Saturday, August 30

Almost a Betjeman moment

A plague of slugs litters the yard; caramel bodies, ebony horns. The morning’s sky a vivid violet haze which, like blotting paper, leeches into the inky blue-black of another approaching storm. Took an early morning walk across the farm with only a crow and the tinkling flight of a thistle finch for company. Pools of red oxide and straw coloured wheat stacks pepper the Ponderosa's green-yellow fields. Not something I could photograph; would probably take a 19th C. impressionist to do justice to the scene. Penetrating the rural maze of blackthorn hedges gains access to forgotten paddocks and is rewarded by the sight of grazing red deer and young buzzards hunting amongst the culm grass and thistles. In the distance, baying hounds from the local pack, out exercising. The weekend beckons.

Friday, August 29

Nit picking

A drink at The Royal Oak Inn, Meavy. Nice enough place but without the lunchtime trade to generate much in the way of atmosphere. Still, beggars can’t be choosers - and I was gasping. Good range of beers, including an excellent IPA from Princetown. Two out of ten for the ploughman’s. Wet cheese from the fridge, half a stale apple, two crappy pickled onions and some revolting bread. For eight fucking quid a throw! Winds you up. About the only two things I missed, early days, here in the sticks, was decent coffee and quality bread. We cracked the coffee long ago - and Mrs G. bakes some first class stuff, but I do regret the absence of those Italian bakers and the convenience of having De Gustibus around the corner. I know, I know, if that’s all I’ve got to moan about why don’t I shut the f…

Although no bonfire, tonight’s supper’s a Groaty Dick.

Thursday, August 28

Break out the chimichurri

I’m on kitchen duty and Madam has requested beef. Fortunately, our freezer is overflowing with the spoils from Plymouth’s recent food festival. But what to cook..? Some of the finest meat dishes I’ve eaten was during my spell of painting & decorating in Argentina. No place for vegetarians, their asado is ‘the business’. Giant slabs of steak and ribs, and - being a Black Country boy - accompanied by large portions of chinchulines and mollejas. Enjoyed the football but, good lads that they are, I could never quite come to terms with all that male hugging and kissing; and they can’t drink worth a shit. Still, I have the memories which, together with a local cook book and my Julio Iglesias CD, should be sufficient for tonight’s supper.

Update: even if, or especially because it’s only ‘braised’ beef, buy the best you can afford - it makes a big difference (this last lot came from Wyld Meadow Farm, Bridport); and whilst Asado provides a good chimichurri recipe (you need it to cut through the richness of the meat), best avoid prior to a dental appointment. Remember to take the tag off before cooking.

Wednesday, August 27

Bottling taboos

The Guardian’s Zoe Williams muses over Paxman’s reticence to come right out and tell it like it is. Would that he could. By the time you reach a certain age, have been around the block a few times, you'll have accumulated countless friends, relatives, neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances - people from most every walk of life, be it gender, race, nationality, sexual preference, political persuasion... whatever. With so many people to please (or wish not to offend), you begin to suspect that saying almost anything is likely to be seen as some form of discouragement to one or other individual deemed less fortunate (i.e. not English or male), and be held in abeyance as an example of your prejudice, political incorrectness or even as a potential hate crime. Accordingly, and - fun though it may be to call a spade a spade, you feel obliged to bite your tongue, keep shtum. It's also about being polite, I suppose. Good job they can’t police your thoughts; and here’s hoping my diaries never see the light of day.

The Spies Of Warsaw

Another satisfactory fix of the European-theatre, pre-war spy scene, circa 1937. There’s something much more satisfying, more manly, about Alan Furst’s heroes than Faulk’s Bond. The product placement that appears so crucial to modern writers, more restrained; though the women, the lovers, appear no less a stereotype. It’s my 10th novel from this character and, whilst not quite in the same league as some of the previous, does not disappoint. He’s great at atmosphere and location; but then, Furst operates on my favourite ground, particularly in Paris - the Brasserie Henninger, for instance, a familiar (if fictitious) landscape. Puts the current Georgian playground spat into perspective. Amazing how many people assume you're Polish if born a Saddler.

Tuesday, August 26

Crow photograph

A more scholarly site featuring one of my pics. Interesting, if you're into Carrion Crows.

