Thursday, April 30

Pork cobs

Early this morning I heard my first cuckoo of the season, the familiar disyllabic call of a simple bird that thinks two notes a song. An old rhyme recounts ‘In April come he will, In May he sings all day…’ Although after the initially novelty, the less I hear from a Gowk the less irritated I am. Whilst the cuckoo is late this year the bluebells are early – one of our more prolific (at least in the yard) indigenous flowers. To celebrate the last day of April, an especially sunny month, I have a four-kilo slab of Wessex pig (porchetta) slowly simmering on the barbecue. I expect to be eating lots of pork cobs this weekend. There’s a crate of Crispy Pig from one of our local breweries to wash it down.

Wednesday, April 29

Great qualification campaign

But are they tournament players? Poll suggests Nicola Sturgeon’s party could win every seat in Scotland. Remakes are rarely as good as the original, though some say this one could buck the trend. Other sages predict it will end in tears. I remember the original, featuring a guy named Ally McLeod and an overly enthusiastic Tartan Army. I even attended the Hampden qualifier against Czechoslovakia (Sept ’77). As there were no Czech supporters, come half-time a bored crowd voluntarily split along sectarian lines and spent the rest of the game kicking the crap out of each other. Maybe times really have changed.

Tuesday, April 28

A UK interest rate rise – like Waiting for Godot

Tonight’s gallery launch featured lots of smartly dressed people driving Range Rovers – and was reassuringly free of children, pets and backpacks. A fair number appeared to be buying, which is just as well given the amount of booze and hors d’oeuvres consumed, to say nothing of the glossy complementary catalogues. I personally think £10k for a block of concrete is a bit steep, but then what do I know about art. At least it’s one bit of concrete that should avoid mansion tax. There’s only so much the well-heeled can stuff beneath their four posters or entrust to the government for safekeeping. I really hope someone out there knows what the fuck we’re doing. As the Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner says: ‘It’s a world of extend and pretend, and what comes next is anyone’s guess.’ An increase in the rate on my Post Office savings account would be a start.

Not a vote winner

Despite my heavy jacket and woolly cap the homestead is in full pastoral mode with blue sky and blossoming vegetation. Up above us as the hedges progress, successive waves of chickens and ponies and Blackface sheep, dapple grey horses and bellowing Welsh Black Cross cattle. Chirping birds of every hue.

No wireless today as the news is depressingly dire (predictable and repetitive). You hear of trouble in faraway places and think ‘I’m glad I don’t live there.’ Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Greece, Nepal, Baltimore, Scotland, Somalia, Eritrea…It has been forever thus. Unfortunately very few voters appear interested in foreign affairs. They may go as far as to think about Europe for sixty seconds or so but only in the context of wondering when it is we leave.

Sunday, April 26

Changing times

I love it. Today’s MOTD2 (the footy analysis) featured – and yes, I know she started out a Northern Lass – a pearls and twin set, middle-class West London girl. I haven’t a problem with Alyson Rudd; she’s forgotten more that I know about football. But it’s a long way from Saint and Greavsie.

In the grand scheme of things…

Voting intentions appear to have reached an impasse. If the number of window posters is a guide, our local metropolis is a fight between the Greens and Ukip. Rubbing Clegg’s nose in the crap over Lords reform, whilst dismissing a sizeable rump of supporters as fruitcakes and loonies, were just two of Cameron’s blunders. Still, we are where we are; and things rarely play out the way we expect. What do I care anyway? Five years from now it will be business as usual: the same four football clubs will be contesting the title; there’ll be talk of a London house price bubble; another royal baby will be on its way; and everyone will look like Eric Pickles or Dianne Abbot – even AP McCoy.

Friday, April 24

Burgers and beer

Up to Exeter this morning for the annual Festival of south west food and drink. We’ve known a number of the exhibitors for several years; one or two are from this neck of the woods. Every festival has a unique feel and this year there’s a preponderance of meat producers and brewers. It’s the meat you can’t buy in most butchers or superstores. The profile of beer reflects the growth in independent brewers. Needless to say I sampled a few, but only as a means of washing down the oysters and burgers - the artisan cheese and Salcombe Dairy ice cream.

Thursday, April 23

Listening to functioning psychotics, or Hitler reading poetry?

The Spectator’s Jeremy Clark reviewing our local nightlife:

I’m such a constitutional lightweight lately that I’ve started looking on the website What’s On in South Devon for things to do of an evening that don’t involve total annihilation. What’s On in South Devon is surely one of those ‘shortest book in the world’ contenders. Weeknights it’s mainly the same local musicians playing the same deserted pubs; or some functioning psychotic preaching new-age nonsense in a church hall to folk whose gullibility gives one a rough idea of the infinite; or bingo.

