Sunday, May 30

What happened to Mrs Miniver?

The bank holiday hasn’t failed to disappoint. We drove to the moor yesterday afternoon, took just a minute or two to register the violent squalls buffeting the motor, and returned home to hunker ’round the propane. Acknowledging that the tents and caravans of our more hardy visitors are not for me these days will doubtless attract the ire of Bill Byson, but it’s more my arthritic knees and knackered back than greed and self absorption. He forgets that back in the 1970s – in part due to the legacy of such things as Dunkirk – we were more or less still singing from the same hymn sheet; today the country’s a disparate assortment of bods and it takes time to adjust. I wonder at the absence of Greer Garson from this weekend’s television schedule?

Friday, May 28

Only 14 days to go

Given the immediacy of the bank holiday and half-term, yesterday was our last Cornish expedition for a while. We had a look-see at Fowey, a pretty tourist-orientated harbour that trades on the memory of such literary types as Quiller-Couch, Daphne du Maurier and Kenneth Grahame; it’s also home to a select group of television’s rich and famous. Ate a dire lunch at the improbably named Tiffins bistro, an establishment that holds little in common with either designation. Spent a more enjoyable afternoon on the estuary, up at Lerryn, watching grey herons, little egrets and kingfishers. The local Ship Inn seems a much better location for a future base camp – a long way from the so-called real world. Yet whose world is more real I wonder? The Quik-E-Mart is knocking out a range of keenly priced Team England paraphernalia ... doubtless it’ll end in penalties and tears.

Wednesday, May 26

Shall I part my hair behind?

It rhymes with peaches ... A final visit to Exeter College saw the end of my current OU course. I’m as keen as the next man to heed government advice and continue to update my skills, though I doubt my newly acquired mastery of African poets and South American novelists will guarantee a frontbench post. I celebrated with a pint and two Scotch eggs, before adjourning to the hairdressers for the ceremonial removal of my pony tail. It looked as sad as it sounds; the ageing hippie thing was never going to work. Trundled home in time to mow the yard and barbeque a guinea fowl for supper; I’m using a new butter baste, flavoured with saffron, lemon, shallots and garlic.

Tuesday, May 25

Away day

The next coastal visit came sooner than I’d imagined, beginning this morning in Newlyn, England’s largest fishing port, where men are men and the women roll their own cigarettes. The local bars were pretty active with lads from the fish who’d just knocked off work. Fish and Art tends to be what most visitors associate with this part of the world, wet-fish shops and galleries being plentiful. Pushed off down to Mousehole for lunch; fish, naturally. Great little place especially on sunny day like today, though I suspect the village is a hive of second-home owners. Star-Gazy Pie didn’t feature on the menu but the fish cakes were none too shabby. Made it as far as Land’s End, which was knee-deep in Germans and Slovakians. Nice ice cream.

Monday, May 24

Shadowed livery of the burnished sun

Argh the heat ... am browning nicely. Should have stayed at the seaside (I’ve a feeling we’ll be back there later in the week and can taste the cockles already). Am trying a new weight-conscious protein diet that appears to be built around dishes of hard-boiled quails’ eggs, asparagus, and plates of prosciutto crudo and Carpaccio. Sounds a touch fancy in this age of national austerity, but the eggs are from a neighbour at a quid/dozen, the asparagus and ham is on half-price special at the Quik-E-Mart, and the beef was part of a job lot from The Devon Show. Doubtless we’ll be slurping bowls of gruel if Osborne and Laws have their way, so I’m making the most of it while I can.

Friday, May 21

Touring

At last, real heat: 27ยบ of sunshine. This is what the month of May used to be like. We were down in Polperro and Looe for today’s ice cream and paddle in the sea – gradually working our way south. Both ports feature fish markets and a very ancient and fish-like smell. The former venue appears popular with our visiting German cousins, the latter (given the shirts on display) with Baggies’ supporters and their families. Though catering to a markedly different clientele than Salcombe I’m assured Looe features on the list of top ten places in the UK to celebrate New Year. Must admit, the two of us enjoyed ourselves.

