Tuesday, April 30

Stocking up on supplies

It’s nice to see an extended period of sunshine. I had almost forgotten the experience ... to saunter along primrose-lined paths amongst the blossom, the air redolent with flowering gorse and manure – there’s never a shortage of manure. Some strained faces too. It would be difficult to ignore the dour countenance of farming neighbours, what with the hassle of lambing and the price of milk. Our local celebrity chef Michael Caines was lauding them at the weekend food festival, producers that is, imploring everyone to buy local: which people do, in the main. Decent food isn’t cheap however, and everyone’s grown used to relatively cheap food – to stuffing their mouths with crap. You only had to look as far as the concession stands at the festival. It’s true there was some decent nosh on sale, but there was also plenty of sub-standard fare. I appreciate crap can be good on occasion, when the mood takes you, but it would be nice to see a little more expertise on the cooking front. At least the lads in the beer tent were on form. I came away with some excellent cheeses from the Bartlett Brothers and a couple of novelty items from Hodmedod’s.

Sunday, April 28

Will he ever learn?

Kenneth Clarke says UKIP voters come straight from the pages of a Cormac McCarthy novel ... “viciouslooking humans mounted on unshod Indian ponies riding half drunk through the streets, bearded, barbarous, clad in the skins of animals stitched up with thews and armed with weapons of every description, revolvers of enormous weight and bowieknives the size of claymores and short twobarreled rifles with bores you could stick your thumbs in and the trappings of their horses fashioned out of human skin and their bridles woven up from human hair and decorated with human teeth and the riders wearing scapulars or necklaces of dried and blackened human ears and the horses rawlooking and wild in the eye and their teeth bared like feral dogs and riding also in the company a number of halfnaked savages reeling in the saddle, dangerous, filthy, brutal, the whole like a visitation from some heathen land where they and others like them fed on human flesh.”

It works at the Dog & Duck

Come on Nigel let’s not be too prescriptive at this stage of the game. A policy vacuum isn’t doing Labour or the SNP much harm. OK it is, but your ‘none of the above’ strategy appears to be working well enough. Keep the main party baggage to a minimum. Mind you I wouldn’t like to think what would happen if the proverbial doctors, retired dentists and painters and decorators did take over the asylum. Oh hang on, it’s happened already. If roadside hoardings are a reliable guide, UKIP appear to be the only party making an effort hereabouts – although I don’t anticipate queuing at the polling booth next Thursday.

Saturday, April 27

The swallows

... have already taken up residence in the barn. Another year comes around; another year gone. Time’s a bugger when you stop to think about it.

Friday, April 26

Playing games with the economy

Margaret Hodge is an irritating witch at the best of times. However, prostituting yourself on the morning screens to besmirch our accounting profession is a new low, particularly with her well publicised track record on family trusts. If there’s one thing we need, that every economy needs, it is more jobs: and I would have thought drafting in the lads from KPMG et al to assist in framing investment incentives to ensure Britain gets those jobs would be an obvious move? Perhaps I’m missing the bigger picture. The more I see of Parliamentary Committees the more I feel they’re a depository for the useless and irritating. The BBC doesn’t help.

Thursday, April 25

Skiving

It is a fine morning; the birds are in full song. We now have our own cuckoo to compliment the rhythm section, and a swallow that conducts from above. Things will soon begin to grow and require tending. I’m away for walk while I have the chance.

... You set off through the bright yellow gorse full of optimism. The sun’s out so you don the polaroids. Half an hour later at the point of your third cast the mist rolls in. It’s accompanied by a bitter north wind and a fair bit of the Bristol Channel; and before you know it your eyes are running, the nose is dripping down your jerkin, and the hands are purple blotches. It’s one of the few places you can return home from with a sunburnt face and frost bitten mitts. I look like a match. All I managed was one bite: the trout leapt out the water and contemptuously spat out my lure. I guess that’s what comes of filing off barbs, trying to be Mr Nice Guy.

Wednesday, April 24

Sod’s Law

After acknowledging the perils of South London (and the relative tranquillity of the homestead) I set off down the lane to mail a parcel. I received an expensive fly reel that had been destined for someone in Stoke and was returning it to the suppliers. It says something about society in that whenever I return an item that’s not mine or point to an overpayment the recipients appear dumbfounded. Anyway as I turned the corner a bunch of vehicles halted alongside, disgorging several armed lads in body armour. Said gentlemen climbed over the motor in front and made clear to the occupants they weren’t there to deliver a singagram. I took off before becoming collateral damage (they were waving large guns). It was the incongruity of the situation given I’m usually dodging tractors and stray sheep. And also a reminder that it’s best not to tempt fate with notions of peace.

