Sunday, February 28

An unreal world

Bluenoses keep right on with another 1-0. Who’d have thunk it: still in the top ten and presumably safe. What price the Baggies joining us next season? As with the latest political polls, it’s proving to be a funny old season. Two weeks ago I was drinking with Chelsea fans who assured me the race was over and the title was theirs. Yesterday my straight faced Arsenal buddies confidently predicted a win at Stoke would hand them the Premiership. And given the Gunners’ remaining fixture you can understand why. I’ve become a little cynical and suspect business as usual come the summer: dancing cufflinks from Ferguson, and McPlonker returned to No.10. I wonder what brand of beer they serve in Costa Rica?

Thursday, February 25

Jackboot Philanthropists

It’s priceless. Theodoras Pangalos, Greece’s deputy prime minister, accuses Athens would-be economic saviours, the Germans, of being a bunch of incompetent Nazis who had it away with their gold during the war. And you thought Prescott was a prick. Mind you, the lad’s probably right on the question of European leadership, albeit Farage’s tirade against Mr Rumpy Pumpy was a bit choice. No doubt it goes down well with the burghers of Buckinghamshire, Bercow’s constituency. If politicians served up the sort of entertainment on display at the San Siro last night, we would be far less critical.

Tuesday, February 23

Not a tourist in sight

Slight hiccup in withdrawing the week’s beer money from my local cash machine: four bright sparks half-inched a Manitou forklift, using it to remove the hole-in-the-wall, together with a significant amount of taxpayers’ money.

I’ve been out on the moor for the first time in an age (on foot that is). Had forgotten about the wind chill factor. Sheep and ponies are the only company this time of year; they looked as forlorn as I was feeling against the prevailing waves of sleet. You’d be surprised at the distance a man can cover on a slice of apple strudel and flask of coffee.

Friday, February 19

Feet back safely under the table

Of all the familiar landscapes and experiences I don’t miss, the M25 and queuing for the Dartford Tunnel comes top. On these briefest of visits the dilemma for Mrs G. is always that of battling to Oxford Street or settling for Bluewater; given the school holidays we avoided both. Whilst not auspicious circumstances it was interesting to see so many old faces. What struck me most was how good everyone looks. Newspapers may rail against obesity and declining health but from where I was standing fifty-something women look pretty good. Though quality tailoring and £200 haircuts play a part, I suspect a fair amount of gym work is involved. The alpha males certainly don’t appear to be letting up. I felt quite inadequate admitting to living in rented accommodation when everyone else owns ten properties. Enjoyable company though; almost had me reaching for the épée. A taxing five hour drive home, in the dark, through a snow storm.

Tuesday, February 16

Goodbye to the Chief

A diversion via Exeter to acquire a tie. Each time I’ve walked away from a funeral in the past I have binned the black number, thinking it the last I’ll likely attend in a while. Sure enough, in the space of a gnat’s eye someone else ups and dies and I’m obliged to purchase another. Doubtless this latest example of finely stitched rayon will end up much the same as the others: decorated in rum & black and fish paste stains; used to strangle irritating fellow guests. I’ve often thought it would be nice to have the vocal range to carry off Dear Lord and Father of mankind but it’s an aspiration that deserted me with puberty and a 40/day habit. At least I’m not writing the eulogy: an epic tale about a lad from Holden Caulfield’s generation who commanded Greeks and ships from a lion’s den in Bevis Marks.

Sunday, February 14

No time to smell the roses

Weekends used to be a time for slothful indulgence, when you chilled out, read the papers. Nowadays that’s too diversionary and you’re obliged to ration access to the Sundays and the internet. Things to do; places to go; people to meet. Mandatory chores aside, when it comes to so-called leisure time there’s so much on offer that, no matter what you manage to accomplish, you still feel guilty about passing up neglected opportunities. The necessity to consume has you reading O’Hara’s ode for the Lady to a soundtrack of her Milt Gabler productions whilst watching Owusu-Abeyie score his exquisite opener, live on the box (O’Hara gets man-of-the-match!). And you still manage to sign cheques for electricity and propane; eat a sandwich, drink a beer.

Life hasn’t been the same since discovering BBC’s iPlayer. All that catching up. My HD TV is the size of a drive-in movie screen, yet I choose to view programmes via a laptop perched on the wing of an armchair. Too many years flying longhaul. Despite the programmes being repeated on terrestrial television I still missed BBC Four’s Latin Music series, finally managing to watch/listen to the initial three episodes last night. Memories, as they say – though Linda Ronstad’s appearance at 63 was a shocker. Today the office’s sound system features Los Lobos, mit Tecate and limes of course. Even here our influence remains.

