Thursday, December 31

Onwards and upwards

Here we are again. I suppose New Year’s Eve can be both a time of reflection and a chance to ponder the future. I long abandoned need for resolutions having accepted I’m as close to the end product as ever likely to be (yes, I know, ‘warts and all’ is a poor procedural defence). Being human I’ve always been able to attribute my finer points to a firmness of purpose and soundness of character; weaknesses I can blame on circumstance or the failure of others. Shit, if it works for McPlonker it’ll work for me; moral hypocrisy isn’t just for the rich and powerful.

Tuesday, December 29

Curtains on the noughties

Whilst London stocks reach a pre-Leman collapse high (all that pension, Chinese and Russian money has to go somewhere), FT’s analysts are quick to remind us that McPlonker has presided over the UK’s lowest economic growth of the post-war period, witnessing the worst stock-market returns since the ’30s (as my PEPs and ISAs can testify). In the meantime the sour-faced prick continues to spend money and run up debt like some wastrel from a Dickens’ novel. If attendance at shopping-centre sales is anything to go by the lad’s not alone. I put the latter down to people’s pessimism about the future and the need for gratuitous spending – according to a Harris poll only the French appear bleaker about their prospects. In the old days people didn’t expect a lot and were rarely disappointed. Regretfully we seem to have come full-circle and a rerun of the ’70s looms into view. I suspect the current generation will find our hair shirts a hard act to follow. Not wishing to labour the point but I’ve goose stovies and oatcakes for supper.

Sunday, December 27

Gigi

Following Boxing Day with a Sunday kind of throws you. Turns out to be an unscheduled free day. What to do ... adjourn to the Dog & Duck and admire the new Laura Ashley frock our stubble-chinned cross-dressing neighbour treated himself to, for Christmas, or stay slumped in front of the box with a bottle of something mind-numbingly alcoholic. As luck would have it we’re afforded a rerun of Leslie Caron in Gigi. Admitting to being a fan of Caron is probably on par with being seen drinking in a Wardour Street club. The film’s a treat, not least for HonorĂ© Lachaille’s over-the-top apartment and those scenes at Maxim’s. Can you imagine making a feel-good family movie in the modern era where the schoolgirl heroine is being groomed for sex, and one of the principal heroes – a lecherous old man – is allowed to be so passionate about his attraction to young girls?

Saturday, December 26

Merry Christmas

Perhaps too merry on occasion. Between the stubborn ice, inebriated drivers and a hedgerow replete with shotguns, walking those three miles to the Quik-E-Mart for my newspaper this morning became a dangerous exercise. Returning home following a couple of liveners at the Dog & Duck more so. Still, great Christmas Day, full of cheer – and with enough books (gifts) to keep me occupied through to spring and beyond (Diarmaid MacCulloch’s tome just for starters). Lots of Finlandia jellies, Turkish confectionary and (an especially rare treat) a Montecristo corona. Another two days of goose (ham, cold chipolatas and wilted salmon) and I’ll have done my duty. Jars and jars of goose fat for the store cupboard. The piece de resistance most definitely the great lady’s Christmas pudding, replicas of which sit languishing in the pantry for future rainy days.

Thursday, December 24

Brrr

I’m holed up in the office to a background of Cuban dance music – an antidote to the ice. We’re frozen in; vehicles are unable to gain access and if they did they wouldn’t get out again. The only last minute shopping I’ll be doing this morning will be on Shanks’.

Wednesday, December 23

As slippery as a politician on the make

I thought the rise in temperature would improve our lot but it remains a nightmare on minor roads. The vehicle’s been in more fields than a blackface sheep, pirouetting off and back onto the track, through the ice and mud. No use complaining as – unless you want to pay even more local taxes – there’s only so much the council can do; and let’s face it, who amongst us is willing to shell out for a set of tractor tyres just for the odd couple of weeks. I wouldn’t even have bothered going out except I’d been tasked with acquiring our festive vegetables (and the Quik-E-Mart had run out of brussel sprouts). Turned out to be three quid for the sprouts and two hundred for bodywork repair. Who am I kidding (body work): it runs till it drops then I push her over the cliff.

