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…