Friday, July 31

Too early a start

Seagulls and bin men ensure you can’t sleep in, in the grey city. I could use the rest after last night’s festivities (the pre-match warm up, so to speak). A number of residents are doubtless also nursing a headache following the game at Pittodrie: Aberdeen 1 – 5 Sigma Olomouc. Unfortunately, the words football and Scotland are no longer synonymous. It’s an even longer time since I last stood on the terraces, having arrived here just after Turnbull left and Jimmy Bonthrone had taken over, then departing along with Billy McNeill.

Thursday, July 30

Final figures

Stage two turned out to be a doddle. Overall, it was a door-to-door run of 615 miles, and on a single tank of diesel. Averaging 43.7 mpg – not bad for an ageing motor – with another 100+ miles left in the pot.

Travelling man

07:45 hrs... Although woken this morning by the familiar sound of blackbirds and a tractor, the artex ceiling threw me, and it took a moment or two to recall where I was. It had been a desperate drive Wednesday, with rain all the way. A relatively benign M5, post Bristol, that lulls you into rash predictions, then stop/go from Dudley to Cannock, and a knackered engine-management system to boot. After 7 ½ painful hours on the road I threw in the towel at a picturesque lorry park called Penrith, and sought refuge in the nearby George & Dragon. Nice food, albeit heavy on the use of reductions. The rabbit and black pudding fricassee is worth a punt, and there’s plenty of drinkable wine. Restaurant was full of well-heeled old folks with loud designer spectacles and those gruff Northern accents the BBC seems to favour. Providing the motor starts it should be a straight-forward five hour run from here.

Wednesday, July 29

New Artist

Following a mini-documentary and the subsequent LA concert from Madeleine Peyroux on BBC Four, I acquired the lady’s four albums - primarily to keep me company in the vehicle. By the time we hit the Granite City I should have her pegged.

Monday, July 27

Gender preferences

Women are getting more beautiful says Jonathan Leake, Science Editor of The Times (yesterday’s front page news). He believes this revelation may bring a satisfied smile to the female half of the population. The guy has a lot to learn about women if he thinks this story’s what they want to hear. If I read it correctly Leake infers men prefer to mate with blonde airheads and then produce more blonde airheads, in preference to mating with women who can read and write. Conversely, he presents women as a mercenary breed, happy to marry a dog as long as Fido has pots of money.

Sunday, July 26

Still raining

After making free with a barrel of Betty Stoggs and reprising her role of eponymous rock chick last night, Mrs G. woke feeling a touch fragile. Her suggestion that we should saunter across the moor for a little fresh air was greeted with some incredulity on my part, having already stuck my head outside the window. An hour or so later I found myself up under the lee of Yes Tor, facing a 30 knot (gusting to hurricane-force) horizontal breeze transporting a fair proportion of the North Atlantic to Wales. Needless to say the good lady was full of it, being dressed as though for a day’s surfing. My shower-resistant chinos weren’t quite the same thing, but by then I was past caring. I managed well enough until it came to crossing a raging torrent that was masquerading as a stream. It usually takes about six or seven hops between protruding boulders to make it across at this point. However, with the waistband of my wet chinos at half-mast and the crotch around my knees, the length of my leap came up 12 inches short of the second rock. Just as well I’m a past-master in gorge scrambling, an experience built largely on previous clumsy antics rather than a thirst for excitement.

The Beer Fest

Familiar but non-the-less enjoyable beers at last night’s session: Yellow Hammer, Gun Dog, Pot Wallop, Dreckly, Freebooter... The evening (at the community hall) was hosted by comedian, singer, songwriter Ian Marchant, he of The Longest Crawl fame. Music courtesy of Dalton’s Weekend Rockstars; Dorset’s Hightown Crows, fresh from Glastonbury; and the Totally Vinyl retro-disco. Prior commitments caused us to bail out early – looked like it was developing into an entertaining evening.

Saturday, July 25

Playing my part

Totnes was a tad dispiriting yesterday, dodging between shop-doorways and bars to avoid the rain; being funnelled along the town’s narrow streets, predictably congested with motor traffic and holidaying visitors. Convoys of German vehicles were conducting a blitzkrieg across Dartmoor, stopping briefly to be photographed alongside piebald ponies.

The neighbour’s B&B is doing a brisk trade. Guest families walk down to the fields of an evening and stare at the sheep, pat the horse, before returning to gawp through our windows. I’m thinking of acquiring a flat cap and pipe, maybe take to affecting a rustic accent to ensure my appearance doesn’t disappoint and ruin their experience.

