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.