Thursday, December 31

New Year’s Eve

And the weather a nightmare. People cite climate change but I recall this sort of shit being standard fare in the 70s. Man up, as Mrs G. is always telling me. People have forgotten we used to wear a mackintosh and carry an umbrella, we didn’t expect to stay dry in December.

Semi-comatose in my chair this afternoon, the remote out of reach. I watched my first ever Downton Abbey – the finale. Please tell me this is a spoof: Acorn Antiques with an eye-watering budget. And yet strangely addictive.

New Year’s Eve supper…bacon, eggs and fried (sorry, sautéed – the Downton effect) Brussel sprouts, with HP Sauce.

The Dog & Duck or Jools Holland?

Wednesday, December 30

Historical revisionism

I’m reading an Ian Rankin novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible. The dialogue runs along the lines: ‘It was thirty years ago, Siobhan. Everything was…’ He turned towards her. ‘Is it fair to bring it up?’ …Tell that to Oliver Letwin, I thought. Most people harboured similar suspicions in those days. It took television shows such as the Huxtables to help persuade otherwise, though that too now seems tainted.

Tuesday, December 29

What’s not to admire

The prodigious appetite for drugs, sex and booze finally did for him. He was a convinced Thatcherite who confessed that one of his favourite bands was Abba and that he was 'addicted' to PG Wodehouse. I guess we’ll gloss over the Nazi memorabilia thing. Of course Lemmy’s lifestyle is something no one should actually admire. Sensible shoes and a glass of warm milk at bedtime, and you too could grow up to be Rod Stewart.

Monday, December 28

Messi’s alter ego

…fresh from the betting shop. He takes a mouthful from his pint — lager, with a dash of lemonade — and rummages in his jacket pocket for a lighter. “I’m just going for a cig,” he says, pushing himself to his feet. “Stan has spent all of his money on gambling, booze and birds,” Frank Worthington once said, to which Bowles had a well-rehearsed response. “Well, at least I didn’t waste it. . .” He may not have been Messi, nor a suitable role model, but our lives would be the poorer without those colourful associates we once knew. At least that's what I ruefully kid myself.

Coming up for air

The roads are full and the shops empty (late present for friends). Most sane people appear to be out walking, taking the air – recovering from a surfeit of Christmas cheer. I don’t actually recognise anyone strolling the lanes and assume they are visitors/relatives staying with our neighbours. The lad next door has been obliged to provide valet parking as city cars have a habit of sinking beneath the paddock. I’ve finished my chores and am listening to the footy...following on from the traditional gallon of goose soup by working my way through a crate of Pomerol and a nice Stilton. Massed guns are busy culling wildlife.

Sunday, December 27

Brings tears to your eyes

Ouch! Love and sex in Sri Lanka appears to involve being whipped with toxic stingray tails. Can you you imagine what they would do to Lord Sewell and his orange brassiere. And non-alcoholic Guinness, what's that about? Thank god we live in England, even if we are going downhill at a great rate of knots. December and my window is wide open – an unbelievable 26˚C inside the homestead.

Saturday, December 26

Temp tech malfunction

Ground conditions permitting

Rather unexpectedly, yesterday turned out to be one of our best Christmas days. We enjoyed the food and didn’t overeat. Ditto the hooch. Best of all it was a relaxing day. Santa was rather good to me and I don’t have to worry about reading material for the next six months. A pair of socks, naturally. A replacement whisky glass for the one I broke, along with a bottle of my favourite grappa and one of Genever. It would be impossible to work with the Dutch and not develop a taste for gin (and herring). Louis van Gaal will likely need a large one at the Britannia Stadium. Today is all about the sport – footy and horse racing.

Friday, December 25

What a feast

A special commendation to the sage & onion stuffing (even if I had to drive 25 miles to locate an artisan baker capable of producing a loaf that could provide acceptable bread crumbs), to Mrs G’s spiced, preserved tangerines, her pickled pears and savoury bread sauce. Our dramatic environment – a rip roaring gale, dancing trees and continually changing light, only enhanced the experience, as did the vino (all leather and tobacco, the perfect antidote to this morning’s service) and a bottle of fine cognac.

Festive cheer at the homestead

Up before eight, feeling better than I’d a right to. Despite the open windows and best efforts of the extractor fans, everything – clothes and furnishings, reek of roast goose. Jars of fat line the counter, sorted/ graded into three distinct ‘pressings’. There are scented candles the length and breadth of the homestead; it wouldn’t be too difficult to set the place ablaze. Our usual Christmas morning: live Eucharist service from Bath Abbey, and Carols from King’s.

Thursday, December 24

Cultural baggage, cinnamon and spice

Christmas Eve and the homestead is suffused with the aroma from Mrs G’s kitchen. Whilst a goose the size of a small Ostrich sits waiting for the oven, on the stove simmers tonight’s supper – a clootie dumpling, this year’s replacement for the traditional yuletide pudding. It works with just about everything, savoury or sweet.

Wednesday, December 23

Twinned with Pashtun

God save us from Niamh Shortt. Off-licences must shut in poor areas to save lives. Why not go the whole hog and restrict chip shops and branches of KFC to the better areas of Edinburgh.

Who ate all the pies?

Today’s lunch featured sausage rolls from Tavistock Market’s favourite home baker, along with her duck and apple, and countryman pies. I suspect the latter was a tad heavy on road kill.

Carbon footprints

Tuesday didn’t begin well, losing another roof. By the time I’d battened everything down, fought my way through the inevitable file of horses being exercised along the lane, and negotiated a stand-off between seven horse-boxes and a milk tanker, I was already an hour behind schedule. Atrocious weather and kerb to kerb traffic, but a lot better than Bluewater. It’s about knowing your back-doubles. Even the Kwik-E-Mart was triple parked – and with Range Rovers (obviously visitors from up country, given the pristine condition of the vehicles). So the last thing I needed when returning to the homestead early afternoon was having to climb back into the motor and head off in the opposite direction, to Exeter. Getting in and out of that city is even worse than Plymouth. All I can say is thank god for £1/ltr diesel. On a good day, dual carriageway with following wind, I can eke out 40 mpg. Hereabouts, unfortunately, it’s more like 22 mpg. Today appears much the same, as I disappear in the direction of Tavistock to collect the fatted goose (calling in at The Dog & Duck?).

Tuesday, December 22

Time and tide

I picked up the office wall clock (ship’s timepiece – Baker, Lyman & Co, New Orleans) from the repairers/restorers this afternoon. I entrusted it to the good lady back in April and it has taken until now to service and overhaul the movement. I don’t mind, am I’m grateful there are still people capable of undertaking this sort of shit. Next year it’s my Sony Walkman and Psion Organiser. The wall clock is a memento from the Leam Texas. I wonder what Roger the Dodger is up to these days?

Vegetable day

Today traditionally sees me dispatched to a greengrocer for the hundredweight of parsnips and sprouts deemed necessary to feed us over the festive period. If I’m still awake that is. I really need my kip this time of year, but it’s difficult to sleep when the building is shaking. Right now it sounds as if I’m standing at the end of a runway. Outside is pitch black and I am as likely to drown wading through a pool of rain water in the dark as be hit by a falling branch or uprooted tree. We lost the roof to the chicken coop two days ago. Still, all good fun. The alternative is to morph into cul-de-sac man and that wouldn’t do.

The last of the ponies has left to seek safety in the valley – one of our annual milestones, like the moment the swallows depart or when the lad comes to empty the septic tank.

After two weeks in dock my computer has been returned, albeit the hard drive is wiped clean and returned to factory settings. You’ve no idea how irritating this is…another of my First World Problems.

Sunday, December 20

Laddish art

One is phallic, one is vulval, the last is a pair of icy buttocks overflown by a white bird. They hang, yearning but separated, side by side on my wall.

Lampard nuptuals

Shows what a plonker I am, how far removed from contemporary culture: I thought the lad was marrying Billy Joel's ex.

Lads lunching

"I had vaguely wondered whether we'd end up on a pub crawl but he didn't even finish his second glass...he was going on to a 'curry and champagne party' by one of the Pink Floyd." Paxman on Clarkson - the accomplished deipnosphist. Yes I had to look it up too.

The homestead's kitchen may be a million miles from Assaggi's, however the food is pretty good. Today's lunch is veal bavette, with spaghetti and Mrs G's tomato sauce. A sumptuous wine from one of the most romantic St Estephe 3rd Growths that dates back to Roman times.

Bugle Annual


It's that time of year...sepia photos of the Tipton Slasher, people reminiscing about colliery disasters and long-forgotten footy cup glory, adverts for denture care and bostin bargains from Blackheath Market. Bessie Bonehill, the Black Country entertainer who conquered America.I love it!

Saturday, December 19

Supper

Reheated left overs from last night's pheasant. The label on the wrapping indicates we had consigned the bird to our freezer 364 days ago...and yet it was so good. The booze helps.

Update: apparently I've been eating Guinea fowl not pheasant. 

Balti restaurants and computers

Let's not mince words: our weather is fuckin' shite. It has continued to rain down on the homestead from 'sunrise', i.e. before eight - when what passes for daylight came to pass, through to kick-off time in the afternoon. Inevitable frustrations build this time of year, exacerbated when my computer , email, etc. goes missing for more than two weeks. One of the negative sides to our South West idyll - other than an absence of Asian convenience stores and decent Chinese restaurants, is the dearth of competent IT Consultants. Specialisation or racial stereotype?