Matthew Parris is in Totnes tonight hosting the local Conservative Association selection meeting (where everyone gets a say). As he clashes with the village’s annual Beer Festival I’m afraid it’s a no-brainer.

Friday, July 24

I say potato, you say...

Am not sure how I get conned into watching New Tricks, but watch it I do. The Amanda Redman factor I guess, though the girl is definitely on the slide. Given the advent of HD television a little face paint wouldn’t go amiss. Even with the Swedish Wallander series currently being run on BBC 4, and especially in the more popular Midsomer Murders, storylines are becoming painfully stereotyped and bog-standard comprehensive. Last night’s nod to rendition – one of the more recent left-of-field bogeyman issues, and which was also taken up in le Carré’s last book – was somewhat predictable. I wonder at what stage the American practise of rendition morphs into our extraction of criminals from foreign soil, as in the case of Mustaf Jama, the bastard who murdered Sharon Beshenivsky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Jack Bauer man myself and Jama’s comeuppance was long overdue. It’s just a question of how we choose to perceive things.

The future of the novel

‘Coronation Street’s the way to go’ says Johann Hari.

Thursday, July 23

Rain, rain, rain...

The holiday season may be with us but thanks to the inclement weather there’s little evidence of visitors about this area of the moor. We were close to the end of today’s trek before meeting another couple. As a neighbour was kind enough to remind me, Devon is no place for sun lovers; it tends towards green, rather than blue. That said, and for all its faults, people hereabout believe West Devon remains one of the best places to live. In the Government’s first ever national ‘Place Survey’ we came out as the top borough in the country in terms of residents’ satisfaction with their local community, the public services received, and how engaged punters feel with decisions affecting their lives. Public transport aside, an amazing 94% of the over-65s appear happy with their lot. Now if only it would stop raining...

Wednesday, July 22

Fresh tuna on the menu

A brief sojourn across the border into Cornwall for a pasty and some fresh fish. A couple of the boats have been landing tuna at Newlyn. The fishmonger tells me they only run down to the Bay of Biscay 2-3 times each year - hence the reason we rarely see such exotic creatures on his slab. Given the perceived extent of over-fishing I guess we’ll see even less in the future, though these particular little suckers are caught using poles and lines. You can follow Quentin Knights’ blog on CornishTuna.com for a taste of the action.

Milburn’s mobility

‘More stockbrokers, scientists, engineers, bankers, accountants, journalists, doctors and lawyers in their thirties came from well-off backgrounds than their 50-year-old counterparts.’

Of course they do you dumb prick. Most post-war baby boomers (50-somethings) grew up in households that didn’t have a pot to piss in. There was a smaller middle-class pool from which to choose, so employers and professions took what was presented to them. My generation also benefitted from that once-in-a-millennium explosion of white collar employment that took place during the 80s. Everyone is middle-class now (at least in aspiration), and our kids (in their 30s) have benefitted accordingly. However, where once (when I left school) only 7% of school-leavers progressed to higher education, today it’s closer to 50%. If you factor in the stream of talented, educated and motivated migrant labour, at a time when career opportunities in the so-called professions are likely to be diminishing rather than expanding, just being bright doesn’t cut it anymore. And pleb quotas are unlikely to help.

Monday, July 20

Another fallacy

‘Golf is killing itself through snobbery’ says Melanie Reid. I very much doubt that’s the case. These days, in an effort to stay afloat, clubs will take most anyone onboard. That said, it seems unlikely golf can boost its attraction by appealing to the lowest common denominator (there’s a sign outside the clubhouse of our local course that stipulates ‘No Wellington Boots or Football Shorts’). The membership fees necessary to cover the cost of maintaining a club/course – in terms of groundskeeping equipment, staff wages, conforming to employment and health & safety legislation, etc. – probably doesn’t sit well alongside strained family budgets, especially if you’re expected to subsidise other members, such as the juniors or vets. Reid is also correct in identifying the difficulties of sneaking off for a game when your wife wants a hand with the shopping. As far as snobbery is concerned, it’s been my experience that the so-called prestigious clubs tend to be more egalitarian and welcoming; those dominated by blue-collar members are often cliquish and less likely to reach out to non-conformists. I suspect Melanie confuses snobbery with minimum standards of dress and behaviour. Waltzing into the club restaurant for Sunday lunch with the kids decked out like extras from a Lionel Bart musical is about as welcome as it would be at Le Caprice.

