Thursday, January 31

Ris de veau

Snowdrops have been springing up around the yard; and along the path, beneath a sage bush, the first pale yellow primrose. In spring most every lane hereabouts is lined with primrose and flowering hawthorn...the metaphor, contradiction, isn’t exactly lost on me. Right now, however, I need some sunshine – Vitamin D. Whilst I’m hardly in danger of developing late-onset Rickets, to compensate for a lack of winter sun Mrs G. feeds me lots of eggs and sardines. Mushrooms, too, – another source of D2 – feature regularly at this time of year. Today’s dish, braised veal-sweetbreads with mushrooms, is a speciality of the house and always guaranteed to lift the spirits.

Wednesday, January 30

Chortle

Just 24 hours after Barnoness Verma – another would-be MP who couldn’t cut it at the ballot box – told Parliament she feared motorists were being ripped off, the Office of Fair Trading declares oil companies have no case to answer and that competition is working well. It seems if it wasn’t for the avarice of successive government ministers the UK would enjoy some of the lowest road fuel prices in Europe ... I would only echo the comments of the MP for Wokingham: “Many people who pay their own way in the world and who work hard think they get a rotten deal from the state. They think the state takes too much money off them in tax, wastes too much of their tax revenue, and imposes far too many rules on them.”

Monday, January 28

Rabbit in mustard sauce

It’s a familiar scene, outside; one I’ve regularly commented on. Probably too often. Rolling waves of horizontal rain, propelled by a howling wind. Describing it as rain never seems apt. I’m only pleased we live up here, as the yard is already under an inch of water and there’s a fair-sized river running along the lane: downhill they must be swimming. Thankfully our electricity supply has been restored, and in the homestead there’s an aroma of rustic cooking. A pot of rabbit, one of Ramond Blanc’s constructions, is bubbling away on the stove. I am currently reading the memoirs of Sergeant Bourgogne, detailing Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow...I guess in the grand scheme of things our weather isn’t really much of anything, and would be much more concerned if we were reduced to butchering one of the neighbour’s horses in the manner of Bourgogne’s Imperial Guard, rather than just skinning rabbits.

Sunday, January 27

Just like Super Panavision 70

It is bad enough, walking uphill, without today’s 30kts headwind. The weather forecast must have deterred other walkers as I didn’t see a soul. A field vole was the extent of the wildlife. Although a chill southwesterly is blowing, the rain has yet to arrive – and there’s a fair amount of sunshine. I was out last week when the moor was buried under snow, and aside from the prints of a lone fox that too was a solitary experience … On that occasion large areas of moor grass protruded above the snow, and when the low winter sun reflected off the slopes the pale straw turned bright gold, lighting up the whole valley. Think Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif in the Cañon del Oro.

What they don’t teach you at school

If you want to pursue a successful career in the BBC, says Oliver James, you’d best be fit for purpose. A study of office politics suggests a box set of The Sopranos is as invaluable as an Oxbridge education. James goes a long way in validating the also-ran’s standard refrain regarding their colleagues’ devious and psychopathic tendencies. He says it doesn’t matter if you choose to work in the corporate sector, a small business or a public sector job, the system you are in is liable to reward ruthless, selfish manipulation. James writes of a successful professor who “has little capacity for original thought but a great talent for acquiring, and taking credit for, others’ ideas”. But it should come as no surprise to anyone that “elite law firms are staffed by humourless, charmless nerks that have the social skills akin to someone with Asperger’s syndrome,” or that “Television is jam-packed with untalented people who have managed to associate themselves with successful programmes and disassociate themselves from failures”. It seems – shock, horror – life isn’t the fairy tale we once thought.

Friday, January 25

Delayed gratification

A Macsween haggis sits languishing in the fridge, and on the shelf a choice of four malts to aid digestion. Unfortunately it will be egg and chips rather than marshmallows in the Gudgeon household this evening. Burn’s night is deferred for a week to accommodate the traditional month-long post yuletide dry spell, and a Burns supper isn’t quite the same without a glass of Scotch drink.

Wednesday, January 23

Rich people are thinner

Unfortunately thin people aren’t necessarily rich.

