Friday, December 31

Leopards and spots

The prediction that one-in-five of us will live to be centenarians must be the most depressing news of this past week. Whilst in no hurry to expire, the thought I might be given the chance to do it all again is not as comforting as you may think. I suppose it would afford me the opportunity to right past wrongs, to strive to be more polite and attentive to friends and acquaintances? Then again ... As a contrast to that of our hosts, we left Ireland in the company of a loquacious Harley-riding malcontent with a burr under his saddle. Both an American exile and Ireland émigré he was quitting Cork after many years residence. It wasn’t hard to understand why, more so how he’d lasted so long. Entertaining dinner company but definitely short-changed in the political and diplomatic skills department. Leopards and spots, both of us.

Thursday, December 30

Thanks (or is it Tanks?)

OK so it wasn’t exactly a set from Doctor Zhivago, but County Clare’s hoar frost was a spectacular sight. Despite the absence of snow and some glorious sunshine it remained a chilly -9ºC and ice crystals begat ice crystals. Unlike one or two northern counties there was water, though you had to keep a tap running or ease things along by applying a gas burner to the outside run of the pipe beneath the earth. Once inside, wood fires – along with whiskey and music – kept everything toasty. No one mentioned the ghost of the Celtic Tiger. A succession of meals was punctuated by brief walks along the beach or the Burren and excursions to west coast hostelries. As guests of both epicureans and one-time pig farmers I guess we had the best of worlds, though the early morning trip to the byre, to help smash the ice on the water troughs and feed the cattle (and the donkey and pony, the chicken and geese), didn’t sit well with my hangover or delicate stomach. It was with some reluctance we trudged back to the ferry port, fortified and exhausted by a week of champagne and Guinness, foie gras and smoked salmon, sausages and bacon, roast goose and curried duck-livers, crab cakes and fresh mussels... Thanks again, guys. Ah sure, it was grand.

Wednesday, December 22

Off for some black stuff

The harsh weather hasn’t hindered our neighbour’s muck-spreading operation. Pristine white snow is a thing of the past. For me it’s been hard work just watching Mrs G. pack. The view outside – our journey – is hardly enticing. Fog is the latest component; the overnight temperature fell as low as -10. All that’s left for me to do, after consuming large portions of porridge, is to prise the motor’s wheels from their icy grip and point us in the general direction. The Bachelors’ hits are lodged in the dash: it’s Charmaine, Ramona and Diane all the way. Of course the ice may yet have the last word.

Monday, December 20

Treacherous stretch of the leg

Walking several miles on snow can be either a pleasant excursion or painful experience, depending on the number and intensity of your falls. I didn’t disappoint, managing a couple of classics. Apart from 2-3 Land Rovers the only vehicles on the road are tractors – the livestock have to be fed. There were some abandoned vehicles in obvious places, though most people appear to have heeded advice and stayed home. That or they’re standing in a queue at one of our transport hubs. Despite the freezing fog and sub-zero temperature we remain naively optimistic about our own travel plans. As I speak the neighbour has cranked up his JCB with the intention of ploughing a communal path to the highway.

Overheard in the village this morning. Father to young son: “Don’t eat the yellow snow.”

Christmas on hold

On the plus side... It does look pretty. A touch chilly. Unfortunately inside isn’t much better. I closed the curtains early yesterday afternoon as the view only exaggerated a perception of Scott’s last days. There was another substantial fall overnight and the roads are closed. We were hoping to depart for County Clare in two days time having been invited to spend Christmas on the fringes of the Burren, an even more remote spot than the Ponderosa. Given the forecast, driving up through Wales and across Ireland presents a number of challenges (getting out of here being the biggest). Right now we’re short of basics. I have to don my snow shoes and walk to town.

Sunday, December 19

Strictly English

The correct way to write ... and why it matters. I’ve always thought Simon Heffer the sort of man who’s comfortable holding forth in club committee rooms, or flicking a cane at the front of a Giles Cartoon classroom. No doubt he’d regard me as a walking solecism, a vulgar metaphor? Whilst the lad’s a pedant prig, snobbery remains a relatively minor vice – some would say a comforting sin. Many contemporary school teachers argue grammar the province of spell-check and sub-editors; Heffer believes a man should aspire to prime and paint his own skirting board. I promise to try harder – or is it better?

Saturday, December 18

The snow arrives

O shit, we’re buried. Should have gotten in additional supplies.

Thanks to the support of neighbours’ shoulders, two shovels and a sack of rock salt, I’ve managed to move the motor 50yds onto higher ground – which gives us a fighting chance of getting out of here sometime next week. Last night left us with eight or so inches of snow. Today’s sun is melting a certain amount, which, given the evening’s sub-zero temperature, will result in a sizeable ice field tomorrow, effectively marooning us. On the plus side most other people appear to be facing worse conditions.

Friday, December 17

Dining out

I’m currently working my way through Exeter’s greasy spoons, with good and bad in equal measure. Today’s clientele was predominately slapheads and tattoos, a smattering of silent disparate couples who wish they were elsewhere and with someone else. Clad in traditional brightly coloured Formica, the establishment promised a whole lot more than it delivered. Egg and bacon baps are my standard – the further down the food chain the higher the bacon’s salt content and the more processed the bread. This latest floury specimen may have once contained evidence of organic material, but I wouldn’t bet any of Mrs G’s Hermes scarves on the result of a forensic examination. Nice mug of tea however. Three kids at the next table were tucking into bowls of chips and quarts of tomato ketchup. I guess for them the pupil premium remains little more than a political ruse.

Thursday, December 16

Stones and glass houses

I need another haircut. When treating Mrs G. to lunch last week the maitre d’ addressed us as ladies. Then today, in the Dog and Duck, a passing stranger mistook my burgeoning silver mane and faded denims as evidence of a like-minded soul with traditional left-leaning sympathies – holding forth on ‘our’ support for such things as Hamas and Bob Ainsworth. Not that I’ve anything against dope-smoking Palestinians, it’s just that I prefer to keep my nose out of other people’s business. Then again, properly cared-for hair could well win me approval of the Swiss banking fraternity: surely reason enough for avoiding the barbers.

Much has been made this week about the perils of obesity, and far be it for me to comment (albeit I’m approaching this holiday a stone lighter than last year), but I’ve just sat and watched the two little girls from behind the bar take their deferred lunch break . Neither is much above five-two, yet each has eaten a plate of food that would take a six-foot agricultural labourer the best part of an eight-hour shift to work off. Does my bum look big in this? You bet your sweet...

Change

As Scotland braces itself for three feet of snow I’m pleased to report that Royal Mail has delivered Christmas. Looking out of the office window I suspect we too have seen the end of blue skies and benign conditions. Grey is the order of today, and très windy – the harbinger of our own taste of the Arctic due this weekend. Yesterday we managed what will probably be our last decent walk of the year. The livestock were hunkering down, high-sided paths littered with fresh scrapes fashioned by the ponies as shelter from the coming storm. Kestrels much in evidence, stocking up on careless larks.

Wednesday, December 15

Yuletide audit

The office’s Christmas card display is looking a little healthier following this morning’s post. Was concerned I might have to resurrect a number of retreads – cards I’ve kept from previous years, or even worse: mail myself a dozen or so extra in order to impress the postman. Whilst appreciating many people now forward their festive greetings over the internet, often piously donating to charity, Christmas cards, for better or for worse, remain a salutary audit of friends and acquaintances.

Monday, December 13

Christmas on hold

If you wear a postman’s uniform and support a Scottish accent steer well clear of Mrs G. Our Christmas appears marooned at Royal Mail’s Scottish Distribution Centre in Wishaw. Everything arrived there last Wednesday and – like the Bates Motel – appears unlikely to check out anytime soon.

Where now for the big lad?

Any Human Heart, the only programme worth watching on recent Sunday nights (excepting the footy highlights), has regretfully finished. You couldn’t help but chuckle along to Broadbent and Macfadyen’s portrayals of the antihero Mountstuart. It’s a comforting thought – that life is essentially an aggregate of the good and bad luck that befalls us and is perhaps beyond our control – however, that would be to ignore the way most individuals acquiesce and, as with Mountstuart, remain content to just stumble along. Yes luck plays its part but mostly we end up with our just deserts. Doubtless Sam Allardyce would beg to differ.

The new Thatcherism

Surprise, surprise: as Britons age they move to the right. Whilst seemingly bad news for Red Ed and the boys, if I was he I wouldn’t worry too much. People are fickle. They’ll likely change their minds in ten years time – and Miliband’s a young lad. Free healthcare and education appear to be the key ... ‘I’m doing OK as long as you don’t make me pay for my kids’ education or my ageing parents’ healthcare (if needs must, raid the benefits of the undeserving poor).’  A predictable 78% believe there’s too wide a disparity between rich and poor, rich being anyone with more money than you have. Unfortunately I can’t see Carlos Tevez splitting his reputed £250k/week tax-free salary with the boys from Forres Mechanics. As far as equal opportunities go, 80% are of the opinion that such as the Blair offspring – from a privileged background – will fare better than an average kid from his old Sedgefield constituency, and that the chances of young Alfie making it from Crap Street Comprehensive into Oxbridge and thereby a job in the media is just about zilch. Current social attitudes are hardly a revelation but the survey is bound to be of interest to policy wonks. ‘Tax the rich’ retains its populist attraction, as does incarcerating the bankers, along with the presumption that all politicians are lying, cheating bastards.

Saturday, December 11

Weekend treats

I don’t eat as much smoked fish as in the days it came free, and truth to tell, much of what’s commercially available nowadays isn’t too clever. Today’s lunch, however, from Hollies Trout Farm is an exception. Not what you’d call a budget product, their cold smoked wild salmon is worth the pain. The salmon came out of the Teign by way of one of the three fishermen left on the river. Fair restores your faith in fine food. Tonight’s supper, from another local producer at this week’s market, is Paris bistro favourite Bavette de Veau.

