Monday, December 31

Haste ye back

I’ll miss it when it’s over: Christmas, that is. Our tree lights continue to sparkle and the kitchen remains lit up like the Arboretum illuminations. King’s College are still belting out Ding dong! merrily on high. I guess Mrs G. will be digging out her Jimmy Shand Jnr recording this evening; it’ll be the White Heather Club all over again. Hogmanay isn’t what it used to be, thank god. Tramping the streets for days on end, party to party, armed with little more than six cans of Tennent’s and a half-bottle of Famous Grouse.

Saturday, December 29

Where you find them

A stormy time, overnight. Continued heavy rain, trees blown down. We’ve lost a section of fencing – two sections. However, aside from a couple of leaks, the homestead remains standing. People less sanguine, of a certain stripe, would suspect the hand of Old Testament malice. The dim yellow-green light renders all but the immediate area black; whilst a wind nurtured amid the tors continues to bludgeon its way through what’s left of the holly and fir. Doors shake and beams creak. A delightful fragrance of wet sheep, sodden timber and rotting vegetation seeps in through vented windows. The footy is on the wireless and there’s a sizeable roll of brisket poaching on the stove – leeks, swede and carrots, naturally. You take your pleasures...

Friday, December 28

Selfish escapism over the holiday period

Exposure to your mother-in-law – virtually any relative – over the Christmas period, is injurious to your health. So they say. And today should be set aside for chilling in front of the television. Selfish escapism. On average we are expected to have already drunk the equivalent of 65 units of alcohol and participated in five arguments (presumably with relatives)...Little sister has this morning emailed me a copy of Grandfather Gudgeon’s ‘Band of Hope’ membership card (circa 1882). I assume it’s a pointer to my 65 units.

Bah! Humbug!

Simon Jenkins indulges his killjoy instincts in this morning’s Guardian – the old line about ‘fiddlin’ while Rome burns. His rationale is that popular will and a sophisticated democracy is an oxymoron, and the nine-billion smackeroonies would have been better spent on cod-liver oil. I don’t disagree with the premise that people shouldn’t do as I do but do as I say, but you have to throw them a bone occasionally. Given the distraction and supposed feel-good factor the Olympics generated I doubt there is a politician in the house who doesn’t believe it money well spent. And after all, it was our money, or at least money we borrowed and promised to pay back.

Wednesday, December 26

Boxing Day sales

Outside looks and sounds forbidding, gusting winds and lots of chilly wet stuff. Continued flood warnings...the possibility of a landslide or rockfall. Plagued by a conscience of excess however, I had little choice but to don the boots and make an effort. Once up on the moor and lost in the mist the elements don’t signify. Bliss. Mr G. aside I haven’t seen or heard anyone this past day or so. Come to that, apart from the chickens I haven’t seen a living thing since lunchtime on the 24th. What price the Boxing Day sales scrummage? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

After the Lord Mayor’s Show...it’s refried duck

The big day is over. And good riddance, you say. But damn it, I enjoyed myself (I wasn’t the one doing the cooking). My principal responsibility amounted to little more than opening bottles and stoking fires. Needless to say Santa did his duty. I received a twelve-month supply of personal grooming products and a tottering pile of reading material. After the last eight-hundred page Mantel I am sorely in need of Jack Reacher ... Most of our nine-pound bird remains intact, significantly less so the pudding. I suspect cold/refried duck (and eggs) will feature heavily over the next couple of days.

Sunday, December 23

Mustn’t grumble

Mrs G. wanted a duck for Christmas. Not just any duck: one that required a 75m round trip to her trusted supplier in the hinterland. At least our roads are clear, which is more than I can say for the rail-track that disappears beneath a Noah-inspired ocean. I doubt anyone is journeying here on a train. It appears just as bad at the other end of the country: Stonehaven, where we began married life, has flooded in sympathy ... I called in at the Quik-E-Mart for sprouts and mince pies on the way back only to discover a scene from Mad Max beyond the charcuterie counter. I can understand why the government is reluctant to offend the church, given their recent attempted stitch-up, however, limiting Sunday opening at such a late stage in the proceedings is a recipe for more disgruntled voters. I’ve now returned to the homestead. My feet are toasting in front of a roaring fire and I am supping a bottle of Burgundy’s finest. It has begun raining again.

Saturday, December 22

A home afloat

This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet ... Ted Hughes

The volume control on my wireless has struggled to compete with the howling wind. And train passengers have been warned against travelling here, to the Southwest: wherever you were headed is probably under water. Not particularly helpful advice if you are en route to spend Christmas with the family. By any measure this has not been an especially pleasant day, albeit unlike Hughes all is sweetness and light on the domestic front. It’s been entertaining, watching Mrs G. struggle to cross the yard – blinding wet doesn’t do it justice. Saturday is usually the busiest day of the week hereabouts, what with riders collecting mounts from local stables, friends and family visiting neighbours, weekend walkers, etc. However, I haven’t seen a soul. Let’s hope the weather improves by tomorrow as we’ve a lot of ground to cover.

The turkey run

Given the weather, the last place you would choose to be today is up town on a last-minute hunt for presents and provisions – the so-called turkey run. Whilst we’ve still to purchase a bird for the table, our traditional seasonal dining extravaganza is set in stone. Yesterday and today – the initial two days – always features a baked ham, and there’s no shortage of eggs to accompany it. I had assumed the chickens – the egg production machines – would have dried up by now, however, if anything they’ve turned up the volume. When I opened up this morning it was still pitch black, blowing a gale and driving rain. But as soon as the hatch goes up they’re off, splashing through the pools of water, feathers flapping in the wind – it’s like an old-fashioned burlesque show.

Thursday, December 20

School dinners weren’t really like this

I must make the effort to have an early night. You sit gazing into the dying embers, too comfortable to get up, too lazy to climb the stairs. Before you know it, it is morning and…once more into the breach. Places to go and things to do! Hopefully none of today’s duties includes a lunch commitment. Wednesday’s was an old fashioned four-hour affair at a local establishment that continues to win plaudits, and rightly so. You are seated around benches of eight and share the table d'hôte. Even here in rural Devon I found myself the sole Englishman amid a horde of Celts. Really good food, you couldn’t fault a thing. I ate all that was featured on the menu including all three afters. A school-dinners atmosphere is reinforced by the oleaginous steamed-pudding and jug of custard. You keep telling yourself it’s only once a year and wash it down with a flagon of cider or bottle of the local vino. The BMA wouldn’t approve.

Wednesday, December 19

Wellies are back, big time

Misery of the floods returns … A fair amount of rain has fallen in recent days; the back route out is under water to hub height. The Met Office recently described our weather as almost tropical. They repeatedly tell us that one-fifth of the month’s rain fell in a day, but it’s the same story every week. If our rainfall pattern averages itself out I calculate we should remain dry from now until 2021.

Killjoys

Too many of us are eating unhealthy meals! The medical mafia seemingly does its best to annoy most everyone these days: but then I guess that’s what special interest groups are for. Even yesterday’s Times leader-column made reference to their latest promulgation on public health. I’m sure if doctors had their way the government would hang banners from our dining-room walls come Christmas Day warning about the perils of indulgence. I must admit to a certain excess in recent weeks. Giles Coren was reviewing one of the old stomping grounds in the weekend press...As great as these establishments are, however, I doubt we’ve eaten better than this past twelve months. It’s primarily down to the availability of local produce – along with our making the time to prepare, cook and eat the food. Cupboard shelves groan under the weight of partridge and quail, venison and lamb, cheese and chutneys. And we’ve visited some excellent restaurants, too – tapas, pies and cobblers are just a selection of the memorable dishes from this month’s excursions. As The Thunderer reminds us, eating is a pleasure as well as a guide to the state of our health. I’ve no doubt that growing up in post-war Britain had a major influence on my generation’s relationship with food. Damn we were hungry kids.

As with dogs …

Sprouts aren’t just for Christmas.

Sunday, December 16

No more woolly jumper

It turns out the enigmatic Sarah Lund is really Dirty Harry in disguise. Those ubiquitous international surveys we see so much of portray Denmark as one of the happiest countries in the world: but you wouldn’t suspect it from The Killing. Whilst everyone appears to live well and enjoys a relatively comfortable lifestyle, apart from the odd night at the Tivoli Gardens and an occasional bottle of Tuborg our European cousins appear to have little fun in their lives. I wonder to what extent these ordered Scandinavian societies so beloved of our leftwing establishment really do encourage the duplicitous conformity exhibited by the drama’s central characters. It would be frightening to think the only recourse available to righteous and non-righteous alike is a gun.

Friday, December 14

Hardly a multicultural hotspot

Melanie McDonagh pops up in today’s Spectator Blog with another contribution towards the census-inspired immigration debate. I say debate but in truth the conversation remains limited to muttering from the sidelines. The notion that immigration is good and opposition openly racist seems too embedded to be seriously questioned – even by Ed Miliband. In truth I find it difficult to be become engaged by the subject, buried as I am deep in the Southwest. Yesterday’s Guardian has an application that provides feedback from the census. It appears that whilst our immediate neck of the woods continues to experience a level of migration from elsewhere in the UK, the black and Pakistani community has dwindled to just 12 from each group; and although residents of Indian descent have soared over the past ten years by 150% to 115, the number of Sikhs has declined to 5.

