Saturday, February 28

For blackberry, read BlackBerry

Despite the media brouhaha, the essential difference between baby-boomers and millennials appears to boil down to housing: whether or not you can afford a place of your own. Aside from the dearth of Wimpey starter homes, however, I suspect there is more going on in our green and pleasant land than a changing demographic and concern the polite young lad next door who did well in his IT exams is a closet psychopath. I read Adam Nicolson’s book review in yesterday’s papers, reflecting on a lost language, one once used to describe a world increasingly alien to inhabitants of the contemporary urban environment. Who’d have thought, for instance, the editors of the Oxford Junior Dictionary would delete so many commonplace words (seemingly) no longer needed by children – acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow – replacing them with attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chartroom, committee, cut-and-paste…

Friday, February 27

Loaves and fishes

Mary FordThe pond is more frogspawn than rain water, come spring I imagine we will see a rerun of Exodus 8. Time marches on: too fast for my liking. Snowdrops give way to daffs, and before we know it primrose and bluebells will be flowering, bats and swallows will have returned to the roof space, the yard, full of ponies.

Black pudding aside we’ve been feasting on tinned fish this past couple of weeks, from Cornish pilchards and Brittany sardines, to Don Reinaldo’s beech smoked mackerel, Oritiz anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea, and Arroyabe’s Bonito del Norte. The Kwik-E-Mart John West default is thankfully long behind us.

Wednesday, February 25

Someone has to do it.

As a means of avoiding a particularly onerous chore and in an attempt to walk off yesterday’s Pollo al Rosmarino, I set off uphill in thick fog tailing a dozen or so characters wearing Sherpa-sized packs and extremely bright clothing. Rather them than me, I thought. I don’t mind the walk but I can’t see myself sleeping outside in this sort of weather. Three hours later I was back where I belong, on my perch beside the fire – waiting on a dish of braised pork cheeks with apples and cider. It’s a tough job but…

Is the market still undervalued?

Prior to the dotcom bust I acquired a rather naïve faith in the power of equities: there was so much money chasing so few opportunities, where else would punters invest? Following 1999 I became more sanguine, and by 2008 had seen it all before. Having stuck with equities however – and thanks in part to quantitative easing, Janet Yellen’s optimism, and the UK Government’s textbook economic reforms – I am gratified to see the market reach new heights. I can indulge in a little profit taking and treat myself to that omelette pan on sale at John Lewis. Analysts, cocky little buggers at the best of times, wonder if stocks are still undervalued … and I remind myself of the initial euphoria and subsequent hubris surrounding Gordon Brown’s boast about boom and bust.

Tuesday, February 24

Bit like your missus

Nigel Farage is seen as an invigorating force, even by those not considering voting for his party. But one remark suggest he still isn’t taken too seriously: He’s a bit like your missus. He might have said something intelligent but you weren’t really paying attention.

Foreign dog invasion

British dog owners at Crufts suddenly and rather belatedly wake up to the reality of globalisation. It's not fair, they say, you wouldn't expect the Premier League or Wimbledon to throw open their doors like this. Foreigners have unfair advantages, they can run faster and for longer than we can. "I have nothing against dogs from abroad, but..."

Monday, February 23

Man up, Gudgeon

After listening to Gudgeon’s moans reservations with regards to the dodgy state of my knees, Mrs G. slipped a leaflet in amongst today’s mail as a less than subtle hint I should probably quit whining. I believe the expression ...is changing for the better was followed by something that sounded a lot like euthanasia.

More black puddings ... The ongoing search for an ultimate black pudding continued this evening with Morcilla de Burgos, black pudding with rice, a Spanish import. Mucho recommended, especially when served alongside the old favourite of Monjardin butter beans in El Supremo’s tomato sauce. Which of us holds the tittle of El Supremo tomato sauce is currently disputed.

Built to last

It is a veritable blizzard outside. You have to picture Mrs G. (looking out from my vantage point next to the roaring stove): a barely visible spectre in the midst of the maelstrom, struggling uphill through ankle-deep mud against a thirty-knot headwind, wheelbarrow stacked high with logs. I should venture outside and lend a hand but she loves this woman against nature guff, tells me it’s character forming.

Update: the weather caused a small section of the bank to give way, blocking a neighbour’s access track. By the time I’d tidied up (warmed up), a walk didn’t seem such a bad idea. During the first two miles the weather changed from snow to sleet to hail to horizontal rain and back to snow. All good fun, the sun even came out when I reached the top.

Sunday, February 22

Why would you invade a woman’s person space?

