Monday, June 30

It’s not about winning…

Yeh, right. OK, so I had my money on the lads from Deutschland, but congrats to Spain who deservedly won an excellent tournament. A dream to watch, at times, as were Russia, Portugal, Turkey, Croatia and Holland. Half of me remained saddened that England weren’t competing, whilst the other 50% was content to avoid another embarrassment. Despite what everyone says about our players’ supposed lack of technical ability, I still think they were more than capable of winning the last world cup. Like failing schools, the NHS, crappy government and shite financial institutions, it’s all down to leadership, to talented management. My old motto holds fast: if in doubt, throw money at the problem. So if we can’t win next time around with Capello pulling the strings I’ll have to accept the fact that we really are a bunch of tossers.

Sunday, June 29

Treasury dizzy from u-turns

Following a climb-down over the 10p tax rate, and pressure to amend Darling's disastrous increase in the cost of motor vehicle licences, the Treasury is now being leant on to reintroduce empty property rates relief on commercial buildings. They were hoping to raise £1.4bn from exempt empty properties, but landlords are rumoured to be demolishing buildings in preference to paying the new levy, leading to an increase in rent for short-term leases. The Treasury are continually portrayed as our brightest and best (doubtless recruited in Brown’s image), so it's no wonder we’re drowning. Government must be maxed out on credit; they can’t up taxes: so how does Brown pay those bills for the next couple of years? Guess we can kiss goodbye to pre-election bribes come 2010.

Women prefer stubble

I’ve tried this old ruse with Mrs G., when feeling too lazy to shave in the morning. But it doesn’t cut it, as she tends to say “you look like Albert Steptoe.”

And Dale confirms Cherie Blair a gay icon?

Friday, June 27

This cruelty must stop

Cease kicking the lad. Losing your deposit and finishing fifth behind the greens in Henley (after announcing £100 billion for renewable energy projects - how ironic is that) should be punishment enough. Oil passes the $140 barrier as stock markets on both sides of the pond plumb multi-year lows. Pensions and savings (and house prices) appear to diminish in direct proportion to the amount you invest. Brown’s new dawn for green energy promises only more pain for consumers. Now that power supplies have become a security issue, what chance he plunders the defence budget? On the plus side, Tesco and Asda’s price war means you can afford to drink yourself to death.Back in the real world our eleven pheasant chicks become two. I have named them Harriet 1 and Harriet 2 to render their inevitable demise less painful. And I’ve ordered more .38 ‘hunting ammunition’ (ball bearings to you and me) for a new offensive against the varmints (think Caddy Shack).

Thursday, June 26

Another Ruskoline supper

My love affair with fish may be back on track after last night’s haddock fillets. The best fish I’ve tasted in quite a while. Although our itinerant fishmonger, Dan Garnett, is off sailing the Atlantic as a crew member of Jamaica Clipper - on its final leg of the round the world yacht race, his substitute team are doing a sterling job of hawking their wares around Holsworthy market. Am also consuming vast quantities of peas whilst they’re in season; another John Major trait. Ate half of them raw whilst shelling the little suckers. Primo sautéed potatoes, and a cracking Riesling from dependable Majestic.

Blindingly obvious

Trampled woman sues. When you walk through a herd of cattle you shouldn’t need a sign to tell you that cows with calves are touchy buggers, especially if there’s a yapping Jack Russell in tow. I suppose the point of this girl’s defence is that by not signposting the field, the farmer, by implication, is guaranteeing walkers safe passage? Grief, if she wins and some jobsworth takes a fancy to chalk it up, I would hate to think of how many signs you’d have to scatter around Dartmoor’s environs. They’re not dangerous - just cattle: unpredictable at the best of times; an unlikely looking ewe stamped its hooves and took a run at me yesterday. Came across a field of Reds on Tuesday that were the finest I’d seen; pride of the herd was obvious the bull: now he was dangerous, and I didn’t need a sign to tell me. Even Health & Safety seem to think the girl's on a sticky wicket.