Biting the hand that feeds you

Silence returns to the Ponderosa and another door on the world closes, only tyre treads and crumbs remain. I’d forgotten how much the old girl relied on bread as a stomach filler when we were kids - until this weekend, that is. I watched in awe as our diminutive size 4 guest helped demolish two home-baked loaves (rye), a dozen bagels, eight croissants, twelve soft white baps, and two ciabattas, using apple cake and scones to top off. I’m kidding: we never got around to the bagels - so guess what I’m existing on for the remainder of this week. And just as that irritating nerk Jamie Oliver moves to the top of my ‘smart Alec who needs a slap ’round the ear’ listing, for his crack to the Frogs about the poverty of England’s culture (as displayed by the average punter’s drinking and/or eating habits) and his assertion that people dine better in Soweto than good old Albion. With two GCSEs, a diploma in pancakes and £25m in the bank, I guess our boy sees Chav-bashing as the best way of sucking up to local prejudice and promoting his new French-based TV project?

Monday, August 25

It’s grim up north

And it ain’t much better down ’ere. Although our weekend guests have been enjoyable company, I suspect their patience with the southwest’s inclement weather has finally snapped. Five visits: five tropical storms. Whilst recalling somewhat similar childhood experiences featuring rain-drenched piers and chilly beaches, these days, life’s too short. Like most other people, our visitors have probably learnt their lesson, and - particularly after this summer, will forgo the luxury of eating and heating, to return to the warmth of the Mediterranean. At least it remained dry during yesterday’s fête. Having lost in the Wellington-throwing contest and failed at chipping golf balls into a ridiculously large bucket, I redeemed myself at skittles, and won a gorilla's bollock on the coconut shy. Impressed with a fine turn of speed after taking a shortcut across the neighbouring farm and being charged by a dozen young bullocks. Imagine yourself head-butted by an excitable pack of half-ton puppies, with only an empty IPA bottle to defend yourself.

Friday, August 22

Granddads R Us

This morning’s newspapers bang on about Britain being home to more pensioners than children. I thought this was what we were aiming for, a cause for celebration? If we are facing an environmental catastrophe, slowing the birth rate and reducing the population is one of our most pressing requirements. The argument that there’ll be insufficient (young) tax-paying workers to support the pensions and health care of an ageing population can easily be addressed through increased productivity, and encouraging the over 50s to continue in employment. Most would still be working if they hadn’t been replaced by pimply-faced kids or migrants, at a fraction of the cost. If it's good enough for Terry Wogan, Kirsty Wark and Mick Jagger, why not for other old folk?

Update: after reading today’s news from Brussels you can forget all this guff about an aging society. The commission now estimates UK’s population is set to rise by a quarter - to 77 million, as waves of cheery souls from Bongo-Bongo land continue to arrive and to breed like bunny rabbits.

Thursday, August 21

Failing schools and GCSE results

No use pointing the finger, we are what we make of ourselves. However, you’d hope the least the state could do, given their virtual monopoly on education, is to teach kids to read & write. Lord Adonis of Camden Town admits the 20% of 16 year olds who fail to attain these basic skills remains the government’s biggest failure. The Tory’s claim - that 1.9 million have left school in the last 10 years without a C pass, will doubtless be reinforced (or not) by today’s GCSE results. Attracting sufficient high-calibre teachers and competent heads continues to be identified as the principal cause of failure for students from Crap Street Comprehensive. However, in the days of yore, those thickos from 3c had no chance of ever passing a GCE - no matter how many Mr Chips you threw their way. Not sure why it should be any different in the modern era. Unless, of course, GCSEs have been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator (Adonis insists that a minimum of five A-C grades are within the grasp of every pupil). Then it really would be a scandal.

Wednesday, August 20

Water consumption

Britain may have become the sixth largest net-importer of water but it has sod-all to do with Moroccan tomatoes. Here in the southwest it comes direct from the Atlantic ocean; bucketfuls of the stuff are dumped on my roof every morning. And whatever we use is more than replenished by melting icecaps. OK, I get the point about imported agricultural water and I’m happy to purchase local produce - insist on it. However, refusing to do business with Egypt and Pakistan because it offends my environmental sensibilities seems a touch self-righteous (although I’m gratified to see the Quik-E-Mart behaving responsibly and attempting to be proactive). As for eating more broccoli… not a chance. Like as not I suppose the debate will now move to that thorny question of viable populations.

