Tuesday, December 31

It’s Hogmanay: Mine’s a large one

The usual Hogmanay question: Do I go down the pub or stay home? There was a time I relished Hogmanay celebrations. Good ones would stretch to a 3-4 day binge. Whilst I enjoy a session in the Dog & Duck as much as the next man, in truth it’s for the company rather than quality of their booze. And right now a dish of Mrs G’s boiled beef and dumplings – a bottle of my own choosing – beats the pants off a fancy dress knees up at the local. Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin. A glib sentiment but true. Hogmanay has become a young man’s sport.

Monday, December 30

Duck-free omelettes

Yesterday the roads were covered by black ice; this morning they are under water. The yard resembles a war zone. As a sop to an ounce of prevention I prepare best I can, but the storms overwhelm; a lightning strike has taken out the neighbour’s utilities. On the plus side my stock of booze and firewood is holding up well. Last night saw an end to our duck. You can’t accuse us of not recycling, as the single, albeit sizeable bird provided roast dinners on Christmas and Boxing Day, special fried rice for Friday’s supper, and bowls of morale-boosting soup throughout the weekend. Despite having to learn to swim, the chickens have continued to lay throughout. So I guess today it’s a return to omelettes.

Saturday, December 28

Back to work

Although we have the New Year celebrations to look forward to, this morning feels like a winding down from Christmas – the point at which we cheerfully acknowledge it was a lot of fun but are glad the fun’s over. There’s a limit to the number of drinks you can swallow and pies you can eat, a noticeable lift of the spirits with the realisation we don’t have to sit through another rerun of The Shawshank Redemption. Given the quantity of oatmeal stuffing and Christmas pudding consumed it will probably take another week before I stop farting, but then that’s the reason Mrs G. purchased all those scented candles.

Friday, December 27

Best laid plans fail for good reason

Given what has been going on around the country, we appeared have been spared the worst. And after Wednesday’s surfeit of Christmas cheer, our day of gluttony, it was good to escape across the moor and give Mrs G. time to clean down the worktops, to dispose of the empties. Needless to say there weren’t many people about on Boxing Day, the sensible types electing to stay in bed and sleep it off. As the day panned out theirs appeared the sensible strategy. I was beat up enough on my return, without having next-door’s power giving out and my having to dig up a buried junction box. The day went downhill from there. What with crawling around in the mud and rain I was forced into three changes of clothing. All good fun of course. Such things are merely sent to try us, to ensure we don’t become too complacent in life.

Wednesday, December 25

South London Mansions

Life goes on. RIP Ron Noades, and the reprise of Alan Curbishley.

Tuesday, December 24

Best laid plans...

Thirty-two flood warnings issued for the region. Christmas: don’t you love it. By any standards it was crap in town this morning. The Quik-E-Mart was pure wind up, husbands despatched to pick up turkeys and buy parsnips being pitted against each other like the cast of Fight Club. I thought we had escaped the weather relatively lightly. However, wind had stripped the roof from both the chicken coop and the field shelter – and so the two hours I’d allotted for a lunchtime session at the Dog & Dog was spent rebuilding Done Peckin’. The roof, which takes a couple of people to lift, had cleared two fences before coming to rest. Needless to say it rained sleet throughout. A bottle of ale and slice of Mrs G’s fruit cake seems scant reward.

Monday, December 23

Home or away?

Damn it’s breezy out there (assuming a strong gale is classed as breezy). A river is flowing past the back door and heading downhill at a rate of knots. A further three-inches is forecast for today. Apart from an obligatory trip to the Quik-E-Mart I can’t see me venturing far. I trust there’ll be no Brick Lane vigilantes on the tills. A number of the neighbours are setting off to spend Christmas with distant relatives, which, given the state of the roads, is rather brave of them. But then I spent yesterday morning drinking coffee in another neighbour’s kitchen whilst listening to their plans for entertaining/accommodating several branches of the family tree during coming days. On balance you’d probably choose to brave the elements and avail yourself of other’s generosity rather than undertake the heavy lifting yourself. Whether you are scheduled to play home or away, this particular fixture is rife with danger.

