Tuesday, April 29

Cock of the yard

My office window is open and the racket is deafening; don’t believe any of that guff about the tranquil countryside. Magpies have built a nest in one of the trees and are engaged in a running battle with resident carrion crows. Our nesting blackbirds legged it as soon as the pies arrived. Meanwhile, cock pheasant is doing it for the boys. I’ve already seem him impregnate five hens, after which he charges about, shrieking, in a deranged Carey-like manner.

Daily trivia

Dial a tanker: had to switch the heating back on. Presumably in need of a late breakfast, one of the barn owls made a rare daylight appearance. I thought the crows were big but this lad dwarfs them. His dead rodent looked a lot more appetising than my stale Quik-E-Mart croissant which tasted of dripping. Paid an early morning visit to the market for supplies. The fat lad’s upped the price of bird seed by three quid a bag, and you don’t want to know what the itinerant fish man is charging for live lobster. Bargains for sale included a 1964 Abbey & Macdonald O Level cookery text book (where Delia learnt her trade) and a pre-stereo Seekers recording, A World of Our Own. Sang the title track driving home. Unbelievably, I remembered all of the words. And sad though this is, it’s gratifying to know the grey stuff still works. I sometimes have to pull into a lay-by and sit trying to recall my destination. Need to be on my best behaviour this evening as I’m watching the match with Sir Alex’s best buddy. Because it was on special last time I visited town I’ve been drinking imported Estrella, Barcelona’s favourite beer. She probably won’t notice.

Monday, April 28

Dipstick

Have just discovered that unless you’re comfortable with ‘Manufactured in Japan’ being tattooed across the palm of your hand and are the sort of guy who's squeamish about the smell of burning flesh, you should avoid leaning against the exhaust of machinery that’s still running.

Not a great time for painters and decorators

‘While the availability of finance is impacting on demand in certain segments, the reality is that weak confidence is effectively resulting in a ‘buyers strike’ with households sitting on the sidelines and waiting to see how events unfold,’ said Hometrack's head of research Richard Donnell. ‘The current weakness in demand today is largely confidence driven - the fact that the majority of house moves are ‘aspirational’ rather than ‘need’ based is only exacerbating the problem,’ he added.

Buyers are not ‘on strike’, they’re waiting for sellers to get real. Most vendors in the southwest have already made token -5% adjustments to their asking price, though six-figure reductions to poorly located middle-range properties (£4-700k) are not unknown. Buyers are naturally reluctant to part with readies when there’s a good chance that prices will fall >20%; they are, understandably, playing the long game. Conversely, vendors are only human, and it takes time for reality to sink in. If you don’t have to sell during the next few years it might make sense to sit tight. However, punters could be looking at 2015 before prices return to the 2007 level, assuming we accept the probability of a seven year cycle for the market to play itself out: three years of falling prices, followed by four of partial recovery. I remember when things went south in the late 80s and early 90s. It was not a good time for sparkies, brickies or painters. Thankfully, current day tax payers appear far more willing to take up the slack, shelling out for infrastructure projects like the 2012 Olympics.

Saturday, April 26

Changing demographics

As if I hadn’t enough of a problem with chummy here, I now hear his cousin, Shaka nutkins is threatening havoc.200 years after the grey was first introduced to Britain and began forcing out native reds, it now finds itself up against a more superior incarnation of the species. A black genetic mutation which accounts for half of all squirrels in some parts of the country is seen as the greatest shift in nutkins demographics since the reds were exiled to Inverness in the 50s. Heavy on testosterone, blacks are proving much better at pulling the tottie.

Et tu, Brute?

Broon's learning about public sector ingratitude the hard way. Having spend most of his reign throwing them wads of money, the NUT and their fellow ingrates have turned on the poor sod, just when he needs their support. Twas always the way with Labour governments; he shouldn’t have frustrated Blair’s public sector reforms. Now, fellow Scots at Grangemouth are putting the boot in. You know the game’s up when your own team turns. Can’t really blame the Grangemouth gang for defending their pension rights, not when they see the blatant way that MPs feather their nest, nor witness the largess that BBC managers accrue in annuities. I think everyone outside the public sector understands that final salary schemes are a thing of the past, but you’re asking a lot from people if reform isn’t led from the top. Salmon is probably learning something about the flip side of relying on oil, and how a relatively small number of employees could conceivably hold a country to ransom.

