Tuesday, December 6

On the plus side...

The best break we’ve had to date has been this past month’s weather. It’s been wet, at times very wet, but it has also been the southwest’s second warmest November in 100 years, affording me plenty of time to perfect my fire lighting skills, become a little more acclimatised, and to winter proof the plumbing. Downpipes now drain into a ditch rather than the footings, and the septic tank has lost its pungency. The climate is changing, however, and I wouldn’t bet against a white Christmas. Snow or not, our location will remain a challenge. At least the yuletide tree is in place, as yet undecorated. It’s a much smaller proposition this year. Unlike the barn our current abode may well have been designed for hobbits. The precariousness of our adventure was made clear this weekend by my ignominious fall when walking on the moor. I’m still nursing a sore back and some choice bruising, but it could so easily have been another broken leg. I can’t afford the time off.

Saturday, December 3

A grey day

This week it’s been widely reported that a shed is the answer to a longer life. Given the shed-men of my acquaintance, their little wooden structures are just as likely to be used for clandestine drinking activities as mucking about in the John Innes. Still, whatever works for you – Mrs G. has been cooking up a storm and I need the exercise. My life here to date has been a lot like living in London and never visiting the galleries or theatre: I’m billeted on Dartmoor and have been out on the moor just a couple of times. I forced myself to take time out this morning to brave a chill wind and drizzle and to head off up the hill. As you would expect it’s a desolate landscape this time of year, though I did bump into a handful of brave souls all well wrapped up. I was test-driving my new fleece-lined shirt acquired from the local farmers’ outfitters, and am pleased to say it passed with flying colours. I have a feeling I am going to need a fair number of them to get me through this coming winter. I’ve all but given up trying to draft-proof the house as there are too many chimneys and ground floor openings. I suppose the through breeze at least has the advantage of dissipating the smoke and alleviating any condensation problem.

Tuesday, November 29

Wellington boots

I’ve worn little else outside since moving. The drain guys got out just in time. Whilst hardly in the same league as the deluge across the west of Scotland, weather here – mild as it is – remains dire. Given our ground works, heavy rain is problematic in itself (it’s a quagmire out there); much more so when propelled by a gale. We remained home today to monitor how the house stands up to our first significant blow. And despite our best efforts we’ve discovered that if rain blows upwards rather than down there’s not a lot you can do to keep it out...There are now three stallions in the yard keeping us company – and nothing appears to faze them.

Thursday, November 24

Stocking up for winter

To the Farmers’ Market(s) this morning: stocking up on December’s meat ration. There was a huge variation in price between the two venues, and I guess it’s partly down to what the respective locals are prepared to pay – relative affluence. At the first we acquired quality organic beef at 60% of the cost of the city market. The latter, however, is still worth a punt – if only for the sheer quality of produce on sale. Given a packet of porkers works out at £1 a sausage it’s not the sort of thing you feed to the kids along with their baked beans. I was also in town to buy replacement long johns and woolly vests from Ike Godsey’s. Thanks to the barn’s thermal deficiencies, last winter, I learned my lesson. And as our new residence is an even more forbidding environment, and I’m 20lbs lighter this time around, this is no time for fashion statements or macho posturing. Mrs G. believes the possibility of our being marooned beneath several feet of snow is a huge adventure, great fun. I’m less sanguine and continue to stockpile firewood and tins of corned beef.

Quantum Thief

Whilst I prefer to have a general idea about what it is I’m reading, nothing irritates more than books that feature an explanatory index for the casual reader. Rajaniemi’s novel isn’t one of them. In the fullness of time he gets around to filling in the gaps and confirming what and who, but by then the imagination’s been given a little rope. I don’t read much in the SF stakes, but Quantum Thief may be one of those books that challenge my prejudice. It needs a second read, however, to determine whether I buy the sequel. The premise that time is currency and you can earn it back by selling your soul doesn’t appear too bad a deal at the moment.

Sunday, November 20

Steppin’ Out with My Baby

I’m still here, just a little distracted. News from the outside world is so depressing I’ve stopped reading the papers (again) and bothering to go online. Instead I continue to bask in our relatively mild weather and to address myself to the myriad of tasks at hand. We treated ourselves to an evening at the theatre last night. Claire Martin was in town, the final date of her tour with Richard Rodney Bennett – working their way through the Irving Berlin songbook. Nice meal at a dependable standby prior to the show. City centres of a Saturday night appear to be no-go areas for anyone outside their 20s, not least for Irving Berlin enthusiasts.

Monday, November 14

At the movies, briefly

There had been two guys in the yard since breakfast, one driving a dumper truck the other a digger. It took until 3.0 this afternoon before the mist lifted and they became visible. I was out buying paint. Unfortunately there isn’t a dry surface to use it on. The good news (I think) is that after an absence of six weeks we have a working television set. What looked tiny in the barn now resembles a screen at the Odeon, and a life sized Jeff Randall is a startling sight. The novelty soon wore off and we have since returned to the wireless.

Monday, November 7

Keeping busy

Having completed my fungicide crusade – spraying the yard – at long last the new wheelbarrow arrived. You’ve no idea how much this technological innovation will improve my productivity. The shed has become a warehouse of discarded possessions, beaten up furniture and redundant white goods. Phase 2 of the drains programme has been put into motion; men are servicing water pumps, scaling chimneys, installing stoves...and we haven’t scratched the surface. Berlusconi doesn’t know the half of it. Have now despatched a total of 12 boxes of books to local charity shops, though what the hippies that staff them will make of my old reading material is anybody’s guess. Given the current economic scene you’d imagine there would be a ready market for a well-thumbed edition of Robert Beckman’s Downwave. As reward for my effort Mrs G. has killed a haggis for supper.

Thursday, November 3

Round up time

I need to get out more. Yesterday morning we parked up in Plymouth’s Drake Circus shopping mall and could have been walking out onto the promenade of Deep space Nine such was my disconnect. I most often shop at Ike Godsey’s. Our increasingly rare visits to the city tend to follow a familiar pattern whereby I assume the role of porter and general factotum whose principal attribute appears to be that of nodding enthusiastically whenever Mrs G. tries on an item of fashionable clothing. We always adjourn for a pick me up, to earwig and people watch and to follow the vessel movements in the marina, before venturing back to conduct whatever business it was that bought us to the metropolis. Today couldn’t have been more different. Not so much One Man and his Dog as two men and their pack. Butchers’ dogs ain’t in it. These animals are sleek in the extreme and have a seemingly insatiable appetite for graft. It can be grim on the moor in November but I still enjoy watching other people work.

Tuesday, November 1

Keeping warm and dry

What with snow storms in north-east America it seems churlish to quibble about a little rain, however, yesterday’s 94% humidity registered before it started raining. At times, when the mist descends on the homestead, it feels like I’m in an old Jamie Lee Curtis movie. Today the sun was shining but unfortunately I had to run an errand to Torquay. I admit to the odd fun night out in the south-west’s answer to Brighton, though if you’re on duty – and especially at this time of year – seaside resorts can appear dismal places. I picked up fish for supper...not Pollock. Sustainability sometimes means doing without rather than eating garbage. Our recent downpour is still draining from the land. It flows downhill, overwhelming drains and flooding roads. Whilst the motor is holding its own – with the coming winter in mind – I’ve installed a new battery. After seven years sterling service I thought I may have been pushing my luck. Something else will doubtless quit on me at an inopportune time. It’s what makes life interesting.

Sunday, October 30

I always forget

Needless to say I forgot to turn the clock back, relinquishing my extra hour in bed. I won’t deny our new residence requires far more input than the barn. ‘Active’ seems insufficient when describing the change in my routine – and I don’t mean escaping to the moor. I prefer not to dwell on what happens when the real work begins. Of an evening it’s all I can do to throw a log on the fire and reach for a bottle. Opening long-sealed packing cases has been something of a revelation. Five boxes are already winging their way to the local charity shop, leaving a decade’s worth of reading material stacked against the office wall. I’m reading a Dick Francis novel for old time’s sake. Outside the gold and russet of autumn predominates. Wood pigeons breakfast in the yard, critters scurry in all directions. The ponies do what ponies do: they endure.

Wednesday, October 26

Hours in the day

I seized upon a break in our monsoon-like weather to shin up the drain pipes and check out the guttering. Given my history of falling from ladders I remain shy of scrambling about at roof level but it has to be done. I think we look in reasonable shape for the winter, albeit there’s plenty to schedule for next year’s dry season. Have completed a second coat of emulsion on the store room, and if white-van-man turns up, I might actually get around to outfitting it with the shiny industrial shelving I ordered. Storage remains a problem.

Thanks to the flood, local roads were proving difficult to negotiate yesterday. After a couple of runs to garages and to Ike Godsey’s, and having dropped off Mrs G. for her monthly session with Mr Teasy-Weasy, I adjourned to try another of our nearby hostelries. The range and quality of beer hereabouts is very good, thanks in part (I suspect) to the relatively high turnover. This one contained the usual late-afternoon assortment, including a number who’d obviously been there since lunchtime. Discovered an Asian restaurant on our way home that serves passable stuff – it’s been a while.

Sunday, October 23

Taxi!

Today was my first and possibly last walk to the nearest ‘local’. Whilst the distance is less than two miles the return is all uphill. Not just uphill but an almost continuous 1 in 5. Even with a mere couple of pints of ale and packet of crisps onboard this was a serious slog for yours truly. It appears a quality establishment, unobtrusive live music, tables fully booked for Sunday lunch, but next time...

Saturday, October 22

The nights draw in

To say the local populace are an eclectic bunch would be putting it mildly; people continue to surprise. Phase one of the drains overhaul is now complete. We’ve a weekend to ourselves, though there are numerous chores that need attending to. My greatest discovery so far has been the log burning stove in the back room. Given the stone walls, the blackout curtains and the blazing tree limbs, I do not expect to freeze this winter. A neighbour assures me it is milder here than at our previous location but I’m taking no chances and will continue to stockpile firewood. Local weather conditions change on an almost hourly basis. One minute overcast, breezy and drizzle, the next blue sky and sunshine. As you reach for the Ray-Bans a thick mist sweeps in, blotting out everything beyond 30 yards. There’s little of anything or anyone you can take for granted.

