Monday, April 30

Cheerleaders thin on the ground

Now you know how the Labour Party feels. I can’t believe we are so bereft of talent that Roy Hodgson is the best England can do. Anfield was his one tilt at the big time and he folded. Mr Average as he’s already being titled: the choice of a committee, path of least resistance, and he’s out of contract. Talent aside, Hodgson must be the most miserable looking individual in the business. The sort of guy you’d employ as a Heathrow immigration official if you wanted to discourage visitors. ‘Lost a pound and found a penny’ is inscribed on his vest. But then it’s not as if the FA is overrun by contenders. How many English nationals manage Barclays Premier League teams? Whilst you can’t help but warm to ’Arry, appointing someone who by his own admission has difficulty reading and writing to be your national team manager is inviting trouble. Taylor, Hoddle, McClaren ... Grief, what a record we have at picking winners. If Hodgson achieves any modicum of success we’ll doubtless learn to love him, but I suspect both he and the FA will begin with little goodwill behind them.

Sunday, April 29

No unique selling point

The Vulcan is right: it’s either onwards and upwards, or goodnight Vienna. But then London has its obvious attractions, it entices some of the brightest and best from around the world. Other than their potential as resettlement areas for London’s poor, towns such as Stoke and Walsall, Grimsby and Hull appear to have their best days behind them. Ignoramus that I am I suspect this has less to do with a community’s ability to retrain, to learn skills and apply themselves, as an absence of entrepreneurs capable of raising finance, developing products and services, and establishing markets they can export to. These individuals doubtless choose to live elsewhere.

Opiate of the masses

It works for me...Way to go, Chelsea. The Premier League may not be delivering the classiest footy in Europe (and Simon Barnes can go screw himself), but you can’t deny its entertainment value. Listening to today’s games on the wireless is my principal respite from the biblical deluge taking place outside; we must be up to two inches and the downpour is still bouncing waist-high. Although it continues to lash down you can’t really see much as a thick mist has reduced visibility to yards (Shit, I hope the chimney isn’t on fire?). I’m currently drying out after another attempt at jury rigging a broken section of the gutter. I bet Cameron doesn’t have to shin up drain pipes in a 40kts wind. Another assured performance from our posh boy on Marr this morning. Whatever you may think of the lad, at least he’s not Gordon Brown.

It’s become a sad world when we can’t laugh at ourselves or strive to improve.

Saturday, April 28

Lessons from Leveson

I watched/listened to some old footage of Frank Sinatra on last night’s television. One of the basic tips everyone’s told when singing is to avoid a smoky atmosphere. And there’s Sinatra, in a studio resembling a bad day on Dartmoor when the mist has descended. He is chain-smoking, whilst effortlessly belting them out one after the other. But then I guess there will always be people for whom the normal rules don’t apply.

Friday, April 27

I don't understand

There was an article in yesterday’s Times newspaper implying British workers would not be the sole beneficiaries from the boom in tunnelling jobs that will be required to meet demand from Crossrail, the Thames super sewer, London underground, cables for the national grid, deep excavation for nuclear new-builds, etc. Although the shortage of skilled and trained personnel is being addressed with a new NVQ-level academy in Ilford, various degree-level courses, a bursary-supported masters course at Warwick, and research at Cambridge, and despite there being ample time to train and retrain staff, Industry leaders say they have issues with the ‘workworthiness’ of prospective recruits? Whilst they appear to concede there will be sufficient applicants in possession of the necessary warrant, so to speak, their issue is one of employability. They define this by decrying the absence of ‘the right number of people with commonsense and responsibility’. I don’t understand. I find it hard to believe the average lad on the street is is so lacking in gumption, deficient in energy and ambition?

Thursday, April 26

Best bitter for pennies

In danger of turning stir crazy, this morning I thought it advisable we make contact with what passes for civilisation, taking the opportunity of a break in the weather to get a haircut, and lunch at one of the local (15 mile radius) wine bars. Low and behold today’s dish of the day turned out to be the in fashion orzotto, aka pearl barley risotto (blame Carluccio/Contaldo).

Suitably fortified by the house wine, and having my fill of civilisation, I set out this afternoon to reconnoitre the moor. Black and wet best describes the outlook. I’ve discovered that slithering downhill at a great rate of knots can be an exhilarating experience, and climbing the opposite side of a gully is the equivalent or running up a down escalator. Someone recently suggested to me that living on Dartmoor is good for the soul...And whilst the jury’s still deliberating, I’m minded to agree (but only because the rain held off).

