borrowing my tools to dismantle the dishwasher. It seems the previous resident of the barn (le slut) neglected to maintain said appliance to the required standard, and accordingly, it's necessitated a rebuild. I’m playing my part by refuelling the Honda in order that Mrs G. can undertake a little light mowing when she’s finished in the kitchen. If you really want to attract some incoming, the trick is to sit on the back door step with a beer whilst the good lady's striding out and point to the bits that have been missed.
The morning’s trip to the village market was an eye opener. It was the first chance I’ve had to gauge the sort of tourist traffic the area generates. Rather than risk life and limb amongst the visitors’ offspring, I remained in the vehicle with a newspaper and Bob Marley; the Boss disappeared for an hour with her list of victuals. A convoy of people (child) carrying wagons were arriving or departing, transporting an assortment of ill-dressed but cheerful looking souls. You can tell the semi-prosperous types in that they can afford to boast three or four children, but then have to rely on an accompanying grandparent to take up the slack. The wealthier ones (en-route to Cornwall?) were shadowed by harassed looking nannies named Agnieszka.

Sunday, July 29

The last survivor

Coffee

At last, a ray of sunshine returns to enhance that Don Corleone time of day: late afternoon with the sun sinking westwards, a glass of Corbieres’ finest to hand. Excepting the sound of distant crows and a light wind in the top gallants, nothing stirs. Memsahib’s busy baking bread and preparing lemon chicken for an early dinner. The one thing we both miss is a decent cup of coffee. Back in the old country we had a coffee shop some 50 yards from home that was run by a refugee paparazzi from Latin America. Photographs of Maradona and Princess Diana adorned the walls. Never mind the garbage from Starbucks, these guys made great coffee and had the best pastries in South London. I’ve been promising Mrs G. a coffee machine since arriving here, but faced with a multitude of choices have continued to prevaricate. Narrowing it down to three choices, I have yet to convince myself I'm not paying for something destined for a cupboard under the stairs following that initial half dozen brews.

Kids today, eh?

Britain has the most badly behaved teenagers in Europe, according to a leading think tank. It’s worst in Scotland where 59% of 15 year old boys admit to spending a minimum of four evenings a week in their friends company rather than their family’s. No shit. As if this is different to that of forty years ago. Even in the 60s, the thought of being banged up of an evening in the same claustrophobically depressing living room as your parents and siblings is just about the greatest incentive you could have to hang out on the nearest street corner with likeminded reprobates. Beverly (every child matters) Hughes's answer to the problem is for more youth clubs. The world is at your mercy as a 15 year old, and just about the least attractive option is that of playing ping-pong with the vicar in a local community centre. Particularly when you could be plundering the lead from the roof of his church. I guess these days you’re more likely to be out selling drugs and getting shot at by the kids from a neighbouring estate. The media prefer scouting as this week’s panacea, featuring a cool looking Hells Angels inspired scout master on the front page (Sunday Times). Yet whilst acknowledging those summers at Beaudesert camp were huge fun, I suspect the skills acquired were often put to nefarious use.

Frangipani for breakfast

Rangers 2, Chelsea 0. £135k/week for John Terry? Who am I to judge. I guess you’re worth as much as a body will pay; unless, like Government, they’re using someone else’s money. Then again, if you don’t ask you don’t get. I suspect a reluctance to pursue this strategy accounts for half the gender pay gap. That said, you should never confuse ‘ask’ with ‘demand’ - unless you’re prepared to gamble your livelihood. A willingness to risk the downside is what earns big bucks. It’ll grate with Lampard, having to settle below the line, even if he’ll still be earning the GDP of a small African economy. Should the lad let his pride get in the way he may well choose to play abroad, and most probably for less. LA Galaxy could probably use the muscle.

Another novel bites the dust. Three of my last five - Faulks, McEwan and Hosseini - have, in part, been a reaction to the several McCarthy’s I’d worked my way through during past weeks. The problem I have with these particular writers is the credibility of their female characters. Despite having sat though three episodes of Sex and the City I have absolutely no idea of what goes on inside a woman’s head, and doubt they do either. Whilst appreciating novels are works of fiction and that imagination plays a significant part, there has to be some level of authenticity for the story to succeed.

