Sunday, February 27

Carling Cup Final

Arsenal’s performance against Barcelona contributed to one of best matches I’ve had the privilege of watching for some time, so I wasn’t exactly optimistic about today’s final. O ye of little faith! What a performance from the Blues. The early offside call was to be expected: it’s what happens when you play the majors – they always get the breaks and it’s little use moaning about life’s inequities. Outstanding performances from the likes of Carr, Bowyer, Johnson, Gardner... Shit, everyone. Ferguson is Scotland’s loss and our gain. Zigic does what it says on the can. Foster more than deserved his man-of-the-match award. Pleased for McLeish; big feather in his cap and a trophy in the cabinet. It would look even better alongside the FA Cup.

Friday, February 25

Not all doom and gloom

It’s far grimmer out there today. Limited visibility and driving rain. We were over the other side of the world (the moor), viewing another prospect and an art exhibition, before calling in on a farm shop to buy something for dinner. As luck would have it they had a cafe out back, so we stayed for lunch. Today being Friday we both ordered fish-of-the-day and were rewarded with some of the best fried cod either of us has eaten in an age. Let’s face it, who eats cod these days? Even the chips were hand cut and double fried. A portion of mushy peas would have made my day; however, this being the more fashionable part of Devon, our meal came with a salad and vinaigrette. Lots of visitors in town for the half-term break; we were the only diners sans little people. That said, the roads aren’t exactly busy – maybe people are already adjusting to the prospect of even higher fuel prices?

If only

Read our lips: consumers don’t want to eat cloned animals. Yeah right. In a recent EU survey 63 per cent of respondents said they would be unlikely to buy meat or milk from cloned animals... It’s been my experience that as long the stuff is boiled up in a jar of cook-in-sauce the vast majority of people will eat pretty much anything put in front of them. The politics of food isn’t dissimilar to many of those tricky morality issues: something to aspire to; fine if you can afford it. Food is becoming expensive – I’ve noticed even the Kwik-E-Mart’s once-reliable steak mince has developed a disturbing tendency to include a proportion of ground gristle and bone to eke things out. A couple of years from now we’ll be back to eating Corporal Jones’s sawdust-enhanced sausages. In fact at five-quid for three packs I suspect I ate some last week.

Thursday, February 24

Cup Final

Those 6-1 odds are looking a lot more attractive this morning.

These days everyone’s Giles Coren

En route from inspecting a potential project yesterday morning we stopped for lunch at a local hostelry. The landlord was a classic example of that once popular mine host so beloved by us all: Frank Butcher meets Alan Hansen (black polyester) – all chunky gold jewellery and North London accent, the words Love and Hate tattooed across his knuckles. Out of interest and hunger we ordered the ‘special’ (...) I’m philosophical about pub lunches and always happy to try pot luck, but then you have to accept you win some/lose some. And as he served a great pint we paid up, having tasted only a tentative forkful. Just because I don’t care for a particular style of cuisine (nuked ‘roast of the day’ submerged beneath an ocean of gravy browning and mint sauce, delicately flavoured with an excess of vinegar, sugar and stale white pepper) doesn’t mean someone in the kitchen hasn’t made an effort. After discovering our dishes of congealed food the landlord pursued us down the street, inquiring what the problem was and offering our money back. Being the polite sort what can you say? “I wasn’t as hungry as I’d thought...it wasn’t to my taste...I’ve got to rush back to the office...” You’re hardly likely to tell him you wouldn’t feed it to the neighbour’s dog let alone the missus. How exactly do you phrase ‘Your food is crap’ in diplomatic language? It’s part of being English I suppose: a reluctance to complain, especially when the other diners are so plainly enjoying the food – it only ruins their meal, the experience. Eating out is one part food to three parts company and conversation, so what’s wrong with taking the odd hiccup in your stride? That said...during our recent Irish trip we called in at a pub for a pint of the black stuff and bowl of soup. The soup was fine – the soda bread excellent. I would have returned to that pub just for a slice of bread. It doesn’t take much to produce quality food...but then who’s to determine what constitutes quality? There’s no accounting for taste.