Tuesday, December 22

Spicy fare

A light dusting of snow has cast a shroud over the icy surface, making today’s trip to the market an interesting proposition. It’s a beautiful scene and one wonders why you’d want to stand in a queue at Gatwick or St Pancras. That said, I suspect we’d be less sanguine if the electricity supply failed, the water remained frozen, or we ran out of heating oil and propane. I’m currently reading A 1950s Childhood: from tin baths to bread and dripping by Paul Feeney – an evocation of childhood that featured much colder weather and harsher living conditions than today. In the end you adapt and cope, roll with the punches.

Tempted to heat up last night’s dinner for our breakfast – have been wowing the Boss with a range of Singaporean dishes, and the fridge is cluttered with cling-wrapped bowls of left-over chicken in coconut-milk gravy and spiced pork bone soup.

Update: me and my big mouth. Thanks to my low profile go-faster tyres the vehicle is unable to negotiate the ice bound slope leading out of here. Accordingly, we’ve had to hoof it six slippery miles to buy a newspaper and a ‘get well soon’ card for brother-in-law. Just about the worst time of year to be admitted to hospital with pneumonia and viral meningitis (is there a good time?).

Sunday, December 20

Warrior Johnson

In an effort to shore up the core vote – to dissuade their electorate from jumping ship and joining the BNP – Labour continues to promote class warfare as a more palatable focus for their supporters’ residual prejudice, spite and envy. It proved a decent enough strategy in the past – let’s face it, it isn’t just the Skinners and Johnsons of the world who look to Cameron and think happy the mother who bears such a child, going from deed to deed, from glory to glory, from office to office, his scribe following after, till they reach whatever seat it may be that is the height of their desire. Fortunately, too many of us recall that winter of discontent to be persuaded by the band of brothers; if you are young or are looking to your kids’ future I’d have thought voters more likely to choose hope and aspiration over previous generations’ entrenched hatreds. Still, whatever works for you.

Saturday, December 19

Manager of the year?

If the season stopped here there would - with due deference to Fulham's Roy Hodgson - be only one contender for Manager of the Year.

Polar ice cap reaches Devon

Copenhagen ends with a fragile accord as power brokers sideline the UN and cancel Christmas. McPlonker’s legacy in tatters after trying to give away yet more of the money we don’t have in a desperate attempt to save the world. Let’s face it, neither the US nor the Chinese leadership were in a position to sell anything grander to the people back home; and it puts our declining (European) influence in perspective. The Guardian has a nice line about the global community resembling an alcoholic who has decided to save up for a liver transplant rather than give up drink. Like the national debt, we all appreciate the necessity of doing something but prefer it was at someone else’s expense. I’d have signed off on the deal in return for guarantees about permanently excluding that pillock from East Hull from the Newsnight studio. Have woken to a particularly beautiful morning on the Ponderosa; unfortunately, the water mains is frozen and there’s no cup of tea.

Update: damn it, now the snow’s arrived.

Friday, December 18

Another milestone

No use moaning about the freezing temperatures as everyone elsewhere seems to be experiencing worse conditions than Devon. That said, the sheep look decidedly parky – and the cockerel’s developed a sore throat. There are nine blackbirds and a song thrush parked outside the office window, together with the largest vixen ever seen – all of which are looking for food. A buzzard and a sparrow hawk remain perched in adjacent oaks waiting their chance. The only characters I haven’t seen recently are the deer.

This week celebrates our third anniversary in the barn – our fourth Christmas. I say ‘celebrates’ in that, despite the obvious frustration behind those original intentions, it’s still been a lot of fun. Spent yesterday crawling over another dilapidated pile with a couple of builders; the afternoon deep in the woods watching forestry guys fell trees, ever ready to update my skills.

One of the principal things you miss in the country is a decent cup of coffee. We overcame this by acquiring an excellent Swiss machine which has been away with the manufacturers this last ten days for its biennial service. As they say, you never really appreciate something until ...

