Friday, November 29

Distractions

The daily routine is full of comfortable distractions and if you're not careful life can pass you by. At least the moles appear purposeful. My track winds its way through their burrows, up onto the moor. It has taken several days for me to locate and terminate the yard's lone intruder ... Just now our light is a similar shade of grey-blue-black. There's no breeze and everything remains static, silent - almost a Kentridge-like print. The cattle appear frozen, statuesque, rooted in the peat. The ponies have gone to where ever ponies go to at this time of year, and the sheep are in the freezer.

Thursday, November 28

Another place, another time

People don't feel safe no more, he said. We're like the Comanches was two hundred years ago. We don't know what's goin to show up here come daylight. We don't even know what colour they'll be. (All The Pretty Horses.)

The compilation album is still going strong

The Now compilations celebrate 30 years! I can predate them. Hidden in amongst the Stones, Dylan and The Who, there are embarrassing Tellydisc compilations that include tracks from such luminaries as Barry Manilow, Captain & Tenille and Richard Clayderman.

Too stupid to succeed

Well that's my deficiencies explained; and by Boris, to boot. I think we all appreciate the point, however bluntly put. Some refer to this as meritocracy. Whilst it doesn't harm your chances by being born into a wealthy, educated family such at the Johnsons, you can't make a silk purse make a silk purse out of a sow's ear (I can't believe I said that). I guess we will continue to hear this sort of claptrap - social mobility, etc., all the way to the election. At least they're not suggesting we move as fast as the slowest member of the team; as with the politics of social envy, that way lies a commune in Brixton. No doubt it's all Thatcher's fault; that and the demise of the grammar school. I guess you have to fill the column inches with something.

Tuesday, November 26

Life of Brian

A sad day.

Better the devil you know

I can't say this era is blessed with a particularly capable breed of politician, and Alex Salmond is very much the archetype. I was around in the early 70s when Scottish nationalism last strutted the stage; and although I have no idea which way the vote will run, I suspect the debate this coming year will be heavy on acrimony and light on brotherly love. Whilst I have no doubt that Scotland could go it alone, people are frightened of change. For that reason I'll bet against a vote for independence. Local sensibilities will also play its part, not least self-interest.

 Pure coincidence that on the day the independence white paper is launched I ate porridge for breakfast and an Arbroath Smokie for supper. The latter was acquired during last week's trip. It is a grim product; the world has moved on.

Sunday, November 24

Glass half-full

For someone totally indifferent to Doctor Who, Romanian gypsies and dodgy Labour donors, it's tempting to suspect I am somehow missing out. After spending this past week at opposite poles of the country it also occurs that life on the margins of our multi-cultural society misses a trick or two. I have to say, however, that life right now - even given the weekend's sporting results - is pretty good. I appreciate even to say so tempts fate, but let's occasionally have the courage to enjoy ourselves. Damn it I'm already in the Christmas mood. Lunchtime in the Dog and Duck obviously helped.

Keeping the cold at bay

Along with the short days and hard frosts of the mornings, it's back to normal-service on the food stakes. Our neighbour has slaughtered a number of hoggets and the freezer is fully stocked. Suppers have featured a liver, still warm - washed down with a nice Chianti; stuffed hearts (prunes, apple and breadcrumbs) on top of celeriac and potato mash. Hearts aren't Mrs G's sort of thing, and so for the Boss's birthday I produced a seafood risotto as part compensation - a suggestion of northern Italy to lighten the scene. As the homestead readies itself for our traditional Christmas tree, a seasonal fragrance of stewed fruits - cinnamon, clove, orange peel and star anise - emanates from the kitchen, and sets the stage.

Saturday, November 23

Onwards and upwards

Damn but it's nice to be back at the homestead. A great trip and lots of fun, but I can't party the way we used to. At least I managed to avoid making a dick of myself, upsetting or offending anyone. That's provided the assembled company missed my crunching on what at the time I thought were pistachio nuts but turned out to be discarded olive stones the assembled throng had spit into a bowl in front of me. Although the accommodation was excellent, with the exception of my brother-in-law's fishcakes, the food we ate was a disappointment. It doesn't matter whether a chef, teacher or doctor, there's obviously only so much talent you can spread about. The drive north - post Manchester/Liverpool - was spectacular, especially the autumn colours of Cumbria and Perthshire. In the new motor it was almost effortless. We stayed over in Cumbria; everyone was dressed in breeches and tweeds, carrying guns - and if the accents were to be believed, social mobility is alive and well in that part of the world. They serve nice beer there too, but execrable wine. Our eventual venue at the end of the 600m journey was an old favourite, now something of an institution. And let's face it, a suite in the region's premier establishment was the least we deserved. The two of us celebrated over the weekend with several friends who were alongside us back in 1973. I guess that's it for another ten years or so.

