Friday, August 31

The Diana franchise

I’ll hold my hands up: I just don’t get it; guess I’m of the Germaine Greer persuasion. Like most people, you’re reluctant to say anything; she was, after all, someone’s mother. But please, a memorial service? Televised live, by the BBC!

Cock of the yard

Pound for pound, this little bantam-weight can take just about anything that infringes his space in the yard.

Day out

Yesterday’s expedition to Exeter proved to be a test of fortitude - and I don’t necessarily mean the Limp Along Leslie impersonation. The city was crawling with visitors; like being back in the smoke. Trying to get something to eat was a nightmare; and don’t get me started on young women with buggies - whatever problems we face as a country, replenishing the population won’t be an issue. Haven’t they heard of climate change? I inadvertently upset one old girl in the Cathedral yard, when using my crutch to bludgeon a pigeon.

The Bat Mobile was entered for it’s annual wash and brush up - and day of reckoning. The vehicle has proved to be a reliable work-horse this last 12 months, but using it to haul hefty loads and negotiating tortuous farm tracks had taken its toll. You know at the check in - when the service attendant say’s ‘give us your mobile number, so we can contact you if there’s a problem…’ well, guess what. ‘Hi, Mr G., your wiper blades have perished.’ I step back in amazement at getting away so lightly, before he moves on from the preamble: ‘the suspension is shot, battery needs replacing, tyres are either below the legal limit or have un-repairable punctures, brake shoes are down to 15%, the air conditioning is a write-off, blah, blah, blah…’ My annual £250 service budget straight out the window. I even sprang for a valet, but given the number of tractors, hedges and sheep I’ve bounced off of, it was more a question of shining the dents than producing a show-room finish.

Wednesday, August 29

Still limping

Bad news on the gammy limb front. Having snoozed through my allotted two hour waiting period in reception, Dr Killmore informed me that (a) the fracture line is still visible and will require another couple of months to repair, and (b) my leg has taken on the shape of a banana - has set crookedly, and could well require manipulation. Call me slow on the uptake, but ‘manipulation’ to me = pain. They bash it about a bit with a heavy metal object, and try for a more acceptable result. My promised reward to Mrs G. of the holiday of a lifetime, aka a weekend in Jersey, looks set to be deferred until Xmas.

The office

I’ve a box room that I fondly refer to as my den. It actually is full of boxes, along with a filing cabinet, a telephone, several back copies of Ferreter’s Weekly and a Righteous Brothers CD. More of a cell than an office; somewhere I decamp to when serious cogitating is required - or when I’m avoiding work. It’s principal fault lies with the barn’s plumbing. This Mario Brothers revenge, features a network of pipes that criss-cross the ceiling and which appear to carry more air than hot water. The gurgling, rumble of sound is amplified through wooden beams and overhead cavities. A sometimes uncomfortable experience, that - given the room’s claustrophobic proportions and a surfeit of pilsner - can transport you aboard U-96, and a scene from Das Boot.

Tuesday, August 28

The Sundowners

I appreciate I’m living on borrowed time; that my idyllic, hermit-like existence of bed, beer and books at the barn can’t last for ever. Accordingly, once every couple of weeks I struggle into my vehicle and do the rounds of our local estate agents. It’s not exactly arduous: despite the area’s popularity, there’s little that actually comes onto the market and which is worth looking at. However, given most all my neighbours farm for a living, I'm considering taking a punt on a likely prospect some several fields away. It’s an old, derelict homestead, but I reckon a can of whitewash and a bit of spit and polish from Mrs G. would transform the place. The barn and pig-pens could do with remodelling, although the chicken sheds look serviceable. There’s acres of thistle, and something called Japanese knotweed that needs attention. It looks suspiciously like hard work, but The Boss has set her heart on playing Deborah Kerr to my Paddy Carmody.

Rare species

You can’t appreciate how rare these characters are becoming. The second brood is already down from 12 chicks to five. It’s starting to grate, given the fox and buzzard are getting more on their plate than I am. I'd become used to the neighbour dropping a brace at our door every week or so when in season, but at the current rate of attrition I'll be back to buying frozen chickens.