We know what Joe Biden is whispering: something like “Haven’t you heard of soap and water?”It seems four out of five women don’t shower every day, and one in eight don’t brush their teeth. Only 21 per cent of females take the time to shower or have a bath every day, with 33 per cent admitting to leaving it as long as three days from wash to wash? Yuk indeed.

Saturday, February 21

No use crying over spilt milk

Man or Woman, when it’s gone it’s… Like most, my capacity for self-delusion  knows few bounds. When shaving of a morning all I see in the mirror is a thirty-something Gudgeon. Then when someone takes an unflattering badly-lit photo I think, Christ, the old boy – my father, looked better at eighty. 

Nostalgia to the fore today with our local line running a ‘Panniers and Pints’ weekend: no less than five steam locomotives shuttling drinkers back and forward to the pub at Staverton. The road is lined with enthusiasts, cameras in hand. Closer to home it’s the usual Saturday morning equestrian parade. Walkers, too – hordes of ’em, dressed to the nines. I think I will tag along and salve my conscience before settling down for the afternoon sport.

More Claudia Roden than Nancy Mitford

Last night above the homestead, a thin, waxing crescent moon, accompanied by the brightly lit Venus and a clearly visible Mars. This morning the same clear sky has delivered a surface of ice and dusting of snow. However it’s a dusting of icing sugar I’ve promised, as it is my turn at the stove: a Bisteeya, Moroccan pigeon pie. I need to pull something out the bag after a week of Mrs G’s veal steaks, black puddings and wild boar.

Friday, February 20

Career over at 50?

I would imagine there are a lot of lads who begin crapping themselves at 35 (some don’t even get off the start line), and not all are footballers or female television presenters. It’s a truism that there will always be younger, faster, smarter opponents coming down the turnpike. Fortunately for me I can pour drinks and shovel shit with the best of them, so Mrs G. keeps me on the payroll.

The Open University

Went £17 million into debt after the number of students taking its courses fell by more than a quarter over five years, reports this morning’s Times,the number of students starting part-time degrees has almost halved. The large decline in students starting part-time postgraduate taught courses is almost wholly attributed to a fall in entrants studying subjects linked to education, such as teacher training, the article says. Not quite true. If you are a mature student, studying to improve your knowledge of a particular subject – purely as an interest/hobby, you can persuade yourself £600 per subject/term is a worthwhile investment. When the OU increased the cost to £2,400 people discovered other interesting things to spend their money on. The teacher-training students referred were/are, I suspect (at least those I met), mature women (30ish) on a budget seeking a career change/advancement – and who have now been priced out of the market.

The heir to Michael Forsyth and Malcolm Rifkind?

Scottish Blairites – the Morningside MacBlairs, may hold the key to Number 10. Middle-class voters in some of Scotland’s most prosperous constituencies could rescue Ed Miliband and improve his chances of making it to Downing Street, according to unpublished doorstep canvassing revealed to The Independent. Viewed by the English middle class as a Marxist wannabe and puppet of the unions, north of the border Ed Miliband is seen as a moderating influence against the dark forces of nationalism. We really are from different planets.

Wednesday, February 18

A masterly British compromise

Despite Blair’s Damascene conversion and ten years after his government’s ill-conceived legislation, foxhunting appears to be growing in popularity. Like most I’m ambivalent in that, although I trap and release the homestead’s spiders – would never kill a vole or field mouse, I’ve no compunction in slaughtering rats and moles. Foxes pass by the homestead on a daily basis. I know this because during the hunt’s recent outing, hounds made straight for the yard, leaping hedges and fences like Aintree runners. Although not a hunt follower I can’t but be impressed by the sight. The Master of Foxhounds came by later, rounding up strays. I’ve met him before and we exchanged pleasantries – an Eton man I believe. And therein lies the nature of hunt opposition. Although foxhunting is now portrayed as a more egalitarian pastime, I suspect opposition has less to do with animal welfare than class hatred. On the odd occasion I’ve met sabs, it’s the background and status of hunt members in the local community that appears to fixate opponents, rather that the fox.

Tuesday, February 17

The skylarks are back

He rises and begins to round, 
He drops the silver chain of sound…

Today almost feels as though winter is over. The larks are back in numbers, with their incessant outpour of rolling, chirruping and whistling notes. Hardly a blemish in the sky and no one to be seen on the ground. Half-term and the moor is deserted? Whilst not my sole source of pleasure, solitude is vastly underrated.