Thursday, December 13

Misanthropic, moi?

For whatever reason – seasonal distractions, works’ lunches, stocking up on supplies and buying presents – posts tend to dry up this time of year. I am also desperate to finish my reading list before a new batch lands on the desk. Real-life demands have a habit of screening the world beyond the homestead. When I do find time to catch up with the pointless and predicable, what passes for news merely reinforces my prejudices. As long as there’s bread in the freezer and a bottle of Balvenie to hand civilisation as reported can take a flying...

Tuesday, December 4

The Fear

I’ve finally managed to catch up with the start of last night’s four-part gangster fest on iPlayer. You can’t knock Peter Mullan: he does what it says on the tin – and does it very well. If Bradley Wiggins was watching he probably thinks he got off lightly. However…the script; the supporting actors, most of whom were dire; those stereotype Albanians? The Fear is to drama as the Turner Prize to art. Just because you are operating on a TV instead of a film budget it doesn’t mean the production has to be third-rate. What a wasted opportunity.

Jingle Bells

We received our first Christmas card yesterday, hallmarked Gatwick – the traditional South London exodus to Cyrus. It appears the one area off-limits to a cut in domestic expenditure is our propensity to jet off to somewhere warm when the mood takes us. One more news bulletin about the Duchess of Cambridge and I may join them. I’m supposed to procure a Yuletide tree this week and am finding it difficult to get into the mood. Methinks it’s time to dig out the festive CDs and mulled wine.

Monday, December 3

Black autumn mornings

It was wild in the wee hours; I take on a thirty-degree list when stumbling across the yard to open the chicken shack. If you’re into ghost stories this is the place to be on black autumn mornings. The haze that shrouds the moon and banshee cry of western winds...those countless spectral forms that rise to greet you from the dark. Conan Doyle must have felt the same, though our neighbour’s howling mutt is hardly blood curdling. Another week: the challenges begin anew.

Sunday, December 2

On the edge of absurdity

This guy’s a favourite, he seems to pop up in every film I watch. A man after my own heart: I also wish I could live life with cue cards…always providing I get to pick the person who writes them.

Saturday, December 1

No rain today

A pleasant day up on the bleached-out moor. A dark sky, and a stong enough wind to ensure the sleet stings your face and brings a tear to the eye.

Friday, November 30

Ten-bob apples

I love apples and appreciate times have changed, but ten-bob for an apple? In the old days you could have picked up the Stones latest single and downed a couple of pints on the way home. Then again we only earned four-quid a week.

Thursday, November 29

Chill and chillies

The sun has blazed down all day. By four this afternoon the outside thermometer registered -1º. The pond remained frozen and the frost unbowed. Roll on winter I say: a return to whisky and fruitcake snacks. That said it’s been an enjoyable day today. Full marks to the lunchtime red curry squid served up at Mrs G’s favourite Thai restaurant. It took forty minutes for me to work my way through a modest bowl of nuclear-strength rubbery bits … It seems there’s plenty to chew on with the issue of Leveson’s report. Say what you like about our newspapers, rather the reptiles than a world ordered by a bunch of sanctimonious prigs such as Lord Justice Leveson. It says a lot about contemporary Britain when the leader of the liberal party urges a leash for the press. Someone has to piss on them. In the absence of stocks and an ample supply of rotten fruit & vegetables, dipsticks such as Clegg are one of the reasons our press exists. You can no more control the actions of journalists, bankers and politicians than you can the feral beasts that flit about the homestead – and I’ve to be persuaded you’d want to.

All change

What a beautiful morning, a return to our pastel-coloured skies. Outside is still and quiet for a change, only the rustle of a lone hen pheasant as it waddles through brittle autumn leaves. A rising sun has already set to work on the frosted ground. A scene ripe for metaphors and clichés.

Tuesday, November 27

Commiseration from the big man

The Prime Minister dropped by this morning to commiserate with our local flood victims. He did the necessary furrowed brow and proffered a round of handshakes before leaping back onto his helicopter and disappearing into the murk. Bless his heart he even wore a fleece to blend in with the rest of us – no posh boys here. As it happens the rain looks to have disappeared north. The north has sent us a raw wind in exchange. Still it’s nice to get out however grey the outlook. A hearty soup for supper this evening, courtesy of the weekend’s roast chicken.


You can see the effect that damp has on our environment in the growth that afflicts the trees and buildings.

Sunday, November 25

Zealous boredom

Needless to say yesterday’s dried out clothing was soppin’ within an hour of my waking this morning. But enough of rain...though the storms currently battering Devon are impossible to ignore I’m in danger of sounding like Eric Olthwaite’s cousin from down south. And I had so many plans for this weekend, none of which involved waterproof clothing. Whilst there are always jobs around the house to take care of, damn it, it’s Sunday! Years ago nothing happened on Sundays; nowadays it can be our busiest day of the week. That said, life has become a tyranny. You continually feel obliged to ‘do’ something – even if all else fails there’s always a walk or a diverting book. Zealous contemplation might be sweet but just sitting and ‘thinking’ brings on a guilt complex. I feel as though I’m slacking. It’s also scary. There might be nothing there when I flip the switch; worse, it opens a door on that scary existential shit you’d rather not know about. Thankfully I have a high boredom threshold. Drying paint and I are old friends.

Saturday, November 24

Don’t you just hate it when

I thought to sneak out for the papers before the real heavy stuff arrived. As I slammed the door a downpipe detached itself from the front of the homestead and toppled into the yard. Nothing for it but to drag my ladder from the shed and shin up the building. It’s up there with most of the other fun things in life: fiddling with outside plumbing whilst the rain lashes down. Nine in the morning and I’m already on my second change of clothing.

Friday, November 23

Worse (weather) to come

Occasionally a meal excels. Some time back, on one of our trips to Malaga, we ate a fish dish that was so far removed from the day-to-day norm as to become a yardstick for everything since. Tonight’s fish pie ran it close. Although the accompanying bottle of Antonio Barbadillo’s Manzanilla doubtless enhanced the experience, as a Friday supper it was something special – and a gallant attempt on Mrs G’s part to compensate for our dismal weather, to introduce a little Andalusia sunshine into the homestead. Given tomorrow’s forecast maybe I should wheel out the barbeque?

Thursday, November 22

Celebration season continues

As today is Mrs G’s birthday I’ve been obliged to suspend work in order to quaff champagne and nibble on shrimp and water cress butteries. How the other half live eh? Tomorrow it’ll be back to porridge and stovies. Actually the food stakes haven’t been too bad in recent days. Our anniversary steak & kidney pudding was outstanding. Unlike the claret it served a second day. Monday night’s rogan josh was also a treat – Michael Pandya has been a trusted source of recipes since we acquired his Complete Indian Cookbook in the early ’80s. The subsequent evening’s calves liver and sautéed potato has always been a favourite. There is a lot of history/Italian restaurants tied to the dish. It is a constant challenge, coming up with something interesting every day. We eat in cycles, and still resort to pub/café meals in the search for different – something new. Our triumphs and disappointments are part of the fun. Whilst nostalgia for restaurants/haunts of old remains I suspect much of it reflects the spirit of those times rather than the cuisine. Nowadays we’d probably turn our nose up at a great deal of what we ate. Then again, given much of everything we currently eat and drink comes served with a government health warning, you could argue we lost the shine from most of life’s pleasures long ago. Thankfully the phrase ‘take a flying fuck’ remains dear to my heart (and stomach).

Wednesday, November 21

Temporary ceasefire

In the weather, that is … Roads were closed across the county yesterday as water poured off the moor and out of fields. A month’s worth of rain in 36 hours. Today, however, was sunshine and blue skies – although you wouldn’t want to be on the Dart River in a canoe. It’s only a temporary lull, apparently. After completing my chores I managed to sneak off for a jaunt through the mire under cover of a large flock of fieldfares. Yellow brain fungus and assorted lichens are about as colourful as the place gets at this time of year, always excepting the new jumper Mrs G. has knitted me – it’s certainly a hit at the Dog & Duck. Outside of the horsey crowd local fashion is not as staid as you’d imagine. We have our fair share of bohemian/ hippy/artist types, and you’d be surprised at the inventiveness that goes into accessorizing wax jackets and wellington boots. There’s also a sprinkling of well-heeled ladies from a bygone age with a taste for Caroline Charles. An old buddy rang last week with news that number one daughter had landed a paid internship with one of the major international fashion houses. Ordinary can be good, but as Di Matteo has discovered it’s not much of a game plan.

Tuesday, November 20

Marmite and our emasculated culture

I like it, it was spread on this morning’s toast. Tastes evolve however, and too much of the same thing, variety, etc ... In spite of myself I sometimes listen to the Andrew Marr show on Sundays. He comes across as Michael Gove’s older brother, inhabiting that same supercilious air. Don’t get me wrong I don’t dislike the lad – either of them – it’s just that, on occasion, for devilment, you find yourself wanting to back the motor over his scooter. I guess the attraction of Marr lies in the guests he attracts – most appear capable of reading and writing, are grown up. Sometimes during the week I watch Sky or BBC’s breakfast show. It’s like eavesdropping on a staff-room conversation. Even the men pretend to be girls. Little wonder we have midlife crises.

