Sunday, September 30

New face on the block

The latest arrival. Casually strolls through the back door into the barn I don't think these guys appreciate what happens once the neighbour finishes oiling his Remington.

Belay that... Once Mrs G. finds out he's crapped on her floor.

Friday, September 28

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Pleasant day, driving along single track lanes, exploring new frontiers, going boldly on...

Having noticed someone had shaven fifty big ones from their asking price - usually the equivalent of a large neon sign saying ‘naff property, ridiculously overpriced,’ you nevertheless feel obliged to investigate. As I've said before, putting a price on anything is subjective; and whilst they say there’s a buyer for every property, at the end of the day, it’s only worth what someone will pay. And this one was a shocker, its location had 'Deliverance' stamped large. I’ve no problem with someone asking the earth for a beautifully restored, period property. It’s when their neighbour jumps on the bandwagon by posting a similar price for plastic windows and corrugated roofing! These guys were still six-figures over the top, although I doubt they’d have appreciated my valuation. Even at that price you’d be barking.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Small he may be, but this lad’s huge on sound.

Swings and roundabouts

Stands back in amazement: Tories snatch a Sunderland council seat from Labour in yesterday’s local elections. A 3.7% swing - on top of the previous lurch, last May. And in Sunderland too! The Flash boy’s cheeks will be a little squeakier this morning. If Cameron comes up with a decent song and dance routine for the conference and Salmon continues his march north of the border then you can forget the Labour landslide. There appears a sea change amongst key voters. Flash knows this - witness the recent rehabilitation of Margaret T. and the dark force’s tea party on her behalf. With their Scottish banker a little soiled, and significant parts of the home market buckling under the weight of immigration, stealing the votes of Tory wets has been Labour’s principal strategy. He’d better hope Worcester Woman stays the course. Toynbee believes the boys have shot themselves in the foot by selecting Boris, but his defeat of Livingstone would be icing on the cake. Not that I give a crap either way, it’s a game I stopped playing long ago. But the opportunities for spread betting are enormous.

Thursday, September 27

Health police

You know something’s amiss when that nice old girl at the butchers refuses to sell you a bag of scratchings. I wouldn’t mind, but she’d already come across with a pork pie for my luncheon and a pound or two of sausages for supper. When I suggested she throw in the tasty pork rinds, I received a meaningful glance at the waistline and dismissive shake of her head. It was a touch embarrassing. The girls behind me in the queue were nodding sagely, at my backside. Protestations about the planned training regime post Ilazarov fell on deaf ears, as did my claim to be bulking up for a solo tenor role with the church choir. Dammit, you can’t open the newspapers these days without some minion from the health police accusing us of being a nation of fatties. All this time I’d assumed that Mrs G’s endearing shout of Oi, Dennis, whenever she needed to attract my attention, was her alluding to my fondness for a certain scallywag from the Beano. I didn’t appreciate she meant the plump Greek guy who sang Forever and Ever.

Frost

It looked a bit bleak from the bedroom window first thing this morning. Not a time to go wandering out back in your vest and drawers. The bloody sheep have sat under the window all night, complaining. And the bat's returned - obviously fancies this place for his winter billet. I just can't see Mrs G. allowing him to hibernate in her wardrobe.

Wednesday, September 26

Another day

If there’s one thing that's bound to upset your indigestion at breakfast, it’s the postman, delivering no less than four franked missives from HM Revenue. However you dress it up, there’s no easy way to soften a greeting that includes such words as accounts, demand and audit.

But onto the good news… Today’s hospital visit confirmed my injured limb is on the mend. After ten minutes playing keepy-up to demonstrate the required level of fitness, Doctor Kilmore said he would speak to Sir Lancelot’s secretary with a view to adding me to the great man’s theatre list. I thought a local anaesthetic and pair of pliers would have done the trick, but it seems the bolts they've raw-plugged into my tibia will require a much larger wrench than those on hand at the outpatients clinic. I hate to prejudice an outcome, but am already sipping the bubbly.

The rest of the afternoon was spent chasing our invisible plumber; discussing with the builder exactly why it would cost the equivalent of Togo’s national debt to construct an extension on the cottage we’re looking at; and debating the merits of bulldozing a barn with the Gwyneth Dunwoody of English Heritage.

Yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava)



Big excitement (yep, I know - sad isn't it) - as I spot a Yellow wagtail this morning.

Another first for the yard. Looked like it was following the Swallows and packing its bags for Africa. Yellow wagtails make the RSPB’s Amber list for birds whose numbers are in decline.

Tuesday, September 25

Stumpy

From day one the names have come thick and fast, the most enduring being based on a character from one of my favourite Howard Hawk westerns, Rio Bravo. And no, it’s neither of the parts played by Ricky Nelson or Dean Martin. Anyway, limping around today’s market - no mean feat when you’re wearing sandals and the ground is 70% mud and 30% chicken shit - I couldn’t help but notice the crowds have thinned somewhat. The punters on holiday have finally sloped off home. That said, as this is a favoured season for second-home buyers, there’s a fair sprinkling of upmarket motor cars on the road. We did a second viewing yesterday and were surrounded by Jeeps, Range Rovers and German saloons. Probably all MPs, recycling their expenses. Our appetites undeterred, am pleased to say the fishmonger came up trumps again: Sea robins, with anchovy butter.

It always ends in tears

I was far too busy crawling about barns and poking at sods of earth yesterday to have caught Brown’s speech, yet am gratified from the on-line reviews that my time was spent more wisely. There was a point around 1650, just after the civil wars, when England decided they’d had all they could stand of Scottish Presbyterian sanctimony, and that - at least as far as faith was concerned - an ‘each to their own’ approach won out. Always provided, of course, you weren't catholic. This 'son of the manse' business leaves me vaguely uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because of the books and films I’m most familiar with. You and I know that the fictitious, flawed characters of this genre usually come a cropper after waking up in bed with a hooker and an empty gin bottle for company. In common with most individuals, I’d prefer people kept their religious and sexual preferences behind closed doors, within the privacy of their homes. Everyone seems to think the next election is a done deal, but I suspect the SNP and immigration may yet unseat the lad.

Sunday, September 23

Westward Ho

Rod Liddle’s piece in today’s Sunday Times relates to his move westwards, along the M4. Mirroring the fears of most males reaching a certain age who are driving this white flight phenomenon, he opinions the belief that our rate of migration to the countryside will one day suburbanise the whole rural idyll, infecting it with the same liberal London smarm we’d hoped to have escaped.

For the immediate future, everything here remains reassuringly 1950s. Sunday mornings are a comatose-like festival of hot tea, newspapers and wireless - the highpoint of which being Harry Seacombe, belting out ‘How great thou art.’ Our local radio station has a solid play list that features ‘My Grandfather’s Clock,’ Daniel O Donald singing ‘Medals for Mothers’ and Mary Duff’s ‘Yellow Roses.’ I've even caught Mrs G. - she who introduced me to Amy Winehouse - singing along with Val Doonican whilst kneading her bread. Switching to a more contemporary local station only gets you Kenny Rogers, telling Ruby not to take her love to Crediton.

More bad news for the farming community. When they talk about Bluetongue in this part of the world, they really do mean an animal infection and not Peterhead inspired Doric. After the floods, ruinous milk and pork prices, and foot & mouth, you’d think they'd have earned a brief respite. Someone some where must be trying to tell us something? If we’re not careful, life expectancy for farmers will match that of young males in police custody.

Saturday, September 22

Dracula drops in

It’s not often you see Mrs G. in a flap, but tonight’s appearance of Grandpa Munster was priceless. I’ve known for a couple of days that something’s been creeping around the bedroom; had assumed we had a rogue mouse. Anyway, the good lady was touching up her lippy and dabbing on No.5 when Al Lewis lands on her shoulder. Apparently, Noctule Bats (Nyctalus noctula) navigate by sending out high-pitched sounds and listening for the echoes in order to determine their flight path. Unfortunately, chummy here had to compete with The Boss’s higher pitched vocals bouncing off the wall, and appeared somewhat thrown by the less than warm reception. You’ve no idea how big their teeth look, close up. He’s not exactly cute, but it is fascinating, lying in bed and watching him circle overhead. Shades of Gotham City.He might look small, but this ceiling is some 16ft from the floor. In reality, Al’s wing-span is equivalent to that of a small Sea Eagle.