Bargain of the week. After watching Walsall on Saturday I am pleased to see the Sadler’s sponsors, Banks, selling their bottled beers in our off licence for £2/litre.

Wednesday, April 25

Marooned

The road out is flooded, not that anyone would want to go far on a day like today. You have to feel for the newborn lambs, all of whom are curled up in what protection the hedge affords or marooned on a dry knoll. Cruising alongside them in the standing water is a brace of mallards. Inside the homestead we are burning the equivalent of a small forest in an attempt to dry the place out. Needless to say meals are of the comfort-food variety, tonight’s supper, rather aptly, being Shepherd’s Pie.

Tuesday, April 24

Boring

I suspect the media’s infatuation with Leveson’s inquiry – particularly the faux-outrage of News Corps principal competitors, the taxpayer funded BBC – is a frustrating irrelevance to most viewers/readers. But then it’s their ball, so to speak, so we shouldn’t condemn too quickly. Whatever its faults NC/Sky has transformed sports/news cover in the UK. R&A’s shot across Auntie’s bows this week with regards to the Open is a reminder of what we expect from broadcasters; and wherever it is the BBC spends our money, sport appears to be receiving less and less of it. I would love to see some of Leveson’s openness and transparency being directed to whoever it is at the BBC that decides on spending priorities.

Monday, April 23

Waving the flag

The neighbour’s sheep broke through into our yard this morning. At some stage I need to renew the fencing, but for now it remains well down the list of things to do and my trusty ball of twine will have to suffice. Not that there’s much this side worth their eating; what little the ponies left behind is submerged beneath standing water, as are the motor’s tyres and Mrs G’s lettuce patch. The wheelbarrow floated downstream a couple of days ago. All of which left today, St George’s day, feeling somewhat flat. In keeping with tradition the Southwest residents have run up plenty of flags, but rather than flutter in a breeze the soggy banners remain firmly wrapped around their pole. An apt metaphor given what passes for reported news these days. I appreciate you have to show willing, however, two pints of the proverbial warm beer and a 51st screening of The African Queen is about as patriotic as it gets.

Sunday, April 22

Need to order more firewood

Changeable seems a suitable description for today’s weather: alternate sunny spells and hail showers. Our supposed early start was belied by the neighbour, a farmer, already returning his herd to pasture after the morning milking. Mrs Farmer passed by on her way back from outlying acreage, checking the stock. They’d doubtless been up all night on lambing duty. I hate the phrase 24/7, but if it has to be applied to something then farming appears apt ... As the Ten Tors approaches so does the frequency of sixth formers carrying ever larger packs across Dartmoor. It may be this particular section of the park attracts gender specific schools and colleges but girls do appear to predominate, the lads outnumbered by more than four to one. Perhaps teenage girls have more get up and go than the boys these days? That said, when walking around Totnes I’ve noticed most women have a minimum of 2-3 daughters in tow, though rarely any sons; and if you undertake a casual headcount, for every boy you see on the street there are 4-5 girls in evidence. We hear a lot about the preference for/selection of male children in certain Asian communities: I wonder if the reverse is practised amongst white middle-class families and why? ... Whilst there's been an occasional disaster from our ‘thrown together from what’s in the fridge’ meals, thanks to stockpiling at the recent Food Festival today’s supper looks a lot healthier. Oil the roasting pan and scatter a handful of locally produced pancetta cubes (free-range pork belly, cured and smoked over apple & beech wood), assemble one dissected chicken and an assortment of chopped vegetables; add several unpeeled cloves of garlic, a bunch of thyme and a quartered lemon. Submit to the oven for 45 minutes and voila – make free with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Saturday, April 21

The Saddlers

Entertaining as Match of the Day may be, occasionally you have to make the effort and turn out for a game – and a relegation clash is as good an excuse as any. Whilst not the life and death outcome portrayed, Exeter v Walsall delivered familiar Black Country accents and a half-dozen goals. We can forget about the tea and pasty, but for £21 it was decent enough entertainment for a neutral. From a purely business point of view – guestimating the operating costs, wages, etc. – I can’t see how this sort of thing pays? Given it’s a while since I attended a game my principal observation was that the crowd isn’t too dissimilar to that of an average church service: heavy on the elderly and the young. Let’s hope the latter stick with their footy once they discover girls. Otherwise, congrats to my old Charlton buddies.

