Thursday, August 30

Sunrise and Alexander Pope

THE SKY is racing past this morning as though fleeing from someone or something. It tastes of salt from the Atlantic and transforms the outlook with a succession of changing light patterns, pastel colours and greys and blues, dispensing rainbows and bitter squalls that spit and snarl at the trees, prematurely aged as they are with autumn wrinkles. They wave in the breeze shouting me, me, me...flashing their bright red berries and glittering wet foliage. Wood pigeons and squirrels forage about the grounds. Magpies slip beneath my radar to steal chicken feed from the field shelter. The ponies look on, lower their heads and tear at clumps of grass. Chick Corea plays a Hart-Rogers composition in the background. Do I know what time it is and appreciate how much is left to accomplish my fancies? Do I still dream? Of course I do: life requires it; hope, it seems, springs eternal.

Tuesday, August 28

No resemblance to Grandpa Munster

There was a time I’d have been a little nervous about being woken by bats fluttering above my pillow. At first you can’t see them, and think maybe a bird on the roof or a large moth in the rafters? In due course however the muted light reflects off beating wings as they circle the bed. On the plus side bats help restrict the domestic insect population, eliminating the need for mosquito nets.

Today’s lunch served beneath the spooky eyes of Papa Bento XVI was a taste of the typical home cooked charity raising fare that revolves around a diet of strong tea, quiche and fruit cake. I take the latter home to consume with a glass of whisky. It’s the twenty-first century and they’re still raising money for a mission in Africa.

Monday, August 27

Comfort food

Whilst not Tropical Storm Isaac, given today’s weather, I guess we can kiss goodbye to the village fete. Volunteers were displaying an optimistic front yesterday, erecting marquees and trestle tables. Unfortunately the cancellation of summer shows has been a common feature of this past six years. I made the most of yesterday while it was still dry and walked my usual circuit on the moor. I passed just one couple, staggering along under the weight of a giant rucksack; their storm-lashed campsite this morning must be a real treat. Morale is all in current conditions and Mrs G. has produced a succession of roast chicken dinners to brighten the outlook. Our search for the perfect bird goes on, though it appears to have narrowed to a producer from the Honiton area and another from close by.

Friday, August 24

The daily gripe

I have to admit that whatever I may be depriving myself of, hidden away as we are, good food is not one of the commodities in short supply. Tonight’s braised veal sweetbreads are a case in point. Along with creamed potatoes they’re a classic supper. Unfortunately offal isn’t something you tend to find on local cafe menus. It continues to amaze that traditional dishes, the sort your granny used to turn out, are now limited to Michelin starred restaurants. I guess rents and labour are so expensive there’s little left for the raw product, and as with any profession there are only so many individuals you can class competent with a frying pan. Back in the 70s there seemed to be a budding Keith Floyd or Rick Stein on just about every street corner; these days it’s more makeweights from the local catering college. I’m probably being unfair, given the bar has been raised so high; but whether a haircut or a plate of food, talent – at least down the line – appears a scarce commodity. Or is it that contemporary talent pursues a different path?

Not dead yet

Leaves are falling from the trees as though autumn is already upon us. The way our weather’s been going lately you wouldn’t disagree. And yet Emperor Dragonflies continue to emerge from the pond, and the lavender remains alive with bees; blackbirds and toads root amongst the undergrowth for slugs and insects. Flowering marjoram and scarlet geraniums suggest summer’s not dead yet.

Thursday, August 23

Egg and chips with everything

The house martins are very active just now. They usually stay within the confines of the village as I suspect we’re too high for them; the air is anything but delicate. Today, however, a large group circled the yard and pursued each other amongst the trees. Perhaps they’ve decided to follow the swifts and head off early.

Our domestic birds are now producing and the eggs are stacking up, so it’s poached, boiled or fried with just about everything.

