Sunday, March 30

Garden Robin

About the only use my spade is good for in this weather.

Saturday, March 29

A priceless win

Gale-force winds have been bludgeoning the barn throughout the day as normal service is resumed. We’re double glazed, port and starboard, but it doesn’t stop the curtains performing their ensign-like flutter. Rain has left the track axle-deep. And our road to the village is closed for six weeks! Pray we don’t need the fire service in a hurry. Just as well I collected the weekend victuals on Friday. Waitrose was deserted: the chill economic wind had driven everyone next door to Lidl ‘Where quality is cheaper’.

I'd already assumed from this morning’s display of butchered sheep and the kitchen aromas that we were scheduled for another 48 hour curryfest. Anything warming would satisfy in this weather, and curry - that stalwart of English cuisine - is particularly welcome. An opportunity to celebrate the Blues win in the time honoured manner of getting blind drunk on Kingfisher lager and vomiting over the balti house floor. I knew that Zarate lad would prove to be a good un. But who the Eck is Saj Chowdhury? Have just read his match report from St Andrews and discovered Brucie's back? As for Rob Styles...

Friday, March 28

An end to rip-off Britain? Never.

The postman delivered this morning’s Council Tax bill with his usual beaming smile. An effort to sweeten the pill. Given the mind-boggling rise in the cost of such staples as heat, light and petrol, West Devon’s increase of 4.4% seems almost charitable. It comes as no surprise that we’re having to cough up another 7.9% to fund coppers’ pensions. You must read Martin Samuel’s wind up column in today’s Times. For the whole of New Labour’s reign the money has flowed, and we've paid through the nose for just about everything. Why not: salaries were on the up, bonuses were a given, stratospheric house prices... Hey, we’re the fourth or fifth richest country in the world: we can afford it. As the fat boy says: The economy is false. The economy is a lie. The economy is a fictional set of numbers cooked up during a boom period that is almost over. Brown got away with murder because he was Chancellor in the days when chimps could make money. Six months from now nothing will add up. You are going to realise how overpriced and bogus the minutiae of British life are, and Gordon is panicking because there is no way he can make this sustainable; yet the artifice of commerce and government relies on your expanding wallet. Our lives are full of inflated expenses that are propping up Brown's fairyland economy and, when the penny drops, this crash will be the mightiest ever.

Do I jump, or wait to be pushed?

Nationwide’s chief economist, Fionnuala Earley, was swanning about the airwaves this morning to explain the reason behind a rate increase on new mortgages (too many applications for the society to administer?) and to promote their report which confirms the slowest rate of price increase for 12 years. They anticipate an actual decline in house prices during 2008, but limited to <4%. She’s one of the economists whose line has consistently been that - because of the trend towards housing as a supplement to equity based savings and pensions - a return to the old price to earnings ratio (which would require a 40% fall in house prices) ain’t going to happen. Back in September, encouraged by Mervyn’s sanguine approach to the economy, Nationwide were convinced that long term interest rates were heading down, not up, and that strong employment prospects would continue to underwrite the market. A catastrophic fall, they felt, would require a major readjustment of confidence, a rate increase of greater than 2% and a significantly weaker economy. Well, here we nearly are: the chance of a full blown recession is now 3-1.

She could be still be right of course, even if her assumptions are wrong. The current economic woes may well be temporary and come this time next year property will be back on its stratospheric trajectory, onwards and upwards. You pays your money… However, and accepting that very few things are safer than bricks & mortar, markets reflect sentiment as well as value. And they reflect affordability. Punters are being crucified by domestic cost increases that bear no relation to whichever of the retail price indexes you use. The Bank of England may well cut rates this summer, but - as things stand - commercial institutions sure as hell won’t. And mortgage payments have to compete with utilities, increases in the cost of clothing and food, filling up the motor, etc…

People are holding back offering on properties, and those who have bid are pulling out. I’m trying to talk the market down, of course, and to convince myself to hold out for another summer. Even if the economy continues to weaken there’ll be a significant lag on property prices and it could take up to three years to complete a fall. If potential vendors don’t have to sell they’ll wait it out, whilst anything half decent in a good location will always sell, at whatever price. It’s those ‘not quite so attractive’ options and the ‘must sell’ properties we’re all monitoring. Property auctioneers are doubtless braced for an increase in business. It’s a buyers market, but so far there’s little to encourage people to put their hand in their pocket.