Monday, August 27

Blue tit

My chocolate box period. No excuse for featuring so many birds recently; they’ve had a tough time of it. From yesterday’s Sunday Times… Perhaps the grimmest holiday destination of all would have been north Dartmoor and Okehampton in Devon (tell me about it), where over the past two months the Met Office has recorded 75% more rain than usual, temperatures down by 1.2C and 15% less sunshine. Anyone heading south to seek the sun was going in entirely the wrong direction. Birds have produced 40%-50% fewer offspring than average in many areas (according to the British Trust for Ornithology). Many have had their nests drenched or washed away, while others have been hit by shortages of staple foods such as greenflies and caterpillars. While the past month has seen an explosion in the numbers of creatures such as slugs, beetles and ticks, the rain washed them away or forced them to hide in the key bird-breeding months of May to July. Mark Grantham, the trust’s population biologist, said small songbirds such as tits and warblers had been particularly badly hit. “Bird productivity has been very, very low. A lot of sites have had 100% failure, where the site itself has been under several feet of water.”

Bank holiday

An eerily quiet bank holiday. No tractors, military aircraft or shotguns. Just a woodpecker, chipping away at the tree stump. Am resting up, following the excitement of yesterday’s enjoyable village fete. It appears I’ve little talent for throwing Wellington boots; nor, come to that, knocking down coconuts. But I picked a winner at the ferret races and there was plenty of beer on tap. Take my hat off to the young Billy Elliot: it takes outsized cojones to be the only boy in the pom-pom dance team - especially with an audience of bare-chested, tattooed lads from the Dog & Duck. As I'm now fast approaching a comparable size to the late, great John Candy, Mrs G. has arbitrarily withdrawn my crisps and sausage sandwich privileges. Today’s healthy eating, al fresco lunch is a rather colourful broad bean and tuna salad. And no wine (or was it no whining?). As befits bank holidays, the TV choice is between Ben-Hur or Planet Of The Apes. Paxman let them off lightly.

Young pheasant

The lone survivor from the first brood. Moving into my artistic period.

Saturday, August 25

Cob nuts

The cob nut season arrives: a perfect accompaniment to a summer afternoon’s pre-barbeque cold one. Jeff Sterling reports the action from an open window while I doze in the hammock. The good lady busies herself with the brush cutter and an acre or two of wilderness.

Friday, August 24

Hoodies - perpetually engaged in skulduggery

The Morland cartoon in today’s Times is a cheap shot, but it will probably gel with a majority of the public. ‘Lock ’em up and throw away the key’ appears to be the gut response. That, or predictable calls for the compulsory sterilisation of Britain’s underclass. Radio phone-in programmes broadcast visceral indignation over the death of young Rhys Jones. I couldn’t help conceding a wry smile this morning when some irate old bird rang up to blame it all on Margaret Thatcher. No doubt we’ll have forgotten about it a week from now; at least, that is, until the next time. If you rely on the media for your take on life you could be forgiven for believing there are only two types of teenager that walk these dangerous streets of ours: half are smiling, middle-class girls with access to a good orthodontist, who achieve straight A* grades in forty seven subjects, whilst saving the world and spending Dad’s money in Top Shop; the others are surly looking, inarticulate boys clothed in Tesco apparel, that drink super-strength cider whilst riding their knocked-off BMX cycles to the next scene of crime. Give the government their due, they’ve been throwing our hard earned cash at the problem for years. But until one of them has the courage to call a spade, a spade; draws a line in the sand, nothing’s ever going to change.

Now it's calcium

Doctors are recommending that people over 50 take supplements of calcium to reduce the risk of bone damage if they fall, as a study in the Lancet medical journal today suggests that daily pills can prevent one in four fractures in the over-50s. Now you tell me! I’ll add them to the statins and the aspirin. Then again, those two calcium-enriched loaves I eat each day are probably doing the trick. More sunshine, that’s what I need: a solar infusion of vitamin c.

Thursday, August 23

Jersey beach

Ah, the good old days... Or were they? I'm unable to look back without rose-tinted specs.The sheep have returned, Trigger’s going ape-shit in the paddock and something has been kind enough to leave a dead rat on my doorstep. Playing silly buggers with my leg has left me swallowing handfuls of pills again. I feel a little like House: a stick in one hand and tube of pharmaceuticals in the other. We’ve a sun overhead - the second day running. If it carries on like this I’m going to spring for a polarising filter.

