Friday, November 30

Ten-bob apples

I love apples and appreciate times have changed, but ten-bob for an apple? In the old days you could have picked up the Stones latest single and downed a couple of pints on the way home. Then again we only earned four-quid a week.

Thursday, November 29

Chill and chillies

The sun has blazed down all day. By four this afternoon the outside thermometer registered -1º. The pond remained frozen and the frost unbowed. Roll on winter I say: a return to whisky and fruitcake snacks. That said it’s been an enjoyable day today. Full marks to the lunchtime red curry squid served up at Mrs G’s favourite Thai restaurant. It took forty minutes for me to work my way through a modest bowl of nuclear-strength rubbery bits … It seems there’s plenty to chew on with the issue of Leveson’s report. Say what you like about our newspapers, rather the reptiles than a world ordered by a bunch of sanctimonious prigs such as Lord Justice Leveson. It says a lot about contemporary Britain when the leader of the liberal party urges a leash for the press. Someone has to piss on them. In the absence of stocks and an ample supply of rotten fruit & vegetables, dipsticks such as Clegg are one of the reasons our press exists. You can no more control the actions of journalists, bankers and politicians than you can the feral beasts that flit about the homestead – and I’ve to be persuaded you’d want to.

All change

What a beautiful morning, a return to our pastel-coloured skies. Outside is still and quiet for a change, only the rustle of a lone hen pheasant as it waddles through brittle autumn leaves. A rising sun has already set to work on the frosted ground. A scene ripe for metaphors and clichés.

Tuesday, November 27

Commiseration from the big man

The Prime Minister dropped by this morning to commiserate with our local flood victims. He did the necessary furrowed brow and proffered a round of handshakes before leaping back onto his helicopter and disappearing into the murk. Bless his heart he even wore a fleece to blend in with the rest of us – no posh boys here. As it happens the rain looks to have disappeared north. The north has sent us a raw wind in exchange. Still it’s nice to get out however grey the outlook. A hearty soup for supper this evening, courtesy of the weekend’s roast chicken.


You can see the effect that damp has on our environment in the growth that afflicts the trees and buildings.

Sunday, November 25

Zealous boredom

Needless to say yesterday’s dried out clothing was soppin’ within an hour of my waking this morning. But enough of rain...though the storms currently battering Devon are impossible to ignore I’m in danger of sounding like Eric Olthwaite’s cousin from down south. And I had so many plans for this weekend, none of which involved waterproof clothing. Whilst there are always jobs around the house to take care of, damn it, it’s Sunday! Years ago nothing happened on Sundays; nowadays it can be our busiest day of the week. That said, life has become a tyranny. You continually feel obliged to ‘do’ something – even if all else fails there’s always a walk or a diverting book. Zealous contemplation might be sweet but just sitting and ‘thinking’ brings on a guilt complex. I feel as though I’m slacking. It’s also scary. There might be nothing there when I flip the switch; worse, it opens a door on that scary existential shit you’d rather not know about. Thankfully I have a high boredom threshold. Drying paint and I are old friends.

Saturday, November 24

Don’t you just hate it when

I thought to sneak out for the papers before the real heavy stuff arrived. As I slammed the door a downpipe detached itself from the front of the homestead and toppled into the yard. Nothing for it but to drag my ladder from the shed and shin up the building. It’s up there with most of the other fun things in life: fiddling with outside plumbing whilst the rain lashes down. Nine in the morning and I’m already on my second change of clothing.

Friday, November 23

Worse (weather) to come

Occasionally a meal excels. Some time back, on one of our trips to Malaga, we ate a fish dish that was so far removed from the day-to-day norm as to become a yardstick for everything since. Tonight’s fish pie ran it close. Although the accompanying bottle of Antonio Barbadillo’s Manzanilla doubtless enhanced the experience, as a Friday supper it was something special – and a gallant attempt on Mrs G’s part to compensate for our dismal weather, to introduce a little Andalusia sunshine into the homestead. Given tomorrow’s forecast maybe I should wheel out the barbeque?

