Friday, February 28

My Generation

“I hope I die before I get old…” Roger Daltrey turns 70 tomorrow.

Kids can’t win

Philip Collins the Times’ resident polemicist bemoans the misery of 24hr news but then gives us reason to believe that over time life really does get better. I hadn’t realised Britain had broken the back of teenage pregnancies. Our streets and coffee shops remain clogged with buggies. It seems however that these women are not as I’d assumed the kids’ grannies but their mothers – women are having sprogs much later. Unfortunately – as the fathers are dribbling geriatrics – their offspring more than likely suffer from autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia as well has having lower IQs and poorer academic performance. It appears kids can’t win. In the words of Philip Larkin, “They fuck you up, your mom and dad. They may not mean to but they do.”

Wednesday, February 26

Why are Americans so deferential?

“It never ceases to surprise me how accepting of authority Americans are, and how lacking in self-awareness they are about the culture of deference in their own country.” As Peter Foster infers, the knowledge that most people own a gun is a big inducement to politeness and deference. Many of my colleagues in 70s Texas secreted guns beneath the seat of their motors = zero road rage. Self-preservation aside, however, I can’t but admire the politeness of most Americans I meet. Whilst the Septics I worked with in Scotland during my younger years used to refer to us as local white niggers, their gregarious approach – a willingness to engage, to greet us as equals, was the antithesis of British management at that time. Maybe disrespect for office and institution is less a default of the modern age as a symptom of Western European leadership rather than that of good old Dubya.

A pain in the butt

And so I thought – what with the morning sunshine – today is a great day to be alive. Of course I hadn’t counted on the fallout from last night’s match in Piraeus. Mrs G. was on the warpath from sunrise...the list of epitaphs attributed to David Moyes grows by the day. He surely can’t be long for this world? Worse was to follow. Driving the good lady’s motor – her pride and joy – to the garage, I encountered an aspiring rally driver practising downhill chicanes. I’ve nothing but admiration for the attributes of their gender, but driving isn’t something that comes naturally to women. This is the second time some gormless idiot in a kilt has totalled the motor I was driving. In my defence of this latest incident I was stationary at the time. It’s not the accident per se, but the administrative fallout. My insurance, her insurance, my independent insurance advocate, the body shop, hire car…Mrs G!

The history men: John Major

“Most people are more likely to recall EMF than they are the precise details of the UK’s ejection from the Exchange Rate Mechanism, 22 years ago,” says Iain Martin. Speak for yourself, matey. I recall it well enough. Some of us have long memories and reserve a special place in our little book for Black Wednesday, albeit for Lamont’s thoughtless aside rather than John Major. Martin is another of the current tribe of scribes in short trousers. I listened to him on the box at the weekend and his lack of awareness was painful. But back to Major…In spite of the lad’s shortcomings he gave it a decent shot. Odds stacked against him and all that. John Major remains the only political entity that ever convinced me to put my hand in my pocket, donating money I couldn’t really afford at the time to our local Conservative candidate in support of the ’92 election. Given Kinnock’s proposed tax increases I thought it a prudent investment, to say nothing of the satisfaction that came from wiping the Welsh lad’s eye. I wonder if any of the current party leaders is capable of persuading the rank and file to part with their hard-earned cash in support of the cause.

Tuesday, February 25

One man’s trash is another man’s art

I dropped in at a city art exhibition this morning, my second show in recent days. As with most things in life there’s a wide variation in what’s produced. And quite right, too. As Daniel Dennett remarked, ‘I never understood the worth of those Dutch Masters we have hanging in our metropolitan galleries until I visited Europe and compared it with the third-rate junk decorating their walls.’ Not that I’m suggesting this morning’s stuff was crap, although Tracey Emin has since risen in my estimation. Perhaps I just didn’t get it? To address that eventuality the artist in question button-holed me for ten minutes in an effort to set me straight about his motivation…It still looked like a turd that had been sprinkled with hundreds and thousands and trampled into the canvass by a drunk. That said, one man’s trash… The artist’s garb – dress style, is always interesting. Usually somewhere in the range of pained aesthete meets eccentric nut job. Think Will Self meets John McCririck.

