Wednesday, December 31

Tuesday, December 30

Free delivery

My sympathies go out to City Link drivers. Whilst Chukka Umunna and the usual reptiles look for someone to blame, to make capital, I remain shamefaced with regards to what I am prepared to pay for certain services. I’m not talking tax-funded public services. My point relates to the so-called concept of ‘free delivery’. Let’s face it, we accept free delivery as the norm and rarely give thought to the lads that drive the vans, often for minimum wage. I live at the end of the line, and most days the drivers turn up late-afternoon looking as though they should be face down in their pit instead of behind the wheel. Today’s delivery only reinforces my point. A couple of weeks ago, when ordering a new supply of reading material from Amazon, I added a biro refill to the list. I wasn’t looking too close at the time, I rarely do, but although it seemed a bit pricey (it’s a posh pen, snide refills don’t work) the refill was offered free delivery. The order finally turned up this afternoon (in a box), postmarked Toshima Tokyo. Having assumed I had ordered from someone in Reading, it turns out the shop was/is in Japan. The box is covered with customs declarations and tax paid stickers! Japan, though? How do you deliver something free from the other side of the globe? I’d hate to think how many hands the refill has passed through – dare I say, its carbon footprint. This shit can’t be sustainable? City Link must have been a loser from Day One?

Nosh

Turn you back for five minutes and the work backs up. But then again it fosters an appetite. Our festive season is turning into something of a foodie season, and as the neighbour culled another steer recently, Mrs G. has decided to roast a sizeable portion of its ribs. This meat, grazed on the moor – and I’ve eaten some good stuff over the years – is up there with the best. Having scoured the cupboard and wanting to do it justice, tonight’s wine comes from the unlikely sounding location of Jasper Hill? Must admit my recent Bordeaux selections have been a bit hit and miss, and this is a wild card. Aussies are good with lamb but I’m not sure they have beef down under. 

One of the hits-of-the-season has been those biscuits the Kwik-E-Mart has begun stocking: Torta de aceite, rosemary. Highly recommended. Goes well with Spam.

The self-employed

Supposedly back to work this morning – and I slept in. Yesterday was the ultimate skive. Following Dr No, I read the 3rd John Russell novel, then sat and watched The Ipcress File (for the 20th time). Many suspect Christmas’s sole function is to test the ‘Theory of Induction of Psychoneuroses by Conditioned Reflex under Stress’.

Monday, December 29

Play it for laughs

There’s been talk of replacing Daniel Craig with a black lad for the next Bond? I’m surprised they haven’t offered Angelia Jolie the job. As it happens I watched Skyfall a couple of nights ago. Given I rarely make it to the cinema this was my first viewing. And it was fun – I guess what passes for a thriller these day; well worth watching but you probably wouldn’t buy the DVD. Been there…sort of thing. Let’s face it, at her age Judi Dench would struggle to follow a knitting pattern let alone run the British Intelligence Agency. This afternoon that perennial favourite Dr No was also on the box. Although Sean Connery has his shortcomings, as James Bond the guy is par excellence. A psychopathic nut job of the first order: the type of man you’d imagine we actually employ to do this sort of stuff – total disregard for the men he kills or the women he fucks. If I was giving out prizes for the best Bond, Connery would walk it. That said, Roger Moore remains my favourite. Like Connery he was a man of his time – and I’ll plump for humour over violence most days of the week.

The pursuit of knowledge

In an effort to appreciate what passes across my tonsils, and after being taken to task by sommelier brother-in-law, Benny McBacchus, I’ve made more of an effort this past year to serve the homestead’s wine at a correct temperature. And whilst there is no correct temperature per se – some leeway, allowance for taste, is allowed – there are generalities that have stood the test of time. Apparently keen to encourage my enthusiasm for alcoholic beverages, Mrs G. included an assortment of wine accoutrements with her Christmas presents, thermometers included. The Pièce de résistance of this bounty is a set of Riedel varietal specific tasting glasses which are proving enormous fun. In what could loosely be defined as scientific endeavour, I have been obliged to open a succession of bottles from all four corners of the earth in order to validate Riedel’s proposition. My research may take some time.

Learn to love taxes

Zoe Williams looks forward to the time when hell freezes over.

