Tuesday, July 30

Make hay ...

The kids break up for summer holidays and it’s monsoon season once again. Barbecue and salads give way to braised beef and cabbage; wellies become the order of the day. That said it is quite pleasant outside, sans stinging insects ... And it appears we are marginally happier than this time last year: seventy seven percent of the population think life ain’t too shabby.

At 24 Gareth Bayle is too young to reach for the stars, says David Bleat ... I’ve lost count of the number of lads I worked alongside who spurned the chance of advancement because they believed themselves inexperienced and feared failure, were scared of screwing up and making fools of themselves. Ten years later they were still at the same desk and being passed over. Then again I suppose you could throw William Hague at me: if he’d only waited a couple of years.

Union boss says we’re losing our soul

It wasn’t like this in the old days ... dream on, Gordon. Whenever someone bleats about morality it is usually because they feel irrelevant.

Friday, July 26

Demographics

While waiting to watch a Slade* documentary on BBC Four this evening I sat through a repeat of last Sunday’s Albert Hall performance by the newly-formed National Youth Orchestra of the USA. They were performing Shostakovich's mighty 10th. What intrigues me, other than the excellent performance, is the seemingly disproportionate number of Asian musicians in the line up, and – given I listen to so many African-American musicians – the absence of black faces. Not that this means anything, I guess. I religiously watch University Challenge and am struck by the fact that only one in eight of the contestants are young women (when over half of university entrants are female). Such things puzzle me.

(*No not the fine art school.)

Rabbit and morel stew with olive oil mash

Our fine weather continues to hang on in there. Although today was supposed to be cooler the moor remains a veritable furnace, and as in recent days just two or three other walkers in the vicinity. Grazing cattle and furze chitters – restless stonechats – dominate its parched landscape. Foxes lurk amongst the bracken feasting on young pheasant. Back at the homestead it is pesky rabbits that hold sway. They’ve eaten Mrs G’s prize roses, stripping the shrubs of leaves and flowers. Needless to say – stable doors and bolting horses etc. – the yard is now a maze of protective netting. The good lady keeps vigil in a shady nook, patiently rocking to and fro, Remington in her lap. A varied diet remains one of my principal pleasures.

Thursday, July 25

Deluxe fish & chips

After two days of sweat and toil, Mrs G. and I sneaked off for a day out in Dartmouth. The weather is just about perfect. We walked around town looking in on the numerous galleries and boutiques that cater to visitors, admired the view on the water, and engaged in a little people watching. After flipping a coin we ate lunch at Mitch Tonks’ restaurant, The Seahorse. A glass of champagne and antipasti, followed by an excellent fritto misto di mare (John Dory, Red Mullet, White Bait, Monkfish, Squid and Soft Shell Crabs). Lots of visitors from the Continent and more Range Rovers than you can shake a stick at. We were followed all the way down by a Noble and a Porsche. Not a tractor in sight. Great Yarmouth it ain’t.

Tuesday, July 23

Happy with your lot?

I sat listening to Frank Bruno on this morning’s television. I can’t resist smiling every time I hear the lad’s voice. On the face of it, a charming and engaging man; saw him fight two or three times in the old days. There must be a celestial handicapper that doles out our lot, good and bad, in equal measure. Would I trade for an ounce of Paul Gascoigne’s talent if the bargain included a commensurate portion of his off-pitch demons?

Monday, July 22

Consumer confidence at four and a half year high

... although concerns continue about rising ‘utility bills’. And as if by magic, this morning I receive a letter from DWP confirming my name is in the frame for a winter fuel payment come Christmas. I’ve been paying in since 1967 and – despite what they say about the good fortune of us so-called baby boomers – have yet to see a penny in return. This will be my first instance of State largess. Of course that’s excepting the third-rate education I received at Crap Street Secondary Modern and some NHS treatment for a broken leg. What’s the betting our Universal State Pension is scrapped one week before I become eligible?