It remains bleak out there. Perhaps we should rethink our future? Biarritz sounds nice. Hilary Benn’s frequent appearances on TV don’t help. The poor lad bears an unfortunate resemblance to those post-war Labour ministers featured on black & white newsreels who were wheeled out to issue dour pronouncements on rationing or an outbreak of the black death. Still, better the grim reaper than another breakfast-time broadcast featuring the androgynous Yvette Cooper. Fair put me off my slice of plum frangipani.

Friday, July 27

Back step company

The yard’s birds are in hiding this morning as there’s a humungous buzzard perched in the tree. Despite a couple of crows giving him grief, I can’t persuade the lad to drop down and pose for me. In terms of sheer numbers, the chaffinches still dominate - in excess of a dozen. They remain the tamest. The wrens are one of our smallest birds, at number 19 on the RSPB’s top 20 list with a recorded average of 0.38 per garden (Big Garden Birdwatch). They're very active birds as I can testify from their antics out back. We’ve two that nest here; tiny balls of energy that zip along like pin-balls. Of the Top 20 birds listed the only ones absent from our yard so far this year are dunnocks, long tailed tits, song thrushes and feral pigeons (we’ve stock doves instead). In addition to those in the Top 20 we have swallows, pheasants, nuthatches, woodpeckers, jays, barn owls and buzzards.

Thursday, July 26

Don’t hang out with fat people

Given I’ve spent a fair few weeks sitting around, filling my face, today’s news about infectious fat people should serve as a warning to Mrs G. Apparently, if you’ve a bunch of plump friends, chances are you’ll follow their lead and become a bit of a porker yourself. You can guarantee the next step will be to present this in the same vein they did with secondary smoking. A God-send for those with a victim status disposition. I wonder if waiters could refuse to serve high calorie food in case they succumb?
I’m a big fan of our friends across the pond, but have a serious love/hate relationship with their food. Whilst I’m particularly fond of certain specific genres (soul food, barbeque, Louisiana cuisine…), it’s rarely good for you. Too much of a good thing is invariably a health issue, and it’s the portions that are usually the problem. As if their obesity problem wasn’t bad enough, they’ve taken to importing the worst of ours: during my usual trawl through various food blogs (food pornography being one of my secret vices), I came across a recommendation for deep-fried Twix bars sold in a Brooklyn chippie. Can you imagine?
Marginally less dangerous are their breakfasts. I’m as big a fan of the ‘full English’ as anyone, but if you are going to take the healthy option - an omelette - it’s a tad unwise to fill it with melted cheese and surround the thing with fries. I dare you to try ordering any dish in a certain type of American restaurant that isn’t covered in melted cheese. And it’s not the hand made farmhouse variety.

Woolies

Surprise, surprise, it’s lashing down this morning. I mean, lashing! A rather forlorn looking sheep gazes through my open door. Though it doesn’t stop them eating. Nothing stops them eating. Providing you’ve enough grass, raising sheep appears money for old rope. All you need is a million or two to buy the necessary acres and you’re in business. Wonder if Drings are still coining it? We ate local lamb from Dartmoor the other day - a significantly different taste to that of our normal supplier. Providing you shop around - and are willing to extend your carbon footprint - you are spoiled with the number and quality of butchers. If you're limited to supermarket produce you find yourself concocting endless rubs, marinades and sauces to vary the taste: independently sourced meat introduces a whole new unadulterated world.
The decision to leave a metre-wide strip of grass (I use the world advisedly) around the yard as an experiment in cultivating wildlife has been a huge success. It’s alive with butterflies and other insects, small mammals (the cats are doing a roaring trade) and birds. Unfortunately, the sheep have caught on and are standing in line like a pack of dirty wheaten terriers with their heads through the fence, demolishing the preserve.

Tuesday, July 24

Dinner

They don't come fresher. Guess which one's mine?