Friday, April 20

Cleaning house

Moving on from the 1970s ... I thought I had disposed of my audio-cassette collection many moons ago, and yet they still appear from time to time, usually from the bottom of storage boxes marked miscellaneous items. Cassettes are very much of the 1980s as the album covers testify. Mine feature an eclectic mix of folk, country, opera, pop and rock, the music being supplemented with a number of speaking books (a testament to the amount of driving I did back then). With one or two exceptions all are destined for a local charity shop. I suppose the cassettes could be copied to digital or CD, but I’m not sure anything warrants preserving. That said it is interesting to recall what passed as the soundtrack to my 1980s. Although Dire Straits, ZZ Top, Don Henley, Springsteen and Brian Adams all feature, Bob Seger dominates. Of the chanteuses, I seem to have everything Elkie Brooks recorded, some early Gloria Estefan, Cindy Lauper, Rosanne Cash and Kim Carnes. However, it wouldn’t have been the ’80s without at least five Sheena Easton albums popping up. Country music played a part with the usual favourite on show, but who were ‘Asleep at the Wheel’? I must have seen them somewhere before purchasing Pasture Prime. And Len Harrington’s Hidden Corners, recorded in ’85 at WWL Studio in New Orleans? Whilst I am pretty sure I was there, memories are hazy. As far as my old co-conspirators are concerned, and for pure chuckle value, I can’t not mention the Wellington Bootles and their 1984 blockbuster rival album Full Beamed and Bootled. Weren’t we all, throughout the entire decade. Better forgotten.

Wednesday, April 18

The consolation of inclement weather

The Met Office issued weather warnings for the South West, London, South East, Wales and the West of England due to flooding on roads and 60mph winds... Following the driest March in 59 years, and just days after the South West was declared a drought region, the Met Office predicts one of the wettest Aprils on record...I’m surprised the homestead wasn’t washed away last night; fallen tree-limbs litter the track. I walked up top on the moor this afternoon and breezy ain’t in it. The scorched grassland is now a network of fast running tributaries; waist deep pools stand ready to catch the unwary. I can’t see our water supply running dry anytime soon. What with the thunderous roar from the wind and tumbling water, and – thanks to the stinging, runny eyes – a lack of vision, it can be somewhat disorientating. Needless to say there’s no one about and I have the wilderness to myself.

Tuesday, April 17

History lite

You can’t but smile at MOTD commentators when, having obviously already watched the action, they subsequently script their commentary to appear a prescient sage. Likewise last night’s BBC programme The 70s, Get It On. It must be nigh impossible to produce something that pleases everyone; however, this well-timed series (given our current difficulties) could have been less predictable and a little more cerebral. It appears a fundamental truth that because most people of the time were gainfully employed, had grown up with free milk and teeth-rotting NHS orange juice we will forever be feted as the blessed generation. Ok so a lot of people acquired Wimpey homes, ate Sole Waleska and Crêpe Suzette, went on to consume gallons of indifferent Riesling in foreign climates and dance to T-Rex; but what about the winter of discontent, the ’73 oil crisis and bear-market that followed, stagflation and 15% mortgage interest rates...Northern Ireland...the Morris Marina and Austin Allegro. We were certainly in the crapper and the country was only kept afloat by selling state assets and the development of North Sea oil. That said it was an interesting time to be around, pre-internet and mobile phones. Whilst television doesn’t have to be written and directed by a modern-day Bronowski or AJP Taylor we must surely be capable of better fare than this.

Sunday, April 15

Seasons in the sun

I’ll watch it of course, but whilst I can handle Max Hastings’ (born 1945) various tomes about the second world-war, having someone christened Dominic (circa 1974) holding forth on the 1970s is a tough sell, particularly as Sandbrook seems to have spent most of his life either closeted in school or living in Chipping Norton. Did the 1970s ever visit Chipping Norton? Although it’s possible to glean some familiarity with the era from studying contemporary newspaper articles, unless you lived through the grimness of the Wilson/Callaghan/Heath legacy it is difficult to appreciate how we got there and what came next. I guess my principal trouble with spotty faced historians is that they make me doubt everything which precedes them. If guys like Sandbrook can write about my era from a second hand, heresay perspective – and it subsequently becomes accepted wisdom – why should I trust Herodotus or any of his successors? And does it matter anyway given no one appears to learn from history. A popular adage determines that history is written by the victors...and, it seems, by clever clogs from Oxbridge.