Thursday, November 22

Celebration season continues

As today is Mrs G’s birthday I’ve been obliged to suspend work in order to quaff champagne and nibble on shrimp and water cress butteries. How the other half live eh? Tomorrow it’ll be back to porridge and stovies. Actually the food stakes haven’t been too bad in recent days. Our anniversary steak & kidney pudding was outstanding. Unlike the claret it served a second day. Monday night’s rogan josh was also a treat – Michael Pandya has been a trusted source of recipes since we acquired his Complete Indian Cookbook in the early ’80s. The subsequent evening’s calves liver and sautéed potato has always been a favourite. There is a lot of history/Italian restaurants tied to the dish. It is a constant challenge, coming up with something interesting every day. We eat in cycles, and still resort to pub/café meals in the search for different – something new. Our triumphs and disappointments are part of the fun. Whilst nostalgia for restaurants/haunts of old remains I suspect much of it reflects the spirit of those times rather than the cuisine. Nowadays we’d probably turn our nose up at a great deal of what we ate. Then again, given much of everything we currently eat and drink comes served with a government health warning, you could argue we lost the shine from most of life’s pleasures long ago. Thankfully the phrase ‘take a flying fuck’ remains dear to my heart (and stomach).

Wednesday, November 21

Temporary ceasefire

In the weather, that is … Roads were closed across the county yesterday as water poured off the moor and out of fields. A month’s worth of rain in 36 hours. Today, however, was sunshine and blue skies – although you wouldn’t want to be on the Dart River in a canoe. It’s only a temporary lull, apparently. After completing my chores I managed to sneak off for a jaunt through the mire under cover of a large flock of fieldfares. Yellow brain fungus and assorted lichens are about as colourful as the place gets at this time of year, always excepting the new jumper Mrs G. has knitted me – it’s certainly a hit at the Dog & Duck. Outside of the horsey crowd local fashion is not as staid as you’d imagine. We have our fair share of bohemian/ hippy/artist types, and you’d be surprised at the inventiveness that goes into accessorizing wax jackets and wellington boots. There’s also a sprinkling of well-heeled ladies from a bygone age with a taste for Caroline Charles. An old buddy rang last week with news that number one daughter had landed a paid internship with one of the major international fashion houses. Ordinary can be good, but as Di Matteo has discovered it’s not much of a game plan.

Tuesday, November 20

Marmite and our emasculated culture

I like it, it was spread on this morning’s toast. Tastes evolve however, and too much of the same thing, variety, etc ... In spite of myself I sometimes listen to the Andrew Marr show on Sundays. He comes across as Michael Gove’s older brother, inhabiting that same supercilious air. Don’t get me wrong I don’t dislike the lad – either of them – it’s just that, on occasion, for devilment, you find yourself wanting to back the motor over his scooter. I guess the attraction of Marr lies in the guests he attracts – most appear capable of reading and writing, are grown up. Sometimes during the week I watch Sky or BBC’s breakfast show. It’s like eavesdropping on a staff-room conversation. Even the men pretend to be girls. Little wonder we have midlife crises.

I’ve just return from another venture outside. The yard is under inches of water and there’s a raging torrent passing the back door. Having done my duty, clearing fallen branches from the lane and rescuing the chickens, I am back for another gallon of tea. What with the hill fog and low cloud the moor looks black and forbidding.

Normal service

It might have been wet overnight, like sleeping beneath a waterfall, but the temperature is almost tropical – into double figures. Last November was the second-warmest on record for the southwest and this one isn’t doing too badly. To think I used to be irritated by the flight path of early morning arrivals from Boston and Johannesburg. Here the roar of the wind as it bludgeons its way through surrounding trees would drown out a squadron of GR4s. That said rather the homestead than the chicken shack at the bottom of the yard. The hens’ puffed up finery is more akin to drowned rats.

