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.