Saturday, December 21

In the bleak mid-winter

Or should I say the first day of winter. Given our recent weather it doesn’t feel like we’re only now starting out. Fell out of bed at one minute before eight – a late night and it’s the weekend. This morning’s drive across the moor to Tavistock was worth a trip in itself, grim but pure inspiration. Mrs G. got her duck, which was the point of the outing. I say duck: its size suggests part ostrich. I stood and listened to the Sally Army Band for a half-hour whilst eating a whole Oakcroft pork pie in lieu of breakfast. Great pastry albeit heavy on the lard – not a politically-correct pie. Sauntered back home in time to catch the racing from Ascot and Haydock. Now then, where’s my checklist? Stocked larder: tick. Plentiful supply of hooch: tick. Giant stack of firewood: tick. Presents wrapped: tick. Guess I’m set for Christmas.

I’d comment on last night’s steak & kidney pudding but words can’t describe… And thanks to Andy for Bugle Annual.

Friday, December 20

Late night visitors

We received a visit from the police last night. Despite its rural isolation, Hound of the Baskervilles country, ghostly apparitions – opaque faces pressed against the window – aren’t a regular feature of the homestead. The men in blue were looking for a neighbour, and our rural byways and human habitation didn’t tally. Down there; you serious? They didn’t elaborate on the reason for their inquiry; given the time of year you assume a domestic – the pressures that accompany an uncooked turkey and too much Warninks.

Thursday, December 19

Surfacing for air

Capitalising on a break in the succession of passing storms it was good to get out on the moor. Wet and bleak would be an apt description. Fuckin’ cold would be another. Grim as the place can be at this time of year, I can’t think of anywhere I would rather reside; certainly not back at South London Mansions. An hour of Exeter’s foot traffic is sufficient to hasten me home. Our shopping is almost complete. The homestead’s larder is groaning under the weight of food, and the drinks cabinet is unlikely to embarrass when the neighbours call. Christmas lunch remains under review: we have two more farmer’s markets in which to decide. This evening is my turn at the stove: freshly-caught scallops (at least that’s what the fish monger claims) on a bed of saffron rice.

Update: As I suspected, the scallops were suspect. Thankfully I had acquired a bucket of raw shrimp that were begging to be peeled, deveined and fried in butter.

Sunday, December 15

Making myself useful

It’s a formidable challenge but I’m determined to survive Mrs G’s annual festive dineathon. So far I have faced down the traditional boiled ham – the carrots and parsley sauce, the sautéed potatoes and fried eggs, the endless sandwiches … Breezed through a fish pie, the bread-crumbed lemon soles and John Dory. And today we despatched her roast ducks. Ducks are a subject of their own and Mrs G. goes to extraordinary lengths to source the little suckers. They like most meals are a reservoir of memories, not least the naff décor of the White Tower. But then as with all such historic venues it is the companionable diners you recall rather than the restaurant; it is in such establishments they reside. I’ve more than a week of suet puddings, roasts and ragouts to overcome prior to the pièce de résistance – am obliged to rise to the trial with provision of suitable wines and dinner table repartee, the entertainment. You see I have my uses.

When it's gone...

The world moves on remorselessly. And what a world. Despite the odd hiccup, the general health, wealth and welfare of the rank and file continues to rise. Let’s face it: who of us – however fond the memories – would want to return to the 70s. That said life is relative, especially for privileged – and inevitably there is always someone grander motoring in along the turnpike. Andrew Marr bemoans the changing face of Mayfair and Belgravia in today’s Spectator blog. I like the lad, even if he is part of the establishment that make their living sneering at the sort of punters who support UKIP – those who rage against the loss of life as they’ve known it. And yet here he is. It seems immigrants are wonderful people providing they know their place and don’t shit in your particular neighbourhood.

Friday, December 13

What you would tell your 14 year old self?

According to the Spectator that is. For myself and off the top of my head:
  • Get the hell out of where ever it was you were born. 
  • Hard work and determination gets you everywhere.
  • Find something you enjoy doing and pursue it obsessively.
  • Look for a solid partner to balance your strengths. 
  • The counter punch is a respectable strategy.
  • Ignore Taki and leave the serious reading until you are older and wiser 
  • The clock is ticking, enjoy yourself. There’ll come a time to be boring. 
  • People tend to get what they deserve, don’t moan or blame others.
  • Shit happens. Develop a sense of humour.
  • Learn to play the piano and to hold your drink. 
  • Everyone at some stage makes a prat of themselves. 
  • Old boys are full of stuff worth knowing. 
  • Watch out for the lad at the next work-bench: he’s your biggest threat.
  • You have to save to accumulate.
(Truth to tell my original list reflected rather badly on me.)