Wednesday, August 22

Junior doctors

Following on, line astern…
It’s impossible to open the newspaper these days without another article detailing the plight of our junior doctors. Ministers have created 1,000 extra training posts as a sop to unsuccessful candidates who are 'especially qualified' (the really bright ones). Being the educated, articulate bunch of characters they are, apprentice medics continue to rail against the Government’s inability to provide everyone with prestigious teaching posts; preferably, I guess, ones that entail a 30 hour week and are accompanied by six-figure salaries. One poor guy - and I’m sure he’s a wiz with a scalpel - has had to take a job in Wigan (the wags reluctance to move to Sunderland all over again?), having to work overtime in A&E to help pay for the new set of tyres on his Range Rover. I hear the familiar arguments… ‘it’s a massive waste of potential; the Government pays millions to educate us - then squanders this valuable resource.’ We have to keep reminding the boys and girls that it’s muggins the tax-payer who foots the bill, not the Government. And I trust the female doctors that quit within 10 years to start a family and fail to return, or return part-time, recall this value-for-money analogy.
Like it or not, the NHS gravy train appears to have run out of steam. The scandal of GP’s salaries was just the start of Joe Public’s concern, and I foresee a 25 year war of attrition, questioning expenditure and redirecting funds. A battle which unfortunately impacts on me, given I’m fast approaching that age when things drop off more regularly. I’d lobby to switch expenditure from elsewhere, but what do you tell the squaddie who’s getting his butt shot off in Helmand province and hasn’t been issued with bullet proof underwear; or the headmaster in Tower Hamlets that can't afford a new Bunsen burner for the science class. I know, I know, we could jettison those Government quangoes and ranks of form-filling bureaucrats. Unfortunately, they’d likely retrain as medics and return to harangue us for having no job when they graduate.

Tuesday, August 21

Swallows

I'm surrounded early evenings by a fair sized flock of swallows that feed on the wing in the meadow. Unbelievably agile, you can pass an hour or two watching them. They spend a good part of the day on our telegraph lines, and in the dead tree out back. Needless to say, swallows rarely come close enough to photograph. They'll playfully buzz you, but I haven't a lens that is fast enough.

New arrivals

I can’t believe she’s at it again - having lost seven out of eight the last time. Five minutes after the fox sped through chasing Fergus, the cock pheasant, this girl wanders in and sets up home in the yard. They won't last long.

Wasted meal

Putting our digestion at risk we continue to scour the region for decent pub food. Today’s special was perched on top an island of creamed potato, floating in what looked like brown Windsor soup. I’ll never understand why pubs insist on pureeing potato, but there it is. The soup was actually onion gravy, and I know it came from a jar because we were preceded by a pensioner’s coach party: having consumed a dish or two of this wonderful thickened sauce - containing copious quantities of monosodium glutamate and assorted E-numbered compounds, three of the old duffers ended up thrashing about the floor suffering anaphylactic shocks. We’re knee deep in first class produce: there’s no reason to be turning out poor fare. Rick Stein wanders the planet bemoaning our preference for junk food, but at least McDonald’s customers know what they’re getting for their money.

Ordinary people

Callers to the Five Live phone-in programmes often refer to 'ordinary people'. Who or what are ordinary people? I assume it's code for a particular demographic group, but can't quite work out which.

Pete Doherty

The police appear to have an entire shift that does nothing but drive around London, shadowing and arresting Pete Doherty. There are have-a-go middle-aged men across the country being stabbed or kicked to death by yobs on an almost daily basis - and not a copper in sight. Yet as soon as this latter day crooner reaches for the Woodbines, they fall from the sky. I’ve never seen Babyshambles perform, but they can’t be that bad?

Monday, August 20

Tinned fish

Canned pilchards in tomato sauce are one of those epicurean peculiarities to which I’m unashamedly addicted. There are times when a tin of Glenryck South Atlantics is the only thing that serves. I always feel a little like Ernie Shackleton when eating them; minus the scurvy, of course. And at 32p/tin they’re a steal. I wouldn’t want to live on the little suckers, but as a snack for lunch or supper they beat the pants off of deep fried jackdaws or frogspawn surprise.
Mrs G. is on batch 47D of her ‘rye bread to die for’ project; think we’re currently testing Egyptian flour derivatives. At least I won’t go hungry. Although - like the ref from Sunday’s Anfield match - I’ve been dropped from kitchen rotation. My weekend seafood risotto failed muster. Leaving the dodgy squid to one side, risotto is all about stock. In my defence the leftover Moroccan chicken, two carrots and an onion were all I had. The bucket of sand and grit contained in the mussels didn’t help. Tonight’s dinner is a favourite: belly draught, sauerkraut and spuds - accompanied by a cheeky little pilsner.