I’ve just return from another venture outside. The yard is under inches of water and there’s a raging torrent passing the back door. Having done my duty, clearing fallen branches from the lane and rescuing the chickens, I am back for another gallon of tea. What with the hill fog and low cloud the moor looks black and forbidding.

Normal service

It might have been wet overnight, like sleeping beneath a waterfall, but the temperature is almost tropical – into double figures. Last November was the second-warmest on record for the southwest and this one isn’t doing too badly. To think I used to be irritated by the flight path of early morning arrivals from Boston and Johannesburg. Here the roar of the wind as it bludgeons its way through surrounding trees would drown out a squadron of GR4s. That said rather the homestead than the chicken shack at the bottom of the yard. The hens’ puffed up finery is more akin to drowned rats.

Friday, November 16

A British Classic

Even someone as enthusiastic about food as yours truly would have difficulty justifying the number of television programmes dedicated to cooking and eating. Floyd was fun, but Stein became a boor and too many of the others are excessively camp, crass or self-indulgent. That said Clarissa Dickson Wright can be a chuckle, and though more a travelogue I enjoyed Locatelli’s jaunt around Sicily with Graham-Dixon. Michel Roux’s recent BBC Four episode on Escoffier was interesting as I knew next to nothing about the legendary French chef, particularly his part in establishing D’Oyly Cart’s London Savoy. I can’t quite recall the last time we ate there. I think Angela Hartnett was cooking. However I do remember I ordered steak & kidney pudding. It was the only occasion I’ve eaten this British classic since my bachelor days, and that one came in a Fray Bentos tin. The Savoy version was also a disappointment, more suited to a dolls’ house than the table of a grand restaurant. Ever since I have attempted to persuade Mrs G. to cook a proper job … and it’s taken until this latest anniversary of ours to have my wish realized. All I have to do is find a bottle of something suitable to accompany it. It was thirty-nine years ago today we tied the knot. I was hung over and it was snowing, bitterly cold. Britain was in recession, the public sector on strike, inflation had risen to 8.4% and the television sitcom Last of the Summer Wine began its first series run on BBC One. Seems like yesterday.

Wednesday, November 14

In the eye of …

We were up town yesterday, to Exeter, running errands and buying necessary supplies. It always brings out the Victor Meldrew in me, being thrown back into the swarm. I can’t help it. Biting your tongue proves as necessary in the real world as on the internet. More so as a casual remark in the wrong place often leads to far more than a groveling Monbiot-style apology ... It’s tempting to believe society in general has become as polarized as our politics appears to be. Yet on reflection the vast majority of people – as with our clone-like city centres – appear much as a muchness. In the absence of real beauty it’s often the ugly and garish that provides the colour.

Tuesday, November 13

Falling trees

I’m a lumberjack an’ I’m ok… There are a couple of guys wielding chainsaws out in the yard. Two of our neighbour’s sixty-foot pines have been judged unsound and the homestead is in danger, so down they come. The lads’ dress sense appears reasonably sound; as long as they don’t come knocking on the door asking for buttered scones.

Monday, November 12

Restoring trust with a fizzy-pop man

Old Farts are forever regaling us with how much better and more fun it was in the old days. However, contrast Andrew Neil’s eulogy for Sir Alistair Burnet with today’s televised interview by the BBC’s new director general, Tim Davie.

Chalk and cheese

George Entwistle’s ignominious departure, and Remembrance Day – a reminder of what constitutes bravery and leadership, coincide with yet another book on Churchill (reviewed in the Telegraph by Charles Moore). Perhaps the lesson for Entwistle’s replacement at the BBC is the one Moore makes of John Major: He was mild-mannered, collegiate and keen on the orderly despatch of business. He came as a huge relief after 11 and a half years of Margaret Thatcher. But she had led, and he did not. And so, after a bit, others did not follow him.

Sunday, November 11

Perspective

…you are a self important idiot who has positioned the art of cooking up there with fighting in the trenches. It’s not. It’s cooking. I do it, you do it and my 90-year-old nan does it. It’s just cooking.” Celebrity chefs, don’t you just love ’em. Then again on the scale of pretentiousness they come well down the list. As it happens I'm a bit fussy about crab starters myself. Not that they are likely to feature on our current menu. Last night’s supper was a reflection of the prevailing damp chill: braised beef – a mixture of shin and oxtail. Rib-sticking stuff, it took a bottle of Rumpole’s best to wash it down.

Saturday, November 10

Freedom to say whatever, or toast?

BBC’s Newsnight appoint Jack Duckworth as their new editor! What have we got to lose, say’s Director General Entwistle, it couldn’t get any worse. Not only did we we turn a blind eye to the glaringly obvious; in our arrogance we became complacent about the way our people pull the wool over the plebs’ eyes … Of course the downsides to this – and I wouldn’t like to minimize the degree of Schadenfreude we all feel over the BBC’s discomfort – is the moral advantage that Parliament will assume in the post-Leveson climate. As young Nelson says in The Spectator, when it comes to liberty, British governments of whatever stripe are little different to their counterparts in North Korea, Iran or China.

Friday, November 9

Return of an icon

Some time back a good friend I’d grown up with and who was an apprentice saddle-maker gifted me a belt he had made. The belt was a thing of beauty and lasted long after my youthful waist outgrew the number of holes. Unfortunately along the way it went missing, and it has taken until today to find a replacement.

Clive Dunn has sold his last sausage

I never did get Dad’s Army. Humour is one of the most transient of art forms: if you don’t catch it at the right moment, you probably never will. There’s probably an element of truth in Lewis’s contention, albeit conventional wisdom says great comedy like great art, transcends the generations. I’m not sure Fools and Horses travelled well; Tommy Cooper will always be hilarious. Although most of what passes for contemporary comedy is lost to boomers, I doubt they spend time chuckling at the thought of Mrs Slocombe’s pussy or wondering what happened to the Likely Lads. Rigsby still conjures a smile; the Navy Lark always will.

Thursday, November 8

Ignoring the arts

London's galleries, theatres and concert halls will be left half empty if the Government excludes arts subjects from the English Baccalaureate, ministers were warned today. I follow the argument but not the logic. London restaurants are unlikely to remain empty because the Roux brothers have been omitted from the curriculum. The arts are important to all of us and we rightly value them so, right behind our having to earn a living, paying the rent and feeding the family. It’s a trite and common observation I know but I wonder if the current high level of graduate unemployment has something to do with the subjects studied at university: Journalism, Sociology, English & American Literature…? Most of the lad’s in the twenty to thirty-something age group that I know have studied engineering, medicine, physics and computer science at graduate level, or pursued a traditional apprenticeship. None appear to want for a job. The arts, like fine wine and haute cuisine, they are discovering along the way.

There’s more to cycling than…

… being knocked off your bike. Congrats to my longtime colleague and the rest of the gang who cycled 550km from Nairobi, Kenya to the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania raising money for MacMillan Cancer Relief. I’m sure the £205k will be put to good use.

Hidden gems on television

I relish the occasional afternoon skive, a snatched black and white film on the box. I thought I’d seen all of Powell’s films but the lad’s ’37 debut feature The Edge of the World had passed me by. It stars Private Fraser back when he was a serious player. Ok so the acting is a little wooden for today’s taste and the accents wander, however, you can’t deny some great images. Shetland fashion at that time appears heavy on reefer jackets, dark woollen clothing and Bradley Wiggins sideburns. Most popular pastimes were pipe smoking, fiddle playing, making babies and climbing cliffs. I doubt there’s anywhere left in the UK that can boast such a mono-ethnic culture.

Daily reminders…

…that Christmas is in on the horizon. More visits from white-van man, clementine segments on my breakfast cereal. Yesterday was Stir up Wednesday (we don’t do Sundays). The smell of reconstituted dried fruit and licorice in the kitchen has given way to the aroma of Jamaica’s finest, as Mrs G’s puddings sit marinating in dark rum. Not as fashionable as days gone bye but it remains a wonderful drink – an excellent accompaniment to the lady’s curried goat.

Normal service is resumed

Traditional drizzle at the back of six this morning, discovering sheep that arrived under cover of darkness. An early morning call from a tanker delivering fuel to the neighbour, their Land Rover already on the move. It smells of wood smoke our side of the trees. Yesterday the ridge was the colour of pale straw, this morning the gorse and Black Galloways have disappeared beneath a blanket of fog. Brooding dark crows sit humpbacked in the branches around me. Ploughing along the lane has attracted lots of ’em – and I mean lots, more a massacre than a murder. It’s thought by some that to see one crow is unlucky; to see two, good fortune...

Wednesday, November 7

My brain has become a Sisyphean fantasy

Cattle grazing above us on the moor. Given the weather these last twelve months I find myself pathetically grateful for rare occasions like this morning when the sun hove into view. There will doubtless come a time (hopefully many years from now) when I find myself gazing wistfully out of a window and recalling these halcyon days, back when I still had the time and energy to while away life doing nothing more taxing than pushing endless barrow loads of fallen leaves and sundry autumn debris across uneven muddy ground to my ever expanding repository for rotting organic matter. Something of a metaphor for life at the coal face.

