Thursday, December 31

New Year’s Eve

And the weather a nightmare. People cite climate change but I recall this sort of shit being standard fare in the 70s. Man up, as Mrs G. is always telling me. People have forgotten we used to wear a mackintosh and carry an umbrella, we didn’t expect to stay dry in December.

Semi-comatose in my chair this afternoon, the remote out of reach. I watched my first ever Downton Abbey – the finale. Please tell me this is a spoof: Acorn Antiques with an eye-watering budget. And yet strangely addictive.

New Year’s Eve supper…bacon, eggs and fried (sorry, sautéed – the Downton effect) Brussel sprouts, with HP Sauce.

The Dog & Duck or Jools Holland?

Wednesday, December 30

Historical revisionism

I’m reading an Ian Rankin novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible. The dialogue runs along the lines: ‘It was thirty years ago, Siobhan. Everything was…’ He turned towards her. ‘Is it fair to bring it up?’ …Tell that to Oliver Letwin, I thought. Most people harboured similar suspicions in those days. It took television shows such as the Huxtables to help persuade otherwise, though that too now seems tainted.

Tuesday, December 29

What’s not to admire

The prodigious appetite for drugs, sex and booze finally did for him. He was a convinced Thatcherite who confessed that one of his favourite bands was Abba and that he was 'addicted' to PG Wodehouse. I guess we’ll gloss over the Nazi memorabilia thing. Of course Lemmy’s lifestyle is something no one should actually admire. Sensible shoes and a glass of warm milk at bedtime, and you too could grow up to be Rod Stewart.

Monday, December 28

Messi’s alter ego

…fresh from the betting shop. He takes a mouthful from his pint — lager, with a dash of lemonade — and rummages in his jacket pocket for a lighter. “I’m just going for a cig,” he says, pushing himself to his feet. “Stan has spent all of his money on gambling, booze and birds,” Frank Worthington once said, to which Bowles had a well-rehearsed response. “Well, at least I didn’t waste it. . .” He may not have been Messi, nor a suitable role model, but our lives would be the poorer without those colourful associates we once knew. At least that's what I ruefully kid myself.

Coming up for air

The roads are full and the shops empty (late present for friends). Most sane people appear to be out walking, taking the air – recovering from a surfeit of Christmas cheer. I don’t actually recognise anyone strolling the lanes and assume they are visitors/relatives staying with our neighbours. The lad next door has been obliged to provide valet parking as city cars have a habit of sinking beneath the paddock. I’ve finished my chores and am listening to the footy...following on from the traditional gallon of goose soup by working my way through a crate of Pomerol and a nice Stilton. Massed guns are busy culling wildlife.

Sunday, December 27

Brings tears to your eyes

Ouch! Love and sex in Sri Lanka appears to involve being whipped with toxic stingray tails. Can you you imagine what they would do to Lord Sewell and his orange brassiere. And non-alcoholic Guinness, what's that about? Thank god we live in England, even if we are going downhill at a great rate of knots. December and my window is wide open – an unbelievable 26˚C inside the homestead.

Saturday, December 26

Temp tech malfunction

Ground conditions permitting

Rather unexpectedly, yesterday turned out to be one of our best Christmas days. We enjoyed the food and didn’t overeat. Ditto the hooch. Best of all it was a relaxing day. Santa was rather good to me and I don’t have to worry about reading material for the next six months. A pair of socks, naturally. A replacement whisky glass for the one I broke, along with a bottle of my favourite grappa and one of Genever. It would be impossible to work with the Dutch and not develop a taste for gin (and herring). Louis van Gaal will likely need a large one at the Britannia Stadium. Today is all about the sport – footy and horse racing.

Friday, December 25

What a feast

A special commendation to the sage & onion stuffing (even if I had to drive 25 miles to locate an artisan baker capable of producing a loaf that could provide acceptable bread crumbs), to Mrs G’s spiced, preserved tangerines, her pickled pears and savoury bread sauce. Our dramatic environment – a rip roaring gale, dancing trees and continually changing light, only enhanced the experience, as did the vino (all leather and tobacco, the perfect antidote to this morning’s service) and a bottle of fine cognac.

Festive cheer at the homestead

Up before eight, feeling better than I’d a right to. Despite the open windows and best efforts of the extractor fans, everything – clothes and furnishings, reek of roast goose. Jars of fat line the counter, sorted/ graded into three distinct ‘pressings’. There are scented candles the length and breadth of the homestead; it wouldn’t be too difficult to set the place ablaze. Our usual Christmas morning: live Eucharist service from Bath Abbey, and Carols from King’s.