Wednesday, June 25

Grandfather's lettuce

I must have eaten close to a bushel of iceberg lettuce this past fortnight. There’s an assumption that salad is good for you, full of vitamins and folic acid: though how anything this basic could be other than plate dressing remains a mystery to me. It supposedly contains a mild opiate-like substance which Romans believed aided sleep, and I’ve also read somewhere that lettuce guards against food poisoning - its absence from Scottish diets being cited as one of the principal reasons behind that nation’s higher incidence of Delhi belly. I assume this to be something of an old wives tale however, as anyone I know who holidays abroad steers well clear of salads unless they’ve been scrubbed in a bucket of freshly boiled water and sprinkled with crushed loperamide tablets.

Anyway, the real point of this story is that I was standing in line at the Quik-E-Mart with my statutory lettuce, and lamb steaks for the barbie, when the old boy heading our line starts frisking himself. Damn, picked the wrong queue again - heads fall. Had hoped to have escaped that car park before the school run. The Boss shoots me a warning look which says ‘shut up before you start, and stand still.’ So we wait, as the minutes tick by, whilst grandpa checks and rechecks the four pockets of his overcoat, the five in his jacket, the pouches on the sides of his satchel… After addressing the folds of his wallet and investigating the leaves of a chequebook, the puzzled stare turns to one of reddening embarrassment, of shame. Eventually, a debit card drops from the packet of papers he’d retrieved from his trousers and, fumbling - trying to overcome his shaking hands, he attempts to insert it into the till’s card holder. By this time however his brain is scrambled, he has no chance of recalling the four digits - just stares at the machine, despairingly. You want to step forward and offer to pay, but feel it would be presumptuous and that it would embarrass him further: so you stand, quietly, as we do, averting our eyes, until the supervisor concedes defeat and whisks him off to customer services. I passed him on the street as we were driving away, head down, clutching his messages, and thought to myself ‘one day soon Gudgeon that’ll be you, one day very soon.’

Tuesday, June 24

A wilderness no more

If I never see Buckland Beacon again it won’t be a moment too soon. Apart from the initial hike up Rippon Tor, they said, the walk guarantees dramatic and ever changing views over Dartmoor for relatively little effort; Top Tor, Pil Tor, Tunhill Rocks, Buckland-in-the-moor, the Beacon… Easy tor bagging; piece of cake. Suppose I can look on the bright side and run a line through the Widecombe section of my guide book, never to return. Major culture shock, compared to this neck of the woods. Convoys of coaches - full of Frogs; screaming school kids; whole neighbourhoods of De Groots and Smits, driving camper vans. Throw in a wild-pony stampede and sleeping cattle blocking the road and you perhaps get the picture. The most attractive feature of my Dartmoor experience so far is that I rarely see another human being - it’s why I left the smoke. Widecombe’s a bloody theme park, a jamboree.

Brown’s lack of social mobility

Having been central to the government that's presided over a decade of growing inequality, McPlonker had the bare-faced cheek during yesterday's speech to brandish the old rallying cry, ‘it’s all Thatchers fault.’ I suspect the principal reason for the dramatic rise in social mobility during Brown’s earlier years had less to do with education and grammar schools and was more about the one-off explosion in white collar opportunity that Thatcher encouraged. Let’s not forget that social mobility isn’t necessarily a one way bet: a rise in one group is generally achieved at the expense of another.

Stasi watch

Up to 30 ticket touts have been written to by the police in an effort to crack down on their activities at Wimbledon. Groups of two or more people deemed to be behaving ‘antisocially’ will be moved on or threatened with a possible three-month prison term or £2,000 fine. The new rules take advantage of the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003, but this is the first time it has been used at a sporting event. During his pre-tournament briefing Supt Thomson said: ‘We are concerned about the high number of touts causing harassment, alarm and distress. Having big burly blokes coming up to you at the Tube station trying to sell you tickets that could be lost, stolen or are potential forgeries is anti-social.’