The clock is ticking

Given the life expectancy figures quoted by Aegon, it’s just as well I live in South Hams rather than the Outer Hebrides or Port Talbot. However as we will all be more or less gaga by then, which of us will miss the odd year here or there? Given this area’s demographic you can understand why the coming election looks a straight fight between the Tories and Ukip, albeit the LibDems and Greens have their supporters. I was going to say Miliband is about as popular as a turd in a Totnes teashop, but people hereabouts are much too polite to say that sort of thing.

Health scares…This morning the medical profession warned we are 59% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s if we smoke. However yesterday they assured everyone that smokers would be dead from lung cancer or heart disease long before we were old enough for dementia to set in? It was one of the plus points.

Succour from the past

The goose soup was dispatched post-haste. As with porridge it’s something you grow attached to over the years. A particularly Scottish type of broth that was once served up by working men’s cafes on Holburn Street and in the three-star hotels of Keith and Tomintoul, and which consists of barely coloured, highly-salted boiling water, supported by a centimetre of leek, a sliver of carrot, and the mere suggestion of turnip.

Sunday, December 28

Not his week

In a further blow to Justin Welby’s prestige.

Never happy

Street lamps are bare, overbearing and deliberately hideous, they vomit a cloud of unpleasant light which can be seen from half a mile away. Peter Hitchens makes his point. There was one installed on the pavement outside our bedroom window at South London Mansions which required the installation of certified WWII blackout curtains. Nowadays I moan just as much about the glow from my bedside alarm clock – and as for a full moon…those pesky stars.

Lonely? Britain’s young people have never been less connected. Why not take up smoking: You’re never alone with a Strand.

Parky

Have just been outside for firewood. It might be a beautiful day, but what with the relative position of the sun at this time of year, and the height of our trees, the yard’s frost is proving somewhat resilient. I was up on the ridge without a cap this morning…parky would be an apt description. And what the fluck’s going on with the Blues?

The goose bought it

Mozart on the wireless and sunshine streaming through the windows. Sundays, eh? Suppose I’ll have to ruin the moment and switch to Collymore for the match. ...It wasn’t the largest goose on the market, yet today our star of the show manages a fourth outing. Day one was the classic roast, mit bread sauce and sage & onion stuffing; day two, an Angela Hartnett special, featuring red cabbage and apple salad; day three – and it’s a truism that, although Mrs G. maintains a library to rival the most enthusiastic of contemporary cooks, many of her favourite recipes are clipped from newspaper columns – on a bed of Joceline Dimbleby’s red rice; before, inevitably, the goose broth (and a well-chilled Manzanilla).

Saturday, December 27

Feet up

Weather-wise it is either feast or famine. Last night’s storm resulted in a power cut and some fitful sleep; this morning was all clear skies and sunshine. Quad bikes and tractors much in evidence as neighbours return to work, silence giving way to chainsaws, and hounds in pursuit of squirrels and feral cats. As it’s Saturday I am more than happy to settle for Chepstow and Kempton on the box – bacon & egg rolls, and what’s left of the festive fizz. Let’s hear it for Benbens.

Champagne cocktails

The sugar cubes and bitters have been waiting on the shelf throughout Christmas, but that way lies trouble.

Friday, December 26

Sad

They have rebranded my tissues from Man Sized to Extra Large, so as not to offend.

Phew

I believe we can chalk that down as a success. Everyone who manages to negotiate their way through the typical minefield strewn Christmas Day deserves a pat on the back. The exchange of presents appeared to go well. I ate everything put in front of me, including a pudding that had been languishing on the top shelf of the pantry for two years. Dried my share of the dishes. I didn’t drink to excess or say anything particularly stupid; at least as far as I recall, the Boss has yet to put in an appearance.

Thursday, December 25

Scrooge in a cassock

I see Justin Welby threw his usual bucket of cold sick over today’s festivities, reminding everyone Christmas isn’t just for the children. Party pooper. I reckon the lad should look to his own house. We made an effort to stay up for a carol service last night, only to discover ITV’s version was being hosted by a big girl in a blouse instead of the vicar, and that the BBC were playing for the opposition.

It was a relief to get out for a jog across the moor this morning. If there is a god up there he’s made a decent fist of today’s weather. I returned home and, after lighting stoves at both ends of the homestead, am now dressed in a very loud Hawaiian shirt and flip flops.