Tuesday, November 6

Full house

It now gets dark at five and yet all of the chickens are laying. If this carries on we’ll have to give the eggs away. There are only so many omelettes even I can eat. As a financial investment chickens are on a par with holiday homes in the Mercia region. If you factor the initial cost of the birds, the coop and electric fencing (the electricity and land they roost on), the sacks of assorted, high-priced feed and the vet’s fees…Damn it, I can buy eggs at the Quik-E-Mart for less than two-quid a half-dozen. If you were tell me the eggs from Mrs G’s flock costs two-quid apiece I wouldn’t contradict you. Gudgeon’s signature eight-egg Spanish-tortilla probably comes in more expensive than our neighbour’s fillet steak.

The Brummie accent

I’m all for faggots and peas, but Adrian Chiles as a sex icon for women of a certain age is reason enough to lose the accent. And Noddy Holder’s from the Black Country rather than Brummagem. There are subtle differences to the accent. In the old days we came from Staffordshire, now it's the friggin’ West Midlands.

Monday, November 5

Grey hair...it rarely works

Have you noticed how grey-haired guys surreptitiously dye their hair auburn in an effort to disguise the advancing years? Whilst the ploy rarely works it does help you to blend in with the bracken.

Hunt a robin…

…or a wren, never prosper man or boy. A quiet and calm foggy morning, neither breeze nor rain, just the faint echo of the A38 some four miles distant and a magpie’s hoarse staccato warning of cats and foxes on the prowl. Whilst blackbirds and redbreasts command the yard a tiny wren has appeared amongst the robins to ferret out insects at the base of the stone wall ... The ponies have left us, relocating to a more benign environment in advance of winter, to seek out the company of another stallion.

Sunday, November 4

Bright and breezy

It’s not exactly cold this morning – a comfortable two degrees, however, when you are up on the hill and the wind is brought to bear, that hail doesn’t half sting. Accompanying little sis and her family to this weekend’s Grand Prix suddenly seems attractive. That said I bet they weren’t dining on kippers and spuds last night. Damn it was good, although the homestead smelled like the hold of a laid up Lowestoft trawler. There doesn’t seem to be as much smoked fish on sale these days, bloaters and smokies used to be thick on the ground.

Friday, November 2

Dream on

Dennis MacShane embezzled expenses because MPs aren’t paid a living wage, says Dan Hodges of the Telegraph. £68k and a second home isn’t enough. I’m sorry, son, it won’t wash. I recall having a beer with a high profile MP way back when and it was much the same story. He was imploring us to put an MP on the payroll as many were living on the bread line. As it happens I’m not adverse to extra-curricular activities providing it’s declared. I think we all agree that engaging with the wider world is beneficial to our representatives. However, for some, the £100k that Hodges suggests would not be enough. By virtue of their position they mix in exalted circles, and it rubs off on them. I’d be embarrassed to discover what the likes of the Kinnock family and John Prescott has milked from the public purse. Even now the latter is looking to supplement his Minister’s pension and Lords expenses with a Police Commissioner’s stipend. People don’t enter politics for financial gain but they are human like the rest of us. If you’re a wrong ‘un it’s a candy store.

The blame game

It’s dispiriting, reading the papers, having to view the world through the filters and bile of the media. Then again, whilst most of us like to indulge our tribal instincts, we baulk at the prospect of causing real offence – calling a spade a spade. And in part it’s what led to our current economic difficulties. Hard choices were avoided so as not to upset anyone. There was nothing we couldn’t fix by throwing money at the problem. As we now begin to address the challenges our initial response is to look for someone to blame. Gordon Brown and Fred Goodwin were useful fall guys, much of the remainder we’d somehow love to pin on Jimmy Savile and Garry Glitter … or bigots. Conversely, I can’t help but be impressed by the ‘can do’ response of New Yorkers to their current difficulties. With so many of our old foes on the rise you’d think we would wise up.

Wednesday, October 31

Still scoffin’

Whilst there’s often whimsical exaggeration to my consumption of foodstuffs, you do need to keep scoffing to survive this environment. I like to think I eat healthily, lots of fruit and vegetables, gallons of spring water and perhaps not so much red meat as the old days. That said I graze in fits and starts, on whim and fancy. There can be a run of braised beef and oxtail, before Mrs G counters with a succession of fish and chicken dishes. Game is popular just now…lamb is never out of fashion. And once a month I eat vegetarian. The first half of this week has featured lots of bread and cheese. The bread part has included mince pies, date and walnut loaf, and wedges of apple cake; cheese is local and varied. The mince pies are from our local farm shop and the finest examples I’ve eaten since Linda’s Moyhill specials (you didn’t bake enough).

It’s the way he would have wanted to go

The aging lothario that rules out in the yard spent all of last week bonking two of the mares. This morning I found him prostrate on the deck, unable to stand. It looks like he’s sired his last. I guess it comes to us all, as Kauto Star will doubtless discover.

Tuesday, October 30

The shed

You will never see it this empty or tidy again.

Beer and fried eggs

I was looking at a series of landscape photographs in a local gallery this afternoon and surprise, surprise, they were quite good. Most contemporary photography in this neck of the woods is crap or clichéd. That said, art, like food, features pretty high on the southwest landscape. You could probably walk to a half-dozen artist’s studios in the immediate area. Over the last several years there has also been a rise in local furniture makers, although most of what I’ve seen – including today – has been exhibition pieces retailing for up to several thousand and not the sort of stuff to trouble IKEA’s sales … Truth to tell (and talking of clichés) nothing beats the all too brief half-hour of a morning when the sun comes up and the trees and hedgerows are saturated in that warm light which exaggerates autumn’s colours ... But then I would be ignoring the warming taste of Meridian’s India Pale Ale accompanying tonight’s ham and eggs. The chickens continue to lay as if there’s no tomorrow.

Monday, October 29

Nutter

Much against my better judgment I was tempted to give Millipede the benefit of the doubt when addressing the subject of mental illness. Until, that is, he threw in the Clarkson jibe. A cheap shot, pure political point scoring (drinking buddy of Cameron and Rebecca Wade) and a missed opportunity on his part. One generation in and the lad’s still a prick. I’ve just doubled my not insubstantial bet at the bookies for 2015.

EU President?

Tony Blair wants a directly elected president for the EU. You can imagine the voting, viz, the Eurovision Song Contest style of voting … ‘United Kingdom: nuls points’. Tony, Tony, we understand it well enough you plonker.

Another disaster movie

Tracking the storm that is about to hit America has become compulsive viewing. Where’s Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis when you need them?

Update: BBC’s weather girl: Thousands of square meters are likely to be affected.

Drinking impairs brain cell formation

Everyone thinks they’re a smart-arse when they are young. Years later we cling to the idea we were, once. Despite the self-inflicted damage, some drinkers see it as a duty, a public service.

Chicken feed

Walk into the pen carrying leftover pasta or chopped cold baked potatoes and it’s like a scene from Jurassic Park. Ninja chickens ain’t in it: the little sods hover at chest height, savaging anything they can get their beak into.

General Maintenance

It wouldn’t be a Monday if I didn’t spend an hour or two rodding the drains. I have just been swopping notes with a neighbour who was likewise engaged and we are both impressed with what lives beneath the ground. You read stories about people flushing exotic pets down the sewer but all we have managed to come up with today is three live green frogs and two dead brown rats.

Trekking has minority appeal

It was wild out on the moor yesterday and this morning it hadn’t improved; hardly Frankenstorm I know, but it was guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away. There are plenty of youngsters tramping through the mud in pursuit of DofE glory, a number are bivouacked over the back. It would be interesting to know if the participants represent a cross section of our schools system. Girls appear to match male participants in terms of numbers; however, while you see an occasional ethnic, Asian primarily, black participants are as rare as hot summer days. Minibuses originate from Orpington rather than Lewisham. I’m assuming of course that everyone agrees outward bound activities are a necessary component of what’s considered to be a rounded education, one of the confidence-building activities that enable kids to look corporate recruiters in the eye ... Although the jobs market for school leavers is reportedly dire, you read of blue-chip organizations such as Williams F1 struggling to find suitable applicants for their apprenticeships. Are schools really that poor at teaching basic maths? Part of the reason I came late to literature is that, as school kids, the girls sat in one corner reading Jane Austen while we sat in the opposite corner clutching our log tables.

Friday, October 26

Changing of the guard

As a teenager I never got Jimmy Savile. The lad was always an embarrassment when fronting TOTP. I never understand who the BBC thought he appealed to with that fruitcake act of his? Rather belatedly, television (or rather their audience research) has determined eccentricity has had its day. Although AA Gill may beg to differ, it’s another indication of changing social mores.

Changing the clocks

David Runciman and his longer hours of daylight. This is exactly the sort of thing that pisses us off down here at this time of year.

Methinks it is time to switch on the heating

I know, I know … and it isn’t even November. But damn, it is cold out there; soon be time to break out the woolly vests. Part of the fun of autumn is raking and disposing of humungous quantities of fallen leaves, only to wake the following morning and discover overnight winds have done their worst. I guess it beats a trip to the gym, and probably keeps me out of trouble. On the plus side the mud appears to have dried a little. Unbelievably I found it necessary to cut the grass. Hopefully my last waltz around the grounds with a mower this side of next spring. I bet James Bond doesn’t do this sort of shit.