Thursday, December 24

Cultural baggage, cinnamon and spice

Christmas Eve and the homestead is suffused with the aroma from Mrs G’s kitchen. Whilst a goose the size of a small Ostrich sits waiting for the oven, on the stove simmers tonight’s supper – a clootie dumpling, this year’s replacement for the traditional yuletide pudding. It works with just about everything, savoury or sweet.

Wednesday, December 23

Twinned with Pashtun

God save us from Niamh Shortt. Off-licences must shut in poor areas to save lives. Why not go the whole hog and restrict chip shops and branches of KFC to the better areas of Edinburgh.

Who ate all the pies?

Today’s lunch featured sausage rolls from Tavistock Market’s favourite home baker, along with her duck and apple, and countryman pies. I suspect the latter was a tad heavy on road kill.

Carbon footprints

Tuesday didn’t begin well, losing another roof. By the time I’d battened everything down, fought my way through the inevitable file of horses being exercised along the lane, and negotiated a stand-off between seven horse-boxes and a milk tanker, I was already an hour behind schedule. Atrocious weather and kerb to kerb traffic, but a lot better than Bluewater. It’s about knowing your back-doubles. Even the Kwik-E-Mart was triple parked – and with Range Rovers (obviously visitors from up country, given the pristine condition of the vehicles). So the last thing I needed when returning to the homestead early afternoon was having to climb back into the motor and head off in the opposite direction, to Exeter. Getting in and out of that city is even worse than Plymouth. All I can say is thank god for £1/ltr diesel. On a good day, dual carriageway with following wind, I can eke out 40 mpg. Hereabouts, unfortunately, it’s more like 22 mpg. Today appears much the same, as I disappear in the direction of Tavistock to collect the fatted goose (calling in at The Dog & Duck?).

Tuesday, December 22

Time and tide

I picked up the office wall clock (ship’s timepiece – Baker, Lyman & Co, New Orleans) from the repairers/restorers this afternoon. I entrusted it to the good lady back in April and it has taken until now to service and overhaul the movement. I don’t mind, am I’m grateful there are still people capable of undertaking this sort of shit. Next year it’s my Sony Walkman and Psion Organiser. The wall clock is a memento from the Leam Texas. I wonder what Roger the Dodger is up to these days?

Vegetable day

Today traditionally sees me dispatched to a greengrocer for the hundredweight of parsnips and sprouts deemed necessary to feed us over the festive period. If I’m still awake that is. I really need my kip this time of year, but it’s difficult to sleep when the building is shaking. Right now it sounds as if I’m standing at the end of a runway. Outside is pitch black and I am as likely to drown wading through a pool of rain water in the dark as be hit by a falling branch or uprooted tree. We lost the roof to the chicken coop two days ago. Still, all good fun. The alternative is to morph into cul-de-sac man and that wouldn’t do.

The last of the ponies has left to seek safety in the valley – one of our annual milestones, like the moment the swallows depart or when the lad comes to empty the septic tank.

After two weeks in dock my computer has been returned, albeit the hard drive is wiped clean and returned to factory settings. You’ve no idea how irritating this is…another of my First World Problems.

Sunday, December 20

Laddish art

One is phallic, one is vulval, the last is a pair of icy buttocks overflown by a white bird. They hang, yearning but separated, side by side on my wall.

Lampard nuptuals

Shows what a plonker I am, how far removed from contemporary culture: I thought the lad was marrying Billy Joel's ex.

Lads lunching

"I had vaguely wondered whether we'd end up on a pub crawl but he didn't even finish his second glass...he was going on to a 'curry and champagne party' by one of the Pink Floyd." Paxman on Clarkson - the accomplished deipnosphist. Yes I had to look it up too.

The homestead's kitchen may be a million miles from Assaggi's, however the food is pretty good. Today's lunch is veal bavette, with spaghetti and Mrs G's tomato sauce. A sumptuous wine from one of the most romantic St Estephe 3rd Growths that dates back to Roman times.

Bugle Annual


It's that time of year...sepia photos of the Tipton Slasher, people reminiscing about colliery disasters and long-forgotten footy cup glory, adverts for denture care and bostin bargains from Blackheath Market. Bessie Bonehill, the Black Country entertainer who conquered America.I love it!

Saturday, December 19

Supper

Reheated left overs from last night's pheasant. The label on the wrapping indicates we had consigned the bird to our freezer 364 days ago...and yet it was so good. The booze helps.

Update: apparently I've been eating Guinea fowl not pheasant. 

Balti restaurants and computers

Let's not mince words: our weather is fuckin' shite. It has continued to rain down on the homestead from 'sunrise', i.e. before eight - when what passes for daylight came to pass, through to kick-off time in the afternoon. Inevitable frustrations build this time of year, exacerbated when my computer , email, etc. goes missing for more than two weeks. One of the negative sides to our South West idyll - other than an absence of Asian convenience stores and decent Chinese restaurants, is the dearth of competent IT Consultants. Specialisation or racial stereotype?

