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 Although Sky has withdrawn access to Jeff Stelling and the boys (mean spirited bastards), there was footy on the wireless and a backlog of reading material.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.

Tuesday, August 10

Reminiscences of a late developer

Our futures lie in space says Quark’s weird cousin. I’ve already read up on this scenario and it’s not an attractive option. If we can’t learn to live together and manage our resources a little better here on earth then it is unlikely people will transform themselves for Mars. Likewise, the latest mini property boom may be over, but for as long as people carry on breeding like bunny rabbits, houses will continue to trump just about any other investment you care to make. That said, given my track record on investment advice, a spell of war, famine, pestilence and death is probably just around the corner.

Whilst Pakistan and Russia portend future biblical catastrophes, because it’s the silly season, milk seems to be what exercises us most. Looking back we’re probably split 50/50 on the question of school milk: half enjoyed it, the other half becoming so revolted they never touched the stuff again. It was my first taste of junior management – milk monitor at the age of seven, subsequently rising through the ranks to become class ink monitor. Unfortunately things moved downhill from there on and I am still playing catch up. The results of my end-of-year paper arrived over the weekend, adding letters to my name. Small stuff, given every kid I meet or have worked with earned a master’s degree by the time they were twelve; however, as an avowed philistine (pronounced filling-stine locally), dipping my toe in the water has been fun. Not sure where I go from here. I am a big fan of the OU but, at least as far as literature’s concerned, gender wise, a 1-9 minority; always leaves me feeling I’m already on Mars, or is it Venus?

It’s my birthday so I am out of commission for the remainder of Tuesday. Comes around too quickly for my liking.

Sunday, August 8

Heights and squeaky bums

Off to the village to pick up the Sundays and a gallon of unleaded for the mower (‘only be five minutes’). Naturally said garage was OUT OF PETROL. I drive five miles to the next forecourt and discover a queue of panzer wagons (German visitors) waiting at the pumps, a file that stretches back half way to Tavistock. Elect to give up and, as I’m close by, to walk around the reservoir for a breath of fresh air (as if there’s any other type). After four hundred yards of protest from my knackered knees (courtesy of yesterday’s expedition) I decide another hike is out of the question. Walking back to the motor – mind on another planet – I wander off-piste, along a sheep track and up through Homerton Hill’s bracken ... and an hour later, after stumbling, seemingly, through every patch of sock-soaking bog that remains on the moor, the old ticker firing like a kettle drum, I find myself sitting on top of Black Tor – watching paragliders launch themselves from Corn Ridge. It’s therapeutic: following these guys across the sky. Whilst I’ve considered having a shot, heights and me don’t exactly agree. Dangling my legs over the edge of the Tor is all it takes to bring on the clenched teeth. I can quite happily while-the-day-away with my butt securely seated on a granite outcrop. It was in my mind to complete the circuit – continue over High Willhays and Yes Tor; but by then it was already past opening time, and breakfast had long congealed.

Saturday, August 7

Not everything costs these days

The wild hair, frayed jeans and infamous footwear has led neighbours to suspect penury is at hand: they now stop by with buckshee ‘boxes’ of vegetables, when it used to be the odd bag. If you’re short of beetroot I’m your man. However, after receiving this morning’s insurance renewal for the motor they could well be right. It doesn’t take a genius to identify the reasons behind the increase: juvenile drivers (and fraudulent claims). It’s not enough I have to work and pay taxes to educate and feed other people’s children, I should also subsidise their transport? I don’t get it. Female aspiration and contraception limited my contemporaries to one, maybe two kids. Who could afford more? Nowadays three or even four sprogs appears to be the norm. How the fuck do they afford four kids? You can’t just point the finger at non-British born mothers and council estate residents, most that pass my way (visitors) are Boden wearing breeders pushing three-hundred quid Quinny strollers. I can only surmise that, thanks to the last government, having kids is an earner. I was chatting to a holidaying nurse on a bench outside the Dog & Duck last week. After her second pint of Sam’s Cider and third roll up she moved to describe the birth rate in her particular area as more like factory farming on an industrial scale, but without the benefit of genetic enhancement (I assumed her farming metaphor was for the benefit of my Wellington boots and cap). Given so many people are destined to remain at work until their 70s, exactly how does the next generation expect to occupy itself during those years between completing fulltime education and reaching their late 30s, because that’s about the time it’ll take to secure an initial fulltime post. As for the perpetrators of this demographic catastrophe: don’t expect to enjoy it, it’s a sad validation of anyone’s life.