Thursday, October 25

No one knows how the future will pan out

Hess to sell its interests in the Beryl area fields. A late good friend and mentor fronted the engineering end of the Beryl field development during the 1970s. Back then it was not uncommon to view the North Sea as a relatively short term phenomenon. It was inferred that, by the mid-1980s, whatever could be discovered would have been discovered and developed, and be operated by a relatively small number of shore-based personnel. If you were a young lad, career prospects had something of an ephemeral feel. Decades later the Beryl area is still going strong, and it is the sons of those young lads who now work offshore on the rigs and platforms. Back then the SNP crashed and burned. I wonder if their legs are any stronger this time around?

The Lighthouse

Last night I escorted Mrs G to the Opera. It was a Scottish ghost story with a maritime flavour so it ticked a couple of boxes. Actually Peter Maxwell Davies’ chamber opera is more Islands than Highlands but we won’t split hairs. Although the production was limited to a cast of three and had a relatively short time span it was well worth the trip to Exeter’s Northcott Theatre. The Lighthouse has been extensively reviewed in the papers this past couple of weeks, and I’ve little to add excepting the obvious relevance of a turn of the century ghost story to contemporary life. Mansfield Park was playing last week and Mrs G would have had to come up with a lot more than a couple of pints of IPA and packet of crisps to get me there. The Flannan story, however, reminds me of a typical day at the office – large portions of guilt, obsession and demonic vision. Life writ large, with a BBC style cover up to reinforce the point. What I would comment on, apart from the excellence of the ice cream served at the interval, was Northcott's audience demographic. For a theatre located at the heart of one of the largest university campuses in Britain and one that’s just made it into the top ten, I was surprised to note that 90% of the punters were aged between sixty and ninety – with seemingly more towards the higher end of the spectrum. When the guy in the next seat bent over his programme with a Sherlock Holmes-size magnifying glass, you began to suspect that the audience itself was comprised of ghosts from the past.

Wednesday, October 24

Christmas already

I appreciate it is only October (although it hasn’t prevented the local garden centre from pigging out on Santa Clauses and reindeer), however, today’s special at the Whistlestop was a treat: a Christmas-themed lunch of roast turkey, those little sausages wrapped in bacon, savory stuffing and the full supporting cast. An absence of funny hats and Brussels sprouts didn’t seem to bother the clientele. There is a good butcher’s adjacent to the cafe, so specials tend to reflect whatever has reached its sell-by date. Steak-day is always value for money. I suspect I’ve eaten more roasts this past twelve months than in the previous twenty years – and still only 130lbs (I think I’ve got worms). This afternoon I laid nine critter traps without once severing a finger. Another record!

Even Wednesdays sometimes feel like Mondays

The mild weather clings to us for another day. But for the rustle of falling leaves, outside it is silent. No cock pheasant to greet me this morning? I assume the ground is carpeted with autumn debris as the day has yet to penetrate the fog. Land Rovers trundle by in the dark, en route to work. I light the fire and make tea…wrestle a chicken to ground and syringe gloopy medicine down its throat. Chop wood. Some mornings, usually in the depths of winter, I question our motives – what brought us here. Then you read the daily news and a spring returns to your step.

Tuesday, October 23

Younger generations screwed

Mervyn King’s cheery prognosis, reported in the Financial Times. The Bank governor urged Britain to be “patient” in the face of a difficult global economic adjustment, which may force younger generations to “live under its shadow for a long time to come”. On the plus side they are unlikely to bump into Jimmy Savile.

Usual run around

A brief pit stop at the garage to rectify a problem with the motor; on to the vet – an injection for one of the chickens (which duly crapped on the back seat of motor); before calling in at the dentist to have a crown cemented back into place; … and duly finishing with a pint at the Dog & Duck, and a packet of crisps for the chicken.

The return of George Smiley

Oh! what a tangled web we weave…When first we practice to deceive! Given the potential for a German hegemony in Western Europe, and the choice of our new best friends, I would like to believe Cameron and the boys are a lot more switched on than the reptiles our media allude to. BP’s drift from the Gulf of Mexico to Moscow suggests a changing of the guard, a partnership that – if you believe the press – was helped in no small part by a growing rapprochement between our Prime Minister and the Kremlin. Right now the future is as clear as the fog obscuring the homestead. I watched BBC Four’s Timeshift last night, The British Army of the Rhine. It was barely a generation ago but very much another time, another world. Most UK voters probably take as much an interest in foreign affairs as the American viewers who watched yesterday’s presidential debate. Until it jumps up and bites you, that is.

Monday, October 22

Proper Job Chilli

I’ve experimented enough over the past thirty-odd years to appreciate what works, and what works for me is taste over heat. Although there’s an element of pot luck to every batch I rarely turn out a dud. Dartmoor Chilli Farm is a boon to local enthusiasts. They produce a wide variety of fresh and dried chillies. I pulp a selection of their fresh chillies (several) with a hand blender, together with an onion and a couple of garlic cloves. This is fried off in a little oil and mixed into three-pounds of chopped brisket that has been browned in batches (mince is for babies and octogenarians with no teeth). To this I add a tin of chopped tomatoes and tablespoon of tomato puree, a half-bottle or more of Proper Job IPA, teaspoon of paprika, a tablespoon of cumin and peppercorns (pre heated in a frying pan and ground), two bay leaves, a teaspoon of dried oregano and sprig of fresh thyme. Finally I bung in a carrot for sweetness and colour, salt to taste, and a couple of dried (rehydrated) poblano and chipotle chillies for depth of flavor (licorice and smoke). Slowly bring to a simmer then leave to bubble for two or three hours. Cool overnight before skimming off any excess oil. Reheat (don’t boil), taste check (again), and if necessary (the beef should have begun to break down) thicken with a little corn flour. I used to buy masa flour but it was always past its sell by date by the time I got around to using it. Whilst some would add cayenne to the mix I prefer a few drops of Tabasco sauce if required, as a condiment. Although this might not be the greatest chilli in the world, it’s a vast improvement on the ubiquitous kidney bean infested chilli con carne – and much more nutritious than a salad.

Saturday, October 20

Scottish culture

Buckfast and tablet ale. Music to the ears of the BMA.

Cooking up a storm

You’d think it would be difficult to best yesterday’s fare, but that would be to disregard the delights of cold sliced lamb atop a mound of locally grown watercress coated with Mrs G’s special dressing (not to mention my pomegranate, parsley and garlic yogurt). A good part of the morning was devoted to the latest batch of ‘Proper Job Chilli’, however, we’ll come to that later.

Friday, October 19

When worlds collide


Born in a cross-fire hurricane may be wistful exaggeration, however, the Stones 50 year documentary stands as a reminder of formative years. They say you remain grounded in the music that provided the soundtrack to your 17th year, and in my case this included Jumping Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man. A pretty lame cultural touchstone maybe, but then the contemporary alternative is what exactly?

Guns and barbeque

The neighbour was out last night shooting rabbits. Can’t say I’ve seen that many around this past month, unlike the pheasants which are thick on the ground (as you would expect at this time of year). Doubtless there’ll be plenty more guns out and about over the weekend. Given this is South Hams rather than North Devon I note a brace retails in the butcher’s for £7.50 rather than the more usual four or five quid. Mind you the local florist sells anemones for £8 a bunch! It’s a nice enough place but Knightsbridge it ain’t … There is a lot of ploughing underway across the slopes and yesterday’s gulls have given way to flocks of crows. If you ignore their pagan cawing the place is reasonably quiet, no wind to speak of. In fact as this is such a nice day I can’t help but fire up the barbeque. A shoulder of lamb is being prepared as I speak, boned out and stuffed with chorizo, breadcrumbs, thyme, rosemary, garlic and lemon.

Update: The lamb was outstanding. Red rice together with a chilli and mango salsa were perfect partners. Today has been one of those rare, close to perfect days. The coffee machine was returned and a new blend introduced. Best of all I caught the mole that has been causing me so much grief. During the course of this past month the little bugger’s undermined a significant section of the yard. I’m not talking a three-inch dia. tunnel so much as the little sod’s constructed a scaled model of London’s underground system. There are Jubilee lines to the fore, Circle and City lines way out to the extremities. Having tried four different traps I now know what works, and its relatives are toast.

Thursday, October 18

Britishisms

It appears the septics have sussed our lingo.

Woman’s Hour Power List

Alice Feinstein the editor of Woman’s Hour confirms that women excel in certain areas and in lots of jobs, but are crap at many other occupations.

England salvage a draw

Hey a point’s a point, though England’s ball possession remains risible. Maybe St George’s Park the newly opened national football centre will improve our almost non-existent skills on the ball. Sadly it will not be in my lifetime. Rooney, the forlorn hope, has failed to bridge the gap between outstanding club player and world-class international. It turned pear-shaped for me the moment Poland’s Domarski put the ball in the net.

Chicken shit bingo

At US$ 500 a square the California version sounds a bit rich; however, this sort of thing could work on a quiet night at the Dog & Duck, especially if Mrs G’s chickens received a cut for their participation. That said the visiting Brit cynic is probably right in regards to meeting with official approval.

To hide in plain sight

The look is broadly familiar, although some of us achieve anonymity more easily than others.