Friday, December 18

Premier League or Sunday League

Good parents are the enemy of social mobility, says Philip Collins, in The Times. "My Grandfather was a man of a lost kind, an adamantine church warden of granite decency...blah, blah, blah." Grief, we've done this shit to death - life has moved on. Truth is we are less interested in social mobility as a national cause as much as how our own kids are holding their own and able to compete against 'relative' competition. Our children don't go up against neighbourhood mites as much as they do their opposite number in what's become a global market, in much the same way our less fortunate citizens find themselves obliged to compete against (cut price) migrants. It is disingenuous to pretend otherwise, and  that every poor schmuck and his granny can gain access to the Premier League in the way we all once did.

Then again, if we are only talking £33/day...

The Works Do

What else, today - so-called Black Friday, the Works Do, than fried cashew nuts (courtesy of the go to for India food, Michael Pandya), sherry wine and crab bisque, followed by stewed pheasant and cabbage, Toulouse sausage mit bacon. The neighbours' guns have been blazing since breakfast. Tonight I am hunkering down to an evening of Desmond Carrington, and a series of Rodgers and Hammersein's shows.

Wednesday, December 16

Continuing grey and wet

Despite relatively benign (mild) weather we still have our ongoing floods to contend with. The yard remains under water and access lanes are submerged...the homestead cloaked in fog. Dartmoor is off limits due to my lack of enthusiasm. Even Monday's trip to Plymouth fell flat, the Barbican pub a dour affair.

Whilst there is no shortage of pheasants scuttling about the hedgerows, the guns are mysteriously quiet. However if the movement of quad bikes is a measure of general activity there's still work being done somewhere by someone. Need to get off my butt and address several chores of my own today. Even hand-delivering Christmas cards around the neighbourhood can turn into a prolonged affair..."Come in, have a drink, what do you hear?"

Sunday, December 13

Auld Alliance

Veal Caledonia for Sunday lunch. Something new: veal brisket. Boned, laid out on the counter, and spread with oatmeal, chopped onion and suet, rolled and tied. Consigned to the oven rotisserie-style for five hours and partnered with a first growth Pauillac. Hey, it's Christmas.

Saturday, December 12

Bog Cotton

The bog cotton plant grows on the margins of bogs and mires across Dartmoor, its fluffy white head looks like a large cotton bud. Ronnie Wood's recent announcement that he is to become a father again at the age of 68 brought to mind Frank Ormsby's poem.

They have the look 
of being born old. 
Thinning elders among the heather, 
trembling in every wind. 

My father turns eighty 
the spring before my thirteenth birthday. 
When I feed him porridge he takes his cap off. His hair, 
as it has been all my life, is white, pure white.

Friday, December 11

Keeping my end up

After last night's party the last thing I needed was an early start...Breakfast being a Dartmouth greasy spoon, surrounded by lads in hi-viz clothing and seventy somethings too far gone to care. I joined with the traditional fare: double egg, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, etc. The salt alone has probably reduced my lifespan by five years or more. Back in Totnes mid-morning, before returning with our Friday fish. Cheltenham on the box.

Thursday, December 10

Not another scarf

I look forward to, and enjoy, Christmas. That said, whether a middle-aged man stalking John Lewis for a present for the self same woman (after 43 years what's left to buy?), or a young mother weighed down by clinging children and shopping bags, the season has its downside - not least when the sky is piddling down. Thank god for the Dog & Duck. My first visit was to the Post Office, to mail our greetings cards. It's a dying custom, literally.

Tuesday, December 8

Donald Trump sparks outrage

…trumpet the headlines. Though the big lad would doubtless respond with a cliché about there being no such thing as bad publicity. Capturing the centre ground has been a fundamental tenet for so long that few saw this coming. The premise that Ed Miliband was not left wing enough and we should replace him with Jeremy Corbyn; that Sarah Palin was not right wing enough and Donald Trump is the answer. We may just get the chance to test this to destruction at the next election. I wonder what odds the bookies are giving for the double? Can you imagine our so-called special relationship, with Slim Pickens astride a nuke in the White House and a pacifist in No 10.

Monday, December 7

An old girl from over the hedge

Boiled leg of mutton with caper sauce for supper. I love the stuff. Remove from pot, thickly slice, spoon over warm caper sauce and serve immediately. ‘With small beer, good ale and wine. Oh ye gods! how I shall dine.’ Mutton has an evocative taste; takes you back to the days before chicken tikka masala became England’s national dish.

Still wearing well


T-shirts come out of the drawer each morning on a rota basis, once they've worked their way to the top. This one is still wearing well...albeit we lost to Ireland (Jack Charlton triumph); lost to Netherlands (Van Basten hit three); lost to Soviet Union (whitewash).

Sunday, December 6

Keep off the grass

“Some days are like difficult prose; you just have to let it wash over you, admiring the beauty of the sentences, if you can bear to, trying not to worry that you don’t know where you’re going. You nurse the vague hope that at some point things will make sense again, and the earlier passages will fall into place. The main thing is not to give up…” 

In the same way my Gudgeon legend cites favourite films that contrast Walter Hill’s Hard Times with Powell/Pressburger’s Red Shoes, I always feel the necessity of balancing Susie Boyt’s pâte à choux with a finger to the blob. Step forward Tyson Fury. It has come to a sorry pass when we feel driven to rally behind members of the gypsy community.

Frank Musker reminiscing with Johnnie Walker

“There we were, writing songs for Sheena Easton and Paul Nicholas, and then one day we heard the Eagles singing ‘Take it easy.’” …Sad to say, or perhaps not, somewhere on my shelf there are three or four Easton albums/tapes. I’m mystified about Frank’s timeline, however, as Easton didn’t appear until ’81, and the Eagles were socking it to everyone back in ’72? …In ’81 Mrs G. and I were holed up in a shack on a beach in Rockport, South Texas, dining on soft shell crabs and shark steaks, listening to Kim Carnes and Rosanne Cash – looking on as the Pope took a hit. In ’72 we met at a Corries concert. How tastes change.

At least we’re not in Cumbria

The neighbour’s daughters rode past on their mounts this morning, ponies shouldering their way through the driving rain – a scene from a western?

There is a surge of older men attending bread-making courses and learning how to cook. Half are widowed or divorced, and have never peeled a spud or brandished a wooden spoon in anger.

The evolutionary progress of Mrs G’s Salade Niçoise continues apace, lettuce, tuna loin and olives augmented with sliced pink firs, crumbled morcilla – black pudding, and pancetta.

Friday, December 4

Parents fear six-figure salary tax trap

Am I the only one who views this as crazy? A salary of a hundred grand and people are whingeing about their state handouts being curtailed. I thought subsidies – charity, was supposed to be for poor people. This is less about gaming the system, as Adam Palin’s article suggests, than self-respect.

Friday emails

In receipt of the traditional Friday post-lunch round robin emails from ex-colleagues and friends, in what passes for laddish humour. The commentariat would be aghast at the content.

Fair do’s

Up town to attend a gallery function, a neighbour’s exhibition. Whilst not adverse to lumps of chiselled rock, I had to remind him my participation was conditional on a glass of something warming. I don’t mind making up the numbers but my good opinion has its price.

Living beneath the radar

I was chatting to a neighbour yesterday after he’d bollixed up the yard, driving through in his tractor. His family have lived in the neighbourhood raising Orange Elephants and cultivating bracken since the birth of creation. I reminded him that yours truly has also resided here for a while. They say time flies but conversely we were both surprised it’s only been four years. Thought it a lot longer. Becoming part of the fixtures and fittings has rarely been so smooth. Perhaps because I’m not viewed as a threat to anyone, am unlikely to turn up at the Works Do with a chip on my shoulder and gun in my hand.

Thursday, December 3

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

The tree is up and suitably decorated. Christmas always arrives early at the homestead, and there’s no better excuse to break open a bottle of QC. December has become sacrosanct in the Gudgeon household, the world’s problems count for naught. All can blow themselves to buggery for all I care, I don’t give a shite. A stack of firewood (in receipt of my winter fuel allowance) and a case of hooch and I’m happy bunny. Our neighbours have decamped to their weekend cottage in St Kitts, leaving yours truly holding the fort. The feeling of abandonment is not improved when hiking across the moor – an absence of man or beast. Not that you can see much of anything. This morning mist, the afternoon driving rain, and then darkness – black as a coal hole. Of course everyone is ordering Yuletide gifts and white van man is thick on the ground. Given our location the drivers arrive in darkness having lost all faith in their satnav. I give directions with zero confidence any will arrive at their ultimate destination. It’s cheese on toast for supper, something I can’t recall eating for many a moon. Lea & Perrins sauce…the bottle says best before sometime in a previous century.

Wednesday, December 2

Warming up

Pre-empting today’s vote? Strike aircraft on practise runs above the homestead this morning.

Tuesday, December 1

Temptation

Thanks in part to the abbey, the miscellany of clerics I meet in the queue of my local newsagents never ceases to surprise: Anglicans of every shape and size, Craggy Island priests, Brother Cadfael and his merry band, and not least those of the Orthodox persuasion with their impressive bling and stupendous waistline. ...Despite the serious content of this week’s news it seems the media can always find time to berate us for our gluttony. However when passing the greasy spoon and the smell of frying bacon hits me, it takes a strong man to walk on by. Fruit from the tree of knowledge ain’t the half of it.