Pick and choose

Thank Christ I’m the age I am; that I lived thru the age I did. In today’s Telegraph the po-faced Peter Obourne, Conduct unbecoming, takes Prince Harry to task for behaving like a 27-year-old. ‘... he is not a minor celebrity, a pop star or footballer, who has been given licence by society to behave disgracefully.’ In a similar vein the Times describes the Prince’s companions as ‘hot women and Essex Boys’. I guess I find it amusing that, amongst my own circle, the same people who decry the slaughter of moles are also happy to promote a fatwa on magpies; and whilst expressing a horror of racial slurs, openly ridicule our so-called schemies.

The young lad who cut my hair in town today commented on the number of female customers who pass him their telephone number, who he subsequently sees when out clubbing. He confirmed most of his clients were ‘middle-aged’ women ‘in the region of 27-28’.

Tuesday, August 21

Walking amongst the flowers

Whilst the weather didn’t promise much, Monday turned out to be one of those increasingly rare rain free delights – and something of a bonus, given the previous day’s get together. The neighbours made free with a crate of Bordeaux’s finest, transforming what was planned as pre-lunch drinks into one of those Sunday noontime sessions that extends to supper ... It takes me longer to recover these days, and so in an effort to mitigate the damage I set off across the moor at sunrise to walk it off. The immediate area is colonised by bands of ponies, each group consisting of a stallion, several mares and any number of foals; all great looking animals. The Boys Brigade has an ongoing DofE expedition in the region. An enthusiastic bunch of lads that – and this is so culturally alien to me – insist on exchanging high-fives as you pass on the track. I guess I’m not as hip these days. Not that I ever was; truth to tell I was always more Erik Sykes and Arthur Haynes than Monty Python. The trekkers’ youthful enthusiasm only reminds me of my own similar adventures as a teenager, albeit back in that days when Scott McKenzie was promoting his love of horticulture. I recall the weather was much brighter that particular summer.

Friday, August 17

Tenuous links

It appears there could be different paths to a longevity sans the dribbling. According to an article in this morning’s Telegraph, scientists have discovered there are among us a group of octogenarian “super-agers” who have brains that ape people 30 years younger. For some, apparently, it’s down to genes, for others a combination of genes and a healthy lifestyle. ‘The super-agers really are a diverse group, not all were wealthy, some exercised five times a week while others only ran if they were chased. Some individuals smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years and had a Martini each evening while others never touched alcohol or cigarettes. So it seems there are different paths to becoming a super-ager. There may be some people for whom genetics is very important and they are able to get away with being unhealthy and still have super brains.’ My first question is who drinks Martinis in this day and age? Octogenarians, I guess. If you tested enough people you’d probably find eleven granddads that could give Roy Hodgson’s team a run for their money. But then it is always good to read of ‘discoveries’ promising redemption from those poor lifestyle choices of earlier years; that will somehow wipe the slate clean. I still can’t find my keys.

Tuesday, August 14

Custard and jam

Almost overnight our local stretch of the moor has blossomed.

Monday, August 13

After the show

It has been one of those Mondays: a mixture of routine and drudge, occasioning a default dinner at the Dog & Duck. The portions were, as usual, ridiculous, seemingly suited to Herculean farm hands or the morbidly obese. Our fellow diners’ replica football shirts were straining at the seam but they still managed pudding. Instead of the fantasy aspirations fostered by the Olympics I guess it is back to reality.

Sunday, August 12

The Olympic closing ceremony

It’s great, wonderful; and sad, too, closing as it does 16 days of competitive fun. But why can’t someone shut Hazel Irvine up – she’s intruding on the party. What is this need to talk over everything?

Friday, August 10

D’oh!

I struggled for two hours under a blazing sun, trying to fit a new drive belt. I appreciate it has to be tight but why do they always appear an inch short for whatever I’m working on. I tried a crowbar and assorted improvised levers, bent my favourite screwdriver, all without success. Finally Mrs G. appears; she shakes her head and reverses my schematic. Two minutes later the damn thing is running fine. It doesn’t half piss you off.

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive

Johnny Mercer’s lyrics come to mind. It’s that day again: another birthday: an excuse for a celebratory drink. And as luck would have it I’m in a positive mood. Sunshine and Olympic success helps. What with the more usual diet of doom and gloom these days it’s not easy maintaining a glass-half-full approach. Young Nelson’s optimistic piece in today’s Telegraph is accompanied by a flood of bile. I don’t doubt we’ll all feel a little deflated after the weekend, when the circus has left town, but what a party it has been.