Wednesday, October 19

Life turns a little cooler

I need more sweaters and waterproof clothing. We’ve been fortunate this last two weeks: squalls aside, there have been some prolonged periods of sunshine. However, the temperature is dropping, ground frost has been forecast. Not that it appears to have affected the moles – be they the subterranean kind that have deposited heaps of spoil at strategic points around the yard, nor the lads who periodically appear above the rim of the holes they’ve dug to accommodate the new drains. (...) The game season is upon us, partridge for supper. After the rushed meals and service station sandwiches of recent weeks it’s nice to return to real food.

Sunday, October 16

A rare burst of sunshine

A glorious day for a change, all the more as it was unexpected (it’s turning out colder and damper in this neck of the woods). We spent the morning in Totnes visiting the Sunday food market. Picked up supplies and ate a half-decent goat curry from the Caribbean stall. Returned home and worked through the afternoon. Managed a late stroll up on the moor – watched a procession of hot air balloons and followed a green woodpecker’s ant safari. Busy week planned. I have to keep reminding myself Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Thursday, October 13

Getting on with the job

It’s surprising how quickly a building deteriorates. After just a few empty days the barn was a damp, fusty shell (it took longer than planned, but we finally returned the keys). Mostly it’s about condensation and a building’s breathability. Even at this time of year, without the ambient heat of occupation and adequate ventilation, it reverts to being a barn. Our new location was little better when we arrived. However, after several days in residence we appear to be winning control. Following the adventures of South London Mansions I swore we would never commit to another period property, that in the future we would always chose to go with a new-build. Yet here we are – and it’s even older than the nightmare on KGS. I’m surprising sanguine at present, but that’s mostly down to this mild patch of weather and the novelty of it all. Wait ’till winter when we are snowed in and the water fails. At present I’m booking roofers and glaziers, and planning to dig up the drains...ordering firewood. Getting on with the job, as our political masters are so fond of saying. There’s a disturbing blue tinge to the water that has me a little worried, though it doesn’t seem to affect the taste of our tea. If I can demolish the mountain of paperwork before me I might actually get outside and begin to enjoy myself.

Monday, October 10

Settling in

On the plus side the temperature remains relatively mild. Indoors I manage with only four layers of clothing. The roar of the wind, the thrashing trees and juddering window panes provides our soundtrack. A day spent clearing fallen leaves from drains and guttering appears misspent, as this morning they’ve returned with a vengeance. The office wall is a series of hastily scribbled lists: essential tasks that need to be accomplished in order of priority. Number one on today’s schedule is a return to the barn, to clean house and hand back the keys. Given the speed we left last week I suspect it will take most of the day. We have begun to meet the neighbours – a reassuringly friendly bunch. Horseback or quad bike appears the favoured mode of transport. I’m thinking of buying a moped. Normality was resumed yesterday with a traditional Sunday roast. Whilst the kitchen comes equipped with an array of German-manufactured wizardry, water has to be pumped from a spring that originates somewhere on the moor; and staying warm this winter requires my chopping lots of wood.

Saturday, October 8

Another chapter begins

Well that went well. Two modest sized vans (to negotiate the narrow lane) and four big lads for the heavy lifting. I wouldn’t like to attempt it (to move house) too often however, and suspect many of the boxes will remain sealed for months if not years to come. For now it’s back to basics; no television, warm clothes indoors and wellies outside. At least the rain’s stopped falling. We’ve caught sight of an occasional figure across the fields, but other than the odd white-van-man our principal company appears to be the ponies. Whilst I’ve a daunting amount of work that needs to be addressed I remain the past master of procrastination; the weekend has been declared a holiday. Afterwards I really do need to pull the finger out.

Sunday, October 2

The last post?

They terminate our phone line tomorrow morning and I’m not sure if/when we will be back in business. If I do resurface it will be on the strength of my being promised a potential 0.5Mbps, though this was very much tongue-in-cheek. We will miss the barn...miss the seclusion, the game birds and fresh (free) vegetables. That said, it is time to move on. On the face of it our new location appears not too different, nor a million miles away – just 55 miles in fact, across the other side of Dartmoor. Chalk and cheese, however; chalk and cheese.

Saturday, October 1

Fingers crossed

Nearly there, I hope; this warm weather is a bonus. The farmers are more than chuffed, just about all their cutting looks done. We must have sat behind five tractors when negotiating our way back to the barn last night. The final push will certainly go more smoothly if it remains dry. Can’t recall when the A30 was so busy; everyone and his granny en route to Cornwall, to bask in the sunshine. Grabbed a final meal at the Dog & Duck – an experience neither of us will miss. I guess we are 90% packed, but then that last 10% is always a problem. I still can’t believe we’ve accumulated so much junk; and promise never buy anything again that I can’t eat, immediately dispose of after use, or which needs insuring.

Tuesday, September 27

Early days

It’s a good job the motor has recently been serviced as we’ve already clocked up a fair number of miles, running between the two locations. I’m beat and we haven’t really started. Our new place is reassuringly familiar: the overpowering whiff of muck-spreading ops and some seriously muddy roads. I’d forgotten how off the beaten track it is. Our predecessors have bequeathed us three ponies to help keep the grass down.

Monday, September 26

Devon

Best place to raise a family, apparently. Winkleigh attracts plaudits the very week we move out.

Saturday, September 24

Tinker Tailor Soldier...

As I’d read le Carré’s book and watched the ’79 series, this was a film I didn’t want to miss – determined, perhaps, to find fault. Whilst I’ve an inbuilt bias towards the former production, the BBC had several episodes to develop the characters and flesh out a story. This two-hour version is still worth the effort, however, even to the extent of suffering those arseholes that sit munching on hot dogs and popcorn, burping fizzy pop. Alfredson’s film has a good cast and makes a decent stab at the 1970s. Flashbacks to the Circus office parties raised instant smiles of recognition, as did the period decor. It reminded me that whilst our Scandinavian furniture must have looked real cool when we purchased it back in the ’70s, next week’s change of address is the perfect opportunity for its retirement.

Derided by many as a drab decade, an alternative flavour of the times (to Alberto Iglesias’s score) was later broadcast on BBC Four. Old Grey Whistle Test footage, featuring Elton John with his original hair, David Bowie, Curtis Mayfield, Steppenwolf, Vinegar Joe, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Captain Beefheart, Dr Feelgood, Patti Smith, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Talking Heads, the Jam, Blondie, Iggy Pop and the Specials. Not a lot that George Smiley could tap his feet to, but it would have spiced up the soundtrack.

Friday, September 23

A day off

And why not; need to visit the city to take care of some paperwork, treat the Boss to a decent lunch and catch a film. We are still waiting on keys for the bothy – our new residence. If it goes according to plan we should be in on Monday. I have hired a van to move the basics, along with the more difficult/dangerous/ fragile goods, the odds and sods. However, as we have a little remedial work to take care of, our removals men won’t follow for another week. Truth to tell I’d much rather be where we were supposed to be this weekend: County Clare, drinking large quantities of whiskey.

No magic wand or silver bullet

The economic crisis lurches on. I listened to Zoellick and Lagarde yesterday afternoon, and their frustration was obvious. None of our political masters appears to have the answers, or at least any that are palatable to the electorate. Perhaps no one has the balls to spell it out. Bankers and politicians distrust one another, and the public is inclined to a plague on both their houses. Prior to the last election I sensed a consensus amongst voters for a dose of Vince Cable’s sackcloth and ashes. However, this willingness to accept a little pain, a lifestyle adjustment, now looks to have waned. I guess it was always predicated on the misguided assumption we were in this together; that if only the government would increase taxes on bankers and other rich people, bear down on the undeserving poor, life could return to its comfortable rhythm, the natural order. If only life was so simple. Democracy can be a frustrating inconvenience.

Friday, September 16

The long goodbye

It wouldn’t be Friday if I didn’t disappear late morning with the intention of dropping in for a swift one. You can only take so many packing cases. Truth to tell, half of my time is spent sorting through junk, chuckling at stuff I’d long forgotten existed. In the end I gave the Dog & Duck a body swerve and took to the hills, on what may well be my final solitary walk hereabouts. Next week looks to be a busy one. Whilst I’ll miss the well trodden tracks, we are moving inside the National Park boundary. No more driving in order to walk, just straight out the door and along a bridle path to the open moor. The broadband speed may be prehistoric, but I have my shed.

Tuesday, September 13

Chattels

As we enter our final 2-3 weeks here, the barn resembles a busy warehouse. Even with the best will in the world I can’t see our combined belongings fitting into the new abode. I regret having junked so many things when we departed South London Mansions, but this promises a similar order of disposal. That said, most of our earlier life remains unpacked from the last move – and it’s not that I’ve missed anything, more that I can’t recall what’s actually in the boxes.

Monday, September 12

New slimline model

Am pleased I managed to get out on the hills yesterday: bleak and wet as it was, the gales had yet to arrive. Looking outside just now, I think I’ve had my ration of fresh air for a while. In recognition of the imminent demise of my sedentary, slothful lifestyle – and I have to admit, a certain subconscious motivation brought about by the recent birthday – I have been falling out of bed each morning and working my way through a modest number of press/sit ups. Having duly lost another two inches from the waistline, I am also about to break the 150lbs barrier – wearing clothing that hasn’t seen the light of day for several years. Fortunately, fashionable attire and the Dog & Duck are not synonymous.

Saturday, September 10

Foodie watch

Crossed over to the other side of Dartmoor this morning (fog lights and windscreen wipers) for the inaugural Ashburton Food & Drink Festival. Not a bad first attempt. Though there wasn’t a lot of produce on show there were a number of fast food stalls to augment the town’s cafes and restaurants. We should probably have avoided the Chinese food; should have known better. Plenty of people in spite of the dubious weather, and an efficient Park & Ride. Returned home with a chicken that will keep us fed for most of next week, along with a sack of freshly roasted coffee beans.

Friday, September 9

Lighten up

After my week-long absence, what’s changed? Very little, it seems. The rain is still falling and is forecast to continue for some time. If you were of a negative disposition it would be too easy to be ground down by the unrelenting tide of gripe that is our national press, the media. In the same way an old photo of Tommy Cooper always conjures a smile, Huw Edwards nightly appearance acts as a harbinger of gloom. David Amess might be offended by botoxed presenters, but if it brings a smile to their face then so much the better.