Damn it, this is why people are so opposed to the 42 day detention debacle and why we’re pissed about councils using what was thought to be ‘terrorist’ legislation to spy on irresponsible dog owners and parents manipulating school entry requirements. Anti-social legislation was supposed to be about tackling teenage delinquents (God, that sounds old), not to persecute businessmen and women using entrepreneurial skills to solve a supply problem.

Sunday, June 22

Art appreciation

Galvanised by the sight of Monet’s Le Bassin aux Nymphéas which is up for sale at Christie’s (estimate £24m) I traipsed along in my raincoat to view the Tavistock Group of Artists 53rd Annual Exhibition. Although a dab hand at hanging wall paper, evidence of my artistic prowess remains limited to that of a spray-painted mural on some soot encrusted Black Country factory wall. Even the tenuous association of having lived next door to a well-known artist for 20 years failed to promote a latent talent. Still, you can stare and wonder at other's work. And for a modest sum, maybe acquire your own small object of desire.

Father's son

After thrice checking quarterly figures I find myself four quid adrift. I know, it’s pathetic - less than a fiver out over three months; but it bugs the pants off me when columns fail to tally. Mindful of the cost of diesel I’ve managed to set a new record of 37.6 mpg for the motor. And having unplugged the Dimplex and reduced our electricity bill by 15%, am now reviewing water consumption, subsequent to discovering the barn is operating at 23% above the national average for litres per person per day. The downsides to wearing clean socks, I guess.

Attrition

I watch the wretched pheasant and her hapless brood forage amongst culm grass at the yard’s perimeter. Life’s never so arbitrary as that out back. Yesterday’s eleven defenceless chicks are now five; tomorrow just one? Fox cubs need to eat, as do buzzards and crows... even Farmer Charles’s cat enjoys her varied diet. There’s little solidarity amongst mothers when it comes to feeding their own. A cock bird guards the flank, but his moulting plumage and bedraggled appearance only emphasise the lad’s impotence. I was as successful with my Newland Street chickens. The rag and bone man would exchange my grandfather’s woollen jersey for chicks that I kept in a wire-fronted box on the stone window sill. They never lasted long either. Come to that, nor did his goldfish.

Friday, June 20

Porridge

Lunch today at the Trout and Tipple, outside Tavistock - last year’s No.1 CAMRA (regional) choice. As you would expect, they serve a decent selection of ales and, unsurprisingly, feature trout on the menu. Nice enough service and no problem with the fish, sourced as it is from across the street; however, as is the norm for >95% of these establishments, the vegetables were dire. No attempt to rise above the bog standard; making up for the lack of finesse, of quality cooking, by loading the plate with crap you won’t eat.

Stopped by Princetown to pick up something from the DNPIC. When it’s overcast and raining, like today, the place looks and feels miserable. Coaches dispense unwashed yoof from Birmingham. I never visit without chuckling at the thought of those pinched-faced Mrs Barrowcloughs that hover behind the net curtains of its terraced housing. Dartmoor Prison is a grim establishment, originally built to house Napoleonic miscreants and American prisoners from the War of 1812.

Thursday, June 19

Talking ill winds

After last night’s crusty Mansion House hair-shirt extravaganza I thought our resident swallows’ Battle of Britain ‘Spitfires in action’ performance this morning rather apt. Grief - you’d had thought this was our first taste of recession. Stand by for a raft of grandmothers sucking an egg articles by juvenile scribes. We know what to expect: a year or two of public sector strikes, before the Tories sweep to power. Been there, done that - bought the T-shirt.

You’d have thought the barn’s lee side would provide some sort of protection from this gale force south westerly but it hasn’t prevented my golden locks developing a classic Donald Trump style comb over to match the prevailing trees. I’ve been parked outside on the bench trying to finish a yawn of a book and the quarterly accounts so I can move to something more interesting. Have taken the precaution of arming myself with my trusty Black Widow catapult and a bucket of ball bearings, should any of the varmints dare to make an appearance. Following diligent practise I’ve become rather proficient inside of 15 yards.

