Monday, December 31

Festive knees up

I’m pleased I didn’t spring for that humongous plasma TV we’d been looking at; footy aside, the festive schedule hasn’t exactly been a riveting watch. We passed an evening speculating on how many Gordon Jackson appearances it would take before one of us cracked and head-butted the barn wall. Tonight’s hogmanay programme follows a well worn pattern involving large quantities of roast pork and a bottle of Rhineland’s best; a brief sojourn outside to hug the neighbours in the rain, before returning for an hour or two’s vigorous dancing to the sound of Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. Its worth watching if only for the embarrassing behaviour of those older guests that should know better, but who - in a vain effort to extend their sell-by date - try just a bit too hard to look cool. At least I do it in the privacy of my own home.

Sunday, December 30

Hitchhikers and galaxies

I’m sure the advertising industry has a valid term for behaviour which results from an incident or object triggering a reflex compulsion to consume a particular product. I could never watch Jack Regan in action (for instance) without licking my lips and reaching for a large one. In a similar manner, I overtook a Ford Prefect yesterday afternoon (yes, a Ford Prefect), came home, and without thinking poured myself a glass of Dufftown’s finest. I was on my second measure when it dawned…

I was once partnered with a giant of a man from the frozen north, a sergeant-major in the Scots Guards with a penchant for Glenfiddich and poker, and the individual who introduced me to the world of whisky. Had long forgotten the lad, or so I thought. We worked together for a couple of years in the Highlands, commuting via such unlikely back-doubles as Tomintoul and Rhyne. Harry’s old motor had played out and the big guy rang one night to advise he’d got wind of a replacement vehicle and that he needed a lift to go look-see. The motor in question was a late 50s Ford Prefect which was being sold by a chap living on an out of town caravan park, before it became the site of the Tullos Skean Dhu. I recall Harry paid in the region of £40-50 for what proved to be a great little runner; a vehicle which - due to our subsequent adventures, and with due deference to Douglas Adams - will forever be associated with the Highlands and Scotch whisky.

Vintage cuisine

Mrs G. cooked pepper steaks for dinner. Steak au poivre! What a treat. The last pepper steak I ate was back at Aberdeen’s Earls Court, circa 1975. In today’s Telegraph, Nigel Farndale opinions that the 70s were a time when culture was harder, more extreme: yet I would remind those selective memories the decade also included Carl Douglas and Captain & Tennille, and that pepper steak (preceded by prawn cocktails) was what constituted sophisticated cuisine. As with Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, maybe naif-nosh dishes of the past are making a comeback?

Saturday, December 29

Hanging on

It might be blowing a gale outside, but a man's gotta eat.

Friday, December 28

Change of diet

After finishing off the cauldron of goose soup I think we’re about done with Christmas. Having become sick of traditional yuletide fodder, even the sheep out back are starting to look attractive. I could murder a special from the South London Kebab Emporium.Mrs G. is boiling an ox tongue as a treat for my good behaviour over the festive period. There was a time she rated it a success if the neighbours were still speaking to me. I’ve promised to reciprocate with a Porchetta of sorts for our new year celebrations - always providing I can find some sweetbreads and a liver for the stuffing. What ever the result of my upcoming appointment with Surgeon Max, I’m committed to the usual no-booze, healthy eating January with mucho exercise.

Thursday, December 27

Darleks or dialects?

Now the foliage has gone I can gaze at our posh neighbours over the hedge.From the calibre of motor vehicles out and about, the DFL (down from London) crowd are still in situ. After a staple diet of ten year old Rovers and rusty pickups, the appearance of a 600 series CLS outside Quik-E-Mart this morning must have prompted several telephone calls to plod, reporting the sighting of a UFO. Until now, the classiest thing around here had been a neighbour’s 1965 1100 Vanden Plas Princess - a motor I’d personally select over the CLS on any given day, 12 cylinders or not. Taking into account our mud covered byways I’m trying to work out how the Merc looked so squeaky clean; there was even a Lady Penelope look-a-like draped across the passenger seat.

