Thursday, October 30

Long may the mild weather continue

Without the need for heating my beer fund is growing exponentially, already swollen courtesy of the Go Sober for October initiative. Sans the alcohol-fuelled calories I have shrunk several pounds, so it’s a win-win all round.

 The concept of winning appears to have slipped further from the reach of young Miliband following today’s polling figures from Scotland. Having lost the support of centrist/right-leaning Labour supporters and half of the shadow cabinet, his Jewish vote, and now the Scots, it will be interesting to see where the lad goes next. That said, this morning I received a letter from our local MP written on very smart House of Commons notepaper, inviting the Gudgeon household to an open meeting at the village hall. If Miliband thinks he’s on a looser he needs to be around when Mrs G. meets Sarah Wollaston. The Conservatives have just as much trouble with their people. Maybe the nippy sweetie girl should open a branch office south of the border.

Wednesday, October 29

Sucker

Jim Murphy to announce his Scottish Labour leadership campaign… Don’t do it, son; it’s how they got rid of Frank Dobson.

Pots...Kettles...Black

Tax dodgers are like common thieves, says George Osborne. Who exactly we decide qualifies as a thief is a debatable point.

Non-issue

Cameron refuses to wear a big girl's blouse.

We don’t want to talk about it

Given this morning’s headlines you could be forgiven for believing immigration is the only game in town. Andrew Green, founder of MigrationWatch, pitches in with his two pennyworth in the Telegraph – and no surprise the BBC, every libertarian’s bête noir, gets it in the ear. Unless you want to be labelled a racist immigration is not a subject that lends itself to short pithy comment, and I certainly wouldn’t dream of putting my head above the parapet. The subject invariably polarises and, assuming the economy stumbles along reasonably well, will likely dominate the forthcoming general election. Perhaps by then we will have arrived at some sort of consensus.

Tuesday, October 28

Supper

Pan fried calves liver, sautéed courgettes, and baked red peppers stuffed with fennel – to conjure summer memories. The dark nights are already getting to me. It will soon be time for oxtail stews and roast game birds.

Everyone is destined to expire of something

To the surgery this morning for my annual blood test (cholesterol, liver/kidney function, blood sugar, etc.). You can’t but notice that male GPs are of an age – one foot in the grave. As it happens I prefer the avuncular old soaks, but you wonder at the future of GP services in rural areas. I guess it will follow a similar path to dentistry: wait until the service collapses, then pillage Eastern Europe. …It’s half-term and there are more kids on the streets. It is heartening the five I came across used words such as thank you, excuse me and sorry. I was tempted to correct them – that’s ‘Sorry, Sir’ – but thought I’d be pushing my luck. ...The neighbours have taken their sprogs away for a break. In the old days we thought ourselves fortunate to have a bucket and spade; this lot go equipped with mountain bikes strapped to the motor’s roof and ponies in a trailer hitched to the rear. …I set off across moor yesterday in yet another pea-souper, a flock of long-tailed tits for company. One of these days the bog will do for me and I won’t come out the other side.

Sunday, October 26

Sporty weekend

A pleasant Saturday, yesterday. Flitting between rugby, racing and the footy. Aside from horses on the box, the hunt came past – blaring horns, baying hounds. Then last night a cracking fight between Randy Caballero and Stuart Hall – at 34 years of age the Rio Ferdinand of the boxing world, albeit Hall earns his money, makes an effort. Like most I don’t follow boxing these days. Fewer heroes I guess, subscription television…and even in Monte Carlo Casino the modern version looks so tacky and dated. It doesn’t need to be private sporting clubs and dinner jackets, but surely the world has moved on from dry ice and sparkly lights. And where did they get the bird that sang the national anthem?