Wednesday, June 18

Fresh air, you can’t beat it

If Tiger Woods thinks he has knee problems then the lad should have seen me this morning, stumbling down that track, back of Great Links Tor. New boots don’t help. Not too bad a day though, aside from a 25 knot breeze licking the mustard from between the slices of my ham sandwich. The cattle were out in force and looking somewhat testy - it’s why I carry a staff. Although the tributaries higher up the moor run brownish from peat discolouration, the lower Lyd where the stream flows over the rocks through the vuz lined gully is crystal. I’m still reluctant to drink it, however, on account of the four furry hooves that protrude above the surface. Company for lunch, from a Wheatear nesting in the stone wall; and quite a number of mares, accompanied by their foals - all looking anzum, as my neighbour would say. Along with many of the heathers and plants, I’m now able to differentiate between those various mounds of poo that litter the moor. I’ll make a naturalist (or a mountie) of me yet.

Tuesday, June 17

Shrimp remoulade

I must admit that when it’s my turn for kitchen duty, finding something different and which stands comparison with Mrs G’s dishes is becoming increasingly difficult. Barbeque aside, you can only casserole so many ducks, serve up so many risottos, kebabs, etc… She’s not exactly keen on chilli, beans or stuffed pig’s feet. Thankfully, the lady is addicted to shrimp, in just about any shape or form; and whilst tonight I was sorely tempted to try something retro-naff such as the classic 70s prawn cocktail (inspired by Supersizers Go Seventies, last Saturday night), there’s a similar but slightly more rewarding take on the theme called shrimp remoulade - another ubiquitous starter that used to precede many a meal across the pond. In the old days, when the painting and decorating business paid well, I used to take her to Galatoire’s in New Orleans. Starched waiters serve traditional upmarket French Creole cuisine, and killer martinis. I’ve always stuck with their recipe. Worth trying, for old times sake. And unless you’re a porker, followed by something light

Sunday, June 15

Passing the time

Having recently re-read Le Carré , a favourite - love the old cold war stuff, I was always going to be prejudiced about Faulks’s pastiche, Devil may care. There’s too much of the girlie about Faulks for my liking, though I enjoyed both Birdsong and Enderby. I guess DMC was what the Fleming family paid for - a bit of gratuitous indulgence, but it's not exactly riveting. If you can’t determine the identity of 004 fairly quickly, you really are slow. Wanting to compare it to the lad himself, I subsequently skipped though Quantum of Solace, a collection of original Bond short stories. Interesting exercise as I hadn’t read Fleming since those impressionable teenage years and my image of Bond had become a mixture of Connery meets Moore. On reflection, I’m tempted to say that what Ian Fleming is to thriller writing, Graham Kerr is to cooking. Fleming and Kerr could be one of the same? Now that would be a story - knocking out Goldfinger between soufflés.

Talking of guns… The squirrels now know she has one, and isn’t afraid to use it. However, it’s a touch tiresome having someone continually creep up behind you and ask if you feel lucky or want to make their day, before unloading a litre of water into your left ear drum.

It’s turning into something of a western weekend. Having watched Rich Hall’s How the West was lost on BBC4 last night, then sat through Fort Apache, I can hardly ignore today’s two classics, Jeremiah Johnson and Rio Bravo.

Saturday, June 14

Consulting the professionals

The sweet-smelling fragrance of honeysuckle as you leave the barn is repeated throughout the winding hedgerows that are now populated by foxgloves, briar roses and magnificent, giant thistles. If Klingons had a national flower, it would be the thistle. Walking to the pub for a Saturday lunchtime session is not the most onerous of my duties. When work is slack, it’s a popular venue for lads in the building trade. A chance to hear the latest exploits: that forced-sale acquisition acquired for pennies, the jackpot return from a recent renovation, a wheeze you pulled on the planning department, your latest escapade with the VAT man, why all surveyors are tossers… There’s a competitive edge to the bragging, but the camaraderie is real enough. On their way home, everyone stood chuckling at the adjacent estate agents window, advising casual viewers to wait six months for the prices to halve. I recall them affecting this demob-happy spirit at the start of our last recession.