Casting an eye over this year’s prezzies it’s dispiriting to note they include large quantities of socks and handkerchiefs. Throw in a tin of Whiffs and I’ll be submitting my application to Grandfathers-R-Us. There’s also a rather dashing set of bicycle clips that glow in the dark; a puncture repair kit; and tubes of exotic body potions, perhaps more suited to metropolitan man than a rural refugee. Of particular interest is a book from Mrs G. entitled ‘The Devonshire Dialect’ by Clement Marten. Something I need to master in the new year if I want to extend my range of associates at The Dog & Duck. How about “Thick aul cricket baent naw gude - ’ers scat.” (That old milking stool is no good she (it) is broken.) A handy phrase to keep tucked away for that pregnant pause in your conversation.

Am pleased to see the end of the goose, enjoyable as it was. That said, I suspect today’s soup owes a lot to what’s left on the carcass. Hats off to yesterday’s vegetable dish: a combined potato, swede and carrot mash, flavoured with chopped rocket. And not forgetting a glass of cheer to young Alex McLeish - may it be the first of many.

Wednesday, December 26

The dangers of being hung over

Urgh! Although a great time was had by all, a single dry, toasted slice of Mrs G’s walnut and apricot bread was all I could manage at breakfast. If I never again see another plate of smoked salmon, goose or plum pudding it won’t be a moment too soon. Accepting the neighbours’ hospitality yesterday morning was start of a slippery slope. That I subsequently declined to accompany everyone to the Dog & Duck was my saving grace. I doubt I’d have seen the day out had I followed the morning’s bubbly with pints of Winkleigh’s finest. Food-wise, lunch looks likely to be a re-run of Tuesday; and whilst I’m counting on my statins to work their magic, I’ve decided on a lengthy constitutional across the Ponderosa. That said, given that today's the big shoot, the thought of a dozen hung-over guns re-enacting a scene from The Godfather means I'd better proceed cautiously.

Monday, December 24

Christmas Greetings

Yippee! After seven days sans heating and hot water a man in overalls turned up and fixed the boiler. I may not now be divorced, as Christmas has been reinstated. It’s back to flip-flops and short sleeve order The goose has been plucked and the pudding is marinating in a pool of brandy. All that remains is to ice the champagne and push the button. On behalf of Mrs G. and myself I trust your world is at peace and that the festive spirit dwells in the hearth of your home. Merry Christmas to one and all, especially Tiny Tim wherever he may be.

Sunday, December 23

No room at the inn

The absence of Waitrose car parking spaces this morning was a good indicator of our community’s festive spirit: Mr &/or Mrs Grumpy. There’s a perfectly good car park adjacent to the store, but as you can’t validate the 70 pence fee at the till, people chose to fritter away a quid’s worth of four-stroke circling the block. Inside it looked like a re-run of last year’s parsnip wars, with punters of every stripe brandishing offensive weapons in the form of a shopping trolley. After dutifully ticking off my list I joined one of the checkout queues, the 12th trolley in line! I was beginning to realise I should have given the mince pies a miss this year, and from the look of my fellow shoppers I wasn’t alone. The tragic part was how sad we looked: a file of greying Simon Bates facsimiles, mit Clementines and Cava. I accept it as one of the quests set by the gods to test mans' resolve, and passed time reading the back of packets in the frozen foods cabinet. Who on earth pays good money for wild rice, lentil and pumpkin seed rissoles, au gratin? And what’s with ‘organic’ chicken chunks? Chicken nuggets are eaten by people who live in council houses and watch Eastenders, they don’t buy organic.

Saturday, December 22

Wrens

There are a number of these little characters in the yard. So small, they are able to move about below grass level whilst looking for insects.

Friday, December 21

Supper

I’m still on kitchen duty, and - after a typical Friday lunchtime session at the Dog & Duck - the Memsahib has belatedly informed me she wants bouillabaisse for supper. I’ve tried to explain that fish stew of this calibre can only be prepared by your typical hairy-arsed Frenchman who hails from Marseilles and is equipped with the where-with-all to infuse said dish with a special ingredient that's derived from straining fish stock through his sweaty matelot shirt, the unwashed garment being permeated with aromatic oils and spices specific to the region. Never-the-less, having secured a bulb of fennel, two leeks and a pound or so of assorted frozen fishy bits from the freezer, I’m game. I just hope she likes Tabasco sauce and boiled potatoes. And speaking of Provence…It might be only be 1° outside, but the colours are more Côte d'Azur than Blighty in winter.

Goose or turkey?

