Thursday, May 31

Scorched earth policy

So much for the so-called lawn improver: after liberally dosing our green oasis with one of those miracle-grow derivatives the ground has turned black. Seems our lawn is (was) little more than moss and weed (and stones, moles, builders’ rubble; an assortment of pipe/cable-bearing trenches...). I’ve bought Mrs G. two pots of geraniums to return a dash of colour and brighten up the septic tank.

Wednesday, May 30

Rendition

Not that I give a shit, and I’m sure plenty of others have made the same point, but why seven coppers to apprehend Coulson when a phone call would have sufficed? Perhaps Strathclyde Police were wary of Coulson pulling a similar flanker to Assange. Why couldn’t they have borrowed an office from the Met and had their chat there? We must have money to burn.

Monday, May 28

D'oh!

Gardeners warned to wash their hands after shovelling shit.

Rock and a hard place

Jeff Randall despairs at democracy, why so few people vote (only a third of voters turned out at the recent local elections). Coalition consensus politics appears to suit no one, least of all the so-called silent majority. I guess they’re silent because most people are too busy living and can’t be arsed. All they want is someone to shut the fuck up and make sure the trains run on time: if Putin put himself forward they’d probably elect him. You can hardly blame voter indifference: no one is telling us what we want to hear, and if they do it’s not believed. As Randall reminds us, after having been confronted by the MP’s expenses scandal, an open-borders policy, crap schools and medical services, corrupt police and the insatiable appetite of the state, it’s no wonder we wish a plague on all their houses. Let’s face it, the UN’s ‘democratic’ voice hasn’t done the people of Houla much good. The Eurovision experience gave us a taste of tribal voting, and banal as the competition is, at least it engages with its audience.

Saturday, May 26

How soon you forget

This morning we made the mistake of calling in at Widecombe-on-the-moor to see a man about a figurative dog. There were bus-loads of visitors wearing the glazed expression of people who’d been away from home too long. Hidden away as we are I forget. Then, driving back via Ashburton, convoys of what Mrs G. refers to as fuckers (at least that what it sounded like, but as the good lady doesn’t do profanities I assume it’s some sort of acronym for people ‘from up country’. Whilst the Germans and Dutch are fine – courteous to a fault – the domestic Audis, BMWs and Chelsea tractors are driven with an impatience and arrogance that begs damaged paintwork and dead or injured animals.

Friday, May 25

Summertime

Evensong: and our resident budgies are singing their little hearts out. Whilst the damselflies and red-tailed bumble bees that were so thick on the ground this morning have now disappeared, the scent of bluebells and sight of a three acre crop of buttercups more than compensate. In these temperatures you can sit out in the yard quite late, chillax like Dave and watch the sun sink beneath the ridge. What with the builders’ early start it’s been another long and tiring day, more so since I managed to sneak off to Plymouth on the pretext of urgent (non-existent) business. You can cover a lot of ground running pretendy errands. As usual I called in at the City Museum and Art Gallery. They are running an exhibition on ‘Chinoiserie’, an attempt to explore and question our relationship with China through contemporary art. Despite the irritating political message it is moderately interesting and includes three canvasses by the Berlin-based artist Christian Jankowski ... I like Plymouth,the city is an antidote to the dullness of Exeter, and unlike Totnes there’s no embarrassment about flying Union flags. Given the sunshine the streets were full of smiling people enjoying themselves, eating ice cream. Its pedestrian-friendly layout affords lots of places to sit, drink coffee and watch the black-eyed Sues and Sweet Polls sashay by. As if to emphasise the mood a busker struck up with Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’.

Tuesday, May 22

And not before time

Given the favourable weather everyone was up at six this morning and working outside. Nobody fancies being pounced on by Theresa May for having an untidy yard. Neighbours have begun filling skips with old white goods and soft furnishings ... It would be nice to say peace and quiet has returned to our idyll, however, even when surrounded by baying cattle it’s surprising how irritating a cuckoo’s familiar disyllabic call can become after an hour or two. Thankfully the builders’ nail gun and power drill drowns it out. I’ve spent most of my spare time aerating the lawn. By lawn I mean the grassy-looking area out front that (in reality) is light on grass and heavy on moss and weed, dandelions and daisies ... Seems churlish to complain, but damn it’s hot. There’ve been times this past six months I thought I’d never be able to say that again.