Tuesday, August 19

Frying tonight

This morning’s queue for Lundy cod at the itinerate fisherman’s van was dangerously close to Northern Rock proportions. Holidaying folk, I guess. Gave the plants a miss as the ground’s too wet to... plant, and I’ve still to face the music over Mrs G's courgettes. The cuttings I acquired from one of my dubious acquaintances (the ones she lovingly potted out back and has been tending these past weeks) have now started to sprout - and courgettes they’re not.

There was a cautious air of optimism at today’s crowded livestock market as the price of Muscovy ducks bottomed out and aggressive bidding led to a run on pullets. However, any thought of our being over the worst was dispelled by Ken Rogoff’s comments from Singapore. As a Harvard professor and ex-chief economist for the IMF, the lad knows a thing or two about onions. He warns we ain’t seen the half of it, and that during the coming months one the major banks will go belly-up. Needless to say, financials have nose-dived; and I’m casting a concerned eye over the Nat West.

Monday, August 18

Don't know you're born

Yet more irritating knee-jerk anti-Thatcher comment. It’s not difficult for me to understand Putin’s popularity with the Russian electorate. Casting my mind back to those grim old days of the 70s - when most current-day thirty-somethings were still sucking Jubblies - Britain was a god-awful place. I’m talking about the era following our three-day week. At that time the painting & decorating business was very much an international concern and I found myself working alongside German, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Danish and American lads. Although it was our patch, the business was dominated by other nationalities - ostensibly because they were quicker off the mark and delivered a better product. Britain was viewed the sick man of Europe, a third-world country. Buddies that they were, derisory comments from our fraternal brothers were very much the natural order of things. Whatever repugnant remarks you’ve heard in recent times directed at migrant Poles, Latvians, Bulgarians, etc., were nothing to the crap we took. Thatcher turned this joke into the fourth or fifth richest country in the world. If she’d have eaten live babies for breakfast you’d have probably forgiven her. Putin and the Russians are a different kettle of fish, but you get the drift.

The Bolshies

Given Max Hastings’s background and advancing years I’m more than happy to accept his informed take on our eastern neighbours. Russia’s yearning for respect is understandable. Like post-war Britain, they resent the loss of self-esteem which accompanied their empire. And let’s face it, after spending close to a century eliminating anyone who bore a vague resemblance to Noel Coward or spoke with the rounded vowels of Brian Sewell, it’s hardly surprising their nouveau riche proletariat has acquired some of the same chippy insecurities and bolshie aggression of 70-80s Britain. Western indifference (at times contemptuous), only enhances Russian hang-ups. Whilst oil & gas resources will enable them to rebuild their armed forces - and although the days of being a super-power are long gone - for the foreseeable future Russia’s going to be a pain in the backsides. Hastings’s assessment is probably correct in that the West is unlikely to call their bluff on Georgia. Jaw-jaw rather than war-war is the game of the future. And like as not we’re going to have to accept we’ll win a few and loose a few - and unlike Russia, learn to do so gracefully. For the moment they appear to have done us a favour by showing their hand too soon. My only fear is the lightweight team at Westminster, and how long it will take for us to get our hands on some decent poker players. Wouldn’t trust Miliband and McPlonker to win a game of snap.

Sunday, August 17

Halesowen

I’m most of the way through ‘Halesowen: A History’ - gift from a resident sibling. It opens with a description by John Noakes (1854) which refers to a town that ‘abounds with curious specimens of half-timbered houses… contrasting most favourably with the dingy, flat brick walls of some modern edifices, among which a Zion chapel rears its plain but untactful proportions.’ The foreword then goes on to confirm that all except one of the houses and most of the modern edifices have long since disappeared, except of course the Zion chapel - which is now a listed building. Looking back through the photographs you realise that people rarely appreciate what they have until it’s gone; before wryly accepting that nostalgia, more often that not, is a luxury afforded by affluence. That said, I’m still inclined to cut the nuts from those councillors who decided architectural heritage shouldn't impede ‘progress’.