Wednesday, March 26

Sarkozy’s address to parliament

Bonnet de douche! as Del would say. A Franco-British brotherhood? We know who our friends are, but flattery will get you everywhere. Just don’t expect us to throw tonight’s match. And can we see those pictures of Carla in her knickers.

They’re there to entertain

We finished the vat of Mrs G’s Scotch broth. As much as I enjoy a bowl of soup, three days of pearl barley and split peas begins to wear. In much the same way… This morning’s Scotsman newspaper led with the Calman commission. ‘Just before midday yesterday, the political ground in Scotland shifted, starting a process that will change the United Kingdom for ever.’ Strong stuff, you’d think, though it failed to make the press south of the border. Have you noticed how relative things tend to be? When someone used the term SoftheB in South London Mansions it meant Catford. Here, it’s anything below the A30. Calman is Brown’s latest attempt to frustrate the snake-oil salesman currently presiding over Holyrood. Personally, I think that bottler’s pursuing something of a dead duck, and for the sweaties, we’re fast approaching put up or shut up time. Still, it will enliven the next general election, which - if you’re a betting man, as I am - will see an increased nationalist majority in Scotland and a Conservative administration at Westminster.

Modern men feel emasculated

Asked what it meant to be a man in the 21st century, more than half thought society was turning them into ‘waxed and coiffed heterosexuals’, and 52% say they had to live according to women's rules. Four out of ten are frightened of heights and spiders while a third are frightened of bossy women. What a bunch of nancy boys. Men said they ‘felt handcuffed’ by political correctness - only 33% felt they could speak freely and say what they thought, whereas two thirds found it safer and to conceal their opinions. Too right, matey, too right. All you want is a quiet life: do what you’re told, and keep it buttoned.

Garden finches at five-year high

Housing market

Estate agents are toast, as activity in the UK housing market is forecast to fall to its lowest level in more than 30 years.

Teachers' annual conference

Our much undervalued teachers are rattled by hums and coughs in class. And tapping pens, rocking chairs, hoodies, kids wearing shades whilst using mobile phones, the army, faith schools, a lack of imams and rabbis, academies, testing, back to basics teaching, localised pay agreements, returning mentally ill teachers, league tables, anything aspirational or middle-class, cyber bullies, spoilt children, class sizes, drugs and weapons in school, the influence of TV, independent nurseries, poor pay, the influx of foreigners… Can we spot the trend here?

Respect? Most of the guys I’ve seen speaking from the conference podium have been dressed like benefit claimants: what happened to suits and ties? Or even those nice Harris tweed jackets with leather elbow patches. Who’s to blame, we ask? Why parents of course, the government, society in general. Maggie Thatcher, probably: though they want to revert to an earlier mythical 80s-style ‘liberal’ education.

Monday, March 24

They brighten things up

It might be a tad dull outside, but you can’t go wrong when the yard’s full of Siskins, Goldfinches and Greenfinches.

Buyers getting cold feet

Rightmove, the property website that follows the fortunes of some 35,000 homes on the books of estate agents have decided that sellers need a reality check when pricing their homes for sale, as unsold stock reaches record proportions. They believe the market is close to stagnating with vendors refusing to face reality. Homeowners in the southwest have seen prices double during the last several years and many are now looking to cash in. Unfortunately, the world around them is fast changing. Banks and building societies are withdrawing mortgage offers and potential buyers are becoming distinctly nervous. I’ve been keeping an eye on a local property that’s seen two sales fall through because of what the prospective vendors referred to as ‘changing personal circumstances’. Cold feet, mate, cold feet. I still recall that recession of the late 80s-early 90s. Four out of five local estate agents went under and everyone lost their jobs. I wonder if the complacent agents hereabouts that can’t be bothered to pick up their phones are familiar with the term schadenfreude?

