Thursday, April 30

The weekly rag

A passing glance at the stove would suggest that Mrs G. has either acquired a fetish for Boris Karloff films (a simmering brain-like form) or we are eating a cauliflower mit cheese sauce for supper. Today’s recipe of the week seems all a local newspaper is good for these days; that, and as a guide to where I can obtain expert carpet fitters at reasonable rates, a second-hand Raleigh bicycle with good tyres, or where I should go to acquire my bikini body for the summer. There’s been a lot of hand ringing in recent weeks about the demise of regional newspapers, but would we really miss them? I’m tempted to say ‘what do you expect for 55p,’ though that would be to ignore their value to local communities. For all their faults – and let’s face it, they are pretty dire – local rags are probably seen by many as more representative of the local population than our autonomous councils and regional authorities. And assembling 50-100 odd pages of ‘local’ news each week can’t be easy – a person can take only so many pictures of bonny babies and cute animals.

Wednesday, April 29

Best tartare sauce in the south west?

Another lousy day for weather, but I needed to run a couple of errands down around Newquay and Truro. Thought it best to get some fresh air before people start sneezing and the authorities close everything down. Would you believe the random pub I chose for lunch, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, turned out to be The Cornish Arms, a St Austell Brewery tied house that Rick Stein and his ex recently leased. Nice enough place, with the usual line in beers (you can’t knock Tribute Ale). Serves up a good fried sole, though even Stein couldn’t best the tartare sauce I ate last week with those fish cakes at Lustleigh’s Cleave Inn.

Tuesday, April 28

The Atlantic Storm

Psychologically speaking, the colour grey most often denotes a pessimistic value, yet approaching Atlantic storm clouds bring some of our most dramatic and attractive vistas. You see, there’s grey, and then there is grey: the wan colour of sickness, tinned mushroom soup and boiled fish... as opposed to the attractive blue-tinted cool grey of arsenic, or that near black luminescence you get when light breaks through a fissure in the clouds and the trees become silver and gold, the greens too good to be real; when everything smells of damp vegetation, of silage and reefed sails. Weather here can change as suddenly as a whisky drinker’s disposition, and today we seem to have seen it all.

Bad news from a neighbour: cutbacks have done for five of the teaching staff at his school. He’s having to travel abroad to seek employment.

And there’s a large military helicopter bristling with strange equipment hovering outside the office window – the vibrations are moving my desk around the floor. Who have is pissed off now?

Dull foothills

I’ve tried to immerse myself in Mullin’s diaries but the years have dulled my enthusiasm for the minutia of public life. And let’s face it, after Alan Clark everything pales. Mullin began his political career in this part of the world (North Devon) during the early 70s, by trying to unseat Jeremy Thorpe. Having moved on to TV (World in Action) and journalism (Tribune Editor) he became a rather grey man in a suit, serving as one of John Prescott’s gofers. You can see why it’s failing to keep me on the edge of my seat – tidying up the fat man’s dicarded condoms and Domino Pizza boxes isn’t the most glorious of political appointments. The book reads a little like Match of the Day highlights, where the commentator is already aware of the outcome and in a position to offer a succession of seemingly prescient comments.

Monday, April 27

James Ravilious

If you missed tonight’s BBC Four ‘James Ravilious – A World in Photography’ make sure you catch the repeat showing for a flavour of the old neighbourhood. Like most everywhere, that life will have soon disappeared - though something of what inspired Ravilious remains alive and well, and lurks in the character faces and rural garb of Hatherleigh market. Not the sort of men to quit on a garment just because it’s a little worn at the edges. They smell of throat lozenges and pipe tobacco, and use sheep clippers to trim their beards.

Sunday, April 26

In defence of our politicians

As with some of our more horny-handed sons of toil, working dogs can be a bit ripe; they’re not the sort of mutts you’ll find reclined in a basket in the corner of Mrs G’s kitchen. Having been ambushed by a trio of Farmer Charles’s gun-dogs this morning, en route to the news agent, I was given the choice of jumping fully clothed into the sheep dip or being sand-blasted by a hose in the yard. Given the hounds had spent an hour or so swimming back and forth along the Okement you’d have thought the dogs might be reasonably spruce, but that would mean discounting the fields of slurried earth and effluent they’re required to negotiate when crossing the Ponderosa.