The geese have bought it and ours is lying on a slab ready for plucking and drawing. That said, we attended the local livestock market’s turkey auction yesterday in case of a change of mind. I’d never seen so many naked birds. Going rate for a 10-12 kilo model was about £40: more expensive than I thought. In the old days I used to leave it until the last moment in order to secure 'a bargain' from one of Leadenhall market’s poultry dealers. Until that fateful year, that is, when I found myself with the last turkey in the shop. Unfortunately, it was of similar size to the one that Scrooge sent round to Bob Cratchit and proved too large to fit Mrs G’s oven. Another of those boobs of Christmas past.

Talking of turkeys… I see Friends’ investors have been blanked on the property front as the company is down to 5% of cash liquidity to cover nervous punters who want out. Expect a stampede of withdrawals from other property funds. The worst investments I’ve made were those associated with Friends Provident; and although I’ve retained a token number of shares to serve as a warning about imprudent speculations, I’m pleased to have bailed out of the serious stuff when the fixed term recently ended. Piss ups and breweries come to mind.

It was colder in the old days

The Greenfinches have returned in numbers, providing additional colour to the yard. Nothing compared to the Bullfinch, though I suspect his patronage may well prove short lived. Soonest the seeds on a certain bush are exhausted he’ll be offsky. Mindful of the rank & file, and full of Christmas spirit, I’ve invested in a bucket of dried worms and a large sack of deluxe feed to keep the troops happy. The thought of birds and colour was uppermost in my mind when purchasing a small painting for the office wall (Christmas being an opportune time for the arts & crafts movement to surface and market their wares). My acquisition features the sort of graffiti that adorned the back of leather jackets during our teenage biker years (biker being a pejorative term for someone who owned a BSA Bantam). Any more blue tacked effigies on the wall and I'll be opening the place as a gallery.

I’m currently reading a Bugle Annual. People frequently speak of the good old days, but in my experience - and I’ve probably said this before - nostalgia is an over-rated concept. Our heating is currently up the spout and life at the barn is decidedly chilly. It puts me in mind of Gypsy Lane where a one-bar electric fire was as close as we came to central heating. Fingers crossed, we’ll have the barn’s fixed before Christmas as I’ve become accustomed to a cushy life - one that includes an ability to eat dinner without having to wear more than three sweaters. The Boss has been to Ike Godsey’s and treated me to a heavy ‘fleece-lined’ woollen shirt in the Gordon Highlanders livery - favoured attire for shepherds hereabouts. I should have been wearing it yesterday whilst driving back across Dartmoor. We’d been to Tavistock for urgently needed supplies, affording Mrs G. an opportunity to visit her milliners. The flamboyant bonnet (Italian renaissance, heavy on exotic birds’ feathers) was payback for my being a smart arse and pinning that dumb Telegraph article to the door of the fridge after she’d declined an opportunity to save on diesel and walk to town. Will I never learn - I’m back on kitchen duties.

Thursday, December 20

Christmas is cancelled

What a prick. Two days after some plonker in the Dog & Duck insisted there was no such thing as Santa Claus, dipstick Williams pops into his pulpit to tell the Sunday School kids the whole nativity thing is a bit of a ruse, dreamt up by Selfridges toy department to boost the sale of farmyard animals and wise men on camels. Is nothing sacred, or is this and early example of Nick Clegg’s growing influence?

Tuesday, December 18

The Rifleman

With the appearance in the yard this past week of three new birds - a Bullfinch, Redwing and Song Thrush - I’m back with a vengeance, mit scope and binoculars, determined to miss nothing that flutters by. So it was with some embarrassment, yesterday afternoon, when - in broad daylight - Basil Brush waltzes past right under my nose and sets about the neighbour’s chickens. Farmer Charles had only just restocked, following last month's carnage. You have to appreciate I was in a semi-conscious state, sunning myself on the back step - entranced by the dance of a Wagtail, when Chuck Connors appears on my shoulder thumbing shells into the Remington and letting rip with 12 gauge buckshot. It doesn’t half get the old ticker going I can tell you, and did nothing to improve my hearing deficiencies. His four hounds bounded past baying like banshees, charging off into the woods in hot pursuit. It’s no wonder I resort to the occasional snifter. Especially as I then had to hang my head and admit to being somewhat remiss in my role as the Ponderosa’s first line of defence. Hope it doesn’t prejudice our Christmas goose.