Pick a pocket or two…

Further to my recent grumbles regarding the standard of arithmetic in local shops…I walked into a butcher’s this morning – my first port of call – and the lad short-changed me a tenner. They must think I’m a friggin hole-in-the-wall.

It begins again

The dawn chorus is in full swing these mornings; skylarks have returned to the moor with their merry and eloquent chorus. Clumps of frogspawn appear in the pools…it begins again. Out in the wider world seemingly little changes; yet most things do, eventually, grudgingly. I don’t know why they don’t go the whole hog, grow breasts and wear a frock. We’re a tragic bunch. I’m running out of ink and firewood, rich tea biscuits…methinks a run to the Quik-E-Mart for supplies.

Sunday, February 23

Deception is rarely as creative as truth

However if I close my eyes and listen to the explosion of sound as this morning’s south westerly meets the trees in the yard, I can imagine crashing waves on a shingle beach in some foreign idyll. Only the numbness in my fingers betrays the fancy – that the salty spray on my face is falling rain from the Atlantic, rather than spray from the Indian Ocean. Any and all subterfuge to get you through winter.

Saturday, February 22

How many times can a man die?

“Drinking deaths have more than doubled in 20 years” says my local rag. As local rags regurgitate national newspaper columns, which themselves recycle something an intern spotted on the internet, you would hope there’s an original sage somewhere to support such suppositions. Then again I’m sceptical. Facts – or what passes for fact – tends to be reinterpreted to suit the protagonist. “…the inexorable rise in alcohol-related deaths, especially among people aged 75 and over where numbers are at their highest since records began.” That’s because when records began the average male never aspired to such a grand age, three score years and ten and you were quids in. Call me cynical but when the average 84 year-old turns his toes up, the medical profession appears to simultaneously record his demise as a direct consequence of drink and/or smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, the excessive use of prostitutes, or taking it up the bum. The poor schmuck might not have been much of a lad in life, but in death he’s the toast of our lobbying classes. That an individual should die from old age is considered a fanciful aberration.

Good grief

Caught in a pincer movement of love-bombing by David Bowie and George Osborne threats, I doubt the lads with a Braveheart DVD on permanent loop will consider restricted access to Diana and Actaeon a game changer.

Building homes in the sticks

Rather than garden-city developments, villages must find room for a quarter of a million new ‘affordable’ homes, say Princess Royal. I guess the affordable bit comes from not having to fund much in the way of infrastructure, by tacking half-a-dozen or so extra properties on the fringe of existing rural communities already equipped with shop, pub and primary school. Rural communities, so they say, also look after their own, limiting the requirement for policing and social services…which sounds a bit like Harlan County to me. What it doesn’t address is the need for gainful employment: that residents would likely drive significant distances to work (no public transport). And though there may be a village shop selling instant coffee and tinned sardines, residents would be obliged to spend much of their weekends commuting to far away cities for supplies; either that or the local lanes will be chock full of white-van men delivering goods from Amazon and Ocado. Rural councils could spend most of their budget repairing pot holes, and providing taxis that ferry the kids to distant secondary schools – where they may have access to high-speed broadband. And which lucky applicants will qualify for these rural retreats: hopefully no one requiring income support, as – without mains gas – the cost of domestic heating oil (together with diesel to drive to work, and play), will be significant.

Friday, February 21

They all look the same

He’s not the hippest of politicians in the way of Boris Johnson, but Phillip Hammond looks a decent type. He did a lot of heavy lifting in opposition, only to be snubbed – at least initially – in deference to the coalition’s LibDem pansies. His appearance on last night’s Question Time was typical, not least the lad confusing that god-awful Labour woman with her compatriot Reeves. To give Hammond his due, they really do look and sound the same. I doubt the Tories have a problem with women, just certain sorts of women.