Separating wheat from ...

A chiffchaff is building a nest outside the window, in the hedge amongst the scrub of last year’s bracken. Its industry almost makes me feel guilty. In Devon the bird’s two-note song affords it a nickname of Choice and Cheep. Which put me in mind of the stallholders’ cry I would once have associated with Lewisham market, one of our old stomping grounds. I note from the latest UK Peace Index the South London borough is classified as the least amenable place in country. I’ve also lived in Norfolk, reckoned to be the most peaceful. I would suggest there’s good and bad pockets in both. I have resided in other locations that exhibited far more violent behaviour, but that’s a function of age and the extent to which you put yourself in harm’s way; who you choose to associate with and where you spend your leisure hours. And luck, of course, good fortune; chance plays a significant part in our experiences. There but for the ...

Tuesday, April 23

Rabbit stew

The interior of the homestead is a tad ripe. Mrs G. has spent the morning butchering wild rabbits. All I have to do is cook the little suckers, together with some chorizo and a couple of black puddings. It is turning into quite a stew, our St George’s Day feast. In concert with my cooking duties – and purely in the spirit of celebration, mind – I’ve decided to drink my way down the country. The adventure began in Yorkshire with Samuel Smith’s Organic Pale Ale. Let’s hope it ends well. My first toast was to the bogeyman. I'm tribal and will vote as I always have. However, it is encouraging to see young Farage pissing off the establishment.

St George’s Day

It is St George’s Day, the once-a-year opportunity to assert our Englishness, whatever that may be. I find it usually requires some adversity or other to resurrect these old passions. Reflecting years ago on the influence of England’s European partners, Bill Deedes the one-time Telegraph journalist, was of the opinion that ‘whatever’ Brussels did served to reinforce our national characteristics. To which of course our immigrant neighbours and Celtic cousins, having substituted England for Brussels, would undoubtedly shout hear, hear. Thanks in part to our fascination with period drama, the caricatures of AG Macdonell’s England, Their England, remain as fixed in our mind as when he wrote his satire, and may go some way to explaining public dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. The hard-faced Diana springs to mind.

Monday, April 22

It’s been a lang day laddie

Yep my reading material has become that desperate, reduced to Brooks McDonald’s sentimental account of a traveller family living in the backwoods of Inverurie and Kemnay during the early 1900s. Thankfully I’m multi-lingual or even this would have been lost to me. Then this morning I discovered a cardboard box of old paperbacks in the barn and came across some of Bill Deedes articles from the 60s and 70s. It only served to emphasise the paltriness of contemporary journalism, the banality of mainstream media. And déjà vu for the most part as we appear to be discussing much the same thing. Little wonder newspapers are in decline. I’ve spent a good part of the day sawing old fence posts to keep the home fires burning; filing barbs from fishing hooks; and, having decimated the resident mole population, trying to dismember a squirrel with my catapult. The yard is a mixture of mist, rain and wicked squalls: what passes for a normal day at the office. I’ve dug out an old Western that seems to fit my current disposition.

Sunday, April 21

At least it’s not Blackheath

The fine weather is encouraging more people to visit the countryside, along with their dogs. Whilst fishing yesterday I watched as some prat’s mutt chased lambs around the moor, forcing sheep into the water in their attempt to escape. There are signs everywhere imploring people to keep dogs under control. All you can do it to mutter under your breath. I’ve confronted guys in the past, but – because the dog owner is already high on adrenalin-fuelled embarrassment and feels a need to defend himself – it ends up in a slanging match or worse ... I also passed a group of school girls on a TTC training walk. Struggling under the weight of their Sherpa-like packs, and resembling the original ’54 cast of St Trinian’s, you could hear them approaching from a half-mile or more. Competitive shrieking weren’t in it. The sheep must have wondered why they’d bothered climbing back onto the bank.

Saturday, April 20

Gone fishing

Or not so busy as it turned out. I won the coin toss and took off across the moor with my new spinning rod and a cheese sandwich. Logic presumes that where there are little fish there will also be big fish but I’ve never found them. On the plus side I did land three modest-size wilderness brown trout, which was three more than the other stalwarts. I also heard my first cuckoo of the season, and at the same location as last year – the only tree on this particular stretch of Dartmoor.