Wednesday, December 24

Oscar Wilde and sinking ships

To lose one demographic – the white, working class – may be regarded as misfortune; to lose its supposed replacement…

I guess you had to be there

Christmas Eve: Supper was to be stewed eels and lampreys but we are short on lampreys. Tomorrow’s goose is already roasting in the oven and the champagne is on ice. BBC are broadcasting its first ever Carols from King’s (1954): the black and white film serves to reinforce our prejudicial view of that era. All the adult males look like murderers or child molesters. It seems even I am prone to applying contemporary standards of morality to past actions, institutions, or persons. O Come All Ye Faithful has rarely sounded so uninspiring and bereft of joy. Guess you had to be there.

Tuesday, December 23

Brown ales and mince pies

To Tavistock this morning for a goose, selection of which is part and parcel of the usual Christmas trauma. I kid everyone I’d be more than happy with a turkey sausage and glass of whatever’s going. However I would be hugely disappointed sans Mrs G’s traditional Dickensian splurge – never tire of Bonney M. soundtracks, the inevitable television repeats. As with Joe Cocker, my hedonist days are behind me. Hedonism: Those Party Sevens, eh?

Monday, December 22

Spamalot

Cranberry chutney simmering on the stove…the aroma of hot, spiced wine. Christmas is almost here – and here I’m staying. I was obliged to visit the Kwik-E-Mart this morning to stock up on sprouts and turnips. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Lots of grannies pushing trolleys in excess of their bodyweight, up and down the aisles, pained, already-exhausted expressions, obliged as they are to host the annual family feast. A feat, it seems, beyond their middle-aged daughters’ capability. I wouldn’t care to attempt it myself. How many relationships are destined to hit the skids these coming days? After the weekend’s excess, Monday night supper is Spam. Our renowned local deli labels it as ‘Chicken, Lemon and Basil Terrine’, but I recognise Spam when I see it.

Sour grapes and silver spoons

Is the West losing its grip on reality? asks the FT’s Ed Luce – given that nowadays we tend to live longer, are relatively free from war and strife, and blessed with more choices than a kid at the pick and mix counter. The world is our lobster, so to speak…And yet all Luce sees in the rise of miserabilism. Move on a couple of paragraphs and all becomes clear. The West is going to hell in a handcart and it is all the fault of us selfish baby-boomers. Whilst the evils of Western gerontocracy are a godsend for columnists with books to sell, I can’t help noticing the protagonists who worry most about not surpassing their parents’ generation, that want to expropriate our Ford Capri and vinyl collection, are the selfsame scribes that have benefited most from a top-drawer education at private schools and Oxbridge colleges, who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

Sunday, December 21

Another planet

South London Mansions was never the same after her television series, filmed over a two-year period, two doors down. My only claim to fame. Unlike the then neighbour, two doors up, who hasn’t proved to be quite so accomplished at playing Father Xmas. We are surrounded by different stars these days.


The neighbours are increasing their accommodation capacity.

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread

Whilst I eat decent food as a matter of course, today’s lunch was exceptional. We are fortunate with our veal producer and, hungry as I always am, and living in the wilds (today’s weather is abysmal – cold and wet), I find it impossible to walk away from such produce. Mrs G’s stuffed peppers (tomatoes and bulbs of fennel), along with a jar of her pickled plums, were the only accompaniment required. Other, that is, than a bottle of the red stuff to swill it down. Decanting wines was all the rage back in the 70s: nowadays it seems a peculiarity, very John Lewis. However, whilst modern filtered wines are presumed above special treatment, even with £15 vin de pays I find a jug essential.

The cheese and clootie dumpling weren't too shabby either.

Where's the sausages?

Neighbours are gearing up for a sporty festive break: pheasants being marshalled for a shoot, horses put through their paces on the gallops. Even I took a couple of hours out to walk across the moor. We are up to Totnes this morning for the market: Good Food Sunday. I could use some meat. This past week, and not by conscious design, we’ve gorged on fresh cockles, brown shrimp, tuna, halibut, salmon, smoked eel, cod and chorizo fishcakes, and lobster. You can take this good-health shit too far. There have been more neighbours drop by the homestead over the last couple of days than the whole of the previous month. Can’t they read the sign?

Friday, December 19

Supper

Mashed broad beans with anchovies, garlic and pecorino, aside a slab of halibut. Salad and boiled potatoes. Chablis.

