Tuesday, March 31

Music to watch girls by

Last night’s gale felled trees and blocked lanes, disrupted the electricity supply (no power = no water). However the principal roads are busy, not least with tailgating BMWs. Easter visitors, obviously, as BMWs are not native to Devon. Coffee a la Nick Hornby, in the record shop, watching the long legged girls drift by. It might be blowing a hooley but it’s a pleasant enough day and markedly free of campaigning politicians. Although this region appears a Conservative hegemony there’s determined opposition from both the Greens and Ukip. Labour seem as relevant as in Scotland.

Sunday, March 29

But then I have a shed full of firewood

This week I purchased a slightly-soiled anthology of poetry for one penny (the postage was £2.80p). One penny! I ask you? The same batch of mail included a bottle of malt...and it led me to wonder which provides the greater source of inspiration? I’m told society’s inequality gap has widened. Who judges, however, who decides someone’s Bentley negates a throwaway line from Philip Larkin?

Tuesday, March 24

Of cabbages and…

She’s out there now in the rain, turning clay sods in pine boxes and forking through well-rotted manure – all for a crop of cabbages. Tonight’s version comes out a jar. Not so much pickled red cabbage as ‘Mrs G’s Pickled Red Cabbage.’ A rare and exotic brassica nurtured on the manure of Derby winners, steeped in the finest Balsamic di Modena, and flavoured by roots and spices from the length and breadth of the Orient. At least that’s what she tells me.

A cashless society

I know low interest rates are supposed to encourage people to borrow and spend but I thought it’s what got us into trouble in the first place? Why leave cash in the bank, says a tongue-in-cheek Ed Conway, if we are essentially being charged to do so? Because … and duly leads to his cashless alternative solution, cash being the province of criminals and tax evaders. Shite. If using cash manages in some minor way to keep the government’s nose out of just a tiny proportion of my financial affairs then it’s job well done. Can you imagine a future where the state actively monitors our bank account and spending pattern? The annual tax return is replaced by a Citizen’s Conduct Audit, illustrating our poor lifestyle choices and suggesting measures we can adopt to ameliorate such behaviour. Whatever sum remains in credit is confiscated and invested on behalf of the government for the benefit of the state. …Why not go the whole hog and issue everyone with tokens that can only be spent at state-approved shops. Just because I'm paranoid…

Monday, March 23

Settlement

I walk straight through this scene on a regular basis, unaware it's there. Climb another hundred (or two) feet, however, and the circle appears: Bronze Age neighbours.

Talking of neighbours…the man next door has butchered a calf, so it’s osso buco for supper. Lashings of Mrs G’s nuclear-strength gremolata and a bottle of mind-numbing red stuff.

Sunday, March 22

People are beastly to me

Although I rarely watch the programme, recovering from this morning’s jaunt I caught the tail end of today’s Big Questions. If this is the state of Britain’s race relations we really are fucked. Truth is I didn’t understand it: a middle-class, seemingly educated multi-cultural audience speaking gobbledygook. In contrast the afternoon football commentary reminded me that Liverpool v Man Utd. is less a cerebral exercise than a grudge match, a refreshing case of we don’t like you and no one cares – and can’t be bothered to hide it. I thought yesterday’s rugby was as good as it gets, however Sunday’s footy has been hugely entertaining. Whilst life can occasionally be disappointing I’ve always suspected it is nobody’s fault but my own.

Black pudding for breakfast, but only during May

Not only our first Greenfinch of spring but a Yellowhammer too. Also called Gladdies hereabouts (from the Anglo-Saxon gladde = bright), their splash of colour is a great foil for the hedge sparrows. In Scotland where people are superstitious, Yellowhammers are seen as the Devil’s Bird – reputed to drink a drop of devil’s blood every May morning (presumably with a pint chaser).

There’s been a steady procession of students pass by the homestead this morning, training for the Ten Tors Challenge. Although everyone carries a large backpack you can’t help but notice the girls’ luggage is 50% larger. High maintenance, obviously. I put in five or so miles myself and watched as everyone filed across the horizon: tiny Lowry-like figures bent over under the weight of their kit, much like the wind-shaped hawthorn that grew around them.