There’s worse to come...

On a more mundane subject

A trio of doctors say being dangerously overweight is all down to bad diet rather than a lack of exercise. And the Pope is…? Notwithstanding Dr Malhotra’s quasi-political attack on the food industry, as someone who’s conducted a lifelong struggle with weight (an idler AND a love of food) I can vouch for his general assertion. Although exercise brings its own rewards, any calories I lose in the gym are more than compensated for by an increased appetite – plus I’m building additional muscle (muscle’s good, but also more weight to lug around). If you are unfortunate to be born with a propensity to gain weight and are serious about keeping in shape, you have to view food in the same manner a potential alcoholic regards his booze – and keep the cork in the bottle. The rationing of sugars and carbohydrates has been the best approach I’ve tried to date, albeit it didn’t stop me consuming a heaped dish of rice and a bar of chocolate for last night’s supper. Such is my mantle of guilt, however, I then walked the moor for an hour to compensate. I do sleep well.

Tuesday, April 21

Summer almost here

The swallows have arrived: a sure sign summer is on its way. I took off early across the moor. The sky is a dazzlingly blue – circling buzzards, below a sea of yellow furze. Oh, the scents and sounds…the solitude. Such moments, as they say, should be logged and noted. If only. I liken my mind to an old Amstrad PC. Beyond the flickering orange light indicating I’m switched on, a whiff of smouldering dust on superannuated circuits, there’s actually nothing there. Everything I’ve ever seen, heard and experienced – my collected works, if you like – resides on a series of 5¼-inch floppy disks stored in cardboard boxes in an old attic, the whereabouts of which is lost to me. On occasion I stumble upon the room, kick over a box and pick up a disc. What it contains, however, is a lottery.

Friday, April 17

Always look on the bright side

The local metropolis boasts a magnificent if incongruous (given the local climate) array of magnolia trees in full flower. I can hardly believe our luck, our fine weather – it’s as much a mystery as the public’s voting intentions: tosspot Miliband with Sturgeon’s hand up his arse. Although this area appears solid Tory, our local Conservative MP is little more than a Guardian-reading wet: and so thanks in part to the seductive endearments of local billboards, I find myself leaning towards TUSC. I guess at heart I remain a contrarian, although how the illegitimate spawn of Bob Crow managed to surface in Totnes remains a mystery. If we are destined to move to the left I’d prefer not to piss about with Labour’s nancy boys. Must admit, however, part of me longs for a Miliband victory. It hasn’t been the same since McPlonker stepped down. There’s no fun in the game if a poor imitation of what purports to be your side is running the show: much better to have an Aunt Sally to rail against.

Thursday, April 16

It’s all so begrudged

In this morning’s Times, Tim Montgomerie makes an impassioned plea for Ukip supporters to quit while they’re ahead and return to the fold – but it’s all so begrudged. Matthew Engel, for obvious reasons, would prefer 19th-hole bores remain where they are. It will go down to the wire.

Tadpoles evolve, or are eaten

And therein lies a lesson for us all. Despite the doors being wide open yesterday, the temperature inside the homestead reached 37.4˚C. Thanks to an absence of rain, my pint-sized pond – the waterhole, is on its way to expiring. There are dozens of newts still swimming about but the tadpoles have disappeared. The reason for their demised lay basking in the sun: the one thing we’re not short of is grass snakes. I dusted off the ride-on for its first outing of the season and the place is now looking a lot tidier, prettied up – mostly. Last year, after reading Adam Nicolson’s nod to Homer, I acquired a large sculpture fashioned out of burnished metal, to decorate the yard – on sunny days the refracted light became a danger to traffic along the A38. Unfortunately the ravages of winter have transformed what I once fancied were Mycenaean shields into a couple of rusting trawl doors. Another thing to attend to in due course.

Tuesday, April 14

There's a familiar ring to it

The five amigos (the ponies) have settled in well enough. Our traditional summer boarders are taking up their usual positions too, wagtails sharing the barn with sparrows (waiting on the swallows’ arrival), willow tits ensconced in the dry stone wall and chiffchaff in the bank (along with short-tailed moles). The same pair (presumably) of mistle thrushes have (again) attempted to build a nest in the holly, only to see the wind tear it to pieces. The dominant cry each evening is the tawny owl and early morning that of the buzzard; by half-seven it’s a free for all – blackbirds and robins predominate. Spring, as with our politics (and University Challenge), has a familiar (and reassuring?) ring to it.

