Wednesday, June 30

Civilisation?

My monthly trip to the barbers, in Exeter. I’m used to the sheep parting to let me pass and become temporarily confused when people try to walk through me. Two things always register when visiting the big city: the number of young girls with pushchairs and the amount of women that smoke. I’m not suggesting the two correlate, though I do suspect these very distinct groups are merely sides of the same coin separated by age. Some first-rate buskers on the street. Had lunch at a trusted favourite which has recently changed hands. The meal was revolting and I told the management so. They ripped up the bill and apologized profusely, yet all I wanted was something to eat. That’s two strikes in succession for the city’s restaurants; three and I call it a day. I subsequently invested forty quid in a new saddle for the bicycle. A ridiculous sum of money, but the current model has proved too much a trial. Two days without a World Cup game ... guess I’ll have to do some work.

Monday, June 28

Another disappointing tournament

I was really looking forward to that game against Argentina. After so many years you’d think we’d be au fait with failure, but it still hurts. At least it didn’t cost me anything this time; I’ve lost more than enough cases of Becks and Heineken to German and Dutch associates over the years. Let’s face it, this was a one-trick team and Rooney failed to appear.

There’s always the moor, hot and dry as it is – bracken, thistles and crickets; tadpoles (late June?) and baby trout in what’s left of the stream; common darters, golden-ringed dragon flies and beautiful demoiselles.

Thursday, June 24

Coming up for air

You couldn’t have written it: France and Italy out, and two mouth-watering games against Germany and Argentina to come. In an effort to remove the sofa’s imprint from my backside I’ve been out around the reservoir. It’s already dry at the top end; easy to understand why they are contemplating hosepipe bans in Cumbria.

Working longer? I could have put money on government putting up the retirement age the very year my turn was due. According to banker’s son, Nick Clegg, it will invigorate me.

Wednesday, June 23

Canned bat

Injured blackbirds, rescued toads and incarcerated bats ... all in a day’s work for Mrs G. Yesterday she found a bat trapped inside an old zinc watering can in the yard. People mess with bats on pain of death – they’re a protected species and the Stasi will likely have you crucified and disembowelled for merely breathing on the little critters. Our neighbour’s building work was halted for weeks after a couple had taken up residence. I assume this one couldn’t escape from the can because bats need to drop from a height to achieve flight. I personally thought the little chap looked a goner, but the Boss built an unlikely pyramid of garden table and chairs and perched the can on its side at the top. In due course said bat inched its way to the edge and threw itself out, plunging to the ground, before peeling off, inches from oblivion, and swooping under a bench and up over the thatch. It turned out to be more interesting than Boy George’s budget.

Sunday, June 20

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I suspect a hornets’ nest in the yard: too many are entering/departing the old tree stump. The remains of the felled oak have noticeably diminished during our stay here, systematically reduced by woodpeckers in search of grubs.There are at least half-a-dozen so-called French Pies in the immediate vicinity; others that come and go. Mrs G. has young ones eating out of her hand.

Domestic thoughts

When you rise – an hour earlier at this time of year – the cats are well into their morning hunt. I can’t imagine the neighbours bother feeding any of the four: such is their prowess, the abundance of small mammals and birds. These farm cats are large, powerful creatures; if you’ve seen the size to which our rats aspire, it’s understandable. The biggest black will pursue squirrels to the tops of the trees and beyond. I guess it’s another thing to consider, when we put down roots. The impossible dream isn’t too dissimilar to the Ponderosa, albeit its convicinity is populated by cattle rather than sheep; we’ll need cats and terriers to keep down the vermin in the outhouse. Better renew my subscription to Ferreter’s Weekly.

Friday, June 18

The impossible dream

To say Mrs G. has become increasingly irritated by my jocular asides would be an understatement. My pointedly singing along to the Andy Williams number, The Impossible Dream, every time that Honda advert is aired on television being a case in point. She knows I’m alluding to our elusive search for her dream home; it’s been a frustrating four years. All we wanted was a little place off the beaten track with space for an allotment and a chicken coop; a spare bedroom for the occasional guest; a shed I can disappear to ... You wouldn’t think that was difficult? And truth to tell, from my point of view, it’s been fun renting: having someone else worry about repairs, the leaking roof, the backed up plumbing. Unfortunately, with a 0.5% interest rate on savings, a certainty the government will inflate its way out of dept, and the absence of residential construction to match our burgeoning population, property owning remains a no-brainer. So you keep plugging away.