Days, Philip Larkin

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

 Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Wednesday, December 17

A taste of the Atlantic Ocean

This morning to the dentist for refurbishment of two ancient fillings. A numb jaw and three hours of dribble. Thereafter our final pre-Christmas trip to Exeter for supplies. Other than a couple of pints of milk and bag of vegetables we are more or less fixed. I’ve never known us to be this ahead of the game. Returned home and ate a lobster for supper. A roaring fire, footy on the wireless, and a bottle of Ardbeg.

Monday, December 15

Monday morning ‘To do’ list

Item No.1: Purchase flowers and write contrite apology to neighbour for boorish behaviour at Sunday lunch. Respectfully suggest we should have called a halt after the first half-dozen bottles. I am fast becoming the local florist’s most valued client.

Saturday, December 13

Celine Dion: heavy metal on oestrogen

There I was, yesterday, thundering down the A38, singing along to Status Quo… Back at the homestead I am forbidden to play Vaughan Williams much above the 12 mark, so listening to rock music at DEFCON 5 has the effect of transforming the motor into a vehicle that might once have been driven by Kris Kristofferson. Guilty pleasures and the origin of individual taste in popular music – how we use it to define our social class – is the basis of Richard Beck’s review on Carl Wilson’s book investigating the attraction of Celine Dion. It seems whereas rock is broadly defined as Ukip music (white, male, thin on top), Dion followers tend to be widowed grannies from Kansas (think heavy metal on oestrogen, Wilson writes). Although the book probably won’t make it onto my Christmas wish list (already oversubscribed), Beck’s review is a must read. ‘If nothing else because it makes us realise how many patterns and prejudices we normally live with – and never notice.’ And it just might have induced me to renew my subscription.

Friday, December 12

Fridays

Two more inches of rain and I could have floated out of here this morning. Not that Totnes market appeared to be suffering, the car parks full as usual. Things normally pick up this time of year, weekly shoppers augmented by increasingly desperate sorts searching for Xmas gifts (yours truly in the vanguard). I’ve acquired the easy stuff – the bling, it’s those little gifts, the bits and pieces that suggest you gave it some thought. …I couldn’t help noticing the hills above town are changing – pastures swallowed one by one. Regimented housing estates spring up on brownfield and greenfield sites alike. Such is life. It must be sixty years since Gypsy Lane Estate was built...then they filled in the gaps. Decades from now similar arguments will doubtless be aired. As long as the blob maintains its distance from the homestead I can live with civilisation. …Another senior moment today in that I was unable to recall my pin number at the checkout. There must be upwards of a dozen passwords that haunt me. …Friday lunchtime at the Dog & Duck remains a pale shadow of the past. I remain a pale shadow of the past.


...And residents from raw estates, brought down/The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys.

It’s a well-known fact

That alcohol makes you feel bulletproof. And if that doesn't work...

Thursday, December 11

No room at the inn

Fraternising with the homestead’s neighbours at this time of year is not unknown, albeit the Dog & Duck is a popular neutral venue. Peter Kellner, President of YouGov, says only one in three Brits regard neighbours as friends; almost half of us know our neighbours by name but can’t be bothered to speak to them. His bad news for politicians includes voter inability to entertain the idea party leaders would be welcome in our homes for Christmas lunch (unless, apparently, they are Boris Johnson or Alex Salmond). Worryingly for Clegg, more LibDem voters would prefer Farage turned up to share the turkey instead of the deputy prime minister. Equally worrying for Labour is their voters’ abhorrence for Harman – not least from Labour’s women voters. And they say Ukip has a problem with the sisterhood.

First things first


Of a morning, light a fire. Henry’s Tudor navy was built with less wood than I burn during winter. And breakfast at this time of year is invariably porridge. Why is there no monument/To Porridge in our land? Spike Milligan. Now there’s a voice from the past; perhaps the only commonality between myself and the heir to the throne.

Wednesday, December 10

Breaks in the storm

The in-laws appear to have made the correct call in exchanging Christmas and Hogmanay in Aberdeen for the sunny delights of Brisbane (although I think it’s a long way to go for a Billy Connolly concert).

A limited amount of sleep last night thanks to the ongoing maelstrom. It let up this morning, briefly – the sun came out, so I took the opportunity to head off across the hills and soak up some vitamin D. The ground was/is a little wet, as you would expect, and the wind-chill certainly brings a tear to the eye. However, at least until this evening when the storm returned, the moor was glorious. Just now I’m dusting off my tweed as we are invited by local aristocracy to dine at the manor house. Given our host’s generosity – not least as far as his wine cellar is concerned – I rarely decline. I enjoy company, on occasion, and have too few acquaintances capable of seating sixteen around the table.