Monday, November 30

Pandering to white women

Marlon James contribution to basic economics: We shouldn’t pander to our customers, just because they buy the books we write. Of course I appreciate what he’s trying to get across; but then many of us have jobs, manufacture products, we aren’t wild about. It pays the rent. Just grit your teeth, Marlon, add a chapter or two of long-suffering, astringent prose, and then include a free bar of milk chocolate with your next story.

Obits

Although right-footed Gerry Byrne played left-back, as did I. Unlike Byrne, however, a deficit of talent restricted my sole contribution to halting opposing forwards and returning the ball to my centre-half for distribution. Even this modest contribution on my part was frequently thwarted. …Speaking purely as a spectator, all of Liverpool’s players appeared hard back then, and not all of them fair – but then ‘love and war,’ as they say. Alzheimer’s and Wales: words none of us want to hear at the end. RIP the Crunch.

Sunday, November 29

Bouillabaisse but not as you know it

“I would sometimes lie in bed at night and wonder how to make credit derivatives sound exciting.” Whilst I find Gillian Tett’s admission a little sad, the answer, it seems, is The Big Short. The film features famous chef Anthony Bourdain, standing in a kitchen, describing how a CDO is similar to a fish stew (bankers resold old mortgages by mixing them up into fresh broth, just as chefs conceal old fish by turning it into soup). I hear the sequel will include The Hairy Bikers’ recipes for ETFs and tri-party repos.

Saturday, November 28

Dartmoor: not everyone's natural territory

Don’t get on the train straight after cuddling ferrets…your fellow travellers won’t thank you.

The Blue Hawk

That’s two mornings on the trot a Sparrowhawk, a blue male – Musket, has flown point for me, eighteen inches off the ground and ten foot ahead of the motor, up the hill…along the lane.

Friday, November 27

Friday night is music night

Up to Totnes this morning for supplies, the usual Friday loaves and fishes. Despite dire weather all of the car parks were full by ten. Black Friday. I can’t see it myself: surely everyone shops online? Returned home and, fortified by coffee and cognac, moved the chickens (something has tunnelled beneath the coop and is endeavouring to break through the floor). Stocked up on firewood and changed the batteries powering the fences against surface raiders. The yard’s a quagmire and there’s little respite in sight.

Mrs G. is simmering a giant cauldron of rib-sticking ox bits (tails and cheeks) in an effort to keep everyone fed over the weekend. I just wish she hadn’t used a bottle of my Pomerol for flavouring. I see the first net of seasonal sprouts has appeared in her vegetable box.

Our McCarthyite kiddie fiddler inquiry appears underway. Every generation needs its bread and circuses, and governments are only too happy to oblige.

Thursday, November 26

He can’t have been a bad lad…

“He got on with everybody. He loved his dog and took great care of him. He was great reader and had a huge number of books on Vikings.” ...Not sure about the Vikings but am partial to Røget ål.

In your face

It seems the mere appearance of Katie Hopkins is enough to trigger an exodus from the room. I bumped into the girl last week. She should be on the public payroll…you can’t help but warm to Hopkins, not least for the people she irritates.

Wednesday, November 25

Fortune favours the brave

Time will determine whether Osborne really is the lucky chancellor. If it’s a choice between Bonaparte’s ‘I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones’ or something from Mao’s little red book, I guess I plump for the former. We must assume McDonnell’s joke came out better when he ran it past the comrades last night.

Hullo winter, goodbye holly berries

The flocks of softly twittering Redwings have arrived.

There must be someone out there

On these dark nights there is a temptation to disappear upstairs – early to bed in search of those elusive eight hours. Inevitably you find yourself standing in the yard at three in the morning clutching a mug of tea and gazing up at the stars, scanning surrounding hills for sight of Apurra’s flashing torch.

Tuesday, November 24

Stereotype?

Damn but it’s cold out there. Grey, wet, forlorn. Maybe bears have the right idea: find a cave and re-emerge next spring. Received a telephone call from an old drinking partner recently returned from the front line in Cyprus. That’s the bars of Cyprus not the air base. Both of us wittered on for half an hour about the usual stuff. A second call from another compatriot of fifty or more years. We are much of a mind, similar trenchant views, yet the three of us vote for different political parties. Vive la difference: each of us believes we have the right of it, but suspects there may be something to what the other lad says.

Monday, November 23

Admit it: we can't win

Men threatened with being sent to bed early, without any dinner.

After three days of swordfish, salmon, mackerel, sardine and crab … I am looking forward to tonight’s venison sausages. Most definitely not a black tie event, although there is footy commentary on the wireless.

Micropubs promote conversation?

Quite rightly we are more courteous and respectful to each other these days. And yet maybe pubs would still be thriving (we’re down to our last fifty thousand) if … Can you imagine replicating the sort of conversation/banter we used to indulge in over a pint back in the ’70s, before we became obliged to self-censor opinions in public – decided it was better to buy a bottle from the off-licence and sound off in the privacy of our home? Part of me thought so until being roped into a session with a bunch of ‘straight talkers’ at the Dog & Duck last week. It’s fun for five minutes but rapidly goes downhill.

Sunday, November 22

I stand with Paris, but…

Weasel words aside, why are Parisian women four dress sizes smaller than ours?

Company

Sunrise – what a beautiful morning. When did the yard acquire so many blackbirds? The ouzel cock so black of hue/With orange tawny bill… There must be a dozen, rustling through leaves in search of insects. Their shrieks of alarm...the flow of mellow notes.

Mrs G. has just stumbled back indoors, gasping ‘gas and air, gas and air’... Apparently it is freezing outside. Cold potatoes and fruitcake for supper.

Relative affluence: filling your bird feeders with cashew nuts.

Saturday, November 21

Here we go again

I would like to boast a restrained weekend of celebration, as befits two sensible adults. Yes, really – birthdays should not be an automatic excuse for another beano. Our revelry is underpinned by large portions of gravadlax and blinis, Manuka smoked king prawns and grilled swordfish. For Mrs G’s present I settled on the less than novel panic buy: a new winter coat from her favourite couturier. It can be a tad chilly out in the yard when feeding chickens and mending fences – and today is big on sleet and iced walkways.

The pillars of tax wisdom

“A tax works best when concealed; a benefit payment works best when widely trumpeted. Boasting about the good news and hiding the bad? That is the kind of economic theory any politician can love.”

Friday, November 20

Arghhhh

Greenwich urban village given final approval. The old wharfs and dry docks long gone. But I guess nothing stands still. ‘It will provide much needed homes for London.’ Yeah, right. Coincidence that the lad who took over South London Mansions called me yesterday, for a favour in relation to a planning dispute.

NHS running out of cash

‘Hospitals have been ordered to make swingeing cuts to spending on agency doctors and nurses…The foundation trust sector is under massive pressure and can no longer afford to go on as it is…There is a real danger that over the next year trust will run out of cash to pay staff.’ Yes, I know, hyperbole: it’s the usual tabloid (Telegraph) clickbait. But let’s face it, we all know the NHS as is hasn’t a long term future without additional sources of income. Britain can’t fight wars and help solve the world’s problems, distribute alms to the poor AND provide free healthcare. At some stage the penny will drop and everyone will realise we have to pay for some of the medical treatment we receive.

Thursday, November 19

Confused

I’m democrat by inclination (that’s democrat with a small d). I don’t always agree but will usually go along the majority vote. It is the public’s fickleness that bothers me. A month ago everyone in the neighbourhood wanted a refugee in their spare bedroom, was already knitting little booties for the children. This week we want to shoot them on sight. Any talk of foreign adventures had become verboten – never again would Britain invade another country and put our servicemen in harms way. Yet twenty-four hours later 50% of my compatriots want boots on the ground in Syria, 68% if the UN gives us the thumbs up.

Chores day

Although it continues to chuck it down, the gales have stopped, allowing me to break out my ladders. The last of the autumn leaves chose to congregate on the homestead’s roof, clogging gutters and downpipes. Only a two-hour job but a pain non-the-less; you know how fond I am of climbing ladders. The soakaway drains too, full of stinking sludge, half-eaten frogs and dead rodents. All good stuff. Unfortunately once begun you discover half-a-dozen other things that require attention.

Wednesday, November 18

That’ll work

Ken Livingstone to co-chair Labour’s Trident review. Give Corbyn his due, the lad meets dissent head on: and after Maria Eagle’s performance on the telly last week, his provocative appointment of Livingstone – a world-class arsehole if ever there’s one – shouldn’t surprise. I’m a supporter of Trident for a number of reasons, not least because I believe in deterrents. And if as part of NATO we buy into the need for deterrents, it would be impossible to hold our head up whilst hiding behind the skirts of America and France. My other reason for Trident is more facile. Having read Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s novel and then watched Das Boot, Ice Station Zebra, Hunt for Red October…and a couple of dozen other submarine films, I’m a fan. It’s a big boys toys thing. If you’ve been to the BAE yard in Barrow and seen one of the Vanguard class under construction you can’t help reaching for your cheque book.

Living adventurously

I’ll be glad when Barney sods off to join his brethren in Scandinavia or Iceland or wherever storms go after ravishing the homestead. I woke at five this morning, the building rattling and rolling; however, such is the pull of my bed this time of year, it was seven when I crawled from beneath the blanket to light a fire and make the tea – two mugs of Ceylon’s finest, before daring to step outside and open the chicken coop. On the plus side we still have electricity and it has stopped raining. Given the roaring tempest I heard almost zero of last night’s footy commentary, wailing banshees ain’t in it.