Sunday, May 20

Olympic torch comes to Flakesville

I suspect we eat less beef these days than at any time past. Today, however, arguably our first free day in an age (nowhere special to go, nothing to do that can’t wait ’til tomorrow) – and to celebrate the Olympic torch passing through our local metropolis – I am barbequing a slab of prime rib donated by the neighbours. For some reason they labour under the misapprehension we need fattening up. Last week, having slaughtered one of their steers, we were presented with its tail. This must be the first May on record where we are still eating oxtail stew for supper. When will the sun appear? Cattle can obviously smell their like as twelve of them chased me from the moor this morning. The little critters are harmless enough but all that slobber and muck makes a real mess of your clobber.

Back in the real world

Who cares that the world’s economies might be heading down the crapper, the Pensioners have won sport’s greatest prize, the Champions League Cup. You couldn’t help but be torn between the outcome of last night’s game. Although I wanted Chelsea to put one over Robben and Ribéry for the prestige of the Premier League, to rub FIFA’s nose in the dirt and watch Michel Platini having to bite down the bile, you had to commiserate with Spurs. Abramovich must be bemused: so much money and planning over so many years, and in the end success comes down to little more than chance, to confounding the odds, the whim of fate...and perhaps a healthy dose of stubborn pride. A fair number of last night’s participants including the manager are doubtless heading for the Stamford Bridge exit (the Russian still dreams of winning with style), but what a way to go. For Bayern’s golden generation it is sets the seal on what has been a disastrous month.

Friday, May 18

Bah! Humbug!

The Olympic flame arrives in the southwest this evening. It jogs through our neighbourhood on Sunday morning. At the risk of being accused a party pooper I must admit to an absence of enthusiasm. But then the Olympics are primarily for a younger generation’s entertainment. My heroes are grey, wrinkled memories...they were people like us, competitors you could identify with, when you still fancied your chances. That said I guess I will still be following the boxing and wrestling tournaments, the weight lifting competition. And it’s hard to ignore the triathletes or the modern pentathlon...the beach volleyball. For most of us, however, the Olympics remain something of a booby prize for our not hosting another footy world cup.

Thursday, May 17

Show time

A lack of sunshine failed to dampen spirits at the Devon Show. Food, farming and fun were the order of the day, and as usual Mrs G. and I spent a couple of hours watching the livestock being judged and touring the pens. We subsequently adjourned to the beer tent where we met up with our old friends from the barn and caught up on West Devon scandal. The usual wide selection of beers and ciders were on sale at the bar, which was thankfully less crowded than the adjacent food concession stands where the nation’s obesity problem was only too obvious ... Having watched a sheep-shearing competition, seen blacksmiths doing what blacksmiths do, applauded the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (well groomed horses, shiny boots), watched the show jumping and eaten a burger or two, it was time to stock up on flagons of cider and ribs of beef, and drift off home – or what’s left of the homestead following another shift by wrecking crew.

Oiling the wheels

The builders have returned this week for another project on the homestead. The usual nine-hour sing along to Radio 2 with accompanying percussion section and power saw. Skip, portaloo and a succession of delivery lorries backed up along the track. Providing I don’t hear the magic words (“I think we have a problem”) more than once a day, and as long as the rain holds off, I remain relatively sanguine. Guess we’re doing our bit to grow the economy, although the fact our lead man is wearing Jermyn Street shirts should set alarm bells ringing.

Tuesday, May 15

Gold-crested wren

The tiniest of the homestead’s birds is the goldcrest, a hyperactive, puffed up ball of fluff that’s colloquially known as a tidley goldfinch. Goldcrests are Europe’s smallest bird weighing in at 8.5-9.5cm. Given their preference for hiding within exotic conifers, it’s only the ‘smallest of songs’ that gives them away.