Monday, December 17

What's up Doc?

We’re gradually working, or should I say ‘eating’ our way through the local countryside. And with the exception of wild boar, our journey has been a pleasurable one. I’ve long been a fan of rabbit: rabbit stew, rabbit fricassee, rabbit with peppers and tomatoes, roasted with herbs-mustard-bacon-cider… Yet whilst I’m familiar with the differences between farmed and wild bunnies, yesterday’s rabbit and forcemeat pie was something of an eye opener. Strong tasting? If I hadn’t know the butcher I’d have sworn it was road kill; dated road kill at that. The taste of well hung game is one thing, but chummy must have played wing-half alongside Stanley Matthews. A very old fashioned taste that brought back memories of my maternal Grandmother’s food; so much so, I found myself poking about for pearl barley. If I’m forced to eat the remaining half for today’s lunch it’s going to be accompanied by large portions of HP sauce.

Sunday, December 16

Blackbirds

There are now five Blackbirds that appear to have made their home at the barn; others visit and are driven off. You can’t appreciate how cold it is out there, on the yard. I’ve been reduced to lacing my coffee with brandy. That said, I love Sundays. The local wireless is playing that great old favourite ‘Out come Mother and me.’ Mrs G. is wearing her festive apron, whilst baking rabbit pies for our lunch; a vat of soup’s bubbling on top of the stove. And I’ve found a bottle of Pomerol in a tool box at the back of the shed?

Time flies

It’s been a year since we moved - and it ain't been a day too long. I suppose I should consider writing some sort of retrospective? Despite our run of sunny weather, as soon as the big round shiny thing disappears, temperatures plummet. Thankfully, Hank's lads have delivered a replacement tank of propane. You don’t know how pleased I am to have switched from British Gas. Forget mortgage rates, it’s the rising cost of utilities, food and fuel that’ll do for Joe public - and mains gas is a killer. That said, this week’s refill for the motor came in at £65. £65! Ike Godsey is charging £1.10p/litre for diesel at the country store. You can’t even blame the Arabs, it’s all about excise duty. Dare say it’ll cost even more if Plod get its way and they open the gate to a queue of public sector workers. Ah, what memories: winters of discontent. Suspect young Gordon thinks he’s chosen the target of least resistance, believing the boys in blue to have limited public support. Dock Green’s star has been on the wane ever since that chap from Manchester started selling garage doors. That said, they’d be hard pushed to lose a popularity contest with the bottler.

My limb has taken a bit of a backwards dunt and I’ve been resting up on the back step, watching the birds. Our Redwing looks to be sticking around for a while and was joined yesterday by a Bullfinch. It’s the first Pyrrhula pyrrhula I’ve seen. Not surprising, perhaps, considering they’re on the RSPB’s red list as a conservation priority (a globally threatened species).

Thursday, December 13

Falling house prices and social mobility

The UK housing market slowdown is apparently deepening and expectations for property prices are at their lowest since ’98. The reported trend is for prospective buyers to offer well below asking prices, with many vendors being forced to bite the bullet. Even sentiment at South London mansions has turned. Estate agents and surveyors keep faith with their mantra 'that prices will hold provided everyone stays in work.' It’s now beginning to sound like they’re tempting fate - a frightening thought. On the basis of that old adage ‘last in first out’ - and assuming people are correct in their assessment that 80% of new jobs have been going to migrants - what happens to Brown’s collapsing public finances when they all stop paying taxes and turn up at the brew? Worse, what if it turns out to be the natives that lose their jobs? Glad it’s not me who’ll be fighting an election in two years time

Today’s talking point is yet another report which states that bright poor kids do worse at school than dim wealthy ones. Bet the author is another of those slackers from Magdalene. The premise is that social mobility all but ended 30 years ago and that the sprogs of well-off parents are somehow unfairly advantaged by Britain’s education system. It’s tempting to assume that 30 years ago everyone that could get out did so and that there are sound reasons why some families remain trapped. Mrs G. once described me as a modest man with plenty to be modest about, but in my experience intellectual ability is an overrated trait. I’ve long suspected that innate talent is no more than 30% of the equation. Whilst another 30% can be attributed to education and training, 40% of what determines success or failure is down to ambition and effort. If a 50% median score spells success, a complete but driven numpty with modest learning can make it out. Social engineering and denigrating the middle-class isn’t the answer. Another recent report indicates that children who have ‘house fathers’ do worse. I wouldn’t argue and have long suspected that having an ambitious mother in situ is the single most dominant factor in social mobility. That, or an inspirational teacher - and that’s about as rare as a straight politician.