Tuesday, November 17

Social Determinants of Health

“Money makes you live longer. It seeps into the bloodstream, into the veins and capillaries. I talked to my GP about this. He said I could be right.” (Don DeLillo, Hammer and Sickle)

I'll drink to that ...(Belonging II)

You can sometimes have too much of a supportive, intuitive, caring, sharing kind of thing.

Monday, November 16

Belonging

In this month’s Prospect magazine, Sameer Rahim, the Arts and Books Director, reviews a number of novels from migrants – voices, he believes, that have been absent from the migrant debate. Like most I am interested because, though I live in a multi-cultural society – am married to a Scot, I have little idea what goes on inside most other people’s head (least of all a woman’s). His article is illuminating, and says something about my ignorance. However I still struggle to understand. What comes across is an almost desperate desire to belong, to be included? My neighbour jokes he moved to this neck of the woods 46 years ago and is still classified as an incomer; likewise there are lads in the Dog and Duck who can trace their forebears in the local cemetery all the way back to 1650. Is it realistic for us to crack this mindset or be surprised by it? To arrive as if a stray dog and expect to be taken in and be fed and petted?

Anniversary repast

Fillet steak is up there with soufflé when it comes to cooking in the fast lane, Chateaubriand being an expensive exercise and too easy to bugger up (after all that cake the Wellington was jettisoned). A bottle of passable Crozes-Hermitage to wash it down. The past forty-two years has passed remarkably quickly ... ‘In a club with you, in 1973, singing “Here we go again”.’

Play it again, Sam

Watching France respond to the Paris atrocities has the feel of Claude Rains in Casablanca, rounding up the usual suspects. If the Charlie Hebdo shooting was anything to go by, within a week we will be happily blaming ourselves instead of those that pulled the trigger. The general complacency about military action in Syria is understandable, not least when the lads we send into battle to do our dirty work are subsequently arrested and jailed for infringing the rules.

Sunday, November 15

Battening down the hatches

A juvenile grey partridge has taken up residence in the car port. Cute; what’s not to like? Today’s lunch is a casseroled nine-legged pheasant. Although the weather is dire there’s racing from Cheltenham and a Grand Prix on the box, a blazing fire. ...A quick trip to Totnes market early morning where we stocked up on veal and venison. I can’t see the homestead starving any time soon. And as I speak a tanker appears in the yard, to top up the gas. One more load of wood and a trip to the off-licence and we’ll be set for winter.

Saturday, November 14

More rocket science

“If you’re a broker working on commission and rates are far below what they were, you’re still doing the same amount of work for far less money.” I remember the good old days, of five per cent commissions. Over time this was reduced to two point five…one and a quarter...and then it became necessary to share that. Half a loaf is better than none, you say. Such talk is a slippery slope.

There are worse things in life than poor weather and marauding sheep

A twenty mile Saturday morning run across the moor to Tavistock for supplies from the market – our Duck Woman. However, as we have done ducks to death (twice last week), we returned with a sack of pheasants, four pork chops (British Saddleback), and a kilo strip of fillet steak (Mrs G. is cooking Beef Wellington for our anniversary dinner). Returned home to find someone left a gate open and we had acquired sixty sheep. Needless to say the little dears had tap danced their way across Mrs G’s precious lawn, trampled the good lady’s allotment underfoot and were eating her remaining blooms. A grim day, given the weather; made grimmer by the news from Paris.

Thursday, November 12

The happiest of years?

Listening to the Jeff Lynne’s ELO concert on BBC Radio 2...Ah, memories. Soundtrack to the 70s. We moved from the Huntly Street garret into our first house, at Forest Park, the week ELO’s album ‘A New World Record’ was released. It was reckoned by some to have been Britain’s best ever year. However, despite James Hunt winning the World Championship, I am not so sure 1976 was the happiest of times for everyone.

Relative affordability…The value of that ’76 starter home has risen six-fold, yet the average wage is now seven times as much as back then; and I'm sure our mortgage interest rate was eye-watering.

The Search and Rescue Team were up here late yesterday evening on one of their exercises. A grisly night to choose, but then walkers rarely get lost on the moor during summer in broad daylight.

Wednesday, November 11

Tea and cake - someone has to eat it


Moderately rough on the moor this morning, the usual horizontal rain. Thankfully I'm not up in Scotland waiting on Storm Abigail. Lots of grazing livestock about, though we have lost most of the homestead’s boarders as they move to a more benign environment this time of year. Our mascot is with us a while longer. I’ll admit the lad’s not Cheltenham material, however downhill at full stretch with the neighbour’s infant on board…

Mrs G. is cooking up a storm, jars of preserved spiced tangerines line the store cupboard (excellent with venison). Baking remains high on the agenda, am regularly force fed slabs of fruit cake and slices of date and walnut loaf...wedges of Anna Del Conte's torta di mele (a favourite). It is a tough job but someone has to do it.

You ain't seen nothing yet

‘The migrant crisis is a mere gust of the hurricane that will soon engulf Europe’ writes Slaphead Hague, who goes on to say that ‘a major study…found members of the public can forecast economic and political events at least as accurately as the experts…do consistently better than pundits and economists.’ That being so I will add my tuppence worth. At some stage Europe will manage to halt the middle-east/Africa exodus. It is just as likely that Britain, eventually, will agree – be obliged, to accommodate two to five hundred thousand of these migrants. I’m just as sure that taxes and indebtedness will rise to pay for it. Hague is also correct about the need to increase funding for African troops. Whether the public likes it or not – and it won’t – Europe will become increasingly committed to foreign military involvement. Either that or it will connive in installing more tyrants to subjugate the natives. It took Europe most of the twentieth century and two major wars to get where we are (let’s not get bogged down with the reformation), and in terms of stable democracies/economies the middle-east/Africa is a century behind. They have a lot of catching up to do, some serious wars to be fought. And I guess one way or another we will be caught up in it.

Tuesday, November 10

Sex sells

It must be galling for the po-faced feminists among us that men not only continue to objectify women but are willing to pay $117m for the pleasure. ‘You think it horrible that lust and rage/should dance attention…’

Monday, November 9

The geographical limits to my imagination

I travel vicariously these days, not necessarily through another person but via the goods I order. In the same way you sit in an aircraft and track your flight on screen, I follow a package from the workshop in Reggio, through Parma and Piacenza to Milan, where it mysteriously disappears…before surfacing in Barking and journeying on to Tamworth and Exeter. Whatever sense of exotica I fancy diminishes the closer my package gets to home. I can imagine all sorts of things about northern Italy, the basilicas and palaces, tortellini in broth with a glass of Chianti, but Barking leaves me cold.

Tax hike to save police officers

Dream on.

Update.

Corrupt institutions and public apathy

Following on from the FIFA debacle and the latest news from Geneva (WADA Doping Commission), the general malaise – our cynicism, with regards to political institutions (not least that of Brussels), the media, various arsehole luvvies and self-appointed know-alls from the ranks of the great and good (the BMA and their ilk), it is little wonder large sections of the public prefer to shut their ears and hold their nose.

Yale snowflakes...And you wonder why I became a hermit.

Barbecued meat

That’s me fucked.

Sad times on the bus

Woman, 87, punched in the face by two young girls. ‘What’s the world coming to?’ you say. There was a time when, for the last bus journey home of an evening (chucking-out time), conductors would reposition ticket machines and cash satchels beneath their jackets, so as not to be inhibited when scrapping with drunken passengers. Can’t imagine it would ever have resorted to punching someone’s granny.

Good luck with that one

As Britain begins the process of deporting migrants from their base in Cyprus, the (mainly) Palestinians confirm they will fight any attempt to return them to Lebanon. We will not apply for asylum in Cyrus, they say – we are not just any old migrants, we are M&S migrants, and will only settle for a new life in Britain, Greece or Germany. An understandable reaction of course, and it makes me wonder how Merkel thinks she has a hope in hell of repatriating those already in Germany deemed non-essential to requirements? Visions of people being rounded up and stuffed into cattle trucks.

Saturday, November 7

Blowing a hooley this morning

A roaring southwesterly, sheets of horizontal rain. The tempest is full on to the homestead – yours truly, as I staggered, slip-slid about the yard. Chickens refuse to leave their coop, the ponies have disappeared into the trees, and part of my lean-to doesn’t lean any more. The lanes are flooded, and though driving a Land Rover I am conscious it’s not an amphibious vehicle. Watched the lads unload their kayaks down on the Dart: Rather you than me, I thought.

Friday, November 6

Sounds familiar

Aching joints, lethargy, torpor, inability to sleep, pain… I recognise the symptoms: the direct result of a dissolute and desultory life.

Even in the rain

En Retrait 

Since I decided to accept this
quiet corner of the garden
as my undeserved Elysium
and to make the birdsong and the flowers
stand for the rightness of everything,
I find I have no need to show
how many pieces the world is in,
how better and worse it always is;
where motivated reason and
unreason lead and where the next
fall and salvation’s coming from.

No remorse, the last hurrah
of influence, survives this light,
constant and evenly-spread, from lawn
and bush, towards the open fields.