Thursday, August 9

On the tourist trail

The financial uplift from the Olympics arrived today in the form of Asian tourists in full Rodney Dangerfield mode, wandering about the yard photographing anything that moved. It was totally surreal. It seems they were looking for our much grander neighbours: “Apologies for trespassing; we realised we were in the wrong location when we saw your house: it’s so small.” Cheeky buggers.

Wednesday, August 8

Sundowners


A flock of kebabs pass by the back door on their way to the moor.

Morning walk

Though not a Texas longhorn you wouldn't want to wrestle the lad.

Fantasy land

England moved up to third position in FIFA rankings. And you thought boxing produced some questionable results. Brazil are rated as 13th. FIFA rankings are about as reliable as the Bank of England's forecasts.

Tuesday, August 7

Expensive fruit

Whilst our recent visit to a local takeaway just about ended the quest for edible Chinese-style fare, exponents of the Thai variety produce some decent stuff. Lunch today at Exeter’s Jasmine Restaurant – the third in recent times – was particularly good. It’s a clean, comfortable place with marvellous service and ice-cold beer. Make sure you select the ‘spicy’ option when asked: it is well worth the tears.

Not that I’ve room to talk but – given the price of a packet of cigs – I am continually surprised at the number of women who smoke. And in the main it does appear the fair sex that remains addicted. I guess you have to spend your hard-earned money on something; one way or another someone or something will pick your pockets. I recently stood prevaricating in front of a fruit stall wondering whether to blow a whole £2.50 on a punnet of blueberries. Then en route home the motor broke down and I had to have the gearbox rebuilt. They proved damn expensive berries, costing more than the vehicle is worth. I know shit happens, sometimes, but...

Monday, August 6

The sweet smell of success

A morning spent rectifying a snag in the sewage system, emptying and degunging the septic tank. Ah, fun days. Who’d have thought a set of drain rods would become treasured possessions, replace my golf clubs. The mud and midges on this afternoon’s forestry walk were a piece of cake. Back home for more Olympics: show jumping from Greenwich. We might not be able to beat the Cloggies at football but it seems Team GB can sail boats and ride horses. Something to be promoted at grass-roots level maybe: stables and sand schools instead of school footy pitches? Can’t see it myself; however, they are calling for a wholesale rethink of UK Sports Policy. I think the last thing sport needs is for government to start poking its nose in. Can you imagine a quota system for sports clubs, Eton patois in the St Andrew’s dressing room?

Sunday, August 5

Sanctimonious waffle

Whilst I sneaked outside at seven this morning to unleash the chickens and check on the ponies I can’t find it in me to repeat the exercise. It’s not so much raining as a deluge. I’ve repeatedly whinged about the rain in recent months but this could be the heaviest, most sustained yet. It has been ongoing since four. The saving grace is there’s little wind; when it comes at you horizontally things become uncomfortable. If you are foolish enough to be down here camping – and I’ve come across a number of teenagers on the moor pursuing their DoE – it can’t be much fun. And I guess that’s the point, be it Olympic success or life in general. As a self-avowed idle bugger I'm hardly a role model, yet even I can appreciate that little of worth just drops into your lap. If only our footballers understood; had the ambition of our Olympians. A disappointing bunch, very disappointing. I mean, it wasn’t as if he had to sink a fifty-foot putt: how difficult can it be to kick a ball between two posts eight yards apart and eight feet high? Then again, Stuart Pearce, missed penalties, leading by example...blah, blah, blah. Given they were always going to crash and burn would it have hurt him to have included Beckham and pleased/entertained the crowd. I guarantee the television audience would have been much improved.

