Friday, June 29

Traditional or convenience

We’ve been up in the old neighbourhood these last couple of days, visiting familiar faces; faeces, too, given the scale of muckspreading operations. We dropped by a local produce market where it was hard to credit the range of pies, puddings and tarts – a half-dozen stalls in themselves – all home-baked by women who know their business (60-80 age group). Elsewhere a punnet of fruit for pennies; freshly cut herbs, and fungi of every shape and size; venison faggots, potted meats and terrines, small-holders’ cheeses and artisan bakers. Not that this shortened the adjacent queues for KFC, Pizza Palace or the neighbourhood greasy spoon. But then each to his own; all has a place. Tonight’s dinner is mince, dough balls and tatties.

Thursday, June 28

This week’s bogeyman

Grief, who’d be a banker these days, especially one working for Barclays? The public loves its bogeymen, be it a politician, banker, social worker, school teacher, fat cat doctor, chav or baby boomer. Some blame Thatcher; I always plumb for McPlonker. You take your pick. It’s a pity we can’t bring back the Coliseum and have done with it. I’m sure there are one or two righteous people somewhere in the world, but humans are fallible creatures, and given the chance...

Rocket scientists conclude that

The secret to happiness is a quiet life...and if drying the dishes is all it takes, then life’s not that onerous. I’m not trusted to do the actual washing up as I supposedly use too much soap; nor iron my shirts, because the creases end up in the wrong place; and whilst my cooking is too spicy and music too loud, I do get to operate the television remote, light fires and drive motor vehicles.

Monday, June 25

Same old story

So that’s it for another two years. We, England, are what we are; good in parts, but – belying our FIFA ranking – strictly second division. Despite a valiant effort the players appeared too tired to do what was necessary, and I guess it’s back to criticizing the demands of the domestic season (not that the Premier League appears to have diminished Balotelli’s talents). What is it with English footballers’ inability to retain possession? On the plus side we exceeded our original expectations; we won’t have to witness Germany tearing us apart on Thursday; nor suffer the indignity of more Carragher, Keane et al. That said I enjoyed Mark Lawrenson’s classic descent from cautious optimism to abject despair.

Sunday, June 24

Topping up the vitamin D

Steps back in amazement. After lighting a fire this morning and donning my trusty fleece, the sun makes a rare appearance. They say this could be the wettest June for 100 years, and who am I to argue. Grey it may be, but after clocking a richly coloured vixen and two redstarts in amongst the foxgloves earlier on, hope springs eternal. I’m trying to summon some enthusiasm for the outcome of tonight’s game. Oh for the chance of another crack at Germany. Received wisdom seems to be that England v Italy is a 50/50 bet, with England riding their luck to win out against the form book. After such an exciting series of first-round contests, the three quarter-finals to date have been a yawn. Each game has featured an outstanding team playing alongside one from the second division. Whilst the combination of England and luck is something of an oxymoron, let’s hope we at least have more of a match this evening.

Friday, June 22

Staycations

Whilst Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the government want us to stay home this summer, I can sympathise with those people who routinely beat a path to their local airport. It is difficult to recall such a prolonged period of bleak weather outside Scotland. I’m afraid ‘Come to Birmingham’ adverts just don’t cut it. Rather than the weather improving there is an even greater number of seagulls circling overhead this morning – a sure sign more is on the way. One of the mares dropped a foal earlier in the week. The little tyke ran ’round the paddock for two minutes, looked up at the black clouds and promptly died on us. Who could blame it?

Tuesday, June 19

Escape to the moor

It appears the same this time each year: one glimpse of the sun and there’s a mad dash to cut silage. I’m just pleased to be back out walking on the moor...seems ages. Miles of wilderness and the only person I meet turns out to be a rabid republican with a fixation on the quantity of German blood that flows through the Queen’s veins. God save me from old ladies with a cause, brandishing heavy walking sticks and small vicious dogs.

Living on the edge

The surest sign of advancing years is a recognition that life is repeating itself. Shades of Cathy come home, according to the Guardian article. It seems no matter you put in the hours, scorn benefits and ‘do the right thing’, hard work and self-reliance isn’t enough. I would also suggest it is taxes and inflation these people fear rather than government cuts. That’s not necessarily the Guardian’s take on Experian’s research, though they too arrive at the question most people ask: ‘How did we get here?’ It’s no surprise the so-called English Riviera (Torquay, Paignton and Brixham) heads the list of righteous strugglers. Many of the lads I meet are derivatives of white-van-man from the very region, self-employed tradesmen in the main. Some have second jobs, their wives often work in retail or tourism. Buying diesel to keep the show on the road can in itself be a struggle. They would once have voted for Margaret Thatcher, but have since been ignored by Conservatives and Labour alike. In much the same way McPlonker castigated one of his longstanding supporters as ‘that bigoted woman’ (from Rochdale), Tories dismiss what were once part of their core constituency as ‘people more suited to UKIP’s swivel-eyed rhetoric’. I trust they have an alternative source of votes at the next election.