Tuesday, December 11

Comfort food

Three-o-clock this morning... Yours truly is far, far away in the land of nod, when one of our smoke alarms is activated. Naturally, I leap straight from the pit and into my Fireman Sam mode. I keep a hat at the side of the bed for just such an emergency. Thankfully, instead of a conflagration enveloping the barn it turned out to be faulty equipment. Unfortunately, whilst all that’s required in the kitchen is for me to hop onto a chair and to hit the offending article with an empty Mackeson bottle, this buggered one is nailed to the hall ceiling, a knee trembling 20ft above the front door mat. Call me Bernie the Bantam if you like, but given my recent history of ladders there was no-way I was going back up top. Kissing goodbye to any chance of our returning to sleep we waited for the landlady to surface and summon help. I wasn’t optimistic; coming up with a sparky at short notice can be a tall order (mains wired). Thankfully, at three this afternoon - just about the time I was contemplating a loan of the neighbour’s Remington - a wonderful chap in overalls turns up with ladder and screwdriver to hand. In addition to replacing the bleeping nightmare, he’d a well of stories about smoke alarms. As they probably relate to our neighbours hereabouts, it’s probably best I not repeat them.

Mince and dough-balls for supper. Then I can turn my head to our next challenge: mice that have moved indoors to escape the frost.

Monday, December 10

Festive bird watching

The tree is installed and flashing like a good'un. And with arrival of our first Christmas card, I am pleased to announce that the festive season has officially commenced.I prefer my twitching inside the barn at this time of year. That said, today we had a visit from a Redwing. Turdus iliacus is the region's smallest thrush; a shy and wary bird that only turns up when their usual grub is in short supply.

Sunday, December 9

Cooking tonight

The peanut feeder is swinging back and forth like a Mexican church bell under attack from Lee Van Cleef’s Winchester. A Goldfinch has been hanging on doggedly for the past 30 minutes. None of the other birds have managed to dislodge him; even the previous champ, the Nuthatch, was faced down and seen off. Word of my largess has got around and the yard is knee-deep in Chaffinches, the hedge chock full with Great & Blue tits. I’m trying to clean the office and dispose of this past week’s paperwork, whilst listening to a bunch of guys named Spin2 who I caught busking on the streets of Exeter last Friday. Impressed enough to give them a quid and buy their CD. They’re not bad - if you like that ‘contemporary, pseudo Irish folk’ sort of thing - though I doubt we’ll be seeing them on Ready, Steady Go. Mrs G. - not one for traditional folk music - threatened to kick my injured limb if I played the CD on our car stereo: so I’ve taken the liberty of loading it onto her iPod. Boys, eh!

I’m on nosh duty this week. Last night’s duck legs and carrots were a huge success. Brown two legs in butter and set aside. Sauté an onion, leek, four carrots, half a dozen garlic cloves, and layer in an oven dish. Top up with chicken stock; bung in sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme, and a bay leaf. Season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Bake for 1½ hours. Viola. Juices from the duck are absorbed by the carrots, which were unbelievably sweet. Serve with boiled potatoes and fresh peas, and a glass of something nice, of course. Tonight it’s roast pigeons and wild mushrooms on a bed of polenta. This also comes accompanied by a bottle of Chianti that I’ve been keeping up my sleeve. Dawn Primarolo eat your heart out!

Am I bovvered?

Outside is a sight! The flood warning proved a correct call and I doubt I’ll be venturing far today. The fire brigade has advised the public not to call if homes are flooded; there’s nowhere to pump the stuff, so they’d be wasting their time. We remain under a severe weather warning. South westerly gales are lashing the Ponderosa and the barn’s oak beams are creaking in protest. Am going to have to limp outside to check the damage. I believe I’ve found a suitable replacement to my orthopaedic leg brace with delivery of a new pair of walking boots that lace most of the way up my shin. They protect the damaged bit and providing some reassuring stability. If I shave my head and dig out the old Ben Shermans, I’d be back with my ’67 look. They really are something to see, though it takes a good half hour to lace the bloody things up.

