Wednesday, January 30

Low cost: high maintenance

The current maternity ward kerfuffle proves yet again that it’s difficult to pick and choose when it comes to immigrants, and that related costs are never wholly identified. I’ve two grey squirrels in the yard. They’re not a popular species, having to carry the can for the demise of their cute red cousins. Unsurprisingly, the odium they attract is at odds with that other Victorian introduction, the little owl. These diminutive winged hunters appear in the trees to the rear of the barn at dusk each evening, issuing their distinctive ‘kiew, kiew’ call. And whilst our larger barn owls feast on the plentiful supply of voles and shrews, the little owls, if required, can subsist on worms and beetles. They could be the ideal immigrants: attractive, fill an ecological niche, and conveniently low on maintenance.

Tuesday, January 29

Late developers

A Warwick and Dartmouth College (US) study of people from 80 countries has determined that 44 is the age at which we are most vulnerable to depression. Previous research had suggested the risk of unhappiness and depression stayed relatively constant throughout life: a somewhat bleak assumption for those so disposed. Fortunately, these latest findings indicate we’ve got over whatever it was by the age of 50 and that it’s all downhill (uphill?) from then on. If you manage to stay fit, by the time you hit 70 you’re as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year-old. The study remains unsure about what triggers this mid-life crisis, speculating on the possibility that people are finally forced to confront the limitations of their strengths and weaknesses and to jettison those infeasible aspirations. Perceived wisdom remains along the lines of ‘if you are going to make it, you’ve more or less arrived by your mid-30s.’ This of course precludes the rise in fortunes of those Churchill-like characters whose best is yet to come. I’ve taken to smoking cigars and to speaking in a deep and deliberate manner.

Blue tits

Taking part in this past weekend’s Birdwatch Survey I managed to log a total of only four blue tits. Not surprising, perhaps, as they are laying their eggs earlier and because of the wetter weather. Lo and behold, yesterday morning, I find 15 chirping away on my office windowsill.

Spending priorities

Publishing the ONS Family Spending Report, a one-off study celebrating 50 years of the Family Expenditure Survey, is bound to foster large portions of reminiscences from baby boomers everywhere. Introduced in ’54 to chart the changes in post rationing consumption, Macmillan subsequently boasted we’d never had it so good. After paying the rent, 1950s families reportedly spent the bulk of their income on food, alcohol and cigarettes. So, next time the old codger tells you to curb your binge drinking, then goes on to swing the lamp about how tough life was in the (good?) old days, remind him about the fags and booze. The average British household spent 17s 5d (87p) on tobacco. It was the second biggest weekly outgoing and equates to a staggering £83.88 in today's money.

Saturday, January 26

Food, glorious food

Young Oliver thought he had it bad at the workhouse: the lad was never exposed to Crap Street Secondary Modern's school dinners, grudgingly dispensed by Peggy Mount’s hatchet-faced twin. That said, the words I most dread these days are ‘what do you want for dinner?’ Years ago, having to make a choice was less of a problem: choice rarely existed. Today - and despite doomsday predictions about the wars that will be fought by an over populated world for its depleted resources - a mixture of TV celebrity cooks, travel, multiculturalism and supermarket sourcing contrive to present us with almost limitless options. Though it hasn’t happened, yet, I suspect you can weary of food. This weeks highlights have included a pot roasted pheasant with apples and ginger, served on a bed of puy lentils. It just about edged last night’s Thai pepper shrimp. Undisputable winner, however, has to be that bread and butter pudding… Mrs G. makes her own superlative custard, in which she baked the sliced remains of our Christmas panatone. You’ve no idea how good it was; nor the miles I must cycle to compensate.

Thursday, January 24

A reasonable investment

It might cost five bob a week in peanuts, but they brighten the place at this time of year.

Local crime wave

The government are reported to be considering plans to offer people financial rewards or shopping vouchers for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, might want to have a word with his opposite number at the Home Office regarding her penchant for snacking on kebabs. Smith’s armed escort was probably a wise precaution given the quantity of firearms on South London streets. Here in the sticks we have our own problems... The local rag's headliner revolved around the theft from a Vauxhall Cavalier of a packet of Superking cigarettes, a white lighter and a one pound coin. This act of larceny was followed by the disabled button on the front door of the Council offices being ripped from its timber frame. Hardly the basis for a new Guy Richie movie. If you are going to be a naughty boy then at least make it worth while: Societe Generale hit by fraud. We all like the odd flutter - but five billion Euros! Think of those SG traders waiting on news of their bonus figures; purchase of weekend chateaus high on the wish list. Don't you just bleed for them. Looks like another bank executive en route to Beijing.

