Saturday, October 31

Daffy’s bought it

One of the upsides to having gun-totin’ neighbours. Presents, left on the door-step. It will definitely feature on tonight’s dinner-menu, thanks to Mrs G. having plucked and eviscerated the little sucker. Appears our man was hit by a fair broadsides. There’s not exactly a lot of meat on wild ducks (too big for one, not enough for two), but you can bulk up on parsnips and carrots. Farmer Charles is supplying us with vegetables in exchange for jars of the Boss’s green bean chutney.

Wednesday, October 28

At the Bay

This week’s beer of choice – courtesy of Mrs G’s arbitrary selection from the Quik-E-Mart – is Quercus Brewery’s Shingle Bay. Quite apt, given we found ourselves back on the north Cornish coast today. Hard to believe there are still surfers out there at this time of year, though there are. Whilst I wouldn’t live within X miles of a dual carriageway I’m content being deafened by the long rumbling roar of an incoming tide. Some Aussie Guy hereabouts recently bought a home adjacent to a busy road, dismissing concerns over traffic noise by equating it to the sound of the ocean ‘back home’. ’Fraid I haven’t that depth of imagination, but I do like the sea shore – the rock pools and the coastal paths.Over there on the weed-hung rocks that looked at low tide like shaggy beasts come down to the water to drink, the sunlight seemed to spin like a silver coin dropped into each of the small rock pools. They danced, they quivered, and minute ripples laved the porous shores. Looking down, bending over, each pool was like a lake with pink and blue houses clustered on the shores; and oh! the vast mountainous country behind those houses–the ravines, the passes, the dangerous creeks and fearful tracks that led to the water's edge. Underneath waved the sea-forest–pink thread-like trees, velvet anemones, and orange berry-spotted weeds. Now a stone on the bottom moved, rocked, and there was a glimpse of a black feeler; now a thread-like creature wavered by and was lost. Something was happening to the pink, waving trees; they were changing to a cold moonlight blue. And now there sounded the faintest "plop." Who made that sound? What was going on down there? And how strong, how damp the seaweed smelt in the hot sun. . . . (Katherine Mansfield, At the Bay.)

Tuesday, October 27

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

A juvenile Hoop/Bud Finch. Whilst we’ve a number nesting in the area, Bullfinches remain quite shy birds. A taste for the soft buds of fruit trees make them especially popular with Farmer Charles.Small flocks of Fieldfares are already populating the reservoir area, feeding on haw berries. The usual suspects are staying close to the barn, not least (with the guns out) our pheasants. Another 40lb sack of seed from this morning’s market to keep the song birds happy.

Sunday, October 25

Fresh air and much needed exercise

Can’t believe the temperature is so mild – another week and it’ll be November. Snuck off for a look-see at the more popular side of Dartmoor; sure enough, the place is teeming with visitors (half-term). Parked-up in Manaton under the lee of St Winifred’s (dodgy render job on the tower), walking out across Hayne Down, past Bowerman’s nose – a 40ft granite column, and down in a loop around the back of Hound Tor. Long may it last, eh. And how about The Blues ...

Saturday, October 24

A dodgy subject

The excellent Matthew Parris, and Bonnie Greer continue to promote debate, following Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time. Having spent some time in the States I can vouch for the more open attitude to racial mix that exists here in England (at least in the Capital). Our continuing to be the destination of choice for so many immigrants reflects this. Likewise, a preference for fairness and reluctance to see the underdog abused (however two-bit his rhetoric) has led to an immediate rise in support, not necessarily for the BNP, but (and freedom of speech aside) for the right to promote their electorate’s interests. The BNP will prosper for as long as our main parties refuse to address the issues related to a growing underclass and rising population at a time of economic decline.

A bridge too far

The vulnerability of my faux incisor to the pork rib stress-test – a thumbs down for our thermoplastics industry – resulted in another visit to the dentist and a classic example of rural fix or mend, courtesy of Mr Superglue. He assures me my dental work should now hold firm until after new year but didn’t dwell on how he then removes the cemented bridgework prior to installation of the real thing.

