Saturday, May 31

Golf is good for you, in part

Playing golf to a reasonable level adds five years to your life, having greater health benefits than either just walking or taking more strenuous exercise, says a report in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 'Whilst golfers tend to be the sort of people who are more likely to look after themselves,' Prof Ahlbom, the author said, 'the game still has a significant impact on the health of participants, not least in social and psychological aspects.' I'm sure this premise holds true, in spite of (or because of) the bottles of red wine and pints of Guinness consumed at the 19th hole. Yet whilst agreeing with our Swedish friend (one of my old golfing partners was 92), I must admit to a significant improvement in my financial status since an injury forced the suspension of play.

Friday, May 30

Territorial rights

These grey afternoons are rarely short of colour, however tiny the mark. Today it’s copper coloured may flies, golden bumble bees and metallic-green banded demoiselles. And though recent weather has consigned our apple blossom to memory, the yard’s early roses are starting to show. A crow sits feeding on the oak stump whilst three timid jackdaws patiently wait their turn.Hadn’t seen a fox for weeks. Then, after interrupting a likely looking red-coated character stalking pheasants in the drive yesterday evening, a second vixen passed by early morning. Watched her for about 40 minutes as she painstakingly marked the pasture out back. Farmer Charles declined to restock his coup after the last great badger massacre, so I guess it’s back to rodents, worms, chicks and eggs.

Thursday, May 29

The acceptable face of travellers

There was a piece in the Telegraph about how a class of Naples primary school kids have scandalised Italy by submitting homework which supported the burning of gypsies. It was on my mind as I trudged to the Quik-E-Mart this morning and was passed by two horse drawn caravans, full of scruffy urchins. Bidding everyone good morning, I was regaled by some wonderfully polite prep school accents. It’s obviously what the coping classes do now they’re priced out of Tuscany.

House price fall speeds up

Fionnuala Earley, our mythical daughter of Lir and chief economist at Nationwide, thrilled us this morning with news that May’s fall in house prices, the seventh consecutive monthly drop, was, at 2.5%, the largest single monthly decline in the building society’s index since their records began. Always one to run against the crowd I decided this reason enough to bid on a property I’ve been keeping my eyes on these recent weeks. Brave or foolhardy? Having seen a prior sale fall through due to buyers’ cold feet, I gauged vendors ready to consider a ‘realistic’ offer. By realistic, I mean significantly below their asking price, but well above where I expect property values to be two years from now. Hell, if I’m going to take a hit down the line, they can play their part. Unfortunately, dipstick Estate agents whose jobs must surely be hanging by a thread seem incapable of selling lifeboats to drowning men.

Tuesday, May 27

Peasant (soul) food

A word of praise for tonight’s credit squeeze supper: stovies. Little more than spuds and onions stewed in dripping, it remains a staple of old fashioned pub food; the stuff they used to serve before gastro-pubs arrived on the scene. The Boss roasted half a salt marsh lamb over the weekend and this is where the dripping originated; from the colour, you’d think it was flavoured with paprika. This lamb has a distinctive taste which is quite removed from our usual moorland or Welsh hill-farmed variety. Very lean. In colour and texture more like goat than lamb, though two divisions higher for taste.

Spring watch

Encouraged by the sun’s fleeting appearance I decided to treat Mrs G. to lunch at the Dog & Duck. I’d been moderating appearances after becoming aware that my urine had developed the redolence of a Golden Russet. Must admit, the village looks a picture; eaves congested with promiscuous nest-hopping swallows. Attractive as they are, swallows can be sly little birds. It’s not unknown for single males to wait until a nest’s occupants are out feeding before engaging in a spot of infanticide. When returning to the empty nest, the female gives her old man his marching orders for failing to protect the homestead, then takes up with the dastardly perpetrator who’s ready and waiting in the wings.

Monday, May 26

Knife crime

Another kid from the old stamping ground, Sidcup, dies from knife crime. I’m currently re-reading Brighton Rock; a reminder this is no new phenomenon, and - in Pinkie - a text book example of what motivates alienated young men. Also serves to remind us that the ‘respect’ agenda isn’t a black exclusivity. Banning guns post-Dunblane has done little to curtail the availability of weapons, and I doubt further curbs on the sale of knives would help. Enforcing a knife ban wouldn’t have helped Jimmy Mizzen. It’s unlikely the threat of prison deters. Hanging would, probably. However, it’s fanciful to imagine capital punishment being reinstated. Higher profile policing may reassure the public, but knives were a cause of concern when I was a kid, and no doubt when both my father and grandfather were teenagers.