Friday, November 22

Not a happy bunny

24 hours into our anniversary adventure I backed the motor over my laptop, losing three months or more of my life. I was not a happy bunny. Worse since I have purchased a new machine and discovered the world has moved on from my trusty steam-driven unit. I find myself obliged to purchase expensive software in order to retrieve the Gudgeon archive.

Thursday, November 14

Doesn't time fly?


This week we celebrate our Ruby Wedding Anniversary – 40 years! And they said it wouldn’t last, was doomed to crash and burn. Damn it, time flies (when you’re having fun). Mrs G. and I are away on a beano.

The new poor

The demise of Bob Cratchit, as white-collar workers become the new poor. The circle has been completed within my working lifetime, as a generation of working-class drones that swopped their boiler suit for a shirt & tie and the lower middle classes, now returns to the lathe.

Wednesday, November 13

A spade: a long, flat piece of wood

In today’s Telegraph Frank Skinner bemoans the oppression of the crowd and the limits to freedom of speech. ‘People can’t hate anything anymore,’ he avers. A sentiment frequently echoed by Reginald D. Hunter and his ilk. Men in particular have become emasculated, afraid to point out the obvious in case of causing offence. In the same paper, Jack Straw admits to a spectacular mistake. A mistake his successors can’t even now admit to. There’s an oft-quoted phrase that is popularly used to describe First World War infantry. A century on and it sometimes seems the lions are still led by donkeys; castrated ones to boot.

Monday, November 11

Day off

It is great out there this afternoon, mist and swirling rain…swollen rivers and waterlogged tracks. The weekend’s rubber-clad adrenalin junkies have packed their kayaks and returned home – a five mile walk and not other body in sight. Punishing stuff at times, it seems you are always either climbing a steep incline or negotiating a bog. However if I don’t make the effort I can’t then relax; sit on my backside and read a book or watch the box conscience-free. And as I have difficulty imagining myself doing this in ten years time I’m making the most of it.

Sunday, November 10

Remembrance Sunday

One of Napoleon’s dictums was that to understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was 20. Mmm…those days are a little cloudy. I guess Vietnam was still on the go, as were the troubles, the Red Army Faction was active (I was living in Germany at the time), and there was that pesky Cold War threat of Nuclear Armageddon. Inflation in the UK reached a 30-year high at 8.6%; mineworkers and postal workers had voted to strike; the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders entered liquidation and Rolls-Royce was declared bankrupt. Whilst I could go on, at the time I think I felt that – in comparison to my father and grandfather’s generations – we were having a relatively easy time of it. Maybe not as cosseted as the current batch of 20-year-olds, but then we never expected to inherit the earth, were faced with quite so much competition or under such pressure to succeed. Of course I’m not comparing like with like: Dalglish with Suárez, Keegan with Bale. You can only play the team in front of you. I’d like to think our soundtrack was superior, but then both my father and grandfather would disagree.

Friday, November 8

Silver Darlings

It’s Friday and supper comes direct from Brixham, smells of the sea; oatmeal, herring and potatoes is a perennial favourite. There are fresh herring roes on toast for starters. It doesn’t get much better, albeit I’ve a soft spot for shrimp gumbo and Dover soles.

Latest office accessory: the Quick-E-Mart is selling eight-pint cans of Speckled Hen, complete with a tap.