Usual finger pointing

Predictably the papers have their fair share of ‘why are all our Olympians educated at public schools?’ Ergo, state schools are failing: they’ve sold off their sports fields, outlawed competitive sport, etc, etc. I’m not sure state schools were ever the El Dorado implied. Whilst it’s true there were probably more facilities and prescribed sports/PE periods, the primary effort tended to be concentrated on the dozen ‘talented’ characters demonstrating promise, and whose success would reflect well on the Sports’ Master. The remainder were consigned to the ubiquitous cross-country jog along the canal tow path. If you wanted to engage in sport you tended to join a club outside school, be it soccer, cycling, hill walking, swimming, judo, table tennis... Then again maybe I’m being disingenuous. Wednesday afternoons at school were always given over to sport, another two periods being dedicated to the swimming pool, and there was at least two sessions of gym-based exercise. Annual sports day, athletics, was a big deal; and there were regular competitive footy/cricket matches against rival schools, not to mention the inter-house rivalry within school. I’m talking a bog-standard secondary modern here. Amazingly we still found time for calculus and quadratic equations, physics, chemistry and biology, wood work and metal work, along with regular religious worship. Truth is we spent every break-time and evening kicking a football around, ditto a large part of the weekends and holidays. I guess kids have more interesting things to do these days.

Penalties, yet again penalties

Grief it’s bleak this morning; black as a Newgate’s knocker. A good proportion of the Atlantic must have been deposited on the yard overnight. Yesterday, in contrast, was all sunshine and light. The 10,000m race has been a favourite of mine since the days of Lasse Viren and David Bedford, so it was wonderful to see Mo Farah clinch the gold. Whilst Greg Rutherford was unexpected, Ennis’s introduction to the crowd prior to her 100m hurdle race demonstrated the weight of expectation: and didn’t she carry it off well. Would that Sturridge and his colleagues were as focused and capable, dare I say ‘had the balls’. I hadn’t even looked to see what the bookies were offering for a penalties outcome. Congrats to Korea. Good finishing.

Saturday, August 4

Damn but they’re good

I can only but echo the media in lauding Team GB’s female Olympians. The women competitors have been an inspiration to watch, dispelling any lingering prejudice that may have lain buried. Truth to tell, what Mrs G. hadn’t already quashed disappeared long ago after discovering most every farmer’s wife I meet is capable of toting me around under one arm whilst balancing a tractor on the other. I still wouldn’t pay real money to watch women’s football, but then neither would I cross the road to listen to Stuart Pearce.

Thursday, August 2

Nitpicking at the Olympics

Given he is the most decorated British Olympian of all time, and appears such a personable guy – is so obviously a class act at his chosen sport, it’s probably heresy for me to suggest Wiggins may not be amongst the greatest of our Olympians. I mean...cycling? I feel a similar lack of enthusiasm as regards golf, tennis, football...Footy is too tribal to encompass the home nations; and anyway, we have the World Cup and European Championships for this sort of thing (the Tour de France, Golf’s Majors, Wimbledon...). I can’t help feeling it devalues the Olympics when Gold Medals are reduced to something you need to make up the set. Still, I’m nitpicking; the punters obviously love it and are happy to pay whatever it takes to watch just about anything. And there’s some great stuff to follow. Not least, today, with Gemma Gibbons’ win over Tcheumeo, and Ogogo beating the world number one Ievgen Khytrov. Great fights.

Costa coffee controversy

Along with the price of milk, the Costa controversy continues to exercise local debate. For what is a relatively small place you’d think 41 independent coffee outlets already provides for blanket coverage. However, whilst I have the time and opportunity to engage in a process of trial and error, a significant proportion of Totnes trade comes from casual visitors. And given the choice of a known product or taking a gamble on the esoteric, the shabby chic, I suspect 80% will choose the familiar, however undistinguished its coffee.

Wednesday, August 1

Hope springs eternal

Perhaps because my birthday falls due, and as it was also once the traditional ‘holiday’ month (trades fortnight, etc.), I have a soft spot for August. These days it doesn’t signify, although the sense you should be taking it easy lingers. Doubtless it’s my artful memory at fault, but I could swear this used to be sunshine and roses time, rather than gales, mist and rain. The neighbour’s cockerel is sounding mightily pissed this morning and who can blame him.