Saturday, March 21

The jury's out

I’m writing this at Toronto’s Pearson Airport… Instead of endless banks of airport furniture they have elegant marble tables with leather furniture, and each seat has its own iPad and an electrical outlet. The WiFi is, of course, smoking hot. There is also no sound in this airport lounge, which feels like the Airport of Tomorrow. Children who would otherwise be shrieking from sugar spikes and boredom sit calmly and play video games. Everyone is feeding on data and images and sounds. Information flows in and out of these portals. Nobody is getting stupider during this whole process. Words are being learnt. Connections are being formed. Patterns are being recognised. The next kind of intelligence is being crafted before my eyes…

Friday, March 20

Sacrilege/emasculation

“I wanted deep, rich colours, but at the same time, I wanted them to work together yet be surprising.” says the designer. On the roof of the car there’s a hand-painted bumble bee! ...It’s a Land Rover for Christ's sake.

Giving the vote to 16 year olds

“I’ve always been Labour all my life but I want to hear what they’ve (other parties) got to say myself. Now that I’m a mature woman. I feel like a greater responsibility now to vote for who runs our country...I pay a f—ing lot of tax.

Great film

Although overcast there’s a chance the sky could clear in time for the eclipse. I recall the previous one in ’99, when conditions were similar. If the moon doesn’t block the light then smoke probably will: the chairman of the local commoners’ association has telephoned to advise they are swaling this morning. Throw in a couple of Hueys and we’ve Apocalypse Now.

Thursday, March 19

Here I stand. I can do no more.

If only it was that simple. I’m told my paucity of winners at the track is down to a genetic predisposition, in that traits, good or bad, are largely inherited. Marry it to the environment in which I was raised, and free will and responsibility become impossible? I’m understandably uncomfortable with these sort of concepts as you drift into Trevor Phillips territory where Blacks mug, Romanians steal and Pakistanis rape…Truth to tell I’ve less of a problem with racial stereotyping than the thought nature/nurture provides me with an excuse for personal shortcomings. Imagine if my sole accomplishment is to behave like an arsehole – and I can’t even credit myself with that. I should be more sanguine about relinquishing control, says Julian Baccini. But ceding control is a slippery slope.

Wednesday, March 18

Lap of the gods

What with today’s sunshine I thought a ‘Budget Barbecue’ would be in order: tasty pork ribs and a beer can chicken (my first taste of Pilsner in 2015). The budget commentary and subsequent posturing I take with a pinch of salt. The media presents a somewhat rarefied perspective, and the Dog & Duck’s clientele are hardly a normative sample of voter intention – despite most believing Osborne made a decent fist of it, Labour’s client state is significant.

We would wish otherwise but…

To forgive and forget is one of our guiding tenets. Pope wrote that ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine.’ However in an Arthurian fantasy, Kazuo Ishiguro suggests forgiveness is an illusion, a subterfuge: that grievances are never forgotten. Despite the collective lies we tell each other to assuage guilt and the efforts made to bury our past and ignore differences, resentments continue to fester beneath the surface – are betrayals and atrocities in the making.

Tuesday, March 17

Mentoring millennials

Meanwhile, our youthful bafflement can be reflected back at us by older colleagues and bosses, who do not always know what to do with the supposed identifying characteristics of the millennial generation: our idealism, our need for constant feedback, our reliance on our parents, our compulsion to share (or over-share). Maybe it was the same for all generations? says Jenny Palmer, in today’s FT. To a certain extent it probably was, though if I’d appeared as needy as this and pestered my boss in a similar manner he would likely have told me to fuck off and reinforced his point with a smack in the ear – ask what he was paying me for...I can't actually recall much in the way of mentoring, but as a twenty-something newbie I once managed to talk my way into the office of a senior executive on the zillionth floor of a corporate headquarters in Houston. He sussed immediately I was a wet behind the ears nobody from nowhere, came around from behind his desk and drew a schematic across the giant whiteboard covering one wall of his office, detailing a who, what, where of the local scene. He then opened his telephone book and scribbled down a bunch of names and numbers to get me started, even rang one to effect an introduction. You met a lot of similar guys back then, old boys who were happy to give a hand up, point you in the right direction. Nowadays I doubt you’d get through their door.

Consider the grass growing

As it grew last year and the year before...

I’m hardly a poster boy for the Greens. If they could see the level of smoke belching from the office chimney, brickbats and muesli would rain down on my head. We’re enveloped in fog but it’s a glorious morning. Other than the birdsong, barely a sound. No overhead aircraft, rattling trains or the slamming of car doors – no political sound bite or contrived grievance to pollute the air. I refuse to switch on my wireless as the airwaves are poisoned by a succession of reptiles, lying politicians and ambulance-chasing lawyers. The peace won’t last of course: an hour from now chainsaws and quad bikes will hold sway.