The yard - yes, it's overgrown

Sunshine; a brief respite from the blitz. It's also market day (fresh crab for lunch, a trout for dinner). My quality of life improves immeasurably with just one open door. Our double-glazing is great, but you miss the outside sounds, even the rain.I’d hoped to have been a touch more mobile by now, but the so-called ‘good leg’ is still knackered. It’s hard to hop around when one limb is strung together with wire and the other’s missing a tendon or two. My knees are shot. It doesn’t seem so bad when I’m able to sit on the yard and breathe the air - although those cattle in the adjacent field are a little too pungent for my liking. Despite my pointing a finger in their direction, Mrs G. isn't fooled, she’s started to feed me something called a probiotic to aid ‘digestion’ (her code for my flatulence). Can’t say these little bottles of sweet milky goo are really my sort of thing, but I find that providing you chose the coconut-flavoured variety and mix it with an equal measure of Bacardi and a fair amount of ice, then it’s quite palatable. Sunshine and a Bob Marley CD does the trick. Today’s yard is flooded with butterflies; Red Admirals predominate. The chaffinches are back in numbers too, along with a nuthatch. Hadn’t seen one for some time. Two pheasant chicks have survived, after all, and are visiting the yard to feed. Our bee population has also increased significantly since the neighbour re-populated his two hives. A chance of some free honey, maybe? I was speculating yesterday on the chances of someone sneaking into his garden to purloin the odd fresh vegetable, but concluded that it would have to be a tasty old carrot to be worth the risk of negotiating his flock of geese, four slavering dogs and the man himself, sitting on the porch with a shotgun across his lap.

Sunday, July 22

Health issues

Brrr, it’s a grim early morning at the Ponderosa. A wren patrols alongside me on the back door step, polishing off a breakfast of insects and spiders. The yard appears at its most active this time of the day. Although I’ve settled for my usual toast and honey, Mrs G. has promised to bake Danish pastries. You wouldn’t eat the supermarket variety, and our baker’s lardy cake is a poor substitute. I’m pleased to be eating at all: in an effort to resolve a problem with my leg irons, the orthopaedic surgeon prescribed a short but concentrated course of anti-biotics. Unfortunately, this treatment is accompanied by nausea and diarrhoea; mislay your crutches and you can be sure to attract the undiluted wrath of the Memsahib by throwing up over her freshly laundered linen. Given a lack of mobility, fitness and general health issues are always in the back of your mind; however, I’ve made a conscious decision to maintain a reasonable daily intake of alcohol and sticky buns - if only to piss off Liam Donaldson, our esteemed Chief Medical Officer. What is it about the words ‘nanny’ and ‘state’ that these guys don’t understand. And from a man who looks like he ate all the pies. Fat git.

Saturday, July 21

Summer holidays

What a palaver on the M5. It appears that half the world set off for a break in the south west and ended up spending the night in their vehicles. I can only imagine what it must be like, stranded in the family charabanc with the good lady giving out large portions of earache, a brace of whining kids, and the mother-in-law in one of her poisonous moods. Two bottles of fizzy pop and a kit-kat to split between the troops. Everyone’s venting their frustration onto poor old Plod for not turning up with a flask of Bovril and a reassuring platitude - guess they were far too busy battling the Friday night binge drinkers in a local town centre.
Not that it’s any consolation, but if they ever get here the morning’s quite pleasant. For some reason the village is reassuringly free of tourists.
If this type of freak weather turns out to be more commonplace, you may want to rethink that aversion the 4-wheel drive vehicles - at least you stand a better chance of getting out of trouble.