Saturday, December 8

Norway Spruce

I guess we'd long ago lost the habit of erecting a Christmas tree, and this year Mrs G. decreed it a good idea we entered into the spirit of things. It seems the Yuletide Elvis CD doesn’t quite cut it anymore. Declining my offer to run down to Woolworths for a perfectly good plastic model from China, I was despatched for ‘the Real McCoy, that smells of fir.’ After seeking advice from contacts at the Dog & Duck, yours truly was pointed in the direction of a friend of a friend who was ‘in the business.’ Needless to say, this involved an excursion up country, taking left/right turns at various oak trees/derelict barns/cow sheds/tyre mountains/rusting tractor graveyards/etc., until finally coming face-to-face with the Arthur Daly of tree world. Now, call me dumb if you like - I suppose I was asking for trouble by selecting a tree from someone's field in the dead of night. But I was under pressure to deliver. This guy was trying to explain the merits of different genus that were (apparently) marshalled in front of me, and I couldn’t even see the mud which was lapping over my boots.

I haven’t examined it yet; the tree remains outside, in the car. I use the term ‘in’ somewhat figuratively, as whilst the base remains perched on top of the dashboard stereo, the pointy bit protrudes a fair length out of the boot; said boot being held down by yards of that orange nylon baling twine so beloved by farmers. If I do succeed in extracting it from the vehicle, my next quest will be to locate a barrel/tub and a trailer of sand in which to stand the damn thing.

Friday, December 7

Gales return

We’re still here, though there were moments during the night when I began to question the barn’s structural integrity. Rain water is lapping at the door step, and the absence of Wellington boots is becoming a severe handicap. Somewhere in between here and Exeter there’s a delivery van containing a pair of waterproof walking boots that I’m hoping will answer. There are a lot of dejected birds out back. The wind has moderated, but it’s still gusting to 40+ knots; all the Collared doves can do is cling to a fence post and hang on. The Marsh and Coal tits are game, but they’re fighting a losing battle. What was it Labour used to sing… ‘Things can only get better.’ What did they know. Damn bad news about the FA approaching José Mourinho instead of me.

Thursday, December 6

Gender roles

British women are working in lower paid and lower status jobs than their male counterparts because they still shoulder the responsibility for housework and childcare, a Cambridge University study reveals today. I don’t disagree with this premise. My problem is that someone from Magdalene has nothing better to do than write a report stating the blindingly obvious. He goes on to say that men are the losers, because part-time working women feel they have greater work-life balance and higher job satisfaction than full-time working men. Burchell then suggests men should consider a spell of nappy changing so their wives can ascend the labour market, into the same full-time high-status positions? Go figure?

Given my aversion to Fairy Liquid I was quick to adopt that well worn strategy of male incompetence in order to avoid my share of the housework. The secret is to break a valued piece of china when filling the dish washer; put her favourite cashmere sweater into the hot wash; then chip the Aga's enamel, trying to cook dinner. After that, the though of you drowning junior at bath time (even if you haven't got one) guarantees you’d never again be called upon to share such onerous duties. The country remains awash with social psychologists and female Labour cabinet ministers that despair at the iniquity of it all.

Your guess is as good

In today’s Telegraph, Boris Johnson expounds his belief that ‘if only people were encouraged to take an early interest in mathematics, they would be far more capable of making astute personal financial decisions, and thereby avoid the pitfalls of debt and penury.’ If only. Having listened to Grandad Stelzer, Ruth Lea, and the rest of the boys on Newsnight yesterday, then read Kaletsky’s conflicting advice this morning, a Cambridge first in arithmetic wouldn’t help. Kaletsky’s ‘we’re all doomed if the BoE doesn’t cut rates and take a more ‘hands on’ approach’ scenario fails to address the question of inflation - what we all thought to be the Bank’s raison d'être. That said, having listened to Mervyn King’s appearance in front of the select committee last week, I had the distinct impression (he thought) inflation would nose dive during 2008. On that basis, you’d bet on a ¼ point cut today - if for no other reason than he appears less ‘independent’ than young Eddy. Cutting the rate is unlikely to affect the Libor because the banks are in a hole for large portions of debt, and they don’t trust each other. It would be a sop to the City and Industry, as it’s unlikely to be deducted from your mortgage rate. There’s a lot of clever lads in the City with outsized abaci on their desks that follow markets as closely as my old colleagues followed the horses, and they still screw it up. Shit what do I know - a one legged painter & decorator who hasn’t taken a penny from PaddyPower in two months. At the end of the day, you take what the world throws in your direction and do whatever's required to survive. Looking back, my decision to fall from a ladder in order to avoid buying a house looks a smart move. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Wednesday, December 5