Friday, December 18

Premier League or Sunday League

Good parents are the enemy of social mobility, says Philip Collins, in The Times. "My Grandfather was a man of a lost kind, an adamantine church warden of granite decency...blah, blah, blah." Grief, we've done this shit to death - life has moved on. Truth is we are less interested in social mobility as a national cause as much as how our own kids are holding their own and able to compete against 'relative' competition. Our children don't go up against neighbourhood mites as much as they do their opposite number in what's become a global market, in much the same way our less fortunate citizens find themselves obliged to compete against (cut price) migrants. It is disingenuous to pretend otherwise, and  that every poor schmuck and his granny can gain access to the Premier League in the way we all once did.

Then again, if we are only talking £33/day...

The Works Do

What else, today - so-called Black Friday, the Works Do, than fried cashew nuts (courtesy of the go to for India food, Michael Pandya), sherry wine and crab bisque, followed by stewed pheasant and cabbage, Toulouse sausage mit bacon. The neighbours' guns have been blazing since breakfast. Tonight I am hunkering down to an evening of Desmond Carrington, and a series of Rodgers and Hammersein's shows.

Wednesday, December 16

Continuing grey and wet

Despite relatively benign (mild) weather we still have our ongoing floods to contend with. The yard remains under water and access lanes are submerged...the homestead cloaked in fog. Dartmoor is off limits due to my lack of enthusiasm. Even Monday's trip to Plymouth fell flat, the Barbican pub a dour affair.

Whilst there is no shortage of pheasants scuttling about the hedgerows, the guns are mysteriously quiet. However if the movement of quad bikes is a measure of general activity there's still work being done somewhere by someone. Need to get off my butt and address several chores of my own today. Even hand-delivering Christmas cards around the neighbourhood can turn into a prolonged affair..."Come in, have a drink, what do you hear?"

Sunday, December 13

Auld Alliance

Veal Caledonia for Sunday lunch. Something new: veal brisket. Boned, laid out on the counter, and spread with oatmeal, chopped onion and suet, rolled and tied. Consigned to the oven rotisserie-style for five hours and partnered with a first growth Pauillac. Hey, it's Christmas.

Saturday, December 12

Bog Cotton

The bog cotton plant grows on the margins of bogs and mires across Dartmoor, its fluffy white head looks like a large cotton bud. Ronnie Wood's recent announcement that he is to become a father again at the age of 68 brought to mind Frank Ormsby's poem.

They have the look 
of being born old. 
Thinning elders among the heather, 
trembling in every wind. 

My father turns eighty 
the spring before my thirteenth birthday. 
When I feed him porridge he takes his cap off. His hair, 
as it has been all my life, is white, pure white.

Friday, December 11

Keeping my end up

After last night's party the last thing I needed was an early start...Breakfast being a Dartmouth greasy spoon, surrounded by lads in hi-viz clothing and seventy somethings too far gone to care. I joined with the traditional fare: double egg, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, etc. The salt alone has probably reduced my lifespan by five years or more. Back in Totnes mid-morning, before returning with our Friday fish. Cheltenham on the box.

Thursday, December 10

Not another scarf

I look forward to, and enjoy, Christmas. That said, whether a middle-aged man stalking John Lewis for a present for the self same woman (after 43 years what's left to buy?), or a young mother weighed down by clinging children and shopping bags, the season has its downside - not least when the sky is piddling down. Thank god for the Dog & Duck. My first visit was to the Post Office, to mail our greetings cards. It's a dying custom, literally.

Tuesday, December 8

Donald Trump sparks outrage

…trumpet the headlines. Though the big lad would doubtless respond with a cliché about there being no such thing as bad publicity. Capturing the centre ground has been a fundamental tenet for so long that few saw this coming. The premise that Ed Miliband was not left wing enough and we should replace him with Jeremy Corbyn; that Sarah Palin was not right wing enough and Donald Trump is the answer. We may just get the chance to test this to destruction at the next election. I wonder what odds the bookies are giving for the double? Can you imagine our so-called special relationship, with Slim Pickens astride a nuke in the White House and a pacifist in No 10.

Monday, December 7

An old girl from over the hedge

Boiled leg of mutton with caper sauce for supper. I love the stuff. Remove from pot, thickly slice, spoon over warm caper sauce and serve immediately. ‘With small beer, good ale and wine. Oh ye gods! how I shall dine.’ Mutton has an evocative taste; takes you back to the days before chicken tikka masala became England’s national dish.

Still wearing well


T-shirts come out of the drawer each morning on a rota basis, once they've worked their way to the top. This one is still wearing well...albeit we lost to Ireland (Jack Charlton triumph); lost to Netherlands (Van Basten hit three); lost to Soviet Union (whitewash).

