Thursday, March 31

Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well

What a beautiful day! The Easter holiday has been extended, again, and my To Do List remains on hold. There’s a sizeable chunk of sheep on the barbecue and a cold one readying in the fridge. All of our neighbours appear to have vacationing relatives in situ, the lay-bys are bumper to bumper with walkers’ vehicles, and the lane a procession of riders on horses. Presumably someone somewhere is hard at work nationalising steel plants, although I doubt there will be a queue of investors aching to piss away £1m/day. But then he who dares ... there is a buyer for everything, not least the long-suffering patron of last resort.

Wednesday, March 30

Some things can’t be measured or traded

Nest building has begun in earnest, with house sparrows in the eaves, robins in the car port, and wagtails in the barn. Mistle thrushes return to the same branch of the same tree every spring and work their socks off constructing a sizeable prospect, only to see it disappear during the very first blow. Whilst we haven’t North Devon’s spectacular murmuration exaltations, over the hedge and beyond the skylarks there’s a sizeable flock of whistling golden plover always happy to perform. Brings to mind that old Aberdeenshire rhyme which relates to the plover’s advice for the ploughman to whom it calls: ‘Plough weel, shave (sow) weel, harrow weel.’

There are also lots of scouts and school students out on the moor. Not sure if they are training for Ten Tors or a Duke of Edinburgh award, but those packs look pretty substantial. Dragging my sorry form around behind them is more than enough for Gudgeon without the proverbial kitchen sink on my back.

Tuesday, March 29

Urban myth

And talking of the hunt ... Urban myth, you say. My farming neighbours beg to differ.

United against the Cloggies

This morning I drove past our old residence in North Devon. The Hunt was out in force. Devon is a small county but not without its narcissism of small differences. For a start it is colder up there – 5˚ rather than 7˚ – and the muck on the fields has a more pungent aroma. Tourists speak with Black Country accents rather than London estuary, eat pasties made from non-organic ingredients. Children appear less than enthusiastic about outdoor pursuits. I would still like to think we will be united in front of the box this evening, hoping for another England win.

Sunday, March 27

The Women's Boat Race

I am following the action on BBC (a couple of neighbours are rowers). The presentation is a cross between a meat market and a coming out ball. Who dreams up and choreographs this sort of shit.

There is a silence where hath been no sound

What is it with women and their compulsion to talk? This weekend I’ve been blessed with one on each ear. In stereo; high fidelity, even. Expelled to a quiet corner of the yard, I was challenged to produce kebabs for Saturday evening’s dinner – and struggling with the barbecue in a fifty-knot gale and torrential rain is not for the faint hearted. To accommodate today’s departure schedule, Easter (Sunday) lunch was brought forward, with roast chicken and the full supporting cast for breakfast. The homestead has now gone quiet; and rather surprisingly I miss the chatter, the energy.

None the wiser

England beat Sri Lanka to progress to the semi-finals, our rugby team wins the Grand Slam, and now Hodgson’s boys beat Germany 3-2. An excellent performance by our young internationals. I refuse to become exited as England and disappointment are synonymous, not least on the football field. Does this new found confidence have a bearing on our impending EU referendum, and if so which way does it tell us to jump.

Thursday, March 24

Choices none of us expect to face

To die prematurely and painfully in the manner of Johan Cruyff: a football icon, your place in history assured. Or to swap with Adam Johnson: a jail sentence followed by fifty years of ignominy. The Brussels’ bombers, Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui: bow to an inevitable arrest and spend the remainder of your life in a cell, or …

And now Johan Cruyff

I had begun to believe that cancer, especially lung cancer, was something that haunted my grandfather’s generation – a thing of the past; and yet in recent months people have been falling like flies. I appreciate everyone is living longer these days, and the longer we live the more likely we are to contract cancer, but a disturbing number aren’t even making it out of their 60s.

Wednesday, March 23

Usual knee-jerk comment

I can’t really be arsed to comment on Brussels … but I will just the same. Truth to tell, the carnage in Belgium is an all too familiar scene. Something that happens from time to time, like floods and pestilence; that comes around with the regularity and familiarity of a seasonal event or a cup final. I can’t imagine what my parent’s generation experienced in the blitz, but having lived through decades of terrorist atrocities throughout Europe and elsewhere around the world, sat open-mouthed as 9/11 unfolded on our screens, I guess I have to accept Brussels-style attacks as part and parcel of my generation’s everyday life. This shit isn’t going to stop as there will always be some disgruntled little bastard among us who blames his misfortune on something we have or haven’t done to him, that will look for a cause to attach himself to – just as sure as there will always be someone to pull his chain.