Bluebells

The surrounding woods are blooming and alarm bells are still ringing at St Andrews. At home today, with Benitez fielding a reserve team: we can’t lose? Come on Alex, you’ve been here before: think Paris, a McFadden goal! Appreciate it’s tough, but Megson has to get through Spurs, Sunderland and Chelsea. Coppell’s a good lad and I suspect he'll pull it off. Hodgson is dead and buried (yep, I know: said that about Rednap and Portsmouth).

Friday, April 25

Housing market holding up in rural areas

So say North Devon agents. For what it’s worth I continue to monitor the local housing market. Although a no better clairvoyant than the current crop of industry experts, having been around the block a couple of times I do have the benefit of experience from slumps of the past. Watching estate agents drift from smug complacency, through denial and on to frustration, anger, then panic, has been fun. I don’t necessarily enjoy seeing trains crash, but there’s a couple of toe rags I wouldn’t mind manacling to the buffers. Devon of course is ‘special’. ‘A bubble.’ Is ‘immune to any crash’ - sorry, market correction - because ‘the world and its granny wants to live in rural or coastal bliss…’ Yes, the southwest is a desirable destination, but please - don’t confuse enthusiasm for stupidity. Although punters will continue to pay through the nose for attractive, well situated homes, avoid insulting their intelligence or taste by demanding the same inflated price for a B&Q inspired, breeze-block extended piece of shit with plastic windows and travellers for neighbours. Agents bemoan the 24 hour, seven day rolling news of housing trouble they have to compete with. All I can say to the media is ‘keep it coming lads, keep it coming.’

Thursday, April 24

Don’t panic, yet

Whilst it’s unlikely the Grangemouth strike will bring Devon to a halt, it is likely that morons everywhere will start queuing; most probably, at just about the same time that Mrs G. decides to give her brush-cutter an overdue workout. Being a prudent lad, I decided to scoot along to Ike Godsey’s and top up the jerry can with four-stroke. Had already swung by to bunker the motor on Tuesday and parted with a cool £75. Seventy five quid! Hate to think what it costs Farmer Charles and the boys to fill their tractors. Cabbages and carrots will end up as luxury food items, always assuming you can afford to light the stove to cook them. Much more of this and McPlonker at No.10 will be telephoning Mugabe for advice. Despite the sterling work of Boston’s Polish field hands, the increase in fuel and animal feed costs are starting to work their way onto Quik-E-Mart’s shelves. Until recently young Apu had kept a lid on the basics and marked up his ‘nice to haves’ to compensate. As sales of the latter have dried up, the price of sliced-white has gone stratospheric. Staples aside, he tells me that punters have a mindset on the price of most products, and when that’s exceeded, they stop buying. What price Government horse shit?

Monday, April 21

Greenpeace protest

I’ve an old drinking buddy who works on the front gate at Port Sunlight. Bet he’s having a fun day.

Two Jags

Bulimia my arse. Like me, he’s just a greedy bastard who can’t keep his hands off the pork pies. The media's pet psychiatrists have rushed to confirm what a 'hugely brave and courageous thing this was for John to admit to.' Bollocks, the lad’s recently trousered another £65k from Headline Books and is obliged to boost sales. Before you succumb to sympathy, remember: those eight pints mit curry every night were most probably charged to expenses, courtesy of Mr & Mrs ‘I used to pay only 10% tax.’

Sunday, April 20

Religion is the new social evil

So say respondents to a recent Joseph Rowntree poll. Religion, they say, divides society, fuels intolerance and spawns irrational educational and other policies. Not long ago it was communism and left-wing socialism which was seen as the enemy of liberal democracies. Now, it’s the vicar. Like it or not, people will always look to religion and tribal alliances to meet their need to belong. Something that unites, yet distinguishes - gives identity; which offers protection and support. The same poll identifies 10 principal evils that people believe assails us, much of which is linked to the breakdown of family and community, and rightly or wrongly, to the era of multi-culturalism.