Friday, April 13

Foodie day out

Whilst ‘The ultimate foodie event!’ maybe over egging things the Exeter Food Festival it is not to be missed. We arrived at opening time and still had to queue for coffee. That we did is testament to the quality of the Devon Coffee brand in comparison to neighbouring stalls. Initially quiet, the tents were soon shoulder to shoulder.



It was a less crowded out back, once you negotiated the press and television cameras. Twenty-six chefs were scheduled for the cookery theatre demonstrations, and first out the trap was Michael Caines. Truth to tell, however, I was more interested in the produce on sale. And given I’d dropped four weight divisions since last year’s event (middleweight to lightweight), I thought it safe to indulge. In true Gudgeon fashion I waded through the produce of six cheese producers, samples from five sausage makers, and an assortment of jams and chutneys. Having then consumed a couple of brownies, a fruit scone and one of my favourite cinnamon buns, I gravitated to a plate of freshly shucked oysters and a steak burger. What with the various wine, cider and beer producers (and the beer tents) there was no shortage of liquid refreshment to wash it down - and live music to entertain. The Festival is an enjoyable day out, and interesting to boot with producers more than keen to discuss the production of their wares. We returned home with a selection of charcuterie and smoked fish (eels, salmon and sardines), two cheeses and more sausage than we can eat, together with a selection of locally produced wines. Given the world’s economy continues to head south at an alarming rate we might as well treat ourselves before Osborne imposes a diet of bread and water. Having departed Exeter in 14º of sunshine we arrived home (25 miles away) to 4º and thunder storms.

Thursday, April 12

A returning visitor, or is this home?

There were rare birds I never saw before,
The like of them I think to see no more:
Th’ are called wheat-ears, less than lark or sparrow,
Well roasted, in the mouth they taste like marrow...


Unfortunately there are laws preventing me from putting John Taylor’s observation to the taste test; however, rare as they are I spotted three this morning in amongst the larks. I believe wheatears were once referred to as check birds or chickells in Devon, a take on their tongue-clicking voice; likewise in Mrs G’s original neck of the woods as stanechackers. It’s said that when they are disturbed wheatears can bolt into rabbit holes, which may explain why a rabbit has this minute hopped in through my open door. Barbequed rabbit...mmm.


No coots on this stretch of water, it’s more buzzard country. Whilst not the Loch of the Green Corrie, it serves, containing brown trout and within walking distance of the homestead. Depending on the weather it can be a wild and desolate stretch of countryside. Today (I’m pleased to say) there was little to disturb but the sound of lapping water, a tame north-westerly and several Dartmoor ponies munching on heather. Number one sighting of the walk has to be that of my first swallow for 2012, flying a fast and uncertain course above the burnt furze and heading in the general direction of the Dog & Duck.

Wednesday, April 11

The night sky, and drains

Having spent the morning negotiating a mud patch (armed with little more than several yards of drain rod) doesn’t sound like fun, but you’d be surprised how much satisfaction can be derived from unblocking a buggered soakaway feed. Damn pine needles have a lot to answer for. Following the last two days of rain the surrounding ground is submerged below inches of water (some areas of the Southwest are reported to have received the usual month’s rainfall in just 24 hours). As last night’s temperature dropped below zero I was just grateful it didn’t freeze.

The low temperature is indicative of a now clear sky. Adverse as I am to brass-monkey weather, the upside to my having to sprint between bed and WC during the middle of the night is that view through the skylight – a revelation from our city days. Today’s press reports that, thanks to light pollution ‘Fewer than one in 10 said they can see between 21 and 30 stars, and just 2% of people had truly dark skies, seeing 31 or more stars.’ As one of the 2% I can report there are thousands, if not millions of stars clearly visible above the homestead. Sans street lights, however, you do tend to fall over things on a frequent basis.

Tuesday, April 10

Bright flies but no fish

A pleasant morning on Kennick reservoir. I’m told 3-4lb Rainbows are common enough but I didn’t see any. Given the trout weren’t biting it became more a casting competition between the two of us, and I bow to Mrs G’s superior technique. Even sans fish (and the occasional hail shower) there are worse ways to while away the hours than surrounded by diving coots and hatching/rising insects. I guess I should take the pursuit of entomology a little more seriously if I expect to land anything half-decent; the nymph I was using looked like something dreamt up by Zandra Rhodes.

Sunday, April 8

Boredom

So bored I’m rereading Peter Toohey’s entertaining book on the subject; as the author’s personal bête noire is Easter, it seemed opportune. I wonder if, when the Son of God was deciding to resurrect himself, he realised he would be subjecting mankind to the perpetual screening of Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia.