Sunday, February 20

Personal hygiene

With ten episodes of the Danish crime thriller The Killing behind us Detective Sarah Lund has finally changed her sweater. She’d been wearing it since Day One, and no matter how much deodorant the girl applied it must have been honking. Little wonder the Swedish boyfriend did a runner.

Saturday, February 19

North-South divide

Even with the weather there’s a North–South divide.

Starter marriages?

“Nobody wants to settle. People realise that they grow and change every 10 years. How are we supposed to promise someone that we will spend the rest of our lives loving them no matter whom they become or who we become?” (...) It’s part of what make life interesting, sweetheart – the phrase is ‘For better or for worse.’ Then again, I guess it’s whatever works for you. I always knew I was on to a good thing and learned early on that all it took to make things work was for me to say “Yes Sir, No Sir” at the appropriate time. And to NEVER, EVER leap from my seat and punch the air when Carlos Tevez scores a goal.

Friday, February 18

101 Whiskies to try before...Clynelish

Today may have been a little grey, wet and windy but it was still a glorious walk on the moor – arguably better than sitting indoors watching an Arsenal v Barcelona match. OK so probably not that good, but fun non-the-less. Given the wind direction you could almost taste the salt in the air (thinks...I could be at home drinking a large Clynelish – whilst watching Arsenal...). Clynelish is reminiscent of salt, and liquorice and pepper. One of our best holidays was spent in Brora, and yes we did visit the distillery. Golf aside, the success of the trip was primarily down to our accommodation: excellent hotel with roaring log fires; locals in wet woollen jackets, a well-stocked bar and two good restaurants. Capalidi’s ice cream springs to mind, as does a drinking establishment we found – perhaps the only one in town (non-hotel) – in a cellar off the high street. Grim would be too kind.

The cost of growing old


The sum total of my subject knowledge was gleaned, as a teenager, from a second-hand early edition of the Cairncross Introduction to Economics. Most of it went in at one end and straight out the other. Pretty pictures – brightly coloured graphs – are more my style. I’m assuming the UK’s projections (sans cuts) would not be too dissimilar from Hennessey’s take on the Obama strategy. He identifies their future deficit problem as essentially one of demographics, and the associative cost of benefits and medical care. Not hard to understand why governments everywhere have designs on baby boomer assets. If only.

Thursday, February 17

Gay beer

Not sure this will be a best-seller at the Dog & Duck.

Youth unemployment

I’ve had to turn the wireless off. If it isn’t another report on NHS failures, general outrage at the obscene remuneration of public service apparatchiks, then it’s a further take on the lost generation. Youth unemployment is undoubtedly problematic but hardly the Great War. I doubt the current difficulties are of a similar scale to the 80s generation, still less as debilitating as the hurdles faced by the sick, lame and lazy, the cup-tied (marooned in the wrong area of the country), or by the growing army of mature, pension-light unemployed. The dilemma of our less-skilled youngsters has been evident for a decade or more – and if the current demand for midwives is anything to go by, is something that will likely worsen. Labour did its best to disguise the problem by increasing the school leaving age and encouraging a proliferation of higher education institutions. However, you can only keep them off the streets for so long. If only there was a simple answer...when Farmer Charles fails to offload his lambs I notice he stops breeding so many. If the flock produces skinny runts that no one wants, he sells the ewes for mutton – and his wholesaler imports from New Zealand. Not a suitable analogy, I know, but just when the labour market needs rationalising we appear to be maintaining production AND importing.

There was a time not that long ago when, as an SME, you recruited 2-3 school leavers every year. They were cheap and cheerful; what was to lose? Within three years the trainees usually earned their keep. As a rough guide, one stayed long-term; the other two – having gotten their start in the industry – would leave to prosper with other employers. Sometimes they joined competitors; competitors frequently nurtured employees who were more suited to our style, who travelled in the opposite direction. It was a virtuous world, Mr Fezziwig at the helm...and then a series of changes took place. All of a sudden nothing was cheap and cheerful any more, young people cost real money and came with strings. ‘Everyone’ now went to university, and that bar was seemingly set so low that, if applicants were mere school leavers they were assumed to be incapable of reading or writing. Significant numbers of youngsters more suited to vocational training were discarded in favour of ready made imports. As the world became super competitive, frontline employees were obliged to assume additional subordinate responsibilities and to encourage the outsourcing of non-core activities. It cut costs and put more money in their pockets, but it also annexed a whole raft of people, not least trainees. Many colleagues became ‘nice to haves’. Since then we’ve used the public sector and an enhanced benefits system to soak up the superfluous bodies. And now that avenue is closed, the private sector will need to see far more in the way of incentives for them to have any meaningful impact – certainly more than just glib remarks or futile gestures from ministers and their opposition. In addition to the carrots I suspect there will have to be lots more stick to make it work. Mervyn’s right: it’ll become tougher before it gets better.