Thursday, September 1

Kirsty and Phil

A national obsession returns to our screens. The new series coincides with blanket press proclamations of ‘Home ownership to slump’. Whilst there’s little appetite for the Government to finance another round of sub-prime mortgages, if you are a young adult, home ownership remains a big ask. The current brouhaha has being stoked by the Nation Housing Federation’s laudable quest to build more social housing. However, as far as I can determine, houses – their cost and availability – aren’t the problem. It’s more a lack of credit, albeit this appears to be easing. As someone who hasn’t been an owner-occupier in recent years, renting has much to recommend it – not least in the stress-free environment that comes from the property being someone else’s responsibility.

Sweet tomatoes

It is an almost daily ritual this time of year to stop at one or more of the many roadside fruit and vegetable stalls for a punnet of vitamins...50p for a bag of apples, 80p a sack of tomatoes, £1.50 for raspberries that taste superior to anything the Quik-E-Mart can offer. Like most of our neighbours we should probably grow our own, but the allotment remains an elusive aspiration. Truth to tell I’m hardly Monty Don, one of the horny-handed sons of toil. Yet how difficult can it be to plant a seed in the ground and dose it with water? And gardening comes with a shed – somewhere to hide, to muse away my leisure hours. I suspect that’s the principal attraction.

Tuesday, August 30

Lazy and patronising

‘I want to be like Bill Nighy when I grow up’ (Telegraph review). I suppose I can see the appeal, but it’s a dangerous game – only marginally the right side of old fart swinging the lamp. My default reaction to Page Eight – twenty-minutes in – was to switch off. Hare’s production is hackneyed, out of date and clichéd in the extreme – anti-American, anti-Israel, rendition, torture... Grief, give it a rest. In the end I relented and watched the film on iPlayer. Very BBC – you just knew the £60k was going into a Waitrose bag and not one from Tesco. It wasn’t so much the cast of frighteningly needy and neurotic women, but more the stereotypical Johnny Worricker: that traditional English mixture of self-deprecation and vanity, dressed up as a pretentious jazz-loving art enthusiast who drinks whisky and drives an old Saab. Where haven’t I seen that before?

Out and about

Bank holidays...where do all these people come from? From the accents and vehicle registration plates, I guess just about everywhere. Yesterday we settled for a picnic in the company of sheep at Huntington Warren Farm. Large portions of roast beef sandwiches. I had barbequed a rib of beef that’d been languishing in the freezer since the Devon Show. This particular area of South Dartmoor is a relatively out-of-the-way area, free from maddening crowd – Skylarks and wheatears, with glorious views all the way to the Teignmouth estuary. Fresh air and physical exercise: slept for eight hours. A welcome rest as these are busy times.

Saturday, August 27

Exotic migrants

Swallows have begun massing outside on the telephone lines. The swifts left some time ago and are already sunning themselves in Africa. Atlantic bonitos, however, are swimming in the opposite direction. A rare species for our waters, one was caught this week off the Cornish coast. There was also news of big cats, with evidence of a leopard living wild in north Devon. Wallabies, too, have been sighted in the area. I hear they pick raspberries during the summer and work behind reception desks in local hotels.

Thursday, August 25

Debt and retribution, or not

I do try to understand. I listened to yesterday’s debate from the LSE, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was a straight Keynes Vs. Hayek contest chaired by that nerk Mason. What puzzled me was neither side appeared to acknowledge the probability that, either as individuals or as an economy, we would be so much poorer in the future. Both seemed to assume that if ‘their’ path was followed, fingers crossed, it would be onwards and upwards again. Redwood writes this morning in advance of Bernanke’s appearance. He makes the point that more than one Dollar in three currently being spent by the Federal Government is borrowed money. I acknowledge our own position isn’t too different; likewise, that we have to keep the show on the road a while longer if only to give our lords and masters more time to perfect their exit strategy. But at what stage do we bow the inevitable; is there an inevitable? Is it a case of tiptoeing along, quietly inflating the problem away? When do they let us, the public into their secret? And is any of this worth losing sleep over?

Wednesday, August 24

Weather, not Tuscany, is the British obsession

The runner bean glut continues to fire the imagination. We haven’t got as far as covering them in custard but it comes close. A rare run out for the barbeque yesterday, before I lose my touch. I’ve ten bob on the weather improving the very day the kids are due back in school. If I recall correctly it was the same last year. Every holidaying family I met was on the phone to a travel agent, booking an October break in the Spanish sun. Watching last night’s opening scene from Andrew Graham-Dixon’s The Art of Russia in itself justifies a trip to a warmer climate. Dostoyevsky may have been correct in his assertion that, to the rest of the world, Russia is an unknown, unexplored, enigmatic and mysterious country, but the mere sight of it freezes your socks off...makes the Scottish climate look positively Mediterranean. I hope Samuel Eto’o knows what he’s in for. Despite the ingratiating charm, Francesco da Mosto’s preceding journey through Tuscany and Umbria was almost as watchable. If I ever manage to stir myself into travelling again it will be for a grand tour of my own.

Saturday, August 20

Russian roulette

As a way of jazzing up supper you can’t beat a side order of Padron Peppers. I picked up a bag from the Quik-E-Mart yesterday and they’re a lot of fun. On the face of it, Padrons are just small, sweet green peppers that you fry in olive oil and sprinkle with rock salt. However, about 1 in 30 turns out to be explosively hot. Last night’s meal turned into a scene from The Deer Hunter.

Wednesday, August 17

Still eating

I strive to be a glass-half-full type, but with this morning’s mist and the frost-like appearance of the dew on the grass, my mind is already turning to autumn...winter, even. Let’s face it: so far it hasn’t been much of a summer. I say so far because September often rides to the rescue. Not that it’s affected the neighbour’s allotment. We’re already knee-high in runner beans and courgettes. And as we discovered last year, there’s quite a lot you can do with beans and courgettes (only another six jars to go). Have recently taken to procuring our lamb from a different farmer; Suffolk cross and highly recommended. Tonight’s supper includes the leftovers from yesterday’s roast, along with a South American inspired sweet red pepper, garlic and chilli dressing and/or pomegranate and parsley flavoured Greek yoghurt. Of course it wouldn’t be quite be the same without large portions of sautéed courgettes and runner beans.

Monday, August 15

Moral collapse

If the initial response to the debate is anything to go by, harking back to the good old days has returned to fashion. Memories can be selective, however, and I suspect what constituted ‘good’ in times gone by probably falls well short of contemporary expectations. When I was born the population was defined as 70% working class and 28% middle class. In 2011 the direct reverse is true. People hope for more from life. Back then many didn’t expect a lot and were rarely disappointed. I guess you could argue that life, for us, has been a pleasant surprise. I doubt the current generation are so easily satisfied.

Whilst it’s become a truism that baby boomers have had it all, when I left school less than 10% of kids went on to university. Of course you need to balance this with England winning the World Cup and decide whether it was a worthwhile trade. Nowadays it seems everyone goes to university and England can’t win shit. I wonder which generation will prove the happiest.

Although a lack of discipline in schools is held as partly to blame, I’m not so sure those beatings with the tawse did much good. As with ASBOs it was more a badge of honour than deterrent. And whilst parents were probably stricter, peer groups – like today – were often the determining factor. The most effective discipline I can recall as a teenager – whether in the workplace or on the streets – were adult males, their readiness both to serve as role models and to give you a smack when you stepped out of line.

A moral collapse or the inability of John Terry and Wayne Rooney to do the necessary: your call.

Saturday, August 13

Escape from the country

A birthday seemed as good a reason as the riots for making ourselves scarce this week. Television coverage is the new soap; sanctimony knows no bounds. Penzance and its immediate environs were as far as we got – Newlyn, Mousehole and St Ives. As you would expect, for August, there was no shortage of other people taking a break...primarily the type whose children are more likely to deface cenotaphs than burn down shopping centres.For me, fish is one of the principal local attractions. There’s plenty of it and it doesn’t necessarily cost the earth. Called in at one or two of the usual watering holes, walked miles, paddled in the sea. In an effort to placate Fernley-Whittingstall, and for the fifth (and last) time, I ate pollock. Dreadful stuff; you wouldn’t feed it to a cat. Whilst I usually breeze through these landmark birthdays, this time it hurt. Truth to tell I’m pissed at turning 60. They say 60 is the new 50, but almost overnight I appear to have morphed into a grumpy, white-haired doppelganger of Spencer Tracy, circa Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. I’m not a happy bunny.

Tuesday, August 9

Back to the future

For all of the recent focus on rural crime in our local press, having your motor keyed or mower half-hinched sort of pales in comparison to the current troubles in the old neighbourhood. I was there first time around, in ’85, though back then I could run a lot faster. Just as sure as the mayhem will continue during coming days, so too will the hand wringing. Distributing more ping-pong balls and extra maths is unlikely to solve much of anything. Wherever the answers lie, they are well above my pay grade. Civil disturbances, market failures, famines and wars appear to be cyclical events that defy sure-fix solutions.

Friday, August 5

Busy on the roads

In what appeared to be a mass exodus from Baden-Baden I woke last weekend to discover the homestead had been invaded by a fleet of shiny black Volkswagens and BMWs supporting Deutschland plates. It seems the German-financed Euro is also doing its bit to support the southwest tourist industry. Today on Dartmoor it appeared the Netherlands turn, with one in five vehicles flying orange flags. Unbelievably (or not, given my track record), I tore another tyre. Whatever my next vehicle, it most certainly won’t be fitted with low-profile tyres.

Tuesday, August 2

Running against the wind

I’m older now but still running...Given that next week I qualify for free prescriptions, August ushers in the obvious nostalgia fest. It kicks off with a Bob Seger retrospective over the office stereo. Not sure why the 70s still holds sway, other than fond memories of the irresponsibility of those times. Much is made in the newspapers about the future pension shortfall of current twenty-somethings. As if the subject ever crossed our minds, back then. At that age we were still in the ‘Hope I die before I get old’ mode. As Plan A didn’t work everyone is now scrambling to accommodate Plan B.