Watching the pennies

If today’s headlines are to be believed, it’s ‘Goodnight Vienna’ for the economy. Whole rafts of homeowners face difficulties in replacing their fixed-rate mortgages with ‘affordable’ alternatives; and, bereft of punters, pubs are headed down the Suwannee; you can’t give away sofas and white goods; and people are starting to look nervously at their future employment prospects. Confidence plays a big factor in determining the direction of an economy, so headlines like the Inde's - speculating about a ‘perfect storm’ scenario - don’t help. Having the Bank of England lower interest rates is unlikely to alleviate the problem, as I assume that lenders will want to restore their profitability and are unlikely to pass on cuts to borrowers. Anyway, Gudgeon’s modest deposit at the Nat West earns little enough without my being penalised so that someone can max out their Visa card at Top Shop.

None of this assists me in my quest to find a suitable Christmas present for the Boss. Today’s Times lists the top 30 things every woman needs in her wardrobe. However, as past years have left her knee-deep in silk camisoles and cashmere knickers, the answer is not so obvious. I wonder what she’d say if I came up with No. 23: a packet of Kirby grips? This £50 limit we agreed (for presents) is turning into something of a challenge.

Tuesday, December 4

Retail therapy

I’m acquiring an irrational dislike of Mercedes drivers. Today’s trip to Plymouth confirmed my belief that Mercs are primarily driven by grey-haired old farts who should be travelling by bus. I haven’t yet decided whether their overcautious motoring stems from a fear of scratching the treasured vehicle’s paintwork, or because they’re returning from a golf club and have two or three large stickies on board. Most appear to feature a Hyacinth Bucket look-alike, wedged into the front passenger seat - which could, of course, explain everything.

We were in Plymouth for Christmas shopping (because I couldn’t be arsed to drive all the way to Bristol). What a place! No one can drive here, either; and there are speed cameras every 50m. This is one of the few places in the south west to elect Labour MPs? Göring’s lads trashed the city in ’41 and the place was rebuilt during the 50s and 60s. There are some great buildings; English Heritage must be all over their case. However, as a shopping venue - and in spite of the Drake Circus Centre - there’s little to write home about. The Pannier market and surrounding environs has something of the flavour of 1970s Eastern Europe. Historically, Plymouth competes with Exeter and Bristol - and looks to be loosing the battle. Having failed to persuade Mrs G. to sample Spudulike’s nutritious fare, I discovered an Italian-themed restaurant and treated her to the world’s worst pizza. Worth returning for a second look, if only to catch a game at Home Park. Looks like I’m headed to Bristol after all.

Sanctuary, from the darkening skies

Our guests have departed. People must have a bleak view of the Ponderosa, as gale force winds and driving rain seems to accompany visitors at whatever time of year they choose to appear. Living as a semi-recluse, I’m accustomed to solitude; and whilst not wishing to make light of his experiences, the competitive nature of this past weekend’s conversation has left me reminiscing about my grandfather, and his life in the trenches, under bombardment from the Boche. Sharing a barn with three women is fraught with difficulties, not least my tripping over those ranks of Ugg boots that line the hall. Banished from the bathroom, I had to make do with a quick hose down in the yard, before hiding out in my shed. Today's activities includes an adjournment to the Dog & Duck for a little male bonding.

Monday, December 3

Wagtail identification

Can’t decide whether he’s a white in his winter coat, or a pied; alba or yarrellii?

Sunday, December 2

Scotland’s loss could be Blues gain

There’s no substitute for a little luck. After years of listening to Bruce bemoaning his (lack off), maybe McLeish could be one of those rare, gifted individuals that has it in spades. Listening to the wireless commentary you’d have thought Berbatov could have won the game for Spurs single-handedly. But there you go; pints of mild and bags of pork scratching all round.