Saturday, April 25

Big day at St Andrew's

Ike Godsey’s was first stop this morning, to load up with scissor traps in furtherance of my war with the mole. Mrs G. thinks you can eradicate pests with a handful of moth balls and a stiff talking to. I, on the other hand, believe a more robust deterrent is called for. As if the burrowing critter wasn’t bad enough, am also plagued by a posse of Rhagium mordaxe (at least that’s what my Insect Field Guide says they are), feasting on the Boss’s herb pots. Longhorn beetles, yellow with brown and black mottling and two eye-like spots on their wing-cases. (she’s bought me a new bug collector.) Having located the mole’s run and set my traps, it’s time for a cold one and the footy. Let’s hope Preston’s recent demolition of Cardiff was an aberration.

The Gaussian copula correlation

There’s a marvellous story in today’s FT Weekend Magazine – Of couples and copulas – which tells how Johnny Cash was responsible for the world financial crisis. If you are familiar with the TV show NUMB3RS you’ll more readily appreciate the irony of relying on the certainties of geeks. It charts the rise of Chinese mathematician, David Li, from actuary to Wall Street quantitative analyst, the idolatry of copulas, and their part in our downfall.

Friday, April 24

Traditional fare

After a couple of days of hurtling about the countryside I’ve been forced to spend a day in the office, catching up on paperwork. No sooner had I received the results from my last TMA, I’m asked to supply another 2,000 word essay. This creative writing business is bloody time consuming, not least in the amount of books you’re required to read. I’d forgotten just how much these pesky deadlines can eat into a person’s drinking time.

Still, cold roast beef tonight... and probably for the next couple of nights – to say nothing about the vat of dripping and the certainty of more stovies. Forget that crap about Mrs Bridges, those which the Grill Bar used to serve up on the back of 2-3 pints of Tennent’s always worked for me (it was a ‘men only’ bar in those days). I used to live (and work) within two hundred yards of this wonderful establishment – my garret bed laying (literally) just yards from the bells of St Mary’s. There’s a film there somewhere.

Thursday, April 23

St George’s day

After 25 years of living in multi-cultural South London Mansions, arriving here three years ago was something of a culture shock. Wherever you travel it seems the St George’s Cross is always flown from the top of public buildings and churches. I’d forgotten what it was like to be allowed to be overtly patriotic. And as it was on this day (in ’68) that I walked into the Wolverhampton recruiting office and enlisted, Mrs G. has kindly agreed to roast that huge rib of beef we acquired at the food festival. Have blown my month’s pocket money on a decent bottle of claret to accompany the beast.

On the road again

The tanker has just delivered another 1,000ltrs of heating oil, guaranteeing hot showers through to late autumn. It’s not a particularly sound week on the climate front as I’m averaging 120m/day in the motor. I was back down in north Cornwall this morning, looking at properties. The only drawback to these remote homes is their shortcoming on the utilities front, particularly with regards to water. This one didn’t even have a bore hole, settling instead for a dubious spring which dripped, rather hesitantly, from a rock face outside the scullery door. Hard as I tried, I just couldn’t envisage Mrs G. scuttling back and forwards with a succession of slopping pails every washing day.

Lunched at The Bush Inn, Morwenstow, a 13th Century Free House serving more than acceptable pints of Cornish ale. As I was biting into my pasty I could just about picture those original locals toasting the accession of Edward I (aka Hammer of the Scots) with their fermented mare’s milk or mead, and speculating about how young Marco Polo was getting on in China.

Wednesday, April 22

The Budget

I’m glad I missed it – have been in Princetown’s Prince of Wales with Mr Barraclough and the boys. The political bloggers will do far more justice to the budget speech that I can, but fluck it... Horrendous debt figures; unrealistic growth forecasts. Who the shite believes one word of what was spouted? It’s total bollocks, does nothing to solve the country’s problems. A blatant election budget that attempts to draw a dividing line between the retard party and the Tories. When the axe finally falls, in a year or so from now (if we’re lucky – the markets could end it all tomorrow), the cuts will be frightening. I’m just so fucking angry that these guys have been allowed to get away with buggering the country and destroying our economy.

Fish

Despite our location and proximity to the sea, buying fish can be a hit and miss affair. Last week our travelling fishmonger came laden with AAA* produce, everything glistened and smelt of the sea. You could be confident that whatever was purchased would be just so. Later in the week we travelled to a wet fish shop on the Cornish coast; it looked so unattractive and bleak we returned empty handed. Wonder what today’s lottery will bring?