A point here, a point there…

What a great picture from the Mail. Says it all. Fought like lions! Marvellous. Ok, so having ten guys camped in the penalty area isn’t exactly big on spectator value, but taking a point from Anfield… huge. Given what I’ve heard, sensible game plan and good discipline from the team - holding out against Torres, Crouch and Kuyt. Shame about Oubina - and on his debut. I’m celebrating with a bowl of Singapore chicken and oily rice. Worth a 14 hour flight on its own.

New speakers?

Unintended consequences. We heard a lot about these from Mervyn, at the Treasury Committee meeting. Only last week, utilities stuck a yellow label denoting the transmission of electricity to a telegraph pole outside my window. So yesterday, Wichita Lineman was unable to effect that lumberjack-style ascension he favours. Instead, our intrepid telephone engineer had to send all the way to his depot in Plymouth for a cherry picker. If you throw in the 200m trench and the convoy of vans that have been disgorging Tolkien-like characters into subterranean tunnels and junction boxes all the way from here to town, I calculate our neighbour’s new broadband connection to be costing someone a fair slice of the Nation’s telecoms budget.

Thursday’s optimistic tone about the leg faded somewhat after a morning’s hike around Exeter. It was throbbing like a good ’un. A fellow sufferer accosted me in the street to exchange notes on our respective experience. He’s been given the choice of two years in an Ilazarov or amputation. Until I my break, I had no idea how commonplace amputation - or the threat of amputation - is. The cheery soul was kind enough to note that my leg looked a little off-centre and would in all likely-hood need breaking and resetting. He also warned me to expect years of excruciating arthritic pain, a bad back, and have to spend a small fortune on specially made shoes to compensate for the limp. Feeling a little like a poor man’s Jeffrey Bernard, I headed straight to the Dog & Duck for a recuperative ale.

This was followed by lunch in another favourite watering hole, shoulder to shoulder with a large band of what looked and sounded like the participants of an inter-club ‘mixed’ golfing competition. Retired Daily Mail and Telegraph readers in mid-market casuals who opinionate for England. I recently read that we’d accumulated sufficient waste plutonium to construct another 17,000 nuclear bombs. The though of one of these hang-’em-high characters having their finger on the button must put the fear of God into that sad-looking, gauche gent who runs the Kremlin.

Still in need of cheer, I spent an afternoon gazing longingly into a shop window that was displaying a pair of speakers the store was trying to offload - on sale for a mere £2,500. I determined this a tad expensive, when viewed alongside my rather dated gramophone; and can only imagine the sheep’s reaction to being hit by Thin Lizzy at 120 dB.

Thursday, September 20

Leg update

Apart from the slightly burnt foot, my injured limb continues to improve. Someone suggested I’ll miss the Borg-like implant when it’s removed, but that seems unlikely.More ethnic food for tonight’s dinner: Mrs G’s braised Cumberland sausages in onion gravy. The bee’s knees. I continue to make the most of it, knowing that once I’m back on my feet she’ll have me eating salad and brown rice. Another evening in front of the box (European football). According to the Memsahib, Tottenham are playing a Cypriot team by the name of Anthrax Flabbergasted. It has to be better than the Liverpool game; and I’ve a soft spot for the Dutch bloke, Jol - even I can’t look that miserable for more than five minutes.

Plague-carrying vermin

Your days are numbered, Sunny Jim - or should I say, Bjorn. I know they look cute, but Rattus norvegicus, the dreaded Norwegian rat are (along with house mice) considered to be our most widespread terrestrial mammal, and carries a surprising number of disease causing organisms. These include cryptosporidiosis (63%), toxoplasmosis (35%), leptospirosis (14%) and listeriosis (11%). I’m told they also act as a reservoir for the bubonic plague.

Wednesday, September 19

Liver soup

Sods law: clean the office window and it rains. At least I can see outside again now the feathers, beaks and other compacted bits of bird have been removed. The rendition of Irving Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’ was another example of wishful thinking on my part. Builders and painters are working on the farmhouse. BT engineers dangle from the telegraph poles; they’ve also dug large holes in the ground. I assume from the continued interruption to my broadband service that new technology will soon be wending its way across the fields. Hedges are heavy with Rose hips and blackberries, both destined for jams and jellies. With thermometers and barometers plummeting, soups are starting to feature more regularly. What price a steaming bowl of liver broth? You don’t know what you’re missing.