Staying home

Warmer weather has been tempting Goldfinches to forgo their usual Mediterranean break this winter; and although they’re not yard regulars, we’ve seen one or two this week. Personally, I think it’s the thought of all the queuing in airports that's keeping them at home. Blue tits suffered a miserable breeding season during 2007 and are likely to slip down the league table of winter garden birds; not that you’d know it from the numbers here at the barn.

Tuesday, January 22

Grey, yet evocative

With the itinerant fishmonger hawking skate as his special of the day, dinner was an easy call. Although the skies are grey, outside appears a riot of birds. Starlings are massing; crows call loudly. Two young robins have joined our regular group, as has a new face in the dunnock ranks. The pair of woodpeckers continue to chase each other around the yard, whilst tits and finches fight for supremacy. Shepherds are busy replenishing mangers. Giant rolls of barley still warm from their plastic wraps release a fragrance reminiscent of highland distilleries, strongly perfumed with herbs and cinnamon.

Friday, January 18

Pork ribs

Game birds are proving to be a versatile source of protein, which is just as well, given Farmer Charles has just dropped by with his smoking Remington and another brace of pheasants. Having salvaged three carcases of unknown provenance from the freezer, I managed to brew a decent stock in which to casserole last night’s final budgie from the last shoot. As Mrs G. is quite partial to mushrooms, I’ve become adept at enhancing these dishes with a mix of reconstituted types such as porcini or chanterelle with the fresh shiitake, portabella or chestnut varieties. So much so, yours truly is starting to cop for regular kitchen duties.

The previous evening’s specials, courtesy of Madam, were racks of ribs mit plum sauce. You don’t see them too often outside of the barbeque season. When we do, they’re always on our menu. Whilst having chomped on ribs of every culinary bent, from Buenos Aires to Hong Kong, my original enthusiasm was fostered by an old Chinese girl that took over the chipper in Rosemount. Until then, haddock or a white pudding supper was just about your lot. When she introduced those giant-sized deep-fried racks it was fine dining in the old tenement apartment every Friday night. I used the word apartment rather loosely, given it was more a bed-sit with a shared lavatory two flights down. Needless to say, a dubious cholesterol count now discounts such delicacies. But at the time they were the bees knees.

Who knows?

House prices may defy doomsayers…‘This is not a repeat of the 1990s crash, as housing equity and employment rates are at an all-time high and interest rates remain low.’ Give it up, darling. I’m fed up with reading these dumb assumptions from people who're not old enough to remember the past, and for having to listen to estate agents trying to talk the market up. Right now your equity rate is no better than a coconut at the fairground; and whilst interest rates remain low, many consumers are maxed out on debt and rising living costs. All it’s going to take, with tax receipts drying up, is for Brown to pull the plug on public spending, for all that foreign capital to seek an alternative safe haven, and for yet more dire results from the City, and - Sovereign wealth funds or not - punters’ confidence will dive, Stuka-like. Medium term employment prospects for lots of people look decidedly shaky. I wouldn’t like to be graduating from university this year.

Two things to remember… First, this business about demographics continuing to support property prices. Why? Is there really a shortage of places to live? Where are all these families living in tents? For the present there appears to be sufficient homes for people to rent or purchase - that’s why rents aren’t under any real pressure. Secondly, properties are worth what someone else will pay for them! There’s a small army of buyers out there, but they sure as hell aren’t going to match the stubborn aspirations of most sellers; in fact, they're gambling on price falls of 20% or more over the next three years. Don’t get me wrong, if the perfect property in a great location appears on the market then buyers jump. But 90% of houses for sale are suspect for one reason or another - and the ‘other’ is usually price. I’ve a neighbour who’s been selling for over a year without attracting a sniff. He changes agents regularly, and each time actually raises his price? At the end of the day the lad may be right. You pays your money and you takes your choice. Market stagnation is probably the favourable bet for 2008, and then for as long as it takes the two parties to reach an accommodation.