Another day

The most comfortable feeling of my day has to be that on waking. The silence. Staring out the window across the draw at whatever this morning presents. The anticipation of the day; rare moment of solitude. Grateful and pleased to be granted another. Of entering the kitchen: that warm and comforting, oil-enhanced cocoon of domesticity, pleasingly reminiscent of a boat's engine room. Opening a cupboard and being enveloped in the perfume of a hundred spices. The expectation of tea, and toast and honey. What more can the world have to offer.

Sunday, August 19

Is an education worth the investment?

Last week’s city action was a taste of the good old days: back office staff wondering if they’ll still be in work two months from now, canny estate agents moving to alternative employment, and public servants re-evaluating budgets as tax revenues plummet. It can’t get worse, you say. Imagine you’ve just received those pesky A-level results. By the time you complete university the economy will be half way through a recession and no one will be hiring. When they do recruit, younger, more attractive students with better grades will have graduated behind you and joined the competition. Success is often about timing. Ask the baby boomers who were hatched between 1961-64. The ones that left school around 1980, that struggled through the two recessions of the early 80s and 90s. Any of the 19% that never managed to find employment (the first generation to be hit by the growth of flexible labour markets and the decline in manufacturing); the ones who had to settle for part time work; whose periods of employment were more likely to be measured in months, rather than years. Then again, maybe Gordon Brown really is the genius they would have us believe, and the boom-bust cycle has been banished forever. I’m told it’s the golden age for education. Outside of London, graduates and teachers re-entering the profession are having to contend with 100 applicants for every teaching vacancy. Schools are finding they really do have the pick of the bunch. With such high calibre staff, what chance a future 50% pass rate for A* graded A-levels? Pity about the 40% of kids that leave school unable to read and write.

Saturday, August 18

Another old boy bites the dust

Bill Deedes, the journalist, Cabinet minister and war hero died aged 94 at his Kent home after a short illness. His exit follows that of a popular golfing partner who expired last month. Deedes was one of those old duffers who, along with Jeffrey Bernard, I always took to; habitually read. There aren’t many left that can write from experience. I occasionally recall situations from the 70s that, courtesy of lessons learned, enable me to evaluate current day challenges. But real sages from my father’s era are now, sadly, few and far between. In reality, the wisdom their experience defines is most often defunct: the grey matter having been reduced to an occasional lucid story from behind the lines.
I’ve 2-3 books relating Deedes’ memoirs and articles, and a decently bound copy of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop for which he provided inspiration; but it’s the Dear Bill series and that caricature of a bygone era, the Thatcher years, that have kept me entertained. I’ll toast him later today with a stickie or two, trusting his faith was justified and that he’s been transported to a better place; maybe back to the course, and Dennis.

Thursday, August 16

Market opportunities

The bear market looms? I made three grand last week, then lost a similar amount today. You wonder why any of us bother. Can’t say I was that much better at picking the gee gees - although I’d a none too shabby record down Catford dogs. Two or three weeks of this and our pensions will be back to square one (down the Suwannee). Let’s face it, what influence can any of us hope to exert on world markets, financial or otherwise? Jack shit, I'd say. And you can be certain that whatever surplus we manage to wring from our post office savings books, it will be spirited away by Gordon Brown, courtesy of another treasury ruse. Spend it or loose it seems to be the answer. Bargains on the high-street helped retail sales to rise more than three times market expectations last month, defying the miserable weather and rising interest rates. Everyone blew their wad on furniture, new TVs and DIY bargains. I’ve decided to buck the trend, investing in oil futures. Have made a start by topping off the tank out back; hats off to the Texaco driver who reversed the length of the track. I also have designs on the neighbour’s barn as a means of accommodating my growing potato mountain. As to pork bellies… I’m meeting our local pig man tonight for a pint or two of apple juice and a chat about weiners.

Red pheasant eggs?