Two lads on the bank with their rods (must renew my fishing licence). It's apparent what the quad bikes are up to: tiny blood-flecked lambs barely out the oven, chasing between the furze on a quest of discovery.

Sunday, March 15

Utopia will probably look like Clare Balding

I’ve lived through worse times, I thought, driving to town this morning – singing along with Matt Monro’s ‘On days like these’. Whilst life teaches it ain’t all blue skies and green fields, it seems churlish to complain just because the leader of the opposition is a cretin or someone punches a BBC producer in the gob. In the near future some bright spark will discover how to clone Clare Balding and it will all be over.

Friday, March 13

Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin

Roasting a fatted calf for Gold Cup day, firing up the barbecue – a giant rib of beef. I’d love to be there, Guinness in hand, but the draw of the fireside wins out. Have served my time.

Thursday, March 12

30 best places to have a second home

No. 1: Totnes, Devon.A beautiful little Elizabethan town on the banks of the River Dart in south Devon…it has more organic food, yoga classes and Green Man carvings than anywhere in Britain. It’s close to numerous beaches as well as Dartmoor, for those that like to swim, canoe or surf. Is also the reason we are located an arm’s-length away: Who lives here? Creative and New Age types, yachties. Mrs G. was determined to buy me a yacht (sail boat) for my last birthday. I had to explain that whisky and water don’t mix. Drinking whisky afloat is inviting mishap.

Wednesday, March 11

It’s like picking a winner at Cheltenham

Except Cheltenham is dominated by the favourites. Ipsos Mori say 50% of voters intending to exercise their right are still floating voters. Although younger sorts are less conventionally tribal – Labour or Conservative from cradle to grave, I suspect they haven’t completely given up on identity politics; and while voters claim not to favour coalition politics, we all, seemingly, crave a pick and mix, with Tories running the economy and Labour dictating public services. Everyone wants both to have their cake and eat it. In truth the campaign has hardly begun. When pencils hover above the ballot paper, I fancy most – young or old – will be asking the self-same question: ‘What’s in it for me?’

Handbags

Jeremy Clarkson lambasted in the media after suffering a Gordon Brown moment. 

Inevitably, Rod Liddle comes out in support. Although I haven’t watched Top Gear in years I do read Clarkson’s column in the weekend papers. As with Liddle, the big lad remains one of those rare purveyors of guaranteed chuckles.

Tuesday, March 10

Stands back in amazement

The sun is shining! Though my Highbury friends in South London and South Africa are probably still celebrating, the homestead’s flag remains at half-mast. United’s fourth place grows ever more tenuous. On the plus side I don’t really follow cricket, and today is the start of The Cheltenham Festival.

Monday, March 9

Even the fog is healthier these days

If not moles tunnelling for worms, then it’s badgers tearing up the surface of the yard. That time of year. Although jackdaws make the most noise, a rogue nuthatch perched not four metres from my ear is generating a greater disturbance. Ladybirds are everywhere, and when the wind and rain take a breather, clouds of insects drift in and out of vision. The fog clears…the fog returns.

Engineers arrive to service the water pumps, and leave two hours later with most of my beer money. Water hygiene is listed among their many services, not least cooling towers – the control of legionella bacteria. Pure coincidence the engineers’ head office overlooks the very same towers that I did as a young Gudgeon. I say ‘overlooks’: the towers and station are long since demolished. It wasn’t so much fog in those day as an impenetrable smog. The station fed on coal, delivered by truck, train and narrow boat.

Saturday, March 7

Sea bream carpaccio

Although my Groaty Dick was an unqualified success you can eat just so many groats. So off to Dartmouth this morning, for lunch at The Seahorse. “…the atmosphere is electric and the booze flows like floodwater. A local restaurant I’d happily travel five hours to for supper.” says Giles Coren. In our case a mere 45 minute drive, and the floodwater barely a trickle. Great food, though, not least their sea bream carpaccio. The salt cod brandade could be classified a lethal weapon. Home in time for the racing, and Villa v Albion. You have to go with the little club.

Neither a wild beast nor a god

It’s blowing a gale outside and the yard is in turmoil, roaring treetops and wailing banshees ain’t in it. The mornings are becoming lighter and I am obliged to fall out of bed an hour earlier to open up. Late autumn when the nights draw in I regret the absence of light. During early spring, however, I realise it’s the contemplative solitude afforded by pitch-black mornings, the chill hour before sunrise, I value most.

