Thursday, November 27

Tonight's dinner

I’m not the wimpy sort when it comes to blood and gore, but if you’re hung-over, the last thing you want to do is walk into Mrs G’s kitchen when she’s disembowelling critters en masse. The floor is covered with newspapers, and she’s cling-filmed the work surface (she watches too much Dexter on TV). I think it looks more like a scene from Alien v Predator. It’s not so much the sticky mounds of entrails, those black congealed furry and feathery bits, or the haunting eyes, but more that gagging stench you get from the insides of well hung game - the pong is worse than dried out fishing nets. I used to do business with a medium-scale chicken producer years ago, and can still smell his production line of inverted birds en route to the knife. It’s a mucky old business, food.

Wednesday, November 26

Damp squib

Billed as the most important financial statement of my lifetime? What a basket case this Darling character is turning out to be – a poor man’s John Major, without the ‘I bonked Edwina’ cachet. I know, I know, I’m being unfair: it’s all Brown’s fault. But even an ignoramus like me could spot the pre-budget report was a loser; and no one out there had expected his deficit projections – borrowing £400 billion over the next five years. I’d already turned grey by the time we’d paid off the Yanks for WWII; the nephew’s kids will drawing their pension by the time we settle our sovereign-wealth-fund loans (always providing they’ll lend us the money). And you wonder why Jacqui Smith is issuing plod with 10,000 Tasers. There’s a lot of grief being stored up for when the Tories get their feet back under the counter. I know everyone else had said the same thing, but 2.5% off VAT: what’s the point? I was in an Exeter department store yesterday, carrying Mrs G’s shopping bags, and you couldn’t help noticing the prices: canteen of cutlery, reduced from £350 to £100; woman’s coat, down from £199 to £99... Everywhere bargain prices, but the store was empty, hardly anyone on the streets – and this is supposed to be Christmas shopping season.

Sunday, November 23

Back home

It is nice to be back home, even if the weather’s a bit on the breezy side. Slept for nine hours last night: am still getting over the trip: should have known better than to get into a drinking contest with an ex Sale man. Last thing I need to think about right now is more food (could do with a week on dry toast). As it happens, the neighbour’s dropped by with a brace of pheasants that he shot yesterday; thought he’d forgotten about us. Thankfully, they’ll need to hang for a few days: I’m not really in the mood for plucking and eviscerating wildlife. Also good to get back to the yard’s familiar feathered characters, although I managed a few ticks in the book whilst away. Apart from the common and herring gulls, there was a ridiculously large great black-backed gull on view. As you would expect, where fish are involved, lots of cormorants; also, grey herons and a little egret. Ring plovers, oystercatchers, curlews, and a couple of shelducks. Traipsed along the Camel estuary as far as Wadebridge, a fair enough hike – what with all the junk in my pack, before catching the bus back. I was the only guy who had to pay, who hadn’t a pass of one sort or another.

Saturday, November 22

Too much food

I’ve never been so glad to get home to a bowl of porridge. If I never see another oyster, crab or lobster again it won’t be too soon. So much for recession food. Mrs G. has acquired another diploma, signed by the Stein chap himself. She now knows the difference between sushi-grade tuna and the bog-standard variety, and can shuck oysters with the best of them. I teamed up with her compatriots during the evenings and drank far too much cheap wine - it seemed to go hand in hand with waving their Global knives about the place. Ate at Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, recently voted 10th best restaurant in Britain by the Restaurant Magazine, the top establishment in the southwest. Good service, but pretty basic stuff, sometimes poorly executed. The oysters were the best I’ve tasted in a while, but came with too many shell fragments and the odd milky variety. Everyone seemed to be tucking into curried lobster at £40 a throw. Tried their Singapore chilli crab, but you can’t beat the original; truth to tell, the Seafood Restaurant on Yarmouth’s North Quay is more to my taste. I’d had enough after two days, and ended up eating in a portacabin cafe on the quay that was full of dockers and lorry drivers.

Wednesday, November 19

Gone Fishing

Better keep this morning’s newspaper out of sight: M&S are to hold a 20%-off sale. It seems that whenever Mrs G. buys an article of clothing from M&S, it invariably fails to measure up; but what really pisses her off, gets the crockery flying, is discovering the sweater she bought last month has gone on sale for £30 less. If the economists are correct - and we are about to experience a period of deflation - I can confidently predict a run on china cups.

