Friday, January 30

Shameless to build council houses

Headless chicken confirms it was all Clinton’s fault and that, on our behalf, he intends to borrow yet more billions, to build council houses to accommodate the casualties of the subprime mortgage industry. Social housing is when you build low cost and low rent properties in mixed communities; council estates tend to become ghettos of despair in which to park your problems. Another day another sound-bite from an incontinent pillock who will have departed long before any of his deluded schemes can come to fruition. Not content with the probability of losing the next election, he seems intent on going out with a bang and consigning the Labour party to generational history.

Thursday, January 29

Why bother

England has an unacceptably high number of people who cannot read, write or count, MPs said. The Public Accounts Committee said that more than five million were illiterate and nearly seven million innumerate despite government spending of £5 billion on the problem between 2001 and 2007. Not that it harmed David Page's career; until now, that is (you'd think lessons would have been learned after the shambles over junior doctors). Given what I’ve heard so far from punters attending Davos, competence in reading, writing and arithmetic is no sure guide to anything.

Grumpy Old Man

First it was McPlonker promising to retrain thousands of unemployed city lawyers and accountants in the ancient skills of loft lagging; then the Scottish executive has its budget pulled after refusing to meet the tree-huggers blackmail demands for one hundred million quid’s worth of eight inch fibreglass matting! You can only but admire this 21st Century high-tech economy that we're creating. With sleazeballs like ‘Lord’ Taylor touting for backhanders as a legislative fixer, and Brown reportedly blubbing to his MPs and close to breakdown, it’s no wonder we’re itching for payback. By the time the election comes around and another several hundred thousand punters have lost their jobs, I doubt there’ll be one single government MP confident of retaining his seat.

Wednesday, January 28

Recession spring

Surrounded by daffodils, like guests at the wrong party, our drooping white snowdrops make their belated appearance. A rash burst of sunshine to mark the occasion has pushed temperatures into double figures, causing an epidemic of t-shirts and dark specs around the village. Signs of the recession begin to surface as the Dog & Duck slashes beer prices and the cafe is reduced to substituting stale bread in their toasted cheese & onion sandwiches.

Monday, January 26

More news on the booze front

Following on from the news that wealthy men get more than their fair share of nookie, it transpires that a couple of swift ones can assist men in delivering the goods. With this morning’s confirmation that we are twice as likely as women to become alcoholics, I guess we can expect to see Harriet Harperson pushing for subsidies on Babycham to level the playing field.

Saturday, January 24

Facing up to the new year

Looking back, my festive season seems to have sank without trace once the empties had departed for the bottle bank; and despite the consolation of seeing the smile wiped from McPlonker’s face, I’ve already witnessed more than enough of that nightmare on Threadneedle Street. I am persuaded our economic troubles are the consequence of Harry Enfield’s ‘loads of money’ 80’s yuppies coming of age and entering senior management. For what it’s worth I continue to follow the Daily Scandal Sheet’s money pages, assiduously scanning brokers’ advice on the advisability of persisting with bank shares, bailing in and out of bonds, the fortunes of floating rate notes, and the attraction of pound cost averaging; but with returns on my NSI account now reduced to 0.45% points, today’s Lex column Micawbernation rings increasingly true. The good news is that I’m not planning any trips to Miami or Nice; the exchange rate would doubtless consign me to an existence on Subway sandwiches.

Birdwatch

Grief, the time flies. I remember completing my last survey for the yard – and it seems not much more than five minutes ago. Bird lovers across Britain are set to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the RSPB. The annual birdwatching survey was started by the RSPB 30 years ago, and almost half a million people are expected to get involved. They will see how many birds they can spot and identify in their garden or a nearby park for one hour this weekend.

Tuesday, January 20

Obama Day.

Never has so much been seemingly invested by so many in just one man. To a significant number, including, I suspect, the majority under 40, he’s already a quasi mythical figure whom today the world anoints. Hard to believe that if McCain hadn’t appeared so inept at the time the economy nose-dived, Obama could be history. Yep, it really is the economy, stupid. This afternoon’s inaugural address must be the most eagerly awaited in years and I hope it doesn’t disappoint. Reagan’s ’81 oration was a corker, a real call to arms; the chosen one’s rhetoric often smells a bit too much of the pulpit for my taste, but you can’t deny his gift of the gab. As with most, I guess, and for all our sakes, I wish him the best of luck.