Sunday, July 19

Remembering the lunar landings

BBC did a short piece on this morning’s News24 to mark the 40th anniversary of the lunar landings, capturing something of the flavour of that time. As a teenager who salivated over Royal Enfield Continental GTs you couldn’t but be inspired by the sheer majesty of Saturn V rockets when they lit the touch paper. Watching Top Gear presenters take a spin around the track seems to be about as racy as life gets for my current-day successors. I remember looking at Apollo 11’s grainy black & white pictures back then and thinking anything was possible. Unbelievably we all became bored with space, the Age of Aquarius gave way to 70s cynicism and it all turned pear-shaped. Thankfully, Margaret Thatcher was waiting in the wings to ride to the rescue.

Saturday, July 18

Wrinkly pin-ups

Yet another Calendar Girls inspired nude ‘charity’ calendar is on sale in the local newsagents. I just don’t understanding this narcissistic urge of assorted grandmothers to take their kit off and dangle their frayed bits in front of a camera. Helen Mirren has a lot to answer for. If that was all it took to look attractive Five News wouldn’t be paying Natasha Kaplinsky a small fortune for (not) reading the news, and the BBC wouldn’t be pushing Arlene Phillips out the door. The ghastly Esther can waffle all she likes, it won’t improve her ratings.

Talking about the big girl’s blouse (Mrs Doubtfire)... what’s the point of siting our one and only Open Championship out on the road to nowhere? Augusta it ain’t. Turnberry comes close to putting the recently dire Royal Agricultural Show in good light, whilst BBC’s coverage leaves a lot to be desired. I suspect Sky could do better with a quarter of the personnel. The commentators are the usual sad, chippy bunch who urgently need replacing. How do you expect to attract a new generation into the game with the same tired format? The atmosphere is about as exiting as a vets competition at my old club (sorry Bob, didn’t mean it).

Friday, July 17

Reluctant writers

I guess writers of childrens books are as likely to misbehave as any other segment of society, and if I was a headmaster I’d cover my back – and keep the parents of my charges happy – by vetting visiting authors along with everyone else. Most other correspondents in today’s news tend to agree that the authors’ reluctance to conform is little more than a pretentious spat. Unfortunately, because of the disinclination of many individuals to be ‘certified’, the pool of positive influences on kids is diminished. One of our local Scouting groups has a waiting list of 80 applicants; due to the lack of volunteer leaders, most of these children will never have the opportunity to do their best, learn to tie knots, or beat the crap out of each other with large wooden staves. Whilst I suspect the principal reason for an absence of Scout leaders is the competing demands of work/lack of adult free time, the implied stigma which accompanies ‘working with children’ doesn’t help. If you listened to the recent audience of Schools Question Time on BBC, or most any other group of kids that have recently appeared in the media, they cite an ‘absence of things to do’ as the reason for their drift into mischief (becoming pregnant or stabbing someone). Given public spending is facing horrendous cuts in the foreseeable future, what price volunteers?

Thursday, July 16

Youth unemployment

Who’d be a current school leaver/graduate, what with Tom Watson shooting a 65. OK, so benign conditions have left the course defenceless; but even so... Thirty-odd years after his first win at Turnberry against Nicklaus! And in truth why should guys like Watson step aside. As pensions wither and die, what’s to stop people working through their 60s and 70s? Younger generations don’t want to spend their working lives paying taxes to fund the lifestyles of baby boomers – why should they. However, what if there are a finite number of jobs out there? What if there are only so many things we can make that people want to buy; a limit to the amount of public services that tax-payers are willing to fund? If the old gang continues in post, out of necessity or desire, youth unemployment can only continue to grow. And how does that sit with Alan Johnson’s contemptuous approach to immigration and population growth? I’m all for increasing the talent pool but, aside from introducing yet more competition into the jobs market (and having an adverse effect on wages), how do we house and feed them all; how will it impact on our future climate-change obligations?

Tuesday, July 14

Fresh fish for lunch

I purchased a couple of Exmoor trout from our itinerant fish monger; if they were any fresher they’d have been chasing flies across the ice. Also acquired a slab of brisket that has to be marinated overnight and then singed on the barbeque for a day or so. Part of my new healthy-eating regime (three days of fish or veggie and one of meat). The older members of the local farming community were much in evidence at today’s market. Despite their suspicions about my predilection for Moulton Brown body wash, a more amenable bunch you’re unlikely to meet. It’s one of the things that strike you about this part of the world, that and the rain. Thankfully, most of the kids are still in school. I suspect children of being the principal transmission agents for most all infectious diseases, and what with the advent of swine flu, intend to give them a wide berth.