Cameron’s speech on Europe

The knee-jerk reaction to what Cameron is proposing has been that of his irresponsibility, as business leaders, so the story goes, face several years of uncertainty. Then there’s the possibility we will vote for Armageddon, to exit the EU. However, democracy can be a painful and frustrating business, as the Euro zone has proved. The world, not least the Americans and Chinese, has looked on aghast at the tortuous way our European partners have dealt with the Euro crisis, not seeming to appreciate that European leaders are required to answer to their individual electorates and that reaching consensus takes time. Likewise us Brits. I’d like to think when we’ve gnawed at it long enough and listened to the debates, the punters will vote to continue. The problem for many people is similar to that of immigration. We have never been given a say on Europe, and from the days of Ted Heath have been bounced into whatever the establishment decided was best for us. That said, my insouciant approach to the outcome contrasts starkly with Mrs G’s stance, and I’ve no doubt the ongoing debate in the Gudgeon household will be just as vociferous as the public one.

Monday, January 21

Hardly a mini ice age...

...even though it is minus five here this morning. Boris Johnson, the Bertie Wooster of British politics, weighs in on the subject of cold weather in today’s Telegraph. What with Christmas, the shaky economy, flaming batteries in aircraft and assorted miscreants shooting up the Sahara, climate change appears yesterdays news, a column-filler for the inside pages. Boris wonders if the last five years are just coincidence, as he doesn’t recall too many snowball fights as a boy. Given he attended the same primary school as Ed Miliband this set me wondering who came out on top of any exchanges. It must be a generational thing: as a so-called boomer I well recall the winters of past, and they were a hell of a lot colder and snowier than the current model. Boris’s answer to climate change is, as the government repeatedly tells us, a quick trip to B&Q for twenty-quid’s worth of mineral wool insulation for the loft. The sad fact is that, at least for a month or two each year, our homes aren’t fit for purpose. I suspect building modern accommodation in the manner of our Germanic and Scandinavian relations costs money, and if we are to provide affordable homes the last thing our construction industry needs are a wish list of new regulations. It would help if people dressed appropriately. I can’t believe the number of young women who stumble ’round the aisles of the Quik-E-Mart snottering across salad counters and hacking over the sliced wholemeal, dressed in little more than a t-shirt and pair of knickers.

Sunday, January 20

I sense a triple-dip

Good Food Sunday looked far too quiet for the traders. Plenty of food on show but few takers (Mrs G. loaded up on rabbit, veal and venison). We were in Exeter during the week and it was pretty desperate there too – from a traffic point of view I doubt I’d seen the city’s roads so empty. Post Christmas, post sales: most of the population are probably brassic; and let’s face it, not everyone likes wandering the streets when it’s three below ... It was only yesterday I was bragging about how well the motor’s tyres were doing. Eighteen months without incident. At the barn I got through twenty in five years. Sod’s law I found myself crawling about in slush at the side of the road this morning, dealing with a puncture on the front offside.

Saturday, January 19

Spirits of a well-shot woodcock...

Tonight’s supper...According to young Norman, woodcock should be cooked whole – with the head on. Remove the crop and gizzard before cooking, he says, but leave the trail (liver, heart and intestines) where it is. When the birds come out the oven, remove the trail and in a warm saucepan, mash it and mix with a good squeeze of lemon juice, brandy and some salt and pepper. Spread the mixture on a slice of toast and sit the bird on top. Eat while hot.

Porridge

This morning is icy cold and I’ve succumbed, the muesli is history.

Why is there no monument
To Porridge in our land?
It it's good enough to eat,
It's good enough to stand!

On a plinth in London
A statue we should see
Of Porridge made in Scotland Signed, "Oatmeal, O.B.E."
(By a young dog of three)

Spike Milligan

Friday, January 18

Dawn at the chicken shack


Like the chickens, we're snowed in for the moment – and it’s still coming down. I guess a newspaper is out of the question.

Although we haven’t been hit too hard, compared to Wales that is, today has still been a slog. The trusty Bulldog snow shovel’s seen plenty of action, as has my axe – you have to keep the home fires burning. Unfortunately we lost one of the big pines to last night’s wind; its limbs were heavily weighted with snow. Outside has remained foggy all day, with visibility fluctuating between 50-100m; and apart from a brief appearance by the neighbour’s tractor, has remained eerily quiet.

Thursday, January 17

Frustrating day

Whilst our weather has been unexpectedly benign for what is mid-winter, this morning a harbinger of change arrived. Tiny grey snowflakes meander through the trees like ash from an unruly chimney. I should have taken off across the moor yesterday when I had the chance, made the most of what was supposed to be a buckshee day. However, a meeting with a woodsman and a minor but necessary job kept me anchored to the yard. I’d been putting off changing an outside water filter – normally a two-minute affair. Unfortunately, as anticipated, the housing turned out to be jammed. I had to unscrew the filter from the wall and disconnect the pipes. Of course one thing led to another and before you know it the back yard resembles a plumber’s birthday party. Of course there are never any spare seals to hand or the correct size wrench, so it was off to Ike Godsey’s, again. Two minutes became two hours ... By the time you’ve thrown in a tea break and stopped to smell the roses most of the day is gone. Fortunately mince, tatties and a dough ball remains the ultimate palliative.