Friday, June 13

Exterminator

Visited an area of salt marsh on the Tavy estuary this morning. Sat watching the wild fowl, and a fat lad fly fishing. Despite my having resided in at least two ports over the years, the smell of salt water never fails... The river’s a beautiful area and I shouldn’t moan, yet limited as the overflights are (by London standards), those Plymouth bound aircraft still irritate. Makes me appreciate where we currently live that much more. Not that our paradise on earth is without the odd blemish - I’ve been forbidden by Mrs G. from spraying the area with .22 shells due to the likely mortality rate of our neighbour’s grandchildren. The fact that he’s half blind and blasts away in my direction with his Remington is neither here nor there. However, the squirrels have got to go. Pests can be cute, but I’ve learnt to my cost the damage they wreak. To salve the Lady’s conscience I’ve brought her a Super Soaker assault weapon (a water pistol to you and me), so she can vent her frustration, content she’s not harming any wildlife. Madam is blacking up and donning her combats as we speak. I have my own ideas about pest control, and wait excitedly for the courier to deliver my latest order of Armageddon.

SAS to the rescue

Can’t say I’ve ever warmed to Council House Davis, but more power to the lad’s elbow, for resigning over that puke-inducing vote on 42 days detention - and the continued erosion of our civil liberties. Whatever the media assumes - and yes, the Tories probably welcome this distraction about as much as a hole in the head - and, despite that large rump of the public who believe the police should be awarded Mugabe-like powers to detain whoever takes their fancy, the bulk of us remain convinced that the rights and obligations of the individual are paramount. Because the country has built up a populist head of steam to oust Brown and replace him with anyone half credible who brushes up well, the media appears to have forgotten that sea change in public opinion which took place some months ago. Since we’ve come to regard all politicians and most of the incestuous media establishment as a cabal of lying, cheating, cynical dog turds that are on the make, it comes as a pleasant surprise to see someone risk what remains of his career (though I can’t imagine Davis was enthusiastic about playing the Prescott role) for a cross-party principle which sees Diane Abbott cheering him on from the sidelines.

Thursday, June 12

Onwards and downwards

The property market faces its toughest challenge in 30 years, says RICS. The words blind and bleedingly obvious spring to mind. News that estate agents were averaging just 17 sales a piece during March, April and May, a >30% drop on last year, wasn’t exactly surprising either. Let’s face it, property’s become a one-way bet. A marked effect of these difficult trading conditions is that agents actually return your call. This time last year their indifference bordered on contempt. Yesterday’s call was to advise me that the vendor may consider a 5% reduction in his grotesque and completely unrealistic 2007 valuation. Dream on, sonny - I’m mulling over whether he should be putting a one or a two before the five. Am sure I read that Californian realtors were offering a ‘buy one, get one free’ sale? Frightening market for house builders… a year ago Barratt’s shares were approaching £11: yesterday, they closed at 72p. On paper a £250m company, with net debt of £1.7b. Bad news for my old mates in the business? Probably not, they usually manage to turn a penny one way or another.

Wednesday, June 11

Bye bye blackbird

Blackbirds and greenfinches (below) have been fingered as the birds most likely to diminish in numbers these coming years.It’s a guilt by association call made by Gavin Thomas of Imperial College, having extrapolated the likelihood of their demise from n’er do well cousins. Or, as he would suggest: “The species that are threatened due to population declines are phylogenetically more closely related than expected by chance alone.” Needless to say I had to look up phylogeny. Am pleased to say the yard remains knee-deep in both species. We’ve also seen a significant boost to the nuthatch and sparrow population.