Monday, June 18

Supporting Spain tonight

Just as asparagus marks the advent of spring, so broad beans spell summer’s arrival. I regard these old world/Mediterranean favourites as luxury food because they require a little effort in their preparation and cooking, and on account Mrs G serves them up with slices of jamón serrano and chilled fino. With our grim weather refusing to budge, a little sunshine on the plate (or in your glass) can’t help but improve the mood. On the face of it this should be a fun week: Royal Ascot kicks off tomorrow and there’s football every other evening. However, chopping wood for the fire and donning wellies doesn’t exactly shout June as I used to remember it.

Saturday, June 16

Latest additions to the yard

Having reduced the grass to an acceptable height, the sheep – all 63 of them – have departed for pastures new. In their place are several ponies, cute little characters every one.

Marple 3 Salander 2

It’s amazing what a goal can do, leader writers hastily binning their caustic comment for the hyperbole of something snatched from the jaws of defeat – comparing Andy Carroll to Alan Shearer and Jeff Astle...Agatha Christie triumphing over Stieg Larsen. At times it looked to have been more Jane Marple than Jeff Astle with our usual inability to retain possession for more than three passes. Still, all’s well that ends well. Let’s hope Joe Hart has a more luck in the next game. Exciting stuff.

Friday, June 15

Rash of consumer spending

The Bovey Tracey Contemporary Craft Festival appeared less crowded this year, probably because of the weather. There aren’t many places hereabouts where you can spend £2k on a rocking chair or choose to fork out £750 for a penknife. It’s essentially a market for those gorgeous, tasteful, little stylish little gorgeous things so beloved by AdFab’s Eddie. Despite the diminished footfall – and perhaps thanks in part to Mervyn King’s proposed credit fest – there were plenty of punters flashing the cash. Naked consumption, maybe, but it keeps the economy ticking over.

Wednesday, June 13

Pastoral scene not all it’s cracked up to be

There’s hardly a breath of wind outside, as if we’re in the eye of a storm. Another deluge is forecast for later today, yet more torrential rain and gale-force winds. It can’t be helping the birds feed their offspring. When a song thrush disregards caution to land alongside you and retrieve a worm it becomes obvious things are tight. The swallows are very active extracting whatever ventures out above ground. At least I managed to accomplish a couple of things outside yesterday, today is inside work. I’ve found an old tin of paint in the barn so I might as well paint a wall. I wonder how Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony will reflect the reality of life in the mud. Pastoral scenes, maypole dancing...I know we were looking to do things on the cheap, but seriously? Why not just get the Queen to drive around the arena in her chariot waving to the crowd, and then get straight to the action?

Monday, June 11

Missing the pics

I thought we were privileged when back at the barn, given our exposure to local birdlife. However, our current situation is of a different order. We’ve found many of the old favourites here in the yard, along with so much more. I promise to unpack the Brownie at some stage and document a few.

Sunday, June 10

Grass-munching kebabs

A neighbour has been a touch over generous in response to my request for the loan of a sheep to keep down the grass.

The rejuvenating power of shellfish

Mid June and I’m still lighting fires of a morning. It is grey outside...drizzling. A mist has descended, visibility is down to 40 yards or so. And yet despite the low temperature, the cloak engenders a warm, comfortable feeling that comes from being hidden away, divorced from the outside world and all its troubles. One of the lads at the Dog & Duck wants to up and move to the ‘seaside’. Having lived in close proximity to the briny murk I have tried to explain the downside, how much worse it can be, particularly in winter. Though he claims to relish screeching gulls and the aroma of fried food I suspect his desire for change has more to do with being tethered to the same familiar post for the last half-century. Despite my warning the grass is rarely greener – that it’s more likely parched and full of weed – the thought of whelks and an ice cream cone have put a spring in his weary step.

Saturday, June 9

It’s only a game

Whilst chuckling at Matthew Norman’s entertaining article, success and failure, for England, has often been down to fine margins, missed penalties. On another day, you felt...maybe? It’s less the sense of entitlement as he suggests, and more our irrational attachment to blind faith and optimism, the desire to compete. Defeat is nature’s check on our inbuilt belligerence.

Friday, June 8

Friday is fish day

The megrim soles I acquired filleted out to four decent portions. Whilst not in the same league as lemon soles, the two together cost £4.75. The last time I purchased a ‘single’ lemon sole of similar weight – admittedly from a neighbourhood ‘my customers are suckers and have money to burn’ establishment – it cost £12.75. I find megrims go down better with the aid of a decent sauce and something fresh and fruity from the Loire Valley. To follow today’s treat we have poached apricots and crème fraîche. It’s to sustain me through the coming hours/days in front of the box, glued to the footy.