 – Ian Harrow

Thursday, November 5

1 (BR) Corps Outward Bound Centre (Norway)

The rain is lashing down: I am cataloguing old photos, reliving walks from the past. For this particular trek (August 1971) I was teamed with four NCOs from the Parachute Regiment who insisted on running up every mountain we came to instead of proceeding at my usual leisurely pace. They were fun days…Norway was followed by the Joint Services Mountain Training Centre near Tywyn where I was taught to climb, and Aviemore in the Cairngorms where I learnt to ski. Most everywhere featured lots of punishing runs and/or swimming in ice-cold lochs/fjords.

I have binned close to a third of what remains of the archive. Part of me wishes I’d taken lots more pictures during the past to serve as a reminder. Another part is happy to forget, which is just as well given the way things are going. I’m told ten per cent of all the photos ever taken were taken in the last twelve months: and I wonder how many of these will be printed and retained, rather than lost to an obsolete hard drive or server?

Wednesday, November 4

The festive spirit is closer than you think

Although the mist has lifted, further rain means it is particularly heavy underfoot. If you’d witnessed me trudging off the moor this evening you could be excused for thinking I was returning from the Dog & Duck. A pungent aroma of spices and vinegar greeted me at the homestead: Mrs G. is pickling pears and plums, and fruitcakes are baking in the oven…Christmas is on the horizon. It doesn’t bear thinking about, you say. However a degree of forethought is required, even at this early stage. Certain foodstuffs need time to mature. There’s the goose to order and alcoholic beverages to consider – gay apparel that requires dry cleaning. Get it right this month and December is pure party time – boughs of holly, decorated spruce trees, fa la la la la, la la la la.

Tuesday, November 3

On buttered toast

In town for haircut and supplies (bread and tinned fish), then south to pick up a crate of chickens. As the weather looked to be clearing on my return I set off across the moor for a couple of hours. Sod’s law that after a half-mile the heavens opened and the fog returned – 50-60m visibility. Ever since the Ivybridge debacle I’ve taken to carrying my trusty Silva. The compass was purchased in ’72 for a walking holiday on Skye – Munro bagging, and though knocked about a bit it still functions. Next time I’m feeling flush maybe I will treat myself. Spotted one of John Clare’s snipes in the usual place as the bird exploded from its ‘mystic nest amidst the moor’s rude, desolate and spongy lap…’ You need two per person for a main course, more for those with a hearty appetite – roasted and served on buttered toast.

Life is hard and then...

Today's Guardian highlights the Rising death rates amongst white middle-aged (male?) Americans. I suspect Russia could show our trans-Atlantic cousins a thing or two when it comes to the premature-death count. Life can be difficult without the reassuring support of fairy stories: and now, it seems, there are so many more ways to kill yourself, at least in America. I long ago settled on a variant of the Absurbism doctrine, accepting life as one long Sisyphean struggle – the secret is to never let the bastards grind you down. Or as Eric Idle sang, to always look on the bright side.

Fortunately there appears a never ending supply of bastards willing to help motivate me in my struggle against the vicissitudes of life. The BMA and WHO would do well to reflect on the cost of treating obese alcoholics that self-medicate on bacon butties and bottles of Chardonnay ... relative, that is, to the expense of defending our citizens against nutjobs in pyjamas armed with AK47s.

Monday, November 2

Another pathetic excuse

I guess you could describe the retaining wall as ferruginous, rust-coloured. A new paint job has featured on my to-do list for some time. My excuse for inaction is that the effect lends itself to blending with the seasonal colours, autumn being a year-round phenomenon at the homestead. Another pathetic excuse. Dark and damp it may be, however the rainforest-like habitat remains a playground for wrens, robins and tiny goldcrest - along with countless small rodents and a tawny owl that feeds on them.

Sunday, November 1

Home cooked

The homestead is enveloped in fog. However walk up the ridge a hundred metres or so, above the grey stuff, and the sky is blue – hardly a cloud to be seen. A warm southerly heats the air. November…T-shirt weather. Olives and goat’s cheese for lunch, washed down with a marvellous white from the Loire – Menetou Salon, a significant improvement on the Sancerre we drank in Dartmouth (I should have stuck with Burgundy). Braised ox-cheek and a fruity Crozes-Hermitage – arguably better than the outstanding Seahorse turbot. Coffee, fruit cake and Dappa…

Saturday, October 31

I love Saturdays

Nice to be home, even if – thanks to the quad bikes – outside sounds like a weekend meet at the Ace Cafe. Neighbours not engaged with livestock are away at Twickenham. Mrs G. is hard at work raking leaves whilst yours truly is ensconced in the office listening to the footy, flicking through the papers. Appearing busy is a wimp’s response to existential angst.

Friday, October 30

Wet and windy

There appears to have been a significant amount of rainfall at the homestead during our absence – it is wellies only in the yard. A torrent is flowing down from the moor and I’ve lit two fires, opened a bottle. Mrs G. is salvaging beetroot from the allotment for our supper (smoked fish, sour cream and horseradish). I suspect the weekend will be heavy on burnt red meat and robust red wine.

Thursday, October 29

Result

Just as the spirit was failing, someone comes up with the goods. We've spent the last two days dining out at Dartmouth's Seahorse restaurant: and whilst Wednesdays' dinner was disappointing, so today's lunch was a treat. What we came here for. An exceptional Dover sole and a sizable wedge of turbot - proper hollandaise sauce. Nice wines - even if they were warm, including quality champagne and a tasty LBV port. Tonks is correct in that if you want to eat fish it has to be on the coast. We return home suitably sated.

Flagging

Despite the chargrilled octopus and fine wines, I miss that damp earthy musk and autumn trees at the homestead. The moon above the River Dart is not the moon above Dartmoor.

Wednesday, October 28

Fresh air and exercise

You miss the exercise, so this morning we walked...and walked - returning to our billet at lunchtime, having acquired fresh-caught crabs and sourdough bread. Opened a bottle of something from the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda in Southern Spain. I have chartered a boat for the afternoon. However, what with the inclement weather and the demise of those unfortunate whale watchers, Mrs G, is having second thoughts about crewing for me on my jaunt along the Dart.

Line of the day

If we knew what nostalgia was,
we'd look forward to it.
The Last Train, Frank Ormsby

Tuesday, October 27

My kingdom for a loaf

Stamina has been sorely tested these past four days on the batter. Last night's dinner was welcome in that it was a relatively tame affair. Chef appeared to have lost his mojo, producing a series of 1970s-style dishes rather poorly; and then in the spirit of adventure I ordered a dud bottle of wine. Thankfully grappa proves the ultimate mouthwash. Given Dartmouth's limited size I have begun to recognise people about town, including familiar faces from Totnes and Exeter. On the downside it is a ninety-minute drive to buy decent bread.

Sunday, October 25

Nice one, Sam

This morning was an idyllic English Sunday. We strolled along the promenade soaking up the sunshine and distant church bells, negotiating early-morning drinkers downing bottles of cider. Although we had pre-booked a Prosecco brunch (a) there were the contents of two crabs to be eaten, and (b) I'm not really a Prosecco man when something better is on offer. In the old days, back at South London Mansions, Sunday lunches were regularly preceded by a visit to the whelk stall. Sundays weren't Sundays without a selection of shell-on prawns, brown shrimp, cockles, whelks and crab claws...and so in the spirit of those times we called by Mark Lobb's and purchased a selection - returned home, opened a bottle of Gilles Dumangin's finest. Home this weekend is a rather swanky affair, replete with yachts, Range Rovers and Porsche motor cars. The lad in the next room drives a 488 Spider and the bar is full of Berlusconi look-alikes wearing a bronzed smile, silk shirt and dark spectacles. I was tempted to join the fray but settled for a sofa and commentary from the Stadium of Light.

Fish and chips by the sea

An enjoyable Friday at the Dartmouth Food Festival. For some unfathomable reason we began the morning with a Curry Masterclass. Least said about the class (and the local cooking school) the better. In an effort to improve my knife skills I spent the next hour filleting mackerel and plaice under the watchful eye of a jovial type from Plymouth. It seems my dexterity with a knife is also open to question.

Seeking solace in a pop-up pub on the quay (and still recovering from the previous late night) I rediscovered the life-enhancing power of light ales and a steak burger. Mitch Tonks was omnipresent, and when not glad-handing all who crossed his path, was chauffeured around by a striking blond in a powder blue Ferrari. We subsequently met with an entertaining trio of foodies from the publishing/television industry that were disappointingly negative about my latest wheeze, before teaming up with the Sunday Telegraph's wine corespondent and the MD of Gonzalez Byass UK.

After downing successive schooners of Tio Pepe in Browns Wine Bar I was unsurprisingly full of bonhomie, exchanging business cards with a succession of strangers from the hospitality industry. Little did I realise we had barely begun. A charming Italian that, as with many Italians, claims ancient lineage to the Medici family, insisted we sample his wares. We drank several, along with a Roquefort mousse, some roasted sardines marinated in a tomato broth, braised pig cheek and polenta, a beef shin ballotine and wild mushroom ragu...before finishing with a dish of panna cotta and Amaretti biscuit. The two of us shared dinner with a great bunch of characters - a table of ten, including someone who insisted I was at Bluecoat School with her parents (who are both in their 80s). Maybe I should dye my hair? One of our number - yet another wine merchant, invited everyone back to his bodega to continue the party.