It’s not hard to understand the attraction, for some, of a more paternal, overtly authoritarian solution such as Singapore. Putin filled a gaping hole in Russia, and some misguided Iraqis no doubt yearn for the stability of Hussein. On the anniversary of Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, Trevor Philips makes the obvious claim that rising immigration has increased the risk of a ‘cold war’ between disparate ethnic groups. Our son of the manse’s dithering and lack of authority is contributing to these difficulties and may well lead to the rise of our own Vladimir. Having waded through Simon Schama and Norman Davies in an effort to improve my woeful education it would be difficult to refute the fact that Britain has a history of successfully assimilating immigrant groups. But that this sometimes requires strong, almost brutal leadership to hold things together. It's also arguable that one of the best ways to unite society is by identifying a common enemy to fight against; by starting a war, cold or otherwise.

Saturday, April 19

Whelks

Freshly boiled this morning. Not to everyone’s taste, particularly that of McFoodie, my epicurean brother-in-law. Devon isn’t what you’d call whelk country but if you keep your eyes open you can locate the odd stall. Sunday lunchtime custom and practise at SLM. Nowadays, sea snails are an occasional treat to accompany Soccer Saturday. Reading continue to falter, let’s hope we can pull something out of the bag tomorrow. Listened to McLeish's interview this morning and it’s obvious he’s aware of the negative mentality that surrounds the club. If the Blues do scrape through to next season something has to change. Recent poor sales for 2008/9 season tickets should be sounding alarms.

Friday, April 18

Bright bird

It might be cold, wet and windy outside in the back yard, but we have a semi-permanent resident (outside of the shooting season) who, together with his female harem, never fails to lift the spirits.And as a sign that time flies, the swallows returned today. Seems only five minutes ago they were setting off to South Africa.

Harbinger

A gloomy morning; the Ponderosa a grey, wet, windy theatre. Needless to say the performing wildlife are keeping their heads down. Damn badger’s been raiding again. And the trees are full of crows, those background artists so beloved of gallows and graveyard scenes.News on the wireless is little better, RBS fessing up to its shortage of readies and leaning on shareholders with a rights issue. Guess it’s the least they could do to assuage BoE concerns and move things forward. Make everyone believe they’re doing something constructive: but it’s just another way of stuffing us. Getting their retaliation in first, before Wednesday’s meeting. My broker tells me RBS is the most thinly capitalised bank in Europe, and more than a touch brassic since splashing out on ABN. I used to be a fan in the early days, after they loaned us the deposit for our first home. That was when banks had decent managers who were always up for a pint when you hit town. The good old boys were subsequently phased out and replaced by automated banking. We were issued with personal bankers - a euphemism for brain-dead, multi-tasking females with the financial acumen of dead parrots and whose minds appear focused on any task but yours. Banks have become bad press, and deservedly so. Think about it… your mortgage rate is up, savings returns are derisory, our necks are on the line thanks to Mervyn’s acceptance of dubious securitized mortgages, and the bank shares you hold in your pep and pension fund are 45% of what they were last year. I’m going to The Dog & Duck for a large one before it’s all gone.

Thursday, April 17

Male role model

Retired school teacher and slaphead Jim Campbell has had his disability claim rubbished by a Glasgow tribunal. He’d been claiming unfair dismissal against Falkirk council, insisting his baldness had had a ‘substantial and long term adverse effect’ on his ability to do his job. Campbell, who taught at Denny High School in Stirlingshire, said he did his best to avoid corridors because he would meet pupils who shouted ‘baldy’ at him, and left school late every day to ‘avoid the kids’. ‘How can I stand in front of a class with the confidence to get on with my job when I am getting teased and bullied about baldness, when I think they are laughing at me all the time?’ What a wuss. Another indication of how desperate the schools are for male role models to teach boys.