Jury’s out

Whatever righteous justification we ascribe to rioting students I suspect that for many participants it’s a combination of a noble cause and something as base as for-the-craic. Politicians in turn probably view the disturbances as both a necessary safety valve and a convenient distraction. Despite the media doing their best to fan the flames, the violence and vandalism has certainly swung the argument the goverment’s way. With the festive season upon us policemen have doubtless welcomed the overtime. I suppose it is right the general public (at least the taxpaying part of it) should invest in our future – we need medics after all. But then most GPs I know are as rich as Croesus, and it seems inequitable that bus drivers should fund medical training in order the doctors can then spend their more generous publicly funded income on privately educating their own children and reinforcing the class divide.

Thursday, December 9

Festive songs

If the electricity company deciding to turn off the juice between 09:30 and 17:00 today wasn’t enough to get me out of the barn and up town, Mrs G's rendition of Santa’s a Scotsman will do it.

Wednesday, December 8

Necessary walks

I daresay snow has become more of an acquired taste following this past week’s exploits. Given my early days on the Lecht you would mistakenly think me comfortable in the medium. Whilst it’s true that experience afforded me a level of proficiency when driving on the white stuff (it helped having four-wheel drive and specialist tyres), black ice is of a different order. And that, despite the sunshine, is what we’ve got. It makes trips to the Quik-E-Mart a little more interesting. Despite what the police say you can’t remain incarcerated at home: places to go, things to do; and someone will always find work for idle hands – usually involving my outstretched arms and skeins of wool ... Sneaking away this afternoon, and fortified by a magic aspirin and stick of liquorice, I managed to leg it all the way up Yes Tor, the second highest point on Dartmoor. Its west slope is not quite a glacier, although parts – at least the route I took – do a fair imitation. The view from the top was just about worth the effort, not so the stinging breeze and sunburnt face. I walked back via High Willhays, the highest point on the moor, its outcrop bedecked with college ramblers (doubtless getting in shape for their next protest). Let’s hope tomorrow’s vote is less exciting than this evening’s match from The Emirates.

Monday, December 6

Brrr

Despite the bleak outlook elsewhere in the country we managed to make it up on to the moor this afternoon (I need the exercise and it got me out of signing Christmas cards). Aside from an occasional semi-pirouette the motor performed well. Though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – blazing sunshine in fact, the temperature failed to get above -2 deg. Great walk, however; you can go a long way on Marmite sandwiches and a packet of Sports Mixture. Lots of petrified waterfalls and frozen pools, that golden light you get this time of year. If I was Ansel Adams I’d have taken a photograph. In the distance, down on the low ground, banks of rolling fog. Needless to say no one else was around. Half-a-dozen crows and two hedge sparrows made up the bird life; the migratory birds have migrated. And when the sun went down, the mercury really nosedived.

Sunday, December 5

Warm feet

Despite everyone and his granny venturing out on the roads yesterday, thanks to a fluke of timing we always seemed to be heading in the opposite direction – more specifically to/from Crediton market (monthly freezer replenishment, boiling fowls, etc.). One of the resident producers breeds South Devons (Orange Elephants) and the beef never disappoints. In an effort to supplement our diet of pheasant we came away laden with packs of skirt, onglet (a rarity) and shin. Mrs G. had been working outside plucking yet more birds; as they’d been hanging in the shed for five days they were virtual blocks of ice. Fortunately one managed to defrost in time for supper. I should probably be concerned about the amount of lead shot we may or may not be consuming.

Clint Eastwood was on the box in an Arena special, celebrating Dave Brubeck’s 90th birthday. We were fortunate to catch the lad years ago when he still had his own teeth. You rarely hear Brubeck’s name without the mega-hit Take Five being lauded. Time Out, the album on which the track features, and which is sitting in front of me, is also notable for its modernist-inspired abstract cover – the work of Neil Fujita, a Hawaiian-born graphics designer who coincidently died earlier this year. Fujita was also responsible for the cover of Mario Puzo’s book The Godfather. Not a lot of people know that (said in a Michael Caine sort of accent).

I might have been a little off with the sizing on my new work boots, having to line them with several pages from Ferreters Weekly. Memo to self: Must buy new insoles.

Friday, December 3

Festive lights

Worried about a convoy of white vans colliding with my desk (there’s an underground spring which surfaces five paces from the front door, turning the yard into an ice rink) I called in at Ike Godsey’s for several sacks of rock salt. The store is a bit like those old western films: once inside you’re in danger of ordering vast quantities of flour, ten gross of nails, etc. I treated myself to a new pair of work boots, and a horse blanket for the motor – in case of a breakdown during inclement weather. For obvious reasons there weren’t too many people about. Conversation in the Dog & Duck was predictable: Sepp Blatter, blah, blah, blah. Saloon bar debate hasn’t been the same since McPlonker got shafted. Returned home to 9ft of flashing lights and sparkly baubles.

Enough

Enough already: we lost, get over it. The only intelligent comment I’ve heard was from Mihir Bose. If you aren’t prepared to play by an autonomous organization’s rules (written or otherwise) then don’t enter its competitions; if you want to stand a chance of succeeding, become part of the system (the same hold true for the European Union). You can’t blame it on our self-righteous, self-indulgent media; and yes, the FA really is run by tossers. Let’s not be bad losers or act like a flock of priggish girls.

Common Snipe

A new (especially long) beak skulking around the yard this morning.What Mrs G. would call a Mire Snipe, the Irish a Bog Bleater – what Burns referred to as ‘the Blitter frae the boggie’. Perhaps an indication to how wet the surrounding ground is ... so wet you could shoot snipe off him (Anthony Powell).

Andy Warhol knitwear

I suppose it’s no use moaning about the continued freeze as just about everyone seems to have it worse that we do. During the day the roads switch between slush and black ice, which makes driving kind of interesting. Embarrassed by its appearance I paid for a valet service on the motor during the week, though 24 hrs later it was back to normal, inside and out. Stuffing a 9ft Christmas tree in the boot didn’t help. I’m waiting for the inevitable bug infestation – last year we were overrun by ladybirds. Have dug out our festive CDs and bunting in readiness for the seasonal makeover. My latest sweater – courtesy of Mrs Needles – is riot of orange, red, Majorelle blue and turquoise, adding to the general air of anarchic jollity. At least I hope that’s what it is: I could be going mad. Can’t believe I’m still wearing the same socks Aunt P. knitted for me 25 years ago – not one to give up on a faded garment.

Thursday, December 2

An island nation

I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t disappointed, but congrats to the Ruskies. The disbelief of media commentators, bitterness even, betrays their naivety. The reality of realpolitik wins out every time, suckers. A kick in the nuts maybe, truth is you win a few (The Olympics) you lose a few. Blatter – smiling his reptilian smile – has said swivel on your two votes, and like as not he’s the man in the driving seat. There’ll be an argument about whether we should continue to play his game or not bother, but you can't give up on the fight. Unfortunately for the FA, many fans (especially after recent inept World Cup performance) will just say screw England and those foreign johnnies, allegiances will be restricted to our league club. Fraternal message to Australia: nobody likes us and we don’t care.

Still all to play for

It’s all about politics, alliances and the perception of favours to come. I’m talking about the World Cup vote of course. If, against the odds (at least the odds of a couple of months ago) we do win, it should be cause for much celebration – and another feather in the cap for the glitter dust that is Beckham, Cameron and the Royal Family. There’ll be no shortage of recriminations if it goes against us: ‘it was the BBC wot done it; those buggers at St Andrews; our inept FA; Putin made FIFA an offer they couldn’t refuse; it’s warmer in Spain and Portugal... Doubtless much will be made of the continued global decline of meat pies and Bovril. Fingers crossed eh.

Wednesday, December 1

Plan B

Is there anything more depressing than Christmas shopping? Of course there is, but still ... when it’s brass-monkey weather and people are hacking all over the place the high street is the last place you want to be. Out of frustration I usually end up buying token crap. Today I gave in after barely three hours; didn’t buy any presents, instead bought a new overcoat for myself. Came home and opened a beer – an hour or so later I’d ordered everything online.

Monday, November 29

Phasianus colchicus

I don’t exactly hate Mondays but it’s not my favourite day of the week. A whole weekend of being chivvied about the chores I failed to take care of during the preceding week and which now need urgent attention, and then you get creamed by Mrs G. on University Challenge. That said, Osborne reckons we’re out of the woods, house prices continue to fall, and there’s still the best part of a tank of heating oil.

After knocking the recent standard of films on TV, last night they reran McDonagh’s In Bruges, the hit-man comedy with Gleeson and Farrell. The accent might be a little different but Farrell’s character has to be a dead ringer for the lad from South Quay. Can’t watch it without chuckling in memoriam.

I took to the hills after work. Whilst not as bad as up North, damn it’s cold. The sun had been out all day and the temperature was still one below; three characters passed me on snow boards. Just wait ’til winter arrives. And talking of hit-men ... Farmer Charles delivered the proceeds of today’s shoot – somewhat opportune, as this evening’s supper was the last of the previous. We’re at number 78 on the list of ‘Pheasant casseroles I have known’.

Sunday, November 28

Unbelievable

Pensioner busted for possession.

Tradition

We don’t do God,’ Alistair Campbell famously pronounced. But it would be difficult to profess yourself English (in a cultural sense) without acknowledging the Church’s influence. Whilst I might not believe in a god, you can’t ignore those early years at Sunday School, the faith schools, church parades ... all the weddings and funerals. A cursory nod by way of Radio 4’s Sunday Worship is about as close as it gets nowadays, purely for the pleasure of listening to organ music and the sing-along to so many familiar hymns. It’s a delicate balance, however. Though happy enough in the association of this morning’s prayers and readings from Greyfriars Kirk, I must admit to finding the compulsory inclusion of vicars and prayers at secular functions an intrusion, sometimes even offensively so. Doubtless the years of multiculturalism have done their worst?