Tuesday, September 18

Birds, feeding

Pheasants are eating me out of house and home. Yet all things considered, it’s a none-too-shabby afternoon - open windows, warm autumn sunshine. Click of the heels and a polite wave to the neighbour’s guests, relaxing on the patio.He seems to attract a fair number of German visitors? I just wish they wouldn’t park their tanks on my lawn. Ernst and the boys are always friendly - lots of back-slapping and shaking of hands; it’s the chinking beer mugs and robust rendition of martial songs that causes concern. Must admit, you rarely meet any peasants: Germans always seem to be retired Mercedes or Siemens executives. Fortunately, they boast deep pockets and play a poor game of golf.

Moules marinere

Panic over, for the moment. This is what comes of living on tick. If Flash Gordon learns anything from this exercise, it’s that too few of us believe a word either he or the banks tells us. As a consequence, a repeat of the Northern Rock experience is almost certain. All it cost us this time was a £28bn cheque. Apparently, there’s little he can’t fix with our money; it used to be called nationalisation.Looking on the bright side, we’ve finished the turkey! A perennial challenge for two people. I did consider the possibility of boiling its carcass for soup, but after three days decided it was an economy too far. Instead, I called in at the itinerant fish monger and stocked up on lemon sole and river mussels to accompany a bottle of Sancerre I’d salted away.

Monday, September 17

Downwave

Things must be bad, people are quoting Bob Beckmann and his Downwave. It’s the ’80s again! Did you catch those guys on this morning’s radio bragging about how many Northern Crock shares they’d purchased last Friday and the money they were going to make when the company is taken over. The shares have subsequently fallen another 40%. Cue more protestations from the chancellor and prime minister about how rock solid Northern are - which is in turn interpreted by savers that they should rush to town and withdraw every shekel they can lay their hands on. Business leaders and politicians flock to lunchtime radio and demand the Bank of England declares itself lender of last resort for any and all of the dodgy, structured financial vehicles that are worrying the markets! What planet do these people inhabit? Probably the same one as Flash Gordon. Damn it, I’ve just logged onto Lloyds to make sure they’re still in business. Talk about stoking the fires. All we need now is for Brown to start spouting about reckless bankers, patriotism, and the steps that may be required to protect ‘hard working families’ and I’m digging out my Post Office Savings Book.

Wildlife

Grief, it’s like a zoo out there. As I speak, a vixen is poking her nose through the fence; there’s a weasel crossing the yard at warp factor six; and two rats are brazenly crouched in front of me, chomping on the corn I left out for the birds. The cats are a waste of space for these larger rodents, and our acquisition of a vicious little dog appears long overdue. The menagerie of pheasants now stand their ground when you try to shoo them away. Wait ’til the season opens. We even have a mixed flock of crows, jackdaws and magpies in situ that usually give us a wide berth. It’s the grey skies.

Exciting times

I’ve always had that knack, an unfortunate gift, of being stuck next to the old geezer at the bar. You know the sort. The one who lives an enforced, solitary life, yet emerges from his hermit-like existence at precisely the same time of day you’re escaping from work and are looking for that brief oasis of solitude which enables a body to defuse before facing the other half. Alan Greenspan looks to be just that sort of character. At the precise moment your life-saving pint of foaming lager is about to reach the lips and your brain is in shut-down, he’ll launch into one of his homilies or give his take on a current day event. Stymied, all you can do is put the drink down, smile, and let him run his course. I know we now have to work ’til we’re 70, but Greenspam looks though he was around during the crash of ’29. That said, with all his experience I’m always keen to lend an ear - particularly when it affects my Post Office Savings Book. Today’s little ditty portends ‘difficulties’ ahead for UK home owners, not least a doubling of our inflation rate and 10%+ mortgages.

