Thursday, January 28

It’s the bread and circuses thing

There must be one or two people punching the air this week. Thank god for Google, they say. Fortunately for Google (and Osborne) public disapprobation is a transitory thing: by next week there’ll be another piñata hanging from the tree.

Wednesday, January 27

Defeated

Having attempted to unblock the bathroom sink with Mr Muscle and an old fashioned plunger, all I succeed in doing was fracturing a joint buried behind the fascia and vanity units. So it was out with the crowbar and hammer … only to discover (after wrecking a wall) the toilet has also to be disconnected and removed. At which point of course I rang the plumber. Our local firm is first class and cost-wise the most reasonable bunch of lads I’ve ever come across. Cost is never the issue so much as the disappointment of not being able to fix these things myself. The hunter-gatherer-plumber syndrome.

Tuesday, January 26

Same old same old

The weather is becoming as predictable as the stock market. This morning we woke to Storm Jonas, two days of gales and heavy rain. Thankfully I managed to nip out for a tramp across the moor on Monday – give my knees a run-out, before the obligatory clearing of gutters and stocking up of firewood, bread and milk. Mrs G. cooked two and a half kilos of brisket to ensure no one goes hungry. Not sure my eating vast quantities of mashed swede and carrot is necessarily good for me.

Monday, January 25

Hearty meals and steel

Both a thing of the past? Five sausages, three rashers of bacon, plus black pudding, egg and beans, followed by pints of bitter. Not sure Port Talbot’s cuisine would find favour with the BMA. I haven’t visited the town since attending a wedding of two friends back in the ’80s … a two-day binge that may well have included large portions of the local diet (think wedding scene from The Deer Hunter). These days Port Talbot is something glimpsed from the M4 as you hurtle past en route to/from Ireland.

Get real

BBC is considering asking pensioner’s to make a voluntary £145.50 donation to help pay Chris Evans and Garry Lineker’s million pound salaries. Cue lots of old folks chortling their socks off.

Sunday, January 24

Confucius say…

Say what you like about Corbyn, the lad’s not afraid to float a contrary view. In little more than a week he has told Argentinian diplomats they are more than welcome to the Falkland Isles; suggested to BBC/Sky cameras he would be happy to see the occupants of France’s ‘shameful’ refugee camps given priority access to the UK; and that UK taxpayers should fork out for a fleet of nuclear submarines to safeguard jobs on the Clyde and in Barrow-in-Furness, but that the subs shouldn’t be armed. There’s obviously a cunning plan I’m not privy to, some sort of subtext he believes will radically improve Labour’s poll position.

I listened to Michael Dugher on this morning’s BBC Sunday Politics, and the former shadow culture secretary’s despair was almost too painful to witness. The Conservative Party can’t believe their luck. If Cameron took it upon himself to walk across the Thames, few would be surprised.

Saturday, January 23

Almost a sacrilege

We’ve had a run on fish dishes this past week, with hake, monkfish and prawns on the menu. As there was a surplus of fennel bulbs, Mrs G. also roasted a porchetta and paired it with my favourite red rice. The remains were subsequently recycled alongside heaps of pickled cabbage, before finished off in the form of sandwiches. Somehow we also found room for veal bavettes, and courgettes stuffed with spiced lamb. Our tragedy has been the absence of an appropriate vino to wash it down.

Friday, January 22

What happens when you poke a wasp nest

I can picture Vladimir Putin sitting behind his desk in the Moscow Kremlin, a purring white Persian cat on his lap, relaxing with an iced vodka and chuckling to himself...Stoking the Syrian refugee exodus and potentially bringing down the European Union must seem sweet revenge for Europe’s meddling in Ukraine.

Thursday, January 21

The homestead is cloaked in mist

Our mountain rescue stalwarts were up here a couple of nights ago looking for some poor soul lost in the murk. Visibility may be dire but silent it ain’t: the dawn chorus has returned with a vengeance. Crows stalk the yard looking for food, redwings scour the paddock, and one shy jay has joined the blackbirds to forage amongst rotting leaves. A buzzard has been keeping us company, together with the kestrel that usually resides a mile or two below. Eight robins dispute the immediate territory; and yesterday I put up a mire snipe, or it could have been a woodcock?

Wednesday, January 20

Ah, zombie ships...memories

Cheap debt, the China slowdown, and a glut of ships have seen the Baltic Dry Index plummet to its lowest level in more than 30 years. “We are now at the stage where people are struggling to remember an era when it was this difficult, we’ve gone through what it was like in the 90s, the 80s and the 70s, so expressions like ‘living memory’ start to apply,” said Jeremy Penn, the chief executive of the Baltic Exchange in London… Most participants have seen little other than 25 years of onwards and upwards, living it large. The industry now faces an interesting period, with lots of opportunities for organisations big enough to stay the course.