Boorish

The Boss is still putting the kitchen back together after yesterday’s game at Old Trafford. It was worth an admission fee just to watch the barrage of pans and olive oil bottles that she launched against the wireless in response to Alan Green’s commentary. Green is a rather unattractive Belfast lad, a Kopite and rabid anti-MU fan who works for the BBC. High on the grumpy old man stakes, his reports are invariably one long whine. An old fashioned, sour and a somewhat partisan commentator who needs to be introduced to the concept of entertainment.

Sunday, March 23

Bank holiday weather

Think I’ll stay home today. Apart from anything else, it’s cold and wet. Yesterday’s excursion to the Quik-E-Mart for a turkey was hindered by a queue of BMW X5s and Land Rover Discoveries as the newly impoverished middle-classes trundle into town for Easter. I'm not sure they're entirely happy with being forced to exchange the Tuscan villa for self-catering in Holsworthy. I assumed they were visitors from the quality and style of their Boden-like attire; that, and the suspicious countenance you'd normally associate with tourists in a foreign land. The stress of city life and evidence of a painful drive were writ large. At just about the moment they lighten up it’ll be time to go home. Everone's been short-changed on the weather stakes this weekend, but then that’s what holidaying in Britain is all about. Sitting in the car with a flask of tea and Tupperware box of sandwiches and hard boiled eggs. It still remains my choice: in preference to standing in line at Gatwick airport surrounded by Saga louts.

Why this sudden vogue for government fatwas against the over-50s? And telling women their breasts will fall off if they drink a glass of wine must be the cheapest trick of all.

Saturday, March 22

Population growth

You can’t fault India’s latest global warming initiative. Given that population growth is seen as a major contributory factor, they’ve introduced a scheme to encourage vasectomies by fast tracking gun licences for those agreeing to be neutered. I presume the added bonus of arming men in rural towns and villages throughout Madhya Pradesh is a likelihood that the newly sterilised citizens will continue to benefit the planet by assassinating large numbers of their neighbours through inter-community feuding.

The world might be going to hell in a handcart, but thank goodness for reassuring constants. The NUT still hold conferences and threaten strike action, and the standard of education for many children remains abysmal. If only they could have a pay rise and limit class sizes to 20 pupils; that those pupils were receptive, intelligent, less self-indulgent, came from stable homes… According to a recent survey one in three primary school children believe Sir Winston Churchill was either the first man to walk on the moon or a dog selling motor insurance. Keep it up guys, you’re doing a great job.

Hot Cross Buns

Although Good Friday is history, the place still reeks of mixed spice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Just as well, given Farmer Charles has moved his herd of cattle upwind of the barn. As we relax over the Easter break, mulling over the financial crisis, contemplating our employment prospects, new mortgage payments and the increased cost of utilities, of taxes, the extortionate cost of diesel… we can at least console ourselves with the thought that £24m doesn’t appear to have made Heather Mills happier, and that the Biscuitmen will probably choose today to discover their form.

Thursday, March 20

Wishful thinking

Today was my final visit to the consultant surgeon. Ten months after pirouetting from a ladder he's finally signed off on me. A nice enough guy who on the face of it has done a good job; they’re all good lads; but I’m still left feeling short changed.

Aerial display

Think I’d better shave before someone mistakes my innocent jaunt with a rucksack for something sinister. I’m a little concerned that two F-15s have been practising low level runs on the barn. Who the fluck is flying F-15s in this neck of the woods? One visitor in an unidentified strike aircraft (non RAF issue) effected a tight 180° turn over the yard at little more than treetop height. He certainly impressed me, though the sheep seemed to take it in their stride.

Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps

I can’t believe they’re opening a new pub downwind of the Quik-E-Mart. Most of the bars I’ve frequented over the last couple of months weren't exactly fighting off customers. I guess the younger crowd want somewhere to buy their drugs that doesn’t look like The Nag’s Head or feel like a set from the Vicar of Dibley. Yesterday’s unfortunate choice for lunch was indeed a Trotter'esk watering hole, circa ’70s South London: red velvet banquette furniture, tastefully decorated with those ridiculously naff artefacts that breweries once used as their blueprint for an authentic retro-pub atmosphere. A fading portrait of Queen Victoria and collection of brass blowlamps doesn’t really cut it these days. Having determined from the colourfully smeared laminate menu that food quality might be an issue, I settled for a packet of crisps, whilst doing my best to blend in. Not as easy as you’d imagine when everyone else is wearing a hooded tracksuit and suffering galloping acne. Local school lunches seem to be failing the Jamie Oliver test. Lively conversation, with some innovative suggestions regarding Mervyn King's problems at The Bank of England.

Tuesday, March 18

Lonesome

Whilst most of the yard’s Robins are now paired, one or two have taken fright at the thought of Heather Mills and decided to keep their own company.

Rising to the challenge

Our version of duelling banjos. Alternating dinner duty, as we vie to outperform each other. Yesterday was another take on my duck & carrots - always a favourite. However, a wonderful aroma now permeates the barn with Mrs G. producing a batch of her aromatic, citrus flavoured prunes. A pantry staple and useful addition to my breakfast muesli. Because I’ve been a good lad, this evening’s supper features stuffed sheep hearts. She mixes the prunes with apple, chopped almonds and breadcrumbs, before filling the hearts, stitching the cavities and baking in a moderate oven. You’ve no idea how good they taste. One of those meals where you can serve New World wine.

Monday, March 17

Big game

I’m not sure where to focus my attention today. To watch, ashen faced, as my modest US interests continue their Stuka-like dive; or to ruminate on tonight’s match, arguably The Blues biggest game of the season. A draw is of little interest to either us or Newcastle, and a home win would be a major boost to City’s chance of staying in the Premiership. Let’s face it, we’ve been playing a blinder and need to clock up the points before form dips. Keegan’s luck has to change sometime - just not this evening, eh.

Sunday, March 16

Sunday lunch

After walking all the way to the Quik-E-Mart I am treating myself to an afternoon of reggae and a goat curry. With the tank full of heating oil and a pantry stacked with Rich Tea Biscuits I’m confident we can handle any recession. Damn it, I live in the countryside, how clever do you have to be to grow potatoes? A neighbour is out exercising his team of horses. I doubt I could lift one of the halters, magnificent beasts that they are. People tell me Shires are destined for extinction within 10 years? Brought to Britain in 1066 by William the Conqueror as medieval armoured tanks, their demise would be a tragedy for England’s breweries. Wonder what it costs to feed a shire horse? How would I climb on board? Would I need a saddle?

The habitual phoenix

Sneer if you like, but you can’t keep a good man down: Archer’s back on the best-seller list. The domestic audience seems to admire or loath him in equal measure according to their political persuasion, though I’d imagine large sections of the Tory old guard remain somewhat sniffy. The Americans quite like him, and I believe he’s hit the big time in India. Apart from sitting next to the lad on a particularly tedious flight to London all I know about his activities are what I’ve read in the media, much of which probably deserved to be served with chips. I have worked and socialised with too many Jeffries not to have enjoyed their company, and more often than not, their generosity. Regretfully, as young Greene and his Quiet American reminds us, such memories are often accompanied by guilty attachments. The spite and vindictiveness with which Archer was pursued still leaves a bad taste. He would have made a formidable Mayor of London.

Saturday, March 15

Another wet Saturday

Not a day for loitering amongst the costermongers, but I couldn’t miss out on that ostrich burger - and we were pretty low on victuals. Most of the produce for sale at these monthly farmers' markets is fairly pricey, as you would expect from rare breed pigs, free-range chickens and moorland lamb. I comfort myself with the thought that at least the pocket money’s not being spent on illicit pharmaceuticals. My usual Saturday afternoon with Jeff Sterling and the boys has been enlivened by the addition of a step machine to aid my physiotherapy. You wouldn’t believe the degree of dexterity that’s required to ride one of these things at the same time you’re trying to read the Sporting Chronicle and drink from a bottle of San Miguel.