Wednesday, December 16

Strewth

Now it’s become surreal. Sixth place, close behind the hallowed top four; a peep at Europe; Liverpool and Man. City trailing ... OK, so everyone has games in hand – and we know it won’t last. The last time the Blues won five in a row Trevor Francis was sucking on Jubblies and I was tying the knot with Mrs G.

Tuesday, December 15

Up town

The downside to Christmas is shopping for gifts. Yes – I know... but unfortunately Amazon doesn’t stock everything. You’d think she’d have enough slippers and bed socks by now. If we’re truthful, who amongst us enjoys the seasonal trudge along the city’s chilly, wet streets, through overheated stores full of the great unwashed paying ridiculous prices for glitter-encrusted friperies and demijohns of 4711. Perhaps unwashed is unkind, but if I was snottered on once I was snottered on a dozen times. That health-service message about using a handkerchief or packet of tissues is obviously falling on deaf ears. Whilst studiously avoiding the pub I was still obliged to take a leak, and on both occasions found myself the only punter who bothered to wash his hands on the way out. What is it with these guys? Frank Skinner was writing in The Times recently, bragging about how he never washed his hands after taking a piss, branding those who do a touch grand. He’s probably the same tosser who usually fetches up at the bar and helps himself from my bag of crisps. Grotty bastard. Ended up at Carluccio’s for the works Christmas lunch. Like most similar chains it’s a bit hit and miss. Today was wide of the mark, though the Valpolicella masked the worst. The Boss likes the place as it means she’s not cooking.

Monday, December 14

Time and consciousness

The frustration I feel regarding my inability to articulate both the sense of freedom and the challenges I experience when walking alone on the hills, in attempting to portray the landscape that surrounds me (to rationalise that shock of insignificance which overwhelms on a clear night) continues to drive my appetite for an understanding of my place in the scheme of things. The current tangent revolves around the deliberations of Henri Bergson, the 19th Century philosopher. If struggling with scree slopes can be difficult, following this lad’s rationale has become a pain in the butt. I now appear to be the sole male survivor in my lit. class, and with ten women students sitting beside me have become concerned about my resemblance to Captain Brown on the set of Cranford.

Sunday, December 13

Fair division of labour

Returned home to find Mrs G. resembling a Yuletide snow globe scene, encased within a swirling cloud of duck down. Whilst I’d been out on the moor Farmer Charles had stopped by with the proceeds of the morning shoot, and unlike pheasants which are content to hang about for a few days, these guys required immediate attention. The Boss plucks, draws and cooks them; I open the wine and eat.

Update: rub the skin of the ducks with sea salt, freshly ground cloves and cinnamon, and bake on a bed of onion slices and tangerine halves for 30 mins. Serve with rice and peas. Fan-dabi-dozi.

Friday, December 11

Christmas begins

The shootists nailed another brace of pheasants to our front door this morning further enhancing the winter (freezer) supplies. Some excellent partridge have also come my way, and I’ve gone long on venison sausages and various parts of a goat for those cold winter nights. Today’s number one priority has been our acquisition of a Christmas tree. If I’d carried a saw during yesterday’s saunter amongst the forests around Lustleigh it might has served its purpose. Still, nice pint at the Cleave Inn – though the jury is out on the village itself which has the feel of a manicured retirement home for well-heeled ex-pats. After a couple of false starts I fetched up at the Forestry Commission’s place over by Exeter race course, coming away with a spectacular nine-foot specimen. Fortunately we have high ceilings. I half expected a tawny owl to emerge from its branches so dense are the needles. Needless to say the Boss is intent on frustrating those climate-change Johnnies by unleashing a string or two of seasonal illuminations. As for sparklies and baubles... it looks like Kirstie Allsopp’s thrown up all over the tree.

