Friday, January 31

Couch potatoes

Busy morning. Everyone is out running errands and exercising horses before the storm arrives. More floods for the south west. I was up on the moor yesterday afternoon for the usual five mile jaunt; everywhere is sodden. Truth to tell, as long as you’re wearing waterproofs it’s no great hardship – had the place to myself… The Telegraph’s health correspondent says ‘Britain's couch potato lifestyle means a significant number of people use just 25 per cent more energy than if they had stayed in bed all day.’ This missive from UK Active claims that in parts of the country, four in ten people are taking less than half an hour’s exercise each month – a frightening statistic that puts my claim to be the neighbourhood idler in perspective. I thought our hosting the Olympics was supposed to change this sort of shit, inspire everyone to rush to the nearest gym or jogging track. What’s the use of banning smoking and demonising drink if everyone resembles Eric Pickles or Diane Abbott. What with the projected rise in pension age and our shortened lifespan, the chancellor must be rubbing his hands.

Tuesday, January 28

Back in business

…following two days offline. Thankfully I had nothing special on the go, at least nothing requiring internet access. To give my BT router its due, the magic box had seen out three computers during its seven year lifespan. From where I currently sit, January 2007 seems a very long time ago. Pre-crash; pre lots of things. Back then Bulgaria and Roman had just joined the European Union and Russia had cut off oil supplies to the Ukraine. So nothing new then.

Sunday, January 26

It’s a rum do

Spending a fair part of yesterday doing little but read the papers was a rare treat (knee on the blink). It helped bring me up to date and gave food for thought on several issues, not least the need for selective castration. Despite my criticism of several popular correspondents I sympathise with their need to produce something printable every couple of days. One or two must kneel and give thanks to Nigel Farage who rarely disappoints. I wonder if the press realise how counter-productive much their criticism is with the man in the Dog & Duck. Even nut jobs equating Biblical catastrophe with gay marriage elicit support, on the basis ‘they wouldn’t be so quick to deride the lad if he was an imam from Tower Hamlets or a bishop from Lagos.’ Some arguments you can’t win.

Friday, January 24

Friday fish, sans the beer

“Better are small fish than an empty dish” (17thC Proverb). I can recall a number of enjoyable meals over the years at various branches of the Wheeler’s chain of fish restaurants. Sheekey’s, too; and on occasion at the infamous Scott’s in Mayfair. Back in those days there was also a small establishment on the quay in Den Helder dispensing tiny soles and frosted mugs of Heineken that was a match for all. Den Helder soles have since remained a regular feature of the Gudgeon homestead, not least because we have an excellent fishmonger who sells small filleted soles for £1/pair. This evening we’ve managed to consume a half-dozen of the little suckers, together with large dollops of Mrs G’s patented tartar sauce. Unfortunately it is still dry-January and the frosted mugs remain absent.

Thursday, January 23

Alas David Moyes

I could join with the throng and recycle glib remarks about people being promoted to the level of their incompetence, engage with the Peter Priciple, but that would be to forget the pressure Fergie was under in his early years. Mrs G, a fervent Utd follower, believes the lad is turning them into Everton – albeit that was before Martinez began his transformation of the Toffees. Replacing your backroom staff – the sticky plaster on an ageing squad – didn’t help, though David Gill was arguably a bigger loss. But then what do I know…at the end of the day Man Utd are no different from any organisation – football club, political party or your local school – and leadership is all. Unfortunately, genius or numpty, a leader has to be lucky – or at least to have his share. Given the experience of many other Premiership clubs it can take a number of management changes before you hit on the correct fit, and there’s no reason Utd are different. I recall they had to go through Docherty, Sexton and Atkinson before finding Ferguson.

Wednesday, January 22

School report: could do better

Reading Mary Riddell’s article in today’s Telegraph you would think education has come full circle from the days of secondary moderns and grammar schools. To quote Rachel Reeves, it makes perfect sense for those with poor literacy levels to be taught in a vocational setting…And so Labour’s ill-fated reign – the Blair and Brown years – was all for nothing. Their tenets tested to destruction, to no avail. I’m sure these same arguments on education are being played out throughout the Western World, and whilst I don’t doubt Neets are a tough nut to crack, teaching kids how to use a knife and fork correctly, whilst preparing them to audition for The Voice – producing more working-class actors, doesn’t really address the needs of the rank and file. It doesn’t matter how charming and biddable they are, if kids can’t read and write you’re unlikely to employ them. Maybe there’s no real answer. Perhaps Blair’s people were right, people generally get what they deserve – and there are some you need to cut loose, replace with better models from elsewhere. I can understand the argument but you’d think we could do better.