Not enough Billy Elliots

Luvvies are all middle class, says Richard Morrison. As with climate change, I wonder if this is merely another fluctuating trend? In my parents day it was Noel Coward and Lawrence Olivier; in my early years the fashion was for kitchen-sink drama. I’m sure actors from the latter period were inherently working class, but in the 60s there was demand for a type. There still is today, although I suspect the preferred route of our younger generation is Simon Cowell rather than drama school. ‘There’s also the vital question of how art can say something important and relevant about humanity and the world if those creating it come from such a limited range of backgrounds.’ I would have thought there can’t be too much wrong with a system that awards the mantle of best supporting actor to Barkhad Abdi, a Somali-born cabbie.

Thursday, February 20

The back yard, this morning

Trust me, fresh air and exercise can be over-rated. However if it keeps the Boss off my back…This morning was my third excursion this week (still recovering from the weekend). You point yourself at the horizon and keep walking. They say three days/week of moderate exercise is sufficient, though I’m firmly of the opinion that something has to get you. In the meantime Mrs G. is feeding me large portions of so-called superfood, including quinoa with everything, pulses galore and punnets of blueberries – my body’s not so much a temple as a vestry. I sneaked into a Totnes cafĂ© for a curry at lunchtime today and immediately regretted it. Tomorrow we have half-a-goat to pot roast, and a bottle of Tequila cooling in the fridge.

Onwards and upwards

Some mornings you are reluctant to quit the warmth of your pit, not least when squalls are pummelling the homestead, rain is lashing down. Solzhenitsyn aside, I can imagine the pull of an institutionalised lifestyle, the armed forces, police – what was once public service. A cradle to grave mentality. Nowadays life is more a progression of choices – of change, be it Kiev or Glasgow … I’m on one of my absurdist trips – Kierkegaard meets Camus – and have yet to decide if this is positive or negative. Life used to be simple, you nominated an enemy and all else followed. Then one day you discover, or rather you begin to fear, there may be more (or less) to life.

Wednesday, February 19

Maths is pointless

Simon Jenkins would say that wouldn’t he. ‘Our teacher told us it was for “mind training”, the last cry of the desperate pedagogue. Hence my delight on reading the words of the great mathematician GH Hardy, that his subject “must be justified as art if it can be justified at all”.’ My only observation is that twice during this past week I have been short-changed by shop assistants. Whilst two pounds and one pound thirty-two pence is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things, it irritates the **** out of me when I’m cheated. Is there no one below the age of fifty that can manage simple arithmetic? As for maths…the irony of writing such an article for the internet age appears lost on Jenkins. I guess you could always cite the earning potential of being maths proficient, versus arts proficient.

The Yellowhammer

After days of sloth and plenty, yesterday’s walk across the moor has left me swallowing ibuprofen. I might be growing my brain, what’s left of it, but my winter Olympics are long behind me. After the recent storms it is relatively pleasant, a mixture of sunshine and showers for a day or two. The ground is sodden but there are no sink holes or vast expanse of flood water to trap the unwary. Although the backdrop remains bleak – grey, you can always guarantee an occasional flash of colour, a Scotch Canary.

In Devon the Yellowhammer is called a Gladdie, from the Anglo-Saxon gladde (bright).

All up the grassy many-tracked sheep walk, 
Low sun on my right hand, hedge on my left 
Blotted by a late leaf, else leaf bereft, 
I drove my golden flock. 

 Yellow-hammers, gold-headed, russet-backed, 
They fled in jerky flight before my feet,
Or pecked in the green ranks of winter wheat, 
While I my footsteps slacked. (Andrew Young)

Monday, February 17

Social mores

We took our weekend guests to Riverford Field Kitchen for a traditional Sunday lunch. I’m a big fan; the food is far superior to River Cottage. Meals are served on a communal basis, sharing tables with other diners – families. All good stuff, I enjoy the company; but when your neighbour whips out her tits and attaches something that looks as though it should be in a nursery or perhaps infants' school, it takes the shine off your roast chicken and veg.