To say I was quick out the block Saturday morning would be to gild the lily. I tried hard to appear attentive in the company of BBC Radio 4's Dan Saladino (The Food Programme), who was interviewing fishing boat skipper Alan Steer and restaurateur Mitch Tonks. Could have sat there all morning and nearly did. This was followed with a talk by Rebecca Hoskins, a sheep farmer. Sheep farmer, one time film maker, and conservationist. God it was BORING. It's not that I'm not interested in conservation, but as with childbirth and dying it is not a subject that fascinates yours truly. The guy next to me was an allotment holder from Hampstead, a retired oil company executive now intent on saving the planet. Too precious for words.

Stumbled around the corner to Browns for another wine tasting but baulked at drinking a batch of indifferent new-world wines and retired to the pub next door. Sneaked home with a carryout and listened to the footy on the wireless. I was later resurrected by Mrs G. to attend two coffee seminars/tastings with local baristas, before dining out on fish and chips in the company of an entertaining couple from London's east end and a coach party from the Black Country. Sunday morning we are being taught how to dissect crabs and cook fish, prior to a Prosecco Brunch.

Thursday, October 22

Europe has made Britain richer

Claims Bank governor. ... But not Portugal, it seems. I’ll say this for communists: at least they are consistent. ‘Jeronimo de Sousa’s party is demanding a 50pc write-off of Portugal's public debt and a 75pc cut in interest payments, and aims to tear up the EU's Lisbon Treaty and the Fiscal Compact. His party wants to nationalize the banks, reverse the privatisation of the transport system, energy, and telephones, and take over the "commanding heights of the economy".’ I suppose Labour’s Corbyn isn’t much different. It’s the sort of thinking that got us here in the first place. As for Mark Carney … I suspect it would be equally valid if he’d said that Britain has gotten richer ‘despite’ Europe.

Tuesday, October 20

Offline

I've lost my computer. Il est mort. They may be cheaper than in the old days but as with most things in life you get what you pay for. Given what's going on in the world its absence could be a blessing. Part of me is reluctant to replace the machine: the misanthropic bit.

A young couple stopped by yesterday to look at the ponies, in the market on behalf of their daughters. The lads were on their best behaviour: showtime at the orphanage: take me, take me!

Friday, October 16

EU offers Turkey an 'action plan'

EU leaders launched a push late on Thursday at the fourth EU summit this year on the refugee crisis to obtain Turkey’s co-operation in stemming the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants, while also agreeing a package of repressive measures aimed at securing the union’s porous external border and curbing new arrivals. However, a national ambassador to the EU said: “We’re running the risk of losing our populations in Europe. In many cases, we’re running against majority [public opinion].” …No shit, Sonny. I can imagine what would happen if Obama secured Mexico’s agreement to restrict the flow of Central and South American migrants across the Rio Grande by affording Mexican citizens visa-free access to the United States and a promise that Mexico would be invited to become the 51st State.

Thursday, October 15

Autumn fruitcake

Thumbs up for this spell of fine weather: mid-October and I am mowing lawns, clearing barrow loads of fallen leaves. Neighbours, when not appearing on national television, are busy wielding chain saws or hedgecutting. Our shaggy coated ponies will soon resemble yaks. Mrs G. is in one of her baking moods and the homestead reeks of butter and brandy-steeped fruit.

Wednesday, October 14

Who would be Brandon Lewis?

Despite my implied criticism of Cameron I’m in general agreement with the lad’s push for more housing in this neck of the woods. Not least because there is probably a generation or so currently bed-blocking desperately needed homes in London and the South East. Many of these residents have doubtless grown tired of the Brick Lane scene and their ‘edgy’ life in Greater London and are keen for a more convivial existence. Additional homes in the southwest and east Anglia are part of the answer, especially if we want our kids to move to London to further their careers and party with the big boys. It’s a reciprocal arrangement. Of course there are also homes required for those wishing to make a life closer to home; not to forget quarters for migrants fleeing Syria and all points east. How you accommodate the competing demographics is beyond my paygrade: thankfully I’m not the minister for housing and planning.

Tuesday, October 13

The Corbyn effect

Our esteemed leader, the Prime Minister, paid another visit to Devon this week. Devoid of opposition, internal or external, the big man was here to lay down the law. Standing front and centre of a newly built housing development, clad in Osborne’s hi-viz jacket and hard hat, we were informed that similar estates will soon be springing up all around us – whether we liked it or not. Any backsliding on the part of our local authorities, the PM said, would be met with the full force of his office: that he would return with his own people and build the houses himself. Thanks to the Corby effect, Cameron believes voters have nowhere else to go. Localism, it appears, is a thing of the past.

Shouldn't complain: I could be living in Scotland.

The death (and life) of a pub

Unfortunately the Golden Lion is more an exception than the rule. Pubs fail because guys like me don’t stop by on their way home from work and sink two or three pints in company. There are countless reasons why, not least our desire for a healthier lifestyle, drink driving, a wife, the diaspora – dispersion of longstanding friends, colleagues and acquaintances… And I guess I find other people’s stories less compelling these days; as they do mine.

Recipes and short-stories in preference to breasts

“You're now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free,” Scott Flanders, Playboy's chief executive, told the New York Times. ”It's just passé at this juncture.

Naked women are passé: does this mean the feminists have won or lost?

Sunday, October 11

Pink shirts and overly clean hands

I don’t mind the odd England international but not at the expense of the Premier League. Weekends aren’t the same, reduced to highlights of Walsall v Burton Albion. With no Gary Lineker on the box, last night I ended up watching the Ted Hughes biopic: Wicker Man meets Hammer film Productions. Who makes these programmes? This morning it’s the action from Sochi, narrated by the usual suspects. Given their style of dress and the way the two of them mince around the pits I suppose I have always assumed Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard are a gay couple. Hardly the sort of guys you’d hire to advertise Swarfega.

Saturday, October 10

Man with raised arm (1960)

If someone out there has more money than sin and wishes to piss some of it away, you can buy me the Francis Bacon painting advertised for sale by Sotherby’s in New York next month.

Speak for yourself

A horse that has obviously benefited from the gelding operation. (Channel 4 Racing commentator)

Line of the day

In a way, the thing I feel worst about is writing about my parents, even though I did all my writing after they were dead. It has more to do with their not having an education that would have enabled them to appreciate what I was doing and why I was doing it.
Lunch with the FT, Jonathan Franzen – a prick in most anyone’s book.

Pungent smell of the countryside

I returned from Tavistock a half-hour before lunch to find the lad next door had spent his morning painting the fields with slurry. There are few thing more likely to kill an appetite – the kitchen smells like a byre at the end of winter.

As with most Saturdays the roads are obstructed by pelotons of Lycra-wearing cyclists, one of the principal scourges of our time.

The reticent neighbour

A freezing mist lays across the paddock and hidden chimneys are already belching smoke. The only sound at this hour is a loud ringing pee-yow from the treetops.

There are neighbours secreted amongst sleepy hollow who remain a mystery to me. People nod from atop a steed when passing and sometimes we exchange pleasantries. I recognise the hounds trailing their mounts but would struggle to identify their children. The men folk are even more of a mystery, presumably leaving before sunrise and returning after dark. Yet having lived in the smoke for twenty-five years I am perfectly comfortable with this relationship: expressing an unhealthy interest in ones neighbours can mark a person out as some sort of nark.

Friday, October 9

Should we mourn its passing?

I learned to drive in a Defender and passed my test in one. For a while it served as the company car – the vehicle I drove to our wedding when my taxi failed to arrive. A neighbour has recently taken delivery of his last, a long wheel base version; two other neighbours also drive Defenders. Its demise is sad but inevitable. Perhaps, like Royal Enfield and Triumph, the Defender will rise under another flag?

Tuesday, October 6

The lesser of two evils

Outside it is all mist and fog – and lots and lots of rain. When you’re up on the moor, however, none of that matters. Can’t think of anyplace I’d swap it for, certainly not Manchester Central convention centre. What a circus. The sad thing is they’re the best we have.

Sunday, October 4

Armchair sports fan

The Merseyside derby on the wireless and racing from Longchamp on the box. I sat through another world cup game and caught a little of the Miami Dolphins v New York Jets. English rugby had its chance and was found wanting. At long last the weather has turned. Our unseasonal sunshine was making me nervous.

Friday, October 2

To Exeter for supplies...

Even more of a university city than Plymouth, rated in the top ten – the world’s top 100, and working their way up the list. Pavements are shoulder to shoulder young people. Even to my untutored eye there’s a noticeable difference between the university students and the kids from the college – and yes there’s an age difference. Both are in higher education but on very different tracks. The university crowd hang out at my coffee shop (£5 for coffee and croissant) and dress in the sort of designer gear I was wearing after fifteen years at the coal face. Oh to have well-heeled parents. Many of the fortunate own a car, whilst the college boys behave like twelve-year-olds, pratting about on skate boards. I’ve a grudging admiration for the latter, however, in that though they aren’t especially accomplished skate boarders – crap, in fact, they appear more than willing to suffer the sniggers in search of experience. I’d like to think that, unlike the uni crowd, their thick skins will win out and serve them well.

Another year, another fish pie

Although the weather hasn’t lived up to last year’s there have been enough fine days – and we still have a couple to go. The yard has a familiar autumn scrunch to it and almost overnight the ponies have grown thicker coats. We celebrated our fourth anniversary in situ with a traditional fish pie and something from the Loire Valley.