More boom-boom-boom

The computer’s CD transport finally gave up the ghost (the screen is also slipping away). Following a week’s indecision I chose to outsource my office music to one of those mini-systems that can be comfortably accommodated on a shelf. After blowing £4.10 on What Hi-Fi and taking a quick tour ’round the net, I settled for a recommended budget unit and pair of up-rated speakers from a shop on the banks of the River Severn. Unfortunately, the machine in question turned out to be a little larger than anticipated - being twice the depth of the shelf it was supposed to reside on. After the limitations of the computer’s transport and speakers, the Onkyo is a huge improvement; so much so (and having had the flaws in certain so-called remastered CDs painfully exposed) I now wish I’d gone for an even more-sophisticated sound. At least the office swings again.

Friday, August 15

Plymouth Flavour Fest

What a day; thought Friday sessions were a thing of the past. And as luck would have it, the sun shone - we were able to forgo the Wellingtons. Billed as a highlight of the southwest’s food & drink calendar the festival boasts 100-odd stalls, most of which are promoting local produce. Kicked off at the Bigbury Bay Oyster stall with half-dozen of the freshly shucked suckers, a quick body-swerve to St Austell’s stand for a pint or two of Tribute, and I was off and running. Duck burgers, pork cobs, saucisse herb en croûtes (sausage rolls) and Pad Thai noodles - before alighting at Gaymer’s bar. A number of small independent cider makers are also exhibiting, hence my returning home with a flagon or two of murky looking liquid that had been pressed through straw, as tradition dictates (together with some decent wild beef from Dorset and a couple of pounds of minced veal for Mrs G’s spaghetti sauce). Usual TV presenters and celebrity cooks in attendance. Good atmosphere, with a large screen featuring the Olympics. Well worth a visit.

Recession food

Wish I could remember where I ended up yesterday after Barnstaple. Wherever it was they served a nice pint and some half-decent food. The special was slow-braised belly of pork - something of a signature dish for pretendy cooks everywhere. Pork belly was a staple when we were kids, primarily because it was cheap. And I mean pennies. Unfortunately - as with so many ‘budget’ cuts of meat - some pan-boiling smart-arse on TV decides it’s cool to eat peasant food (I blame Elizabeth David), and every Abigail’s dinner party between here and Sevenoaks joins in on the chase. Needless to say, the first thing your butcher does is make free with his eraser and chalk up the cost of sausages.

Southern migration

Policy Exchange’s assessment that it’s grim up north was reinforced by yesterday’s A-level results, highlighting gaps in educational attainment: a 19.8% pass rate in the north east, for instance, against 29.1 in the south east. Reasons for the difference are cited as the south having a bigger pool of the brightest and best from which to choose; together with increased parental wealth, expectations and motivation. The supposition is that the north’s pool of talent will continue to decline, as significant numbers of the more talented from successive generations gravitate south, or abroad. At least that’s preferred wisdom… But just as Harold Wilson thought a week in politics to be a long time, a decade or two could see significant changes to lifestyles, regional economies and demographics. If everything was a one way bet, non of us would make any money. What’s certain is that it will get progressively worse up north before it gets better: the last ten years have seen a disproportionate amount of public money being diverted to traditional labour constituencies: money (it is presumed) that will be targeted elsewhere by the Tories (given the economy's already heading south). Of course, Cameron with his 'One Nation Conservatism' could always prove to be a bigger redistribution nut than Brown? Better keep a tight hold on our wallets, just in case.

Thursday, August 14

Not Rocket Science

According to a report by The Office of National Statistics, two-thirds of the gender earnings divide is due to ‘unobservable’ factors such as (ironically) superior male education qualifications, and motivation. This divide seems to be amplified in manufacturing, where men make up 75% of those reading for manufacturing-related degrees, fill 97% of modern apprenticeship vacancies (in manufacturing and engineering), and comprise 94% of professional engineers. A larger wage premium (for males) is also evident in finance, mining and quarrying, energy and water, and agriculture and fishing. The one area where female wage premiums do predominate is, as you’ve guessed, the public sector. The answer to gender pay disparity appears (to an ignoramus like Gudgeon) to be less about increasing the wages of classroom assistants and more to do with encouraging girls to study mathematics, engineering and applied sciences.