Friday, August 6

Clocking up the miles

I’ve somehow managed to clock up over 400 miles in the motor this week. Given how drab the weather has turned out Monday wasn’t such a bad day after all (you had to have been there). Whilst lots of visitors are in evidence, once you’ve ventured out into the mire, much of the moor is understandably deserted. Roads are a different matter, as is a general competence behind the nation’s steering wheels – gawkey prats the lot of ’em. Tuesday it lashed down, and though we spent a good part of the day dodging ponies, the heavy mist precluded much in the way activity. A brief respite Wednesday, then back to the mizzle. This morning we were intent on wandering up around Fox Tor – Hound of the Baskervilles country. In the end we thought better of the venture, settling for The Forest Inn and – as it’s perceived to be fishing country – a couple of pints of Teignworthy’s ‘Reel Ale’. Prapper jab.

And talking of Sherlock Holmes ... Steven Spielberg has been spotted out on the moor. The lad’s here directing DreamWorks’ film of Michael Morpurgo’s book (and National Theatre hit) War Horse. If you’re a recent convert to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s flawed hero, courtesy of the current BBC1 series Sherlock, then you’ll also be interested/not interested to know that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the part of Major Stewart in the DreamWorks film.

Thursday, August 5

Not a manly subject

I hadn’t realised that carrying a baguette in public marks you out as something of a nancy boy. Croissants must be a definite no-no. And here was I about to witter on about yesterday’s lunch in Totnes, on the bank of the River Dart. Perhaps my consuming a Cool-Hand-Luke quantity of Scotch eggs at the quayside qualifies as a more manly endeavour than (that of) discussing the delicate art of poaching? Still ... for old time sake I add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water.

Wednesday, August 4

Heresy and redemption

If there was another film in this book it would probably be directed and produced by the Coen brothers. Back in ’79 John Huston was in the driving seat, and the prophet protagonist, Hazel Motes, was played by Brad Dourif, aka the ‘voice’ of Chucky. Flannery O’Connor’s short stories were required reading, but this is the first novel to come my way. Southern Gothic; if you’re into Cormac McCarthy it should register – heavy on the freaks and lunatics, and full of great lines. Should they ever reshoot Wise Blood there’d have to be a role for the one-eyed Scottish Presbyterian, it’s how I’ve always envisaged him. .

Sunday, August 1

Walking with strangers

As you would expect, at this time of year, half of Europe appears engaged on an invasion of the Southwest. Convoys of vehicles with strange number plates supplant our tractors and more dated motor vehicles. The queue at the Quik-E-Mart grows ever longer. Here on the Ponderosa neighbours have been hosting parties of Danish and Swiss visitors. Knowing how much it costs for a bottle of Tuborg at your typical Copenhagen nightspot I can well understand the Dog & Duck’s attraction, though I’d give their pickled herring a miss. We may whinge about the cost of a pint but Scandinavia’s a ruinous exercise ... Our weekend trek on the moors took place among teams of keen runners – athletes – traversing the tors. Once, maybe, long ago; these days I come equipped with too many elasticated supports.

Whilst not a big consumer of beef I’ve been won over by these single ribs from a local butcher. This particular slice weighs in at six pounds and, along with the obligatory green stuff, keeps us furnished with necessary nutrients for 2/3 days. Mrs G’s magic rub and twenty minutes each side (on the barbeque) for a nice pink centre.