It is still raining

Given what’s happening in the Philippines I felt quite chipper this morning when trudging across the yard beneath my sou’wester. I can’t believe the reservoirs are only seventy-eight percent full. The saying ‘there’s always someone worse off than you’ sprang to mind. Such trite observations reinforce my resolve on bleak mornings; is one of the axioms ingrained in us by our parents when we are infants. Last night as a distraction I watched the film No Country for Old Men – again. I can always find something new in a story no matter how many repeats; as the reel begins to roll my mind meanders. I have to watch something several times and then try to piece together the snippets. As soon as Sherriff Bell began his monologue, some clichéd logic directs me to passages in McCarthy’s book of the same name, and on to Yeats, pluralism, the evils of democracy, rapacious governments, pensions and old age. Right about then is when I reach for the bottle. … And talking of mackerel-crowded seas…did you see Rick Stein on the sofa this morning, plugging his new book. What gives with the Walsall Corporation bus-driver’s jacket? When Englishmen attain a certain age something happens to our dress sense. I call it the Portillo effect: the never-to-be-resolved conflict between our narcissistic tendencies and the shield of self-deprecation. It’s difficult to be both a peacock and invisible at the same time.

Wednesday, November 6

Portsmouth betrayal

If the response in the Dog & Duck is anything to go by, announcing we were obliged to admit twenty million Romany gypsies would be tame by comparison. There are a lot of unhappy bunnies down here. I’m not unfamiliar with shipyards, and no doubt – at least in the eyes of BAE – the ending of shipbuilding in Portsmouth is the rational move. However, the result is yet another nail in the coffin of our three principal political parties.

Presumption

I noticed, in his senior years, that my father was treated with polite but well-meaning condescension by youngish women. They spoke more slowly and louder, as though he had become a simpleton. I’ve witnessed a similar trend during my recent visits to the city, in the coffee shop and certain department stores. The worst culprits are nurses at the local surgery. They address you as ‘my love’ or ‘my darling’. As if I would leap into bed with any of them, pretty as they may be. What happened to ‘Mr Gudgeon’ or ‘Sir!’?

Tuesday, November 5

Irving Berlin, eat your heart out

Following the weekend storms it was wonderful to see blue skies, however temporary. My fear is that Monday was the final half-decent day of the year; that this is it until next spring. Everything conspires to put a damper on life at this time of year, not least the media. For the sake of sanity I’ve begun to ration the news. Paxman isn’t alone in his wearying of our political class and the circus that surrounds them. And if you thought Sven-Goran’s book is the nadir of popular culture, I suspect there’s a lot more to surface before Christmas. Immigrants, the cost of utilities, crap public services, BBC troughers and dodgy cops…our list of grievances appears never ending.

Sunday, November 3

Chitterlings with boiled swede and mustard

Whilst despairing at society’s fixation with food in general and celebrity chefs in particular, I won’t deny my days are in part measured by meals eaten. Seasons, too, given the homestead currently reeks of freshly ground spices and reconstituted fruit (dark rum): Mrs G. is baking Christmas cakes. Brother of mine emailed to ask if I’d caught the weekend television rerun of Floyd’s ’88 take on Black Country cuisine: groaty pudding, black pudding and chitterlings, faggots and mushy peas – pure coincidence that I was sitting in the office listening to Stan Collymore on the wireless. Even talking about faggots lands you in trouble these days.

Friday, November 1

Alex Ferguson on turning 60

Reaching 60 can have a profound effect. You think you’re entering another room. At 50, a pivotal moment has arrived. Half a century. But you don’t feel 50. At 60, you say: ‘Christ, I feel 60. I’m 60!’ You come through that. You realise it’s a notional change, a numerical alteration. I don’t feel that way now about age. But back then, 60 was a psychological barrier in my head. It was an obstacle to me feeling young. It changed my sense of my own fitness, my health. ... It’s true. I know the feeling. And yes you do get over it.

Groundhog Day

It is a damp morning up here on our wind-swept corner, dark and bleak. Time of the year I guess and this is what autumn looks like. Quad bikes battle through the mire to check the stock; bleary eyed neighbours pass by en route to a desk in some distant town. Summer pleasures they are gone like to vision every one / And the cloudy days of autumn and of winter cometh on... The seasons are as consistent and regular as the headlines in the papers. I’m halfway through a dusty tome by Sebastian de Grazia, Of Time, Work & Leisure – a chance, its foreword says, to invoke the wisdom of ancient philosophers in a journey straight to the heart of modern (1962) industrialised society. Second-hand bookshops have a lot to answer for. So far it has taken me 250 pages to make the shocking discovery that humans are full of conflicted emotions, the foremost being that we don’t like to work but are quite fond of money. Reading on you suspect little has changed from the eighteenth century and that each generation is fated to reinvent the wheel.