Grexit

I doubt it will end well either way. It calls to mind Black Wednesday in ’92 and Healey’s ’76 IMF bailout. Although both were shameful episodes for Britain we got over it. Got over it but never learned. Gordon Brown reckoned he’d cracked the latter – spending more than we earned (and weren’t we willing participants); whilst our ongoing suspicion of/tentative engagement with Europe continues to leave England vulnerable to German and French skulduggery. Damn it we can barely live together as a United Kingdom let alone as European and transatlantic partners. I suppose there’s no use moaning about human nature, Perfidious Albion, or our dearth of political leaders – and anyway, the sun is shining and it’s Pancake Day.

Sunday, February 15

Eastenders

30 years of duff-duff. The original episode was broadcast the same year Gudgeon’s Great Wall of Greenwich was build. I’ve been reviewing the photographs, the topping out party. Damn but we were young back then. All the characters were there – now dead or scattered to the four winds. Tax avoidance? Our moral compass was far more flexible; political allegiances no less visceral. The then MORI poll indicated Conservative and Labour support was almost equal at around 36%, the SDP–Liberal Alliance's hopes of electoral breakthrough looking bleak with only 25% of the vote. If only.

Saturday, February 14

Salute!

A sunny Valentine’s Day: out early for flowers and champagne. As it’s Saturday the moor is busy. In addition to the usual runners and riders, neighbours are hosting the hunt – shoulder to shoulder horse and hound. I should take more of an interest, but there’s a blazing fire in the office and England v Italy on the box. Although partisan herself, in a spirit of camaraderie, Mrs G. has provided me with a bottle of what purports to be grappa to toast the kick-off.

And talking of camaraderie...Et tu, Brute? You can’t but feel sympathy for Lord Green. Having put aside the trowel to assist government and church, his old ‘friends and colleagues’ now run for the hills. “People are starting to worry about appearing with him in public. And that is untenable.” reports this morning’s papers. With friends like that…

Friday, February 13

I'm sure it was fun at the time

But the scenes portrayed are long forgotten. The 21st Century will be an information black hole, a second Dark Age, warns internet pioneer Vint Cerf, suggesting Google users print off treasured photographs or risk losing them forever. Having recently sifted through the Gudgeon archives – decades (boxes) of photographs – there might be four or five prints worth retaining (maybe…for now). And I should be adding to this mountain of dross by printing my digital content because?

Thursday, February 12

Don’t laugh

Bored with our winter diet I lit the barbecue this evening, toasted a couple of lamb kebabs and grilled a tray of Thai-spiced chicken thighs. I miss fun food this time of year – you have to make the effort.

Busy day behind the wheel – across the moor to Tavistock, before running up to Hatherleigh, and on to Totnes via Exeter. Bob Seger CDs all the way. I listened to him live just once, at his Wembley Arena concert in 1980. I’m sure the lad’s changed as much as the rest of us but the music still resonates...that kind of music just soothes the soul, I reminisce about the days of old with that old time rock and roll.

I’m a tax avoider

I knew my ISAs were too good to be true: I am now obliged to feel shame when banking the 1.5%. Those day trips to Calais are also a mite embarrassing; and don’t get me started on cash-in-hand tradesmen and my preference for VAT-free sole traders…or my listing Mrs G. as a business expense.

Brings a whole new meaning to...

After Bonham Carter’s naked tuna shot, those little tins of skipjack Mrs G. uses to dress her Salad Niçoise won’t seem quite the same.

Tuesday, February 10

You've never had it so good

So why won’t George Osborne boast about it?

What foods should you eat?

I wish they would make up their minds. Butter is now the new health food, and red wine is touted as a slimming aid. Bring back cigarettes, I say: there were a lot less fatties when Woodbines were on the go. Joanna Lumley pissed off the sisterhood earlier this week by admitting You don’t get to look like this AND eat food. Our Health Stasi’s push to feature calorific values on bottles of booze is also backfiring, with women measuring their cottage cheese on rye against the equivalent amount of Chardonnay, and choosing the latter. The evils of today turn out to be tomorrow’s palliative care. Destined to die from the day we are born, the least we can do is enjoy the journey.

Sunday’s race meeting had slipped my mind

Islamist threats and the rise in anti-Semitism are as naught when compared to a band of gypsies arriving in the neighbourhood.

Sunday, February 8

A beautiful Sunday


Crisp moor air and dazzling sunshine. Refried haggis for lunch (Saturday’s deferred Burns Supper was fun, Scotland’s performance in Paris less so)...mince, carrots and turnip, champagne and Haut-Médoc. Next door are sunning themselves in the tropics, and so along with our obligatory neighbourhood-watch commitment, we worked up the necessary appetite strolling about their garden – an eight-acre idyll immortalised in one of the country’s best-loved novels. All of the pleasure without any of the effort.