Saturday, November 27

No complaints

Reading Amis’s The Information has been slow work. I’ve already said his stuff doesn’t travel well, but that’s only because he did such a good job of caricaturing the 80s ... and truth to tell, looking back, we’ve moved on – don’t think about it too much these days. When we do I suspect it’s chuckle time and red-faced embarrassment in equal measure. This particular novel is a satire on literary life, literary enmity, but is easily transferable – is the familiar stuff of competing egos, rivalries and jealousies. I lost interest in cinema because the books on which many films are based – thanks in part to an overblown imagination – deliver so much more: now I struggle with books because real life was/is infinitely larger. You couldn’t make it up – and I’m just one of the faceless extras. I feel for the current generation: under such pressure to succeed, yet obliged to sally forth in the face of such anally retentive fuckwits as Gove and Miliband. Amis dwelt on Britain’s supposed social and moral decline, and the vulgar vitality of America. I wouldn’t swop any of it.

Blue skies, but...

We have water: a bonus. I suppose the principal attraction of snow is its ability to sanitise the acres of mud and decaying vegetation that surrounds the barn. Let’s hope the motor starts this morning as it’ll be a chilly hike to the village. It appears there are a number of things ranked fundamental to human life – and Saturday morning croissants head the list. Thankfully the freezer is full of protein; it’s the vegetables that are in short supply.

Thursday, November 25

Back to eating in

I thought Bath was chilly until we returned home. The barn was just two degrees on its sunny side, a lot colder inside; we passed two gritting wagons on the way in. Bath was fun, as usual – the city gearing up for its traditional festive shopping extravaganza, seemingly giving the lie to recession Britain. Though perhaps not enough for Lord Young to feel vindicated. I wonder to what extend these faux pas hurt the Tories: fear Howard Flight’s cheap remarks may actually be worth votes. In my role as Mrs G’s bag carrier I had plenty of time to observe the local populace and can confirm that Bath’s women appear to outnumber the men by a ratio of 3-1. As most were dressed in little more than cotton T-shirts and brightly coloured flannel drawers – whilst yours truly was clad in three-sheep’s worth of sweater, long johns and a greatcoat – I was suitably impressed. Ditto with the All Blacks entourage, who strolled past me wearing shorts and trainers. Of the many meals I will be devouring in the coming days, neither bacon and egg sandwiches nor fish, chips and mushy peas will be one of them.

Monday, November 22

On the move

Because of the weather, yesterday was the first day in a week we’d managed to get out on the moor. It was extremely wet following our recent deluge, and the temperature (wind chill) is particularly noticeable. The livestock have been taken down leaving the ponies to forage alone. Grey skies are populated by flocks of crows and the promise of more rain – a handful of brightly coloured tents proved the exception. Camping in November is not for the fainthearted. Back home we’ve been celebrating Mrs G’s birthday with a haggis – I’d run out of ideas. And it was an excuse to open a new bottle of whisky. Tomorrow we decamp to Bath for a couple of days R&R. The Boss wants to do a little shopping before Osborne gives it all away. Apparently it’s even colder up there.

Thursday, November 18

Woolly jumpers or heating oil?

In the relatively short time we’ve been incarcerated in the barn the price of heating oil has increased by 60%. Unfortunately the alternative, more clothing, is up there alongside utilities on the raging inflation index. And let’s face it there are limits to how many layers you can wear indoors. Whilst the cost of food, too, outstrips earnings, I find they’re a canny lot, our retailers. Perhaps it’s me but, I’m having a hard time getting a handle on the price of things. The Quik-E-Mart has just sold me eight pints of milk for two quid. Eight pints! I was wondering how they do it, before noticing a pack of kitchen (paper) towels will set you back £6. I’d rather clean the table with an old vest than fork out that sort of money. And don’t get me started on tinned tomatoes. On toast, for supper it was one of the all time favourites, gleaned from my well-thumbed copy of The Andy Capp Cook Book. The Italians used to give them away: five tins or more for a quid. Now it’s almost a luxury food. Unbelievably, alongside on the same shelf were bottles of Piper Heidsieck at £13 a pop. Confused I may be but not enough to pass that up. I also bought two small lemon soles from the fish monger, for a fiver each. There was a time I’d have thought this steep: now it looks fairly tame, given someone’s risked his neck to catch the little suckers. I foresee the virtual extinction of fish in my lifetime and intend to eat as much as possible before they are priced off the menu.

Wednesday, November 17

That old hobby horse again

Mrs G. is happy enough to cook tripe as long as she doesn’t have to eat it. Ditto last week’s pressed ox tongue. You don’t see a lot of offal on menus these days, but some mornings, like today, I wake up with a taste for it. I suppose a lack of familiarity, availability of the raw product and an absence of cooking skills all contribute to the demise of these old favourites. I was tempted to cite our (society’s) relative affluence, but whilst those towards the bottom of the food chain more often than not distain it – choosing Quik-E-Mart pizzas or other processed crap – those with means and taste still seek it out.

Tripe, stuffed hearts and trotters are among my favourites. For the Boss, however, it is calves’ liver and sweetbreads. Yesterday, aware the latter often features on the menu, I booked a table at Michael Caines’ Gidleigh Park (You honestly didn’t think I’d get away with a pub lunch?). With two Michelin-stars it rates high on the list of places to eat – the UK’s No.1 according to The Sunday Times. Of course it was Sod’s Law they hadn’t any sweetbreads, but as the place is knee-deep in foie gras, oscietra caviar and truffle coated whatnots I was unlikely to get a slap. Gidleigh is only 20 miles distant, albeit off the beaten track. Excellent service, as you would expect; and providing you don’t get stuck into the Krug, within occasional reach of mere mortals.

Keep on truckin

A brisk half hour walk each day keeps you healthy and sane, say researchers. However at this time of year you have to be pretty determined. Even a trip across the yard requires Wellington boots and a waterproof jacket. Easier to throw yourself into the motor and drive wherever you’re going. Farmer Charles – who has a good many years on me – is out with his dogs every morning at first light. A dog legitimizes your walk, particularly in the city. Without one I always worried about being taken for a burglar casing the neighbourhood, imagined the local plod following my every move via their CCTV monitors. Our late lamented mutt also served as a deterrent to those urban entrepreneurs who were intent on relieving me of my pocket money, though over time it developed into an arms race as they acquired even larger and more assertive dogs. Nowadays I carry a heavy walking stick, but more to deter rogue bulls than footpads.

Tuesday, November 16

Dark Side of the Moon or Life on Mars?

Today is our wedding anniversary. As is customary I will be retiring to the Dog & Duck, treating Mrs G. to a meat pie and a swift half. And they said it wouldn’t last ... that’s what comes of failing to take out legal insurance. Whilst present day similarities are uncanny – not least in a hung parliament; rioting in Greece; the relaxation of lending rules that led to a house price bubble and subsequent banking crisis – at least this time around we’ve avoided the three-day week and an oil crisis. OK so the average price of a house was only £9,950, but before you whine about how easy it was for us baby boomers, I was earning twenty-seven quid a week and mortgage rates were 12%. From what I remember – and this must surely be of interest to Cameron’s proposed happiness index – the two of us were relatively sanguine about our misery. But then it was just getting started – the winter of discontent and worse was to follow. Tell me again, who exactly is the one-in-seven that reminisces about returning to the 70s?

Sunday, November 14

Escape to the hills

Braised shin of beef, in common with Balvenie malt whisky and stockpiled reading material, is a manifestation of the season. One of the many ways I cope with the onset of endless muddy days and dark, sometime melancholy evenings. It’s not exactly fast food and needs that chewy gristle to do it justice, but with the help of some anchovy fillets, a sprinkling of garlic and parsley it beats the pants off of those tasteless, overpriced Quik-E-Mart steaks. Literary genres notwithstanding, I’m beginning to suspect the boy was right about autumn: ‘Tragedy. Isolation and decline, fatal flaws and falls, the throes of heroes.’ An injured knee had consigned me to light (clerical) duties, looking on as the yard furniture floated past my office window. Fortunately the winds have moderated, and yesterday the sun came out and we returned to the hills. Racing from Cheltenham can prove an expensive pastime. On the plus side... Another point for the Blues, courtesy of a stalwart defence and a misfiring Carlos ‘It’s a plane’ Tevez. Also, thankfully, I’m not Audley Harrison. What a wuss. (This from Bernie ‘always goes down in the second’ Gudgeon.)

Saturday, November 13

George Bush: an American Icon?

With publication of his presidential memoirs the good ol’ boy has attracted a predictable level of negative comment this past week. Just give him time... On this side of the pond there’s growing confirmation of our nostalgia for the cool ’80s. As Cameron discovered when Miliband’s Audi Quattro advert backfired, according to a Tetley Tea entertainment and culture survey, more punters would like to return to the halcyon days of Maggie Thatcher and CDs than any other decade. Whilst one in seven of us reminisce about the ’70s, only two percent won’t be glad to see the end of Labour’s noughties. I’ll bet my week’s beer money that, twenty-five years from now, everyone will be eulogising about George Bush. I can’t imagine McPlonker rating more than a footnote. At best he’s a little black dress.

Update: with McPlonker’s demise libertarians lose reason to live.

Wednesday, November 10

In town

I stopped by for coffee at my old Lit tutor’s hangout. If you’re so inclined you can listen to the whiskered sage sally forth on his two favourite subjects: the King James Bible and James Joyce. The cafe is a little bit of Germany here in Exeter: women wear headscarves and Tarkan is on the juke box. Close your eyes and let the simmering köfte wash over you, and you can imagine yourself back in Lewisham. One of the obvious differences between Exeter and South London was out on surrounding streets: students on their way to lunch. It’s difficult to picture these characters trashing Millbank: they look far too smart, too polite.

