Thursday, July 31

Life’s too short

Hell, as one of Jean-Paul Satre’s characters said, is other people. And thankfully we don’t meet that many up here – on what has turned out to be another glorious day. Gusting winds and a dramatic blue-black, silver sky delivering periodic showers and sunshine, but still as good as it gets.

Although our local roads have more than their fair share of caravans, it’s the cyclists that attract universal enmity. Thirty vehicles back on a rural road and you just know that up ahead there’s a middle-aged plonker in Lycra determined to play the arsehole. The area is knee-deep in tractors, people on horses and hikers, yet it always appears to be the same lot playing silly buggers. That said, this isn’t Gaza, there’s no Ebola outbreak, the commies aren’t shooting down our planes, and we’re not Argentina. Whining about sad sorts on push bikes seems small potatoes.

Saturday, July 26

Fried rice and lots of organic material

Following a painful session stacking logs (three more truck loads), and dealing with an infestation in the chicken shack, last night we retired to an evening of sing-along with Radio 2. As a treat I barbecued a bucket of shrimp and a couple of gilt-head bream.

This morning it actually rained. It’s been some time and the grass was parched. You could have put money on the heavens opening up today as the kids are off, and right now – if the local rag is to be believed – we are witnessing the biggest influx of tourists the southwest has seen for some years, the numbers buoyed by soaring air and sea temperatures.

Despite the rank and file doing its best to big it up, I’ve still to catch much action from the Commonwealth Games. Maybe when it progresses beyond swimming and cycling. I can’t get excited about a bunch of lads on push bikes; and those mugs of Bovril at Reedswood Park Lido when I was a kid destroyed whatever enthusiasm there was for the swimming pool. Despite enthusiastic local support the games strike me as a bit like footballers who regret not appearing in a Champions League final or having been a member of a team that won the Premiership, but are rightly proud of their League Cup medal.

Tonight’s supper was special fried rice: always a favourite. Usually it’s yesterday’s leftovers scorched to within an inch of its life, but tonight I managed to come up with another bit of veal.

…The rain has moved on and I am back outside on my bench in the yard with some reading material. The books are stacking up (there are only so many hours in a day), and if I sit outside there’s less to distract. The prevailing breeze is welcome in that we now have eleven ponies for company, the most we have entertained at the homestead – and that’s a lot of manure.

Thursday, July 24

Silver-washed fritillary


They feed on thistles and bramble. ...It’s another day of sunshine: doors and windows wide open. Cheeseburgers for lunch (veal and halloumi burgers), along with a selection of Mediterranean vegetables – grilled peppers, courgettes and aubergines, and a spicy pepper sauce.

The breakfast of champions

Given my tendency to misanthropic cynicism, I was somewhat taken back last night by the enthusiastic rendering of ‘God Save the Queen’ at Celtic Park. Maybe there is hope for us all. Mrs G. will certainly be chipper this morning, given United’s 7-0 rout of LA Galaxy. She’ll be less pleased with Labour’s latest wheeze: to tax football. They really are a fuckin’ shower. Punters already pay twice by virtue of a television licence and Sky Sports subscription – always assuming you don’t turn up at the game. The proposed tax is to finance sport at grassroots level, which is what I thought John Major’s lottery money was for. And we know what happened to that. Morning rant over: time for my Shredded Wheat.

Wednesday, July 23

Grasshoppers have much to learn


A green grasshopper is on my shoulder ticking away like a supercharged Timex, seemingly indifferent to the iron dome of citronella candles.

After recently comparing life in 1914 with the present day and concluding little changes – that each generation is doomed to reinvent the same wheel, reading the fictional account of Thomas Fowler’s journey to Phat Diem and the carnage therein, and likening it to the current action in Gaza and Iraq, leads me to conclude that war has less to do with injustice, and is more about bored men who like killing, seeking to validate their lives.

Food of our childhood is the call of home

‘Home,’ says Michael Henderson of the Telegraph, mulling on what it means to be a northerner, is ‘your childhood, the landscape, and every kind of association: visual, musical, magical, nonsensical – rooted in birth, upbringing, schooling, and the flight from all these things.’ In my case flight is the pertinent word. Whatever the pull of the Black Country and however mawkish my memory, I doubt the vision of Groaty Dick or Mushy Peas will have me scurrying up the A38.