Friday, July 20

Pasta for lunch

Some days you’d hardly notice it was there. Thursday was the first day since arriving at the barn that I’ve actually missed my golf. The Carnoustie coverage on BBC is marvellous; am set for the weekend. Given the way my luck’s been running, I decided against a flutter. With Paddy Power offering 2-1 on Woods v the field I’m probably right; and yet… Achi Sato at 400-1? Harrington’s probably worth a punt at 18-1, if only because I rubbished his chances last week.
In between putts I have been trying to fix the infamous gas fire which has broken down again. Having previously blown the thing apart (maybe they need me on the Napoli salvage?), I’ve gingerly reassembled its internal components in accordance with a diagram I found at the appendix to the manual. Yet whilst it now appears to be running satisfactorily, I get the feeling Mrs G. would feel reassured having the fire inspected by our local heating engineer (two weeks to return a call, two more for an actual appearance). I detect a disheartening lack of confidence in my technical ability.
The rain has refused to let up. There was a brief respite during our run to town for supplies before yet another inevitable deluge - a prolonged and heavy thunderstorm. Our neighbour is busy with his JCB, digging additional drainage ditches and installing large calibre pipes. The pheasants are perched on a tree stump, watching - their only immediate relief from the mud. We’ve had to send out for another sack of feed to keep the birds supplied. One shaft of sunlight and the butterflies are out… Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae), flitting about the yard.
A call to lunch… Mrs G. has been busy toasting pine nuts and mixing pesto for the pasta. She follows with her home-made Gelato Al Limone E Mascarpone.

Monday, July 16

Blue Bee

Some mornings I wake, and - well, let’s face it - I wouldn’t be human if I weren’t a little frustrated with the current hand I’ve been dealt. Looking at the Ilazarov frame I have this recurring vision of that scene from the film, Forest Gump - the one where he’s being chased along a rural track by local bullies on bicycles. As he’s forced to run increasingly faster, his leg irons begin to disintegrate, and - freed from restraints - he draws away from his adversaries to ‘run like the wind.’ Unfortunately, my dreams of Ethiopian-style performances are long gone, along with that elusive light-weight boxing championship and the late call up for England’s crucial world cup qualifying match. Right now I’d settle for a walk across the fields, down to the river. My consolation this week is a berth on the couch and Carnoustie on the box.

Fly by

She's set up home in the yard, but it looks like the bird's now chick-less; tough world out there. You can forget the Hawk trainers, there’s some serious tonnage exercising overhead this morning, and the fuel they’re burning is costing a little more than the VAT on my last Majestic order. Two likely looking lads have been circling in Harriers. If this was Helmand Province, I’d be a little more worried. I wonder if they’re practising for the Napoli? The mere fact I can see them is an indication that skies have cleared. A couple of days sunshine would be nice; an hour or two would be welcome. Our neighbour was kind enough to drop by with another basket of fresh produce. Touch embarrassing, given I was still in my dressing gown. I can hear him now… ‘louche city types.’

Saturday, July 14

BBQ Pork

So much for our (forecast) sunny day. Mind you, it hasn’t dissuaded the traffic: a nine mile tail-back is waiting to join the M5. Good job today’s not a hospital visit. Although overcast, it’s still an opportunity to sit on the back step and watch sheep chew grass. Hard to imagine life can get more exciting; eat your heart out, David Beckham! Mrs G. has acquired a piece of pig the size of our neighbour’s Labrador, and yours truly is busy searching for a suitable rub, prior to firing up the barbeque. It should keep us in pulled pork for a week or two; maybe provides scope for a catering enterprise at the village market?
Looks like the pheasant’s brood had shrunk from eight to two. Not sure who has the biggest smirk on their face, the vixen, owl or buzzard.
The saga of MSC Napoli continues. Having re-beached her after a divers’ survey determined she was incapable of being towed, the salvors efforts seem to have been directed towards breaking the vessel. This morning’s report from the beach indicates AHTS Maersk Advancer is close to separating the Napoli’s bow from her stern. Everyone’s in a deckchair on the beach. You have to appreciate this rates as a major entertainment opportunity; up there with Nana Mouskouri’s farewell world tour.

Friday, July 13

TGIF

Friday the thirteenth - not the day to venture up a ladder… A disappointing Thursday, yesterday, and I don’t necessarily mean the weather. Another hospital visit; this time, unscheduled. Another operation? I can’t believe it. Still, practice makes perfect. ‘It’s only a broken leg (in the accent of Michael Caine), why the drama?’ ‘There’s always someone worse off than yourself,’ as Granny used to say. Actually, I’m not sure I ever heard Granny say this, but it’s the sort of thing she probably would have. My short story bedtime reading last night was that of Harry’s final evening, prior to the Kilimanjaro run. I must make a note to be a tad more discriminatory in what I go to sleep with. Wonder what the chances are of acquiring Seasonal Affected Disorder in July? Thankfully, the man from Majestic has arrived with supplies.