Saturday, October 25

Let’s hear it for the cockroaches

‘Voters apparently feel considerably more positively towards cockroaches…than Congressmen’ writes Gillian Tett in Political apathy: who cares? It seems American voters are deserting traditional parties, 42% describing themselves as unaffiliated. Politicians are hoping the Tea Party lose ground so they can forge a bipartisan compromise. Thanks in part to Ukip and the SNP on this side of the pond, compromise here is a non-starter – many voters  believing the Conservatives and Labour are two sides of the same coin. Simon Kuper’s Confessions of a white Oxbridge male (We didn’t get here on merit but were born to it) only reinforces popular prejudice against the establishment, not least our politicians and journalists. Part of me remains sympathetic to the concept of benefit of doubt, wants to recognise the hard work of many MPs – to cheer on the cockroaches as it were. The feeling passes.

Friday, October 24

Same old, same old

If I read the latest NHS five-year plan correctly, the medical establishment believes us a sorry collection of corpulent, ignorant sloths that can’t be bothered to save ourselves – so why should they? Pay rise for all; job done. Everyone appreciates the NHS as currently constituted is unsustainable but no politician dares tackle the fundamental problem of funding. If you want a decent service you have to put your hand in your pocket, not someone else’s. As with education, there’s only so far the state can take the one size fits all model, and fees of some sort appear inevitable. Of course we defer the confrontation until after the election as it’s a vote loser, and there always seems to be another election. There are things you can’t fix. It’s a truism that old people die and poor old people die sooner, and until we begin shaming the sloths and in some way make them pay for their pleasures in the same way we do smokers and drinkers we are wasting our time.

I’m off the stuff my face at the Dartmouth Food Festival.

Thursday, October 23

To Exeter for supplies

If price reductions are a guide, the economy has further to go; there’s an expectation of 20% off everything. I picked up a bottle of cask-strength Aberlour a’Bunadh (batch 48) for thirty quid. Even our favourite Thai restaurant has swopped the starched tablecloths for straw mats.

Dead leaves desert in thousands

Dreich – as Mrs G. would say – best characterises the morning. Daniel Hannan describes autumn as tragic and transient, the loveliest season; and aside from a storm earlier this week, the yard is a pleasant prospect, the moor above a treat to walk – ponies in ragged coats, raging streams and plunging waterfalls. A glass of malt and life would be complete.

Monday, October 20

A touch of the Rover marque

I had to pick my way through ranks of archdeacons this morning when retrieving Mrs G’s paper from the newsagent. It appears they meet together periodically to reflect on such things as the nature of priestly spirituality and the extortionate cost of decent claret. Given the ubiquitous grey hair it doesn’t appear a young-man’s profession; man being the operative word. Clergy are ageing along with their congregation, the church’s future seemingly not dissimilar from rural pubs. I was passing our local church last Sunday at opening time (Mass) and noted a fair proportion of worshipers climbing the steps were octogenarians – yet most of us believe we live in a Christian country. Whilst the church remains largely a cultural given and its schools are pre-eminent, the rationale struggles to make a case.

Sunday, October 19

Is the Pope a Catholic?

The under-30s are being priced out of the UK, says Alan Milburn. Political hyperbole of course; and whilst there’s an element of truth in his assertion, a look in the mirror might well result in some blushing. I suspect Milburn’s criticism is aimed as much at his old colleagues as the Tories. Labour’s blind faith in meritocracy and globalisation has resulted in average kids with an average education competing against some of the world’s brightest and best, and a migrant labour force with an old-fashioned work ethic. Are we surprised so many of our kids find themselves on the wrong side of the divide? The answers are above my pay grade.

Saturday, October 18

Is that all there is?

Although summer’s not quite a distant memory the autumn weather is making its mark. Last weekend on the box Brian Adams reminded me that while summer once seemed to last forever, back in ’69 there was also a lot of just killin’ time. These days the sand drains so quickly, if you do stand idly on the porch, panic ensues. It’s not just the clock running down, take your foot off the pedal and boredom and fear fill the void. At times you can understand why Peggy Lee chose to keep on dancing – or in my case tramping the moor. An old sparring partner is off to the Himalayas this weekend. I tell him I’m more than content with my idyll:

The south wind blows,and brings wet weather, 
The north gives wet and cold together; 
The west wind comes brimful of rain; 
The east wind drives it back again. 
Then if the sun in red should set, 
We know the morrow must be wet, 
And if the eve is clad in grey 
The next is sure a rainy day.