Wednesday, January 16

The perils of capitalism

Doubtless I’m slow on the uptake, but just for the sake of argument ... Let’s say someone – it could be an individual or ‘the people’ – own a piece of seemingly worthless land that no one wants. I give them money for a mining concession, pay a geologist to take a guess at what’s below the surface, and then hire a bunch of guys to dig a hole. So far I’m out of pocket and everyone else is on an earner (not least my lawyer, accountant and the taxman). Being the philanthropic sort I do this quite often, and once in a while I strike lucky and find something of value. If I’m really lucky I come out ahead of the game. Exactly how does this make me the baddy? I’m not a bottomless pit so I sell shares in the enterprise to help fund it. Everyone continues to make money except moi, and, at least for the moment, my shareholders who are predominately the pension funds of ‘the people’ (where does Matzzucato get the idea only 1% of the punters benefit from the stock market?). Shareholders can be a stroppy bunch however. They’re unhappy with their returns and begin pulling my strings a little too often. I get pissed off and buy the shares back: the punters go away happy. According to the girl I’m now an even bigger baddy: rather than reimbursing my unhappy shareholders, the people, I should have used my spare cash to gamble (she calls it reinvesting) on another even riskier venture elsewhere? I’ll never get the hang of this capitalist business.

Healthy burgers

Surprise, surprise, ‘value-for-money’ supermarkets aren’t farmers’ markets. Not that I’m adverse to eating horsemeat: there’s more than one Cheltenham runner responsible for appropriating my pocket money that I would happily consign to a Veronese stew. High in cholesterol-busting Omega 3s, I’m told horse meat is free from bird flu, mad cow disease, foot and mouth, TB and tape worm. Let’s give ’em the benefit of doubt: it could be our supermarkets are part of a clandestine public health initiative and that horse meat is being surreptitiously introduced to supplement to our diet in the same way that fluoride is added to tap water.

Tuesday, January 15

The quest to survive winter


A flock of Hitchcockian proportions descended on the yard yesterday, a mix of redwings, fieldfares and starlings. Different flights within the group arrived and departed in tune with squalls and alternating periods of calm. This morning it’s tits and jays, woodpecker and nuthatch, wren and dunnock. Carrion crows and magpies perch amid the lichen-covered branches that overhang the chicken coop, gauging their chances. A kestrel, seemingly immobile in the air, seeks out movement on the ground.

Monday, January 14

A burst of sunshine

The sun made one of its rare appearances yesterday and everything came out to play. Aptly named and uniquely shaped tree mice scurried about the yard’s bare branches, hunting for insects, spiders and other invertebrates. A combination of cold conditions and long dark nights means the birds spend most every waking hour looking for food. There were also a fair number of well-wrapped walkers en route to the moor, cyclists peddling for all they were worth, and riders exercising their mounts. It wasn’t too bad out there, a little damp underfoot but perfect for blowing the cobwebs away and working up an appetite. This morning it’s colder, the taste of sleet is in the air and a yellow warning from the Met Office.

Thursday, January 10

What do you expect for six squid

As I’ve previously remarked, hairdressers, hereabouts, are few and far between. The reality isn’t exactly barbershop – risking an open razor would be downright foolish – but more usually a two-chair, single-man outpost that hasn’t been decorated since 1969. ‘Something for the weekend, Sir?’ The customers tend to be of an age and in no particular hurry, happy enough to listen to the proprietor’s homilies, those pearls of wisdom. This afternoon’s included recent ailments and their treatment, the unexpected death of a close friend whose forty-a-day habit and fondness for chip-butties had no bearing on his early demise...whether Frank Lampard could prove a suitable replacement for Paul Scholes...and the likelihood that Andrew Marr’s alleged infidelities played a hand in his stroke. It passes the time while you wait your turn, although customers can always distract themselves by reading the complimentary newspaper (the Sun), or by listening to that dipstick Jeremy Vine on the bakelite. These days I don’t take chances and stick to a recruit-style buzz cut. If you let him lose with the scissors there’s a strong possibility you’ll exit as a waif from Les Misérables or that dog from the spec-savers advert.