And I’m pleased to report that, following two weeks of fraught negotiation, and in competition with a number of bidders, the Boss appears to have achieved her goal; Mrs G. and the vendor putting down their baseball bats for at least enough time to shake hands on the deal. Needless to say the good lady has already returned home and begun packing; my life of leisure appears at an end.

A room with a view

Just because I’m glued to the footy doesn’t mean we have to watch it at home: so – given the sun was shining – we decamped to Penzance for 2-3 days; to a room with a view, overlooking the harbour – a room with a decent-sized television. When there isn’t a match in progress you can look out across a subtropical arboretum and watch the sailing dinghies and Cornish gigs flit about the water. Good food, whether eating in or dining at any of the pubs. That said, we probably dropped lucky with the meal in The Turks Head, reputedly the oldest pub and restaurant in town. Parked outside our accommodation, in the roads, was a familiar vessel from our Lowestoft days: the AHT Anglian Princess, on time charter to the Coast Guard.Had a butchers at Penlee House’s Cornish Childhood exhibition. Am afraid the Newlyn School is lost on me, but their cafe served the best quiche I’ve ever eaten. A more profitable time was had at Tate St Ives. If you ignore the Lily van der Stokker crap there’s work by Picasso, Rothko, Georges Braque, Willem de Kooning, Barbara Hepworth, Jackson Pollock, Ben Nicholson, just to name a few. St Ives itself was an eye opener and at its best: clear blue skies, turquoise sea, beautiful beaches ... but the bodies – the sheer number of people – and the kids aren’t even off! My mobile rang whilst I was salivating over a Giacometti, carrying news that portends sleepless nights ... but we’ll come to that later.

Monday, June 14

Bring back Lynne Truss

A predictable start to the World Cup: nervous players, nervous teams, nervous managers. I’m sure performances will improve as the tournament progresses; a 1-1 draw is hardly reason to rubbish Capello and everything he stands for (annoying plastic trumpets are as nothing compared to the verbiage spouted by our ‘experts’, be they studio presenters, match commentators or newspaper scribes). And there must be a more suitable role for that gormless prat Adrian Chiles – a Sunday League player who should have stayed on the sofa. He had a better pair of tits sitting next to him in The One Show than he does with Townsend and Southgate.

Saturday, June 12

Free again

The motor is finally back from the garage and we are mobile once more. It’s amazing what you can or can’t survive without when cut off from the wider world. I once thought a decent cup of coffee topped the list of life’s necessities; I now accept it’s a packet of dreft ... The World Cup is underway at last. Whilst we can agree that England’s warm-up games haven’t been exactly flattering, I seem to recall a similar lack of enthusiasm for Ramsey’s chances at the start of the ’66 competition. It’s kind of spooky that our Group 1 opponents at that time were Uruguay, Mexico and France – identical to the current hosts’ (rushes out to the bookies and places a £20 bet on South Africa). Tonight’s opener is given extra frisson thanks to Sherriff Bart’s anti-British rhetoric ... Off this morning for a belated visit to the Royal Cornwall Show.

Thursday, June 10

Devil birds

The fly-boys are putting themselves about before any government cuts can be implemented: squadrons of Hawk trainers and even larger machines blaze away overhead. The swifts – Devil’s Screechers, as they’re known locally – have also returned to the barn, joining the house martins and swallows. These birds have flown six thousand miles from South Africa oblivious of the World Cup. Considering our grey skies perhaps they should have stayed put. At the moment we’re overrun by newly-fledged sparrows, goldfinches and siskins; the blue tits and great tits have yet to surface. Stormy weather continues to prevail; I had such plans ... But then the week’s not over yet! Mrs G. is in the kitchen butchering a Dartmoor lamb.

