Saturday, November 29

It’s a small world

I’m not sure I buy into coincidence, believing it more a chain of thought fulfilment. However, this morning’s post delivered my first Xmas card of the season, from the lad who was standing next to me at the bar of The Barrel Inn, back in ’68. What price that? I haven’t seen my old oppo in thirty-odd years.

Friday, November 28

Jane Austen at sea

Argh, girls are reading Patrick O’Brian novels. Is nothing sacred?

It didn’t sound a vote winner.

Cameron’s immigration speech went down like a lead balloon with the lunchtime contingent in the Dog & Duck. The PM appears to have thrown in the towel as regards influencing our European partners. In truth, if there had been a balloon above Cameron’s head illustrating his actual thoughts, it would probably have read: “Look, UK Plc is doing rather nicely; and whether you like it or not, migrant labour is part of the equation. Our economy has the potential to grow exponentially – likewise the UK’s attraction to migrants seeking a better future. There is little any of us can do to dissuade this tide of people, and truth to tell – speaking as the CEO of UK Plc – we shouldn’t necessarily want to. Yes it puts pressure on services. We will also have to concrete over large swathes of the countryside to build homes, schools, sandwich factories and offices – and yes, all you will have to compete with these incomers, many of whom being better motivated/educated/skilled than you are. Regretfully this is the reality of globalisation. So, word to the wise: shape up; and please, stop whining.”

Wednesday, November 26

Daydreaming

You can walk for miles lost in thought, only to be taken aback when quizzed by passing neighbour-farmer for details of the grazing stock disposition on the moor. When you fail to lay it out and are unable to point him in the right direction, it’s like being caught asleep at the back of class.

For reasons known only to the arcane working of my brain, the autumn colours remind me of spittoons? More specifically a pub I drank in long ago – the last I can recall so equipped. I’m sure it was named The Barrel Inn and was located on Wolverhampton Street, along from the already defunct Dun Cow. It was a narrow, grim-looking public bar with hard wooden bench-seats. Although under the management of M&B, we always suspected the landlord manufactured his own brew in a bath in the cellar. The mild couldn’t have been much more than a shilling a pint. Daylight robbery, you say. However they tell me beer’s now £4.50 in London pubs.

Monday, November 24

Back online

Our telecoms engineer must have realised what with Christmas in the offing a little overtime was called for, returning on Sunday afternoon – just as Palace were putting Liverpool to the sword – hard hat and ladder at the ready. I obviously wasn’t destined to follow the footy commentary as a neighbour then called seeking assistance with a plumbing fault. Experience has taught me water and electrics are fraught with danger, however it is difficult to refuse an old boy in distress – especially one that eats his meals out of a tin with the same knife he uses to trim cloven hooves and castrate livestock. …Come night-time I was relaxing in front of a roaring fire, hoping to cement my bond with the good lady.

Saturday, November 22

Today is Mrs G’s birthday

Flowers, chocolates and Krug: you can’t go wrong.

High-speed broadband

They implied it would be fixed within three days. After five days a man clad in mud and hi-vis clothing came to the door. “I’ll come inside and test your line” he says “But, really, what can I do?” (Waving dismissively at the swirling fog behind him. It was late and night had fallen.) …The fault lies 1.3km below, beyond the woods, he suggested. “Near that fork in the stream?” “We (the royal ‘we’) will have to wait on daylight” says he. “Maybe Tuesday…perhaps?”

Friday, November 21

Lemon soles in the mist

The homestead is submerged in fog and resounds to the steady patter of rain – my idea of privacy, wrapped in cotton wool. Although today is wet and chill, the office (snug) is heated by a blazing log stove. Alistair Sim is on the box in black and white, the sound muted; somewhere a wireless is playing Burl Ives’ Christmas ballads. Burl Ives…Christmas ballads? How sad (or comforting) is that. I must be the classic reactionary.

Another poke in the eye

On behalf of my white-van driving friends from the Dog & Duck – the fruitcakes and loonies, good on the people of Rochester & Strood; and though I’ve never met the lad, Dave Whelan has always struck me as one of life’s gentlemen. You can’t help but conflate topical issues.

Thursday, November 20

A fleeting appearance

One of the downsides to rural living is your broadband service going walkabout for days on end. It returned this morning, albeit briefly.

The moor is two-tone grey and black. Flocks of field fares and red wings fill the sky. Except for an occasional band of ponies I roam alone.

Needless to say the food at this time of year is both plentiful and diverse. Last night’s supper at Riverford Field Kitchen featured mutton – or more specifically, rare breed Manx Loaghtan organic mutton, from Langley Chase Farm. In an effort to munch our way through the beast’s constituent parts, we began as you’d expect with Scotch broth. Subsequent courses included crumbed belly (with salad leaves), haggis and swede (and red cabbage), smoked leg (and black kale), Lancashire hotpot (with carrots, leeks, cauliflower and sprouts)…together with the usual selection of puddings. I am back amongst the gorse and granite, attempting to walk it off.