Thursday, May 20

The Devon County Show

It’s always a good day out. We did the usual things: watched the show jumping, the cattle and sheep judging, visited the fair, lusted after Burrell traction engines, were entertained by the blacksmiths shoeing horses, ate a succession of venison and roast pork cobs, partook of a drink or two in the beer tent. HM Band of the Royal Marines provided the music, along with BBC local radio who were showcasing a succession of live musical acts. Special mention for Exe Valley Brewery’s ‘Spring Beer’ and Sandford Orchard’s award winning cider. The latter triumphed at this year’s CAMRA National Cider Championship: a fruity aroma with wonderful honeysuckle and banana notes, and a long, sweet aftertaste. The nice thing about these events is meeting the guys who brew the stuff – you have to watch Barny Butterfield on the Paul O’Grady Show. I could attempt to bore (bluff) you with regards to Exmoor Horns, Whiteface Dartmoors and Jacob Sheep (they get a mention in Genesis), but life’s too short. I take a passing interest to impress Farmer Charles. There are some nice tractors on display: vintage Fergusons, Fords, Nuffields, and a Minneapolis-Moline ZB that was acquired from America back in the days of lend lease. Came home with two humungous six-pound (weight, not money) steaks from one of the exhibiting butchers, and a flagon of Butterfield’s scrumpy.

Tuesday, May 18

Escape to the seaside

Although temperatures are forecast to soar later in the week today wasn’t half bad. Glorious up on the coast, and there was hardly a soul about: half-a-dozen surfers and a posse of hefty looking girls on horseback. The coastal path itself is a bed of wildflowers ... swallows playing tag with a kestrel. On each successive visit we find another section of cliff that has collapsed. You look to neighbouring properties and wonder if they’ll be saleable in twenty years time. Walked south for a couple of hours before adjourning to a local hostelry where we snacked on fish cakes and ice cream. Limped back and drove home with a slow puncture.

A precarious life

Of the senses it’s the ears that suffer most this time of year. Yet along with the raucous dawn chorus and bleating lambs there’s the early morning smell of cut grass, the colour and scent of apple blossom and bluebells, the orange tip butterflies that flit amongst lemon-specked gorse.Despite this idyllic appearance it’s a dangerous time for our nesting birds, not least because of the four neighbourhood cats who lay claim to the yard. They eat well. A vixen saunters past the office window with a clutch of feathers clamped between her jaws; a sparrow hawk eyes the stragglers.

Saturday, May 15

Better late than never

The cattle are back out on the moor and they’re not alone...

And hear the pleasant cuckoo, loud and long –
The simple bird that thinks two notes a song.


OK, a month late (April’s Charms), but at least they’re here, my first of the year. As Davies suggests, those ‘cuckoos’ can be quite irritating once the novelty has worn off. And if what Farmer Charles says is true – that the number of calls you hear correlates to your remaining years – I’m not long for this world. Doubtless I should dash out and spend my record-breaking (for a single month) three £25 Premium Bond prizes. Hardly a demonstration of government largess, given the investment required, yet I was always (irrationally) comforted by the thought the cheques were somehow coming out of McPlonker’s pocket. As the Quik-E-Mart’s taken delivery of the new season’s asparagus I know where part of the windfall is going.

Thursday, May 13

Feet up

Another of those days ... at least I’ve managed a couple of beers. The Boss cooked some excellent cabrito for supper. We threw one of our mutton curry sessions earlier in the week – large portions of Bob Marley – but the goat is a different league. Never fails to conjure memories. Tonight’s accompanying music comes from Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and his Columbian buddy, Lucho Brieva, guest appearances courtesy Chrissie Hynde and Annie Lennox. Better than average Latino guff.