Following our first mild frost the neighbours have been stripping sloe berries from hedges and steeping ’em in jars of gin, in readiness for the festive season.

Thursday, October 22

A disappointing diet

The postie had a noticeable eau de grump about him this morning. I doubt their enthusiasm for the strike, local staff being much more a part of the (rural) community than our metropolitan awkward squad; and decent jobs hereabouts don’t grow on trees – they’re not stupid. Must admit, whilst appreciating the luxury of a door-to-door (universal) service, it does seem an archaic indulgence in the modern era.

Great to be back on the moor; seems an age since we were out in the open. Though the weather’s turned and we’ve been persuaded to resurect the heating, for colour, autumn countryside is hard to beat. Now everyone has gone home there’s little out there ’cept a few grumpy steers; and the birds of course, gorging on berries. Visitors can be frustrated by the Devon banks and hedges – we have more than any other English county – and regretfully they shield so much from view. Fortunately, this time of year, hedges are subject to their seasonal trim and you don’t need the roof of a Discovery 3 to see over the top. Just now we’re clocking up the miles in search of you-know-what. Options remain as limited as the pub food I ate – the worst fish pie of the century, a revolting suet pudding and links of slurry-like sausages.

Saturday, October 17

Comfort food

It’s so good to return to home-cooking. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve enjoyed these last couple of weeks out and about: the Pad Thai, crab and prawns; the black pudding, Brixham scallops and poached quail’s eggs; new season partridge, celeriac and parsnip purée, braised cabbage and pancetta; the truffle risotto and champagne (the beef olives!). But – and brother-in-law’s fish pie included – it’s the domestic meals which register most. Friday’s dinner of osso buco (recipe courtesy of Angela Hartnett’s Granny) has been trumped by tonight’s supper of calf’s tongue and pungent green and sour white sauces. And after the Cumbrian bitter, pints of Tennent’s, and Scotch whisky, Sam’s cider seems so ... well, comfortable.

The new term has started and I’m already behind with my studies. Our new tutor is a classic ’70s lefty with all those predictable hang-ups. A class act, as long as you’re old enough to read between the lines. Their lives must be such a disappointment but I suppose it gets them out of bed of a morning. All that curdled knowledge ... such a jaundiced experience of life.

Friday, October 16

Classy porkers

Whilst Mrs G. was swapping recipes and grazing on vino and canapés yours truly had been working his way through Bath’s budget-priced Thai-themed cafes (and trying to determine how he ended up in Avonmouth, the other side of Bristol). Finally made it home to the barn last night along with the packet of sausages I’d acquired for supper. Very nice they were, though at £12.75/kilo for the Chef’s Special not for the faint-hearted. And now I really must get back to work.

Thursday, October 15

Lowlife

It’s getting so you can’t spend more than one night in your own bed. We decamped to Bath yesterday: the Boss is meeting cookery writer, Mary Berry; she started out with the author’s All Colour Cook Book, back in the early ’70s. I’ve been left to my own devices, with the usual proviso about not getting into trouble. Unfortunately the accommodation I booked (in advance) seems to be in an area that specialises in students and deadbeats, though most of the lads I’ve met begging for entrance money to the overnight hostel look better dressed that I am. That’s apart from the two individuals I bumped into last night who managed a fair imitation of Alec Guinness’ Fagin, and Lt. Dan of Forrest Gump fame (complete with wheelchair and bottle).

Tuesday, October 13

Stats

1,260 miles (in total) from two tanks of diesel (and there’s still 120 miles onboard); 48.3mpg, according to the motor’s computer. Not bad for an aging crate fitted with the old GM engine; but then I eased it along at a steady 69.9mph – doing my bit for the environment. Eleven hours for the return journey, including two brief stops for coffee and a leak. The most traffic cones I’ve seen in an age but, apart from a five-minute delay on the M42, traffic was unbelievably light. Picked up a couple of hot-smoked salmon fillets at a Cumbrian farm shop for when we arrived home. Along with a large glass of whisky it was just about perfect. A day off, then back to the grindstone.