Friday, November 16

A British Classic

Even someone as enthusiastic about food as yours truly would have difficulty justifying the number of television programmes dedicated to cooking and eating. Floyd was fun, but Stein became a boor and too many of the others are excessively camp, crass or self-indulgent. That said Clarissa Dickson Wright can be a chuckle, and though more a travelogue I enjoyed Locatelli’s jaunt around Sicily with Graham-Dixon. Michel Roux’s recent BBC Four episode on Escoffier was interesting as I knew next to nothing about the legendary French chef, particularly his part in establishing D’Oyly Cart’s London Savoy. I can’t quite recall the last time we ate there. I think Angela Hartnett was cooking. However I do remember I ordered steak & kidney pudding. It was the only occasion I’ve eaten this British classic since my bachelor days, and that one came in a Fray Bentos tin. The Savoy version was also a disappointment, more suited to a dolls’ house than the table of a grand restaurant. Ever since I have attempted to persuade Mrs G. to cook a proper job … and it’s taken until this latest anniversary of ours to have my wish realized. All I have to do is find a bottle of something suitable to accompany it. It was thirty-nine years ago today we tied the knot. I was hung over and it was snowing, bitterly cold. Britain was in recession, the public sector on strike, inflation had risen to 8.4% and the television sitcom Last of the Summer Wine began its first series run on BBC One. Seems like yesterday.

Wednesday, November 14

In the eye of …

We were up town yesterday, to Exeter, running errands and buying necessary supplies. It always brings out the Victor Meldrew in me, being thrown back into the swarm. I can’t help it. Biting your tongue proves as necessary in the real world as on the internet. More so as a casual remark in the wrong place often leads to far more than a groveling Monbiot-style apology ... It’s tempting to believe society in general has become as polarized as our politics appears to be. Yet on reflection the vast majority of people – as with our clone-like city centres – appear much as a muchness. In the absence of real beauty it’s often the ugly and garish that provides the colour.

Tuesday, November 13

Falling trees

I’m a lumberjack an’ I’m ok… There are a couple of guys wielding chainsaws out in the yard. Two of our neighbour’s sixty-foot pines have been judged unsound and the homestead is in danger, so down they come. The lads’ dress sense appears reasonably sound; as long as they don’t come knocking on the door asking for buttered scones.

Monday, November 12

Restoring trust with a fizzy-pop man

Old Farts are forever regaling us with how much better and more fun it was in the old days. However, contrast Andrew Neil’s eulogy for Sir Alistair Burnet with today’s televised interview by the BBC’s new director general, Tim Davie.

Chalk and cheese

George Entwistle’s ignominious departure, and Remembrance Day – a reminder of what constitutes bravery and leadership, coincide with yet another book on Churchill (reviewed in the Telegraph by Charles Moore). Perhaps the lesson for Entwistle’s replacement at the BBC is the one Moore makes of John Major: He was mild-mannered, collegiate and keen on the orderly despatch of business. He came as a huge relief after 11 and a half years of Margaret Thatcher. But she had led, and he did not. And so, after a bit, others did not follow him.

Sunday, November 11

Perspective

…you are a self important idiot who has positioned the art of cooking up there with fighting in the trenches. It’s not. It’s cooking. I do it, you do it and my 90-year-old nan does it. It’s just cooking.” Celebrity chefs, don’t you just love ’em. Then again on the scale of pretentiousness they come well down the list. As it happens I'm a bit fussy about crab starters myself. Not that they are likely to feature on our current menu. Last night’s supper was a reflection of the prevailing damp chill: braised beef – a mixture of shin and oxtail. Rib-sticking stuff, it took a bottle of Rumpole’s best to wash it down.

Saturday, November 10

Freedom to say whatever, or toast?

BBC’s Newsnight appoint Jack Duckworth as their new editor! What have we got to lose, say’s Director General Entwistle, it couldn’t get any worse. Not only did we we turn a blind eye to the glaringly obvious; in our arrogance we became complacent about the way our people pull the wool over the plebs’ eyes … Of course the downsides to this – and I wouldn’t like to minimize the degree of Schadenfreude we all feel over the BBC’s discomfort – is the moral advantage that Parliament will assume in the post-Leveson climate. As young Nelson says in The Spectator, when it comes to liberty, British governments of whatever stripe are little different to their counterparts in North Korea, Iran or China.