Wednesday, July 11

Bling

Incapacitated as I am, I find it difficult to reach those parts of the barn that are more readily colonised by the insect world. Such are the number of spiders, emptying my shoes before putting them on brings to mind a scene of Glen Ford and the boys, participating in an Oklahoma land rush. And the moths have turned my office into the set of Buffalo Bill’s residence, viz. The Silence of the lambs. Equipped with a trusty magnifying glass and Collins reference book, I wile away the hours in earnest study.
As forecast, the sun made one of its rare appearances, affording an opportunity for a brief hop around the grounds. Ah, the smell of newly mown pasture (Memsahib, keeping busy with the Honda). Overhead, those stacked aircraft waiting to land at Heathrow have long since given way to near misses from Hawk trainers, and Chinook helicopters. Whilst the former were an irritating nuisance, it’s always exciting to watch the military in action.
A lunch of cheese & onion sandwiches has failed to remove the taste of cloves from my mouth. Have you any idea of the cost of dental work! - what happened to that Polish dividend we hear so much about? I was offered the option of a ‘competitively priced’ gold crown, apparently popular hereabouts. I suspect Mrs G. would be somewhat aghast at my adopting the bling-bling life-style and pursuing a sudden interest in the works of Puff Daddy. I suggested to the tooth doctor that gold teeth were perhaps culturally inappropriate, but I’m not sure we were on the same wavelength.

Tuesday, July 10

In the frame

Normal service has resumed: it’s raining - although we’re promised a fine Wednesday. Believe that if you will. I can take the inclement weather, what hurts is having to suffer the sight of that greasy septic Al Gore, fronting his band of happy-clappy disciples. Hands up everyone who switches off as soon as some plonker spouts global warming. The reason I find it such a misleading misnomer is that we’re well into July, and I’m bloody freezing. Yes, I appreciate the climate is changing, and yes, man made emissions could well be a contributory factor. But to turn it into a religion? I can understand the science community and attendant politicos: they just want in on the gravy train; but what’s with people’s inability to function unless their life is cause-dependant? It's as bad as those individuals who define themselves through their work.

Burping cows and sheep are being targeted by UK scientists to help bring down Britain's soaring levels of greenhouse gas pollution. Experts at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth say the diet of farmed animals can be changed to make them produce less methane, a more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide. Farmed ruminant animals are thought to be responsible for up to a quarter of "man-made" methane emissions worldwide though, contrary to common belief, most gas emerges from their front, not rear, ends.

There you are then, it’s the Bovini tribe in our adjacent field who are the culprits. I can just see Farmer Charles electing to switch their diet to packets of Waitrose ready-washed salad in order to compensate for the carbon footprint delivered by his three tractors, four quad-bikes, the Land Rover, Range Rover and JCB. If you’re serious about man-made emissions, get the UN to issue a mandatory edict forbidding families to produce more than one offspring. It’ll have a much bigger effect than outlawing my TV remote. Alternatively, build a zillion nuclear power stations and have done with it.

Monday, July 9

Reading material - Graham Greene

I like Greene’s stories, although they're probably considered 'old fashioned' these days. Whilst the 'Heart of the Matter' centres on a fictitious West African colony during the war years, it so easily transposes to a depressed east coast port of long acquaintance. The central theme of the book is mans’ eternal struggle with those two deadly foes: women and God. Scobie’s failure to meet the unattainable expectations of his nemesis, worse still, to take their demands so seriously, so literally, leads him along an inevitable path. A flawed individual - as we all are - without the necessary character to balance his chosen vision of morality. In defence of our anti-hero, 15 years sandwiched between the North Sea and the River Yare would test the staunchest of men. You don’t live in such environs, you merely exist, waiting your turn to expire.