Tuesday, January 21

Sea of tranquillity

Today’s curtain of grey sky appears stitched to the low-lying mist by twisted filaments of smoke that rise from the chimneys straddling the landscape. Whilst sunshine would be good, even in its present form the view from above the homestead brings a tear to the eye. Monday’s Times leader dwells on the subject of tranquillity, scientists having identified a small area of bogland in Northumberland as most likely to instil a sense of inner peace, by providing an unmatched combination of soothing landscape, birdsong and visibility of the stars. I beg to differ.

Saturday, January 18

The old guy in a cave

Recalls South London Mansions... I’ve finished another Christmas book, Faulks’ A Week in December. Not the lad’s best work. A group of stereotypical characters play to type during a week in December 2007. A run-of-the-mill satire saddled with a television budget instead of a film’s; or in the words of R. Tranter, not so much Oirish as London Twaddle. This in part is also the trouble with our lords and masters – politicians and commentariat both, a tendency to A4 rationalisations. People are either ABC’s, or from the established middle-class – are new affluent workers or members of the precarious proletariat. Deserving or undeserving poor. People become avatars rather than human beings. The cast list appears a collection of Faulks’ pet hates, not least cyclists and literary critics, uneducated people with money.

Friday, January 17

Life imitates art imitates…

Gigi's Honoré Lachaille: Congratulations! It's your first suicide! As usual it takes a po-faced Philip Collins to state the contrary view.

Thursday, January 16

Where flies no sharp-sided hail

The usual thunder and hail storms on the moor today, a sneaky southwest wind. You can’t whack it, however…beats the gym. Despite the weather there are a fair few walkers out, all clad in full waterproof order and woolly hats. Everything hereabouts – sky and terrain – is black. An occasion shaft of sunlight breaks through, a rainbow sometimes appears, but mostly…it’s black. Plenty of ponies and sheep, though little in the way of bird life – and it’s too cold to sit around for long. The neighbours are busying themselves humping baleage and shooting anything that moves; there’s only two weeks of the season remaining. I could use a pheasant or two as Mrs G. has imposed a quasi-vegetarian diet on the household. As with our errant school chums, a trip to the Caribbean would be nice, jerked chicken with my beans and rice.

Memory loss alert

Middle-aged men who drink the equivalent of two and a half pints a day risk speeding up memory loss and mental decline by six years, says medical researcher. And you need a study to determine the blindingly obvious? Memory’s not all it’s cracked up to be, however; too many embarrassing incidents you’d rather forget. Do I really want to recall my stint of 70s disco-dancing? As for cognitive function: I’m told contemporary education has been dumbed down sufficient to compensate. Truth to tell, the decline and fall begins on your 30th birthday and there’s little you can do to prevent it. I don’t doubt it’s true you can slow the rate of decline by adopting a healthy lifestyle, but what a god-awful life.

Wednesday, January 15

Flavanols v alcohol?

Cocooned as you are and with another gale lashing at the homestead, it becomes extremely difficult to get out of bed these black January mornings. If I thought my coffin was going to be as comfortable I doubt I would ever fear death. Having run out of porridge, top of today’s duties was a trip to the Quik-E-Mart. Shopping for groceries rarely features on my list of pleasurable activities. I should use an online service but remain fussy about the quality of produce; and who can resist an odd impulse buy – ten quid off a bottle of malt. There’s a couple of treats waiting on February 1st. Despite the dubious satisfaction that accrues from delayed gratification, my current diet of black coffee and Valrhona chocolate is scant compensation. But then they tell me countries with the highest chocolate consumption also have more Nobel Prize winners.

Tuesday, January 14

Numpty appeals to the gullible

Ed proposes a triple lock on the aspirations of middle-class professionals. Labour is not just for the poor and destitute, he says, there’s something in it for everyone. I can’t even be bothered to Fisk this nonsense. Suffice to say it’s another inducement for northern Labour voters to switch to UKIP and the SNP.

Monday, January 13

Courtesy costs nothing

Damn but it turned cold over the weekend. Wet, too…So nothing new there then. Ah for the lazy, hazy days of summer. It’s been one of those keep-your-head-down spells, the past seven days: two rambles the moor, a trip into town for supplies, but essentially a three-book week (working my way through my Christmas presents – escapist novels and challenging music). Enthusiasm was such I couldn’t be arsed blogging. I did, however, write a fair amount for private consumption. As children we are repeatedly told that if you can’t say anything nice about a person then you should keep schtum. Good advice, no doubt. Though as safety-valves go, rude and offensive remarks can be a useful tool. It certainly earned me a thick ear or two when I was young. I suppose we’re a lot more thin-skinned than we used to be – the nature of contemporary society. Too quick to take offence. And the penalties out of all proportion. When I first began travelling to America I was greatly impressed with everyone’s courtesy, especially on the roads. Of course that was before I discovered my newfound friends carried very large handguns beneath the seat of their vehicles.