Am plodding along the prescribed reading list in advance of my next class. Having trudged through Chekhov, Dick, Mansfield, Eliot and Puig, I’m half-way into that old curriculum classic, Gibbon’s Sunset Song. It’s a rural melodrama from a time and place far, far away. Whilst I suspect the author has been subject to some revisionist propaganda in recent years, in line with the nationalist agenda, it’s difficult to read the book without thinking of McPlonker. It drips of spite and grievance; very much of the ‘I kent his faither’ philosophy. The first home we purchased was not a million miles from the novel’s fictional village in The Mearns, and as we are due to pay a return visit in two weeks time, I will say no more. Am busy brushing up on my Doric, whilst remembering to keep my head down.

Saturday, July 11

Still game

I have been too distracted to post. Am tempted to say ‘busy doing nothing,’ given what I haven’t achieved; though I’ve kept the motor ticking over, continuing on my quest throughout the far flung corners of the county. Had to replace another worn tyre. Must ease off on those corners. I ventured out across the moor yesterday morning in an effort to work up a thirst, before dropping in for a livener at the Dog & Duck. A number of glum faces, nursing pints, pondering the wisdom of blowing their weekend pocket money on the Mirror’s nap selection. Lots of punters muttering about the casualties from Afghanistan. Carpet bombing seems to be the preferred, if impractical, consensus. Today’s Times article by Parris gives a flavour of the conundrum.

Sunday, July 5

Words

Funny how certain words stick. I spent this morning reprising my plumbing skills in our downstairs lavatory – my lavatory that is. Mrs G. has her own bathroom, furnished with fresh flowers and a magazine rack containing superior glossy publications. I’ve always lived in houses with lavs or loos, though I also spent part of my early years cleaning WCs in an ablutions block. Toilets were the province of upwardly-mobile aunts who sent their children to grammar school. Likewise, I still tend to listen to the wireless. This has less to do with inverse snobbery and is more a hangover from the introduction of transistor radios. Long before we acquired a television our family relied on a large mahogany-coloured Bakelite wireless. When neighbours subsequently replaced their boxes with smart new trannies which ran on batteries, we spurned the consumer society and remained true to our old set with its frayed fabric-covered electric cord. Hard to believe that – thanks to DAB – my collection of FM radios is now about to be consigned to the scrap heap. These days I most often tune-in via the computer, but it still remains a wireless.

Friday, July 3

Asados Y Parrillas

Thought I’d seen more than enough barbeque this last couple of weeks, but then an old recipe book surfaced. Asi Cocinan los Argentinos – How Argentina Cooks – a memento of our South American exploits. And whilst we can’t quite replicate Vázquez-Prego’s scale and panache when it comes to roasting and grilling, we can give it a try. Our grocers are currently selling the seasonal Welsh lamb at eye-watering prices, and it goes against the grain when I’m surrounded by flocks of the woolly critters, especially as they’re feasting on my grass. Our local butcher seems more in tune with my purse, and was happy to retrieve a carcase from the cold store and dismember a quarter. Having marinated it by the book, it’s now getting the ‘three-hours on the blast furnace’ treatment, with a selection of chimichurris and exotic-fruit based salsas readying in the kitchen. I’m not allowed to mention that gaucho turncoat Carlos Tevez around the house; the Boss already has her Michael Owen shirt on order.

They don’t make them...

Wonders never cease (whilst they do go missing from time to time, surprises continue to surface in many unexpected guises)... my D300 has packed up (shutter’s buggered), and it’s still under warranty! In my experience consumables usually turn up their toes about a week after the guarantee expires. You used to be able to buy things – cars, televisions, washing machines... that ran for hundreds of years. Now, everything’s plastic; made in Taiwan, instead of Japan. In defence of the former, they’re presumably manufacturing to a price sensitive spec. And the Japs were never foolproof. The writing was on the wall when I purchased my WM-D6C Pro, back in ’84. Built like a finely-precisioned tank, yet peppered with tacky plastic push-buttons – what was that about? It too, recently, gave up the ghost. More than a decade’s worth of shit-kicking music, languishing on cassette tapes. Another thing I have to fix.

Thursday, July 2

Spondoolics, past and present

I finally got around to reading Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money. It was one of last year’s Christmas presents, which I’d started but had to put aside (too many alternative commitments). It is probably aimed at someone like myself, rather than a trained economist, and has been somewhat overtaken by events. That said – and I missed the Channel 4 series – it’s a decent enough story. I’m a big fan of history, in the sense that people – successive generations – seem to have a habit of repeating many of the same mistakes (Santayana/Burke). But then McPlonker and the boys prove yet again that forewarned and forearmed is no guarantee. The man who banished those Tory ‘boom and busts’.