Tuesday, December 9

Hazardous journeys and screaming banshees

Last week I was obliged to traipse around Exeter on a so-called Christmas shopping trip. Today it was Plymouth. The streets are full of dreadful people coughing their lungs up. Many are accompanied by children that harbour sufficient infections and diseases to pollute an entire African republic. The greatest threat to my festive wellbeing remains having to venture out amongst the general public. No one appears to have heard of handkerchiefs or tissues and seem content to hack over whoever they find standing in front of them. If someone had ostentatiously wiped their nose on a sleeve it would not have surprised me. Needless to say the shops are full of overpriced tat, clad in tinsel. It’s little wonder we spend our money on the internet.

I returned to find the homestead battered by hurricane-force winds. The yard is strewn with chimney cowls and guttering. A fir has blown down, demolishing a section of fencing (and the neighbour’s phone line?). I can barely hear the wireless for rattling windows and screaming banshees.

Monday, December 8

The English soul – change, migration and assimilation

Five centuries after Bede, following 250 years of being ruled by Danes, Normans and Frenchmen, the English still seemed to be a recognized group. Foreign observers viewed the community of Engelonde as a rich, open-handed, convivial and rather vulgar people – or as one censorious Frog put it: ‘Above all other peoples, drinkers, gluttons and profligate wasters…’ You can argue little of the national character has changed. Many of the jumbled ingredients of nationhood – beliefs, myths, institutions, customs, loyalties – that were present in the ninth century, were revived or reinvented in the twelfth. Likewise, in the Victorian era, fear of the Industrial Revolution led to a re-imagining of the medieval world that helped shape British society, leaving a legacy in art, architecture, literature, religion, politics and the monarchy. I wonder what price the soul of England circa 2050? My money’s on the continued assimilation of whatever comes our way, role models that we are.

Saturday, December 6

Festive greetings

Although snobs disapprove, at this time of year I feel obliged to include a note inside the Christmas cards of people I’ve ignored this past twelve months. I think everyone agrees photographs are a step too far. Notes include the usual platitudes about getting together in the foreseeable future, even though it’s been ten years since either party could be arsed. Contenting myself with having forked out for the price of a card and a second-class stamp may sound poor stuff, but I’ve learned to live with my apathy.

Thursday, December 4

You know the weather’s turning

When the glass of water on your bedside table turns to ice ... Our festive campaign kicked off in earnest yesterday: Mrs G. decorated her tree, and I began my traditional yuletide panic attack – acquiring a suitable present for the boss. I’m years past the low-hanging fruit stage, of watches and handbags, baubles from Tiffany’s and bottles of scent. And don’t get me started on cook books, or pots and pans manufactured from parts of the space shuttle. Upstairs there are closets full of cashmere and silk that will never see the light of day. In the past I merely headed off in the general direction of the West End, and then fortified by a succession of pit stops at the usual hostelries, inspiration arrived. A jaunt along the track to Mole Valley Farmers ain’t quite the same.

Wednesday, December 3

Gordon Brown obituary

Daniel Finkelstein, being a gentleman, is far too kind.

Tuesday, December 2

The seasonal smell of pine, and mulled wine

What a glorious day, albeit new boots to break in. The hunt was out. No other walkers, just a neighbour checking on livestock. I subsequently drove up to Haldon Christmas Tree Centre for – yes, you’ve guessed it: a tree. Mrs G. settled for an eight-foot Scandinavian job that just about fitted inside the motor. I’ve got as far as buying two packets of Christmas Cards and beefing up the wine cellar.

A playground for the young

If our nostrils seem snooty to you it’s only because the air outside of Mayfair and Chelsea stinks of fried food, stale beer and body odour… Whilst it’s true this morning’s air at the homestead is also a little ripe, I’m pleased to say this is down to the neighbour’s cattle rather than the lumpen mass. I recognise Bryony Gordon’s rant in the Telegraph. I heard something similar from an old comrade in the Smoke only last week – recall identical frustrations being vented by aunts and uncles during the early 70s as the final remnants of the Gudgeon clan departed Tottenham. I guess we are all obliged to reside in London at some stage of our career: and there are good sides to being part of the metropolitan elite. However I suspect the capital’s delights are best experienced in your 20s and 30s.