Wholesome solace

‘This Adonis in loveliness was a corpulent man of fifty.’
And whilst on that particular occasion they were referring to the then Prince Regent, later George IV, if I consume many more of Mrs G’s pear & almond tarts we’ll have to beef up the bed springs. As the hunting season draws to a close, Monday-night’s supper said goodbye to the last of our excellent partridges. I’m usually pleased to see the end of the pheasants, but this year have really enjoyed the little suckers - thanks in part to some pretty neat dishes by the resident cook. A recent poll found that despite hating the flavour and in the hope of enjoying health benefits, millions of us eat liver, lentils and even Marmite. Fortunately, they all make my list of favorite food-stuffs, along with meatloaf - the choice of conspiring Tories during hard times. Am trying to think of what comes next on the seasonal menu? We never seem to run out of ducks. I suppose I could do with a month on rabbit food and dried toast; practise some cognitive inhibition. However, with McPlonker and his boys disappearing down the lavatory with all that we own or hold dear, I might as well continue to party - fiddling Romans springs to mind.

Monday, January 19

Misery loves company

As you trudge along to work in the wet/cold (take your pick), hung-over and brassic, two weeks from pay day (assuming your employer is still in business) and with credit card debt that would embarrass Fred Goodwin, it won’t surprise you to hear that psychologists have designated today ‘Blue Monday’. They suggest you visit the pub with your mates at lunchtime for a pint: discovering they’re also in the shit alongside you is, according to said psychologists, a huge morale booster.

Desperate measures for desperate times... Boy am I pleased I didn’t buy those RBS shares when they dropped to 42p. Can’t understand why Goodwin isn’t languishing in the pokey. I assume this morning’s No.10 press conference is another ‘last throw of the dice’. Who the fluck is the government going to borrow the money ‘we’re’ lending/guaranteeing from?

As expected, Ken Clarke returns to the front bench. I’ve a soft spot for the old soak – used to bump into him in the dining room at the Pall Mall premises; and of course he’s a twitcher and Camra stalwart. Whilst wary of investing too much capital in that atrophied brain of his, the punters (voters) seem to like him: from a purely political standpoint, Cameron no doubt assumes that Clarke will be a socially attractive foil for Mandelson.

Sunday, January 18

More green shoots

In her latest Times interview, our ill-favoured housing minister, Margaret Beckett, claims there’s an upturn in the property market and is already worrying about the next boom pricing out first-timers? I think shit-for-brains needs to differentiate between buyers, window shopping property-porn addicts (probably the bulk of the increased ‘interest’ activity), and bargain hunters scouring the agents for distress sales. There’s a sizeable property hereabout that was originally on the market with its owners for >£900k. Having been repossessed, the bank can’t find takers at £550k. Another developer-renovated pile that started life at £900k is down to £800k and will probably change hands in the £600s. If a property has all the bells and whistles, and is in the right place, it will attract competitive bids and fly from the shelf (prices are now realistic but still falling). However, if your home is in anyway blighted - by its dubious location, for instance - then even barge poles become redundant. I suspect we're still some way away from those little green shoots, and will stay that way for as long as money is tight and people's jobs are at risk. Just reading this morning’s financial press will probably take another 5% off house prices.

Saturday, January 17

Déjà vu

My Saturday-morning jaunt to the Quik-E-Mart for milk and croissants required more than a sprinkling of the fabled Gudgeon enthusiasm, something which tends to go missing this time of year. The forecast tempest arrived to an orchestrated score of loose corrugated-metal roofing. Undaunted souls remained outside, laying their bricks and chopping firewood. I beat a hasty retreat.There are still odd moments here when I have to check myself. The sight of rust-coloured barns and outbuildings, the flapping plastic silage covers and sonorous low of the cattle... and I could be back alongside the Thames at South London Mansions, with those red-leaded hulls, the singing rigging and that mournful, haunting sound of the fog horn.

Pissed-off sing along

For the first time in years I’ve actually read the Spectator Magazine cover to cover; ditto Private Eye (it’s the long nights). In today's Coffee House blog, Fraser Nelson quotes a Noel Coward song which seems a particularly apt commentary on our times, and calls for the submission of additional verses.

They're out of sorts in Sunderland
And terribly cross in Kent,
They're dull in Hull
And the Isle of Mull
Is seething with discontent,
They're nervous in Northumberland
And Devon is down the drain,
They're filled with wrath
On the firth of Forth
And sullen on Salisbury Plain,
In Dublin they're depressed, lads,
Maybe because they're Celts
For Drake is going West, lads,
And so is everyone else.
Hurray-hurray-hurray!
Misery's here to stay.

CHORUS
There are bad times just around the corner,
There are dark clouds hurtling through the sky
And it's no good whining
About a silver lining
For we know from experience that they won't roll by,
With a scowl and a frown
We'll keep our peckers down
And prepare for depression and doom and dread,
We're going to unpack our troubles from our old kit bag
And wait until we drop down dead.