The Boss is away on a course, cooking at Rick Stein’s place in Padstow - filleting squid and boiling lobsters. I’m off with my fishing rod for a couple of action packed days in North Cornwall, home to Polkark, Doc Martin and Wycliffe. What chance it either blows a hoolie or lashes down.

Sunday, November 16

Herring-less

I’d never previously visited Clovelly. It’s a fishing village on the North Devon coast with a 14th century quay and some quaint customs. For a start it’s privately owned, by a single family. The quaint whitewashed homes are rented to suitable locals who, when not subverting European fishing quotas, spend their time looting wrecks and smuggling. At least that’s what the blurb at the visitor centre says. The place is too steep for motor vehicles, and the donkeys have been retired, so groceries and other consumables are transported up and down the alpine-like village streets by sledge. As you can imagine, it’s become something of a tourist attraction, and my previous reticence had a lot to do with the fear of being trampled by hoards of grannies from Wolverhampton. That, and the £11 parking fee!

However, today was the annual ‘Herring Festival’. Well, you know me and food. Mention the word ‘herring’ and I envisage Mrs G. frying batches of oatmeal encrusted fillets; serving them up in mustard sauce, with a dish of boiled spuds and a frosted glass of foaming lager. My years in Holland and Scandinavia have also imbued me with a taste for both the raw and cured varieties, and don’t get me started on bloaters and kippers. So when the Boss shook me awake and demanded to be driven to Clovelly I could already taste the mace and bay leaves.

Sucker that I am - I fall for these sorts of things every time. The foodie festival turned out to be a young lad selling Thai fishcakes and an old girl offloading her surplus of rhubarb jam. There was a wet-fish guy, but today I wanted mine cooked. And the lone soul frying herring at the back of the Red Lion was surrounded by a crowd six-deep and a TV crew. I’d have stuck around to see the headlining act, ‘The Singing Fishwives’, but after three rousing sea shanties from Hanging Johnny (a group of sea-going Wurzels) I decided to beat a hasty retreat, settling for a traditional Sunday lunch at the local hostelry. And after that, I promise never, ever again, to complain about the food at the Dog & Duck.

Thursday, November 13

Another rabbit story

Having given up on finding a supply of squirrel meat which hadn’t already been chewed over, I settled for substituting rabbit in that Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe I'd fancied. I never understood peoples reluctance to eat rabbit, until moving to Devon. It had always been a favourite of mine and a regular feature of maternal Grandmother’s cuisine. Back in my East Anglia days you could pick them up on the market for thirty-bob or so. Needless to say, at South London mansions the only rabbit I was able to lay my hands on was the superior sort that comes tagged with its very own serial number and a drapeau tricolore provenance. They also cost eight quid a pop. Hereabouts your rabbit is very much of the wild variety and arrives served up in differing degrees of ripeness. I’ve had one or two which tasted like they’d been subject to an exhumation. Even these latest specimens (from a good source) were pretty rank, my autopsy failing to determine whether they’d been blasted with a Remington, run over by that plonker in the Subaru, or beaten to death with a golf club. Anyway, I did the whole FW crap, marinating the beasts in a selection of exotic herbs and spices, before dusting the dismembered joints in seasoned flour and browning in bear grease. Having softened the usual mix of carrot-celery-onion and thrown in some chicken stock, I duly simmered for a couple of hours, removed the meat from the bones, and finished in a stock reduction/tomato sauce. And guess what: they were still shite! Waste not, want not: next time they get the jalfrezi treatment, with large portions of lime pickle.

Tuesday, November 11

Ships that pass in the night

There’s a room at the back of Ike Godsey’s which serves as a reminder to the old days. It’s an outrageous example of ’70s kitsch in various shades of orange, brown and yellow. The walls and ceiling are classic woodchip, pasted over blown plaster and surface-laid (re)wiring, and which – together with the nylon upholstered chrome furniture and garish strip lighting – is far more the tenement bedsit I recall from the period than any of that contemporary Scandinavian and Italian guff in the V&A. I was down there this morning (Godsey’s, not the V&A), and fell in with a character who was just passing through – en route to a family shindig in Cornwall. As you may have suspected, conversing with black-face sheep and Ruby Reds isn’t always as scintillating as I portray, and warm bodies with stories are like gold dust. Throw in a couple of pints and you can make a day of it. Anyway, said warm body was an ageing rocker – a 67 year old Status Quo facsimile (he could have been 47 and had just been through the wringer a couple of times), complete with ponytail, trainers, jeans and T-shirt. He’d spent 20 years running a pub in Highgate before disappearing with his third wife to her native Bogota, where he now resides – hence the stories. Unsurprisingly he failed to suggest any new answers to the pressing problems of our times, lamenting the decline of community values and demise of liquorice pipes with their bowls of hundreds and thousands.