Saturday, May 24

Wild flowers in the hedgerow

I’m learning every day; spotting new varieties. Today, amongst the hogweed and bluebells, the columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris). A tall erect perennial with attractive lobed leaflets and nodding purple flowers with pointed petals and spurs. Poisonous, if eaten.

Splut

Painters & decorators shoot blanks: men who regularly work with paints that include widely used solvents are 2.5 times more likely to have a low sperm count, teams at Manchester and Sheffield Universities say in the study, published in the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine. They also fall off of ladders.

Beginning of the end

I told them to be careful what they wished for. The skies have opened and the calls for McPlonker’s abdication are falling thick and fast. Emperor’s clothes ain’t in it. You can hear it now: ‘I always thought he was a wrong un,’ ‘too smarmy by half,’ ‘intellect, my arse,’ ‘piss-ups and breweries…’ Another week and they’ll be going cap in hand to Blair and Alistair Campbell, begging their return. Trouble is, where does Labour go from here? If they try to defend the so-called middle-ground in the current economic climate they risk throwing more good money after bad (the IMF is already advising the Bank of England to ‘increase’ rates above their current 5.0% to keep a lid on inflation, and warns that Darling may have to ‘raise’ taxes in an effort to stabilise public finances). Conversely, a lurch to the left in an effort to pacify the mythical core vote would cause the ‘broad coalition’ to stampede. (Yes, I know, they’re already running.)

To endure is a trait I admire, along with the ability to get up off the floor and keep throwing punches. He can pull it off, even yet, though I doubt he has what it takes. In the interests of making this a match worth watching and to give me an opportunity to throw rotten tomatoes at toffs I’ll stand cheering him on, miserable bastard that he is; but in any event, Labour is finished in government and so are the public services in their current form - any fool can see that. Labour strategists should already be thinking about how they can regroup for opposition. More than half the country owes its existence to an Exchequer that will be under severe pressure when the Conservatives take power. It wont help that the SNP and Plaid Cymru will be sniping from the appendages. Returning to Labour’s default position of old looks their only logical option at the moment, particularly as the party is broke and will have to go cap to hand to the unions for finance. Bitter days ahead.

Friday, May 23

Outer dark

As I’ve mentioned before, this guys stuff can be something of an acquired taste. Outer dark was McCarthy’s second novel (’68), and if you’re prompted to buy it after watching the film No country for old men you’ll probably be disappointed. You need to work up to it. I started with NCFOM and drifted backwards. This is the tenth of his ten novels that I’ve read; out of sequence as it wasn’t readily available. Classic McC - the first sentence is 105 words long. A predictably violent saga about incest, murder and grave-robbing cannibals which actually manages to be both entertaining and inspirational. Wasn’t sold on The Orchard Keeper, but this - together with Child of God are very readable. Lapped up the border trilogy, though Suttree and more particularly Blood Meridian are out on their own. The latter really is a tour de force western and about as far as you get from JT Edson.

Changing of the guard

Wish there was something clever or profound I could say in response to the Tory win at Crewe & Nantwich (there’s a butcher in Nantwich whose pork pies are to die for). I can’t even be bothered to play the smart-arse or take the mick. The result of the 2010 general election has a sudden air of inevitability and Labour will go down fighting amongst themselves. Social democracy is over for the time being. It was something to play at when we had money to throw around and we wanted to feel good about ourselves. Whilst events have conspired against McPlonker - events tend to do that - his mistake was to squeeze the pips just that bit too far, then fail to deliver. Yes, schools and hospitals are better than they were, but do we really think the kids from Gypsy Lane are getting a first class education? That granny’s experience on the mixed ward is an example of world class services? We don’t want to be told how to behave and how much to drink, we can choose to decide what’s best for ourselves. No one cares if they’re toffs - or jocks, come to that; they’re there to guarantee the trains run on time, not to refurbish second homes at our expense.