Wednesday, April 16

UK inflation rate

Britain's main inflation rate unexpectedly held steady in March, official data showed on Tuesday, suggesting strong price pressures further up the economic pipeline have yet to be passed on to consumers. The Office for National Statistics said consumer prices rose by 0.4 percent on the month, leaving the annual rate unchanged at 2.5 percent. Analysts had expected a monthly rise of 0.6 percent for an annual rate of 2.6 percent. Retail price inflation, often used as a benchmark for wage bargaining, also undershot expectations. On the month, retail prices rose 0.3 percent to give an annual rate of 3.8 percent, the weakest since July 2007.

Am I missing something here or are they taking the piss? I could cite any number of examples to contradict this ‘official data’ including the escalating price of pork chops and the soaring cost of council tax, however, as it happens to be the latest invoice to hit my desk: one refilled tank of domestic heating oil: in February 2007: £268, December 2007: £399, April 2008: £479. If the price of consumables is rising at this rate, what the fluck is falling to compensate? What more surprises are in this pipeline of theirs? It's a good job unemployment is falling and our jobs are safe.

Observing Todgers

Wrens might be the most abundant nesting bird in Britain but they’re not always easy to spot. Tiny and incredibly loud, the Titty Todgers, as they’re sometimes called here about, ferret amongst the thickest of vegetation before occasionally barrelling across the yard to announce an important missive.

The Swamp

Am taking it easy after an early morning walk ’round the block. It takes me three hours to complete the four left turns that return me home. A sad and sorry effort in comparison to my old orienteering days. I could have used a Silva compass on Monday, as there was a neighbourhood wilderness hidden behind barbed-wire fences which had yet to be explored. Given the gammy leg, just getting over the top was a comedy in itself. As you would expect, the chinos bought it.I’ve named it The Swamp after sinking to my knees in mud. The place is damp and dark; all fallen trees, ferns, mosses and fungi, and an assortment of things that stab, sting or bite you. I fell upon a deer trail - there’s a small herd in the woods hereabouts - and tracked it to and fro for a couple of hours before accepting I was lost. Took me another hour to find a fence to climb back over, and a fair while to trudge back home. Next time I take a large ball of string as it’s worth another visit. Today was all about skylarks. They were about the moor, 10m off the ground in that song-flight of theirs. Male birds everywhere are busting a gut to out chirp each other just now: something to do with establishing territorial boundaries.

Sunday, April 13

The neighbours

Guilty pleasures

I’ve no doubt that food politics will be amongst those issues to the forefront of debate this coming decade as shortages and increased costs feed through to consumers. In the blue corner, stack ’em high and boil in the bag Delia; for the opposition, Jamie Oliver’s pet chickens. Nuclear power is winning the energy debate just as sure as genetically modified crops will feed the world. Trust me, the day will come when consumption of organic produce will be viewed as much a politically incorrect practise as faith schools and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. An indulgence of the middle-class and a waste of scarce resources. I’m generally indifferent to organic produce unless you can convince me there’s an improved taste to warrant the higher cost, but what I do know is that vegetables fresh from my neighbour’s garden trump anything from the local store, organic or otherwise, and that the sooner I get my hands on a suitable plot Dave the greengrocer is history.

I occasionally experience fleeting guilt about such things as the wild beef we purchased at Friday’s food fare. £11/kilo for braising steak probably seems a bit steep to some, but this stuff’s worth every penny - certainly better value than paying £50 for a cup of cat shit. The guy who flogs it around the markets is not unknown to us from SLM. He sources his beef from native breeds such as Welsh Blacks and Devons which graze on the moors and downs. I guess my reticence stems from the pleasure I get from eating this meat - its old fashioned taste is light years away from anything available in the supermarket - and because my scientist friend informs me that the carbon dioxide produced by one farting cow is equivalent to six Jeremy Clarkson driven Ferraris. Whatever concerns I have pass quickly. I’m afraid the chances of me switching to tofu is less than zilch, and on an ecological standpoint am of the firm belief that any of my crimes pale in significance against Livingstone’s inability to keep his zip fastened. I’ll assuage my conscience by planting another tree this morning and by continuing to limp to the pub instead of taking a taxi.