Sunday, September 16

We're all doomed

I love it! We’re supposed to have the fourth or fifth richest economy in the world; one that's 'rock' solid, according to Gordon - and yet thanks to Alistair Darling’s intervention and the subsequent run on Northern Crock, we are only five minutes from achieving basket case status. Journalists! You've got to chuckle. Today’s Guardian is wonderfully apocalyptic; Will Hutton blames it all on Thatcher - five minutes ago free markets were the greatest thing since sliced bread. As I said last week, gold bangles are the way to go.

It’s not even October and I’m already feeling melancholy. Sitting out back in my protective flip flops and armed with a small glass of Laphroag you can sense the change taking place. The swallows have already left us, flying south through Spain and on to Nigeria. Those that make it out of Ebok Boje settle in South Africa. Swallows are a local delicacy in the Cross River area, though the natives have been given half a dozen pigs to encourage a change in diet What the birds don’t know is that their eventual destination, the Mount Moreland reed beds, are being dug up to accommodate an extended runway that's required for the 2010 world cup.

Saturday, September 15

Changing seasons

I’m told this could be our last fine day of summer before autumn gallops in. Tuesday next, apparently, at 10:00. Having grown used to wearing my Huckleberry Finn outfit I’m not looking forward to the drop in temperature. Had intended to do so much; hasn’t quite worked out the way I'd hoped. Still, there’ll be more summers.

An early start, viewing another property. Managed to return in time for Jeff Sterling and the boys, on TV (a 1-0 win - steps back in amazement). This morning’s possibility was an attractive cottage, hidden away between fields of dusty tractors and marooned cattle. Nice place, subject to that usual caveat about the sizeable wedge required to up-rate its accommodation. Despite a rural environment, the neighbouring village looks suspiciously like another of those well-heeled retirement enclaves. Lots of well polished motor cars and grannies in twin-sets. That said, there’s a golf course and two decent looking pubs: so it can't be all bad. No Dingles. I liked the cottage, but what on earth would you do with the barn? It's enormous.

Friday, September 14

House prices

As if the jitters over Northern Crock weren’t bad enough, the latest Rightmove data paints a gloomy picture of the housing market. September’s figures indicate a drop of 2.6% in asking prices - although the introduction of HIPS has played a part. Crucially, the London market appears to have hit the skids, falling 2.5%. I say crucially, because these guys are feeding the southwest, which - I’m pleased to say - has itself has fallen 4.1%. Trouble is, plummeting house prices discourage vendors from putting properties on the market and the choice for buyers becomes even more limited. Although HIPS will eventually sort itself out, it’s just the sort of Government tinkering that helped destroy the pensions market.

Choices

Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro has refused an operation to rebuild the ankle of a local builder because they say his heavy smoking would reduce the chance of a full recovery. I’m not qualified to confirm or refute this diagnosis, but I must admit they made a big play of smoking and outcomes when I was under the knife. In fact, two of my colleagues in the ward refused the operation after it was explained that - because of their addiction to the weed - there was a fair chance the reduced blood supply reaching affected parts could negate the healing process, and that their legs would probably turn gangrenous and have to be cut off. The boys in question were, understandably, last seen limping through the exit doors en route to the Dog & Duck. I must admit - with due respect to young Nuttall, the builder in question - if I was given the choice of losing a leg or chucking the Woodbines, there wouldn’t be much debate.

Contingency planning

Northern Rock’s dodgy legs had been signposted weeks ago and yours truly had already moved the golf club fund elsewhere. Likewise, pre-warned by the original foot & mouth outbreak, The Boss has me hot-footing it down to the butchers with instructions to acquire several shoulders of lamb and a goat for the freezer. On the last occasion our local suppliers did us proud, but the big-boys were shafted by their distribution centres. This time around we’re making sure there’s a three month supply of kebabs in the cooler.

Thursday, September 13

Prunella modularis



The yard’s single Dunnock. He’s holding his own amongst the tits and finches, but like the wren, is something of an oddity.