Tuesday, January 19

Twenty quid should do it

The NHS has the most stressed GPs by western standards, as a result of relentless workloads, endless bureaucracy and the shortest amount of time spent with patients, new research by the world’s most influential health think tank reveals…almost 30% plan to quit in the next five years, in a move that would make it even harder for patients to get an appointment promptly. 

I wouldn’t have thought the answer rocket science: charging patients for GP appointments would soon cut the ‘relentless appointment treadmill.’ ‘The average patient visited their GP six times during the last year...’ Average bollocks. Like most I pay an annual visit to the surgery to have a sample of my blood taken and tested for cholesterol; a GP then rings the homestead and harangues me over the phone about the result. End of. Given how much it costs for my biannual visit to the dentist (£65), twenty quid doesn’t seem a great deal in terms of cutting the surgery queue and boosting GPs’ morale.

Plunging eel numbers

Britain’s last eel catcher call it quits. Although I buy smoked eel once a month it has become an expensive treat, and I can’t recall the last time I ate jellied eels. The annual trip to Bremerhaven is but a distant memory, along with Goddards in Greenwich and Manze’s on Deptford High Street.

Clock ticking

The yard is ankle-deep in snowdrops and wrens, the neighbourhood fields filled with Eastern Europeans picking cabbages. I’ve a full day myself. Time flies, as they say; already more than halfway through January. Each morning – opening up, lighting the fire, making tea, coming to – seems to be with me before I’ve had chance to digest the last. … Another two from the music fraternity join the celestial choir, with Glenn Frey and Dale Griffin popping their clogs, both only 67. It hasn’t gone unnoticed I began the current thread in my diary back in 2001 by acknowledging the death of George Harrison. It’s not so much a morbid preoccupation as concern about have much time I have left.

Monday, January 18

It’s all about food, alcohol and sex

A Submission premise, one of Houellebecq’s themes, implies that life consists of little more than food, alcohol and sex. Religion ultimately fails as a panacea for the lack of spirituality. The book’s protagonist, François, eventually ‘submits’ – converts to Islam – in much the same way a policeman would join the Masonic Lodge. And who’s to say the lad’s totemic nihilist, Huysman, wasn’t wrong… “Huysmans’s true subject had been bourgeois happiness, a happiness painfully out of reach for a bachelor. . . . His idea of happiness was to have his artist friends over for a pot-au-feu with horseradish sauce, accompanied by an ‘honest’ wine and followed by plum brandy and tobacco, with everyone sitting by the stove while the winter winds battered the towers of Saint-Sulpice. These simple pleasures had been denied him.”

I was taken with Rowley Leigh’s pot-au-feu in the weekend papers. Regretfully, along with the impending Burn’s Night, as said dish benefits greatly from copious quantities of Rhône or a similar red wine, the meal, and my enlightenment, will have to be deferred until next month.

Sunday, January 17

Fairy tales from the master of the past

For Will Hutton the European Union is not enough: the whole world needs to be subject to Brussels-like order, ideally harnessed to the ITUC. With new political leaders (Yanis Varoufakis?) we can remake the world, Hutton says…a world where Sunni and Shia join hands and skip off into the sunset, where everyone lives happily ever after. This from a man who works for a paper that burnt through £70m in cash last year, a newspaper that Rasmus Nielsen of Oxford’s Reuters Institute believes “Thinks more like a Silicon Valley start-up than a player in a sunset industry facing decline.” Truth is, with the continued support of the parent Guardian Media’s £800m fund, Hutton, Toynbee, et al, are little more than the trustafarians they profess to despise.

Saturday, January 16

Burn the hand cart and stay warm

Today’s financial press is heavy on the doom and gloom. If correspondents are to be believed, we are all going to hell in a hand cart. The fallout from 2008 has yet to be addressed, blah, blah, blah…Armageddon only deferred by printing money, quantitative easing...every asset class to fall 75%...chickens come home to roost during 2016...hold cash and gold, be ready to jump ship, etc. etc. Roll on the first of February, then at least I can console myself with a drink. In the meantime I’m going large on forestry – or rather, stacked wood: if the world has to end the least I can do is ensure the homestead stays toasty.