Wednesday, October 17

The secret of success

Find something you enjoy doing then keep practising until you become good at it.

Thomas Cromwell lives again

“You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize and two come along at once.” Good for the girl. She may not be the greatest prose writer of modern times as Stothard asserts, but I enjoyed both Wolf Hall and its predecessor, and am looking forward to the final part of the trilogy. It also means I can put off reading Will Self’s book for a while longer. A 400 page non-linear stream of consciousness novel about a misdiagnosed woman in a north London mental hospital, with no chapter divisions and almost without paragraph breaks, doesn’t exactly sound like a laugh a minute. I bumped into smiley when he was writing Umbrella; he had hidden himself away in a flat down the road that belongs to one of his mates.

Tuesday, October 16

So much for an early night

I spent the day hunting moles, wading in a field of mud, painting sheds (two coats) and running errands, knowing that at least tonight I would be prostrate on my sofa watching the footy. What a bunch of plonkers…

Pre match supper

High on the list of favourite autumn dishes are this evening’s lamb hearts, preferably stuffed with dates, apple and walnuts, before being braised in a suitably rich sauce. Thanks to celebrity chefs and their signature dishes, many of the old cuts that were once acquired from your local butchers for pennies have gone by the way. Fortunately sheep’s hearts, in fact hearts of any description, have yet to find general acceptance. These came my way from a neighbour who sends his animals to the abattoir and doesn’t even ask for the dodgy bits back. The only decision to make is whether to accompany the meal with a Chianti or Rioja.

Monday, October 15

Civilisation?

Following eight caffeine-free days (the coffee machine is in dock for its bi-annual service) we had little choice other than to venture up town for multiple cups of Columbian organic. After six years the jury is still out with regards to Exeter. The city has many good points. It is a thoroughly modern city, a mix of shiny shopping malls and well maintained municipal buildings, is surrounded by well ordered retail and industrial estates. However, the preponderance of well scrubbed students and its comfortable M&S-clad residents afford the city something of an updated Happy Days feel. John Lewis opened a store last week and that was very much true to type. Not knowingly undersold, but Selfridges it ain’t. I guess Exeter could be a clone of many other provincial cities throughout the UK…over time you could lose the will to live.

The ultimate adrenaline rush

As far as someone who craps himself when up on the roof of his shed is concerned, you can dismiss the Olympics, Ryder Cup and Grand Prix racing as trifling stuff. For me, Felix Baumgartner wins it for balls of the year. Of course then you go on to think of what it must be like to work in bomb disposal on a day to day basis.

Sunday, October 14

Sunshine brings out the crowds

A change of management at one of the local hostelries, resulting in much improved fare: presentation 4, execution 3.5, service 4. That’s a pretty good rating hereabouts. As it is that time of year they are serving Dragon’s Breath on tap; a hint of treacle, smoke and winter fruits. It worked well enough with the roast pork. There are lots of visitors in the area…busy roads. The moor is knee-deep in walkers; more canoeists that you can shake a stick at. I’ve settled for an afternoon snooze.

Overheard at next table between plonker and son/nephew: “Don’t aim too high: you risk disappointment.”

Saturday, October 13

The sage

I’m sitting here munching on a bowl of Mrs G’s pear and plum crumble and supping a glass of something warming that originated beneath the rugged peaks of Ben Rinnes. The focus of my attention, however, is directed at Russell's History of Western Philosophy. I seem to have been plodding through this particular tome for an age. In my defense I was sidetracked by something more interesting that dropped in my lap. Still, onwards and upwards…I’ve only a several chapters to go, having made it all the way to The Romantic Movement – Rousseau. What a bunch of pricks. Roll on Nietzsche and Marx: yes it’s that bad. Still, another box that had to be ticked…older and wiser, so they say.

Brass monkeys and crocks of gold

It’s not quite that cold, although last week’s welcome 16º has now degenerated to a bracing 6º. When out on the moor the wind chill emphasizes the change. Needless to say it’s wet; torrents r-us. And given I’d been running around like a blue-arsed fly this morning I was a touch knackered by the end of the walk. What with our trees thinning out and the new paint job you can spot mon repos from a mile or two out. From that distance it looked like a rainbow was touching down in the yard – a not an uncommon sight in this neck of the woods. I guess the £25 cheque in today’s post courtesy of Mr Premium Bonds could count as a crock of gold.

Foot in mouth

O how the mighty … Hoisted on their own petard is probably going it a bit strong, but, after the recent revelations that BBC personnel are an incestuous bunch of self-employed tax fiddlers who work, eat and sleep together, their self-righteous anti-Murdock anti-press campaign now appears but a distant memory, lost in a firestorm of child abuse. Last night’s Have I got news for you was an attempt to front it out by turning on fairly easy targets like the Daily Mail – and why not, you have to fight your corner – but I would imagine that, at least for the remainder of this parliament, their continuing to occupy the high moral ground will be seen as increasingly untenable.

Friday, October 12

Sustainable fishing

The latest Fishlove campaign appears more to my taste than Hugh’s Fish Fight.

Lunch break

It’s those little projects that turn out to be the most infuriating. Over the years I have lost count of the number of lavatory seats I’ve changed out. It is usually one of the first things you do when moving into a new home. Not that I’m particularly fussy, but there’s always one that offends the sensibilities. In our current residence, latrine number three contains a heavyweight mahogany job that was probably acquired in the early days of the last century when crappers moved indoors. It is a decidedly manky-looking piece of kit, and from the looks of it has seen more arses than the Palace of Westminster. Unscrewing its rusted nuts from their retaining bolts is in itself a health hazard, given what lurks in the darkened recesses. Of course even with usual soaking of MD-40 they never give; and as there is an insufficient gap, a hacksaw is useless. In the end I had to drill a series of holes through the back of the seat and chisel the bolts out. Fun days, eh? It’s difficult to get nostalgic over those outside thunder boxes of childhood days and the torn strips of newspaper nailed to the wall. This afternoon I am back on mole duty.

Thursday, October 11

More boring weather stuff

Just when you thought the rain was spent … It is horrendous this morning. Waterproof clothing and wellies help, are mandatory, but the wet stuff still penetrates. I wish it penetrated the ground but as that’s essentially sodden peat and impermeable rock there’s nowhere to go. On the plus side we do sit on relatively high ground and most of the torrent flows on past. Downhill doesn’t bear thinking about, and you don’t want to be out in the motor. Visibility remains intermittent, the mist comes and goes; tractors, quad bikes and livestock pass by unseen.

Tuesday, October 9

Solitude

It’s my favourite weather this morning: an all enveloping impenetrable mist with a dash of light drizzle. It affords that warm, seemingly divorced from the world, kind of feeling.

Pecking order … Mrs McG. returns from Ike Godsey’s with the usual supplies. I get a packet of Mackie’s haggis-flavoured crisps and two bottles of ale; the chickens a forty-quid tub of vitamin-enhanced treats.

Monday, October 8

Grammar schools and clever skinheads

John Redwood is exploring the role of grammars in our state education system. If there’s one thing that gets parents dander up, it is the subject of grammar schools. I should say ‘some’ parents, because – as in the recent comments about private school bursaries that go begging – little skinheads with St George’s Cross tattoos will almost certainly be excluded. They will be excluded from grammars not least because of their parents. What the TES article may or may not confirm is that behind every aspirational Asian or Afro-Caribbean child that competes for bursaries there is a committed, ambitious parent. If grammar schools were solely to help poor kids get a step on the ladder I might be less opposed to them, though I still think the State favouring one kid over another because he/she dropped lucky in the genetic stakes remains wrong. Unfortunately, I suspect that grammars are less about helping poor kids and more about assisting middle-class kids with pushy parents who don’t want to put their hands in their pockets. I note that Redwood talks about parents who are ‘not rich’ rather that poor. Hey, if a comprehensive is good enough for Millipede…

Icons of a British childhood…


… in today’s Guardian. Mine has to be the Buntline Special, from a personal armory that included spud guns, pop guns, cap pistols, water pistols and ray guns. Modern day child psychologists would probably have a field day, but back then it was very much Woody meets Buzz Lightyear.

Sandbags at the ready

Whilst it’s true to say we’ve had a bit of rain in recent times, this past couple of hours came close to breaking the record. The ground was already sodden; you literally sink into the yard. Anything that falls around the house has nowhere to go, and this morning came dangerously close to breaching the back-door. Given how the rain used to cascade through the rear entrance of South London Mansions, it feels just like the old days. More wet stuff is due over the coming week, so in my spare time I’m back clearing drains and guttering. At least the wet stuff keeps the chickens clean and ponies watered. The prospect of a return to dryer summers has been forecast by the University of Reading’s Professor Rowan Sutton, although I note his prediction is prefixed by the standard weather man/climate change scientist crap about forecasts and causal links being more a stab in the dark than anything we should take seriously.

Sunday, October 7

The next Archbishop of Canterbury, who cares?