Friday, November 9

Return of an icon

Some time back a good friend I’d grown up with and who was an apprentice saddle-maker gifted me a belt he had made. The belt was a thing of beauty and lasted long after my youthful waist outgrew the number of holes. Unfortunately along the way it went missing, and it has taken until today to find a replacement.

Clive Dunn has sold his last sausage

I never did get Dad’s Army. Humour is one of the most transient of art forms: if you don’t catch it at the right moment, you probably never will. There’s probably an element of truth in Lewis’s contention, albeit conventional wisdom says great comedy like great art, transcends the generations. I’m not sure Fools and Horses travelled well; Tommy Cooper will always be hilarious. Although most of what passes for contemporary comedy is lost to boomers, I doubt they spend time chuckling at the thought of Mrs Slocombe’s pussy or wondering what happened to the Likely Lads. Rigsby still conjures a smile; the Navy Lark always will.

Thursday, November 8

Ignoring the arts

London's galleries, theatres and concert halls will be left half empty if the Government excludes arts subjects from the English Baccalaureate, ministers were warned today. I follow the argument but not the logic. London restaurants are unlikely to remain empty because the Roux brothers have been omitted from the curriculum. The arts are important to all of us and we rightly value them so, right behind our having to earn a living, paying the rent and feeding the family. It’s a trite and common observation I know but I wonder if the current high level of graduate unemployment has something to do with the subjects studied at university: Journalism, Sociology, English & American Literature…? Most of the lad’s in the twenty to thirty-something age group that I know have studied engineering, medicine, physics and computer science at graduate level, or pursued a traditional apprenticeship. None appear to want for a job. The arts, like fine wine and haute cuisine, they are discovering along the way.

There’s more to cycling than…

… being knocked off your bike. Congrats to my longtime colleague and the rest of the gang who cycled 550km from Nairobi, Kenya to the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania raising money for MacMillan Cancer Relief. I’m sure the £205k will be put to good use.

Hidden gems on television

I relish the occasional afternoon skive, a snatched black and white film on the box. I thought I’d seen all of Powell’s films but the lad’s ’37 debut feature The Edge of the World had passed me by. It stars Private Fraser back when he was a serious player. Ok so the acting is a little wooden for today’s taste and the accents wander, however, you can’t deny some great images. Shetland fashion at that time appears heavy on reefer jackets, dark woollen clothing and Bradley Wiggins sideburns. Most popular pastimes were pipe smoking, fiddle playing, making babies and climbing cliffs. I doubt there’s anywhere left in the UK that can boast such a mono-ethnic culture.

Daily reminders…

…that Christmas is in on the horizon. More visits from white-van man, clementine segments on my breakfast cereal. Yesterday was Stir up Wednesday (we don’t do Sundays). The smell of reconstituted dried fruit and licorice in the kitchen has given way to the aroma of Jamaica’s finest, as Mrs G’s puddings sit marinating in dark rum. Not as fashionable as days gone bye but it remains a wonderful drink – an excellent accompaniment to the lady’s curried goat.

Normal service is resumed

Traditional drizzle at the back of six this morning, discovering sheep that arrived under cover of darkness. An early morning call from a tanker delivering fuel to the neighbour, their Land Rover already on the move. It smells of wood smoke our side of the trees. Yesterday the ridge was the colour of pale straw, this morning the gorse and Black Galloways have disappeared beneath a blanket of fog. Brooding dark crows sit humpbacked in the branches around me. Ploughing along the lane has attracted lots of ’em – and I mean lots, more a massacre than a murder. It’s thought by some that to see one crow is unlucky; to see two, good fortune...

Wednesday, November 7

My brain has become a Sisyphean fantasy

Cattle grazing above us on the moor. Given the weather these last twelve months I find myself pathetically grateful for rare occasions like this morning when the sun hove into view. There will doubtless come a time (hopefully many years from now) when I find myself gazing wistfully out of a window and recalling these halcyon days, back when I still had the time and energy to while away life doing nothing more taxing than pushing endless barrow loads of fallen leaves and sundry autumn debris across uneven muddy ground to my ever expanding repository for rotting organic matter. Something of a metaphor for life at the coal face.