The unfairness of education

You can’t open a newspaper these days without being confronted by the debate on education and social mobility. I’m really not that interested, but find myself drawn to the tale if for no other reason that large portions of my hard earned cash have been expropriated to educate other peoples children. Perish the thought it was well spent. Significant numbers of our schools are patently failing, and if what the papers say is true - that 4 out of 10 children leave primary school without the ability to read and write beyond Janet & John level - what’s the use of sending them across town to Snot-nosed Grammar? Yet all I hear from government are initiatives that aim to screw those parents fortunate enough to be able to look after their kids. It’s all cant and hypocrisy of course, the first thing Blair, Diane Abbot or any other of the New Labour apparatchik did when becoming parents was to line their brats up at one of those fine establishments reserved for the great and the good. Promoting a half-dozen of the brightest from Crap Street comprehensive to a decent school nearby does nothing for those poor schmucks left behind. It’s not as if the six middle-class kids they displace will be transferred downwards. Their parents would probably get tooled up to knock off Barclays before they’d allow junior to associate with a bunch of kids that look like they’d crawled off the set of Lord of the Rings.

Cost of medicine

A cross-party group of MPs has suggested printing the cost of drugs on packets to discourage patient waste. The Commons public accounts committee wants GPs to use more generic drugs instead of expensive branded ones, in order to curb NHS prescription drug spending. I’ve a better idea: how about printing the amount of tax you’re currently paying onto your receipts at the pharmacy, together with the financial contribution your business or organisation has made to the national economy - all of which could have gone into the pockets of you and yours in the form of increased wages or bonuses. Better still, printed on the face of your medicine, in large letters, there should be a Government Health Warning advising you to ‘Make sure you swallow the entire contents of this bottle/packet as you’ve most certainly paid for it in the price of your 4xStar and booze. However, if your conscience dictates, by all means plum for the generic brand - the money saved can be used to finance an increase in MPs salaries and pensions.’ The committee of MPs said ‘patients must be made aware about the true cost of drugs as the amount they paid in prescription charges bore no relation to the true price of the treatment.’ As if we weren’t aware of that, you patronising, self-serving bastards. Why don’t they stamp a nurse’s wages onto the front of his/her apron, or display the cost of a patients treatment above each hospital bed? It could elaborate along the lines of ‘This malingerer is costing you a small fortune, encourage them to bugger off home and die at their own expense.’ Politicians, don’t you love ’em.

Thursday, January 17

Keeping warm

Twas was a bit breezy, cycling along the top road this morning. I’ve found that it’s a balance between hypothermia and weight when selecting cycling attire, though it’s easy to be seduced by those poseur outfits that are available to the more label conscious amongst us. That said, I’ve never been comfortable with lycra or nancy-boy colours. A plonker in the Times was recently bragging about his new £300 windproof cycling jacket, the envy of his mates who were still riding around wearing last year’s model. A utilitarian ‘technical fleece’ does it for me and has proved to be excellent value at a 10th of the price. It complements my standard outfit of Katharine E Hamnett’s 100% organic cotton ‘fair trade’ T shirts (£30.00 on line, or £6.00 from Tesco) and the Levi knock-offs (£3.00 Tesco). It’s not as if I’m likely to be dropping in at The Ivy for lunch, and whatever I wear is immediately splattered with mud. I say ‘breezy’… The early daffs in the yard are being torn from the ground as we speak. You can’t see the trees backing the gully as the horizontal, storm-driven rain is so dense. The light at times, during a lull, can be spectacular. Birds hit the ground running and grab whatever they can before disappearing. Pheasants shelter behind tree stumps, waiting on better times. A wet, bedraggled fox looks on. Roll on spring.

Kevin's back, again

I still don’t believe it. His arrival at St James’ Park last night was like watching a long term inmate on day release: a grey faced old geezer who looked as though he was scared shitless. It must be vanity, can’t imagine it’s the cash? Paddypower were so impressed they’d been offering 14/1. Still, good on Newcastle; their gain is Glasgow’s loss. Highly unlikely I know, but maybe it will be third time lucky. Anything that makes for exciting football - and the odds are in favour of his producing a superior product to last night’s game at the CoM Stadium. On that particular performance, Liverpool’s number four slot looks pretty secure. Dreams are what most punters need right now, what with the value of homes and savings heading south, whilst MP’s salaries and taxes continue to escalate. Can you believe that Hain and those other self-serving shysters want their remuneration linked to that of senior doctors and judges? Would that we could replace them with those nice Poles that are continually waved in our faces; that their function could be outsourced to India.

The Blues have secured the signatures of Hibs left-back David Murphy and James McFadden from Everton. It’s just like the old days when a significant number of our footballers came from north of the border rather than Africa. McLeish is having difficulty relating to punters at St Andrews and is recruiting fellow Jocks to help him out. When his kids were down for a match recently they apparently berated him for blanking the crowd. McLeish had to admit he didn’t appreciate the supporters were cheering him, as he can’t understand the Brummy accent. And Capello thinks he's got a problem.