Thursday, October 1

Georgy Girl

Continuing the grey theme, yesterday morning I made it to the Gerhard Richter exhibition in Plymouth. In this part of the world we rarely have an opportunity to see work by one of the significant living figures in contemporary art – and I’m shallow enough to be impressed by someone whose paintings sell for £30m. As with most major cities these days the pavements were a mix of bright young girls attending the university and the not so bright girls of a similar age pushing prams. Of course what you don’t see strolling down the street so fancy-free are the girls hard at work who pay the taxes that keep the show on the road.

Tuesday, September 29

Killing time

‘Ladies fashion boots, size 5½; Piano tuition; Ford Ranger, 57 plate, MOT/FSH; Experienced massage therapist; Mature lady available for babysitting; Fully qualified taxation specialist; Handyman for gardening and general maintenance.’

I’m not sure postcards in a newsagent’s window are the failsafe guide to an area but I always read them. Mrs G’s monthly visit to Teasy-Weasy’s left me with a couple of hours to kill and I’ve never much cared for coal-hole covers. People-watching works, providing there’s people on the go. There are a couple of art galleries and several businesses selling ‘Antiques & Curios’. Lots of Georgian architecture to admire, much of it with poorly maintained sash windows (says smug man who’s just finished his painting). The area is awash with scaffolder’s trucks and builder’s skips; gentrification continues apace. No Cereal cafe but an artisan baker and a very good butcher. Not sure about the sweet shop. Jars of sour apple cubes and Welsh mint humbugs look a bit sad when displayed behind dirty windows amid hessian sacking and cobwebs. It could explain the absence of children and young mothers with prams.

Monday, September 28

Antidote to grey

If it’s grey in South Hams there’s often the chance of sun elsewhere. So we fired up the motor and set off for Bude on the north coast: twenty degrees of sunshine, a paddle in the sea – ice cream all round. Relived old times as we walked the cliffs to Widemouth Bay and back. Ate another ice cream. Sat on a bench and soaked up the sun.

There's always a song in it


     Harbour In Grey, David Pearce
I appreciate the supermoon lunar eclipse was a once in thirty years phenomenon but I couldn’t be arsed getting out of bed. Other curiosities will doubtless appear and at a more convenient time. When I did rise this morning there was nothing to be seen as a mist had descended – the more common event this time of year. In the morning I awake, my arms my legs my body aches, the sky outside is wet and grey… Shades of Madness.

Saturday, September 26

Have just ordered Christmas cards

A day of horse racing, footy and rugby; and yes, barbecue. Unbelievably the sun has beamed down all day: it would have been criminal not to take advantage. Our final kebab of the year? Probably. I could have used a beer to wash it down but September is an alcohol-free month. Last season’s dry months were October and January, bookending the traditional festive celebrations. Unfortunately our 2015 knees-up begins a month earlier – additional commitments, hence the dry September. There was a time yuletide celebrations lasted barely seven days; it’s amazing how you can spin it out.

North-South divide

With the exception of Manchester, the north is being cut adrift in English football, says Gary Neville. If you are currently listening to the wireless commentary from White Hart Lane, even Manchester appears suspect.

Brickies (and Soldiers)

Almost casually yet inexorably, you realise the nearby town is growing. Surrounding fields are cleared and internal gaps filled. Thanks to government support, low interest rates and burgeoning demand, house builders – as the price of new builds testify – are coining it. Two-bed starter homes, the sort of thing my parents’ generation paid four-hundred pounds for – that in the 70s cost ten grand or so, are priced at well over two-hundred thousand. I appreciate everything is relative, but even so… Welcoming more waifs and strays from across the Mediterranean isn’t going to help. Chances are it will be bricklayers (and soldiers) we need in the future, not more mini-cab drivers.

Back to the future

With more than 50% of the British and French public now in favour of sending ground troops to Syria, and Jeremy Corbyn promising to debate Trident at the conference, the ‘Back to the 70s’ narrative continues to gain traction. Niall Ferguson has written an opinion piece in today’s paper suggesting the west has blown its post-cold war peace dividend and that we need to return to relearning the arts of grand strategy and war. The Koran, he believes, has replaced Das Kapital – and the world’s short peace is ending. What comes around goes around, as we like to say…Mrs G. is dusting off her beads and Afghan coat.

Manly accoutrements - boy's toys and scars

In Norway we have an expression: that a man should say it with firewood rather than flowers. Writer Lars Mytting owns two wood stoves, a 2001 Triumph Bonneville, a 1970 XJ6, a Land Rover and a Cogswell Harrison 1903 shotgun for hunting ducks. Scars acquired chopping wood, says Lars, are not just acceptable, but desirable.

Here at the homestead there’s plenty of chopped wood, and yes, the odd scar. ...It is a typical Saturday morning: riders exercising their mounts, farmers hedge-cutting, and the hunt – lots of hounds. Brian Matthew and his Sound of the Sixties.

Thursday, September 24

The SNP have fun at Westminster

Nice work if you can get it. I bet the Holyrood crowd will feel a little miffed at missing out on the fun. It must be difficult to party inside the Auld Reekie bubble; down in The Smoke, however, you are out of sight and out of mind – literally as well as figuratively.

The latest mis-selling scandal?

Elderly people should be given emotional support to encourage them to downsize, say the Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Yes, and we know where this one leads. Always treat initiatives from the ICS, Estate Agents or Solicitors with a degree of suspicion: it usually means they’re on the make. Whilst it’s true a significant number of people are keen to downsize, when they investigate they discover it results in exchanging their home for a property one quarter the size but with little left over in the way of increased savings. A smaller modern home will be cheaper to run, certainly, but it is unlikely to compensate for what you are giving up. I’m with Ella Whelan: go build your own homes (but not near me). Lord Best also needs to appreciate that looking for a new home is anything but exciting or fun. I’d rather spend time picking chicken shit from the floor of the coop.

I don't doubt it will happen, one day

Meat should be treated like tobacco with a public campaign to stop people eating it. Which leads me wistfully recalling all those cigarettes I once smoked – graduating over the years from Park Drive to Gauloises. So I’ve no doubt vegan shadow farming minister Kerry McCarthy will win out in due course, but not in my lifetime. Pure coincidence I have just returned from my neighbour’s with a substantial part of the bullock he recently slaughtered. Given there are five beef producers within a mile of the homestead I can almost guarantee McCarthy’s effigy will be adorning local pyres come November 5th.

Meanwhile...Mrs G’s ongoing cookathon continues this week with wild boar (Mon), veal (Tue) and gammon (Wed/Thu).

What about the workers!

According to Prof Goodheart they may yet have their day in the sun.

Wednesday, September 23

Autumn equinox











As the days shorten and crisp cotton sheets give way to the seduction of brushed cotton flannelette I find it increasingly difficult to drag myself out of bed. Neighbours tip-toe past at five-thirty en route to their place of employment…cows to milk, children to educate and babies to deliver. An hour later I’m still prone and contemplating whether the autumn equinox is a cornflakes or porridge day. ... Out on the moor at eight: no druids, just the usual bovine faces.

Thanks to a bout of angina fifteen years ago I qualify for an annual flu jab. Not wishing to piss off the GP when he calls, this morning I attended the surgery. Of course it’s a trap, to draw you in so he can tick various boxes. Not just a flu jab but the offer of pneumococcal too. Then following a perfunctory blood pressure check (120/80) someone decides Gudgeon hasn’t had his cholesterol tested recently, and another needle magically appears. It doesn’t go unnoticed the practice nurses lump everyone together in these mass screenings, whether aged sixty or one hundred and six. They speak slowly and deliberately as if we are all simple minded. Truth is they are just being polite, and politeness is in short supply these days. The scary part comes when nursey asks me to complete an Alzheimer test. Me, Alzheimer’s? It has never crossed my mind. All of a sudden I’m resitting my 11 Plus, and I panic. What if I fail? Will I be classified as gaga? Will it confirm I actually am gaga? … Panic over I leave the surgery, jump into the motor and roar off up the hill. Automatically eight speakers burst into life, taking over where it had left off, track 3 of Keith Richards’ Crosseyed Heart: Amnesia!

Tuesday, September 22

Reckless

Talking of my time in the flea pit … Born a month apart I thought it would be interesting to read how those formative years appeared through a woman’s eyes. It seems I was let off lightly in comparison, and in fact had led a rather dull, monastic life. Following Hynde’s adventures it is hard to believe the girl is still functioning – it must be the vegetarian thing. All said, however, the memoir is a one-sitting read.

Monday, September 21

Stick with Lee Child

I never did comment on the last James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis. Unfortunately for me I’d read a lot of good stuff in recent weeks and, though verging on the sacrilegious to criticise Anthony Horowitz, his book was a major disappointment. It’s not that he caught the Daniel Craig bug for reinventing Bond as a more politically correct agent, with a gay friend and wimpy conscience, that he gives up his bed and sleeps on the sofa when the girl says no, that the two women he fancies run off in a lesbian tryst…it’s the yawn-inducing pedestrian nature of the tale. 007 becomes John Nettles’ racy cousin rather than the misogynistic cold-hearted bastard we’ve come to love. Trigger Mortis is akin to reading an old Dick Francis novel, and they don’t travel particularly well. If you must, wait for the paperback. As with the film franchise I guess we will continue to see our hero reinterpreted and it won’t be a pretty sight. I should have stuck with Lee Child.