Friday, February 12

Celebrity status

The guy who thought he recognised me from the telly resurfaced in the Dog & Duck yesterday. Seems a number of neighbours have been labouring under the misapprehension I’m David Baddiel. Can’t see it myself but there you go.

Bambi gave us a good run for our money: day one the full tamale – roast and three veg; day two mit boiled spuds and red cabbage; day three, thinly sliced and drizzled with balsamic/oil dressing and slivers of parmesan, along with pasta and salad. The weekend looks like a Valentine cook off: an ambitious selection of Chinese recipes.

No water until three today. Damn it’s cold.

Wednesday, February 10

Denting the stock of redcurrant jelly

Chilly is a distinct understatement. After a hard frost the muddy ground develops the consistency of meringue, allowing you to negotiate a path across the fields without resorting to rubber boots ... The flip side to frost and outstanding root vegetables is the loss of mains water; it takes a couple of hours of morning sun to defrost the pipe ... Our daily challenge is to match the surfeit of parsnips with something new. This afternoon, as luck would have it, and feeling a touch medieval, I procured a haunch of venison. Normally you’d marinate the joint in one or other exotic concoction, but today it gets coated in goose fat and bunged straight into the oven.

I came across a couple of graves during the morning’s meander around the neighbourhood. The lad on the first stone expired in 1845, the year of Ireland’s great famine. He’s worth a mention purely on the basis of his progeny: leaving behind a total of 148 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There wasn’t a lot to do of an evening in those days either. His wife predeceased him, and you wonder why? The second was another demonstration of the trail of coincidence: the man in question, a local farmer, having moved here during the 1820s from St Cyrus – a not unfamiliar landscape we recently revisited (great beaches and nature reserve). Shades of Grassic Gibbon, albeit a century adrift.

Tuesday, February 9

Chicks, cats and dogs

Being snowed in recently was a wakeup call with regards to the necessity for maintaining a well-stocked larder; it’s also why our monthly farmers’ market is such a fixture. I might not be able to make it down the lane to the Dog & Duck next time it snows but I certainly won’t starve ... Unlike the foxes who appear thick on the ground just now. I reckon we have three who circumvent the yard, and they’re always an attractive (dare one say welcome) sight. That said, unlike the neighbours I haven’t a hen house to protect.

Talking of chicks ... or is it cats and dogs? Parental angst is to the fore, with demand for popular university courses soaring by almost a quarter. I remember warning last year, when government ministers were advising applicants to take a gap year and apply in 2010, that things were unlikely to improve and the post-election landscape could be worse. This year David Lammy, the Higher Education Minister, has thrown in the towel, suggesting applicants give up on university and consider an apprenticeship. Wonder what happened to all of those technical colleges which used to cater for them? Goodbye teacher training, hullo the hair salon.

There was a story in last week’s news relating to the restoration of Verrocchio’s The Virgin and Child with Two Angels. The painting had been hidden away in the bowels of the National Gallery before being subject to some painstaking work – taking the restorer, Ms Dunkerton (and one hundred scalpel blades), some 18 months to remove the effects of countless cowboy attempts to reinvigorate or reinterpret the scene. In a similar vein: our neighbours have been gifted a modest sum by English Heritage to renovate the small barn which sits outside my window. A team of talented artisans are picking through the structure, piece by piece, restoring what is itself a unique work. However, because it is seen (by some) to be devoid of aesthetic interest, this rustic edifice is not considered a work of art. I doubt we’ll ever resolve our arguments about the respective merits of cats and dogs.

Saturday, February 6

Punctures and grey hair

The state of the lanes hereabout leaves a lot to be desired; the roadside resembles a Formula 1 pit. I’m now into double figures: ten tyres in three years, and the motor isn’t even a Toyota. Understandably I’ve become a dab hand at changing the damn things, though I’d love a better jack in the boot, not to mention a tin of Swarfega. Two kind souls stopped and offered to lend a hand yesterday, and a frightening thought occured: that I’ve begun to resemble a sad old git in need of rescue. It’s doubly worrying given one of the Samaritans was a woman of doubtful years. Should have called the lady’s bluff, tossed her the tyre iron and stood aside. I was accosted in Crediton during the week and asked if I was ‘that guy off the telly’. Let’s hope he didn’t mean Arthur fucking Negus.

No one to blame but ...

Whilst a significant number of the population claims to have no one to vote for and could yet develop into another tea party phenomenon, everyone remains steadfast in their condemnation of our hands-in-the-till legislature. And you thought it was all over. If one thing does for Labour it will be apathy at the ballot box. Although half of MPs managed to avoid censure over their expenses the fact they turned a blind eye to the troughers says much about the culture of public service. Whether you’re Balls & Cooper flipping homes or George Dixon on a hundred quid a pop overtime for answering the phone, taxpayers have been taken for mugs. Would that I had a piece of the action. Truth is we were all complicit. Everyone with half a brain could smell what was happening to the Country but was too concerned with banking a paycheque to rock the boat.