The bright side of life

I suppose the summer’s over, as it’s lashing down, again. In Ireland they would probably describe it as a soft morning. Yesterday’s trip to Holsworthy was rewarded with a couple of trout from our itinerant fish man. I don’t know where he gets them, but they’re good. We hit another pub on the way back - one with a smiling face behind the bar. It’s the middle of August and there were a dozen people in the place; a tough year for the tourist industry. Mind you, the cheapest dish on the menu was sausage and mash at nine quid a throw; easy to see why so many people choose to travel abroad. Nice Betty Stogs bitter.
It’s close to three months since I broke my leg and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. You wake up full of optimism, but once around the block and it’s fucked. Shouldn’t moan, I could be back in hospital eating revolting food and contracting something nasty on the side. Worse still, in the latter years of my life and banged up in a local authority care home; attended by sadistic lowlife, feeding me cold meat from a Scottish supermarket.

Wednesday, August 15

Priorities

Keane blasts players for being a lot of nancy boys who are at the mercy of their wives. Women, that - surprise, surprise - choose to hang out at knightsbridge restaurants in preference to grazing on something greasy from a Sunderland chippie. And his point is? What does he think the rest of us do to avoid that lethal blast from the ray gun. ‘What's your priority (says Keano) - your wife and her shopping or your football.’ Whatever she says it is, matey, whatever she says. The poor lad’s got so much to learn.

Tuesday, August 14

National affiliations

Frank Field’s piece in today’s Telegraph recommends a resurgence of British flag waving to counter the Alex Salmond white paper and his subsequent push for an independent Scotland. Good luck to the lads, if that’s what they want. Personally, I’ve always tended to subvert my nationalist feelings, partly out of deference to the homogeneity of the international environment in which I worked; partly because of the multi-cultural makeup of London, where for most of my life I lived. There’s an element of politeness behind this reticence - not wishing to offend; both about fitting in, and being reluctant to exclude. I’m married to an ethnic, and many of my friends originate from the Celtic fringes.
I’ve rarely felt the necessity to assert my Englishness. I simply am. It would be quite rude to shout about it - unless at Wembley or Twickenham, and is certainly no reason to wear fancy dress or take to country dancing. Acknowledging our Englishness does not necessarily diminish an enthusiasm for all things British. Like it or not, Labour has managed to achieve something that Margaret Thatcher was often accused of propagating: we’ve become a nation of disparate tribes, living parallel lives. Of course, it’s more complicated than race - education, class and relative wealth play a part, both in our divisions and our affiliations. Yet because of the growing mix of races, in the medium term, the concept of a Britain can continue to play an integral part in determining our national identity and sense of belonging - through affording people the opportunity to be British Asian, British Caribbean, British Pakistani… British English and British Scots. Retaining the concept of Britishness allows us to acknowledge that whilst our particular tribe can no longer claim some exclusive right to populate the country, the English can at least continue to exist as an ethnically distinct people, proud of our origins and our history.
Some trace their sense of Englishness back beyond 1066, for others, it has to do with the last two hundred and fifty years. Many view the most recent 4/5 generations (living memory) as what defines them as English. Our views on Europe, for instance, are primarily determined by 20th Century wars - Dads at Dunkirk, Grandfathers fighting the Boche. It's why we’re still so suspect about the lads across the channel. I can appreciate that - given the ongoing level of immigration and rate of births to foreign born mothers - four generations from now the concept of what it means to be both English and British could be radically different. Yet oddly enough, suspect the cause of integration (in England) would be greatly enhanced if Scotland and Wales choose to go their separate ways. Confusing, isn’t it?

Monday, August 13

Comedy

Monty Python’s flying circus has been named the most influential comedy series of all time. Well, not exactly - it topped a poll of 4,000 UKTV Gold viewers, voting on a subjective shortlist of 30 shows that were drawn up by a panel of comedy performers. Like most of these polls the choices are primarily contemporary selections, voted on by people oblivious to Harry Worth, Eric Sykes or Arthur Haynes. Everyone seemed infatuated with Monty Python at the time, but I was strictly a Terry & June man. Growing up with The Navy Lark and The Clitheroe Kid I was always liable to be alienated by a bunch of Oxbridge types behaving like 12 year olds. The group behind Monty Python was often compared to The Beatles influence on music - but then I wasn't sold on those guys either.