The recuperative power of dairy-based beverages

A fierce wind is blowing down from the moor this morning and the rain has resumed its assault on our neighbour’s corrugated roofing. You have to guard against attacks of melancholy at this time of year. Although the festive season is a special occasion, indulgent and très enjoyable, memories can and do intrude – old acquaintances are brought to mind. Perhaps it’s why we suddenly develop an inexplicable taste for eggnog: it anaesthetises the past. Reading Cormac McCarthy novels rarely helps. I know the stories well enough – mine’s a sorry looking edition, full of those ‘life is hard and then you die’ kinds of thing. Much like myself the pages have become separated from the spine and are crimped at the corners. The hardest lesson in the world is that when things are gone they’re gone. They don’t come back.

Thursday, December 12

In the lap of the Gods

The Spectator’s Charles Moore suspects the Irish are fearful of Scots voting yes in 2014. I wonder what happened to Salmond’s band of happy brothers, the mythical Celtic/Viking commonwealth that stretched from Dublin to Oslo? The independence referendum seems a long time coming and viewed from the backwaters of southwest England appears something of a phoney war. I assume it will kick off in earnest next summer as we draw closer to the fateful day. The subject raised its head during our recent visit north of the border, not least with those relatives of a nationalist bent. They are wonderful people and I love them to bits, but as the rhetoric rises and the facial tics appear, you sense the advocates are barely two pints short of a Nuremberg Rally. That’s the problem with nationalism: it frightens the horses. If Scotland does vote yes in September I would like to think Edinburgh will continue to pay its share of keeping the Northern Ireland economy afloat.

Wednesday, December 11

Thankless jobs

Mandela and Moyes are seemingly the only two men in the news just now. Like most I’m bored with both; good lads and saddled with unenviable jobs, but vastly over-rated. On another day Ofsted may well have designated both individuals as losers, so arbitrary is the court of public opinion. Today’s Telegraph compares Fortnum & Mason Christmas cake with that of Iceland and comes down in favour of the latter: yet all this tells us is consumers have limited taste and wouldn’t recognise decent cake if it grew teeth and bit them.

Redwings have decent taste, given a flock has just descended on the homestead and stripped the holly bushes of berries. Yesterday it was grey plovers en route to somewhere exotic. All sorts pass through here. This morning the Quik-E-Mart was overrun by visitors. I don’t know what it is with women but they appear to have an insatiable appetite for gossip, so much so you can’t access the groceries because of their canting. And when you do manage to squeeze through, their offspring are pawing the produce – poking the bread. If you’ve visited food producers’ facilities you will appreciate the extent to which staff go to in order to protect the goods, yet all is nought when the end product is used as a plaything for ill-bred malcontents. The malevolence when you take them to task is something to be seen. Who’d be a school teacher?

Tuesday, December 10

Offcuts

Pork cheeks are the sort of thing you expect to mince or braise for three hours. As with beef skirt, however, there are alternatives. Butterflied and slow pan-frying for 50 minutes leaves the little suckers caramelised and unbelievably oleaginous – especially if they’re a tasty rare breed. Throw in a dish of stewed tomatoes and the meal is something special. Our neighbours have slaughtered so many animals recently it is hard to keep up. The so-called Mediterranean diet this isn’t, but damn it the stuff is good. Given what’s stacked in the fridge, the festive season appears to promise a whole lot of fun. My cholesterol can go hang for a week or two.

Of a similar mind

America is happy to mind its own business, says Justin Webb in today’s Times. I’ve a sneaky feeling there’s a lot of voters this side of the pond that are sympathetic to Pickens’ County Sheriff, Rick Clark – and not just fans of Mrs Brown’s Boys. The parliamentary response to Cameron’s call for intervention in Syria more than reflected the popular will of the UK electorate. This morning I received two emails from old friends – ex-colleagues. One is in Bootle, Merseyside, the other in Houston, Texas. Their manifest differences are as nought in comparison to the similarity of their views.

Sunday, December 8

No mercy for Rudolph

That said I think we’ve eaten more than enough venison this past month and am obliged to move on. Yesterday it was roast woodcock, today braised pheasant. We are saving the wildfowl for Christmas. And still the neighbours’ guns blaze … I’m trying to get into the festive spirit. The tree is up, decorated; presents have been purchased and charity donations despatched. Kings College are playing on the wireless. You always worry about not being prepared – so as I speak a tanker is discharging its cargo into our propane tank (I assume Sundays are double-bubble). Must remember to thank that nice Mr Osborne for my winter fuel allowance (I’ve already spent it three times). At least the homestead will be warm when the neighbours call ’round for a drink. Sam Leith assumes that if you’re middle-aged and middle-class your parties are crap, but that depends where you’re coming from. A word of advice for The Times generation … Most middle-aged people I know are grand-parents and don’t require baby sitters. We don’t serve Prosecco at this time of year, it’s Champagne. As for twiglets (and sausage rolls)? In the unlikely event we would provide them they are hand-made by a local artisan baker. Slutty casual would be the staff, not the guests. Parties we used to have are well and truly buried – and NO-ONE smokes. There is no such thing as a classy non-alcoholic drink, and dancing is another story.