But I can’t recall why

“There are great swathes of my life I don’t remember,” says Bryan Adams. Join the club, sonny. I like to think it’s the body’s way of protecting and maintaining; expunging memories that aren’t worth the candle, or from periods you’d rather forget…freeing up disk space. The lyrics to Adams’ 18 ’till I die – his epitaph of choice – exhorts us not worry about the future and to forget about the past. Doubtless sound advice. If I did wish to look back, however, Adams’ ‘Summer of ’69’ probably rates two minutes. Coincidence I turned 18 that summer. Levis, desert boots or Adidas trainers, chinos and Ben Sherman shirts. The scene switched between Hanley and Dortmund. Harry J Allstars and ‘The Liquidator’ stands out?

Friday, January 15

Dodgiest accent of the day

Michael O’Hara, aka Orson Welles, in The Lady from Shanghai.

The last acceptable racism?

At the Travellers’ Times office we have become used to people who have lost their dog phoning to ask if we can “put something out in case any of the community have… er… found it”.

The story conjures memories of growing up on Gypsy Lane during the late ’50s/early ’60s. Travellers were far more prevalent in those days. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending which side of the argument you’re on, every square inch has since been concreted over and built on.

When they walk in off the main road,
tin cans for sale,
their eyes make practised inventory
of everything in the yard
that is not nailed down.
This includes our goat.

In our heads we throw
bristling fences, padlocked gates
around all that is ours.

      (Frank Ormsby, Tinkers)

The white stuff arrives

I’m pleased to say the boiler is back in working order – given last night the snow arrived on the back of a harsh north wind. Ok so it’s not exactly The Revenant, and Mrs G. is behaving like a kid in the playground, but it has certainly upped the duvet’s tog factor. With the festive season supplies close to exhaustion, yesterday I was obliged to trek to Exeter for supplies, this morning to Totnes. Our emergency rations had all but expired and we were down to our last tin of sardines and a jar of Kalamata olives. There’s only so long I can go without fresh fruit and veg…scurvy’s a terrible thing. A large dish of sunshine for supper: the taste of Marseilles, aka bouillabaisse-style fish stew.

Wednesday, January 13

Gentrification and return of the white flight

The problem of gentrification surfaces again in this week’s news. “My parents are Nigerian immigrants that moved to London in the 1970s…” You know the story: “The area in which I was born is being colonised by yuppies/hipsters and I can’t afford to live here anymore.” It’s like listening to my parents’ generation back in the early 70’s, except their take on the story was the Gudgeon clan having to quit the London borough in which they’d been established for 150 years due to an influx of immigrants. It seems rather churlish for said immigrants to complain now the Gudgeon grandkids are returning to the old neighbourhood some forty-five years later.

The academic study of literature

“Leads basically nowhere, as we all know, unless you happen to be an especially gifted student, in which case it prepares you for a career teaching the academic study of literature – it is, in other words, a rather farcical system that exists solely to replicate itself and yet manages to fail more than 95 per cent of the time.” (Michel Houellebecq, Submission)

Congrats to young niece for not studying literature, and thereby securing your prestigious post in the City.

Sod's Law

Temperature falls below zero and the boiler packs up.

What will history say?

For Blair, even Thatcher… and now Obama, Enoch Powell’s observation that all political careers end in failure appears to hold true. Failure is probably an exaggeration, it’s more disappointment, the reality of realpolitik, but – given the collective good will when the big lad came to office – Obama hasn’t really delivered what it said on the tin. Then again, and Lionel Messi aside, how many of us ever live up to the promise?

Monday, January 11

Wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end

SNP suggests utilising RAF expertise to support besieged Syrian rebels.
I can’t get the picture out of my mind of a Tornado GR4 deploying tins of Grants minced beef and carrots whilst flying at 1,500 mph beneath a Russian SA-17 air defence system.

The inevitability of everything

I used to take the mick out the old girl when she was sat on her kitchen stool reading the weekly Observer obituaries, following the demise of her contemporaries. And yet almost every week I find myself acknowledging the death of another figure from my formative years. Can’t say I was ever a particular fan of the lad’s music – if I was down to my last two-bob his wouldn’t be one of the discs I selected on the juke box. But I guess Bowie remains part of the cultural soundtrack.

Update ... Good grief you’d think either Elvis or Sinatra had risen from the grave and died all over again. You can’t turn on the wireless or television without some sort of tribute; didn’t realise he has so many fans. I’ve just looked through my collection to see if I actually own a Bowie recording, and all I can find is a twelve-inch single from ’85. ‘Dancing in the Street’– with Jagger, in support of Live Aid. God help us when Elton John turns his toes up.

Sunday, January 10

My Dry January resolution

...would have been straight out the window. In common with 99.9999% of punters I didn’t win last night’s lottery. This is the fifth time I’ve purchased a ticket and I am becoming disillusioned – had already spent most of my winnings.