So much for the pastel sunrise

Although the outlook doesn’t look too clever the day has turned out surprisingly pleasant. Our homestead is down there somewhere, in amongst the trees and murk. This morning I had the onerous task of burying a dead critter: and you’d be surprised how difficult it is to dig a hole of suitable depth in the yard – at least the bit I’ve set aside for bodies. As far as I can determine it consists of 20% peat and 80% granite chips. Half an hour with my trusty shovel (as recommended by Diarmuid Gavin) was enough to convince me I would get nowhere without a digging bar. And so it was off to Ike Godsey’s for a 17lb toothpick. It’s like a sweet shop for blokes in that you can never have enough tools. Whether you use them more than once is neither here nor there.

Slugs and fig jam

This morning’s outlook is almost as uplifting as yesterday’s view from Plymouth Hoe (grey, yes; but what shades of grey). Here it’s a return to the pastel sunrise, the bloodless calm before the storm. Heavy rain is forecast – no surprise there – but over the weekend it turns cold, at last, with the possibility of sleet or snow. This faffing about with un-seasonally mild temperatures is encouraging the slugs. Virtually every fallen leaf in the yard that you turn has one attached to the underside. The chickens do their best but it’s the Forth Bridge all over again. Inside the homestead kitchen, as you would expect at this time of year, venison is gaining ground. Lots of fruity sauces...bulbs of fennel simmered in orange-juice, soya and balsamic vinegar; fig jam, dates and walnuts.

Wednesday, January 9

Here’s hoping

We couldn’t put it off any longer, it would have been unlucky. The Christmas tree finally came down and the new year began, officially. I doubt I’ve been more pleased to see the back of a year. Designating 2012 the wettest twelve months in a century will go down as one of its kinder epitaphs – it was up there with 2008. Should this year turn out to be the second wettest on record I’m relocating to an abandoned mining town in the Atacama Desert.

Friday, January 4

For special occasions only

For reasons of health and because of time constraints, I have never been big on fried breakfasts. A dozen or so each year had become the norm. Given our current supply of fresh eggs, however, and the availability of high-quality cured bacon, depriving yourself seems nothing short of criminal. As a consequence my intake has more than doubled this past twelve months – though such luxuries have tended to be relegated to supper rather than breakfast. Toast aside, eating cooked food for breakfast is a big ask and usually reserved for holidays; even early morning business meets have degenerated into orange juice and coffee. I’m waffling as I do because last night’s bimonthly fry up included a side order of beans. Mrs G. refuses to eat beans, considers them the province of builders and farting cowboys. I’m an enthusiast because I read Westerns and once hung a door. The trouble with beans is they take time and effort. You go to inordinate lengths to find someone who sells a half-decent bean, before having to soak them overnight and simmer for hours on end. By the time the little suckers are edible you’ve either gone off the idea, or – because you can’t freeze beans – feel guilty about junking the surplus. I guess I could always invite the lads ’round for a poker night, but surprisingly few share my passion. Anyway the point of my story is that I may have in part cracked it. Last night’s beans came out of a can, or rather a glass jar. And they were sensational. Ok it still took an hour of simmering onions, tomatoes and relevant herbs and spices to make the sauce, but damn it these beans are a thing of wonder. The downside – and there’s always is a downside – is they cost an unbelievable five-quid a jar. Five-quid for one jar of beans! And they say inflation isn’t a problem. I will certainly spring for them again, but only to celebrate a special event. Who knows, perhaps on those rare occasions when the Blues actually win a game?

Wednesday, January 2

It has its moments

Today wasn’t quite the halcyon weather-window I was led to believe. Although I had to turn my back on the wind in order to snatch a breath, at least today I managed to stay on my feet, could just about hear our neighbours refighting the Somme Offensive above the shrieking gusts. I’d been wondering why so many pheasants were hiding out in the yard this morning. The hill fog comes and goes but the drizzle never leaves: you can’t go wrong if you dress for the deck of an Icelandic trawler. When the sun does break through to illuminate the moor, what with those multiple shafts of light, rainbows and the constantly shifting banks of mist, the scene is a thing of beauty.

Mañana

Whilst the holidays may be over, at least at the homestead, there’s a reluctance to get back in the saddle – a feeling that next week will do. It doesn’t help assuage my guilt that the neighbours are out wielding chain saws, exercising horses, or roaring up and down the track on quad bikes driving livestock. I’m taking advantage of the relatively mild, rain-free weather to disappear up into the mist for some overdue exercise of my own. What is more commonly known as skiving.