For me 1969 was Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons, and a move to North Rhine-Westphalia. Adams’ soundtrack also accompanied an ill-fated attempt to replicate Frank Bullitt’s car chase around the streets of San Francisco, the least said about which…

Friday, October 17

Come full circle

In today’s Times Philip Collins claims it was the crash that led to increased public sector spending, rather than – as (he says) the Tories claim – that Labour spending was behind the crash. I suspect it wasn’t so much Gordon Brown who caused the crash, but more the problems his profligate spending caused post 2008, Labour not having fixed the roof, etc. Instead of confronting problems during the preceding years, we tested Brown’s theory that ‘throwing money at whatever needs fixing’ to destruction. I say ‘we’ as, to a limited extent, everyone was complicit. ‘Here’s some money: now fuck off and leave me alone.’ The other reason for the rise of the State, says Collins, was the need to educate post-war baby boomers – building all those schools and employing so many teachers, effectively doubling the education budget. Now, bemoans our intrepid scribe, we have to pay the same boomers their pensions and fund medical cover – money that should be spent on children rather than grandfathers. Paying more people to have more children – I thought this premise was where he began?

Thursday, October 16

Pork chops for supper

We crossed the county line this morning on a speculative trip to Taunton farmers market. It was my first visit, and aside from the sprinkling of characters from a Ken Loach film, the overwhelming impression is that of a town inhabited by prosperous retirees. Accustomed to university cities such as Exeter and Plymouth I found it an uncomfortable experience, surrounded by multiple versions of Howard and Hilda – it’s why I stopped going to the golf club. On the plus side we picked up a haunch of venison and some nice pork chops for supper.


The other reason we were up country was for an exhibition in Watchet. The Lynda Cotton Gallery is running a celebration of Hans Schwarz’ work. Hans, as I’ve previously mentioned, was our neighbour at South London Mansions (pictured above...© Est of HS ). He turned his toes up some time ago but has left more than enough to guarantee he will be remembered for a lot longer than yours truly. Whilst it’s been suggested Hans was disappointed with the recognition he received during his lifetime, fame often arrives retrospectively. The Boss and I were in Modbury earlier this week to catch an exhibition of Anthony Amos’s work. When alive Amos was both prolific and popular. Following his demise, however, the value of his paintings has soared.

Tuesday, October 14

Livornese fish stew

I’ve eaten some great food this past month. It could be argued I mostly eat good food and to some extent take meals for granted. The downside to good food on an everyday basis is that there have been few memorable dishes over the years – and it sounds terribly ungrateful to nominate a bowl of celery soup as the only outstanding dish of recent weeks. Fair’s fair, however. Today we lunched at Mitch Tonks’ Seahorse Restaurant in Dartmouth and ate a superlative Livornese Fish Stew, arguably the best fish stew I have tasted since my last trip to Málaga some ten years ago. Regretfully you can only eat memorable dishes once, as the second is always a disappointment.

It’s that time of year and Mrs G. is baking Christmas cakes. The high point of my day (other than fish stew) has been sniffing the whisky fumes emanating from a bowl of dried fruit. This Sober October lark is a real pain.

Sunday, October 12

Embarrassing parents, dancing at weddings

Young people throughout the land were on maximum cringe mode this morning, as Andrew Marr and guests (Douglas Carswell, Boris Johnson, Trevor Phillips and Amanda Platell) began dancing to a live performance by Brian Adams. I don’t know what is more sad, their dancing, or the suggestion that someone below the age of thirty would be watching Andrew Marr’s show.

Saturday, October 11

There’s no such thing as bad publicity?

I have to chuckle at today’s papers. You’d think the media would learn, and yet Carswell’s much maligned electorate, and the Ukip demographic in general, are still fielding brickbats. Rotherham’s Asian community could doubtless sympathise. Not having the resources to compete with the two main political parties, Ukip must be rubbing its hands (the Greens are wringing theirs). Although the SNP grumbled about a perceived bias with BBC’s referendum coverage, you can’t buy this sort of publicity – as Farage has discovered, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. If the denizens of the Dog & Duck are a guide, all the media bile achieves is to fuel a sense of grievance and a desire for retribution at the ballot box.