Wednesday, August 13

Sunshine, lollypops and…

Fools… thought you’d save a few bob and holiday in the UK this year? A near hurricane strength storm is currently driving large portions of the Atlantic ocean into the barn’s lichen-stained stone walls. We remain inside, battened down warm and safe with our pick-up sticks and tinned goods. Anyone rash enough to be staying in a tent or caravan this week must be done for. Tomorrow's show is cancelled, for the second year running. Believe it or not, the window cleaner is outside on his ladder.

Am back on short stories. Much of my reading is done at night, in bed - half a dozen pages and I’m out. This restriction on my literary material is partly prescribed by the Boss, who doesn’t like her sleep disturbed by my chuckling through to the early hours. Something occasionally catches my eye and I go for a single take - last night, for instance, with Deaver’s The Blue Nowhere. Hooked after the first chapter, it took me until 05:00 to finish. It’s a pulp fiction, about computer hackers; and given what I know on the subject of IT can be written across a pinhead, as believable as anything I see in the press. Correct or not, I work on the assumption that any determined soul can access my machine, whatever the fire walls - and act accordingly. Yet this morning’s Times story, that councils and health authorities are to be give the right to access my e-mail and internet records, couldn’t but serve as a wind up.

Tuesday, August 12

Personal grooming

I suspected a difficult day the moment a flat battery in my nose-hair trimmer caused my eyes to begin watering. I’d acquired this handy little instrument when new spectacles revealed the treasured Elvis sideburns were being enhanced by a growth of rogue vegetation, sprouting from my ears. I used to have a hairdresser that took care of these things but here in the sticks barbers are as rare as hens’ teeth. Whilst newspaper columnists may bemoan the advent of vocational diplomas, I suspect it’s the shortage of crimpers we need to address, not historians. Feeling the necessity to continue my makeover I called our dentist to book an appointment with the hygienist - only to be told she was now taking bookings for January 2009. The dentist is on his yacht.

Monday, August 11

Older, no wiser

Well, that’s another birthday out the way. The celebration highlight was a typical Sunday lunch at the Dog & Duck. Whatever their meals lack in quality - and in truth they’re not bad - is more than made up in quantity (the additional gravy boat seemed a mite superfluous). Staggered home to sleep it off in front of Film 4’s Rio Grande and Carry On Up The Khyber. Woke up to discover Isaak Hayes hadn’t. Ah, Shaft - what memories. The original 45 I bought in '71 is in a box beneath the desk. Wonder what happened to the black leather coat? Spent most of my time those days skulking about Rheinland forests waiting for the Russian tanks to arrive. Nothing much changes, eh?

Sunday, August 10

Big deal or not

Two stories caught my eye this week. One related to the absence of male primary school teachers (to the presumed detriment of boys?). The second questioned the ability of students obtaining A grade passes in music, sans crotchets and quavers. I was thinking about this again, last night, whilst listening to the proms on BBC2. The programme featured their concert orchestra playing classical jazz (excellent performances from Michael Collins on clarinet and Matt Skelton on drums). Guess I was wondering how big a TV audience it had in comparison to the two rival channels that were showing Last Choir Standing and Who Dares Sings. And does it really matter, reading music, learning to spell… the absence of social mobility?

My contemporaries and I were educated at primary level by a stalwart team of ladies, led by the archetypal spinster careerist who was supported by a jolly-hockey-sticks type on her one shoulder and a sadistic wimple-masked enforcer on the other. They were a proficient team who taught kids to read music, dance, perform on stage, to play football and dangle from climbing frames. It seems unfair to now start pointing the finger, just because the old girls didn’t wear trousers. And do we really want our boys to be influenced by the sort of man who’d choose to teach in a primary school?

Saturday, August 9

Back in the real world

Enough of the Olympics. It's another day, another… season. After a month or two’s reflection, a couple of new additions to the post-Premiership squad and an Austrian tour, maybe McLeish feels the Blues are becoming his team as opposed to something he inherited. Everyone is tipping Birmingham as promotion favourites, which ain’t good. Still, maybe a bit of arrogance might work? Leading from the front, etc? Nah, p’rhaps not. Big chance for Captain Carsley, with Damien Johnson out. The chip butty crowd are down for the season’s opener, sans Beattie and Gillespie, but doubtless reinvigorated under Blackwell.