Monday, May 14

Sights and sounds

Fields lay empty now the livestock have transferred to the moor, and from within the impenetrable hedge spurgies are heard rather than seen. Yet illuminated above the flail-mower carnage insects swarm and glitter and there’s a buzz about the place. The fringes of local byways are beginning to flesh out at last. Virgin foliage ranges from a washed out lime green to golden russet, however, it’s the wild flowers that lift. Here at the homestead a sea of late-flowering bluebells wash down into the yard only to submerge beneath an ocean of mud-splattered dandelion, cuckoo flower and dock leaf. On our side of the fence the lemon siskin and yellowhammer, mallard and pheasant: on the wild side the more austere but striking furze chitter, white-arse wheatears and soaring buzzards, the eloquent skylark with its ‘rubbed and round pebbles of sound’.

Eck bites the dust

An ominous week for McLeish in that his exit from Villa and possible return home for a brief visit is likely to be greeted by an increase in the price of alcohol. Meddling bar stewards. Having given Birmingham City and Villa a shot I guess he could always put himself forward for the vacant post at the Hawthorns? Back to being a television pundit I guess. Bent’s injury cost him, though the playing style of his teams (usually out of necessity) leaves a lot to be desired. Twenty seven goals in thirty games says it all. Here at the homestead I’m keeping my head down after yesterday’s result at the Etihad. To say it was greeted with less than universal acclaim would be a gross understatement. Only two more games to go...then on to Kraków and doubtless more disappointment and ignominy.

Lucky Eddie leads the charge

‘Over a 10-year period, the only commodity to have outperformed agricultural land is gold.’ Which is doubtless why there’s a spring to my neighbours’ step these days, and, if the Telegraph article is correct, why so many Bjorns and Stiegs are drinking in Dog & Duck. ‘Not that owning a big estate is all about champagne and canapés and banking your EU subsidy cheque. If you’re going to keep up the value of your investment, there’s a lot of unglamorous re-planting and ditch digging, and, let’s face it, those grouse won’t feed themselves. And of course, not everyone is a foreign billionaire.’ Too right, matey. We peasants have to dig our own ditches.

Sunday, May 13

Divorced from the real world

Briton imprisoned for reporting African massacre: ‘How can this have happened to our son?’ ask family. “I just keep on thinking: ‘How can this be happening?’” said David's mother Vicky, 53, sitting in their homely conservatory with stunning views across the rolling Yorkshire hills. Their four black Labradors loll at her heels, and the immaculately-kept house is filled with flowers from friends and well wishers ... Greif! I can only assume Harriet Alexander’s ‘Women’s Own’ style appeals to the Telegraph readership. One of ‘us’, abroad in Conrad’s Africa. His sister Helen, 17, added: “Here you're innocent until proven guilty. Out there it seems to be the exact opposite.” Way to go, girl. Pick up the telephone and give em a piece of your mind.

Saturday, May 12

A fine day for walking

As this morning was the start of Ten Tors – and finding myself up and about before six, helicopters passing overhead – I pulled on a sweater and walked to Huntington warren. Given the 2,400 participants weren’t due out of Okehampton until after seven it was highly unlikely I would see anyone this far south, but it was such a nice morning I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a stroll. Apart from a military contingent bivouacked on Puppers to provide support it was just yours truly and a brisk north-easterly as far as the eye could see. The weather has contrived to deliver almost perfect walking conditions. Huntington warren is a series of artificial mounds established in the early 19th Century to farm rabbits. Long since defunct, the rabbits remain – and what rabbits! Not the little bunnies we see hopping about the yard, these are more the size of small Labradors. Think General Woundwort from Watership Down. I’d intended pushing on to the old china clay works, but I also needed to reach Totnes for opening time and by now the after effects of yesterday’s escapade in Torquay were begining to tell.


Whilst I rarely require an excuse, anniversaries are always a good reason to misbehave. Friday’s tenuous justification was the celebration of our original meeting some years back, at a family wedding reception (congrats to you guys by the way). I’m still not sure how, but yesterday we ended up in a Torquay bistro that specialises in Romanian cuisine. Both the wine and fish (baby clams, scallops, lemon sole and skate wing) were excellent, as was the rhubarb-crumble a la Bucharest, the crème brulee and the ice cream...ditto our espressos. Although restaurant meals are few and far between, if they were all of this standard we’d make more of an effort – albeit at £60/head for lunch perhaps not too strenuous an effort.