Tuesday, February 15

Valentine’s Day

It used to be a given that you never bought fish on Mondays, but that was before the advent of day-boats. Yesterday I purchased a humongous lemon sole at Looe fish market, an inspiration which – along with two slabs of salmon and sorrel mousse (mit dill sauce), a giant plum pastry (and tub of crème fraîche), and bottles of Taittinger and Château La Rame Sublime – has secured me large portions of Brownie points for days to come. Mrs G. was so taken-back with my cooking a Valentine dinner she washed the dishes – and if you’ve seen the devastation wreaked by one of my efforts, especially where fish is concerned, this was no mean concession.

Sunday, February 13

Immutable

Days like these are why we’ve remained on the Ponderosa for so long. You don’t need the grand view: a private corner of nowhere in particular will suffice. Providing you are happy to risk your vitals on the barbed wire fences and trespass a little you can walk out the back door and always find somewhere interesting to while away the time. Hidden beyond the newly-fenced pasture and blackthorn thicket are acres of overgrown wilderness, of flora and fauna and animal trails, with no shortage of badger sett, fox and deer. Yesterday morning I flushed seven woodcock from the bottom ditches (guess we all feel a lot safer now the season has closed). Sometimes I stumble across neighbourhood properties I didn’t know existed, which are hidden from roads and prying eyes – all cob and stone, thatch and wood-smoke. Every now and then a smart stud or a medieval-looking farmhouse. I met an old boy last week, a farmer, whose family has been intermarrying with other prominent local families since the 1650s. Multiculturalism doesn’t really signify hereabouts.

Saturday, February 12

Weekend

Ah, Saturdays...coffee and croissants and newspapers for breakfast. Let’s hope the media has found something other than Egypt to interest them. You begin to wonder if the BBC employs a team of subversives whose job it is to travel the world fermenting trouble in order its head office staff can arrange another beano. The zeal with which its correspondents tackle their subject is reminiscent of characters from a Flannery O’Connor novel. Of course I’m just jealous...we should all have a piece of their lucrative action. Then again if what Kenneth Clarke believes is true I suppose the BBC could become a useful whipping boy.

Friday, February 11

Friday lunchtime session

Friday lunchtimes were once a religion, these days too rare an occurrence. Today I sank a commiserative pint in the Dog & Duck with one of our local estate agents. It seems the market continues to bump along the bottom going nowhere in particular. Whilst sellers outnumber buyers much of what’s available has been languishing on the books for months, years even, and for good reason. It’s hardly rocket-science that the property is either crap or overpriced. Seemingly there are two sets of buyers in the market: first-timers struggling to raise the requisite deposit and mortgage, and cash-rich patrons hoping to acquire the property of their dreams. The latter are queuing up to part with their money but can find nothing to spend it on. Nowhere is this made more obvious than in the rental market where, here in the south-west, a reputed six prospective tenants are chasing each property – as would-be buyers look for somewhere to cool their heels. A buy-to-letters’ dream you may say, and that too is part of the problem: why sell at a discount when you can pocket a fair piece of change waiting for the market to return?

Surfacing for air

I’m still functioning, have been somewhat preoccupied – am back on the road again. Pot holes and byres and piggeries ... meeting other people. Nothing to do, I hasten to add, with the big society – a concept I support in principle, though an anathema to everything I know to be true – but with more mundane matters related to our ongoing quest. Society can keep its distance. How can you take seriously a suggestion that half of all five-year-old boys are retarded and will die prematurely because they struggle to read the Daily Star? I know, I know, Marmot’s just another special interest group with his hand out. Damn it though, at that age the kids should be outside kicking a football. Little wonder the national team is struggling.