Friday, August 8

Monte Carlo or Bust

The ’69 film cast included Peter Cook, Eric Sykes, and everyone's favourite cad, Terry-Thomas. This 2008 remake co-stars a drinking buddy. Send him your beer money and support a good cause - especially if you’re a motorcyclist, there’s a chance you may need Headway at some stage in the future.

Olympics start today

Whilst acknowledging a decline in interest due to the cynicism that surrounds drug taking, Simon Barnes, a Times correspondent, believes the Olympics remains un-look-away-able (sic). I’m not so sure. I would have been glued to the TV years ago, but then I also went to Crystal Palace, Wembley and Meadowbank to watch live amateur sport. Athletics was the big pull, along with boxing; the former being what Olympics is really about, in most people’s eyes. Guess we’re short of heroes these days, someone to identify with, capable of capturing popular attention. I wish the Chinese lads well - they’ve invested a lot of effort, but after the opening ceremony all that most people will probably do is bitch about the disruption to their regular TV programming. For me it’s about the clean & jerk and the snatch; and the boxing, of course.

Longevity

Spent yesterday afternoon in Exeter Cathedral. Well worth the £4 entrance fee. Always fascinated by the details of those that are buried or commemorated on these sites. You forget how many wars that we fought over the years and how many lives they accounted for. The surprise is not the twenty-somethings that took a bullet for King & Country during the 19th Century, but the Admirals of the Blue-White-Red who actually managed to live to a ripe old age. What was their secret, and did they get their cholesterol checked as often as I do? My grandfather was already pushing 40 at the outbreak of the first world war, yet still working when I used to stay with him as a kid during summer holidays. Open blade razor, leather strop hanging on the kitchen door; stout boots, waistcoats and studded collars.

House prices back to 2006

A somewhat cooler wind appears to be blowing through the south west property market, though sales are seemingly up. The froth has disappeared as second home owners reconsider the advisability of maintaining multiple homes and decide to sell. Conversely, inwards migration from cities as far apart as Bristol, Birmingham and Leeds continues apace; though Londoners, property agents say, are noticeably absent. Prices might be down but agents are ecstatic about the increase in transactions; they’d been working a three-day week, the part-time staff paid off. Vendors’ ambitions are noticeably more realistic; and let’s face it, a commission on 80% of last year’s price is better than no sale at all. My own take is that there has been a 30% reduction in the asking price of lemons (and they’re still not selling), but choice property in the right location is still attracting competitive bids. Suspect there’s a lot of buyers on the sidelines whose patience is beginning to wear, and not all are comfortable with the banks that are holding their cash.

Wednesday, August 6

The North Devon Show

Another tick on the calendar of south west extravaganzas. Something of a rural showcase, as you would expect; farmers, their livestock, and suppliers of agricultural equipment and supplies.Heavy duty mud throughout the site: Wellington boots are a must; do not turn up in sandals, Crocks or trainers - as many visitors did. Plenty of stalls selling the usual tat. There’s a beer tent. And you won’t go hungry, providing you’re not too fussy. But it’s primarily about the animals: cattle, sheep and horses; an opportunity for the local farming community to meet up and win a couple of rosettes. For civilians like myself there’s a chance to climb onboard the latest and greatest in tractors, munch my way through the old girls cake stall, and buy some decent steak for dinner. Animals aren’t necessarily my thing but, I’m always comfortable in amongst the stock pens: it’s the straw, barley… these places, to me, smell just like a brewery.

Tuesday, August 5

Only cats eat cream?

My continuing physical decline is never more evident than during the three mile trek across country, en route home from the Dog & Duck. That geek off of Numbers probably has a mathematical calculation which determines how many pints of Sam’s cider a body can consume before the hills, river, and those hedges become un-navigable. Thankfully, I haven’t quite got there yet. Today’s strange encounters included a girl and her dog. The pub was full of wet dogs (I smell like a shepherd). She sauntered into the bar and ordered a large Scotch for herself and a Baileys Irish Cream for the mutt. Obviously a tough day with the ewes?

Wet Wet Wet: I don’t think so

Well that’s put the kibosh on the property market. Any thoughts that I or anyone else had of buying a home is now on ice: Captain Titanic has suggested a temporary suspension of stamp duty. No one’s going to buy anything with that in the offing. Estate agents must be pulling their hair out.