Friday, May 11

Same old arguments

Newspapers and blogs have seized on the latest round of Gove’s Education debate. I can’t believe Labour’s letting him lead the agenda to the extent he is. The lad has nicked Blair’s battle cry (or rhetorical device, depending on where you were educated) of ‘Education, education, education’ and is running with it for all he’s worth. Not having kids myself I hadn’t given much thought to why people educated at public school dominate our cultural, political and business life to the extent they apparently do. If it’s true does it matter, given they presumably got where they are on merit and we want the best available people running the show. Assuming both cost the same I bet you’d rather the Gloucester Old Spot or British Saddleback than a rasher of additive enhanced fat and rind.

Thursday, May 10

Congrats to Blackpool

I don’t like to use the prefix ‘valiant’ as it usually infers consolation, a loss. However, this season the Blues have been a credit to Hughton and what remained of his playing staff. That City will probably lose him to the Baggies is no solace. Good on Blackpool and Ian Holloway.

Wednesday, May 9

Would you buy a used car from this man?

Peter Oppenheimer, chief global equity strategist at Goldman Sachs, tells Long View columnist John Authers that after the worst 10 years for equities in a century, a long bull market is on the horizon. It would be nice to think so after this past crappy decade, but then they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Detroit UK

On occasion, when I have time on my hands, and primarily to stimulate what’s left of the grey matter, I indulge myself by critiquing an article from the day’s papers. Will Hutton’s a favourite. I’ll spend about 40 minutes with my trusty yellow marker, scribbling asides, weighing the argument, before deciding the guy’s a total prick and I’ve been wasting valuable drinking time. I started to do the same this morning, with Simon Jenkins. Now you can’t but admire the guy, he’s written some decent stuff. But his latest Guardian article is so wide of the mark as to be dismissed out of hand. Does he really believe this crap? That it’s just a case of throwing good money after bad, to gorge ourselves on Weimar Republic style hyperinflation? Ignoramus that I am I can’t believe Jenkins’ remedy is, as he claims, either productive or sustainable (who is he, Gordon Brown in disguise?). Our trusty scribe says ‘there’s no evidence that one penny of the hundreds of billions of pounds made available have leaked into the productive economy, and that the British economy needs three things: demand, demand, demand.’ He repeatedly states the bloody obvious, but you can’t force people with subsidised mortgages (bastards) to spend their surplus cash should they choose to pay off debt instead. And if no one is buying, companies won’t invest the mountains of cash they are sitting on. What Jenkins needs to address are more fundamental questions about the sustainability of our less-productive regions, such as the road north out of Manchester, aka Detroit UK. I’m not a Boris fan, but his Telegraph article on Monday was a lot more pertinent. I suspect we find ourselves in the trouble we’re in because the Jenkins of the world have been pandered to a little too often, not least by me.

Hedgehog spaghetti carbonara

My erratic driving when returning home from the Dog & Duck last night had less to do with the ale than the succession of hedgehogs scuttering along the byway. My embedding them in the tarmac would have earned much opprobrium from Mrs G., who insisted on screaming a warning and wrenching the steering wheel at each encounter (I’d inadvertently flattened one of her favourite fury creatures on the way out). Now that I think of it road kill hereabouts is something of a rarity, especially when compared to our time in West Devon where it was unusual to venture out without stumbling over the mushy remains of a fox or badger. Maybe there’s more of a ‘waste not, want not’ attitude in this part of the county and the evidence is removed for the pot? I seem to recall a recipe for Hedgehog spaghetti carbonara.

In May he sings all day

If there was such a bird as a mudlark this would be its natural home. The reality is a zillion house martins competing for airspace above town this morning. The swifts, too, have arrived, although because of the novelty value – their having recently moved into the homestead – it’s the swallows that remain centre of attention. Restless stonechats, wheatears and willow warblers all contribute to our dawn chorus, and yet whilst it wouldn’t be spring without the sound of a cuckoo, the blackbirds and robins continue to hold sway. The strangest sight is that of a pheasant perching in one of our trees, ten feet off the ground, effecting a passable imitation of an owl.

Monday, May 7

What to do on a cold, wet bank holiday?