Saturday, April 12

Albatross in a tartan waistcoat

I don’t know which Labour backbencher is responsible for awarding fat boy this appellation, but you must admit it takes a man of considerable talent and a numpty of the first order to manage our country’s affairs so badly that desperate people are beginning to cry out for a new Margaret Thatcher. That dodgy African chap, Parris, whose writing goes from strength to strength, presents another marvellous piece in today’s Times comment. He’s right, it’s not necessarily the lad himself or his countless deficiencies that hurt, rather our own gullibility for having believed the myth; that we allowed ourselves to be sold so obvious a pup so easily.

Raining

A man on the local radio insisted on telling us all how nice the morning looked. ITS DIDN’T! Cats and dogs weren’t in it. Spent an hour sheltering under a tree with my binoculars and chummy here for company, but in the end we were both defeated.

Friday, April 11

Nice pasta from Alfredo

Slight detour this morning, ferrying El Supremo to the opening of Exeter’s Food Festival. A small and marginally worthwhile affair that seemed subdued in comparison to last years event. Producers are probably concentrating their effort on larger venues. I’d already met a couple of the exhibitors back in our days at Borough Market (a well know ‘weekly’ venue that dwarfs this annual event - and one that doesn’t charge £5 to walk through the door); many of the others are familiar to Devon residents, their produce on sale at various local farmers markets. Not that this kept the Boss from purchasing large quantities of salt marsh lamb, wild beef, exotic chickens and attractive looking crab. The meat and poultry in this part of the world is generally excellent - as is the cheese, fruit and vegetables, but most of the ‘artisan’ bakers, cooked or smoked meat/fish curers, drinks and confectionary manufacturers have nothing to write home about. And if I never see another jar of chutney, jam or apple juice again it won’t be a moment too soon. We did purchase some excellent pasta from a chap named Alfredo who hails from Bristol. As I trudged back to the motor effecting a reasonable impersonation of Sherpa Tenzing and ruminating over having paid £2.75 for a loaf, I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least our homestead is now sufficiently provisioned to cope with those pesky global food wars.

Thursday, April 10

It's not only the shares in quinine that soar

Dramatic sky over the moor this morning as black clouds gathered. From a vantage point we sat eating our pasties, watching four buzzards play the thermals at the same time that two low-level Hawks encircled them performing some impressive turns. It was worth the soaking and served as another reminder of why we decamped here.

After effectively doubling the tax rate for part-time and low-paid workers, and when everyone’s wondering how to pay the mortgage and settle their overdraft, Brown’s appearance on American Idol - pledging $200m of our hard earned cash for mosquito nets - seemed to strike the wrong note. His creepy smile and salutation didn’t help: the lad knows we don’t do religion. The only thing I’d add is that these funds are probably the same ones he'd already promised two or three times previously, and the likelihood of any poor kid in Africa ever seeing a penny is slim.

I’m wearing my best Ashworth shirt in readiness for tonight’s broadcast from Augusta. Let’s hope it’s more than just a one man procession. Tiger’s a class act, a wonder to watch, but please - don’t make him the whole show. I suppose that for the sake of children, young mums and grannies everywhere we’ve got to put up with Lineker; and the old bore Alliss is a given: but their azaleas are usually pretty and coverage is generally advert free.

And we wait with bated breath on further news of Karren Brady and David Sullivan after both individuals had their collars felt as part of the police inquiry into Aliou Cissé’s transfer to Portsmouth. Like the earlier arrest of ’arry down at Fratton Park, ‘nothing to do with us, guv’ seems to be the stock response. Seems like a lot of trouble ’cause someone didn't pay his national insurance stamp (allegedly).