Tuesday, January 15

January sales

Selfridges it’s not. Ike Godsey’s January sale… 1 x bent sheep trough £10; 1 x pig trough (broken weld) £20; 1 x slightly bent hay rack/manger £145; 1 x shop soiled 6ft galvanised gate £30. A shop soiled gate? Five minutes out back and it’ll be knee deep in mud and sheep shit. Given my growing specialist knowledge, I’m thinking of expanding into the day trading business and cornering the market in baler cord and silage wrap. Will be certain to attend next weeks lecture on winter feed at the village hall (refreshments & licensed bar).

Making the effort

Weather wise it’s turned out to be a miserable day. Bloody parky as well. Gritting my teeth, I made it down the track to the lane for a session of cycle orientated physio. Although a spin round the block is little more than five miles, it’s not easy peddling through 8" of floodwater whilst two sheepdogs try to separate you from your nuts. Some perseverance is called for. Despite my optimism as regards an eventual return to form, I find that I now need a stick to get around, even indoors. Picture Gregory House without the charm. I’ve started a collection, made from various exotic woods, and should cut quite a dash with my crook when appearing at the next livestock auction. Talking of sheep… I see Robin Page - late of one man and his dog fame - is back on form. I know he’s trouble, but you can’t help warming to the lad. A refreshing change to those two wet buggers on the BBC, Oddie and Titchmarsh.

Oil prices

Saturday’s trek has left my injured limb looking as though someone has assaulted it with a lump hammer. Not a pretty sight. That said, my wrist is still functioning and I’ve just finished writing cheques for both our heating oil and propane gas suppliers. Since arriving here twelve months ago the price charged for heating oil has increased 49%, propane by 54%. Unbelievably, npower’s electricity - only 2/3 the price of what we paid EDF at South London Mansions - has actually fallen a further 10% (yes, I know, there’s a 12% price rise on the cards). Now, if you factor in the motor’s £65/tank for diesel - up by more than ten quid, the soaring price of groceries and the abomination that calls itself Council Tax, how on earth is another ¼ point cut by the Bank of England going to stimulate an economy built on consumer spending? Yesterday’s news that factory gate inflation is pushing 5% means a larger interest rate cut is unlikely and that the price of goods will continue to rise. The fact they’re increasing so fast is an indication that commodity and wholesale prices are being passed to consumers rather than being absorbed by manufacturers and retailers, and implies a belief that the public remains wealthy enough to afford it, that there’s still some way to go before the pips squeak. That said, Tesco joins M&S and a list of retailers reporting deflated figures. There’s still money out there, but household priorities are being reordered - savings and debt repayment the order of the day. If only the government was as prudent. At some time in the foreseeable future our faltering economy and declining tax receipts will lead to a cull of public sector jobs, a loss exacerbated by the fall out from like for like pay rationalisation. Should recent employment trends reverse themselves, with classroom assistants and dustbin men joining the growing ranks of unemployed estate agents, Bottlers chance of swinging a legitimate term in office will be all but gone.

Not that I’ve allowed these dire predictions to affect my diet. Last night’s mushroom risotto was greatly enhanced by the bottle of olio al tartufo bianco I’d received for Christmas. If only I could afford the real thing. It followed a lunch of lamb with beans - not just any old beans, but tasty little suckers from the Sierra de Gredos. I’m making the most of our store cupboard before the hair shirt era begins.

Sunday, January 13

Bedtime reading

The novel No Country for old men originally got me hooked on McCarthy. Since then I’ve read all but one of his works, plays and screenplays excepted. NCFOM is about to be released as a Coen brothers film, starring Tommy Lee Jones. This last book (Xmas present), Child of God, is classic McCarthy. Set in southern Appalachia it is very much of the Deliverance genre, with violence and sexual deviancy to the fore - more specifically, necrophilia and paedophilia. The principal interest of our protagonist (portrayed as an anti-hero) is survival - as in The Road and Suttree; his hobby that of shooting young women in the head before engaging in sex. The story is supposedly based on a real life individual, and as the title suggests, could be just the sort of character living around a corner near you. Humourous in parts, Child of God could be a disturbing read for some - though not perhaps as frightening as the thought of Bottler Brown stalking the streets of London, harvesting body parts.