Captain Mainwaring wouldn’t panic

Given the difficulties in which Bear Stearns finds itself I guess we can kiss goodbye to offloading Northern Rock at any time soon. That cuddly old doom-monger Vince Cable describes Stearns as a second Tsunami wave following after the initial credit crunch, and that it's most likely we’re all going to hell in a hand cart - with Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown doing most of the pushing. Even young Stephanie on Newsnight looked close to a faint as she breathlessly charted the day's events. Fellow economic commentators queued to express their belief in the probability of our heading towards a ’30s-style-crash. Meanwhile, as the three-month Libor rate climbs to 5.93%, the FT reports that lenders are frantically withdrawing many of their mortgage offers, leaving some buyers well and truly up the Suwannee. I trust Wacko Jacko’s cleared his acquisition of that bungalow in Barnstaple with the Nat West.

Friday, March 14

MP's John Lewis list

Remember, next time you’re being subjected to those pious platitudes, and demands that your hard earned money should finance another of their latest good causes; when you're looking at the loose change in your hand, wondering whether to spend the bus fare on a second pint and to walk home, that the extra 4p you are having to stump up is quite possibly paying for a new suite of furniture for the Balls Family’s second home. And when MPs tell you they’ll be doubling their salaries to compensate for claiming less expenses, appreciate the boost this will give to their gold-plated pensions, and that you will be funding it.

Braised beef

Speaking of expanded waistlines… Before discovering fajitas, skirt was a relatively cheap cut of meat. And whilst grilled skirt remains a favourite in many French bistros, here in Devon it continues to be viewed primarily as a pie filler. Many moons ago Mrs G. came across a Simon Hopkinson recipe that he’d purloined and adapted from Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. Confusingly called Grillade des Mariners du Rhone, the meat is braised in nothing more that the moisture from 3-4 sliced onions. After three hours or so in a pot at the bottom of an oven, the skirt is enhanced with a generous handful of flat parsley leaves, two large cloves of crushed garlic, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and four of olive oil, 4-5 anchovy fillets and some crushed dried chillies. There’s a little more to it, of course, but the end result is something special. A dish you’re unlikely to see produced in your local restaurant. The Boss serves it with a potato-carrot-turnip mash. My contribution was a bottle of Château Clément-Pichon 2002 Haut-Médoc that was left over from Christmas. You can’t drink New World wine with decent food.

Let’s ditch dirt cheap clothes

Quite right, Sarah. Cheap clothing could be the biggest threat to national health that we face. In older days a rise in your waist line cost big money: £40-60 for a new pair of trousers - a major incentive to look after yourself. With new jeans retailing at little more that £6 a throw, it’s tempting to keep munching on the bacon butty and to buy a new outfit.

Thursday, March 13

Celebrity neighbours

They’re begining to refer to The Blues as ‘plucky’, which is always a bad sign. A euphemism for the spotty-faced kid who stifles his tears when the big boys give him a slap. Still, onwards and upwards; Newcastle Monday. Local news has it that I’m having to compete on the homes front with Wacko Jacko. Encouraged by the opening of a Pizza Express on Barnstaple high street the lad’s big brother is reported to be viewing property in North Devon.

Wednesday, March 12

And you thought John Major was grey

At least he was bonking that egg woman. Having refuelled the motor this morning (£1.17/ltr), replenished our heating oil (50.4p/ltr - a 69% cost increase on the same order last year) and been hit by the statutory 4.2% annual rent increase, Darling’s decision to heap yet more misery on the price of a pint looks to be taking the piss. Ten bob on a bottle of Scotch! I’m relatively fortunate and have a decent line of credit with my bookmaker, but there must be a lot of lads out there now hurting. All I can say is ‘you guys voted them in, not me!’ OK, so you really voted for Blair and didn’t expect to inherit a tosser from Kirkcaldy, and in truth there wasn’t much of an alternative, but you’re still to blame. Just don’t make the same mistake next time around, they’re making mugs of you.