I’m sitting here listening to Sky News, which leads with the church service in support of April Jones from St Peter’s church in Machynlleth. As comforting as the prospect appears I can’t bring myself to believe in a deity. That said it would be difficult to ignore the church’s position as one of the cultural touchstones of contemporary Britain. Whilst much has been made about our lack of faith, that as a nation of agnostics, atheists even, we see religion as more a source of trouble than comfort, if recent events are to be believed – whether April Jones, the murdered police women Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, or during such celebrations as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – the public’s appetite for demonstrations of public worship know no bounds. As a former marketing man I fail to understand how the church continually fails to tap into this seemingly sympathetic customer base, to push on what appears an open door. Far be it for me to give advice to the Church of England, but if they wish to attract more members, perhaps Williams’ replacement should at the least own a comb and razor, look a little less like one of the homeless and more like one of those user-friendly breakfast television presenters people appear to coo over.

Stereotype

You don’t like to do it, but…in the coffee shop this morning, all of the customers (couples, boomers) opened their Sunday newspapers, and, the women grabbed the style magazines, their husbands the motoring section.

Conversely, the environs of Totnes appear to contain the highest per capita number of Staffordshire Bull Terriers outside of the Black Country.

Same old, again

I won’t say it’s becoming tedious, blaming the boomers, but then I guess inter-generational strife is not exactly a new phenomenon. Boomers could argue that at least they’ve avoided the world wars which defined their parents and grandparents: although it wasn’t for the lack of trying, and it would be to ignore everything from Vietnam to Afghanistan. I continue to stand by my original premise that people, in general, get what they deserve, what they vote for. The fallout from our current economic difficulties – and I suspect it has hardly started – was a collective finger in the ear from both generations. If something looks too good to be true then it usually is. When some idiot tells you he’s abolished boom and bust and that borrowing to spend is a public virtue, you question his sanity – you don’t dive in. Yes we could have done a number of things better than we did. However, it appears the next generation want much of the same.

Friday, October 5

Tonight’s view from the office window

I’m glad I made it out on the hills yesterday as this afternoon was strictly for ducks. The mist has descended and there’s an autumnal feel in the air and on the ground. Another two inches of rain is due this evening. Instead of escaping I knuckled down and sifted through a heap of outstanding paperwork. I do my best to burn or recycle most of what passes across the table, but the necessity for a hard copy continues to cost more trees than our wood-burning stoves. As it’s Mrs G’s turn on the cooker, tonight is large portions of beef shin. What to you and me is braised beef started out as Elizabeth David’s take on Grillade des Mariniers du Rhône, was duly amended by Simon Hopkinson, then further enhanced by Mrs G. Whatever, it remains a favourite. And at three quid a pound doesn’t exactly break the bank, leaving more than enough for the accompanying ’93 Rioja. Coffee and galette des Rois for afters.

Thank god I’m not John Terry

As a consequence of my ‘just off the boat’ throwaway line in an earlier post, and courtesy of the world’s favourite economist, my daily readership count went from twelve to five hundred. It appears there’s nothing like the scent of bigotry to stir the blogosphere. Having followed the two subsequent threads it occurs to me that (a) there’s a lot of lads at their desks with too little to do, (b) for a select number of people, words and phrases mean what ‘they’ say they mean, and (c) whilst it would appear from the comments that we are all prejudiced in one manner or other, some people’s prejudice is somehow deemed to be righteous. I wouldn’t mind so much but I’d recently nominated Mo Farah as my man of the year and had taken to supporting big girls in blouses.

Thursday, October 4

Bullshit baffles brains

Anyone with a GCSE in maths could have averted this disaster, says Simon Calder, in the Indy. I suspect the West Coast rail debacle has less to do with arithmetic and is more about a lack of subject knowledge. I have no idea as to the qualifications and mean age of DfT staff, but suspect there are few in-house railway men with experience, nor even the sort of anorak-clad enthusiasts that spent their formative years collecting numbers on the end of wind-swept platforms. Having whiled away a good part of my life immersed in transport-related tender evaluations I would love to have been a fly on the wall. Over the years, empirical knowledge has given way to the most improbable and complex tick-box assessments imaginable. It has been driven in part by management’s need to demonstrate a scientific approach to the executive and other so-called stake holders. All too often this ‘cover my back’ procedure comes in the form of telephone-sized documents that discourage forensic inspection. It seems Branson’s impending court case has opened a lid on the emperor’s new clothes of current best practice.

Wednesday, October 3

And talking of Millipede…

It’s been a fun day. One of the hens underwent a prolapse, and I’ve spent half the day stuffing its gubbins back inside and smearing Preparation H across the pertinent parts. There are times when I seriously hanker after Quik-E-Mart’s ready packed produce. Ours are excellent eggs but there’s so many of them. A couple of days ago I cooked an eight egg Spanish-style tortilla and it hardly dented the stock. At least we won’t go hungry; and in truth what’s not to like about eggs, they are versatile. Which is more than you can say for the weather these days…global warming, don’t make me laugh. “And what would you like with your rain, sir?” I could say it is good for the garden; however, the moles have taken care of that.

Tuesday, October 2

Scalp: to sell something illegally

This evening, and for the umpteenth time, I watched the Martin Ritt adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel ‘Hombre’. It was purely coincidental that earlier in the day I did a walk-in at the Exeter Gallery and discovered they were running ‘Warriors of the Plains: 200 years of Native North American honour and ritual’. As someone who grew up on Louis L’Amour, JT Edson and Elmore Leonard, Westerns and related memorabilia still resonate. And as luck would have it Exeter reputedly holds one of the strongest collections of Native North American material in the country. In one case there was a rather fetching buckskin coat decorated with an array of scalp locks that I fondly imagined were the remains of Millipede and his cohort. Little more than one generation off the boat, never done an honest day’s work in his life, and on the strength of having attended a comprehensive school our lad’s invoking the one nation paean. No wonder we’ve lost interest.

Monday, October 1

Chicken run

When Mrs G. is striding around the grounds one of the hens has taken to flying up onto the good lady’s shoulder and performing the Long John Silver act. I hadn’t bothered clipping their wings, thinking the birds needed to stay agile in event of a fox attack. However, goaded in part by the neighbour’s pheasants that perch on the branches of surrounding trees, they’ve taken to soaring over both the electric fence and the paddock fence, and having it away on their toes. I guess it’s time to reach for the scissors.

Sunday, September 30

Harvest Moon

The brilliance of last night’s harvest moon cast an illusory mist across the yard and turned the trees a ghostly silver. Shadows moved amongst the rustling leaves whilst bats circled overhead. On the one hand a magical scene that, like Sandburg’s poem, conjured a thousand memories and pleasant introspection. Conversely, a set from Hammer: you could almost picture Christopher Lee emerging from the pond.

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions

Friday, September 28

The contradictions of sharing housework

‘Modern’ couples who share the housework are more likely to divorce…? “The survey appeared to contradict another recent one across seven countries including Britain that found that men who shouldered a bigger share of domestic responsibilities had a better sense of wellbeing and enjoyed a better work-life balance ... The researchers expected to find that where men shouldered more of the burden, women’s happiness levels were higher. In fact they found that it was the men who were happier while their wives and girlfriends appeared to be largely unmoved.” I doubt that cleaning the latrines is any man’s route to happiness, but if it leads to a quiet life then fair enough...a small price to pay. It might not put a smile on her face but it limits the grump factor. The giant caveat to this latest survey is that it’s Norwegian: and Scandinavians tend to inhabit a different planet.

Thursday, September 27

Nowadays we all have grey hair and loud shirts

This morning I accompanied Mrs G. for a traipse round Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. One of the current displays features Women in art: muses, models and artists, and includes work by John Waterhouse, Edgar Degas, Beryl Cook, Prunella Clough and Rose Hilton. If you are into surfing there’s also an exhibition exploring the sport’s evolution in the Southwest. As you would expect it features lots of surf boards, and includes a woodblock print of ‘The Wave’ by Katsushika Hokusai. Both displays are worth the time and effort. We followed up with the usual pint in the Barbican, and large portions of haddock and chips...before the inevitable shopping expedition. Drove home with an old tape in the dash. They might have been singing in the background this last 50 years but I’m still not convinced.

Wednesday, September 26

Grand designs


I must admit to a pang of jealously. Here’s someone – Crispin Odey, a Gloucestershire smallholder – who’s about to eclipse the mini field shelter I built for Mrs G’s Chickens, with a grand fowl folly of his own. Forget the po-faced Guardian article and instead appreciate there are still people with money prepared to construct something outrageous and ridiculous. We usually leave it to our government of the day to do this sort of thing, except those buildings usually house white elephants. I’d love to see Crispin try to get this through the Dartmoor National Park Authority.

The Ryder Cup


Although I will be listening to the action from Medinah on the wireless, the old passion isn’t there. Defending a successful run doesn’t seem as much fun as supporting the perpetual underdog against a giant. I’m sure I will warm to the occasion as the action unfolds.

Tuesday, September 25

Piss-poor effort

Our first soup since last winter; it seemed a shame to waste the brisket stock. Before you know it we’ll be back to winter fodder: porridge and turnips. Whatever we do choose to eat, it has to be an improvement on Nigellissima. Yesterday evening I watched Lawson attempting to bring the spirit of Italy into the kitchen (BBC 2). I’m well aware of what and who she is, but it was the first time I’d actually seen the lady cook. And if this was typical – at least as far as cooking and Italian brio goes – the big girl can’t hold a candle to Channel 4’s Michela Chiappa and her sisters. The big girl’s form and technique left a lot to be desired. Her butchered steak was bad enough, however, she surpassed herself with the poor man’s huevos rancheros. I’m tempted to say something about the supposed complacency that comes with age, but then I recall those lively performances by the two fat ladies and the redoubtable Julia Child. Another tick for Channel 4.