Saturday, January 12

An outdoor breakfast

A glimmer of sunshine was all the encouragement needed to hike those 2½ miles to the top of the moor, for breakfast with a view. I began to regret my impulse about half way back, and am now laid up on the sofa, listening to Paul Walsh’s commentary on action at Emirates stadium.

At least the walk afforded me an opportunity of chatting with Farmer Charles and to catch up on news of the agricultural industry. Apparently, his new layers haven’t been delivering at quite the same rate as those previous stars, assassinated by the fox; and, more importantly, another brace of pheasants will soon be heading my way. Next to Basil Brush, Jamie Oliver seems to be the current target for farming vitriol. Most of people’s irritation comes from an appreciation that - with local wages averaging 2/6 a week - most mothers can’t afford free range chicken nuggets. I understand what they’re saying, although when we were kids I’m sure we only saw chicken on the table half a dozen times a year. It was strictly a luxury food, for special occasions; beef - albeit the fatty, gristly stuff - was cheaper. Nowadays, chicken appears to be the principal form of protein in almost everyone’s diet. We’re persuaded by our doctors against red meats, and fish has become a rich man’s dish. Food is the thing many people buy after settling their mortgage/utilities/council tax/clothing/travel/… bills, and tends to be whatever they can afford with what’s left in their purse. Last time I looked in at our local supermarket the price for chickens ranged between £2.50 and £11.50 - for birds of similar size but differing production methods. So I guess that unless Oliver can convince mothers with restricted budgets to feed their kids porridge or plain boiled rice for dinner, the lad’s onto something of a loser.

Friday, January 11

The not so merry-go-round

So, Klinsmann gets the Bayern Munich job. Was half hoping to see him at Anfield this summer. I always cite the ex-Tottenham forward as a typical example of England’s flexible approach to race issues. Prior to arriving in North London he was that diving, cheating, Kraut son of a bitch we all wanted to see hanging from a goal post. Five minutes after pulling on Spurs shirt Jürgen became one of the lads and we were all tucking into large portions of spanferkel and schwarzsauer. As for the next Geordie manager… paddypower opened with Shearer on 7/4, but I can’t see it - he has about a tenth the coaching experience of someone like Tony Adams and no managerial record. ’Arry seems to be the media favourite (12/5), with Hughes at 5/1 - though Sparky’s denying interest (understandable, given his eye remains focused on the Old Trafford slot). Even I’m not dumb enough to back McLaren, even at 25/1. And the culture shock for someone like Mourinho would be far too big; not that Rednap and Adams are exactly Bob & Terry. Keegan is retailing at 14/1 for a return trip. If Brucie hadn’t jumped to Wigan he could probably have swung it? Maybe not: they need a big face, with broad shoulders. I hope Villa realise how lucky they are.

Dark, wet days...

What a bloody awful day Thursday was. The storm force gales that had been forecast didn’t quite make it to the Ponderosa, but my wind sock was certainly given a good seeing too. No need for particle accelerators in this neck of the woods, I can tell you. As luck would have it, I spent most of the morning inside formatting a new laptop for The Boss. Am reasonably competent with basic IT procedures, but had twice to resort to telephoning that nice kid in Bangalore for technical assistance. This new machine has a dual-core processor, all the bells and whistles, and it’s still one fifth the price I paid for my first lap top.

Today’s weather is just as bad. The gales have blown themselves out, but it’s still lashing down and I’m trapped in the office perusing the newspapers. I see that smarmy tosser Hain has admitted he’d solicited most of the £103k donations his deputy leadership campaign failed to register with the Electoral Commission. Said he’d known about the controversial donations from business chums, but added that none of his campaign team was able to explain why they’d not been declared. ‘It was an inadvertent and not a wilful mistake, and it’s my duty to carry on in Government.’ As if he’s going to quit the gravy train without being dragged kicking and screaming through the door… Young Blair’s landed a nice little £500k/year earner with JP Morgan that should help him pay the rents on his burgeoning property empire. Nothing wrong with that of course; wouldn’t mind a bit of the action myself. Yet it riles, watching Brown drag the country downhill, knowing that just about the time UK plc turns into a basket case he’ll be reaching for a parachute with one hand and a van load of City consultancies with the other. Twas always the way, I suppose; no use whinging… According to his ex-wife Cécilia, Sarkozy is a mean, cold, serial womaniser: yet whilst acknowledging the guy has the potential to be something of a snake in the grass, you’d still warm to him ahead of the Presbyterian nerk in No 10. Shades of the Clinton factor? Let’s face it, when it comes to pulling the birds there’s no competition. Sakozy’s latest doesn’t look the sort of woman capable of carrying a sheep under each arm.