Who do we believe?

Say the punters on Edinburgh streets (Sky News), Salmond or Osborne? And that’s the challenge: Independence is an act of faith rather than an economic calculation (and who really believes a word that politicians tell you). I’m sure Scotland can be a success, a viable trading entity; that it is a hotbed of success. But with any business venture there are risks. As an Englishman my original take on the debate stands: I’m married to a Scot (who doesn’t have a vote), have lived and worked north of the border on and off for a good proportion of my life – have zillions of friends and family who are Scots…I wish them all the best. But should our Celtic cousins choose to walk away I’ve no doubt there will be a backlash from the rest of the UK – it’s human nature. Picking up the debt burden and assuming so-called transactions costs – the George Tax – is neither here nor there, Scotland accounts for barely 10% of English exports; and if England has to assume the UK’s debt burden so be it. On the plus side we have a great deal of entertaining rhetoric to enjoy these coming months, along with countless opportunities for gain at the bookies.

In truth this is essentially a Scottish debate – of Scotland and Scottish descent. As Billy Connolly said earlier today on the box, ‘I won’t be voting but…The Scottish people will get what they deserve, (and when it comes to nationalism) I’ve more in common with a welder in Liverpool than an agricultural worker in the Highlands.’

Sunday, February 16

Return of the thirstle

What joy, to see again the stars – a full moon…the rising sun. To hear a dawn chorus above the bawling south-westerly. The first two of our thirstles – song thrushes, have returned to the yard.

Friday, February 14

Back Online

Although it’s been close to a week, sans broadband, given the iffy weather I guess I should be grateful. I was particularly impressed watching our lineman cling to the top of a telegraph pole during today’s storm-force gusts, more so since our access lane is an axle-deep torrent and he had to fight his way through. If in February there be no rain, ’tis neither good for hay nor grain (18th century proverb)…Our farming neighbours must be whooping for joy. Needless to say my soakaway doesn’t soakaway anymore. On the plus side, it made short work of the residual snow and ice. Let’s hope our weekend guests aren’t driving here in the mini.

Wednesday, February 12

Statins are back in the news

With plans to extend their general use. Wrong, say detractors, it will medicate the public and deflect from promoting a healthy lifestyle. When I began taking statins one of my GP’s told me they would probably work but that, by the time I entered my 70s, my body would be worth shit. I should, he said, stick to exercise and a healthy diet. His GP partner described this as wishful thinking and that, even if I lived on a diet of wholemeal-bread and water, he doubted my cholesterol level would show significant improvement – much better to take the pills. So you pays your money, as they say. A GP from my previous practice once told me that whilst smoking two packs a day wasn’t particularly beneficial for my physical health, it was a positive boon to my mental wellbeing – further informing me in a confidential aside, ‘You have to die of something.’ Doctors and climate change scientists are much of the same coin: rogues and charlatans the lot of ’em.

Coming to a screen near you

I’ve been glued to the box, watching the flood response. The circus appears to have deserted Somerset for the Thames Valley; and whilst the PM is doing his best to reassure everyone the government is on top of things, it looks suspiciously like a finger-in-the-dyke operation. Our precious media does its usual best to stoke the flames and encourage a climate of cynicism and misery, however I warm to the stoics – not least the lad who was obliged to vacate his home above the Dawlish rail catastrophe. Rising above it all – those darlings of the television cameras, our resolute band of Captain Mainwarings, demanding their share of attention and resources.

Tuesday, February 11

The reprise of ancient skills

An occasional power failure is no great hardship; however, the loss of broadband on Saturday following a lightning strike has proved problematic. No available engineers until Friday. Have been forced to reprise an alternative form of communication – am obliged to talk to people.

Saturday, February 8

Battens well and truly down

Hunkered down in the snug with a crate of Speckled Hen and a roaring fire. Ireland v Wales on the box, Radio 5 and the internet for footy updates. A lot of disillusioned friends – all from North London.