Wednesday, June 9

It remains our main form of transportation

Am back to hoofing it: looks like the motor will take a little longer to fix than anticipated: said vehicle’s manufacturer no longer holds any spares in the UK! And as luck would have it the rainy season has returned. People in the countryside don’t tend to walk; regard you as some sort of nut job, turning up on foot; the garage was most insistent about running me home. That said, after seven or so miles of errands yesterday, and back on the road again today, even I’m having second thoughts about the value of exercise.

Sunday, June 6

Halcyon bird of mythology

Nice day, Friday: blue skies in Polruan, a busy quay dominated by Toms’ boat yard. Given the suffocating restrictions of our modern-day health & safety environment it was good to see kids jumping from the harbour wall and swimming beneath the arse end of a dry-docked trawler, dodging the ferry and other assorted motor vessels. Worked our way up past Bodinnick and found a suitable B&B alongside the creek. Dined out on chilli-con-carne and Hungarian wine at the local hostelry before retiring for an early night. After so many years on the road I’m reasonably adept at viewing televisions the size of a wristwatch which are bolted onto distant walls; we were treated to the tail end of Aida and The Godfather. Set out Saturday to explore the mudflats and neighbouring forests, veering off into farming country; walked for hours encountering no one. Saturday night at the local hostelry: more Hungarian wine and a burger of doubtful provenance. Spent this morning following kingfishers along the creek. There came/Swift as a meteor’s shining flame/A kingfisher from out the brake/And almost seemed to leave a wake/Of brilliant hues behind (FW Faber). Even the pool of leaked coolant under the motor failed to dampen spirits; returned home in the back of a recovery truck.

Thursday, June 3

Fourth planet from the sun

You don’t need to be a literary heavyweight to believe Red Mars could stand a little editing; and after going to the trouble of reading Bill Byson’s Really Short History of Nearly Everything I was expecting more science along with the fiction. Yet despite the dated presumptions and stereotypical characterisations it’s still a worthwhile read. The political narratives are clear enough, along with Mars as a metaphor for earth, etc. etc. However, we’ve come a long way in the eighteen years since the novel was first published: if this was a glimpse into the mind of a contemporary Californian intellectual (as the author is viewed) we’d be in trouble. It’s not just that Robinson’s male protagonists are represented as Marlboro Man and ruthless technocrat, that the female heroines have either slept their way to the top or are neurotic and suicidal, it’s also his portrayal of foreign types, not least in the Arabs. En route to Mars ‘the hundred’ come to believe that ‘we would be so changed by the voyage out that nothing we had been told to do mattered anymore ... we became fundamentally different beings,’ before going on to pursue some pretty predictable scenarios. I accept Science Fiction as a genre is predicated on our known society, and I’m familiar with Suvin, but this was more recognition than dysrecognition. That said, I’m looking back with the benefit of hindsight, am being far too cynical. If Arthur C. Clarke liked it, and the FT found Red Mars ‘Absorbing, impressive, fascinating ... Utterly plausible’, who am I to quibble? I suspect Robinson’s Martian expedition needs more detailed investigation, a second read, to reveal what else is hidden beneath its rust-coloured fines.

Wednesday, June 2

Life’s full of disappointments

Well, well: Walcott dumped for Wright-Phillips? In truth the lad hadn’t delivered recently. I can’t help thinking it says more about Wenger the coach than Walcott the player, though that would be crediting O’Neill with a hand in Heskey’s inclusion. England support in this neck of the woods is much in evidence: cars, tractors and white vans resplendent in fluttering rayon, homes and hedgerows alike flying the ensign. A lad in Torrington has painted the entire front of his terraced house in the form of a St George’s Cross.

In Barnstaple yesterday – that’s to say, we tried to get into the town. Half-term’s a nightmare for the rest of us; even the Dog & Duck was full of little people chomping on beans and burgers. Lots of hikers out on the moor, many burdened with towering rucksacks. And sunshine has returned, along with a veritable queue of visitors looking for Farmer Charles’ B&B establishment.