A good stretch of the leg

A phalanx of sixth formers strode past the homestead at dawn this morning, having bivouacked overnight in the neighbour’s garden. I’d wondered at the Tuareg campfires, the strumming guitars? Training for the Ten Tors Challenge appears well underway – and what a beautiful day to begin. Bereft of nightingales we may be, but in the grass croaking toads and overhead a ringing pee-yaah of the soaring gled. A pheasant cock declares his territorial rights outside my window. It’s going to be a busy day.

Friday, April 19

On the third of April

... come the cuckoo and the nightingale. Though I’ve yet to hear either this spring. In this morning’s paper Simon Jenkins reminds us of what nightingales bring to the party. I’m suspicious of what used to be referred to as tree-huggers. I don’t necessarily disagree with much of what they espouse, but I’ve always been wary of sad-sorts that latch onto causes as a means to justify their existence, be it environmentalists, political activists, mad mullahs or otherwise. Jenkins scores high on the fruitcake index on a number of levels, not least for his wearing a blue suit at St Pauls on Wednesday. The lad, however, does have an inexhaustible supply of throwaway lines, this morning’s beezer being the Italian euphemism for sex: ‘To hear the nightingale sing.’ That said, the one thing that’s guaranteed to irritate even more than the self-righteous is one of our authorities commissioning a ‘Biodiversity offsetting scoping report’. This is just the sort of thing that drives you into the arms of nut jobs.

Wednesday, April 17

Different perceptions

Watching Margaret Thatcher’s funeral was to witness your life passing before you. Those faces, their history, our times ... Here at the homestead we couldn’t let it pass without a mini wake of our own, complete with a bottle of bubbly and large portions of nibbles – toasting the departure of the lady who defined it all. During my lifetime England has gravitated from joke status to the top five, thanks essentially to the girl herself ... And I guess it was fitting the military ran the show. There was a time, not that long ago, when the NHS presented itself as our national conscience. Nowadays nurses are more likely to be viewed as the people who murdered your granny, whilst members of the armed forces continue to lay down their lives in our defence. Thatcher is reckoned a divisive figure. Truth to tell it is we who remain divided, at least on the question of Baroness Thatcher. Maybe the funeral serves to draw a line beneath the subject.

Tuesday, April 16

The price of pork chops

A recent editorial in the local rag banged on about the proposed badger cull. I suspect there was some back-peddling going on, under the guise of ‘clarification’. The paper had previously published the photo of a cuddly badger cub and as a consequence was accused of sabotaging the cull. It’s not a subject you want to engage in at the Dog & Duck, given drinkers are seemingly split down the middle between the farming community and people who donate to the RSPCA. As I’m wedged between three farmers who breed cattle my sympathies lean towards my neighbours. I’m told several thousand cattle had to be slaughtered in Devon last year, and that the disease blights many county herds. Whilst I don’t see as much badger activity as we did at the barn, we’ve one that strolls across the yard from time to time. Unlike the more rotund forms at our old place this one has the body of a pit bull. As with the local foxes, large fit-looking creatures, it appears they breed hardier stock up here. Tougher farmers, too: given the extent to which the weather has affected the businesses this past couple of years. Farming it seems is in crisis; the subject was aired on last night’s BBC Newsnight. Maybe it is time for small farmers to go the way of miners and shipbuilders, for the industry to concentrate production around giant industrial complexes that grow animals in enormous hangars? Small to medium farms can be given over to the construction industry to build council estates; the remainder carpeted over with wind farms and solar panels. Given the public’s desire for cheap food to feed our ever expanding population it would be the way to go. I can’t quite marry the infatuation with cooking programmes on television and the prominence of recipe books on best-seller lists to our disconnect with cost of food production. We pay one way or another: if not at the shops, then through increased farming subsidies. At least the government is taking steps to restrict the subsidy we provide for producing more consumers.

Monday, April 15

A dreich day ...

... as Mrs G. would say. Although it didn’t look too promising when setting off this morning, it’s pleasant enough once you get out on the moor. There was even an optimistic lad, fishing the river.

Sunday, April 14

Roll on summer

Normal service in the shape of belligerent southwesterly storms has resumed. Paradoxically I witnessed my first swallow of the season, as it limped in across the yard. The feathered wretch must regret leaving Africa. I trust the weather warms up reasonably soon as I’m down to my last batch of firewood, will soon be burning the furniture. To keep our spirits up, Mrs G. has been dispensing large portions of poached guinea fowl with ‘winter’ vegetables, herbed lentils and salsa verde. I chipped in with a half-decent burgundy ... to accompany what turned out to be a great game, this afternoon’s FA Cup semi-final – just when my interest was fading. If only I could summon similar enthusiasm for tonight’s Masters.