Friday, March 6

Back in business

My replacement desk chair was delivered at seven-thirty this morning. After an hour of manipulating levers and switches the contraption fits well enough. I took about as long to decide on the chair as when selecting the motor, and given I probably spend as much time in the chair as my bed, am hoping it was time well spent.

Groaty Dick

Although back on kitchen duty, my choice of Black Country dishes isn’t always as well received as I had hoped. Today’s pièce de résistance is groaty pudding, aka Groaty Dick. Yes I know it isn’t bonfire night but by chance a sack of oat groats came my way. I’m hoping to soften to blow with a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage, as I doubt the Boss would appreciate a glass of Ansells Mild.

Jobs for the boys

Marine and fishing, military and defence, top the list of Britain’s ‘manliest’ industries. I wonder if there’s a correlation with the paucity of women in the jobs listed. Not that women can’t fill these roles, but rather their absence is as defining a feature (attraction) as the danger, harsh weather and solitude.

Thursday, March 5

A plague on all

This morning was my monthly visit to the barber, the fountain of knowledge and font of local and celebrity gossip. He’s the sort of man I imagine once staffed the offices of our red tops. Then on to coffee in the local hipster hangout – World Music and a suspicious, earthy smoking aroma. The latter took me back a few years, a reminder of what was playing in the background, when – if you believe what is being propagated in the media – one half of the country was molesting the other half. It’s difficult to determine who the baddies are these days, bankers and politicians having passed the baton to midwives, Muslims and well-heeled pensioners. I dare say by next week someone else will be on the receiving end.

Wednesday, March 4

The detective from Leith

Allan Massie bigs it up in the Telegraph on behalf of Ian Rankin and the crime writing genre, lamenting those who disparage popular culture in favour of the ‘literary’ novel – that follow the secular religion of high culture. Everything Massie says I’ve heard a zillion times before, in fact I suspect there’s an entire industry devoted to the subject. As a consumer/ reader however I can’t entirely agree with his assertion that, because crime writing reaches all levels of society, it is of equal value to that restricted to a single privileged layer. To say I’m a fan of crime writing would be putting it mildly. As a teenager I grew up on Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, have read most everything from Arthur Conan Doyle to Ed McBain, Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell, and Henning Mankell to Elmore Leonard… Shit, the list is endless. Yet while I and most other men I worked with read all twenty John Rebus novels, the bulk of Rankin’s output, I do have issues. The attraction of John Rebus is that the character is of our era: he dresses as we did, listens to the same music, drinks similar booze, and exhibits a familiar taste in women. To a limited but recognisable sense we all had a sprinkling of John Rebus – I even drove a Saab 900. Unfortunately Rankin’s Rebus never rose above the two-dimensional. No one expected Proust or Dostoyevsky, but over the course of twenty novels there was an expectation Rebus would amount to something more, and ultimately we felt short changed. I suspect that’s why the literary prizes have eluded Rankin.

It’s the eyes that go first

In today’s Guardian – following the results of an international study of 15,000 penises – Oscar Rickett discusses the vexed subject of whether you can cut it in the communal showers. It caught my eye, so to speak, as yesterday I was upcountry, visiting Sherborne in Dorset. Regretfully I had no time for the abbey, castles or alms houses, as I had places to go and things to do. However, on turning a corner I unexpectedly came face to face with ‘Tow rope Schmidt’, a tug captain from the old days. Tow rope had acquired the appellation by virtue of his manly attributes rather than his skill on the aft deck, a characteristic that along with his supercharged BMW was a virtual guarantee of alpha male status. You can imagine my embarrassment when I rushed forward with the greeting ‘Tow rope! How’s it hanging?, to discover the lad was not my old drinking partner but a local publican taking the air.

Monday, March 2

The Office on South Quay

Carl Spitzweg - Der Kaktusliebhaber
Whenever things are flat and the weather overcast I think of darker days on South Quay. Instead of a cactus the odd item of furniture survives as a reminder – a panacea, so to speak. Last week the desk chair expired.

Sunday, March 1

A perfect Sunday

Outside a roaring gale. Inside the two stoves, burning beech. Toasty. Steak and tomatoes for lunch (clootie for pudding), footy on the wireless – and rugby on the box.