Pensions minister Steve Webb can harangue young people as much as he likes, but when all they see is plummeting stock markets, view government bonds as damaged goods and receive scant reward for their hard-earned savings (let’s not get started on currency devaluation or 5% inflation), falling on deaf ears is what springs to mind. If you woke up tomorrow and decided to invest in allotments, sure as the sun rises, potato blight would arrive on the next bus...In such an uncertain future a return to hanging appears the common consensus. Next it’ll be Christians and lions.

Monday, August 1

Moving stuff around

Another laptop bites the dust. As with motor vehicles, they don’t make ’em like they used to. Three years seems the average life span. Still, let’s not complain. Replacements – whilst not exactly cheap-as- chips – are a lot more affordable than in the past. You can currently buy a half-decent machine (I don’t play games) for £5-600. My first laptop cost £2,500 (when two and a half grand was a lot of money) – and its computing power was less than a Casio watch. There’s a corner of the office that acts as a graveyard for old machines (I’ve never worked out how to dispose of them without the risk of someone recycling my life). Pride of place remains a Psion Series 5 and a Series 7. You can forget your iPads; these were so user friendly, so tactile, there was a time I couldn’t leave home without one or other. Given sufficient space to attach travel stickers they would resemble the exterior of an Edwardian steamer trunk.

Despite a passing interest in techie things I’ve never been able to make the jump to an eBook reader. Prior to our last move I retired about fifty-percent of my reading material. As the remainder is still in cardboard boxes, somewhere in the deeper recesses of the barn, to tide me over until we move on I have acquired another 150 or so. I didn’t mean to, they just crept up on me. But now that I’m back to manoeuvring around pillars of paperbacks it’s probably time to take a second look. As the sort of lad who downloads newspaper articles in order I can set about them with a yellow marker pen the odds are still against it.

Friday, July 29

Rural reveille

Fennel crusted roast saddleback, accompanied by sauerkraut and freshly steamed beetroot from the neighbour’s garden. Whatever else we’re deprived of, living in the sticks, decent food isn’t a problem – and if that cockerel wakes me at five just one more time he’s joining the menu. I’m mobile again so it’s off to the city for a haircut and much needed supplies. Four new shocks on the motor should make the journey a little more comfortable; a combination of heavy loads, unmade tracks and unrepaired roads.

Wednesday, July 27

In direct contrast (to Friday’s prognosis)

Idyllic days such as these serve to remind why we came here. They are even more valuable for their relative rarity – sunny ones are parcelled out sparingly, in grudging recompense for those southwesterlies. Cycling back from the garage this morning (car in dock) was as good as it gets; winding country lanes, all bees and butterflies, swallows and siskins...stopping to watch the fish rise. A distant tractor, but little else intrudes. If only you could bottle it for the grim days. Tonight’s bonus: boiled bacon and parsley sauce; live Audi Cup action, Barcelona v Bayern Munich.

Sunday, July 24

Fed a gloomy diet

I wonder what it would be like to wake one morning and turn on the wireless and hear nothing but positive news. It’s as though the government’s happiness index has been strangled at birth. What the fuck happened to humour? Where are our comedians, the jokers, jesters? Fun ain’t what it used to be. A daily chuckle would do a lot for morale but it’s as though humour has joined the ever expanding list of what’s bad for you, along with cigarettes, alcohol and fried breakfasts. There has to be more to people’s lives than drink, cynicism and religion, or is this the way it’s always been and I’m merely a victim of a selective nostalgia? Thank god for the Proms, and Motörhead.

Friday, July 22

Traditional holidays

The local schools break up today and on cue the heavens have opened. I’ve just returned from a stroll to the Quik-E-Mart: drowned rats ain’t in it. Yesterday’s Times confirmed the grim news for staycationers: it is forecast to rain for a month. Starting later today an estimated 14 million cars are expected to take to the roads for the holiday getaway, and the most helpful suggestion is to forget your Speedos and pack a cagoule. I might add that a couple of heavyweight sweaters will also come in handy. Hardly seems worth the effort, driving those hundreds of miles to get here...but then they say a change is as good as a rest.

Thursday, July 21

Empty vessels

In a hard-to-beat contrast, yesterday afternoon, an American F-15 roared over the yard. It was closely followed by what appeared to be a lumbering Avro Lancaster. The mirage disappeared through the trees before I’d chance to clock the markings, but I can’t think of anything else that supports such distinctive tail fins. Swallows, swifts and martins predominate overhead, whilst a striking jay pie has taken to feeding in the yard. It more usually hides amongst the branches of the oaks where it screeches like an impotent parliamentarian.

Tuesday, July 19

Better out than in

However wet and windy it is out there, no matter how comfortable the office, stepping outside always feels like a release from captivity. That said it’s not easy reading the newspaper in a 20 knot breeze, still less during a downpour. I say reading...the sports pages are about my limit at present. Like most of the general public I gave up on phone hacking long ago, and the economic news isn’t worth the bother. All I know is my savings are earning next to zilch. An asteroid on collision course with Earth: now that would grab my attention. I had hoped to go to last night’s match – QPR were playing the local pub team. Something came up, however, and I missed Warnock’s men knocking in 13 goals.

Friday, July 15

Watching in comfort

Thank god we’ve the Open to distract us. I have been darting in and out all day in an attempt to keep up with the television coverage. I made it to Royal St George’s last time the championship was held there: in 2003, when Thomas Bjørn threw it away. Given the drive involved I’m more than happy to settle for the sofa.

Tuesday, July 12

Life in general

Dartmoor is all newborn ponies and calves, and German tourists taking photos. Everyone and everything appears to be having fun. Lots of driving on my part: places to go, things to do. For various reasons we are obliged to visit three markets this week. In a sign of the times our local livestock market is to be closed and, in all probability, developed for housing. Demand is substantial and unremitting. The tragedy lies in the lack of imagination shown by both builders and their customers – necessity, along with Mr and Mrs Average (and their spaghetti Bolognese) are in the driving seat.

Sunday, July 10

Life outside the hacking scandal

In what must be a first: it remained dry for the village fun day. I hadn’t quite appreciated how many people live hidden away amongst the twists and turns. There were lots of kids and their parents (both), grandparents – along with their mothers and fathers. Four generations, family resemblance clearly discernable. All of the usual activities in evidence, including welly wanging, skittles, duck and ferret racing, sack racing and three-legged sprints...spirited tug-of-war engagements. Copious amounts of sausages, homemade cake, cream teas, local cider and ale. Given the continual diet of garbage our media feeds us, even a reclusive sourpuss like me finds something hugely reassuring in watching traditional families at play, everyone smiling and playing their part.

Saturday, July 9

Wet, inside and out

I’ve been out across the moor three times this week and on each occasion the heavens have rained down large portions of the Atlantic Ocean. Words to the wise: don’t (as I frequently do) forget the waterproofs. Cascading waterfalls aside, I can’t recall seeing so many cattle out grazing. We must be eating plenty of burgers. The pubs are full of visitors, drinking and eating, and what the food lacks in quality it more than makes up in quantity – clearing your plate takes a bigger man than Gudgeon. Another local pub is on the market. I do my best but the licensed trade is a tough old business at the best of times.

Thursday, July 7

Grasping the opportunity

Whoever proves responsible for NOW’s so-called hacking scandal has a lot to answer for – if I see that fat fucker from Hull on my screen just one more time, the box is going out the window. Everyone appears to be wanting in on the act. Hugh Grant’s expression of public outrage must rank alongside Hugh Lawrie singing the blues. And as for Jacqui Smith at last night’s Sky Press Preview: condemnation from the girl who slept on her sister’s sofa at taxpayers’ expense. If the government is half as shrewd as their predecessors they’ll be conducting shedloads of under-the-counter business while everyone’s distracted. I fear I’m becoming increasingly cynical as the years go by.

Wednesday, July 6

Puzzled

The hue and cry over News International has left me perplexed. News of the Screws is what it is: a salacious rag peddling scandal to people with a shortened life expectancy. As with Social Services it fulfils a need. That one of their operatives crossed some sort of line in order to meet the insatiable desire for gossip and titillation is hardly an earth shattering revelation. Whilst you wouldn’t tar everyone with the same brush, journalists, in general – like bankers, politicians and estate agents – are the characters most people would rather not be seen sharing a pint with. At least that’s what we profess in so many surveys of public opinion. So why such faux outrage when our expectations are fulfilled?

Sunday, July 3

Haye v Klitschko

“A good big ’un will always beat a good little ’un,” or so they say. Whilst Haye should be congratulated on a financially lucrative career, when the subject of boxing arises it’s more about wistful memories than anticipation. I guess if you are a talented athlete there are many more opportunities nowadays – ones that don’t involve you taking a beating.

Friday, July 1

Same old, same old

“Minister who dares to speak the truth,” proclaims the Daily Mail, of Duncan Smith. With the approach of a landmark birthday I’ve been reading the historian David Kynaston’s book, Family Britain 1951-57. Kynaston states that David Maxwell Fyfe, the Home Secretary in 1953 – when acknowledging the disquiet over the fact that the non-white population of Britain had soared from 7,000 to 40,000 – is quoted as saying: “The coloured populations are resented in Liverpool, Paddington and other areas – by those who come into contact with them. But those who don’t are apt to take a liberal view (...) We should offend liberals, also sentimentalists.” I guess the lad wasn’t Duncan Smith or he didn’t shout loud enough. In his defence, courage and truth are rarely the natural bedfellows of our political masters. Yesterday’s confirmation of Britain’s population explosion – the biggest in 50 years – gave licence to a vociferous debate in the Dog & Duck – emphasis placed on the net migration figures, and births to foreign-born and ethnic-minority women. Whilst our usual suspects trotted out the familiar line about Britain, historically, being a nation of immigrants, it had to be pointed out that the assimilation of Celts, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, etc. had taken place over the course of centuries. The current transformation has developed in front of our eyes in little more than a generation, mostly within the last 10-15 years ... Of course it goes without saying that it’s only because I speak from the vantage point of rural Devon that I can admit to my changing taste in humour over these same years: from that of Norman Wisdom to Reggie Hunter.

Tuesday, June 28

Downtime

Who says good food costs the earth. This morning at the fishmongers: whole lemon soles, direct from the boat at £1.20/each. As the weather was too pleasant to work and in an effort to escape the neighbour’s swarming bees I packed my flip flops and flask of coffee and took the newspapers to the beach. It’s a hard life here in the sticks. The prevailing breeze soon put paid to the dailies, though I suspect there was little in the news worth losing sleep over. Always excepting the wonderful plagiarism furore directed against the Independent’s resident tosser, Johann Hari. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke.