A less equal country

McPlonker's flagship anti-poverty campaign received a triple blow yesterday with news that a rise in both child and pensioner poverty had left Britain a more unequal country. It’s an inevitable downside to the success of New Labour’s push for meritocracy, whereby the talented and hardworking (and the fortunate) inherit the earth, whilst the dross (and the unfortunate) survive on tax credits. Those that are blessed progress evermore onwards and upwards, losers fall by the wayside. And the richer we grow, as a nation, the higher the median income rises and the further behind those less able will fall. A Catch-22, of sorts. And relative, compared to the gross inequality in other areas around the globe. You can’t blame the government or our tax-paying stalwarts for failing to throw money at the problem, though you can argue, given hindsight, that incentivising work and deterring immigration would have helped. As with the Premiership, you buy in foreign talent at the expense of nurturing your own. Easy for us to play the backseat driver... Life ain’t fair, it never will be. You can expand people’s opportunities through education, but in the end, individuals tend to get what they deserve; you make your own luck.

Tuesday, June 10

Car enthusiast

The wrens in the eaves have fledged, and decided that windscreen wipers are the perch of choice.

Market day

If you’re prepared to drive a ways, there’s always market day somewhere. Mindful of soaring prices, and anxious to do my bit for Mervyn’s inflation prerogative, I find Devon souks are just the place for army surplus clothing and home produced comestibles. And whilst the ripe aroma of livestock auctions isn’t necessarily conducive to the purchase of dairy products and uncooked meat, it remains part and parcel of rural life. Providing the old girls keep their kit on and stick to what they do best, you always find something worth buying on WI stalls. If the Royal Devon Show was anything to go by, they could double their prices and still do very nicely. That said, too often ‘rural’ means elderly and living on a limited income. If you ignore our local Mr Big’s 600 series panzer wagon, the motor of choice for many is a ten year old Rover saloon. Much more on the price of diesel and it’ll be Shanks’s pony for everyone.

Division of labour, I’m all for it. Whilst Mrs G. scrubbed this past winter from our garden furniture, and lovingly restored it with sheets of fine sandpaper and two coats of teak oil, I provided a late lunch of fresh asparagus and half-decent prosciutto crudo. Hey, she volunteered.

Monday, June 9

Fattening up junior

Must have been a difficult night as the owl has decided to come out and play in broad daylight. I’m assuming there’s at least one chick in the roof that needs feeding. If our intrepid hunter keeps his eyes open there’s a chance he will do for the rat that appeared on our doorstep yesterday. It wasn’t quite the size of a cat, but is certainly the biggest specimen I’ve ever seen; his head alone dwarfs the body size of a bank vole.That’s my boy. Dad and junior here spend a good part of the day hanging out in the yard, looking for food. Appears big enough to feed himself. That’s the trouble with kids these days…

Car prices rub salt into wounds

What with the rising price of oil, zero credit and McPlonker’s wheeze on vehicle licence tax, according to Glass’s Guide, family motors between 1-3 years old have already fallen by 12%. Forget the nominally assumed 8% annual depreciation, used cars are now forecast to fall by 25% during 2008. If borne out, there’s a lot of punters will choose to push the keys through their finance company’s letter box and walk away. What price your car’s minimum guaranteed future value now?

Meanwhile, if you believe the latest figures from those spivs engaged in property futures trading, the slide in the value of your home will continue for >three years, bottoming out at close to 50% below 2007 market highs when adjusted for inflation. Though there’s a grain of probability in these current raft of predictions, unless you intend moving anytime soon it’s probably best to ignore them. As long as people are in employment and managing to pay the bills, for most, these coping times are more to do with belt tightening than depreciating assets. A quick grimace, then noses to the grindstone. The collapse of construction starts on new homes and our burgeoning population practically guarantees property’s future as a medium term investment vehicle. Ten years from now you’ll look back, shake your head, perhaps even manage a smile. In the short term, however, house prices look set to continue along that seemingly inevitable path: denial (it’ll never happen, it’s not like the 90s), anger (it’s Brown’s fault, the bastard), depression (if I lose my job we’re sunk), bargaining (don’t let me drown and I’ll go to church on Sunday), and finally, acceptance (somebody’s going to suffer for this (Labour, at the ballot box)). Brown assumes things are bad right now, wait until voters really get up a head of steam. Their rage will probably be in full swing at just about the point he runs out of time and is forced to call an election.