Saturday, April 7

Local produce

Another good win – and against Palace. Hard luck guys. What price it comes down to a play-off final between the Blues and West Ham? I wish. It was a bad day at the track, with yours truly striking out and Mrs G. on three consecutive winners. I should acknowledge my limitations, accept the superior talent and hand her my pocket money instead of the bookie. It hasn’t all gone the good lady’s way today: next door’s scabby moggy crapped on the lettuce patch then slaughtered the doe’s kittens. I suspect a declaration of war has been declared.

Not that I’ve had a hand in it, but the range and standard of meals this past couple of weeks has been outstanding. And whilst I must pay homage to Mrs G’s osso bucco, last night’s liver and bacon and today’s barbeque chicken (a Hubbard 757) ran it pretty close. Stewed liver and cabbage is probably a no-no in most contemporary kitchens, but then old habits/delights... The liver came from a sheep grazing within 400m or so of the yard, the bacon and cabbage not much further. If the local slopes could support vines and a couple of Coffea Arabica plants, at least in terms of food consumption, our carbon footprint would be in positive territory.

Friday, April 6

Easter chicks

A sight that’s guaranteed to brighten any Easter morning: our nesting Mallard has returned to the wildlife pond with a dozen newly hatched ducklings. Needless to say the neighbourhood cats are already stalking them. I appreciate there is a drought, but that such a little patch of water should attract so many species has been a revelation.

Thursday, April 5

What’s it cost?

There is a smile of love,
And there is a smile of deceit,
And there is a smile of smiles
In which these two smiles meet...


Not a great day out on the moor, with temperatures limited to 3-5º depending on where you were. The holiday season looks to be in full swing, albeit the weather and high fuel prices are probably limiting numbers. We visited three pubs during our lunch break, two of which featured a fair sprinkling of refugees from both South London and the Black Country. Lustly’s Cleave Inn, in contrast, is very much the expat, home counties set: think vets section of a Surrey golf club. Nothing against vets I hasten to add, though they can wear. I used to view the Cleave as a half-decent pub. Given the limited space and revamped back room, however, it now suggests something of a Harvester outlet. Though the jury is still out on Widecombe-on-the-moor’s Ruggleston Inn you can’t knock the food. Despite being a tad pricey the portion sizes are substantial. Glutton that I am I cleared my plate...and it’s taking a lot of digesting, the meal being roughly equivalent to my body weight. The pub’s a cosy enough place frequented by locals and walkers alike. And whilst they stock a decent selection of real ales, it would be nice to see Vicki crack a smile occasionally.

Wednesday, April 4

Lots of new faces

It’s difficult to eat a breakfast bowl of porridge with so many eyes following my every movement. In addition to the usual characters, the robins and blackbirds, a song thrush and two hen pheasants are peering in through the window. Alongside them and gazing longingly at Mrs G’s lettuce patch is the plumpest doe you can imagine. Two of her kits are playing tag under the shed. The number of feathered visitors increased dramatically after our neighbour came by in his tractor last night to scarify the patchy grass – spreading horse manure far and wide, and levelling mole city. I must borrow one, they look so much fun. Lots of little people have appeared in the neighbourhood these past couple of days as the offspring of previous relationships join fathers for Easter break. I guess it gets them out the house, away from Facebook and their Xboxes – and doubtless the kids enjoy it.

Monday, April 2

30 years on

Hard to believe 30 years have passed since the Falklands war. Whilst it’s easy to blame the political establishment on both sides of the Atlantic (Britain for our lax defence, the Argentine junta for its desperate attempt to maintain public support), the confrontation would never have happened without a nod from the respective electorates. I suppose I bought into it at the time as a necessary evil. You forget our principal preoccupation in those days remained the so-called Cold War, and that Britain’s defence against the Soviet-led communist word was founded on deterrent. What use our arsenal of nuclear weapons if we were seen to walk away from such a direct challenge as that presented by Galtieri’s Argentina. There was no way we could have rolled over and allowed Brezhnev and his boys to believe we were just so much wind. The same holds true in 2012. Pork barrel considerations aside, why would we spend so much of our hard-earned money on shiny new aircraft carriers and Astute class submarines if people believe they won’t be deployed? Maybe one day we will learn to love each other. In the meantime, however, it’s probably best we keep donating to Help for Heroes.