A surprise call from a distant brother-in-law (I have seven). Distant in the sense he resides in the Shetland’s (or is it ‘on’ the Shetland’s?) and you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere in the immediate realm that’s further removed from West Devon. He’s a retired semi-pro footballer who now spends his time studying the breeding patterns of Atlantic Puffins and Northern Lapwings, sipping Sjolmet Stout and listening to Catriona MacDonald recitals on the wireless. He makes it sound a fun place. I’ve actually been there once – when another of the brothers convinced me to take his sister, Mrs G., on a weekend cruise. If I recall correctly (and I have no reason to dispute the veracity of the ship’s log, as we remained lashed to the bulkhead for the duration of the voyage) the run was completed in hurricane-force (12) conditions, a career first for all of us. Have kept my distance ever since.

Saturday, November 8

The Phillips conundrum

I knew Obama would start a flurry of ‘why it can’t happen here’ crap. Trevor Phillips, head of our Equality and Human Rights Commission, is the latest. I’m always willing to give this lad the time of day but he sends such confusing messages. Last month it was about white working class kids. Phillips says Barack Obama wouldn’t be elected in Britain because the country is ‘institutionally racist’? Not the general public, of course - we’re a nice enough bunch - just the characters that rule us. He then concedes that actually, no one has a problem with black people – would probably elect one to be prime minister if they put themselves forward - it’s only the Muslims we don’t like. ‘Muslims, to Britain’ he says, ‘are what blacks are to the USA.’ We’re particular about who we discriminate against, whilst everyone in America is prejudiced against everyone? Phillips believes the Tories are more inclusive because they are less democratic: Conservatives tell people how to behave - make them do as they’re told; the Labour Party allows unions, lefty intellectuals and socialist-societies (?) to continue their tribal hegemony, and to exclude. ‘Here, it's all to do with class. It is about culture, a different way of life and speaking.’ So... it’s not really about race after all, and down to knowing which fork to use, which books to read, the accent – having an Oxbridge (or conversely, a traditional salt-of-the-earth) background? Exactly what is he suggesting; he rules out positive discrimination, so what does he want to see happening?

Friday, November 7

Andouilles

Mrs G’s dog-eared copy of Jane Grigson’s ‘Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery’ is getting one of those periodic workouts - I must have gotten through at least a pound of tripe last night. Having already been served up a slice of tripes à l’Espagnole and à la Lyonnaise, the obvious next step was a dish of tripes à l’Italienne – or ‘Trippa alla Fiorentina’ to you and me. It must have taken her an age to prepare and cook, but it was a touch special. Best tomato sauce I’ve tasted in some time (she reckons the quality of the wine makes or breaks it), and a half-decent lump of parmesan for the accent. This recession-cooking business is proving fun, though I’m not sure how those partridges from a couple of nights ago made the list. Tonight’s an old favourite: boiled beef and carrots. Aside from the brisket, and herb dumplings, the pièce de résistance is a green sauce (even better than my chimichurri).

Thursday, November 6

Rusting autumn

Speckled thrushes and yellow beaked blackbirds have returned in numbers, attracted by the crab-apple tree in our yard. We’re also being courted by a sizeable flock of redwings, bent on stripping the hedge of its bright red berries. Everywhere is ankle-deep in acorns and there’s not a grey squirrel in sight (Deadeye Dick and his Remington). Fearnley-Whittingstall was on TV a couple of nights ago cooking large portions of the furry critter, but ours had already been snaffled by that pack of Tasmanian devils which live in the woods. I think Farmer Charles needs to put his grandson straight about our local wildlife, and the improbability of resident badgers cross-breeding with an escapee from a private zoo.

The Ponderosa’s fortunes are obviously on the up: someone has been let loose with a chainsaw, and the banks and hedgerows along the soggy bottom pasture resemble those remnant stumps of teeth that protrude from the gums of old Mick in the Dog & Duck. A zillion cords of beech, field maple and oak have been stacked behind the barn - a wood-burning stove’s on order. Stout lads are installing new fences and running out drums of pristine razor-sharp barbed wire amongst a rust-coloured spectacle of dying trees and corrugated sheds. Leaping white-tailed deer are already making light of the new barrier.