Sunday, June 26

Hardly breaking sweat

Yesterday’s forecast came up short and I had to turn on the heating. So much for summer and the advent of global warming; but then June if often a dire month. Thankfully, this morning, the sun has arrived. The ground may dry enough for me to attack the backlog of outside chores, do something useful. Whilst not the slingshot dead-eye of primary school, it’s reassuring to know I can still pick a squirrel off the bird feeder from 25 yards. Out back resembles the concourse of Charring Cross Station at rush hour. I’ve tried counting Farmer Charles’s sheep but always loose myself somewhere in the seventies. Despite my entreaties and the open gate they have declined to tackle the yard – looks like it’s the brush cutter and a jerrycan of four-stroke. On the plus side: today is definitely a barbeque opportunity.

Wednesday, June 22

Panic over


What a difference two weeks make, after all that palaver over drought. The yard is knee-deep in toadstools and the reservoirs have been replenished. Or soon will be at the rate things were flowing this morning; traversing the brook was certainly more interesting. Given the storm clouds and intermittent drizzle there’s little of anyone or anything about on the moor...that’s always excluding the lads in full battle order moving amongst the bracken. Call me skittish but nothing gets me over a stone wall quicker than a thunderflash in the left ear. Despite the black skies you’d be hard pushed to find a more pleasant environment. Not that some stacationers would agree. They try it for a couple of days, then strike the tent and bugger off back to Spain.

Tuesday, June 21

Unintended consequences

Rand Europe believes it isn’t so much the question of immigration but Child Tax Credits that propels our baby boom. Who’d have thought paying women to have babies would result in more babies? Rand suggests, however, that direct financial incentives are less successful than reducing the opportunity cost of having children, deducing that unintended consequences (in our case the introduction of CTC) often achieves better results than central planning. A vindication of my ‘Don’t bother your arse: it’ll all work out in the end’ approach. Of course we’re assuming our burgeoning population is a positive thing. The European Commission believed so: it made a clear commitment back in 2005 to the ‘demographic renewal’ of Member States with low fertility rates. And that’s my problem: there was no domestic debate, just a bunch of superannuated shits sitting in Brussels pulling levers. One of their drivers, unbelievably, was to counter the growing political influence of older people.

Saturday, June 18

It’s really important

...to have an idea of where we come from, says Bradley Hemming, Festival Director. I had almost forgotten what it was that brought us here: He (Dickens) describes the unruly mass migration across London by every mode of transport – “Cabs, hackney-coaches, ‘shay’ carts, coal-waggons, stages, omnibuses, sociables, gigs, donkey-chaises”. And then he pitches us into the fray, conjuring the hawkers and sharps who haunted the park and its surrounding area by day (...) barely respectable daytime pleasures gave way in the evening to the full licentious, thrill-seeking glory of the fair itself. “Imagine yourself”, he continues, “in an extremely dense crowd, which swings you to and fro, and in and out, and every way but the right one; add to this the screams of women, the shouts of boys, the clanging of gongs, the firing of pistols, the ringing of bells, the bellowings of speaking-trumpets, the squeaking of penny dittos, the noise of a dozen bands, with three drums in each, all playing different tunes at the same time, the hallooing of showmen, and an occasional roar from the wild-beast shows; and you are in the very centre and heart of the fair.” If only this was a once-a-year jamboree, instead of an everyday observation of contemporary Greenwich.

Such is life

The United States are involved in peace talks with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has confirmed. Whether it’s Afghanistan, the Cold War or Ulster, in the fullness of time protagonists settle. We reflect on the cost, the tragedy of it all...before moving on to find someone else to fight with.

Friday, June 17

Cost of living alert

‘They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil,’ or so the Bob Hillard song goes. But it has become eye-wateringly expensive. I order online with the casual disregard you reserve for those essential requirements of life, such as electricity and tins of foot powder. This time around, however, the cost per kilo of organic Columbian beans actually registered in my addled brain...And whilst I haven’t a handle on the wholesale price of cocaine, the Medellín boys can’t be that far adrift. If the price of coffee continues its upwards trajectory it’ll be back to bottles of Camp and sterilised milk. I can’t recall seeing any on the Quik-E-Mart’s shelves in recent years, though I dare say it remains in production at some remote facility north of the border. We doubtless exchange it for cases of Buckfast. Must track down a bottle and see if it tastes is as grim as I remember.

Wednesday, June 15

Get yourself noticed

Two Mancunians down here on an away day have been arrested on suspicion they were up to no good. A local farmer said: “Anyone driving slowly around these small lanes would stand out but two black men in a car would stand out even more because you don't see many black men in the sticks out here.” Maybe if they’d been driving a tractor...

Monday, June 13

Better now than in a month’s time

I bet Pannu was a little more than pissed on receiving McLeish’s email. Still, whilst you can argue more power to Martinez’s elbow for staying loyal to Wigan, the lad enjoyed the unwavering support of Dave Whelan. When your employers seemingly begrudge their support, tell you you’re on borrowed time and target you as a means of deflecting supporters’ criticism, it’s a slightly different matter. That said, McLeish won’t be flavour of the month in either camp...assuming it is Villa he’s jumped ship for. Of course it begs the question who next...Dave Jones, Billy Davis Alan Curbishley, Chris Hughton...Paul Ince? As long as it’s not Strachan.

Sunday, June 12

Degrees of pestilence

Whilst there’s been a modest fightback against the drought this last couple of days I’m told it would need to continue raining for a month to make an appreciable difference. Inside of the barn we are overrun by spiders – not that there’s any connection. The Boss, always looking on the bright side, reckons our eight-legged companions are defence against the plague of moths, though I had assumed that’s what the bats were for...I’m wittering because I haven’t much to say or the inclination to speak to other people. Life proceeds at an agreeably leisurely pace (albeit remorselessly); our larder is full; the sparrows and tits have fledged and appear to be prospering. Scores of birds visit the yard each day, along with a vixen and her cub. They have designs on the neighbour’s rooster, an exceptionally large bird the children have named Godzilla. I know who my money’s on, and fondly imagine the cockerel eating the children.

Sunday, June 5

Soddin’ thing

Along with the Internet, I consider the electric toothbrush the greatest evolutionary development of my age. Stick it in your mouth and press the switch and it does the business with the minimum of effort. On occasion, however, it has a disturbing habit of slipping from my fingers and going walkabout. You know they say you should never attempt to catch a knife: well an electric toothbrush is just as dangerous. It’s like trying to grab a rabid squirrel. By the time you’ve stopped juggling the damn thing and have it trapped underfoot on the bathroom floor, five-bob’s worth of Colgate has managed to paint itself across the length and breadth of your shirt and jeans.

That time of year

So much for the parasol: our area of high pressure has moved on and taken the sun with it. It was never going to work anyway; despite my lashing the pole to a bench, as soon as I stepped inside for a refill, the parasol, bench and metal base took off across the yard like an Arab dhow in full sail. A hat and bottle of sun block would have saved on the grief.

Whilst the boss was busy bartering loaves for the neighbour’s vegetables (she does a nice line in bauernbrot for their Bavarian guests), I was swapping notes on the barbeque front. We were both roasting venison, albeit his was a little more ambitious (think it still had the hoof attached). Truth to tell I wasn’t that enthusiastic. Sometimes, like yesterday, it comes too gamey, too rank for my taste. Fortunately I grilled a chicken, just in case (and if the cockerel wakes me again at five-thirty, he’s next).


Although Farmer Charles’s muck-spreading operations appear to be over, it’s impossible to avoid the carpet of sheep droppings that have been baking in the sun. One of the unfortunates stumbled, and was unable to right itself before magpies pecked out its eyes. Needless to say our genial shepherd was not amused. I’m busy scaring off crows that are raiding nests in the yard. Whilst we’re overrun by fledged woodpeckers and nuthatches, the blue tits nesting under the soffit (three yards from a family of jackdaws) have yet to appear. Talk about living dangerously.

Friday, June 3

It makes the world go ’round

Was that love, money or laughter? I hardly need V.S. Naipaul or Esquire Magazine to tell me that women are...different. The dissimilarity between genders was no more apparent than when watching Tuesday night’s return of Lead Balloon. Whilst Rick Spleen had me rolling in the aisles, Mrs G. hid behind a cushion: she finds this type of farce excruciatingly embarrassing. After so many years of living with yours truly you’d think the lady would have developed a thicker skin.

White Van Man arrived alongside this morning, delivering a giant parasol for the yard...Following assembly of replacement brolly I decided the old base didn’t suit, and set off on a tour of the county’s garden centres. Returning hours later with £40’s worth of scrap metal and minus £85 for a tank of diesel I discover the parasol has fallen over and its wooden struts are broken. That’s a cue for Chapter Two – detailing to my exploits with a tube of super glue and bottle of nail polish remover. The saga went downhill thereafter, and included a hacksaw and a rather inventive jury rig. It says much for my equanimity these days that no one suffered in the making of this drama.

Anniversaries

A friend and long time colleague emailed this week to remind me it’s been 10 years since we last worked a job together, illustrating with a photograph how much we’ve changed in that time. I guess it’s the nature of life: continually reinventing ourselves in order to stay relevant. Over the years the two of us have acquired more hats than Bates’ in Jermyn Street...albeit I continue to buy CDs and books, and he’s now completely digital. I guess there’s always the one constant: Friday lunchtime at the Dog & Duck.

Tuesday, May 31

Frightening thought

With our German cousins falling like ninepins there was much suspicious probing and sniffing of Mrs G’s tzatziki at tonight’s dinner table. I haven’t come this far to be undone by a rogue Iberian gourd. Given the threatened doubling of food prices over the next 20 years, with many likely reduced to subsisting on toast and Marmite and vin de pays, contracting E coli from exotic vegetables could well become a mark of affluence.