Our self-catering holiday, as Mrs G. has taken to describing this week, appears to consist of long periods of unabashed lounging, punctuated by a dizzying array of meals – together with the occasional large one. Last night’s suckling pig was a resounding success, as were the accompanying grilled vegetables. The good lady returns from her allotment each morning with another selection. My only concern is the number of large white butterflies with obvious designs on her brassica.

Tuesday, July 22

The good old days


This afternoon’s matinee was The Quiller Memorandum, a 60s Anglo-American Eurospy film. I’ve watched it more times than I care to remember – it’s a feel good flick. Feel good because the movie represents of an era I’m comfortable with, and why I am relatively relaxed about the current Putin kerfuffle. Unlike the Muslim crap this is our game, one where we fondly imagine a sense of who our friends and enemies are and where they stand. It’s the sort of historical perspective that people such as Ali-Baba Brown and the like don’t compute, and probably why Britain remains suspicious of the European Union.

Large courgette

Today’s Telegraph touches on life in 1914, the eve of war. It caught my eye because my father was born one hundred years ago. Naturally my interest was drawn to the cuisine of the time: tinned food was all the rage, as were cookery books. Food was being shipped from distant corners of the world and chains of high street grocery shops were replacing small specialist tradesmen. All very familiar. Declining living standards meant that women had to manage without a cook and scullery maid: and a century later, nine out of ten still haven’t learned how to bake a soufflé.

Early morning on the ridge


An old camera I’m trying out. Managed to take off early this morning, before it became too hot. Our weather is apparently on a par with Rome's. Apart from the usual livestock (above) and one lad fly fishing there wasn’t a soul around. By noon we were knee-deep in walkers from various south west schools and colleges.

Monday, July 21

Lizards, moles and ponies

The sun has encouraged the yard’s lizards out to play.

A mole is no respector of days off: I had to stir from beneath the sun umbrella and set a couple of traps.

Yesterday I watched the opening scene of the film The Quiet American on late night television, but unfortunately was too tired to stay the course. So this afternoon I took down Greene’s novel from the shelf and began reading it for the third (fourth?) time. Whilst I can imagine myself wandering along rue Catinat and stopping at the Continental for a swift half, it would take more than wild horses to get me to board an aeroplane these days, however exotic the destination.

The new foal is already running ’round the paddock like a race horse. Given its size I’ve named the mite Seabiscuit, my guilty pleasure.

Born in a cabbage patch

Not one to pass on an opportunity, the boss has declared a week’s holiday so we can take advantage of the sunny spell. I promptly headed off to the moor. Unbelievably I have the place to myself. Butterflies are out in large numbers, skylarks and swallows too. It’s an exhilarating view, looking down from the slope above the homestead, across the patchwork of fields and hedges to scattered settlements and distant conurbations. On the horizon a verdant landscape becomes blue haze and breakers roll into Tor Bay.


Switch off for a minute and something usually happens. During my absence, one of our grass-cutting machines foaled. Mrs G. was watering the allotment when it plopped out beside her.

Sunday, July 20

The sweet smell of fresh-cut grass

Fish soup isn’t a traditional Sunday dish, but when you have a decent fishmonger and the mood takes you... Smoked oysters and mango salsa was the warm-up act. Whilst I’m fussy about fish soup, a decent rouille covers a multitude of sins – especially one as potent as today’s, floated on rustic sourdough. My breath would likely do for one of Bram Stoker’s creations. I’m following with a roast rib of veal, candied beets, stewed tomatoes and broad beans – more of Mrs G’s produce, to a background of golf from Liverpool, motor racing, and the neighbour’s tractor – depending on where you stand.

Happy or wise?

In yesterday’s FT Weekend Magazine, resident shrink and sage discuss the appeal of wisdom over the flimsy, relatively unpredictable concept of happiness. The shrink believes we are all the product of our circumstances and have limited (but crucial) opportunity for self-improvement. That each of our futures is as clear as the moor on a murky night, and whatever we do or achieve, from time to time we will fuck up. The sage doesn’t necessarily disagree, but is of the opinion that redemption lies in overcoming adversity and recognising which of our screw ups are worth worrying about – acquiring a practical, everyday sort of wisdom that will enable us to make good choices and judgements when negotiating the sharp bends. …If only we learned from past mistakes, eh, if only. Where would be the fun in that?