Saturday, January 9

Building an ark

After the colour and excitement of last night’s game at St James Park, this morning it turned extremely black – an ugly sky duly delivering in the form of thunder storms and continuous heavy rain. Inverurie we ain’t, however it seems to me the homestead has been under water for some weeks now. Bad as things are you can’t keep a determined man down, and a Jehovah’s Witness has been knocking on my door. I guess they’re harmless enough. When it comes to religion I’d rather have my ear bent by an Old Testament evangelist than a bearded nut brandishing a meat cleaver. The former appears to have learnt from the Syrian refugees and has taken to arming himself with a small child. This tactic is of course lost on me. I once thought children should be confined Matrix-style inside liquid-filled pods until eventually inflicted on society at the age of eighteen, but have since extended this qualification to the age of twenty-five.

Friday, January 8

No save level

Health Chiefs warn against drinking. I blame the media: a compulsion to fill column inches, and 24hr news. There’s a necessity to publish the wittering of all and every public sector jobsworth who wants its name in print. I say jobsworth, however there’s always an ulterior motive, and I doubt it’s our health. I cannot understand why the treasury and licence trade aren’t up there shouting back, putting an alternative case. Not least that the eye-watering duty from alcohol pays the housing and child benefit of those non-drinkers amongst us. Did you see that lad from the Mozart Estate on last night’s This Week? I really wanted to hear his take on the problem of radicalisation. Unfortunately Allan Hennessy proved a poor advocate, playing the victim card, poverty, ignorance and class warfare – the usual shite, and was immediately shot down by Andrew Neil and the other two boys. If that is the principal justification for killing people, every other British tribe would have been at it long ago. Arseholes.

Tuesday, January 5

Giblets-a-leekie and the Twelfth Night

Tuesday morning it ceased raining, and for the first time this year I got out on the moor. Considering two days ago it was all floods, a landslip, fallen trees and closed roads, the going ain’t too bad. One runner and three horseback riders were all I came across…a single wren.

Home in time for lunch. This time of year there’s always a cauldron of soup on the stove, and as Mrs G. had been sorting the freezer, a year’s backlog of giblets – chicken, geese and duck – were happily simmering away. Liver soup’s a favourite but giblets-a-leekie comes close behind.

Always sad when the festive decorations come down, packed away for another year – the tree to the bonfire. Has to be on the correct day, apparently – only yesterday I received a slap ’round the ear for stirring the mustard pot with my knife.

Sunday, January 3

What larks, Pip!

Someone used to remonstrate that it would come back to haunt me, and I’ve never for a moment doubted her. Whilst the festivities this past couple of weeks have been fun I was pleased to draw a line beneath the indulgence and excess. In bed before ten last night, out for the count; slept through until seven-thirty this morning, in time to catch a rerun of MOTD. I’d be surprised to see Mrs G. before mid-morning. The deluge outside continues as 2015 left off – I’ve a sore throat from the wood fires and having to shout to make myself heard. Soakaways soaked away long ago as the water grew ever deeper and the chickens developed webbed feet. Would not be surprised to see the barn float past on its way downhill.

Saturday, January 2

One of life’s conundrums

Daniel Finkelstein writes in today’s Times, recalling the big Y2K meltdown that never melted down. At a distance Y2K does seem idiotic, and yet the company I worked for at that time spent a small fortune preparing for the mythical Armageddon – as did most organisations. Given 2016 is something of a landmark year for Gudgeon, with fundamentals such as mortality beginning to raise their head, Finkelstein has set me thinking about how much of my life has been wasted either worrying about or preparing for things that never happened, and the money I have pissed away on insurance premiums.

Friday, January 1

Duh

“There are going to be people afraid that’s pushing their basket down the aisle of Kroger or Walmart that sees somebody that’s openly carrying. You’re going to have people getting into arguments that are openly carrying with somebody else that’s openly carrying. There are so many scenarios.”

You would think. However it is also why, when I once lived in Texas, I accepted the reason everyone was so polite – even when buying lettuce. If people carry guns they will go out of their way to avoid an argument. I guess it’s partly the reason we are renewing Trident.

Red meat and log fires

The New Year has continued where 2015 left off, with torrential rain, flood warnings and gales. Water off a duck’s back, given how acclimatised we’ve become this past month. Our indefatigable neighbours are out tending to horses and exercising their guns. Not a morning to be skulking in the hedgerow, bird watching – nor, come to that, walking on the moor. A quick waltz round the grounds and that’s my lot – racing from Cheltenham on the box. Today is traditionally beef day, one of next door’s steers. Large portions of chimichurri sauce and Argentine Malbec. The homestead’s fires are burning in upstairs rooms as well as down here in the snug.