Sunday, November 16

Too much of a good thing

Although I haven’t the deterrent of Keith Richards’ face I do have my moments, and anniversaries (41 years) are a good enough excuse for indulgence. It’s been one of those atmospheric days – the moor, that is. The lane out was shoulder to shoulder rabbit and pheasant – mistle thrush battling with crow. Back home – to the background of Rooster Cogburn’s exploits on the box, and with our neighbours’ guns happily blasting away outside – Mrs G. was busy roasting a haunch of venison (red deer, not the farmed kind) and reheating dumpling. Inevitably the champagne, Gevrey Chambertin and Croft late-bottled vintage did for me. At the time it seemed such fun.

Saturday, November 15

Clootie dumpling

Although today promised sunshine – and it did shine, briefly – once you descend beneath the cloud base (into the mist) the temperature drops below 5˚. It wasn’t quite hail but the rain stings. Clootie dumpling weather said Mrs G. on my return: it’s that time of year. The first steamed pudding in an age, a family recipe. Our weekend-long anniversary celebration has fired the (festive) starting gun.

Friday, November 14

Baked quinces for breakfast

It looks like the Met Office called it correctly yesterday when issuing a severe weather warning. Even by our usual standard, Thursday’s tempest was a belter – certainly not a day for tramping the moor. The ruts in the lane grow ever deeper as each successive deluge passes by... And yet life is so agreeable, given (a) the homestead is not situated on the Somerset levels, nor (b), thankfully, – having watched last night’s Question Time – in Wales. It isn’t a new Cold War or an outbreak of Ebola that wakes me in a sweat, more the thought of devolved government.

Thursday, November 13

Fifa and ethics?

Yes, I know. However the report will prove worthwhile if it encourages us to question our own inherent prejudice. England will continue to fail – whether at Fifa or within Europe – for as long as we refuse to play by the rules. That’s the ‘relevant’ rules – the ones everyone else apply, rather than our own mealy-mouthed interpretation. I fear the continued arrogance of England’s righteous indignation – our boorish moral high-ground, will never endear us to other tribes and cultures. No one likes to be harangued by a reformed alcoholic or non-smoker, let alone a patronising Englishman on his soapbox. If we don’t want to play their game, fair enough: we can go sit in the corner and play by ourselves – discover how much fun that can be.

Wednesday, November 12

Off to the flicks

A radical, revolutionary painter he may have been. Turner’s life, however, – at least according to Mike Leigh’s film – was an almost pedestrian affair. OK our intrepid artist put it about a bit, painted lots of pictures and drank sherry, but he wasn’t exactly Samuel Pepys. If you are a fan of the Cranford genre then Mr Turner is right up your street, albeit Timothy Spall’s diction is a ringer for Marge Simpson rather than Captain Brown. I suspect Leigh’s productions are aimed at a certain demographic, one that buys its gear at M&S. Having said all that I enjoyed the film – it’s easy viewing and certainly worth four stars. Let’s face it, even I have to buy my underwear somewhere.

Tuesday, November 11

Darkness descends

These dark mornings belie an additional hour, not least with the additional cloak of autumn mist. Our yard is already a quagmire, the lanes out beneath water. For the sake of those residents below us, I trust the much touted flood defences are in place. Although chill, the air is filled with clouds of insects that are rising and descending in the manner of Richard Wilbur’s fine pistons of some bright machine. Night owls have given way to a murder of crows and a sleekit fox. Ladybirds and a rogue peacock butterfly (in November?) have snuck into the office, seeking a crevice to while away the winter.

Saturday, November 8

Early start

As Mondays are disagreeable, so Fridays can be congenial – not least after a trip to the Dog & Duck. Of course Saturday is rarely so bright, not least this morning with buckets of the wet stuff carried in on a brisk south-westerly. Naturally a downpipe was blocked with fallen leaves, and by the time I’d retrieved a ladder from the barn and sorted the damn thing I was soaked through. All good fun, as they say. Breakfast tasted so much better.

On the strength of a chuckle at a remark in this week’s Spectator I renewed my subscription. Anything that raises a laugh in this day and age is worth subscribing to. On and off I have been shelling out for the magazine for three decades or more – before Mark Amory’s time, and am slightly miffed to have never received an invite to one of their office binges.

Thursday, November 6

Enjoy you food

While you can because the future doesn’t bear thinking about. I don’t blame the NHS as much as the bastards in parliament who haven’t the guts to pull the plug on what has become an unsustainable system.

Complacency

Hard to believe that barely eight years ago this week we were exchanging contracts: seems so long ago; a different planet. After 25 years we were saying goodbye to London, and I hadn’t quite decided whether I was being adventurous or reckless in stepping off the merry-go-round. While no one is entirely comfortable with change, I appreciated our life there had passed its sell-by date. Prior to the smoke we had lived in Houston. Back then Houston was considered a city you chose to work in rather than a place to settle. The city was dynamic and fun – shit anywhere is fun in your twenties. I guess I viewed London in much the same light and didn’t expect to stick around so long – that we did says something about its pulling power. In your twenties you live a nomadic life, hoping to find the right slot, discover where you belong. Rather late in life you realise life is less a mythical goal of the future and more a finite resource that’s fast disappearing.