Wednesday, May 21

Anniversary walk about

Can you believe it’s been a year since that fateful reverse-pirouette from the ladder. Cripple I may be, but there’s life in the old dog yet. To celebrate my most inglorious episode we elected to go for a wander across the north west fringe of Dartmoor, climbing Yes Tor and High Willhays. They’re the highest points on the moor, in fact the highest in England south of the Pennines at >2030ft. Whilst not exactly Annapurna (it’s considered a moderately easy walk) - given that my knees and ankles are shot - several miles of meandering through heather and rocks, and the scramble up Yes Tor’s most direct slope is challenge enough, especially when carrying your bodyweight in egg and cress sandwiches and flasks of tea. I’d been assured it was possible to see the Bristol Channel from the summit, but it seems you need better eyes than mine. The rocky outcrop I had identified as our perfect picnic spot turned out to be defended by a squad of camouflaged incumbents who appeared well dug in and were brandishing SA80 assault weapons. It seemed prudent to excuse ourselves and seek an alternative venue - always keeping our hands in view and making no sudden moves (I watch too much TV). The moor is currently littered with lambs. There was also a small herd of Welsh blacks and a couple of ponies. And, of course, the ubiquitous skylarks.

Tuesday, May 20

Rising transport costs

If someone had told me a year ago that the cost of diesel would rise at a rate of 10p/gallon between bunkering stations, I would have told them they were crazy. Today’s tank was 10p A LITRE more expensive than the last. Ten soddin pence! About the only plus from this crazy escalation in the cost of transport is how far I’ve travelled since my last refill. Multiple runs up to Barnstaple, down to Tavistock, back and forward to Exeter, in and out of Plymouth, Bude... Not so much a carbon footprint as a cross-county CO2 stampede. Guess I’ll have to plant another tree. In London I’d have driven a tenth of the distance on the same tank, the motor spending 90% of its time sitting at lights or in queues of traffic, going nowhere.

Monday, May 19

The woolies have gone

Old Ned, the shepherd, his grandson and their two trusty mutts turned out at the crack of dawn; the sheep have left us for foreign pastures. Abandoned, with only the crows for company - or so I thought. Despite today’s forecast from the RICS, wood pigeons have decided to take the plunge and build a nest in the yard. It’s tiring just watching them. Like a couple of mini Hercules aircraft, ferrying supplies from the woods across the gully. Suspect the magpies may have something to say about their new neighbours, though planning objections have yet to materialise. The wild flowers have attracted bees and butterflies to the yard, and what with the Boss busy planting and spraying, the place is alive with activity. I’m off with my book to find a peaceful hole somewhere.

Sunday, May 18

Judge(d) Awful

I’ve always felt genuine sympathy for ‘drops ’em for anyone’ because she seemed so desperately needy and was saddled with such un-photogenic features. Yet whilst I’m about as likely to read the serialisation of her memoirs as those of Fatty Prescott, it’s been difficult to avoid the newspaper columnists. I challenge you to find a more vulgar, tasteless woman who has been so prominent in public life. What is it with our political scene? When we’re presented with such shockingly attractive talent as that displayed by the ministries of Berlusconi, Zapatero and Sarkozy, it’s understandable that we Brits remain a little sour at having drawn the short straw.

If the market gets any cooler…

Having completed renovations, a large, bright ‘For Sale’ sign has appeared outside a neighbour’s property. They’ve never appeared happy bunnies. Give the impression of a family that may have made a mistake, that feels marooned and longs to return to civilisation. Like them, however, there seems no shortage of white van stalwarts keen to clean up dilapidated houses and sell them on. Have been sorely tempted myself. But this is probably one of those times when the best, albeit hardest option, remains that of doing nothing. Some of the projects are obvious mistakes, either failing to appreciate the taste and aspiration of potential buyers, or by investing in the wrong location. Let’s face it, most punters with several hundred thousand to spend on their rural idyll are unlikely to choose an area earmarked for housing association expansion. Probably seemed a good idea a year ago when people were buying almost anything with four walls and a roof. Whilst a succession of new properties are coming onto the market, little appears to be moving. I meet an increasing number of people who rent and are content to wait it out. The biggest fall I’ve seen so far was originally advertised at £675 and sold at auction for £485k. It takes a brave man to stick his neck out on today’s market and risk an overnight loss of £100k. Remember those clichés from the 90s - 'a home is a nest, not a nest egg.' Yeh, right.