Wednesday, February 3

Good days and bad days

There are moments when you question the point of it all. For McCarthy it was the instant Danny Butterfield completed his hat-trick. Though the face of the Wolves manager is rarely a picture of exuberance his current cloak of wretchedness is of a different order. Let’s face it, if the lad was an injured dog you’d put him down. Hats off to Palace. Warnock had implied the replay was a buckshee night: following the saga of administration, a chance to have some fun. I’ve probably seen more games at Selhurst Park than St Andrews, albeit many years ago under the respective reign of Allison, Venables, Kember and Coppell. Colleagues were either Palace or Charlton and you went along for the ride. They were fun days, brought to mind this week with sad news of the loss of an old friend. Cue another trip to the Smoke. Funerals are a lamentable excuse for renewing friendships and acquaintances. It’s kind of a weird that the wake is being held at a golf club where McCarthy and I were once both members together.

Monday, February 1

House prices

House prices defy all perception of what passes for economic reality. In the midst of the worst economic downturn for thirty years Nationwide predicts property prices are heading for double digit inflation. If you match the low interest rates and relatively tame unemployment figures with the shortage of properties for sale it’s not hard to see why. At the time of Black Wednesday the Boss and I were paying 60% of our combined income in mortgage payments: the current drain on disposable income is reckoned to be circa 7%. Doomsayers still point to a day of reckoning, when post-election job losses, increased taxes and rising interest rates take their toll. However, given the current low-level of new construction and rising population, it’s hardly the end of the world. I take current press stories with a large pinch of salt. Whilst acknowledging there are areas of London where four bedroom family homes are scarcer than a government minister occupying an economy class seat, one-bedroom flats in modern Humberside developments could well be unsalable. And though properties in some areas of the South West have tripled this last decade, last week’s figures from the Land Registry put Devon 0.2% down, year on year. Of course this overlooks the disparity between a terrace house in Plymouth and a rustic thatch-covered Dartmoor pile with pony paddock. I have no idea where property prices will be 10-15 years from now. What I do predict is that the availability of decent family homes in attractive neighbourhoods is unlikely to improve, and, along with access to Russell Group universities and the professions, will become an increasingly exclusive preserve.

Defence or Arts?

Brown goes into battle, promising billions for defence. I think a long overdue Defence Review (the last one was ’98) will ultimately determine spending priorities; that and our burden of debt. McPlonker is raising the issue now due to the proximity of Rosyth to his constituency – the focus for our two new aircraft carriers. Osborne hasn’t given any commitment to the vessels, though I suspect the penalties for cancellation virtually guarantee their future. With Russia refurbishing, China’s eye-watering defence spending, Iranian belligerence (...) it would be foolish to ignore the future and the part we play in it. Though reluctant to admit the fact, as with most other peoples, there are certain things we do well (winning World Cups not being one of them). The City aside – and like as not, without it we’d be an even sorrier bunch – Britain does seem to have a talent for constructing armament, for fighting wars. Whilst not sure of remaining on the winning side these days, and no longer considered to be in the upper echelons of military might (are too often poorly led and under resourced), given the right encouragement Britain doesn’t do badly. If we threw out the City AND gave up on our defence industry then third world status would probably rate a bonus.

Of course we’re a long way from the Britain featured in ‘High Tide’, the latest episode of Empire of the Seas. It’s compulsive viewing for young lads everywhere, though doubtless incompatible with the realities of modern day education: a conceit that doesn’t sit well with having built a super power status on the back of Caribbean sugar plantations. But then I suppose being Mr Nice Guy gets you nowhere.

The BBC’s latest contribution to David Dimbleby’s pension fund, Seven Ages of Britain, opened last night with ‘Age of Conquest’. Though a well-worn path – Anglo-Saxon poetry and those pesky Normans – it’s worth viewing if for no other reason than it fills the gap prior to MOTD.

Against my better judgement I remained awake to watch the pre-recorded demise of The South Bank Show at the Dorchester. It looked and felt like a works annual dinner and dance, done on the cheap (less said about the jagged bits of plastic the better). But then I guess it’s why the show’s finished: squeezed between the BBC and Rupert Murdoch, ITV finds itself unable to fund the ‘nice to haves’. As an archetypal chav from Gypsy Lane I’d normally be the last man in line to proffer support for our great band of luvvies, however, Art remains as much a part of who we are as HMS Victory. I’m not sure I want the sole arbiter of cultural taste to be represented in the form of Kirsty Wark and her increasingly eccentric wardrobe.