Wednesday, December 9

Big deal

I don’t play tombola and the boiler doesn’t need replacing, and as I’m not in line for a six-figure bonus there doesn’t appear too much on offer in today’s PBR – though if I need a change of career the government promises to equip me with the skills required to face the modern world. That slow train-crash which is the run up to next year’s election continues along its predictable track. The inference that public sector front-line services will be protected is laughable; non-emotive services (anything other than education, health and police), particularly council-delivered obligations, will be trashed; the Haringeys of the world appear doomed. How Darling intends to halve the borrowing requirement is beyond me or anyone else in the real world.

Tuesday, December 8

No scones today

I’m keeping my head down as the Boss is on the warpath. The annual Rayburn service turned out to be a major event and the barn now looks (and smells) like the engine room of a rusting, rivet-hulled side-trawler out of Lowestoft. The country might be crawling with IT consultants named Patel, but you try finding someone with a Corgi certificate or who qualifies as an AGA/Rayburn specialist. They must have been the ones that Phil Woolas’s superannuated friends managed to apprehend in order to qualify for their bonus. If we ever get out of here it’ll be back to cooking on hooks over open wood fires. Should Copenhagen have their way we can probably dispense with the fire and go straight to raw turnips – on plentiful supply at this morning’s market – a particularly cold affair, crying out for a dose of global warming.

Monday, December 7

Burning money

Billions down the plug-hole... cue Captain Bertorelli: ‘what a mistaka to maka,’ and the NHS IT strategy exits stage left. Good job we’ve money to burn, or perhaps not – depends on who you listen to. Some people obviously believe there’s still enough to spread around, it’s just a case of whose money you confiscate and which fortunate group benefits. Whichever, between Copenhagen and Darling’s scheduled address this Wednesday it doesn’t look good for many. At least Christmas is on the horizon. I enjoy the festive season, not least the food and drink. Tonight’s boiled ox-tongue is a case in point: you only appear to see them at this time of year, and they’re a welcome addition to game birds and venison; definitely preferable to celebrity rats. We remain conscientiously green, rarely eating anything that isn’t shot, clubbed or grow in the Southwest.

Friday, December 4

The draw

Can’t complain about the draw; no excuses and nowhere to hide come June. I think the bookies initially listing us as joint second favourites is pushing it, but then they’re correct in anticipating a mountain of cash will be wagered on England. Bet Capello can’t believe his luck: not only qualifying, but seeded; and now a comfortable start. Doubtless it’ll end in tears.

No more acts of faith

The ongoing climate change debate leaves little room for agnostics and seems to be moving beyond the realms of our relatively harmless yah boo sucks party politics. This afternoon’s discussion on Sky News saw a surly, shaven-headed demagogue from the LSE in competition with the Spectator’s cherub, Fraser Nelson. Whilst the latter dared to articulate the public’s scepticism, Bob Ward gave a flavour of what it must be like to be on-message with Russia’s current Stalin infatuation, following the party line with regards to ‘we’re all doomed and will destroy anyone who says otherwise.’ They still don’t get it – haranguing everyone at the top of their voices whilst reiterating the ‘trust us we’re scientists’ isn’t enough. When you’re down on one knee, having being systematically conned by politicians in general, Blair, Brown and the bankers, blind trust (and the Irish Catholic Church springs to mind) is in short supply. I’m sure we’re all of a one with regards to concerns about the planet’s future, but let’s not dash into Plan A like we did in Iraq, sans credible, ‘believable’ evidence that will lead to a correspondingly correct and achievable course of action.

Tuesday, December 1

No warning on the packet

If you’ve wondered why Scotland is prone to heath issues you need only consume one of those ‘tasty and authentic award-winning haggis’ on sale at the Quik-E-Mart. Tonight’s specimen (for a belated St Andrew’s supper where we meet to venerate Alex McLeish) consisted of lamb, beef, oatmeal and onions, plus a special blend of spices and seasoning, which – in common with most ethnic delicacies from north of the border – includes a mindboggling quantity of salt. If something could be described as a five-pint haggis then we ate it, ’cause that’s what it took to slake your thirst. I assume the salt’s there as a preservative and to enhance the savouriness of the dish, but c’mon guys... in this day and age even I balk.