Sunday, June 8

The anonymity of the Dog & Duck

So many things make pubs appealing. I like the atmosphere of companionship they engender when the mood for company takes and conversation is not a requirement. When melancholy strikes there’s no better place to submerge and hide in full view, cheered by a brew. You can belong, for a while - without commitment, privacy intact. I like the surety of flagstone floors and tended fires, the tactile richness of tarnished wooden bars that smell of ale, the extravagance of inlaid draught hand pumps and glistening brass funnels. Pubs are repositories of my memories. They reek of history along with their aroma of malted grains and hoppy bouquets (and urinal deodorizer blocks).

Although the smoking ban is a bonus, cigarettes never ruined the taste of good beer as quickly as that of a cheap-woman’s perfume.

Summer

I guess today is about it, in the ‘doesn’t get much better than this’ stakes. In-your-face blue skies, over an eye achingly green backdrop. Birds twittering, the tractor coughing up a storm; the promise of a warm day now that northerly breeze has abated. Methinks a day for the deckchair, sans newspapers. Out of sight, out of mind. If the growing number of squirrels I’m observing serves as evidence, the wildlife is prospering. A vixen passed by last night with two cubs in tow: a sign that life continues on its inexorable path, and that - unless you believe in reincarnation - this is the only chance you get. So don’t waste the day, make the most of it.

Friday, June 6

Juvenile Pied

This picture makes him look better than the reality. Looks recently fledged: a sticky mess: needs a wash and brush up. Given the traffic around here, he faces lots of competition from siblings/cousins.

Thursday, June 5

The Royal Cornwall Show

Thanks to my accident we missed the Cornwall show last year; and the thought of a reported 12 mile tailback wasn’t exactly encouraging. Nevertheless, it is a day out. If I’m to define Cornwall as any one thing it has to be wind farms. That, and Rick Stein. And surfing, of course. OK, the Jamaica Inn and Demelza Poldark… guess I could go on. I’m more relaxed about windmills these days, though the Boss still shakes when she sees one. Build a nuclear power station and have done with it. My neighbour from SLM, the one with those embroidered shirts, has a holiday home in Rock or thereabouts. However, despite the abundance of seafood and a cousin who owns a fashionable restaurant, I remain to be convinced.

This time round I actually watched the show jumping. And the Cornish wrestling was a bonus. Star of the show, for me, was the old-fashioned fair ground rides: chair planes, carousel horses, the helter skelter, a big wheel and the steam yachts. The Limonaire Freres Band Organ! The traction engines were brilliant: boys’ toys. But the pièce de résistance was a classic Thames Trader, one of the first trucks I rode in, and which invokes memories of a hooky consignment of brandy and a bonded warehouse in Wolverhampton.

The birds are back

My knowing nowt about owt, as they say, is particularly true when it comes to birds (though I’m learning). So I was unprepared for their unexplained, almost overnight disappearance some weeks ago. One day an aviary, the next zilch. It turns out they’ve been nesting, and now that the chicks have fledged, have returned en masse to feed. The yard resembles a Friday night at Heathrow; we’re practically stepping over them. Have counted six great spotted woodpeckers. My first casualty of the morning was a juvenile blackbird that flew into the office window. They’re usually just stunned, and recover in minutes before taking off again. However, on this occasion it expired. I hadn’t laid it on the bench for more than a minute before it was taken by predator. Doves chase off the smaller song birds, and are themselves attacked by jackdaws; magpies savage the daws, before being driven off by squirrels, who are then pounced upon by crows and a lone rook… Never a dull moment.

Mine's a large one

Consuming five or more alcoholic drinks a week can halve the risk of rheumatoid arthritis? It seems as though we're unable to get through a week without reading of yet another life enhancing benefit that comes from consuming this super drug called booze. Tesco claret could be the perfect antidote for my barbequed steaks.