Voters over 35s are as thick as planks

A £10m Advertising campaign targeting older drinkers is to be launched tomorrow. It will warn wine lovers who consume two or three glasses a night that they may be failing to recognise the risks they face. In an interview, Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said: ‘It's primarily aimed at over-35s because it's clear from research that that age range is less well-informed, at times clueless about units.’ Patronising bitch. Despite being educated at Crap Street Secondary Modern, I can read the labels on fucking bottles, and thanks to having fingers on both hands, am able to count. Fucking tart. Doesn’t it piss you off - another £10m down the drain. Roll on election time. If you want to get a handle on Primarolo, read Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never let me go’. It’s the sort of world of the future this woman lives for, given her enthusiasm for breeding humans for body parts.

Friday, May 16

Food parcels

With recent Libor falls overturned by Mervyn’s ‘end or the world’ pronouncement on Wednesday, and BoE hints that their next rate cut is two years away, share trading has been suspended in Humberts, one of England's largest chains of estate agents - signalling the first potential high profile estate agency casualty of the weaker housing market. Meanwhile, as agents continue to bleat about solid fundamentals (rock solid employment prospects) there’s been a ‘surprise’ rise in the jobless as the number of unemployment benefit claimants rises for the third straight month. My decision to save on the razor blades has added to an impression of hard times on the Ponderosa, and the neighbour has taken to leaving buckshee boxes of vegetables from his garden on our doorstep.

Thursday, May 15

Show time

After a day spent wandering the Devon County Show - the annual showcase for the area’s food and farming industry - I have to tell you I’m absolutely buggered. 90 acres is a lot of ground to cover. Poor weather kept the crowds down, which was a bonus. It was still shoulder to shoulder in Camra’s tent, though I failed to catch sight of HRH. Worked my way through a good selection of ciders, and gorged on venison burgers and roast beef baps. Bumped into some old friends from Bulkworthy. Did the rounds of the sheep pens (entries from as far afield as Inverurie), and watched as they judged the racing pigeons. Accompanied Mrs G. on her inspection of the horticultural exhibits. Listened as the brass bands performed their sets. Cursory glimpse of the show jumping (can’t get excited - ruddy-cheeked women with big butts). I'd guess 25,000 people - and just one black face, riding a buggy. Not quite the antithesis of the Notting Hill Carnival but definitely a different world. A different tribe. Hillary Clinton country, probably. Returned home with two top ribs of beef that would feed 20 people, and some thinly sliced calves liver and a jug of cider for supper.

Wednesday, May 14

Handbags on the street

Because of my hermit-like existence and as people here are so nice, those defensive shields I deployed at SLM have long since been jettisoned. So it set me back this morning when someone decided to come the hard man. Must admit, I chose to blink first. Am out of practise. But I would hate to go back to the mindset of urban living. It’s not that easy to switch on/off. Despite the casual - and not so casual - violence of inner London, I was fortunate to avoid serious trouble. Growing up on Gypsy Lane you’re quick to learn those basic tenets of self-defence: avoiding disputed neighbourhoods unless visiting mob-handed, mastering the art of conflict negotiation, and discovering the attractions of both sprint and middle-distance running. And let’s not forget the real biggie, making room for at least one Luca Brasi clone amongst your immediate associates.

Most at risk from violence tend to be kids, like Jimmy Mizen. Teenagers assaulting other teenagers. That said, I latterly came to appreciate that ducking the drug-dealing, mugging, drunken hordes of South London was child’s play compared to that of being a woman resident. There’s been a spate of recent articles about violence amongst females, typified by Iyabo Oba’s piece in today’s Telegraph which relates to girls that carry knives and are serious about using them. It confirms my worst suspicions. In our latter years at SLM, whenever we were out and about, I never once feared for my safety; yet on almost every occasion I witnessed The Boss being clocked by other women, particularly the younger crowd. It was rarely the casual glance of comparing outfits or hair, but an aggressive squaring of the shoulders, of sizing someone up. There was no mistaking the intent, the challenge. Thankfully, in Devon, the local farmers wives are more amenable.