Friday, May 27

Perish the thought

It occurred to me that with all the negative publicity about declining standards of care in NHS hospitals it might be wise to vary the diet and include an occasional vegetarian day. I suspect washing down my lentils with a half-bottle of Burgundy’s finest kind of defeats the object but at least it’s a step. You don’t wonder at our cynicism with regards to public health programmes when doctors probably head of the queue for liver transplants and nurses waddle along hospital corridors as though they’re being nurtured for a nice line in foie gras. As with our political masters it’s a case of don’t do as I do, do as I say. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I guess. If our world was controlled by virtuous citizens it would be a very sad place.

Thursday, May 26

Day off

Barbeque to the fore this week, with pictures of the Duke of Edinburgh cooking at home, sizzling steaks on a grill. And then yesterday, Cameron and Obama frying sausages for visiting Service families. Unfortunately the gales and rain have returned to the barn and I’m unable to follow suit. Yesterday morning at eight I was sitting outside on the yard, finishing a book; today it’s difficult to stand up. Guess I could use a day off to do the paperwork – Monday in the city, Tuesday on the moor, yesterday the coast, and a busy weekend on the horizon. Whilst I’ve yet to get up to speed on the walking stakes, I at least managed to eat my first ice cream of the year. It followed an enjoyable lunch of lemon soles and non-alcoholic lager at the Olive Garden in Bude. Over the years I must have consumed every pretendy lager on the market, none of which I care to recommend.

Last night’s television featured the final dose of Carluccio and Contaldo in their Alpha Romeo, eating for Italy. I know it’s just a couple of sad sorts peddling the usual guff, but it works for me. Though we’ve managed to get our hands on some nice grub recently, including quality bread, olives and salami, I miss London’s Italian delis. At least I’ve still got my Marmite...Can you believe the Danes? Have you tasted Gammel Dansk, their medicine of choice?

Monday, May 23

Back to the old neighbourhood

Say what you like about the Premier League, it has become far more than a story about the top four. Leagues within a league – the race for the bottom as compelling as anything on offer at Emirates Stadium. Yesterday saw Mrs G’s lads take the title, whilst yours truly was relegated. Congratulations to McCarthy and Martinez and Kean. I have the feeling that life in the Champions League will be just as exciting.

Saturday, May 21

Real food

At least I know what we’re eating over the weekend: motivated by a half-hour of sunshine I’ve barbequed one of the ribs we acquired at the show. These suckers are inches thick and weigh in at three-kilos/piece. Fifteen minutes on each side cooks them to perfection. They last for days and still leave enough for a couple of bowls of chilli.

Update (Monday): After a much publicised WCRF report regarding the dangers of excessive red meat consumption I’m almost feeling guilty about the barbequed rib. I say ‘almost’... This single slab of beef has provided four delicious dinners for the two of us, along with a couple of beef-sandwich lunches. The final remnants were consumed in the form of a cottage pie rather than chilli con carne. Excellent value at £2.50/pound, albeit well adrift of the 500g/week guideline.

Waffle

Listening to Miliband is like watching a car crash. Kinnock might have been a windbag but he was never this limp-wristed. Having seen Alex Salmond clean up in Scotland, our lad decides optimism is the spirit of the age, asserting the need for a positive, patriotic mission for ‘our’ country. The Guardian colludes in his ineptness by juxtaposing Miliband’s inane, geeky grin with an attractive photo of Cameron in Norway, suggesting something of the Audi Quattro/Gene Hunt debacle at the general election. Superficial it may be, but you know what they say about what a picture is worth...

Friday, May 20

la differénce

While America remains aghast at the alleged antics of Strauss-Kahn, we suspect many in France are merely bemused; and as Fred Goodwin and the Terminator attract condemnation for playing away, Germany reveals what it takes to power a great economy.

Thursday, May 19

The Devon Show

Though it comes around too quickly for my liking, the annual county jamboree remains great fun. Dare I say a little less crowded this year – we actually managed to find seats at one of the food concessions, and, for the very first time, a table in the beer tent. When we weren’t eating or drinking, our time was divided between the livestock competitions and people watching. There were the usual cooking demonstrations, live music and horses, the tractors and traction engines...though I suspect the principal reason we attend is to load up on beef ribs and jugs of cider.

Tuesday, May 17

Changing times or revisiting

I wouldn’t dream of criticizing the market cafe: it is what it is and expectations are always satisfied. The Formica-topped tables were faded and scuffed well before ’64, and the wooden bench-seats belong to an even earlier era. Girls in pinnies dispense capstan-strength tea from tarnished aluminium teapots, and whilst only ten-o-clock and yours truly is ordering breakfast, for the old guys, the gummy octogenarians, c’est l’heure du déjeuner – they’re already supping bowls of oxtail soup. After breakfast I bought dinner from the produce stalls, including a small rye for £3. I actually waited in line to pay three quid for a loaf! When exactly did we reintroduce the corn laws?

Same old...

Another month: another haircut, yesterday. Literally, a haircut – the statutory trim...though it has to be said the return from my savings account remains dire. My periodic visit to the barber can best be described as lucky dip, choosing as I do to visit a different establishment on each occasion; it appears talent, even with a pair of scissors, remains a rare commodity. The ensuing lunch at a riverside restaurant was also disappointing fare. You can say what you like about the transformation of British cuisine these past thirty-odd years, in my experience the renaissance has been confined to the premier end of the trade. The old days gave the impression of being knee-deep in enthusiastically-run eateries that owed their existence to a well-thumbed copy of Elizabeth David and a loan from a mate. Most went belly-up inside a couple of years but were great fun while they lasted and a major improvement on the Wimpy Bar’s circular frankfurter. Derivatives of the latter now appear the only game in town.

Monday, May 16

Somewhat inevitable

It doesn’t look good for the Blues. A win against Tottenham next weekend would be on par with the Arsenal final. You can’t knock McLeish: he’s done better than Bruce with an inferior squad. Criticism about the style of play – a lack of entertainment/the realities of staying in the top flight – is not dissimilar to what my old Charlton comrades used to level against Curbishley, and I doubt they’re any happier these days. How to approach the game at White Hart Lane: go for broke (joke), or shut up shop and trust the other two to lose by more than we do? As long as they don’t just lie down and die. Guess next season provides me with an excuse to catch up with the Palace crowd.

Saturday, May 14

The Torygraph moves on

Mrs G. buys the Times because the Telegraph’s crossword is crap. And whilst I find many of the Times’ columnists irritating, its sympathies not entirely what I would call English, a little suspect, subversive, the newspaper is eminently readable. The Telegraph often seems parked in a cul-de-sac that is/was typified by Simon Heffer. A number of my acquaintances and friends are of a similar persuasion to the lad, and whilst I sympathise, their trotting out the same anachronistic line day after day becomes something of a pain. There’s plenty of protest but little in the way of credible answers – even if the Three Line Whip is one of the better media blogs. I wish Heffer well, pedantic tit that he is. However, I suspect the Telegraph will be better for his departure.

A welcome arrival

Above the thatch, cavorting swallows; in about the village chimneys, house martins; and finally, this morning, a full house: the sickle-winged swifts. Black sky-racers – devil birds, referred to hereabouts as devil screechers, their arrival typified in Ted Hughes’s poem: ‘They’ve made it again,/Which means the globe’s still working, the/Creations/Still waking refreshed, our summer’s/Still to come – ...’

Thursday, May 12

Managing future expectations

Mervyn King certainly knows how to cheer a man up. Slow growth and rising prices...Adjusting to a world of differing expectations. So what’s new – aren’t life and change synonymous? I guess because this time the direction in which people’s standard of living is travelling is at odds with what we’ve become accustomed to: ever increasing prosperity as a matter of right. I’m sure the reason the Tories vote held up so well is that voters acknowledge the need for adjustment. If Cameron and Clegg have a problem it’s that they seem to have forgotten the lessons of Blair’s early years (should have gone further, faster; and don’t spend so much time listening to the media). At least university leavers appear to be facing up to reality by taking non-graduate jobs. Little wonder studying humanities is a thing of the past when an estimated 55% of future graduates face a career in low-skill work or unemployment. I passed a column of 60 fresh-faced geology students on the moor yesterday, rock pick and notebooks in hand...let’s hope the economy has turned around by the time they graduate.

Monday, May 9

Football, crime, food and exercise

It was a mutton curry, reggae and football weekend – certainly plenty of the latter, and not all of it was disappointing: the Blues are hanging in there, just; and whilst Plymouth are toast, Walsall look safe; Rangers appear to have the Scottish Premiership, Black Yellows the Bundesliga, and Mrs G’s United triumphed at Old Trafford. A win over Barcelona would be the icing.

French crime drama, Spiral reached its conclusion. It was not as compelling (for me) as The Killing, though I’d much rather a neurotic Captain Berthaud than Inspector Stanhope. And what to say about last night’s Icelandic thriller Jar City. It’s less the plot line (How many twists to the crime drama genre can there be?) than the locations and cinematography, the differences of other worlds. Cancelling Zen was disappointing in that, despite being second-rate drama, the series featured attractive locations and women that don’t look like Caroline Quentin.

Out battling the gales on the common this morning...forced into one of those rare sprints along the highway in pursuit of runaway lambs. Retrieved and returned: my good deed for the day.

Friday, May 6

English politics appears even more polarised

The Conservatives have won seven seats to gain control of our local council. Who’d have thunk it; right now the Tories look to have upped their national vote. Cameron even has the bonus of a triumphant Salmond north of the border. Of course we’re assuming a No vote secures the AV Referendum. I appreciate this voting malarkey pales when compared to the important things in life (the price of baked beans, The Blues maintaining Premiership status ... ), however, elections are always excuse for a wager.

And whilst I rarely comment on perfunctory media bias, you’d suspect the BBC’s Maitlis prone to multiple orgasms – such is her enthusiasm for Labour gains.

Thursday, May 5

The Alternative Vote

Yesterday I heard my first cuckoo of the year...the simple bird that thinks two notes a song. And today I get to vote. Of course it has to be a resounding NO. I’m nothing if not tribal, and one of our most enduring pleasures is that of shouting “Ya boo sucks” from the sidelines. The old refrain that, “At least I never voted for ’em”, ends with the sudden realisation that ‘they’ were your 4th preference. How can anyone in all conscience tick a box for one of the good guys, and then follow it up with an endorsement for something plucked from a barrel of dog turds? OK, I admit they’re all suspect, as bad as each other...but at least he’s my cheating, lying bastard, not yours.