Mondays

Yep, Boomtown Rats time again… So, what’s new in the world? Not a lot it seems, judging from today’s news papers. Highlight of the day so far was a bowl of Knorr minestrone. You can simmer this stuff for an hour and still use the peas to refill ten-gauge cartridges. I’ll never understand people - Gordon Brown spends years robbing us blind, yet he’s ten points ahead in the polls. Go figure? Did you see his choice of inspirational artwork? Not the sort of lad you’d want to spend an evening splitting a bottle of Lagavulin with. Mind you, the thought of voting for that oily character from Witney isn’t exactly appealing. I still haven’t forgiven Lamont for Black Wednesday - and Cameron was part of his team. At least the spectre of foot & mouth has disappeared and the chief vet returned to her lair. Didn’t she used to play Dame Edna’s straight man (or was it Arthur Haynes’s)? Those pesky black lads in Peckham are urged to view lawyers as role models? A more dubious bunch of shysters I can’t imagine. Hip-hop promotes an acquisitive, misogynistic, money-driven lifestyle, and thereby becomes the preferred choice of background music for city trading desks. The McCann circus feels the heat in Praia de Luz. Boys continue to bomb at school, having failed to be inspired by inept women teachers. UK drinkers become more sophisticated as they switch to cider and rose wine? It makes you weep. Hospital kitchens are no better than lavatories. And junior doctors fret about the lack of tenured posts, courtesy of the NHS gravy train. Tiger Woods wins another major. Prescott receives a £500k advance for his memoirs, yet no one bids for the film rights to my Beechdale years. I can just imagine the limited life span of 16 year old community support officers back then. Plod shuts down the M40 for two days to play CSI, and then pursues a biker gang driving Rover 620s. What’s that about a parallel universe?

Sunday, August 12

Dining companion

World's birds on death row... There's a race against time to save 189 species from extinction. For what it's worth, I'm doing my bit. It's Mexican strawberries for breakfast, again! I feel like a character from Lonesome Dove. Another day and I’ll have finally rid the world of bean burgers; can turn my hand to the apple cake mountain that I’ve been sharing with chummy here.

Saturday, August 11

Foreign footballers

Hats off to Erickson and his team of foreign mercenaries; great start to the season for Manchester City. Jim Purnell, the culture secretary believes that Premier league clubs should reduce their reliance on foreign players and invest television revenues in talented young British footballers. Quite right, I say, who needs Didier Drogba and Carlos Tevez when there are perfectly adequate lads languishing in the Isthmian league. The argument, of course, is all about England winning the World Cup; why he’s talking about British players I’ve no idea. There are two points to consider. The first concerns (a) the dearth of English talent, and (b) the extortionate prices for those limited number of players. The second relates to why we should forgo the opportunity of watching the world’s best club football every week in order to boost our national team’s chance of winning a cup once each generation. Why, I wonder, is it government practise to encourage the appointment of Americans, Australians and the like to help run our ‘world class’ public organisations, our commercial and industrial giants, but that this in someway doesn’t disadvantage domestic talent. And why, if it’s OK to import literally millions of cheapo Asian and African immigrants at the expense of training and encouraging our most disadvantaged citizens; or come to that, importing cut-price Polish labour to meet a skills shortage, it’s wrong for footy to adopt the same strategy? It’s the mixed messages I don’t understand.

35 again

The footy’s back; guess what I’m doing today. Apart from the sore head as a reminder, yesterday’s birthday celebrations seemed to go well. The plan started off as a thrash at one of the few Michelin star establishments in the region; it ended by hosting a dinner party for the visiting tribe of scouser relatives. Yes, the car’s still there; it hasn’t even been vandalised. The younger generation eh? Being an old fart (born the same year as Geldof, Sting and Gordon Brown) I left school at 15 to earn a living. Nowadays, a masters degree isn’t enough for these professional layabouts, spinning their educational experience through to doctorate level. Like the Queen, I’ve decided to have a second birthday and have started Saturday with a couple of beers to accompany my exotic breakfast of refried beans (leftovers from last night’s vegetarian contingent) and huevos rancheros.

Wednesday, August 8

Fritillary

Like many people's, my life remains one continuous learning curve. Long may this continue - why learn first time around and miss the fun of those repeat adventures. Today’s lesson concerned the advisability of rigging a petrol driven brush cutter to my crutches. Probably not the smartest of moves; a bit like climbing ladders. Guess the undergrowth can flourish for a while longer. The damp, earthy morning smell reminds me of Portuguese golf courses and narrow-boat holiday; everything about this place evokes pleasant memories. It’s a glorious day, necessitating a trip to town for supplies (out of cold, refreshing drinks). My first visit to the hairdresser for three months. I was beginning to look too much like a farmer - or was it Ozzy Osbourne?