Budget day

It’s no good: I waited for as long as practicable before coming to a decision, but my jaunt to Fratton Park for tonight’s match has gone the way of the Cheltenham Festival. If, at this particular moment (looking out of the office window, down across the gully) you were to tell me we were on the Falkland Islands I would be moved to accept it as fact. I’ve never been to the Falklands - or the Malvinas as my late Argentinean associate so describes them, but I imagine - and given my assumptions are primarily derived from television pictures of our away game at Port Stanley - that this is what they look like. A grim, barren, gale swept terrain of lichen covered rock, and mud. Lots of mud. And sheep, of course. And, in their case, oil. Mustn’t forget the oil. It’s going to come in useful, though too late to balance Darling’s books. I wonder what the robbing bastard will extract from us today? Remember the good old days when chancellors used to reverse tax rates rather than increase them?

Tuesday, March 11

And a bottle of sweet sherry for the ladies

Because of a genetic disposition to gain weight - something which has absolutely nothing to do with the time spent sitting in my office cradling a beer - having to eat a sub-standard meal really irks. Eating has become a dangerous occupation these days and you can’t afford to squander a meal. I don’t mind if it's beans on toast, but it better be decent bread, to say nothing of the Mexican strawberries. In much the same way, wasting the finite time that remains by reading garbage tends to piss me off, especially if I’ve been stung by the cover price. I’m a big fan of Amazon and their so-called classics - vintage novels. You can buy a lot of reading pleasure for £5. The best thing about these older books is that they’re primarily written by dead white men for an earlier market. Modern writer's stories appear unduly influenced by the dominance of female consumers and the potential film rights. I won’t even pretend to understand why best-seller lists feature so many ‘I was abused as a child’ books. What’s that all about? On-line purchases aside, it’s difficult for me to breeze down the high street without making an impulse buy. Usually something I wouldn’t normally consider and often ones which are being promoted on special offer, preferably with a glitzy cover. Pleasant surprises have so far outnumbered the odd lemon, so it was with much anticipation I recently shed out for Ben Elton’s The First Casualty. Black Adder meets Sebastian Faulks? Well, not quite. About the worst tag I could ascribe to this story is that of being a melodrama. Some of the battle scenes are sound, but I’d have enjoyed a little more weapons and tactics, and less defecation, masturbation and lame relationships - homosexual or otherwise. The clichés are laid trowel-like; signposts abound. I didn’t expect All quiet on the western front, it is Elton for Christ's sake; I just wish these guys would make more of an effort to raise their game.

Ambulance chasing

An accountant is suing my underwear suppliers for £300k, claiming he slipped on a grape and ruptured a tendon. The lad was ‘startled by a car’ when pushing his shopping trolley. Now, suffering a loss of confidence and depression, Mr Wuss is no longer able to ski, play tennis; recruit new contacts or clients? What a con artist. He wants to try being banged up in a barn in the wilderness during the bleakest of bleak winters.

Fried food

Having spent two weeks playing the Mr Grumpy British stereotype in order to avoid smiling, my new crown arrived to fill an embarrassing gap at the front of my mouth. And as I’d been forced to avoid those foodstuffs that Granny can’t eat, I celebrated the return of my Dexter-like smile with a chicken-fried-steak. In this health conscious age of ours - especially when served alongside creamed gravy - CFS is just about the ultimate no-no; the Texan version of a deep-fried Mars Bar. Being the enlightened lad I am, rather than using tenderised frying steak, I cover a veal escalope with cling film and pretend it's Sep Blatter. Sandwiching 2-3 sage leaves between the veal and a generous slice of Parma ham, I dredge with flour or dip in batter and pan fry. OK so it’s not really chicken fried steak, but given my cholesterol problems the real stuff would be just too perverse. Guess I should also have omitted those sautéed potatoes.

Monday, March 10

Stormy weather

Something of a breezy night: severe gales and 80 knot winds. We start the week against a familiar background of floods and uprooted trees. 1,600 homes without electricity. Truth-to-tell, the storm seemed nothing out the ordinary for this time of year. Forecast as the winter’s worst to date, the brouhaha appears a case of the Met Office covering their collective arse. I take such advice with large amounts of Saxo these days, and suspect that old boy with the seaweed in the Dog & Duck does as credible a job.

