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 salĂ© 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.

Friday, September 14

Europa

Never mind the story, does anyone recognise the (Scottish) artist?

Recommended pasta

We ate a dish of pasta for supper yesterday evening. These days the range and quality you can purchase, even in village shops, bears no relation to the days we had to hike up town to a Soho family deli for something half-decent. This one was a campanelle tricolore from jazz hands of Shepton Mallet and comes highly recommended. I would take issue with their 300g ‘serves four’ but then we were eating it on its own as a light supper rather than as a starter or combined with a heavy sauce. It was served with just a basil pesto and a coating of grated Parmesan from The Olive Branch whose produce is available at one of our local markets and is a cut above the usual.

Thursday, September 13

The back yard

It appears to go on forever. At least it does when you’re walking and the ground is heavy going, mires and fen. Right now it’s not one thing or the other: trees look burnt to a crisp and are shedding leaves, but there are Red Admirals, bumble bees and dragon flies every direction you look. Late morning I packed my sandwiches (egg ones, obviously) and, intent on escaping the gang at home, set off in a westerly direction. I stopped for lunch at Red Lake China Clay Works. An interest in industrial archaeology is unlikely to be satiated by what remains, but on a day like today, with the sun and a breeze, I’d be a happy bunny wherever. I’m told that back in the ’20s a hundred or so individuals lived and worked at this desolate site, returning home for weekends. Apart from the spoil tip which affords a good view of the surrounding country (see above) and three flooded pits there is little to mark their passing. Returned the long way round, virtually guaranteeing I won’t be out again for a day or two. My knees are shot.

Tuesday, September 11

Same old

A full house: with every one of our chickens laying on the same day. There are only so many omelets even I can eat. So much for my cholesterol problem, though I’m hopefully safe on the Alzheimer’s front. I can’t believe guys like Monbiot get paid for writing this sort of bullshit, or that people like me read it. If a diet of Iron Bru and deep-fried Mars bars really does turn you gaga then north of the border will come to resemble a Simon Pegg film. It was only yesterday the same people suggested that booze will have accounted for everyone long before senility set in. I’m halfway through one of Bertrand Russell’s tomes and I can’t say much appears to have changed over the years: that pernicious streak of piety will always be haranguing us from the sidelines. Halfway through another England match and nothing’s changed there either.

Monday, September 10

Pays your money...

Never mind tonight’s Panorama on silver fox drinkers, according to the late George Best’s surgeon, Prof Roger Williams, people who live in areas of the country with soft water are more likely to develop alcoholic liver disease than those elsewhere. Apparently it’s something to do with the water’s magnesium deficiency rather than the large Glenlivet you’ve added to the glass. I trust, like me, you’re boycotting Panorama. Civilisation by its nature promotes prudence, but that same circumspection too often robs you of the best things in life.

Sunday, September 9

A day off

I once smelt of cologne and aftershave: nowadays it is analgesic liniment and insect repellant. No matter how strong the solution the mozzies always get their man. I’ve more lumps and bumps than your average rock cake. At least today’s sirocco has kept the little buggers at bay ... There was the usual Sunday morning crowd in town today, together with a fair retinue of street performers and black-face morris dancers. We’re spoiled for entertainment hereabouts, though I did miss Friday night’s performance by Kenny Paul, ‘Ireland’s favourite singer’ - £10 at the door and bring your own bottle. The O2 arena it ain’t. We have today off for a change, even lunch was pre-cooked. I barbequed a seven pound slab of beef yesterday and there is a fair chunk left over – perfect with Mrs G’s potato salad and my chimichurri sauce.

Friday, September 7

Normal service

Following our burst of sunshine normal service is forecast to return for next week, hopefully after the lads have finished painting our exterior. Thanks to the inclement weather the Dog & Duck’s landlord told me it took him three months to brighten up the pub’s exterior, so I thought we’d dropped lucky. If today in Totnes was to be believed everyone else is also making up for lost time. It seemed as though each and every building boasted a ladder or run of scaffolding, with men in white overalls making free with the whitewash. The town was crawling with visitors, all 42 coffee shops bursting at the seams. I bumped into our old neighbour who was busking on the high street; donated another ten shillings to a young girl interpreting a popular Stan Getz recording. Purchased a Greek Salad and tub of humus from the Olive Branch for lunch, and fish cakes from Cockleshell for supper. It’s good to see the economy back on an even keel, even if it is just a temporary aberration.

Wednesday, September 5

At last

September, and summer has arrived. Accordingly I have begun ‘spring’ cleaning: for starters, hacking away at the decade’s worth of accumulated organic material that coats the hardstanding around the shed. I’ve also build another impressive bonfire of rotted fence posts and redundant garden furniture, and which sits ready for our next breeze-free day. Maybe I should put a guy on top? I might have moved on since McPlonker but there’s plenty of competition for a new likeness.

Tuesday, September 4

Going to work on an egg

The prospect of an auspicious run of sunshine greets the decorators. What with their power sanders and burning paint you’d think we were at the dentist’s. I didn’t finish myself until late last night: cutting grass, cleaning gutters, generally making ready – spraying the yard with bleach so the ladders don’t slip from under them. By the time the kebabs came off the barbeque the sun was well below the proverbial yardarm. That said, I was outside checking on the chickens and bat watching at three this morning, and thanks to the current moon the place was lit up like a Wednesday-night footy match. I guess it saves on torch batteries. Saving on eggs is something we don’t have to worry about: Mrs G. is conducting a bake fest in an effort to diminish our burgeoning collection. One of the neighbours has offered to buy our surplus for resale at the local farmers’ market. I somehow doubt it’s a way to riches.