Tuesday, November 6

Full house

It now gets dark at five and yet all of the chickens are laying. If this carries on we’ll have to give the eggs away. There are only so many omelettes even I can eat. As a financial investment chickens are on a par with holiday homes in the Mercia region. If you factor the initial cost of the birds, the coop and electric fencing (the electricity and land they roost on), the sacks of assorted, high-priced feed and the vet’s fees…Damn it, I can buy eggs at the Quik-E-Mart for less than two-quid a half-dozen. If you were tell me the eggs from Mrs G’s flock costs two-quid apiece I wouldn’t contradict you. Gudgeon’s signature eight-egg Spanish-tortilla probably comes in more expensive than our neighbour’s fillet steak.

The Brummie accent

I’m all for faggots and peas, but Adrian Chiles as a sex icon for women of a certain age is reason enough to lose the accent. And Noddy Holder’s from the Black Country rather than Brummagem. There are subtle differences to the accent. In the old days we came from Staffordshire, now it's the friggin’ West Midlands.

Monday, November 5

Grey hair...it rarely works

Have you noticed how grey-haired guys surreptitiously dye their hair auburn in an effort to disguise the advancing years? Whilst the ploy rarely works it does help you to blend in with the bracken.

Hunt a robin…

…or a wren, never prosper man or boy. A quiet and calm foggy morning, neither breeze nor rain, just the faint echo of the A38 some four miles distant and a magpie’s hoarse staccato warning of cats and foxes on the prowl. Whilst blackbirds and redbreasts command the yard a tiny wren has appeared amongst the robins to ferret out insects at the base of the stone wall ... The ponies have left us, relocating to a more benign environment in advance of winter, to seek out the company of another stallion.

Sunday, November 4

Bright and breezy

It’s not exactly cold this morning – a comfortable two degrees, however, when you are up on the hill and the wind is brought to bear, that hail doesn’t half sting. Accompanying little sis and her family to this weekend’s Grand Prix suddenly seems attractive. That said I bet they weren’t dining on kippers and spuds last night. Damn it was good, although the homestead smelled like the hold of a laid up Lowestoft trawler. There doesn’t seem to be as much smoked fish on sale these days, bloaters and smokies used to be thick on the ground.

Friday, November 2

Dream on

Dennis MacShane embezzled expenses because MPs aren’t paid a living wage, says Dan Hodges of the Telegraph. £68k and a second home isn’t enough. I’m sorry, son, it won’t wash. I recall having a beer with a high profile MP way back when and it was much the same story. He was imploring us to put an MP on the payroll as many were living on the bread line. As it happens I’m not adverse to extra-curricular activities providing it’s declared. I think we all agree that engaging with the wider world is beneficial to our representatives. However, for some, the £100k that Hodges suggests would not be enough. By virtue of their position they mix in exalted circles, and it rubs off on them. I’d be embarrassed to discover what the likes of the Kinnock family and John Prescott has milked from the public purse. Even now the latter is looking to supplement his Minister’s pension and Lords expenses with a Police Commissioner’s stipend. People don’t enter politics for financial gain but they are human like the rest of us. If you’re a wrong ‘un it’s a candy store.

The blame game

It’s dispiriting, reading the papers, having to view the world through the filters and bile of the media. Then again, whilst most of us like to indulge our tribal instincts, we baulk at the prospect of causing real offence – calling a spade a spade. And in part it’s what led to our current economic difficulties. Hard choices were avoided so as not to upset anyone. There was nothing we couldn’t fix by throwing money at the problem. As we now begin to address the challenges our initial response is to look for someone to blame. Gordon Brown and Fred Goodwin were useful fall guys, much of the remainder we’d somehow love to pin on Jimmy Savile and Garry Glitter … or bigots. Conversely, I can’t help but be impressed by the ‘can do’ response of New Yorkers to their current difficulties. With so many of our old foes on the rise you’d think we would wise up.