Could be worse

Whilst at the time I thought it pricey, the duck lives on in the form of a steaming cauldron of soup. Four meals from one bird – Malay style noodles its swan song – isn’t too shabby. November has a way of dragging you down and anything that provides a little spice is worth savouring. Getting slapped by Stoke last night was a disappointment, though not as much as the subsequent game we watched on television. Sans Sky you take what’s on offer, including Scottish Premier action with a commentary in Gaelic. Pittodrie looks a sad and empty place these days. I was in town the night of McGhee’s debut against the Czechs and little seems to have improved. Was going to say ‘Come back Zoltán Varga’, but the poor lad died earlier this year.

Monday, November 8

No man and no force can abolish memory

Roast duck for supper (yesterday’s leftovers). Hey, it’s Monday. That’s what happens at the start of the week (by Thursdays it used to be stale cheese and ship’s biscuits). What made tonight’s meal special – apart from said Duck originating from the ever-reliable Oakcroft stable – were the root vegetables (roasted in duck fat), the giblet gravy, and large portions of Russian kale. Greengrocers seem to be springing up everywhere just now, selling produce that’s vastly superior to the Quik-E-Mart variety.

A trader at the bazaar was peddling firewood. It wasn’t what Farmer Charles would categorize as firewood, i.e. measured in cords, but those wired bundles of neatly-splintered ‘sticks’ more suited to domestic grates. Despite the adjacent livestock market’s tear-inducing aroma, the wood gave off a balm that was immediately recognisable as redolent of Henry Boys’. How the fuck does that work? I have difficulty remembering what happened last week, and all of a sudden I’m back on Wednesbury Road splitting firewood with that blunt axe from the coalhouse.

Crony Capitalism

The term Schadenfreude – a once seemingly obscure (at least to me) German expression – is, I feel, used all too often these days, particularly when rubbing people’s nose in the proverbial. That said – and with a nod to acquaintances in Cork and Dublin – I can’t help recalling a certain current-affairs programme, broadcast prior to the second Irish referendum on The Lisbon Treaty. Putting the case for NO, an Irish presenter speculated about the future direction of the Republic, wondering if – having milked the European Union for all it was worth – Ireland should now give Brussels the finger and throw in their lot with the Americans. Ungracious bastard, I thought at the time ... And now, as then (and having been directed to Morgan Kelly’s Irish Times article by the Coffee House blog), I can’t help but cringe when reading ‘And unlike the Greeks, we lacked the tact and common sense to keep our grubby dealing to ourselves. Europeans had to endure a decade of Irish politicians strutting around and telling them how they needed to emulate our crony capitalism if they wanted to be as rich as we are’ ... I dread to think how much pain Brussels (Germany) will likely inflict after having originally financed and subsequently bailed out ‘The Richest Nation in Europe.’ According to Kelly, Shit Creek and Paddles ain’t in it, and it’s back to the donkey jackets and the kindness of strangers. What happens, I wonder, when a bankrupt Eire wakes up alongside an Ulster bereft of public money?

Planning ahead

Great weekend, if you discount the motor going belly up; this time it was the fuel pump. Another 3-4 days waiting on spares, so I get to play in someone else’s. Despite the waterlogged ground there is more than enough cheering sunshine; unfortunately, northerly winds are making fast work of the autumn colour. Let’s hope this coming winter is less of a trial than the last; its impact – the coldest in 30 years – is only now being realised, with a 10% increase in the local birth-rate during September and October. Given the mercury is heading south I’m already wearing my Granddad Walton’s (long johns); even inside the barn they are compulsory attire. Thanks to the plentiful supply of game we’ve begun restocking the freezer in readiness.

Thursday, November 4

Signs of the times

This is a dangerous time to be venturing out amongst the populace, a crush of the coughing, snottering afflicted. Seems most people regard handkerchiefs as an affectation; tissues, presumably, are a crime against the environment. Between now and mid-January is the busiest time of our social calendar (the annual round of guilty reunions with friends I’ve ignored throughout the year). I can’t afford to be laid low ... As a commentary on the state of the property market, an Exeter Estate Agency has plastered the window with ‘SALE’ signs. It appears you can’t give ’em away. In an adjacent window a chilling allusion to our mortality: ‘Commodes for Sale: £75’. And as a sign of rank despair: having accepted the futility of ever seeing a return on their hard-earned savings, punters decide to throw it away by betting on a Heskey hat-trick.

Wednesday, November 3

Faith restored.

There’s a lad at the local market who does a nice line in recession food: homity pies and fish cakes. I’m a big fan; he’s a good cook. That said, dishes born of wartime rationing – however well dressed – eventually pale. Try eating pasties on a regular basis. So, propelled by an image of last night’s ‘Masterchef: The Professionals’, we ended up eating lunch at Michael Caines’s Abode. Exeter has proved something of a gastronomic wasteland, and memorable meals have been few and far between. Abode is one of a limited number of restaurants that doesn’t depress, but even here the food can be hit and miss. Not today, though. Whoever was in the kitchen produced some first-class nosh: a starter of pickled sea bream, onion and fennel confit, fennel cream sauce... followed by pan-fried skate wing, crushed olive potatoes, roasted tomato and crab bisque. Was all we could do to finish the dark chocolate mousse and confit orange sorbet... the coconut rice pudding, passion fruit jelly and coconut espuma. Tomorrow I’m sure to be moaning we haven’t eaten mince and tatties recently.

Citizen Camembert


The little room out back smells like a scene from 18th Century France: I suspect it’s less the rotting pheasants that are hanging from the ceiling, and more the ammonia from an overripe cake of Normandy’s finest – which appears to have escaped from its box and is bleeding, Dalí-like, across the shelf.

Tuesday, November 2

Money for old rope

Yesterday morning’s junk mail included a complimentary of copy of ‘Britain’s fastest growing current affairs magazine’, The Week. You wonder at its purpose? News happens – you hear about it from Sky News and follow up anything interesting via the internet. The next morning, if so inclined, you purchase a newspaper and read someone else’s take on the previous day. And a week later, after everything’s been done-to-death in the Sundays and you’ve moved on, The Week’s cut and paste selection arrives on your doormat. Do these publications actually make money?

Mary Riddell at The Telegraph, contrasting America’s Tea Party with the English Defence League. What writing: the spirit of Dickens lives on in the shape of Abena from Enfield. You can sense the frustration felt by many of our female columnists: in a recent YouGov poll of women’s most-influential-women, Margaret Thatcher, Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa came out on top. Lots of touchy-feely, as you’d expect; but even the left-leaning variety fantasizes about retaining a bloody great stick for people who won’t do as they’re told.

Sunday, October 31

New arrivals


A sizeable mixed-flock of Redwings and Fieldfares has settled outside. Everything seems to be flying in at the same time. Our Bullfinches and Nuthatches (above) have been joined by a couple of new faces: white-breasted Treecreepers (Tree mice) and a diminutive Tidley Goldfinch (Goldcrest). Whilst the woods do indeed echo the song of the Goldfinch, it’s the brouhaha of screaming Jays, warning off an owl, that prevails. You know w’at de jay-bird say ter der squinch-owl! ‘I’m sickly but sassy.’ (Uncle Remus)

Update: also spotted: a pair of what Mrs G. would call a ‘Cock o’ the North’ or ‘Tartan Back’ – more commonly known as a Brambling or Bramble Finch/Cock.

Superior tactics but no goals

I was impressed with Ian Holloway’s good grace, in crediting Alex McLeish’s superior tactics for the victory over Blackpool. Today, too (and I’m working on the basis of Talksport’s commentators), Big Eck continues to demonstrate that, unlike Strachan, the lad is Scotland’s loss and Blues’ gain. Damn it, if only they could put the ball in the net a little more often. Another away point; but only four goals in the last seven games.

Bear Paws, Moscow Style

Buy the paws skinned. Wash, salt and marinade for three days. Casserole with bacon and vegetables for seven or eight hours; drain, wipe, sprinkle with pepper and turn in melted lard. Roll in bread-crumbs and grill for half an hour. Serve with a piquant sauce and two spoonfuls of redcurrant jelly.

Grand dictionnaire de cuisine (1870), Alexandre Dumas.

Saturday, October 30

Babble

You can’t beat Friday-night television for a taste of our cultural (musical) Smorgasbord. In concert with the record number of listeners and viewers who followed this year’s Proms, the Boss tuned in again last night to hear the performances of Nelson Freire and the BBC symphony orchestra. And though a fairly-recent repeat showing, likewise, the subsequent story of Allegri’s Miserere. The fun had barely begun, however, as we were then treated to an hour-long take on Black Sabbath’s Paranoid (Classic Albums), followed by a ninety-minute pass at the origins and development of British heavy metal. I was going to say metal passed me by at the time, but that would be to ignore Thin Lizzie and Jethro Tull. Punk, which the latter program touched on, was the secret vice. Anyway ... all this waffle is just my roundabout way of recalling that, at noon tomorrow, the Blues are playing Ozzy Osbourne’s gang in the local derby. Whilst Villa can also boast David Cameron, Mervyn King and Tom Hanks as supporters, we have those celebrated banjo players Jasper Carrott and Roy Wood.

Friday, October 29

Still game

Housing market weakness gathers momentum ... I’m gutted.

The barn’s first thousand litres of winter heating-oil was delivered yesterday. I hope whatever accommodation eventually comes our way is more fuel-efficient than this cross between a warehouse and wind tunnel.