Tuesday, January 7

…nor the years condemn

A quiet evening, hunkered down by the fire, listening to Anne QueffĂ©lec on the wireless – part of the Music on the Brink season. Whether we like it or not I guess we are going to hear a lot about WWI this year. It’s already kicked off with the brouhaha over Gove’s remarks regarding that snot-nosed little turd from Black Adder. At 62 I’m old enough to have two Grandfathers that fought in the trenches. Both long gone of course. Whilst I remember them, I was too young to have enquired; and like most men, they would doubtless have been reticent to discuss. I’m embarrassed to admit what little I know of the conflict is derived from popular novels by such as Faulks, Barker and Hemingway; poems from the likes of Owen and Sassoon. I should have read more along the lines of Max Hastings recent book but am suspicious of journalists and historians pedalling prejudice in one form or another, ditto the BBC. Still, I’ll give it a shot over the coming months – see if I can fill in some of the gaps. This morning on a visit to the Royal Albert in Exeter I purchased a print by a wood engraver named Brockway titled Dulce et Decorum Est – probably the most well known of WWI poems. It features a grim-looking apparition enveloped in a cloud of gas. The print is nailed on the wall above the desk to remind me not to forget (to make the effort).

Once more into the breach

If not a screeching vixen or barking pheasant, then you’re sure to be woken, as this morning, by a flash of lightning and the rumble of thunder…yet another suspension of the power supply. Back to work – real life – with a vengeance…and clutching an extensive new year’s To Do list. Not least the annual tax return – Urgh! How much they can wring from me this time, so a slimeball like Clegg can demonstrate his largess; what in turn can I demand as my entitlement, my share of these charitable alms. Whilst I rail against politicians and leader writers, like refuse collectors they’re just paid to do a job. It’s our expectations that remain at fault: we either demand too much or too little – are too quick to blame or to excuse… But then what targets they make.

Monday, January 6

How long does it take to be British?

Asks Hugh Muir in The Guardian. The generally accepted rule of thumb used to be three-generations. But then it’s a fast-changing world.

Legal Aid

A symptom of the current world order and defining feature of political debate for the foreseeable future…an increasing number of disparate groups fighting over a finite pot of money. Pensioners and barristers are but two of the protagonists. The latter are staging a walkout this morning, protesting against cuts to legal aid. Politicians being politicians however, they doubtless determine the worth of a claim through the eyes of voter sentiment. And I suspect voters, rightly or wrongly, view recipients of legal aid as well-heeled barristers, fraudsters and criminals. That not you or me rule-of-thumb assessment that tends to be applied to demands on the public purse. Yesterday’s Sunday Times produced an article by Peter Kellner, President of YouGov. It reflects a voters’ wish list of demands broken down by means of a knockout competition. Kellner begins with nice to haves such as invasion of privacy and banning unqualified teachers, moves on to building new homes and windfall taxes, before settling for a crackdown on migrant welfare benefits and free care for the elderly. I know, I know, populist crap. But I suspect Rumpole and the lads in chambers are on a hiding to nothing.

Sunday, January 5

Festive season gives way to strong tea

If the adage ‘Red sky in the morning’ means anything, we’re in for another tough day. Saturday was a welcome respite, though Devon is hardly North Dakota – and I’m sure this sort of weather was once the norm rather than an aberration. All those years at South London Mansions has made me soft. If the season runs true to form then snow will soon be blanketing the homestead. A diet of strong tea, porridge and pots of soup. Maybe January’s status as the traditional dry month – sans alcohol, is not the best way to begin a new year.

Whilst I’ve never warmed to Geoffrey Boycott I felt for him this morning. His interview on the box was tragic stuff, appears to have taken the whitewash to heart. Doesn’t he realise it’s only a game. Thankfully I’m not a West Ham supporter either. I trust they teach this sort of thing in our schools: how to deal with defeat that is. How to win would also be good. You need occasional victories to compensate for the times you’re obliged to haul yourself up off the canvas.

Wednesday, January 1

A new year

With the same old weather patterns – the same old challenges. I don’t need to add to the list with more resolutions. Truth to tell I’m impressed I managed to drag myself out of bed at eight. But then places to go, things to do. Fortunately not to the extent of our neighbour. I met him out on the moor late yesterday, driving a vast herd of sheep to new pasture. He was doubtless up at the crack of dawn this morning, milking cows and shovelling shit. The lad must enjoy it as I’ve never seen him without a smile on his face.