Wednesday, April 9

The Great tit (no, not big Gordon)

I've recently acquired a dog-eared out-of-print book by Francesca Greenoak, entitled ‘All the Birds of the Air.’It’s full of great info on the names, lore and literature of British birds. For instance... this Great tit perched on my frosty fence is an attractive budgie from the Titmouse family. The word ‘mouse’ is believed to have derived from the old English word mase (mase-mose-mouse). Not necessarily anything to do with rodents, rather a once generic term for small birds, and which - together with a Middle English adoption of the Icelandic word tittr, meaning small - morphed into titmouse. Here in Devon the Great tit is known as a Black-headed Bob. On Dartmoor as a Heckymal.

Tuesday, April 8

Grow your own

In case you’re wondering why I’m looking for somewhere that's situated next to an allotment and close to a river… Egyptians riot over bread shortages, demand for rice threatens global food supplies, and Spain sees its worst drought for a generation. I’d love to believe all of this is down to global warming, but suspect Branson’s dodgy jet fuel and unrestricted procreation has a lot to answer for. That, and the fact we’re having to share the world's resources more equitably. After offloading whatever bits and pieces were left in the cupboard to Asian entrepreneurs, we can only stand in wonder as BMW sell record numbers of motors in the midst of all this doom and gloom, thanks in part to an 800% increase in exports to Bangalore yuppies.

Talking of cuckoos

Biggest house price plunge for 15 years. No shit: 2.5% in one month! Keep it going folks and maybe southwest vendors will get the message. Partly encouraged by fantasist - soon to be unemployed - estate agents (our bubble is immune from outside forces) and partly because they’re expecting to receive lower offers, sellers appear to have raised asking prices by 10%, anticipating any subsequent sale price will match their original expectations. And they wonder why no one bothers to view. Rumour has it that Rightmove lost 18.5% of its share price after a doubling of estate agent closures was reported over the weekend. Ten percent fewer offices = less advertising on Rightmove's website.

Spooky

Competing cries from lambs and jackdaws dominate the dawn chorus. That, and the incoming geese. When ducks start arriving you know the winter break is officially over. No cuckoos, yet, nor swallows. We have sparrows building nests in the eaves and a wren above the door in a gap below the wooden beam. Blackbirds are nesting in the hedge and two magpies in a tree above. Although they don’t reside here, squabbling chaffinches remain the largest group of birds visiting the yard. The most exotic is a heron that flies overhead each day, regular as clockwork, though I‘ve no idea where he operates from. Have been down to the river to watch him fish. From the discarded off-cuts it appears the owls are lining their box with lambs wool. I hear them, but in the dark they're formless: ghostly; visually unidentifiable - but there’s no mistaking that purring shriek. Almost as chilling as the publican’s grandson, Chucky.

Monday, April 7

Hercules

Whilst there are no airfields in the region we have a fair amount of sub-radar traffic. No middle ground: commercial equipment appears as little more than a 40,000ft vapour trail: the military, always at tree-top height. At least the blue skies are back.

Sunday, April 6

It’s that greasy spoon aroma

I decided to make the effort after all. It was worth a walk just to admire the dusting of snow on the Tors, though a hail storm during the course of my return journey put something of a damper on spirits. The downside to walking the highways is dodging traffic. Two observations: some women have difficulty in judging the width of their motor relative to the road, and all Discovery drivers are tossers. I've also been taken back by the number of punters who've converted vehicles to run on recycled chip fat. A revolting practise, particularly if you’re recoving from a heavy night out. Even more offensive than one of Farmer Charles’s infamous muckspreading blitzkriegs.

Village bells everywhere were doing a good impression of VE Day. I’m never sure if they are inviting people to worship or celebrating the service is over. Weekend visitors out on the street packing car boots, preparing to return home. They’re leaving hedgerows which are starting to take on colour as the spring flowers bloom. And fields full of frolicking lambs. As befits our multi-racial society, an increasing number are black.

Greenfinch breakfasting

Suppose it looks picturesque, with the horizontally driven sleet being backlit by dazzling shafts of sunlight. Thought about walking to town for the Sundays, but it's too grim. Four scavenging pheasants circle the yard, screeching complaint. Sod them, they can find their own food. I’ve already given a Greenfinch half of my toast. It was hard enough getting to sleep in the first place: those two hissing Barn owls in the loft have got to go. My BBQ is knee deep in pellets of regurgitated rodent. And they’re not the worst. A Tawny owl returns to the tree outside my bedroom window each evening and spends an hour or two repeatedly kewicking. All we need now is for the bats to return.