I think we’ve eaten more than enough venison and pickled-plums for a while (and no, it wasn’t the Exmoor Emperor). Staying true to the game theme, last night’s supper featured partridges on a raft of roast parsnips and pears. The accompanying Australian Riesling was none-too-shabby. A butcher once told me it was hard work, selling game to the wider market. Unless exotic fare can be presented as an adornment on a pizza, zapped in the microwave or dished up in sweet & sour sauce, it’s beside the point. You’d think – given the profusion of cooking programmes on television – that everyone was a dab hand with the frying pan? But there you go. Damn it I miss not having a grill: what I wouldn’t give for cheese-on-toast.



I always love this view because I am looking back at the horizon, to where I’ve been and not where I am going: my walk is nearly at an end and there’s only another mile left to limp to the car park. Four days on the trot and my knees have finally said enough.

Looking around the Quik-E-Mart last night something dawned on me: every other guy in the queue was of an age and had grey hair, yet I seemed to be the only lad without a beard. Appears I’m missing a vital part of the uniform. I supported facial hair many years ago but beards became deeply unfashionable, particularly if you were doing business with American organisations. Something to do with negative connotations about your character – that you were hiding something, are untrustworthy. Mrs G. has promised to cut my nuts off if I so much as consider it.

Thursday, October 28

Sensibility or self-indulgence?

I don’t get Philip Roth. He’s a big name and everyone raves about the lad, but... all that hackneyed Jewish introspection crap? (And don’t get me started on Woody Allen.) Paradoxically, I can’t seem to get enough of Saul Bellow. Maybe it’s down to Citrine being of an age, which makes this particular novel so appealing? Sympathetic attraction is always a draw, as is Bellow’s humour. Boredom and sloth are of course familiar themes, and in truth, while I, too, have slept through momentous historical events, I find there’s usually another following close behind. And let’s face it, we all know a Cantabile – have been suckered into investing in beryllium mines. Whilst death and metaphysics aren’t exactly comfortable bedfellows for us isolationists, there are those long winter nights to consider. I’ve stood gazing at the zillion or more twinkling stars during recent cloudless evenings and it sets the mind to wondering. Guess I’m now obliged to read Howard Jacobson?

Monday, October 25

Three of everything

If only we stopped to consider the money each of us has pissed away over the years. But then that’s what our economy is built on – consumer spending; a virtuous circle, we were led to believe. I have no less than three versions of the Are You Experienced album: the original vinyl, acquired in the ’60s; a cassette tape from the ’80s; and a more recent CD. I don’t count Mrs G’s iPod. That said, the cost of duplicating music catalogues seems as nothing compared to the decades of obsolete hardware – music centres and the like – that lie rotting in lofts and landfills. One of the few mediums I’ve been loathed to part with is the Walkman – and now Sony, today, has retired them. They stopped making Walkmans in Japan earlier this year but kept things going until the shelves were cleared (China are still knocking them out). I have three units in serviceable condition and use them to play the ’80s stuff that – like Martin Amis novels – don’t travel well. Let’s face it I can hardly see myself shelling out for another run at Sheena Easton. Whilst many believe the last rights on CDs are long overdue I suspect baby-boomers will guarantee a lengthy retirement.

Saturday, October 23

I’ve stirred the puddin’ and made a wish

To dispel the litany of gloom which passes for news I’ve taken to starting the day with Vaughan Williams. The light of the office window proves a draw for insects on dark, cold mornings and which in turn attract the wrens, that most bumptious of characters. Autumn has seen an increase in most of our feathered friends with the exception of my favourites, the blackbirds. Though the haws and sloes are almost extinguished they’ve been supplemented by holly berries encouraging the blackbirds to remain in those areas where such trees are abundant.

Here inside the barn (sanctuary from a succession of alternating squalls and rainbows) everything has the rich smell of currants, raisins and sultanas, of tobacco-scented muscovado sugar and freshly-ground spices. Mrs G. is hard at work on another variant in the Christmas pudding line. I ate one of last year’s the other day and very nice it was. Half was consumed on day one with crème fraiche; the remainder on day two, fried with breakfast; and days three and four for lunch, cold, sliced, as an accompaniment to goats’ cheese and a very nice old ruby ale.

Having completed my chores and settled down to read today’s pre-match analyses I was subsequently dispatched on an emergency mission to procure more suet. Needless to say all the Quik-E-Mart had on offer was the improbably labelled low-fat variety. How the fuck you can conjure low-fat suet remains a mystery to me. I’ve stood and watched as butchers strip the stuff from a carcase – it’s fat! Half a tank of diesel later I managed to acquire the last (literally) packet of suet at one of our well known super-stores, it sat alongside a shelf full of the so-called low-fat variety (obviously we don’t want the bloody stuff – if you’re going to pig out on pudding the least you can do is eat real shit). On the way back I had to call in and pick up some wool Mrs G. had ordered for a sweater she intends knitting for me. I hate to appear a cheapskate, but, having calculated I could buy five jumpers from Ike Godsey’s for the same price this wool cost, I can only conclude my new winter warmer is being woven from the pubic hair of some long-extinct Andean quadruped.

You daren’t say too much just now as the Boss had convinced herself United were going to get rid of Rooney and replace him with that nice Fernando Torres from Liverpool.

Thursday, October 21

In the cold light of day

Cold being the operative word this morning: a thick frost is covering the ground. At first glance the spending review doesn’t appear a tough sell (people were expecting worse?). The government are hoping that 70% of the punters won’t notice any ill effects, at first, and will support an attack on our mythical workshy scroungers. You can’t deny the coalition has taken a radical approach; one that would, to a large extent, have been copied by the opposition? I don’t for a minute expect them to achieve their aims – life’s not that simple. Events, my dear boy, events... Yet politics seems to have become interesting again; the next four years will be a boon for commentators, for and against. Radical it may be, but viewed from the confines of Manor Farm it seems vaguely familiar.

Wednesday, October 20

Freezing the TV licence

I guess a licence fee and the advertising that so frustrates our viewing is the price we pay for television, a Sky subscription perhaps the icing on the cake. It’s difficult to begrudge the £145 tax that funds the BBC. Difficult but not impossible: executive salaries, establishment condescension, political bias; the fact the licence fee is compulsory, and that it takes 25 journalists to cover a single story. I appreciate there are worse options: unless there’s been radical change German television can make Billy Cotton look cool (and you pay £170 for the privilege). Whilst a great deal of what’s broadcast is packaged with the patronising assertion that they’re ‘making it fresh and accessible to modern-day audiences’ (and all that entails), there’s more than enough to satisfy aspirational middlebrows. If only the BBC would stop behaving as though they’re the official government opposition party. Contrast yesterday evening’s Newsnight with Sky News look-at-the-papers, featuring Kelvin MacKenzie and Roger Alton. Saloon-bar ribaldry at its best.

Tuesday, October 19

Grumpy old men

This morning’s market seemed full of angry people. No doubt a sign of the times – not exactly doom and gloom, but rationed laughter and heavy on the grimaces. As this is venison season I was there to pick up a haunch for later in the week. Austerity can wait ’til the spending review’s been announced. The defence review has already caused ructions at the Dog & Duck, with the spectre of French aircraft atop a British carrier. Not sure where we’d be without our politicians to dilute the boredom of everyday life?

Sunday, October 17

Cold company

This morning saw our first attempt at a frost.

I suppose the mice will soon begin sneaking inside, a house sparrow has already set itself up on one of the bedroom’s beams. Last night's supper was interrupted by an errant bat that entered through the window and did several circuits of the table before exiting.

Thursday, October 14

From muesli to porridge

The last of our hedgerow berries were consumed at breakfast. We’ve become used to eating freebies and it’ll hurt to shell out two-quid or more for a punnet of imported fruit from the Quik-E-Mart. Good news is that the pheasant season is underway and Farmer Charles has been warming up the dogs, polishing his Remington. Our diet switches to buckshee game, and root vegetables. Weather-wise it’s been a bit special, the moor a millionaire’s playground: despite blue skies you can venture out with little but sheep and buzzards for company – perhaps a couple of helicopters (Pumas, I think) and the odd low-flying Tornado, but then that’s fun stuff. Yesterday was 21 degrees and I had to apply sun block, today it dropped to 9 degrees. Mrs G. has begun knitting.

Update: make that £4 a punnet.

Wednesday, October 13

The average British man

... stands 5ft 9in tall and weighs 13 stone? Chelsea’s first team average out at the same weight – and they’re 9ft tall! OK, 6ft 1in; but still... Guess I’m not quite as average as I’d assumed? Mr man-next-door is aged 38, which – if current the trends continue – leaves him with little more than twelve years to accumulate a pension pot, or face the rest of his natural selling rawlplugs or marshalling supermarket trolleys. Then again it could be worse: ‘Insecure, scared and very pissed off’. Whilst I take what’s presented in Paul Mason’s American odyssey (BBC Newsnight and Guardian) with a large pinch of salt, he portrays a much sharper edge to the concept of a squeezed middle. It’s a pity our media doesn’t make more of an effort with mainland Europe. I’d love to know what the picture looks like in our own backyard listen to our Teutonic neighbour’s take on the situation, for instance. We seem to be fed a more comprehensive picture about what’s happening on the ground in America and China than in the suburbs and cities of our economic partners.

Monday, October 11

Sheep and goats

Fairness and equality returns to the fore with the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s latest audit, confirming what I long suspected: we’re all closet Guardianistas (though Norman Tebbit would beg to differ). Most of the report is doubtless self-serving and repeats the blindingly obvious. Gender equality has improved the lot of middle-class girls at the expense of working-class boys; girls of Chinese descent – either through parental ambition, or driven by a desire to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their parents – make excellent students. Literacy, like football, doesn’t come easy to the Welsh; and British Pakistanis drive taxis because employers favour Eastern Europeans. Teaching, it seems, is a perilous occupation for gays; and whilst everyone has gay friends, they’d rather not know what goes on behind closed doors. The report determines that if you’re a black lad living in Rhyl on free school meals and your foster mother’s an unemployed lesbian tinker in a wheel-chair, life is unlikely to be a bed of roses.