Friday, February 7

Boomers flash the cash

Eat your heart out, Willetts, as boomers ride to the rescue – a Mackeson and cheese on toast all round.

Your call, not mine

We are all part of the same family, says David Cameron. In a speech aimed primarily at the UK’s English/Irish/Welsh (and presumably our British-Asian and associated ethnic) communities, the PM encourages us to ring our friends and relatives north of the border to tell them how much we love our Celtic cousins. Rather brave of the lad: if I read the general tone correctly, during our recent trip, a visceral hatred of the Conservative Party in general and Cameron in particular is one of the principal drivers. That Scotland would vote Yes doesn’t bear thinking about. In truth I have no idea, but imagine it could take more than one generation for both sides to recoup the respective costs associated with a messy divorce. Ditto the lingering bitterness. Self-determination remains our mantra, but – as I said earlier – be careful what you wish for – both of you.

Storms threaten half-term washout

No tripping over other people’s kids…Result! Of course I shouldn’t say that: too many people enjoy the company of their grandchildren, the money visitors bring. But at a time the authorities are evacuating people – broadcasting ‘danger to life’ warnings, the last thing they need is half-term. Mind you, I can’t see the A38 being choked with caravans next week. The Times, with more irony than foresight, is promoting a competition that boasts the chance to win a two-night escape beside the turquoise waters and golden sand beaches of Devon.

Thursday, February 6

Stereotyped or inclination?

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Which of us is stuck in the 1990s

Team Russia or our very own Rosa Klebb?

Winter evenings

No rest from gutters and drains today, barely an hour that rain wasn’t falling. Another month’s worth is forecast during this 24 hours. I’m not too fazed as, shower or deluge, the bulk of it flows on past, heading downhill. I bumped into a couple of the neighbours this morning…there is life out there. Both are farmers (and stoics). A cheery pair, given their animals are fine and fattening well. These winter evenings are black – windows rat-a-tat. Log fires and soft chairs, a glass of peat and oat cakes, and the Royal Northern Sinfonia – Mozart, Berlioz and Ravel. At some stage the real winter will arrive: we have yet to see much in the way of frost, let alone snow. I must be careful what I wish for.

The Mirror of the Sea

“The caprice of the winds, like the wilfulness of men, is fraught with the disastrous consequences of self-indulgence. Long anger, the sense of uncontrolled power, spoils the frank and generous nature of the West Wind. It is as if his heart were corrupted by a malevolent and brooding rancor. He devastates his own kingdom in the wantonness of his force. Southwest is the quarter of the heavens where he presents his darkened brow. He breathes his rage in terrific squalls and overwhelms his realm with an inexhaustible welter of clouds. He strews the seeds of anxiety upon the decks of scudding ships, makes the foam-striped ocean look old, and sprinkles with grey hairs the heads of ship-masters in the homeward-bound ships running for the Channel. The Westerly Wind asserting his sway from the south-west is often like a monarch gone mad, driving forth with wild imprecations the most faithful of his courtiers to shipwreck, disaster, and death.” (Joseph Conrad)

Everything is someone’s fault

I blame 24hr news, the need to fill a space. If the media can’t uncover a legitimate grievance they will encourage or manufacture one. And let’s face it, we’re more than happy to oblige – these days we are all victims.

Wednesday, February 5

Minor inconvenience

Thanks to the storms our electricity supply has been cut today…no water, cooking on top of the wood stove. Whilst the neighbour has a tree down, blocking the track, aside from losing a couple of roof slates and a number of limbs from trees, we’ve gotten off lightly. All good stuff and part and parcel of living in this neck of the woods. Rather here than Dawlish, but then worse is expected for everyone over the weekend. Full marks to the lads who are tasked with restoring the services.

Frying pans and fires

Allister Heath, the editor of City AM, says our Government is not fit for purpose and should be run in a similar way to RBS.