Friday, January 16

Heating's back

Good news on the heating front as a tanker arrives with our ‘just in time’ delivery. Rather providential, as the weatherman advises gales and snow are close behind. It’s taken a week for the delivery, though I count myself lucky: the driver confirms terminals are bereft of kerosene. This was flagged by the NEA who were anticipating problems leading on from the implementation of an EU Directive lowering maximum sulphur content from 0.3% to 0.1% and which has caused some suppliers to withdraw from the UK domestic heating-oil market. To take up the slack in carbon emissions, McPlonker has plumped for a third Heathrow runway. Not my problem anymore, but a real bummer for the old neighbourhood. Principal concern today (other than plunging temperatures) has been whether or not to cook the oxtails in Guinness, Mackeson’s or Davenports. I’m joking about the latter, of course: they are producing Davenports again, at Highgate Brewery, but the ‘creamy and nourishing’ bit is long gone.

Thursday, January 15

GCSE results

I couldn’t help browsing today’s release of the 2008 GCSE tables, if only to follow the continued rise in fortune of my old alma mater, Crap Street comprehensive. In those days our august institution was categorised as a secondary modern, today it’s a Performing Arts College. ‘Get me my tawse’ Dodds, the headmaster, would be horrified. That said, they’ve managed a 10% rise in the number of students obtaining the so-called gold standard of five A-C GCSE grades (incl. English & Maths), increasing the establishment's total to 39%. It’s not up there with Magdalen College School but, given the raw material that enters the hallowed portals and the second-rate teaching staff which doubtless work there, it seems a none-too-shabby result. In my day we’d have been ecstatic. Unfortunately there are a lot worse schools in the area: Even-Crapper Street comprehensive (now styled an engineering college), where most of my oppos went, has barely managed 18% - and they don’t even have the kudos of being the town’s worst. The lads would have been proud.

Out, spending my winnings

Having failed to keep abreast of the barn’s energy supplies, and duly panicked into submitting a rush order for replenishment bunkers, I’ve now been informed by our suppliers that the depot is out of domestic heating oil. Past experience tells me I should just slip a note under the kitchen door and tiptoe off to the Dog & Duck. My faux pas is hardly likely to lighten the mood after this morning’s quarterly report from our financial advisor. I’m conscious that neither the word ‘financial’ or ‘advisor’ bears true testament to his ability, and that ‘little’ and ‘prick’ seems far more apt. It’s not that the lad’s telling us anything we didn’t already know, but that he waffles on, McPlonker-like, about it being a ‘Global problem’ and nothing to do with him. Fortunately I’m rolling in moolah, having picked up fifty quid from the premium bonds and then correctly forecast last night’s 1-4 score at Southend.

Wednesday, January 14

Slow trade

Absorbed in my copy of the new look War Cry whilst sitting in a cold and deserted Plymouth dockside bar yesterday, I was disturbed to see a picture of Lieut-Colonel Bill Cochrane exchanging jovial banter with the deranged monster from No.10. Supping with the devil, or at least those of a dark and bitter heart (Matthew Parris’s recent apt description), doubtless comes with the territory. McPlonker used the occasion to lecture everyone about the importance of social justice, whilst accompanying musicians belted out an up-tempo version of the old Joystrings recording ‘Will Your Soul Stay White While Your Body Goes Brown’.

Must admit it was pretty quiet down around the Hoe, and not much better at this morning’s Holsworthy market. Stocked up on ox tails and skirt; treated the Boss to a pint of prawns; wandered back home to a late lunch of Pimientos del piquillo rellenos de bacalao. I’ve been working my way through the Ortiz product range. Ike Godsey had left a message on the blower: he’s doing his best to offload a surplus of galvanised sheep feeders and electric horse clippers. I’m tempted by the offer on Husqvarna chainsaws, but given the way my luck’s been running it would be tempting fate.

Saturday, January 10

Breakfast

Brrrr. But enough about the cold, although it does look spectacular outside. The postie didn’t arrive until 10:00, and despite his being out on the road since the crack-of-dawn, with the exception of one square metre of red bonnet, his van was still completely white. A solid breakfast was first order of the day: a rare fry-up. Along with the black pudding and bacon, a slice of fried Christmas pud. Well why not? Fried slice/cloutie-dumpling/pancakes & syrup works for many. As I’d been researching puddings over the festive period and still have a couple left over it seemed the thing to do; and I thought the dollop of crème fraîche alongside the HP sauce was a nice touch.