Saturday, February 7

Pastilla season

Glancing at the herd of rabbits and the numerous pheasant running about the yard this morning you’d be forgiven for thinking the season was over. And you would be wrong of course, because at seven-thirty prompt the guns opened up again. I’d forgotten about those pesky woodpigeons, the traditional February/ March Saturday shoots. There are reckoned to be 15m pigeons fluttering about our woods – just one of them consumes the equivalent of enough barley every day to make a pint of beer. Men have fought wars over less. And of course there’s nothing like the smell of napalm fresh air in the morning to relieve the effects of last night’s post-match celebrations.

Friday, February 6

Nuns in the classroom

I'm sure my proficiency with a recorder would have been stymied at birth without the diligent application of Sister Rosemary's cane.

I read too many books

Far be it for a fence-sitter like me to take sides but, given the recent anniversary of Churchill’s funeral and our passing interest in the mistakes of the 1930s, Merkel and Holland’s unseemly dash to Moscow smacks of Chamberlin and appeasement. I can well understand the pressure from German business and banks, from French farmers and shipbuilders – and maybe this is just a bluff until the new rapid reaction force has been assembled and primed (don’t laugh). Given how unenthusiastic we are about war in the post-Iraq era there’ll be few critics to any sort of peace plan. Until he comes back for more, that is, when the tanks begin rolling through Poland. I guess I read too many books. Cameron will love this of course, so close to an election. Voters will take one look at prospective war leader Ed Miliband and run screaming towards the Tories.

Thursday, February 5

Old stuff isn’t as cozy as in the past


While the white stuff out back of the homestead has almost disappeared the temperature remains stubbornly low. By coincidence (or shrewd planning on their part) seemingly everyone I know has conveniently disappeared to either Australia, Panama, Cuba or South Africa. I suppose one of us has to keep the home fires burning – although an extended spell of sunshine and new pair of gloves would be welcome. It’s not only Boris who clings to treasured items of clothing. I acquired my gloves long ago, in the same shop my parents purchased my school uniform.

It was brought to my attention the language I use is also past its sell-by date. It seems those faggots I assemble to ignite my bonfires, along with the local butcher’s tasty meatballs, have now been reclassified.

Faggots came to mind when watching Wolf Hall last night: I thought the BBC was testing current sensibilities somewhat by having the Catholics burn a heretic.

English votes

The spotlight on Rotherham reminds me why, in England, we shy away from regional government. As disparaging as we are about Parliament and the national reptiles – the media, there’s a certain cringe factor during those television cutaways (news, current affairs) to our local area presenters. Do we really want the sort of guests featured on their cheap tub chairs governing our everyday actions, enacting laws, presiding over regional economies? Oh sure I see one or two that talk the talk, sensible burgher-like waffle about ‘local’ issues, but there are only so many half-bright apparatchiks to share around the provinces – and all of us fear it would be our area that gets the numpties, that finds itself presided over by Captain Mainwaring and managed by second-string rejects from Australasia and North America.

Tuesday, February 3

It’s not going to happen

This morning I made the mistake of venturing a couple of throwaway lines on the subject of rural broadband and was subsequently savaged by my one of my neighbours, for whom Openreach is a term of abuse. As an idler and Luddite I became bored to tears with the subject long ago. I’ve never expected much from BT and have rarely been disappointed. Neighbours, however, running a business from home, organise petitions, mobilise local MPs, and continuously lobby BT for what they view as the most basic of 21st Century services. Suitably chastened therefore, this afternoon I sat and listened to the Parliamentary backbenchers’ debate on mobile phone and broadband connectivity – and duly fell asleep. When I woke Alan Reid was still speaking. It’s so much hot air: no monopoly supplier is going to lay high-tech cables up hill and down dale for odds and sods, the five per cent.

Wards off the cold

Sunday at the homestead (the end of Dry January) was fun, the world became a more benign affair. Monday of course was less enjoyable.

I read the minimum-price argument has been jettisoned in Russia, the recent price reduction designed to combat production of illegal alcohol. A half-litre now costs the equivalent of £1.80. Although Russians drink less vodka that ten years ago, an unbelievable 25 per cent of men turn their toes up before reaching their fifty-fifth birthday. I can almost hear the Lara leitmotiv myself this morning: it’s white, and a tad chill in the wind.

Sunday, February 1

I want to slap David Cameron, Nick Clegg admits

Screw the debates, I’d pay good money to see the two (or four) of them slug it out in the ring. Winner take all.

It’s beautiful outside this morning, stars have given way to a blue sky. Damn cold though. Impressed with how fast I can move uphill through snow against a 20 knot headwind and with a barrow full of firewood.