Steak dinner - and it wasn't even Friday

I really don’t eat much red meat, certainly no more than three times a week. OK, so on two of the other seven days it might be cold cuts/re-cooked meat from the night before – but they don’t count. Mrs G’s favourite tends to be grilled skirt steak, which comes from one of her preferred butchers in Holsworthy, or, on occasion, from Hillhead Farm at Chagford. You’d be hard pushed to best the latter, the meat originating from Devon or Welsh Blacks that graze on unimproved pastures across Dartmoor’s peat uplands. Most everyone here eats their skirt chopped up, inside of pasties; and in truth, all we once did with the stuff was to braise it for a couple of hours and serve with oatmeal stuffing (or eat it in TexMex restaurants as fajitas). That was before we became regular visitors to France and became smitten with steak & frites. Invariably, the cut was skirt (bavette). Once you got over the initial shock of consuming it bloody (4 minutes either side) you never went back to sirloin or rump. Overcook it and the meat becomes too tough to eat.

Tuesday, April 21

Cattle with attitude

Grief, as if negotiating the moor wasn’t bad enough: a herd of Nazi steers has set up home along the lane.

Monday, April 20

Almost a summer evening

Still April, yet the weather doesn’t get much better than this. And my first swallow! (I know - it doesn’t make a summer). The blackbirds are feeding their first clutch of youngsters with a steady procession of worms and insects. Having sweated and toiled through ’til six, I’m now relaxing with my bottle, outside on the yard. The sheep have moved on but our mole remains. Despite the deafening chorus of birdsong I can hear the Boss (who’s inside, preparing dinner) barracking that slimy chap Mandelson (he must be on the wireless?). I find the older I get the more likely I am to forgive and forget, to make an accommodation and consider the other person’s point of view. Women, however, appear more polarised; ever ready to conduct an impromptu trial, before hanging the poor miscreant from the first available tree.

Friday, April 17

Stocking the larder

Haven’t seen figures yet, but the food & drink festival looked to be attracting a good-sized crowd. If you’re a regular then most of the exhibitors will be familiar faces. And whilst I should know better, it was hard to pass up the produce on offer... we started on Denhay’s stall with one of their bacon baps, before moving to Bigbury Bay Oysters for a half-dozen freshly shucked mollusks. Stopping for a glass of cider in the refreshments tent we moved to sample 3-4 cheeses and a couple of pâtés, some of Alfredo’s excellent pasta, and pasties filled with water-buffalo and wild boar. You think it can’t get any better, but it does: fortified with a pint of Otter Amber, we went on to consume a marvellous cheese and potato flan, a selection of sausages, slices of pork pie, and two vanilla cones from Clovelly Ice Cream. Thankfully, the sun came out and we were able to move outside and picnic on the lawn. Michael Caines and a bunch of other top notch chefs were there to demonstrate their skills in the Celebrity Cookery Theatre. The Boss and I came home with a proverbial truck load of goodies, including a shoulder of salt marsh lamb, ribs of wild Dartmoor beef, a leg of goat, wild boar chops, handmade chocolates, several types of dried chillis, a basket of assorted condiments, and pots of cider. Just about managed to eat supper this evening: dry cured bacon, and poached eggs on top of the early season asparagus, freshly cut this morning.

Another visitor

Although the yard is big on collared types, this morning’s ‘pair’ of stock doves is a rare and pleasing event. A bird of the open woods and farmland, they’re more dapper and svelte than wood pigeons. It is said by some that the word stock refers to a mistaken belief that it was from this lineage that our domestic pigeons were descended.I’ve had enough of mince and tatties and stovies; am off to pick up something at today’s Food Festival in Exeter.

Thursday, April 16

Spring colour and artistic licence

Drat, where did our sunshine go? The year’s first siskin is upon us, along with the tadpoles and bumble bees. In amongst the budding hawthorn and custard yellow gorse lie a profusion of lemon and violet and ivory coloured flowers (... and discarded Ribena bottles, cigarette packets and sandwich wrappers). Farmer Charles seems to have been carried away with marking the sheep: shades of a Zandra Rhodes catwalk? Given our rustling epidemic, it’s whatever works.

Sir Clement Freud. As far as the public is concerned he’ll probably be remembered for the dog and Minced Morsels rather than for his career as a chef, MP and raconteur/celebrity/ racing pundit. I recall having lunch with the old boy many years ago when he was still a Member of Parliament and I was a junior flunkey in one of those lobby groups that skulked around Westminster bars and restaurants – in the days when politics wasn’t quite so drab, lightweight and bereft of talent. O how we miss them, the Masters of the political universe.