Carnage

If you think the UK’s outlook looks bad, read Evans-Prichard’s take on the American situation in yesterdays Telegraph. There’s a large element of tongue-in-cheek, so don’t cut your throat just yet. However, he cites an avalanche of bankruptcies - with defaults double that of previous recessions, whole cities opting for Chapter 9, a 26% fall in house prices leading to 10m households in negative equity, and people running up massive credit-card debts because they have no intention of paying it off. He sees this as ‘the tip of the iceberg,’ predicting a 50-70% fall in equity prices on the back of a global recession which will see Britain, Europe, Japan and China all going bust.

As far as throat-cutting goes, don’t miss tonight’s finale of Dexter. Following a more virtuous life has led to me to watching less TV these days. However, this entertaining series about two mass-murderers chopping up victims into bite-sized pieces never fails to raise a chuckle.

Entrenchment

A lot of glum faces when I dropped by Wickes yesterday. Pessimistic briefing notes aside, Redrow’s announcement that they’re axing hundreds of staff is the more obvious sign of a deepening housing crisis. I remember watching some dozen lads on a job during the last building recession. Everyone was aware that twice that number sat drinking tea in the local café, waiting on one of them to slip up so they could take his place. Whilst it’s not a good time for builders, if you’re thinking of having any work done on your home then this is the time do it. Redrow report reservations are 50% lower than the same time last year, and that punters who’d already signed up are now cancelling in record numbers. I appreciate mortgages are harder to come by, but suspect job insecurity is the primary reason. If government finances look grim, then so does the public sector’s future. But not until they’ve leached the last penny piece from us long-suffering tax-payers.

Tuesday, May 13

Spanish nights

Sat reading out back in the evening sun amongst the docks and buttercups. Really doesn’t get much better. I can’t imagine swapping this place for a queue at Gatwick and a bar in Malaga. Given she’s spent a month’s pocket money on geraniums and the yard is ablaze with colour, there’s no need. Geraniums have always been Spain; and Davy Road.

Blaming Bruce

David Sullivan blames Bruce for Birmingham City’s demise, citing the rubbish players he bought as a principal cause of Blues failure. In the big lad’s defence, you don’t exactly get a lot of footballer for £2.0m a throw; and the principal requirement at that time was warm-bodies - any warm body - to enable us to field a team. Without a successful academy clubs are always going to be limited to the big boys’ cast offs. What am I saying, ‘big boys’? Forget the top four, we’ve no chance of competing with the likes of Portsmouth, West Ham or Man City. Can only dream about the £45m Sunderland gave to Roy Keene so he could finish just four points above us. In the past we were helped by borrowing talent from more successful clubs, but suspect this will dry up. A year in the Championship should be more fun than this past season, but nothing fundamental will change if the current board fails to recruit fresh blood. Maybe this is as good as it gets. Hate to say it, but we never replaced that nerk Savage.

Talking the market down

RICS confirms the housing market is in its worst state for 30 years after a record number of estate agents reported falling property prices, albeit by a mere 2%. Even Scotland’s turned. Stagnating prices are the worst since records began in 1978, and means that the housing slump is even more widespread than during the crash of the early 1990s. A negligible number of properties are being sold. Buyers remain convinced that significant falls are in the offing, sellers are intransigent. Accordingly, work for painters & decorators has all but dried up. DIY centres, electrical retailers, furniture stores and garden centres struggle as trade stagnates. Estate agents collect P45s.

Meanwhile, not so good news for the taxpayer. Ron Sandler, chairman of Northern Rock, conceded yesterday that the creditworthiness of his borrower base would get progressively worse as good risks defected to rival lenders. ‘There will be a degree of adverse selection,’ he admitted, as borrowers with good credit histories were able to switch to more competitive products, leaving Northern Rock with the poorer risks.

Changing demographics

Compared to a month ago the song birds have all but disappeared from the yard, edged out by nesting magpies, jackdaws and carrion crows. The collared doves still visit, but are chased away by pies. That said, a blackbird returns each evening between five and eight to serenade us from the tree outside my office window. He’s always accompanied by two swallows. The Tawny Owls are most obvious of an evening, easily identified by the hoots from surrounding trees. However, you’d be hard-pushed to ignore the shrieks and hisses of the Barn Owls. Their snoring vibrates down the wall above the stove. Not really active until dusk, when - if you’re lucky - you can see them departing their box upstairs for the nightly vole hunt. Climbed up for a look around before they moved in. Tip toes, at the top of a triple-section ladder. That was before I fell of the damn thing and broke my leg. Needless to say I’m a touch more cautious with ladders this summer, especially with the anniversary fast approaching. Can you believe it’s been a year? Now that the birds are in residence the nest is off limits (max of £5,000 fine and custodial sentence for disturbing owls).