Saturday, July 19

Staycation with chips

Fish is the operative word this weekend. We have an excess of lemon sole. Tonight’s themed supper was Iberian, featuring piquillo pepper sauce together with the latest bounty from Mrs G’s vegetable patch: sizzled courgettes and sautéed spuds – she also threw in the traditional poached egg. We haven’t purchased vegetables for weeks, which is just as well given how much it cost to grow this shit. Last night’s fish came with buttered samphire, a hangover from my Norfolk days – where Portuguese-accented English was fast becoming the lingua franca. Who needs Portimão and Faro when, in complete contrast to Friday, the domestic weather is as good as this evening.

Friday, July 18

Mutual disappointment

It’s a grim start to Friday. The thunder storm has moved on, leaving mist and drizzle – a brisk south westerly. Our pony herd has congregated in the lee of the homestead for shelter. Yesterday all doors and windows were open, a hum of electric fans to move the air around. This morning I’ve lit a fire.

Damn but the weeks go quickly. Life feels though it’s locked into fast-forward. There’s a continual tension between not wanting to waste what is a finite resource – our time, and stopping to smell the roses. Reading the papers would have us believe our lives have become little more than quantifiable economic units, each of us subject to a cost/benefit analysis – our worth to society. Unfortunately it seems we are destined to continually disappoint society – the body politic. It’s a two-way street.

Thursday, July 17

Whilst game, I have other things to do

To avoid more immigration, says Ros Altmann, the pension czar, we should utilise Britain’s over-50s population who are wasted without jobs. As someone who is approaching his final year of what these days passes for middle-aged, I’m game. But I have to concede that, following today’s chores, I’m not looking forward to being me in ten-year’s time. I don’t mind physical labour; it beats having to think for a living. But none of us are teenagers anymore. And after running around town on various errands, returning home to dismantle and rebuild the chicken coop (I knew those woodwork lessons would come in handy one day), stacking two truck-loads of firewood and cutting an acre of lawn, undertaking a considerable amount of fetching and carrying, I’m just pleased yours truly isn’t a hod carrier. Right now I can barely lift a glass to my mouth. Thankfully Mrs G. is on hand to administer large portions of fried liver, and cabbage – along with a very nice Chianti.

Tuesday, July 15

Yesterday’s men

So, the World Cup ends and life moves on: to the Proms and the return of University Challenge. Yes there’s the Open and the Commonwealth Games, but first the thrill of Gotze and Schweinsteiger has to give way to cabinet reshuffles and the demise of dead middle-aged, white males. Our time, it seems, has come and gone. Damn it, though: it was one hell of a party.

Sunday, July 13

A walk in the park

There was a Blackcap amongst the ivy this morning, waiting to greet me. One of our best-loved summer songbirds, which, because of its song, is often referred to as a Mock Nightingale. Our Robins – recently absent – have also returned, along with a newly fledged speckle-chested addition to the yard’s happy band. A juvenile Jay, too – in the company of a young Magpie. We don’t see many Jays: their being quite shy. … I’m away to the hills while it remains quiet, to blow the cobwebs away.

Friday, July 11

TGIF

Totnes was its usual fraught Friday. If you ain’t there by ten you can forget a parking space as the town is closed. When I left at half-eleven, two girls were slugging it out over who took my slot. Exeter wasn’t much better; Tiverton, a lot less painful. This afternoon I drove Mrs G. to the home of one of her arty friends. These pickin’ banjo communities always put me on guard; am not really a string-vest and home-brew kind of guy. I’ve never been keen on distilled spirits that have twigs and insects floating on the surface. The drive home gave some indication of the numbers heading this way on holiday; their speed, from whence they came. Last night’s dinner was barbecue, so tonight it is scrambled eggs: we’re becoming creatures of habit.

Thursday, July 10

Wagtails

In a deep recess at the back of the barn, another brood of wagtails sallies forth. Whilst the swallows are our perpetual stars, this year’s favourite residents have been a pair of wagtails.

Wednesday, July 9

I can see for miles

To the city this morning – Exeter, for supplies and an eye test. Everything appears to be working correctly, albeit (I suspect) they tweak the results to encourage you to blow another several hundred on new specs. I resisted the urge and went for a pint. My second was interrupted by a representative from the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), who proffered a pamphlet detailing the organisation’s current aims. It’s the sort of stuff I read as a teenager. Flirting with left-wing politics and folk music whilst clad in distressed denim is every kid’s rite of passage. Harmless stuff, really, at least in comparison to the plonkers travelling to Syria. Would that young Miliband had progressed beyond his teenage years: maybe we’d have an opposition.