Tuesday, March 22

Passing fancies

“The cost of investigating child abuse has reached £1 billion a year, after Scotland Yard’s inquiry into an alleged Westminster paedophile ring was shut down with no convictions.” It wasn’t that long ago we used to talk in terms of millions. Makes you wonder what our boys in blue did before Savile, other than give tickets to motorists and beat up miners. In plods’ defence, their focus is primarily about responding to public pressure. None of us want to pay taxes but insist the same pool of money is spent three times over on whatever passing fancies make us feel good.

A typical spring morning

Frost and rabbits and squirrels, daffs and primroses and yellow furze. Our wagtails have returned for the season, together with a group of long-tailed tits and a lone gladdie, the Devil’s bird. The temperature in the yard on Sunday was 4˚. Yesterday, thanks to two or three hours of sunshine, it reached 14˚. An opportunity to tackle the winter algae – another of those regular springtime jobs. Fast acting stuff, given the yard now smells like a rotting foreshore (always reminds me of that Padstow hangover and the stink of lobster pots drying in the sun). Not to be outdone our neighbour has begun muckspreading. Fair brings the tears to your eyes.

Another day, another mole – one lest pest to worry about.

Saturday, March 19

Friday, March 18

Another blue sky!

With frost on the ground and grey birds in the tree. The song thrush, sweet and loud. A large percussion section this morning too, both green and great spotted woodpeckers … a mewing puttock. Yesterday was a blast in that as soon as the word ‘barbecue’ entered my consciousness I couldn’t leave well alone, not least as our neighbour had butchered a steer. It took a couple of hours to retrieve Mr Weber from the barn and clean everything down. We partied on grilled steaks and West Indies Porter. I drank this stuff as a kid, said Mrs G. Black Sugar Ale. No killjoy taxes back then. Truth to tell there was little of anything, and supper at the Gudgeon household sometimes consisted of little more than a slice of plain white bread sprinkled with the demon sugar. Yet we were built like whippets ... toothless whippets.

Thursday, March 17

Going without saying

Cheltenham and St Patrick’s Day. I usually don’t need an excuse, however the crate of Guinness had been languishing in the shed for several months. It isn’t quite the same as the stuff that comes out of a pump. I once belonged to a club boasting the largest consumption of Guinness in London. It helped there was a significant number of Irish nationals who were members, many engaged in the medical profession. The cry ‘Is there a doctor in the house’ rarely went unanswered, although that didn’t stop one or two souls clutching their chest and then failing to rise from the floor.

It is a great pity we don’t know 
When the dead are going to die 
So that, over a last companionable 
Drink, we could tell them 
How much we liked them. 

Happy the man who, dying, can 
Place his hand on his heart and say: 
‘At least I didn’t neglect to tell 
The thrush how beautifully she sings.’ 
(Bernard O’Donoghue)

Wednesday, March 16

Failed before he began

Err … Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the chancellor’s speech, or the action from Cheltenham?

Zero tax increase on whisky; shame about Irn Bru.

The hunter-gatherer strikes again and another mole bites the dust (not that you’d want to eat them). Poached guinea fowl with spring vegetables, herbed lentils and salsa verde for supper – a chilled Corsican Vermentino. Before you know it the barbecue season will be with us.

Tuesday, March 15

Man interrupted

The Cheltenham Festival, one of the year’s great sporting/cultural events. The only people with a more outrageous dress sense than golfers.

Blueberries prevent grey hair?

That ship sailed long ago ... but the Alzheimer’s business is interesting, in that such is our fear (if cancer doesn’t get you the other one will) we grab at anything, however tenuous the science. I eat ten bobs worth every morning with my Shredded Wheat. Not sure it’s working, in that I am reliably assured we entertained Princess Joan and Prince Roy to lunch some years ago (doubtless one of our more colourful business ventures?), but am ashamed to say I can't for the life of me recall the good lady. In my defence: they were heavy duty lunches.

Heads you win, tails ... Project Fear

The referendum poll analysis, indicating both sides are evenly matched, suggests Britain’s economic security – the government case – comes with a price. If we vote to continue as a member of the European Community we will be obliged to share our prosperity with a high-level of immigration from other European countries and from those that besiege Europe. The Brexit campaign believes we will accept the risk and settle for a lower standard of living in order to wrest back control from Brussels and to slam the door shut. It’s going to be three months of mayhem, threats galore from both sides. I trust Europe appreciates this is a rerun of the Scottish referendum, and though Britain is likely to vote to stay, we will forever be a thorn in their side. Perfidious Albion? They don’t know the half of it.