The obvious default option: another food market. It was our first visit to Plymouth’s Royal William (Victualling) Yard, now redeveloped as another yuppie haven – albeit these modern-day reservations are just as likely to feature garrulous throngs of well-heeled oldies. On the face of it RWY is a miniature imitation of Docklands, examples of which are doubtless commonplace in such ‘progressive’ cities as Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool, and in much the same way our town centres have become facsimile representations of each other. Today’s food stalls featured a number of familiar producers, and I suspect their participation had something to do with the proximity of the burgeoning River Cottage Empire. Whatever your reservations about golden oldies who sit nursing half-pints of bitter whilst dribbling down their Ralph Lauren wind cheaters, I can’t help but prefer them to the ‘hard working families’ and their multiple bundles of snot. Food is for eating, not for pawing nor playing with.

Little will change, either side of the channel

With scarcely more than a 30% turnout this side of the channel Redwood repeats what passes for conventional wisdom on the limits of democracy. We are told the reason fewer voters turned out for our local elections was a perception that ‘no one speaks for us’ and ‘they’re all the same’. In part that’s true: we assume the government’s economic programme would be broadly copied by Labour or any other form of coalition we care to choose; no mainstream party addresses the gut issues, those visceral wind ups. . The government most probably believes ‘speak for us’ is code for conflict, and that conflict would destabilise the market exacerbating our situation. I’m sure Hollande will maintain a similar course to Sarkozy, just as I’m certain voters of every stripe will continue to whinge and whine knowing there’s little we can but protest. That we don’t protest too loudly is an acknowledgement we were complicit in our misfortune.

Saturday, May 5

Winter to last until June?

Rats...just as the mud had begun to cake, rain returns. Not that it’s keeping me awake at night. Forget the gym, walking on the moor or five-a-side footy: gardening may well be the ultimate soporific. Horticulture is too grand an expression to describe my pathetic attempt at restraining nature, particularly as our yard isn’t your garden-show variety, having been somewhat neglected in recent times. What bit of lawn we inherited was excavated to accommodate a new soakaway, and to describe the re-laid turf as undulating would be too kind. Think ski-slope moguls. Needs must, however, and being in possession of spade and hoe I thought it would keep me out of trouble. Sucker that I am. The reality is I’m still raking up last autumn’s leaves (in my defence there’s a lot of trees out there). Whilst it has exposed my lack of fitness, the more positive side of having access to a garden lies in its residents, the bats and newts, frogs and toads, more varieties of spiders and beetles than I can count, those low-flying buzzards, robins, wrens and acrobatic swallows, kamikaze ducks that drop from the sky, our secretive voles and not so reticent rabbits...the cunning fox and beautiful deer.

Friday, May 4

No longer an attractive option

Whilst last night’s coq au vin was a huge success I can understand why the dish has lost its popularity and is now considered ‘old-fashioned’. It requires a hearty appetite and robust constitution. I suppose casseroles are more winter fare than spring time, but then it hasn’t been particularly warm of late; and let’s face it, there are a limited number of things you can do with an old bird from the freezer. It appears the electorate views the prospect of city mayors in much the same way: a blast from the past and not worth the effort. Just as there’s a limit to the amount of food a person can or should consume, so too the multiple layers (and cost) of our governing bureaucracy.

Wednesday, May 2

Life stirs

We needed today. Morale was pretty low following the wettest April on record and a miserable May in prospect. This afternoon’s temperature reached an unbelievable 20º! All it needed was a shot of sunshine and everything sprang to life. The ewes and their lambs continue to progress, ascending field by field, until their eventual release onto the moor. Insects of every shape and size have taken to the air. Upstairs the bats are stirring. Unknown critters appear, only to bury beneath the homestead ... but then the yard is already a mass of tunnels. And the swallows arrive. Two have already bagged the barn’s choice nest, the other vacant properties will doubtless fill as the week progresses. Our ride-on mower received its first real outing of the year; several barrow loads of debris were stacked in readiness for the next bonfire; something ate the hen pheasant; our neighbours’ cats massacred whatever came to hand; and I endured an hour in the dentist’s chair.

Tuesday, May 1

Quelle surprise

I’m shocked and amazed: a committee of reptiles stare into the mirror and don’t like what they see. But then we’ve only ourselves to blame.