Death of a gunfighter

In spite of the rhetoric, the cant and humbug, it came down to today’s 5USA to broadcast the most appropriate reminder of what the current brouhaha is all about. You need them when evil walks the streets, but would rather they went away when the deed was done.

Saturday, April 13

Wild running

The clouds are black, pile-driving over the hills and spitting cold rain in our faces... Sounds familiar. Given the grim conditions, however, there are still a fair number of walkers out on the moor; some runners, too. The Guardian featured wild run begins in our back yard, so to speak, and proceeds out along my usual walk. Given my knees, anything beyond a steady plod is out the question. I can manage the Riverford Field Kitchen bit well enough, albeit the portions are a big ask. The Rugglestone Inn serves a good pint and also produces similar sized meals. Both highly recommended.

Thursday, April 11

Blazing Saddles

I know, juvenile association, but as you are aware I do like beans. It goes with my reading westerns, listening to Willie Nelson. I use countless tinned versions, and have recently taken to a designer brand that comes in a jar; however, despite the convenience, all remain poor substitutes. Today’s batch is a dried variety grown by Italian tree-huggers. Whilst dried beans are my preferred option they tend to be hit and miss – pot luck, dependant on supplier and how long the beans have been languishing in a warehouse. A seemingly high turnover is no guarantee. Having soaked overnight they are now simmering in my bean pot with a Capreolus ham hock (no expense spared) and a thousand herbs and spices. Some say beans are divisive. I find it’s the people themselves who are divided, who were always divided. At the end of the day beans are selected by a show of hands, and sometimes you are obliged to eat what’s put in front of you. .

Wednesday, April 10

Deficient in the tinned fish department

A run into town this morning for supplies, I was down to my last tin of sardines. We dropped by the Royal Albert to look at two exhibitions. The first was a series of photographs titled ‘The Tannery’, black & white prints of life and work in Britain’s last oak bark tannery. The second featured a selection of paintings from the 2012 BP Portrait Award, organised by the National Portrait Gallery. Paul Glendell’s photographs capture scenes seemingly reminiscent of a bygone age, but which detail a process that continues to produce high-quality leather for a flourishing market. Shades of Walsall, the saddlers – back in the early days ... The 55 paintings from last year’s portrait awards were, as you would expect, a real treat. One of the portraits (Irish Mick) was framed in the doorway of an old stomping ground, the Morden Arms, a short stagger from my desk – back in the Thatcher days.

Tuesday, April 9

I’m as scared of change as the next man

So she encouraged us to develop a thicker skin. I was musing last Thursday on the fallibility of memories, the veracity of history. For all sorts of reasons, and contrary to what I alluded to, 1983 was a memorable year. Aberdeen beat Real Madrid to win the Cup Winners’ Cup, and Margaret Thatcher won a landslide election victory (Labour responded by electing Neil Kinnock as their leader, although Alex Ferguson proved more durable than either). As I implied in my earlier post, grainy Polaroids provide a distorted representation of the past, they portray different people to the ones you think you know. For me personally it was a fun time. It was fun because I had moved to London, and was of an age. Just like today the City operated on a different plane to the rest of the Britain: it colours my view of ‘Maggie’ somewhat. I’ve read a selection of the obituaries, the eulogies ... and whilst I lived through it all, it is proving difficult for me get excited about the past: like most people I moved on. The one thing I do treasure from that time is a well-thumbed copy of Private Eye’s Dear Bill letters. That and – as with the majority of the population – a casual acceptance of the prosperity Thatcher helped bring about. You have to recall the ’70s to appreciate what she achieved, what we have now. “The changes she wrought helped shift Britain from a century of relative decline to three decades where we caught up with the US, Germany and France.”

Friday, April 5

Make mine a large one

Another delusional twat complaining about the Dog & Duck’s refusal to run a business model based on her once-a-week excursion for a half-pint of lager and a cheese sandwich. There are a number of reasons why pubs continue to close at an alarming rate, the principal being a failure of customers to drink sufficient pints of ale on a regular basis. Use it or lose it; pubs are no different to public libraries in this respect.

Thursday, April 4

Who were we, then?