Sunday, March 13

Tribal grief

I am married to a Scot; served in two Scottish units; built a career in Scotland. But is there a sadder epitaph for any country than the Flower of Scotland anthem.

Born in Grimsby, stuck in Grimsby.

Education, education, education, declared Blair some twenty years ago (I recall the speech). And yet decades of investment in education have not improved social mobility, writes John Goldthorpe. Having the good fortune to be born with a decent set of genes and getting to grips with algebra no longer guarantees a seat at the top table, not least because they’ve reduced the number of chairs. We can rectify this, says Goldthorpe, by creating more ‘top-end’ jobs. That’ll work, thinks Gudgeon. Who does he believe will fill these seats if not the usual faces, augmented by the brightest and best from overseas.

More guff on the new puritans

In this week’s Spectator magazine Mick Hume writes on a breed of super-squeamish, censorious students, sometimes referred to as Stepford students. They are portrayed as a righteous band of no platform, no argument, neo-Maoists that seemingly hold sway over our university campuses. Elsewhere in the weekend press I read society is being transformed as young people lose the thirst for alcohol. And I wonder, are the two are connected, and if so which came first. Of course I mean ‘wonder’ in the sense of one of those fleeting thoughts that pass through your head every minute of the day. Is there the tiniest chance that ninety-nine percent of us give a flying fuck about this particular privileged one percent, in comparison, let’s say, to yesterday’s footy results or an episode of tits and dragons?

Saturday, March 12

Acquired taste

This morning to Tavistock market. Hogget and Guinea Fowl from the Beaworthy man. It’s all in the feed, he tells me (the superior taste). A pair of pigs trotters, too. You don’t often see trotters for sale (where do they go?). Mrs G. poaches the little suckers, before coating in bread crumbs and frying. I recall the delicacy from my childhood, but it wasn’t until stumbling across a popular Paris bistro some years ago that I renewed my enthusiasm. As with les tripes, Mrs G. is happy to cook but not eat.

Friday, March 11

Pottering


Despatched to Totnes for supplies from the market. A visit to the barber: my usual buzz cut and the local gossip. A straw poll of customers gives it to the outers by a margin of 9-1. Sarah Wollaston our local MP is an outer. Took my newspaper down to the river bank and sat listening to gulls, watching the Dart drift by. Returned home for the traditional spring bonfire. Disposing of the flotsam and jetsam that accumulates over winter. Important to wait ’til there’s an easterly so as not to upset neighbours, or burn down the barn. A fair blaze, with fallen tree limbs, old gates and fence posts, sacks and sacks of non-recyclable garbage…several barrowloads of cuttings from around the yard. It seems a while since I’ve been able to sit outside and take in our surroundings.

Standing on Underground escalators

It’s a recipe for confusion, says Toby Young. As a twenty-five year veteran I always regarded living and working in London as a combat sport. Tearing about the city, one meeting to the next; every day spent climbing in and out of the ring. How on earth do you summon the mental strength to stand in line on an escalator as opposed to elbowing your way through and trampling over the bodies? Standing is for tourists, the old and infirm. I don’t doubt the experts on ‘fluid dynamics’ are correct; it’s just that Londoners aren’t wired that way.

Thursday, March 10

It begins

A glorious day, spent clearing gutters and setting mole traps, thinning undergrowth and raking over vegetable beds. Neighbours busy with chain saws and a mini-digger. There was still time for a walk across the moor – smell the roses. Fried slices of boar (cross) for supper, sauerkraut and pickled pears. Footy on the wireless.

Boomers had it cushy, say Generation Whinge


Generation Y don’t know they’re born, retorts Brendan O’Neill at Spiked. It wasn’t so much the outside loo as the roughness of the lavatory paper. Having your arse smeared with scandal from the News of the World.

A grave subject

Twenty-four hours later spring arrives! Again. This time it’s official: kittens emerge from their warren beneath the tool shed. In town, old folks – those that survived the winter – venture a tentative foot outside. Pavements come alive with Zimmer frames and mobility scooters. Dog collars, too. Wall to wall Anglican clergy, in town for today’s workshop: ‘Taking Funerals Seriously’. A grave subject indeed. Along the street different religious habits prevail. Visiting coach parties from near and far; an occasional dignitary, flanked by serious-looking men armed with distinguished Special Forces service records and declarations of fidelity to Rome.