Sunday, October 10

Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods

The state of the yard seems at odds with the barbeque autumn that’s forecast. Whilst today’s temperature is expected to climb into the 70s – and yes, half-a-sheep is already marinating in a slop of garlic and rosemary – outside is laid waste. The trees have finally ceased their furious threshing, leaving our plague of toads, lizards and miscellaneous fungus buried beneath a mantle of decaying leaves. The blood-orange fly agarics are even more conspicuous, their colour a too early reminder of Christmas and all that entails. Despite assurances that boiling in water renders the stools harmless I’m reluctant to experiment with their potential for culinary or hallucinogenic means. Together with the sour stench emanating from the nettles the scene is straight from a Heaney poem and echoes of the ponds and mine-spoil wilderness of pre-residential Bentley Common. If there’s a legacy to our stay at the barn, thanks in part to our largess with the seed, it will include a significant increase in the sparrow population. A sizeable flock now flits amongst the bramble and hawthorn, seemingly to the detriment of the blue tits. I guess it’s difficult to favour one particular group without impacting on another. Back to the life-ain’t-fair bit again.

Friday, October 8

Jaywick Sands

I can just about recall the summer exodus from Tottenham to Jaywick Sands when we were kids. Time hasn’t been kind to the place.

Back online

The only part of the Conservative Party conference I caught was Cameron’s speech. He sounds a relatively affable type, yet much as I’d like, I can’t warm to the lad. His speech seemed directed at the coalition in the spirit of consensus and was pitched over the heads of his own party members, at voters. On the face of it, ‘Don’t pin the entire blame on Labour, you all had your hands in the till’ appears a novel way of winning friends and influencing people, but hey, whatever works for you. Since the world came crashing down life has become all about fairness. I’ve been around long enough to appreciate this is just another way of telling us the government wants your money in order to give it to someone else. Cameron seems to be promoting fairness in the same way religion sells an idea of paradise: soak up the pain and it will come good on the night. I should be so lucky. Life, as with golf, isn’t fair; it never has been and never will be. How you deal with this immutable truth, now there’s the rub.

Monday, October 4

Even more doubtful outlook

I’m not sure if it was last night’s curry or Saturday’s Scottish-couscous that has me slurping Gaviscon this morning. Roast chicken’s not quite the same without it, but oatmeal – especially when eaten along with turnips – plays havoc with the digestive system. Mondays aren’t my favourite day of the week at the best of times. Then again, whilst Blues lost on Saturday, at least we’re not Roy Hodgson in disguise. If you’ve been following what the IMF and Joe ‘Mr Death Spiral’ Stiglitz are forecasting, we might as well be. I trust the lads at Celtic Manor can cheer us up. They need to, seeing this winter is forecast to be as bad as the last. Let’s face it, if you read everything the newspapers print you wouldn’t get up in the mornings.

Sunday, October 3

Doubtful outlook

I can’t see the Ryder Cup being settled today. The weight of rain falling on the thatch this morning, and which is heading across the Bristol Channel towards Celtic Manor, means only more sales for ProQuip’s concession stand.

Friday, October 1

With hey-ho, the wind and the rain

Listening to the Ryder Cup on Radio 5 live is mildly entertaining (seems Tiger Woods isn’t exactly a media darling). Suspension of play should hardly surprise: it RAINS in Wales. Always has. Why the Cup doesn’t decamp to Mediterranean shores I’ll never know. A mixture of money and Buggins’s turn I guess? Mind you, it’s not much better here on the Ponderosa. Leaden skies and saturated fields; persistent down-the-back-of-your-neck, rather than stingy-face rain. As with the spectators at Celtic Manor, you get on with it, with life. At the end of the day what’s a little rain? Yeah, right: ask me again come April and I’ll probably be less sanguine. Traipsing around the farm on days like this you can be forgiven for wondering what induced us to come here in the first place, to adopt our reclusive lifestyle. And then you recall last night’s Question Time and Andrew Neil’s This Week, and lingering doubts fast disappear. You can’t but despair at the great unwashed, the visceral hatred of guys like Brian Cox, and the unremitting banality of Diane Abbott. How can you not be underwhelmed by Oona King? Then this weekend we exchange Harman for Theresa May ... Argh! Where’s the fool when you need him.

Thursday, September 30

If something’s worth doing

Flickin’ through the television channels, a couple of nights ago, I came across one of those American cable shows featuring yet another ‘celebrity’ chef who, beyond the confines of his immediate family and commissioning-editor brother-in-law, is a complete nonentity. This guy was demonstrating his definitive version of the world’s best chilli, but was so inept, the naivety of his recipe so basic, it forced me to break out the pots and pans. Chilli in the UK has come a long way since those 1970s’ con-carne variants so beloved of landlords’ wives. Whilst for much of the 1980s I lived on Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Chili (they say chili, we say chilli), suitcases of which accompanied me back from regular US trips, the dish became something of a religion. Whole weekends were spent concocting and taste-testing ever more elaborate experiments ... chilli-con- just-about-everything, from antelope to zebra. The pinnacle came during the 1990s when my chilli developed a distinctive North African flavour; by then it had meandered through most of the world’s cuisines. Though chilli lacks the sophistication of curry, attention to detail makes a difference. Most recipes call for the ubiquitous mince but I prefer chopped beef (round trip of 25 miles, to a butcher that sells decent skirt); it needs to be browned in batches. Mince your onion and garlic and sweat it down slowly. Dry roast the cumin and peppercorn before grinding them. I’m usually more successful with dried chillies than fresh, but they too need roasting, and rehydrating, before use. On this occasion I used what was in the cupboard: a mix of Aji Limon, Ancho Poblano, Morita Chipotle and Guajillo chillies, reinforced with a reliable powdered variant and a fair helping of Spanish smoked paprika. Once it’s gets going, thicken with flour. Tradition then leads me to add a half bottle of flat beer prior to the stock (which on this occasion was the concentrated liquor from last week’s boiled brisket) and a carton of passata. Throw in some dried oregano and a couple of bay leaves, and slow simmer for two or more hours. It bears no relation to the stuff you buy from the Quik-E-Mart, whatever the manufacturer’s claims to authenticity. It’s certainly better than anything that dipstick from the TV contrives.

Tuesday, September 28

Redundant

Autumn ploughing is well in hand and even the barn has acquired a sodden, earthy aroma. Hobbits and byres spring to mind. And yes, after much lobbying by yours truly, our heating has been switched on. The swallows finally departed for South Africa, though their absence is compensated by a herd of deer that have taken up residence. The owls too have returned in numbers. Between the farm cats and raptors, rodent life has become increasingly precarious – our sparrow hawk is particularly active, and yesterday I followed three young kestrels at work. They were driven off by a band of marauding crows. Out on t’moor it looks to be roundup time for the woolies, the shepherds working from horseback rather than quad bikes. Pony keepers have also been rounding up stock for the market. I’m led to believe some 900-odd ponies are being sorted, the hardiest (best able to withstand the winter) being returned to the moor. Dispensing with tradition and in an effort to encourage sales to people who probably shouldn’t be buying ponies, prices (at the sales) will be quoted in pounds rather than guineas. Those that aren’t sold are presumably culled. Sixty plus years ago (prior to the Ford Transit) there was a herd of 30,000 Dartmoor ponies employed as pack animals. Now-a-days, thanks to cuts in make-work public services and the withdrawal of incapacity benefit...

Sunday, September 26

Lemon curd

As everyone who knows Gudgeon appreciates: I’ll eat most anything. Most anything ... one of my previous red lines was lemon curd. I tried it as a kid and decided the custard like gloop tasted like (what I imagined to be) congealed, excessively sweetened puke, and have been unable to eat any since. Until this week that is. It surfaced amongst the latest batch of Mrs G’s jelly, jams and exotics; and to-die-for doesn’t do it justice – on toast, scones, stirred into yoghurt, as a cake filling. Tonight’s savouries include barbequed lamb with roast beetroot and butternut squash – followed by more lemon curd, and a tumbler of malt. It’s been a weary afternoon, out walking.

O to be a swing voter

David Cameron, this past week, reassured anxious middle class voters he would cut taxes and allow voters to keep more of their own, hard-earned money. Likewise, Ed Miliband’s initial declaration, on being elected leader of the Labour Party, has been to defend that most nebulous of constructs: ‘squeezed’ middle-England. Labour might have swopped the tartan taliban for a bowl of metropolitan muesli but it’s the Finchley and Golders Greens that remain in the driving seat. Like most people I’m unsure what to make of Ed Miliband. He looks a familiar type of bland individual, the sort that populates most middle-management ranks; until, that is, he hugs his brother and tells the world how much he loves him ... and almost immediately you picture Michael Corleone, kissing Fredo. If I was David Miliband I’d make sure my mother remains in good health.

Saturday, September 25

Miliband of Brothers

Last night’s tongue-in-cheek take on the two Miliband brothers would have been a chuckle if it hadn’t been for the likes of Kinnock and Benn reminding us there was an element of reality to the farce. Who amongst us can rail at the undeserving poor when taxpayers have lavished so much on such a gilded pair? An Oxbridge education and well paid sinecure in public life should be available to all. Don’t mind me, it’s only jealousy.

Friday, September 24

Beer of the week

Hat’s off to Quik-E-Mart’s special of the week: £5 for 3 x 620ml bottles of Cusqueña, a none-too-shabby premium beer from a couple of German lads in the Andes. As I’ve been drinking Thai and Czech beers for the past month (previous specials) this South American lager is a welcome change, especially as it opens up a whole new cuisine. Well perhaps not so new: Peru boasts 200 species of potato – 99% of all the world’s spuds are descended from the region, ergo it’s chips with everything. Unfortunately we’ve been unable to source guinea pigs for this evening’s supper, and as the neighbour would probably shoot me if I made a move against his alpaca, a couple of stunted rabbits will have to suffice – drenched in a hot pepper sauce and accompanied by a cucumber, tomato and onion salad. Apart from Nobby Solano’s salsa band Peruvian culture appears thin on the ground this side of the pond, but I’m sure I can come up with something to dance to.