 One of the criticisms of Ukip’s demographic is their perceived affection for a bygone age and a reluctance to view change in a positive light. On the wall of the office is a painting by maritime artist Anthony Amos that portrays a regular walk from my past, along the towpath between Greenwich and Woolwich, a largely desolate landscape of cement and aggregate yards, rusting hulks and beached Thames barges…disused dry-docks – and there in today’s FT is an advert for a new luxury residential development that has replaced the muddy puddles and abandoned cars. Not before time, you say, homes for the world’s brightest and best that flock to Boris City to fuel our economy and pay for our pensions. And yet those drifting logs, down Greenwich Reach, past Isle of Dogs…

Desert Battle

Friday, October 10

Nobody likes us and we don’t care

Vote Ukip and get Miliband, said Grant Shapps, on this morning’s television. It seems Ukip voters aren’t listening to the Conservative mantra. Miliband or Cameron: they’re both the same, they say – and neither represent our sort of people. Ukip don’t expect to win power as the largest party, but it’s increasingly plausible they could have a significant voice, maybe even hold the balance of power – with Nigel Farage as the new Nick Clegg. At the very least, last night’s two results guarantee a ding-dong battle over the coming months.

Thursday, October 9

Autumn

Normal service, as they say, – gales, thunder storms and flooding – has resumed. Shit, after this past summer, who can complain? This morning we are surrounded by a sea of frenzied firs; whatever leaves remain on the beech and oak will soon be gone. There’s little raking to be done as everything that falls from the trees is already in the next county. I should be out, battening down – consigning barbecue and yard furniture to the barn. You can’t but be exhilarated by the drama, however, the racing clouds and changing light.

Wednesday, October 8

My neighbour, a farmer – the performance artist

“But there’s another movement that’s interesting,” adds Sir Tim. “If you look around the UK it’s largely farmland – some countries have been levelled for large fields, but in other parts of the world people are hanging on to small farms, because they like to have a world in which crops are grown locally by hand, again around Massachusetts for instance. You might start to think of farming more like performance art, where you know the person who has done it.”

From another planet

I didn’t make it out to Jaywick but I know areas like it well. Swanley, in my home district of Sevenoaks, is a similar working-class ghost town… Tim Stanley: man of the world, and a condescending little prick. It’s little wonder the Tories are haemorrhaging conservative voters to Ukip.

Tuesday, October 7

The Ariel is back

Talk about a blast from the past. The Ariel Arrow was never the sexiest bike on the road, and I’d baulk at £20k for the latest version. These days I am more comfortable driving something from Land Rover.

Ditch highbrow novels

Nick Hornby advises readers to junk difficult books if they’re not enjoying them. He’s right, of course, although a lot of what you come up against rewards the effort. Literature is no different from food, and in the same way you progress from beans on toast to oysters and truffles, you find yourself moving from J.T. Edson to Joyce and Dostoyevsky. That said, a Jack Reacher once in a while is as much a treat as the occasional plate of stovies.

I want what men have

Miriam Clegg wants to hang out in a bar, drinking beer, farting and slagging off Alan Pardew. I’m not sure I can be sold on the concept of someone who prioritises the need of a father and carer for her children over that of a lover. Selfish lad that I am, Sandberg’s ‘most important decision’ doesn’t sound the most attractive sales pitch a man can hear.

Monday, October 6

Men and housework

According to Mumsnet/Woman’s Hour surveys ‘Women do twice as much housework as men…’ Only twice as much? I suspect it’s more. ‘Yet two-thirds of women surveyed said they did not want their partner to do more, …because they believed men would not perform tasks “to the requisite standards”.’ The first thing a recently married man learns is to make a half-arsed job of domestic chores: he’ll never be asked again. In my defence, an un-ironed shirt isn’t the end of the world, nor high on my list of priorities – it’s what laundries and dry cleaners are for. Truth to tell, if you live in a child-free relationship, balancing the chores is fairly simple – and what deficit there is can be easily addressed by flowers, chocolates and champagne.