Grotty sods

Behavioural psychologists have determined that female chimpanzees are selling sex in exchange for fruit. Apparently, male chimps that steal desirable fruits such as papaya, oranges and pineapples have to fight them off.
I was pondering this study of the blindingly obvious when collecting today’s shopping from the supermarket. A group of guys were standing at the fresh produce counter, mauling the fruit. My natural assumption was that they’d read the same report and were hoping to flaunt their Cox’s Orange Pippins at the local talent. What the prospective girls don’t know is that whilst taking my customary leak in the store’s lavatory (it’s a long ride to town), these same individuals had also paid a visit and not one of them had bothered washing their hands on the way out. What is it with people? I’d assumed this sort of behaviour was pure laziness, but have to conclude that many punters are just dirty buggers. Damn it, the shop sells food. I couldn’t help thinking that the now soiled fruit they’d selected had probably already been played with by the smelly little kids that were running wild about the isles, and hacked on by the old guy in a wheel chair who had a cold.
All I can say is: ‘Girls, should some smooth talking plonker try to charm you with a bunch of grapes and an avocado, for Pete’s sake wash the stuff first. You might also want to insist he disinfects his hands before touching you.’

Wednesday, September 12

Morning

Grief, it’s parky. I swear there was frost on the ground when falling out my pit this morning. I’d have liked a lie-in, but the local utilities company is cutting off our water at eight, a plumber due on site to fix the heating, and I have to drive Mrs G. to the beauty salon for a session with Mr Teasy Weasy.My lack of mobility has its obvious frustrations, not least in something as basic as walking along paths or across the open ground when damp or frozen. You can’t fit Wellington boots over an Ilazarov frame. By mid-morning everything will have dried out and be accessible in sandals (the only thing which fits over my obscenely swollen foot). At this time of the morning however, it’s all about the sound of dew as the temperature changes and it falls through the trees. A Tawny owl calls from across the gully. Only when he stops do the other birds sing out; a neighbour’s cockerel plays his part. The whole place is submerged in an early morning mist. Sheep quickly surround me and begin eating. That’s about all they do, sleep and eat - though I’m reluctant to knock the company, I’ve had worse companions than Dolly and her associates. I notice there’s a new guy in town, with balls that look big enough to serve a frigate’s fourteen pound guns.

Tuesday, September 11

Coffee & Pasties

Spent yesterday at the coal face, researching locations and viewing houses. Two very different areas. The first, dated Rover saloons, early model Freelanders and rusty Vauxhalls; the second, Audis and BMW X5s. Very different environments, yet both could work, even if part of me hankers for sheep and silage. There’s no secret to property: a good ’un will have buyers falling over each other, and gazumping is a given. Conversely, if the place been on the market for 12 months or more then it’s likely to be a piece of crap, or worth £100k less than is being asked because some dipstick is about to build a wind-farm next door. There’s a lot of chancers out there too, not least the vendors that advertise ‘period homes’ with plastic windows, avocado-coloured bathroom suits and reclaimed carpets from 1970s lounge-bars. I guess we could always plumb for a permanent suite at Travelodge, like David & Jean Davidson. I’m as big a fan as anyone for this budget motel chain, but to stay there for 22 years?In this day of carbon footprints, I’m embarrassed to say that I woke up this morning fancying a pasty. And when you need a pasty, only Penhenna's will do. I drove all the way to Bude, across the border into Cornwall, sat in the car park and stuffed myself silly.

Against my expectations, the coffee machine has proved to be a huge success. According to it’s digital read-out the two of us have already consumed 80 litres of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Probably explains the shaky hands I’d previously attributed to crutch strain. Actually, I’m still a bigger tea drinker. Throw in the odd couple of cold ones, and the grooved, worn walk-way to the barn’s urinals is easily explained.

Sunday, September 9

A cold front

Our promised 23° never made the Gudgeon homestead, and salad is off the menu. It was porridge for breakfast - a first in months. That said, I entered the bathroom this morning for ablutions and was confronted with a scene from a Harrison Ford movie: approximately two billion mosquitoes, parked on the ceiling. Not sure I chose the most sensible course of action in spraying the little chaps with that Chinese insect-repellent purchased from Ike Godsey’s, as - overlooking the manufacturer’s reference to Agent Orange - I spent the next 30 minutes writhing around on the floor, coughing my lungs up.

There were choice remarks from Mrs G., when - having gone to the trouble of moving her ironing board through to the TV to watch Walker Cup golf - the good old BBC switched to mountain biking from Fort William! Mountain biking? You’ve got to chuckle. Yours truly came to the rescue by offering to barbeque a bucket of fresh prawns I’d obtained from the charming African gent that hides behind the Quik-E-Mart. A bowl of my N’Orlins shrimp and she’s putty in my hands. An unbelievably successful weekend of sport. All it needs now is Justin Rose to triumph at the BMW and Walker Cup success for a clean sweep.