Hugely entertaining weekend of football, though it seems prudent to continue to give Mrs G. a wide berth following old Cufflink's demise. Running her down to Fratton Park this Wednesday for a candlelit supper looks out of the question.

Saturday, March 8

White working class invisible?

The start to BBC’s white series proved something of a turn off and significantly less entertaining than their previous Deptford ‘Tower’ saga. As to invisibility… I guess it depends on what exactly you mean by white working class. The BBC assumes this epitaph to be the exclusive province of an underclass, trapped in inner-city or semi-rural ghettos . However, whilst the common supposition is that everyone with an ounce of gumption got out when the going was good - during the late 60s and early 70s, a generation or two later, despite the university educated kids and successful professional occupations, many punters still elect to retain their membership card as a means of cultural identity. A six-figure salary and Upton Park season ticket doesn’t assume you’ve renounced that identity. And let's face it, Essex lads are anything but invisible. People voted for New Labour and their championing of meritocracy. What the BBC now likes to portray is the fallout from this strategy: the disenfranchisement of those perceived to be without merit. I’ve always suspected the more righteous amongst our governing classes view taxes as a form of guilt money that needs to be paid in compensation for winning the genetics lottery? Detractors - or the Coping Classes, as we increasingly refer to them - look to the success of migrants, and recall the Chingford Strangler's sage words relating to his father's bicycle.

Proof that an affluent white working class is alive and prospering comes from John Lewis, who this month announced that sales of dominoes have increased 20% in the last 12 months. Boxes of own-brand dominoes are retailing at the rate of one every half-hour. This resurgent competitor to Wii and PlayStation is being popularised by such unlikely characters as Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and the Beckhams.

Thursday, March 6

The white non-working class

Bad enough, having to sidestep a tide of perambulator-pushing Cathy Burkes, but I draw the line at being assaulted by those winos that congregate outside the public lavatory. The BMA have a lot to answer for, not least the stigma now attached to our gallant middle-class for their closet drinking. Because I threatened to ram a three litre plastic bottle of White Lightning up his rear orifice if he didn't move out of the doorway, chummy threw a wobbly about double standards, voicing his suspicion that I was heading off home to drink my preferred tipple in relative comfort. Couldn’t argue with that I suppose. What’s an office for if not to relax with a cold one and a tub of jellied eels whilst watching the afternoon racing.

Tuesday, March 4

The Flicks

At last. As the southwest’s most ardent Cormac McCarthy fan I’m pleased to announce that ‘No Country for Old Men’ finally hit town. Not one to squander his pennies, I booked seats at our local flea pit for the £4 matinee, popcorn not included (they throw in a cup of tea on Thursdays). Even with the plug-in air fresheners the theatre remains imbued with a whiff of trailer park living, which - considering the nature of the film - lends a surprisingly authentic atmosphere to the cinematic experience. I’m rarely impressed with screen adaptations, but the Coen boys have done a more than credible job. Tommy Lee Jones, who usually manages to ham it up, produces one of his better performances as Sheriff Bell. Think Cufflinks Fergie, on coffee instead of claret. Full marks too to Josh Brolin for the Moss portrayal. Bardem’s Chigurg was good, but thanks to the power of our own imagination we’ve long become immune to these sort of characters. The only blemish I could see was that of casting Mrs Merton as Carla Jean’s mom.

Monday, March 3

The King

Monday again. Comes around too quickly for my liking. I’m usually issued with a copy of Part II Orders, before being handed a brush and instructed to move it about the barn at smartly as possible. She now accepts the trade-off this involves: a medley of tracks from Gudgeon’s album collection, played at the highest volume my equipment allows. Back in South London Mansions I was constantly threatened with physical violence as the Boss put great store in her cosy relationship with neighbours. There’s no requirement for such détente in this neck of the woods. Only the sheep are likely to object and they’ve learned to live with it. I can sing and play the air guitar to my hearts content. Today is Elvis Day. Take it away boys… “I just can’t help believing…”