Hope, for a change

It looks as good as the Quik-E-Mart’s two-for-one offer. I’m with the ever reliable Matthew Paris in today’s Times, we’ll probably look back in a year or so and smile ruefully when recalling our naivety. And yet ... after the bitterness engendered by a brooding McPlonker you would hope we could at least take a look at something different. I’m told there are primary schools across the country where the kids in a single classroom speak a dozen or more strange languages and dialects. Old enmities can’t sustain us forever. Yes, I know, there are always new ones to take their place – we’re human after all. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. At the same time Obama telephoned yesterday, hugging us close, the chasm between England and France seemed to grow wider.

Tuesday, May 11

What a palaver

I’ve been too busy clocking up miles to follow the fun and games at Westminster. Our political masters’ machinations serve only to remind us the game is not for the fainthearted, and that McPlonker has no monopoly on duplicity. Such blatant displays of treachery will have screwed any chance of a yes vote for PR. ‘Everyone does it,’ they say, but not (apparently) the British body politic. Each of the principal parties is proving to be a broad church in themselves, let alone in partnership with others. The sight of such as David Steel and Menzies Campbell being dragged kicking and screaming to the altar isn’t particularly edifying. Conversely, I’ve been impressed by how many of the labour MPs are behaving like gentlemen, suggesting their party withdraws from the field.

Friday, May 7

Round 2

Well I guess we got what we asked for, with an election result that reflects the ever evolving multi-tribal nature of Britain. For a large part of the public, dependant on government largess, wholehearted support for the Conservatives seems too much an ask. Full marks to Clegg for tossing the ball to Cameron; McPlonker has probably super glued the locks at No.10. Fun eh?

Thursday, May 6

Was it all worth it?

Hardly seems worth the money and effort. Weeks of electioneering and 40% of the public either won’t vote or are incapable of making up their minds. McPlonker is undoubtedly the biggest fuckwit ever to grace our political stage, yet the answer appears beyond the mental capacity of large sections of the public. Up to our arse in alligators and politics has been reduced to a television game show. Perhaps they’re right? What do I know anyway: though my heart was with ’arry last night my money had always been on City to secure fourth place, and I got that spectacularly wrong. I intend to vote with the same tribal allegiance normally reserved for football, and for the first time in a zillion years – having always lived in Labour boroughs – have an outside chance of being on the winning side. Living in interesting times is only the half of it. I’d love to believe it will all be over after today but suspect this is just the start of our troubles.

Monday, May 3

The greenfinches are back

They’ve been few and far between so far this year.Bank-holiday Monday and the weather’s little improved (lashing down). The Boss has a fair length of cow’s leg bubbling away on the stove, braised shin, last of our wild-beef from the Exeter show. Damn sheep woke me at five this morning – into the office and a finger aching ten-hour stretch at the word processor, transferring a week’s worth of homework to the screen. Tonight’s an evening in with my feet up, watching the movies: We Dive at Dawn. Hardly worth the price of a TV licence.

Sunday, May 2

A chill wind

What a difference one week makes: up on the moor the temperature has dropped from 21 to just 6 degrees, and that’s before the wind-chill factor. It must feel a little similar to McPlonker, as we approach ‘put up or shut up’ time. The cynic in me assumes those ‘undecided’ are the usual crowd that, come next Thursday, can’t be arsed dragging themselves from their DFS sofa, and can be duly discounted; tempting to believe that what the polls are currently saying is what we’ll get. And yet ... and yet ... I can’t help recalling how Jeremy Thorpe was also polling 30%, and subsequently received just 19% of the vote. Sheffield Wednesday’s demise this afternoon (well done the Eagles) an omen for Clegg? Whilst tempting to invest further in the outcome (Tory majority 8/11, hung parliament out to evens, from 4/6), I feel more comfortable entrusting my gelt to the vagaries of horse racing than I do the electorate. That said, am tempted to take a punt on Alistair Darling as the next (albeit temporary) Labour leader, at 14/1.