Wednesday, January 9

Atom

I can’t decide if it was that new year resolution about spending my time more profitably or January’s alcohol sabbatical that resulted in my becoming so fixated with last night’s television. Having sat through a riveting story of Oskar Kokoschka’s bonking exploits, attributed as the inspiration behind his expressionist painting, The Tempest, I became hooked on Al-Khalili’s Clash of the Titans - detailing the development of quantum mechanics by young Bohr and his acolytes. I doubt this new found appreciation for physics will lead to a career change, but it’s certain to enhance my appreciation for Kirk and the boys during those Star Trek repeats. Can’t wait for tonight’s follow up, The Key to the Cosmos. Anything that enhances my Patrick Moore addiction is fine by me. Last night was the first clear sky for a while, affording a chilly session with the binoculars.

Tuesday, January 8

Golden balls

The old place doesn’t look the same now that our decorations have been taken down. It was quite sad, watching Mrs G. wrapping the baubles in tissue paper and consigning them to their box in the store room; the same box to which I’d retired my England flags, following last year's ignominious departure from the European championship. Unfortunately, the decorations will likely be first to reappear.This cycling lark is a chuckle, though I still haven’t mastered the art of inserting foot number two into the pedal clip and then having time to look up again before riding into a ditch. The gales have returned, making it especially tricky crossing the top of the moor. That said, after these past several months of inaction there’s no amount of wind and rain that’ll keep me indoors.

Sunday, January 6

Eat you heart out, Eddy Merckx

Do you recall that saying, (it’s) just like riding a bike? Load of bollocks. Total effing rubbish. That I hadn’t been astride a pedal cycle since my early teens was immediately evident; I’d have looked more accomplished perched aboard a runaway animal. It's surprising how quickly you forget those pesky leg problems when rolling around a grass verge clutching your chest. If I hadn’t suffered from angina before today, I do now. It might only be a three mile trip to the Kwik-E-Mart, but it’s the gradients that do for you. The trusty old BSA had three Sturmey Archer gears, this one has 28; and aside from a terrifying incident that involved my freewheeling down hill at warp six, for 90% of the trip I was marooned in 1st. There are six levers on the handle bar. Six! And disk brakes. I’ve driven cars that weren’t equipped with disk brakes. Despite the inclement weather I was down to my string vest within 20 minutes. That lasted about as long as it took me to reach the top of the moor, when a near fatal attack of hypothermia set in. You miss the woolly bonnet wearing that damn silly helmet. And no one warned me about the saddle… I’ve had to resurrect an old tube of Preparation H and my inflatable cushion.

Friday, January 4

A fresh start

According to Gudgeon’s calendar, yesterday (Thursday) was the first day of a new year. A time to wipe the slate clean; when all those rude asides and gratuitous remarks to friends and acquaintances are traditionally forgiven. It’s also the start of another 12 months at the barn (what’s that you say about second season blues?). The suspension of Plan A was initially disheartening, but it’s a tribulation I’ve borne with equanimity. Whilst not what we’d planned when departing South London Mansions, the experience has still been a learning curve to life in the country; a life-style I’m happy should continue, albeit, hopefully, with a touch more physical activity than the last several months. Arguably, this is the worst physical condition I’ve been in for a decade. The latest meeting with my consultant was somewhat inconclusive. It seems that when they took the pins out the bones remained a little too pliable. After further x-rays we’re still not sure to what extent they’ve set, so - on the basis of kill or cure - it seems the way to advance my healing process is to subject the limb to significantly increased stress levels; to up the ante, so to speak. Crutches are out, cycles are in. Should be good for a laugh: watch this space.

Tuesday, January 1

Pica pica

This sad looking beast obviously bumped into the wrong sort on his way home last night. The port wing is defunct and it seems as though everything out there is queuing up to finish him off. I stopped the cat about to chomp on his head this morning as I didn’t want my breakfast ruined. Our lad’s still sprightly on his pins, but I can’t see him making it through this week. Guess it’s payback for eating all those thrush and blackbird chicks. We’ve a fair number of common magpies on the Ponderosa, so I assume no one’s around here’s deploying Larsen traps, and cartridges are too expensive. Truth is, the place is big enough to accommodate both them and their prey. These birds are much more attractive than the picture suggests, though they have to catch the light to bring out the purplish blue and emerald green. If the nursery rhyme holds true I’m in for a good year: five for silver, six for gold…