Monday, October 12

Sundays are always bleak

Yesterday required some serious chill-out time to repair the damage from Saturday’s anniversary celebrations. Too much champagne and beef olives – most definitely a surfeit of beef olives: giant torpedoes of topside filled with bowel-threatening quantities of mealie puddin’. I was still digesting them during last night’s walk along Memory Lane, amongst the glaring arc lights and roaring generators. Dockside bars are desperate places of a Sunday night. Deckhands perched on top of stools, drinking apart, lost to maudlin thought ... Now comes the long drive home.

Saturday, October 10

Austere architecture for austere times

You’d think Jonathan Meades’ recent Off Kilter glimpse at the Granite City’s architecture would encourage me to look anew on our old stomping-ground; he made it seem so attractive. Yet all I seem able to focus on – tramping the cold, wet northeast streets at this time of year – are the cracks in the pavement. Its environment encourages that hunched-back, hands-in-pocket stance. Yes, I’m back here again.

Wednesday, October 7

Now it’s an Indian summer!

The weather is unbelievably mild, caterpillars cover the ground and insects cloud the air. Neighbours have discovered a nest of newly hatched swallows. The fledglings will have a tough time making it to Africa.One of the Boss’s feathered companions, a greenfinch, beak still stained after raiding for blackberries.

Moral dilemma

Hiking along a cliff-top you come across someone lying on the ground (fallen over?). You help him to his feet, dust the lad down and return his walking stick. He’s fine, he says, doesn’t need any help. You continue on your way and, glancing back, notice said gent has moved to the edge of the precipice and is adjusting his stance. Legging it back you try to engage him in conversation, offering to accompany the old boy to the nearest bus stop. The man reiterates he’s fine, politely but firmly suggesting you bog off. Who are you to say he isn’t just taking the sea air and that you’ve misunderstood the situation. Conversely, in these days of living wills ... what right has someone to interfere? You retire to a reasonable distance and continue to watch over him. He settles down on the cliff top, presumably lost to his thoughts, and eventually you continue on your way. Returning two hours later it seemed prudent to check, just in case. And sure enough ...

Sunday, October 4

Chill wind

Evidence of seasonal change as Mrs G’s sage-flavoured potato & sunflower-seed toast makes it onto the breakfast table. The Sally Army band’s repertoire amid chill autumn drizzle during yesterday’s market almost hinted at Christmas. We were stocking up on treats: black-frilled partridges, bloody rabbits and venison sausages; butchers doing a roaring trade with their tags of beef, giant rolls of fore-rib and sirloins. Customers with large families I guess? Given Halloween lies waiting, the cynics amongst us would have noticed that pumpkin prices are in the ascendancy – eight quid for big ’uns. Still, job done: freezer topped off in readiness for the coming month.

Thursday, October 1

Smiley face

Gudgeon’s smile is restored, thanks to the dental laboratory’s Perspex representation of my maxillary canine tooth and lateral incisor. Actually it ain’t too shabby – a huge improvement over the dentist’s makeshift Airfix model. It seems I’ve to wait a couple of months for the mouth to heal before they can fit the real thing. I celebrated with lunch at the Peter Tavy Inn. The staff there always address me as Guv, and I don’t know if it’s the proximity of HM Prison or down to my fondness for Jail Ale. Whatever ... the food and beer are always good. Having subsequently run a couple of errands we ended up over on the east side of Dartmoor, and found a remote spot to park up and read the newspapers. Not a soul in sight, or so we thought. Why is it, when you park in the middle of nowhere, other people feel obliged to seek you out? Over the next hour a succession of German and American visitors (7 to a vehicle) deplaned alongside us and began feeding the horses. Needless to say, when they left and the supply of rich tea biscuits dried up, the herd descended on the car and had it away with one of my windscreen wipers and half a wing mirror. Bloody vandals – another example of our so-called broken society.