Monday, September 24

Eat Badgers

Now here’s a contentious plate of food. I bet it tastes like chicken.

Old Engine Oil

This traditional porter, brewed in another woolen town far, far away, comes highly recommended by yours truly. They have a great website too.

I don’t exactly hate them, but...

Mondays will never be my favourite day of the week. Whilst yesterday’s brume has been swept away, our neighbours’ steers continue to bellow like harbour sirens. Thanks to the overnight storm, and just days after my clean up, the yard resembles a neglected municipal cemetery. Coalpool Lane on a bleak autumn day. The ground is littered with fallen leaves and dead bits of tree. Along with the customary ash-grey sky our primary colours are now yellow and rust. The newly painted house stands as a beacon for those Tornado GR4s that have been exercising overhead. This morning the flocks of goldfinches that have been keeping us company are also grounded. It was a hugely enjoyable and very lazy Sunday … But needs must: onwards and upwards, as they say. I’ve always felt ‘they’ have a lot to answer for.

Saturday, September 22

Housekeeping


Man, I’m beat. Whilst the ponies eat their share there’s still plenty left for me to take care of. I am hoping today was the final mow of the season. It is a long walk with the little machine instead of the drive-on. By the time I’d set another mole trap, chopped firewood, swept the yard and cleaned a lorry-load of pine needles from the shed roof – nipped down to the surgery for my annual flu jab – there was just enough time for a second coat of paint on one of the gates, before scampering back to listen to the second-half footy commentary on the wireless. It’s cold outside, albeit sunny and quiet; very much the calm before (given what’s due tonight). There are three bands playing locally this evening – ska, blues and rock – but my enthusiasm for a night out is waning fast. Another bottle of Brunel IPA and I suspect tonight will be spent in front of the box. As the neighbour has recently slaughtered a steer it’s steak and eggs for supper.

Pork and Beans


I must get back outside with the camera. Every shrub, twig or pot appears the have a robin perched on top. In the trees there are large flocks of goldfinches, readying to sneak off to Cannes. Surprisingly our swallows are still here. It could be the abundance of insects just now is too good to pass up. Given our recent spell of calm weather these last couple of days have been a bonus. Regretfully – from a falling temperature point of view – it will soon be time for heavier, warming meals. Barbeque and stir fry give way to boiled beef and game. This past week was a transitional period of petit salé aux lentilles (pork and beans to you and me); tuna fish, mashed spuds and marrowfats mit parsley sauce; roast chicken with plums and fragrant rice; ...and lots of poached eggs on toast.

Friday, September 21

Who cares

‘How do you stage a rally to the faithful when there aren’t any left?’ says Fraser Nelson, in today’s Telegraph. Just 1 per cent of the electorate are members of political parties, the lowest in Europe save for Poland and Latvia. ‘Somehow, the mother of all parliaments has managed to produce one of the least appetising political menus in the free world.’

To be honest I haven’t given that much thought to the whys and wherefores, but I suspect a principal driver behind political engagement is relevance, the political parties aren’t selling us what we want. I’ve no doubt our political masters view the electorate’s base demands with mild contempt. When confronted with rank and file aspirations on Europe, immigration or capital punishment they are likely to respond with ‘doing the right thing’ or ‘a matter of individual conscience. If the electorate does try to become engaged they are too often rebuffed or ignored. Instead of responding with a coherent and understandable argument that supports the establishment line (and the media are just as culpable), they simply do what they want and bugger the rest. Politicians shouldn’t be surprised therefore when the punters cry a plague on all your houses and turn their backs. It’s a question of disestablishment. You once imagined some sort of post-war consensus. Ok so there were two principal teams that always fought over direction, that generated passion and engaged you: but everyone believed we were members of the same club, that there was – as Nelson says – common ground. Like as not multi-culturalism and exposure to the outside world has weakened this attachment to the State. In the old days you belonged to something your parents and grandparents had fought for, and when you travelled abroad you could always count on returning to the familiar. The familiar is now subject to contempt. As with our shopping centers, society is universal and the parochial has withered and died. Nowadays the State demands ever increasing taxes for other people’s children; for wars that are presented as something they aren’t; to fund a burgeoning bureaucratic class and line the pockets of people who live in Monaco. They use our money to distribute alms amongst the world’s poor in order to curry favour and feel good about themselves; personal donations to charity are reimbursed as out of pocket expenses. The list goes on...

I’m not necessarily disagreeing with what they do, just that it is done in my name and with my money and I don’t appear to have a say any more. Anyway, that’s enough of a rant for Friday morning. I need to get on with work. There’s shit that needs shoveling.

Thursday, September 20

Encroaching on the green belt

After seeking advice from an expert I set three mole traps yesterday. To disguise the scent of yours truly the traps had been buried beneath the earth prior to use. I rubbed my hands in the soil prior to handling anything; painstakingly excavated the tunnels, removing every spec of grass and debris; and carefully replaced the turf, before spreading more soil over the top to exclude the risk of daylight seeping beneath the ground... My reward this morning is to find the little buggers have constructed four more mounds overnight. It’s like watching Barratts devour the green belt. I gave up fighting with moles back at the barn, but these current characters are inflicting too much damage. Likely I’ll be as successful here as I was back there.

Wednesday, September 19

I need to eat more

It’s amazing how much cooler a two degree drop in the temperature appears. I guess it signals a seasonal change in wardrobe. What happened to summer? Today, however, was very much shirt sleeve order. On the face of it erecting fencing is a pretty basic occupation, particularly if you’re only the bit part player. That said barbed wire can still be tricky stuff, and fence posts aren’t exactly chop sticks. I can just about lift the post driver, never mind hammer down on 150yds of posts. Fortunately the lead team are big lads, the sort you used to see competing against Geoff Capes in those old television shows pulling tractors with their teeth. There are positives to weighing in at nine stone but for grunt stuff you need something more.

Tuesday, September 18

Middle-age

Begins at 55. Although seven out of 10 early 50-somethings quizzed for the survey defined themselves as middle-aged, the average age at which the period of life was perceived to start was 54 years and 347 days old. However, a sizeable minority, nearly one in five, thought middle age did not begin until after the age of 60. Is this a case of self-delusion or a state of mind? Five years ago our 30-somethings were bemoaning that, having reached what they considered to be their middle-age, believing if they hadn’t made it by then, they were all washed up. With the demise of pensions such assumptions appear redundant, not just because of the later start to careers due to the economy, but with no retirements, having to deal with the subsequent bottleneck at the top.

Sunday, September 16

Each to their own

But then it would be a pretty uninteresting and much less inspiring world. There’s a local pub I use that is very much Sons of Anarchy. I appear to be the only guy who drinks there sans tattoos, a truck or a van. On a busy night you can lose yourself in the crowd and no one bothers you; there’s a buzz about the place and a distinct sense of camaraderie. Lock-ins are not unknown. Conversely there is the other side to the local community. The latest coffee shop is very much of a certain style. Most of the lads, the customers, are my age, and effect a passable imitation of Melvyn Bragg at leisure. A little too comfortable and urbane they are always accompanied by one of those willowy twenty-something imitations of a young Charlotte Rampling. I guess the girl could be their daughter or niece? Along the street at the Quik-E-Mart they sell bulk sacks of industrially produced pasta, a principal source of sustenance for many families. Next door you can purchase Gragnano’s finest, drink outstanding coffee and eat the ultimate panettone served by someone from the set of Montalbano. On the face of it you can’t really judge who is happy with their lot and who’s not.

Stress and smoking

These days I skip through the daily papers, doing my best to avoid pessimistic takes and resentful diatribes. For many people life is tough enough without professional doomsayers spouting spite and vitriol from the sidelines. I ain’t happy, journalists/presenters say: neither should you be – and it’s someone’s fault. Usually that someone, the designated target, has more money and/or talent, sits in an elevated position of power or influence, is maybe better looking, or perish the thought, appears happy with their lot. The line usually opens with something that sounds suspiciously like I’m not bitter, but... I guess we all need motivating to get out of bed of the morning and it’s probably a case of whatever works for you.

Workplace stress has been to the fore amongst this week’s articles. What I want to know is who pays for the seemingly endless stream of studies that are cited (According to a report by...). I used to assume it was the poor taxpayer that was stumping up, or maybe special interest groups with something to sell. Nowadays I suspect they are financed by media outlets as an easy way to fill column inches. The gist of the latest ‘research’ (this one analysed 13 existing European studies), reported in the Lancet medical journal, was that workplace stress can be linked to a 23% increased risk of heart attacks and deaths from coronary heart disease. If you look at their figures they’re risible. The point of the story is less about stress in the workplace, and more to do with giving up smoking and taking exercise. I used to sympathise with the smoking fraternity, but that was before our painters extinguished what looks to be an entire season’s tobacco crop in the surrounding undergrowth. I guess if they were taken to task for their vice the lads would cite workplace stress, dangling from the top of ladders.