Wednesday, November 5

Hardly an accomplishment

Given the problems of transportation in my early years flat-pack furniture was a wonder; nowadays, however, it can be a pain in the backside. The instructions suggested forty-five minutes, yet the cupboard took most of yesterday afternoon to assemble. I guess I should be grateful all the parts were enclosed, the screws and dowelling fitted correctly. I am always grateful for small mercies…and can sing better than Wayne Rooney.

Tuesday, November 4

T-shirts and our moral confusion

Ross Clark thunders on in this morning’s Times in response to the fallout from Harperson’s T-shirt debacle – Do workers in poor countries win or lose because of globalisation? As luck would have it I’ve just finished reading Tim Worstall’s entertaining 20 Economic Fallacies (part of this week’s reading list, wedged between W.B. Yeats and Lee Child), and who would doubtless agree with Clark. Whether or not you are sympathetic to the argument of Ross Clark – or come to that, Bill Gates, seems to depend in part on your being a disciple of the Owen Jones/Russell Brand fraternity. A by-product of the poor being lifted out of poverty is the very rich become even wealthier: and that grates on these people, wins sympathetic support from the squeezed middle – causes politicians who should know better to wear suspect T-shirts.

The shame of it

A Japanese whisky is named world’s best in sour dram for Scotland. I must admit my tipple of choice in recent months has either been Yamazaki single malt or Ireland’s Green Spot. Competition is tough these days, more choice and a downturn in the market. Second, third and fourth places in this year’s awards went to three bourbons from the US; the prize for best European whisky went to Chapter 14 Not Peated from the English Whisky Company. Scottish distilleries were warned that reputations counted for little now that other countries were producing their own world-class whiskies. “Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives? Where were the blends which offered bewildering layers of depth?” Jim Murray, author of Whisky Bible, wrote. “It is time for a little dose of humility … to get back to basics. To realise that something is missing.”

Aunt Sally required

Hot on the heels of IPCC’s report, Guardian’s Bibi van der Zee suggests simple steps we can take to combat climate change, citing the obvious solar panels and LED lightbulbs, getting your kids to annoy neighbours by running up and down the street kicking a football, or by turning vegetarian. A more useful suggestion might be to encourage her readers to vote for the Green Party at the next election rather than Labour. We need a half-decent bogey man, and an enhanced Caroline Lucas could serve. It hasn’t been the same since McPlonker stepped down. I guess it’s a sign of the times, given the general disillusionment with politics: we look for something to oppose rather than support.

Monday, November 3

Monday mornings

I always try to begin the week in as optimistic a mood as possible, marshalling whatever dregs of enthusiasm managed to survive the weekend. And after opening up and letting the chickens out, lighting fires and making tea, I set about the basic Monday morning admin tasks, including a brief summary of where I am going this week and what I am doing, before casting a jaundiced eye on the outside world and the weather forecast. Radio 4’s Today programme gets short shrift as there’s nothing more guaranteed to sour the start to a week than BBC’s prophets of doom and a guest appearance from Yvette Cooper. Although he had a hand in bringing the country’s economy to its knees, Ed Balls always retains a degree of sympathy.

 It seems my achieving a target weight and lowering cholesterol to a credible 5.7 counts for naught, and the GP is now to inform me that whilst my louche lifestyle has afforded Gudgeon the body of a thirty-year-old, my brain is well and truly fucked. Let’s face it, life is little more than a lottery.

Sunday, November 2

Cabbages and other stuff

When in doubt, you rarely go wrong with a roast chicken. Or so I once believed. Even from semi-trusted suppliers, consistency in quality – of taste, is a rare commodity. Nowadays it seems the bird has to be free range AND organic to stand a fighting chance. It was also the last of our kale, the final stalks from Mrs G’s allotment – bulked out with the remnants of a savoy cabbage. If there’s a deficiency in my diet it remains that of green-leaf vegetables.

This morning for the first time in months (a year?) I ate a bowl of muesli for breakfast. It took one spoonful to remind me why I gave the stuff up. Dried fruit is even sweeter than refined sugar...and the local cafĂ© is offering two eggs, two sausages, a double rasher of bacon, with fresh tomatoes, beans, mushrooms and toast, for £6.50.

Dozy drivel. I should not have bothered writing this review, says David Aaronovitch. But you have to, is my response. Given my dismal education, reviews are one of the reasons some of us still buy newspapers: so we don’t waste money on the sort of shite written by the likes of Russell Brand – and who almost certainly doesn’t eat cabbage. It’s impossible to ferment revolution if you don’t eat your greens – where would Lenin have been without his bowl of shchi. Let’s hope parents aren’t tempted to use Brand’s book as a stocking filler this Xmas.