The death of Jimmy Mizzen is another reminder of our old life. The bakers where he was killed lay on my route home; used to treat myself to a fish supper from the chippy, a couple of doors down.

Monday, May 12

Paddick diary

Worth reading Brian Paddick’s tongue-in-cheek mayoral campaign diary, extracts of which were published in the Mail on Sunday yesterday.
5th March. It's Jewish day - so to the London Jewish Forum breakfast near Oxford Circus. Go to a cafe next door where Gary Lineker walks in, sits down and orders a fry-up. He sits with his legs wide apart and picks his nose – all previous illusions shattered.

Sunday, May 11

Day of reckoning

Pleasant hike to the village. The hedgerows are blooming with wild flowers; lanes congested by touring cyclists. What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago organisers had thrown in the towel on the Ten Tors Challenge. Rivers across Dartmoor were swollen, making it too dangerous for participants to fjord them. Teams were being recovered and returned to Okehampton camp by services personnel, using coach, van and Sea King helicopters. Today, they’re more likely suffering heat exhaustion. It really is glorious out there. Should feel guilty about parking myself in front of the TV, but I can't ignore the footy. That said, BBQ’s warming and beer’s on ice. Hopefully, today turns out to be a party rather than a wake.

Saturday, May 10

Roll over Sunday?

I’ve no doubt Steve Bruce has his eyes on Fergie’s desk should the Man Utd manager win the double and decide to quit this summer. However, Keane, Hughes and even Paul Ince may have something to say about it. And will it influence Sparky’s team tomorrow? One thing's for sure, young Alex is going to need a bag of clean underwear under the bench. And a pair of earplugs: they’re issuing the fans with 20,000 clapperboards. Let’s be realistic, with two out the three (Blues, Reading and Fulham) going down, you have to fancy Reading at Derby. I’m hoping Jewell’s team are pissed-off enough by Steve Coppell’s lad rubbishing them to do something unexpected, but I wont hold my breath. Maybe it would be for the best if Karren Brady took the Arsenal job - like Labour, Birmingham management appears apathetic and needs new blood; unfortunately, she's of an age when most women baulk at the challenge. Forecast: Derby v Reading 0-0; Portsmouth v Fulham 2-0; Birmingham v Blackburn 3-1 (I'm assuming Brad Friedel injures himself running onto the pitch).

Married life the key to happiness but children can ruin it

Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard, has told a Sydney conference that studies indicate married people are in almost every way happier than unmarried people - whether single, divorced or cohabiting. Married people live longer, earn more money, have more sex - and enjoy it more. However, when children arrive it usually turns to rat-shit. The reason parents delude themselves that children have somehow enhanced their lives is partly a desire to prove that all that time, money and effort was worthwhile and not a ghastly mistake.

Friday, May 9

Pyrochroa serraticornis

As it’s May we’ve have a fair number of Cardinal Beetles flitting about the yard. They seem to be attracted to the tree bark and surrounding vegetation.

These bright red characters with comb-like antennae feed off of other insects (pests?), so rightly or wrongly - and as with Ladybirds - I'm happy to see them around. Their larvae is probably why we’ve had so many Woodpeckers vandalising the tree stump.

Sunbathing on the fence

After two days of non-grey the sun has disappeared,
though it makes for a more pleasant walk to town.

Tail continues to wag the dog

In another reminder why Labour are fast becoming persona non grata south of the border, Government Minister Jim Murphy, MP for East Renfrewshire, tells us the reason England are failing to succeed on the international football scene is down to too many ‘foreign’ players competing in the Premier League. And as a Glaswegian it’s any of his business because? OK, so the lad’s our Europe Minister and was responding to Brussels’s recent vote against Blatter’s 6+5 proposal. The Commission is calling on member states and sports associations not to discriminate on nationality, but to focus on ‘locally-trained’ players, irrespective of where they came from. What would be Murphy’s solution, revoke McFadden’s work permit?