Sunday, December 6

Keep off the grass

“Some days are like difficult prose; you just have to let it wash over you, admiring the beauty of the sentences, if you can bear to, trying not to worry that you don’t know where you’re going. You nurse the vague hope that at some point things will make sense again, and the earlier passages will fall into place. The main thing is not to give up…” 

In the same way my Gudgeon legend cites favourite films that contrast Walter Hill’s Hard Times with Powell/Pressburger’s Red Shoes, I always feel the necessity of balancing Susie Boyt’s pâte à choux with a finger to the blob. Step forward Tyson Fury. It has come to a sorry pass when we feel driven to rally behind members of the gypsy community.

Frank Musker reminiscing with Johnnie Walker

“There we were, writing songs for Sheena Easton and Paul Nicholas, and then one day we heard the Eagles singing ‘Take it easy.’” …Sad to say, or perhaps not, somewhere on my shelf there are three or four Easton albums/tapes. I’m mystified about Frank’s timeline, however, as Easton didn’t appear until ’81, and the Eagles were socking it to everyone back in ’72? …In ’81 Mrs G. and I were holed up in a shack on a beach in Rockport, South Texas, dining on soft shell crabs and shark steaks, listening to Kim Carnes and Rosanne Cash – looking on as the Pope took a hit. In ’72 we met at a Corries concert. How tastes change.

At least we’re not in Cumbria

The neighbour’s daughters rode past on their mounts this morning, ponies shouldering their way through the driving rain – a scene from a western?

There is a surge of older men attending bread-making courses and learning how to cook. Half are widowed or divorced, and have never peeled a spud or brandished a wooden spoon in anger.

The evolutionary progress of Mrs G’s Salade Niçoise continues apace, lettuce, tuna loin and olives augmented with sliced pink firs, crumbled morcilla – black pudding, and pancetta.

Friday, December 4

Parents fear six-figure salary tax trap

Am I the only one who views this as crazy? A salary of a hundred grand and people are whingeing about their state handouts being curtailed. I thought subsidies – charity, was supposed to be for poor people. This is less about gaming the system, as Adam Palin’s article suggests, than self-respect.

Friday emails

In receipt of the traditional Friday post-lunch round robin emails from ex-colleagues and friends, in what passes for laddish humour. The commentariat would be aghast at the content.

Fair do’s

Up town to attend a gallery function, a neighbour’s exhibition. Whilst not adverse to lumps of chiselled rock, I had to remind him my participation was conditional on a glass of something warming. I don’t mind making up the numbers but my good opinion has its price.

Living beneath the radar

I was chatting to a neighbour yesterday after he’d bollixed up the yard, driving through in his tractor. His family have lived in the neighbourhood raising Orange Elephants and cultivating bracken since the birth of creation. I reminded him that yours truly has also resided here for a while. They say time flies but conversely we were both surprised it’s only been four years. Thought it a lot longer. Becoming part of the fixtures and fittings has rarely been so smooth. Perhaps because I’m not viewed as a threat to anyone, am unlikely to turn up at the Works Do with a chip on my shoulder and gun in my hand.

Thursday, December 3

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

The tree is up and suitably decorated. Christmas always arrives early at the homestead, and there’s no better excuse to break open a bottle of QC. December has become sacrosanct in the Gudgeon household, the world’s problems count for naught. All can blow themselves to buggery for all I care, I don’t give a shite. A stack of firewood (in receipt of my winter fuel allowance) and a case of hooch and I’m happy bunny. Our neighbours have decamped to their weekend cottage in St Kitts, leaving yours truly holding the fort. The feeling of abandonment is not improved when hiking across the moor – an absence of man or beast. Not that you can see much of anything. This morning mist, the afternoon driving rain, and then darkness – black as a coal hole. Of course everyone is ordering Yuletide gifts and white van man is thick on the ground. Given our location the drivers arrive in darkness having lost all faith in their satnav. I give directions with zero confidence any will arrive at their ultimate destination. It’s cheese on toast for supper, something I can’t recall eating for many a moon. Lea & Perrins sauce…the bottle says best before sometime in a previous century.

Wednesday, December 2

Warming up

Pre-empting today’s vote? Strike aircraft on practise runs above the homestead this morning.

Tuesday, December 1

Temptation

Thanks in part to the abbey, the miscellany of clerics I meet in the queue of my local newsagents never ceases to surprise: Anglicans of every shape and size, Craggy Island priests, Brother Cadfael and his merry band, and not least those of the Orthodox persuasion with their impressive bling and stupendous waistline. ...Despite the serious content of this week’s news it seems the media can always find time to berate us for our gluttony. However when passing the greasy spoon and the smell of frying bacon hits me, it takes a strong man to walk on by. Fruit from the tree of knowledge ain’t the half of it.