Maintaining an interest to the end

It seems I backed the right horse in last night’s semi. Fingers crossed, Holland can emulate the brilliant German machine at this evening’s event. That will give me a conundrum in the final, not least because Mrs G. will be wearing orange. I’ve consumed too many beers in both countries to choose sides. That said, I have drunk more than enough on Argentine soil, too – and they do serve a mean steak.

Tuesday, July 8

Cover-ups and the real world

The sun has returned and, having completed my allotted chores, I’m slumped on a bench in the yard with today’s papers. My heart’s not in in it, however – reading them that is. Depressing stuff. In the old days, people associated paedo-hunting posses with readers of red tops; nowadays it appears a mainstream preoccupation. Paranoia about cover-ups runs riot – our media need to be issued with tinfoil helmets and prescribed suitable medication.

After twenty years in situ a neighbour is moving to a more benign environment. “While it’s still our choice,” she says, “before we have to.” It isn’t so much old age that worries people but what accompanies it. These days I avoid calling anyone for fear of what they might say. This morning I rang an old friend for the name of a contact and telephone number I’d mislaid, only to be told our mutual golfing partner has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and that his doting wife (and would be carer) is riddled with cancer.

At least the footy returns tonight. One of those rare occasions when I become a European.

Monday, July 7

Seen through the prism of our early years

“Oh, what a beautiful mornin,” sang Curly McLain. Every Monday should begin as brightly as this morning – blue skies and tweeting birds. I slept like a proverbial log, following our usual Sunday night with Michael Ball and the traditional flagon of cocoa. A return to a bygone age, in the company of Della Reese and the Bachelors. It’s comforting to view the past as some sort of utopian dream, even if the papers hint at its darker side.

Saturday, July 5

The Sauerbraten does it for me

Yesterday’s Germany v France pre-match deliberations were reminiscent of that scene in Rick’s, when Victor Laszio leads an impromptu rendition of La Marseillaise in competition to the German sing-along. Although the game may have lacked the passion of the subsequent Maracanã squabble, my money’s on Germany for the semi–final – in spite of Joachim Löw looking like the front man for a 60s tribute band. As is happens, Casablanca is the latest variety of potato to appear out of Mrs G’s vegetable patch: they go perfectly with a helping of Sauerbraten and red cabbage.

Thursday, July 3

The yard: manyana

Many years ago in our youth, Mrs G. and I purchased our first home – on a new-build Wimpey estate. We signed up to a 95% mortgage and borrowed the deposit from that nice man at the RBS. Unfortunately, given the bank rates at that time, there was little left over for the niceties of life, such as a lawnmower. In due course, however, our neighbour (think Ned Flanders, albeit he was a lecturer at the local university), knocked on the door and offered to lend us his machine; it appeared I was letting the neighbourhood down. Fast forward a zillion years and this morning the neighbour drops by, offering to lend me several dry calves to supplement the ponies, in an effort to keep the yard tidy. I like to think that, however a man’s situation may change, he always remains true to himself.

Wednesday, July 2

Swit-swit-swit

It is supposed to be a sign of good weather to see swallows soaring high up in the sky: so I’m pleased to report a score or so have spent today circling the homestead. More are about to fledge, our third batch this summer. To greet the sun, eau de muck (–spreading) has given way to the scent of rose and honeysuckle. If it wasn’t for insects taking large chunks from various parts of my anatomy, it would be a perfect day. Barbecued pork ribs for supper, along with the largest lettuce Mrs G. has ever grown. Webb’s wonder indeed.

Something to cheer about

In spite of yesterday’s mist and rain the moor was as busy as I’ve seen it in recent times. Everyone on foot, most carrying Sherpa-sized rucksacks. The weather brightened during the afternoon and sunshine is forecast for today and tomorrow. What recently passed for normal service has resumed, together with the corresponding maintenance – cutting grass, fixing the plumbing, gutters, etc. Our neighbour has family visiting: massed ranks of local trades have been assembled to ready the manor for habitation. Picture Pride and Prejudice when young Bingley returns to Netherfield. Even yours truly was threatened with conscription. My energy levels remain sorely depleted thanks to the World Cup and late night viewing. Tuesday afternoon’s big yawn of a game gave way to the evening excitement of USA v Belgium. What the former lack in ability they more than make up for in effort. Would that both could have qualified.