Small mercies

Life is always subjecting us to tests. Whilst sometimes they can be forbidding challenges, even catastrophic in nature, our bugbears are more usually the petty irritations of life that are sent to try our patience. Trudging to the barn of a morning and discovering I have forgotten the key; emptying the contents of a giant ‘cook’s matches’ box on the floor in the course of lighting the fire; swallowing scalding tea when my mind is distracted. And it’s true what they say: always in threes. When I was younger I used to rage; why me? Nowadays I’m so grateful that’s all I have to worry about.

Thursday, December 5

Male and female brains are wired differently

Christmas shopping in Exeter, like any large city, is not for the fainthearted. Anything I needed to buy I’ve purchased online; Mrs G. being the tactile sort likes to handle things before parting with her cash. Accordingly, after jointly purchasing a new television, we separated and headed off to buy personal gifts. This translates as, whilst the good lady shops, I adjourn to the Dog & Duck. I enjoy Christmas enormously but if you are not disciplined it’s too easy to piss away your hard-earned money on gratuitous crap. What I mean by gratuitous is that money remains the lazy option, an excuse for a lack of imagination. Something you hope will buy her off – get you off the hook, i.e. a piece of glitzy nonsense.

Winter in the Highlands

Today’s weather north of the border appears quite bracing and our visiting antipodean relatives are doubtless wrapped up warm. Along with most of their generation, this morning’s pension news provides little comfort. Retirement at 70 is almost a given, later if you want to retain a decent standard of living. I’ve always been somewhat cynical about the state pension and what services, medical or otherwise, will or won’t be available during my dotage. We all know the NHS is unsustainable and that means testing is on the rise. Truth to tell the chance of them killing rather than curing you is now so great, if punters have the cash they are already voting with their feet. The trouble with universal services is a drift to the lowest common denominator. 

Wednesday, December 4

Complete and utter hell.

Jay Rayner in the Guardian: Right now there's a luxe food economy, focused on a couple of London postcodes, which is entirely supported by a grotesque, preening, Louboutin-heeled, gold-plated iPhone-carrying, plastic-crashing, Bugatti-driving, natural resource-pillaging excuse for humanity that floats like some gold-flecked scummy head on the warm beer of the rest of an economy simply trying to make do.

 Arkady Novikov should surely have learnt something from Gerald Ratner?

For this is the real tragedy. Many of these restaurants are actually rather good: superb ingredients, great cooking, skilled service. And all of it is completely wasted on the very people who can afford it; the ones who book into them not out of greed or even a tinge of hunger, but because they like the way the lighting flatters their complexion and the toiletries in the bogs make them smell like one of Dita Von Teese's freshly pampered armpits.

 Priceless.

Tuesday, December 3

I can always find time to eat

It’s back to winter rib-stickers with a vengeance. Today’s braised oxtail and ox cheek is one of the Boss’s finest. My bottle of Rumpole claret wasn’t too shabby either. Busy days just now: places to go, things to do. Life, as I’ve oft said, is governed by a perception the sand is draining too quickly. The days, weeks – years, fly past remorselessly. I have to make a conscious effort to stop and stare. Although I keep this blog alive for old times’ sake – to stay in touch, in recent months it has become something of a box ticking exercise, a casualty of necessary daily obligations and alternative distractions. And then many of the blogs I enjoyed are no more as people have moved on and the world has become increasingly sanitised. The blogosphere is beginning to stall.

Monday, December 2

Away day

Brushing up on my driving skills. Whilst I learned to drive and passed my test in a Land Rover, driving off road remains great fun.

Sunday, December 1

An optimistic future

Yesterday we drove to the New Forest to attend the first birthday of a grand-niece. A dozen or so tiny tots were in attendance, together with a sizeable contingent of doting adults. If Boris Johnson is to be believed these children’s future appears bright. By the time the little tykes reach adulthood, Britain – or rather London – will again be the centre of the universe. Though I wished the kids luck, I suspect their prospects are already assured – mandated by the expectations of their parents and supportive grand-parents.

 … he said it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.