Wednesday, June 4

Two class Britain

Traditional school timetables broken down by subject should be scrapped because they favour middle-class pupils, a former government advisor claims. The national curriculum should be more focused on the teaching of skills such as team building, public speaking and problem solving, rather than ‘an encyclopaedic knowledge’ of the world, he believes. Prof John White, from the Institute of Education, part of London University, says subject-based lessons discriminate against pupils from poor homes who struggle to adjust to a ‘highly academic school culture’ that insists they learn to read and write before launching themselves on the public speaking circuit.

One of Britain's leading universities is to introduce an entrance exam for all students applying to study there from 2010 because it believes that A levels no longer provide it with a viable way to select the best students. Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College, London, suggested that grade inflation at A level meant that so many students now got straight As that it had become almost ‘worthless’ as a way of discriminating between the talented and the well drilled. Last year one in four A-level marks was a grade A and 10 per cent of A-level students achieved at least three As.

The tipping point

I like Irwin Stelzer and never fail to take note of his ministrations. Have always found time for the doddering old characters that sit at the end of the bar - that cross between Del’s Uncle Albert and Emery’s Lampwick. And whilst appreciating Irwin’s vast experience and his take on life, you’ve got to have been there to appreciate what happened. New labour blossomed because we wanted to feel good about ourselves after the years of post-Thatcher dog fights. Dabbling with social democracy is something people do when they’ve plenty of money to throw around. And if Brown had spent wisely the show could have continued ad finitum. This was a once in a generation opportunity to transform the country and to radically improve the lives of the least fortunate. Regretfully, the party’s over; we’ve missed the boat, and Brown is being held to account. History will judge our un-elected prime minister badly. Quite rightly too.

Tuesday, June 3

Not a fan of...

The Boss is glued to BBC’s Springwatch. She’s a big fan. I hear the lady calling for me to join her and watch the programme. Unfortunately, having sat through the recent two evening's episodes whilst biting my bottom lip, I fear that tonight, courage may desert me. Am afraid my self-control will fail, putting the television screen at risk. It’s Bill Oddie: I can’t stand the little fat bastard. He irritates the shit out of me. There’s a film, an entertaining sequel titled ‘Addams Family Values’. It contains a scene that follows on from the Addams kids being sent to summer camp. After failing to adjust and participate in activities, they’re banged up in a hut and forced to watch reruns of films and TV shows such as The Brady Bunch which are an anathema to them. I can’t even conceive of being locked in a room and being obliged to watch TV programmes that feature Bill Oddie, Michael Palin or Griff Rhys Jones. It’s more than any man could take.

Nostalgia for tea

I can’t get the picture out of my mind. Despite Mrs G’s best efforts, the tea from my vacuum flask still manages to taste exactly the same as the liquid that was dispensed from towering urns by those Sutton Park canteen ladies who all looked like Peggy Mount and were dressed from head to foot in white duck.

Fine stretch of the leg

Onward and upwards, today’s trek taking in Widgery Cross, Great Links Tor and all points north. Nice enough day; great views towards Bodmin. Mrs G. assumes that her position on point is the natural order of things these days, though should she continue to force the same sort of pace I’ll start packing my glyceryl spray along with the half bottles of Tesco claret. Apart from two characters picking their way through the rocks on ponies and a genial boiler-suited stockman, the moor was our own. Found a great location for lunch, at the foot of a waterfall, overseen by a large black steer in the company of a raven. The final stretch down along the Lyd was beautiful. Finished off with a nice pint in the Dartmoor Inn.

Monday, June 2

Snakes and mosquitoes

I’ll swing for that bloody pheasant. Perched outside the bedroom window at half five in the morning, crowing his heart out, calling the harem to attention. Earns him an entry in my little black book. Come October there’s a shell with his name writ large along the plastic case. Damn it, I was in a coma; need those regulation hours. Can face most anything after a good night’s sleep. Because of the recent monsoon, grass has grown as high as an elephant’s eye, and - sitting as we are in a hollow - it can take a couple of weeks for the ground to dry sufficient to bother warming up the Honda. Needless to say this jungle of grass, weed and thistle attracts insects and small mammals, which in turn acts as a magnet for a diverse range of birds, so it’s not all bad. The cat is enjoying himself.