Saturday, April 11

Aintree on the box, and a roasting sheep

I’m trying to watch Football Focus on the box but Mark Lawrenson is being drowned out by the chirping birds in surrounding trees. The place is a bloody aviary. An afternoon of action from Aintree…and a sheep roasting on the barbecue. The lanes are busy with riders exercising horses. I haven’t seen the lad along the track this week and wonder if he’s up in Liverpool. As someone who’s ridden a winner in the Grand National he maybe gets together with other similarly starred jockeys, in the manner of The Masters, whereby past winners are feted with a pre-match dinner and much well deserved back slapping? By coincidence we welcome five ponies to our yard this afternoon, the first of the season. The homestead is never quite the same when they’re absent.

Thursday, April 9

Green fingers

Up to Newton Abbot this morning for supplies, to build Mrs G. an additional raised bed. I doubt I will want for lettuce and rhubarb this summer.

Wear and tear

My body aches, but that’s nothing new. Apart from the usual caveats, the trade-offs, I do make an effort to look after myself (have you seen Peter Ackroyd recently?). Yet while there’s no shortage of advice as to how we should conduct our lives in an effort to spare taxpayers – that’s the limited number who are net contributors – the inconvenience of old age, I don’t fancy being me in ten years time.

When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now… 
Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, 
      bottle of wine? 

Paul McCartney reputedly wrote the song at the age of sixteen. It was subsequently released in 1967 on the Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a month or so before I myself turned sixteen. Back then during the so-called Summer of Love the age of sixty-four was something I associated with my Grandparents generation. The thought that I too would one day be ‘mending fuses and doing the garden’ would never have occurred to me. Yet here I am, or soon will be. And yes she still sends me valentines and birthday cards, buys the occasional bottle of wine.

Monday, April 6

What a great day!

Sky larks in full voice, the lane decorated with blossom and primrose – alive with peacock butterflies and white-tailed bumblebees. In the space of yards, a diminutive roe deer, a dazzling Klimt-inspired pheasant, a hare of ginormous proportions.

Sunday, April 5

Blind leading the blind

Yesterday I watched a group of talking heads, foreign correspondents, discussing the state of play in Syria and Yemen, the mayhem in Somalia and Libya…the possible outcome of the Iranian nuclear talks in Lausanne. Then this morning I reviewed what passes for news in our papers and listened to the sofa gossip on breakfast television. People are telling me it’s not the economy, stupid, it’s the kitchens; that we are to be ruled by a coalition of happy warriors and short people in pink suits?

Friday, April 3

Easter Parade

Hardly an ideal start to the holiday weekend: black sky, a chill north wind and mist on the hills. Wet, too – plenty of running water. Small streams are easy enough to navigate but the more substantial require a clapper bridge. Today’s slog was worth the effort, not least for sight of the Golden Plovers I’m following.

A fair number of pilgrims in procession up the high street this morning, following a big lad carrying a large wooden cross. I returned home for the traditional singalong with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.

Although Mrs G’s poached shoulder of veal with tuna and anchovy sauce was undoubtedly dish-of-the-week, tonight’s supper ran it a close: baked John Dory…heavy on the salsa verde and vino.

The debate spin room

The first thing that hits you is the smell. Bitter, acrid fumes billow through the air, creating a pungent fug that fills my nostrils and catches in the back of my throat. It’s reminiscent of stale beer and cigarette butts, with a whiff of mouldy cheese; what an old pub carpet might smell like after a particularly wild Saturday night.

Instantly forgettable

It was better entertainment than I expected. There was little else on the box. I guess the campaign to date is fulfilling expectations – pygmies all, full of synthetic fury. But then who wants a charismatic lad with slicked-down hair and a moustache. I quite liked the girl who looks like a Tom Jones groupie from 1965, although in the interest of audience engagement I would have swopped two of the three women for George Galloway and Tommy Sheridan – maybe someone from Rochdale waving a Kalashnikov.

Thursday, April 2

Baffled and irritated

‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ sang The Four Seasons, when I was driving home this morning. But don’t let that stop you reaching out to the wuss vote. Day Four of the campaign and I’m confused. Five years ago it was End of the world is nigh, Matthew Parris and his ilk were proclaiming how dire the future looked: a cross between Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ and Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’. We were doomed was the general consensus, bread and dripping would become a luxury food. Then thanks in part to the coalition government – if the newspapers are to be believed – we have not only survived but can almost see the Promised Land. Shit, even M&S have turned things around. It should be a slam dunk for Cameron and Clegg?

Easter holidays and highway maintenance

Porsche Cayennes double-parked outside the Kwik-E-Mart this morning, as staycationers from upcountry stop for supplies en route to Dartmouth and Salcombe. Driving back to the homestead with milk and papers, I couldn’t help chuckling as highway maintenance guys began setting out cones and temporary traffic lights in readiness to closing the road for repairs.