Wednesday, April 15

Personal maintenance

I miss my old barber; the once-a-month trim remains very much hit and miss. As with most professions, real talent appears limited to those fortunate few – especially when it comes to wielding a pair of Tondeo Classics. Last month’s wash and cut was at a stylish establishment in Bath (tv screen on each station, good coffee, magazines with lots of nipples...). However, the lad assigned to me was either a nervous type or he’d been on the sauce the previous evening, because I was lucky to leave with both ears in place. Since then the recession has continued to take its toll on crimpers, and the first two establishments I walked past in Exeter this morning were offering to provide a prompt service for as little as £5 and £6 respectively. I plumped for the competitor displaying a striped pole, staffed by a couple of old sorts who you just knew would be handy with a razor and have a reasonable line in chat (sports in general, and sound advice about what we should do with McPlonker). Turned out to be a more pricey choice, at £7.50, but came with everything you needed to know about local river temperatures, early plankton bloom, and when the fish are due.

Tuesday, April 14

Distant drums

The weekend was a succession of ex-conspirator’s emails and phone calls. It’s nice to know everyone’s still alive, but it makes an old recluse like me a tad suspicious when so many things start leaking from the woodwork. I have to allow for at least one trip to London in the coming weeks (golden weddings, visiting Australians, golfing venues). It might as well be Buenos Aires, as South London Mansions seems so distant. Suppose it would get me away from the moles and the rats for a while. Now that Farmer Charles’s lambs can stand on their own four feet, a set from The Sundowners has returned out back. We were up in the hills yesterday afternoon and new life is appearing there too. Came home and roasted a shoulder of the stuff on the barbeque; it was stuffed with wild thyme and garlic – the bee’s knees. Onwards and upwards... deadlines to meet.

Monday, April 13

Normal service is resumed

Crisis hits North Sea The remaining lifespan of the UK’s North Sea oil and gas production risks being halved as the economic crisis has prompted a plunge in exploration in one of the western world’s most important deposits – the number of exploration wells being drilled during the first quarter has collapsed by 78 per cent... Being more than a little familiar with the North Sea, I’m sure a number of my old friends can recall the business going tits-up back in ’76, then bouncing back briefly, before crashing again in ’83. The industry’s revived fortunes of the late ’80s proved short lived (wasn’t there $10/bbl oil in ’87?) and everything went west in ’91 (15 semis stacked up off of Peterhead and Invergordon). Despite the decline in reserves, this last 10-12 years has witnessed a relatively benign environment, enhanced by an expansion in global exploration (financed by a mega-bucks oil price). The latest hiccup is just a return to ‘business as usual’. Drillling rigs and support vessels going cheap anyone?

Easter weather divides Britain

Yes folks, for once we’re on the right side of the line.

Heard it all before

I’ve a soft spot for old battle axes like Janet Daley, reminds me of Peggy Mount with a cob on. She has an all too familiar article in this morning’s Telegraph, berating Europeans (she doesn’t mean us, the English speaking Anglos) for not stepping up to the plate, and the likely knock-on effect across the other side of the pond. I wouldn’t quite write off the Obama effect just yet, he’s managing to appeal over the heads of European governments – is proving to be a more popular politician on the continent than most incumbents. Whether or not any of our partners in the European Union will be prepared to get their hands dirty is another matter entirely. I’d have thought a recession would be the ideal time to divert idle men and machinery into building a more robust defence force. If no one’s buying BMWs, maybe there’s a market for smart APCs? Unemployed graduates or sixth formers sans university places could do worse than spending a gap year in khaki with the prospect of foreign travel. Oops, isn’t that what McPlonker’s suggesting?, albeit he calls it ‘public service’.

Great Masters

My head (and money) was on Campbell but the heart said Kenny Perry. Hats off to El Pato; another lesson in how – even when the trees conspire against you – plugging away, never giving up, is still the way to go. It’s not ‘the’ Major for me (those silly boiler suits from the factory chicken farm, the chippy pretentiousness, that old fart Alliss, nancy boy Lineker... ), though this one played a blinder. And whilst never a huge fan of Mickelson (a bit wet), I have to say that, in spite of the lad’s disappointment, he gave a more than gracious interview after the game. Unlike his playing partner who needs to learn how to take one in the ear without blubbing.

Friday, April 10

Out hiking

Against my better judgement (Easter holidays), but mindful of the need to get into condition for a weekend of Masters golf, I set off this morning to walk the moor in an effort to rid myself of the fug from three evenings of tinned beer and televised European football. Everywhere you look there are Duke-of-Edinburgh-Award stalwarts carrying rucksacks the size of small tower blocks. Campsites abound. Whatever is being spent in support of the highly publicised rebranding exercise by Yorkshire Tourist Board it is obviously not enough – at least they’re not yet pulling in their neighbours from the north-west. The car park sounded like a bad day on the Corrie set; I could still hear the results of research into local meat pies and pasties some two tors distant. Time to batten down the hatches ’til everyone has gone home.