Thursday, May 8

Drunken Wrinklies

A judge has told three women that they were ‘a bunch of over-the-hill slappers’ when he jailed them for mugging a man and taking his wallet. Judge Timothy Nash came out with his unconventional description after watching CCTV footage of them attacking and robbing James McCabe,31, as he sat drunkenly on a bench in Canterbury, Kent. Melanie Coombs, 39, Lorraine Hallet, 37, both of Canterbury and Alison Raines, 41, of Whitstable were each given a three year sentence. Slappers indubitably, but ‘over the hill’ in your 30s? I wonder how much it costs us to lock these girls up for three years: there must be something else we can do with them that will turn a penny?

Wednesday, May 7

Kitchen duty

Enough of this austerity crap. On the strength of last week’s winnings I expended half my tank of diesel driving south in search of a fresh turbot. And replacing the box of exerable supermarket plonk with a case of Puligny’s best. By the time I’ve finished shelling the broad beans and scrubbing a bag of Jersey Royals I’ll be ready for a glass. I eat less fish these days, thanks primarily to the absence of competent eateries. From what the lads on the boats tell me, the rising cost of fuel will ensure local fresh fish becomes even more expensive in the future. Need to buy myself a rod and take to the beach.

Tuesday, May 6

Bursting bubbles

More good/bad news, depending on what side of the fence you’re situated. Confirmation that Estate agencies have been closing at a rate of 15 per month since the start of the year is unlikely to cause particular concern. However, I’m sorry to note the plight of our intrepid removals men. Suffering the worst trading period in over two decades, these proglifigate consumers of tea & biscuits have been forced to lay off hundreds of staff as work plummets 40-60% to that of a year ago. Devon based Rose Removals are reported to be running at 50% capacity, with customers on the books down from 200 to 70.

Grief, it's over - go away

Toynbee’s latest piece of non-sense demonstrates the paucity of Labour thinking. Start all over again, scorched earth; repeat the ’94 process of reinvention and renewal. Well, yes - I agree, in part, but not with McPlonker and his pygmies at the helm. They still don’t get it. Back then, everyone was tired of ‘same old’, just like now; we all acknowledged things had to change, just like now. So hands up anyone who believes that Brown has the political nous, the leadership skills, or even the vaguest chance of empathising with the vast majority of the English electorate and their preference for self-reliance and aspiration. Back in ’94 we were prepared to give it a go, to pay through the nose in Swedish style taxes for 'world class' services. Unfortunately, our largess was betrayed by results, the continued failure of our schools and medical services to measure up. Worse, we turned our back on poverty and limited the opportunities for social mobility by choosing to import labour. Take the low paid out of tax by all means, but every schoolboy economist will tell you that increasing taxes for top earners is counter productive. They just relocate. People are hurting, and fed up with throwing good money after bad; they don’t really want to hear about global warming, aid for Africa, free museums, locking people up for 42 days, new health centres staffed with pretendy doctors, well-provisioned but failing schools… People want results, and can no longer afford to pay Selfridges’s prices for Primark sale-goods.

Sunday, May 4

Quiet weekend

Weird. No one around town yesterday; car parks and shops empty. Everyone can’t have gone away? People are supposed to come here for holidays. Mind you, an occasional shaft of sunlight would be nice. It's so grey.The place is still ankle-deep in mud following April’s rain, and we’re saddled with the seasonal plague of buzzing flies. Sit as I am on the backdoor step and you can visualise the electricity sub-station at Forest Park. Still, wild flowers are starting to appear in the hedgerow. A large doe rabbit ventures into the yard as a short-tailed vole scurries along its run in front of me. Woodpeckers vie with each other to vandalise the tree stump. My presence doesn’t seem to bother them as much these days. Cocky bastards. Am listening to Le Tissier’s commentary from St Mary’s. If the lad isn’t careful he’s going to hurt himself. Never really warmed to the Saints after they locked us in that cage at The Dell.

Disparaging

If Brown was still in any doubt about how much he’d pissed off Adam Boulton for favouring Marr, he had it spelled out this morning when our intrepid smart-arse referred to the cabinet as ‘a load of youngsters and pygmies.’ Contempt almost dripped from Boulton’s lips at the mention of the home secretary. I don’t care what he says about Jacqui, any minister brave enough to appear on TV wearing George from Asda gets my vote. If only she looked a little less like one of those ghastly contestants from Lloyd-Webber’s latest money-spinner.