Sunday, July 21

A subject best avoided

President Obama’s recent remarks about taking heart from his daughters’ generation in relation to the Trayvon Martin case reflect a general assumption that young people are less prejudiced than we oldies. Unfortunately young people age and I doubt the polarisation of communities or white flight will be reversed any time soon. Like Obama, however, I remain optimistic. As with most guys of a certain age I tend to relax in the Dog & Duck amongst friends that reflect my race, age and class. Whilst there’s always room for difference, experience teaches when difference extends to more than the odd individual it degenerates into ‘us and them’. What trumps this cynical approach is a realisation that, in the event of a bunch of lads from Papua New Guinea paddling up the River Dart, when stepping from their dugout canoe (grass skirts, bone through the nose, bodies decorated with the scalps of their enemies), I would probably find I have more in common with each of them than with 95% of the women I meet. Yet despite the Mars and Venus conundrum, men and women marry and live together in relative harmony for much of their lives. You’d think, having pulled off this feat of arms, it would not be beyond the wit of man to live alongside Bill Reynolds and his chums without recourse to shooting each other. Of course I’m speaking from the relative isolation of rural Devon, hardly a bedrock of multiculturalism – watching Tiger Woods tee-off at The Open. The last two black guys to actually visit were here to kidnap and murder Joss Stone.

Saturday, July 20

Looking cool

I have so many fans whirring away in the background the homestead sounds like the interior of clapped out Boeing en route to Menorca. The temperature suits the mood. Following a morning at the coal face it’s an afternoon of snacks and sports on the box. Deep-fried squid followed by the remains of yesterday’s barbecued chicken and freshly-cut salad from the garden. Despite the fans and a 15kts breeze in the yard the temperature remains a stubborn 28º. And you won’t hear a word of complaint from this direction. The only jarring note is Lee Westwood’s attire. What’s with this loudest chav on the course look? Damn it the man’s 40, not 14. I suppose today’s ‘Johan Cruyff on vacation’ is a step up from Thursday’s health & safety ensemble, but even so... I was going to make a smart arse comment about Jimenez’s tartan slacks, but then you recall the 70s. Compared to Tom Watson and Johnny Miller et al, it passes as conservative dress.

Friday, July 19

Following the Open

Damn it’s busy out there, on the roads that is. Convoys of Panzer Wagons – lots of German visitors, ditto our friends from the Netherlands. Now the schools have broken up I guess we can expect all and sundry. I often wonder what it is they pack in those roof coffins? I used to travel far and wide with little more than a suit carry bag. Our Mediterranean weather continues: a vista of straw-coloured vegetation and knackered looking donkeys. Apart from driving the Boss around town this morning, procuring lunch, my duties are limited to barbecuing a chicken and watching The Open on the box. Though only Friday the action at Muirfield remains great theatre. Faldo looked about as scared as I would be on the first tee.

Olympic legacy

Good for the UK’s finances, perhaps, but as for Britain’s supposed Olympic sporting legacy...? Despite the promise to inspire a generation, it appears most kids can’t be arsed. Great to watch on television but that’s about as far as it goes. In their defence I suspect access to sport via local playing fields and facilities is limited. Did we boomers have so much? I guess we were happy enough just to kick a ball about, patronise the municipal swimming pools and ride our bikes the length and breadth of town. Although we ran, jumped, climbed and swam, unless you exhibited a particular talent and were introduced to a local sports club I’m not sure we were any more inclined. Our enthusiasm for sport, such as it was, probably owed more to the lack of alternative distractions. With no Xbox to hand, kicking a ball around the street was the only game in town.

Thursday, July 18

Haymaking

Whilst birds provided the soundtrack to spring, the homestead currently resounds to the buzz of wasps and flies, to livestock munching their way through pasture – to the smell of summer flowers and growing mounds of manure. Farming neighbours can hardly believe their good fortune: grass already cut, dried and baled. Pints of cider all round.

Tuesday, July 16

Playing to your audience

I finally got around to watching Run on Channel 4 and suspect the guardian’s John Crace is correct about the seemingly insatiable market for misery porn, aka gritty drama. A validation of sorts that, however bad your life, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge there are lower life forms in the food chain? It seems to be working for the Tories, neck and neck in the polls after proposing to cap Carol’s benefits. Run is predictable tosh laid on with a trowel.

Monday, July 15

Collection of shovels continues to grow

Back to work this morning, to the quarry for five tons of graded aggregate. You wouldn’t think there was so much choice when it comes to chuckies. I have a sneaky feeling this week will involve a certain amount of labouring. But then it beats being stuck in the office, and you feel so much better – righteous – when sinking that first pint at the bar of the Dog & Duck.