Thursday, September 23

Vengeance is mine

I continue with my quest: making inroads into that list of a 1,000 righteous novels we’re all supposed to read before turning our toes up. Tolstoy (along with Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, et al) is one of those authors everyone latches onto during our teenage years in the fond hope it anoints us with a sprinkling of intellectual capital. At the time, having accomplished the necessary, I concluded such books were tedious bollocks and proceeded rather smartly to Ian Fleming, Louis L’Amour and large quantities of Bacardi & Coke, consoling myself with the promise that one day I’d return for a second look. Accordingly ... This past week’s worthy has been the 817 page pinnacle of realist fiction Anna Karenina. Something of a Jane Austen for boys, albeit surprisingly contemporary and, in its contrast of city and country living, more relevant than I’d expected. The story in a nutshell: Russian bird cheats on husband before jumping in front of the 4:35 from Paddington, whilst lots of guys hang out together, drink large quantities of booze, play cards and bet on the horses. Fairly predictable Eastenders stuff, you’d think, but it’s not a bad read. The novel is of course a morality tale, and thanks to the OU I could dash off a couple of thousand words on the subject. Leopard and spots, however: there’s the new John le Carré waiting.

Wednesday, September 22

It ain’t so bad

We were out walking on the hills this morning – amongst the livestock, small mixed herds of cattle, sheep and ponies. Nervous calves, not so nervous foals. Large sections of bracken are being cleared from the grazing areas by a man on a tractor. Hedge cutting is also in full swing, releasing a sweet-tobacco scent across the moor. On the ground, caterpillars and devil’s coach-horse beetles; above the fast running water the last of our dragonflies and fritillaries. Blackbirds and thrushes flit from haws to sloes, crows make wing to the rooky wood – a score or so playing above South Down, mock fighting for the fun of it. Who would choose to be imprisoned in an office on days like these? There’s barbeque and beer on tonight’s menu (Thai chicken and chilli pork-ribs) to help me recover from the £800 cost of an oil change and four new tyres. That’s the real reason most people work.

Makes for a dull boy

What is this life if full of care/We have no time to stop and stare? In his speech to the conference Nick Clegg told us that ‘Work is essential to a person’s sense of self worth, their identity.’ Spending our lives harnessed to the plough, paying taxes, allows us to feel good when we look in the mirror? Patronising little tosser, this son of a merchant banker. ‘British Isles – worst place to live in Europe’ proclaims this morning’s headline. Whereas most other countries work to live, we, apparently (according to the latest league table of 10 leading European economies) live to work, putting in more hours and retiring much later than our European counterparts, with rubbish pensions to boot. Throw in the UK’s lack of sunshine, the cost of diesel and our crappier public services, and you wonder what it’s all for. Only Ireland is worse; it’s no wonder young Cowen takes a snifter before going on air. Whilst Clegg’s boys have decided, quite understandably, that bankers and bond traders will serve as a suitable Aunt Sally, the rhetoric at times seems faintly reminiscent of 1930s Germany and Jewish moneylenders. Whilst I too would vote for a spot of tar and feathering, I wouldn’t want to kill the golden goose, at least not before Christmas. Let’s not be distracted from apportioning blame by focusing on bankers; they behaved the way they did because governments, particularly McPlonker, encouraged and endorsed their activities.

Saturday, September 18

The big society

‘Villages are dying as services are lost’ declares this morning’s Western Morning News. It’s the usual bleat about our losing village pubs, shops and schools, along with the premise that all could be saved if only ‘they’ would build affordable homes. Last week the local newspaper headlined with community outrage at plans to build 800 homes in the area! You’d have to be deranged to volunteer for the local planning committee. Mention affordable homes to many village residents and an image of welfare dependants hoves into view. As for corner shops ... I suspect they would have died out everywhere years ago if it wasn’t for Asian immigrants willing to work twelve hour shifts: and I don’t see the residents of Shadwell relocating to St. Mary Mead any time soon. Likewise for pubs ... £4.50 for a pint of bitter and a soda water isn’t for the faint hearted, neither are the twelve-quid entrées (yesterday’s pub lunch) – but that’s what it takes pay the wages. Am afraid the halcyon days of après-work drinking sessions en route home, the mainstay of many a pub income, are long gone.

Thursday, September 16

Go figure

England might resemble a third-world country but we’re ranked an unbelievable 6th by FIFA. And whilst Cardinal Kasper’s boys are 3rd, that’s also thanks in part to the multiracial content of the German team. France – the exemplar of rainbow footy and whose recent record must surely be a demonstration of auld alliance rapport – has fallen to 27th? Shit, if the answer was simple Graham Taylor would still be in charge.

Friday, September 10

Bottles and jars

You can’t knock this time of year. An abundance of root vegetables aside, kitchen worktops lie buried beneath baskets of fruit. Plums, damsons and crab apples look to be this week’s favourite; vats of Braeburn and date chutney are bubbling away on the stove. Unfortunately it takes three months maturation before reaching the table, just in time for the Christmas ham, cold turkey and goose, assorted cheeses... The Boss is also checking her supply of yuletide puddings – the result of last year’s production line, whilst magically transforming a final batch of hedgerow blackberries into tubs of ice cream. Mrs G. has taken our experience of being marooned during last winter’s snow to heart, is intent on stocking the pantry, the cellar, the shed... Vitamin B may have stopped my brain shrinking but the heart relies on its stomach. A duck dinner is my sole contribution to the day’s food fest. Do not attempt this dish with shop-bought duck, they’re inedible and cost a small fortune – farmyard produce only.

Thursday, September 9

Oversight

As a former subcontractor to both BP and Transocean it is interesting to follow the Deepwater Horizon fallout. One of the things I admired about American organizations, back in the early days, was their enthusiastic retention of old sweats – guys who understood the nuts and bolts, that had waltzed around the block a couple of times and knew where the bodies were buried. In a sticky situation you could always find someone who’d been there, done that, came prepared and equipped for Murphy’s Law. Unfortunately – and in common with much of the private and public sectors – operators seem to have spent a good part of the last two decades divesting themselves of in-house, hands-on experience. Whilst innovations such as turnkey drilling services have been a boon, I bet Svanberg wishes his predecessor hadn’t cut quite so much dead wood.

Monday, September 6

Autumn arrives in the mists of early morning

Along with old maids on bicycles. Almost unnoticed the leaves have turned; the yard is punctuated with gnawed windfalls, clumps of fungus and greasy yellow slugs. Neighbours have begun exercising their guns.

Sunday, September 5

Grass always seems greener...

Reading Martin Amis’s novel Money is a blast from the past. The 80s attracts bad press, most often from people that weren’t there or who found themselves on the wrong side of the tribal divide. Whilst John Self caricatures the excesses of those times, they were as inevitable as they were exuberant. The decade witnessed an unprecedented rise in white collar employment and social mobility – what Simon Jenkins refers to as bourgeois ascendancy, and who could forget Bananarama and Samantha Fox. Times change, however. In much the same way a recalcitrant would rail against Thatcher, juvenile myth feeds an increasingly boorish baby boomer narrative. It seems that, having trashed the world and gorged ourselves on its finite resources, yours truly and the boys have consigned Generation Y to a life of penury. What they really mean to say is that social mobility appears alive and well but it turns out to be a two-way street. As for our free university education, one of their principal bugbears, I seem to recall a figure of 7% making the jump to fulltime higher education when I left school in the mid-60s, for 93% there was no free anything other than a legacy of NHS orange juice and rotten teeth. The definition of baby boomer is of course somewhat elastic and can also include those individuals born between 1961-64 – the ones that left school around 1980, the poor schmucks who struggled through the recessions in the early 80s and 90s, 19% of whom never managed to find employment (the first generation to be hit by the growth of flexible labour markets and the decline in manufacturing), the ones who had to settle for part time work, whose periods of employment were more likely to be measured in months rather than years ... They were the ones born to hair shirts. I’m not sure current contingent even knows they’re born.

Friday, September 3

Laying in supplies

This burst of sunshine has galvanised the tractor brigade, everyone is cutting and baling. Its significance, the timing, isn’t lost on me. Life – the weeks – fly past. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t resent it. If there was a god I’d give him the finger, or maybe Hawking’s to blame? Our supply of vegetable boxes continues ... the neighbour’s bees have produced 90lbs of honey. Weeping eyes and a cauterized nose was yesterday’s defining feature: Mrs G. has been bottling her annual supply of runner bean chutney, along with a fresh batch of spiced, Masala poached prunes. Pretty soon she’ll be wrapping the surplus apples in back copies of Ferreters Weekly and storing them in barrels. An egret – the first I’ve witnessed hereabouts – has joined the grey heron and kingfishers down on the river. And in amongst the yard’s sparrows and dunnocks there’s a spotted flycatcher – sometimes called a wall plat locally, due to its preferred nesting site. A plat is a flat beam lying on top of a wall (elsewhere the bird is also referred to as a rafter or beam bird). A congregation of swallows jink and swoop above, readying themselves for their African adventure. Everything on the wing or ground is gorging in anticipation of leaner times.

Thursday, September 2

Like what I wrote

At least you know the lad wrote it himself. Getting your retaliation in first is a sound enough maxim and one that obviously appealed to Blair. McPlonker is probably of the opinion that Faustian bargains aren’t what they used to be. History is littered with successful partnerships: Batman and Robin, Morecambe and Wise, Hale and Pace, Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton. OK so the last example also ended in tears, but in reality the goal scoring duo is far more the norm than the likelihood of a happy-ever-after paradigm. Like many people my best work was most often a partnership of complimentary talents. Successful as these were, mutual suspicion and innate rivalry always sank them. The best you could hope for was an extended truce built on mutual benefit. My loss ... Wish I could do it again and learn to bite my lip.