No reprieve

About the only positive thing you can say is ‘we’re not Derby,’ now confirmed as the worst ever Premiership League side; even more pathetic than McCarthy’s Sunderland. Scant consolation though, Derby’s supporters sound much more bullish about their future. And there’s no solace in admitting we’re really a Championship League side. Are lesser men. So disappointed in the players’ performance. Whilst Fulham deserved to win yesterday, and no doubt the complementary caviar and Viagra from Al Fayed helped, you’d think we’d have gone down fighting. Away from the St Andrews comfort blanket they play like a bunch of feardies, as Big Eck would probably say. I know it’s not over and if the Blues manage a result over Sparky’s lot and Pompey trash the Cottagers... But what for? Why prolong the agony? There’s no fun in watching as we’re kicked around the pitch by patently better clubs; dismissed by Wigan, humiliated at Villa... Suspect there’s a large number of supporters who’ll throw in the towel at the end of the season. Can’t necessarily fault the Board, they reached the limits of their ambition some time ago and have done their best to offload the club to someone with deeper pockets. However, if Brady wants to keep the show on the road through next season - and during a time of diminishing economic prospects for most people - she’d needs to think about providing a more attractive product. On the plus side they’ll be down here in Plymouth next season, and we’ll be meeting some old friends from Charlton and Palace - always assuming The Eagles falter in the playoffs.

Saturday, May 3

Nesting

Surrounding fields are enlivened by the swallows' aerobatics. Their arrival a sign of good fortune? One landed at my feet this morning to retrieve a stalk that had fallen from the thatch, the first I’ve seen close up. Deep glossy blue black coat and buff white chest, dark red face. Wrens in the eves are at the fitting-out stage, lagging their nest with tufts of wool.

Larger than life

Congratulations, Boris. What a night. They finally shafted the mac-clad weasel at city hall, and for a fleeting second I almost wished I was back at SLM joining in the celebrations. The good lady hasn't stopped singing. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I envisage Boris as London Mayor. Chuffed to bits. The only Tory with balls enough - was reckless enough - to step into the ring and fight what seemed a hopeless cause. Well done the voters of Bexley and Bromley. Greenwich and Lewisham, shame on you. Labour insiders have hinted that London, like Scotland, will now be subject to a ‘scorched earth’ policy, with money and resources diverted elsewhere. Whilst the big lad will undoubtedly face difficulties, this morning the future looks brighter. Or will do, if we manage an upset at Craven Cottage.

Friday, May 2

Moscow AND Manchester!

For about 3.5 seconds I entertained the idea of treating The Boss to a trip to Moscow. However, my friends at Stamford Bridge who are hoping to make the final advise the best deal they’ve been able to swing on hotel rooms is for £400/night, basis a three-night minimum stay. When you add the cost of tickets, transport, a bottle or two of Smirnov and the odd dish of beetroot soup, you might as well put the money towards a new wide-screen TV and two 2008-9 season tickets.

Congrats to Rangers. Chuffed for Walter Smith and the cheeky chap. Embarrassed to say I had my pocket money on Fiorentina. And to win on a penalty shoot-out! The guys at South London Mansions are ecstatic, already warming up the Cold Blow Lane charabanc for the run to Manchester.

Things can only get better

A rather forlorn anthem, in the wake of Labour’s worse results for 40 years. As I’ve lived in and am familiar with both towns, the fact Conservatives can hold Great Yarmouth and Walsall when our great wealth re-distributor and champion of the poor rules the roost, more or less says it all. If people towards the bottom of the food chain prefer tugging their forelocks in deference to a bunch of Eton nancy boys, then they really are pissed off. You can’t blame the war or Blair this time around. Everyone in the Dog & Duck believes the country’s being flushed down the lavatory in double-quick time. A further run of job losses and home repossessions, and they’ll be whipping out their knitting needles, dusting off the guillotine. I assume from labour’s demise in the land of our fathers that Brown’s ‘British first and last campaign’ fell on deaf ears. Harman’s performance on this morning’s Radio 4 was pathetic. Nothing to do with us, Guv, it’s all down to global economic difficulties - blame the banks and supermarkets; however, ‘now we’re listening.’ Too late, matey. Too bloody late. Blair did contrite after the last general election.