Thursday, April 9

Easter barbeque

There’s half a deer out the back marinating in a bottle of London gin, a pint of apple juice and a handful of crushed juniper berries. Apart from throwing the beast on the fire come Saturday my work is done.

Well nearly: can you believe those pesky rodents have called in at my new rat motel and made off with those Waitrose Organic dark chocolate coated almonds I used to bait the trap. Guess it’s back to mouldy cheese.

Tuesday, April 7

Is it worth it Big Eck?

After last night’s win, wild horses wouldn’t have kept me from today’s lunchtime session at the Dog & Duck. That said, I can sympathise with the school of thought who believe the Blues return to the Premier League is nothing more than an aspiration to a single season of cannon fodder for the big boys. I’ve watched as my old muckers at the Hawthorns have struggled to keep their heads above water, and wondered why?

Another couple from our old gang, and periodic visitors to the barn (still drinking the booze you left on your last trip), head off to a new life in the west. There’ll be no one left in the smoke if this carries on.

Born evil, or just naughty boys?

David Wilson’s piece in today’s Times comes on the back of that trouble in Edlington and reiterates the line about no one being born bad – about it all being down to mom and dad. Well, yes and no. Lots of kids have tough childhoods, and whilst it’s true that parents deficient in child rearing skills can often frustrate their offspring’s potential, so too, rightly or wrongly, can the family genes. More often than not it’s one of the same thing. Truth-to-tell, it would be hard to escape the fact that most of us grew up with at least one dysfunctional household on the block whose children were adept at nicking anything that wasn’t nailed down, who bullied those poor unfortunates unable to look after themselves, pulled legs from live frogs and tied fireworks to cat’s tails, who slept with their sisters. Wilson’s answer is to keep the little mites in school, even if those same schools manage to educate just 17% of their charges to the prescribed standard. I’ve no doubt the little cherubs would be exemplary students, just as I’m sure they’d struggle to find one member of the school staff capable of articulating a credible vision regarding their future. Wilson is the Professor of Criminology at the Centre for Criminal Justice Policy and Research at the University of Central England. He’s also spouts meaningless platitudes, and I trust he doesn’t get paid for writing this crap (I can't now reference it at Times Online). Wish there was an easy answer, but I guess it’s what we pay the Home Secretary for. That, and the mortgage on her sister’s home. And her husband's porn.

The old remedies are often the best

A bacon sandwich really does cure a hangover, scientists have found. It works even better when washed down by a can of Iron Brew laced with vodka, but then you’d only be repeating the sad, sorry tale all over again. Hangover or not, everyone would be well advised to keep away from today’s farmers market unless absolutely necessary: the hordes have descended. I’d already gone long on boiling fowls and venison after our trip to Crediton last Saturday. However, Tuesday being fish day, and on the likelihood there’d be lemon soles... My other reason for driving into town was to visit Ike Godsey’s to purchase a new rat trap. I don’t mind the smaller beasts creeping indoors on these cold nights, but draw the line at rodents the size of Farmer Charles’s Jack Russell. Ike has some new contraptions on sale which electrocute the little blighters, and tempted though I was, the thought of being confronted by a neighbour’s tearful granddaughter on discovering the charred remains of ‘fluffy’ would have been a scene too far.

Monday, April 6

Still alive

Blogging remains light, with little to enthuse. Politics, especially our national variety, has become so debased that even commenting on their lies, sleaze and incompetence is dispiriting. On the plus side, Premier League football continues to entertain at both ends of the table. I wouldn’t bet my pocket money on the Baggies surviving the season, but then I remember saying the same thing about Redknapp’s Portsmouth in 2006. Course, he was given a lot of money to play with. Whether The Blues move up to replace Albion depends in part on tonight’s game at St Andrew’s, though I suspect it will probably come down to the last match of the season against Coppell’s lads. Anyway, this week’s European games aside, Easter is upon us: a plague of visitors and their children.

Thursday, April 2

Sheriff Bart

Like most of my ilk I’m a cynical shit, particularly when it comes to politicos. Last week, researchers for The Bar Standards Board which regulates more than 14,000 barristers in England & Wales struggled to find anyone (1%) in the country who would admit to trusting politicians. Just 2% of those questioned fessed up to trusting bankers. Surprisingly, only 97% thought journalists told porkies. A remarkable 25% of respondents believed solicitors and barristers were good lads, which presumably was the point of the study, and indicates there are still a lot of deluded people out there. However, even I’ve been impressed with Obama these past few days. He can talk the hind legs off those proverbial donkeys. I accept the G-20 communiqué is probably more flannel than substance, but the new lad does it so well.