Sunday, March 2

Dipsticks

Stumbling across the moor this morning, blackthorn staff in hand (think Charlton Heston, fresh from the summit), I couldn’t but fail to notice a family group down from the city. Teenage kids, Mom, Dad and Grandparents; Renault Espace parked nearby; yapping dogs, port and starboard. The moor currently looks like a scene from The Sundowners and contains enough grazing sheep to keep the entire population of Lewisham supplied in kebabs for the next five years. You know what’s coming of course… Chummy decides it would be nice to give Fang his head and lets him off the leash. I didn’t think there could be anything worse than watching a dog chase fifty sheep across the hill, but Dad and son made such a scene in hot pursuit they started a second stampede lower down on the moor. I stood waiting for Farmer Charles to appear with his Remington blazing, knowing he wouldn’t necessarily be aiming at the dog. Dumb schmuck finally caught up with mutt and proceeded to beat the crap from him - like it was the dog’s fault he’d been let off the leash in the first place. I see parents behaving the same way with their children?

Not necessarily my problem

The sun came out for an o-so-brief five minutes, allowing me to snap a visiting Goldfinch in the yard. The lad was hanging on determinedly, in 25 knot winds.With four frisky female pheasants feeding their fat faces outside the office window, I’ve decided to review my current largess. Rather than lodging in the yard, they should be out in the fields, putting it about. I’m starting to feel like a disapproving father when the cock birds call. You will recall that last year we had 20 chicks, only one of which survived. I’m expecting more of them this time around: though you can’t buck the natural urge of predators and an inclination to inflict maximum Schwarzenegger-like carnage on vulnerable prey. From my reading of the newspapers the anticipation with which I follow the chicks progression along the hedgerow can’t be too dissimilar to a parent's view of the prospects for their 12 year old as they trudge through the back streets of a local authority housing estate.

Guardian articles may rail against the iniquity of faith schools, but the primary remit of these establishments is to provide an education for the willing and like-minded, not act as an arm of the social services or become a tool for enforced social engineering. Because of the rapidly changing demographics in urban towns and cities, admission to schools could well become the issue that decides future elections. Whichever way it goes, it will lead to more segregation, not less, with parents doing whatever it takes to secure access to good schools. There’s no doubt it will lead to an expansion of private education. School fee debt will continue to be the new mortgage. The advent of lottery admissions may help a limited number of disadvantaged pupils, but it won't halt the rise in community segregation; will more likely foster increasingly bitter social divisions. Evidence suggests that even when pupils from a different class or ethnic background are forced to study together they’re unlikely to mix socially or to extend the association into adulthood. If a fraction of the expenditure we’ve pissed away on the NHS had been spent on schools it could have been so different. Given the changing state of Britain’s economy, the last 10 years will be seen in retrospect to have been a once in your lifetime missed opportunity of gargantuan proportions.

Saturday, March 1

Grey skies forgotten

Can you Adam & Eve it? 4-1! Welcome back Mikael, you little beauty. When was the last time we did the double over anyone?

Miserable weather

Grey, grey, grey… The sunniest February on record and I’m still Mr Grumpy. Rain is forecast through Tuesday, then it snows. Even the traditional Friday lunch and a couple of pints of Sams at the Dog & Duck failed to lift spirits. I’d been housebound since Tuesday’s rash six mile walk over hill and dale had put me back on my sticks. It’s so undignified, crawling about the barn on your hands and knees. Have also run out of reading material. Still, the weekend’s here, gales and all. Saturday’s broadsheets should keep me out of trouble for an hour or two. Their take on current health service difficulties is guaranteed to brighten my next visit to our local surgery: GPs continue to be pilloried on earnings, and Gladys Emanuel is branded a whore. It has the potential to elevate that £16 you spend calling nurse practitioners at NHS Direct into the UK’s most expensive sex chat line. Medical blogs portray a profession at war with itself; under siege from paymaster and consumer alike. And the Tories want to throw them even more sponduliks! Back in the real world… McLeish entertains Spurs today. What price another point against a London team? The pub was full of Wolves supporters yesterday, en route to Colchester? It's those wonderful accents that get me.