Tuesday, May 3

Throwaway society

My wristwatch is kaput, and I’ve been advised it has to be returned to the maker for a ‘service’. Not only will this exercise cost in excess of £250, it appears the queue for faulty timepieces is 4-5 months. Seems horologists, like panel beaters, are a dying breed. Could it have something to do with my replacement watch: a ‘classic’ Casio, purchased for £18.

Sunday, May 1

Life is on the move

The trees are filling out at long last, bluebells and blue damselflies providing contrast and colour to the white and orange-tip butterflies; in amongst the burrows and last winter’s debris, primroses and sprouting fern. Impressive chestnut and yellow hornets are colonising a rotting oak stump in the yard. I’d be worried if it wasn’t for the zillion or so wasps and bees that are already nesting in the barn’s thatch and stone crevices. A week or so ago a huge swarm appeared in the apple blossom outside our bedroom window; they have since decamped to a neighbour’s hive. Dare say there’ll be a fair amount of gold and black stripes at St Andrews today. Big game; let’s hope there’s no sting in the tail.

Saturday, April 30

Best of British, and foreign influence

I gambled that most people would stay home yesterday, to watch the wedding on television. The annual Exeter Food Festival proved too much a draw however, falling as it does on a public holiday. Installing a large screen and some fine weather only enhanced the attraction. There were lots of union flags and festive cheer, and little evidence of militant atheism or republican sympathies. Let’s face it: who could fail but to be impressed by such pomp and ceremony. It was gratifying to note we still do certain things well. When the crowds became too heavy we loaded up with goodies from the food stalls, and returned home to dine on (French) champagne, Polish-style bread and continental-inspired charcuterie.

Friday, April 29

Steady, The Buffs

Another royal wedding; another era beckons? This afternoon – courtesy of some wonderful food and the Quik-E-Mart’s champagne special – I sat slumped through a repeat of an old David Lean film, ‘This Happy Breed’. Tell me, exactly, what has changed over the years?

Tuesday, April 26

Memorable days, memorable games

Spent part of what turned out to be an enjoyable day walking across one of the seemingly less-inhabited parts of southern Dartmoor – disused tin workings and china clay pits. Perfect terrain for such as yours truly, with wonky knees and a growing aversion to steep inclines. That said, there were still marshy stretches, which – given Mrs G. had elected to go with bare feet/walking sandals – meant I ended up piggybacking the good lady through the morass. Then a long drive home, to kebabs and beers, Man Utd v Schalke 04 on the wireless. The only time I’ve been to a game in Gelsenkirchen was for the first leg of the 1970 European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final, between The Royal Blues and Joe Mercer’s Manchester City – dim, distant days of Colin Bell and Franny Lee. Fun days; the currywurst days. Have you noticed how everything appears wine and roses when viewed through the haze of nostalgia.

Monday, April 25

Enjoying the moment

The sheep have already graduated to distant pasture. They’re a smelly bunch this year; a stroll across the fields necessitates Wellies. We could do with a rain shower to freshen things up. Whilst I haven’t seen any figures, and if our local reservoir is to be believed, water shortages could well be a feature of this summer. For now, though, the weather remains idyllic...life a pleasant interlude.

Wednesday, April 20

A practise weekend

Another I got wrong. I thought it was quiet for an Easter weekend...and that was, of course, because Easter falls this weekend, dumb schmuck that I am. The duck was excellent however; ditto an Argentine Malbec that came my way. Sheep have returned in numbers and it’s the set of The Sundowners again. I celebrated by barbequing four-skewer’s worth of lamb kebabs. The number of visitors has also grown exponentially over the last three days; everyone is driving too fast/too slow/in the wrong direction. They can’t believe their luck: glorious summer weather...apple-blossom time. I’m off to buy a new deck chair for the yard.

Saturday, April 16

Saturday

Feet up, read the newspapers. I’ve driven more than I care to recently. A mild touch of dromomania perhaps? The vehicle has taken a beating; can’t see it holding together much longer. Still...new areas explored, new pubs located. 14th Century or thereabouts is not uncommon, only these days they come with running water and occasionally, inside lavatories. Most times I’ve a tendency to look rather than touch: country pub atmosphere can be seriously overrated, and once or twice this past year I’ve been poisoned by poorly kept ale. I took off again yesterday but only to track down a decent duck for Easter. Chose to walk closer to home, ’cross the Ponderosa. Rewarded by the presence of a large red deer in the woods – a big beast, humongous. Witnessed a series of standoffs between rival cock pheasants, including a scarce black. Flies the size of small wrens! All but tripped over a gloriously-coloured dog fox. Mrs G. would pay good money for hair that shade; so different from the scabby-looking vermin in the city. And the air has that sweet scent of barley (fodder) and coconut (gorse). Everywhere, nesting birds, or rather, birds constructing nests. A semi-final day...must avoid applauding the wrong side.

Bull fighting

Roddy Doyle. Damn, he’s good – he’s grand. Hits the nail. Fuckin’ –. Had to drag my feet, read more slowly; ration the stories – savour the lines. How does he...? Must have been there himself? Jesus, but. Damn, he’s good – he’s grand.

Thursday, April 14

Melting pots

Trouble at immigration – Do you belong here? I guess we all have our stories about entering one or another country. But moving on...there used to be a rabbi who was a regular contributor to Thought for the day, many years ago. I recall him reminiscing about the atrocities inflicted on his people by their neighbours, a community in Eastern Europe, back in the 1930/40s. On reflection he thought their mistake had been to segregate themselves, to choose, over successive generations, to live apart from the mainstream population. When the shit hit the fan and people wanted to strike out, his family became an easy target. Subsequent experience of Britain’s ability to assimilate non-natives led him to conclude that it takes a minimum of three generations to become part of the natural fabric? At the time I suspected an element of wishful thinking in his supposition. One of the lads from the Dog & Duck moved here from a neighbouring county some 50 years ago: he jokes the local community, some of whose families have been village residents for hundreds of years, still kid him about being a Johnnie-come-lately. It may well be that, in another four decades or so, people will become English rather than British Afro-Caribbean or British Asian, but I won’t hold my breath.

Wednesday, April 13

When nothing happens

When examined in the context of our life at the barn my score on Sundberg’s Boredom Proneness Scale predicts cabin fever an inevitable consequence. It appears I’m barely one more winter away from Jack Nicholson and the Overlook Hotel. Fortunately for Mrs G. life is rarely as predictable as Toohey’s corn niblets, and given the weight of Boredom’s probabilities, along with my not-inconsiderable experience on the subject, I seem to be reassuringly ahead of the game. Fun read, and a perfect antidote to the usual existential guff. Given the current vogue for happiness indices Toohey seems to have launched his book at an especially propitious time. That said, I’d prefer people kept their happy-clappy stuff to themselves

Do I not like...

Neighbourhood sheep make the news. A sight to gladden Graham Taylor’s heart? The trouble comes at show time, when you have to remove the dye.

Tuesday, April 12

Shrinking market

Punch acknowledges the continued demise of the British pub. It’s been downhill for years: changing consumer behaviour. Exactly how many guys do you know stop off for 4-5 pints on the way home? Whilst the price of booze is an issue for many, a couple of days ago I visited The Valiant Soldier – a now defunct pub that closed in 1965, reinventing itself as a museum. The price-list behind the bar advertised a pint of bitter at 1/5½d and bottles of Heineken for 1/3d...and even at those prices it didn’t work. None of the younger crowd in the sixties wanted to drink alongside their granddads. I remember supping in a local back then which was a double for TVS: wooden bench-seats more suited to keeping a chapel congregation awake than punters savouring their drink, lino on the floor, brass spittoons, a grumpy old landlord in braces and slippers. Later, after a decade of keg beer and Golden Wonder crisps, everyone began reminiscing. In the 80s the breweries introduced faux olde-worlde interiors, though to less than enthusiastic acclaim. It wasn’t the same thing, probably because by then your granddad had died. My watering hole at South London Mansions went through eight landlords over the years, each forlornly tweaking the business model. In the end they succeeded by concentrating on the youth market – mostly students, seemingly the only segment with money to burn. That, too, a soon-to-be-lost revenue stream.

Resting up, again

Grief, what with the sunshine, the kids off school and early-season visitors, you can’t move for tripping over bodies. I thought it best to grab something from the market and beat a hasty retreat. As luck would have it the butcher came up with a decent leg of goat, which, after being subject to one of the Boss’s marinades and a subsequent rub, gives me something to barbeque for tonight’s supper. Cue large portions of Mexican Rice and a glass of Jose Cuervo.

Following yesterday’s jaunt (two days on the trot) I’m in need of another break. Seem to be more injury prone than Louis Saha. We were over on the far side of Dartmoor, and it wasn’t so much distance walked (nor the constant drizzle) as the succession of steep inclines, the wear and tear on my ailing knees. Our planned picnic was more a shelter from the storm than a Manet painting; the later session in the Dog & Duck a grave mistake. Fingers crossed I’m able to say the same thing thirty years from now.

In the years since we’ve lived here it would be true to say I’ve seem a policeman on foot or in a squad car roughly once each week. These last couple of months, however, I must have come across five Pandas every day. The cynic in me suspects a budgetary wheeze somewhere. Let’s hope they’re a bit sharper than the Essex Police.

Monday, April 11

Bad day at the office

I guess it’s reasonable to assume that McIlroy sank a consoling pint or two after yesterday’s round. Doubtless Chris Evans cancelled the piano. In the grand scheme of things...but then this train crash will follow him throughout his career, those missed putts resurrected by the media as frequently and gleefully as they reminisce about Norman’s ’96 Masters. At least the young lad was swanning around Augusta in the sunshine rather than being co-opted into spring cleaning. It’s amazing how the junk stacks up. I disposed of a small library’s worth of paperbacks when last we moved, only to have acquired another 200 or so since setting up our stall at the barn. Much of it recycled paper, recycled stories.

Sunday, April 10

Friday, April 8

Lull before the...

Turnout time brings the usual seasonal sales at Ike Godsey’s: fencing materials and water troughs, mag licks and worming solutions, grass seed and silage additives...The vet has joined in with a special offer on neutering, Clegg being the first in line. What a wuss. Exactly who does he play to?