Sunday, July 8

Picnic time

Yesterday’s barbeque was an enormous success. It wasn’t one of my finest, but what can you expect from a peg legged cook. The principle point of this exercise was to char a piece of meat, and in that I succeeded - perhaps a little too enthusiastically. The sun appeared: what more could you ask from a barbeque. Mrs G. raided the Moro cookbook for a new take on tabbouleh, but it was one of the neighbour’s cucumbers that stole the show - along with a bottle of Rioja I found hiding under the stairs. Today looks to be another rare sunny experience. A picnic would be nice.

Friday, July 6

Pushing his luck

I’m not usually fussed about these guys sharing the barn, but when you reach for your coffee and find Sid here’s beaten you to it… Kermit can't be doing his job properly.

Weekly moan

Wimp that I am, pain management is always uppermost in my mind. After a brief dalliance with morphine I settled for the usual cocktail of analgesics, anti-inflammatories and (weak) opiates, which together, supposedly tackle any low to medium grade pain. Having subsequently relinquished these pills in favour of a beer or two, I’m now having second thoughts. You know what it’s like: no pain, no gain. However, whilst most of the time the leg is just sore, it can hurt - usually when I trip over something and land badly on the wrong limb, or when the Ilizarov gets caught on a door frame and I suddenly find myself going backwards.
I’m starting to panic at the moment as my injured foot remains stubbornly opposed to resuming its correct angle relative to my leg, i.e. 90 deg. Accordingly, I am bouncing off the furniture trying to exaggerate the weight I put on my injured foot in order to force the issue. This blunt manipulation releases more sticky fluid from the pin holes until the lower leg resembles a stick of barley sugar. Sore leg aside, at this stage of the process it’s really about my knees being shot to bits; that, and the knackered wrists, elbows and shoulder joints - from their daily battle with the crutches.
Truth to tell, I’m well pleased with things so far, although when you think about it there’s nothing too subtle about a handful of coat hangers hammered through your leg. I’d be pissed if the garage tried to repair my car in the same subtle manner - with a bit of wire and gaffer tape.

Rates up

Good news on the interest rate front: more shekels for us hard working savers. And ex-London, the property market finally looks to be grinding towards a halt. A bucket of cold water over local vendors wouldn’t go amiss.

Thursday, July 5

Food chain

Quick cruise to the General (hospital) for a routine inspection. Everything appears to be proceeding to plan: still on course for a further eight weeks, mit Ilizarov. So far, so good. Bumped into a compadre from my prior hospital stay whose leg looks to be going backwards and who remains consigned to a wheelchair. Poor schmuck, at least I get to hop around. Despite their collective misfortunes the fracture clinic patients always smile. What else can you do?
The front door food chain grows - with the arrival of a fox, to eat the toads, who ate the slugs, who ate… The owl has also returned to the barn, now doubt smarting from the way the cats are running away with his/her supply of small mammals. The pheasant has appeared in the yard with eight chicks - given the number of predators about the place, I don't fancy their chances.
Our neighbour dropped by to offload his surplus crop of cucumbers. Cue Mrs G. and her famous tzatziki. If only the rain would stop and I could barbeque the shrew and frog kebabs.

Tuesday, July 3

Fish supper

Please don’t tell me that summer’s been cancelled. The rain is still falling. Bouncing waist height off of the mud stained stone paving in the yard. Not much I can do, other than peer from the window and commiserate with the black birds. It’s depressing to think the windows need cleaning again - Mrs G’s turn I think. Have given up on the news; as if the threat of MRSA wasn’t enough, now it’s Islamist doctors. Guess the arrests are encouraging news for our unemployed medical school graduates. Having been bored to tears re-reading my smallholder’s manual, white van man rode to the rescue this morning with a new supply of books from Amazon. Free delivery, and within two working days - a non too shabby service. I’m semi-mobile, inasmuch as I can now make it to the village for supplies from Quik-E-Mart, and to catch the arrival of fresh fish from Padstow. Fish suppers tonight! Talking of fish… For the first time since quitting the old business I actually felt a touch nostalgic - watching the Trawlermen on BBC. The first series was partially subtitled due to perceived difficulties with Doric and Broch dialects, and resulted in a predictable grouse from that un-photogenic chap who represents Banff and Buchan. Jimmy and Sandy had obviously polished their accents for this second run as we managed to follow everything well enough.