The Tower

In a Times Opinion piece Matthew Parris leads with ‘A riverside monstrosity,’ lambasting Guoman Hotel’s London Tower, the backdrop to HM’s flotilla review, describing it as the ugliest, most inappropriately placed hotel in London. He opines the responsible planning officers should be stoned to death on Tower Bridge. Whilst I admit its brutalist architecture is something of an acquired taste and acknowledge it was once voted the second most-ugly building in the capital, for yours truly it has its place in the memory. Back in the ’70s when us yokels from the provinces were summoned to London, it was in the Tower we were billeted. I still recall the establishment’s fine dining experience, the prawn filled avocados, pepper steaks and crêpes suzettes. I’m not sure we ever slept in the hotel as we made the most of our visits to the smoke, occasionally returning from the pubs and clubs for a shower and clean shirt. It was the escapades rather than the hotel which colour the memory, but the Tower basks in the glow.

Thursday, June 7

Southwest monsoon weather

Following running repairs outside I am on today’s third change of clothing. Damn it’s wet, wind wise about as bad as I’ve seen at the homestead. I can’t believe we still have power, that all of the trees remain standing (tempting fate). A flood alert has just been announced for the local metropolis. I wouldn’t fancy being here on a half-term camping holiday, the tent would already be back in Dudley. You have to marvel at people’s resilience...looking on as families strike camp and return home just days into their break seems to have been a regular feature of recent years. Yet they always return hoping this time it will be different. I reckon 50% of the neighbour’s visitors throw in the towel before their time’s up.

Hoping for the best, preparing for disappointment

With the FA continuing to manage expectations, hoping for a quarter-final place, Rooney quite rightly pipes up with an assertion that we’re good enough to make the final. I say more power to your elbow: we can take this collective pessimism business too far. Damn it, FIFA have just elevated England to number six in the world rankings. I think most of us are experienced enough to gauge what our real chances are, our being imbued with decades of disappointment. Hope springs eternal, however, and for what it’s worth I’ve got my pocket money on a semi-final slot.

Batten down the hatches

Normal service has resumed following the Queen’s Jubilee; the streets are empty as people return to work. Unfortunately rain continues to fall, if anything the tap has been opened another notch – the Met Office issuing a severe weather warning for this neck of the woods, forecasting 60-70 mph winds. Lanes in/out are already flooded and our electricity supply is on the blink. Even the pond’s newts look discouraged. There’s little can be achieved outside, unfortunately: whilst it may not be corn, nor as high as an elephant’s eye, the yard has grown close to waist height. I’m sure it benefits the wildlife, hunters and hunted alike, however, I can’t help but suspect the neighbours will accuse me of slacking. In between re-laying a carpet and unblocking the drains I managed to nip down and acquire two megrim soles from the fishmonger. Barbeque is definitely off the menu.

Tuesday, June 5

Today I’ve run out of steam

Last night’s enthusiasm for the Jubilee celebrations appeared undimmed. The torch was applied to our local beacon at 22.15hrs and immediately joined by four distant but visible pyres. There was music and fireworks, and tents for the all-nighters. Whilst young families with lots of children appeared the mainstay, the band came from earlier years in the Queen’s reign and featured familiar favourites from the Stones, Hendrix, Cream, etc. One more day and we can return to normal life...gales and torrential rain, and Roy Hodgson’s smiling face.

Sunday, June 3

Knees up

In spite of the miserable weather today’s national Jubilee celebrations appear buoyed by the proverbial Dunkirk spirit: literally, given the small-craft flotilla on the Thames. Here at the homestead not everything has gone according to plan, our having missed most of yesterday’s televised action from Epsom in favour of helping out on the chicken farm. I still reek of the blighters, though we now know a great deal more about red mites, lice, worms and impacted crops; and whilst not as speedy as in the old days, it was good to acknowledge I can still move fast enough to ape the chicken-chasing Rocky Bilbao. This afternoon we are out performing with the choir, so if you’re in town and partial to medieval ballads or 18th C sea shanties come along. I know, I know, not my usual stuff ... but this is supposed to be a programme of nostalgia – think Jethro Tull before their electronic/hard rock period.

Saturday, June 2

Progress

As we begin the Jubilee bank holiday, an extended weekend of celebration and indulgence, like many of my ilk I can’t help but look back on life as a modern-day Elizabethan. Whilst the contemporary economy is mired in crap and our outlook uncertain (so what’s new?), and in spite of the odd annus horribilis and a succession of ups and downs, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that the past 60 years have been a lot of fun. They’ve been fun because we never expected a great deal and have escaped the hardships that were our parents’ lot. Life, despite the post-war decline in Britain’s status, has been an adventure, and in comparison to the 16th C working man something of a bonus. Ok so they had the English Renaissance, Shakespeare, the flowering of poetry, music and literature, but we’ve got Simon Cowell and EastEnders.