Talking of ice… despite my being a confirmed sceptic of global warming and anything smelling faintly of Al Gore or scientists on the make, our last two summers have given cause for a radical rethink. Whilst originally enthusiastic about the possibility of Mediterranean Blighty, these tropical rainstorms are becoming something of a pain. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived in Wales and Scotland during prolonged periods of what we loosely describe as inclement weather - and there are times when I actually enjoy walking in the rain, feeling that refreshing spray on my face, the smell of damp earth, the sound that rain makes on a corrugated roof. But enough is enough. If this is set to continue then it’s bugger the carbon footprint and hullo British Airways.

Movie day

Nothing worth seeing at this week’s matinee. Last Tuesday’s ‘Dark Knight’ was pretty good (they upped the admission price to £6!). Not as violent a film as is being portrayed in the press; something of ‘The A Team Goes Wild’. Have no idea what happens inside of an average 12 year-old’s head so I wouldn’t know if it’s suitable or not. Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is, as everyone concedes, a bit special; and Michael Caine, as always, a joy to watch. Morgan Freeman (like Samuel L. Jackson) has become so ubiquitous I immediately tune him out. Regretfully, no Kim Basinger.

Monday, August 4

Three strikes and…

Stopped off for a pint en route home, at The Tavistock Inn, Poundsgate - the west side of Dartmoor. It’s the third time I’ve tried Otter Bitter - billed as being brewed for no frills drinking (bog standard low gravity beer?). A wonderful old fashioned ‘session’ beer, beautifully light and fruity with hoppy bitterness… (sic). Rank slops is about the best I can say in describing the pint I was served; the worse tasting beer I've tried in a long, long time. I’m not pointing the finger but, either the landlord or the brewer is missing something. Then again, maybe it’s just not to my taste.

Wait ’til your father gets home

Looking back on the early days of ‘parenting classes’, which are soon to be rolled out across the country, Warwick University (report to the government) is - as you would expect - generally positive. Unfortunately, of the 3,575 'parents' who’ve attended, only 1 in 8 have been fathers. Largely misses the point then? Who'd have though it would be so difficult to persuade men to give up valuable drinking time in order to sit in a room full of women and be lectured by some patronising girl from the local polytechnic, on how to bring up your kids.

Solzhenitsyn finally popped his clogs. Truth to tell I thought the old guy had expired long ago. Can only conclude that, having lasted this long, he must have benefited from all of that chilly air, hard labour and tepid gruel. ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ was one of those books you covered during your teenage brush with the left, when - to a background of folk music and protest songs, and in an attempt to validate Gypsy Lane - you discovered Robert Tressell and George Orwell. Having subsequently determined that fascists came cloaked in a variety of colours, you grew up, moved on.

Sunday, August 3

Mutton dressed as beef

The Kwik-E-Mart may be bereft of ‘frozen’ broad beans but there’s no shortage of fresh produce at the markets. Have eaten more than my share this summer. Yesterday’s Farmers’ Market at Crediton was a little sparse, though the freezer’s now stocked with venison sausage, rare breed critters and corn-coloured duck legs. The smoked eel should prove interesting; hopefully better than his smoked fish pâté (what’s with the margarine?). Unusual cuts of meat: a ‘tag of beef’, for instance, being a choice joint of rump steak that the farmer supposedly keeps for himself; and a ‘leg of mutton’ joint (of beef) that looks like topside, but is longer and slimmer. ‘What would the Drings make of it?’ I ask myself.

Fledglings

I’ve gave up on bird feeders after they were destroyed by our rodent terrorists. Despite executing nine of the little bastards, they just keep coming. Their attempts to gain entry to the barn is evidenced on window frames and doors.I’m back to scattering seed about the yard, the effect being almost Trafalgar-Square-like. Nuthatches, bluetits, robins, greenfinches, sparrows, chaffinches… all descend from the crab apple trees. The crows and woodpeckers (three at a time) wait until I’m back indoors before taking over. An astonishing plague of fledglings. Sparrowhawks are having a field day. Overhead is thick with swallows, feeding their young on the wing; others patiently wait their turn, balanced precariously on swaying telegraph wires. Neighbourhood cats pursue their own more attractive hunting grounds.