Sunday, October 5

Sunday night with Michael Ball

Be still my beating heart. It doesn’t help I have signed up for Sober October – day five and counting.

I think that’s the end of our runner beans. Maybe just as well, as this past week I’ve eaten the little suckers almost every night, with steak, trout, fish cakes and (tonight’s) venison. It’s not quite the end as there are several jars of Mrs G’s runner bean chutney in the store cupboard. Although something of a learning curve, the allotment has proved a great success. Filling the raised beds with decent soil and a suitable quantity of manure helped, as did the wonderful summer. Given our limited sunlight (tree shade) and local climatic conditions, I wasn’t sure we would be able to grow anything; and whilst the soft fruit was disappointing, now plants are bedded in we can look forward to a successful 2015.

Although I’m partial to smoked fish, I suspect we eat fresh trout but once each year. Part of the reason is the taint that originates from poorly maintained fish farms. What works for beetroot – its earthy odour, isn’t necessarily attractive in a trout.

I have the central heating on this evening, the first time since last winter. It’s a trial run before the weather turns cold.

Inflationary cosmology versus John Motson

Why make telly? Because otherwise you cede the public sphere to people on X Factor, to footballers... I bet Brian Cox wishes he had similar viewing figures to MOTD, but then I doubt even John Motson can compete with X Factor. It’s quite sobering to realise Robbie Savage has a brain the same size as Cox.

Saturday, October 4

Memories need a hard copy

This weekend marks the third anniversary of our move from the barn to the homestead and I have yet to finish unpacking. I must assume whatever’s contained in the remaining boxes is superfluous to life as I now know it. The contents intrigue me, however, and so on my next day off – as soon as I’ve indexed my CD collection, dressed some quills and scrubbed those manky trainers – I will take up my Stanley knife and investigate. Let’s hope they don’t contain perishable foodstuff, as the boxes originate from South London Mansions circa 2006. If the Buddhists prove correct and I do get another shot at the title, acquiring possessions will become a quirk of the past…The one thing I do regret is the advent of digital photography and absence of prints.

Thursday, October 2

Dealing with cracks in the idyll

Autumn may be with us but, what with today’s T-shirt and trainers, it’s proving somewhat benign. I continue to disappear whenever the opportunity affords, making the most of it. The only other person about the moor this afternoon was a neighbour on roundup – ’av you seem my ’eifers?’ Unbelievably, given the cattle run wild, I actually know which are his and which aren’t.

 I sit up top on a lump of granite and survey the world beneath me. Marvellous. There are still plenty of juvenile goldfinches flitting between the stunted hawthorn trees; larks, of course, and the always-strident stonechats.

 It wasn’t a bad morning either. I caught my latest nemesis, a rogue mole that has laid waste to a sizeable patch of ground. Number 13 (I paint Douglas Bader-like notations on the side of the barn). I also filled a series of hairline cracks in the homestead’s render and which have been buggin’ the pants off me. You wouldn’t believe the amount of damp that leaches through once the season begins in earnest. There’s a patch of rotten wood I need to treat and fill, and then (fingers crossed) that’s about it as far as the seasonal maintenance programme is concerned. Whilst not quite the Forth Bridge I alluded to earlier, you do find yourself accumulating new skills and becoming a familiar face at the trade counter of local builders merchants.

Choices

A BT infrastructure crew (Openreach) has made an appearance. It must be that time of year: wind and trees, the effect on local internet services. Poor service is a sore point in this part of the world. Whichever provider you choose, it remains the same scabby cable; and as with the NHS, there ain’t enough money in the world to provide for everyone, everywhere. Dissatisfaction dominates traffic on the local grapevine, but I tell them it’s part and parcel of living in the sticks. We have horses and chickens and a King George VI post box; city people get superfast fibre broadband.