Financial liquidity

Worst crisis for 20 years, say banks. Today’s Times piece echoes similar in other Sundays. Everyone’s expecting The City to turn to rat shit when £57 billion of commercial paper comes up for refinancing this week. The banks are hording cash because they don’t know how much hooky paper they’re already holding, and the last thing they want is more. How about offering the punters a decent rate on savings for a change. The banks have been treating us like crap for years because we aren’t worth their while. I’d move my account at a stroke, but - given there could be casualties in the near future and I’m looking for security - the top two rates on offer are from a bunch of lads located next to a race course in some obscure Indian village, and Bjork-loving penguin eaters from the frozen North. I’ve half a mind to follow my Asian friends’ lead and move to precious metals, adorning Mrs G’s limbs with a cwt of gold bangles.

The end game?

My initial thoughts were, ‘Well, well, what a turn up - having their collars felt by the local plod.’ Bookies must have been offering pretty long odds. This soon turned to ‘Please, no more. Surely there’s something else going on in the world?’ I've given up watching Sky News. Tragic it may be, but you can only sympathise with the residents of Praia da Luz; bet they’re celebrating this morning’s relocation of the Maddie circus to Rothley. Gut feeling is we’ll never find out what happened to the poor kid. Police seem to be gearing up for closure with that oft used ruse, loaded with innuendo, about having insufficient evidence to charge anyone, but that they won’t be looking for further suspects. Having run such a sophisticated media campaign, I still wonder at the McCann’s decision to appoint Mary Bell as the family spokesperson.

Friday, September 7

Late summer

I’ve never seen so many happy bunnies: everyone’s finally managed to get their grass in. Plastic covered cotton spools litter fields everywhere, alongside tyre-covered mountains of silage. Needless to say, operation muck spreader has now begun and the place smells ripe. I’m shacked up in the office, shooting down flies with rubber bands and paper clips. Mrs G’s roses have wilted and the place looks like a trailer from American Beauty. The sun is blinding. Butterflies enter the open window, circle the room and depart. The birds are a different proposition: they fly straight into polarised glass at something like warp factor six. There’s a small mound of them lying stunned outside on the yard with Mrs G. administering first aid.

Out shopping

Umbro, purveyors of footy gear to the masses say profits fell 41% due to declining demand, i.e. England’s limp performances = plummeting shirt sales. As it happens, my sole remaining pair of football shorts, used extensively when decorating, and - given the difficulties of negotiating Ilazarov frames - for lounging around the barn, had finally given up the ghost. Not wishing to see the lads from Cheadle suffer, I yesterday paid a visit to one of the popular sports-wear retailers, more commonly know as Chavs-R-Us. The store in question appeared to be doing brisk business from a client base that consists of young, tattooed lads wearing white plastic tracksuits and lots of jewellery, teenage wife and children in tow; and 60-something sportily-dressed but wizened chain-smokers that bore a strong resemblance to Edward Woodward’s mate, Lonely. I always feel a little embarrassed, shopping for sports wear, as more often than not you’re being served by an eight foot tall Afro-Caribbean guy who looks as though he could give lunch-box Christie a run for his money. They make you feel something of a fraud, buying athletic gear. Fortunately - given this is Exeter we’re speaking about - your chances of meeting a shop assistant with anything more colourful than a sun tan from Portimao is highly unlikely. And as luck would have it, an end of season sale was in the offing. I was able to acquire a racy new pair of XL-sized shorts in the prescribed blue and white for a mere £2.99. Dressed in my new kit, and given the way they’re performing at St Andrews, I reckon even I would get a look in.