Sunday, July 14

Salad days are here again


Whilst memory plays many tricks, this must be how summer used to be: stinging nettles and stinging insects; scarlet flesh and ridiculous, garish clothing; too much booze. I’ve half a steer roasting on the barbecue, wild Dartmoor beef, and a mountain of salad wilting on the kitchen table. Inside the homestead it is 36º and 28% humidity (rather than the traditional 80%). Mrs G. is frying cashew nuts a la Mrs G, peeling stalks of celery and filling them with cream cheese from Breton and home-grown jalapenos. I’d like to think this is part payback for 2012. Whatever, I ain’t complaining. It’s unbelievably peaceful, quiet – always providing you ignore the Van Morrison album and the zillion grasshoppers playing in the background.

Friday, July 12

Bah! Humbug!


The Met Office has issued a heatwave alert, warning the Southwest temperature this weekend could reach ≥30ºC. I’ve spent today working on my wood pile for the coming winter.

Thursday, July 11

Mañana

I don’t believe I’ve been this warm since our excursion to the tropics. With temperatures in the 80s and 50% humidity this is just about my perfect environment. It’s rum cocktails and barbequed prawns all the way. The downsides include my being bitten and stung by all manner of insect life. Mrs G’s chickens are snappy, too. I guess I should be working, tackling those odd jobs I’ve been meaning to turn my hand to: but then again...

Wednesday, July 10

Royal Mail sell-off


Give the lads their due. I mail my stuff in a box buried in the hedgerow along the lane by lunchtime each day, and in the main it reaches its destination the following morning. Mind you as I buy stamps in bulk, until this morning, I was labouring under the impression the price of a first-class stamp was still 27p.

Tuesday, July 9

I bet it's a bit like this in Magaluf

So much for blissfully quiet. We acquired a stallion yesterday, a loan from our neighbour, and given it hadn’t seen a mare for some time all hell broke loose. Rape of the Sabine Women weren’t in it; lots of galloping, neighing and big time rogering. It appears the economy is not the only thing on the up. The two mares are sleeping it off this morning.

It seems I’ve achieved a level of assimilation: when purchasing my usual decongestant tablets (hay fever), the chemist reminded me they can cause drowsiness – and warned me to be careful when driving my tractor. It could have been the overalls and boots, the straw in my mouth; or maybe she heard the motor draw up outside.

Monday, July 8

It can't last

The verge on both sides of the lane is shoulder-high in flowering grasses and stuffed full of blackbirds and small mammals – purple-pink foxgloves and loping hares, the tinkling twitter of goldfinches. It seems an alien environment given our weather of recent years. Although there’s a passing stream of visitors riding mountain bikes or struggling under the weight of rucksacks, neighbours exercising horses and an occasional quad bike checking stock on the moor, the homestead remains blissfully quiet. If the number of caravans exiting the A38 is a guide it must be bedlam down on the coast.

Friday, July 5

A quiet life

Is within every man’s grasp.

Making myself useful

The lads who are working on our latest project in the yard were close to walking off the job yesterday: midges sweep through the firs like mist from the moor. Chatty neighbours never hang around long. It’s the Highlands all over again. We have our ponies back, grazing the yard, fertilising the ground - which is knee-deep in cock pheasants (there’s rarely a hen to be seen). A badger has begun its third exploratory tunnel. Today I have to eat more eggs (you can’t give ’em away), before setting light to another bonfire. Let’s hope my luck holds.

Wednesday, July 3

A blast from the past

What great pictures this morning from The National Railway Museum. They are marking Mallard’s 75th anniversary of setting the steam record by bringing together all six surviving Class A4 engines. The locomotives are even older than the Rolling Stones. It almost makes you want to jump in the motor and run up to York. Nostalgia, you can’t beat it; though in fairness I wouldn’t trade the internet for a return to those years – let’s face it, there must be better things to spend our money on than HS2. But then you could say much the same thing about the BBC, those two QE Class aircraft carriers under construction on the Forth ... and much, much more. There’s nothing worse than a government with other people’s money burning a hole in its pocket.