Wednesday, March 9

I choose windfalls and tinned sardines

A fire in a bucket! I was out of commission last week with a wonky knee, so Monday’s trek was a welcome outing. A repeat trip yesterday, albeit cloaked in fog and rain rather than the previous day’s sunshine. Today is blowing a gale, trees down, roads strewn with debris. I should really address the homestead’s lengthening maintenance programme, toad work, but have a marvellous facility for discovering other things to occupy my time.

Hell will freeze over

A war of the generations is not the solution, say Le Guardian’s ubiquitous nerk. As with many of Owen’s articles, the collective misfortunes of our young appears to come down to a lack of affordable housing and secure well-paid jobs. And who is to blame for that, I wonder. He’d love it to be Thatcher, but knows full well that Blair and Brown were the bad guys. The same demographic Owen courts turned out in numbers (over 73%) to vote in 1983, and decisively backed the Conservatives. They voted Conservative because Labour had all but destroyed the country, and the youth of Britain wanted a better future, were fed up with their role as the laughing stock of Europe – the 1970s answer to Greece. Does he seriously believe that at this stage of our life we will undergo a Damascene conversion and vote for Jeremy Corbyn?

Tuesday, March 8

Serious deprivation?

“Spain’s youth unemployment rate hit a peak of nearly 56% in 2013 and has only slightly recovered. The number of Spaniards aged between 18 and 29 who experienced serious deprivation – meaning they couldn’t afford to heat their home and ‘buy meat or fish at least every second day’ – increased by 20 percentage points, from 8% in 2007 to 28% in 2011, the sharpest rise in the EU.”

Monday, March 7

Glass half full sort of thing

Queen Victoria, offensive? The Guardian’s Owen Jones poses the question, suggesting the British Empire had its bad points. Ah, muses Tucker Carlson, but what about the aesthetic contribution it made to Mumbai – to Bermuda, New Zealand, Fiji…Cape Town. “Empires are not always replaced by something better.”

Biographical essays

Doesn’t seem that long ago I was fixated on Saul Bellow and Howard Jacobson – middle-age angst. Now it’s Julian Barnes and the limits of courage and endurance, personal integrity and conscience. We find ourselves constructing dialogues to explain why we fell short and behaved the way we did. Of course it’s bollocks, says he, waiting with his case for the lift.

Thursday, March 3

Underdogs in line to triumph

Glued to the wireless last night … the footy is shaping into an exciting finale at both ends of the table. It helps that our top clubs are underperforming, affording the middle ranks their day in the sun. I can’t imagine too many Leicester or Tottenham supporters are lying awake at night worrying about Brexit or whether Jeremy Corbyn buys his clothes from Burton’s. As for Arsenal fans: sometimes life can be a shit.

Returned home for lunch this morning in time to catch Daily Politics. I don’t always agree with Finkelstein, Paul Johnson and Owen Jones, today’s guests, however they are all worth listening to. But where oh where do Labour get their people. The other lad on view was a shadow treasury minister named Richard Burgon. Not the sort you’d hire to run the family business.

Speaking of dumb sorts. Andrew Neil discussed the latest Brexit poll, which unsurprisingly indicates the younger you are the more likely to vote to stay in; the older and more conservative, the more likely you are to vote out. Those with university degrees, in the main, will vote to remain in; whilst voters with ‘fewer educational qualifications’… You get the less than subtle message: if you are ‘educated’ you will do the right thing, ergo... It’s worth reiterating that fewer than 25% of adults actually have a university degree. The year Gudgeon left school 93% of students did not go to university, and yet I’d still rate my chances against Richard Burgon.

Wednesday, March 2

Lunch


Worth driving to Exeter just for the irresistible smells of the fresh cakes.

Where America goes we follow

At least that’s what we used to say. “David Cameron may win this referendum, but at the cost of a divided nation”, says Telegraph’s David Johnston. Perhaps, but not quite in the way he infers. In spite of reservations about Brussels and our concerns over immigration, I suspect that, like the Scots, we are fearties at heart – too scared to leave the house on our own. We will vote to stay in Europe. When the shit then hits the fan and we are duly obliged to accept migrant quotas, are faced with stagnant wages, rising taxes and overwhelmed public services, the shame of our craven behaviour will lead to the rise of our very own Donald Trump. I guess it’s a process we have to go through.

Tuesday, March 1

Meteorologically speaking

The first day of spring.
What to make of that bald patch
right under the swing?

Paul Muldoon (Hopewell Haiku)