Saturday, April 5

Baggies day out

Labour MP Ann Cryer lamented the publication of details relating to Prescott’s grocery bill because it ‘risked tarring all politicians with the same brush.’ ‘We are all assumed to be wrong ’uns,’ she says. Yes, quite - and your point is? Would that the public took care of my weekly visit to the Quik-E-Mart. I might be slow on the uptake, but even I can spot the growing number of 50p an item increases they're using to claw back their loss-leaders. Having spent Thursday on an outside job and been sun burnt for my troubles - and wrongly assuming the weather would hold - I made the fatal mistake of promising El Supremo a barbeque dinner for yesterday evening. Once again fate conspired to see me shivering out back, sheltering from a 25 knot sou’wester. That said, I suppose half a roast lamb should keep us fed for the weekend. Today's an early finish: beer and semi-final football. Wish I was accompanying the family members who are en route to Wembley for the game. If they see a repeat of Jeff Astle’s triumph in ’68 we’ll never hear the end of it.

Thursday, April 3

The Red Polar Bear

I don’t believe it. Having almost given up on the chance of finding a Doner or Pad Thai within the confines of the southwest, I’m now informed you can’t leave your igloo on the Svalbard archipelago without tripping over a kebab shop or Asian carryout.

Always look on the bright side of life

The crows were laughing at me this morning. They know something? Took a day off yesterday to go house hunting and to continue our exploration of the county. To boldly go… etc. Reading the newspapers you’d wonder why anyone would want to step onto the housing ladder at present. The atmosphere at South London Mansions is particularly grim, with City casualties and falling property prices. Local comics are full of less than reassuring stories about house sellers forced to slash asking prices; whilst old Vince continues to stoke the fires with another of his doom and gloom predictions derived from ‘highly plausible’ city analysis that, he says, indicates one in four households will find the size of their mortgage dwarfing the value of their home by next April. Not exactly encouraging news with which to set off for work this morning, particularly when MPs are hoping to cop for a £24k pay increase to tide them over - at the same time that countless poor schmucks are having to resort to credit cards or payday loans to survive. I know, I know: it’s partly their own fault. But you and I appreciate that one way or another we all end footing the bill.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, two paramedics were obliged to amputate a guy’s legs yesterday after he was run over by a First Great Western train in Plymouth station. I promise never to moan about my limp again.

Tuesday, April 1

Wetherspoons it's not

Call me Mr Adventurous, but every so often I feel the need to patronise an alternative venue. Spread my custom. Spice of life and all that. Dog & Duck aside, individual pubs in this neck of the woods (like most everywhere) can be something of an acquired taste. Guess that’s partly why they’re referred to as locals. The nearest hostelry to the barn is one of our most unique. Unique in the sense of ‘different’. Like when the authorities describe your kid as ‘special’. Great selection of beers and cider, though you can’t help recalling the date of your last tetanus shot. Tourists love the place: it's just a little too middle-earth for me.

A Gump-like running game

My response to her weekend curry was a reversion to type, with good home cooking in the guise of shepherds pie. Well it would have been if she hadn’t nicked all of the lamb for her Rogan Josh. What do you call said dish when you’re forced to substitute the lamb with duck? Good though; the cheese-flavoured mash was a bit special. And talking of improvisation… I know they do things differently up north, but can you imagine Barnsley or Leeds FC drafting a Dwain Chambers look-alike when the proposed player hadn’t ever kicked a ball. Whilst appreciating the Lords Economic Affairs Committee would probably regard this move as preferable to importing more foreigners and further disadvantaging our sprogs and domestic ethnics, it implies something about the skills required to play Super League Rugby. Still, hats off to Terry Matterson: if this doesn’t boost the crowd, nothing will. Hey look - the sun’s arrived. I’m off to market. In the cold light of day, reheated duck pie mit curry sauce doesn’t look that appetising.