Tuesday, August 7

The Tower

Feeling a touch nostalgic last night I switched to the BBC and watched ‘The Tower’. It’s a series (sorry, observational documentary) based around two blocks on the Pepys Estate in Deptford. One was acquired from Lewisham Council by Berkeley Homes, subsequently developed and sold to city yuppies. Yes, I’m showing my age: yuppies were an 80s phenomenon. Nowadays, everyone in London is a young urban professional. Either that, or they’re members of an underclass living a Mad Max inspired lifestyle; not sure there’s a middle ground any more. I couldn’t decide if it was inspiring or sad, watching Doug - landlord of The John Evelyn public house - trying to hang on to his business. I know the pub. Many similar establishments in South London have already closed or been reinvented at great expense as ‘trendy wine bars’. Others have succeeded by targeting students, awash with cash from their parent’s equity release, grants and subsidised loans. Doug won’t make it. Ten years from now his clientele will be dead. Their grandchildren have already chosen drugs as a cheaper form of sustenance. On reflection, even with the threat of foot and mouth, I’m glad I moved.

History - a thing of the past

The Chartered Institute of Education Assessors? Another cohort of government inspired clipboard wielding clerks. What the hell. Years ago it was subsidized car plants, ship yards and coal mines; people have to be gainfully employed somewhere. The boiler suit and tins of Swarfega have given way to an M&S suit and laptop.
So, history as a subject is soon to be… well, history. The lessons of our past will be restricted to the ‘educated’. You can’t blame students for preferring soft subjects; media studies and photography at least infer the possibility of employment at some future date. And it’s understandable that with such a large percentage of our nation’s sprogs being produced by foreign born mothers, that teachers find it increasingly difficult to engender an interest in Britain’s original tribal affiliations. Still, it’s a shame; what goes around comes around - again and again. You can’t predict the future without studying form.

Sunday, August 5

Changed times

Summer blows in from Bermuda, turning a blow-torch across the Ponderosa. Normal service will be resumed this afternoon with thunder storms scheduled to arrive from the north west. Resorting to the television appears almost sacrilegious on such a beautiful day, but there’s continuous sport being broadcast - with a grand prix from Hungary, Twickenham rugby, and a chance to see that Mexican-wonder triumph at St Andrews. And let’s not forget the community shield on the wireless.
Sunday mornings wouldn’t be Sunday mornings without a selection of newspapers, and for the past 25+ years the Sunday Telegraph has been required reading. Or was, until our move. It’s become a somewhat dispiriting read, preaching the same old mantra to a rapidly changing world. Just as mainstream political parties increasingly fail to appeal to large sections of the electorate, so our newspapers tailor output for a diminishing, polarised readership. If someone like me believes the Telegraph is living on borrowed time, what chance your average 20 to 30-something?

Saturday, August 4

It never rains...

You have to admit, we picked a great year to move to the countryside. Floods, disease… Pestilence? An outbreak of frogs and the blades from Mrs G’s mower have led to our back step resembling the kitchen preparation area of a French provincial restaurant. That said, this mini biblical plague pales somewhat when viewed against the threat of another foot & mouth horror. Our neck of the woods is all about farming & tourism and was already struggling from the rainy season. There aren’t too many punters queuing to buy broccoli at £5 a kilo, and there’ll be a lot less of them driving down the M5 with their deck chair and surf board if there’s a repeat of the 2001 barbeque season.

Thursday, August 2

Barista

If it’s good enough for Roger it’ll do for me. The coffee machine is now installed and churning out cafĂ© lattes and espressos like a good un. Having sampled various blends from the six kilos of assorted beans that accompanied this shiny piece of kit, I doubt I’ll ever sleep again. Need to stock up on grappa. Never mind the holiday cottages: a brightly coloured neon sign at the bottom of the track, some retro glass cups and saucers, a tray of Mrs G’s pastries and look out Starbucks. If only I could stop my hands from shaking; from reaching for a cigarette.

Wednesday, August 1

Nuthatch

The dire consequences forecast for this year’s junior doctor intake failed to materialise; the two hour delay in appointments merely service true to form. Still, it was a run to town. I’d hoped to receive encouraging news regarding a target date for having my frame removed. ‘Dream on, squire’ wasn’t necessarily it.