The emotional maturity of a teaspoon

The yard’s snowdrops are hanging in there defiantly. To describe outside as a maelstrom would be a touch melodramatic, but damn, it is wild – and the conditions continue to deteriorate. On the plus side: (a) we’re not in the Somerset Levels, and (b) I’m not readying a fishing boat for sea.

New research from the University of Glasgow implies we exhibit four primary emotions, three of which are our being sad, afraid/surprised or angry/disgusted. Only one – being happy, appearing positive. And you wonder why everyone is continually pissed – why we jump down each other’s throat, why politicians struggle to engage with the electorate.

Tuesday, February 4

It’s a touch windy, so what’s new

A quick run into town this morning, as always, validates my decision to relocate to our rural homestead. If anyone here irritates me it’s merely a question of turning off the wireless. The downside becomes more obvious on a night like this evening, when such is the howling tempest and blitzkrieg of rain, hail and sludge, unless I use a set of earphones the television and stereo are also lost to me. Conversely it does afford the opportunity to cock a deaf ’un when Mrs G. is issuing orders.

The Buckfast triangle

As they say in the advertising industry, ‘You can’t buy this sort of publicity.’

European integration or a return to 1914

“These dangers have to be forever banned.” Keep Ukip quiet or we start building Panzers says Germany’s foreign minister. Ok so he didn’t exactly say that – his meaning was doubtless lost in translation, but it makes good copy.

Sunday, February 2

You call that a knife?

Mrs G’s old stomping ground. Hereabouts everyone carries a shotgun.

Fair exchange

We buy their whisky (this month’s tipple being 17 year old Old Pulteney, and in return sell them our tonic wine.

A bridge too far

I was initially won over to Scandinavian drama by that girl in the sweater. Ultimately, however, the fictional Viking peninsular proved as drab and boring as real life, and accordingly The Bridge had been lost to me. At this time of year I need bright colours rather than beige. That was before I was accosted by an attractive Danish girl yesterday morning and she insisted I watch the conclusion that evening. I did, and if you haven’t been following the series, it’s a case of nothing to see here – a familiar dirge. The principal protagonist, the Clive James fantasy, is fittingly named for an over 50s consumer group. I can understand the attraction in the sense that, excluding Match of the Day, there’s little or nothing to watch on the box these days, but ignoramus that I am – at least as far as detectives are concerned – I’m much more a Joan Hickson and Jesse Stone fan.

It’s no good, I’ve tried to warm to the guy, but I can’t take Garth Crooks seriously – not with that face. How can you follow Saturday afternoon’s football commentary when the resident pundit has the unfortunate appearance of a Shakespearean fool. Notwithstanding the fact the plonker is full of shite, I just can’t get it out of my head he should be waving a stick with little bells on the end.

Saturday, February 1

Frosty the ...

This morning I peered out of the bedroom window and witnessed another beautiful sunrise. By the time I walked downstairs it was snowing. The English Riviera it ain’t. That said we’ve a free weekend.

Change has become one of life’s constants. The possibility of banning a smoke whilst driving your kids to dance class is exercising the lads at the Dog & Duck. Civil liberties, nanny state, etc. As a reformed two pack/day man I have little sympathy. I don’t buy that passive smoke crap, but Mrs G. would rail at the stink – the polluted motor, the stench on your clothes, in your hair. Anyone smoking within 10yds of the homestead is shot on sight. Even the most die hard of my compatriots quit long ago; it was another age, another era. I appreciate the effect of a smoking ban on a number of pubs, but given our litigious age and the cost of a decent smoke-extraction system it wasn’t on. Would than we could discriminate against women drenched in cheap scent: it does does nothing for your pint or your toasted cheese. The motor, however, is the last personal space… There was a time I measured a journey not by miles but by the number of ciggies smoked, and each drive to Aberdeen probably cost three-months of my life. Who can forget the amount of times the lit end dropped into your lap, always at speed and on a bend.