Monday, February 7

Now the post-seasonal fast is over

I’ve been on the receiving end of some excellent home-cooked meals this past week, including roast woodcock, a baked sea bass, butterflied baby haddock, fresh mussels – the classic moules marinière, and my favourite roast chicken with all the trimmings. Last night’s dinner, however, eclipsed ’em all. Say what you like about Rick Stein (he can be a pompous prig), the lad’s collected some memorable recipes over the years – his Johnny Noble boiled gigot of mutton a case in point. Whilst Mrs G’s kitchen isn’t the Garrick, and Kingsley Amis has long left the building, the meat turns out perfick. This particular joint came from a Border Leicester/Zwarbles cross. Guess I should have asked the farmer if the animal was a castrated male, a wether (deemed by some to be superior in taste), or a pensioned-off ewe, but at the time it seemed a tad pedantic (and no one likes a smart arse). I’m a big fan of caper sauce, with skate wings as well as boiled meats, though now I come to think of it I’ve never tried the stuff with a (mutton filled) Scotch Pie – it’s an obvious variant on the traditional pie and mash liquor.

Sunday, February 6

West Ham 0-1 Birmingham

We laugh in the face of relegation. A couple more wins and Blues will be back in the top ten. I’ve got ten quid on a double – with Torres scoring a hat trick at the Bridge.

What’s wrong with lazy, feckless and flatulent?

‘... middle-aged men laughing at poor Mexicans.’ It’s that pejorative ‘middle-age men’ thing again. What does it signify, exactly? Are all middle-aged men supposed to fit a stereotype, or are they hinting at ‘white’ middle-aged men of a specific disposition? Vanessa Thorpe’s article piggybacks on the Steve Coogan whine, but 45-year-old chippy northerners are rarely baggage free themselves – especially those whose brother was fired by Top Gear. And what exactly is Coogan if not middle-aged? All many men get from their licence fee is Match-of-the-Day and Top Gear, and they’re begrudged even that. I wonder if Thorpe is one of the 7 million girls who sit glued to Big Fat Gypsy Weddings?

Saturday, February 5

The cost of living, rather than surviving

If the reason Tunisians and Egyptians are throwing rocks at each other is down to the soaring price of kebabs, and that the cost of food for everyone on whichever continent is continuing to rise, why are so many of our domestic producers struggling to survive? Half of England’s pig farmers have gone to the wall this last couple of years, and local hill farmers in particular are finding it difficult to turn a profit. I’m doing my best to keep the economy moving but there’s a limit to how much even I can eat.

We returned from today’s farmers market weighed down by goodies, not least the ubiquitous pork sausages. Along with cuts of old spot and saddleback I snapped up half a dozen pigeons. You’d think we would be bored with game by now but I’m fond of the odd pastilla, Moroccan meat pie. We also purchased a fair-sized joint of mutton, a real chicken and a slab or two of beef shin. Very little of this food bears much relationship to the Quik-E-Mart’s produce, though – as I’ve previously remarked – neither does the price. And there’s the rub. We’re fortunate in that we can afford this sort of crap, and sufficiently interested in food to insist on the decent sort or do without. If you’re going to run up the cholesterol count and knacker your heart the least you can do is make it worthwhile.

Of course if you are constantly filling your face you’re also obliged to try and walk it off. I’ve given up listening to weather forecasters and dress for the worst. Out on the moor the reality of what is often predicted to be blue sky too often results in a rash of blue skin. There’s been a succession of days where your face feels (or doesn’t) as though it has been assaulted with Novocain, where you’re soaked through to your Grandpa Walton underwear. Thankfully we took on bunkers this week and can return the heating to maximum. Four years ago when we arrived at the barn it cost £320 for a tank of heating oil. The same tank is now £720. A trend I doubt will be reversed.

Friday, February 4

Social mobility

Russian migrants. You hear nothing then two similar stories arrive at the same time. It was pure coincidence I read these two biographies alongside each other. The connection raised an instant chuckle. Perhaps intergenerational social mobility isn’t always a one-way bet, Ed.