Wednesday, September 1

Sod’s law

Despair no more – and no apologies for my weather fixation, it dictates so much and its memory is all that sustains during the long winter months – that big yellow thing in the sky has reappeared and everyone has reverted to shirtsleeve order. Not before time, you say – albeit just as the kids trudge back to school. Unfair isn’t it. You pay through the nose for a family break and it pours down each and every sodding day. Bank holiday ends, the price of everything falls by 30%, and suddenly it’s Costa del bloody Sol.

Saturday, August 28

From day out to day in.

We spent the early part of this week wearing out tyres along the south Cornish coast. St Austell was another first look. The town appears to subsist on the strength of the pasty and beer industries and seems to be blessed by more Staffies per square foot than the Black Country. Yesterday it was back to Exmoor and the genteel environs of north Somerset – to the smell of burning brakes (Porlock Hill’s hairpin bends and its 1 in 4 gradients). The motor’s looking tired, it too is anxious to find a home. As if the tractor scars aren’t enough, would you believe we were cut up by a Maserati Spyder? I ask you: a Spyder, in farming country? This morning we’d planned to trundle down to Saltash, catch the start of the Tamar Valley Artists’ Open Studios; that, or drop by the Dartmouth Regatta and have a drink with the boating crowd. Truth to tell my heart wasn’t in either enterprise, so I chose to spend the day with my feet up. Although Sky has withdrawn access to Jeff Stelling and the boys (mean spirited bastards), there was footy on the wireless and a backlog of reading material. Given recent commitments, any meaningful writing or blogging has been consigned to the back seat. It requires no little effort, adding spice to the mundane – much easier to post comment on other blogs, to vent my spleen in Letters to the Editor or Dear Diary. That said most everything you hear or see these days seems nothing more than a rerun of the same old, same old ... And like the television schedule, you can only watch repeats a certain number of times before indifference transforms tragedy into background chatter. Better to let people fight it out amongst themselves, to make the same mistakes we did ... our fathers, grandfathers.

As the subject of immigration continues to demonstrate, observation or opinion on contentious issues is almost certainly doomed to failure, priced out of range of the average man. On Monday I caught a dated interview from the 60s, with Anthony Burgess, on BBC Four. He was discussing the motivation behind his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange. Governments, Burgess suspected, would attempt to emotionally engineer their citizens. He envisaged a society in which the state used sinister or draconian methods to condition its populace, to convert everyone into clockwork oranges – to take over their brains, turning them into ‘good little citizens’. Unbelievably prescient, I thought, given the straightjacket of current day political correctness. Matthew Parris makes another stab at a difficult subject in today’s Times: ‘If you want to save the planet, stop breeding’ (can’t provide a link because of the pay wall). The current baby boom is another of those topics one assumes unsuitable for polite conversation, especially by homosexuals. Whilst you can anticipate the criticism that will be heaped on Parris’s article, paying women to have surplus babies is little different to the hated Common Agricultural Policy, whereby hardworking taxpayers have their cash appropriated to no good purpose. The butter mountain looks to have been replaced by pens of obese little babies who face a bleak future in terms of employment prospects, accommodation and increasingly scarce resources. In years to come, when the crap hits the fan for Chucky and the lads, it’ll be ‘Why the fuck didn’t you say something, back then?’ I suspect Hope Bourne was somewhat chary of clockwork oranges.

Thursday, August 26

Slipping and sliding

A day out at the local agricultural show: horses, cattle and sheep, and lots of shiny new farm machinery. Two tractors were on duty, to tow our vehicles out of the parking compound at the end of the event; whilst it stayed dry, yesterday’s rain had left the area a quagmire. Wellingtons very much the order of the day; you could tell the tourists by their Nike trainers – let’s face it: who goes on holiday during August clutching rubber boots? Sat in on the sheep and cattle judging ... bowler hats, in the 21st Century, are both incongruous and reassuringly traditional. The canvas souk included the usual hucksters who pedal animal feed and accountancy services to the farming community. As hard as everyone tries, they struggle to turn me into an equestrian enthusiast. I warm to Shires and am always impressed by a giant Suffolk Punch, can’t deny the beauty of Dartmoor Ponies or the power of a Hunter in full flight; damn it, I’ve watched the film Seabiscuit three times! Maybe it’s the people? Breeding is all, and so obvious, in both the riders and their mounts. As for irony: how about the sight of a bored teenager checking his Facebook entry in the back of Dad’s motor, his laptop sucking juice from a 1930s Lister generator that was on display alongside in the vintage vehicles and tractors section.

Sunday, August 22

Gardening guilt

Turn your back for five minutes and the yard becomes a jungle. A little remedial gardening allows me to venture outside, exercise and fresh air: truth is, it stays more onerous tasks that lie waiting. All work is the avoidance of more difficult work, so they say ... Trilling wrens and tick-ick-icking robins have made a welcome return to the yard, along with swallows that perch the length of the telephone lines like old fashioned Christmas decorations. They’ll be gone soon enough if this weather continues ... Food, I’m pleased to report, remains in plentiful supply, though the buckshee vegetable boxes are now light on courgettes and heavy in the runner bean department. Plenty of stir fry vegetable dishes and salads. Today’s special was warm herb salad with bacon and octopus, washed down by a bottle of Vinho Verde. It may be raining outside but the barn feels like that little place in Cascais we used to frequent ... Stopped by Rosemoor’s Local Produce Show yesterday to review the competition for home grown vegetables: it appears the neighbours have little to fear. We’ve also been visiting Exmoor (Lorna Doone country) this past week, journeying up along the coast to Lynton/Lynmouth and Minehead. I only go there for a whiff of the steam engines, but you can’t deny the coastal scenery.

Thursday, August 19

The flip side

With predictions of seven prospective students contesting every clearing place there’ll likely have been much rending of garments this morning: not to mention considerable relief and celebration from those who’ve managed to achieve the required grades and confirmation of their university place. Given the much publicised £300k/year salaries, I’d expect dental schools to be well subscribed. Whilst >97% of students appear to have passed the A-level examinations for which they were entered, spare a brief thought for the losers in this era of meritocracy. A number of my contemporaries who never left the area we grew up in are already great-grandparents. This year’s Ofsted report on the local school cites ‘considerably’ less than 30% of its students are achieving the GCSE gold standard, and those that do succeed are predominantly girls. The report makes for dire reading: leadership amongst the teaching staff is abysmal, teachers are unable to connect with their charges, and pupil absenteeism is rife. In spite of this, an astounding 94% of parents who were polled rated the school’s performance as tickety-boo. A case of zero expectations all round?

Friday, August 13

White onion soup and fish stew

A day in town (Plymouth), escorting Mrs G. to an exhibition of Japanese sashiko textiles that’s doing the rounds of provincial galleries. It was my usual assignment: drive vehicle, open doors, tug forelock; carry bags as required. Sashiko is a form of stitching the Japanese used to make their work clothes until the mid 20th century. Lots of smart looking kit – the sort favoured by Richard Chamberlain’s lackeys in his pilot-major days, and a number of Takeji Iwamiya prints on loan from the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Apart from textile students and the odd fashionista, the principal visitors appeared to be bored grandparents coerced into babysitting during school holidays. One looked as though palliative care was in order; her charges needed locking in a cage ... In direct contrast to Japanese folk crafts, Katie Price was appearing next door – signing copies of her latest commercial venture for a humungous crowd of adoring girls and young women. Not quite the pretty sight you would imagine, so we beat a hasty retreat to the annual Flavour Fest being held in the city centre. It’s not a patch on the first one we attended, three years ago, and seems to be losing the support of suppliers. Understandable in these straitened times, though much of the public looked more the pizza and burger types than the sort to shell out half-a-week’s wages on a shoulder of salt marsh lamb. The beer tent and hog roast were doing good business, and the cooking demonstrations – which included the Tanner brothers and Peter Gorton – well attended. Treated the Boss to lunch and a carafe of none-too-shabby Bourgogne at Tanners Restaurant; then headed back to the safety of the hills.

Wednesday, August 11

Staycations need a Plan B

Whilst we tend to steer clear of the seaside at this time of year and leave it to vacationing families, the chance of a day’s sunshine following this past week’s rain was worth our having to queue to enter Bude. If accents are to be believed most of Dudley is decamped here. People mock our German cousins’ blitzkrieg approach to sun loungers, but the punters colonising Summerleaze beach didn’t appear exactly short of tactical nous. The average unit seemed to consist of grandparents, parents and assorted offspring, spinster aunt, and one of those spare relatives who gets passed around the family. The quantity of equipment – deckchairs, towels, windbreak, bivouac, cool boxes, cricket bat/stumps, Frisbee, kite, surf board, bucket and spade, sun lotion and ancillary supplies – beggars belief. Needless to say we beat a hasty retreat along the coastal path to Widemouth Bay which, thanks to the blue sky, proved to be just as popular. Walked back the three or so miles and retired to the Olive Tree restaurant for their ever reliable fish cakes and an outstanding lemon sole. The lad at the next table told us his family comes to Bude every year, but – because of the unreliability of the weather – book a second trip for October, to Spain, in order to guarantee the kids a dose of vitamin D.

Chokers

I can’t believe it took German PhDs to determine what was blindingly obvious to every pie eating, bare-chested mutt on the terraces. I was more engaged – entertained, watching Friday’s Leeds v Derby game on television, than any of the recent World Cup matches. It was fun to see 22 guys running around kicking each other. Whilst enjoying Premier League football, I miss the Championship; and I never thought I’d say this but, I was looking forward to the Elland Road game with far more enthusiasm than I’m able to muster for tonight’s non-event from Wembley. Golden generation my arse.