Memories are unreliable things; they are frequently coloured to suit contemporary thinking, to flatter yourself. ‘All migrants leave their past behind,’ or so goes the story (SHAME). ‘Although some try to pack it into bundles and boxes – on the journey something seeps out, the treasured mementoes and old photographs, until even their owners fail to recognise them ... you become suspicious of history.’ I’ve read this novel just once before, in 1983, when it was published. Corbiere won the National that year but that’s all I can call to mind. My bookmark had remained in its place with the Acknowledgments on page 287. It is a family photograph from that year, taken in the garden of my parents’ home. Them I remember; the faces of myself and Mrs G. are a complete mystery.

Wednesday, April 3

Class consciousness

Is there anywhere in the world as class conscious as Britain. The BBC is doing its best to tap into this fixation, compiling yet more data to support whatever it is they’re selling. Auntie’s efforts to date appear to confirm the existence of a benefit culture, with the poorest and most deprived outnumbering traditional working class respondents; and whilst both are dwarfed by the established middle class, many (of what used to be termed first-generation middle class) choose to differentiate themselves from established norms.

Tuesday, April 2

Big fall in mature students

... comes as shock to universities? I would love to see some meaningful figures from the OU since the new fees system was introduced. I miss the OU. It was fun; there was always something to interest you, something that had escaped your past and was worth studying out of pure interest. Whilst £6-700 per course wasn’t exactly pocket change, it seemed reasonable for what was a half-decent product. Eighty percent or more of the students I encountered over the years were mature students; and whilst many (most males) were studying for fun rather than career progression, most of the women students were chasing the dream of a new, more fulfilling vocation. A fair number of these found the fees, the cost of books, etc a struggle, especially if they has families to support: and it was fanciful to suggest many were ever going to shell out two and a half big ones to be entertained by the local SWP representative, notwithstanding his encyclopaedic knowledge of beat poets and the jocular banter. I don’t expected tax-payers to subsidise my hobbies or interests, I pay my own way, but who exactly did the OU replace us with? Maybe like much of the UK’s education establishment it has given up on marginal causes and altruistic ambition to pursue foreign gelt?

Career choices

The Financial Times says the US has lost 2m clerical jobs since 2007, as new technologies replace office workers and plunge the American middle class into deeper crisis through increased income inequality. Change it seems is both inevitable and remorseless. The Thatcher era witnessed a boom of middle class prosperity in the UK, with a dramatic increase in white-collar employment and social mobility. The reverse became obvious 15 or more years ago, as the rise in office automation and cost of employment led to vast swathes of clerical positions being axed. I remember both trends well. And whilst it’s true the latter was in part employer driven, as the article suggests, the primary motivation stemmed from businesses’ key employees – those with the intellectual capital – demanding a larger slice of the cake. Public spending made up much of the jobs shortfall during the New Labour, but this level of State largess is unlikely ever to return. It is hard to see how the growing income divide can be reversed, particularly as like now marries like. Thankfully I haven’t the responsibility of advising kids about which way to jump to ensure they end up on the right side of the divide.

The lark ascending

There were two red deer waiting for me in the yard this morning, the cock pheasant eying them warily from his usual perch. It is a glorious day for wildlife. The voice of spring has returned to the homestead, a precursor of what I hope will be warmer times. Although returning swallows provide my ultimate lift, a promise of the summer to come, the poetic chirrup and whistle of larks remains Dartmoor’s primary soundtrack. Fittingly, given the Easter break (and despite the continuous ongoing log fire), the ground frost has given way to rabbits, the hedges are teeming with songbirds, and the fields with newborn lambs ... Chickpeas have been soaking overnight, so I guess today is going to be one of those lazy falafel days.

Monday, April 1

There’s rarely a right side of the fence

These are rum old times, according to denizens of the local taproom, with nurses and police officers pitted against benefit claimants and proponents of social housing for the scourge of the month award. Given I’m surrounded by more than my fair share of public sector employees I find it best not to venture an opinion. A new face in the area recently complained about the cool response he’d received since moving here, seemingly unaware that people who choose to live in relative isolation generally do so in order to avoid engaging with their neighbours. If he wanted company he should have chosen to live in the village (social discourse hereabouts rarely gravitates beyond a cursory nod). I have just finished reading Jim Crace’s Harvest. It’s a story of change in a mythical pre-industrial society, and the difficulties of establishing your place within a rural community. I guess it was always thus, our past is rarely the utopian bailiwick we would like to believe.