Wednesday, November 5

The media celebrates Obama’s win

There’s a marvellous photograph on Andrew Sullivan’s blog of an election sign beside an American freeway proclaiming ‘Even we’ve had enough: American Rednecks for Obama!’ I’m beginning to understand how they feel. For TV pundits and the media in general, this election must appear their equivalent of police overtime pay during a miner’s strike. Aside from the tendency to Kinnock-esque waffle, Obama looks and sounds a formidable man. He’s certainly bought a smile to my face. From the outset I couldn’t help but see him as anything other than an analogy of Rock Ridge’s Sheriff Bart, and even now expect Gene Wilder to pop up from behind him waving a six-gun. It also smacks of Britain at the end of the 80s - that desire for change which brought Blair to prominence. Let’s hope this lad’s made of sterner stuff and it isn’t all talk. Doubtless Obama will have his detractors, not least that of Hedley Lamarr and his band of rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, half-wits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswagglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass kickers, shit kickers and Methodists, and every other kind of stock movie villain.

Tuesday, November 4

The ecclesiastical Columbo

They used to say that police became corrupt as a consequence of their constant exposure to crime. Familiarity led to a casual acceptance and to subsequent temptation. I’m starting to view our ecclesiastical brethren in a similar manner. Not that they’re up to no good, you understand, it's more their tendency to mimic the downtrodden and dispossessed. Having bumped into two members of the clergy this past week, one male and one female, I was a touch taken-back by the slovenly appearance. Whilst appreciating the job doesn’t pay well and that I’m hardly a poster boy for Gieves & Hawkes myself these days, soap and water and flat irons appear to have become optional extras at the vestry. Ministering to people sleeping in shop doorways may be the thing, but adopting a sympathetic state of dress doesn’t have to be compulsory. It got me to wondering about whom it is that signs up for the post in these enlightened times. Being a vicar was once a semi-respectable profession - in the sense that if you failed to inherit the family pile or didn’t fancy fame and fortune with the hussars or on a tea plantation, some compliant uncle secured you a cushy number distributing wafers to the committed and sound advice to the needy. However, since the State has all but taken over the role of welfare, and now – at our expense – provides significantly more-attractive career options for those individuals so inclined, what – apart from God – is the attraction?

Sunday, November 2

The Trotters

The kids were off and as you would expect there's been a lot more traffic on the roads. Queues at yesterday's farmers’ market were less of a problem. Whilst consumption of ‘artisan’ food is largely a middle-class affection, even the golf-club crowd is a touch brassic these days. Unless you produce it yourself, rural incomes fall short of rare-breed pork and hand-crafted goats cheese. As if to accommodate these changing times, I'm told today’s special from the Boss's kitchen is a pot of slow-braised (5 hrs) swaddled pig’s trotters (they're bound up like Egyptian mummies) in an eye-watering (piquant) vinaigrette. Gloucester old spot, from a local farmer. I’m starting to look like that fat copper on TV who used to run a restaurant.

Saturday, November 1

Other people

Thanks to the internet I’ve almost given up on purchasing newspapers. I buy a daily for Mrs G. so she can flit through the crossword, though today’s Times was worth the price if only for that unbelievable front page photograph of Laurent Nkunda. I can’t believe we may be sending guys to that bloody awful continent to sort another UN problem. Not that you can blame the local lads on the ground: they’ve probably been give jack-shit in the way of equipment and support. Anyway, I do splash out on Saturdays for the FT - if only for the arts; and when my ISAs have sunk without trace, for a glimpse of the highlife. It’s nice to know people are still buying large chunks of the pampas and $20-30m paintings. Today’s contents (unbelievably) included a ‘How to spend it’ magazine containing 96 pages of in-flight advertising, featuring trinkets from Chopard, Dior, IWC and Louis Vuitton. It’s probably aimed at the sort of punters who can still spring for 31% of Barclays and Manchester City, European commissioners on expenses, and professional sportsmen; though there’s a good article on Triumph Bonnevilles.

Quantum of style

The mantelpiece has begun to fill with seasonal invitations: gallery exhibitions, parties and dinners. Our most recent is for a glittering gala champagne reception, hosted by Mr Michelin two-star himself: Christmas with Caines. The prescribed dress is ‘black-untied’, and I’m not sure what that means? I try to picture myself as an insouciant Daniel Craig look-a-like, dressed in my tux with bow tie askew; Mrs G. alongside in one of her Caroline Charles’ numbers, a ringlet of hair casually arranged across the forehead. Must seek the advice of my fashion guru, Farmer Charles. Heaven forbid I commit some social faux-pas at one of the local jollies.