Friday, January 9

Cold comfort farm

A more apt epithet would be difficult to conjure. I thought South London Mansions a nightmare to heat, but this place is in a league of its own. A large stove provides for both the central heating and hot water, and despatches oil at a speed that would shame those low-flying jet aircraft which so delight in endangering our roof. It requires the addition of a propane-fuelled fire in afterburner mode to make the living area habitable - we go through 47KG tanks like Smarties. Unfortunately, this heat tends to draw the arctic permafrost from the ground, through the gaps in the floorboards and up my trouser legs. Everything below the waist is perpetually numb. I say below the waist because of the necessity of wearing a minimum four layers of clothing up top to combat the horizontal draughts that blow through the gaps around the doors and windows. Mrs G. resembles an extra from Flashdance – her leg warmers a throwback to the mores of 80s fashion.

Thursday, January 8

I'm clean again

Well, thanks to the man and his JCB, water has been reinstated. Seems as though they’re going to have to dig another trench next week and install a new pipe. Not that it’s any warmer - Farmer Charles tells me it was thirty years ago when the river last froze over like this. So much for global warming. Looks pretty enough, but he’s just finished spreading muck all over the Ponderosa and it smells a touch ripe. Doesn’t do my boots much good either.And so much for Boyd: seems we couldn’t afford his wages - doesn’t he appreciate there’s a recession? Still, you can’t keep a good man down: McLeish has pulled a sneaky one on Charlton and signed midfielder Hameur Bouazza until the end of the season. Rumour has it the Blues are also chasing Lee Bowyer. Mark Hughes is believed to be looking at the lad so we can probably discount that one.

Wednesday, January 7

Our water pipes are reodh

Another severe frost last night. The barn remains without water and there seems little immediate chance of a thaw. We also lost our electricity for three hours this morning. I’ve cleaned out the Quik-E-Mart’s supply of mineral water to provide for a shave and a cup of tea, but the rest will have to wait. It’s not unlike like being back in hospital: relaxed standards and a large dose of squalor. After the whisky, stovies and porridge, I’m gratified to note the spring water we’re using is also imported from what appears to be our principal trading partner – that place north of the border. The Blues have even shelled out for Kris Boyd from Rangers. At least a fair proportion of the team can now understand what Big Eck is saying to them, although he remains a bit shaky on banter from the crowd. After becoming a fan of the growing number of foreign language series on TV – Krister Henriksson’s Wallender, Bruno Crémer’s Maigret, and Inspector Salvo Montalbano – I've started watching BBC Alba, the national Gaelic programme (or should I say prògraman), broadcast on Freesat. Whilst initially thought a bit of a joke, it kind of grows on you. There’s an SPL match Saturday nights, and lots of tuneful wailing from attractive looking highland women; though ‘Back on the Ran Dan’ was somewhat lost on me’.

Tuesday, January 6

Colourful birds

Low temperatures aside, the contrasting light/shade early morning has quite an effect on backgrounds.The subjects were only three feet apart, but the marsh tit was taken an hour later than the woodpecker. We even have snowy owls visiting the region.

Saturday, January 3

Another hard frost

Good job I bulked up on those stovies yesterday as it’s brass-monkey weather this morning. Had to boil a pan before I could shave - the mains water pipe was frozen. Things must be tough out there as the yard is attracting a regular cohort of starlings. Stares, as they’re sometimes called, are not exactly rare in the countryside, but here in our corner of the Ponderosa they’ve tended to keep their distance. Along with the fieldfare, blackbirds (8) and a song thrush, they are transforming the yard’s demographics. Not that the usual gang appears to be suffering. Marsh tits remain our noisiest contingent, along with wrens, robins and the chaffinches. At various times the sky is clouded with fat wood pigeons, the most difficult of targets for my neighbours’ guns. The three hen pheasants have absented themselves and appear to have fallen victim to one of the shoots. Along with some excellent Polish sausage, a cock is to assume the starring role in this weekend’s gumbo.

Thursday, January 1

Happy New Year

A Happy New Year to one and all. Can’t believe I lasted so long yesterday evening. Usually, it’s a perfunctory glass of fizz, a peck on the cheek, and then ten minutes after Big Ben has done the necessary I’m tucked up in bed. Yet there I was still wearing a hole in the carpet and stuffing sausage rolls down my gullet during the early hours. A better than average Holland Hootenanny, I thought. Martha Reeves and the girls might be past their best, but Annie Lennox can still hold a tune. Flicked through to see how the various regions were celebrating and am pleased to see the White Heather Club is still alive. At least that’s what it looked like on BBC Scotland, with a frumpy looking Spiteri in an ill-fitting tartan number. After complaining about the absence of festive stovies, the Boss has taken down her cauldron and is currently boiling up a pot of mince and a haggis.