I can’t get over the Mediterranean-like weather, though you can keep your swarm of flies. The yard is already carpeted with daisies and dandelions, the hedges, flowering blackthorn. I ran across to Buckfast on an errand yesterday and visitors are thick on the ground. Coach loads of pensioners, retired couples astride ginormous touring motor cycles. Everyone enjoying a respite before the schools break up. The Germans and Netherlanders have yet to arrive.

I finished Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns. It was a good enough read, however, the lad’s hardly Hilary Mantel, still less Patrick O’Brian. Given how much the novel was feted (Incredible scope and originality, imaginative brilliance, rare thing, tour-de-force, moving, thoughtful, pitch-perfect, original, achingly romantic, compelling, hugely enjoyable, masterpiece, thrilling, brilliantly realised, magnificent, exhilarating, emotionally engaging, fluent and daring, vastly entertaining, marvellously wrought, dazzles, unforgettable, brilliant, stunning, extraordinary, magic, riveting...) some disappointment was inevitable; though I suspect the author was always onto a loser with a Dutch hero: sound people, but – aside from that brief era of total football – hardly swashbuckling. The epilogue, when de Zoet returns to Middelburg, is the most affecting part of the book. It’s up there with Cormac McCarthy in its brutal depiction of man’s latter years.

Tuesday, April 5

Government guarantees health, wealth and happiness?

In an effort to placate middle-class voters not rich enough to afford their children a private education our lords and masters are to provide early-round byes on University Challenge and internships at the local DWP office.

That’s assuming the kids can get there: Oil prices have reached a record high in sterling terms. I’ve been averaging 120 miles/day this last couple of weeks and can vouch that a tank of juice is now £80. Little wonder sales at the Quik-E-Mart are suffering.

Monday, April 4

Social mobility

David Willetts campaigns to promote working-class boys ahead of middle-class girls. It doesn’t say that in such precise terms, but we know what he means.

Keep right on to the end of the road

Most of us want to work beyond 65 says Pensions Secretary. My only contention is with the word ‘most’. I’ve worked with men who only realised the mistake of staying on until their mid-sixties when subsequently discovering their bodies were (by then) too fucked to fully enjoy their retirement. They wished they had settled for less and quit earlier. Conversely, another forced into statutory retirement tried to jump from the office roof. For him, work was everything. It defined who and what he was in society, it was where his friends resided. Without a mandatory retirement age I also suspect there will be a lot of 30-somethings forced to languish in subordinate roles, whose ambitions will never be realised. And because of the log-jam, some graduates may fail to secure their first proper job until they are into their 30s. Of course there is no ‘one size fits all’, and yes, if you want to (or have to) work beyond 65 there shouldn’t be barriers to employment. However, I suspect I’m not alone in thinking Duncan Smith’s argument a tad disingenuous, that altruism is not his prime motivation.

Sunday, April 3

Still eating

Yesterday was our monthly visit to the farmers’ market. An opportunity to stock up on the basics: bits of rare-breed pig, various sheep parts, and a slab or two of beef. The two of us returned home, and, concerned about the amount of meat we consume, ate a steamed cauliflower (with cheese sauce) for supper. To celebrate Blues’ win over Bolton, today’s principal meal features the perennial midland’s favourite: roast pork belly. There are endless variations on the theme, and it’s just as good when stuffed with honey-soaked apricots and accompanied by expensive Hungarian wine, as when flavoured with fennel and matched with sauerkraut and pilsner beer. The first of our food festivals kicks off later this month...roll on summer. Whilst as enthusiastic about root vegetables as the next man, it will be nice to see home-grown asparagus, and a return to Mediterranean fare.

Wednesday, March 30

The Blue Hawk

There’s a young male sparrowhawk sitting on a post outside the office window. He’s been there for a half-hour, undeterred by steady rainfall. Needless to say that, despite the challenging cheeps from upstairs on the thatch, and though little larger than a collared dove, nothing else dares approach the yard (...) I can recall a time when you could set your watch by the sight of Concorde climbing past the kitchen window. Nowadays constant is a grey heron’s early morning descent to the river. Almost as predictable, our first two swallows of the season, arriving just as the cattle and calves are released from the barn.

Saturday, March 26

Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night

Environmental noise at daybreak used to irritate the crap out of me back at South London Mansions: those early morning flights descending on Heathrow; the clunking, rattling railway carriages; idling bread vans, the milkman, newspaper-distributor...the prat who warmed up his Harley outside my bedroom window (the guy with a clapped-out Saab, running down his battery). Doubtless one of the reasons so many people dream of a life in the countryside. Dream on...Picture our current doorstep, mug of tea in hand, at five this morning. It is not so much the background noise from the livestock: the horse’s whinny, bellowing cows and bleating sheep; still less the barking hounds, crowing cocks or the more strident cock pheasant; not even the raucous quacking mallards that have set up home in the pond (...the croaking forms that have deposited so much spawn these past weeks). It’s more the general cacophony of bird song, the sheer scale of the dawn chorus. And not just the obvious culprits, the massed ranks of cawing crows, shrieking jays and jackdaws: it is the number and range of instruments that takes you back – be they drumming woodpeckers, warbling blackbirds or tchweeping chaffinches, a scolding hickymouse or tinkling goldfinch...a musical robin or the wren’s rattling chit...Five more minutes and Farmer Charles will be cranking up the tractor.

Friday, March 25

Post-match comment

With the frisson of an imminent election, a year or so ago I began watching the odd BBC Question Time and Andrew Neil’s This Week. Interest since then has fallen away, however, I tuned in last night on the strength of the programme’s panel, and because London audiences are usually diverse and better informed. Midsomer it ain’t, and there’s nothing worse than listening to a series of platitudes from political lightweights and assorted donkeys that’ve been bussed up north...the applause of partisan cannon fodder. Though I’d thought Danny Alexander might be out of his depth the lad did well defending his corner. There was also a decent left-right match between Livingston and Fergusson; if the audience applause is to be believed, Boris Johnson retains the upper hand ahead of the coming mayoral contest. And despite his irritating accent, Rory Stewart only enhanced the panel’s credibility. For once I’d have been happy to listen to another half-hour’s worth. Whilst no one said anything original they reflected our confusion about what should be happening in Libya, and how things are likely to play out in the economy.

The least said about This Week the better. Neil is past his sell-by date; and until he can find someone credible to play off of, Portillo should stick to the railways. Guests such as Blears and Kennedy add nothing to debate and only make you resent staying up so late.

Wednesday, March 23

Budget Supper

I couldn’t resist any longer, certainly not with today’s blue sky – so the barbeque is burning a shoulder of well-marinated lamb for tonight’s Budget Supper. It’s not that we’re celebrating anything, more a sense of relief that things could have been worse, particularly with regards to fuel, an increasing proportion of everyone’s budget especially in rural areas. An old accomplice surfaced yesterday, showing off his new transport. I thought my current motor not particularly clever, carbon footprint wise, but the petrol consumption on his new 450 bhp pocket racer is 18 mpg! Suppose the lad’s doing his bit for growth, keeping the economy going – though I’m not sure he needs to get there at 155 mph.

Reading material

After an enjoyable couple of weeks detour that included more of Elmore Leonard, Lee Child, John Grisham and Gerald Ford, I returned for another dose of Science Fiction: this time with Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. It’s a classic in the sense of being one of those stories you can easily transpose, its messages as valid now as the post-Vietnam era in which it was written. Ridley Scott – Alien, Blade Runner – is currently working on a film version. Whilst Haldeman may be sparing in his use of futuristic technology you have to credit the level of imagination in an era when we were still grappling with telex machines.

Tuesday, March 22

In our national interest

If you say so. I managed to catch an hour or so of the commons Libya debate yesterday evening, though when Dougie Alexander was speaking it was all I could do to stay awake. What a sanctimonious little prick the guy is. Needless to say McPlonker remains AWOL – money for old rope. I still have reservations about sticking our nose in, but then I am nothing if not a democrat – and if this is what the punters want, so be it. It must be a righteous cause as Hercule Poirot is joining the party.

Friday, March 18

Disunited Nations

Tempting as it is to criticise German reticence, would that we could walk away from Libya. There was a Tornado GR4 playing overhead yesterday and I’d rather it didn’t venture further. Humanitarian/altruistic sentiment aside, I guess failure to lend a hand would only result in another half-million refugees beating a path to our door. Not that any of this guarantees they won’t. On any given day, as sure as the sun rises, somewhere in the world an ecological mishap will be wreaking havoc, and natives will be butchering their neighbours. Do we always have to put our hand up quite so smartly?

Thursday, March 17

If you build it they will come

Kevin Costner aside, that’s one of the problems with our housing conundrum... I suspect my attraction to the BBC’s economics editor has as much to do with the shortness of her skirt and the leather boots as it does her economic competence. In a recent post she reflects on the relatively favourable (for Osborne) OECD report, highlighting the shortcoming of our housing market – more specifically the regressive nature of the tax system and the excessively restrictive planning regulations. Call me a cynic but I’d guess that taxing the proceeds of property sales would be political suicide, whilst discouraging buy-to-lets – when the government’s doing little to build anything, social, affordable or otherwise – would be counter-productive. Easing the restrictions on planning, however, could dramatically transform the situation, to say nothing of boosting employment in the construction industry. Lack of housing here in the South West is top of most people’s agenda. Trouble is that voters are polarised, in opposite camps: the nimbys, and, if not the homeless, the home-lite. People want to see their children climb onto the housing ladder but not at the expense of the rural idyll.

When Mrs G. and yours truly tied the knot house building was something of a free-for-all and housing estates appeared to be sprouting up across farmland everywhere. A shiny new two bedroom semi-detached starter home from Barratts would have set you back £8-9,000. We purchased a newly built Wimpey version for £10k. I guess a modern-day comparison (given current regional wages) would be around the £90k mark. And whilst it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to build houses for something of that order, if the price of land was significantly discounted (compulsory purchased), you and I know that’s never going to happen. Apart from crippling developers who are sitting on expensive banks of land, the South West is one of the most attractive areas of England. Lifting planning restrictions to the extent where you could knock out houses for that sort of money would result in a stampede to the region.

Answers to our housing problems are beyond my pay grade, so I look forward to Stephanie’s promised deliberations on ‘how the government might seek to match the simple economic need for more houses and a freer planning regime with the very difficult local politics’ with a more than keen interest.