The new Princesshay shopping centre is close to completion; yet more asinine shops will compete to part gullible punters from their hard-earned cash. The vast majority appear to be selling household fripperies and body care products. In fact, reviewing the list of new stores I wonder where it is that men shop? Exeter is a prosperous rather than an affluent city. Whilst there’s a fair number of shaven heads and cheap gold jewellery, the place aspires to provincial middle-class chic - although from what I can see, owes its existence to the good offices of the exchequer. The principal employers on which the city depends are The Met Office, The University of Exeter, Devon County Council, The NHS, The Police and the Local Education Authority. Guess the remainder of its population survives by selling cappuccinos and Crabtree & Evelyn drawer liners to the better paid of these civil servants. Someone somewhere must be paying for such publicly funded largess? I find it hard to criticise benefit recipients marooned on satellite council estates when so many other citizens are fortunate enough to be lining their pockets and pensions via the public purse. Christ knows where the country would be if it wasn’t for the City of London, North Sea Oil and the Welsh Cockle Industry. I assume that Exeter's desire for unitary status is an attempt to ring-fence this little gravy train from the rest of the county.

What puzzles me is the significant number of the ladies out and about that are clad in Ugg boots. It’s 23° and every second girl wears fur boots? Odour-eaters must be doing a roaring trade.

Tuesday, September 4

Another rare, sunny day

Our usual trip to the Tuesday market, to buy fish for dinner. I went along for the ride, but as my lower leg’s the size of a plump, New Hampshire Red the last thing I wanted was a hike ’round the village, especially as it’s knee-deep in visitors. Better off remaining in the car, watch the world go by whilst listening to the adventures of Pancho & Lefty. Came back home to the frozen peas wrapped in a dish-towel treatment: standard practice for swollen limbs.

Must admit, it’s a beautiful afternoon. Plenty of company on the back step: doves, pheasants, the robin and a dunnock. The latter’s a first for the yard. Fresh crab and prawns to tide me over until this evening. Crippled I might be, but I ain’t going hungry. Mrs G. has filled the house with roses. They’ve a strong, old fashioned perfume that masks the cattle that are grazing up-wind. Funny isn’t it: I virtually sneezed my way through life in the city, yet have managed a drip-free existence since the day we hit the Ponderosa?

Monday, September 3

All gone

The pheasant has lost the last of her twelve. Two broods totalling twenty chicks, and only one made it. Infant mortality, country style. It doesn’t help that the neighbour’s gun dog keeps running to me with a mouth full of soggy, dead birds, wagging his tail and looking for praise. But then he's only practising what he’s trained for.
Our green woodpecker paid a morning visit, along with his great spotted counterpart. One of these days I’ll have the camera to hand. One of these days the sun will emerge from behind a cloud and there’ll be light enough to actually use it.

Julie Felix plays locally this week. I purchased one of her early Fontana recordings back in the late 60s during my brief, folksy period. Thursday nights at the Wheatsheaf pub in Walsall, when beer was still a penny, three farthings a pint. An old drinking acquaintance worked as her road manager and bought the lady along for lunch. Probably the last time I saw her - but I’ve still got the album.

Sunday, September 2

I smell lamb curry

As part of my cultural assimilation to life in the country, I’m spending an afternoon watching The Burghley Horse Trials on TV. To me, our show jumping fraternity are something of an alien life form that sits midway between Somali goat herders and the Obsidian Order. Too many Daks jackets and Alice bands for my liking. Some chap by the name of William Fox-Pitt seems to be the pin up, though I’ve a small wager on Polly Stockton, just to show willing. Needless to say the weather’s true to form. You wouldn’t want to be on holiday, here, just now; yet I noticed a fair number of walking boots about the village when picking up this morning’s News of the World. The Boss is cooking up a storm: one of her curry specials, for tonight’s dinner. Thought it rather sporting of Mrs G., given the limp. I turned over in bed last night and gave her the Norman Hunter with my leg brace.

Saturday, September 1

Maya Plisetskaya

Long gone

Exactly one year ago we were completing the renovation of South London mansions, prior to putting it on the market. I remember the scene well: short sleeve order and lashings of sun cream; the painters had finished, and yours truly was escorting Mrs G. to the drapers for curtain material. Having become a regular at the builders merchants, I was being offered top dollar for re-wiring and plastering work by Polish gang masters. God, to be active again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the holiday; but I have to admit, I’d love to be shovelling shit again. And I do miss those builders’ breakfasts at the cafĂ©.

Phasianus colchicus

Always one step ahead of the fox.
I'll miss him when the guns return.