Sunday, September 20

A different place and time

Sunday lunch featured a slab of venison that could have graced the table of King John, the retailer not so much a Robin Hood as the tailgate of a pick-up. Deer meat is much underrated, though they tell me it is growing in popularity. Later, in an effort to walk off the meal, I set out across the moor. Parties of young women were out for the day from schools their minibuses advertised as ‘Boarding or Day.’ I must admit we are of a sort in this part of the world. In the nine years I’ve lived here I can’t recall a single black face wearing hiking boots, riding a horse or mountain bike, or paddling a kayak. Occasionally there’s a Bob Marley tribute band playing at one of the bars in town but that’s as far as it goes. I often contrast our mono-cultural environment with those early days in London. When I first arrived in the 70s my billet was a flea pit on the border of Lewisham and New Cross. During that first week it appeared I was the only white guy on the street. It was only when visiting the local pub other palefaces appeared, every one of which was Irish. Customers either drank dark rum or whiskey. As the flea pit absorbed the lion’s share of my wages I nursed half-pints of beer in much the same way young mothers now while away mornings in Starbucks with a single low-fat latte. Grim days…and then Margaret Thatcher made her entrance.

Saturday, September 19

Line of the day


An aside to Susie Boyt from John Lahr, The New Yorker magazine’s theatre critic. ‘Not long ago a young in-house fact-checker asked me who Marlon Brando was. People just don’t know things like that.’

You can't eat it all

The atmosphere of Friday markets is dictated by music – buskers. Yesterday is was panpipes from a duo of Peruvian (Bolivian?) musicians. Given the Green Party had set out their stall (local election in the offing) the choice of minstrels seemed apt. Stopped by the barbers for my usual buzz cut and round of gossip. Excellent food at the homestead this week: braised skirt, flavoured with anchovies, onion and parsley; poached chicken and seasonal veg; Iberian ham and broad beans, griddled strips of courgette covered in creamy mozzarella cheese; sirloin steak and grilled heritage tomatoes; Irish stew (mutton chops); hake with green sauce. Those couple of pounds I gained last winter are proving difficult to shift.

Friday, September 18

Piss-ups and breweries

“A lot of false information is circulating about the options to obtain asylum in Germany, which we cannot leave unchallenged” says German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. You have to feel for the eastern European countries trampled underfoot. Merkel’s open invitation recalls Blair’s fatuous predictions about the limited numbers of Poles and others that would come to Britain following expansion of the European Union. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, however, we are where we are. I think everyone can agree it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate Syrians from Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, etc. You take one you take all: try deporting tens of thousands already inside Europe to camps across North Africa. It ain’t gonna happen. If Germany wanted to cherry-pick young educated Syrians from the refugee/migrant diaspora they should have sent a fleet of passenger vessels to Greece and Turkey and processed them there instead of trashing their neighbours’ countryside. The assumption appears to be that an eventual majority vote will compel all twenty-eight European Union countries to accept a proportionate share of Syrian nationals. But that’s assuming Germany can blackmail/bully enough countries into securing a majority vote, and that the refugees/migrants who lose out in the resultant resettlement lottery accept their fate. And it still doesn’t address the non-Syrians among us. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the next European Union meeting.

Abolish cash and compel people to spend

Negative interest rates and abolition of cash maybe necessary in next recession, says BoE Chief Economist. Good luck with that one chummy.

Not just in front of Keith Richards

There are few things in life that make you feel more pathetic than smoking an e-cigarette in front of Keith Richards. The lad’s hardly a role model for the younger generation. But then who would you choose to emulate, Keith Richards or that sad sort who had it away with Dianne Abbott.

Britain: a marriage of convenience

Fraser Nelson is back on his hobby horse. The Union has always been a marriage of convenience rather than one made in heaven, an accommodation that suits both sides in that an SNP government in Scotland guarantees Tory hegemony in England, and vice versa. Not unnaturally in an era of globalisation, national identity has become both a dividing line and rallying call for British politics.

Thursday, September 17

What the ...?

German interior minister Thomas de Maizière is planning huge cuts to Germany’s benefits for asylum seekers in a new fast-tracked bill, a copy of which was leaked to the news agency AFP on Thursday. The draft bill, dated Monday, would see refugees who have travelled to Germany via other EU countries - and should therefore be under their jurisdiction, according to the Dublin rules - refused the automatic benefits allowed under Germany’s asylum seeker law. They will only be given a travel ticket and provisions, the agency said. In addition, refugees who cannot be deported because they don’t have passports and refuse to give information on their country of origin will be refused the right to work and will lose social benefits…???

Merkel began this whole sorry debacle by promising to take hundreds of thousands of migrants/refugees per year. She has now closed the German border, and if I interpret this latest report correctly, is threatening to send everyone back to Hungary and Greece or leave them on the streets without a bean?

Wednesday, September 16

A world away

By the time I’d chopped firewood, undertaken an hour’s bat hunting (think I’ve found the access point), cleared the past week’s paperwork, watched PMQs and eaten lunch, it was time for a trot across the moor – blow the cobwebs away. Although the sky appears grim, provided you are suitably attired it’s quite pleasant. Wimp that I am, this morning the heating was switched on. Ever the optimist, however, I’ve yet to consign my barbecue to the barn. There are a handful of swallows remaining but mainly it’s buzzards and crows and a Chinook. The usual livestock of course, otherwise people free. Am making the most of the solitude before Cameron caves to the inevitable and opens the door. A number of my more happy-clappy neighbours appear wildly enthusiastic at the prospect, though I suspect their preference is for attractive semi-westernised mothers and their cuddly babies rather than rock-throwing hoodlums.
...I remain a regular Mister Tom.

For want of a tin of Cherry Blossom

It seems much ado about nothing, the brouhaha regarding Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance and behaviour at yesterday’s commemoration ceremony. However a while back I attended the funeral of an uncle. He was a decorated WW2 veteran, at Dunkirk and all the way through to ’46. To get into the church I had to pass through an avenue of veterans, a canopy of crossed standards. And you were conscious that each member of the honour guard was inspecting your dress, the shine on your shoes, to assure himself you were turned out correctly and paying proper respect to an old comrade. As Michael Foot discovered: this sort of stuff is important to people.

Tuesday, September 15

He’s right: who reads this depressing crap?

Michael Wood the chief judge for the Man Booker Prize has pleaded for authors to get a life, after slogging his way through some ‘pretty grim’ stories for the £50,000 prize. Authors, he said, were increasingly fascinated by stories about child abuse, amputations, murder, dementia, breast cancer and the trials of illegal immigrants. A seemingly bemused Professor Wood said ‘What’s quite interesting is to try to work out how the reader can have such pleasure in books where such terrible stuff happens.’

Reaching for the dungarees and clogs

You realise you are living in a remote rural position when the local community hall begins advertising classes in Appalachian dancing. If it morphs into snake handling and banjo playing I’ll begin to worry.

It's turning cold, I need comfort food

Yesterday’s blow didn’t quite live up to the forecast. Today, however, there’s a noticeable chill, a nod to the coming winter. Needless to say the rain continues to fall.

Britain’s poor diet is more deadly than smoking, says the headline. Last week it was booze, before that butter and streaky bacon, a month from now it will be something else. I suppose they are right to keep nudging us, although for Gudgeon –  at least in healthy-eating terms – this is about as good as it gets. Ok I eat too much meat but I’m way past the five-a-day. I breakfast on Shredded Wheat and drink in excess of a pinta milk a day. You know my feelings on this subject: we are either born with a fifty-year-old body or one designed to last. Paragons die relatively young whilst others existing on kebabs and vodka stumble on another twenty-five years. It’s a game of chance. Of course the downsides for UK Plc of the latter is the half-million smackeroos each miscreant costs the health service. Of one thing I’m certain: taxing bottles of Vimto is not a panacea.

You can stick your Ferraris

Eat your heart out, Chris Evans.

Monday, September 14

What I know about economics you could write on the back of a box of Swan Vesta

Frank Field wonders if George Osborne knows what he’s doing. Far be it for me to question the wisdom of raising the minimum wage, especially if it removes a need for income support. However I’m not so sure working tax credits remains the better route, at least as far as UK Plc is concerned. Wages have stagnated since Blair and Brown opened the door to immigration, in part a response to Industry bitching about the potential for increased labour costs. The fear now, with an enhanced ‘living wage’, must be the knock-on effect of differentials. If the lad sweeping the factory floor is suddenly earning X, the girls on the machines will demand X x 2 and the foreman X x 4: and all of a sudden Widgets R-Us becomes uncompetitive – and £30 billion of income support for the lowest paid appears small change in terms of maintaining a ceiling on overall labour costs. I have no idea if my premise is correct…just musing.

Ganesh on a wind up

If David Cameron showed up to parliament in his Bullingdon Club tailcoat to announce the sale of Great Ormond Street children’s hospital to a consortium led by ExxonMobil, his Conservatives would still be competitive against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour at the next election.

Line of the day

"It's nearly decisive." Remark from 5 Live commentary on the West Ham v Newcastle match.

Soddin Pensioners

Pensioner Bond demand forces NS&I to cut Direct Isa rate, hitting 400,000 savers.

Eleven months and counting.

Differing routes to the top


Whilst the Tories source their leaders from Eton College, Labour appears to rely on the sons of bus drivers, with both Sadiq Khan (Candidate for London Mayor) and John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor) to the fore.

If only I had a penny for every time I'd boarded this bus at the rear of the ABC cinema.